Saturday, June 30, 2012

Rocky Mountain High: Berthoud Pass

On Monday morning, Mark and I headed out from Tim's house near Fraser with the hopes of getting in a 50-mile ride.  We made a wide loop around Fraser, then took Highway 40 into and through Winter Park, heading for Berthoud Pass.

I had deliberately not attempted to find out any information about the ride up to the pass because I was planning to approach it with a "clean" mental slate.  We rode for about 16 miles of relatively flat land, starting at about 8600 feet and starting our ascent out of Winter Park at about 9000 feet.

The road up to Berthoud was not as steep as Rabbit Ears had been.  There was a long gradual ascent out of Winter Park before the climb became a little more serious.  

This ride was nothing like Rabbit Ears in terms of intensity, but it was longer, and as we approached the summit, I kept expecting to see it around the next bend in the road, only to be disappointed.  Mark was patient with me, as usual, and provided encouragement to finally reach the top, for a total climb of approximately 3000 feet.

The ride down was a bit terrifying for me.  We were now on the "open" side of the road for long stretches, with only a guard rail separating me from a drop of what seemed like 1000 feet. Way down below, I could see the tops of pine trees.  The condition of the road was also not that great, with washboards in several places.  I kept thinking that I have a long way to go toward conquering a fear of heights before we tackle the French Alps in September.

We cut short our return ride a little bit because we had been gone longer than anticipated.  By the time we pulled into Tim's house, we had ridden 47.5 miles.  We then changed, grabbed Nathan and headed to Winter Park for a late lunch, hoping to look at some handmade crafts that had been brought every year by a Tibetan family from Nepal.  It turned out, however, that they had returned to Nepal after only a short time because of a family tragedy, so we had to settle for just lunch.

Lunch in Winter Park
Our intent had been to go hiking up to the Continental Divide after lunch.  We drove up a gravel road just outside of Winter Park, climbing, climbing, but after driving for about 20 minutes we decided to turn around; we had apparently been misled as to the distance to the trailhead.

Winter Park Valley stretching below us
It was while on this drive that we saw close-hand the devastation that has been wrought by the pine beetle. We had seen it on the ride up to Berthoud Pass - brown pine trees spaced at dismayingly close quarters among the still-green pines.  But on this drive, we had an even closer view.  It was sad to see such devastation, as I tried to imagine what the mountainsides would have looked like before the arrival of the beetle.

That evening, we took Tim's 13-year-old daughter, who is way into dogsled racing and raising Huskies, over to her local mentor for an activity they hold every Monday evening.  They invite members of the public to come and experience a "dogsled" ride.  In the summer, however, the dogs pull a cart.  Sophia needed to go early to help get the dogs ready and we took her over so that we could see the dogs.

What we saw was truly amazing.  Dozens of Huskies and mixed-breed dogs.   They had pre-selected certain dogs to participate in the pulling that evening, and we watched as Sophia and her mentor led the dogs out.

Later, after a dinner of spaghetti and meatballs, we enjoyed a walk near Tim's house, taking in the views and the quiet of the evening.  It had been another great day.

Next:  Triple By-Pass

Friday, June 29, 2012

Rocky Mountain High: Steamboat

We made a quick trip to Colorado last weekend to spend a couple of days with Mark's brother and his family in Winter Park.  This is the first of several posts about our experiences on our trip.

I have driven through Colorado several times over the past 30 years, but always on interstate highways to or from Utah, which meant never driving through the Rocky Mountains.

I had, however, dreamt since my college days of visiting and seeing places like Aspen, Breckinridge, Vail, Steamboat Springs, and the Rocky Mountain National Park.  These dreams were largely inspired by one of my best college friends, who had spent quite a bit of time in Colorado, and by desires to visit the storied ski areas there, once I had started skiing with my fraternity brothers in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan over Christmas breaks.

On this trip, I was able to fulfill some of those dreams to see the heart of Colorado.  It felt good.  It felt good to see dreams realized, to see panoramic vistas, and to spend time with my partner and my son in such a beautiful place.

