Archive | February, 2013

Ommmmmmmmmmmm… !?

25 Feb

I got off the wait list for the 10-day silent Vipassana meditation course.  So tomorrow, I will drive to Canada to take part.  [AHHHHH!!!]

The meditation center is in Montebello, Quebec — halfway between Montreal and Ottawa — in a “tranquil open valley surrounded by forest.”

Picture of the meditation center where I'll be going.

Picture of the meditation center where I’m going (from their website).

I don’t know what to expect.  I’m flying blind into this one.  An inquiry to a traveler friend who has completed the course yielded a cryptic response: “Just believe in the process.”

Vipassana, which means “seeing things are they really are,” is an ancient Indian meditation technique.  It has nothing to do with any organized religion but is simply “the process of self- purification by self-observation.”  [From there, the website waxes on philosophically, causing my mind to grow fuzzy.]  The course is totally free.  Students may make anonymous donations at the end of the course, if they are able and so wish.

From what I can glean from the center’s website, there may be 100 or more students per course, but the men and women are kept strictly segregated.  For the entirety of the 10 days, students observe “noble silence” — that is, silence of body, speech, and mind.  Oh yes, and do you remember the course schedule?  Days begin at 4:00 a.m. with a wakeup bell and continue until 9:30 p.m.  There are about ten hours of meditation throughout the day.  A vegetarian meal is served twice a day.  Tea is available in the evenings.

Mentally, of course, it’s hard.  But by all accounts, sitting in the same position for hours on end is physically excruciating.  Shooting pains, stabbing pains, numbness.

If you’re like my Aunt Leslie, you may have some questions.  Like, W.T.F.?!  Or, as Aunt Leslie puts it in a text message, “What’s there to discover in silence?  Life’s too short to be quiet for 10 days.”

Well, I don’t know.  Past students say it is life-changing.  They say you get out and your head is just so clear.


But I do believe that life is about more than just deriving pleasure and avoiding pain.  Life is about finding a meaning in life — and fulfilling it.  I haven’t found my meaning yet, but this year — in so many ways — is about that search.  And I think this meditation course fits into there somewhere.  [Yes, albeit at the risk of getting too Eat Pray Love-y.]

But, I will say, I am freaking out.  Of course, I don’t know what to expect.  And I’m worried I may end up in an insane asylum.  But my biggest fear is failure.  I’m scared I won’t make it.  But “you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take,” right, Wayne Gretzky?  I know I may not make it — I embrace that possibility — but life has taught me that you still gotta for it.  And so I will.

I’m hoping I can walk headfirst through fear and pain and loneliness and boredom and doubt — and emerge on the other side feeling like no other — like the entire world is splayed out before me for the taking.

If that wish comes true, you’ll be hearing from me at 6:30 a.m. on March 10 — and no sooner!

Ready to Rock n’ Roll on the AT

24 Feb

Good news!  I survived my first (and, errr, only) Appalachian Trail training hike!

photo (94)pUnfortunately, my Dad did not.

photo (93)We did 6 miles with me fully loaded except for food, which means I had my tent, sleeping pad, sleeping bag, extra clothes, and 62 other miscellaneous items.  (Full gear list coming in a future post.)

The left ankle is feeling good.  I’m hoping to check outta physical therapy tomorrow.  And then I’ll be cleared in hot to rock n’ roll walk and walk.

Camping 101

21 Feb

So I’m going to hike the Appalachian Trail.!  So I better learn how to camp, huh?

So I’m learning how to camp… without going outside (ain’t nobody got time for that!).

Inevitably, I’m finding, when learning to do anything camping-related, the process starts like this:

S Bag

Then I Google some dumb fart question (i.e., “how to stuff your sleeping bag into the sack”).  And, voila, forty minutes and three gallons of sweat later:

S Sack

Literally, it took 10 YouTube watches to get my tent up.


And the help of a random lady buying my Dad’s Craigslist mini-fridge:Tent

Being very helpful unhelpful in this process is my Dad’s dear little puppy Velcro.


Which necessitates signs like this one (for my Dad):

SignOkay, okay, I do love the little guy, though.

Kel's Velcro

Oh, the Adventures Ahead…

15 Feb

As ya may know, I’ve been R&R-ing at home with Pops since Christmas.  I’m loving it.  And it’s practically charity, given how happy it makes my Dad.

