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Loneliness and friendship

December 8th, 2011 3 comments

Do I get lonely on the trip?  I wish I could tell you that everything is always sunshine and flowers, but sometimes it is a lonely endeavor.

Hours will go by with me in the driver’s seat.  It is rare that I have passengers. I have not, for example, ever picked up a hitchhiker.

Sometimes I play music, sometimes I sit in silence.  My mind is always churning through thoughts.  Some have ivory towers; I have an ivory leather seat.

That’s not to say that I’ve been by myself on my journey. The support from friends, family, acquaintances, and well-wishers has been incredible.  I get a thrill out of seeing people reading this blog or looking at my photos. I love getting messages, tweets, emails, and comments along the way.  And meeting people in real life?  That’s always fun!

I try to feed my social animal by spending time where people congregate.  It’s always fun to get swept up in the camaraderie of a hockey game.  Coffee shops are great, too: something like 80% of this blog was written in Starbucks across the continent.

Still, the reality is that I’ve spent nearly six months solo in places far from home. Being around people is not the same as being around people you know.

View from my chair at a Starbucks in Dillon, CO on December 7. Sam and the mountains are in the window. Most of this blog was written in environments very similar to this. (Well, minus the mountains.)

This gets at the larger problem of loneliness in post-college life.    While in school, it’s difficult to appreciate just how easy it is to make friends there compared to what it will be like after earning that sheepskin.  College is like a Petri dish for friendships: lots of people, lots of time together, lots of shared experiences.  Many, myself included, have found it more difficult to meet people and make new friends after college.

It isn’t impossible, of course, just more difficult.  I have been fortunate to make many friends while working, playing hockey, and mixing in entrepreneurial circles, not to mention the usual friend creation via introductions from other friends.  Still, I can’t help but think back to the days of college where meeting people from all walks of life and all parts of the country was far easier.

One unexpected benefit of the trip has been in friend creation. I have greatly enjoyed meeting so many generous and interesting people on the trip, people that I now consider friends.  My hope is that at least some of those friendships will survive the conclusion of the trip.

It’s also been a great opportunity to rekindle friendships that had grown cold over the years.  I’ve been surprised by what my friends of old are doing these days.  Many have acquired hobbies or vocations that I never would have expected while in school.  There have been several times on the trip where I have made detours of hundreds of miles for no reason than to see old friends.

Yes, there has been loneliness on the trip, but that cost has come with the benefit of friendship.


The District

December 3rd, 2011 Comments off

Although I had wanted to play hockey in Washington, D.C., the fact that there were only two ice arenas there posed a significant logistical problem.  I didn’t have to play there, since it wasn’t a state, but I considered it a “nice to have.”

The sheets of ice were the Verizon Center, where the Washington Capitals played, and the Fort Dupont Ice Arena, where mere mortals played.  Notably, the Capitals practiced at neither arena; instead, they used the Kettler Capitals Iceplex across the river in Arlington, Virginia.

Fort Dupont Ice Arena: The only full-sized, full-time sheet of ice in DC

There were no pickup sessions mentioned on the Fort Dupont arena web site.  Fortunately, a woman named Katie had heard about my trip and left a comment on the map page.  She was the development coordinator at the arena, and she offered to find a way I could spend time on the ice and stop a few pucks.

The day before I flew to Hawaii, I was hanging out in the Washington area.  I had yet to hear from Katie.  As the hours wound down, I wrote off the possibility of playing in D.C.

Then, at 4:00 p.m., I got an email from her.  She was able to get a hold of the coach of a high school team, and he’d agreed to let me participate in their practice. She wrote:

Our DC High School group got back to me just a little bit ago- they’re on ice at 7:30 tonight, and are expecting you if you’d like to join them. Sorry about the last minute notice of it all, gets a little crazy around there sometimes.

I was in Reston, Virginia at the time on my way to a hotel near the Dulles airport.  I debated for a moment whether to make the hour-long trek back to the rink in Washington.  In the balance hung the rest of my evening.  The easy way out would have been to decline the invitation and have a quiet night before my flight to Hawaii.  But I figured, what was the trip about if not hockey?  I sent a reply back to Katie accepting the invitation before I could change my mind:

Great! I’ll be there!

Navigating to the rink, I noticed that the final two streets on the approach were Minnesota Avenue and Ely Place.  How appropriate. (Ely is a city in northern Minnesota.)

