Track Impressions: Oregon Raceway Park (ORP)

It’s a good thing that ORP is out in the middle of the boonies, because it means that a group of 20 solo drivers like us can descend on the track on a Monday/Tuesday in April and have the place to ourselves. What a playground for a whole bunch of Porsches, my M2C, a Honda S2000, and an Audi R8 race car. 

If this place was any closer to a big city, it’d be a whole different scene: every day would be busy, and the best you’d get is a day with a high-performance driving organization, with timed sessions and just a hell of a lot more structure. As it was, we had the whole day to ourselves: Want to run 40 minutes? Do it. Need a break after 8 laps because you put two wheels off exiting turn 3? Take 5 minutes and get back on. Organizer John Kleven (co-owner of Metropolitan Detail) said it and I know now it’s true: once you’ve had an open track day, you’ll never want to do it any other way. Sounds like pretty much everything else in performance driving: get a taste of that next level, and you never want to go back. It’s a good thing I didn’t take a ride in one of the many Porsches in our group: I would have had a hankering for a faster car.

I hope my impressions of the experience at ORP are useful; they’re just my perspective, nothing comprehensive. I wish I had taken more pictures (you can see the whole album here if you can tolerate it) and I wish my one lap video didn’t have so much vibration, so I’ll mostly use my words. Take it for what it’s worth.

If you’re at all like me, you use the days before a track day—especially a track day at a new track, as this was for me—to gather intel. I look at track maps (it’s amazing how different they can be, depending on the style and whether they show you the driving line or not), read “track notes” from other drivers (Paul Blake did one in a recent AVANTS magazine that was super helpful), and watch as many track videos as I can. My favorite from ORP was this guy running 1:54 laps in his damned Alfa Stelvio SUV! I didn’t realize how fast that really was until I got down to the track and say that many of us never did break the 2:00 barrier (with some notable exceptions, of course).

It’s silly that I cram my head so full of this stuff before getting on the track, because the longer I do this the more I realize I just need to get on the track! I love a track walk when I can get it (I did this time, as you can see), but mostly I just need the seat time to feel the track inside and out.

Only on the track can I really start to understand the turning and braking points; before that, they’re just so much clutter in my mind. Following faster drivers is super helpful, and I got to do this a lot at ORP, since there were a combination of monster cars and monster drivers making it interesting. Even if I only kept up for a turn or two, I learned something. It’s going to be great when this COVID thing passes and we can start getting instructors and even fellow drivers back in the cars with us, as there’s nothing like having someone in the passenger seat note the things you can’t figure out.

Another thing that made this track trip so cool—hell, it’s the second best part of track driving—was the brotherhood of car guys. If you are under the misguided impression that the kind of guys who can take their expensive cars off to the track on weekdays must be a bunch of arrogant assholes, you couldn’t be more wrong. Think of it this way: this is a group of people (it’s mostly guys, true, but not solely) who found something they love to do and are doing it with as joy and enthusiasm, happily sharing it with the like-minded, regardless of the price tag on the window sticker. Most of us got hooked into this group because of someone we’d met at another event (thanks Doug, Adam). There’s no arrogance, just humility, as we dissect our laps between sessions: we all know we could go faster.

Back to the track itself: ORP is a technical track, with 16 turns across 2.3 miles. I don’t think there’s a true flat spot on the track—you’re always rising or falling, which creates blind hills and blind corners all over the course. This technical quality made day one on the track a real challenge for me as we started lapping: I’d come into a corner and not know where the hell I was! For the better part of the first morning, I couldn’t tell turn 11 from turn 14. So I learned it bit by bit, all morning long: I’d figured out how to string three turns together, then add another two, then be lost again. Eventually, just before lunch, I started to feel the flow, to feel like I could drive continuously and confidently around the entire track. It’s then that I start to experience the deep joy of driving.

Day two felt so different. In theory, it should have felt like a new track again: after all, we were going in the opposite direction, counter-clockwise, so the line was very different even if the asphalt was the same. But I found day two much more enjoyable. Perhaps I had cleared the “new track jitters,” perhaps I had internalized the track map just a bit, but I got into the flow state much earlier and just found that I enjoyed CCW a hell of a lot more. 

I don’t think you can fully appreciate how special ORP is without mentioning the people there and the location. Bill Murray, the general manager, leads the morning track talk, gives the “track tour,” and hangs out to cook and offer advice all day long. He knows this track like the back of his hand; hell, he helped design it. You can tell from his track stories that he’s told them a few times, but put him in the car with you and it’s all thoughtful attention, tailored to your experience. Bill serves the lunch and then he comes around and clears your plate and it might be that my delight in being there clouds my vision, but I suspect this guy just really loves his job, loves being out at this track, with the wind blowing and his faithful dog at his side. I should have asked him.

The whole crew at the track is on the vibe: Brenda’s just as cool as can be, coming out to fill your tank from the big white gas tank that sits off on a trailer, noting down your name so you can settle up later. I listened in to the turn workers when I took a radio out to the tower at turn 8 to take photos: they delighted in the roar of these fast Porsches coming through, noting all the different types of wings. They seemed to be having as much fun as we were. And why not? They’re out in this beautiful countryside, with 100-mile views in every direction, Mt. Adams and Mt. Hood peaking out to the northwest and west, the vastness of eastern Oregon stretching the other way. ORP’s a pretty damned special place.

