Where do the trails lead you?

I am reading about trails. Robert Moor has written a magical book called On Trails An Exploration

This is an interesting book – trails are different from paths, ‘trails tend to form in reverse, messily, from the passage of dirty feet.’ (page 68 On Trails) It has got me thinking.

Trails are where we find something magical. The trail through giant ancient plants on Kilimanjaro. The feral goat who looks down on you on the West Highland Way, the ghostly llama as darkness gathers.

Trails also lead to friends, new and old, sometimes family and loved ones too.

On trails you make friends, but more importantly, you learn to depend on others

Trails draw you into a new life and once you walk the trail you are really part of the trail. 

You don’t go once, you go again.

Climbing up Mt. Kilimanjaro

Because of those who walked the trails before I now am hooked. I dream about old trails – can I do them better, can I experience more, can I test myself in some other fashion. The trail takes on dreams and the dreams make me want to push on do more, learn more, experience more.

The pathways are not just pathways. When I walk, I need to do it for another reason too. There are two reasons that I have figured out so far. To help in some way children in poverty and to connect to my family.

The West Highland Way

For me, working for children is a matter of social justice. I walk, raise money and then support programs that actually can break the cycle of poverty. That is why I can only walk for Christie Lake Kids – the cycle can be broken, but it takes innovation and a huge community effort. I want to be part of that effort.

Second – connecting to my family is what I want to do. I am 60 years old. I don’t have to worry about making an impact or being successful in my job. I am happily beyond that. But I do need to reach out to my partner and my children in important ways. So, I need to take the path with them.

Last year I walked with my daughter. This summer I trekked with my partner. In a few weeks, I will hike with my son.

If I am going to do something like this it has to be for kids, social justice or family.

There are, I hope many more trails and many more wonderful people to meet as we raise money and awareness. In between treks for Christie Lake Kids, I will walk with my family – all of them.

This is where the trail will lead.

Towards nightfall with Christie Lake Climb for Kids

Christie Lake Climb for Kids – Linking People, Adventure and a Great Cause

It is really great when a project comes together.

A year ago we came up with the idea for Climb for Kids. The idea was to raise money for a program in Ottawa that is transforming the lives of low-income children throughout the year through recreation and leadership programs – Christie Lake Kids.

A venture like this works really well when you have lots of great community partners. First, we based our model on the wonderful initiative of Shawn Dawson’s – Dream Mountains. For eight years, Shawn led trekking trips to Africa, Nepal and Peru and in the process raised over $1 million for local charities. I had the wonderful privilege to take part in one of these climbs to Mt. Kilimanjaro in 2017. This was truly a transformative event that showed me how you can link adventure up with support for community agencies.

These projects are all about partnership and mutual support. Shawn continues to help us by offering his restaurant Fat Boys as a location for our group fundraisers. He has also helped us with training and is definitely part of our support community.

We also work with a group of travel agencies and businesses including Merit Travel and Exodus Travels along with Great Escape Outfitters and Sail. Merit was our go to travel support who were with us all the way, especially when the group ran into some significant troubles getting to airports in Peru. GEO provided jackets for the group and Sail gave the group discounts on equipment for the trip. Investors Group acted as a corporate sponsor who really helped us with some of our equipment costs.

We also had the wonderful assistance of a group trainer – Shaun Kehoe. Shaun started working with some of the group in February and we continued training with him right up until the beginning of August. His work with us certainly made us stronger for a very tough trek.

On a different level, there were countless sponsors and individual contributors who helped our group raise over $25,000 for CLK. This was $10,000 more than we expected in the first year of this project. A huge success for the first year of Climb for Kids!

Group members preparing for the trek in Peru

The best social enterprises are those with broad community support. Much of our success depends on the social capital we have raised over the past year. Our group of 17 trekkers were supported by hundreds of other people and businesses. We were united in the belief that it is really important to support transformative recreation for low-income kids in Ottawa. This is what binds us all together.

The real success for Climb for Kids lies in developing a legacy of fundraising. Our first year was a great success so now we need to begin work on year 2. We have a trip planned out, again with the assistance of Merit and Exodus. We will  announce the new trip soon and we will start looking for recruits for the second venture to take place in July 2019.

We want to continue to link adventure, fundraising and community into a dynamic social enterprise. As I have written, this is all about people. Our 17 trekkers were so well supported throughout the past year. We will continue developing with wonderful community into year 2. Ultimately, we are supporting kids and that is what makes this all so worthwhile.