Fort Dupont Ice Arena was perched on a small hill, and in the distance, the Capitol and the Washington Monument were visible. Large trees with the last of their red leaves towered around the rink, constant reminders that the park was something of an oasis in an otherwise rough neighborhood.

I met the coaches, changed, and hopped on the ice.

The high school team was a combined program for several of the DC-area high schools.  Although some of the private schools had their own teams, not all did, and there were no programs at any of the public schools save this one. It was the brainchild of a man named Paul who had an infectious love of hockey and a strong sense of justice, as told in a Washington Post story.  After Paul died, a man named Adam took over as head coach with his brother Greg and another man named Clyde as assistants.

There were two goalies on the team, Andrew and Kevin.  While Kevin held a significant height advantage over Andrew, it seemed to me like Andrew had the upper hand in positioning and reaction.  I saw some things they could work on, but I wasn’t confident it was my place to point them out.

In general, I wasn’t quite sure what role to play at the practice.  Pretend to be one of the guys on the team?  Take on the role of a coach and work on drills with Andrew and Kevin? Stand awkwardly to the side after taking a few shots, trying to have it both ways?  Was I a kid, or was I an adult?

I never did find a completely comfortable role, but I did have a good time.  I stopped pucks during some shooting drills, tried to give Andrew and Kevin some pointers and work on some skills with them, and talked with Adam and Greg about the state of the team. Our goalie drill options were a bit limited by the low turnout at the practice.

There were only eight skaters plus the goalies on the ice.  When I asked the kids about it, they blamed the low numbers that day on the expectation that Adam would be angry about a fight that happened at the previous game.  When I asked the coaches about it, they blamed the low numbers on a lack of commitment from the kids.

It wasn’t that the kids didn’t like hockey.  It wasn’t even that they had anything against the team or coaches.  It was simply that many of the kids were on multiple teams simultaneously, and for geopolitical reasons the joint DC High School team wasn’t at the top of the priority list.  At least, that’s how the coaches saw it.  They were a bit frustrated, but they stayed professional and didn’t take it out on the kids who did show up.

At the end of the practice, Greg presented one of the team members with a fun prize: a bag of M&Ms to the person who had the most spectacular fall during practice.  That honor went to Kevin, who had a spectacular fall when he went to shoot a puck at Andrew.  Kevin made an attempt at a slapshot, totally missed the puck, followed through too hard, had his feet fly out in front of him.  He landed flat on his back, much to the amusement of the rest of us on the ice.

I changed back into my street clothes, made small talk with the coaches and players, and hit the road back to my hotel.


Nearing the end

December 1st, 2011 2 comments

Just 18 days left in the trip.  Can you believe it? I can’t. What a rush it’s been.

I’m looking for ideas about how to make my final state, Minnesota, extra special.  That means I’m asking you for suggestions and connections.  Yes, you.

Maybe an outdoor game? A practice with an interesting team? Something symbolic? Something extravagant?

I’m planning to be back in Minnesota on December 17, so any day between then and December 31 would be a possibility.

Ideas?  Connections?  Proposals?  Suggestions?  Either leave a comment below or shoot me an email at .

Thanks in advance!



November 29th, 2011 3 comments

When I was in high school, my perception of college social fraternities was that they were hives of drinking during school and vehicles to run the world after school.  While the former perception turned out to be a corruption of the truth, and it’s too soon to tell if the latter perception will hold, I can say that my fraternal connections helped me find hockey in the Green Mountain State, Vermont.

I completely forgot that the Ben and Jerry's factory was in Vermont until I stumbled upon it.

Finding the game had been a mixture of luck and timing.  I had been searching without success for places to play in the state when the University of Vermont popped into mind.  I knew that the Catamounts had a D-I hockey team, so I figured they’d also have a rink.

Sure enough, they did.  What’s more, the rink web site had an exceptionally detailed schedule, which was unusual.  Most rink web sites show calendars for public events, if anything.  The University of Vermont rink’s web site had both public and private events listed, including the names of the groups and contact information for the group leaders.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a detailed rink schedule, before or since.

I began combing through the hourly schedule for the days I would be in town to see if there were any possibilities.  Many were considered and rejected until, by chance, one late-night block caught my eye.  It was reserved for Pi Kappa Alpha, my college fraternity.  I decided to work that connection.

I emailed Frank, the person listed as the contact for that ice time. Within hours, he responded.  Sure, he said, they’d be happy to have me on the ice.  Success!

