Category Archives: Adventures

2017 Christmas Day Hikes: A Return to the Woods of My Youth

When I think back to my younger days, often the memories of exploring the woods behind my house come to mind. So many hours were spent covering every inch of them as my little feet made their way up and down a small dike that kept Kirk’s Lake at bay and our house safe from flooding. Those same feet would run up and down the C-shaped path on top that dike surrounded by the woods that I used to call a forest until one of my grade school teachers told me there were no such things as forests in Kansas. Then there were the adventures of eating gooseberries and climbing over fallen trees from the 1986 inland hurricane. Much time was also spent by the old abandoned stone bridge just a little off my parents’ property. There I would do my best to tiptoe across large rocks to avoid getting my shoes wet all while watching the water flow beneath me. Sometimes, I would make my way to the other side to stare at the tumbled pieces on the Southern side and think about the story my grandfather told my sister and me about an ill-fated race between two guys, a woman they both loved, and the murder of the good guy by the bad when he rammed one of the first cars in Iola into the side of a primitive vehicle causing it to take out a side of the bridge and cost the life of its driver.

That story and many others fed my imagination as I played by myself in the small stream, investigated the old ruins of Kirk’s cabin, and used long sticks to drag huge snapping turtles out of the mud holes from when Kirk’s Lake would go dry during some extremely hot summers. The woods seemed massive, and they were the best place a kid could have to cultivate a love inside him for the outdoors.

As I grew older, my time in the woods grew less; however, they still played a role in my world. In middle school, I carved out the initials of someone I was sure I was going to marry with mine all framed in a heart in the side of a tree. In high school, that same path was still traveled during my high school days for jogs in the woods as short trainings for cross country. Then some of my senior pictures were taken of me leaning against the old bridge.


After I left college, the time with the woods grew to nothing more than smiling upon seeing them when I pulled into my parents’ driveway for my short visits back home.

Then over the last five years, my visits to Iola became even less thanks to a disagreement of sorts with my father. During that time, I had decided to create my own Christmas tradition of going on a hike somewhere for that holiday. That led to exploring the Flint Hills one year, hiking the hills around Wilson Lake another, and looking out into a Christmas morning sunrise on top of Elk Mountain in Oklahoma’s beautiful Wichita Mountains for yet another.

Earlier this year, some peace came back to the household, and that led to my returning to Iola for Christmas. Wanting to keep up the tradition of hiking either on Christmas or the day before or after, I had planned on heading to Hot Springs National Park after Christmas dinner. A frightful weather forecast of ice, snow, and freezing rain led to that being canceled, and to replace it, it seemed like a good idea to explore the woods of my childhood and check out Iola’s recently developed Lehigh Portland Trail.

The first taste of the hikes came Christmas Eve when I rushed to the Lehigh Portland Trail to see the sunset across Elks Lake. I had studied the maps and realized the trailhead was just past the turn my family and I would take each Thursday night during the summer months for the weekly trap shoot that my dad helped run while my mother took care of the paperwork and sold concessions to make the $20 each night that greatly helped her barely make ends meet. Many memories of my youth were also made there with my often playing on a nearby hill, finding fossilized Crinoids in the parking lot, and playing Ghosts in the Graveyard the times there were other kids coming to the shoot with their parents too.

I would also sometimes stare across the quarry at the cliffs on the other side, wondering what it was like over there, and decades later, I finally found out as I watched the setting sun while staring and thinking about where a younger version of me had once stood. What once was so big seemed extremely small from this new perspective. Decades had gone by since whenever that last Thursday night was, and much had changed. Sure, there was a lot of distance between where I stood and the area of my youth, but the hill that seemed so steep to run up looked so small, and the same went with the whole area around the building where my mother would work that once seemed like it stretched out forever. That should have prepared me for Christmas morning when I explored the woods, but it didn’t.


After breakfast and before lunch, I threw on the warmest clothes I had and went for my hike in the woods behind the house. Similar to what had happened the night before, everything that had seemed huge seemed small now. Almost 18 years has passed since I graduated from high school, and since that time, my parents had long left parts of the path go back to nature. The southern end was pretty much lost to tall grasses and new trees that had grown quite a bit over the last decade. I made it over to look at the bridge, which still seemed to have stood the test of time thankfully.


Then it was a return to the trail I had traveled so many times before. Remnants of the path could still be seen at the southern end, but fallen trees and gooseberry bushes had largely taken over. I made my way through though despite the thorns trying to pull me back.


Soon I was standing by the remains of Kirk’s cabin. The fireplace that once towered high above me seemed so short now. A smile came across my face as memories of climbing around it came back to me.


From there, I continued to stepped over fallen trees to get to the midpoint on the dike where a path used to take me down to Kirk’s Lake. That too was no longer there, but thankfully a nifty tree whose branches grew towards the ground still was. There I sat for a bit and thought again to a little Ryan who loved hanging out there as his own secret hideout of sorts.


The path became more defined as I went further north. The next step though was to look at the tree where my initials once were. Much like that relationship I was sure would last forever, nothing was there.  The bark had grown back over the decades, and the tree had completely healed from the silly decisions of my youth.


Then there were the remnants of the fallen trees on which I had once played. One in particular had been massive, and many times it served as a tightrope of sorts as I did my best to walk up and down all while trying my best to be sure-footed and well-balanced. The years had also taken a toll on that once seeming giant with weather breaking down its once-strong structure. For a second, I thought about trying to walk across it once more, but what once held me without any problems now would have likely have broken in half if my feet would have returned to it once more.


That fallen tree had always marked the beginning of the woods, but that too had changed. The pond damn that once had been bare was now covered in small but tall trees as the woods began their claim of more land for itself. The area by the pond where many times were spent by my family was now hardly passable as nature had taken over it too.


I knew before I had gone out that morning things would have changed. The overgrowth was expected, but how small everything seemed wasn’t. Even now what once was and what now is doesn’t seem one of the same place, but rather what I had seen that morning was nothing more than a miniature version of the land that once captured much of my attention and time.

