My Academic Life (so far)

When I put things down on paper or in a blog I make a public commitment. Right now I am working on developing an academic schedule that will take me through the next four years. Yes, this is an assignment for one of my courses, but this is really a letter to myself. I understand the importance of committing to a plan. When I was working as a  principal I would plan ahead all the time, even though the job by its very nature, was unpredictable. Despite the chaos in running an elementary school, every week I would write weekly plans in a school blog to parents so that they would know what was intended to go on at the school. On some Sunday afternoons, this writing would take hours. I never resented the time. This was an opportunity to reflect on what had happened the week before and plan for upcoming events.

My last school blog post – December 2016

I never worried that the school schedule did not follow what was set down on Sunday. Writing was a  way for me to take a longer view and celebrate what was going on with our parent community. This also made the learning more visible for the community.

Six years later I find myself planning again: this time for a Ph.D. which will consume my time for the next four years.  The first year in a Ph.D. program is probably the most straightforward. I am in the process of taking six courses – two last semester, three right now and one in the spring. After this I will be starting work on my comprehensives. This begins with the development of my bibliography and continues on following the schedule below:

StepsExpected completion
Courses completed Spring, 2022
Committee Member List 
Comprehensive Exam: Bibliography
Written component
Oral presentation
1) October
2) spring
3) fall 2022 
Thesis proposal  winter 2023
Ethics approval spring 2023
Recruitment and data collection summer – fall 2023
Thesis winter 2024
Defense December 2025
my first draft at a long-term schedule

To get to 2025, I need a detailed schedule. I am sure this will evolve as I learn more about the Ph.D. process. However, on this cold January afternoon in 2022, there is comfort in editing a draft schedule that sets a future path and supposes order to a very busy four years.

The challenge will not only be managing a busy writing and reading schedule, it will be finding ways to balance this work with many other interests. The foundation of the week will remain exercise. If I have learned anything through the Pandemic it is the importance of keeping body, mind and spirit healthy. The activity can change from the Peloton to hiking to biking, but this is where I have to start, I simply can’t afford to let this go no matter how busy things get.

one thing we did regularly during Covid was to take walks and photos

At the heart of all this will be the thesis and defense. These are the end goals and I have to keep these in mind all of the time. Over the past summer I started to collect articles and write summaries of what I was reading. This has fallen off with the amount of work I have been doing, but now I need to get back to the process of preparing for my end goal. To do this, I will reserve one morning a week – Wednesday for reading and summarizing articles that I can start using for my comprehensives and beyond. It is a challenge to block out time for a goal that is so far away, but by the fall I plan to produce a bibliography of 20-30 pages that will prepare me for my comprehensives.

Every article – one-page images – can be single entry or represent a folder with hyperlink; text in different fonts – synthesized big ideas; icon for connections – your own and/or other articles or sources; photo scan – original written notes; ideas – applications for your own teaching.


content or topic with matching photo article on gallery walk – pedagogy
  




 text – big ideas/concepts


                   ← other resources







applications for own teaching/inspirations
the summary chart I started using last summer – designed by Heather Swail

The summary chart above was really helpful last summer and I plan to start using it again this Wednesday. I have known for a long time that I write best in the morning, especially after an exercise session, so I am going to reserve time every day for writing – summary notes, assignments, reflections, and revising.  I plan to put in two hours in the mornings each day to get something down. This semester, my goal is to improve my academic writing. Last semester I learned that while I write well, I am a little careless with my grammar and I need to brush up on my APA and academic style.

This leaves afternoons free for reading –  a highly necessary Ph.D. activity. Right now, I am working through Wounds of Passion: A Writing Life by bell hooks (hooks, 1997). She writes that when researching her first book hooks would read up to three books a day, sometimes getting only one line she could use for her own writing (p. 102-103). That will not be me. I am a slow reader; sometimes I need most of the day to absorb one article. I will read every day, otherwise, I will never keep up.

bell hooks (Anthony Barboza/Getty Images)

It is one thing to write a schedule, it is another to live it. I will need to weave in the work I continue to do at the university and for Discovery Education. I won’t give up my work with Discovery, I love working with them. The assignments are always different and interesting. Whether I am writing or editing for one of their digital science books, there is a great sense of accomplishment in getting this work done. Without doubt, they are the most positive and affirming people I know, so why would I leave that behind? It is hard to add this work to my growing schedule as I never know when another contract will come up. When it does, I can easily put in 15 hours a week working on their material. Because there is always a deadline, I will have to estimate and portion out my hours throughout the week.

