On the other side of a hard trip

by Steve Brock on February 8, 2013

The poet comes home from a long day working with kids who value the power of words as much as they do leafy greens or dental floss. She peruses the fridge and settles for some unmemorable leftovers. When did she make these? She lets that thought drop.

She extracts a glass from the drying rack by the sink, uncorks the bottle and pours herself a healthy serving of what she calls her “word juice.” She hurries through her meal, replenishes her red wine and cradles the glass in both hands as she saunters all of eight feet to her computer.

The words begin to flow.


The businessman has wrestled for a full week on how to close the deal. He can find no way for their firm to deliver the project on time with the additional requirements from the customer. The workout at the gym helps unknot the growing tension, but still he feels stuck, stymied. The customer needs an answer by 10:00 a.m. the next morning. He’s got nothing.

In the locker room, he undresses and steps into an available shower. The hot water streams over him. He just stands there. Eventually, he reaches for the shampoo, more from habit than conscious volition. His hand never makes it to the dispenser.

In a flash of inspiration, he’s solved his problem.


ShowerDoes alcohol make us more creative? And what is it about a hot shower that seems to foster these moments of insight and revelation? Do we just think better under these influences?

The reality is not that we think better. We think less.

The sedative nature of both the wine and the warm shower still the competing thoughts and voices that rage through our minds most of the time. We live in a world of distraction and so-called multitasking. Too many issues vie for our limited attention. As a result, no one thought gets the focus it needs until we quiet our minds.

Alcohol and hot water flowing over us will do the trick sometimes (but not too much or together, otherwise you end up passed out and looking like a prune on the floor of your shower). But so will travel.

Hard travel.

I love the line in the movie “180 Degrees South” which chronicles the journey of a young man who sails down to Chile in order to eventually climb a mountain in Patagonia. The narrator is told that the word “adventure” is misused by most today for, “It’s not an adventure until something goes wrong.”

On hard trips, something – possibly everything – goes wrong. They aren’t much fun at the time, but they make for great stories later. Yet another benefit of a hard trip is that in the immediate aftermath of the difficulty, you’re left almost numb.

All the worries and concerns, even dreams and ambitions, get silenced because you don’t have the mental energy to contemplate anything more than what lies before you. Presence is delivered with garnish on a plate and served to you whether you ordered it or not.

I’ll give you an example next time from my own recent trip, but how about you? Ever had a trip or hard situation that left you so stunned or grateful to be alive or exhausted that immediately afterwards everything around you seemed more real?

I have some friends who have faced life-threatening illnesses and each of them says the same thing: After something like that, you see life differently. You value each moment more.  You become more focused.

Hard trips can do the same. They just require a bit more planning and endurance than a hot shower…

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Top 5 life lessons from mountain biking – Lesson 3

by Steve Brock on October 16, 2012

We’ve explored two life lessons from mountain biking, faster is safer and cadence counts. Now let’s look at (pun intended as you will soon see) the third:

Where you stare is where you steer.

See that large rock in the trail ahead? The one you desperately want to avoid? The one that is getting closer and closer? The one you know will send you flying over your handlebars if you hit it? The one you try to take your eyes off of but can’t?

The one you just pounded into?

How could you have run into the rock when you intentionally tried to steer clear of it? Because you focused on it and not on the safe trail well beyond it.

Whether on a mountain bike, on a trip, at work or in life, where we direct our attention is where we will head, for good or… for a mouth full of dirt (or worse).

Don’t believe me? Try this.

On a white board or large piece of paper, draw two dots, at least a foot apart. Now try drawing a straight line from one to the other while you focus on the end of your pen or pencil. How’d that work?

Do the same thing by drawing another two dots. This time, try to draw a straight line by ignoring what you’re drawing and focusing your eyes on that second dot, your destination. If you’re like most people, this second line will be straighter.

The drawing exercise shows the positive side of focusing on where you’re going. With mountain biking, it works the same: Look 10-20 feet beyond your front wheel rather than right in front of it. You’ll keep to your line (the trail you’re following) much better and you’ll avoid obsessing about things like that rock you’re about to run into. Focus on the rock instead and, bang, you achieve a painful Zen-like state of oneness with it.

On a trip, if you focus on all of the things you want to avoid, I’m not suggesting all your worries will come to pass, but that very attitude will affect how you travel. Expect a lousy hotel and you’ll find plenty to complain about regarding your room or the service. Assume that the locals are rude and chances are your interactions won’t inspire spontaneous displays of affection.

Focus on the positive, however, and you’ll find it. Not always in ways you expect, but that’s one of the joys of travel.

So start looking. Not at the things you want to avoid but at the things you want to remember, the things that bring you delight, the things that add meaning. You know what they are. Just start looking.


Check out Lesson 1 if you haven’t already, as well as Lesson 2, Lesson 4a, Lesson 4b and Lesson 5

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God is in the details – Part 1

by Steve Brock on October 8, 2010

At this fair, one of the most memorable aspects are these wonderful scones. This simple image says more to us than a photo of the actual booth where they sold the scones.

Our visit to the fair last week also reminded me that meaningful travel and photography both benefit from a focus on the details.

The big vistas and group shots are helpful and essential. They provide context and reveal how things fit together.

But often, the meaningful traveler will find that the moments that stood out most on the trip or later in our memories come not from the big picture scenes but lie within the smaller vignettes and close-up images. 

This photo not only reminds us of our day there, but of the movie, "The Fantastic Mr. Fox" and the bandit hats. Thus, it makes us laugh whenever we see it. Meaningful? It is to us.

Here are some examples from our time at the fair. Are they the best photos from the day or do they tell the whole story? No. But they serve as icons, if you will, to remind us  of what made the day meaningful.

Remember: Sometimes you take photos or pick up souvenirs along the way that will only mean something to you alone. That’s part of the joy of travel and a reminder of how much God cares for each of us individually, as well as collectively.

Here's a typical overview shot. It helps those who weren't there to appreciate what this part of the fair looked like.

Details of the types of prizes you can win at the Whack-a-Mole booth add meaning and interest.

A detailed view of other toys and prizes at the fair.

Another view of the same toy trumpets. Which works best?

This image gives you the big picture view of some pigs...

But this detailed shot captures better the moment in a more personal way.

Finally, here's an image that captures both the big picture and detail. Note the guy with folded arms in the center right. His posture alone tells a story. (Click on the image to increase its size if you can't see the figure well)

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