5000 Mile Volvo V90 CC Road Trip

I used to think the point of a road trip was pretty well summed up by Jerry Reed in “East Bound and Down”: 

“There’s a long way to go and a short time to get there …” 

Even if I started a trip thinking we could take our time, at some point the urge to make time grabbed me and we’d keep driving, stopping only to eat and pee, driving sometimes through the night. That feeling—push on, don’t stop—fueled most of the road trips I’ve ever taken, including multiple road trips across the United States, Michigan to Washington, including a memorable 1000-mile final push that ended with me hallucinating in the Palouse and lumps of dried cat shit in our bed. That same feeling pushed us to leave Peggy and Joe’s in Gaithersburg, Maryland, at 9 PM on a cold November night, determined to make a mad dash back to West Lafayette, Indiana, before our infant son woke up. (It didn’t work.)

But this time was different … or should I say, this time “time” was different. There was no deadline: no new job that started next week, no cold front to drive through, no track day to get to, no sleeping kid threatening to wake. Just a few days before the start of the trip, I’d left my job of 14 years and the whole world lay wide open before me. What better time to hop into our super-comfy Volvo V90 Cross Country and set out on an open-ended road trip across the American West with just one agreed-upon resting point: Albuquerque, New Mexico?

This is the story of a road trip, told in 3 parts: one about the car, one about the drive (both parts in this blog post), and one about the great big hole opening up in my mind along the way (that’s coming soon).

The Car

We call the car “Rootbeer Float.” That’s the name Sara gave the car shortly after we bought it in the summer of 2017 and for obvious reasons: the car is a lovely chocolate brown on the outside (Volvo calls it Maple Brown Metallic), but open the doors and you just drink in the sumptuous creamy foam of the leather, all over the dash, the doors, the seats, all the way back. Rootbeer Float it is.

Sara chose the name for the car, but the car kind of chose her. Our car shopping started that year because we’d made a decision to change out our car mix, to just acknowledge the fact that Tom was going to be driving a coupe, so that meant Sara needed something bigger. We started out shopping for an SUV, and we ran through drives in the Jaguar F-Pace, a couple Land Rovers, and both the Acura MDX and RDX, but none of these swept Sara off her feet. And then I suggested we take a look at Volvos. When we walked in to Sandberg Volvo in Lynnwood, Sara walked right past the XC60s and XC90s sitting outside and went straight up to the long brown V90 Cross Country that sat in the showroom. We didn’t even have to drive it to know that this was the car, but we did drive it and she loved it. I liked it too, but I had a thing for the Volvo “Bursting Blue” color and I said to Sara, “I love the car, but we should order the blue one and wait for it.” She pulled me aside and said, “We’ll use the fact that this isn’t our first choice color to bring down the price,” and sure enough she did.

I’m not going to rave about the driving dynamics of the car, at least the way I typically think of driving dynamics, spoiled by my M2. I find the tip-in too abrupt—ask for a little oomph and suddenly you get it all—and the engine sound is just meh. It’s a soft ride, so there’s too much roll and you learn not to attack corners but rather to ease into them. But there’s another kind of driving dynamics that the Volvo excels at and that’s just the experience of sitting in the car, being in the car. The 400-way adjustable seats are incredibly comfortable and supple, and that’s before you turn on the massage feature. The full-length sunroof bathes the car in light, and you can filter it with the shade if it’s too much. But you want the light, the better to showcase what may be the most beautiful interior and dashboard I’ve ever seen in a car, with the real wood panels and the luscious creamy leather. Driving in Rootbeer Float is just a different kind of car experience.

I liked Rootbeer Float before the road trip, but after 5,000 miles in it, I think I’m ready to say I love the car. All the things that make it comfortable on short trips just grow in importance when you’re spending hour upon hour in the car for days on end. The comfort, the quiet, the supple ride … yeah, let’s go. We spent most of our time about 10 MPH over the speed limit (sometimes more, as you can see in the photo below), which meant we were doing 75 or more much of the trip, sometimes cruising along at 90, and we returned 28.4 MPG for the whole trip. Not bad for a big wagon.

It wasn’t all sunshine and roses, though, as we blew out a tire 40 miles north of Rock Springs, Wyoming, but even this lone glitch was totally my fault. When we left Rock Springs in the early morning, the temperature was in the low 20s, and we got a warning that said we had low pressure in the left rear tire. This was just the car overreacting to the temperature swing, I reasoned, as it had several times before. So we ignored the warning and kept going, and didn’t think of it again until 40 miles later—40 miles driving straight north into the vast high desert—when it suddenly sounded like there was a helicopter flying overhead. Whap, whap, whap, whap, whap. I looked ahead, as a big truck was coming in the other direction, and thought it must be the truck, but then he passed by and the sound didn’t stop—whap, whap, whap—and then it dawned on me, we had a flat tire.

I pulled off into the drive of a ranch road and hopped out and saw to my intense shame that I had shredded the tire: it was in tatters, nearly wholly ripped off the rim. Whenever I saw other people along the road with a tire in that condition, I thought and generally remarked: “Fucking idiot.” Who would be so dumb to drive so far on a flat tire? Didn’t they know you should pull off right away and not risk damaging your rim or, hell, losing control of the car? So here I was, a fucking idiot, standing alongside the road 40 miles from nowhere, unloading all the gear in the trunk so that I could get at the space saver tire, Sara all the while calling tire stores to find out if anyone had tires that would fit the car.