Right now I have one meeting a month with the graduate student committee for Thinking Historically for Canada’s Future. I am definitely the junior member of this group, but I am starting to meet some great people, so I need to find ways to become more involved.

I also want to keep up my teaching at the University of Ottawa. Right now the responsibilities are light: we work as faculty advisors to second-year teacher candidates, but we haven’t been able to visit their schools since the beginning of the Pandemic. Next year I hope to get either another section of this course or even better, a section of the history methodology course that I taught three years ago. I am certain that this experience led me to this PhD journey. I can’t really schedule this time yet, but when the fall comes I will have to restructure my days. For now, I will reserve one morning a week to work on our current course.

SundayMondayTuesdayWednesdayThursdayFridaySaturday
exercisexxxreading for
comps
xxx
writingAMAMAMAM
readingPMPMPMPM
DEwhen
available 3-4
hours daily
when
available 3-4
hours daily
when
available 3-4
hours daily
when
available 3-4
hours daily
when
available 3-4
hours daily
when
available 3-4
hours daily
when
available 3-4
hours daily
University
work
AM
classes5:30 – 8:30pm11:30 – 2:30 pm
free
time
6:00 pm – 9:00 pm – 6:00 pm –6:00 pm –6:00 pm –6:00 pm –6:00 pm –
My schedule – first draft

There will be adjustments to this schedule over time, but the daily reading and writing will remain the foundation of my schedule. I am leaving some events out like meeting with my supervisors and committee work, but as these become more frequent I will have to find space.

My schedule is seven days. Since my days as a principal, a seven-day schedule made more sense. There is less pressure and at times when there is no Discovery work I can get ahead on my assignments. I really hope to keep my nights free – there needs to be time for fun, just as bell hooks said (p. 122).

What is missing right now is something I love to do. If I mention it here I know I will get back to it – our regular radio shows – Old Fellas New Music. Bob Kennedy, a very long-time friend and I started doing this show in the spring. Work took over and we gave the show a bit of a rest. We got two episodes done over the holiday break and we hope to get another one in next week. This is a great creative outlet and I am determined to work this in, let’s say Wednesday afternoons for now.

You can find our shows on Mixcloud – https://www.mixcloud.com/paul-mcguire3/

What is also missing are some of the activities that were so important to us before Covid. In 2017 Heather and I developed a fundraising campaign for Christie Lake Kids, an Ottawa foundation that provides recreation programming for children throughout the year. Our campaign – Climb for Kids has raised over $100,000 over a three-year period. We raised this money by carrying out group climbing trips in Peru and the Alps. Our next trip was to be Mt. Kilimanjaro, but this has been on hold because of the Pandemic. Our whole family has been involved in this venture and all of our children have worked for Christie Lake Kids. The family is not on the schedule, but in all things, family comes first.

Our first Climb for Kids trip – The Ausangate Region of Peru

If I write it down, I will do it. If I publish this, I have to do it! Thanks professor for giving me the push to get all this down. I am writing again and it feels great!

References

hooks, b. (1997). Wounds of Passion: A Writing Life. Holt.

Climbing for Kids Again!

Hi everyone!
It has been a year since I have been in contact with you. COVID has put a break on our trips and our fundraising, but Christie Lake Kids continues to offer to program for kids.

CLK on Zoom over the past year

Last summer their wonderful camp was closed down, but they offered kids a virtual camp and delivered materials and activities directly to the doors of the virtual camp.

this incredible program was funded in part by your donations – kids received a box of activities for a week of activities last summer

All of you who have taken the time to donate have helped fund these programs. The programs keep running so we need to keep climbing!!


From CLK staffer Kim Banks:

In 2020 – you kept us stable and operational – you ensured that we could develop a hybrid of programming both virtual and eventually back in person in small groups in the Fall of 2020.  Thanks to Climb for Kids- Mt. Kilimanjaro, even though the trek didn’t happen, your funding ensured that we could source, box and deliver packages directly to families for virtual programming as well as purchase new equipment for a skills – and – drills program in person.

Since 2018, so many of you have been loyal supporters of our fundraising initiatives for Christie Lake Kids – Climb for Kids. You have turned up at our community fundraisers, contributed and bought from the silent auctions, donated to Canada Helps and, last year, sponsored our climbing hundreds of stairs through Step up for Kids – when the pandemic stopped our travelling and required some innovative and creative endeavours to continue to support Christie Lake Kids. Right now – we still are not congregating, nor climbing mountains, but we are still committed to Christie Lake Kids.


