Veg Head

Being a vegetarian in this day and age is not a big deal. The idea of the meat, starch, veg dinner is becoming a thing of the past for many. People are realizing that there is plenty of macro and micro nutrients in something as simple as a vegetable stir fry, with the added benefits of it being easy and quick to make while only dirtying one pan.

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Still when a person is found out to be a veg everyone wants to know why. It is natural for a human to want to understand why another human would make a decision different from their own that maybe they cannot understand.

For many being a veggie is just a fad. For some it lasts a couple months and is preceded by glutenfreeness and followed up with a paleo diet. There is nothing wrong with experimenting with diet but often the conviction of the fad is not as strong.

Other people are veg because they believe in animal rights, and others because of environmental issues. Some people, because they don’t like the taste, some for health reasons. To me all of these reason are perfectly valid, but none are mine. In fact, in my 15 years of being a vegetarian I have only met one person who was for a similar reason and it was still not quite the same reason.

I became a veg when I was 10 years old. My mom never served much meat. Maybe chicken once a week and fish every other on top of that. Maybe the occasional turkey burger and once or twice I had a hot dog or burger. So at 10, for reasons unknown or at least long forgotten I stopped eating meat all together. To this day I don’t have any memory of ever eating a steak. I do remember eating swordfish once, and turkey on thanksgiving and bacon.

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So, why? This is what everyone wants to know. I have crafted my elevator speech to give to people with a good enough answer, but seeing that I am taking the time to write this post, I will go into a bit more depth. There is one main reason, and two supporting reason that I am and remain a veggie.

The first and largest reason can be a bit difficult to explain, but I will try my best. For many people there is the thought that meat is “icky” if it resembles the animal it came from. For example, if served a fish with the head still on some people will not eat it, and even think it’s gross. How is this gross? Served with or without the head at one time the fish had a head. So really some people just don’t want to think about the fact the what they are eating at one point was alive. To me this is a disservice to ones self.

This extends past what is on ones plate. The killing of an animal is a super intense process. One that I am not sure I could carry out. So how can I ask myself to eat something that has been killed, when I couldn’t kill it myself. This is the heart of it for me. If I cannot kill the animal then when I eat it I am just trying to ignore the fact that it was killed. So to extend this, if I do kill an animal myself, I will eat it.

I do not have many opportunities in my life to kill animals for food, but I have killed and eaten a chicken and a few fish. It is very intense to hold a chicken and shove a knife into its neck and slit it’s throat and then hold it tight and wait for it’s muscles to stop twitching. But in this powerful experience it also made the food on my plate genuine. I was not ignoring what it took to get it there.

I said there were a couple other reasons I am a vegetarian. For the trained ear there are a bunch of flaws in the above argument, they don’t make it invalid, but they do raise the question of why I don’t raise my own veggies because the same thing can be applied to all food. So I have a couple back up reasons. To start I think the array of reasons that people are veg all hold some validity and at this point I don’t have a great reason to start eating meat. I have figured out how to eat healthy and enjoy what I eat.

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Another reason I have been a veg for so long may seem crazy to some, but to me makes perfect sense. It is not always easy to be vegetarian, and I have never intentionally slipped up in all 15 years. Not once have I eaten meat intentionally that I did not kill myself. Sure in 15 years you have a soup that you were told 3 time didn’t have chicken broth in it just to find out that it did in fact have chicken broth, but I have never cheated. A large reason why I am veg, is just to test my self control. I enjoy testing my self-control and see it as a great tool to build for every thing in life.

I have talked about self-control in other articles I’ve written. Self-control goes hand in hand with motivation. In order to push oneself to stick with a goal there must be something motivating you from deep down. And in order to stay motivated you must not stray and maintain self-control. So, in heading into the coming year and attempting to walk uphill 2.5 Million feet I am going to need a lot of self-control and motivation. 15 years of self-control training certainly cannot hurt.

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The Compromises we Make

I once had a professor give me some advice for life. He posed it as a thought experiment. He said,

“There are three things in life, work – what you do to occupy your time, paid or unpaid, place – where you physically are, and relationships – your interactions with other people, romantic of otherwise. Of these three things you can only expect to have control over two at a time. If you have control of all three expect something to go haywire, if you have control of one, pick another and go for it, and if you feel you have control over none of them get up off the couch and start walking.”

The thought experiment was as follows,

“If you had to pick just two of these to have control over, which would they be?”

The answer to this is always changing throughout life. When I was in a committed relationship I choose that first, and then let what I was doing during my free time be out of my control. Generally, when winter comes. I choose place over everything else so that I can do what I love and ski as much as possible. This requires large compromises on the work I do and the relationships I have. I see my family in the fall before the season starts and then not again until the spring, and I work waiting tables.

2015-02-06 07.29.06Talk about place.