The afternoon hike led to a completely different feeling of nostalgia from being home for the holidays. My mother and I bundled up in our warmest clothes to explore parts of the Lehigh Portland Trail. We started along the Creek Side Trail that provided some majestic views on top of the rocky bluffs running along Elm Creek where I came across my new favorite spot in Iola.

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While this land was all new to me, on the other side of the creek bank I had once hiked with a good friend in high school along the land my great grandparents once owned and where my dad remembered having family picnics when he was a kid.


After some awes of the views and a few attempts of some selfies, my mother and I crossed the Backbone Trail to walk along the Mountain Goat Trail that then provided some more fantastic views but this time of Elks Lake. After that was checking out part of the South Loop before working our way back to the car, where we then saw eight deer just a little ways down the road. Through it all, my mother and I continued to be amazed with how one of our favorite places to hike in Kansas now just happens to be in the place we call home.

When I realized I would be heading home for Christmas, I knew some things would be a definite like I would be enjoying a fantastic home-cooked meal and one of my mother’s great pies for dessert; however, it didn’t hit me the power that would come with retracing past steps and exploring new spots. Both of which led to a newfound appreciation and outlook on places I thought I knew so well. Perspective really does play a huge role in our lives, and that was evident from the up-close views that happened when I was younger and now with the ones with some more distance in the mix. What I saw as a kid and what I see now both hold elements of truth to them, and more than likely, both will seem different again after another ten or fifteen years have passed as my perspective continues to change.

Change is always happening. In a way, it seemed, although I knew it shouldn’t, like things would have stood still and remained just as they were, but nature took over what once was the trail in the woods behind my parents’ house and some dedicated citizens created new paths to explore with the fantastic Lehigh Portland Trail. Change has happened with me too. That little kid who played for hours  in his forested playground and found fossils at the Thursday night trap shoots has changed much over the years. Sure, there are elements that are still the same such as the joy that came when I was out in the woods Christmas morning and when I found some fossils near the end of that afternoon’s hike, but overall, he is quite a bit different and will continue to change just like everything in the world around him does. When it comes down to it, all we can do smile as we reflect on the past and do our best as we go forward on our own paths through this thing called life.

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October’s Theme: Whole 30 AKA My Plan to Avoid Eating Tons of Halloween Candy

Let me begin this by confessing a simple truth: I love Halloween candy. Every year, I buy tons. Sure, a lot of it is for the tons of Trick or Treaters that hit my neighborhood, but a lot of it is devoured by me. This year, though, I decided to do something about it. Rather than simply be that guy who doesn’t buy candy for Trick or Treaters and hide out that night in a dark house, it seemed like trying out Whole 30 for the month of October was a better option.

I first heard about Whole 30 when a friend of mine, Elizabeth, was singing its praises. It intrigued me, but besides a mental note being made, that was about it. However, last summer, Kari, one of my best friends, took it on and was a champ. In addition to her updates about her progress, I also had the opportunity to see her make it through a lunch meeting where almost everything that was served was not Whole 30 compliant, but she did her best with the fresh fruit that was there and ate afterwards. Her discussing the benefits led to my deciding Whole 30 should be one of my monthly New Year Resolution themes. September was not an option because Kansas State Fair food was a must, and Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays, so November wouldn’t work either. Therefore, October had to be it.

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Whole 30 was created by a wife-and-husband team, Dallas and Melissa Hartwig. Here is a link to the program’s rules. Basically, one is to avoid having sugar, alcohol, grains, legumes, soy, and dairy during a 30 day period. Then the dieter is to slowly add these back in to see what effects, if any, the person experiences. Although popular, there are mixed views about how healthy it actually is. Many have found it life changing with their going on about how great they feel. Then places like Health magazine listed it as one of the worst health trends for 2013.

Definitely Not Whole 30 Compliant

No concrete studies have been done about the long-term effects of Whole 30 that I could find, but I figured 30 days, or in the case of October – 31 days, would be fine to give up the list of banned items and test my will power.

Without a doubt, it was a fascinating month, and here are a few takeaways.

  1. Sugar Is in Everything

Thankfully, I could eat fruits and other items containing natural sugars; however, white and brown sugar had to be avoided. The same went for anything containing them as ingredients. I was prepared to give up desserts and the such; however, I was shocked when I started reading labels and finding sugar as a listed ingredient time and again. My healthy organic low sodium chicken broth – sugar. My tasty meat tenderizer – sugar. Dried fruit – sugar. Bacon – sugar. Most things tasty – sugar. One thing after another, I would find it listed and be shocked repeatedly of wondering the simple question, “Why?” I still don’t know the answer to that besides the fact that sugar is delicious.

Seriously, why is there cane sugar in chicken broth?
Mmmm Bacon Containing Sugar That Tempted During Two Different Breakfast Meetings
  1. Eating Out Is Rough

Several times during the month, I attempted to go out to eat, and it was indeed rough. There was a date at a Mexican food restaurant (I will get to that in a bit). There were several lunch meetings. My mother came to visit for a weekend and we attempted to find places that would have something Whole 30 compliant. Looking back, there were a lot of not-so-great salads that were devoured (Hutchinson needs some great salad places on a side note). Even my go-to healthy place to eat in town had little on its menu that was Whole 30 friendly (the salad there was good though). In fact, it was harder to go out to eat and follow the Whole 30 rules than it was during February when I was playing vegetarian.

  1. Eating In Was Easy

Most of the meals (after I found a no-sugar-added-for-no-reason low-sodium vegetable broth) I make at home are Whole 30 compliant. Sure, bread was missed to go with the soup, and a tortilla shell to have tacos instead of taco salads (no tasty tortilla bowl for that either) would have been nice, but overall, I didn’t have to adjust too many of my usual recipes except for breakfast. For that meal, my cereal was replaced by eggs either in the form of scrambled, hard boiled, or omelet. They were tasty, and they have continued to start off my day.

