28 Days Later, a Cup of Joe, and a Little Appreciation


I am back. I completed the 28-Day Field Course offered by the Boulder Outdoor Survival School in southern Utah. I am proud, because it was one of the most difficult things I have ever done. I am also hungry.

During my time out there, I learned to make shelter and fire, to find water in the desert, and to slaughter and process large game. I took my map-and-compass orienteering to a new level. I slept on the ground every night, and actually got used to it. I lost at least 25 pounds, maybe more. At one point, I spent 5 days and 5 nights apart from the group, doing nothing but saving my meager food rations and contemplating my place in this world.

My fears going into this experience were:
1) Hunger
2) Physical Inability / Fear of Failing
3) Lack of Coffee

As for hunger, I will just say that, yes, I was hungry. I was hungry the entire time. The interesting thing, however, was that after a couple days without food I learned that hunger simply is not something I need to fear. They say we can go 3 weeks without food. I found that I function almost as well after 4 days without food as I do on a full stomach. Check that one off the list.

With respect to physical ability, I was fine. I was not the fittest person out there, but when you need to get over the mountain to get the water that will keep you alive, you get over the mountain. Check.

As for coffee, I will never go that long without my bitter black life-juice ever again!

In all seriousness, I cannot emphasize how clear it was that my fears were not worth the thought I gave them. In place of those fears, I was left with some simple but essential lessons.

First, a calm mind is the foundation for survival. Second, there is no survival without the tribe. Finally, as a general rule, fear has little or no functional value, and should be abandoned to the fullest extent possible.

Yes, maybe I can now make fire by rubbing sticks together and have learned a variety of other cool and interesting things. There is no replacement, however, for community and the mutual support it provides. There is no worse threat to survival than panic.

I know that I will reflect for a long time on the deeper lessons of this experience. One thing, however, cannot be overstated. On the final night, as I approached the end of the journey during a 12-mile walk beneath a spectacular meteor shower, I was completely overwhelmed by a sense of gratitude. This feeling has not subsided yet. I am grateful for my wife, for my family, for my friends, for my community. Simply put, I am grateful for you, each and every one of you. You have always been there, supporting me in ways I could never fathom until now. I have never properly thanked you. But there is no question in my mind that you, my community, are what have given me this wonderful life.

Survival is a daily thing, and I thank you all for that gift.

[A full set of pictures to come in a couple days.]


Pre-Game Jitters

Tomorrow I start the 28-day Field Course at the Boulder Outdoor Survival School in southern Utah. At the moment, I’m sitting in a motel thinking about it and I have to admit, I’m pretty nervous about it.

Here’s a breakdown of the course:

– Ultra-light travel through Southern Utah’s mountains, mesas, and canyons with little more than a blanket, a poncho, and a knife
– No tents, sleeping bags, stoves, or backpacks, and definitely no watches, radios, or cellphones
– The goal is to learn to ‘live in the now’
– Learn the skills of Ancestral Puebloan cultures

On the first phase of the course, no food is allowed except what you find. In later phases, more food is provided but is intentionally restricted to be consistent with a philosophy of using only what you need. There are phases that include hiking 15-30 miles a day. In another phase, they will teach me “animal processing” including slaughter and how to use every part of the animal’s body. Then they leave me alone out there for a period of time to put my new skills to the test.

And here I am, worried about whether I can pass their fitness test so they’ll let me do all this.

Over the next four weeks I will have no access to the internet, among other things. I have asked Cris to periodically post some of my thoughts about this course. She may also update you on her progress in Brazil and Costa Rica, if she feels the urge.

See you out there!

(Taken from http://www.boss-inc.com).

