So much room for activities

“There are no words that can tell the hidden spirit of the wilderness, that can reveal its mystery, its melancholy, and its charm.”- Theodore Roosevelt

A main goal of this trip was to stop by as many natural wonders as was feasibly and financially possible between Virginia and California. With Yellowstone roads still “snowmobile only”, my focus shifted to Colorado and Utah for my natural exploration. Even though I’ve been out west and into the Rockies several times the contrast between the rolling hues of blue that make up the mountain ranges of Virginia, and the massive salt & pepper rock faces that form from the perpetually snowy and pine-covered peaks of the west amazes me. Growing up in VA, the Blue Ridge Mountains have the familiarity and comfort of the girl-next-door, while the Rockies possess a sharp, intimidating beauty that I know will take some time for me to build up the courage to approach them. The challenge excites me, and I have no doubt that I’ll be back here to sing of my conquests.

Observations and thoughts from Colorado:

Garden of the Gods was my first stop upon arriving to Colorado Springs, and I remember how happy I was to be out of the car and exploring on foot. The park itself was smaller than I expected, and while in the moment I thought it was spectacular, it has since been overshadowed in my mind by vastness of the Moab landscape.

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If this was the Garden of the Gods, was I standing in their toilet bowl for this shot?

On a fantastic recommendation from Midget, I decided to spend my second day in Colorado at Great Sand Dunes National Park. I was only vaguely familiar with the park, and recall being decidedly unimpressed as the dunes first came into view. Perspective is key, and butted up against the alpine peaks of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains it doesn’t look much different than the dunes at the Outer Banks. My reality soon shifted as the piles of sand quickly made their presence felt upon me entering the park. I hiked the 699ft up to High Dune, the second tallest dune in North America. I brought along the rain liner from my ruck sack and was planning a reenactment of my misguided mountain sledding in Greenland that ended with me flying butt first into a pile of rocks, while ripping multiple pairs of pants in the process. Unfortunately, as it turns out, ice and sand are two vastly different materials, and as such don’t react the same when I plop down on a plastic bag. After 6-7 forceful “scooches”with little progress down the hill I scurried back to the top of the dune hoping to avoid my biggest fear; public shaming amongst total strangers who I’ll never see again.

The Dunes were followed by my first real camping night of the trip. There was a group of mid-20s aged kids camping in one of the sites above me, and at one point in the evening I overheard a classic line. “Let’s play Never Have I Ever. I think we should do it every year and a half, you know, check in and see where everyone is at.”

 

Observations and thoughts from Utah:

This state is incredible, and blew my expectations away. My plan was to head towards Arches National Park and camp for the night before exploring the next day. When I got into town all of the camp sites along the Colorado River were filled, and not wanting to revert to some place in Moab I pushed forward, which was the best decision of the trip. I ended up stumbling across a base camp of sorts for climbers preparing to attack Castleton Tower.

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What a view!

My plan was head straight to Arches the next morning, but since the roads were closed in the morning due to a half marathon, I decided to tackle Castleton. I was undeterred by the fact that I was the only person in camp that wasn’t a serious climber with necessary know-how and technical skills. I embarked on what turned out to be the shadiest and most nerve racking hike of my life. The 400 ft sandstone tower sits on a 1,000 foot cone of which the final approach includes multiple switchbacks on slick rock on an unforgiving incline. I wouldn’t say I’m afraid of heights, but I’m ultra aware of them, and always handle them with heighten senses. After a 2 hr ascent I made it to the base of the tower, which connected to another smaller tower with a bridge that was only 10-20 ft wide at any given point. I spent the rest of the morning enjoying the views and watching the rock climbers do their thing.

Because my computer battery is quickly fading, here are some quick hits from Arches National Park, followed by many pictures.

The daily in-car dance party was spurred on today by Flo Rida’s “My House”. In this version I went with the 2 6-shooters firing up into the sky for an extended period. I’m not sure why…

At one of the overlooks I saw a guy rocking a classic shirt that I have seen before, but I want to go on record stating that I’m a fan. “IOWA. 75% vowels 100% awesome”

Because of the sand-worn shapes of many of the spires in the park, there are throbbing phallic undertones all over the place, the likes I haven’t seen since I went into the gift shop of The Icelandic Phallological Museum. Probably not something you needed to know about, but it isn’t always about you is it!?

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Middle State Syndrome

The East Coast of the US was populated first (at least in my Euro-centric view of history), and then came the push to the West with the expansion and the Gold Rush. The West was new and sexy, while the East maintained the city centers that were crucial to our country’s history and development. Everyone who was left in the middle of the country, too lazy to push all the way to the Pacific were left thinking, WTF Mate!? What is there for us to do here? Well I’m here to say, A WHOLE LOTTA NOTHIN’!

Before I rant how there was so little for me to see in the likes of Kentucky, Southern Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, and Kansas, I should lead by saying as a whole, the people of the midwest are hands down the nicest I have come across in my life. But there IS a very good reason for that. If they were a bunch of pricks, no way anyone would ever come visit. Look at New York or Miami- not the greatest group of humans the US has ever produced. But, we are willing to look past it because we want to see the Statue of Liberty and South Beach. Imagine if you transplanted those populations to Iowa or Nebraska! We would be begging those states to secede from the Union so fast it would make Texas jealous.