  1. My Will Power Was Stronger Than I Thought It Would Be

I was really concerned some of the banned foods would greatly tempt me. For sugar, it was sweets of any kind. For grains, it were popcorn, tortilla chips, and fried chicken. For legumes, it was peanut butter. For soy, it was Asian food, and for dairy, it was cheese. For alcohol, well, I gave up drinking again back in May and I have no plans to restart anytime soon.

To my surprise, none of the banned foods actually were tempting at all. Early on in October, I went on a date, and he was craving Mexican food. In addition to being that guy who first struggled finding something on the menu and then finally locating a salad to only make some special requests while also trying to explain to the very nice server that I really am not that crazy diet person despite my currently being that crazy diet person, I had to resist the urge of the unlimited tortilla chips that were sitting in front of me. Usually, I will eat a basket by myself and then some. A desire to eat even one wasn’t even there.

These tempting foods continued to appear. Fried chicken tried to tempt me three different times, and each time I admired it and was okay with not eating it (even at the Volunteer Center’s Appreciation Dinner where I served as their volunteer photographer for the evening).

Fried chicken, cheesy potatoes, green beans  with ham that likely has sugar in it, and a roll = No food for Ryan at the Volunteer Center’s Appreciation Dinner

Requests two different times at work had me popping popcorn for others, and I also had to throw all of the extra away at the end of the day. Not once did I want to eat even a single piece (okay, there may have been a little bit of desire here, but I stayed strong). Cheese is everywhere, and going without was fine with me. Then on the last day, a former student of mine went over the top by sending me a gift box from Henry & David that was complete with chocolate-covered cherries, tasty looking chocolate truffles, a chocolate-covered popcorn mix, and a whole bunch of other things that were not Whole 30 compliant. Plus, there was all of the Halloween candy too. For both, I was fine with letting everything stay in their wrappers.

  1. I Lost Weight Despite Eating Tons

For the first couple of weeks, I was hungry all of the time. This is supposedly caused by the body turning to other sources of energy in our bodies rather than relying on carbs and sugar as the main energy sources. Following the guidance from the Whole 30 site, I ate more Whole 30 compliant food. Not really following the advice on the Whole 30 site, those cravings were often satisfied by more fruit, nuts, and these super tasty homemade Larabars that consisted of dates and nuts (seriously, that is it – dates and nuts and a blender or a food processor). Another part of Whole 30 is that the dieter is not allowed to weigh oneself during the 30 days, so I stayed away from the scales. Given my eating tons (although my constant hunger did go away after those first two weeks), I just figured there is no way I could have lost any weight. However, to my surprise, I was 7 pounds lighter at the end of the month with my dropping a percentage of body fat in the process. Plus, a great friend of mine commented about how I appeared to be in much better shape with my face seeming much slimmer. That actually made my day.

  1. Sugar Does Odd Things to My Mind

So after the 30 days are complete (or 31 in my case), one can slowly introduce the banned foods back into one’s life. Well, November 1 led to my experimenting with sugar. Overlooking the recommendation regarding the “slowly” part, I ate some tasty Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups and found out first-hand the Henry and David chocolate truffles were indeed delicious. Soon after, my mind felt extremely fuzzy and a desire to sleep came not too long after that. Just to make sure it wasn’t a fluke thing (aka following to the temptation of the chocolate-covered popcorn and more Halloween candy), November 2 led to my experimenting some more with sugar. The outcome of a fuzzy mind was the same. Lesson was learned for sure. All of the left-over Halloween candy was placed in the candy drawer in the Honors Lounge where it quickly disappeared soon after. While some sugar will be coming back into my life (like the sugar in the Airborne I just had or in food when eating out), the plan is to limit most refined sugar going forward.


As I continue to reflect on the Whole 30 experiment, more takeaways will surely come. It did introduce me to some tasty recipes (this one for pork carnitas especially), and the Whole 30 book has many more I am planning on trying. However, the will power found to resist the tempting foods was easily the biggest takeaway. How that will come in use in the future is yet to be seen, but like with the other months, October’s theme is sure to have some residual effects.

The Amazing and Fantastic Shakespeare on the Porch

Some nights can be magical and leave a person with a renewed faith in humanity. Last Sunday was one of those for me.

Shakespeare on the Porch first fell upon my radar during last July’s Talk20 when Suzanne McKenzie Miller gave a heartfelt, moving, funny, inspirational presentation about the birth of the Arlington Classical Theatre and an overview of what goes into the productions. I highly, highly, highly recommend your watching it:

Months flew by, and the plan was to head there with a group of friends on Friday night to see the production ourselves; however, a work obligation of taking honors students to a corn maze forced me to alter those plans. Then a great adventure with my mother and a good friend from Nebraska on Saturday (along with a potential storm that thankfully never hit) led to that night not working either.  That left Sunday as the sole possibility.

The early Sunday evening hours, though, had me at George Pyle Park in Downtown Hutchinson rather than in a car heading to Arlington. It was the evening for the Common Table, a fantastic community gathering for which my dear and clever friend Kari had masterminded.


IMG_4456.JPGEveryone in the community, on behalf of Young Professionals of Reno County, was invited to enjoy tasty food and great company as they saw friends and met new people. The weather was perfect, and the festivities started with good conversations. Although it was in the back of my mind I would attempt to escape a bit early to head to Arlington, I wasn’t quite sure if I would. However, after first Tony and Andrea telling me about how great it was when I ran into them the night before at a fantastic Halloween party and then Greg, another friend whose views I greatly trust, describing it as one of the most fun experiences he has had for quite some time (and he is always at the niftiest places and events), I was leaning much more towards the idea of adding some Shakespeare to my life. It was Bailey though who convinced me I should definitely hit the road.

