Friday, January 25, 2013

Travel Experiences Worth Remembering - 11. Hluhluwe Game Reserve, South Africa

11. Camping in the African Bush – Hluhluwe Game Reserve, South Africa 

In the summer of 2010 I went to South Africa for the World Cup. We spent 63 days traveling through South Africa, Swaziland, Lesotho, and a short stop in Dubai for 3 days. The entire experience was amazing. In all honesty, it makes going to a zoo seem like a complete boring waste of time. When you get the opportunity to see hundreds of animals in their natural habitat it puts a new perspective on things.

We must have gone to 10 or 12 different nature reserves throughout the three African countries we visited, but none was more impressive than Kruger National Park. We spent three days there doing our own drive through the park in our rental car, a night drive with a guide, and a morning hike with a guide. We saw every type of animal you would want to see in Africa which includes the big five – lions, elephants, buffalo, rhino, and leopards. We never saw a leopard, but we saw plenty of the others. It got to the point that I was tired of seeing elephants everywhere.

At first you are happy to see anything, but eventually you just don’t care anymore and only want to see lions, which are obviously much harder to come across. We were lucky enough to see five on our trip. One of which was a male with a large bush main and literally walked right next to our car. I could have rolled down the window and petted him if I wanted to. Instead I was scared and ducked down in my seat so he couldn’t see me. The window was rolled up of course, but it was still pretty scary, but the good kind of scary.

So of course Kruger is worth going to see, but it wasn’t the top of my list for experiencing the wildlife in Africa. We did see many more animals in Kruger than the Hluhluwe Game Reserve, but it was the fact that what we were doing that made the difference. In Kruger we stayed in a luxurious type rondaval hut. Imagine a beehive hut, that’s what we stayed in. It was great, but not true Africa in my mind. While in Hluhluwe we stayed in a tent. Keep in mind this is a tent, with a Velcro door, in the African Bush. At any moment a lion, elephant, or other wild animal could break in during the night and attack us.

So why exactly did we stay in a tent? We were on a multi-day backcountry hiking expedition in the middle of a game reserve. The original itinerary included hiking to our first camp, staying overnight and then hiking to a different camp in the morning. That didn’t happen because the second camp was damaged or something had happened, so for the two nights we stayed in the same camp. In the end it didn’t matter. We were camping in the wild. I’m not talking about going to a local state park and hanging out with a bunch of drunks in the lake where the deadliest thing you will encounter is an alcoholic on a jet ski. This is the real deal.
Our first night was a great introduction to sleeping in Africa. As we were eating dinner our two guides and the cook heard something rustling in the bushes. It was two large elephants, literally 20-30 yards from our camp. We were told to sit quietly while our guides listened intently grasping their rifles. This went on for at least an hour. Nobody saying a word, just listening, wondering how far they were from us, where they were going. It was completely dark so we couldn’t see anything. Part of me hoping for a charge and some action, the other part of me planning an escape route should something happen. It was intense. Finally they left and we were able to get back to our conversations.

A short time later we heard more noises in the bushes directly behind us. The cook said it was hyenas. Great. Just what I wanted. Luckily they didn’t bother us at all. That night as we slept we could hear the sounds of animals passing through camp. During the night there was a leopard and a lion that was close enough to hear it growling. Again, our tent was shut with Velcro. This didn’t seem like a great idea after all.

As the sun came up the next morning we headed off on a hike to see what all was out there. We came across a number of signs that animals had been in the area recently. We were staying next to a major river, so it only made sense that we were in a danger zone surrounded by hungry animals.

During the day we saw a number of animals, all of which were from a distance and usually from a bluff looking down on the valley below as herds of animals came to the water to drink. The vantage points made for excellent views. It was incredible to see a herd of deer drink water, leave, only to be followed by wildebeest, gazelle, and other animals. It was as if they each were taking turns to drink. Following the same trails in and out. Each time a new group came in some stood guard. To understand how vigilant they are at every moment is amazing. I couldn’t imagine a life of fear knowing that death is around every corner. It really made me stop and think. It made me realize that for these few days I was in the same situation as the animals I was watching.

One of the things that really stuck out to me was the fact that the trail didn’t have good visibility in certain places. On these instances one of the guides would walk ahead and check it out for safety. I couldn’t help but think that at any moment as the bushes were pushed aside, poked, and surveyed that a lion would jump out and eat one of us. It never happened.

As we arrived back in camp and prepared for dinner an amazing thing happened. A herd of wildebeest came running across the river just yards from our campsite. The scouts, the wildebeest that run ahead and watch for danger were stationed in front of our camp as the others ran by. It wasn’t like on the Lion King or anything, but it was still a significant amount. I remember one wildebeest in particular standing stoically, staring right at us as we stared back at him. I was thinking how awesome this whole experience was. I wasn’t even thinking about the dangers involved, I was just thinking how majestic they looked. Sadly I didn’t have my camera on me and I didn’t want to run 20 yards to the tent to get it in case I missed something. I wanted to just pause, and fully immerse myself in the moment. It was one of the most amazing things I have ever witnessed.

