A Cycling Race Not Forgotten

It was 1992. Spring. I was recently divorced and living by myself in Troy, NY. I decided to enter a 24-hour time trial, an ultra-marathon event in which I would pedal for as many miles as I could over 24 hours. The course consisted of a 45-mile loop of rural roads, all of which were open to the public.

I really didn’t tell many people at the time. For me, it was just a chance to see what I could do. I was hoping to pedal 300 miles that day.

I parked my car at the pit stop area, gathered a bunch of energy bars and rode my bike to the start area in town 10 miles away. I noticed that many participants were decked out in expensive bicycles and professional-looking clothing. Many had support crews who were tuning bicycles and reviewing programmed food and drink for their athletes. The race was part of a series for serious ultra-marathon bicyclists. I felt a bit over my head… but, no worries, no one knew me there.

At noon, the race started. And I just started pedaling. I kept to myself. I don’t think I spoke a word to anyone the whole day. Everyone was pedaling faster than me, so it was a quiet day, especially on the first lap or two.

I’d stop at the rest area every 45 miles, get a few more energy bars, replenish my water, go pee, and get back on my bike. It looked like the experienced riders would only stop quickly to replenish food prepared for them by their support crews.

The roads consisted of two-lane paved roads that meandered around small hills, fields, forests, and small towns. After a couple laps, riders were lapping me. I was doing all that I could do to keep going, hoping to average 12 to 15 mph. I think many riders were averaging over 20 mph.

I don’t remember much of the afternoon riding, except for the experiences of dehydration, a sore body, bloating from an energy bar diet, and the unimaginable willpower to keep going.

As darkness approached, I encountered less and less riders. Were people taking naps? Were people riding in groups? Around midnight, 12 hours into the ride, it seemed like there was no one on the pitch-black rural roads. My headlight kept a steady stream of light in front of me, but I started to feel all alone.

The next part of the race I remember like it happened last week.

I had been riding about 13 hours, and I was about halfway around the course loop on my 5th lap… I had ridden about 200 miles at that time… Exhausted, I remember thinking that maybe dawn would occur on my next lap. That kept me feeling positive. I felt like I could possibly reach my goal of 300 miles. Maybe more?

But my mind was going a little crazy. I remember feeling very afraid, like I could be in danger with no one around. Someone could jump out of the woods on my slow uphill climbs and tackle me! No other bikes in sight…

I moved to the center line of the road, away from the shoulders.

I thought that I heard rustling in the trees as I rode slowly up a hill, eyes fixed on the center line of the road. My mind said push harder, keep going. My heart felt fear.

Out of the corner of my eye, along the shoulder of the road where my headlight barely reached, I saw some bicycle parts… bike pump, some accessories… like someone had crashed earlier. I kept riding, afraid for my safety. Should I have stopped? That’s the question that still haunts me.

As I crested the hill and started to glide downhill, I saw headlights of a car approaching. I remember feeling some relief at first, thinking that the entire world was not asleep after all. There were some people still around!

As the car approached, it slowed down. I sped up. The car stopped as I approached. The driver asked me to stop. Afraid of what the driver might do to me, I said, “No!” I kept riding. Faster. The driver put the car in reverse to catch up to me and shouted, “Stop!” I said, “No. Why should I?”

The driver turned on his interior car light to illuminate other bicyclists in the back seat. I words still etched in my memory, he said, “The race has been canceled. There has been a tragic accident up ahead of you.” The riders in the back seat nodded. I stopped.

He told me that two people up ahead had been killed in a car-bike accident.

“What should I do?”

The driver said his car was full, so why don’t I turn around and head back to the pit stop area about 20 miles behind me. In a bit of a daze, I turned around proceeded back up the hill.

As I crested the hill, there were flashing lights, ambulances, police cars. The driver of the car with whom I had just spoken, approached me as I approached the site and asked me to stop again.

“What should I do?”

He asked me to wait off the road in a small parking area and he’d send for someone to come pick me up. I waited, not sure of what was going on…

Eventually, a van came to pick me up, and we proceeded to the site of the tragic bike-car accident that had canceled the race. We picked up other riders, then headed back past the place where the more recent accident scene was happening. I saw a car upside down. I saw a mangled bike… a covered body… and bike parts along the shoulder of the road. The same bicycle parts that I had seen earlier.

I was brought back to my car in the pit area. It was quiet. I got in my car, put the seat down, and tried to sleep. At dawn, a few people milled around slowly. I remember the somber mist. Everyone lifeless. My brother-in-law, an ex-Navy SEAL who lived in the area and who had ridden with me before on cross-New England bike trips, visited and told me that he heard on the scanner that 3 people (2 cyclists participating in the race) were killed in two separate accidents, both by drunk drivers, one under-age.

Not sure what to do, I left. Still somewhat in a daze. Confused.

I found out the next day some of the details on the news. How the first accident killed the drunk driver and one cyclist. How the second accident involved under-age drunk drivers who tried to escape through the woods along the roadside and were apprehended the next day. Was that the rustling in the woods that I heard?

I learned later about the two bicyclists that were killed, one having had a science and engineering background very similar to mine. He was a volunteer president of the Boston Chapter of the International Youth Hostel Association, an organization that I had recently joined as I prepared for my planned bicycling trip to New Zealand later that year.

I felt very close to these two people, even though I didn’t know them. We had shared the road together. We were alike. It could have been me.

I understand that laws in New York State changed after the accident to allow prosecution of those who sell alcohol to minors who subsequently drive drunk.

I later received a commendatory plaque for the event recognizing my participation and honoring the two riders. The plaque is still on the wall next to my desk. In a way, I’ve come to know two other time-trial cyclists who I never knew; they have become a part of my life story.

Their names on the plaque remind me daily to live each day fully. Anything can happen. Today, could be my last day. I was the lucky one… then.

But, in that moment, I didn’t stop. Reflecting back, I wonder if I really sensed an energy in the air that something had indeed gone wrong. Or, was I was too immersed in my own fear and and my own need for safety.