Not particularly feeling social that night, I excused myself from my table to join Bailey and her efforts to catch on camera the Common Table. As she took video and I took photos, Shakespeare on the Porch came up in our conversation. The look on her face was similar to that of Greg’s, Tony’s, and Andrea’s. “You have to go and see it. Plus, you will see a great sunset, and you will want to write about it because it is that good,” she told me. And with that, I took a few more photos, told Kari congrats for a very successful event, admired the tasty-looking chili and cinnamon rolls that weren’t on my Whole 30 diet, tried to walk away to my car without anyone noticing, and drove off by myself towards a farmhouse outside of the town of Arlington, Kansas, all while leaving behind some of my best friends in Hutchinson for a place where I likely knew no one.

A beautiful sunset did keep me company along the drive to the gravel road where my car joined a long line of others parked. Grabbing a blanket and a chair, I followed some other people who had just arrived who seemed as though they knew where they were going. A smile came to my face as I saw some goats who were also enjoying the beautiful autumn evening.

IMG_7573.JPGWalking into the driveway was when I was greeted by a sign for Shakespeare on the Porch and finally saw the stage for that evening.


After finding a place for my chair, I sat for a bit until a family arrived who sat behind me. They had youngsters, and the last thing I wanted to do was block their view of the production. The mother said not to worry about it, for her kids could sit on her lap, but I went ahead and moved my chair to the very back of the seating area. Before me was an excited crowd of well-over a hundred that ranged in ages from maybe a little over to well into people in their eighties and maybe nineties. While sitting there, taking in the brisk but beautiful autumn weather, I listened to the following exchange between two nearby guys:

“I’ve heard Macbeth is quite bloody,” said one.
“Well, so is the Bible,” the other quickly replied.

It turned out I didn’t need my chair though, for ultimately, I decided to stand behind it so I could make sure not to miss a moment of the show. Previous to that night, there has only been one other Shakespearian production I have ever spent the majority of show standing, and that was for a London production of Hamlet with Jude Law playing the title character. I was able to get two of the last tickets for the show, and those tickets were solely for standing room at the back of the balcony of the Donmar Warehouse. Arlington Classical Theatre’s production of Macbeth takes that count of watching while standing a Shakespearian production up to two. Arguably speaking, I enjoyed this latter production so much more than the previously-mentioned West End production. There was an energy in that front yard that was captivating and really indescribable in words. People were laughing and having a great time as people caught up with old friends, family, and even strangers as everyone waited in anticipation for the show to begin. Then there was nothing but silence once Suzanne McKenzie Miller came onto the stage to give welcome and tell a little about the upcoming performance. Her fantastic delivery of information was just like her Talk20 – informative, clever, smile-inducing, and heartfelt. She closed things off by inviting the crowd to stay around for the cast party afterward for it was not only for the actors but also the community too. With that, the production began, and I was even more spellbound.


The next 90 minutes flew by at an unbelievably quick pace as I was both entertained and in awe of what I was seeing. The actors were all fantastic. They had their lines and timing down, and not an iambic pentameter beat was skipped.


The Shakespearian prose, as Miller had noted in her Talk20, had been modified, but the heart and content of the play were still the same. The witches were enchanting, and Lady Macbeth was perfectly maniacal with some fantastic inflections and nonverbal actions led to her being fantastically enthralling.


Macbeth himself was solid, and the rest of the cast were excellent too. Seeing Banquo with his young son, Fleance, pulled at my heartstrings thanks to my knowing such happiness of that family was soon going to be destroyed thanks to Macbeth’s lust of power. The set of the porch all worked perfectly, and the costumes transformed each of the young Kansans into Scottish men and women. The sword scenes were very nicely choreographed (so was the dancing included in parts too), and the occasional sighting of one of two cats that would at times wonder through the audience, down the center aisle, and across the stage just added to the charm.


I wasn’t the only one captivated by the performance of Macbeth either. The attention of everyone captured by the performers. When I say “everyone,” I truly mean everyone. The audience was filled with youngsters, and they didn’t stir at all. Rather, they watched it all as the tragedy filled with so many life lessons and fantastic points played out before them.

Applause erupted from the audience when the play came to a close and they actors came out for their final curtain call for this year’s production.


The audience and the actors mingled afterwards as tasty food was devoured by many (it looked extremely tasty, which means it was not Whole 30 compliant), and I did too for a while to continue to soak in the magic of the event.


The lessons that can be learned from Shakespeare on the Porch are many. As you learned from the Talk20 when you watched it, Suzanne’s working through a tragedy that no parent should ever suffer is what led to her creation of the Arlington Classical Theatre’s productions that have entertained thousands over the last eleven years. She and her husband are amazing to say the very least with what they have done to further build the community and create so many great experiences for so many.

Also, so often, media gives us little hope in humanity, especially in terms of the future generation. Arlington Classical Theatre says otherwise. First, the actors, some of which were extremely young, were brilliant. High expectations were set for them, and those rose to the challenge and then some. Then, there was the youngsters in the audience. Not a one turned to a screen of any kind to be entertained. Rather, they were right there in the present, enjoying the art that was unfolding before their eyes. They were all perfectly behaved too. None were running around or causing any craziness. Even after the show during the cast party when that may have happened, they enjoyed the company of each other as they ate the delicious-looking food.

As I walked back down that gravel road towards my car that night, I felt good about the world and life in general. I paused for a while before getting in my car to look up at the stars and listen for the howling of the coyotes that I had heard earlier at almost a perfect time during one of the scenes of the play. There is so much beauty in the world, and it is all around us, but so often we don’t know it or don’t see it. I had no idea about the Arlington Classical Theatre until the Talk20 despite its happening every year since I have lived in Hutchinson less than 30 minutes away from my house. Now I have been to one, I can’t imagine ever missing another. Suzanne and her husband, the actors, the audience, the community of Arlington, the porch itself, and everything else that makes up Shakespeare on the Porch are all perfect examples of the world at its best.



