What I Learned From a Forced Digital Sabbatical

Despite my charming personality, my university students have a very hard time unplugging from their phones and the internet for the length of a class session—one hour and forty-five minutes. I just did it for 100 hours. I know, total badass.

My digital sabbatical was forced in the sense that I didn’t volunteer to participate. Some families from church were going to Holden Village in Washington State’s Cascade mountains, a four hour car trip, seventy minute boat ride, and slow 11 mile uphill bus ride away. They asked if we wanted to join them. Betrothed wanted to go. Happy wife, happy life.

Actually, I dig Holden. We had been once before, about ten summers ago. Beautiful setting in a dramatic, heavily forested mountain valley. Simple living. Eat, hike, read, pray, socialize, repeat. This time there was 4-5 feet of snow.

Lessons learned:

1) It’s good for introverts to (interpersonally) stretch on occasion. As a card carrying introvert, I like solitude. At Holden I actually have to talk to other human beings at meals, on group hikes, at church services, and in the evenings. I enjoy socializing in moderation.

2) One can read mad amounts when unplugged. I took an unread novel on my iPad and decided to leave behind a hardcopy nonfiction book I’ve just started. Mistake. Thanks to some reading marathons, I blew through the 300 page novel and then scavenged for additional reading material including three sample chapters previously downloaded to the Pad and the cookbook that derailed my reading in the middle of last year. Then I found and read a recent issue of Sports Illustrated. I often wish I read more. All I have to do is step back from the laptop and television.

3) Group living is more exasperating, but ultimately, more enjoyable. One of our carpooling friends decided on the way to the boat to stop and visit her sister in Wenatchee on the way home. “Your kidding me,” I thought to myself. When we turned away from home for that detour I was running low on patience and wishing we had driven separately. But the visit was short and nice. The sister’s husband sells apples all over the world. He had just returned from Germany and Italy and explained how he had tried unsuccessfully to visit a large (10,000 boxes) new customer in Libya. The apple snack was delicious and the family was personable and interesting. I’m glad I met them even if we got home an hour later. We also would have lost out on a lot of joking and good conversation if we had driven separately.

4) While unplugged, the world will continue pretty much as is. In the summer, I think the boat runs daily, so there’s always a day-old New York Times in the village library, but last week there was only our Friday and Monday boat arrival and departure, so no new papers, causing a serious uptick in blood pressure. To make matters worse, our carpoolers drove all the way home without turning on National Public Radio. What if North Korea nuked the South I wondered? Did UCLA beat Stanford? Did Christine Gregoire get a new job in the Administration? Alas, the Russian asteroid and the South African para-athlete girlfriend’s shooting and death were still headline news. It was as if a global news gatekeeper was saying, “Okay, nothing to look at here, move along.”

5) Teenagers are prone to exaggeration. Everything was going fine until Saturday night Contra dancing. Shit, sounds like something Oliver North might have done in the mid-80s. The GalPal was a tad excited. After sticking a fork in my novel, I dragged myself to the dining hall where the tables had all been pushed aside. Betrothed and Seventeen were having a great time. After their dance, Seventeen made a bee-line for me and said, “You HAVE to dance with mom! It will MAKE her life!” “Nahhhh.” “No SERIOUSLY Dad, it will MAKE her life!” Well, who knew, it turns out I have mad Contra dancing skills. And now, apparently, Betrothed can die in peace. I will spare you the photo album and video library of the event.

6) Teenagers aren’t just funny looking, they’re funny. I may have doctored the whiteboard next to the teen’s door. Shortly afterwards they returned serve with this salvo, which as you can see, I doctored.

Advantage twelfth graders.

Advantage twelfth graders.

7) In ping-pong, as in life, quit while you’re ahead. The first night I opened a can of whup ass on the GalPal. We rolled through 7-0 and it ended up something like 21-13. The second night, she also made a stirring comeback, but ultimately succumbed, 22-20. The third night, somehow, she couldn’t find me.

8) I’m a legend in my own mind. Despite turning a year older a week ago, I can still reverse slam dunk with a backpack on.

Mad hops

Mad hops

How long could you completely unplug? I’m guessing somewhere between 1 hour and forty-five minutes and 100 hours? Don’t hurt yourself trying to replicate my feat, but do consider a Holden Village get-away. It’s great for the soul. You don’t have to be Lutheran or even Christian, and you can decide how little or how much to participate in Village life. The lodging is rustic, but clean and comfortable enough for a few days or weeks. The food is mostly vegetarian, plentiful, and tasty. And don’t forget, if you volunteer to scoop ice-cream, you get a free serving afterwards.

2011 RAMROP—Ride Around Mount Rainier In One Piece

After five hours of sleep, woke at 3:28a, drove about as far as I hit a driver down the hill to Danos at 4:00a, and arrived at Enumclaw High an hour later.

Cloudless and weirdly light given the sliver of a moon. High 40′s, maybe 50. End of life turtle neck base layer under the jersey, $5 full-fingered running gloves. Dano, who claims he’s from Minnesota, was sporting girly shoe covers.

