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Friday, January 11, 2013

Avalanche livin

Waking up to a wood stove, a gigantic french press and a big bowl of granola, fruit, and yogurt made for a good beginning of an epic day of backcountry splitboarding!

We hit the road for Silverton at 9am leaving from Grand Junction. The air was a crisp 12 degrees and the skies looked of looming danger in the horizon. As Blair was driving his trusty 4-wheel drive ford pickup truck, I pulled out my Iphone and checked the backcountry avalanche forecast. Overnight, Silverton was dumped on by mother nature, clocking in at over 3 feet of powder in some areas. The avalanche forecast called a high alert for avalanches all over the San Juan mountain range which is exactly where we were headed.

After about 2.5 hours of driving, we had just passed an ice climbing competitions in a small town where we started climbing a long mountain pass. Winding switchbacks, no guardrails, and snow covered roads led up and around a fantastically big mountain range. I could feel my heart starting to race, my palms starting to sweat. Completely out of my element I looked up at the snow-covered mountains and said to Blair, "what are we doing?" He chuckled and in a stoic voice said, "were gonna have a blast." I was reassured, Blair has been backcountry splitboarding for a long time. He  taught me  about digging avalanche pits, reading the layers of snow, and making decisions on where to shred. We decided we would stick to the tree lines and not go out into to the open mountain faces because of the avalanche warnings.

We got over the mountain and on the descent into Silverton there was a snow blasting crew. They were posted up in the middle of the road, not letting anyone pass. They were shooting this giant grenade launcher to create "controlled" avalanches and sending them straight into the roads, after the avalanche comes tumbling down, they send in machinery to clear out the roads after blasting. This is to keep natural avalanches from happening while cars are on the roads! Crazy stuff!! We parked about 20 miles south of Silverton and pulled out the splitboards. For those of you who don't know, splitboards are snowboards that come apart down the middle and act as backcountry skis. You put special skins on the bottom of them that make it easier to make your way through deep powder and hike to the top of wherever you're going to start shredding, then you put them back together and snowboard down.

After a quick drill on how to use my avalanche beacon we hit the trail, packs on our backs. The skis crunched lightly on the deep powder and we were soon in the thick Colorado backcountry skinning up slopes that make Butternut look like an ant hill. We hiked to the top of a beautiful forest and got to it.

Powder boarding is a whole different beast than the hard packed trails I grew up on in New England. The powder was about 6 feet deep and it was absolutely the most epic thing I have ever done. I felt like I was in one of those crazy backcountry movies. Blair was like a seasoned veteran floating lightly down and making subtle turns to float his way through the powder. I was more like a toddler flailing my way through the deep powder. I fell down a lot. At one point I was in front of this giant pile of snow and Blair was right below it, he called for me to just lean back and get the front of my board over it. Little did I know it was a giant tree that had fallen down. I leaned back got the front over and then tumbled head first into a giant pillow of powdery goodness. Talk about a pow shot to the face!!!

I made it though!!!! My first real Colorado backcountry experience, a goal I have had for a LONG time was accomplished. I felt a deep sereneness in my heart and gave Blair a giant hug and felt super grateful for the relationships I have created in my life. With giant mountains all around us I felt a deep connection and happiness. We're now chilling in Silverton about to grab some grub and head back out for an entire day in the backcountry again tomorrow!!!

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Personal Sketch

 A bunch of people have asked me to share my personal sketch for graduate school. So here it is, along with a couple pictures, one of me in the military, one very current one of me racing and another from my travels in SE Asia.

