Chasing El Nino: Part 1: The Dream

Ten years ago I met a Japanese man named Sashto who changed the course of my life. I was 22 years old and backpacking around Europe for 10 weeks after graduating from college. I met Sashto in a small town in northern Romania. Along with a group of other travelers from our hostel, we spent the night drinking and sharing stories from our lives. Sashto was forty and was traveling the world for three years. He had saved every penny he possibly could for five years straight so he could travel the world for three! This simple, but powerful idea stayed with me when I returned home to the United States.  

In the years after I met Sashto I did many things. I lived in San Francisco and New York City, went to graduate school, tried to start a number of companies and relationships, all of which failed. I traveled here and there for a month or two when I could afford it. However, the dream of long-term travel never really left me.


Fast forward to 2012. I had been living in Boston for about a year and had just begun teaching math in a public school. Each day was crazier than the last, dealing with student behaviors on a daily basis that would have gotten anyone expelled from the school I grew up in. I very quickly realized I needed an escape valve from the stressful environment that had become my daily life. I thought back to Sashto and hatched a plan of my own. I would save as much money as I could to travel around the world for at least one year. And that’s what I’ve done.


It hasn’t been easy. There have been times where I haven’t gone out for over a month straight just to save money. Then there have been times where my will power hasn’t been so strong. Dinners with friends. New ski equipment. Trips to Iceland and British Columbia. There were even the beginnings of romantic relationships that brought the entire idea of the trip into question. Now that I am ten days away from the greatest adventure of my life, I realize I am lucky to be pulling this off in the first place.


As for the trip, I didn’t plan on chasing El Nino, it just kind of happened. I’ve dreamed up so many different incarnations for my travels that I can’t keep track of them anymore. A year ago I thought I’d be hopping on a plane to Southeast Asia so I could backpack there for two years. However, I’ve gained enough wisdom in my travels to realize that planning too far in advance doesn’t work for me. I need to follow my intuition and my intuition told me I’d want to be skiing in North America in February. As luck would have it, it happens to be the strongest El Nino on record.


On January 27 I will pack up my car and head west.   I will have a tank full of gas, a trunk full of skis and a head full of dreams. I can try to imagine where the road will take me; neck deep powder, huge mountains, new friends. But as my friend Sashto taught me years ago, the best things in life are never planned.

Failing Spectacularly

I didn't really fail at anything in my life until I was about 22.  I don't really count what happened before I was about 14, but from 14 to 22 I was good at pretty much everything I put my mind to.  And then in my 20's I starting failing, over and over again.  Businesses, relationships, businesses again, creative projects gone awry.  Pretty much everything I started turned into a massive failure.  I began to think that I myself was a failure.  It took me  a lot of years to realize that reality couldn't be further from the truth.  There was a simple quote I read somewhere that put it in perspective.  I know it sounds ridiculous that one quote could help me put it all in perspective, but hey sometimes that actually happens!  It went something like this: The higher your goals, the more likely you are to fail.  And that's when it hit me.  I haven't been failing because I'm a failure.  I've been failing because I dare greatly.  I didn't just try and start a company, I tried to raise $2 million at the age of 24.  I didn't just try and start a hostel, I wanted to start a business that was a deep expression of inner self, as well as a model we could replicate in dozens of locations across the country and world.  And the latest failure?  I didn't just want to run a marathon, I wanted to run 50 miles through mountains for a whopping total of 11,000 vertical feet.  The grueling training eventually did so much damage to my ankle that I had to stop training.  And this time I don't feel so bad.  Because this time I realize I failed, not because I gave up, I failed because I dared so greatly that success was nearly impossible.  Does that mean I won't try again?  Hell no. I'm always going to dream big and go for it.  And if I do fail?  Well, I now see that as a marker of success.  A sign that I'm not living any little uninspired life.  I'm living big and bold and along the way there's bound to be some serious bruises!