Although grounded again in 2021, we are not still. The growing needs of Ottawa families and kids are never still, and the pandemic has even further deepened the divide between children who can access recreation and supportive programs and those who cannot.  Next week, on Saturday, April 24th, CLK is supporting another STEP up for KIDS event. Funds raised through participation and/or sponsoring others/donations will help CLK to keep connecting with, and supporting kids as we head into the spring and summer.
Please consider participating in STEP up for KIDS – walking, climbing, playing – and/or sponsoring me or Heather Swail through our STEP up for KIDS donor page. Heather and I are committing to climbing stairs for one hour, maybe with some small breaks!

https://www.canadahelps.org/en/pages/christie-lake-climb-for-kids-kilimanjaro-2020-c-12/

https://www.canadahelps.org/en/pages/christie-lake-climb-for-kids-kilimanjaro-2020-ch-4/


And we will be climbing together somewhere in 2022 – our destination is not yet set, but we are committed to putting on another adventure that you are all welcome to join!


Thanks very much for your past support and we hope you can participate in some way next Saturday!


Paul McGuire

Living in the age of incivility – the impact on racialized youth in Ottawa

Dempsey’s community programs have been closed to local youth at the whim of an uncaring city

In this series, I am writing about incivility, injustice, and in this case racism in our local community. This article has a lot to do with racism – a word we don’t like using in Canada. But when you enact a policy that negatively impacts young racialized people that is racism and it needs to be called out.

It is hard to write about stories where poor, racialized communities are forgotten in a time where their needs are not seen as important or even relevant.

The story. In the east end of the city, a community rink was converted into a homeless men’s shelter at the height of the pandemic. As parents and community members began to organize protest against the usurping of their place for hockey and pickleball, the City of Ottawa Housing Department looked for a new location.

They fixed on Dempsey Community Centre.

Dempsey Community Centre in the heart of social housing in the near-by Alta Vista neighbourhood was chosen as a replacement. You can read about this here in the only article written about all this in Ottawa. The article makes no comment, no editorial, no judgment on the move. The article misses the important fact that local families were not consulted even though they had signed their kids up for recreational programs with Christie Lake Kids, a city-wide foundation that runs recreational programming in low-income neighbourhoods.

In better days, Dempsey was a place for Russel Heights youth to play and take part in important community partnerships. Here is an example from two years ago where the Ottawa Police played basketball with Russel Heights youth at Dempsey.

I hope you watch this video and read this article from the Ottawa Citizen – ‘Ball is life:’ How Ottawa police are building relationships through basketball.

The beauty of Dempsey is that kids could walk over from their homes and participate in a wide variety of programming through Christie Lake Kids – all that programming is now gone.

Understandably, Christie Lake Kids has been silent about the loss of one of their key centers for community programming. What can they possibly do? For them at this point to advocate for their youth would risk losing more programming from the City of Ottawa.

This is one of the essential problems with programs based on charity. It is always a handout. We do this because we are in power and we can – but don’t ever challenge us. Don’t ever question our decisions.

The City Councillor Jean Cloutier has defended the move saying all the right people were consulted, no one objected. His level of advocacy for marginalized youth in his own community is a disgrace. When contacted he assured us that he had followed all the requisite steps. His conscience is clear.

These are racialized youth, these are underrepresented families. These are people with no power. This is a racist act made by people who have nothing to fear – no one speaks up for these people. They know they don’t have to worry about decisions that affect people in this neighbourhood.

A few weeks ago there was a huge furor on the local  Ottawa CBC when a backyard youth Shakespeare group was shut down by local by-law officers for making too much noise. We heard about this story every second day. A quick Google search turned up 18 separate articles about this! Through the advocacy of people with power, the troupe was moved to one of the premier theatres in Ottawa to complete their performances.

Good for them but there were some big differences between the troupe and Russell Heights. They came from a well-off mainly white neighbourhood. They got the support of local (CBC) media because it was a ‘good’ story. They had an effective voice. They had real power.

The kids and families have none of these advantages. CBC showed very little interest in the story – who cares about poor neighbourhoods in Ottawa. The press coverage was minimal – again who cares?

Situations like this make me angry. The injustice and overt racism in this story are incredible. This is tragic.

Yes, this is an example of the growing incivility of our times. Should the men’s shelter exist – of course. Did it need to displace fully enrolled children’s programs at Dempsey – of course not.

This is a case of inattention by City staff and a City Councillor who really didn’t care. Why should they? They knew no one in Russel Heights would protest. These people are used to stuff like this, why would they object?

No one sees them.

If people don’t start caring in the times of COVID when will they start caring? Why can’t we be understanding and compassionate for all communities, not just the rich, white ones? Why does no one seem to care?

 

 

A virtual climb of Mt. Kilimanjaro – Join Us!