I am just partly joking in my first two paragraphs. I am sure there is plenty to do that is interesting in the MidWestern states I happened to be driving through, my route just unfortunately didn’t steer me in that direction. So, I’ll focus on the highlight of this portion of the trip which was a stop in to Louisville. I had the chance to grab lunch and reminisce with an old Army buddy Henry (we were just missing Ronnie Bush), and also visit the Frazier History Museum that had an excellent exhibit on the Prohibition (BOOOO!) Here are a few observations of my time in Louisville…

Don’t trust the public bathrooms at Fourth Street Live…

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Or do, I’m not here to tell you how to live your life.

I’m really just a people person…

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Solo travel takes you out of your comfort zone and forces you to meet new people!

I am apparently more prude than the Puritans…

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I only brought 6 bottles of LoCo Ale Trail beer, and 2 bottles of Loudoun wine on my trip…

J Law is super-possessive about Louisville…

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I was just looking, I swear I didn’t touch anything. #psychochick

Louisville is way more aggressive about parking enforcement than even the JMU Parking Nazis…

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If anyone has footage of Louisville authorities “launching” a car, please send it my way.

I had no idea Churchill Downs was located in the slums of Louisville…

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They have to run fast to get away from the gangs.

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30 for 30: Taylored for California

(Playing this music while reading the intro to this post is highly encouraged)

What if I told you, that home is where you lay your head. That this may be one small move for a man, but one giant leap for a man-child. That an entire life can fit in the backseat of a Jeep. That the only limit is running out of gas.

What if I told you, he’s the only designated driver. That his days of using Sun-In were foreshadowing the Sunny Side of the Bay. That a National Parks Annual Pass is $80, and priceless.

What if I told you, that there were 50, nifty, United States- but only one that was tailored for Taylor.

1 man, 1 story, 1 Destination.

Despite an enjoyable and relatively successful stint back in Virginia (I recently won the “Most Likely to Bolt for California” Award from the local Chamber of Commerce) I knew it was time to move on and grow. When the opportunity came to join the team at Visit Oakland, uprooting across this great country was an easier decision than most may think. I’ve got an awesome, and ever-evolving journey over the next 10 days. So here is a quick breakdown of how it got started.

Day 1 Facts and Stats:

2- The number of Virginias that I passed through. Listed in order of national value: The Old Dominion, and The Neighbors.

3:5- Verbal Chuckles to Moist Eyeballs ratio while I listened to the Peyton Manning retirement news conference

“Already Home” by Jay Z- First official all-out in car dance party

37 seconds- Total time my bare feet lasted in the frigid stream trying to get this underwhelming photo of a cave.

2nd Prize in the Beauty Contest- Because the Ohio State Reformatory was closed for tours, I missed the pilgrimage to the filming site of my all-time favorite movie The Shawshank Redemption, however, the Randolph County Court House in West Virginia tried it’s best to make me feel institutionalized.

500- Miles logged in first day of the journey.

1- Starbucks that I’m currently sitting in that offer neither WiFi, nor breakfast sandwiches. I’m looking at you Starbucks of 500S 4th Street, Louisville!

 

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Dog Days of Summer

I cried tonight. I’m talking about legitimate moisture that rolled out of my eyes, down my cheeks, and settled into my beard. It was as if I were trying to harness my emotions to water my facial hair in the hopes it would grow quicker. That is something that could be embarrassing to admit publicly, but as it’s been a couple weeks since I’ve posted anything, I can comfortably assume the public has moved on to other internet escapes.

I’m currently in the iceberg-infested northern Greenlandic town of Ilulissat, and had a nice little Friday evening planned out. I was going to run, make some dinner, and maybe work on my internship final report (I DIDN’T KNOW, I DIDN’T KNOW IF I’D HAVE ENOUGH TIME). As I was preparing dinner I turned on the TV, hoping that one of the four channels I get would be broadcasting something in English. Watching TV in Greenland has been a strange experience. Here are a couple of the “highlights”:

1) “Murder She Wrote” is on A LOT. Essentially a generation of Greenlandic have grown up thinking the American police force are incompetent, and old women solve all of our crimes. I can’t believe a gang of sled driving Inuit robbers and small town murders hasn’t invaded our shores. I can only assume someone had the foresight to ship over a couple DVDs featuring Detective John McClane to balance things outs. While I’m on the subject of Murder She Wrote, every single episode ends with Angela Lansbury making some stupid joke and laughing as she holds up her glasses. I. CAN’T. STAND. IT. Rant over. I’m sorry if I’ve offended my older readers.

2) The Greenlandic people LOVE Australian soap operas. I feel like there are a couple in rotation, but the one that I watched a few times with my Nuuk roomie called “McCloud’s Daughters/Farm” or something to that effect is phenomenal. And by phenomenal I mean every woman on the show is gorgeous (the accent doesn’t hurt). I will be seeing if I can find it on Netflix when I get home to hold me over until the next season of House of Cards starts up.

