Day 1,737 – Thankful for an Interesting Dichotomy – Grit versus Letting Go

One of the biggest takeaways I’ve extracted from my recent writing experiences and my backpacking trips is the importance of letting go in order to find what we need.

When I write there are times when I really force it out of me. Those are the blogs that seem almost mechanical and off and I can sense them from a mile away when I go back to review old posts. They are pretty much the worst examples of my writing and in so many ways are even worse than when I just cruise through a blog quickly to check the box and say it is done. How weird is that? In many ways it is when I try my hardest to write that the worst writing comes out.

When I relax, let my mind go, get into a state of peace and quiet, rest my fingers on the keyboard, and start typing the thoughts flow right through me. Of course I’ll have to go back and edit and whatnot, but even then the edits are minimal compared to other times. As my writing coach keeps reminding me, let it flow through me rather than from me. In those times I can lose myself in a total state of flow and not have any idea of how long I’ve been typing. When the flow of ideas is done I’m done, and not a moment earlier. In those moments writing is about as opposite of work as it could possibly be, it becomes a mini vacation for my brain and often leaves me grinning while I’m typing away. All this form letting go and letting it flow through me.

I’m a huge fan of interesting dichotomies. Where my brain has been working overtime recently is one that’s an odd struggle.

One of my core values is grit – passion and perseverance for a long term goal or dream. I often think of running a marathon as an example of what grit feels like. Grit is working through the difficult times, busting my butt, smiling while I do it, and knowing that each drop of sweat is one step closer to one of my dreams.

Over the years I’ve learned to appreciate the grind itself rather than just the sensation of completion at the end. The memory of the marathon I ran with Becky will last with last with me for eternity. I was so focused on the end goal (completing the marathon) and not on the journey (the training runs) that when the race was over I had a sense of emptiness and loss for a month. It was such a crazy sense of mourning as that goal was now gone even though it had been successfully accomplished. I was too fixated only on the end result and not enough on enjoying and appreciating the insanely hard work it took to get to that end in the first place.

Grit is all about pushing through the discomfort, busting my butt even when I don’t feel like it, especially when I don’t feel like it. It is willing myself to take the appropriate action to accomplish the goal or to at least move me one microscopic bit forward. It doesn’t feel easy, it is work.

So how do I balance these two thought processes?

As I get close to the completion of writing my book I am in a very odd spot. I know I need to grit it out to get it done, but when I bear down and push the only thing that comes out is poor writing. When I let the words flow through me as I relax and take my time to ease into it my writing is so much better, but it takes much more time and space to make that happen. Grit would see me block out an hour each day to write only to see less than satisfactory work, but work that would be done within a month or two. Flow would have me go off into solitude for a few days, to leave the world behind, work my brain through the process, and then spend several hours in a perfect state of flow before heading home.

What I could really use is a balance of both. How I find that balance is a struggle.

This photo seems so proper for this post, in many ways I’m thinking I may be looking at this a little wrong and they two are truly a part of a unified whole that I just need to look at differently.

What’s truly crazy about this is that I am loving every moment of the twisting and turning of this dichotomy in my brain. The discomfort is palpable, but so welcomed. When I am feeling this stretched and uncomfortable it is a sign that I am growing. As I work my way through this I will continue to learn and refine my practice to improve future writing. Yes, it seems daunting now, but through the difficulty and challenge is when I grow most. I’m excited to learn and move forward.


Day 1,736 – Thankful for Sunrise Runs, Trail Lessons, and an Old Monday Night Staple Food

While this morning’s run was a little lonely (no Becky) and my legs felt pretty rusty the sun raise made it all worthwhile. I am grateful for the times of the year when the morning run coincides with the sunrise, especially over Airport Beach. What a spectacular start to the day!

The backpacking trip may be over, but I’m still grinning away as its memory continues to reverberate through my brain. In particular today we’re several of the lessons I learned on the trail. They came up in various times during the day and added some great examples to a couple of situations. Yet again I’m reminded that times like that are much more than a simple get away, they are places when I learn, grow, and work to close the gap.

Back when I was a kid there was a very specific habit I remember well. Mom would typically work Monday nights so Dad would make supper for us. There were essentially three recipes we could count on on Monday nights… Fried burgers with onion, venison, or Hamburger Helper. The one that seemed to occur most often was the delicious pasta and beef supper in a box. With Becky out of town tonight I figured I’d better keep the tradition alive. While both making it and eating the boys and I joked and laughed. It was perfect. To think how many smiles we had from one heavily sodium filled box of pasta!