A few years later, I left my engineering practice in New York. I think this cycling event had planted a seed in me that eventually sprouted and informed me that it was time to live my life more fully while I was still “young” (I was 34 at the time, a workaholic and a young partner in a well-regarded firm). I knew there was something more that I was supposed to do in my life. In 1995, not sure what was next for me, I moved to Vermont.

All these years later, now as a yoga teacher, I tend to not spend much time thinking back in time unless I’m appreciating a previous teaching moment that had prepared me for a later-in-life experience. With the plaque as a reminder of that day, I do question what I would have done differently if I had a clearer mind and if I would have been more present in that moment when I saw some broken bicycle pieces along the side of the road. Would I have recognized the ambient energy-in-the-air differently? Would I have responded differently? Would I have been able to help?

The plaque reminds me that in any moment, someone might need my help. It reminds me to pay attention… to not ride away from something that doesn’t feel right. To listen to my intuition. To listen to my heart.

For many reasons, this was a race not forgotten. Maybe it did indeed plant deeper seeds in me… seeds that still guide my way today. To pay attention. To see what’s really going on. To help others. To persevere. To do what’s right. To be responsible. To live each day fully.

And to feel grateful… and humble… that I am alive today.

Yoga and Skiing at Snowbird

That moment…

When you see the beauty of majestic granite mountains,

When you smell the fresh scents of tall pine forests,

When you touch the softness of sun-drenched powder snow,

When you hear the songs of awakening Spring life,

And you feel the exhilaration of your body flowing freely with gravity…

Is when you know you have found bliss –

And when you know you have arrived at Snowbird!


There is something about Snowbird that makes my spirit soar! Ever since I first arrived over 30 years ago, I keep going back. Maybe it’s just the feeling of being connected to the natural beauty of the mountains. Maybe it’s the deep connection I feel with the Earth. Probably, it has something to do with an acute awareness of feeling my life as it’s supposed to be… free and flowing and joyful.

I brought my family there. I taught skiing and riding there. I almost moved there.

So why lead workshops that combine the practice of yoga and the experience of skiing and riding at Snowbird?

Yoga heightens our sense of presence, our feelings of connection, and our awareness of what’s going on. When combined with the present-moment exhilaration of flowing down challenging mountainsides with beauty and like-spirited friends all around to support you, the possibilities are endless. All of your senses feel peace and become positively-energized at the same time!

And awe-inspiring experiences are meant to be shared.

For me, as a yoga teacher, a ski and snowboard instructor, and a personal coach, it is a heavenly way to bring smiles to faces and to help people feel something wonderful!

In April of 2017, we will welcome our Heart of the Village Yoga community to a one-week yoga and ski trip at Snowbird! Join us. You will know when you have arrived!

Spring is in the Air at Snowbird

The Wind Blows Through Me

Forty years ago, intent on solving the challenges of a growing society, I decided to pursue a career of civil engineering. Civil engineering soon morphed into structural engineering, which in turn morphed into architectural engineering and design.

Twenty years ago, I wrote the following article which was published in Healing Options in Spring, 1997. Now, after twenty years of letting go of the engineering career identity, I feel like I’m just now setting out again on the path intended for me, the path I felt so deeply when I wrote this article.

Sitting among the Manti-La Sal Mountains in Utah, 1996.

Sitting among the Manti-La Sal Mountains in Utah, 1996.

Tonight, I’m sitting on top of a mountain. The burning orange image of a rising full moon paints the sky purple as the blues of the sky get deeper and deeper. The long tail of a far-off comet starts to glow in the northwest skies. Stars start to twinkle above as house lights begin to twinkle below. I sit. I listen. I hear the whisper of the air as it moves through the branches of the trees nearby. They creek gently as they move in harmony. I listen some more. The whisper gets deeper, more like a deep hum or howl coming from far away and far above. I feel it move against my skin. I smell its fresh scents. I breathe deeply. The air blows through me. It seems to give me life and energy.

I start to move onward across the mountain top. But it’s almost as if I’m in a dream. My body is moving, lightly and easily, but my mind is elsewhere. It’s still on top of the mountain in a trance recapturing the spirit of the wind just felt. I’m reminded of similar experiences running on the beach or snorkeling in the ocean, hiking through deep green forests or biking across open fields. I’m reminded of similar sounds and feelings. I’m reminded of how the wind moves differently – sometimes with vigor, sometimes with gentleness – but it always moves. And it always makes sounds. I feel alive. I feel like I’m real. Everything seems to come together. Yet I keep dreaming…

For years I’ve worked primarily indoors performing a job that kept my mind challenged and my sense of accomplishment fulfilled. But there is something about being indoors that is stifling to me – like being stagnant and detached from what is really important. Inside, the wind is still. I sought the outdoors in my free time and continued to do what I supposed to do indoors. As a matter of fact, I still do – now and then!

For years I’ve studied and designed buildings, structures which give people protection from the wind and the elements of the outdoors. Some of these buildings were constructed with the sole purpose of helping people find peace and happiness. Homes, churches, and meeting places. That makes me feel good. But there is something about being outdoors which can’t be recreated inside a building. You need to experience it outdoors. Outside, the wind blows. It comes from far away and it connects through you.

It seems like years of thought and miles of travel, but I’m off of the mountain and back to my car. The moon is high in the sky and the stars are bright. My little story ends here. I must now go home to sleep, inside, hoping and dreaming that the wind will continue to blow through me…



Leading with Heart

Recently, someone asked me about my leadership principles. Words like vision, integrity, responsibility, and discipline rolled off my lips. Showing up with authenticity and presence, with a strong sense of inner knowing and mutual respect. Acting in a right manner, consistent in thoughts, words, and behaviors.

Of course, the archetype of leadership is the warrior. And last week, I spent 4 days hiking in the White Mountains along the 20-mile Presidential Traverse with 3 other warriors. (We started with 4 other warriors, but one was brave enough to say that the trip wasn’t for him. He became our base support.) Including our base support warrior, three were combat veterans; one was an amputee (and Paralympic alpine skier). I was the organizer and perceived leader.