Curled up with a warm computer in front of a low-tech fire. Ah, Vermont.

A couple days later, I showed up at the rink on the University of Vermont campus.  I was pretty early, so I milled about and watched the group that was already on the ice.  After a  little while, the rink attendant walked over to me.

“Are you with Kappa Delta Gamma?” he asked.

“Um… Pi Kappa Alpha?” I said.

“Yeah, whatever.  Room Four is unlocked for you guys.”


And so I went to the dressing room and started getting changed.

I went at a leisurely pace, and soon I was sitting in the room with the lower half of my gear on.  Alone.

I looked at the clock and saw only 10 minutes remained before the ice time.  It isn’t too unusual to see guys take a just-in-time approach to rink arrivals, but I was starting to get a bit nervous that I was either at the wrong place (unlikely), had the time wrong (possible), or that simply nobody else was going to show (plausible).  My contingency plans for how to play net against myself started running through my mind.

Concurrently, I couldn’t help but notice the odd smell of the dressing rooms.  There was the usual scent of hockey, yes, but there were strong overtones of reefer, too.  I figured that somebody had been hot boxing the room earlier in the day.  It was Vermont, after all.

Finally, with just a few minutes to go, five guys showed up for a bit of shinny.  I hadn’t really been sure what to expect in terms of numbers, but I was cool with that.  It helped that the five were so enthusiastic.

Vermont Pikes play hockey. Frank is the guy with the beard.

We did a sort of rotating 3v2 half-ice game.  It was laid back, even leisurely.  I felt like a kid on a pond.

We were just a bunch of guys messing around with sticks and a puck, hockey in its purest form.  There were no spectators, there were no refs, and there weren’t many rules other than to keep the puck low.  I had my pads on, of course, but everybody else went out with just skates, gloves, and helmets.

It was supremely enjoyable, and the time passed quickly.

Back in the dressing room after the game, we talked for a while about our individual hockey histories, our respective Pike chapters, and things I’d seen on my trip.  Soon, though, it was time for the students to retire to address homework.  Ah, school.

I’m still not sure if fraternities are involved in world domination, but if world domination involves hockey, I’m all for it.



Mysteries of the trip explained: why I’m wearing the same shirt in every photo

November 26th, 2011 5 comments

You might have noticed that I seem to be wearing the same clothes in every photo from the trip.

The hallmark of an experienced traveler is a lack of clothing.  No, not zero clothing; just a very limited selection.

Clothes are bulky, and schlepping bulky items on the road is no fun.  It’s worse when backpacking, either on the trail or in urban environments, but it’s a pain even when a car is available for the duration.

Happiness on a trip is inversely proportional to the quantity of clothes. Note that happiness is undefined when there are no clothes.

The keys to keeping down the quantity of clothing are maximizing the utility of each item and minimizing the maintenance associated with each item.  In other words, we want to be able to mix and match for all weather and social conditions and not do laundry very often.

Want to know the secret?


I’m not talking about your grandmother’s wool. (Hi Grandma!) The only wool worth using against the skin is merino wool, a soft variety that isn’t the least bit scratchy.

Merino wool is great stuff.  It’s light in weight, packs small, looks good, insulates well, dries quickly when wet, and doesn’t get smelly.

It’s that simple.  Cotton and synthetics start to smell bad fairly quickly, but wool is remarkable in its ability to repel unpleasant odors.

I had been using merino wool hiking socks for years, but I didn’t consider wool for general clothing until I ran across a post extolling its virtues by the digital nomad Tynan.  I had no wool clothing at the time other than dress slacks, suits, and the aforementioned socks.  Now, for the trip, my shirts and underwear are wool, too.

On any given day, I’m likely wearing a selection from the following options:

Light shirt:

Heavy shirt:



In essence, I have two outfits, one on my back and one in my pack.  Bliss.

I can generally go a couple weeks between loads of laundry without things smelling too bad (at least as far as I can tell).  The main exception to this rule is when I play hockey at a rink without showers and am forced to put my street clothes back on my smelly body.  Not even wool can defend against eau de goalie.

When I do run a load of laundry, I simply toss everything in the washer on “cold delicate.” Drying is simply a matter of setting the items out — don’t use a dryer unless you like replacing expensive shirts.  My synthetic clothes can tolerate a heated dryer, so I’ll usually wash and dry them with my hockey underthings.

There you have it.  I’m always wearing the same shirts because those are the only ones I have with me, and the key to getting away with that is merino wool.