The aftermath of a hard trip

The aftermath of a hard trip: crabsLast week’s business trip to the Midwest was a hard trip. A marathon of meetings and then post-meeting follow-up making for 16-17 hour workdays in a time zone enough hours from normal to make sleep intermittent at best. It was a week where fatigue accumulates like pooled water after a storm and all your reserves start looking for reserves before you’re even half way through.

The aftermath of a hard trip - Seattle buildings

Looking up in and around the Market has its rewards

I got home Friday evening, spent time with my family and then melted into bed. I awoke the next morning on East Coast time (my body being no respecter of clocks): earlier than I wanted but thankful for the opportunity to wrap up some remaining work. Then, at 7:30 a.m., I drove back to the airport though not this time as a traveler. I was there to drop my son off for his flight back to college.

After that, I wanted to go home. Go back to bed. Relax. Get away from travel. But something compelled me to head in a different direction.

Place Pigalle and Pigeons

I rarely look out the back side of the Market, but if you do, this is what you might see

So, on a very foggy Saturday morning I drove instead to downtown Seattle. I needed a new roller bag. I wasn’t the only one who’d had a hard trip: my old, faithful 14-year-old piece of luggage longed for retirement. The retractable pull handle had given out as I boarded my outbound flight. The handle now extended like credit to someone who never pays their bills. In addition, the bag’s rollers barely lived up to their name. They made getting through the airport as quick and graceful as walking a cat on a leash.

The aftermath of a hard trip: salmonBut it was barely 8:00 a.m. and stores didn’t open till 10:00 a.m. What to do? Play tourist. Don’t ask me why, but despite my fatigue I headed up to one of the city’s biggest visitor destinations, Pike Place Market.

Normally, if I go to the Market, I do so to buy something or take photos or show it off to a visiting friend. But this day I was too tired to do anything more than wander. The place I was in mentally and emotionally allowed me to see the place I was in physically in a new way. To take in the Market on its own terms, not mine.

And that made all the difference.

The aftermath of a hard trip: cauliflowerI enjoyed the Market in a way I never have before. I noticed details like these odd cauliflower spike balls or the the merged scents of the place as if I’d never experienced the Market before. I was simply content to be there with none of the usual travel expectations and as a result, I discovered something new.

The aftermath of a hard trip: TulipsAfter a really long, hard trip, I experienced a gift: a reminder of why I love to travel. My road-weary fatigue allowed me to let go of the litany of usual tasks and attitudes I normally carry with me when I explore somewhere. Like how a hot shower relaxes you to be able to focus on a single thought, my exhaustion quieted down all the usual voices that tell me I need to somehow take advantage of visiting a place. To capture it all. Note it. Make sense of it.

Instead, I simply enjoyed it. Nothing more, nothing less. It was one of the best travel experiences I’ve had lately in part because it was never intended to be a travel experience. I was able to be present to that place because another place, a difficult trip, had broken me open to be open.

The aftermath of a hard trip: Dried flowersFriday night I was grumbling about a hard trip and a hard week.

Saturday morning, I was immeasurably grateful for both.

 

 

 

 

 

Creators and innovators: a meaningful trip – Part 2

Creators, innovators and a meaningful trip: San Clemente Pier

Creators and innovators: The announcement

“Congratulations! You have been selected as a finalist in the 2015 Creators and Innovators Upcycle Contest…” The words in the email to my son Connor began a series of events that led to one of the shortest, yet most meaningful trips I can remember.

Vissla, the surf clothing company sponsoring the competition, requested all the finalists ship their boards to an art gallery in San Clemente, CA where they would be put on display. In addition, Vissla invited all the finalists to attend the show opening at the gallery during which time the winners would be announced.

Vissla covered the cost of shipping the board and a hotel room for the night of the event. But Connor still had to fly down there and somehow make it to the event. I could tell this was a big deal to Connor. And since his 18th birthday was coming up right before the event, we decided to splurge.

Creators and innovators: The trip

Creators, innovators and meaningful travel: Nomad Hotel

Our room at the Nomad Hotel where Connor is going through his goodie bag from Vissla

Thus, in early October, Connor and I landed in San Diego, picked up a rental car, tooled around San Diego, had lunch out on Coronado Island, then leisurely made our way up the coast to San Clemente.