I’ve also been doing extensive physical therapy on the good ole left ankle.  Right from the start of this whole PT business, competitive Lucie came out, and I’m there trying to out-stretch, out-balance, out-hop, out-everything all the senior citizens that go to PT on weekdays at 10:30 a.m.

My therapist, Megan, slowly caught on and amped up my routine to the point where I’m now sweating so hard that my vision is blurry, and I can’t see anyone else.  Seriously, it’s like an NFL combine workout these days.  Which means… yay!, the ankle is almost ready for…


The AT, in its entirety, is 2,186 miles long and travels through 14 states.

The AT, in its entirety, is 2,186 miles long and travels through 14 states.

Yup, I’m catching an overnight train to Georgia on March 20.  The next day, I intend to start hiking.  We’ll see how far I get, but at The Cheesecake Factory on Monday night, my family started a pool.  Cousin Ryan locked down 15 days (my Dad has the over), and Aunt Leslie bet on 46 (my Dad took the under).  Oh ye, of little faith!

There will, obviously, be a lot more to come on this front, but to boost Ryan’s spirits, I will admit that I can’t remember ever actually camping, like in a tent.  I do, however, recall many declarations that I would never go camping, including several to strangers on first dates.

So that should be interesting.

To stay busy between now and March 20, I will be undertaking…


It’s called Vipassana meditation, and I first learned about it from a chick I met in Nepal.  It’s a 10-day residential course and is totally donation-based (even for food and accommodation).

I’m right at the top of the wait list for the February 27 – March 10 course somewhere in Quebec, Canada, and I have high hopes that I can slip in there.

Oh yeah, and did I mention that there is a little code of discipline while you’re there — no killing (of any being), stealing, sexual activity, lies, or intoxicants.  Okay, I’m thinking, I can do that.

Also, no speaking or any form of communication with anyone, including by gestures, sign language, written notes, etc.  Also prohibited is reading, writing, music, and any other conceivable form of entertainment (including cameras and phones).  Hmmmmmm, I’m thinking.

But what really sealed the deal was the course timetable:

Looks like we spend a lot of time in the f*cking hall.

Looks like we spend a lot of time in the f*cking hall.

So that should be interesting.

I thought the above two adventures would be plenty to keep me busy, but then I happened upon…


A lot happened at the Monday night family dinner at The Cheesecake Factory.  My Aunt Karleen and Uncle Ricardo were in town for their annual visit.  Since their last visit, Karleen has lost 40 pounds on the Medifast diet (go Karleen!) and is now some sort of Medifast coach.  And so she’s sitting beside my dear beloved Aunt Liesel and is chattering on over the whole dinner — of bread, crab cakes, fish tacos, sweet potato fries, and cheesecake — about how Liesel really needs to go on the Medifast diet.  Finally, I’m like, geez, is this The Cheesecake Factory or The Medifast Factory?

Aunt Karleen, looking fine after Medifast!

Aunt Karleen, looking fine after Medifast!

Anyway, heavy Karleen-to-Liesel Medifast pressure continued throughout Tuesday and yesterday.  And then today, over our morning chat, Liesel tells me she placed her order and she’s going on the Medifast diet (which by the way is apparently 800-100 calories of some kinda powdered meal replacements).  Of course, you know me, I was like all pretty much supportive.

But then tonight (admittedly after stuffing myself with a giant chile relleno), I realized just how much this whole take-a-year-off-from-the-real-world business has leaked into my brain.  Because I’m thinking, you love Liesel and you know this could be an adventure like all your other adventures.  If you approached it like backpacking China or hiking the Appalachian Trail or joining some silent meditation cult — isn’t it possible you could learn something about life and the world and yourself?  At the very least, might it add a splattering of color to your life?

So I just signed up.  Like 10 minutes ago.

I haven’t told Aunt Liesel yet.  But now that I think about it, she is going to fracking choke on her Cheerios when she reads this tomorrow morning.  And then she’s going to drive over here and club me over the head for announcing to the entire fracking blogosphere that she’s going on a diet.  (That’s really bad, isn’t it?!  Sh*t.  I might be a horrible person.)

I promise that any further blog posts will be about only my own Medifast dieting.

Which should be interesting.

New Zealand: The Second Time

13 Feb

NZ 2.0 was a road trip with Pops this past December.  We rented a camper van and drove a one-camper-van sprint car race around NZ (3,706 kms in 16 days on one-lane, windy, and at times unpaved, NZ roads).


