Day 71

Suffering.  It's inherent to life, because life equals death and death equals suffering.  That's the price you pay to find meaning.  It's a terrible price, but maybe it's worth it.  If we do it right.  That damn bird - the Red Footed Booby called Professor Pinkerton and that goofy look on his face.  He doesn't know he's about to die, but I do.  It fills me with visceral emotions and confusion.  He's about to die.  I witnessed his last clumsy entry into a resting position atop the rolling hills of the Pacific Ocean.  With one last look into my eyes, his head disappeared into that crevice between his wings and he began to drift North. Drifting somewhere, to that place where we all drift.  Eventually.  It's the definition of tragedy, but it's not evil.  It's just the price.  Nature doesn't like to hand out freebies, it demands work and responsibility.  It's an eternal dance, always striving to bring order out of chaos and love out of fear, but it takes real work.  It's not always entirely self-evident is it?  What to do about this wild predicament of a self-aware life, what path to take, what path that provides enough meaning to make it all worthwhile.  


I was once sitting at a restaurant in Portland, OR eating at the bar, when a woman walked by and asked if I could give her a hand. I finished, paid, and went to see about a good deed.  It was just a man that drank too much and needed a ride home; no problem.  Except there was a problem; he had extreme anxiety.  As soon as he walked out of the front door of the restaurant, he froze, dropped to his knees, and assumed the child's pose, forehead firmly planted on the walkway entering the restaurant.  He was panicking, having an anxiety attack, something.  Whatever it was, he went through something in the past, probably something traumatic.  He was suffering. 


The man was glued to the sidewalk emitting haunting moans as the fear and anxiety coursed through his veins.  There was nothing I could do to help; I wasn't equipped to handle the situation.  However, I can be certain that kicking him and calling him a loser wouldn't have helped the situation. Obvious, right?  That's evil - intentionally causing more suffering than is absolutely necessary.  But it's not obvious, is it?  People discipline children with extreme violence, people rape and murder, we all know what people can do.  No, it's not what people can do, it's what I can do, what you can do, what we are all doing right now, everywhere.  From gossip, to slights, to passive aggression, to willful blindness, all the way to protracted and pointless torture, we're responsible.  And whether you believe it or not, we are all capable of reaching the highest rung on the ladder of inflicted suffering. 


It's baffling isn't it?  The violence, the sheer amount of unnecessary suffering.  I've been running these concepts through my head for a decent while now, and on Day 71 of isolation it culminated into a powerful release of emotion.  Not because this is just a reality we have to contend with, but because I'm partly responsible.  I've been plenty mean - I've fought people unreasonably, I've treated women poorly, I've insulted, I've treated family and friends poorly, I've lied, I've caused unnecessary suffering.  So have you.  Really accepting what I've done and what I'm capable of is scary.  It filled me with a deep sense of sorrow because I had chances to make things better, but chose instead to punish others through my own resentment and anger.  It was a feeling of massive disappointment in myself, with a side dish of forgiveness.  


It's not so much about focusing on the negative, I just never took the time to really contend with the negative, to understand it, to know what I'm capable of.  I suspect neither have some of you.  But it's part of the deal, it has to be.  Unlike Professor Pinkerton who can blindly fall asleep for the last time, we're burdened with the ability to see the unavoidable tragedy of life, but graced with the responsibility to strive for less suffering for all, and of course, the elimination of evil.  Even if all that means is starting with eliminating willful blindness.  It's time to speak up and get to work.  At least for me. 


Paddle On

jocobrowpic.jpeg

Confronting Chaos

My journey into the unknown is approaching rapidly!  I'm on my last work trip overseas and can say with a fair amount of certainty that I'll be ready to depart this summer.  At least as ready as I'll ever be.  My boat was christened "Emerson" on my last trip home, and the remaining details were finalized over the last couple of months.  This wouldn't have come into fruition without the amazing support of Schooner Creek Boat Works.  Thanks for the great work and generous support!  When I return in a couple of weeks, I'll have about a month with Emerson in Portland to ensure everything is working as advertised and is loaded with the equipment I'll need.  Then in May I'm going to head up to Puget Sound for about six weeks to put in some miles for training, testing, and organizing.  I'm also planning a short trip into the open ocean late June.  If all goes as planned, I'll be leaving around 7 July from Neah Bay, weather dependent.  