We are organizing an event for all of you starting on the first day of summer – June 21st – a virtual climb of Mt. Kilimanjaro. Here is your opportunity to climb to the Roof of Africa under your own COVID roof!!

climbing the Barranco Wall

 

Each day for seven days we will put out to those who are interested 1) a step count that approximates the steps you would take on that particular day (8-10,000 steps); 2) a commentary embedded for you to listen to that goes over what that day on the trail is like;  3) a video log of that day by Arienne Parzei; 4) a conditioning follow-along video by Chase Tucker; 5) some music to inspire you for your day; 6) some Kilimanjaro interesting facts and; 7) a fun African recipe.

This will be sent to you in the form of a google slide that we will add to every day. Of course, it is up to each of you how many days you take to complete the challenge.

This is a screenshot of the day 1 slide

We will create a spreadsheet so you can record your steps every day. We will use our Facebook pages so you can record how you are doing, any inspirational messages for people or any group challenges you want to put out there! If you are new to all this, we will add you to our Kilimanjaro 2021 Facebook Page – an added bonus!!

 

We want to raise some money for Christie Lake Kids, but we are not emphasizing the fundraising nature of this experience. We are suggesting each participant contribute $58.95 – the height of Kilimanjaro in meters. If this works out well, we might do this as a full fundraiser this fall. We are still committed to raising over $40,000 for Christie Lake Kids before we actually climb Kilimanjaro in 2021. Right now, we are at $26, 722.

If you want, you can get sponsors to raise more money – we leave this up to you. With the pandemic, Christie lake Kids stills to raise money – most of its regular fundraisers have been postponed, but they still plan to run a really cool virtual camp this summer called Camp in a Box.

This is a good opportunity to invite more people into the Climb for Kids experience. If friends and/or family join, we will add them to the spreadsheet, to our Kili FB Page and make sure they get the link to our climbing slides.

Our poster for the virtual climb!

So, please let us know if you are interested and we will get you signed up! Write me here – mcswa1@gmail.com

Remember – Communities Move Mountains!

Make it a Story – Climb for Kids Kilimanjaro

So yesterday I got this encouraging note from Allan Neal of CBC Ottawa.

This was in response to my tweet about wanting to get some media coverage for Climb for Kids – a pretty difficult thing to do in the very crowded stage of radio and television coverage. I do agree, telling the story is what it is all about. Having a hook that will get people’s attention is a challenge, when there are so many stories out there in our city.

Elia Saikaly, an Ottawa native shot this video of the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro using a drone – this is where we plan to be in early August 2020

So, here we go. Here are some of the stories:

  • in 2017, middle -age, freshly retired and very tired principal climbs Mount Kilimanjaro with an organization that has raised over $1 Million for Ottawa organizations;
  • family decides – in collaboration with Christie Lake Kids Foundation (CLK) – to initiate Climb for Kids combining philanthropy with travel adventures and personal challenges;
  • over $67,000 is raised in two years;
  • 17 climbers ranging in age from 21 to 72 trek Apu Ausangate (Rainbow Mountains) in Peru reaching heights of 5200 metres; the next year, 14 trekkers trek 170 km around the Mont Blanc Massif, walking for 11 days through difficult terrain and heatwaves;
  • kids living across Ottawa, ranging in age from 8 – 16 years, benefit directly from the fundraising in sports and STEM programs;
  • local bands, businesses and individuals contribute time and money to Climb for Kids, including “Barry and the Blasters”;
  • in 2019, a growing group of new and old trekkers prepare for the climb to the Roof of Africa, July 2020.

The full story we wrote for CBC can be found here.

There are so many ways to start a story like this. From Paul’s perspective, he comes at this from a few angles. First, the climbing. “I am 61 years old and I fell in love with trekking in 2017 when I joined a group of 31 trekkers who climbed to the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania to raise money for programs for local charitable organizations here in Ottawa. The climbing was one of the most difficult things I have ever done. I was able to raise over $9,000 for local programs. “

The following year, my partner, Heather Swail, and I decided to develop our own program so we could channel money and support to Christie Lake Kids (CLK) – an organization here in Ottawa that supports children in low-income families across the city. CLK has been and continues to be an important part of our own family story.

We know Christie Lake Kids through many perspectives: all three of our own kids have worked at the camp; Our eldest, Liam, currently is the associate director of the organization; Heather and I have taught and worked with many of the CLK kids who attend recreation programs and summer camp. We know firsthand what a difference caring adults and skill-building programs make to kids and their families.