Porto, Belgium, Passports, and Scotland

Well, I’m again overdue for an update. It’s been hard to get around to it while constantly moving from one hotel to the next, each of which charges a ton for wifi. (Seriously, how is it that I pay 5 euros at a hostel and get free wifi, but then I pay a boatload for a real hotel and it’s 15 euros more to connect to the internet?). Oh yeah, and then there are those little issues like the fire drills associated with your wife losing her passport somewhere in Belgium a couple days before you’re required to leave continental Europe or risk incurring potential fines and travel bans. But I’ll get to all that. Just to warn you, in order to make up some time, this single post will cover all of the following, each section labelled so you can skip to whatever interests you most:

– 2 weeks in Portugal
– 6 days in Belgium and its Beers
– The Cristiane Passport Experience
– 3 Days in Scotland (so far)

2 Weeks in Portugal
Since I lasted posted an update, Cris and I have spent two weeks in Porto, Portugal, where I took Portuguese classes and she prepared for the conference she’s organizing/leading in Brazil in mid-July. We got very comfortable in Porto and enjoyed the general lifestyle and the low prices for good stuff. Our days were on more of a regular routine than we’ve had in a while, and it was nice to settle somewhere for a change.

Meanwhile, my Portuguese has improved notably, which is great because I’m the kind of person who always wants to look back at things as somehow productive (hence, the “sab” in “sabwavique”). This was particularly clear when my final assignment was to give a 10-minute talk about my life as a lawyer and my reasons for taking a year off. I found that I was able to communicate more or less what I wanted without much struggle, which was not the case two weeks prior. So I’ve made great strides with respect to that goal, which feels good. That progress has continued since Cris’s mom joined us in Belgium. Say hi to Fatima the Fabulous:


6 Days in Belgium and Its Beers
So we met up with Fatima (pictured above) in Brussels and tracked down as many types of Belgian ale as we could handle in 6 days. The beer was delicious, the cities and country villages were charming, and the people were more than delightful. We rented a car (reasonably sized, for a change) and hit Tournai, Leuze-en-Hainaut, Westvleteren, Brugge, headed back to Brussels to visit the Brazilian Consulate, and Antwerp for the afternoon before leaving. I love small countries, and I highly recommend Belgium.

For those of you who care (i.e., Greg Richardson at www.strategicmonk.com), below are some of the amazing beers we tasted:

We started with the last remaining brew that is truly a lambic beer. They make it by leaving it out and letting the wild yeast float in and ferment. And they pray a lot. This is how beer was made for about 6000 years leading up to Pastuer’s discovery that yeast was a living organism. It’s very very sour. We have it a lot better than they did for those 6000 years. The pink ones in the second picture are made with sour cherry or raspberry.



Then we headed out into the countryside and found the last remaining steam-powered brewery in Belgium where Jean-Louis, a history teacher, spends most of his time keeping the Brasserie a Vapeur alive and pumping out Saison de Pipaix (in the style of the farmhouse Belgian ale) and the more modern and spicier Vapeur Cochonne (whose label had to be censored before shipping to the US due to the depictions of a lascivious swine).



While at Vapeur, we actually met the author of the Lonely Planet travel guide for Belgium, who was extremely helpful in providing pointers for the rest of our time in Belgium.


Then we ventured into the monastic tradition to explore trappist ale. We headed to Westvleteren where the monks of the St. Sixtus Abbey make just enough beer to support their lifestyle. The only place you can buy the Westvleteren trappist ale is at the cafe across the street from the abbey, which is in the middle of nowhere. It was absolutely one of our favorites and we enjoyed it on the patio on a beautiful afternoon.




We all agreed that an exceptional example of a trappist was the Rochefort, which we discovered at Gasthoff Siphon, a restaurant that is famous among locals for its river eel (which reminds of an oily version of trout, no joke). As a result of that great beer with that food, we decided we needed a few more.