It really wasn’t that bad from there though: in the 20 minutes it took me to change out the tire, 4 people stopped to offer help. The first two were cowboys in a big-ass pickup, coming out the ranch road. They pulled up and the passenger gave me a big grin and asked if I needed anything. I said I thought I had it figured out, but I knew I looked like a damned fool with a tire shredded like that. “You said it, not me,” he laughed. Two minutes later a young guy stopped over and he too was fully willing to help out, but by then it was pretty clear I was in good shape. I asked him which was the closest place to find tire repair and he said it was either 60 miles north or turn around and go back south to Rock Springs, which would be the better bet. That’s what we did and we had the pleasure of landing at a Les Schwab where, within the hour, they had slapped on four brand new Continental LX25s and had us on our way. The thousand dollar tab didn’t even hurt, as we were getting to the end of life for the tires that were on the car, OEMs from when we bought it new. Hell, the tires were quieter and smoother than before—it was an upgrade! When life gives you lemons, you stop in at Les Schwab for lemonade. 

The Route

There is a fairly direct path between Seattle and Albuquerque, if you don’t mind sticking to the Interstates most of the way. It’s a 1,444 mile journey, something you could easily knock off in 2 days, maybe even one day if you’re young and hungry and don’t mind ending your day jacked on caffeine. But we aren’t young, we wanted to avoid Interstates, and the only thing we were hungry for was novelty—the novelty of new roads, new sights. After a year of being confined to our house in Snohomish, we were ready for a little adventure. So we chose to lengthen our trip by half each way, choosing two different routes that ended up being right around 2,100 miles each, and because our goal was to also get out for 4-6 miles of walking and exploring each day, that meant we gave ourselves breathing room: 5 days/4 nights.

The conventional way to describe to you our route would be to use road names and numbers and to tell you which direction we went and which towns we went through. Screw that. I want you to narrow your eyes—to squint, try it with me—so you don’t see the details too clearly, and then pretend that you are going on a roller coaster ride across 2100 miles of the American West, with the entire trip compressed into 3 minutes of fun. Ready?

We start out—clickety clack, rackety rackety—up the long climb on-90, east over Snoqualmie Pass, boring, ho-hum, done it a million times (except for the quick trip into Owen’s Custom Meats in Cle Elum to stock up on landjaeger and jerky, because damn, I left them in the bread box). This is the long, slow climb up to the top of the first hill on the massive roller coaster we’re on, and it takes forever but we reach the top just east of Ellensburg, where we get off 90 and then start the long, swerving, dipping slide down the far lower flanks of first the Cascades, then the Sierra Nevadas.

For 3 whole days—but remember, it’s passing in a blur—we barrel up and down across rippling sage colored landscape, up and down the swells of this massive wave of land—Goldendale, the Gorge, narrow canyons opening out into vast plains, the world closing in with forest then boom, just around the bend, widening to an incredible vastness as we come up over a rise and the land falls away, taking our stomachs with it, a flat, nearly white lake in the distance promising water that may just be salt, with some unnamed range beckoning a hundred miles distant. Scale and perspective are all blown out; the world is huge. The ride slows in Bend for a burger and a beer, outside in the cold, then blows wide open as we turn left into morning in the “Oregon Outback,” emptied of people, sometimes thick with trees, sometimes blown free of anything but scrub. We rise again, hardly noticing the climb but for the growing presence of snow around us until we find ourselves impossibly high over Mono Lake, then we wind down, down into a land that grows ever more arid, arid enough to hold an internment camp, testament to our shame, so arid that finally we dive right down to the bottom of Death Valley, and it’s only there that we shake free from the grip of this massive upthrust range and set out across the wide, regular swells of Basin-and-Range Nevada.

Our roller coaster ride had a little transition here: we popped up out of Death Valley for BBQ in Beatty, Nevada, and here was a decision point: turn right for the well-traveled road leading to Vegas, or turn left, north, to spend the night at the Shady Lady, a former brothel exactly one-third of the way to nowhere, backtracking to set ourselves up for the fun house ride across Nevada. You know which one we chose.

Our ride got weird here. No more dipping, rising, plunging vastness; to cross central Nevada is to be in a trance. We gassed up in Tonopah, knowing it was our last chance for a while, then we entered the twilight zone. We’d glide across these long straightaways that stretch ALL THE WAY to the horizon, and just when you think you’ll never turn again, that you’ll just keep driving straight into the endless dry distance, you jog left, then right, wriggling up across the slight rise that defines the range, thinking maybe there’d be something new beyond but no, just another long straightaway, A sign warned of low-flying aircraft, then sure enough, a fighter jet marked his highway crossing on one rootbeer brown Volvo: WHOOOOOSSSSHHH, and the car shuddered, briefly, side to side. 9 times we cross the basins: 9 times we wriggle up then down, then straight, straight, long enough to muse about what would happen if we broke down out here, 50 miles since we’d seen another car, and then, just as we’re getting a little worried, we drop down into Caliente, gassing up again, prematurely maybe (there’s still a third a tank) but it feels right, before entering a new land, scrub pines and the start of red rock country. 

The dream, the roller coaster ride, stopped there, at least for me, and became a drive again. The land tightened up as we came into Utah: there were still huge open spaces and vistas, but the features changed more rapidly as we twisted and turned south of Zion and up through Coral Pink Dunes to Kanab. We planned a morning hike in a box canyon nearby, but the morning surprise—2 inches of fresh snow everywhere—kicked us into gear: time to get to Albuquerque. With a promise of “mixed” weather all day, we scooted out, dark brooding clouds and spitting snow chasing us across northeast Arizona—Kayenta, Many Farms, Window Rock—before we dropped down, plop, onto I-40 heading east out of Gallup, poor Sara taking the wheel for the freeway driving, full of semis, as a dust-storm blew us into Albuquerque. As we took the familiar exit onto Rio Grande Blvd. we looked at the dusty brown squalor of the city and wondered, what the hell did we ever see in this place? When we woke to blue skies over the Sandias, we remembered.

The return trip was just as good … but let’s save that story for another time.