3) The absolute weirdest thing I have ever seen on television comes on around 11:00 pm every night. The first time I saw it I watched in confusion/disbelief for about 3 minutes, before starting to film it with my iPhone, which I continued to do for 10 straight minutes before giving up, having come no closer to answering the question: “What the hell is going on!?” From what I have seen, the show consists of a series of CCTV surveillance cameras. The cameras are situated in some type of warehouse or industrial building. Occasionally people go to the bathroom. Luckily for the viewing audience, there are cameras in the bathroom. Sometimes people sit on the bathroom floor, engaged in casual conversation while surrounded by rolls of stray toilette paper. Sometimes they plant booby-traps in the stalls to surprise future patrons. I have absolutely no idea what to make of any of it. It could be some warped reality show where the winner gets a lifetime supply of the cleaner that makes your toilette water blue, I really have no idea. As soon as I get home I’ll upload the 10-minute video so you can see for yourself, it’s madness (it’s not Sparta).

Anyway, I think we were talking about me being an emotional infant. Tonight when I turned on the TV, Owen Wilson, Jennifer Anniston, and a yellow Labrador puppy greeted me and collectively said, “Bet you $20 we can make a grown man cry”. Well, they won (for the record, I have no intention on paying up on the bet. Owen and Jen are millionaires, and well- as we all know, Marley is dead, so he doesn’t need it either).

The burial scene at the end kills me every time. It hits real close to home on how we said goodbye to my childhood dog Robert E. Beagle, better known as Bobby. When we brought his body up to my grandparents’ house to be buried, my uncle Bo had already dug the grave. My grandpa Doc (rest in peace) had written some words about Bobby, which I had to read aloud at the funeral. As hard as that was for me to do, it was a moment I’ve never forgotten, and one for which my love for my grandfather could not have grown any larger.

In the film Owen’s character asks his oldest son if he wants to say anything to Marley, and the boy responds with “he knows”. I think those two words perfectly sum up the unconditional, and mutual love between a kid and his first dog. It is why I will always be a “dog person”, and never fully trust anyone who prefers the company of cats. I have been known to be caught in compromising situations proclaiming, “That isn’t even a real dog” when confronted with a miniature canine (I later had to escort the knowing owner down the aisle of a family wedding as one of the groomsmen). So, if you are in the market for a pup in the future, I say go big or go home (Maximus, June Bug, Monty, you three are the exception).

I’m excited to get home to see the dog formerly known as mine (Guinness has long ago been adopted by my parents), and I know he is looking forward to it as well. Me whistling over Skype has confused the hell out of him, which isn’t fair because he is a simple minded creature to begin with. I’m REALLY looking forward to seeing Snoop Dog again. He’s a grumpy old man with a crusty disposition, but always seems slightly less annoyed when it is me petting him as opposed to anyone else. Maybe he just gets tired of fighting people away, but I like to think that he is just playing out his role until the bitter end, as he knows it was his job to comfort me- the only one who could truly help me move on from Bobby.

One of the Army’s favorite acronyms is BLUF. It stands for Bottom Line Up Front. I clearly never grasped that concept. Essentially, I wrote two pages of Danish television review, and emotional dog stories so I could get around to this: sharing some pictures of sled dogs from this summer who are (to borrow from the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air) “Chillin’ out max, relaxing all cool. Waitin’ on some seal meat with a mouth full of drool.” ENJOY!

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Southern Hospitality

There was a time when I thought that Southern Hospitality was a concept unique to the United States. As I become worldlier, through personal travels as well as the tales from others, I’m finding this is not necessarily the case. I have my own stories from the owner of my all-time favorite Pierce’s BBQ in Williamsburg VA (who sent my platoon an amazing care package in Iraq), to the taxi driver in South Africa who spent three hours on his off day with me searching for an open tire shop to fix my flat. I’ve heard of South Koreans happily welcoming weary travelers into their homes to share a bit of their culture. More often than not stories of “going out of their way” kindness follow the “southern” dwellers of this planet. This is not to suggest I hold any prejudices to people from the north (with the exception of those rambunctious rapscallions residing above the 38th Parallel), there has just always been a bigger place in my heart for southern folk. The people of South Greenland can now prominently figure into that equation. Here is the story of how I was willingly kidnapped, for the best weekend I’ve had in this great country.

There is not much going on in Narsarsuaq, the southern town I was suppose to be staying in for 15 days. I was scheduled to be there so long only because it is the primary transportation hub for South Greenland. It has its roots as Bluie West One, a WWII era US military base. Even when I checked in with the hotel reception, Katherine E. asked me curiously, “So… why 15 days…here!?” Thankfully Kenneth, a great champion for tourism and business development in South Greenland, introduced me to Stefan. Stefan is a mountain of a man, whose physical presence is matched by his larger than life personality. The same day that I met him, he had completely totaled his gyrocopter with a crash landing that saw him flipped upside down. He claimed the only injury were some black and blue marks around his inner thighs from the control stick. When a man walks away from a helicopter crash you don’t ask for proof of injury. You simply accept the fact that he is more man than you, pick up your bags and say “lead the way, sir”.

—— Game off.

On a completely unrelated note, I wish someone could translate into the language of the common housefly the saying “the definition of insanity is trying the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”. My hotel room window is cracked, but I have had to listen to two flies attacking the glass window with an enthusiasm unknown to mankind for the better part of 10 minutes. It’s very distracting to my creative process.

—— Game on.