I want to send a big thanks to Ingrid Skoog and her students at Oregon State University for developing the dietary plan.  They are also helping me purchase, sort, and pack all my food, which is no small undertaking.  I'm extremely lucky for your support and can't thank you enough.  Also thanks to Weather Routing Incorporated for providing weather support throughout the journey!  It's a huge service and relief to know that I'll have the much needed advice and professional weather updates throughout the journey.  Soylent is also a key sponsor, providing me with a generous amount of food to sustain me in the trials to come, it's very much appreciated!  Lastly, thanks to Drift Company Boat Transport for ensuring Emerson gets where it needs to go!  

As the departure nears, the idea of my journey has morphed in my mind from an intellectual pursuit of requirements to really facing the massive burden before me.  The sheer magnitude of mental and physical discipline I'll need for success has always lingered in my mind, but it's easy to push aside and focus on the details.  It's easy to avoid inspecting the endeavor as a whole.  But as it nears, the burden is forced into the forefront; there is no choice but to face it with open eyes.  That is if I'm going to take it seriously.  I don't mean burden in a negative sense, just as something to be carried; the willingness to strap the load to my shoulders and step into the unknown.  

It's that unknown that I've been playing with as a concept, or the realm of chaos.  Humans are unique in that regard - recognizing our own mortality, understanding our limitations, facing the dizzying array of possibilities, to know that to be human is to know suffering.  How do we deal with it?  How do we position ourselves to minimize suffering but still progress, grow, and live harmoniously with each other?  It's a question for the ages, the subject of philosophers over the millennia, and a very worthwhile pursuit of understanding.  It's a question of how to live. 

One way of dealing with chaos is by forming a domain of understanding, the confines of which are where we know how things work.  Here we are comfortable, we can meet our basic needs, we can avoid most major suffering and threats to survival.  However, outside of that area of understanding is the world of chaos, where nothing makes sense.  It's confusing, disorienting, there are no limitations, and no solid footing.  It's imaging what it might be like if your eyes could suddenly see every single wavelength of electromagnetic radiation; it would be a chaotic, overwhelming nightmare, rendering your eyes useless.  We need some measure of limitation to create order.  

If we simply stay within our area of understanding and comfort, there is no progress, there is no growth, and we become stagnant.  So logically, we have to take a peek over the walls and contend with that which we don't understand; it's in our nature.  It's living on the line between chaos and order.  We need one foot planted in the order we've created for ourselves, and one foot in the realm of chaos.  Because outside of that line is where discoveries are made, both in the physical, scientific sense, and in the psychological sense.  It's by making those discoveries that we expand our area of understanding, we create a larger area of expertise in which to live. However, you don't want to jump into chaos with both feet, not only because it's confusing and disorienting, but because it's dangerous and potentially fatal.  It's finding a proactive balance. It's the careful process of bringing chaos into order which can give us meaning and fulfillment, or at least provide a partial antidote for the enormity of chaos and suffering we're born into. 

When considering whether to leave the military, one of the deciding factors was predictability, as I've mentioned before.  I was fairly certain I knew how my life would turn out, at least in the sense of a general trajectory.  It was boring and predictable, I wanted exciting and unexplored territory.  I wasn't thinking about chaos and order at the time, but I can now see that what I'm doing with this trip is bringing myself out of the realm of order and closer to chaos.  I'm doing all I can to keep one foot planted in order by expanding my knowledge through studies and experience, you can be certain of that.  If staying in the military was residing safely within order, this is venturing as close to the line of demarcation signaling chaos as I can reasonably ask of myself.   

