What The Heck Happened in 2016

“You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream.” – CS Lewis


Family ride at Folsom Lake

Back in January I panicked. I’d wake up, drive the morning carpool to school and then maybe go for a run or ride. Then I’d sit around and waste too much time doing nothing. I was bored. Dylan was back in school and Nicole was busy preparing for her spring season. I’d wait for the weekends when we could hit the trails or Dylan and I could take our bikes down to Folsom Lake. Gone were the days of interacting with customers or digging through code while stressing over some obscure problem. I missed having something to build. I longed for a problem to solve. There are only so many days I can attempt to clean out the garage and the lawns didn’t need mowing every day.

Writing gives me an opportunity to be honest with myself as well as reflect, determine what worked, and what needs to change. I’m often slow to change. Once I set my mind on something, I can be tenacious and then my attitude is “Full Steam Ahead!” However, making that initial decision can often prove elusive to me. I’ll second guess, waver, doubt and spend too much time worrying about making the wrong choice. I didn’t write at all in 2016 and now that I’ve waited there’s too much to say.

I thought our time in Spain last year would give me time to plan and decide what I would do. But we were so busy enjoying the country that I never had the time to fully consider what I should do next. Part of the problem was too many choices. Checking out career sites provided too many choices. And when there were too many choices, I found myself in analysis paralysis. Should I do something not related to technology? Or should I try something with hardware or mobile? Maybe we should move and experience a new city? I would then start clicking through houses on Zillow and another day would be gone…

So in January I realized I needed some goals in order to move forward. I kept things simple and identified 3 new career goals:

  1. The technology needed to be web/cloud based software or at least transitioning to that model.
  2. The type of business had to be something new for me. Something different than medical/pharmacy software so I would have to learn a new type of business.
  3. I wanted to contribute to a team environment and be sitting amongst the team a couple days a week with the ability to work from home. The office had to be close enough so I could commute on my bike.

That was it. I didn’t really have a dollar amount and was excited to see if something was out there that would be a good fit.

Because it had been nearly 20 years since I’d been on the other side of the interview table, I needed some practice. I’d been in plenty of interviews over the years, but always on the interviewer side. Having a compelling story and being able to weave my job experience into a tale that could be translated into any business needed practice. I enjoy the writing process but don’t revel in talking about myself. So I started posting and sending out my resume. Almost immediately, I received a call from a consulting company that had a client that wanted to bring me in for an interview. I spent about 20 minutes talking with the recruiter. He told me the company was Election System & Software (ES&S) and it would be a good technology fit. Though it would be a step down from what I was making before, he was one of the only recruiters that left me with a positive impression. So we scheduled an interview “so I could practice” before other opportunities surfaced.

The day of the interview, I had lunch with Kayden Kelly and his developers at Blast and we talked about their products and their vision. I then had about an hour until my interview so I reviewed my notes on the company at a coffee shop around the corner from the ES&S offices. I packed up my notes and headed down the street so I would be a few minutes early to the interview. Except as I looked at the building numbers, there was no 299 Douglas Blvd. I circled back and thought I must have missed it. Nope, 10 minutes driving around and there was no 299 Douglas Blvd. Now I started to panic. Only 10 minutes to go and I can’t even find the building, let alone parking. I called the recruiter to confirm the address. I had written down 299 instead of 2999. I was on the wrong side of the city and 20 minutes away from an interview that was starting in 10 minutes. Well, there goes this interview.

I placed a quick call explaining my mistake and letting them know I’d be about 10 minutes late. Luckily they sounded understanding but I knew I had already lost the job.

Eventually I arrived and walked into a conference room 10 minutes late. Between 8 and 10 other men, mostly my age and older, sitting around a table had been waiting for me. The sheer number caught me by surprise as I was expecting maybe 1 to 3 people during the interview. I did my best to apologize and then spent the next 75 minutes sharing my story and listening to theirs. My story is relatively simple yet nearly impossible to fully describe. Driving home, I couldn’t help but compare my meeting earlier in the day with the younger, ambitious developers at Blast to the large group of more seasoned developers in the interview. I had no job offers, but two roads seem to be approaching in front of me: familiar or unfamiliar. As is too often the case, I drifteded towards the familiar even though I had every opportunity to use this time to embrace the unknown.