An Amazing Adventure 650 Feet Underground and Surrounded by Salt

Back in 1887, Ben Blanchard, a land developer from Indiana, set out on a mission to find oil on his land southwest of Hutchinson with hopes he would make a fortune from land sales. However, rather than something black coming from his discovery, his drilling led to the discovery of one of the largest salt deposits in the world, which has since shaped Hutchinson in so many ways. The town itself has the nickname of Salt City, and Hutchinson High School’s mascot is the Salt Hawk. From the Salt City Bowl, an NJCAA football bowl, to Salt City Splash, the aquatic park here in town, to many other businesses and places that have the word in their title, salt is a big thing here in Central Kansas, and it is also here in Hutchinson where people can take a 90 second elevator ride 650 feet underground and see the fascinating world of Strataca, an amazing underground salt museum that is part of a still very much active salt mine.

Around the same time I arrived in Hutchinson a little over ten years ago was when Strataca opened to the public. To say it is extremely nifty would be an understatement. My living in Hutchinson has led to being able to easily make it to some of the many great events they have offered over the years. Some of my favorites have been watching a free screening of the documentary Happy underground and the Hunt for Red Rock-tober which involved their taking a group to another part of the mine where beautiful pieces of salt with red hues can be found (and we were able to fill a bucket with as much salt as we would like to take home with us). Plus, the fact it is always an extremely comfortable 68 degrees makes it a great escape from the extreme heat during the summer months and extreme cold during Kansas winters. One of their events I have been wanting to do for the last couple of years is the Tour de Salt, the only bike ride of its kind in North America where cyclists get to explore the salty terrain of the mined caverns and see areas not normally part of the regular Strataca tours.

For the previous years, commitments took me out of town the day of those bike rides. While my calendar had me in Hutchinson for Tour de Salt this year, my UNL tuition payments had managed to get the better of my disposable income once again, so it had looked like it would be another year for the event to pass me by; however, an invite from a great fellow cyclist to serve as one of the group leaders for this year’s ride led to some more fantastic memories being made underground.

Despite my having visited Strataca multiple times, I had no idea what to expect from the bike ride, but I will simply say any of my expectations were blown away and then some. As part of training for the guides, we brought our bikes to Strataca last Sunday morning to get a feel for the ride. A mix of excitement and nervousness was with me as I rode the double-decker elevator down to the starting line while holding on tightly to my mountain bike that had taken me on some great adventures in the Flint Hills back during my Emporia days long before the Dirty Kanza was a thing.

It took a few trips for the elevator before the group of volunteers and staff were all together for the training to begin. As we stood there with our bikes in anticipation for what awaited us in the mine, we learned about the blue rope on the ground we would follow and the fantastic reflective arrows carefully placed along the route, both of which would keep us safe from getting lost in the 160 miles of tunnels. Each leader would also have a Strataca expert who would talk about different parts of the salt mine at the different stops along the way.

The 2017 Group Leaders for Tour de Salt

That excitement and nervousness stayed with me all through that first ride of the route. To put that bike ride into words is really beyond me besides its being a magical experience of sorts. My bike light would catch the salt all around is, leading to parts of the floor, ceiling, and walls to sparkle at times as we traveled over smooth and bumpy sections and through large and narrow passage ways. The loose salt in certain parts caught me a bit off-guard at first and inspired my buddy Jason, who was also serving as another group leader, and me to make plans along that first ride for codes we would share with our riders on the day of Tour de Salt.

Jason and Me during one of the stops

The first ride finished with everyone coming together for a recap of what we experienced with the Strataca crew to make sure the ride was the best it could be for the next weekend’s riders. The crew of group leaders, led by the Fontaine brothers who had served as lead riders before, talked more about ways to alert our groups to the loose spots, railroad tracks, and anything else that could be a bit tricky for those who would be joining us for Tour de Salt. And then we were off for a second and then a third ride, so we could continue to get a great feel for the route. Each of us took turns in the lead to get an idea what it would be like the following Saturday to cycle, armed with only with a small but mighty light, into pitch darkness.


I left that day amazed and thrilled for the coming Saturday morning. Throughout the week, that excitement only grew as I talked to some of the other group leaders, Terry, Daniel, and Jason, about adjustments we were making and our quest to find the best lights (and back up lights) to take with us. Each of us were excited for the adventure but also nervous as well as we hoped for safe and smooth rides for all of our cyclists. We were all worried about what we would do if a flat tire would happen or if someone were to fall, for a scrape would literally be salt in the wound. Thankfully, Tour de Salt did not disappoint. The whole morning itself flew by with our arriving before the sun even started to rise so we could head down to take a safety lap and get a good feel for the route one last time before the groups started arriving at 8:00 AM.


Fortune had once again smiled upon me with my getting paired with Galen, who was fantastic and an expert on everything related to the salt mine and museum.  We kicked off our first group at 8:30 before taking our second group out at 10:00 and finishing with our third group at 11:30.


People came from all over to take on the adventure underground. A huge group drove down from Minnesota just for the event, and Galen and I had cyclists in our groups from the Hutchinson area, Wichita, Winfield, Topeka, Kansas City, Oklahoma City, and Dallas. For some, it was their second or third time to take on the ride, and for all, we left amazed at what we saw from this surreal experience of cycling far below earth’s surface. At each stop and with each pedal forward, there was a sense of wonder unlike any I have had before as my mind tried to wrap around the very idea of where we were. This was even more so when I heard from some of our riders about the crazy rainstorm that was happening far above all while the weather conditions stayed perfect for us far below.


We rode by floor heaves, empty dynamite boxes, train tracks, a beautiful crystal pod, a trash pile complete with a calendar in perfect condition from 1953, wheel tracks and footprints from over 60 years ago that looked like they were made just the day before, and so much more as we too became part of the fantastic history of this great treasure in the heart of Kansas.