Part 3 of this “story” is also Part 3 of my earlier series I’ve called “The Attention Experiment,” so I’ve broken it into a separate blog post. Check back soon for that one.

The Attention Experiment, Part 2: Layer Upon Layer

Seventeen years ago, Sara and I decided to repaint our house, an old farmhouse originally built in 1904, dramatically transformed in 1934 after a fire gutted half of the original, but still a classic, simple structure. (I’ve included a picture of how it looks today.)

Being the detail freak perfectionist weirdos that we are, we decided 1) that we’d do it ourselves and 2) that we’d do it right. Of course the only way to ensure a good coat of paint was to remove all the paint presently on the house, and thus to correct some of the bubbling and flaking that we knew was a result of poor prep work however many years earlier. We started with some garden-variety scraping—and quickly found that the light green top layer covered up multiple layers underneath. We had to get to the bottom of it, and so we embarked on a journey to remove all the paint from the cedar siding, determined to get down to the bare wood below. We scraped; we used heat guns; we used a belt sander; and finally when none of these proved adequate to the task we bought a $400 paint grinder and ground the paint off the house. By the end of what became a two-year odyssey (we quickly realized in year one that we’d never do it all before the rains came), I swore that I’d never, ever paint my own house again.

It occurs to me now, two weeks into what I’ve called my attention experiment, that there are going to be many layers to get through as I reorient how and what I pay attention to, and in reorienting thus change who I am and what I do. Because what I realize as I scrape away my first layer of attention is that this whole problem of attention is much more complicated, much more intertwined with my identity, than I ever expected. There’s a lot of layers of paint, and I’m looking to get down to the bare wood.

Maybe this first layer that I scraped away—the layer that consists of newsletter subscriptions, social media follows, etc. that I described in an earlier post—is like the green paint atop our house when we started: just a topcoat, hiding many layers beneath. Maybe it’s like the brittle, thin outer skin of an onion: easily removed, almost ephemeral, and hardly indicative of the thick, juicy, flavorful stuff that lies within.

For me, getting rid of that first layer of attentional noise was easy and, bam, instantly liberating. In an instant, I was no longer hip-deep in cybersecurity and privacy news on LinkedIn, with its inevitable share of loudmouths and narcissists among all the good folks. Right away, I could stop paying hours of daily attention to the “breaking news” I had deemed so important. All I had to decide was that it wasn’t important to me. The world, these worlds, didn’t need me to pay attention, and so I didn’t.

Perhaps too it was easy to shuck off these first layers because I immediately set off on a 2,000-mile road trip across the West, taking a path that ensured that for good parts of the journey, I had no internet access at all. I couldn’t have paid attention to the digital world if I wanted to. The rhythm of my days changed too, with new sights unfurling in front of me constantly. 

So, removing that first layer was easy and delightful—I felt freed of noise, able to pay more attention to my present moments. And yet subtly, little by little, I became aware that there were some deeper currents to my old self, to “work Tom,” that I would need to scrape away, to get beneath and discard. 

Somewhere south of Mono Lake, as we started the long descent that would eventually put us at sea level on the floor of Death Valley, I recognized that next layer that I’d have to scrape off if I really wanted to pay attention to the world differently. I put it to Sara like this: “I’ve built up some armor plating over the years and I think I may just not need it any more.” As this came out of the blue, she looked at me quizzically. “For years,” I explained, “I’ve been driving myself with this imperative to always be on top of the latest news in my industry, because I never wanted to be caught not knowing something. But that’s just one manifestation of this deeper push, push, push that always been part of my professional life. It’s what made me successful, but if I’m going to really step back from what’s driven me for the last 10 years of my career at least, I think I’m going to have to let it go.” We talked about whether “armor” was the right term for this “disposition,” this deep attitude or underlying drive that lay beneath the mere things that I paid attention to. 

I compared my mental armor to the plating that you put on an icebreaker, so that the icebreaker can push through a frozen sea, breaking through and pushing aside the resistance of the ice. Yeah, we agreed, armor was the right term. But now it felt like this was armor I didn’t need, added weight. If I didn’t foresee any ice ahead, why not see what it was like to ply the seas without it?

This is all a way of saying, it’s not just what I pay attention to that shapes who I am, but it’s also why I pay attention to it, and especially the deep “whys” that drive my choices, consciously and unconsciously. I’m paying attention to those deeper drivers of my attention now—even as I’m already basking in the greater receptivity and calmness that accompanies my distance from the hum of the hyperactive hive mind.

Photo credits:

Icebreaker, 50 Years of Victory, Christopher Michel, https://www.flickr.com/photos/cmichel67/19790888415

House photo by Kelly Clare, 2020

The Attention Experiment: Part 1, Pulling Back

One week ago, I started a great experiment. 

I’m trying to answer this question: how do I regain control of what I pay attention to?

It’s not a “digital detox,” where I swear off all things electronic for a month or a year. I’m not moving to Opt Out Village. I like my digital interactions too much for that.

Instead, it’s a recognition that I’ve slowly and incrementally developed a dissatisfying if not unhealthy relationship to big parts of the digital world–that is, the world I experience via the internet, it all its forms. I want to reinvent and reimagine what I pay attention to in this world. I want to pull back, soften my focus, and see what I’ve been missing.

Barn near Fobes Ebey Slough Dike Road

Why now? Because my break from my longtime workplace provides me with a great opportunity: all the communications and connections that came to me via “tomp@mediapro.com” are now gone! Whoopee! I don’t have to pay attention to all things cybersecurity and privacy because of my job, and I get to step away from the “hyperactive hive mind” that is the contemporary workplace (see Cal Newport’s A World Without Email on this topic). 