We will grow our support, recruit new climbers and sponsors and we will trek again in less than a year. We are empowered by a terrific community.

Now is the time to recognize and thank this wonderful community. We are so grateful and we have gained so much and most importantly, we did all this together!

Getting underway – Vamos!

 

Christie Lake Kids Goes to Peru

In a few days, we leave for the mountains of Peru. We are 17 climbers all raising money for Christie Lake Kids – transformative recreation for low-income children here in Ottawa.

A year ago we started putting this experience together. Our small team recruited hikers, planned fundraisers and over the space of eight months raised over $25,000.

This is the big idea. Come up with an exciting experience then recruit fellow adventurers who are willing to raise money for kids and work together to train for a demanding physical experience.

Climbing in the Peruvian Andes is an arduous experience. We will trek for 5 days and 4 nights reaching as high as 5200m (Mt. Everest is 8,848 m). Over the five days, we will never go below 4300m which means we will be living in a high altitude environment for an extended period of time, more than most of the group has attempted before.

We are a new group, we didn’t all know each other before this whole thing started. We have trained together and have held really fun fundraisers together, but the first time the entire group will be together will be in Cusco, Peru. We are united in our love of adventure and the willingness to support a truly wonderful organization that is changing the lives of children every day.

We are supported by Christie Lake staff, three different travel agencies, a wonderful local artist (who just happens to be one of our daughters), two outdoor gear stores which have sponsored us and given us equipment discounts, two physical trainers, various corporate sponsors (whose logos we will take to 5200m) and a tremendous number of individual stores and donors who have supplied silent auction items and venues for our group fundraisers. We also have so many contributors who have helped us surpass our original funding goal by $10,000. We now stand somewhere over $25,000!

just some of our sponsors from our first group fundraiser

So, with such a large community of supporters, I think it will be important to let people know how we progress through the mountains.

To do this, we will be using a great tool first suggested to me by Ottawa adventurer, Elia Saikaly. We will be using the InReach satellite tracker. Once activated, the tracker will send out a waypoint every ten minutes.

The InReach track I created on the way up Kilimanjaro last year. You may notice, there is no track down the mountain. For some unknown reason, I turned the InReach off once we reached the summit!

The link you can use to follow our progress is here: – https://share.garmin.com/climbforkids

I will also be able to use the InReach to post messages on Twitter and Facebook. We have some preset messages ready to go and I am able to send other messages during our trek. Here’s the tag #climbforkids.

We have also tried to catalogue most of the events that have taken place over the past year. For this, we are using an Esri Story Map, a great communication tool that allows you to tell a story using maps, video, audio recordings and pictures.

One of our Esri Story map pages highlighting an earlier fundraising achievement by the group.

I have a bunch of cameras that I will use to document the trip. The most important part of this will be to get the stories of the individual group members – why are they doing this, what are the challenges they see ahead, how did it feel to put yourself out there as a fundraiser?

The training is over and so is most of the fundraising (we are still happy to take donations here!) The story gets really interesting now as we pack our bags and get ready for a gruelling 11-flight from Ottawa to Cusco. We have a great group and we are raising money for a wonderful organization.

We all hope you follow us up the mountain!

Believe in Something Bigger Than Yourself

I just listened to Joe Biden on CNN this morning. Really powerful interview. He is an intriguing person. A career politician and possibly a presidential candidate in 2020. Of course, he can get into the political fray just like any other politician, but there is something different about him and his recent political memoir, Promise Me Dad.

Grief changes you and he has had more than his fair share in life. In 1972, soon after being elected to the Senate, his wife and 13-month old daughter were killed in a car accident. In 2015, his oldest son, Beau, died of a brain tumour.

His interviews have a cut wretching honesty that we seldom hear. As a public figure, he is known as someone who reaches out to people who have gone through tragedy.  This is something he knows a great deal about.

There are some important lessons here. First, he talks a lot about his son. Beau was someone who was always positive. We hear how important this is all the time, but how many of us really live this? Beau’s relationship with his father was obviously something very special.  The title of the book comes from a conversation he had with his son where he urged his father to run for the presidency all at a time when he was dying from cancer.

Joe Biden with his sons Hunter left, and Beau, in the early 1970s.
Credit via Joe Biden

It seems to me that people who have gone through the strainer of personal grief or tragedy somehow can see life differently. There needs to be more to live for, especially when you are living with the reminder of your own story.