It wasn’t long before my phone rang and I had an offer to work on voter registration software during an election year. Rightfully so, Nicole couldn’t believe I would even entertain the offer as I had intended this exercise to be just for practice. I went back to my checklist and with the offer I realized I could check 2 of the 3 items: new type of business and team environment and I could bike commute on some days. We went back and forth on my hourly rate. It was all happening too fast. I needed to sleep on it. I went back and forth some more and reasoned that this would be a good fit for a few months. Contracting would provide flexibility and not commit me to anything permanent. So I waited a couple more days to be sure, then decided to enter the world of contracting.

Why? Why would I do this?

There is high demand for software developers. If you watch your pennies, coding can provide a good living. To be sitting around when so many opportunities exist is hard to justify. Early in the year I had lunch with our financial advisor and his son. His son had recently graduated from college and was looking for ways to get his foot into the technology sector. He asked about my experience and if I could recommend any advice. If he was serious, my advice was to consider a coding school/boot camp. Invest a few months of your life learning, because some of these schools already have companies looking to hire graduates. At this point, acquiring experience is the most important step. Most companies value experience over education so keep your expectations realistic: intern, tester, anything to get a foot in the door. Spend a couple years problem solving, creating and building. Save as much as you can and then reevaluate in a few years. You will have gained skills you can use for the rest of your life. After a few years, you may decide to do something entirely different, but the money you make and invest in those earlier years can open up tons of possibilities down the road. Developers, they are the gold miners, the prospectors of our era.

The stock market had been kind to us the last few years. We’d been making more on our investments each year than I could earn working. We have no debt. Why subject myself to the grind? It goes back to my checklist: the desire to contribute, to learn, to build and create.

Before I knew it, I had a little cubicle in the corner of a big office building. The adjustment going into an office 5 days a week wasn’t easy. The first adjustment was when they issued me a laptop. The handed me a 5 pound laptop complete with a DVD drive and every imaginable port and connection. They handed me a monster. Actually, the handed me a dinosaur. The behemoth “laptop” was so big, I could not squeeze it into my backpack. So commuting to work on my bike was going to be a challenge if I needed to tow my work home. I settled in and did my best to help. It’s difficult coming into a situation with tight deadlines because there’s so much product knowledge you need to gather but you don’t want to steal valuable time away from the existing developers.


Corner office

A few weeks after starting, I was sitting in a morning meeting and received a frantic call from Nicole as she was driving to the emergency room in Roseville. Dylan had crashed on his bike and it looked like his arm might be broken. I was only 15 minutes away from the hospital, so I quickly headed over and met them in ER. Walking into a hospital in search of a loved one is never a good feeling. We spent the next 5 hours in the ER, active spectators to Dylan having his arm reset. The pain of helplessly watching your child look at you with tears and pain in their eyes and knowing more pain is right around the corner, left me sick to my stomach. Not fun times but fortunately the bone lined up nicely after the reset and no was surgery required.


Preparing to set the bone

That was in February so the rest of ski/snowboarding season was shot. Baseball season was next. Dylan tried to play Little League with a cast, but the first half of the season was limited to swinging with just his right hand. The team ended the season with a few strong wins and we lost in the playoffs, one win away from playing in the championship game. Swim team also started before the bone was fully healed and Dylan had to deal with the frustration of swimming one armed for a bit. Needless to say, there were some tears when all you want to do is run but the only thing your body can handle is walking. Time passed, and by the middle of May his bone was strong enough for his doctor to give him the green light.

Nicole’s schedule also turned busy as winter gave way to spring and there was a pent up demand since she had been “closed” for business the 2nd half of last year while we were in Spain. On days of her shoots, it meant having Dylan enrolled in an after school program for a couple hours. Not ideal, so I started to work at home twice a week so between our schedules, one of us could always be home. We were busier than expected and juggling multiple schedules and priorities was challenging.

I had been contracting for a few months and wasn’t sure how much longer the job or I would last. The beauty of contracting was the implication of no commitment. Yet suddenly, I was faced with a decision: the company offered me a salaried position to convert from a contractor to an employee. Instead of the future being clear, at that point things started to get a little fuzzy. Grateful and appreciative of the offer, I asked for some time to think it over. A couple weeks passed and I still couldn’t come to a decision.

