How it Goes (Part 1)

The sound rushes back in.  Awake again.  The sensation of waking always fascinates me.  Especially the sound.  It's the conscious awareness that sound is again available for sensory input that is peculiar.  It feels like a forgotten crescendo found an opening back into space and time.  The opening is too short, and the increasing volume rushes from zero to conscious awareness too rapidly.  It's an unexpected crescendo back into in the land of reality within a millisecond.  

I lie still for a moment attempting to detect any lurking abnormalities.  New sounds generally mean new problems.  Nothing of note.  I listen to the wind.  Fortunately, I'm protected from any direct contact at the moment.  However, zero air circulation soon means soggy, stale air.  I left the main hatch in the cracked ventilation position 4 hours ago in anticipation, which is always a risk.  Water finds that crack like a heat-seeking missile, but the fresh air is worth it.  Normally.  Perhaps the exception being when I wake to the sound of new sloshing sounds.  Luckily, that is not today.  I've improved the calibration of my threat detection thresholds and can normally opt for soggy air when appropriate.  

The sound of wind is a reliable risk-level indicator.  Right now I can definitely hear the wind, but it's not quite strong enough for a howl.  I'm not feeling vibrations either, which is good.  Sometimes, like when you are driving a car with one back-window down, there is a pulsing vibration from the wind.  It's caused by high speed wind flowing over pockets of static air, creating pressure differentials that aren't sustainable.  Consequently, using only ambient sound, I'm guessing the wind is less than 15 knots at the moment.  Safe.  The sound of the waves slapping the boat seem to confirm. They are slapping, not crashing.

I sleep with my head towards the main hatch most of the time, primarily for sleep quality.  You'll find the least motion at the center-of-gravity for any given vessel.  And generally, less motion equals better sleep.  On Emerson, this is located directly below the rowing seat, aft and outside the main hatch.  Therefore, in order to maximize comfort and minimize motion, the head-pointing-aft sleeping arrangement is required.  I find this unfortunate since it also requires my head to be slightly lower than my feet.  That is until I'm motivated to redistribute stores, which is not likely anytime soon.  "Pick your battles" seems appropriate. 

I glance up and aft to the chart plotter, no traffic, slowly moving west.  That's fine.  I continue my partially awake gaze further aft towards the hatch.  The sea is gray, more so on the left side of the hatch.  I'm bound for an overcast morning, which has the added bonus of keeping the day cool for a while longer.  The seas seem to match my 15 knot wind assessment by appearance, and this is confirmed by the chart plotter, fluctuating between 9 and 18 knots, directly from the east.  My left arm is going to need help today.  The fluctuations are wider than one might expect.  The source of anomalous wind data are from motion of the boat itself.  The sensor isn't programmed to account for a boat that banks 30-45 degrees on a regular basis.  The sensor is therefore telling me relative wind speed and direction as it arcs quickly around the longitudinal axis of the boat, with an apex 5 feet above the surface of the water.  It's too much math for me to decipher precisely, so I practice catching the middle of swings and deciphering the Beaufort scale instead.

The boat feels relatively level, that is good. However, I'm finding myself wedged into a starboard corner of the cabin, which only makes sense provided the boat is still pointing in a somewhat southerly direction.  A quick glance to the compass tells me I'm heading 195 degrees, all good - no swamping, no weird listing.  Water filled the center footwell outside, but that is unavoidable.  Even so, I reduced the number of hand pumps required to clear the water from about 320 pumps to near 140 - anything to help.  Everything appears normal.  A sense of relief tells me I'm not due for any special projects this morning.  To be continued....

Paddle On 


Day 111

Have you ever thought about the monk that set himself on fire in protest of the Vietnam war?  I mean, really thought about it?  I've been stuck 1000 miles from nowhere for the past 10 or 12 days.  Weather is not cooperating. This is why thinking about time is pointless, at least while sitting on a boat drifting aimlessly.  But I'm holding ground fairly well, so it should be a seamless course reversal in a few days.  Thanks @WRI for the updates!  So in an effort to not think about time, progress, or aimless drifting, I've been thinking about that memorable monk.  