Stefan’s fishing camp just so happens to be a brand new, ruggedly luxurious expanse of cabins, tucked away in the vast fjord system that is coastal Greenland. I spent the next 36 hours with the first, and most likely the finest Swedes I’ll ever come across. There was camp manager Simon, guide/intern Johan, and their fishing buddy from back home, Thommie. My time at camp was filled with Swedish music and whisky (based on my impressions this summer I’m ranking women, whisky, and in a DISTANT third music, on my list of things Scandinavians make well), fishing for Arctic Char, incredible homemade pizza, and just hanging around the camp. It is always nice spending time with people who are doing something they are passionate about. I find it always leads to interesting and lively conversations. As I know fully well that my skills have not improved since being out-fished by a GIRL as a kid in Indian Guides, my success fishing (10 char caught in a couple hour stretch) is fully a result of good tips from Thommie and an abundance of hungry fish in Greenland. For my angler friends out there, I can’t recommend Lax-a enough as an operator, or Greenland as a fishing destination.

I would have been happy to stay at the fish camp all weekend, but there was more exploring to do. Stefan showed back up to camp with his son, and two other guys that were helping him at his Isortoq Reindeer Station for the summer. We decided to take a trip out to the glacier. Within the first 5 minutes of being within the glacier we saw the calving of an iceberg, and a curious seal that was swimming around the boat. I was struck most by the colors. I’m not much of an artist, so I only see in two shades of blue. Carolina blue, and other. In this case, both were generously represented through the cliffs and floating islands of ice that we passed. The highlight of the trip came when we got to climb up onto the glacier. The crunch of the ice under my feet, the rushing of the underground rivers, the seemingly infinite nature of it all- I loved every minute. As my iPhone camera can only capture so much, I highly suggest you check out ASHAPE Photography page on Facebook. It is run by Ásgeir who was on the trip with us, and he is a very talented up and coming photography based in Nuuk.

I spent the final night with Stefan and crew at their Reindeer Station. While all the reindeer were out mingling over the massive 320,000 acres of land that make up the ranch, it was fascinating to see the facilities and the slaughterhouse. I was finally able to repay Stefan a little for his hospitality, by spending the morning helping to plant trees and do general cleanup around the place. After dinner we went out and did some target practice with the hunting rifle. While I was bested in the shooting competition, I was able to depart some wisdom in the art of 4-man room clearing procedures. The guys were particularly fond of the phrase “Slow is smooth, and smooth is fast”- they made a note to mention that to Stefan when they had to get back to the fence building the following day.

While on the glacier, Thommie and I had a conversation that started with an agreement that standing below the glacier was in the top three most amazing views we had ever seen in our lives. By the time we got to the top of the glacier, it far and away surpassed anything that we had ever seen. But if that was the most dolled-up I had ever seen Mother Nature, later on that weekend I witnessed a sight that would certainly rival Pebble Beach- famously dubbed by Robert Louis Stevenson as “the most felicitous meeting of land and sea”. The brightly painted houses of Qaqortoq, perched on the moss-covered amphitheater, serve as the diverse patrons of a maritime play. The acts below them play out without pause or intermission. The lifeblood and stage of this North Atlantic oasis, the port bustles as it welcomes in the day’s catch, while silently standing aside as families hug and say their goodbyes to departing loved ones. The actors are revolving, but the themes of this play remain the same- holding onto the past, sustaining the present, searching for the best path into the future. The ridgeline of a nearby island protects the harbor, while providing a curtain- obscuring the backstage from the average city slicker. From my vantage point I am fortunate to see over the curtain, into the chaotic reality that lies beyond. Icebergs dot the unforgiving chill of the ocean surface, as if a clumsy prop-master spilled a bag of white Legos across the floor. For an untrained eye, their significance may be over-looked, but I am less than 24 hours removed from witnessing their size and power up close, and I appreciate their contributions to the scene.

At one point in the weekend I stopped and made a point to thank Stefan for bringing me along and showing me all of these hidden gems in the south. He dismissed his hospitality and said that when he was young and traveling he had people take him in, so it was only fair that he did the same. Great guy. Great weekend. Hopefully one day I’ll be able to return the favor by way of helping out some young adventurer.

The guys reading their rave reviews from the season's first customers.

The guys reading their rave reviews from the season’s first customers.

Fly-fishing with Thommie.

Fly-fishing with Thommie.

Iceberg calving.

Iceberg calving.

Really wishing I had a kayak right here...

Really wishing I had a kayak right here…

Isortoq Reindeer Station.

Isortoq Reindeer Station.

Luckily I remembered the most important rule of camping. Get a screw off wine bottle.

Luckily I remembered the most important rule of camping. Get a screw off wine bottle.

Qaqortoq Amphitheater.

Qaqortoq Amphitheater.

 

 

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Cross-Cultural Communication Against Humanity

Communicating with people from other cultures has always excited, yet intimidated me. Many times I end up feeling like the worst player on the Cleveland Cavaliers, and everyone I meet is LeBron James. The chances for us to work together and create a special moment are immense, but inevitably all those “foreign King James’” I meet will have to do most of the work, while I get dragged along for the ride. As a “world traveler” who only speaks English, I may as well just make up business cards to hand out on my travels that say “Ben Taylor: Small-minded Prick. Please cater towards me”.  If I could ever get Under Armour to come out with a line of Burqas, I’d snatch them up in every color so I could freely walk around and mask my monolingual shame, all the while wicking away the moisture brought on by the tears of my own pity-party (Actually, this might work, thanks Google).