It's a strong pull, the feeling to retreat back into safety and certainty.  I suppose I've intellectually known why people avoid risk and don't venture too far into the unknown.  It's one thing to passively know and live out those reasons, and an altogether different experience to feel the dramatic instincts calling for order.  Feelings of anxiety, fear, and personal insecurities have all boiled to the surface.  It's like the moment you step towards the starting line of a race, one with personal importance.  You hear "ready..." you lean forward, "set..." your heart rate is up, there's possibility hanging in the air, colliding with your doubts.  Except for me, the gun won't fire, not yet.  I'm learning to manage it.  Partly by knowing I should keep pushing forward with one foot exploring the realm of discovery, being careful not to plunge with both feet into the depths of chaos. 

Paddle On

The Christening of Emerson

To Seek what Beckons

Well, my last blog post was nine months ago.  I've cut down the interval between posts by six months, so maybe I'm making progress.  The main reason I haven't posted is because progress with the preparation slowed down quite significantly.  In my last post I was fairly certain I could pull off a 2017 departure with the funds I had coming in.  It turns out I was wrong.  I couldn't quite pull it together with a safe enough margin.  However, that doesn't mean progress hasn't taken place; it's coming along very nicely.   

The boat structure is complete, and we are now focusing on finishing the internal systems.  Luckily the systems are fairly simple, so that means we don't have much left to complete.  As I was leaving from my last trip to the States, the interior deck hatches were just about complete, the interior was getting its second coat of paint, and final preparations for installing electronics were just about done.  Now all we have left is completing the plumbing, installing the ventilation system, and wiring the boat with electronics.  It's looking great and it's pretty exciting to see it all come together!  The boat was on display at the Portland Boat Show last January and was even featured in a short segment with a local NBC affiliate.  You can see the clip below.

I'm again overseas working, but I should be back in August/September.  When I get back, the remainder of the work should be complete and we'll be ready to begin stability testing.  We'll put the boat in the water for the first time in order to test the self-righting capability, to check the stability at different weight distributions, and to ensure the desired performance characteristics match what the designer calculated.  Once testing is complete and we are satisfied with the results, I'll turn my attention to outfitting and organization of equipment.  For example, I'll have to decide how I'll deploy and tie off the sea anchor/drogue, where I'll store important equipment, and how I'll manage the oars when not rowing, amongst many other things.  I'll also need to be well versed in troubleshooting and repairing anything that fails, so I'll spend plenty of time dissembling and reassembling vital equipment like the reverse osmosis desalination pump.  Until then, I'll continue to focus on the educational aspect of the trip.  I'll also continue to mentally prepare myself, which will likely be the deciding factor for success or failure. 

Mental preparation is a tricky element, I'm finding.  In pondering how to get into the right state of mind and how to prepare for the psychological challenges, I've delved into identifying my priorities and core motivations.  In short, it's a deeper look into the big why.  Why am I really doing this, and why am I sacrificing so much to get this done.  I knew the preparations were going to be daunting, especially with a custom design and build, but it's been exhausting.  I've drained every personal resource, I've isolated myself extensively in Afghanistan and Iraq to earn cash quickly, a relationship self-destructed (at least in part) due to my absence overseas, and it's taking much longer than anticipated.  So why then?  Why keep pushing on when the anxiety builds into restless nights?  It's not pride, it's not for accolades or respect, and it's not for the novelty of it all.  I have rational, logical answers - to push my limits, to grow as an individual, to gain new experiences, to quit looking for answers "out there," when the answers might be found by looking inward.  But in actuality, there's a nagging feeling, an itch that hasn't been scratched, a thirst to find meaning, it's a desire to question everything, to find a sense that what I'm doing in life matters.  