But why stop at merely trimming away the attention I pay to the obligatory work world? Why not see how much else I can pare away and discard?

So I’m going to see if I can step way back, disentangling myself from the constraints and commitments that I’ve made in the past, discovering what a new informational landscape might look like, teaching the algorithms to know a different side of me.

I’m going to unfollow and unsubscribe from everything that doesn’t brighten my day–on LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, my inbox.

And I’m going to keep following the stuff that just makes me happy: so Avants, Austin Kleon, Rachael Talibart, and Randy Pobst all stay.

We’ll see what it looks like. Let me know if you’ve tried anything similar, and how it works or worked for you.

Off the Bus

There’s exciting news as MediaPRO becomes part of the KnowBe4 family. What a kick to see so many of my friends and colleagues joining on with this clear industry leader …

But not me. It’s time for me to get off the bus and set off in a different direction! I’m going to start by throwing all the privacy and security balls I’ve been juggling high into the air; I’ll watch them float down and decide which ones look interesting enough to catch. I’ll sure I’ll be writing in the days ahead–about track driving, hiking, birds, who knows–and I’m likely to get back to privacy and data protection soon enough. If you’ve got a story to share about how you’ve navigated life’s adventures, drop me a line. 

Fondly,

Tom

tompendergast@gmail.com

425-315-6577

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/tompendergast 

Personal website: www.caribunkle.com

Popping Through the Clouds; Feeling My Head Explode

I wouldn’t call myself a “fair weather hiker.” Not only would it imply some flaw in my character but it’s just not true: I hike in every month of the year, and I’ll take off for the mountains in nearly any condition. But I prefer sunshine. For me, hiking is all about digging beauty … and let’s face it, it’s prettier in the sunshine. (And, it’s kind of hard to dig beauty when you’re cold and wet and your glasses are fogged up and you can’t see a goddamned thing!)

Truth is, I’m pretty much committed to getting outside every day, and to at least starting out for a hike no matter what (though if I can delay by a day to grab sunshine, I’ll do it). Honestly, if you put off hikes on the chance of bad weather in the Pacific Northwest, you won’t hike much. Besides, the weather changes around here so rapidly that you never know that what you’ve got at home is what you’ll have at the trailhead, let alone a few thousand feet higher. So a lot of times, I’ll go out anyway, taking a chance for the big payoff that comes when you start in the murk, in a raincoat, and maybe slog through the morning mist for miles, or drive two hours in the fog, like we did getting up to White Chuck just this last year.

Some days you start in the murk …
.. and it never gets any better.

Sometimes you start in the murk and never escape it, and hey, you get some nice exercise in a cloud. It’s not like there’s really a bad day in the mountains.

But sometimes the world just transforms as you rise, the clouds shifting and thinning as you switchback up, patches of blue materializing overhead, and you realize you’re right at the top of the cloud deck as it floats and weaves around you–like you’ve been underwater and now you’re coming to the surface of a wavy sea. And then, suddenly, you’re above it all, and it’s just blue above and the nearby summits rise out of the cloudy sea. 

Alex and me on Bald Mountain

It’s days like this that convince me to keep trying, just to keep heading out, taking the chance that today is the day for the big payoff, when you climb out of the clouds and look across a pillowy white sea. My favorite “popping out” days happened not on the big boys—Baker and Rainier—but rather on Dickerman with Sara; on Bald Mountain with Alex; and then just this last fall, with John, Sam, and Louisa on White Chuck. The pictures will tell the story better than words.

On Rainier
On Dickerman with Sara, Big Four in the background
White Chuck
Sam and Lou digging some beauty on White Chuck

Oddly enough, there’s an odd parallel to my daily practice of reading, for there too the regular practice sometimes leads to an outsize payoff. 

Here’s my morning routine: up around 4:30 AM, I turn on the fire, pour a cup of coffee, and sit down to read. I read Heather Cox Richardson’s daily email, check out a few stories from Dave Pell’s Next Draft, go through newsletter dailies from The Guardian, The NY Times, Wired, the MIT Technology Review, check for new stories in The New Yorker, and then dip into some light car stuff from Jalopnik. I read fast and bail quickly on stuff that doesn’t light my fire.

Most days it’s pretty conventional, but every now and then I go running off on a wild goose chase that feels like I’ve stepped into a different world. Just last week, for example, I chased down a reference from Austin Kleon that led me to Alan Jacob’s quirky blog (specifically, one titled “A Newsletter of Newsletters”) and from there I went careening off off into wilds of the web, running into Robin Rendle, Paul Kedrosky, Lauren O’Connell, … man, I don’t know how I started or which led to which, but it was an adventure that just lit me up!

When Sara came down the stairs around 6:30, I was giddy, grinning from ear to ear.

“You look happy,” said Sara.

“Honey, I feel like my head has exploded!,” I replied. I felt like I was riding a big wild wave of variety and quirkiness that had rolled in off the free, wild Internet that’s still out there when I venture off my beaten path.

That day, I broke through the clouds.

Sara Went to Brazil; I Made Bagels

When Sara took off for Sao Paolo, Brazil, in 2012, just a few weeks after our daughter left for college in Pittsburgh, I watched the plane fly off into the distance and thought that this wasn’t how becoming an empty nester was supposed to work out. But Sara was chasing a lifelong dream and it wouldn’t last forever, so I determined to make the best of it.