There, we checked in to the wonderful, funky, surf-themed Nomad Hotel that Vissla had arranged. On one of the beds was a bag filled with Vissla clothing and gear, all in Connor’s size. From there, we drove down to the San Clemente pier, looked around then arrived at the gallery as the opening was starting.

Creators and innovators: The event

I could write a book on the conversations that evening, but let me focus here simply on the highlights:

We met with the team from Vissla, all of whom were wonderful, welcoming and so glad we could be there.

Paul photographing Dane's board

Paul photographing Dane’s board

Vissla’s story itself is fascinating. Founded by Paul who was previously head of all the North and South American operations for Billabong, the company primarily produces surf clothing. But Paul, a former pro surfer, has a passion for “Creators and Innovators.” He honors not just those who practice the art of riding waves but also those who create the boards and equipment needed to do so.

This whole competition surprised everyone at Vissla in its popularity. Being the first time they’d done this, Vissla expected a few entries from locals. Instead, they had hundreds from all over the world.

What made the evening so fascinating was that wonderful phenomena that occurs when people of passion come together. The gallery was packed, spilling onto the sidewalk with a wide array of people, all connected by a love of the sport.

Gallery view

This is a view of the gallery from the sidewalk that ended up overflowing with people from the opening.

As we met and spoke with each of the finalists, it was clear that no one really cared who won. Everyone was just glad to be there and to share ideas with each other. Each contestant was genuinely interested in everyone else’s entry, from the functional board made of cardboard and Paper Mache (and covered in fiberglass) to the fins made from recycled plastic bottle caps melted and reformed into objects of beauty. By the end of the evening, Connor and the others were all figuring out ways to connect and work on new projects after the event.

Connor's board

Connor’s board in the longboard mode hanging in the gallery.

Eventually, a team of judges made their determinations and they announced the winners. First place went to Dane from Australia for a board that used the inner core from old doors but combined with foam and fiberglass in such a way as to be a work of art.

Second place went to a guy from Japan who made this amazing board from recycled Styrofoam cartons used in that country for transporting raw fish.

Third place went to…Connor! For that, he won one of Vissla’s cool wetsuits. Everyone agreed Connor had one of the most original ideas. They loved that even the wheels on his board were made from pallet material. They especially liked how detailed his user’s manual was. “Ikea could learn a thing or two from you,” was a common refrain that evening.

Later that evening, Vissla approached Connor and offered to buy his board for their corporate art collection. He eventually agreed to sell them the board. He plans on using the money to fund his start-up company making other kinds of long boards and surf t-shirt designs.

Creators and innovators: The takeaway

To me, a conversation I had with the board designer/shaper Donald Brinks epitomized the evening. Donnie and I got to talking about creativity and the design process and how everything is connected. How you learn something in a seemingly unrelated area, and it sparks an idea that would seem completely unconnected but makes total sense once you put the two together.

Creators, innovators and meaningful trips - Connor, Dane and Eric

Connor (left), Dane (center) and Eric from Vissla.

He commented on how you know a surfboard is right when you pick it up. I likened it to choosing a guitar. You can’t explain why, but you just know it is the right one by the way it feels or sounds or some other inexplicable factor. All the “data” you’ve spent a lifetime collecting suddenly connects in that moment and you know beyond doubt that this is the right one.

That’s the way this evening – this whole trip – felt. A vast array of interests and unlikely connections came together and worked in ways that amazed Connor and me because they were so unexpected and yet, so perfect.

In all, the entire trip was just over 24 hours. But it is one that will likely last a lifetime.

 

If you haven’t done so yet, you can read Part 1 here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Creators, innovators and a meaningful trip – Part 1

The meaning of a trip is not measured by distance or duration. The true significance of a meaningful trip lies in the difference it makes in your life long after you return.

*******

The contest was simple: for any and all creators and innovators, create an object made from recycled materials that could be used to ride a wave. Vissla, the surf apparel company sponsoring the contest, provided a deadline, a vague reference to prizes and some brief guidelines regarding posting your submission on Instagram. That was all they stated.

That was all my son Connor, 17, needed.

So began the journey.

*******

Some trips are discrete entities in themselves. They have a clear beginning and end. You go, you come back. End of story.

Other journeys consist of multiple ventures, a collection of small trips we may not even think of as being part of a larger narrative until later when we look back and realize the inter-connectedness of the adventure.