We left last Saturday morning with Nathan and drove that day - Mark on his motorcycle and me and Nathan following in the truck - to a campground outside Hayden, Colorado.  Here we set up camp for the night, having a cold dinner of Subway sandwiches and playing "Phase 10" and "BS," a card game that Nathan taught us. 

Setting up camp at Yampa River State Park near Hayden
The following morning, we drove from Hayden to Steamboat Springs, where we had breakfast at the Shack Cafe.  It was a quaint little place at which Mark had eaten before. Nathan really liked it.  He wanted to sit at the counter because that was something he'd never experienced. ;)

Downtown Steamboat
We said something to our waitress about her delightful accent - not strong but noticeable - and she explained that she was originally from St. Andrew's, Scotland, but had lived in Steamboat for 32 years.  Her father had been the head groundskeeper at St. Andrew's Golf Course and had met all the great golfers of the past 30-40 years.  She had originally come to Steamboat because her Scottish boyfriend was on some sort of ski team there.  They later broke up and she ended up marrying a local rancher and has lived in Steamboat ever since.   Everyone has a story ...

Mark, me and Nathan at the Shack Cafe in Steamboat
After breakfast, Mark and I went on a ride up to Rabbit Ears Pass, south of Steamboat.  We started out at a park next to the Yampa River and rode south for a little over seven miles through the beautiful and relatively flat Yampa River Valley, framed by green mountains and home to many ranches, large and small.

Then, just past seven miles, the fun started.  For the next seven miles, we experienced a relentless 6.5-7.5% grade, climbing for an hour and ten minutes just over 2300 feet within the space of those seven miles.  There were several times when I really thought I wasn't going to make it.

The view of the valley below was truly breathtaking.  It was a beautiful morning and a gorgeous ride.

This picture is from another website, showing the Yampa River Valley below.
This is a picture Nathan took through the truck window of the same view as we drove over Rabbit Ears Pass later that day.
This picture, also from another website, shows part of the climb up.
This seven-mile stretch of brutal climbing (depicted in the graph below) was then followed by a comparatively easy six-mile ride on to the summit.  At the top, we paused to take pictures of each other below the "rabbit ears" (below).

The ride down was "exhilarating."  What had taken us an hour and ten minutes to climb, we descended in 13 minutes, as shown in the graph.  While zooming down, I experienced something that would be repeated several times over the next few days:  I could believe I had cycled up what I was now zooming down.

Back in Steamboat, we ate at the same Shack Cafe, then headed on to Winter Park, arriving in late afternoon.  Here, I met Mark's brother, Tim, and his two daughters.  (As it happened, Tim's wife Marie was on her way to Salt Lake for a convention and would be staying at our house while we were away.  I would meet her later in the week, however, after we got back home.)  We spent a very nice evening making dinner and watching evening fall as we sat on the front porch, just taking in the views of the mountains all around us.  It had been a great day.

Picture Nathan took through the truck windshield as we drove up to Mark's brother's place.
Next Up:  Berthoud Pass.

Friday, June 22, 2012


Meet my new granddaughter, due to arrive in early November!
I am so happy for my daughter and her husband as they begin
the journey of discovering this little person
and what it means to them to become parents.

And here's the thought of the week:

Thursday, June 21, 2012

The Bagpipe Effect

We again rode to the mouth of Little Cottonwood Canyon yesterday, adding on a few extra miles.  Again, we were constrained by Mark's schedule this week as he is on call for hospice.  But, it was a good ride.  I learned a couple of things.

First, I had a realization about what I call the "Bagpipe Effect" as I was making my way up the first of two steep hills on this route.  I realized that I had been linking the effort in my legs to my breathing, connecting them, making them dependent on each other.  This understanding has been dawning on me for the past few rides, particularly the one up South Mountain on Monday, but it crystallized yesterday.

I came to understand that, psychologically if not physically, I need to create a separation between my breathing and what my legs are doing.  Just because my legs are being exerted as I climb a hill, that doesn't necessary mean my breathing has to go off the charts.  I figured that if I could mentally separate the two, I could slow down and improve my breathing, which would calm me down and allow my legs to better function.