Our camper van at one of our camp sites. Yup, just pulled right off the road.

My Dad would wake up atbefore the crack of dawn and get on the road while I remained conked out in the back.  I was able to sleep through the turns he took at mach 2, which propelled me across the back of the van from one window to the other.  But I did wake up, at least twice, to heated conversation from the front.  Both times, I popped my head up to discover that my Dad had picked up some hippie, multiply-pierced, rainbow-colored-mophead hitchhiker wearing those pants with the ankle-level crotches.  The first guy had a freaking ice ax (presumably for climbing?!).  [But hey, homeless hatchet-wielding hitchhikers have been saving the day lately.]  And the second chick had a bull ring through her nose.  My Dad was able to convince neither of the dangers inherent in socialism.

Other than picking up hitchhikers, we did bunches of low-key activities, like luging, swimming with the seals, alpine horse trekking, canyon jetboating, helicoptering over glaciers, and blackwater rafting (i.e., whitewater rafting in a cave).  We also did some snoozer activities (gondola-riding, geothermal wonderland, whale watching, wine tasting, stargazing, street markets, and swing bridge-ing).






I road a bumpy-butt boat for 3 1/2 hours to get this shot.

I rode a bumpy-butt boat for 3 1/2 hours to get this shot.




What is my Dad — the little white speck on the left — doing in this picture?

This was another of our camp sites.

This was another of our camp sites.

NZ 3.0 will be taking place circa 2017.  We are planning a camper van caravan with my family (the Van Damme clan) and John Spicer.  All are welcome!

New Zealand: The First Time

13 Feb

Last December, my Dad and I road tripped New Zealand.  But it wasn’t my first time around the place.

My first time was 5 years ago.  I spent 9 weeks there, the best 4 of which were with my cuz Kellie.  We had the time of our lives.

Kellie's New Zealand! 034p

Kellie and I both journaled religiously, but I’m too scared to crack that baby open.  So let’s just review my pictures, shall we?

I jumped off a bridge:


We bought a car (a 1984 Nissan Bluebird).  Which we ultimately crashed:

Kellie's New Zealand! 229

Kellie's New Zealand! 228

We e-mailed home from our iPhones sketchy old-school internet cafes:

Kellie's New Zealand! 129

We went to a bar/club (?) called “Scruffy’s” (?), apparently multiple times:

Kellie's New Zealand! 198p

We learned how to go #2:

Kellie's New Zealand! 040

We saw our first pet deer:

Kellie's New Zealand! 235p

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My Dad Was a Fighter Pilot, Okay?!

5 Feb

Does anyone remember the huge-ass, incredibly-scary suspension bridge that I crossed when I was all by myself on the freaking Tibet-Nepal border?

The one that stretched over a 200-meter gorge?!

And was strung with prayer flags so the Nepalese people would dare cross it?!

In case you need a refresher:

For the record: I crossed this bridge on my first attempt.

See the bridge in the distance?  That gorge is pretty deep, huh.


Sure glad we have those prayer flags.


For the record, I crossed this bridge on my first attempt.

Okay, well I spent this past December in New Zealand, where my Dad joined me for a 16-day, >3,000 kilometer road trip.  At one point, we stopped at a teeny-weeny little swing bridge.  And this is what happened:

After the tape stopped rolling, things got even funnier.  A guy behind me, who was waiting to get on the bridge,  asked me what was going on.  Of course, I helpfully was like, “Oh sorry, my Dad is just scared of the bridge.  This is his third attempted crossing.  I’m hoping he makes it by Christmas.”

To which my Dad puffs up his chest, looks him straight in the eyeballs, and gruffly — and entirely seriously – snarls at him: “I was a fighter pilot, okay?!”


I then fell overboard.

Proof that my Dad was a fighter pilot.

Proof that my Dad was a fighter pilot, okay.

My Dad (far right) in Desert Storm.  Note the sign on the chalkboard: "Do not eat any ham slice MRE.  No Good."

Additional proof from Desert Storm.  The blue note on the chalkboard, left by “Carbo” says: “Do not eat any ham slice MRE. No Good.”  Sounds like an important part of the mission brief.

P.S. As I’m writing this post, I mention it to my Dad across the room.  He is now ranting about the consequences if I “skewer [him] as some farcical character in [my] stupid-dog-ass blog.”  Oops.