Special thanks to Wilderness Dave for shooting so many awesome photos.
It was a day after I returned from Columbia's OmniTen week in Park City. I was driving in my car and a song about the singer's dying mother came on. I broke down into tears. It happened again when I was searching for dogs on shelter websites. And yet again when I was looking at a picture of my daughter with a brand new hair cut.
What had happened to me? I realized that, despite my haze-inducing flu, which made me want to curl up into a corner, I had made friends this past week. More importantly, I had been inspired by this motley group of adventurers, deep enough to move me in surprising ways.
In October, 2013, I received a box in the mail. I knew what it was immediately. I had been chosen for the OmniTen. I was going to receive some quality gear. I was going to be sent somewhere. I was going to make some new friends. All because someone at Columbia thought I could make a difference. I was pumped. This was going to be an adventure of a lifetime. The clues and secrets slowly started to emerge from Daniel at Columbia about where we were going and what we were to going to be doing.
We were going to the snow and there would be a competition. This competition would include past seasons of OmniTen. I was going to finally meet Modern Hiker and Calipidder, two of my first (and favorite) outdoors people I had started following online in 2009.
Then, about a week before I was to arrive in Park City to start my adventure, I was hit with the flu. Hit hard. First it was the chills, so much that it was hard to walk. Then came the body aches. Then came the cough. The persistent cough that would leave me doubled over.
The last time I had suffered from even a cold was nearly 3 years ago!
The thought sprang to my mind: Should I cancel?
The next thought came just as quickly: No!
I realized that this was my one shot to experience this set of experiences, my one shot to meet this incredible group of people. I drank medicine and loaded up on cough drops and headed on the plane to Park City, still in the dark about what to expect the week to be. I had to spend about 3 hours in the Park City clinic to be able to survive the week, but I made it.
The OmniTen season 4
The first few days were a flurry of skiing, eating, and getting to know a lot of new friends. I was able to chat with Tori and Daniel from Columbia, getting a keen appreciation of the effort it took them to ensure that we would all have a good time. We received a giant duffle bag, full of more Columbia gear.
I tried to be as lively as possible, meeting as many people as I could, but I continued to struggle with the flu.
And it snowed. And snowed. Sideways.
Over dinner, skiing, and general socializing, I learned a lot about the Season 4 OmniTen:
Beth: Is well read and shares many of the same literary interests as me.
Patrick: Has traveled extensively by himself and found it extremely rewarding.
Michelle: Doesn't give up in the face of adversity and loves glow sticks.
Josh: Loves giant hot tubs nearly as intensely as he loves his children.
Dave: Knows an awful lot about cheese. Probably way too much.
Heidi: Is the best bus buddy anyone can hope for, providing you with plenty of entertaining conversation.
Andrew: Is in charge of making sure people don't enter a certain watershed and can ski circles around me, backwards. Is also less than half my age. Ugh.
On Wednesday, with the influx of the OmniTen Alumni from past seasons bringing the onsite OmniTen total to around 35, the social scale was turned up to 11. I got to meet plenty of new friends and enjoyed whiskey in the company of gentlemen with beards. It's something you need to try, if you haven't already.
The night culminated with fireworks, and with Daniel, yelling at a passing Sheriff's cruiser, "Boo! Police!"
Yup. That happened.
We got to attend a press conference, where Columbia announced that they had designed the Olympic uniforms for the US, Russian, and Canadian Freestyle Ski Teams. We got to meet the athletes and get their perspective on the new uniforms and the upcoming competition.
We got to see the Freestyle Moguls World Cup. In person. With access to the VIP tent. If you like watching Olympic-level athletes on TV, then try seeing them perform them in person.
We got to attend a small fashion show, for a select group of people, showcasing Columbia's Fall 2014 line-up. Katie B. and Seth got up on the runway to strut their stuff. They are naturals, and, to be honest, I had predicted that Seth, at some point in the evening, was going to end up on that runway. I was delighted to already have known him well enough to have been correct.