Early on in life, my attempts to learn another language in school were thwarted by the plethora of cute freshman girls in my Spanish class. And while we have since reconciled over many fun, music-filled reunions, nothing Marnie Hawk could do that year was able to inspire me to reach that ever-elusive “limited working proficiency” that I would desperately like to add to my resume. This past semester at GW I found a convenient shortcut in the form of my Cross-Cultural Communications course. It was a fantastic class taught by a long-time employee of the Department of State. For our final group project we had to pick two separate countries from within the same region, and discuss the various communication styles and differences for each. My group wanted to do Africa, but the group that picked before us stole the continent from right under our noses (damn colonialism…). The worst part about it was, the bastards wasted their picks on North Africa! EVERYONE knows that Sub-Saharan Africa is the “Cool Africa”. Alas, my opportunity to further my love affair with countries such as Namibia, South Africa, Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, and Botswana was put on hold. We ended up doing a comparison between Kyrgyzstan and Pakistan, so if anyone out there happens to be curious about the epic poem of Manas, or bride kidnapping, I’m your guy.

My saving grace for being adopted into a group of friends for the summer happened when I met Ena on my first day in Greenland. While our time here only overlapped by a few weeks, she bent over backwards to make me feel welcome with her and her friends. She was constantly insisting (sometimes rather aggressively) that everyone speak in English for the American, and while not something I asked for, it was certainly appreciated. That led to the introduction to now good friends Kasper and Christine, who are basically royalty in Nuuk.  We have had a great time hanging out and learning about each other this past month, sometimes because, and sometimes in spite of our cultural differences. Kasper, for example, refused to acknowledge the redeeming qualities of fine American bourbon. While that is typically cause for me to suspect an individual of plotting terrorist acts against the Land of the Free, my suspicions were slightly softened (or drowned) when he shared some of his Talisker Storm with me on our first hike up Lille Melane. Christine is incredibly sweet, and ultra-competitive. The latter is usually a quality I admire, but in this case it scares me a little. I fear for the first person who ever plays her in Trivial Pursuit: World History Edition, and watches as she burns the Earth down after missing EVERY. SINGLE. QUESTION. I also can’t forget Cille and Fredrikke, who despite showing up to my “Summer in Greenland” party a little late, have been great friends. It’s nice to know that no matter where I go in life, I’ll always have experts in “Icelandic horse walking techniques”, and “preventative measures in Ecuadorian robbings,” to call on if the need should ever arise.

In order to test the boundaries of our friendship, as well as my advancements in cross-cultural communication, I introduced my new friends to Cards Against Humanity last night. For anyone out there that was born before the 80’s (gross), this game may be foreign to you.  Long story short, a question is posed to the group, or a phrase with a blank to be filled in, and each player answers with one of the cards in their hand. It takes a certain amount of dark/twisted humor to enjoy the game, which I have founds exists in far more people than I ever realized. On this occaision I certainly had to provide a fair amount of explanations related to the sounds various body parts make, or why “Michael Jackson dreaming about the Make-a-Wish Foundation on his death bed” was REALLY, REALLY funny. At the same time, it doesn’t matter where you grew up in the world, “mopey zoo lions” and “peeing just a little” are always crowd pleasers. It turned out to be a very fun night, and I certainly follows the common theme of the summer, which is “laughing sounds the same in every language” (except maybe Spanish, JAJAJA).

The real reason I wanted to write about cross-cultural communications was to give me an excuse to feature this video in a blog. This is a clip of a traditional drum dancer from Kulusuk, and here he is performing in the Red House in Tasiilaq, which is the largest city in East Greenland. I will just go ahead and say this particular dance appears to be very “sexually charged”, but I will go ahead and let you all decide for yourself what is going on. Feel free to provide your own interpretations in the comments section.

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Very cold. Very small.

For those that I didn’t get a chance to speak to before I left, I wanted to give a quick overview of the work I’m doing here in Greenland. I am working for Visit Greenland, which is the national tourism board. My main function is to help further their research on the various market segments that frequently travel to the country. I essentially accomplish that by spending my days interviewing tourists. Sounds pretty great, right? Well, that’s because it is. Here is the catch. After each interview that I have recorded, I have to go back and transcribe it. Nothing is more painful than having to listen to me talk for the duration of a 20-minute interview! For those that I may not have seen since puberty, I have been blessed with the adult voice of a monotonous, small-town, public access radio host. Many a times I’ve had to listen to family, friends, and colleagues remind me to “whisper” or “use my inside voice”. Yet, despite the incessant reminders, I carried on without apologies. Many times I have accused you all of residing in the 9th Circle of Bigotry, typically reserved only for Tina Fey. I was loud, proud, and all in my company were invited to get used to it. Well, you can all have the last laugh now. I finally know what you poor souls have been going through, and I’m deeply sorry.

 

While the essence of my job is fantastic, I am coming off of the most challenging week to date. On the personal front, within the span of 5 days I watched the US lose a heartbreaking World Cup match, I celebrated America’s birthday from a lonely rock face (accompanied only by a water bottle filled with a vastly over-priced California red), and missed out on the party of the year (Decade? Century?) as my family and friends all got together to celebrate the wedding of my cousin Melissa. Professionally, I went through a day where I had 12 straight people turn down my request to interview them for my research. Many claimed their English was not up to par, but you can always tell when that is just a convenient excuse. To this day, it doesn’t matter the circumstance, rejection just bugs me and festers. By Saturday evening I was certainly suffering from my first bout of homesickness.