Every time I think about Africa this particular event stands out as the top. Yes, there were other great moments, but being in nature with very little protection while facing some of the most dangerous animals in the world is life changing. I promise if you ever get the chance to go to Africa you will never want to waste your time at a zoo ever again.    

Travel Experience Worth Remembering - 9. Kaituna River Rafting

9. Kaituna River Rafting – Rotorua, New Zealand

The summer of 2012 was filled with a lot of adventurous activities and river rafting was one more on that long list. I love white water rafting and would do it every day if I could, but living in Texas that isn’t really an option. There are lots of man-made lakes, but very few rivers and the ones there are don’t constitute white water rafting. Maybe calm water floating.

I have done rafting a few different times, but nothing would prepare me for rafting on the Kaituna River just north of Rotorua in New Zealand. While we were staying in Lake Taupo we wanted to do something fun and exciting. Lake Taupo is the number one place in the world for sky diving and that was something I considered, but already having done paragliding I wanted to do something a little different. Luckily there were a number of other great options.
The weather wasn’t very good while we were in Lake Taupo, it was cold and rainy most of the time. We initially planned to stay for three days, but that was stretched into five. That was mostly due to convenience, but also because we had to plan around the weather. We figured we would be better served to use Taupo as a base and branch out from there to do other things we planned – Waitomo Cave Tour, Rotorua Thermal Pools, Tongariro Alpine Crossing, and various other things we discovered along the way.

It ended up being a good choice. On the rainy days we could do things that didn’t require nice weather and when it cleared up we could do activities that required clear weather. One rainy morning we decided to go to the local visitor center and see what things there were to do. We already knew about the things I listed above, but we figured there must be much more.

After spending over an hour looking at brochures and contemplating our schedule, weather conditions and prices we had made a few choices. One of the things that caught our eye was Kaituna River Rafting. During the months of research I had done about New Zealand when planning this trip I had never come across this option. I guess I figured it would be winter time so rafting probably wouldn’t be the best idea, however, after 6 weeks of cold temperatures my body was pretty accustomed to it. I was now barely fazed by 20 degrees sleeping in a tent in the rain and highs in the day of only 30.

There were two different options for Kaituna River Rafting, but both seemed to do the same thing. It was going to come down to price, availability, and the day that fit in our schedule. We decided on a trip that was $89 and would go on a Thursday afternoon. The benefit to this is that we were already heading to Rotorua that day to see the thermal pools and geysers and when we were done we could drive on to the river excursion. Afterwards we would just continue driving north to Matamata, our next destination and location for the filming of Hobbiton in Lord of the Rings.

By the time Thursday came around the weather had been both great and terrible, depending on the day. In the end it didn’t really affect our plans too much and allowed us to do things we otherwise wouldn’t have thought of doing. For example, one rainy afternoon we visited a honey shop. I learned everything I wanted to know about honey, plus more. It was interesting and not what I was expecting. We also watched the local dam discharge its water into the gorge below. Not really a typical thing I would do on vacation, but it was still neat. We got these off the wall ideas from a brochure in the visitor center that mentioned things to do on a rainy day. Just our luck, it was a rainy day.

Once Thursday came it was still pretty cloudy. It was probably in the 40s at night and 50s during the day. Some of the warmest weather we had had since we left Texas in early June. We woke up early and took down our tent and drove an hour north to Rotorua. We took a self-guided tour of Wai-O-Tapu. We had a few different options for seeing geysers and thermal pools in the area, and this is the one we chose. We hiked around for about 3 hours seeing as much as we could.

The weather wasn’t great. It was foggy and rainy most of the morning. I was hoping by afternoon it would clear up so we could do the rafting. This was our last day in the area and thus our last chance to get to do rafting. I’ve been rafting a lot, but this was going to be different.

White water rafting that I’m used to involved lots of large boulders, fast flowing water, big rapids, and other dangerous obstacles. Rafting in the Kaituna River is nothing like that. In fact, it’s not even white water rafting at all. Before we went all I knew is that there were Class 5 rapids – meaning waterfalls. By waterfalls I mean a 12 foot waterfall and a 21 foot waterfall, plus smaller drops along the way.

Much like some of the other crazy things we had done during this trip and others I was scared to death. Part of the thrill was going to be able to say I did this and overcame my fear. I was scared to paraglide; get in the water with great white sharks, a few hikes, canyoning, plus much more, but each time I did what I set out to accomplish.

All week I had been looking forward to this rafting trip. I was praying the weather would clear up, but in reality I was scared to death. Part of me wanted to do it, but the other part was thinking I was nuts. As we started driving towards our destination the weather began to clear almost immediately. The clouds parted and blue skies were out. Now the only issue would be water levels. Considering it’s a waterfall I was thinking too much rain could make it too dangerous. I didn’t know what the waterfall would be like so I didn’t know what to expect.