The OmniGames - Day 1 - In last place
The true focus of the week, however, was the OmniGames.
We weren't sure what we were in for. We theorized that the different seasons of OmniTen would be pitted against each other, or perhaps some sort of combination of the seasons. When my name was called first, I had no idea what it meant. I pulled a name from the hat: The Morning Fresh. Katie B. was to be my teammate. I get it. We are doing this in pairs.
We were shown video on the screen of past OmniTen adventures. The last video was of some people having a great time in Jordan. It wasn't until Daniel explained it to us that we understood. We were playing for Jordan. The top five teams would be going to Jordan (yes, the country), for an adventure of a lifetime. The OmniGames were suddenly very real.
Katie and I instantly were on high alert. What do we need to do to win this? How are two warm-weather people going to fare in the snow?
Day one consisted of:
Dog Days of Winter - A dog sled ride where we were to listen to our guide and answer a quiz at the end. We probably got docked for indicating Rick Hansen as the 5-time iditarod winner, as opposed to the real Rick Swenson.
Snowmobile Drive By - We were to drive a snowmobile out to a meadow and shoot arrows at a target. Out of both of us, we only got one arrow to the target. We believed that others would have the same problem, until Justin and Beth got up and sunk every arrow into the targets, right after us. Throughout the next two days, I would continually be impressed by their athleticism and competitive skills.
Our House - We built a comfortable and warm shelter out of canvas, rope, and logs, thanks to Katie's knot-tying skills.
Hot Chocolate Run - This was the timeless flint and tinder fire challenge. It was odd, but expletives did absolutely nothing to help start the fire, as snow came down and dampened everything. We heard that others had similar problems, so weren't too worried.
Needle in an Avalanche - We were an excellent team, with me post-holing, calling out the distance to the buried beacon, while Katie ran all over, pouncing in the snow.
At the end of day one, I felt pretty good. I felt confident we were at least at the middle of the pack. However, when the scores were tallied, we were in last place. 15th out of 15 teams. That wouldn't get us to Jordan.
What I liked about day one was being able to observe not only the skills and athleticism that the OmniTen crew possessed, but the sheer enthusiasm everyone had toward the challenges. Everyone was excited to participate in all of these experiences. My admiration of the OmniTen grew. Day two was even better.
The OmniGames - Day 2 - Climbing to 9th place
We got on the bus again. This time we were headed to the Utah Olympic Park, to a challenging ropes course. In order to remain in the game, we would have to step it up. One of the challenges, a zip line to a tower, where we were to jump off, got canceled due to the fierce weather.
Bridge the Gap - This was the lower portion of a ropes course. I was a little winded at the end of this, but was ready for more.
Lookout Below - This was very challenging. However, I was encouraged by Katie and the rest of the OmniTen. At one point, my right knee had given out and I was on the verge of letting go. I was squatting on a rope on one leg and I needed to somehow pull myself up with exhausted arms. I was tempted to give up, as my arms were on fire and couldn't grip anymore, but I looked around, saw the other OmniTen giving it their all, with smiles on their faces, so I dug deep and was able to pull myself up and continue the course. It's been a while since I've been that proud of myself. After climbing down the ladder to the base, I turned back and looked at the ropes, patting myself on the back. I was tired, but filled with pride for myself and admiration for my fellow OmniTen.
Downhill Derby - I took a gamble on this one, and apparently it payed off. We had to ski as much vertical feet as we could in an hour and a half. I took several lifts high onto the mountain, but the run on which I wanted to ski was closed due to avalanche concerns. The only way down was a challenging (to me) double-blue. I made it safely down to the base of the hill and did repeats on a comfortable blue run, pushing my speed over the comfort zone and immediately getting back onto the lift. My body had temporarily forgotten the ropes course, but, by the end of the hour and half, my quads were screaming. I had a tremendous time, though, and I appreciated the bravery of those OmniTen not comfortable with skiing. They gave it their best shot and had fun doing it. I think we all surprised ourselves with what we could do.