 

Luckily, things started turning around later Saturday night. I got in a (very brief) Skype video call with some of the family. While I hadn’t experienced picture quality that poor since a fuzzy viewing of a late night movie involving “naughty natives” that my cousin Ryan and I watched a long time ago in my Grandmother’s basement, it was enough to do the trick. I got to see my dad, my nephew “Q”, and good family friend Dro (who may or may not have been SEVERAL cups deep at that point, although it could have just been the spotty signal). But mostly importantly, I got to quickly say hi to the bride and groom. Getting to see their joy and excitement warmed my heart, and while I thought it might make me miss home more, it just made me happy.

 

The momentum carried over into Sunday when I unexpectedly interviewed several Americans. A couple of them were Vietnam Veterans, and there were also a couple of GWU grads. I told them my 4th of July story of how I saw a man walking around town wearing an 82nd Airborne hat, and ran up to him to wish him a happy 4th. But when I did, I found out he didn’t speak any English, and certainly wasn’t American. My reaction in that moment was of a kid who had just found out there was no Santa. I felt shocked, disappointed, and alone. Several days removed from that traumatic experience, it was nice to laugh about it in a familiar language.

 

Later Sunday evening I set out on what would end up being a 6.5 hour hike through the mountains and valleys surrounding Tasiilaq. The scenery here is rugged, yet beautiful. Powerful, yet soothing. At one point I noticed it had probably been about 30 minutes since I had been on any established trail. My confidence in my land navigation is well documented, and I knew that keeping the lake to my left, and the ridge to my right would get me to my final destination. Even so, anytime I’m trekking through new territory there is some apprehension about how far to keep pushing forward into the question marks of what lie ahead, before retreating to the well-known path of where I came from. Yet, when I did finally stumble across another set of footprints I felt noticeably more at ease. I thought back to the Skype call from the night before, and the interviews from earlier in the day. It made me realize that just a little taste of the familiar can be enough to keep you pushing further into the unknown, as opposed to returning to the comforts of the road already traveled.

 

As I arrived at my designated stopping point for dinner, I was blown away by how captivating the scene was. The still lake was guarded over by towering rock faces. It was a mesmerizing image. While I couldn’t possibly take it all in, I wanted to immerse myself in the landscape. Have you ever done something that was so crazy/unique that you wish you could retroactively add it to your bucket list just so you could feel that much more accomplished? Well, “Skinny-dipping in a glacial lake under the Midnight Sun”- Check. As far as the answers to your two most obvious questions, please reference the title of this blog post.

 

As I tossed on a couple extra layers to warm back up, I found the most perfect reclining rock chair that Mother Nature had ever so brilliantly crafted. If my backside were covered in rock shaping and polishing blankets, and I sat there for 600 years as the Earth quaked below me, it could not have formed a chair more perfectly suited for me to enjoy my dinner. I sat on my throne, with the hovering sun warming my face, serenaded by the calming fury of a distant waterfall, semi-stale breadcrumbs peppering my beard, and I couldn’t have been happier. I felt at home. When I look back on this week in years to come, I wonder what lesson I’ll take from this experience. If the lesson “just get naked” anytime I am in a distant land, and missing home, I should be in for a pretty wild ride!

 

Below are the five steps to happiness in Greenland.

 

Step1

Step 1: Locate a glacier-fed lake.

Step2

Step 2: Remove all articles of clothing.

Step3

Step 3: Remember to breathe.

Step4

Step 4: Locate a perfect chair for dinner.

Step5

Step 5: Enjoy the view.

Categories: Incredibly Professional Insights, Personal Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

World Cup Ends, Blogging can Begin

I’ve come under fire over the last few days with questions about when my next blog post would be. The criticism isn’t unfair, so you have my deepest, most sincere, whole-hearted apology. Writing these blog posts is actually decent enough fun. I know I get my joy of writing from my dad, and while I’m nowhere near as talented as he is, I am vastly funnier. I feel comfortable saying that in this forum because while he is a phenomenal writer, he isn’t the best at reading. #dyslexia #isitllolveyuo

The bottom line is the World Cup has been the primary culprit for reduced frequency in blog posts. Before that chapter is officially closed and I move on to in-depth analysis on Narwhal Fencing, I feel obliged to give US soccer a quick shout-out.

To state the obvious, TIMMMMAAAAYYYY Howard is not human. In one unbelievable 120-minute performance, that beautifully bearded beast has catapulted himself into rarified air in my pantheon of sports heroes. While he still isn’t quite into my fantasy celebrity golf foursome (myself, MJ, Jerry Rice, and Patrick Willis*) I would be pretty fired up if he played the role of “Cart Girl” and tossed me a fresh sixer on the 7th tee.