Poverty and bad luck are situational: they should not define and restrict opportunities for kids. Through truly transformative, recreation programs – e.g., hockey, music lessons, cooking, leadership programs, they are doing something unique – day by day, trying to break the cycle of poverty firmly entrenched here in Ottawa and empower children to change the direction of their lives.

Because Christie Lake Kids is really a social justice venture we are propelled to recruit people every year to bring them trekking. We help them with their training, we pick the routes and we put on a series of great fundraising parties throughout the year.

Our year I team at our first fundraiser at Fatboys in the Market

We know we are going in the right direction, every year we pick up new partners and friends who are helping this to become a really dynamic project here in Ottawa.

Our group members really make this special. We have some people who have been with us for three years now, others join us for a year but continue to support us and spread the news. Our group members support each other and learn to work together, not only to train but to raise money. In the first two years of Climb for Kids, we have raised close to $60,000. This year, we plan to raise an additional $40,000.

Here is a short video from Tara Howlett, one of our trekkers in Peru – Year I of Climb for Kids

Our climbers are great. The video above was taken by Tara Howlett, one of the trekkers who joined us in Year I. Tara took many more videos like this during the five-day high altitude trek in the Ausangate Range in Peru. Her journal became the basis for the film we created about the first year journey.

On the Year II trek around the Mont Blanc Massif, another one of our climbers, Jodie Beyer actually broke her foot on the fourth day of a twelve-day trek. She kept on trekking in incredibly hot and dry conditions and only realized she had broken her foot when she returned to Canada.

These treks are really hard. Our first trek in Peru was over 4800 m for five days. Many suffered through the cold and high altitude, but everybody made it. Last summer, we trekked over 170 km through France, Switzerland and Italy, camping the whole way. It was simply beautiful but many times it was also a real struggle.

A video
paul took at the top of the Col de Tricot – one of the hardest climbs we did on the TMB

So this year we are taking on Mt. Kilimanjaro. This will be another great challenge. Kilimanjaro is very hard for a regular trekker. It is a long seven to eight-day trek, all at high altitude. We will climb through five ecological zones. While we start in the rain forest, by summit day we are living in arctic tundra. The summit is at 5,895 metres (19,341 ft) and as we climb altitude sickness becomes a real concern for everyone.

Our group in 2017 – scrambling up the Barranco Wall

I know this will be a very challenging climb and we are hoping to bring lots of trekkers with us. This is not for everyone and the process of recruiting people to take on the trek is a very slow one – one that drives me a little crazy! Right now we have 13 climbers and we would love to eventually have 20 people on the journey. We want to make it to $40,000 this year so we can reach the $100,000 mark for Christie Lake Kids.

In all of this there is lots of adversity, but maybe this is just a reflection of the challenges many of the kids CLK supports face every day. There needs to be change, there needs to be hope – this is why we do this – Communities Move Mountains.

Paul McGuire, Heather Swail Ottawa, November 2019

Climb for Kids Year II TMB

Launching Climb for Kids Kilimanjaro for 2020

Great video short by Elia Saikaly of Mt. Kilimanjaro

Climb for Kids 2020 has launched!

We met on Friday to meet people interested in coming with us to Mt. Kilimanjaro. This is part of the process we need to go through to attract a group of people to make the commitment to train, fundraise then climb the highest free-standing mountain in the world.

We have such great support from Tony Perdomo of Exodus Travels and Monique Perras of Club Aventure here in Ottawa. It was a great presentation and we had lots of people out, many of them new to us. This is the key thing for us right now. If we want to really launch the Climb for Kids project into the future, we need to expand our base and attract people who are outside our own social networks.

So, now again we wait to see if the great people we met for the first time will sign on for the big adventure.

We are still waiting to raise the profile of this project beyond the scope of our social media posts. We can’t make it on local radio, no matter what we do. Planning a big fundraising trip to the roof of Africa just doesn’t make it. Even if it did, would it really make any difference? I don’t know, I think the personal contacts really make all the difference.

So we continue to try different things all the time. In two weeks, Heather and I will be heading off to a big gala to promote the trip. We are thinking of dressing up as climbers – trekking poles and gators included just to attract the attention of the crowd.

You never know who is out there looking for a new adventure, looking to help out in unique ways.

One thing I have been doing is putting out an Instagram post every few days. I am using the Flickr photos we took in 2017, the first time I climbed Kilimanjaro. I am not sure these are a good promotion, but it is fun to put these photos out there.

Soon we will have Tony’s presentation out there for people who couldn’t make it to the launch. I may also make another video short – really short – to add to the material we have out there.

Our shortest promotion video

The creation of new videos and a new ESRI Story Map are really creative ventures and there is something new to try almost every day. This is such a great story to tell and there are soo many ways to do this.