We got to the starting rafting companies location and started getting our gear. We put on wetsuits, helmets, a life jacket, and booties. There were two other people going along as well, they were two college students from Auckland studying something to do with tourism. The two made it sound like they had to do the trip to learn more about New Zealand adventure tourism. I wasn’t really paying attention, I was thinking about the waterfalls and my impending death from drowning.

After we had all of our gear ready our two guides quickly showed us what to do along the ride. Unlike other white water rafting trips I had been on this one involved some quick maneuvering along the way. What that meant was changing the way we were sitting in order to not fly out of the raft as we were plunging over waterfalls. In order to show us we sat inside the raft, me and my brother in the front row, the two others in the middle row, and the two guys in the back row.

We pretended to be paddling and then one of the guides yelled get down. This meant sliding down onto our butts in a ball with our knees to our chest on the floor of the raft. We held our paddles on the outer part of the boat as we hung onto a rope on the side and one on the front. Seemed secure enough, assuming we didn’t flip over.

Now that we had the formalities down we were ready to load the boat and head to our launch site. We all loaded into the van and drove across a field for about 100 yards. We parked and got out. We unloaded the raft and put it into the water and jumped in.

So far everything was going great. We were in the water and we were still alive. The water was a very dark blue-green and very eerily calm. This wasn’t white water rafting at all. This was going to be a 45-minute joy ride down a nice flowing river with an occasional steep drop off. It almost seemed like it was a manmade river. It was pretty narrow, only about 20 yards wide with fern trees and cliffs on either side. It was actually very pretty and calming, but in the back of my mind I was still thinking about the death trap up ahead. I was trying not to think about it and just have positive thoughts. It was working, a little.

We had one last refresher course on how to deal with the waterfalls and we were off. We didn’t really paddle except for a few strokes at a time. We just floated effortlessly along as our guides talked to us a little bit about the area. There were no rapids at all, but there was a pretty strong current. Every so often we would be told to paddle again, then stop and rest.

After about five minutes we could hear rushing water ahead of us. It was the first of the smaller waterfalls. We paddled hard into and then held on. It was only a drop of a few feet, but it was still a nice little rush. We continued down the river taking small drops along the way. To make things more interesting on a few occasions we would stop and turn the boat around to look at the small waterfalls we had just conquered.

One instance in particular our guides decided we should get a closer look. He asked me and Andy to pass our paddles back and sit down on the floor of the raft as if we were going over a waterfall. It didn’t really click in my head what was going on. The water was really cold and I wasn’t thinking straight. Maybe I hadn’t eaten enough. Regardless as we were paddling directly towards the waterfall I should have known what was about to happen. We were going in for a closer look all right, close enough to drink the water and get flipped over.

The other four on the boat were paddling as hard as they could against the current, directing us closer and closer to the rushing water before us. We were about to paddle directly into a waterfall. This was insane. I was sitting in the front of the boat with no protection. That was insane. We got right up to the falls. Imagine a large rock with water rushing over it. That’s what this was. We were able to slightly go up the boulder for a few seconds, water gushing over the top of the boat on all sides.

Every few seconds the force of the water pushed us up and back. They quickly paddled us back in. This went on for at least two or three minutes. I was getting water in my ears, my nose, and my eyes. At one point I thought my contacts were going to fall out. It was freezing. This wasn’t my idea of fun. Finally it was over. We were able to get back up. We switched places with the other two and let them have a go at it in the front seat. We paddled as hard as we could. A few times it felt like the water was going to flip the boat over. We got turned sideways a few times on the rocks. I really don’t know how we never flipped over.

Fun time was over and it was back to floating down the river. We made our way to the first of the big waterfalls. This one was about 12-15 feet tall or so. Along for the ride was a kayaker. He was there to help in case someone fell out of the boat and to scout ahead to make sure it was clear. We watched him go over the falls and then quickly followed.

We did two quick strokes and then held on. This wasn’t the big one so we didn’t need to duck down. We went around a slight corner and then dropped. It lasted about half a second. It was amazing. It was like nothing I had ever experienced. I didn’t know what to expect. Butterflies were in my stomach, but once it was over I was relieved. I just wanted to yell as loud as I could. We all wanted to, and we all did. I was ready to do that again.

I was envisioning a straight drop off waterfall, but it was more of a large boulder undulating from the riverbed with water gushing over it. We just road down it like a slide. At the base of the falls was a large pool of calm water that filtered into the rest of the river ahead. It was so cool. It’s indescribable really. It’s something that just has to be experienced.

Another ten to fifteen minutes of floating, a few stops to look at rapids we had traversed, and a few raft surfing opportunities. We stood up on the raft as we went over smaller waterfalls. It was pretty fun and very hard to stay balanced.

We finally made it to the big waterfall. This one was 21 feet tall. It is the tallest commercially rafted waterfall in the world. People go down steeper falls, but they are professionals and they aren’t licensed to be rafted for the general public.

