Category Archives: Adventures

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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#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.

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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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Going Over the Edge for Reno County’s United Way

There I was dangling from a rope. My feet had lost their footing for a second, and adrenaline pumped through my system as I tried my best to get them back to the stone wall. The sound of music and voice of Lisa Gleason, Executive Director of the United Way of Reno County, echoed from down below on Main Street while the shade of the First National Bank building protected me from the sweltering late afternoon summer heat. It was my first time to rappel, and I could not think of a better place to do it than from off one of the tallest buildings in Downtown Hutchinson. Still, the thought of how I ended up where I was kept running through my mind.

I first learned about the idea of United Way of Reno County’s Over the Edge last August when I was picking up t-shirts for my honors students who were taking part in our annual clean up of Carey Park for the United Way’s Day of Service. Tona Turner, the former executive director, asked me my thoughts of a fundraiser that involved people like me rappelling off the First National Bank building on at the next summer’s Third Thursday. As she described the event to me, thoughts of previous events throughout Downtown’s history ran through my mind. There was, of course, Spot the horse and his rider on top of the Wiley Building in 1941 as well as all sorts of other images and memories of events that have taken place on Main Street both in my life and before.

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Without a doubt, I could see what Tona described as becoming a part of Hutch’s history. The First National Bank of Hutchinson alone has played a large role in the history of both the city of Hutchinson and my life. For Hutchinson itself, First National Bank came to that location back in 1876. It transformed into Hutchinson’s first skyscraper in 1911 based upon designs by Daniel Burnham, the same Chicago architect who designed New York City’s Flatiron Building and Washington, D.C.’s Union Station, and many other iconic buildings throughout the country. The building was then expanded in 1957 and again in 1972-1974 to its current state.

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It was this building that grabbed my attention when I first moved here back in 2007 and was looking for a local bank. It was also here I spent a summer as an intern for the Hutchinson Community Foundation when I cleaned their storage room to transform it into my summer office where I would arrive each morning to look out their fifth-floor windows towards the east side of Main Street and all of the land beyond, including the grain elevator that once had the claim of fame of being the world’s longest (it’s second now). A few years later, I then began spending many more hours on that floor as a board member for that same amazing organization and eventually the chair of their grants committee. Plus, there were many memories of breakfasts and lunches at Downtown Sampler, the tasty restaurant on the second floor, and then there were the times meeting John on top of the parking garage to bring him something or another when he was working evenings there when he was going back to school. Plus, it is on Main Street, and to say I have a great love for Downtown Hutchinson would be an understatement.

On top of the location, the event also had the pull of being a fundraiser for the United Way of Reno County, which has changed the lives of so many through the money they raise during their annual campaign that goes to support many of the fantastic non-profits here in the area including Big Brothers Big Sisters of Reno County, Boys & Girls Club, Hospice of Reno County, Interfaith Housing Services, New Beginnings, Salvation Army, Sexual Assault/Domestic Violence Center, The Volunteer Center of Reno County, and many more working hard to improve living conditions for our local population. Then they also have greatly helped with early childhood education here in the community too, something that is very dear to my heart, and have partnered with Hutchinson Recreation Commission, Reno County Health Department, and the City of Hutchinson with the Southwest Bricktown Neighborhood Initiative which has led to many wonderful things as well.

So thanks to the history of the building, the great work the United Way does, and my New Year’s Resolution #1 for this year to live a better story, I couldn’t resist signing up back in February to be one of the people to rappel down the side of the building. Each person though was to meet a financial goal of $1000 in order to go over the edge of the First National Bank building. This is where once again I was reminded I am horrible at fundraising. I would craft Facebook posts and emails to share with others, but then not hit either the submit or send button at the last moment. I was going to write a blog post back in March about the upcoming event, but well, you can see that didn’t happen. My plan, though, was to fund, as I tend to try to do with fundraisers, most of it myself, but a $1600 vet bill for Callie in April and another extremely large sum of money for summer graduate courses led to that plan failing too. By the end of May, I had given up on reaching the goal and getting a chance to be part of this piece of Hutchinson history.

However, the kind hearts of those at the United Way decided to let those who had signed up but had not reach the financial goal still rappel and let us still try to raise money throughout the rest of the month of June (if you would like to donate, please do so by going here) as well as have us be able to talk about the amazing experience that it was so even more people will want to sign up the next time they do this. When I received this email on Tuesday, I was thrilled to say the least, and soon I had one of the last scheduled times so I wouldn’t miss out on meeting with new honors students at the Enrollment Day at work.