Today, Joe Biden responded to one of the interview questions with this line:

If you don’t believe in something bigger than yourself you will never be happy

Pretty powerful.
This helps to reflect on some of the interchanges I have had with people this past week.
It has been a big week. We have now started fundraising for our Climb for Kids! project and this is always a challenge. Asking people for money really opens you up in ways that can be uncomfortable. One person, for whom in the past we have done lots of volunteer work for asked not to receive any of my emails about the campaign because ‘it doesn’t involve me in any way’. Another person chose this week to call me out for a note I had sent him around the time of my father’s death. It wasn’t a note I am proud of, but I wasn’t really at my best.
I mention these interactions because the negative can have such a profound impact. Most times it would be much better to remain positive or just keep certain comments to one’s self. We all do better if we can get out of our own petty worlds and just believe in something bigger than ourselves.
So as the week went on I looked back on the comments of supporters from last year’s fundraising climb to Mt. Kilimanjaro. These notes are positive and so affirming and they celebrate the attempt to be something bigger. Sometimes when confronted with the negative it is so much better to seek out the positive.
I was really struck by Joe Biden’s interview today. I was taken by the way this man takes solace and strength from his family as I do. I was encouraged by his and his son’s determination to look to the positive.
A son’s affirmation of the father is a powerful message. I have that and those who can’t see beyond themselves will just have to take the back seat.

No Yoga for Old Men!

Have you ever done a downward dog with your dog? I have. I think this actually sums up my yoga prowess at this stage of my life!

I am finding that at 59, things don’t seem to move the way they used to. Today to make a statement against the crazy -30 C weather outside, I did 35 minutes of yoga inside. Just like my 31 days of posting challenge, I think it might be a good idea to try 30 days of yoga!

So, why does everyone who instructs yoga look like a lithe and graceful elf? I am more like a lumbering, wheezing stickman. All the joints hurt. Forget any idea of bending from my waist and touching my forehead to the floor. If you watch me closely, you may notice a slight, painful bend, but the floor is light years away.

I do yoga most weeks. We have a group in the community who work out for 90 minutes in a painful collective therapy session. I like it. I like pain I guess.

Being strategic, I hide off to the side with my friend, neither of us can really do the poses, but we are very good at the groaning and complaining. Fortunately for us, we have a yoga instructor who has the patience of Job and she never gives up on us.

I will just speak for me, but is it possible to turn into a petrified man? I think I can actually feel my joints calcify as I stretch out.

yup you got it right Leonard

How did this happen? How will I keep this up for 30 days of yoga? What is that new pain in my hip?

Our yoga instructor says its the crazy weather we have been having that causes the pain. My partner says I am just old. Our dog gets to lick my face when I do a downward dog.

So, who knows?

I do remember trekking in the Western Highlands, 26 kilometres a day over really rough terrain for a week.

 

I was there, I did this

I do remember making it to the top of Kilimanjaro, even though I fell after and tore a quad muscle (maybe that’s the problem).

I think I took this shot, but high altitude plays with your memory

So, I will struggle through with Adriene’s yoga, she can’t see me anyway. I will continue to go to our group yoga sessions and I will continue to hike and climb whenever I can.

I ache, but so did Leonard, so I am in pretty good company.

My Trek Through the First Day of School

As a principal, I really liked the first day of school. I got to see families and kids once again and I was always excited about all the great stuff that was planned for the new school year.

This year has been a little different. For the first time in 31 years, I am not in a school. I retired last December, so being away from school is not new to me. But, the first day of school is special.

So today, I needed to do something to mark this occasion. I was up almost at the same time – my wife is still teaching – and I drove her to school. I then got my trekking gear on and headed to the Gatineau, the beautiful hills just north of Ottawa.

I hike a good deal these days, especially the Wolf Trail in the Gatineau. Almost always I trek with friends or family, today I went by myself.

I wanted to have a day of quiet reflection, a day to note a new turn in my education career. I say a new turn because I am still an educator. I still work hard at connecting with other educators through Twitter, blogging and most recently, VoiceEd Radio.

I see myself now as an educator who is not tied to any school board or any official position. This is allowing me to write with more honesty about what I think about a whole host of education issues and topics. It allows me to take part in great projects like the Dream Mountains Kilimanjaro trek last year and this year a climb in Peru for Christie Lake Kids and hopefully a three-week trip to El Salvador with University of Ottawa students.