I filled that gaping 18-month hole in my life with all kinds of boring shit—like working too much and watching lot of sports on TV—and also with a little weird shit, like going to beaches, bringing back smooth round rocks, coating them in clear varnish, and putting feet on them (oh yeah, I made a video of this one). I climbed a lot of mountains. There was a sad stretch too, which I affectionately call “Caipirinha Summer,” after the strong Brazilian cocktail I had learned to make during our Christmas visit to Ihlabela. It sounds romantic, doesn’t it? Well it wasn’t: it was day after day of me sitting alone on my back porch, drinking myself into a dull stupor, bored and lonely. There was no tawdry shit.

Of all the holes that Sara’s absence left in my life, there was only one I filled to my satisfaction: I learned to make my own bagels. For many years Sara had made bagels for me. She loved to bake and I loved bagels. I was the big winner in this exchange, true, and that made it all the harder when she was gone. I tried to fill the hole with grocery-store bagels (blah) and I tried switching to oatmeal, but what I really wanted was a crusty, dense, home-made bagel. And so I learned how to make my own.

Here’s the recipe I use. I got it off the internet and I’ve tweaked it here and there, but it’s basically the same recipe as the original.

Try following the recipe closely first few times, until you get comfortable with the feel of the dough, then by all means experiment. I’m still searching out the perfect way to get chunks of jalapeño into the dough: chopped fresh, they add too much liquid, but roasting makes them to soft and they fall apart. I’ll figure it out, eventually. 

Tom’s Bachelor Bagels

Sponge:

  • 1 teaspoon instant yeast
  • 4 cups bread flour (white)
  • 2 1/2 cups lukewarm water

Dough:

  • 1/2 teaspoon instant yeast
  • 3 3/4 cups bread flour (I prefer 2-3 cups of this to be wheat)
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon malt powder (I order from Amazon)

or

  • 1 tablespoon malt syrup, honey, or brown sugar (any of these work well)

Finishing touches:

  • Baking soda for the water (1 tablespoon, or a good shake, as you wish)
  • Cornmeal for dusting the pan
  • Toppings for the bagels such as seeds, salt, onion, or garlic

Directions

This is a 2 day recipe, with the bagels spending the night in the refrigerator before baking on day 2. My only rule on when I start is that it’s got be at least 4 hours before bedtime.

Day 1: Kneading and Shaping

To make the sponge, stir the yeast into the white flour in a large mixing bowl. Add the water and stir until all ingredients are blended. Cover with plastic wrap and allow to rise for two hours in a reasonably warm place.

Remove the plastic wrap and stir the additional yeast, malt powder, and salt into the sponge. I use the kneading hook on my mixer. Then add the rest of the flour; you can add 3 cups right away, then add the last amount slowly as the dough comes together.

A note on this second addition of flour: it’s up to you on the proportion of white and wheat flour. White flour will make a lighter, fluffier bagel; wheat makes it richer, thicker. Over time, I’ve come to prefer 2-3 cups of wheat flour, but make it the way you like. I’ll just say, the wheat flower is “thirstier” and makes for a drier dough, so you might not use quite as much.

Knead the dough in the mixer until it starts to form a dense ball. I’ll say, this dough is so dense that it eventually overheats my mixer and I take it out and finish the kneading by hand. You’re looking for a stiff dough that springs back when you poke it. I generally lookin for a combined kneading time of about 10 minutes, but it’s really all about the feel.

Immediately after kneading, split the dough into 12 equal pieces. This will get you a pretty decent size bagel. Roll each piece into a ball and set it aside. When you have all 12 pieces made, cover them with a damp towel and let them rest for 20-30 minutes.

Shaping the bagel is easy: punch your thumb through the center of each ball and then rotate the dough, working it so that the bagel is as even in width as possible.

Place the shaped bagels on an oiled sheet pan (you can use parchment paper if you prefer), with enough space between the bagels that they can rise a bit. Cover the pan with plastic (I use two small plastic garbage bags, one from each end) and allow the dough to rise for about 20-40 minutes; you just need enough time for the bagels to start to rise and fill in again before you pop them in the fridge to “retard” overnight.

Day 2: Baking

I love a fresh-baked bagel for breakfast so I always do the baking first thing in the morning, but it’s up to you. For me, day 2 starts when I take the bagels out of the fridge, take off the plastic bag, and let them come up to room temp and just start to rise again.

Preheat the oven to 500 (yes, 500). Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add one tablespoon of baking soda to the pot to alkalize the water. Or don’t add baking soda, if you think “alkalize the water” sounds like I’m making something up.

You’ll also want to lightly sprinkle a baking sheet with corn meal to receive your boiled bagels. I often spray my baking sheet with oil before adding the corn meal, because I think it makes clean up easier.

When the pot is boiling, drop a few of the bagels into the pot one at a time and let them boil for 1 minute. Use a large, slotted spoon or spatula to gently flip them over and boil them on the other side for another minute.

Now here’s one trick I learned from experience: you don’t want to put the wet bagel straight from the boiling pot onto the baking sheet. You need to get some of that moisture off. I lay a dish towel on the counter and put a wire rack on top of that, and then I drain my bagels on there before moving them to the baking sheet.

You’ll want to top your bagels while they’re still moist, so don’t wait too long. I’ve had success with salt; everything bagel topping; grated cheese; slices of jalapeño peppers. They’re your bagels, do your thing.

Once the bagels are topped, place the sheet pan into the preheated oven and bake for 7 minutes, then rotate the pan and bake for another 7 minutes until the bagels begin to brown. Remove the pan from the oven and let them cool. Well, let most of them cool but you have to eat one right away.

When it comes to cooking time, it took me a while to get to the 7 minute rule, because my original recipe called for 5 minutes and I ate a lot of undercooked bagels. Don’t be afraid to let the bagels brown a bit. You’ll figure out what is best for your oven.