We pulled over to the side of the river next to a cliff wall. One of the guides had found a hand hold in the rocks to keep us in place while he refreshed our memories on what to do. He warned us that if the boat flipped over to hang on the best we could and to not let go. If we were underneath the raft we could pop our heads up above the waterline to breath. The lifejackets would hold us up until one of the guides was able to get on top and flip the raft back over. He would bang on it with a paddle to let us know that he was flipping it over.

If we were to lose a hold of the boat when it flipped over we should curl up in a ball and we would naturally float back to the top. This was my biggest fear. I am a pretty good swimmer, but being bombarded by rushing water coming over a waterfall would be difficult. Once we popped up we were instructed to swim to the bank until we could be rescued.

Once again we watched the kayaker go over ahead of us. We watched and wondered. After about 15 seconds of silence our guide finally said he made it down by now. Giving the impression that the falls was that big. We couldn’t see it, but I knew it wouldn’t take that long. We heard a whistle, which meant he made it safely and it was clear for us to go down.

I was so nervous. Just before we went I asked one more time how to sit. We then raised our paddles in the middle of the raft and cheered. Now was the time to shine. We pushed off and gave two quick paddles. The guide shouted “Get Down!” just before we went over the falls. Without thinking I slid down as quick as I could and held on. It was like blur. We hit the river below. Water was rushing all around us. Pounding us down. All I remember thinking was that we didn’t flip. We were alive.

Again we raised our paddles and shouted for joy! It was so amazing. I can’t think of a better feeling. We stopped to admire the falls one last time from below before we headed off. The guide said he does the trip about 30 times a month and usually flips about 10 of those times. I was feeling lucky and relieved.

We weren’t yet to the end, but the excitement was over. Just before we finished we had the chance to paddle into one more small waterfall head on. I decided I didn’t want to be a part of that. The first time was enough. It was cold and I didn’t appreciate joking on water. I felt like the boat was going to eventually flip over and being in the front didn’t seem like the ideal place to be if that happened.

Andy and the two other people took turns at it while I just paddled us in. We came very close to flipping over a number of times. I was thinking the guides were trying to make us capsize. At one point it seemed as though we were at a 90 degree angle sideways. It was really fun, but at the same time frightening. I was sitting on the left side of the boat, which was raised up. I was seeing myself falling out onto the people below and getting hurt or stuck under the boat.

We eventually paddled on. We were given the opportunity to jump out of the boat and swim if we wanted to. The water was very calm and clear, but it didn’t sound appealing to me. We had a few hours’ drive to our next destination and being wet in the car wasn’t my idea of fun. Of course the other two with us did jump in. They seemed to enjoy it.

We had one last pit stop before we were done. We had to paddle back into another small waterfall to get our photos taken. This meant sitting down on the floor again with water crashing into our faces. I couldn’t wait. I had finally dried out and now I was going to get soaked again. During the whole process I could barely look up at the camera. Water was getting in my eyes and mouth. We were rocking out of control and I kept falling over onto Andy since I was on the side getting hit by the majority of the water and we were rising up. We got our photos taken and were ready to move on.

Just as we were approaching the docking point we could see another waterfall ahead. It was around a corner, but had large rocks at the base of it and would be too dangerous. At first we were told we would have to jump out and swim to the shore so we didn’t go over and they would navigate the boat to safety. I was thinking that would be weird, but at the time I was confused and figured it made sense. They were joking.

We paddled to the shore and made it to safety. We had to carry the raft down a dirt trail back to the van. The first time we carried the raft it was literally a few yards. This time it was about 200 or more. I think most of the weight was on my side. It was hurting my arms so I just rested it on my head. That didn’t feel good on my neck, but it was too much weight. I don’t think anyone else was even helping.

We finally got back to the van and we loaded the raft. A short drive followed and we were back to the shop. We changed out of our wetsuits and took a few minutes to see the photos that were taken of us along the way. A trail follows the river and one of the guys took photos throughout the trip. His camera and lens were really nice so the photos came out well. That is really rare. Usually on trips like this the photographs aren’t that great.

We bought the photos and then hiked up the road to see the trail that the photographer had used. It was going to be dark soon and we had a 3 hour drive so we didn’t have long to hike, but we at least wanted to see the big waterfall we had gone over just to see it from a different angle and get our own pictures.

We didn’t have to walk very far, but we spent about 45 minutes to an hour getting pictures. It was getting dark so we made our way back to the car. Our river rafting trip was over and we were headed on to our next destination. It was a complete success. It was definitely one of the best things I have ever done. I think I would do it again, but I would be just as terrified as the first time. At least now I would know what to expect though. 

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Wherever You Go, There You Are

I just spent the last hour reading a book titled "Wherever You Go, There You Are."

It discusses meditation and gives insight into the true meaning and purpose of it, while also explaining the proper way to meditate in a step by step process. On a deeper level though it emphasizes the importance of being present in each moment, no matter how big or small. It made me start thinking about certain people in my life and the way they live. 