After finding salt rather oil, Blanchard left Hutchinson, upset, disillusioned, and broke. His whole focus on getting rich quick led to his not seeing his discovery as something amazing but rather as a failure. It was that “failure” though that has led to a series of fortunate events that have transformed the lives of so many in Salt City for the better through the creation of many jobs through the multi-million-dollar industry of salt mining and through the experiences one can have in Strataca, the only museum of its kind in the Western Hemisphere where one can have great adventures, as I just had this last weekend, 650 feet underground and surrounded by salt.



In Defense of Mondays

Today’s post is going to likely going to be one of my most controversial to date. In fact, yesterday when I was having lunch with my good friend Laura, she even told mE while she has agreed with me time and again with what I have written, this subject was one where we didn’t see eye to eye. Regardless, the time has come to defend Monday.

Mondays – the poor, innocent day of the week has developed quite the bad rap. We’ve all heard it sometime or another, especially in the United States. The expression, “It’s a Monday,” carries connotations all in itself that could never compare to someone saying, “It’s a Wednesday.” They say misery loves company, which leads to many seeing Monday as a bonding force. Then, pop culture has definitely not been kind to Mondays. It’s rainy days and Mondays that always get the Carpenters down:

Meanwhile, the Mamas & the Papas say while every other day is fine, Mondays leave them cryin’ all the time and you you can’t trust the day:

And, of course, the Bangles paint Mondays as a manic disturber of great dreams and they doesn’t begin to compare to Sundays which is their fun days:

Even Garfield, a cartoon cat who doesn’t even have a job, despises Mondays.

Comic from this site

It doesn’t take a genius for one to put the pieces together of why Mondays are targeted the way that they are. Saturdays and Sundays tend to be fun and free where the schedules are often flexible and people are doing what they want to do; however, when the weekend has come to an end, Mondays come calling most people back to a routine schedule of the work week.

That association of work then becomes a big detractor for Mondays, for many don’t like their jobs. Forbes reported back in 2011 that, based upon a Gallup survey, 71% of workers are not a fan of what they do. Then this last March, based upon findings from a Gallup study once again, CBS News reported, “51 percent aren’t engaged at work — meaning they feel no real connection to their jobs, and thus they tend to do the bare minimum” and “[a]nother 16 percent are “actively disengaged” — they resent their jobs, tend to gripe to co-workers and drag down office morale as a result.”  The reasons for this vary greatly, and here are two different top ten lists of why people tend to hate their work: one from Forbes and another from Inc.

I fear things are only going to get worse with all of this “Follow your passion” advice, which I am right there with Cal Newport about how this is bad advice, for it increases self-centeredness (and probably aids nonsermitis while at it). Instead, as Newport writes, paraphrasing Steve Jobs, “Instead of asking what the world can offer you, he suggests, you should instead ask what you can offer the world. The goal is not to love every minute of your job, or to identify your one true passion, but is instead to put a dent in the universe.”

And unfortunately, Monday gets dragged into all of these feelings about work.

Before making a claim for why Mondays are actually a good thing, let’s go for some background tidbits about them. First, as reported by Today I Found Out ( which is also a fantastic Youtube channel by the way), while Sunday, of course, refers to day of the sun, with this going back to Egyptian times and eventually becoming the Middle English word “sone(n)day.” Mondays get their name after the moon, with the English word going back to Old English word mon(an)dæg. Also, although many calendars in the United States have Sunday as the first day of the week, it is actually Mondays, according to the International Organization for Standardization, that begins everything.

Mondays as something new is where their magic truly lies. After all, we love beginnings. First, of course, New Year’s Day is celebrated in so many ways with our looking at it as the start of a year of possibilities. Then there are the stories about how couples met that captivate us. So many romantic comedies and fairy tales are all about the starting point of a relationship rather than the middle or the end of their time together. Plus, there are birthdays, another date we honor as a starting point of sorts.

Mondays really are no different from any of these other dates in our lives. They too are temporal landmarks, which, as Gino discussed in Scientific American, “signal the start of a new, distinct time period — making us feel we can start from a clean slate.” Just think about how different the beginning of the week would be if we were to look at Mondays in a positive light rather than something horrible and blue. That ability is in us too, for as Viktor Frankl pointed out in Man’s Search for Meaning, “the last of the human freedoms [is] to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” If we were to look Mondays going into them as a day starting a week full of potential rather than headaches, so much could change in many different fronts, for just like that, there would be that feeling of adventure, regardless of what a person is doing, rather than regret as we begin yet another week where we are fortunate to be alive and have the chance improve the world, even in the smallest of ways, for the better.

Most importantly though, we need to never take any day for granted. If we only think TGIF and wish away our week, we end up wishing away our life, and any day truly can be special and change our lives in unknown ways. The thing really we don’t know how much time we truly have, so rather than killing it or wishing we were sometime either in the future or past, we might as well enjoy where we are right now regardless of what day of the week it may be. Plus, as Shawn Achor points out in The Happiness Advantage, we have a tendency of thinking we will be happy when we get to a certain destination when in reality the happiness should come along the way, so rather than thinking “I will be so happy when it’s the weekend,” it should be taking in everything now.

When this next Monday hits, I challenge you to hold back any of the negative thoughts and perceptions about the day itself and instead think of the magic it can possess as you begin what I hope is another amazing chapter in your life.

Plus, one more thing going for Monday is the fact the moon is quite pretty too and you can stare at its beauty without going blind.

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Lessons Learned from the Solar Eclipse

Eclipse 2017 – In case you missed it, it happened on Monday, but given the hype, I am not sure how anyone could have not realized it was going to occur. Needless to say, it was quite the sight to be seen. Memories from my first solar eclipse are still with me as I can remember standing outside on the grassy field right to the east of Gas Elementary School with a pinhole projector made out a piece of paper and cardboard box while hearing my teacher tell us whatever we do, we can’t look at the sun. Despite the temptation, I listened.

Many decades have passed since then, but an intrigue had remained within me with eclipses of any kind. Now looking back at last Monday and everything leading up to it, there were quite a few good takeaways and lessons learned with my new memory made of catching a glimpse of a disappearing sun.