And now for something completely different

Living in DC minus a car for the past three years has meant my ability to get out into nature on a whim has been severely hampered. Luckily, I have no such issues this summer, as Greenland loves nature like a fat kid loves cake. (Greenland also LOVES cake. Check out the basics of a kaffemik, and I’ll have more details in a later post). Most of my hiking has been on Lille Melane. We would need to confer with the most die-hard Hugh Grant historians to tell us whether or not the “mountain” called Lille Melane is in fact such, or just a locally beloved mammoth of a hill. I have my suspicions that it is no more than a hill, but until I’m presented with a reliable map, and the internationally accepted criteria for the height of a mountain**, I say “innocent until proven guilty”.

After several ascents up Nuuk’s red-headed step child of a hiking trail, I finally made it up Store Melane on a Friday evening hike. I would love to be able to link to Chris Farley right here to tell you that “Store Melane” is Danish for “Large Melane”, but he unfortunately passed away before taking remix requests on his classic El Niño skit. The lesson here kids: stay off drugs, and learn to translate things on your own.

I used the first ascent up Store Melane as the opportunity to start my training for September’s hike in Iceland. I didn’t repack all my gear, but I tossed in several large books, a pillow for shape, and got the pack to around what I’ll hump in Iceland. I cannot say this with more sincerity, but I IMMEDIATELY REGRETTED THE DECISION. Adding significant upticks to slope grade, and distance, not to mention an extra 35lbs on my back was a little more than I bargained for. But as they say, with great effort comes great reward. So, courtesy of my heavily outmanned iPhone camera, here are some of my favorite pictures from my hikes around Nuuk (As soon as I get to a better internet connection, I’ll upload the rest).

*While Patrick Willis is obviously a stud linebacker, with an inspiring personal story, there is no way he can be a solid golfer with that amount of muscle mass. I’ll be damned if I’m going to be the worst player in my own sports fantasy!

**Tommy Mullin, you can also just tell me how that movie ends if you want and save us all the suspense.

Categories: Uncategorized | 1 Comment

My new roomie!

For those of you who know me well, you’ll know one of the toughest break-ups I’ve ever had to go through occurred when I moved out of my apartment with Timbo this past February. There are certainly times in everyone’s life that rock us to the core. Times when we feel so small and alone, and have to ask ourselves, “what do I do now?” Think back to when you first realized that Bruce Willis was actually dead in the “Sixth Sense”, or when Preston “Bodie” Broadus, the ultimate under-appreciated Soldier from “The Wire” got Got by an 8 year old (give me a moment, that one is still a fresh wound). We were all there. We all felt helpless, unsure, and most of all, scared.

It is now, almost 4 months to the day after moving out with Timothy “Filthy” Smith, that I can proudly say I have finally found a replacement roommate. This is our story… 

Elisabeth, one of my co-workers at Visit Greenland, met me at the Nuuk airport. It could not have been a more perfect day. The sun was shining, and the flight in was breathtaking. The glaciers had cut a wonderfully winding maze through the country, forming mountain peak after mountain peak that all seemed to tease, “come check me out”, yet, “I’m way too good for you” all at the same time. The wanna-be explorer in me felt like an awkward, confused middle school boy.

Those feelings were put on hold as my window filled with the Nuuk Skyline (for those who are referencing Google Earth, keep zooming in, you’ll find it). The entrance was dramatic as we circled the city to the west, before approaching the airport and landing from the south. I stepped out of my 26 passenger plane, walked roughly 35 feet, grabbed my 1 bag, and walked out of my 2nd airport that day. It was that easy, and I was mad. If you look at my brand-spanking new $180 passport you will find exactly zero stamps, yet here I sit in Greenland. I’m not sure if I took a wrong turn somewhere, but I am once again traveling the globe and would appreciate a little proof.

Elisabeth was the ultimate tour guide that night. After dropping me off at my new home, we went out for dinner. At first, I tried to be accommodating and said I didn’t care what we ate. But then, as she started to lead me into the AMERICAN burger joint at the city mall, I had to protest. If there is one thing I learned from my DHS traveling days with Brandon Brucker, it’s that you eat local. Not a chance was I going to have a knock-off of an American classic on my first day in GREENLAND! I protested, won, and ended up with a Musk Ox steak for dinner. THAT is exactly what I wanted for my first dinner in the Arctic. Admittedly, I was a little disappointed I didn’t get to stare the creature down, wrestle it to the ground, and then wink as I informed it what part I would eat first. But then again, there is always next weekend!

After dinner, Elisabeth took me to her brother’s house for coffee. Taatsi and Nuuni were amazing hosts, and had the cutest son. I’m guessing he was about 4 years old. He was tired and in his mother’s arms when I introduced myself. He was shy and flatly refused to speak any English. We settled on the couches as Nuuni put him to bed. Five minutes later we could hear him yelling on repeat “MY NAME IS SUUNNI, MY NAME IS SUUNNI” (editor’s note- I think that was his name, but as I had been working off 2 hours of sleep in 36 hours, I could have been mistaken). Later that night I helped (in very minor ways) Taatsi and Nuuni finish off some DIY patio furniture. I list my contributions as minor because I spent a good portion of the construction project playing with the dog. Taatsi is a Nuuk police officer, and his retired K-9 German Shepherd lives with the family. Every time I would turn away from playing soccer, or wrestling with the dog, he would take the ball in his mouth and give me a stern shove in my backside.  

If I know my audience, then I’m assuming 1/3 of you have already checked Facebook twice since you started reading this, 2/5 jumped onto ESPN.com to verify NFL and EPL off-season reports, and 3/16 are going to pause to figure out the combined fraction I just came up with. So, without further ado-let’s get on to my roomie!