Only one hiker other than me had mountain hiking experience. One was from the US Virgin Islands; not accustomed to sub-70 weather… They all knew me; only a couple knew each other before this week.

On our second day, after an initial first-day 4-mile steep climb towards the ridge line, four of us set out into the rain and clouds, temperatures around 50 degrees-F, and sustained winds of over 30 mph. Soon, at the ridge, we endured gusts over 55 mph. The way was rocky and wet. 7 miles.


It soon became very apparent that we were all leaders. We took turns in front. We took turns caring for each other. We easily became a close-knit group. There were no issues with where we were going. There were no issues as we adapted to options we faced. The tenants of leadership organically materialized, strengthened, and flowed naturally from us, individually and as a unit.

We’d later roll into the AMC Lake-of-the-Clouds Hut and people asked us who we were. We seemed so comfortable with one another, like brothers. People noticed; they felt our presence.

Upon reflection, we knew that we were not just warriors, enduring the hardships of our experience with determination and fortitude; we were also healers – we were relating to each other from our hearts, indeed as brothers. We discussed the relationship – the balancing act – between our warrior and healer instincts. We discussed the special relationship we shared with each other and with our natural surroundings. We became immersed in the bond of friendship and our connection with the natural world around us. It seemed like the power of our group was well beyond the power of four individuals.


In yoga, we become aware that, as individuals,we are on a self-realization journey discovering our own true nature. We utilize teachings from the Patanjali-Sutra that help guide us in our interactions: learning to live lives of non-violence (ahimsa), making ourselves more sensitive to the ways we often do subtle violence with our minds and our bodies to ourselves and to others; and learning to be authentic and truthful (satya), ennobling our own true nature through right action, allowing those around us to not feel deceived. We learn to be compassionate, with an open heart and an open mind. We feel safe being our authentic selves. We exude trust and faith in each other.

On our hike, these practices became our way of being. It was so nice to be in a place of sharing, of mutual support, of safety – even while immersed in a world of adventure and challenge.

Through heartfelt leadership, all of us as warriors and healers, balanced and flowing, we became one powerful unit, feeling successes well beyond the sum of each of our individual contributions.

In yoga, we look towards the ideal of pure awareness (isvara), surrendering to the unknown, letting go of perceived boundaries and past conditioning, having faith, and embracing the wisdom of uncertainty… together as one.

On this trip, I believe we scratched the surface of these feelings, towards this ideal, leading ourselves forward like we were one common soul – with heart. And in peace.


On these rocks, we became Brothers.

Of course, our next challenge will be bringing these teachings into our daily lives and to the world around us. Maybe as brothers, we can.



Okay, So It Was Only 180 Miles

Back then, there were no cell phones. Back then, there were no portable GPS’s. Back then, there were no GoPro video cameras, no social media. Back then, I thought I had ridden about 200 miles. In one day.

So now, 38 years later, I finally checked my route on the computer. 180 miles. Give or take.

I had just returned from a Chuck Mangione concert at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center. Children of Sanchez. 1978. “Without dreams….” still playing in my head. It was 1978. It was midnight.

My family was on the beach in Rockport, Massachusetts on vacation. I was working in Schenectady, New York for an architect doing drafting work. I had just finished my sophomore year in college. I wanted to take a few days off and go to the beach. So I did. Without a car.

I got up at 3:00 am and started riding. A 10-speed, steel-framed bike with a hard leather seat and non-padded drop handle bars. I had never ridden more than 10 miles before. I did not have padded shorts nor gloves nor a shirt that covered the bottom of back. I did not know what dehydration was. I turned on the generator-powered light. Wrapped a bandana around my head. Off I went.

A flat tire in Hoosick Falls. Before sunrise. Not a car on the road. “Every child belongs to mankind’s family. Children are the fruit of all humanity. Let them feel the love…”

Breakfast at McDonald’s in Bennington, Vermont, just as it opened. 7:00 am.

Up Route 7 to Prospect Mountain and Woodford. Down Route 7 to Wilmington (it was my first visit to the town that I would move to 20 years later). Up to Hogback Mountain. Down to Brattleboro. It was lunchtime. I was hungry again.

I remember having a burger across the Vermont border in Hinsdale, New Hampshire. It tasted like cardboard. I didn’t know why I didn’t have much saliva.

Then all I could remember in New Hampshire was up, then down, then up, then down… over and over. It was over 90 degrees and humid. It seemed like the towns were always about 10 miles apart. I had a paper map. Get a drink every 10 miles. Hold my head up. Peddle on.

There is something about long-distance bicycling that keeps you focused. You just have to keep going. One stroke at a time. I observed my thoughts… Present-moment awareness. No choice.

Somewhere in New Hampshire, I was startled by a chasing dog who happened to get a peddle in his jaw as I was speeding down a hill. Momentum was everything!

“All men need a place to live in dignity….”

My lower back hurt. My butt and hands were numb. My mouth dry.

“Those who hear the cries of children, god will bless…”

As I crossed into Massachusetts, around dinner time, I realized I was not going to make it to Rockport that evening. New Hampshire, the smell of pavement and car exhaust, and 95-degree heat, had slowed my pace. I called Rockport.

You see, I hadn’t told my parents I was coming. “You’re where? Doing what?”

“Can you pick me up in Lowell later?”

So, 18 hours later, my father and my uncle picked me up on the streets of Lowell, Massachusetts, near some town park where July 4th weekend festivities were starting.

I spent a couple days on the beach. Nursing a burnt back. Trying to get feeling back in my hands and butt. Walking slowly. Drinking fluids. Humming music.

“As my children grow, my dreams come alive…”

No pictures to share. Just stories. And the music I remember.

“I will always hear the Children of Sanchez…”

I swore I’d never do something like that again.

But I did.

Many times.

With padded shorts and gloves. And a helmet.

As a yoga teacher nowadays, practicing present-moment mindfulness, I sometimes look inside with a deep sense of peace, awareness, and an inner confidence that knows that everything is okay. This feeling has remained present in my life even when the going has been tough. I suspect it has always been there, even before I knew what yoga was.