The standard model of how to live in our society just doesn't fit me, it doesn't feel right.  There's a dissonance within me, a natural tendency to reject the "normal" path and to forge something new, something unique.  I still don't know what that is, so I'm seeking, I'm following a path that beckons.  It sounds absurd, a man nearly in his forties still seeking.  But isn't the human condition completely absurd?  What are we really doing here, and why?  We're floating in a void on a spherical rock, orbiting around a ball of fire, on the outskirts of an insignificant galaxy (to paraphrase Alan Watts).  It's really an odd situation if you think about it.  It seems extremely inconsequential in the grand scheme, no matter what we do.  So why live a life that doesn't resonate with your core being?  There's a beacon calling, and I'm following, because it feels right.  I'm abandoning the largely dominant force of logic and reason within me for feeling and instinct.  Maybe there's something enlightening there; maybe I'll find something that has deep meaning, if only just for me.  There's only one way to find out, and I intend to see it through.  

A guy called Jason Silva has a YouTube channel called "Shots of Awe" and he begins one with a quote from Walker Percy- "To be aware of the possibility of the search is to be on to something.  Not to be on to something is to be in despair."  He discusses the subject of seeking within the video and since he's much smarter and more eloquent than me, I'll pass it on to him. 

So yes, I'm delayed until 2018.  But what beckons hasn't faded, and I will keep seeking.    


Paddle On

Preparing for the Portland Boat Show

A Late Update

It's been quite some time since I've provided an update regarding my ocean rowing plans, or any blog post for that matter.  Over a year, in fact - it seems like a flash.  But fear not, my time was spent wisely (for the most part) and progress was made.  It turns out custom boats are ridiculously expensive - big surprise!  Perhaps I should've set aside a few more shekels along the way.  Regardless, I began searching for a builder to construct my boat and this newfound obstacle became readily apparent.  Because of this, the project is now labeled Pacific Ocean Row 2017, a one year delay.  In the scramble of attempting to make a 2016 departure and recognizing a budgetary deficit, I searched for sponsors and attempted a crowdfunding campaign to no avail.  Not deterred, I began looking for employment that would enable me to fund the trip.    

Luckily, I found a job that should provide the funds I need for a summer 2017 departure.  I also found a builder on the west coast near my departure location in Portland, OR called Schooner Creek Boat Works.  I apprehensively signed a build contract in January 2016 with the knowledge that I didn't have the funds available to complete the build.  However, it was a necessary risk to prevent further delays.  The build commenced and the progress is looking great!  For ongoing updates and photographs see www.jacobadoram.com/thebuild

My current employment is a pilot job outside of the United States in faraway lands.  It's definitely not ideal being this far from the build, but so far it's working well.  The fine folks at Schooner Creek are graciously allowing me to help with the build when I'm in town and are very supportive and accommodating in regard to my unique constraints.  

In more good news, a design brief of my boat was featured in Professional Boatbuilding Magazine, Issue #161, June/July 2016, written by the naval architect Eric Sponberg.  It provides a great overview of the design considerations while developing the architectural plans.  You can read the article at www.jacobadoram.com/thedesign.  I also found a nutritionist out of Oregon State who is helping me develop an appropriate diet for the journey, and I even found a personal trainer to help with my physical requirements while overseas.

Lastly, I found a filmmaker by the name of Dave Unitan who is creating a documentary of my journey (www.daveunitan.com).  We've already had some interviews, he's recorded me with a drone while kayaking on the Colombia River, and he's captured some footage of the build currently underway.  It's just the beginning, but it's pretty exciting and also a bit nerve-racking.  I've always been fairly private, so the acute awareness of being fully on display stirs feelings of vulnerability and nags at my insecurities.  But isn't that partly the point of all this?  It's facing challenges head on, facing fears, and seeing insecurities for what they truly are.  It's getting a clear view of all your doubts under a glaring light and staring them down until they dissolve into nothing.  Something like that.  

So that's what transpired over the past year.  While my original plan for a 2016 departure failed, each obstacle is gradually being pushed aside.  By the way, I successfully finished my bicycle ride across the country, but obviously failed to write about the overall experience.  Apologies for maintaining a blog without posts.  I'll just say it was an awesome trip with great scenery and amazing people along the way.  The objectives were met.  Other than the four previous blog entries, I didn't write much more about it, maybe I should've.  Upon completion, instead of lingering in thought about the trip, I immediately turned to getting a boat built.  I'm still working on this writing thing, staying motivated, and fending off the insidious objects of my attention.  And again springs another insecurity - putting my words out there doesn't come with comfort.  At least not yet.