I generally slice mine once they cool and put them all in a bag in the freezer, then I them each morning of the week and eat them topped with cream cheese and fig jelly but with Mick’s Beyond Buzztail Habanero pepper jelly.

My Online Manifesto

Ever since I started working in cybersecurity and privacy fifteen years ago, I’ve been trying to think of the simplest possible principles to guide my actions as I navigate the digital world. This is my online manifesto, principles I try to live by in my personal life and also to embed in my work:

Spread Truth

Reject Bullshit

Be Kind

I’m going to devote a bunch of my writing and thinking in the coming months to playing these ideas out in detail, in part to test how these work for others.

So how about you? Do you have principles that guide your behavior in the digital world? I’d love your commentary.

In the sections below, I’m putting flesh on what these principles mean to me. This is very much a work in progress.


Spread Truth

There’s a lot of truth out in the world, but I’d be the last one to tell you that there’s one “truth.” In fact, I think there is room for people to have different truths—as long as we agree on how we’ll handle ourselves when we hold different versions of the truth. For example, you may believe in an omniscient deity and I may not, but as long as we both agree that it’s okay for us to hold different opinions about things that aren’t knowable, we can get along. Similarly, I may believe in one role for government and you may believe in another, but as long as we agree on some principles for how we’ll resolve our differences in shaping shared governance, we can all get along. It’s violations of these shared principles that have been for me the biggest problem in politics in the last decade, and especially the last several years.

So, truth is not one thing that’s out there, but rather a process of reaching understanding that is characterized by reason, verifiability, utility, and the absence of the qualities associated with bullshit (see below). Psychiatrist and philosopher Neel Burton MD suggests that truth can be easily known by testing how it feels: “Does it feel calm, considered, and nuanced, or shallow and knee-jerk? Am I taking the welfare of others into consideration, or is it just all about me?” You can see that the former is truth. You know it when you see it. Need more? May I suggest that you start with the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, read for ten years, then come back to me with something simpler. 

Let’s say, then, that truth is the opposite of bullshit: in other words, truth is good, bullshit is bad. It stands to reason that if you want to reject bullshit, you’ll want to spread truth. You want truth to be known, because of its qualities of making sense of the world, making it easier and more pleasant to navigate. But just like the intensity of how you reject bullshit is up to you, so is the urgency with which you spread truth. You’re not obligated to post every true thing you discover (I know sometimes I wear the patience of my friends a little thin with my habit of sending out “must reads” at 5 AM.) I guess you’re not obligated to share truth with anyone else at all. But I do think the world might be a little better place if people shared the truths that helped  the world make sense to them. I’m always happy when someone shares that kind of thing with me. (My colleague Brian Hansford shared his thoughts on the tensions between sales and marketing on LinkedIn the other day, and I was blown away by how cool it was to see somebody sharing their honest and thoughtful view of the world.)


Reject Bullshit

Bullshit is the opposite of truth. When you see something on social media that seeks to stoke outrage, to raise alarm for its own sake, to stir your emotions, or to throw stones at a perceived enemy, chances are you have run into bullshit. The aim of most bullshit on social media is to get you to “like” or react to the bullshit, and if your reaction includes spreading the bullshit to others, then it has done it’s job. When you react to bullshit, you reward the spreader of bullshit, sometimes with money, sometimes just with attention. But you increase the chances that you will see more bullshit. Basically, you’ve told the algorithm “I like bullshit,” and so you’ll see more bullshit soon. When more and more people like bullshit and spread bullshit, pretty soon you discover that the whole world is awash in bullshit.

That’s why it feels so important to “Reject Bullshit.” You can start by just not reacting to the bullshit that comes your way: when you see something that outrages you, pass it by. Ignore it. Or better yet, use the reporting functions of social media to tell the algorithms: “I’m not interested in bullshit.” Pretty soon, you’ll find that you get less bullshit in your world. Better yet, if we all stopped liking bullshit, the bullshit would (mostly) go away.

There’s a kind of activism in the world “reject” that may make you uncomfortable. I’m not saying you have to confront bullshit. You don’t necessarily have to become an anti-bullshit activist (though it’s perfectly okay if you do, as long as you work through the complexity of not giving bullshit too much attention by confronting it.) If all you ever did was ignore bullshit, that would be a great start. But you can also push back against bullshit, to be a little more forthright in your rejection (and if you can do it while still being kind, all the better).

A word about the term “bullshit”: I’m sorry for swearing; I wish there was a word that captured the nuances that bullshit captures without offending anyone, but I don’t how to convey what I mean without offense. In fact, the offense is part of what makes it the right word: bullshit offends the sensibilities of decent people not just for falseness, but also for its ill intent. That’s the thing about bullshit: it’s bullshit.


Be Kind

This one is so simple to say, but so complicated in application! How do you kindly reject bullshit, for example? The thing is, if you follow this principle dutifully, you almost can’t help but do the first two. But it’s worth calling out because it’s the lack of kindness that’s been such a big problem on the internet for so long. I won’t belabor this point: we’ve all seen the damage trolls can do, the enmity that exists when people hide behind obscure user names. We’ve seen how ugly political life has gotten when we villainize and stereotype others.

I’m not asking you not to feel anger or vindictiveness or cynicism or any other negative emotion. But I’m convinced we’ll be better off if we moderate those feelings in our digital interactions. When those harsh, negative feelings are directed at other people they elicit similar feelings (or defensiveness or retreat) in response, and they escalate and then the entire interaction gets sidetracked. It turns away from truth and toward bullshit. So I’m saying, feel all your feelings, then ask yourself if you can possibly express them with kindness.