I think we've forgotten the importance of vows, or any declaration of intentional adherence to a higher standard. They are everywhere, these declarations.  To join public office you swear an oath, you vow in marriage, you form resolutions for the new year.  And to what are you striving?  It's some ideal or standard outside the whims of selfish desire, it's above yourself, but a common and beneficial behavior for your community, and hence yourself.  People say things like "I solemnly swear," there is ritual - family, friends, and peers travel great distances to witness your solemn declarations.  It's hugely important, but largely falling off by way of the English Monarchy - it's just for show.  How do I know?  I've never once heard someone say towards a politician, "You made an oath to serve the people above yourself, why did you violate your oath?" No, we just accept that politicians are corrupted liars.  That feels dangerous. 

Thus it must mean that we are slowly forgetting the value, meaning, and importance of vows.  They are almost worthless at this point.  Just marriage alone is insane - somewhere near half the people that join in this particular union clearly don't value or understand the meaning of vows.  And that's a fairly common union.  The meaning of these declarations slowly drained from loose foundations, right along side the value of a person's word.  We live in a world where I can't trust the words coming out of your mouth even for routine daily activities. Instead I have contracts, legal documents, email chain evidence, invoices, statements of work, receipts - that has all slowly replaced the value of your word.  Apparently it's easier to build cages and chains than to heal the lost value of our collective word.  

So what is it? Why can't I count on you to do anything? Why can't I count on myself to do anything? It's alarming, really - of all the New Years resolutions declared each year, what percentage becomes a permanent, integrated, part of our lives?  I'm guessing - less than 10%?  So that means I can count on the general population to do what's right (as declared by themselves) maybe 10% of the time. That sounds dismal at best, and probably optimistic.  Maybe it's because we forgot the purpose of sacrifice.  It's a hugely important human discovery, one that propelled us forward by an order of magnitude that's difficult to comprehend, and its incredibly simple - give up some now, for more later.  Maybe not that simple, but close.

So what will it take? What will force you to realize the importance of taking your vows seriously? What will force you to internalize why you made a vow in the first place? How drastic does it have to be?  In this light, I'm not 100% sure all the historical "barbaric" descriptions of sacrifice are really all that barbaric.  Or perhaps, if things get sufficiently bad, only barbaric practices are sufficiently traumatic to make real change.  You want to lose 20 pounds by summer?  First of all, why?  Let's say it's a worthy aim; what will literally remind you of the importance of keeping that sugary snack out of your mouth? Not once, but all day, every day, until the desire is no longer a part of you? 

Is it a passive declaration on the 31st of December? Obviously not. Is it depriving yourself of Game of Thrones if you falter?  Maybe.  But what if it's a global crisis developing in the form of increasingly polarized and increasingly fundamentalist forms of politics?  What vow would we need to seriously address that problem?  To actually make planned, agreed upon, and forthright efforts to clean up politics, what sacrifice would it take?  Sacrifice an animal?  Sacrifice a human?  We know it's important, we know life would be better for everyone if we made the effort, but we don't. 

Human sacrifice sounds insane, but think about it briefly, if you will. We can get to a point that action is so dire, and authentic vows are so desperately needed, that nothing gets our attention but sacrificing a virgin on the rim of a smoking volcano.  The sacrifice is so great, even the mere thought of violating a vow immediately fills you with shame.  Then, finally - will you remember?  Will it take a violation equivalent to spitting on life itself?  Then will you stop smoking cigarettes? Then will you be honest with your spouse?  Then will you listen with empathy? 

That's what our calmly burning monk realized.  He took it upon himself to become the virgin on the edge of a volcano.  He realized too many people were asleep.  He realized the rare 10% that knew true sacrifice wasn't enough.  He saw a trajectory that needed dire attention.  Not for his benefit, but for the benefit of all people, he chose to become a human sacrifice, warning us to the dangers of willful blindness and deceit.  Have you ever believed in something that much?  To set yourself on fire?  I don't think you can.  You have to know it.  He knew we stopped paying attention and speaking the truth.  He knew the true meaning of sacrifice.  

I also cant help but notice the power of his human sacrifice.  It happened over 50 years ago.  You are reading about it via an email or the internet - which wasn't a thing, via wireless communications that weren't invented, over satellites that weren't in orbit, and all written by a person that wasn't born yet, on an unthinkable, ridiculous vessel, 1000 miles from the nearest blade of grass.  And that is awesome.  It's awesome because his fiery death was not in vain; we're still here to internalize his message:  mean what you say, and say what you mean - the truth shall set you free.  

Paddle On

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


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