#1 Timeliness Is Vital to Not Miss Out on So Many Opportunities

One of my New Year’s Resolutions for this year is to improve my timeliness, and, well, the eclipse shined light on the fact I am not doing the best with it.

The eclipse was first brought to my attention last November when a good friend of mine asked me if I wanted to join her and some of her friends for an excursion to Northeast Kansas to watch it in its totality. I checked the calendar, saw it was on a Monday, knew I would be teaching a class that afternoon, and thanked her while also giving her my regrets about my not being able to join that adventure.

I continued to read articles about the eclipse, saw displays of glasses in many, many stores, and talked to tons of people about it. My office is even less than a five-minute walk from the Cosmosphere. Did I pick up a pair of glasses? Nope.

Flash forward to a week before the eclipse, and I was living proof solar eclipse glasses could be found nowhere. I stopped by stores, searched the Internet, called people – the findings were always the same – a very sad and genuine – “I am sorry, but we sold out last week.” A solar filter for my camera couldn’t be found either, nor could a Shade 14 welding lens. Sure, I wasn’t going to be in the path of totality, but over 90% of the sun was going to be blocked here in Hutchinson. If I saw a lead of any kind about glasses being in any stores in Reno County, I was soon there, and I would leave empty handed and kicking myself.

Eventually, a pair of ISO-approved glasses did come into my possession, and more on that will come in a bit. However, between the missing out on the glasses and my not replying to an email that came last spring in time that was going to lead to my missing out on another nifty event, I was not a happy camper with myself, but the solar eclipse was the wake-up call definitely needed.

So often, we can get trapped thinking about the short-term, and that is what had happened to me. Throw some procrastination into the mix, and that all led to my spending so much more time, time that I really needed to be using for some other projects, searching for glasses that would have taken me less than a minute to have purchased just weeks previous. The glasses ultimately, though, became a metaphor of sorts for so many other things, including a good reminder to think and put myself on the right path for not only the immediate but also distant future.

#2 – Do One’s Best Not To Overlook The Truly Magical That’s All Around Us

Like many, when it came time for the solar eclipse, my focus was on the sky. Sure, I also noticed the cooling of the weather too, especially given the fact I was wearing a black suit in a shadeless area right to the south of the Cosmosphere, but what I caught during that time that thankfully fell during my lunch break were the sights eye-level and above. What I missed out on were all of the nifty shadows others posted of the sunlight coming through the leaves of the trees and leaving a magical sight to be seen. I even walked right under some trees on my way back to campus that would have been perfect to see these, and I am sure I walked right on top of them, but being wrapped up in the moment, never did they catch my attention, which led to my regret for that day and also this important lesson to be learned.

A great photo of the shadows taken by my great friend, Jennifer Forker

#3 Humanity Is Capable of Some Acts That Are Truly Beautiful

So often, all we hear about are negative things. Sometimes I play the game when looking at Google News to see how many positive stories I can spot – the sad answer is not many. However, the solar eclipse brought forward the fact that humanity can truly be great.

First, back to my search for solar eclipse glasses.

Well, searching on Facebook early Saturday morning led to another lead about glasses being available at a Dillon’s store I hadn’t checked but had heard previously they had sold out on their supplies. I had questioned the validity of this person’s comment, but I figured I would quickly stop by there right before I met up with a group to take to Buhler for Second Saturday Cycles (August is on the third Saturday though), a community bike ride I help coordinate every summer. Sure enough, they had no glasses, and the topic of my searches throughout the week as well as the solar eclipse were one of the first we discussed as we pedaled towards the home of the tasty Mustard Seed restaurant. David Inskeep, a fantastic man for many reasons, including his being an excellent Hutchinson city council member who truly cares about making Hutchinson better for future generations, let me know he may possibly have an extra pair. He was going to count to make sure after the bike ride. And sure enough, he did. I offered to buy them from him because he could have sold them for quite a bit, but he wanted no money at all. Instead, it was truly an unselfish act of his helping out another in need.

While I may have missed out on the shadows under the trees, what I did see at the Cosmosphere’s solar eclipse event was something even more beautiful. The area was full of people from so many different backgrounds. There were adorable babies and youngsters to senior citizens who had arrived via small busses from their assisted living places they called home. Religions, political parties, races, and so forth were all over the place, but we all came together during that time. If people didn’t have solar eclipse glasses, complete strangers would offer their own to make sure everyone had a chance to see the solar eclipse. When Venus appeared shining bright in the day sky, tons of people starting helping others see it. Even on my way back to work, there was this huge football player from out of state who saw me attempting to take a photo of the eclipse with my iPhone and offered his glasses for me to see it. To say it was extremely nifty would be an understatement; it was truly a fantastic reminder that so many people are genuinely good hearted, and that should never be forgotten.


#4 Everything Works Out Eventually But Definitely Learn from the Past to Create a Better Future

As I rode my bike from Dillon’s to DCI Park, I had accepted defeat in finding a pair of glasses and had come to the fact I would likely be missing out on seeing the solar eclipse. I wasn’t happy with myself, but I was okay with that. However, thanks to Dave, that turned out not to be my fate, and also thanks to Dave, I was able to loan that pair to many others so they too could see Solar Eclipse 2017. Even the morning of the eclipse, the lightning, thunder, and rain that came from the sky over Hutchinson led to my thinking the eclipse was going to be hidden behind clouds; however, those clouds parted later that morning to create a beautiful day to be shared by many. Plus, as I was leaving that area that was transformed from a space to a magical place during the solar eclipse event, everything once again aligned thanks to perfect timing and a conversation that happened while I was waiting to cross 11th street gave me a second chance at that other event I was kicking myself about missing thanks to my bad misstep with timeliness. Now in less than an hour, I will be heading to it to enjoy everything under the stars all while continuing to contemplate, learn, and apply these lessons from this last week’s solar eclipse.