As the days became longer and warmer and Dylan’s arm strengthened, we could start riding our bikes on the trails during the weekends. For me, the times on a trail or in the mountains with Dylan are the times I store in a special place in my memory. Those times become a part of my soul and later, I might be sitting at my desk and I’ll suddenly stumble across one of those memories. I’ll linger with it for a few minutes and it brings me such joy. My hope is he will seek his own treasures and discover an enthusiasm for exploring long meandering trails in the mountains. Sometimes I’ll ask and it’s a push and pull to get him to head out with me. But the days when he perks ups and says “Yeah, let’s go!” – well those days are unforgettable. They’re not as often as I’d like, but I’ll take them when I can.


Dylan heading up to Lake Clementine on his bike.

Last year, we had made promises of bringing home a puppy. It seemed like once a week, Dylan kept asking if I had found a Ridgeback. Toward the end of April, I connected with a breeder in Wisconsin that had a litter and some of the puppies would be available and shipped to Sebastopol, CA at the end of May. I sent a deposit for one of the male puppies. She had one male puppy in particular that was not going to be show quality due to a little crook in his tail and would be $500 less. Since we had no intention of showing the dog, I thought he might work out just fine.

Back when I was in my junior year at Colorado State University, I drove down to the dog track in Colorado Springs one Saturday to look at adopting a retired greyhound. There was a kennel next to the race track that housed between 30-50 dogs. I walked in and played with a few of the greyhounds. They were all recently retired racing dogs. There was one that kept following me around the yard and giving me hugs with his 2 front paws. He was a 4 year old fawn colored greyhound and he was known as James Gang on the race track. I took him home, named him Harlem and we were constant companions over the next few years. He’d squeeze into the back of my 260Z and wait for me outside of classes. He loved to run, especially in the fresh snow. He could catch just about anything, but if you kept running once he hit the first mile marker he was done. His specialty was sprinting. He just didn’t know how to pace himself. So years later when I started to look for another dog, I stumbled across the Rhodesian Ridgeback breed. From Rhodesia, they were bred to hunt lions (among other things). But you would never know as they are the calmest and most relaxed dog I’ve seen. They are known for the hair on the ridge of their back that runs the opposite direction. A loyal family dog, intelligent, quiet but strong (both in will and body) they have incredible endurance (as in they can run at the pace of the horse for about 30 miles). So as I read about the Ridgebacks and then met a few, as someone who can spend hours running on mountain trails, I knew this was the only dog for me.

After a swim meet on a Saturday, we made the 2 hour drive over to Calico Ridge Kennels in Sebastopol. They had 5 puppies and we spent about half an hour playing with them. We liked the puppy with a crook in his tail but one puppy kept climbing into Dylan’s lap. His nose and mouth area were colored black which gave him a more distinguished look. He was show quality which meant full price but as I spent a few minutes with him, he picked us as much as we picked him. Nicole preferred a female as they would be smaller but I couldn’t resist the little puppy with wrinkles in his forehead and big paws, all curled up in Dylan’s lap.


At the Ridgeback Kennel, one kept cozying right up to Dylan

An hour later, we had our Ridgeback and named him Obi Juan. Although now that we’ve had him a while, Leo may have been the more appropriate name. We stopped in Santa Rosa to visit some friends and family then made our way back home. It took a few nights, but eventually little Obi was sleeping through the night in his crate. He would let us know when he had to go outside and quickly became comfortable going up and down stairs. We weren’t prepared for having a 8 week old puppy at home. I envisioned walks on the trails and Nicole and Dylan spending summer days at the lake. Well the first couple months we had him we were pretty much quarantined to the house since he couldn’t get his shots until 3 months old. No parks. No trails. No lakes. Even walks around the neighborhood were forbidden. Not very much fun. And since I was still working, Nicole took much of the brunt during the weekdays of watching him. Because he still had a lot of growing before he could start running, he wouldn’t be joining me on any runs in 2016.