Ever since I took a break from working it has obviously given me more free time, but it has also given me a new perspective on what matters in life. Like a lot of people I thought I wanted to make lots of money so I could afford to buy nice things and do what I wanted. That's not a bad thing, but is that really that important in the picture scheme of things? 

A lot of people don't like their job, but for the majority of their week they let it control them. I was one of those people. I finally decided I needed a change and walked away. Most people can't do that because of bills, family, and other obligations. But the solution to that would be to stop buying things. Do you really need all that stuff? Is it making life easier for you or harder? If you can't afford it, most likely it's making life more difficult. 

For many people it comes to a point that when they have a spare minute they feel rushed, and obligated to do as much as they can. As a result they aren't stopping, relaxing, thinking. It's always go, go, go. When one activity is done it's off to the next. Memories are made, but little contemplation follows, and everything is pushed aside as work, bills, and other obligations take over again.
 Sometimes you might think you have to cram in as much as possible to fully live life, never stopping to think that is what you are doing really living. It would be a shame to look back in 40 years and say, "what did I do with my life?" And not have an answer. 

Maybe the choices you are making are what you desire, maybe they aren't. Only you can decide. In all of the rushing around sometimes you have to just stop, relax, and spend time with yourself. You may think you don't have time to stop, or can't, but who says?

Only you can make that choice. Some of the best moments in life are the ones where you are doing nothing. Sometimes doing less is doing more. Every once and a while a step back is needed to see the whole picture. Next time a friend calls and asks if you want to do something, stop and ask yourself if you have time for that or if you would be better served spending that time alone to reconnect with yourself.

At the end of the day you have to live with yourself. You have to live with the decisions you make. Make sure those decisions are the right ones, the ones you are proud of, that make your life more fulfilling, more enjoyable, more rewarding, whatever it is. 

Are you willing to put off something today to have something bigger in the future? Maybe that's something you want to think about doing. Will one night out just like the last one be more memorable than living a dream you've had for awhile, but didn't think you had time or money to accomplish it? 

If you put aside the little things it can quickly add up to a big thing. Only you can decide what that big thing is. And the only way you can do that is to stop, relax, think, and focus on what will make your life more fulfilling. 

It won't just happen on it's own. Ideas don't appear out of nowhere. You have to cultivate them over time. Regardless of your current situation never lose hope. You never know what tomorrow brings. 

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Travel Experience Worth Remembering - 10. Paragliding

10. Paragliding – Queenstown, New Zealand

During the summer of 2012 I went to New Zealand and Australia. I spent about 7 ½ weeks camping in the North and South Islands of New Zealand along with my brother. It was my sixth continent to go to and 25th and 26th country to visit. I probably had some of the best memories of my traveling life during this journey. Obviously Lord of the Rings played a huge part in choosing to venture to this portion of the world, but there were many other reasons as well. For one, I had never been. That was reason enough for me to go, but during my other world travels over the year I have met a number of people that have been to New Zealand or were from there. I had only heard great things.

I wanted to see for myself what was so great about this country. I have to say that after spending an extended period of time there that it ranks as one of my favorite places on earth. Although we didn’t see everything, we saw an awful lot. New Zealand isn’t that big of a country so it can be navigated rather quickly, but to really enjoy all that it has to offer takes time.

Of course when we went it was their winter time so a number of the ordinary things one might want to do weren’t available or were limited. That didn’t hinder us though. We still found plenty of exhilarating things to do. However, in order to do the things we wanted to do we had to pay quite a lot of money. New Zealand is in no way a cheap country. Not only was the flight expensive due to the distance we had to travel, but food, activities, gas, rental car, and everything else added up. Luckily we were camping and that saved us a lot of money. Even if it meant freezing our butts off at times. It was all part of the adventure though. The average temperatures ranged from 15 to 40 degrees for most of the South Island, about 5 weeks. It was cold. It snowed. It rained. It was windy. But it was worth it.

My goal going in was to spend about $4,000 on this trip, but to truly do everything we planned that was going to be tough. I blew past that pretty easily. It ended up costing about $5,500. I never fully added it up because I didn’t want to be reminded of what I had just done with my money.

Every moment in New Zealand was awesome in some way, from hiking, to camping, to sitting in a car for hours driving to our next destination, but a few in particular are the most memorable. One of the places I had looked forward to most was Queenstown. It is in the southern central part of the South Island and a mecca for outdoor enthusiasts. Anything you want to do that involves danger, excitement, or anything else you can imagine is located in this beautiful mountain town. There is rafting, ziplining, hiking, boating, Lord of the Rings tours, paragliding, hanggliding, jet boating, skiing. You name it, you can do it there.

We spent three days in Queenstown, and liked it so much we returned for a second stop as we headed north after spending a few days in Milford Sound, another highlight of the trip. While in Queenstown we did jet boating, essentially riding on a speed boat down a shallow river in a gorge at speeds of 80 mph. We also did some hiking and a short toboggan type of ride.