Connor’s journey began not with a meaningful trip but with a series of short forays into an industrial park a 15-minute drive from our home. His objective: obtain a number of wooden pallets that could be foraged to produce a small surfboard, a paipo to be precise, more like a wooden version of a Boogie Board. He found the appropriate pallets, dissected them, harvested the best parts and created a small wonder.

A meaningful trip: The Octo as a longboardNot content to make a common paipo, Connor spent weeks working out the details for an innovative approach to his board. His vision was a surf and turf affair: A longboard complete with wooden wheels and trucks (the supporting pieces that hold the axels) which converted to a paipo. Ride it to the beach, pop off the wheels, unfold the top, tighten the bolts and out into the waves you go. Brilliant. At least in theory.

The second small trip occurred when Connor needed to test out his creation and video it for the Creators and Innovators competition submission. We live in the Seattle area. And yes, you can surf in the Seattle area. You just need to wait for a large container ship to sail down the Puget Sound so you catch the waves of its wake. Seriously. Some people do that. For the rest of us, we head a few hours south and west to the Pacific Coast.

A meaningful trip: Connor and the Octo in paipo modeOn the morning the day before the contest submission was due, Connor headed out to the beach with me in tow (after all, he needed a cameraman to record his test). We didn’t get far before the math set in: This was a Friday. I had a conference call at 2:00 p.m. Given a later departure than planned, we’d have about 25 minutes once we arrived at the beach for Connor to don his wetsuit, put together the longboard, ride and video that, convert it to the paipo and then video him surfing on it. Not enough time we realized. Enter Plan B.

Instead of the ocean, we headed to a beach on the Puget Sound less than a half hour from home. Connor got his wetsuit on, assembled the board and then – Action! I videoed as he rode the board about 20 feet in the beach parking lot and then…snap. One of his wooden trucks broke. Thankfully, we had enough video for the submission (and Connor later made a design change to improve the truck). I then filmed him walking to the beach, converting the longboard into a paipo and heading out into the water.

The problem was, the Puget Sound makes a great harbor precisely because it rarely gets large waves. No worries. I filmed Connor as he paddled and splashed furiously in the water. It may not work as a scene from Endless Summer but it was enough. We had what we needed.

He edited the footage and made the submission in time. You can see the more detailed version of his video below. “Octo,” by the way, is the name he gave it based on the octopus graphic he created for the board.

And then he waited.

Until the day he received an email.

To be continued…

 

 

How to take better sunset photographs

If you want to take better sunset photographs – and who doesn’t, particularly when you’re on a trip? – it helps to know a few tips. Here are ten lessons I’ve learned over the years on how to take better sunset photographs.

 

How to take better sunset photographs - San Gimignano sunset

Don’t make the sunset the star. Have other objects – buildings, trees, birds, people, etc. – be the main subject of the photo. Let the sunset be a nice background addition. Or even better, look behind you. Sometimes the best images at sunset aren’t of the sunset but what the sinking sun illuminates in its warm, glowing light and colors. Always ask yourself, “What story am I really trying to show?” or “What’s the real subject here?” or and then pursue that story or subject incorporating the sunset but not fixating on it.

 

How to take better sunset photographs - Sunset MonteverdeFrame the sunset. Even when the sunset itself is the main attraction, use other elements – trees work particularly well – to frame your image. If you want to take better sunset photographs, concentrate on composition and lighting as much as on just that big orange ball that’s quickly sinking. The worst sunset images (and the most common) treat the sun like a target you’re centering in on with nothing else in the frame but the sun, the horizon and maybe some waves.

 

How to take better sunset photographs - Sunset at ArchesAdd lens flare. This one is subjective. Some photographers see lens flare – those rainbow-like blocks or circles created by shooting directly into the sun – as a distraction or a mistake. For me, I like the added visual element…in moderation. To increase your chances of capturing lens flare, shoot toward the sun at a high F-stop (like F11 or higher if your camera allows aperture priority settings). Higher F-stops (and thus depth of field) can also make the sun’s rays more pronounced as in the above image.

 

How to take better sunset photographs - sunset and pierUse a tripod. This is critical if you want to make a better sunset photograph by the ocean and you want the waves smoothed out via a long exposure. You can also make images long after the sun has set when the light is often at its best.