Looking back, the summer was a blur. I was back to working more than I had anticipated. I found myself spending hours in the evenings and weekends running down work issues. When I could, I would commute to work on my bike but there were two problems that made commuting difficult. The first was the monstrous work computer that I was bringing home each night. It was too big to fit into my backpack. The second was just timing. Often Nicole had a session in the afternoon so it was a rush to make it home. So although the goal of bike commuting to work was noble, it just didn’t materialize.

Little League and swim team filled our evenings and weekends in the early part of summer. Once Dylan’s armed healed, his swing came around and his stroke smoothed itself out. When he first picked up a baseball and bat years ago, I only allowed him to swing from the left side of the plate. So although he is right handed, he has always hit from the left side. And only being able to swing with one hand for the first part of the season helped strengthen his bottom hand. He continued to improve in swimming which is the one sport I think he enjoys practicing above all others. It was a good year for him in the pool and he earned the honor of swimmer of the year on his team. In the summer evening, we enjoyed winding down the day by watching the swim events at the Rio Olympics. I think I finally understood and could appreciate the different strokes.


Dylan working hard in the Butterfly

Also during the summer, we spent some afternoons and picked different sections of the Pacific Crest Trail in our area to hike. And each time, we seemed to encounter a pass-thru hiker doing the entire trail from Canada to Mexico (all 2,650 miles). Some of my favorite places to run are the areas surrounding the Pacific Crest Trail near Donner Summit. In the summer, we took time to hike those trails a few times. In fact, we made it to the top of Castle Peak, did an overnight backpack trip to Loch Leven Lakes, hiked portions of the trail between Sugar Bowl and Squaw Valley, tackled the Sierra Buttes Lookout tower and went south to Horsetail Falls near Echo Lake.

Loch Leven was a test to try out the backpacking gear and see how we would do camping. It was about a 3 1/2 mile hike up to the lakes from the trailhead. We had done a test run a couple weeks before and hiked portions to see how Obi would do with the climbing and altitude.


Dylan and Obi doing a test run near Loch Leven Lakes trail

The trailhead sits off Highway 40, next to the South Yuba River between Cisco Grove and Kingvale. The first few miles are mainly up and there are portions where you find your own path as you scramble over giant granite boulders. Dylan was spent after the climb and thought the first lake was good enough to call home for the night. The first lake already had a couple campers so we kept moving to the second lake and found a nice spot next to the shoreline. We pitched our tent and watched the stars come out and then woke up to an amazing Sierra Nevada sunrise.


Dylan and Obi ready for some breakfast

We loved the experience and it’s close enough that we can easily do it again during the summer. Although our next backpacking adventures should take us through Desolation Wilderness this coming summer. The hardest part of Loch Leven is the climb getting to the lakes. It’s manageable; just take your time and talk about Minecraft to keep things moving.


Our camping spot at Loch Leven Lakes

This trip gave me a chance to try out some equipment and I realized we needed a lighter and smaller tent. Dylan carried his own bag but I was left carrying a heavy 3 person tent along with my own gear which did wonders for my back. My backpack for a mere 7 mile hike had probably more junk stuffed into it than those PCT hikers covering the entire trail from Mexico to Canada.

In July and August, our house was busier than normal. I had planned to work just the first 6 months of the year but now was thinking I should stay through the election. Nicole’s dad and fiancé were visiting from the Czech Republic and stayed with us for a few weeks. We also had my dad sleeping on the downstairs couch for a few nights as he was passing through while moving from Anchorage to Phoenix. Plus our little puppy kept doubling in size every couple of days. Nicole handled it all with patience and understanding. Some days, it seemed like we were just in survival mode, just trying to manage through the day.

I talked Nicole into joining us on the Sierra Buttes Lookout hike. Again, this was on a portion of the PCT and near the general store in Sierra City we ran into a hiker heading south to Mexico. He was almost halfway through his hike having started at the Canadian border. This hike surprised me on how beautiful and different the Sierra Buttes were compared to the mountains near Donner. Jagged and almost red, it was a stark contrast to the smooth granite I’m used to hiking. Just getting to the trailhead is quite the drive from Auburn but the views were spectacular most of the hike.