The thing that stood out most to me though was paragliding. I had wanted to do the whole time, but as we got closer and closer to the day of reckoning I started having second thoughts. Not only was it expensive, $190, but it was also dangerous. The thought of it sounds awesome until you realize exactly what you are doing, flying through the air thousands of feet up with attached to some stranger. Sounds fun, right?

We decided we would do it. We came all this way for adventure and we planned to find it. We went to the travel information office in town and booked our spot for the following day, $190 down the drain. We went about our business for the rest of the day in anticipation of what was to come the following morning.

We had to wake up early the next morning to do another activity we had booked, jet boating. It too was expensive, $115. It was well worth it though and a thrill in itself. After we completed our jet boat we made our way back to town to catch our shuttle to the top of the mountain we were going to jump off of. Yep, that’s right. Jumping off a mountain, what a great idea this was.

We arrived at our pick up spot and a few minutes later a van pulled up. We jumped inside and started our 30 minute drive to the summit. Along the way we stopped to pick up our two guides. My brother and I would each be attached to a trained professional as we made our descent to the landing zone. I have no recollection of the two guy’s names, but they were both cool guys. We also picked up a hitchhiker that was going to snow board at the same mountain we were heading too. It was the first day the mountain was open for the season.

Along the way we were told a little bit about what to expect. It was pretty cloudy and cold outside and slightly breezy at times. They told us we would most likely get to jump today, but nothing was definite. Even the slightest bit of wind can alter plans and navigation. They only go when the weather is suitable due to the fact that they have someone else’s life in their hands. After about 25 minutes we made it to our jump zone.   

It was too windy at the originally planned location so we had to jump slightly lower. At first I was a little disappointed, but once you realize how high you still are it made no difference in the end. The takeoff area was covered in a thin layer of ice and snow. We got our helmets on, strapped into the carriage and were ready to go. I had my gopro on to film the whole thing. The guide also had a gopro on a stick which allowed for some filming and photographs along the way.

I was all strapped in and ready to go. My guide was about a foot taller than me so it made the takeoff a little awkward. Andy was the same height as his guide. I was told that when he said go to start running as fast as I could towards the edge of the cliff. I was thinking that doesn’t sound like a good idea. Luckily the cliff wasn’t straight down. It was slightly slanted.

I’m strapped into this little soft seat to the chest of this guy behind me holding the ropes to his parachute – a parachute that he just bought and was taking out for its first flight. Another thing to be great news in my mind. Run towards that cliff strapped to a strange guy that does this daily for fun on slippery ice and snow with a parachute that has never been tested before. What could go wrong?

Oh yeah, he also asked if I had ever done something like this before. I said no. He said he hadn’t either so it should be fun. Of course he was joking, but it was funny.

We were ready to go. I started running towards the cliff. Actually I took about one and a half steps and felt something pull me back. Next thing I know my feet are off the ground. I’m in the air. Oh my gosh is what I was thinking. We were flying! It’s like being on a rollercoaster, butterflies in your stomach, amazement in your eyes. Other than that it’s indescribable. You just have to experience it to understand.

We were about 3,000 feet above the trees and valley below. Around us we were surrounded by snow covered mountains. It was slightly cloudy and extremely cold, but it didn’t detract from the experience at all. Before I was a little nervous about the whole thing, but now I was just thinking how awesome this was. I wanted to do this every day of my life. I wanted to take lessons and buy a parachute myself. This would be the life.

I don’t think I stopped smiling the entire time. I was trying to just focus on this moment and nothing else. I didn’t want to think about the weather, the price, what I would need to do later that day. For this instance nothing else mattered. I was a bird in the wind. I just wanted to get the full experience and see all that I could. It was amazingly awesome. Not many things in life can compare to this feeling.

The landing zone was about 5 miles away and we could see it in the distance. It was a large smiley face next to a small building in a valley surrounded by nothing. I had gone first so I didn’t know what to expect with the landing. Andy was able to see what we did to get an idea of what was going to happen. The takeoff and flight had gone smoothly, but the landing is the hardest part.

As we prepared to make our decent the guide told me to lift my legs straight out so they wouldn’t drag on the ground and we wouldn’t trip and fall. In my mind I was thinking we were going to go sliding down on our butts across this grassy patch and everything would be ok.

As I’m preparing for this psychologically we started to turn a little, then a little more. We were circling the landing zone. Then all of a sudden we started rocking violently. This was it. We were 100 feet off the ground and going in for a crash landing. I was literally parallel to the ground looking faced down. I don’t know how we didn’t just lose all the air in the parachute and fall like rocks to our death. We quickly jerked back up right. Then again we swung around.

This went on for the next 30 seconds to a minute. Obviously we were doing this on purpose, but it was nothing like I was expecting.

I had just been thinking what a nice, comfortable, uneventful ride this was. Then out of nowhere we were in a death spiral. We finally straightened out again and I lifted my legs when instructed. We came in going about 15 mph or so, at least that’s how fast it felt. We hit the ground with a thud. We didn’t slide, run, or anything. We just hit the ground and stopped right in our tracks.