They also have cool towns in Belgium:


The Cristiane Passport Experience
On Tuesday, while in Brugge, Belgium, we were considering driving to Gent when Cris suddenly couldn’t locate her passport. After searching every nook and calling our former hotels in Brussels and Tournai, it was not to be found. Unfortunately, this was not the usual lost passport dilemma, as further descrbied herein:

As non-EU residents, we have to get out of the “Schengen Area” after 90 days. The Schengen Area includes most of continental Europe but does not include the UK, and that’s the main reason the UK ended up on our itinerary. As of Tuesday, we had been in Schengen for 86 days, with one day to go before heading to Edinburgh. Cris needed the final three days in order to get back to Lisbon for her flight to Brazil. Our options were as follows: (1) Cris obtains a document from the Brazilian Consulate that allows a Brazilian who has lost her passport to leave Schengen within the next 48 hours; Cris purchases a last minute flight to Brazil that costs a fortune; John and Fatima head to Scotland without Cris, or (2) Cris – and potentially John and Fatima – stay in Belgium/Schengen and wait for the Brazilian Consulate to issue a new passport; Cris and John risk a fine of 1000 euros and a 3 year ban from travel in Europe. Obviously, neither option was acceptable.

That’s when Fatima the Fabulous (pictured above), suggested we call that one dear cousin who happens to be a Brazilian diplomat of substantial distinction (and who will remain nameless here, but to whom we are eternally grateful). Within 15 minutes, while we stayed on Skype with him, he managed to influence the local consulate in Brussels to provide Cris with a new passport on a same-day basis provided she appear in Brussels the following day with a variety of dubiously relevant documents. Luckily, all of the documents we needed but didn’t have on hand had been emailed between the two of us at some point in the past year. Wow.

Cris spent the rest of the day finding a printer and getting things in order. We then celebrated by toasting to the Cousin over several Rochefort trappist beers (our collective favorite). The following morning we headed to Brussels at the crack of dawn. Of course, we couldn’t find the consulate in Brussels and that was yet another fire drill, but it all came off in the end. Thus, within 28 hours of the moment Cris realized she was in deep trouble, she was out again, unscathed. This is the kind of stuff that makes my wife the legend she is.

Oh, by the way, Cris was required to get the passport in the name of Cristiane Girao Shenk because our marriage is now registered in Brazil, and that’s the name she chose when we registered. Coincidentally, however, several months ago she accidentally reserved her plane ticket to Edinburgh in that name despite the fact that she booked every other ticket on this trip under her maiden name. What? How? (Renata, if you’re reading, is what you were talking about?).

Enough of this! I’ll tell you about Scotland next time.

Okay, one teaser:


A Time to be Bold (and Give Notice)

At the beginning of the year, a coworker and close friend asked the table of about 5 of us at lunch to state our goals for the year.  Admittedly, this friend has no end to her tolerance for cheesy exercises like this, but her confident insistence that these things improve her life and the lives of those around her make it hard not to participate.  Because not everyone at the table knew of my plan to leave my job in April, to sell the condo and the cars, and set out on a spiritual journey around the world, I decided to say it without saying it.  I said, “My goal is to be more bold and adventuresome.”

I had not thought about it in those terms until that very moment, but it was absolutely the perfect encapsulation of my intent.  I wanted to start a life where I simply did those things I had always dreamt of doing and trust myself to figure it out.  I wanted to begin to live my life on the principle that if I just took the leap and jumped into the river, I would find a way to swim.

So in mid-February, I went into the office of the partner I work most closely with, and said, “My wife and I are taking a sabbatical.”  Before I even asked, he said he would see what he could do.  This was unexpected, unrequested, and more complimentary than I could have imagined he would be.

The next day, another partner I work with on a constant basis came to my office.  He made a half-hearted effort to get me to cut the trip to 3 months rather than 9 or 10.  Then he said, “We have really liked having you here.  When you’re finished with your trip, I hope you will come back to us.”

I was overwhelmed by the positive reaction I received.  I had always figured that I was good enough to keep around.  But to get this response from these two people when I was leaving them made me recognize that I was more valuable than I would ever have known if I had never taken the bold step off the beaten path.

The journey around the world has yet to begin.  But the journey of the soul is well on its way.  The rewards of boldness are evident already.