Paddle On

Adversity

My grandfather once lamented that the younger generations haven't experienced any real adversity.  I was probably 12 years old at the time.  I didn't really get the point, but it stuck with me.  By no means am I saying riding a bicycle across the country is adversity.  It's a bike ride.  I also don't think he meant everyone needs to suffer through a great depression and bread lines in order to build character.  Like most things, it's a sliding scale.  It's obvious though, we have it better now than ever (in most places).  Imagine meeting someone traversing the Oregon Trail in 1840.  While you're going on about jets and cars, he's suffering through dysentery and dehydration.  If he makes his destination, the character built during that journey would clearly outweigh the combined sum of everyone leaving out of JFK on a Boeing 737. 

I'm not saying we need a horse and carriage renaissance.  I love modern conveniences as much as the next guy.  However, explaining my bicycle trip to people brings out an incredible positive resonance that's difficult to deny.  Without asking, I've been given a book, magazines, bottles of water, food, and encouraging words.  One morning I was packing up camp and a lady walked over and handed me a breakfast burrito and said "You'll need plenty of energy!"  It was delicious, by the way.  When I was on top of the continental divide, I was invited inside a couple's RV and given water, fruit, and some cookies.  People have offered to drive me into town and back if I needed supplies.  One couple even offered to meet me later on my route to give me a sandwich.  I don't know why the offer was specifically a sandwich, but it was a nice gesture nonetheless.  For reference, this type of treatment hasn't been the norm for me.  People don't just hand me things when I'm walking down the street.  It's not because people think I'm friendly or I put out a good vibe.  I think it's because people recognize and appreciate someone willing to take a difficult route.  The thought alone sparks a sort of motivation or internal drive for something beyond the ordinary.  While these people might not be in a position to get out there themselves, they almost seem compelled to help those that are.  

I've tried to understand this type of behavior beyond the aforementioned surface level perceptions, which has taken me down some ridiculous mental rabbit holes.  For example, I was recently listening to a podcast called Invisibilia, which is a show about the "intangible forces that shape human behavior."  During an episode called Entanglement, it starts by explaining quantum entanglement.  We don't scientifically understand it yet, but the simplest explanation is the fact that a single object can be in two places simultaneously.  Scientists have forced two atoms to become entangled at distances over 88 miles, where changing something in one atom will instantaneously affect the second atom in the same way, faster than the speed of light.  This isn't possible within the constructs of Newtonian physics, and is the origin of the famous quote from Einstein calling it "spooky action at a distance."  Theoretically, a single atom in your body could be entangled with an atom in another person, or with an atom of another planet.  The stuff our universe is made of can be physically separated and yet the same thing.  Now that is wild.  When trying to incorporate this knowledge into my world view, the inescapable conclusion is we are all connected.  We're connected in ways we don't understand.  

It's a crazy jump between people being nice to quantum entanglement.  But, when I explain what I'm doing to a stranger, I see a change in their eyes, I can feel the resonance, I can feel the yearning to alleviate some of the adversity I may face.  Even if that yearning materializes in the form of a breakfast burrito, it's there.  My current endeavor isn't monumental or significant in any way, it's just a few miles on a bike.  However, gladly giving an unsolicited helping hand simply due to the perception of adversity demonstrates something very significant.  Even self-imposed adversity in the pursuit of something extraordinary brings people together in powerful ways.  Why?  Perhaps we are all entangled.  Maybe we are the same thing - physically separated, yet instantaneously affected.  It just takes pushing yourself right into the face of adversity to recognize it.  Maybe grandpa was right, we need some adversity to really grow, to build character, and to connect with others, even if it's just a long bike ride.      

Pedal On