Lathered my bits(1) with the poor man’s chamois creme, ten year old Noxzema, and was off at 5:47a.

Some context. Lance’s ex, showing no concern for my well-being, pulled a last minute legal stunt and so we were a man down. I knew Gordon was going to be way too fast for us mortals, so it was Dano, me, and the masses. Among other things, Dano is also know as Supplement. Dude had plastic bag after plastic bag of pills of every size, shape, and color.

Supplement is relatively new to cycling. Said he may “have gone a hundred once as a teenager”. Performed admirably on an 80 mile mountain training ride a few weeks back. Learned how to draft. Gained fitness. And confidence. Coupled with the pills, and my stellar coaching, piece of cake.

I knew he had the necessary mental make up. An experienced marathoner, he disappeared one weekend four years ago. Decided to celebrate his 50th with a 50 mile run. In serious heat.

The goal was to make like Malcolm X and help Dan around the mountain by any means necessary. The plan was to ride the flats together and regroup at the top of the three climbs.

I was a firm taskmaster. Let’s bridge up to that group. Pull for no more than half a mile. Don’t forget to drink. I insisted he holler if the pace got too quick. He never hollered. Long story short, he surprised me by riding very steadily all day long. My mountain top waits were shorter than expected. Didn’t even fade over the last 25 miles. Maybe there’s something to the pills.

We rode out of town with Gordon and enjoyed his company for about 5-6 miles until he launched. Beforehand, I predicted he’d finish a few hours before us. Climbed nearly 10,000′, over 152 miles, at 20mph. 7:58 total time, 7:35 ride time. He joked it was a “recovery ride” after last week’s stage race. Sick. Look for him to turn some heads in the Leadville 100 on August 14th.

For the first hour we gradually descend, through fog-strewn farmland, and it was flat out cold. At mile 16 I decided I needed to warm up, so I went to the front of the slowish pace-line we were in and settled in. Sixteen miles later we reached a T-intersection. I was aware of two shadows behind me, but cracked up when I realized my train was about 15 people long. I was not going fast, but still a personal record “pull” nonetheless. At the 33 mile food stop I did some press and signed some autographs.

Then Dan and I took turns gently working some rollers. The early morning cold coupled with my enlarged prostrate (2), made for a bad combo. Despite whizzing at mile 33, at 40 I told Dan I had to take a quick nature break. We were facing 15 miles of a 1-2% grade to the park’s entrance. We were being disciplined about spinning easily, but as I was relieving myself on the side of the road, a beautiful 20 person pace-line materialized out of thin air. “Go! Catch on! I’ll catch up!”

Doing his best Tony Martin impersonation, Dan bolted right by the peloton and then sat 100 meters in front in no man’s land. I had to go get him and drag him back. The people on the front were perplexed. “We’re drifting to the back.” In no time at all, we were nearly at the park. A few pills, peanut butter and honey bagels, cookies, and bananas later, and were ready to begin the ride in earnest.

We climbed together to Longmire, regrouped at the top of Paradise, and descended together. Well, until Dan got stuck behind a slow swerving, human impediment disguised as a rider. Road is pretty sketchy so my top speed was only 40.8 before the Garmin quit at mile 94. I felt great all day and climbed well leap frogging from rider to rider.

One wanker had the nerve to pass me near the top of Cayuse. But he was tatted up and so was obviously more of a bad ass.  Mountain was at its most beautiful, mid-50′s, to maybe lower 60′s in the p.m. Breeze coming off the snow, natural air-conditioning. Ditched the turtle neck base layer at mile 88.

The last 30 miles can be a slog. The key is to leave the last food stop with as many other people as possible. We failed, leaving nearly alone. Turkey sandwich charged, Dan caught onto one guy and the three of us settled in for 3-4 miles. I saw three people about three-fourths of a mile ahead and decided to bridge up. Yes a large gap to make up at that point in the day, but I did it over the next 4-5 miles.

After finally making contact, I signaled Dan forward, and sat in back and recovered. 3-4 miles later we were passed by about 15 guys. I didn’t think our lead rider would hook on, but fortunately she did. After sitting in the back for about 10 miles, I was getting annoyed that only about three guys were doing all the work. Feeling the best I’ve ever felt after 130 miles, I went to the front. They wouldn’t get on my wheel despite my slowing down and then passed me shortly afterwards.

Whatever. When the road turned up and the headwind picked up a bit, I went forward again. After realizing I was stronger than all of them, I said screw it, and rode away. That was serious fun. Riding away from about 16 guys after nearly eight hours in the saddle. I waited for Dan at the Mud Mountain turnoff and four of us rode in together. I pushed the pace over the last few miles to get us in under ten hours (9:57, ride time probably 8:50-9:00).

(1) Learned recently that the British sometimes use “bits” to describe male privates. I’d appreciate it if someone from the other side of the pond could explain if “bits” translates more as “balls” or “genitals”. If genitals, I should not have used it in that context.

(2) TMI?