For everyone the balance of place, work and relationships is different and changing. I have found it a great tool for making and analyzing tough life decisions. By seeing decisions through this lens, you don’t regret the compromises you make, but can rather recognize that you can only expect to control so much of your life, and the rest will figure itself out.

This summer I have been making a ton of compromises. I absolutely love my life, and wouldn’t change a thing, but getting to that point takes compromising and relinquishing control over the third piece.

To begin, I live in a basement. An unfinished one. With 4 loud pumps (not sure what a house needs 4 different pumps for). And a ceiling that is 5′ 10″ (I am 5’10.5″). And I am too cheap/lazy to buy/find a bed, so I am sleeping on a sleeping pad. And the sleeping pad has a pinhole leak in it, so if I don’t fall asleep in an hour I start feeling the ground and have to blow it back up (if I fall asleep I am fine until the next morning).

2015-07-20 11.56.32Home sweet home

This may sound like hell to many people, and I’m not saying it is my paradise, but I really don’t mind. The pumps just force me to be a sound sleeper. I don’t spend much time down there, so the ceilings are whatever. Inflating the bed nightly is just training for my lungs. And on the plus side the basement is a constant beautiful 65 degrees and makes for great sleeping when it is 85 and humid upstairs.

For work I am perusing Craigslist daily looking for odd jobs and landscaping gigs. The pay is pretty good actually, but it is certainly not steady work. It ends up this has worked out great and I have been able to spend a large amount of my time preparing for the winter logistically and training physically. I certainly let go of most of the control I had in the work I was doing though.

But really, I am happy to make these compromises because I am looking towards the future. I am scrimping and saving for the winter. I am living with friends in one of the most beautiful parts of Vermont. I have amazing access to mountain biking, so I can train. I have a veggie garden for the first time in years. Like a bear going into torpor I’m loading up on place and relationships for the coming winter. When December 1st hits I will be 100% committed to work. Granted I love the work I will be doing, I will not have the balance. I will be in places I love, but I will also be travelling a lot. And relationships, well my touring partners will be the extent of that.

Getting ready to drop [Photo: Louis Arevalo]

Life is about finding that balance that works for you. That balance can be a current one or an evolving one. For many people the balance needs to be in constant equilibrium, for others they can front load the balance and correct later. I find the balance is much easier to keep when you relinquish control over one element and let it just fall into place. When I try to control all aspects of my life, my stress levels start to rise and all the aspects start weakening.

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It’s All Mental!

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When I think about the upcoming year it is inevitable that I begin to wonder if what I am attempting is possible. So much could go wrong, and it is a very difficult task to imagine taking on. However, when I start to think about the possibilities, I am not worried about my legs being able to carry me, or my lungs being able to support me. That’s the easy part. The hard part is the mental game.

I worry about the 15th day in a row of 10K+ days, where my touring partners are working and the snow is a bit crusty. This is when I will have to really dig deep and convince myself that it’s worth getting out of bed at 6am for the end goal. That warm cozy bed with my down comforter and my red pillow that I have had since I was a young kid. I need to pull myself out of the comfort and jump outside into the freezing cold. However, I know that an hour into the day, as I stand on my first summit I will have no regrets about leaving the comfort of my bed. Nobody has ever regretted waking up early and climbing a mountain, at least I never have.

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Training for the physical aspect of climbing mountains all day has a formula. Set goals for vertical climbed, cross train on a bike or by running and hiking, eat right, don’t sit for long periods during the day, all things that athletes will naturally do. There is no formula though for the mental game. How do you train yourself to be better at getting out of your cozy bed every morning? How do you train yourself to not be lonely when you haven’t socialized with anyone but your touring partners in a month and a half? These are the questions I have been trying to answer recently.

One answer I have come up with is to do things that are hard. Push yourself mentally. Practice overcoming the mental battle. Right now this is taking the form of a very small goal. There is a little mountains stream that runs through my backyard. It quickly rises and falls with the rain, and the temperature changes with the sun and rain as well. But it is cold. And I mean really cold. When it has been sunny for a few days, it is bearable, but most of the time it is breath stopping, foot cramping cold. No matter how cold the stream is though after you jump in you feel refreshed and rejuvenated.

The Raging Miller Brook Dex Admiring the Raging Miller Brook

I was jumping in occasionally, maybe when other people wanted to I would push myself to jump. I realized jumping in the cold creek was the perfect mini mental battle to practice on daily. I decided for the rest of the summer, I would jump in the creek each day. If is was sweltering heat, or a grey rainy day, or I worked all day and wasn’t home in until 11pm, I would still force myself to jump in. Because after you jump in you always feel better, I am not forcing myself to do something I don’t want to do, I’m pushing myself to do something that is difficult.

While jumping in a creek is a small act each day, I hope it will be great training for getting myself up out of bed at 6am and heading out into the cold winter to walk uphill and summit mountains. I am currently on day 8.

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