I try to submit all my online communications to the kindness test. Whether I’m writing an email, a text message, a blog post, whatever, I ask myself: is this a kind way of making this point? And if it’s not–if I find myself expressing negative, angry, mean-spirited stuff, I put it aside and come back to it.

I’ve got a lot more to say on this one–including calling myself to account, because anyone who has known me for any duration knows that I sometimes indulge my sharp tongue. It’s true, I can be a real a**hole–but I always wish I had found a better way.

What You Go Up, You’ve Got to Come Down

Or, How I Ruined My Shoulders on Whitehorse Mountain

When I think back on all the hikes I’ve done over the years, there are a few that stand out:

The first summit of Mt. Baker, when we were too excited to sleep; finally making it up Glacier Peak, after bailing out on multiple earlier attempts due to the weather turning to shit; John, Nick, and I stuck on Sperry Peak, where we took the wrong route and found ourselves on a high ledge, choosing between two bad options—keep going up, or try going down; my fall on Merchant Peak.

Dawn as we prepare to go up the Roman Wall on Mt. Baker

Those last two are the closest I’ve come to … well, I don’t want to be melodramatic and call it “death,” because who knows, but certainly the closest I’ve come to serious injury. There’s a good story about all of these hikes.

Whitehorse

The funny thing is, the climb on which I had my most serious injury goes down in my mind as one of my absolute favorites: Whitehorse Mountain, which John and I climbed on May 23, 2009, where I ended up tearing the rotator cuff on both shoulders and the labrum on the left. My shoulders have never been the same since—but this story isn’t about my shoulders.

When John and I set out that May morning, we didn’t really expect to get to the summit. We were out for a “conditioner,” just something to give our legs a workout without going up Pilchuck for the umpteenth time. When you call something a “conditioner,” it kind of lowers your expectations; we expected to get to Lone Tree Pass for sure, maybe High Pass, but not the summit. Since I’m expecting you’re going to go out and do this soon, here are just a couple route description links: WTA and Mountaineers.) But then we got going, and everything just kept going our way: we hit snow early and the snow quality down low was not bad (meaning, not too wet and slushy), and then as we got to the back side of the ridge and started up again, a group ahead of us left such a great boot path that it made our work “easy” (watch the video to see why I put easy in quotes).

Soon enough we had reached the second, higher ridge (High Pass) and were looking at the summit and we said, hell, why not. It was just one of those blue-sky days where the snow was beautiful and our legs felt good, like we could go on forever. It wasn’t until we got to the bottom of the last stretch to the summit that we understood why people roped up. Damn, it was steep! But it wasn’t far and there was so much snow and we felt good so, why not? And off we went, digging in with the ice axe, kicking in hard with our crampons, until we made the summit.

Up top, we met another group, four or five climbers who had roped up. And we started to talk about the difficulty of getting down.

The Downclimb

One of the things that you learn when you start stretching your climbing skills is that it’s easier going up than going down. I say you learn this, but really, it’s something the mountains teach you. Facing the mountain, looking into it, you keep your feet planted beneath you and you probe with your hands and your eyes going up. You can easily do more than you should. But head down the same path and it’s a whole different ballgame. Suddenly you’re facing the void, keenly aware of the depths beneath you—the space you could fall into and through. It’s harder to see the footholds, and you can’t probe with your feet the same way. Gravity wants to pull you forward. It can be fucking scary. So over time you learn that you never want to go up something you don’t want to come down. So you calibrate in your mind, how will this be going down? And if you’re smart, you find a route that will provide a safe return.

We did this little calibration on Whitehorse and we concluded that we could make it down. In truth, I’d probably make the same decision today. 

As we prepared to head down, the folks who had rope offered that we could use their rope on the downclimb. I liked that idea; John preferred to turn his face into the mountain and downclimb, kicking steps and using his axe. Turns out his was the better decision.

I didn’t have a climbing harness, so I decided to do an “arm rappel.” I had never done this before so I made it up and it went like this: I held the top end of the rope in my right hand, looped the rope around my back, and then held the bottom end of the rope in my left hand, holding enough tension that I could kind of lean back into the rope. The idea was I’d kind of “bounce” my way down the steepest part of the mountain this way, until the slope started to mellow and I could get off the rope. It sounds easy enough, doesn’t it? But given the steepness of the pitch it wasn’t easy at all. I’d feed myself some slack, reset the rope, then drop backward—fifty or a hundred times, jerking myself to a stop, taking the full weight of my body onto my shoulders. I felt a bit like a puppet, holding to the strings of some cruel puppet master who kept dropping me and jerking me to a stop. (Experienced climbers will observe that there are techniques to make an arm rappel easier, the Dülfersitz rappel being the most common. What can I say? I didn’t know.)

But soon enough the slope let up, and I left the rope, waving to my friends at the top, calling out “thank you.” As I watched John cautiously, methodically downclimb the same slope–facing the mountain, kicking in, planting his axe–I rubbed the shoulders I had just thrashed. They hurt! But what was I going to do: we had seven miles and 7,000 vertical to hike out, some of it in steep snow. We packed up our ice axes, lengthened our poles, and off we went. It was a spectacular climb, such a worthy summit, and every time I see Whitehorse I remember it fondly.

But my shoulders have never been the same. In 12 years, I’ve had two surgeries, stem cell injections, multiple round of physical therapy … and still, a couple tough yoga poses and I’m back into full-on pain, my shoulders aching with any rotation.

One great climb; years of aching shoulders. Still, I’d do Whitehorse again, if any of the Caribunkle Boys are up for it.