After changing out my dress shoes into hiking boots (I figured they had the best traction out of anything I owned), I drove quickly downtown yesterday afternoon still wearing a pair of dress pants and my standard white button-up shirt (the tie and jacket were left behind though) to experience something new. Throughout the day, I had caught a few pics, videos, and Snapchats of some of my other friends going down the building, and with each, I became both a little more excited and a little more nervous. I won’t lie and say there was not a brief moment of hesitation when I climbed out of my car and saw the building before me. Stopping for a second, I looked up at its top, took in a huge breath, told myself all will be well, and then walked forward to find the always amazing and wonderful Bailey to capture a few shots of my rappel on the camera I had brought. Then it was to the Downtown Sampler area on the second floor to get geared up before going to the top of the building.

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My group that traveled to the roof together.

My arrival was at the same time as a few others as well, and we chatted as we were decked out in our harnesses and gloves with everything being checked time and again. Then a friendly face of a friend of mine, Adam, greeted us in the hallway to take us up to the roof where we went through a thorough training session to go over the gear and how to rappel down the side of a building. I tried to pay as much attention as possible to the lever that would ease us down and all of the safety mechanisms as my mind raced in many different directions especially towards the recurring thought of what if I am the first one that day to get stuck going down and would need to be saved somehow. Then afterwards, it was waiting for our turn to go. Jon, another guy getting ready to go through this experience, and I took in the sights from the top of the building. The sky was unbelievable clear as we looked out upon the tree-filled city we call home. To say the view was stunning would be an understatement. I took in another deep breath and then went towards my destination.

The first step is a doozy was what I was told earlier, and as I stood there on the ledge, I could easily see why. Here were these two ropes that were keeping me from fall seven stories to the land below. I made small talk with the guy helping me take that first step, which I may or may not have been delaying. He was from Chattanooga and was very nice. I smiled at my friends, Cory, Chelsea, and Adam, who were also on top of the building and then took that doozy of a step.

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The first step

The feeling was indescribable. It was this sort of mix of fear, excitement, happiness, and awe with each step I took down the side of the building. I could hear Lisa down below being a fantastic emcee as she talked about different things I had done in the community while getting the crowd to cheer me on. I could see so much as my eyes would shift from the wall in front of me where I tried to slowly take each step to the world around me. The windows on both sides of me were the biggest surprise, for they provided this great reflection of the city of Hutchinson. I was also trying to count each floor so I could stop and wave at my Hutchinson Community Foundation friends (It turns out I waved tons at the sixth floor instead of the fifth though). Even when I would lose my footing, it would only be for a second as my thoughts went right back to the detailed training Mike had shared with us. Mainly, though, I was smiling because it was an experience like nothing I had ever had before and may never have again.


Although it seemed like it took me quite some time to get down, I had made it back to the second level landing spot to be helped by some local volunteers. My heart was still racing a bit as I thanked everyone for letting me have this truly amazing experience before I found my way to next to Bailey on the street. More friends were soon by my side, and text messages were coming with photos and videos taken by many from all different places and heights. Everything was both a blur and clear at the same time. And I just kept looking up at the tall building before me, thinking how grateful I was to the United Way for giving me this experience that will be relived every time I see this skyscraper in the heart of Hutchinson, Kansas.

As always, thank you for reading this post. If you would like to help the United Way of Reno County with the great work they do, please do not hesitate to make a donation by using this link that will help me get closer to my financial goal.

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May’s Monthly Theme – #PictureaDay #fortheMonthofMay

After a more intense monthly theme of taking on the Art of Manliness 30 Day Challenge to Becoming a Better Man (See Part I and Part II) in April, it seemed like a good idea to try an easier-going theme for the month of May but one that would still be helpful in a way. With my not being the best about posting things to social media on a regular basis despite my also being administers for several Facebook pages that should actually have regular content, the idea of posting a picture a day for the month of May seemed like a good idea. What seemed like a fluffy task turned out to be a very fascinating experience.

The task seemed easy enough. All I had to do was post a photo to Instagram (ryanhunterdiehl) and Facebook for each day of May. That was it. However, it led to all sorts of contemplations of whether the photos should be from that day or from the past or a mixture of both. Then there were a few other things that was thrown into the mix like Mother’s Day and my birthday which seemed like just some random photo wouldn’t work. Also battled was should the photo be of some beautiful scenery or include people in it. Ultimately, I went with a mix of all of the above.