I had my legs outstretched so I fell to my butt. The guide was just standing there. I was thinking to myself what happened? We didn’t go anywhere. Either way we were safe on the ground. The entire ride lasted only about 10 minutes, but it was worth every second.

A few minutes later Andy landed. They slid much more like I was expecting too. They actually tumbled around. We both purchased the videos of our rides from the gopros that the guides had. We then loaded into the van waiting for us and headed back to town.

Our adventures for the day were over. It was an awesome experience and we were alive. I was ready to spend another few hundred dollars just to do it again. 

Monday, January 21, 2013

Law of Attraction or Coincidence?

For people that deny the existence of the law of attraction and the power of thought I have a few good examples that have just happened one after another. I'm listening to satellite radio and a song comes on while I'm over cooking boiled eggs and watching them explode.

From the kitchen I can only hear the tune, no words. I start singing along in my head. When I look at the tv it's not the song I thought. It was Summer of 69, I thought it was Should I Stay Or Should I Go, which is ironic because it fits into a related issue I'm dealing with. It's also a song I haven't heard in a long time so to randomly think that was weird in itself.

Anyway, I go back to getting the eggs off the stove. I look back at the tv again, the next song on? Yep, Should I Stay Or Should I Go. Coincidence or Law of attraction? You decide. Then I start day dreaming about something and thinking how I would wait for the girl I wanted.

Next song to come on? Yep, I Will Wait, by Mumford and Sons. Now that's weird. So I start thinking should I stay or go, should I wait, and would I try one last time.

So want to guess the next song? Uh huh, Try, by Pink. I think those experiences speak for themselves. Remember the power of your thoughts. Only think what you want, never doubt, never waiver. One misstep and it could all fall apart in an instant. Again, I know from experience.

This kind of thing happens to me regularly. I'm just glad I know why now and how to harness this undeniable power.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Eleven Travel Experiences Worth Remembering

Recently I was thinking of all the really awesome things I have been able to do in my life. I wanted to take a moment to reminisce about those things and explain why they were so influential in my life. I’m sure I could list dozens, or even hundreds of things, but for this evaluation I am limiting it to the top eleven and all of them are travel based. I decided to focus on travel because it is my passion. The thing I live for most. It is the one thing that can always keep me striving for more. I am fascinated by what the world has to offer, and there is no better way to understand those intricacies then to go out, explore, and discover it on my own.

In 31 years I have been fortunate enough to travel all over the world. I have been to 28 countries on 6 continents, but the vast majority of my experiences have been in the U.S. and Canada traveling with my family every summer in a packed van visiting some of the most beautiful places on earth. I have been to 46 states and 8 provinces. It is indescribable to express to someone that hasn’t had the opportunity to see the things I have seen in person. Photos don’t always do it justice either. My advice, if you really want to know what is out there, go see it for yourself. And when you go, really immerse yourself in the experience. Take time to feel, hear, smell, touch, and see everything around you. Make it a worthwhile experience that you will cherish forever.

Although most of my traveling has been done in the U.S., the majority of the best things I have done were in other countries. It’s not that there weren’t great memories here, it’s just I have had the ability to a lot more when going overseas for various reasons. Part of it was money – when traveling overseas I’m spending my own money and when I see something that sounds too good to pass up I have to do it. I also am traveling with my brother when going to other countries and he is willing and able to do the same things as me, whereas when with other family members it may not always be possible.

Now that I have explained my reasoning for this list a little bit I will share the top eleven things I have done. As I travel more and more over the years I’m sure many of these things will be pushed aside, but for the time being they are the absolute best memories I have of traveling. With that being said, every moment is special in it’s own way and something I will always remember. I can’t even say these are in any particular order because each one was as awesome as the next. Some of these also may not sound that neat on the surface compared to other things, but the fact that where it took place, it was my first time, or other various reasons it makes it stand out more.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Personal Meditation Benefits

I recently started an 8 week meditation course at my local gym through the yoga studio. I have been practicing on my own for about 7 weeks, but it's good to have someone guide you beyond your own limits.

The first week involved focusing on being mindful of this moment, not thinking about the past, future, and things that you can't change, and meditating while focusing on the breath alone or body awareness. I do about an 18 minute meditation every morning when I wake up and throughout the day whenever I'm not doing anything I will meditate for a few minutes. It's really helpful and soothing to meditate while I walk on the treadmill at the gym. It's just an 8 minute slow pace, but it's a good time to forget about everything going on around me while I get my mind set.

Below are my experiences through the first week.

