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No Signal

The North Cascades were waiting with their power and grace but I was on the verge of canceling this trip. 

New initiatives, investor meetings, podcasts, annual planning, and family commitments, left me wondering if this trip was still wise.  It would take me away from the “real world” for two weeks and would require me to take my hand off the pulse.  Started to even feel selfish. 

I was on the verge of canceling the entire trip, but my wife offered this:  “Your soul lives in the mountains, it’s something you enjoy and I know you need it.  Everything will be fine.  Plus, when are you going to get something like this back on the calendar?”

Just honor your commitment and go north.

Despite the pep talk, this trip still hadn’t fully settled in my mind, as I headed to the Cascades.  The entire time I was traveling, I was squeezing in phone calls and firing off emails.  Even as I was boarding the plane, I had my earbuds in, tuning into meetings and organizing my Team.  I thought to myself, “Man, I hope this was a good call…” as I looked at my gear laid out on my bed, and sent a few more emails from my hotel room. 

Day 1 of the mountains came right at sunrise, where I would meet a small Team of mountaineers doing our final gear check, before stepping off.  We packed the van full of our ice axes, mountain equipment, and ropes and set off on the winding roads of Washington.  We had several miles to hike to basecamp where we would be operating for the next few days.  Basecamps serve as a launch point for shorter expeditions, where you can more quickly get to different parts of the mountain and start honing skills.   As we made our approach, there is always one thing the wilderness promises, especially in the mountains: NO SIGNAL.  At some point, even if you wanted to interact with the real world, it is impossible – The wilderness has claimed you.  The thought of jumping on a  video conference or firing off that email soon fades.  I had almost forgotten about this ease that comes up when you realize there’s No Looking Back.

Once you cross that demarcation line, the “real world” stops pinging you.

The reverence of that moment is when all the “noise” falls away.   I started noticing the direction of the wind, crunching dirt under my feet and the sound of the river up ahead.   You start picking up on the subtle things because nothing else is robbing your attention.  Coming here started to feel better.

I was moved by how much clarity and speed I had. I felt like every minute of thought was equal to 30 minutes of thinking back home.

The richness of thought continues beyond the basecamp approach- They get more vivid.  When you are traversing a glacier or doing a summit push, there are times when the conditions are quite intense, but those uncomfortable moments are the most productive.  As the wind is piercing your body, the cold settles on your face and the fatigue in your legs increases, something happens.  You start to pay attention to what’s most important, what’s right in front of you.  You look around to make sure your Team is on track and keep an eye out for any hazards, then it’s one foot right in front of the other.  The small distractions back home never enter your mind. 

When you get back to basecamp, it’s different from coming through your front door at home.  You get done with an expedition and have just enough time to reset your gear and get food before the sun goes down. When the sun goes down, it’s pitch black- This is what it must have been like back in our ancestral days.  I take a few minutes to review tomorrow’s route and conditions, then move into my evening ritual.  As I write, I think about one or two things back home.  I find that those moments before officially retiring for the night are when I come up with the solutions I have been seeking.  The micro-distractions back home prevented me from seeing them all along.  Now they are clear as day.  As the wind lightly taps my tent wall, I shut my headlamp off and bed down. 

Even though I am someone who loves the outdoors, I sometimes fight putting it on the calendar because I think it’s going to screw something up, but it never does.  The wilderness is the defrag I need to go as fast as possible.  The weeks following an expedition are always the most productive.  I’m executing in my flow state and every day of work feels like a week.  I’m not distracted, I’m grateful and I’m focused.  When’s my next trip?