What I quickly discovered was the great confusion that happened with the posts thanks to people thinking that the photo was representative of where I currently was despite hashtags like #travel #memories and then later the addition “from 20XX” further to try help with the situation. Still, even comments would be posted telling me to have fun, and some people thought I had come to their city without telling them. Another person I ran into downtown was extremely surprised and seemed somewhat disappointed to see me, for she was sure I was in Rome. I tried to explain the whole monthly theme New Year’s Resolution thing, but in a way, I felt sort of guilty for accidentally misleading people.

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Then there was the experimentation with hashtags, which was really something new for me. It was fascinating how a hashtag like #travel would lead to almost instant likes from unknown people on Instagram. It was also interesting to see how many other posts were being made with the same hashtag. Right now, for an example, there are 19,028,738 recent posts using #pictureoftheday, which really is pretty amazing I think.

Some other challenges also came up. One was just my remembering to do the post, which led to some very late posts a couple of days; however, let’s just pretend it was a test to see the response rate posts received at different times during the day. Sure it was . . .

Then during the California adventure, I ran into one situation of neither having an Internet connection nor phone reception (which I will be honest and say was a wonderful situation in itself) to get a photo taken with my actual camera to my phone. This led to my having to pause along the journey from Calaveras Big Trees State Park to Yosemite in a parking lot in the small town with decent phone reception to utilize my phone’s hot spot to make the transfer and then the post (I believe this is what they would call #firstworldproblems).

The benefits of this experience were many though. Beyond learning I could actually become disciplined enough to make social media posts on a regular basis, the month of May became a walk down memory lane. While I had thought about some of my past travels here and there, looking at different photos would take me back to those experiences when they were snapped. Suddenly, cars were rushing past me as I tried to capture a night photo of the Coliseum. Then there was my sliding down the side of a mountain thanks to possibly not the smartest idea to get a glimpse and a photo of a waterfall that was a bit off the trail. After that, my mother and I were enjoying a beautiful evening stroll in the charming town of Shrewsbury. The memories just continued with each photo shared from the past.

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The experience also led to capturing new memories as well. These included the times with helping with Hutchinson bike month activities as well as the confetti coming down at HutchCC’s graduation. Then there was the California trip with each posted photo capturing a moment and a memory. For an example, this one of the bear eating wild flowers reminds me how my mother and I had about ten minutes before started and then smartly changed our minds about hiking back into the woods to see wild flowers (the photo was taken safely from inside the car).

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Then there is the photo of a fantastic group of people in front of the Golden Gate Bridge who were brought together almost seemingly by fate to enjoy not only a bike tour throughout San Francisco but also, most importantly, each other.

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That, though, is the power of photos. Without a doubt, among my most valued possessions would be photos taken during travels, my younger years, times with friends, times with pets, and so on. My house and office are even decorated with framed and matted photos that allow for a passing glance to be a form of time travel, taking me right back to that place once again. Photos can sharpen a memory in a way almost like none other, and when photos are lost, so can some of the details of the memories behind them. During the evening after one of my top five times of my life which involved exploring Rottnest Island, the hard drive of my laptop crashed, losing all of the photos from my adventures in Australia that were not still on my camera. That loss still haunts me as moments with friends and on adventures become fuzzy and disappear rather than stay nice, crisp, and protected in a digital archive I could revisit whenever I wanted. Since then, I go to extremes to keep them safe with my saving photos in two different cloud services, on an external hard drive kept in a safety deposit box that also contains many full SD cards that have never seen a photo deleted from them, and on the hard drives of my two personal computers.

Sure, the monthly theme challenge for May led to my learning quite a bit about social media and discipline, but ultimately, it really was a chance to focus and in a way share with others some of my most valued possessions that will always be dear to my heart.

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The Magic of Flying

Back in my younger days, my eyes would often catch planes flying overhead. During the day, I would be amazed by the contrails they made, and then at night, their blinking lights among the stars would always catch my attention. Thoughts about where they were going would run across my mind as I would try to imagine what it would be like to be so high in the air. Grandma Diehl would tell me about her flying experiences. Her description of the clouds being like fluffy pillows she just wanted to wrap around her held strong in my thoughts and has stayed with me even to today. It was through hearing her stories, watching planes fly, and seeing scenes in movies and television shows that a dream formed in this small-town Southeast Kansas Boy that one day he too would get to fly in a plane. That dream fortunately has come true not once but many times, and I can easily say that childlike wonderment still exists whenever I see a plane and a smile forms when walking into an airport.