Is resiliency a learned behavior, a result of direct experience? Or, is it innate? Is it part our true nature to be open to the adventure and the gifts of living in the present? And to persevere through the perceived obstacles that often get in our way? Is it about letting go of the way we think life should be like?

On this bike trip, I learned presence. I learned the power of mantra and devotion towards an intention or ideal. I felt the unity of mind, body and spirit while living in the moment of each pedal stroke. I was (and continue to be) drawn to the wonder – and the adventure – of a more spiritual and heartfelt existence, and exploring the wonder of living in the gift of the moment. Maybe we’re each really yogis, and we live lives discovering who we really are.

Awaken your spirit to adventure
Hold nothing back, learn to find ease in risk
Soon you will be home in a new rhythm
For your soul senses the world that awaits you.

(John O’Donahue’s “For a New Beginning”)

Bobopelli in VC City 2014


Riding the Marriage Bike Home

(This is a story I wrote with my wife Jo Kirsch. It is 13 years old, but it is still fun to read and worth sharing today. It was previously published in The Cracker Barrel, a Wilmington, VT magazine.)


Riding a bicycle for many miles can be a challenge for anyone. Riding 470 miles in 6 days over the Continental Divide twice, in temperatures ranging from 32 degrees to 99 degrees, well, this takes a certain mental attitude of determination no matter who you are. Now, try it on a tandem mountain bike when you’ve never been on one before, try it when one rider has never been on a bike for more than 25 miles at a time before, and try it with minimal seasonal training. Now, to top it off, try it with your spouse!

Last summer we ventured to Colorado to do just that as part of the Bicycle Tour of Colorado, a fundraiser for the Public Broadcasting System in Colorado. Our lives are busy, so finding training time was rare. We threw out the training guide sent to us by the organizers and said, “We can do this. It will be a great experience.” We decided to avoid the hassles of transporting our bikes and found a rental shop on the web near the race start in Salida. We wanted to share the experience together, so we thought, “Why not a tandem? They have a mountain bike tandem at the rental shop. Good gear range. Stable. Why not?”

As we rode around town the first day getting used to the bike, people would stop and talk with us. “Oh, you’re on the divorce bike.” “Do you guys have a strong relationship?” “You’re not newlyweds, are you?”  “How are your communication skills?” “Do you totally trust one another?”

We smiled. We thought, “What are we getting ourselves into?” We practiced. Left turn. Right turn. Pedal. Glide. Stop. Go. BUMP! “How do you get out of these pedals?” We set up our tent with a thousand other riders on the school football field for the next day’s early morning start. There were only a couple other tandems and they were both road bikes. We didn’t speak much. Our neighbors in our tent community, from Minnesota, smiled knowingly, “You’ve never done this before? You’ve never been on a tandem before?” She was a triathlete, he was less experienced. Both of us sank deep into our own thoughts and slept lightly, filled with anticipation for the next day.

We have our own recollections of the next few days….

Day One: Salida to Gunnison; 65 miles over Monarch Pass (Elevation: 11,312 feet)

Bob: “A mile or two out of town on a gently sloped, straight highway, I enjoy the air against my face, I revel in the sense of freedom a bike gives me. Excited, I pedal harder as everyone else who passes us says hello, then makes some sort of wisecrack. I want to keep up. ‘Are you pedaling back there?’ I ask.”

Jo: “I don’t believe this. We’re hardly on our way and I’m hurting all over. My back hurts, my knee hurts. I need something stronger than Advil to numb my body. Everyone is passing us. How can that be when I’m pedaling as hard as I possibly can? Bob’s moaning about adjusting his cadence  … slowing it down…. to match mine. Well at least the sky is a perfect shade of blue and the temperature is just right. Oh, there’s a gas station. Let’s stop so I can get some Excedrin.”

Bob: “The road starts to get steeper quickly. More people pass us. I put my head down and just pedal. It is going to be a long day, but I’ve pedaled long days before. Just keep going. ‘We’re never going to get there if we keep stopping so you can pee.”‘ Keep drinking, I tell her and remind myself. The first aid station can’t be that far away. Inside, I worry that she is already taking aspirin.”

Jo: “Wow, we are starting to go up. I just have to keep on pedaling. I can do this. I know I can. The thing is I keep drinking, because I know I have to, and then I have to go pee. Well at least stopping to go pee gets my butt off this seat for a minute or two. Wow, look at that tandem go by. Those two are standing up and pedaling in tandem. How the heck do they do that? This is going to be a long day. I’m just focusing on each moment. I know I can do this.”

Bob: “Refreshed after the first aid station and excited after the wealth of fresh foods we had eaten, I again crank away. It is uphill, with no end in sight. We come around one mountain bend only to see another still going up. ‘Keep pulling the majority of the load up the hill. I can do it,’ I think. Hot sun. Dry lips. Sunscreen. ‘Keep breathing’, I tell her. ‘Keep drinking.’ It is a beautiful day with beautiful views.”

Jo: ‘We must be reaching the top of the hill. If we can reach the summit, the Continental Divide, it will be amazing. I’ve driven up winding roads like this before that climb up and up and up. I never imagined I’d be riding a bike up a mountain pass like this. I keep looking at the back of Bob’s shirt. It has a map of the whole tour screened on it and l can follow our path up Monarch Pass. Are we really climbing from 7000′ to 11,312’? I’m just going to keep counting and pedaling. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 1, 2, 3…”

Bob: “The paint on the road reads: YOU DID IT! We made it to the top. Music is playing. Food is plentiful. I am exhausted but energized at the same time. We have a long downhill with hairpin turns ahead. How will the brakes work on a tandem? How will she react to speed? We aren’t even halfway there yet…”

Jo: “Wow, I think I hear music. I can’t believe it. We reached the summit. It’s all downhill from here. Hey, they just took our photo! This is cool. We made it. I’m going to get off this bike and go devour some bagels and peanut butter and whatever else they have at this aid station. Wow, it’s extraordinarily beautiful up here.”

Bob: “The speed of the downhill is wonderful. Let it rip. Stand up and feel the air, the freedom. Let the cars wait for us. I’m using the entire lane to carve these turns!”