The sounds of mortars exploding filled the warm, dry, July air in northern Iraq, as they did on so many nights. This night was different though; the mortars were exploding only 15 feet from our tent. I had never moved as fast as I had that night. Shrapnel tearing through our tent and explosions landing so close I couldn’t hear the screams of my fellow soldiers. It took me years of healing to recover from my experiences in Iraq.
Only 19 years old and looking for a purpose in life, thinking I didn’t have a shot at college I joined the military. I spent two years on active duty and was deployed to Iraq at the fragile age of 19. Seeing the abhorrent conditions and direction the US military was taking this country in, I became bitter and stuck in a war I didn’t truly believe in.
Returning from Iraq, my life spun out of control.  Receiving inadequate reintegration into normal society, I began drinking to cope with the trauma I had experienced. After several months of living in misery I made a decision to turn my life around. I moved to a small rural town in the Berkshires and reconnected with my family’s Native American heritage. Growing up, I spent every weekend of my childhood attending Powwows all around New England. I participated in sweat lodge, dancing, drumming, and many other ceremonies. It became a part of me. Through reconnecting to my roots and returning to weekly powwows I found a sense of purpose and connection with something greater than myself.
I found a part-time job at a health and wellness center. And another part-time job at a substance abuse rehabilitation center, taking clients on three-day therapeutic nature based camping trips. This opened a whole new world of healing and transformation. While working, I started taking classes at a local community college and eventually earned an associates degree in liberal arts. After a year of working at this health and wellness center I had come to learn a lot about my healing process and myself. I wanted to give back, to make amends for the things I had experienced at war. I knew if I went on a mission to give back in Iraq I would surely be killed or captured. I decided to go on a journey to Southeast Asia and do what I could for a country impacted negatively by the US military. I decided to spend a large part of my journey in Cambodia, getting to know the people, and helping where I could. I chose Cambodia because of the ripple effect of the Vietnam War and the rise of the Khmer Rouge killing millions of innocent Khmer people. I took off with a plane ticket to Bangkok, my bicycle, and a backpack with some gear. This would start a six thousand mile, four countries, six-month, life-changing journey. Before I left, I threw a big party and was able to raise over two-thousand dollars to fund my philanthropic journey. The party was an idea of mine, but I quickly had people and businesses from all over Berkshire County helping me out. Friends helped me approach local business owners who gladly donated gift certificates or goods once they were educated on my story and this quest I was about to embark on. Over 200 people came to the benefit party that night, close friends, family members, local businesses, and people who had read about me in articles written for both local papers, The Berkshire Eagle, and The Berkshire Record. I couldn’t believe the amount of support pouring in all around me. It was one of the most rewarding experiences and greatest parties of my life.
This trip changed my life and the way I saw the world. I learned the true meaning of the word compassion and humility. Traveling by bicycle, I rode through Thailand, Cambodia, Malaysia and finally Indonesia. I came in close contact with poverty, sickness, death, disease, hunger and sadness. I also saw the most beautiful acts of compassion, selflessness, love, and kindness. Spending nights with families that would take me in when it was getting dark and I had no place to sleep, also, with groups of monks in Cambodia at pagodas all over rural landscapes. After traveling and getting to know the people of Cambodia I decided to invest directly in them. During my travels I met a young student named Len Laim, a young man who came from one of the poorest provinces in rural Cambodia. He was extremely smart and had taught himself English. He was studying medicine at the countries capital in Phnom Penh. I spent two weeks, living as he did, including sleeping on the floor of a pagoda. I got to know him well. He had great ideas of improving the medical care in rural Cambodia and he inspired me to help where I could. I used the money I had raised to buy him his first laptop, a second pair of school clothes, and other simple amenities such as a fan for his overly cramped Pagoda room and a simple mattress to sleep on. I used the other half of my money to fund his rural school project. I spent time with his family in Siem Reap province and met the school children and visited the school Laim had built with his own hands. I updated a detailed blog of my entire trip and have posted entries regularly for the past three years. While in Siem Reap, recovering from a bicycle accident, I was flown to the countries capital Phnom Penh to be interviewed by BBC. They later wrote an article on my mission and journey in Cambodia.
Last March I was approached by academy award winning producer Pamela Boll. She received my name from Steven Cope, the Director of the Institute of Extraordinary Living at Kripalu. I did a piece a for the IEL a couple years back on how yoga and meditation positively impact soldiers with PTSD returning from Iraq. Pam wanted to feature me in a documentary called “A Small Good Thing”. The documentary will be about connecting to a more meaningful life and following your passions. They have been filming me for the past year and even flew me to Alaska to film me with the family I have up there. The movie will be released next spring.
While working at the treatment center I became fascinated by people and their stories of trauma and how they chose the paths they were on. I enjoyed interacting directly with clients and helping them figure out their problems and giving healthy advice. I decided to pursue a degree in psychology.
I applied and was accepted to Burlington College in Vermont to begin my studies in psychology. Working full time and being in school full time was emotionally and mentally draining. Just as important to me as my schoolwork was my self-care. I started racing bicycles while in school for my associate degree. Inspired by my brother Jeremy, professional bike racer for Optum-Kelly Benefit, I put all my physical practice into training and living as healthy as I possibly could. I excelled at bike racing and it became a lifestyle for me, one that would lead to a lifetime practice. I pedaled through the amateur ranks of road and cyclocross racing, excelling from category 5 to category 2 in just a years time, I now race at a professional level for the JAM fund cycling team out of Easthampton. The amount of passion and dedication I bring to everything I do shows in my racing, academic, personal, and professional life.
A strong belief in self-healing, healthy living, making good decisions, taking responsibility, creating healthy and nurturing support systems, and having a spiritual and physical practice is why I believe Smith to be the best program for me. I believe I bring a lot to the table and will be a great social worker once clinically trained.