Then you get the phone call or email from someone who wants to join up. We are now in that zone where the new people who join up will come outside the groups we have already travelled with.

The big question here is, what will be the social media post, photo, email or video that brings in that new person? What word of mouth message will introduce us to someone else?

Our ESRI Story Map – a great way to collect all your media in one place.

So, we will keep posting and sharing and spreading the word. We will make it to a bigger group – hopefully 20 climbers!

Maybe this will be you??

Christie Lake Climb for Kids Tour de Mont Blanc, the Col de Tricot – Day Nine

It is really hard to figure out what to write about after 2 weeks in the mountains. There are so many impressions, ideas and feelings that come with accomplishing a really difficult trek. I really thought I would have so much to say after completing the Tour de Mont Blanc, but inspiration is coming slowly.

The Tour De Mont Blanc deserves to be written about. It is a dramatic, difficult trek that tests one’s endurance at every step. The Col de Tricot 2120m, summitted by our group on climbing day 9 was really one of the great challenges of the Tour.

The Suunto map at the beginning of this post really does not do justice to the day. But it gives you some idea of the scope of the day.

starting up the Col de Tricot

We started up the Col and it really looked similar to other climbs we had done over the past two weeks. However, it turned into a steady, long grind up a 500 m ascent in 30C heat directly into the sun.

I have learned that it is a really good idea not to look up too much on these climbs. the summit never seems to get any closer. You have to go into yourself a little bit and make the mountain the path right in front of you. It has to be one small, steady step after another, one switchback, then another all the way up.

The climb probably took us an hour and a half, but you wouldn’t be able to tell this from the photo I have included here. This is the maddening thing about photography on the mountain, it is really hard to convey the perspective, the steepness of the ascent.

The group strung out over the mountain. We all struggled in the intense heat. John, our wonderful guide encouraged us up the col – small steps, breathe deep. He set the pace, slow and steady – the same every day. John told us that it had taken him at least seven years to work out this pace. Often it was like meditation in the mountains, this day it was the only pace that would get us to the top.

Even so, John ended up carrying two extra packs for trekkers who were suffering from the heat and the push to the top of the col.

We reached the top of the col and the group spread out exhausted. We took off our boots and socks and lay in the sun. It was still hot, but there was always a beautiful mountain breeze that was our reward after a difficult climb.

Just before leaving the col, I took some footage that I have included here. I don’t know if this shows any better the difficulty of the trek, but it is the best that I have.

Funny, as I listen to this I hear myself saying that we have an easy descent coming up. I don’t think there were any easy descents on the TMB. What we did have was a long steep descent followed by a second climb up another col then for some of us a crazy 700m running descent in the gathering thunder back down to Chamonix to catch a bus to our campsite.

As the joints and muscles heal back here in Canada, I can say that this was easily one of the most challenging treks I have ever taken part in – right up there with Mt. Kilimanjaro and the Ausangate Range in Peru. What continues to bring all this together is the wonderful camaraderie of our Climb for Kids group and the knowledge that we are doing all this ultimately to raise money to help transform lives back home.

Oh yes, there is plenty more to write about the TMB, but just like our recovery, I need to be patient and let the process play out. This was a spectacular trek with great people all for a wonderful cause. It deserves the time needed for reflection.

We all achieved something important and special, something worth celebrating, something that teaches each of us something.  There is lots more that needs to be written. Lots more to learn.

Tour de Mont Blanc – Day Eight for Climb for Kids

Our route after 8 days of trekking, we are now heading back to Chamonix

The map doesn’t do justice to the challenges of the trail. We have trekked around the Mont Blanc Massif for 8 days now and we have two challenging days ahead of us including a 1500 m ascent on our last day.

It is certainly hard to put into words what we are doing. Most of us have a good amount of experience trekking in the mountains and I think all of us would agree that this is the most challenging trek we have undertaken. Every day starts with a dramatic ascent followed by an equally trying descent into another beautiful valley.

The scenery is staggeringly beautiful. We are constantly introduced to another scene of mountains, rivers and valleys. To get these views you have to work hard. Our days start before 6 in the morning and the last two days we have been on the trail by 7:10 am to avoid the heat.

A few things for starters. The TMB is an international community on the move. Almost everyone greets you with bonjour, buongiorno, the occasional kon’nichiwa and hello. People from all over the world are here trekking for the day, the week or like us, the full two weeks.

There are lots of young people here. They are fit and fast and many of them are carrying their full packs on the journey. This is really encouraging to see. I am thinking that if more and more people, especially the young, start trekking through these beautiful mountains maybe we will start looking at the world not as a place to make a profit for the very few but as our precious home that needs to be preserved.