Day 1,735 – Thankful for Focused and Intentional Preparation

I learned this, at least, by my experiment: that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours. He will put some things behind, will pass an invisible boundary; new, universal, and more liberal laws will begin to establish themselves around and within him; or the old laws be expanded, and interpreted in his favor in a more liberal sense, and he will live with the license of a higher order of beings. In proportion as he simplifies his life, the laws of the universe will appear less complex, and solitude will not be solitude, nor poverty poverty, nor weakness weakness. If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.

Henry David Thoreau, Walden

This excerpt from Walden has been ringing in my head today. There are several things now accomplished from my 2021 goals and there are almost as many left to finish in the second half of the year. Additionally, the past week has helped me dream bigger and start adding to my dream list which will be the backbone for my 2022 goals. Many castles have been built in the air, now is the time to build the foundations under them.

The focus on his face was obvious 😁👍

After some invigorating and relaxing boat time with the boys today I faced a choice. Sit down and relax or prep my breakfasts and lunches for the upcoming week. One of my goals is a focus on eating correctly and intentionally rather than going solely by desire and convenience. If I prepare in advance I eat healthy. If I relax and don’t prepare I eat much less healthy and watch the scale move in the wrong direction. In making a simple choice this afternoon I was actually making a choice which will have a huge impact on this week and the weeks after. I chose to spend the next hours in the kitchen preparing.

What I find interesting is that this one step really makes all the difference for me much of the time. I like to go with my gut and instincts, but so often my life is much improved by focused and intentional preparation. The more I take my time to walk through the details of a strategy of almost any sort the more likely I am to be successful. Even though I know that about myself I still hear that little voice in my head telling me “you’ve got this, just chill, relax now, figure it out later.” If I give in to the voice my chances of success decrease tremendously. If I remember to focus and prepare the odds are more in my favor.

As I led with tonight, the past week has been amazing for the creations of castes in the air. This evening I was reminded of the importance of building the foundations under them. They don’t just magically happen on their own. Focused and intentional preparation is the first step towards living into those dreams.


Day 1,734 – Thankful for Being a Greeter & Paper Worship Aids at Church

Getting back to normal after COVID has helped me be more grateful for so many seemingly little things I’d taken for granted. Today I had another experience which helped me take note of more of the normalcies I had not taken time to appreciate prior to March of 2020.

Becky and I were greeters at church tonight for one of my first times in a very long while. What made it all the more special were several of the changes our church recently made. We had paper worship aids again. If you’ve been vaccinated masks are no longer required (I’m also grateful we’re not an anti-vaxxer church 😉). You can seat yourself rather than have an usher put you in a certain spot. Put those things together and everything felt amazingly normal again!

Seeing the smiles on everyone’s faces was amazing! Over the past year I’d gotten so used to recognizing people from their eyes and up, seeing the full smile made me smile bigger. Seeing the look of joy when they were able to grab a paper worship aid was priceless. More small talk than normal was very common as we all seemed to be relishing the opportunity to communicate “normally” again.

Never in a million years would I have guessed a simple sheet of paper at church would bring me this much joy. Yes, COVID sucked (& still sucks), but as with any challenging time I can find more reasons to be grateful afterwards. Funny how adversity can quickly remind me to appreciate all around me a little more than I had before it.


Day 1,732 – Thankful for Feeling Completely Disconnected

The boat has been moving for a couple of hours now as we work our way back from our fortress of solitude to return to reality. As was the case last time I can’t help but feel a sense of impending loss. On the boat we’re now surrounded by more people than I’ve seen in one place before we left. The sensation of solitude is already fleeting, though I can still grasp at it when I stare out the window along the distant horizon of a seemingly endless Lake Superior.

For almost a week I’ve been out of touch with my normal reality. I’m sure there are a pile of emails, voicemails, and texts to get through when I get back. There has been no mention of news or current sports and no podcast updates. I’ve been very disconnected… and I’ve loved every ecstatic moment of it.

Something funny hit me a couple of nights ago. After typing my blog I was about to put my camera & blogging device (aka phone) down and without thinking about it my thumb mindlessly went to my email icon. Subconsciously I’ve built a habit of checking my mail when I have a down moment. That was my default action, how sad! When I had a moment of space my initial reaction was to fill it with email. As soon as I realized what I’d done I opted to take action. In a heartbeat I was moving my email icon from the bottom and static row to a random spot on a random screen. If I want to check it I’ll have to consciously find it to check it.