My first trip into the sky happened when I was in fifth grade. A friend of my uncle’s took me up in his small plane. The flight was maybe only 10 minutes or so, but it was neat as he did a loop out of the Iola airport, so I could see where I lived looked like from up above. There below me was the house I called home, and behind it was the woods I spent so much time in, playing around and eating gooseberries. Then there was the lake that looked so huge standing at its waters but yet so tiny from where I sat in the cockpit’s passenger seat.

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It wasn’t until years later that I boarded my first commercial plane which took me across the ocean for a History of England in England class. After that, I am lucky to say there have been many flights and many great memories made. Sure, there has been some delays here and there as well as some bumpy turbulence, but overall, the whole flying experience remains magical in my eyes, and here are just a few of the reasons why.

First, it is just nifty that something the size of a plane can carry everyone in it, weigh as much as it does, and be able to soar through the skies. Yes, I know there is a lot of science and mathematics behind it, but it is still mystical that someone can board such a contraption in one place and be across the country in a few hours. Just like that, destinations that would have days or weeks to get to by car or boat can be done in less than a day with most being only hours. A plane ticket opens up the world to a person, and that is just truly amazing.

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Then there is that whole different beauty that can be seen from the airplane window. Sunrises and sunsets have a whole other feel as the first rays spread over the land above and turn those fluffy clouds into something golden. Then there are the sights of the land below with the buildings and roads among rivers, lakes, farm fields, and mountains. The wee little cars travel here and there, taking their passengers to their desired destinations all while being watched from up with the passenger becoming an almost omnipresent deity in a sort of way.

Also fascinating and neat are all of the people on the plane. They all have their own stories. Some are off on a vacation and others are heading some place thanks to work. Some are heading home to people they love, and others are leaving their world behind to start a new one in a new place. There are the brothers, sisters, mothers, and fathers heading to see family and perhaps hold a newborn nephew, niece, grandson, or granddaughter for the first time. Then there are those on much more somber journeys prompted by a death or an illness. All of these stories converge for a time as the people carrying them sit among each other traveling from Point A to Point B.

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The same can be said for airports too. Walking down a terminal is almost like being in a Choose Your Own Adventure book. Sure, a purchased ticket locks a person into a certain destination, but suddenly, all of these other possibilities can very well be seen at the digital sign hanging behind the counters. One plane is heading to New York City, another to Garden City, Kansas, and yet another Melbourne, Australia. Each destination promises different experiences that could change a life trajectory in so many different ways, and for some of these destinations, a person may have never even thought about them until walking to get the gate and catching a city’s name even for a second.

Really when it comes down to it, the flying experience could be a metaphor for life. Everyone is on his or her own journey. Some take the same flight while others will take another. Paths cross. Some crossings may be nothing more than a glance or maybe simply helping someone for a bit like pulling down a carry-on bag from the overhead bin. Then other people will play a larger role like those seatmates with whom one can carry on a great conversation during that flight time and then never see again, but for just that hour or two or more, the two connect as their journeys came together. Then there are the travel companions that stay with a person through it all, who are right by their side no matter what. Life will have its turbulent times as we go through storms, but then there are the sublime sights to be seen if people just open the window shade and look out to the world around them. Things unfortunately do not always end well, but for many of the times, there is a safe landing as long as everything keeps moving forward.

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There are so many great memories in my life that have taken place either in airports or on the planes. Some are very simple like people watching while sitting in one of the rocking chairs in the Charlotte airport. Some are more dramatic like sprinting across the Denver airport to try to make it to my connecting flight to Wichita. Some are fantastic like the great people I have had the fortune of meeting thanks to fate placing our seats next to each other like Gayla, Art, Hallie, Jay, and so many others whose names may escape me but their stories have remained in my mind. There is also all of the adventures I have had the fortune to share with my mother as we took our annual trip to some great destination, spending time in anticipation on the plane getting there and smiling as we reflected about our adventure on the flight back.

I know for some people flying becomes nothing more than a routine experience, but for me, I don’t think that will ever happen. Rather, many years from now, I will still be that small town Southeast Kansas boy with thoughts of memories, anticipations, possibilities, and magic as I walk towards my gate before boarding a plane for another adventure.

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