Midway through the hike and looking east towards Sardine Lake

At the top of the hike, there’s a staircase you can climb that will lead to the lookout house used to spot wildfires. From this spot, on a clear day you can spot Mt. Lassen to the north and Castle Peak to the south. We took a few minutes at the top and pointed towards some of the different parts of the PCT we had already hiked over the summer.


Sierra Buttes Lookout

Near the end of September and before the snow started to arrive, I wanted to hike one more portion of the PCT. Nicole was quite busy during this time with lots of shoots and speaking at the occasional conference so Dylan and I had time to hike and explore. One of my favorite trails, if I could only pick one, would have to be the section between Sugar Bowl and Squaw Valley. I hope to explore some of the John Muir portions between Yosemite and Mt. Whitney in the coming years. But until then, if I had just one more run left in me, this is where I would head out. So before any snow covered this portion of the PCT for the winter, Dylan and I headed south from Sugar Bowl shouting “Vamonos a Mexico!”. The wind howled along the summits, nearly blowing us over. We hiked a few miles until the sun started to set and then we turned around and headed home. I don’t know how much of an impact these hikes make on Dylan. All I can do is try to plant the seeds and keep sprinkling some water on them whenever I have the chance…


In October, it was time for the annual Sky Ridge Jog-A-Thon. Robin and Troy Soares put the event on each year and it’s exciting to see the young kids with their cheeks flushed red trying to run as many laps as they can. So I squeezed into the pickle costume again and dressed as Mr. Pickle, with the duty of chasing 3rd graders around the field for a few miles. Their goal was to run as many laps as they could in about 30 minutes. My goal was to not pass out and keep the Pickle moving. I’ve done this before and it’s always a blast, although running in that outfit is like running in a sauna.


Keeping pace with the 3rd graders

This year, my luck ran out. About halfway through, I tripped and landed awkwardly on my left foot. It felt like I rolled my ankle so I picked myself up off the ground, dusted myself off and carried on. Every step with my left foot was met with some pain but I figured I could run it off. As Mr. Pickle, the DNF was not an option. Another mile or so later, I chased the last few runners across the finish line, dragging my worthless left foot behind me. That was on a Friday and all weekend I could barely walk. The foot was swollen so much I thought my skin was going to tear. Between going up and down all the stairs in our house and taking the dog on his walks, I was in more pain than I was willing to admit. Nicole kept urging me to go to the doctor but I would reply “I’ll be fine in a couple days.” Finally, 3 days later with the foot black and blue and about ready to pop, I gave in. X-Rays confirmed a fifth metatarsal fracture both at the neck and near the top bone. The orthopedist felt no screw and no surgery was required and crutches with a walking cast/boot would do the job.


I was sent on my way with another appointment in 6 weeks to evaluate. It’s hard to describe the loss of running for a lengthy period would take on me. Especially during the Fall when the evenings are cool and the leaves soften the trails. It’s my favorite time of year to be outside even though every season has its own reasons that draw me out. Within a few days I was able to start hobbling around with the walking cast so my spirits lifted. I rationalized that 6 weeks might actually heal all the nagging aches and pains I’ve ignored over the past few years. Could I finally rid myself of my plantar fasciitis? Maybe this break would be just what I needed.

Soon I could endure longer walks and short hikes. We had planned a trip to China and Thailand for late November but cancelled those plans due to the foot. I couldn’t let Fall slip away without any more time in the mountains, so Dylan and I headed south and hiked to Horsetail Falls just off Highway 50 near Echo Lake. I struggled to keep up with Dylan and Obi but we managed to make it into Desolation Wilderness and had lunch, sitting on the side of the cliff overlooking the waterfall. Even though I was crippled, it ended up being one of our better hikes.