I think as educators we need to constantly evolve and grow. When we are fortunate enough to be able to retire, I think it is something to seriously consider. One can continue doing what they are doing, but I think with diminishing returns.

We always remain educators however, we just move to other stages.

Today was a wonderful day of hiking and reflection. I treasure the past and look forward to new vistas as an educator. The challenge remains the same  – to seek out the new opportunities to grow and contribute.

The summit of Wolf Trail – a great place for reflection

 

 

Linking Adventure to Support for Kids

 

I am using this post as a brainstorming exercise. Hopefully, as ideas and suggestions come in I can change the post to reflect your ideas.

I have learned that to raise money for any project or cause, you need to have an idea that really captures people’s imagination. It is a very competitive market out there and your idea really needs to stand out if you are going to attract funding.

You also need a great cause that people can get behind. In the past, I have looked for projects and organizations that had the potential to change the lives of children so they could live a rich and rewarding life. This seems like a big goal, but there are all sorts of organizations out there that are bringing about real social change by enriching the lives of children and their families.

Last year, I raised money for Rec Link, a great community organization that focuses on providing recreational opportunities for low-income families in Ottawa. The fundraising worked very well because it was attached to a great idea, climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro, the highest free-standing mountain in the world.

This year I would like to develop the idea further by planning a trekking expedition that raises money for another Ottawa organization, Christie Lake Kids and a similar organization from the country we will be climbing in.

It would be wonderful to find a way to have participants from both camps as part of the expedition. Not only could we be raising money to send kids to camp, but we could also raise awareness on the good work these organizations are doing.

The inclusion of an organization from the host country is really important to me – awareness raising needs to include a focus on the country we would be travelling to.

So, this is the concept. I would love to hear any ideas that you may have on ways to move this forward. It is exciting to plan something new and even better to hear how a concept can be improved over time.

 

The End of my Kilimanjaro Journey

Last week, I finally reached the end of my 2016-2017 Mt. Kilimanjaro Journey. I had the chance (finally!) to go back to my former school – St. Anthony – to present on our great trip to Mount Kilimanjaro this past April.

I had the great honour to present to all the students from kindergarten to grade 6. Each presentation was different, aided by a Google Slides presentation and lots of equipment from the climb.

The kids asked great questions and we had a really great time talking about high altitude and how to walk on a mountain.

I had the chance to use the new Google Earth to show a 3-D model of the mountain which was a great teaching tool when overlaid with the track we followed up the mountain.

a 3-D display of our route up to the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro using Google Earth and Inreach to track our group to the summit

Now I can finally say that my trip is over. The Kilimanjaro journey really started at St. Anthony when I decided to retire from the school so I could really train for the climb. We were able to raise almost $10,000 for Rec Link, a great organization that works with our families to provide recreation opportunities for our kids.

This was much more than a retirement adventure, it was a way to give back to these kids and this community.

Now that I have talked to the school community, I can move on to new challenges. Dream Mountains is getting ready for its next big venture – a trek to Mt. Everest Base Camp. I can’t sign up for this next climb until August, but I really hope I will be able to sign on. I love the idea of raising money for the community and I really want to challenge my body and mind again to take on a trek that is truly challenging.

Thanks to all the teachers and students of St. Anthony! Thanks to all those who supported me and helped raise an incredible amount of money for Rec Link and especially thanks to my family for being my great organizing committee.

We will soon see what comes up next.

Here’s hoping!!

The Importance of Being Civil to Others

I read a great post by Andrew Campbell this morning, Why Teaching Digital Citizenship Doesn’t Work.

He writes:

We need to stop teaching Digital Citizenship with long lists of rules and instead reinforce basic Citizenship. Provide students with a set of positively framed principles to apply to all situations, digital and analog. Students don’t need more rules; they just need to apply the ones they’ve already got. The same ones they learned in kindergarten.

While this post was written in 2013, it is just as relevant today. I would go even further, adults also need to learn to follow the rules of civility. Andrew reposted this blog as part of a larger conversation on civility and respect using digital media. Another participant,

Another participant, Rolland Chidiac made this important comment:

Rolland’s tweet makes a great point, but a sad one. People routinely treat people badly and feel that they can get away with it because they are distanced by the phone or digital media.

As educators, we should strive never to do this. We should be holding ourselves to a higher standard and we should be acting as an example to our students.

I am writing this to comment on a really good twitter discussion and because I witnessed an incredible lack of civility displayed by a fellow administrator today.