Jo: “Oh my God! This is SCARY! I just have to hold on to the pedals and stay steady. WE ARE FLYING DOWN THIS ROAD. Oh my God! I don’t want to drive Bob crazy but here comes a corner, which way do I lean, oh please slow down, slow down, slow down. I’m praying. I’m singing prayers. I know he can’t hear me through the wind. Okay, I have to start to relax. Relax, relax, relax. Bob’s done this before, he knows what he’s doing. We’re not going to die. Hey, we’re finally passing some other bikes. I guess these tandems do really rip downhill. Oh, phew, sigh, it’s starting to flatten out. Wow, what a ride.”

Bob: “The ride to Gunnison is long. A slight head wind is in my face. I have nothing left in my legs, but I still feel like I am carrying most of the load and have to continue to do it. Thirty miles seems so long. Twenty miles. Ten miles. The last mile, where’s the end? Where’s the food? Look at all the people showered, already fed, tents up, walking around refreshed. I go to get food. She goes to pee.”

Jo: “Well, now I wish we had a little downhill left. This flat stretch to Gunnison is going on forever. Just keep pedaling. No choice. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9,10, 1, 2, 3 … Hey look at that rider. He’s coming towards us. And he looks all clean and showered. “You’re almost there,” he shouts. “The High School is just around the comer.” We made it. Pee. Set up the tent. Shower. Food. Stretch. Sleep. Wow.”

Day Two: Gunnison to Delta; 100 miles; Climb 2,000 feet to over 9,000 feet elevation along the Blue Mesa Reservoir, then descend to the desert at just over 5,000 feet elevation.

Bob: “The crisp morning tail wind is wonderful. We ride along the winding edge of the reservoir, going fast. People still pass us, but I feel great. The first aid station comes quickly. The road along the Black River Canyon winds up and down. I pedal hard. I let us pick up speed on the descents. We ride for a while with a Californian who had recently ridden cross-country. He slows for us. We pedal harder to keep up with him. For once, I feel some power from the back of the bike. This is good. We keep up with a biker who seems very acquainted with bike touring, who seems to be pedaling close to his wife. The descent to the valley floor is amazing. I let it rip. We pass many other bikers, even a cow in the road. It is very hot on the valley floor. It is a desert: 99 degrees and dry. We are parched. I am dehydrated and feel sick. The heat is too much for me. Most bikers are there when we get to the school field. There aren’t many spaces left. They serve ribs for dinner. I am becoming a vegetarian. The shower in the portable shower truck never felt better. I find some shade and don’t move. Two days down. One more day, then a rest day. Everyone talks about the day ahead. A bunch of masochists, I think to myself. They enjoy talking about the difficulty, the pain.”

Jo: “I feel good today. After yesterday I can do anything. I think we’re getting the hang of this. This Canyon is so beautiful. The air against my skin feels nice. Hawks are riding the thermals above. Plenty of sun screen on. The climb today is filled with I switchbacks. This is better than yesterday, because the road climbs a ways and then descends and climbs again. Not all up and all down. I feel more comfortable going down. Lean into the turn. Relax my body. The day is starling to get hot. Keep drinking. Stay hydrated. Keep going. We’re almost there. Ahhhh. I never guessed I’d be showering in a truck in the desert. It feels good to cool off. Can’t wait for the sun to go down. We need sleep.

2015-09-24 Showers

Day Three: Delta to Palisade; 75 miles; Over the Grand Mesa, climbing almost 6,000 feet, then descending again to desert and peach country.

Bob: “A slight incline and headwind greet us. ‘If we’re going to make it through the day, we’re going to have to learn to stand up to climb. Let’s practice.’ The road just gets steeper and steeper. I want to keep pushing, she was starling to lose it. I remind her to breath instead of cursing. ‘Use different muscles.’ To me, it is a test. To her, it seems like torture. ‘Just a little further, then we’ll take a break!” The climb continues after the rest stop near the top, and then it gets steeper. The clouds darken and the temperature drops. Thunder. Rain. Hail. Near freezing temperatures. We neglected the advice to carry rain gear up the climb; we have only nylon windbreakers. I shiver uncontrollably. Some riders seek cover. Many are quitting and taking the sag wagon. The sag wagons wait for us at the top. Our friend from Minnesota is now driving one van, volunteering after suffering through too much knee pain. ‘It is clear up ahead on the other side of the Mesa, but I’ve got room for you in the van if you want a ride.’ The van looks warm, steamy and crowded. We ride. We shiver. I have a hard time controlling my hands for the braking on the descent. My teeth chatter and I can not stop them.”

Jo: “This is hard. I am dehydrated from yesterday. My legs feel like jelly. I drain my camelback, reach the first aid station and begin to come alive. Here we go. This is the endless up. Endless. Keep pedaling. I can’t believe I’m doing this. This is nuts. Everything hurts: my butt, my knee, my stomach, my back. I just keep moving my focus from one pain to the next. I’m losing it. I’m swearing. Bob suggests I close my mouth and focus cm my breath. I’m ready to kill him. But I feel a little better. Keep going,” he says. “This will help you perform when you’re skiing moguls next year and you want to stop and you remember this. This will help you perform and reach your goals in life.” I like this train of thought. Grrrrrr. I’m an athlete. Grrrrrrr. I am strong. Grrrrrrr. I’m an athlete. I can do this. I hear the D.J.’s music. We must be at the summit aid station. My tears are flowing freely in gratitude. Past the aid station, huge storm clouds come up behind us. Lightning and thunder. “What are we going to do?” I shout. “Ride ahead of the storm,” he retorts. He’s nuts… he’s lost it… we’re done for. Where is the sag wagon? Where’s some shelter? This hail hurts. I’m soaked through. This is unbelievable. We make it to the top. The storm passes over. The sag driver said, “The road is dry up ahead. The ride down should be a beauty.” We keep riding. We dry off and warm up as we descend into the aid station in the 90-degree desert. Unbelievable.”