One of the key takeaways from this trip will be the reminder to completely unplug occasionally to create space for myself. Like Dominic and I talked about yesterday there is a deep state of peace to be found there. That said, it’s not always sunshine and rainbows, there are times when I come face to face with my own ugliness. While there is a joy in the simplicity of being unplugged it is just as much a time to pause and reflect on the gap between who I am and who I am called to be. Seeing that chasm can be humbling, daunting, and wildly uncomfortable. That said, in a world of constant connectedness and busyness it is so easy to not let my eyes actually look directly at it. In a state of simple disconnectedness there is nowhere else to look and it must be dealt with.

I remember a sermon from Father Mark way back in the day talking about escaping to the desert to repent, to get outside ourselves. That same sermon was the first time I heard the quote from Pascal about all the troubles of the world being caused by man’s inability to sit alone in a room with his own thoughts. I’ll look that one up when I get home, I feel as if I will now “get it” at a very different depth than I have in the past.

One of the hallmarks of this trip has been the constant state of disconnectedness. Deeply soothing and joyful at times, raw, humbling, and difficult at other times. Throughout all of those moments one constant remained…. profound growth.


Day 1,731 – Thankful for a Wonderful Father Son Conversation with Dominic

There were a handful of deep thoughts that were prototypes for today’s blog, but they all got shoved aside by the end of the day. For sure, there are many moments, experiences, and newly created memories I’m grateful gif, but the highlight of my day started when the day began and ended shortly before bed.

Everyone else from our group left camp before Dominic and I. The two of us were packing up the last of our things and knew we’d catch up to everyone without any issue. For the span of a half mile or so the two of us got some fantastic father son time in the trail. We talked about where his thoughts had been leading him while walking the many quiet miles. It was awesome, pure and simple.

After supper many of the boys wanted to go explore a cave a little ways up the trail. Dominic hung back with the adults and I. After a while I asked if the wanted to walk towards the cave to check up on the others and we were off on the trail solo again.

On this later hike he shared why he loves this place so much and how he appreciates the opportunity to have time to think without the distraction of life. Not that he’s planning on running away from society and getting off the grid or anything, rather that same wonderful feeling of serenity which can only seem to be found in quiet places in the wild (though this is something I will dig into deeper in future days).

Why am I so grateful for these experiences with Dominic today? It’s twofold.

First, as a dad I can’t help but hope that I’m instilling the most important values of my essence in him, both the ones I live and those I wished I lived into better. He comments today helped me see that he is on such a wonderful track so much earlier than I was and I’m beyond excited to hear Dominic voice those thoughts.

Second, in many ways those same thoughts and ideal are the same Dad passed on to me. The respect and adoration of the outdoors coupled with an understanding and appreciation of the beauty of solitude. In spending quiet time alone in the woods we give our minds and souls the space they do desperately need to breathe, heal, and grow. Dad was smiling from above on our hikes today, no question.

To all the other amazing experiences, people, lessons, and deep thoughts – I’m so thankful for each of you as well for creating such a perfect day. Those conversations with Dominic, father and son moments in which our bond is drawn even tighter, are amongst the mist joyful moments of my life.


Day 1,730 – Thankful for Walking the Path Reminding Me to Choose the Path I Walk

Trials of miles and miles of trials. Nothing like putting miles in on foot to help the soul re-orient itself on its right path.

When planning for this experience I was thinking of it more as a vacation. An opportunity to get out and explore and enjoy nature. For sure, it’s totally been that as well, but there’s another side of this trip for which I’m grateful.

Sometime when waking the path I have an opportunity to learn just how far off the path I’ve strayed. Nothing crazy, but moments of clarity have helped me navigate where the trail markers are for the right path. I’m not too far away, but far enough that it would be easy to slowly careen further and further into the thick of the wood.

Over the last few days I’ve found many moments in which I can shape who I am. Am I the Mike who acts this way or that? Am I the Mike who does this for my own ego driven reasons or the Mike who see the bigger picture and lives into who he is called to be? Sometimes I did right for right reason, but other times I didn’t do right or was motivated by wrongs reasons. In each the choice was mine solely to make, no one else’s.

Today I’m truly struck by the way in which being on the trail and removed from almost all connections to the world have provides me a such a beautiful symphony of silence and non-distraction. In that space I’m more present and available to be aware of my thoughts and mindset. The serenity of being lost in the wilderness provides an opportunity to dive deeper into my thoughts and dissect where they came from and why.

What struck me today specifically was how walking the path has helped me remember which path to walk and why. The lessons I’ve learned from this trail will go with my to the next paths.

In a coincidental twist, as I laid in my hammock before typing this I pulled out my copy of Meditations by Marcus Aurelius and flipped it open to a random page. On that page was a comment on the simplicity needed to live a fulfilling and reverent live. Yet again I’m amazed at the insights provided by Marcus.