I call this the "Bagpipe Effect" because a piper's playing is not directly connected to his or her blowing into the bag.  As long as he keeps blowing air into the bag, he can make his music.  This is unlike, for example, woodwind instruments such as the clarinet that I played when I was young.  With that instrument, breath and breathing are crucial and are directly connected to the notes being played.

The idea is that, like the piper, if I can just keep my lungs operating efficiently, my legs can do their own thing.  I will be interested to put this realization mindfully into practice on the next few rides.  It helped yesterday.

I also realized yesterday that I need to continue to focus on both pulling up and pushing down with my pedals.  I have a tendency to forget to pull up, relying instead on what I learned as a child to do:  if I needed to go faster or climb a hill on my bike, I had to push down harder on the pedals.  

I put this into effect yesterday, and it made a big difference, particularly on the inclines.  And I felt it in my calve and hamstring muscles.  I had wondered about that ... I hadn't really felt much in my calve muscles since I began cycling.  Yet, cyclists are famous for having calves that look like this:

Now, I think I understand.  Pull those pedals.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

South Mountain

On Monday, Mark and I rode to the summit of Traverse Ridge Road on South Mountain.  As Mark put, this was "quite a notch on my belt."  I wrote before of our first attempt up this daunting ascent.  But on Monday, we made it all the way.  I couldn't believe it, frankly.  This graph tells the story:

We climbed almost 2000 feet over the course of six miles, 1200 of which were in the last three miles of the ascent.  I didn't take any pictures, but I found the lead picture and the following photos on the internet; they accurately portray some of what we saw.  The road that is pictured above and below is the one we went up.

Right now, I'm just focusing on crossing the finish line, so to speak, but I hope that as I go along and progress in my training and in my riding, I'll be able to articulate more of what I'm feeling on these rides.

Last Friday, we rode up to Jordan Pines again in Big Cottonwood Canyon, then on Sunday and again yesterday, we did a simple Little Cottonwood loop, due to time constraints.  Mark's on call this week, so we can't go up Big or Little Cottonwood Canyon, but we are planning to tackle Emigration again today, perhaps moving past where we previously rode on up to Big Mountain pass. 

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Reflections on Fatherhood After Coming Out

In the wake of Father's Day, I am re-posting a (very slightly edited) piece that I put on my former blog this time a year ago.  I was going to write a postscript about events of the past year, but then decided to let this post stand, substantially as written a year ago.

It is impossible to truly love others when you hate yourself. 

This is one of the great realizations to which I have come since beginning my journey out of the closet eight months ago. 

I thought I loved my children.  There is no question that I did love them to the extent I was capable of doing so.  But it was a stilted love, a love that was handicapped by shackles forged in the furnace of child abuse to be sure; but even more significantly, it was a love that was constrained and deformed by the self-hatred that filtered every emotion, contaminated every thought, and caused virtually every effort to love freely and authentically to be stillborn.

It was a self-hatred born of the fact that I was gay, and being gay was the opposite of all that I was striving for as a member of the LDS Church.

When one is incapable of living authentically, one settles for the next best thing:  a role played to perfection.  But playing this role requires almost unimaginable effort, moment after moment, day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year.  And, paradox of paradoxes, the effort to successfully fulfill this role creates a poison that slowly, inexorably and with deadly results, both feeds the self-hatred that created the role in the first place and contaminates the relationships with those who are the imagined beneficiaries of this role-playing.

The tragedy of it all is that one doesn’t realize – Dorian Gray-like – until it is perhaps too late, that one has totally missed the mark:  blinded by a perverse sense of self-righteousness, believing that the role one is playing represents the height of self-sacrifice, the success one mistakenly believes that he is achieving in playing this role prevents one from seeing the hideousness that has grown, mold-like, behind the mask.

There have been times, during these past eight months, when I have harbored more than a small amount of bitterness toward the LDS Church.  To be sure, I cannot blame the Church for the emotional and psychological deformities that were the legacy of child abuse.  I also cannot blame the Church for instilling the self-hatred that helped create the false persona that transformed role into reality. 