Bob: “Before long, the sun is out and we glide through a beautiful mountain descent. We had been here before with the kids a few years back to camp and backpack. It is familiar. It is beautiful. It is warm again. It is hot again. As we arrive into Palisades, the local fire company greets us with an arcing spray from a fire hose. It is refreshing as it almost evaporates on contact. ‘If they only knew about our day in cold, rain and hail,’ I ponder. The townspeople are so happy to have us in town for two nights and a day. They schedule a barbecue in the park with live music. We rest under the large trees in this little oasis between the steep walls of a canyon surrounding us. They serve more meat, ribs and chipped beef. I eat more veggies and desserts. I also try to deal with an apparent sinus infection. We sit in a pool most of the rest day. We meet an endurance bike rider who competes in 24-hour races (this brings back memories for me) and will be coming to our area to do a Montreal to Boston and back race later that month. He goes for a ride on the day off through the vineyards. We are with some serious bikers, but somehow, after doing the Grand Mesa ourselves, I feel like we have become one of them. I am proud of Jo. She had done it, all the way.”

Jo: “A rest day is just what we need. Write some postcards. Take it easy. Relax. And prepare for three more days of riding. I’m beginning to feel like we can do this. Each day is an eternity. But each time we reach our goal, I feel a huge sense of relief and accomplishment.”

Day Four: Palisade to Glenwood Springs; 76 miles, along a highway in a canyon gently rising 1,000 feet.

Bob: We have a rhythm now. We pedal into a slight headwind the whole way, but along the gentle grades of a highway. After a day off, I am anxious to go through the morning ritual of packing our tent, loading our gear in a truck, eating breakfast and getting on the road again. It doesn’t seem like as many people are passing us today. We cut the wind, speak little and go about our business. We encounter a little rain near the end, but our day is otherwise largely uneventful. We find a patch of green for our tent near the school, take showers, and walk around town. Other bikers arrive behind us. We hold hands.”

Jo: “A long day. Pretty flat. I have a sense now that we can do this. We’re no longer the last riders to come into town and set up our tent.”

Day Five: Glenwood Springs to Leadville; 90 miles, climbing almost 5,000 feet to Tennessee Pass at Elevation 10,424 feet.

Bob: “The ride along the bike path in Glenwood Canyon in the morning is both beautiful and dangerous. We go through it smoothly, but we hear of some crashes. Riding a tandem around bollards and small pedestrian bridges is getting easy for us. The ride through the communities around Vail gets us talking about our ski teaching futures. Some other bikers are drafting behind us. Then the climbs up Battle Mountain and then to Tennessee Pass. We are in sync now. We stand up and climb together, or even take turns. We pass some other climbers. Our legs and butts scream, but we keep going. I pull her. She pushes me. The night of camping in Leadville at over 10,000 feet is glorious. Many riders arrive after us. Some on bikes, some in vans. We watch the sun set. We sleep soundly, only interrupted by our pee breaks. We watch the sun rise. ”

Jo: “We are excited about the day. We have a rhythm now. We communicate well and move together on the bike. The bike path winds along the canyon floor offering incredible views of the rock walls and birds and the rushing Colorado River. We climb two summits today, Battle Mountain and Tennessee Pass. We ride by ski areas and are energized by the big mountains. Sometimes we both stand up and pedal. Sometimes Bob is up and I’m down and sometimes, I’m standing up and Bob is sitting. Wow! My excitement and enthusiasm with our riding, our surroundings and our success is overcoming my pain and exhaustion. This is actually fun. Camping at Leadville High School was dramatic. I hope the kids who go to school here realize the dream they are living, surrounded by 12,000+ feet high mountain peaks. We are as high as a kite. And only one day left… all downhill back to Salida.”

2015-09-24 Tents

Day Six: Leadville to Salida; 60 miles, downhill, past the Collegiate Peaks.

Bob: “Downhill on a tandem is like skiing down a softly-groomed, intermediate run on giant-slalom skis. Effortless. Stable. Cutting the wind decisively. We relax. We stand up. We yell in glee. The fresh morning air, I’ll remember it forever. We glide home, almost sad that it is over. Biking around Salida now is effortless, corners and street signs are now uneventful, and people greet us warmly. We pack up. We return our bike, surprising the shop owners with our success, and spend the afternoon together by the river in the shade. Still married. Wanting to do it again.”

Jo: “The sweet morning air and soft light from the rising sun wash over us as we begin our easy descent to Salida. Effortlessly pedaling and gliding down the road in tandem, we reach the outskirts of town before we’re ready. We ride through the familiar streets and coast under the finish line banner, reaching our destination together, connected and enriched. Still married. Looking forward to our next tour.”

Experiential Learning: Group Exercises for Mindful Hiking

Often times, I’ll lead hikes or trips with a group of people in which our goals are to learn something valuable from the experience that we might be able to apply in our daily lives. Experiential learning. I’ll usually set up an outline, perhaps having a series of quotes which might give a particular perspective, or perhaps having a few engaging interactive activities planned that might enhance the experience. Through the experience, guided reflection, and de-brief facilitation, the insights that people share are often so much more powerful than anything I (as one individual) could have come up with on my own. That’s the beauty of group learning! Here was my simple outline going into today’s Mindful Hiking workshop at Heart of the Village Yoga in Manchester, VT. I’d read a “quote”; we’d brief the next section of the hike; hike a little; do some yoga postures; de-brief; and then move on to the next quote and segment of our little hike.



(Quotes adapted from “The Pocket Thich Nhat Hanh)

Mindfulness of Breathe: The way to maintain your presence in the here and now is through the mindfulness of the breathe. There is no need to manipulate the breathe. Beathe is a natural thing; like air, like light, we should leave it as it is and not interfere with it. What we are doing is simply lighting up the lamp of awareness to illuminate our breathing. We generate the energy of mindfulness to illuminate everything that is happening in the present moment.

Brief: Let’s use all of our senses to feel, hear, see, taste and smell our breathe… and then use all of our senses to feel, hear, see, taste and smell everything that is happening around us in this present moment.

De-Brief: Does anyone want to share anything about this experience, what you might have observed in yourself or around you?

