My Year in Review

How can it be that I’ve not written in so long? Surely sloth has something to do with it, but so too is my slow process of digestion. Those of you who’ve been reading my blog know that for the last year or so that I’ve been celebrating my 50th birthday. I’ve been savoring new experiences, drinking in some adventure and, yes, to carry the metaphor a little too far, suffering from the inevitable hangover. Today, I turned 51 and now I can look back, see what I can recall, make some sense of it and try to figure out where I left my car (or “Doug” if you’re partial to The Hangover instead of Dude, Where’s my Car?).

My 50th birthday activities actually started before I turned 50. Back on October of 2009, I traveled to China with a friend of mine. Tom thought it would be cool to immerse ourselves in another language and Mandarin in Shanghai won out over Arabic in Morocco. Shanghai was, literally and figuratively, a trip. I wrote about it back then.

A few months later, the celebration changed venue to Iceland. I ventured to Reykjavik in July 2010, shortly after the summer solstice. This meant that my friend, Rich, and I could start a round of golf at 10pm and finish it at 2am with plenty of daylight. (Which we did). We also spent time on snowmobiles and glaciers and geysers and waterfalls and walking through areas described in 1,000 year old Icelandic sagas.

After Rich left, Barry joined me and we rode over the lid of Iceland. Not in comfortable cars, no, we rode motorcycles. And no, we didn’t ride on well maintained easy trails; hell no, we rode the nasty trail full of treacherous sand, numerous river crossings and way too many kilometers between gas stations. And speaking of running out of fuel in the volcanic desert, we didn’t make life easier for ourselves by bringing the right fuel for our camp stove; hell no, we had the wrong stuff and had to eat cold freeze-dried food. And no, we didn’t die in the desert; hell no, we had a satellite phone and called for Search and Rescue. Manly men occasionally do something right.

I didn’t write about Iceland because Barry was doing such a good job of it here. Maybe he or I will finish the story someday.

My final 50th birthday adventure was spent with my good friend, Oscar. I traveled to Florida in early January and we went huntin’. Yep, shot ourselves some little birds (quail). Tasty critters but you have to eat half a dozen to get a decent meal out of them. Given that I’d only shot a gun (of any kind) a couple of weeks earlier, I surprised myself by shooting two birds with my first two shots. By the way, the best part of hunting quail is enjoying the dogs (the pointers and the flusher).

So, metaphorically, where is my car? What did I learn from all this?

First, some simple stuff:

– Anyone under 40 should be studying Mandarin. It’s a good thing the language is really not that hard. Yes, you have to master the 4 tones, but then it’s just a lot of vocabulary.

– The Icelandic vikings only kidnapped good looking people.

– When riding through deep sand in a volcanic desert, avoid the well-worn trail. Blaze new tracks through virgin powder, sit back in your seat and let the bike go where it wants to go. Will it to stay on course, but don’t fight it.

– If you aim a shotgun carefully and squeeze the trigger slowly – you will miss every time. Let the gun become part of your arm. Point to the target and shoot without thinking too much. Just don’t shoot the dogs.

I think these are damn fine lessons to take with me into my 51st and subsequent years. I should be satisfied with them. I guess, though, if I had to add one more I’d say that I learned a lot about frailty and robustness in friendships.

Each of my fellow adventurers was a friend of mine. Tom and Rich were roommates of mine 30 years ago. In my travels with them I could sense ways that we’ve grown apart and may never recover the intimacy we once had. I could, however, also sense the original bonds the drew us together and allow us to remain friends after all this time. Barry has been a friend for only 6 years, but I know that there’s no one whom I’d trust in more when riding through the desert or crossing a swiftly flowing river. As to Oscar, we might have different interests and opinions about many things, but he is my brother.

For every Tom, Rich, Barry and Oscar there are numerous Johns and Joes and Jasons (and probably some Jennifers and Juliets) with which I’ve lost touch. I mourn these lost friendships; most were victims of simple neglect.

So, if I had one last lesson to highlight, I’d say that, for my 51st and subsequent years, I vow to better tend to my friends. As Chauncy Gardner said, “As long as the roots are not severed, all is well. And all will be well in the garden.”

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