I do, however, blame the Church for encouraging me to encase that self-hatred in the tomb that became my life, for encouraging the role I assumed, for clothing it in a mantle of righteousness, for fostering an environment where perception is far more important than reality and, most of all, for the hideous deception that living a lie would bring happiness to me and, by extension, to those I love.

I now look back on my early years as a father and shudder.  I have realized, since coming out, that not only did the role I was playing inhibit me from forming truly authentic and loving relationships with my children, I also did permanent harm to them by passing on to them the intense shame that burned deep within me.

A couple of months ago, I read an article in Sunstone (a journal that, until the past few years, represented practically the sole outlet for "fringe [i.e., thinking] Mormonism") entitled “Passing On the Shame,” by Michael Farnworth, former professor of Family Psychology at Ricks College (now BYU-Idaho).  Though Farnworth was writing about a more generic type of shame, the effects that he described in his article of passing on this shame to his children cut me to the bone:
“My early parenting years reeked of immaturity and manipulation.  I unwittingly subjected my children to emotional, psychological and spiritual bullying that wounded their vulnerable souls.  I made them strangers in their own lives as they bartered parts of themselves trying to please me.  I passed my own childhood shame on to them.  I was devastated when I finally awoke from my cultural trance and realized what I had been doing … 
“[Shaming is] a look, a tone, a name, a tease, a rebuke, a challenge, or a question that subtly implies:  What is wrong with you?  Shaming incubates fear of not being good enough, of being unworthy to be embraced and loved by others.  It is a sense of being flawed and inwardly broken … 
“Despite my multiple apologies, the damage I did to them was irretrievable.  I could not erase the numerous times I had made them feel wrong so that I could feel right.  I could not return to them their sense of courage after having forced them, by fear, into acceptable human packages of behavior.”
Words cannot express the degree to which I bitterly regret the effects that my stilted role-playing and my shame had on my children (and also my wife).  My only defense is that it was not conscious or intentional.  Beyond this, however, I stand naked, exposed to the full import of the consequences of who I was:  “Despite my multiple apologies, the damage I did to [my children] [is] irretrievable.” 

Coming out facilitated me seeing all of what I have just described.  It has also given me the opportunity to break out of my “role” and to start living an authentic life.  I now have the opportunity to try, despite various types of obstacles, to form more authentic relationships with each of my children, to love them genuinely, free from the toxins of self-hatred and a belief-system that often results in form being placed over substance.

In so doing, I am very conscious of the fact that I cannot do this on my own; in particular, I cannot unilaterally heal that which has been broken in my relationships with my children.  Paradoxically, some of my children have rejected me precisely because I have rejected the former roles and belief systems that contributed to who I was as a father.  They would prefer that I be back where I was, even though they suffered because of where I was.

Some members of the LDS Church are wont to talk about “applying the Atonement.”  I have never understood this phrase and frankly don't like it; in my mind, it reduces the Atonement to some sort of mathematical formula in which the concept of a redeemer becomes frankly (and paradoxically) irrelevant.  (Paraphrasing Dr. Bill Bradshaw, former microbiology professor at BYU and perhaps the most Christ-like man I have ever met, the Atonement is all too often treated by Mormons as something that is "acquired" rather than a process of transformation.)

What I need, what I believe I have been offered, is Grace.  In this regard, I am reminded of a scripture that my oldest daughter read in stake conference when she was six years old:  “We love him because he first loved us” [1 John 4:19].  It is impossible to love when filled with self-hate.  Grace must first consume that self-hate, and only then can authentic love flow.

There are many interpretations of the word "grace," and many non-Christian belief-systems contain concepts that essentially convey the same thing. I close with one Christian interpretation in this quote by Paul Tillich, a Protestant theologian of whom I became greater enamored at another time of my life, years before I was introduced to the Mormon Church:
“Grace strikes us when we are in great pain and restlessness. It strikes us when we walk through the dark valley of a meaningless and empty life… Grace strikes us when our disgust for our own being, our indifference, our weakness, our hostility, and our lack of direction and composure have become intolerable to us. 
“Sometimes at that moment a wave of light breaks into our darkness and it is as though a voice were saying, ‘You are accepted. You are accepted by that which is greater than you… Do not seek for anything; do not perform anything; do not intend anything. Simply accept the fact that you are accepted.’”

