Urban Hiking

People say to me “urban hiking isn’t real hiking. After all, what is there to see aside from cars, lawns, office buildings, panhandlers, and pavement?”

The answer: everything great about a city is revealed when you approach it with the eyes of a hiker, a seeker, an explorer. 

The landscape is layered, and the eyes see the layers they seek. Look one way, and  you see a city of art. Look another, and you see a city of food. Peer at a city through the spectacles of the fourth dimension, and you see a city of history. Focus on the faces, and you see the souls that form the living contours of the city’s geography.

Walk a city, and you have the time to see all of those layers, individually and together. Hike a city, and you become a part of it all, and it invites you in to become a part of the story. 

It’s Good to be a Swimmer

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As you read this, I am undergoing my BSA Swim Test, designed to determine whether I will be allowed to swim, frolic, tread water, or float in water over my head.

The chit above, given to me two years ago during my Troop’s last sojourn at summer camp, is a matter of distinct pride. Everyone at camp gets a chit. A blank chit is the mark of a “non-swimmer.” You’ll be allowed to get your feet wet, maybe, and only with a buddy. A chit with the top half filled in red is a “beginner,” allowing one to wade into the water up to about their chest. A chit with both the red and blue filled out marks a “swimmer,” basically allowing you in the pool without restriction.

I have taken and passed the BSA swim test twice during my adult life. The first time was in 2018, when I weighed about 325 lbs. It was easier than I had expected, and I realize now that I can attribute that ease to approximately 110 lbs. of buoyant fatty tissue that behaved as a natural full-body life jacket.

The second time I passed I weighed 216 lbs, it it was brutal. Aside from the fact that it was a mountain-spring-fed pool at an altitude of 5,400 feet above sea level, my body-integrated buoyancy was gone, and so was my insulation. And as difficult as it was to haul my body 200 yards through chilled water, the full-minute float was an unaccustomed effort. Between the cold, the altitude, and the extra exertion just to keep myself above water, it was the most exhausting workout I had experienced in a year of hard physical training.

Needless to say, I was pretty chuffed about passing that time, especially given that the last 50 yards I was carrying on a conversation with the waterfront director who was testing me. G-d bless Carlos – he is a force of nature.

For now, once more into the pool, dear friends…

Bucket List: An Arrowman at Last

Ever since I was a Scout in the 1970s I have wanted to be a member of the Order of the Arrow (OA). The national honor society for the BSA is selective: candidates are elected by their troops from among Scouts who have reached the First Class rank, and once selected are then tested in a weekend-long process called an Ordeal.

I never made it into the OA as a Scout, and I never expected to make it as an adult leader. Adult leaders are elected as well, but their candidacy is not automatic: adult candidates are then reviewed at the Council level for suitability and for demonstrated commitment to Scouting ideals.

Quite unexpectedly in 2018 my name was submitted by my troop, and I was called out at a special ceremony at the April Camporee. I couldn’t even be there – I was in China on business. But I accepted (naturally) and presented myself on a Friday night five weeks later for Ordeal high in the Southern California mountains.

The specifics of Ordeal are a closely-held secret, known only to members of the Order. Suffice to say that while it was one of the hardest things I have ever done in four years as a Scout and nine years as an adult leader, it was also transformative in obvious and subtle ways that continue to manifest themselves years later. The introspection, the commitment, and the profound dedication to all that is good about Scouting all combine to work a special magic that leaves one profoundly renewed and without the need for mind-altering substances.

I would not be an Arrowman without the patience and help of others, especially my mentor Dan Estabrook, my wife Sunny, and my son Aaron. Becoming a part of the OA was one of my life’s great experiences, and I am grateful to have had the opportunity to be a part of it.

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