 Walking Meditation Practice: Walking is an important form of meditation. It can be a very deep spiritual practice. Walk without effort; walk without strain. Just enjoy walking. When you walk in mindfulness, you are in touch with all of the wonders of life within you and around you. For many of us, this can be difficult because our minds are elsewhere and we are not walking with our full body and our full consciousness. We see our minds and our bodies as two separate things. While our bodies are walking one way, our consciousness is tugging us in a different direction. When we understand the interconnectedness of our bodies and our minds, the simple act of walking can feel supremely easy and pleasurable.

Brief: Let’s take a step and touch the earth in such a way that you establish yourself in the present moment. No effort required: your foot touches the earth mindfully, and you arrive firmly in the here and now. You are fully present, fully alive, and you are touching the earth. Breathe in and take one step, and focus all of your attention on the sole of your foot. Smile, then take the next step!

De-Brief: Does anyone want to share anything about this experience, what you might have observed in yourself or around you?

Touching the Earth: Touching the earth each day helps us in many ways. The earth has been here for a long time. She is mother to all of us. She knows everything. With the earth we are very safe. She is very patient; she helps us; she protects us. When we die, she takes us back into her arms. She is always there to support us, in all of her wonderful expressions like trees, flowers, butterflies, and sunshine. Touching the earth is a good practice to heal you and restore your joy.

Brief:  Now, let’s take each step with an attitude of gratitude for the earth and all of her wondrous expressions. Touch the earth; touch her expressions… the leaves, the soil, the water, the flowers… Feel her support and patience.

De-Brief: Does anyone want to share anything about this experience, what you might have observed in yourself or around you?

Children of the Earth: We are all children of the earth. We are continually rising from Mother Earth, being nurtured by her, and then returning to her. All life is impermanent. Like us, plants are born, live for a period of time, and then return to the earth and become the source of food for future growth, future generations. We all depend on each other. We humans think we’re intelligent, but an orchid, for example, knows how to produce symmetrical flowers; a snail knows how to a make beautiful, well-proportioned shell. Compared with their knowledge, ours might not be worth that much at all. Maybe we should bow down to the orchid and the snail. Maybe we should join our palms reverently before the butterfly and the oak tree. Maybe, feeling respect for all species will help us recognize and cultivate the noblest nature in ourselves.

Brief: Let’s walk as if we are nature itself, dependent on each and every plant, animal, and organism… each and every mineral, element, piece of matter around us. Perhaps, as we feel their vulnerability, we’ll feel our own. Perhaps, as we feel their importance in the web of life, we’ll feel our own too.


Does anyone want to share anything about this experience, what you might have observed in yourself or around you?

What is the biggest take-away, most meaningful learning experience, that you’ll take way with you and into your daily lives from today’s hike?


A Message to: Warriors Live On

A few years ago, I was fortunate to be in a place and time where I was a part of the birth of Warriors Live On. Filled with hope, we envisioned creating transformative experiences that would integrate various healing practices to help combat veterans transition from combat to community. Based on our own successes with various healing modalities- mindfulness-based therapeutic practices, heartfelt and supportive human interaction, mentorship and community-building, outdoor education and connection with nature, and other healthy living practices- we saw the experience of a long trek as being a metaphor for living. Many steps. Ups and downs. Each step an opportunity to let go and move forward. Each step an opportunity to Live On.

I’d like to send my best wishes to those who have made the first Warriors Live On trek a reality- participants, sponsors, volunteers, other supporters. I send my heartfelt respect and congratulations to Eva Belanger for your dedicated and determined work to turn dreams into reality. I am not there in person, but I am there in spirit! I hope to be with you along the next journey. I love you all.

I encourage anyone reading this post to support this effort. You can so here.

I offer this humble personal note to trek participants, just as a way, perhaps, to plant more seeds:

It seems that life is often about finding balance between the opposing forces that pull us in one direction and then another. Each step you take on this trek is like a balancing act. Moving forward is a balancing act between holding on to what serves you well and letting go of what doesn’t support you well. Being yourself is a balancing act between accepting the fabric of who you already are and striving towards the life you’d like to lead. Let this trek help you move forward in a new balanced way. Let the experience of being with others in nature, trekking, sharing, supporting, and learning give rise to new perspectives in your life.

Learning from nature can teach us how to find better ways to live. Living in flow with nature can help us heal and move forward in a balanced way:

Winter is the season of the Warrior: it’s about standing with integrity; it’s about being present like the air we breathe and being strong yet flexible like a tree in the changing Northerly winds. Take moment to stand with your trekking mates, as a group of brothers and sisters, as you know how, respecting and honoring one another.

Spring, the present season, is the season of the Healer: it’s about being whole-hearted; it’s about being supportive, like the earth we stand on, and learning to trust the interdependence of all living things as we spring to new life. Take a moment to lay down in the loving arms of Mother Earth and feel its infinite support for you; look South, feel the warmth that’s always there.

Summer, the season you are approaching, is the season of the Visionary: it’s about seeing and telling the truth without blame or judgment; it’s about walking forward with authenticity towards your life’s purpose, being your true shining self, like the summer sun. Take a moment to be mindful of your true self, without judgment, as you walk forward, look East with the clarity of a new day, and live on.

Autumn is the season of the Teacher: it’s about reflecting upon and accepting things without attachment to the outcome; it’s about trusting and letting go, like leaves falling from autumn trees or water flowing down meandering streams; it’s about finding the wisdom in all things and being your own teacher. Autumn is about transformation, like water, as we constantly seek our source. Just as the sun sets in the Western California sky, let go of today and have faith in the new day ahead. Tomorrow, you will be a mentor for another warrior….

Balancing our Warrior and Healer instincts, our Visionary and Teacher attributes, we too flow towards our source, I believe, the center of our being, the ocean of inner peace and love that connects us all. For me at least, when I am in this place where I feel this balance and deep sense of connectedness, using nature as my model, I feel at home. (For me, this usually occurs in the mountains… where my spirit soars!)