Following the rules of civility, I will not get into the details, apart from saying this administrator has done an excellent job at making sure I could not return to my former school to do a presentation on a fundraising climb I took part in to Mount Kilimanjaro earlier this year.

Some people just don’t understand what it means to be gracious and civil and I really believe people like this need reconsider why they are in education. In a world dominated by Donald Trump Tweets and bickering, we need to show more grace and compassion when we are dealing with others. Students, parents, and colleagues.

Following the guidelines set out in this morning’s tweets, I would be happy to confront this educator and explain this to them. Unfortunately, nothing would change and that is too bad.

In a world that is growing crueler and less civil, we really need to reflect on this. Our actions have consequences, our actions can really hurt other people – this is something we should never do.

Thanks to my wonderful twitter friends for a great discussion, very timely based on my experiences today.

 

The Importance of Team on Kilimanjaro

our group photo on the Stella Point summit

Every day new impressions come to me about the Dream Mountains Kilimanjaro experience. Today I am thinking about the importance of team in our success in making it up the mountain.

Team is something that Shawn Dawson and the other leaders emphasized throughout our seven-month training period. We did group hikes in the Gatineau, we climbed Mt. Marcy, we got to know each other through team socials and events throughout the fall and winter. The importance of ‘team’ was pounded into us.

We actually only really came together as a group once we were all together in Tanzania as our team came from locations across the country.

Through six days of hard climbing on the mountain things changed. We really became a solid unit. We were all that we had. On the mountain we added 93 porters and guides to our ever expanding team. We were becoming a unit moving towards the summit.

another day of trekking up Kilimanjaro – we always climbed as a group

This is where team becomes real. I remember one day near the Lava Tower. I was totally exhausted mainly due to the effects of altitude sickness. My group headed out and I just couldn’t keep up with them as we scrambled down steep scree. I should have stayed behind, but that was my group and I needed to be with them. After a few minutes of scrambling, dizzy and head aching, I saw just ahead of me a smiling Jason Colley, calming waiting for me. ‘We saw you on the scree, so I thought I would wait for you’.

Saved by the group! I formed up with the others and made it down the steep descent to our next camp. Jason, our group leader stayed behind me the rest of the way to make sure I made it down safely to camp.

On the summit night, I was part of a group of climbers who found ourselves together, alone on the mountain slope. The sun was just coming up, but we were chilled to the bone and exhausted. We sought shelter behind a big rock and tried to figure out what to do. Some of us – including me – suggested turning around. We really didn’t know where we were on where we were heading. We were immobilized as more climbers piled into our shelter equally exhausted. Then a super duo, Megan and Heather Benoit (twins no less), told us all to get our act together and get climbing. No one had a better idea so slowly we started following Heather and Megan up the slope.

On the slope close to our group’s ‘moment of truth’

This was the ultimate team moment. Shawn couldn’t do any more for us. He had trained us well, now it was up to us. We all turned toward the summit and every member of our group summited within the next two hours.

This was for me the most dramatic moment in the climb. We were a true group, formed through challenge and hardship, totally trusting in each other. We encouraged each other for the next two hours and then happily embraced when we finally made it to Stella Point.

Another moment. Much later in the day we descended from the peak to a rain forest camp. I had injured my leg on the initial descent and was very slow getting down. The other climbers, equally exhausted had gone ahead and I was alone on a steep and rocky trail.

A porter, carrying another mammoth load saw me and stayed with me all the way down to the camp. It got very dark on the trail and I didn’t want to stop to find my headlamp. No need, the porter lighted my way down all the way to camp. Once we finally arrived, he made sure I signed in and then passed me off to another porter who led me to my tent in the pitch darkness. I thankfully collapsed into our tent so grateful again for the wonderful team who shared the mountain with us.

Our wonderful team gathers for a photo on the last morning of our descent to the park gates

Do the best teams develop through adversity and challenge? I am not sure. I only know that I feel closer to these people than I have felt to any group for years. Obviously, I don’t include my family and the people I worked with at my last wonderful school, but apart from these people, I can’t think of another group of people that I feel a closer bond to.

What a wonderful privilege to have experienced this level of closeness with people who were complete strangers only a few months ago – what a true gift. Maybe this is the true meaning behind this experience, there is huge value in working closely with people in situations of true adversity – this is where you really can define what it means to be a member of a team.

If I decide to climb again, the group experience will certainly be one of the main reasons for going through all of this again!


a wonderful, joyous celebration with our porters and guides the morning of the final descent