 

How to take better sunset photographs - Sunset and Fountain

Apply the rule of thirds. Don’t shoot with the sun in the center of the image and the horizon in the middle of the picture. That’s just boring (see point 2 above). Try to locate the sun either a third of the way up or down and a third of the way from one side. It’s more visually dynamic and interesting. One of the best ways to understand this is to go online and look at how others have taken sunset photographs. You’ll quickly see that the most compelling shots are not symmetrical images of the sun alone.

 

How to take better sunset photographs - Sunset and grassKnow your camera and filters. Learn how to bracket your shots meaning, for example, you take one photo at the correct exposure, one a stop overexposed and a third a stop underexposed. Then, on your computer, use software to merge the three so that your foreground subject isn’t too dark you’re your sky isn’t too light. Many cameras today even allow you to do this by making an HDR (High Dynamic Range) image in the camera itself. Or go old school: Use a graduated neutral density filter on your lens that darkens the sky without making your foreground too shadowy.

 

The light at the end of the day: Post sunset

In many ways, this image is too underexposed and dark. But it is still more interesting than if it had been too light.

Underexpose. If none of the previous point made any sense to you, don’t worry. Just try and make your sunset shots darker than normal. They tend to “read” better and our eyes accept a sunset image where the sun isn’t too bright and the surrounding scene is darker than usual in a photograph.

 

How to take better sunset photographs - rock climbing at sunsetPlan ahead. You usually only have about 30 minutes of great light during and after the sunset. You can get apps for your phone that tell you exactly when sunrise and sunsets occur wherever you are. Use them to be there and be set up knowing the scene you want to capture before you miss your moment. You want to be set before the sun does.

 

How to take better sunset photographs - Piazza after sunset

This technically isn’t a sunset photograph…but it is. Note the luscious light right after sunset.

Wait. Similarly, once you are there, don’t be in a rush to leave. As noted, the best light usually occurs after the sun has set. Wait for it. You may not have the actual sun in your photo, but you’ll have a better photo.

 

How to take better sunset photographs - Purple cloudsFollow the clouds. This is probably the most important tip of all: sunsets are pretty boring without clouds. Some of the best sunset photographs occur right after a storm or on really cloudy days. Clouds are the secret to making better sunset photographs.

That’s a start. How about you? What’s your secret to taking better sunset photographs?

This ends my three-part series on sunsets. The other two are The Light at the End of the Day and Why Sunsets Move Us.

 

The light at the end of the day

A light at the end of the day - Mal Pais SunsetAt the end of the day, or really anytime, when you get to the “T” in the road, you have two choices. Three if you count continuing straight and driving into the Pacific Ocean.

Turn right and you enter the bustling town of Santa Teresa, Costa Rica. Small hotels, shops and restaurants line the bumpy main street paved, curiously, only in stretches of about a hundred feet here and there. Along this popular dusty thoroughfare walk or ride – primarily on motor bikes or four-wheeled ATV’s – an assortment of locals and foreigners (mostly surfers). The whole town has a surf vibe due to the quality of the consistent break that lies behind the trees off to your left as you drive into town.

If, however, you go the other direction at the “T” you’ll find only an isolated building here and there amidst the jungle that encroaches on the road. From the trees, howler monkeys gaze down and call out in voices too big for their diminutive size. At the end of this road lies the tiny harbor of Mal Pais (“bad country” in Spanish, a misnomer it seems to most modern-day tourists). Here, you can greet the fishing boats each afternoon as they bring in the day’s catch. If you feel like cooking your own fish, you can negotiate your way to a lovely rockfish or tuna.

Or, you could do what we did and have a fresh seafood meal prepared for you in a setting as astounding as the food.

The light at the end of the day - Our table at CaracolesCaracoles restaurant in Mal Pais has no dining room per se. Sure, there’s a covered area with tables and chairs next to the building that houses the kitchen and bar. But my wife, Kris, and I chose instead one of several tables out beneath the palm trees right on the edge of the beach. At first, it seemed more picnic than fine dining until we tasted the food.

Walk 30 feet from our table and this is the view.

Walk 30 feet from our table and this is the view.

As we neared the end of the day, it was still quite warm so we ordered something light and cool. For me that meant ceviche and a salad, both perfect. Kris, went for the shrimp in mango sauce. We both oohed and aahed our way through every bite.