To each combat veteran trekking with Warriors Live On this month, I wish you the best. I send you my best wishes, my support, my love, and my unconditional respect. I hope that the experience in nature with a team of supportive brothers and sisters helps you find balance, see new perspectives, and feel the connectness that we all share. Trek On! One step at a time. As Warriors, Healers, Visionaries and Teachers…

In all four directions, in all four seasons- and like the air, earth, sun, and water- may you find balance, inner peace and inner power, and Live On!

And please know that you can travel in all directions and still find your way to Vermont! I’d love to meet each of you one day.


Bob Speck and Eva Belanger. The day we met.

A Winding Path. A Constant Direction.

Bobopelli in VC City 2014

My work has led me on a winding path: architectural / structural engineering; teaching skiing and snowboarding; training and developing staff; leading outdoor hiking and biking trips; teaching middle / high school; designing homes; managing programs, projects, and businesses; improving systems and processes; facilitating health and wellness programs; training athletes; working with wounded veterans and people with disabilities; teaching yoga. It’s been a wild ride, full of adventure, full of learning, full of change, full of kindness and love.

In fact, I am going through another change right now as I announce my re-re-retirement as an actively employed professional engineer. Yes, I will continue to help long-standing clients like Vermont Barns and The Wadsworth Company as a part-time design and business development consultant; I still enjoy the creative, problem-solving process collaborating with like-minded timber frame artisans and Vermont “homestead” developers. But, I am letting go (again) of the identity of a professional structural engineer. I don’t believe the identity alone allows me to thrive on a day-to-day basis in my natural wholehearted way.

My path has always been directed with the intention of helping people, serving others, and making connections… Connections between what-we-do-today and a greater good, connections between people, connections between challenges and answers, connections between ways-of-living and nature, connections between mind and body and spirit, connections which help us all come together…

So, whether it’s working in the non-profit or the educational sector or the wellness sector, whether it’s working independently or as an employee, whether it’s coaching or teaching or leading or training or facilitating groups, I’m back on my way. Diverse, yet directed.

Kokopelli lives on. Planting seeds. Spreading joy. Bringing new life to local villages.

Wish me luck. I’m open to ideas. But, I really just wanted to say:

I’m baaack!

2013-11-23 Visual Vision

Consulting vs Coaching

Years ago when I was in high school considering college options and thinking about career choices, I knew I wanted to do work that benefited people and the planet. I was good at math, science and art. I was more attracted to being outside than spending time indoors. And, I seemed to enjoy figuring things out on my own. My dad was an engineer. My neighbor told me about civil engineering (engineers solving people’s civilization problems). So for me, it was a decision between architecture and engineering. Within 4 years of graduating from college with a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering and a master’s degree in engineering (civil/structural), I was a professional engineer working with architects on building design projects. Within a few years, I was an associate and by the time I was 30 years old, a principal (part owner) in a top-ranked structural engineering firm in New York State. I was on a fast-track for sure.

My work gravitated to project management, client relations, and more and more, human resources and staff leadership. I enjoyed being a mentor. I enjoyed exploring personality styles to consider ways to improve office communications. I enjoyed building a sense of team and improving the quality of our services by taking advantage of multiple talents and areas of expertise.

All during these years, from the time I was a sophomore in high school, I taught skiing on weekends. I became full-certified as an instructor while still in college. My spirit has always soared outside, in nature, in the mountains, in the trees… skiing, riding, hiking, biking, camping…

After more than a dozen very successful years doing engineering work, I decided to take a year away. I felt the desire to take a time-out. I had never really taken an extended vacation before. Things in my personal life were in a bit of an upheaval as I went through a divorce, and I just knew inside that there was something more that I was destined to do.

During these years of renewed career decision-making, I rode my bicycle around the south island of New Zealand; I competed in triathlons and bicycle endurance events; I took a month-long NOLS course in the Washington Cascade Mountains; I led mountain bike tours. I was offered full-time employment in a ski school as a manager. I met Jo and Alex and Natalie. I moved to Vermont.

Since that time, my life has been in a continuous state of change and exploration, exploring consulting engineering work and outdoor education work, being a step-father, and learning more and more about myself as I was thrust back towards my original childhood vision… helping people.

My consulting work in Vermont is a little bit more hands-on and directed more towards earth-friendly pursuits- timber framing, sustainable design, community revitalization projects, home design. In Southern Vermont, however, people don’t often value the services of structural / architectural engineers; the people of Vermont are little bit more hands-on and self-empowered to do their own design and construction work.

My coaching work seemed to build more and more upon my strengths-based perspective learned first during my engineering work, later magnified when leading a snow sports program founded on strengths-based principles, then ultimately coming to fruition while coaching adaptive sports later on.

I’ve learned also that if we want to ultimately live in a more sustainable and earth-friendly way as a society, it is going to start with an aware and motivated society. It seems to me that I may be of more value to society (and the earth) helping coach people to be more aware and motivated to take care of themselves (which in turn necessitates taking care of others and the world they live in) than waiting for the aware and motivated client to look my way for sustainable design services.

So, more and more, I try to limit the consulting time I spend on design projects that are not complimenting my idea of a healthier society, and more and more time coaching people towards a healthier state-of-being. For me, it’s similar work in that I try to “connect the dots” (figure out solutions to client goals), whether for people-coaching-type work or for building-consulting-type work. For me, it’s also interesting to reflect back on the choices I made, and the paths I followed, and how they all tend to fit together. Original childhood dreams and talents… discovered strengths and abilities learned through many career paths and personal explorations… tough times and more joyful times… logical choices and intuitive choices… all have unfolded in mysterious and magical ways. There has been something learned, something valuable, from each step of my life.

The NOLS educational experience was a game-changer for me; people having heartfelt, team-building experiences in nature, then going back to their own real worlds inspired to make positive nature-sensitive and people-helping-people changes in their local communities. It seemed like a good model to me! I feel like since that time, I’ve been pulled towards creating similar-type educational experiences for people.

Maybe my consulting will be more and more about coaching. Hmmm.

Time for another time-out? After all, the learning is in the reflecting…