Monday, June 18, 2012

Father's Day Weekend

My weekend with the Quints started out Friday evening when we went to the Mormon Stories Conference picnic at Wheeler Historic Farm in the heart of the valley.  Despite an inauspicious beginning, when Levi threw up shortly after arriving, it was a nice evening.  Levi quickly recovered (as depicted in the above photograph), and the kids had fun playing on the playground.  An added bonus was a phone call from Hannah up in Vancouver.

The next morning was a lazy one.  Mark took Annie and Aaron with him to Home Depot and the rock shop, where he purchased some flagstones for his patio project in the back yard (more on which later).  I hung out with the kids here at the house, then after lunch Mark offered to take the kids and the dogs on a walk in connection with the Millcreek Venture Outdoors Festival so that I could have some alone time and go to the gym.  I then joined them at the Festival a couple hours later.

This was one of the best community festivals I've ever attended - and it was all free.  The whole festival was centered on getting outdoors and enjoying what Utah has to offer, and they had lots of activities for the kids.  Their early favorite was the zip line.

Esther and Levi both loved it.  Aaron also enjoyed it, but he also liked riding the ponies, as did Annie.

There was then various inflatable toys and games and activities.  Esther was very keen to play water balloon volleyball, but we ultimately passed on that in favor of the water slide, which was a huge hit.  Since it was to be our last stop, I let the kids have it, and they got thoroughly soaked.

Mark, meanwhile, had headed back to the house with Nathan, and they were hard at work on the patio project when we arrived home.  Nathan had spent most of the morning working for a neighbor, Peeches, and Mark had also offered to pay Nathan to help him so that he could earn some money.  The next hour or so, Mark and Nathan worked on the patio while the other kids fiddled in the backyard, watering, planting little "zen gardens," etc.

We had dinner outside that night.  Mark grilled steaks and hamburgers and hotdogs, while I made salad and baked some tater tots.  As a Father's Day surprise, I had ordered a peach pie - Mark's favorite - from a local bakery.  We wanted to honor Mark for all he has done for me and the kids and for what he has come to mean to them ... and to me.  It was the first time in his life that he had received a Father's Day card, and I think he was a bit taken aback.

Yesterday morning was another lazy morning, then the Quads and I headed out in late morning for a hike on the Temple Quarry trail at the mouth of Little Cottonwood Canyon.  I had deliberately not told the children where we were going because some of them had in the past pooh-poohed the idea of a "hike."  As it turned out, they LOVED it - well, not the trail so much but playing in the river that flows through the canyon.

The name of the trail comes from the fact that pioneer Mormons quarried granite boulders that had fallen in this area which they hauled by wagon to downtown Salt Lake City to be used in the construction of the Salt Lake Temple.

I was very pleasantly surprised by how much the kids enjoyed playing in the river.  They are anxious to go back, and I told them they could go back as often as they would like.  I also told them that there were many other sights to see that would be equally as cool.

This was borne out as we drove up Little Cottonwood Canyon to Snowbird and Alta.  They were captivated by the landscape, and Levi wanted to take pictures of the waterfalls that they saw along the way.

After coming back down and out of the canyon, we went to a nearby playground, where they enjoyed playing for a while.  Then, it was time to go back to the house and rest and take shelter from the rapidly increasing heat.

Adam joined us later that afternoon for pizza, then it was time for the kids to go home.  

There were other things going on this past weekend.  Holidays have long been difficult for me, and Father's Day carries with it lots of baggage.  Though I am getting better at dealing with this, there is something about holidays that taps me into submerged rivers of sorrows, unmet expectations, past hurts and a longing for love unrequited.  But, I made it through, trying as best I could to stay in the present and to recognize expectations for what they are:  an invitation to suffering.