Becoming a Cornhusker

For the last couple of years, when people asked me where I went to school, I would chime back with Emporia State University and the University of Melbourne. The Melbourne one would catch their attention which would lead to a perplexed look before asking either “Where is that?” or “Australia?.” The conversation would continue for a bit about my days in the land down under and just as the topic would start to conclude, I would add, “Oh yeah, I am also going to the University of Nebraska. Forgot about that one.”

That was the case time and again. Despite the majority of my disposable income and time being sent north of me, my being a UNL student would honestly slip my mind. I am not really sure why. It may be caused by my program (a PhD in Educational Studies – Educational Leadership and Higher Education) being largely online. Sure, since January 2015, there have been a couple of visits to the campus to meet my advisor as well attend a one-day conference for the program, but a bond really had not formed. However, last week happened, everything changed, and I became a Cornhusker.

Online classes are a fascinating development in higher education. For quite a few years, I taught one, and repeatedly, my mission was to try to build a community during that semester. The students mastered the material, wrote great papers, and had great discussions; however, there was no place for the spontaneous conversations to take place. I even made a discussion forum for random topics; most semesters, it was untouched. The students had a mission, which was earn the credit and the learn the material. Many did, but it led to my often telling people that one will never meet a best friend in an online class.

While my statement about meeting a best friend was proven wrong last fall when the amazing Mary came into my life thanks to a group project in our online class (we met in person though thanks to her being in Kansas for a work project), the bond with UNL still hadn’t happened. Then summer I took on the first half of my residency requirement for the program, which led to my spending last week in Lincoln.

Leading up to that week set the stage of what I had decided would be my own adult summer camp. In the spring, I made my second friend in the program, Adam from Boston, in another class during what first began with questions regarding an assignment and later developed into long chats in Google Hangouts after we both realized we had greatly incorrectly stereotyped each other (I thought Adam was a super religious, super conservative Marine, and he thought I was a Palin/Trump Loving Diehard Kansas Tea Party conservative). While trying to figure out our summer schedule, we decided to take the summer research course from our advisor, Dr. Hatch-Tocaimaza.

The rest of the class, with the exception of Boh from Atlantic City, were familiar faces. There was Erika from Salt Lake City who was in the same spring class Adam and I took, and her posts were always top notch and some of the first ones I would read. Then there was Aprí from Santa Cruz, who was another person I had greatly admired over the years thanks to her fantastic discussion posts I always admire in several courses we previously had together. Finally, there was Miles from Longview, Texas. He and I had been group partners before in another class, and we shared some common connections thanks to the honors world.

Although our paths had crossed sometimes repeatedly, connections hadn’t really formed. That all changed with this class. First, the class had live sessions starting back in May, so that gave us a chance to see each other on a regular basis. Then what started as a simple email to ask for clarification led to Erika and I forming a fantastic friendship as we got to know each other via electronic missives. By when it was time to head to Lincoln, I was excited for a vacation that would have me staying in the residence halls and bringing a bike to explore the area.

From my many conversations with Adam and Erika, I knew it was going to be a good week, but I didn’t realize how much. The class itself was great with Dr. Hatch-Tocaimaza bringing in many guest speakers to give us a variety of ideas about how to approach research. The best part, though, was being on campus. There is just something about being in a physical classroom, and it was something I had been missing. Sure enough, spontaneous conversations happened and ideas built upon each other.

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Our class also took the opportunity to get to know each other better too. There were the conversations before class, during breaks, at lunch in the Willa Cather Dining Hall, and then afterwards when Adam, Erika, Aprí, Miles, and I would grab dinner each night and then find ice cream (motivated by to Adam’s love for it).

I look back at the week, and so many memories were made beyond those in the classroom itself: meeting Erika and then Adam at the Omaha airport – welcoming both, of course, to Nebraska with a sign before giving them a ride to Lincoln; sitting outside Memorial Stadium with my great friend Rob and hearing about the energy at Cornhusker football games and the day he was crowned homecoming king; walking around Sunken Gardens.

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Exploring the stunning capitol building and taking the nifty elevator to some amazing views of the city; watching Aprí and Erika see lightning bugs for the first time; tasting the greatness of sweet corn ice cream from East Campus’s Dairy Store.


Walking in a massive downpour with Adam to retrieve my car so we could pick up the rest of our crew after class to save them from getting drenched; going bowling with Dr. Hatch-Tocaimaza and his adorable son; the heated bowling competition and Aprí sneaking right past Adam and me to win the gold.

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Waking up early to explore the bike trails to first Holmes Lake and then to Pioneers Park; Adam (sort of) saving my life; getting a huge hug from Mary when she joined us for our Thursday night adventures; the night of karaoke and finding out Miles is one amazing singer (Mary, Aprí, and Erika were great too)

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The late night conversations with Adam in our residence hall room; searching campus for a UNL drawstring bag Adam and I were wanting for running and biking adventures (a huge thanks to the College of Business Administration once again!); strolling down the department’s hallway and office to meet others we knew by name and electronic correspondence but little more; getting a challenge coin; taking a long lunch so we could see the largest urinal west of the Mississippi that just happens to be on UNL’s campus

Hearing about Aprí’s “grandparents” at her Airbnb; a late-night search for the perfect UNL water bottle with Erika and Adam and finding shirts and hats instead; a drive by the community gardens at East Campus and then soon after seeing a herd of deer that seem to live in the middle of Lincoln; seeing the look of happiness on Miles’ face as he showed pictures of his son; the great conversations with Erika when either picking her up or dropping her off at her apartment for the week; and many, many more.

People and memories are what make a place, and both of these came together last week in Lincoln. Going forward, I will be looking at my grad program in a completely different light. Sure enough, I was definitely wrong and one can make fantastic friends in an online program, something I didn’t really see happening when I started the PhD work. Needless to say, I am so glad I was wrong. Now and forever into the future, I will be holding these amazing people and my times in Nebraska close to my heart while also embracing the fact I am indeed a Cornhusker.

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