And then the floorshow began.

We looked out over a strand of white sand between us and a stretch of rocky tide pools backed by the incoming waves. That scene alone, framed by palm trees, would be worthy of a travel brochure cover. But then, out of nowhere, a lone horse meandered down the beach like the opening act.

The light at the end of the day - horse on the beach near Caracoles

The view from our table as the horse casually wandered down the beach.

The real show began as the sun and the horizon met and the sky exploded. Blues and oranges bled and morphed. Pinks and yellows seemed to change by the second in a kaleidoscopic display of cloud and color; raw yet orderly, vast yet intimate.

We experienced one of the most beautiful sunsets I have ever seen, a fitting end of the day.

But it made me realize something.

The light at the end of the day: Post sunsetThat same sun rises and falls each and every day. But sunsets usually pass me by unnoticed or at least, unexamined in their routine familiarity or even over-familiarity (after all, what inspirational poster doesn’t have a sunset on it?). But here, on this trip, all the factors aligned to get me to not only notice, but pursue the beauty as it unfolded. As the sky faded finally into a soothing deep purple and then into the color of night, Kris and I did not let the moment go unheeded. We watched. More than that, we were a part of it, consumed by each transition of light and color.

We understood then what the ancient Celts referred to as “the time between times,” the bookends of each day filled with extra possibility, awe and magic. We realized that the end of that day is what made that day. But more than that, we remembered what only beauty or affliction seem to force us to recall; that the possibility of wonder comes around every single day.

We will likely not see such a beautiful sunset any time soon. But at least now I will make more of an effort to look, even if there’s no horse or beach nearby.

For more on sunsets, check out these two entries: Why sunsets move us and How to take better sunset photos

 

A life in ruins

A life in ruins: Angkor Wat temple

We find life in ruins. That may seem like an oxymoron since ruined buildings usually denote death, decay and the absence of human existence. In most cases, the only life found in such places comes in the form of plants and animals that reclaim what humans once made their own.

A life in ruins: Front of Hospital San Juan de Dios, Granada, Nicaragua

But life is more than breath. And in the forgotten and fading remains of wood, stone or concrete fragments, we discover another kind of life in ruins: our own.

A life in ruins: Angkor Wat

Last time (as well as the photos here) used examples from San Juan de Dios hospital in Granada, Nicaragua and the temples of Angkor Wat in Cambodia to explore five reasons why ruins fascinate us.  But here’s the main explanation, at least to me, as to why we’re intrigued with the broken-down and crumbling:

Ruins are beautiful. They speak to us in ways we can’t always comprehend and they tell us a deeper story.

A life in ruins: Hospital San Juan de Dios, Granada, Nicaragua

We may find the cobwebs, debris, small animals and flora emerging from the ancient walls to be curious – even, in some cases, disturbing – but the stonework, the carvings, the details and craftsmanship of those walls? These are works of art. Works that survive because they were well-made of materials meant to last. Such work and the ruins themselves touch us and move us in the way only beauty or affliction can, for they represent elements of both.

Angkor Wat monkeys

The beauty of ruins, however, is very different than the beauty of the original buildings. Visit other temples in Cambodia or Asia or visit other hospitals in Central America. Some are lovely, but many can feel decorative. Overdone. Even (to our Western sensibilities) a bit tacky. But when time and weather have their way with these places, what’s left are the elemental forms. The aesthetics of structure and support. The colors of decay: rusts, grays and gritty pastels. In the end, what remains is the character of the place.

A life in ruins: Hospital doorway - Hospital San Juan de Dios, Granada, Nicaragua

And so it is with us. Ruins remind us that when you strip away all our superficialities, what remains is our own character. That can be a simple wreck. A collection of fallen, broken pieces. The remnants of what we strove to be but never quite pulled off.

Or, our characters can reflect the real us. The core of who we are beyond our faded pretenses, poses and props. The depths of our true selves, something of great wonder and beauty that people marvel at. Our characters can, in a way, reflect the summary of our lives, the end result of all the shaping of time, circumstance and choice.

Thus, in the end, it might be that ruins evoke a deeper story in, from and through us. A story of great beauty. One that reminds us that beyond what we see in the present is something far greater and much richer. One we don’t always appreciate until all else is removed and we are left only with the character.

Of a place…or of a person.