Hiking Horsetail Falls

In November, Nicole attended a conference in Palm Springs so Dylan and I planned a camping trip to the Mojave Desert and Joshua Tree National Park. The plan was for Nicole to fly down on Wednesday, then Dylan and I would drive down the next day and camp in Mojave Desert and Joshua Tree for a few nights. We’d pick Nicole up in Palm Springs and drive back home together on Sunday afternoon. I was still in my walking cast, reinforced with a couple layers of duct tape so I was pretty much unhindered. The drive down took forever but we passed the time by listening to the book “Wonder” by R.J. Palacio (a book Dylan and I thoroughly enjoyed). We finally exited Highway 40 around 7 PM then had to drive another 20 miles along a narrow road under a black sky to the Hole-In-The-Wall campsite. Along this section, an occasional rabbit would dart out into the headlights and hop across the road. There were countless car vs. rabbit near misses as we headed deeper into the desert. Finally we spotted a few lights and pulled into the campsite. We set up camp, enjoyed the stars and talked until we fell asleep.


Hiking near a campsite at Hole-In-The-Wall

The next morning, we hiked around a bit, did some rock climbing and removed countless cactus needles from Obi’s paws. By late morning, we were packed up again and on our way to Joshua Tree. I didn’t want to arrive in Joshua Tree too late in the afternoon as the campsites are on a first come first serve basis. But I figured camping in November wouldn’t be all that popular. I couldn’t have been more wrong. At the ranger station in Twentynine Palms, we were told all campgrounds were full and nothing would open up over the weekend. I had read online that the rangers often say there are no more campsites when some may still be available, so we drove through the park just in case. But sure enough, everything was packed. Our only option was pitching our tent on a spot in the Bureau of Land Management space on the edge of the park. Not ideal, but Dylan’s main objective was having a campfire so as long as we had a fire we were set.

Next morning we rose early, drove through the park and miraculously found a freshly vacated campsite at the Ryan campground. We quickly claimed the spot and spent the night in Joshua Tree.


Our campsite in Joshua Tree National Park

At an elevation of 4,300′, once the sun went down we had to bundle up to stay warm. Obi kept shivering in the tent and tried crawling into our sleeping bags and snuggled with us on our pillows. At around 5 AM, the sounds of a howling pack of coyotes woke us up. They sounded fairly close the tent and Obi bolted straight up, looking around nervously. The howls faded and we fell back asleep.

I was surprised at how incredible the scenery is once you are inside the park. I’d passed by (both by car and bike) numerous times but never took the time to drive into the park. It’s amazing.


With the weekend over, we picked up Nicole from her convention in Palm Springs and then made the long drive home.

November also meant a return to the orthopedist to check on my foot. My foot was feeling much better but there was a slight burning sensation if I put pressure on the outside of my foot. But overall, the foot was feeling great and I was feeling optimistic.

When I went in for my X-Ray, I asked the technician if I could take a peek. When she showed me the slide, I thought I was looking at the one from 6 weeks ago. There must be some mistake. The bone was still split with a large visible gap in the neck. It looked as though nothing had changed. My appointment was a couple days off and I had a rough time sleeping, worrying I had encountered another setback.

It wasn’t long after until I was back in the examining room at the orthopedist. They took one look at my boot and said they had never seen a boot so completely worn as the one duct taped to my left foot. There was some good news. The orthopedist confirmed the new X-Rays did indeed show healing and said things looked great but the bone still needed more time. His comforting words were: “If you were 18, it would have healed by now. But at your age, things take a little longer.” My prescription refilled: another 6 weeks of no running. It was settled, there would be no more running in 2016.

We closed our year relaxing at home and spending time with friends. Lisa and Steve came over and Steve took Dylan and I fishing to Collins Lake where they landed 2 decent sized trout. I lack the patience fishing requires so I did my best to stay out of their way. I would occasionally pester Steve with questions to give the appearance I thought I knew what I was talking about: Hey Steve, what weight fishing line are you using? PowerBait or worms? But what I really wanted to ask was: How do I tell the difference between a trout and bass? We had a great time and enjoyed 2 home cooked meals from the catch.


Dylan and Steve reeling in the first of two at Collins Lake

The pivot of 2016 resembled more of a stumble through 2017 as I’ve floundered in my direction. I’ll soon find out if my foot has healed enough to start running again. I have absolutely no idea what’s in store for 2017. We could end the year on the other side of the planet or end up exactly where we are now and possibly somewhere in between. Eight years is the longest we’ve ever lived in the same house and now that we’ve been here that long it’s hard to uproot ourselves. No matter where this year takes us and where on earth we end up, we know the best journeys are the ones we share together.

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