The days are long so there is lots of time to think. Every day we see evidence of global warming. As our guide John explains, the alpine glaciers are sick. They are eroding at a dramatic rate. Still, we have crazy politicians who aren’t convinced of the natural emergency we are facing with global warming. We are not spending enough time in the wilderness and we are not heeding the messages that are truly evident if we take the time to look and see.

Today is a rest day and we really need it. Yesterday we trekked for 11 hours and climbed 1000 m at the beginning of the day descending 1400 m to our camp. The group is in very good spirits, but our bones and muscles are sore. They will recover for tomorrow as we take on the two most challenging days of the trek.

Every day we get stronger. The ascents of the next two days don’t look too bad even though at the beginning of the TMB these would have been very difficult. Every day on the TMB your body gets stronger. The muscles adapt and the long hours harden the body and the mind.

Our bodies are the vehicle that are bringing us through these mountains. We are learning and growing on a journey that is transforming us. We chose the right type of trip to highlight Christie Lake Kids. Kids live lives of struggle and are transformed by Christie Lake programs and people. We honour their work as we saunter in the mountains.

 

To Be a Pilgrim

Who would true valour see, Let him come hither
One here will constant be, Come wind, come weather.
There’s no discouragement
Shall make him once relent His first avowed intent,
To be a pilgrim

John Bunyan

Pilgrim – person who journeys to a sacred place; a traveller or wanderer.

Lightfoot Companion to the Via Francigena

symbol for the Via Francigena

Retirement is a funny thing. After decades of defining oneself by an occupation, the time comes where your definition needs to come from somewhere else. It is a different journey with fewer signposts.

After two and a half years, I think I am putting some of the pieces together. While there is work from time to time, retirement for me is becoming defined by the sojourn. This was not the plan, but it seems to resonate.

Two years ago I climbed to the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro and entered the world of thin air and extreme trekking. Later, I travelled the old military roads of the Scottish Highlands with my daughter Colleen. The following year, on our first Climb for Kids trek, we climbed the sacred ground around Ausangate in Peru.

Colleen finds the Braveheart Car Park on the West Highland Way

My son Liam and I followed this up by walking the Pathway of the Gods in Amalfi. We also traced ancient Roman ruins at Pompeii and Rome. Very soon, our second Climb for Kids group will be trekking 170 km around Mont Blanc.

Liam and I starting another trek on the Amalfi Coast

Now I am starting to plan for my longest journey, part of the Via Francigena next October. We are also actively planning for Year III of Climb for Kids. The next trek will be an epic climb, but we won’t announce this one until the end of the summer.

I think what is happening here is that in my retirement I am becoming a pilgrim. There is an ‘avowed intent’ that is linking all of these walks. I think the most important intent is to connect or reconnect with people. On my treks in Scotland and Italy, I had the wonderful privilege of travelling first with my daughter Colleen then with my son Liam.

There is a true beauty in reconnecting with your adult children. We all change as we grow older and we all need to take the time to make sure our relationships stay vital and fresh. You can do this really well by walking and talking or sometimes just travelling in silence.

Climb for Kids is a wonderful experience for all sorts of reasons. I wrote about Year II last week and you can see that post here – Communities Move Mountains. This trek is about connecting too. Most importantly I get to travel and plan with my wonderful partner Heather Swail. We did our first high-altitude trek together last year in Peru and we experienced the beauty of the mountain together. After so many years together, it is still possible to learn things about your partner, especially when you are trekking under conditions of high physical stress.

Heather reaches the high pass at 5200 m with her buddy Beth

We have a great group this year and we will learn a great deal about each other as we travel around the highest mountain in Europe. Mountains take you to another place. They help you to hold others who travel with you in higher regard. They help you to gain a greater respect for yourself and for what you are able to do. The mountains truly make you a pilgrim.

There is a really good story that John Muir told about trekking. He never used the word hike and neither do I. He liked the word saunter because of its connection to an ancient practice.

Do you know the origin of that word ‘saunter?’ It’s a beautiful word. Away back in the Middle Ages people used to go on pilgrimages to the Holy Land, and when people in the villages through which they passed asked where they were going, they would reply, “A la sainte terre,’ ‘To the Holy Land.’ And so they became known as sainte-terre-ers or saunterers. Now these mountains are our Holy Land, and we ought to saunter through them reverently, not ‘hike’ through them.