Personal Benefits of Meditation

- Lower Blood Pressure – 120/70
- Lower Heart Rate on Treadmill – down from 111 to 106
- Quicker Return to Lower Heart Rate after Working Out
- More aware of things going on in my body
- More empathetic towards others
- Easier to relax in situations that used to be stressing
- Helped with my back and neck problems – No overall pain in my body
- More aware of this moment, not thinking about the past and future so much
- I’m more open with people
- More conscious about what I eat
- More positive about everything
- More creative thoughts

Mindfulness Practice

- I catch myself thinking about things that I don’t have any control over – past, present, or future
- More aware of what I say to others and myself
- I try to make sure I have only positive thoughts
- While meditating, reading, doing other activities I notice that I’m not fully focused on this moment
- My thoughts aren’t like other people’s thoughts. I think about experiences and conversations, not little things like daily needs

Meditation Experiences

- Without something specific to focus on my mind wanders a lot
- I can easily see a bright light, but I can’t control the colors
- I feel light headed at times during the day – probably a reaction to enlightenment and the burdens that go along with it
- My breathing slows down to the point that I don’t feel the need to breathe at all for 5-10 seconds between  each breath
- Very rarely is my mind completely at ease, but it does happen after about 5 minutes

I'm sure over the next few weeks, months, and years I will have even better experiences. I encourage everyone to find their own meditation practice. 

Monday, January 14, 2013

The Law of Attraction

What s the Law of Attraction? How does it work? How do I use it to my advantage? How do I know if it's real? 

All of these questions will be answered in the following paragraphs. 

The Law of Attraction says that whatever you think, say, or do is where your focus is regardless of if it's positive or negative. So for example, if you say you want something than the universe aligns to make things happen that allows what you wanted to become reality. At the same time, if you say you don't want something than the universe will align to make the thing you say you don't want to happen, happen anyway. The reason is because it's what you are spending time focusing on. So if you want only good things to happen, only have positive thoughts. 

To see if this is true look at your friends, your family, yourself. See how the things you say seem to appear on their own. You may say you want something to happen this weekend, and then it does. You may feel like you are psychic, or you deserved it, it's karma, or it just happened on it's own. But really it happened because you focused on it so much that it came true. At the same time look at something bad that has happened. For example, people on facebook like to post lots of bad things. Ever notice how it's the same people over and over complaining about the same things? It's because that is what they focus all of their time on, therefore, they get more of the things they say they don't want. 

You can test it out by only thinking positive thoughts and see where it leads. Rather than make yourself have bad things happen to you, just notice the people around you, their thoughts, actions, words, and then see what happens in their life. Most likely if they are having negative thoughts than more negativity will be in their life as a result, not less. You can do the same for the positive people in your life. 

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Meditation and Self Healing

Your body is created by two microscopic organisms coming together and developing in your mother’s womb for 9 months. Every tiny cell during this process knows what it is intended to do and create – your arms, legs, eyes, brain, and every other part of your body. If your body knows how to develop itself perfectly at this time, then wouldn’t it, and shouldn’t it, be able to do this later in life, after leaving the womb?

In other words, when you get sick shouldn’t your body be able to heal itself naturally? Your cells knew perfection and their function before, so there must be remnants of this knowledge somewhere in your body. It is said that the average human uses 10% of their brain power. A large portion of the brain is doing things that keep us alive, performing its natural duties such as sending signals to different organs, notifying us of our instinctive behaviors such as “fight or flight” and so on.  

But somewhere in the 90% of untapped brain power we must know how to naturally heal. More importantly, we must be able to do a lot more than we currently are. For example, if you were to have damaged cells and developed a form of cancer it must be possible to tap into a portion of the brain to notify it that it needs to regenerate healthy cells and all of this should be done without medication.

If you were to lose a limb, develop diabetes, high blood pressure, and so on. Shouldn’t these be able to be healed with the use of the brain or some other bodily function as well? Again, the body knew the proper formula to create you properly the first time, so shouldn’t it be able to do this again?

What is keeping our brains and bodies from doing this? What did we know in the womb that we have lost sight as we age? Somewhere in that 90% of unused brain power is the answer. Of course proper living habits are a key factor in determining our health, but why is it that some people get sick while others live long lives even if they were to live relatively identical lives? Could it be something in our brains? Something that one person has tapped into while the other hasn’t?

Maybe mapping the Human Genome will provide these answers, maybe not. Could it be as simple as the fact that we haven’t thought about this potential power of our brain that we have lost touch with it? Is there some way to reconnect with that knowledge?

Meditation, positive thinking, the law of attraction, yoga, and many other easy to do tasks could be the solution. Scientific studies have shown the benefits of a daily meditation regimen. In a deep state of relaxation that can be accomplished through meditation many bodily functions begin to change. The heart rate and breathing slows, blood pressure drops, brain activity lessens, and the mind becomes still.

Is it possible that in a trance like state induced through meditation we can actually tap into this unseen and seldom used knowledge deep within the brain? Could we possess the power to heal all illnesses without the use of medicines and modern science? If such miracles have been proven successful on just one person in the past, why can’t they be successful for all people and all instances?

The cells in the body knew what to create the first time, why can’t it do it again? The answer to this question may never be known, but it is worth asking and attempting to understand. Harnessing this power might lead to unforeseen abilities that could never be imagined before – telepathy, immortality, and on and on. We all know the mind is a powerful thing, but how powerful? And more importantly, how do we access it?