The OmniGames - The final challenge
The final challenge for the OmniGames is what you are reading right now. This has been extremely difficult for me to write, since there were so many aspects of this trip that were memorable to me. It was hard to choose any part of this trip to leave out. However, this is the short version. I promise.
This blog post, along with Katies' posts, will either get us to Jordan or it won't. All I can do is be honest about my experiences of the week. Receiving the mountain of Columbia gear was great, but there's no way I will be able to use all of it. There are, however, some key pieces that will go into my regular hiking and skiing kits.
The true value of the week was what the Columbia Team enabled us to do; form some solid friendships, collect some unforgettable experiences, and inspire us to do more.
I appreciated so many things: the Columbia Team and their insistence that we be treated like royalty, the BeCore Team, who made sure we were never wanting, the olympic athletes and their immeasurable talent, but, most of all I was inspired by my fellow OmniTen.
Seeing Katie easily race through the ropes course and shout, "I thought this was supposed to be hard!" and seeing other OmniTen skiing, shooting arrows, and performing all other sorts of activities at a high level made it very clear how dedicated everyone is to their active lifestyles. I mean, come on, Katie lived in a van for a year! You can't get any more dedicated than that.
For me, skiing, hiking, camping, backpacking, and general outdoor recreation are things I try to squeeze between being a father, husband, uncle, son, and provider, among other roles. While I identify myself as an outdoors person, it is not my only way of life. Perhaps it's my career, my stability, or my place among the OmniTen as one of the oldest, but, while I am living the active outdoor life far more than most of my peers, I pale in comparison to my fellow OmniTen.
This revelation makes we want to #dostuff (#trystuff) more frequently.
Trying=doing (Reason: The transitive property of Yoda)
#tryingstuff is the philosophy of the Columbia organization. While it is perceived to be for the people who use their gear, Columbia itself operates almost like a Lean Startup. They develop a new style or type of gear and put it out there for the public to judge. If it's a failure, then they try something else; if it works, then they expand on it. Obviously, OmniHeat was a success, since it appears in so much of their apparel.
However, I had a thought. Using the transitive property of Yoda, (Do or do not, there is no try), we didn't merely #trystuff this week, we #didstuff. I am a firm believer in this. We didn't try archery, snowmobiling, and dog sledding. We did it, eagerly, and with smiles on our faces. We were adding items to our portfolio of experiences and having a blast doing it.
Many of the things we did were first time experiences. For some of OmniTen Season 4, Monday night at The Farm was the finest dining they've ever had. There were a lot of firsts for a lot of people, including attending a ski event, snowmobiling, using beacons, building a shelter, ropes courses, walking a catwalk, etc.
We #didstuff, and Columbia provided the opportunity. Thank you.
The end, for now
I suck at goodbyes. I've always been bad at it. I usually become a wreck. It happens when I value the friendships I've made and am so completely immersed in the experience that I forget that it will ever end. This time was no different. The final morning, it hit me. I tried to sneak out to avoid the inevitable emotional onslaught, knowing I would be able to see everyone online later, but I ended up seeing many of the OmniTen at the airport anyway. We had some tearful goodbyes and went our separate ways.
My only regret was that getting over the flu prevented me from being as engaged as I could have been. I must have eaten about 140 cough drops and still ended up being a hacking annoyance. Patrick was a saint for putting up with the constant noise.
I left Park City wanting more. Not because there weren't enough experiences crammed into the week. Far from it. I want more because I want to #domorestuff. I want to see my new friends again. I want to #trystuff in the deserts of Jordan. I want to journey with my OmniTen friends, not just party and compete against them.
That being said, I had an experience of a lifetime and was completely impressed by my fellow OmniTen. And I have this nagging feeling that this is just the beginning.
And when I get surprisingly emotional, I realize I am thinking of the OmniTen, my new friends. And I am inspired to do more.