John Muir

A Parable of Sauntering

So this is my saunter. It is defining much of what I do these days, although until now I didn’t know if I had put this together. I still have to start writing about the Via Francigena and I will either soon or after the TMB. There is so much to learn and a world to saunter in. Each journey takes me to another holy land and I guess that makes me a pilgrim.

Acclimatization camp on Mt. Kilimanjaro

Communities Move Mountains!

Incredible Friday night CLK Climb for Kids Fundraiser with fantastic music by The Teachers and the Moneyman, so many friends and supporters, terrific silent auction with a huge, surprise donation, lots of competition over beautiful homemade items, FATBOYS gift certificate and keg won by Wendy, motivational send-off by Canadian Olympic athlete Segun Makinde and NOW, over $28,000.00 raised for CLK kids. And we are not done!

Communities move mountains!

Heather Swail Climb for Kids

 

This is such a good line I need to quote Heather Swail a second time – Community Moves Mountains. Maybe this should become the byline for our project – Christie Lake Climb for Kids.

Part of the Family Team – Mairi, Liam and Colleen

We are now 44 days away from our second group trek. This time we are walking around the highest mountain in Europe – Mont Blanc. We will walk over 170 km and camp along the way. Our trek is rated as a level 4 or moderate/challenging by our trip coordinators Exodus Travels.

You are moderately fit and have an interest in remote or challenging environments. Some previous experience is required for activity based trips.

These ratings are a really good way to measure the amount of difficulty involved in a trek. By comparison, Mt. Kilimanjaro is a 6 and the ascent of Mont Blanc is considered an 8.

The bulk of our fundraising is now over except for a really great wine auction that goes until June 15.

By the way – we are happy to sell you a ticket if you want to help support us!

Our fundraising goal for this year is $30,000. Right now we are at $28,000 so I think we are going to make it. This means we will have raised over $60,000 for Christie Lake Kids programs in the past two years. And as Heather put it, we are not done!

This is the humbling power of community. When you come up with a good idea that supports innovative recreation programming for kids people gather around you.

Our last fundraiser at Fatboys here in the Byward Market brought together all sorts of wonderful people united by the desire to support something really important. The opening page of the Christie Lake webpage symbolizes what they do.

I am really struck by the approach they take with kids. They call it Transformative Recreation and what they really want to do is change the destiny for kids living below the poverty line here in Ottawa.

Transformative Recreation® (T-REC®) is our program model, guiding all of our efforts as we encourage our children and youth to build resiliency and realize success on their own terms. T-REC® is founded on a mixture of best practices in the field of social recreation, as well as the lessons of success derived from over 95 years of serving the Ottawa community. Our programs focus on developing physical, social and character skills, with the intent of developing four key outcomes:

Positive Peer & Adult Relationships

Self-Efficacy

Self-Regulation

Positive Future Outlook

The community that is coming together to support this work is truly wonderful. This includes our whole family who comes out to all the events, designs our Climb for Kids logos, contributes silent auction items and even acts as the coat check staff when needed. Community includes my oldest friend Bob Kennedy, whose band Teachers and the Moneyman played at our last event.

Teachers and the Moneyman

It includes lots of teachers from Heather’s School Vincent Massey and teachers from my last two schools, St. Greg’s and St. Anthony. It includes 24 businesses and two great bands who have supported and sponsored us throughout the year. It includes former trekkers who climbed with us last year in Peru.

A collage of some of our community supporters

Apart from the money we are raising for kids, I think the community-building is the most significant part of this experience. People are contributing their expertise and resources to help put us back on the mountain and as the project grows, the community widens.

Next week the group will gather again to hear from another amazing trekker Mike Baine who has done the Tour de Mont Blanc and has also trekked in Peru and to Everest Base Camp. He will talk to us about this trek and we will talk to the trekkers about how to prepare for the TMB. Meanwhile, we will continue to look at the figures to see when we break through the $30,000 barrier.

Our fundraising total on May 23. Now we are over $28,000

At the same time, we are actively working on preparations for Year III of Climb for Kids. We won’t announce this trip until Year II is over, but the planning is a continuous process that really only slackens when we are on the mountain.

Our Year II logo designed by Mairi McGuire

The community grows daily. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the largest group of supporters, the people who are helping us surpass $30,000 – all our donors. I know that I have at least 30 people who have contributed to my fundraising total. I am around $250 short of my personal goal of $2500 and I know that I am going to make it. Each trekker has a similar group supporting their efforts.

Community Moves Mountains, that is for sure. This is an experience that enriches the lives of everyone who gets involved. It is really great to spend lots of time on a project that brings life and hope to so many people. Thank-you to all the wonderful supporters out there and welcome to all those who will continue to join us in future days!

Climb for Kids group members at our last fundraiser