I wouldn’t say Anne-Sofie and I got off to the best start. AnSo speaks about 50 words of English. I, despite two years of French and two years of Spanish in high school, speak zero words of Greenlandic (that is a lie, I just learned “takkus/see you later”). Our first two days living together were an exercise in pleasantries- followed by quick retreats. I had built-in excuses such as “wanting to do after-work runs”, and “needing to go to bed early as a result of jet-lag”. Even so, I knew I wasn’t trying hard enough. 

As I was leaving for work Wednesday AnSo told me she was going to the University, but I didn’t know why. When I returned that night, I sat down next to her in the living room and asked how the University was. She told me it was good. When I asked what she did at the University, she paused. FOR. A. LONG. TIME. Her struggle was visible. If you have ever seen a child fidget and shake with the unbearable frustration of not getting what they want, that is what I was witnessing. AnSo desperately wanted to find the words to tell me what she had done that day, but just couldn’t seem to grab ahold of them. After what was easily a minute, she unleashed a rapid-fire overview of her day, in Greenlandic. We both just looked at each other for a second, and then started laughing. It was simple, it was goofy, but laughing is what it took to break down the barrier.

When I got back from my run tonight I told AnSo I wanted to take a picture, so we snapped a selfie on the couch. That lead to the next major breakthrough in our relationship, we are now Facebook friends! From there, we showed off family pictures and we enjoyed some of the honey-roasted Virginia peanuts I brought over. I learned she was one of six kids, has four children of her own, was a teacher, and made her own National Costume. She got to see all the pictures of my family (I think I’ll hold off on my JMU power-hour slide show for now) and it was a good night.

I seem to have a habit of picking up second mothers wherever I go in life. That is in no way is a slight to my actual mother. She taught me to enjoy life, and to care about people. It isn’t just enough to be happy yourself, grab whoever is near you and do your best to make sure they are happy too. For that I can’t thank her enough. But I also have to thank Mrs. Parker, who took care of me on Browns Meadow Ct., even when I was too timid to ask if I could use her bathroom (which lead to an unfortunate wardrobe malfunction). I also have to thank Marge, my mom in the South, who bought me a 49ers shirt before she ever met me- and hasn’t stopped welcoming me with open arms since. I have to thank Jean, my Miriam’s Kitchen Mom, who showed me that regardless of frustrations, some causes are bigger than ourselves, and we have to grit our teeth and bear it.  I know they haven’t been the only ones, and they certainly won’t be the last. I also know that I’m pretty sure I just gained a Greenlandic Mom, and for that I’m thankful for AnSo.

 

Image

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , | 5 Comments

Feel the Rhythm, Feel the Rhyme, Get on Up, It’s Blogging Time!

I have a confession to make. I’m a sprinter. Not in the classical sense that would suggest I have a ripped abdominal and several Olympic gold medals just waiting to be stripped after my next piss test, that we all know isn’t true. I say I’m a sprinter (and not a marathon runner) because I love a fast start, and rarely, if ever, concern myself with what direction I’ll need to be pointed, or how much energy I’ll need to finish the race in 26 miles. One need look no further than a typical Friday night in DC as I lead the charge away from the work week and into the weekend like my mustachioed-hero Teddy Roosevelt leading the Rough Riders in a take no prisoners assault up San Juan Hill. A mere three hours later you’d be sure to find me blissfully laid out on my bed, dreaming of the time I not only escaped Shawshank Prison, but narrated the entire thing myself as Morgan Freeman supplies an approving nod and respectful golf clap.

To quote Luke Wilson in Wedding Crashers “I’m an idea man, I thrive off enthusiasm”. I love the dreaming and scheming of the big picture. The spark that comes along with a new idea catches my imagination, and I’m jumping aboard for whatever Never Ending Story-type wild ride it leads me on. Unless we are talking about measuring out the precise amount of sand needed for a makeshift beach at a Jimmy Buffett tailgate, the monotonous details of extended projects often fail to hold my attention.

Now, the reason I wasted two paragraphs of your work day on random movie references is so I can finally get around to this point: I’m really going to try and make a decent go of this blog thing. That said, the internet is kind of hard to come by in this country, and when you do get lucky enough to spot that majestic unicorn, there exists a sizable finders fee equivalent to two months rent and the naming rights to your first-born son (while the future Tele Greenland Taylor will despise the day I wrote this post, it certainly leads to the potential of exciting “Boy Named Sue” story lines). As I make telecommunications infrastructure the early scapegoat for this blog, I officially make no promises for frequency, length, quality, entertainment factor, user satisfaction, or general usefulness of any sort. As soon as possible I’ll get my newly graduated lawyer cousin Becky to write up the fine print, and fully expect all of you (admitting that at this point, surely only my mom and Shane are reading) to dutifully sign the consent form and return to my inbox.

And thus, as I’m still getting adjusted to my new life, and have no grander epiphanies on travel, Greenland, or life in general, I shall leave you all with this poem.

Stairways of Nuuk (A Limerick)Image

There once was a stairway from hell.

Very steep, as if you can’t tell.

My legs are like jelly.

Damn this beer belly.

On a new route, I must dwell.

Categories: Personal Travel | Tags: , , , | 4 Comments

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