Day 1,729 – Thankful for Moments of Clarity on the Trail

I’m not quite sure where to take this one tonight. There are a handful of potential directions which would all eventually lead to the same destination. Hmm… which is more important, the journey or the destination in this case? As in life it seems the journey is always the right answer. Let’s take a hike together tonight and see where this trail leads.

One of my favorite parts of a hike are the quiet moments of solitude on the trail. The group spreads out a bit and I’m walking largely alone. There is no noise, no cell phone, no deadlines, and no stress. All the world is muted while I’m alone with my mind and soul in the wilderness.

When I let go of my thoughts and just enjoy the moment my brain goes places it doesn’t normally have the space to go. My mind is free of its fetters and can go to the places my soul needs but my mind doesn’t always heed. Clarity and simplicity reign supreme in these moments and offer unique insights otherwise missed in the busyness of normal life. When I listen and allow these thoughts to blossom I’m rewarded with thoughts and concepts which will outlive the time on the trail and become a part of me for eternity.

Today those thoughts led in a few interesting directions. In preparation for moments like this I brought my notepad and pen. Occasionally I’d pause to jot them down before they were lost.

Some examples today included:

• Simplicity and solitude create space for the soul

• Life is a series of tests in which we determine if we are living into who we are called to be

• There is always a choice. I can choose to be frustrated and see nothing but negativity… or… I can choose to do the right thing and be amazed at the overflowing joy that one simple decision makes.

• Joy begets joy. Helping others to find ways to help others creates and exponential increase in joy for many.

Those and several others have really helped me clear my mind and soul tremendously over our first few days on the trail. Those moments of clarity are amongst my favorite things from trips like this.


Day 1,728 – Thankful for My Health and Future Dreams

My body is not the temple I’d like it to be. Some of it doesn’t look the way I’d like it to. Some spots are much more flabby than I’d like. Perfect is about the last descriptive word I’d select to describe my own body….

That said, I am beyond grateful for my body today. I carried all of my current possessions in a backpack while covering another 6+ miles of hiking on Isle Royale today. Not only was I able to carry all 50-ish pounds, I did it while feeling outstanding! Both days of hiking have been phenomenal so far (yes, I realize that I may have just given myself the “Kiss of Death” for saying it. I’ve put much work into preparing for this trip and I’m grateful for how well my body has handled this so far.

Only 13-ish years ago I was in terrible shape, probably the worst I’ve ever been in. At that time I made the decision to take better care of myself and went through a pretty extreme set of lifestyle changes. My mind was laser like focused on being in better shape for both my boys as well as to be able to physically achieve some very intense dreams and goals. Little did I know just how many more ideas and dreams I’d discover along the way to being healthy!

As I walked today I had two opposing thoughts in my head. I was so grateful to be in better shape so I could do things like this while also wondering how much more I could do if ate and trained better while focusing more on my health. I am appreciating both the present and being able to do a trip like this. Even with that thought in mind I can’t help but wonder how much stronger I’d be if I did a better job of eating healthy and worked out a little more. While feeling good in the moment I’m already dreaming bigger dreams for the future.

Body, thank you for handling this trip so well thus far! Please know I appreciate it so much that I’m going to treat you even better when I get home.


Day 1,727 – Thankful for My Hiking Buddy, the Question “Why?”

The first leg of our hike is now complete. These seem to be the most difficult of the days as we get a later start which means our first night is a bit rushed. This time around we’re all a little extra tired from camping out the night before. As such, I’m not the only one already in bed even though it is only 7:30pm Central. Blog and bed for this guy!

The trail was outstanding today! Easy to follow and leading through a scenic forest loaded with much plant diversity. Around each turn seemed to be a beautiful cedar growing on and over and around huge boulders as if trying to show just how gritty they are. So many wonderful sights and spans of nothing but the symphony of the wilderness.

What really caught my attention today was a simple one word question. Why? Why am I hiking? Why am I enjoying this so much? Why am I so passionate about being outdoors? Why do I enjoy this level of simplicity so much? Why?

The question seemed to pop into my head with startling regularity on the trail. In those moments of serenity it would echo through my brain in so many variations and iterations. Why?

I deeply love this question and it feels so appropriate for this moment. It sends me down a path of purpose and helps me to dive deeper into myself, my desires, my dreams, my passions, and what I am called to be. That one word questions catapults my brain into new ideas and directions while I journey deeper into myself.

So what was the answer to the question? There really wasn’t one. Today I just let the question roll through my head, a snowball gaining momentum before becoming an avalanche. I’m thankful for the question and where it led me today.