The Next Big Thing

Slowly, the word has spread and I’d like to get ahead of it here. It’s time that Skander started getting after the next big thing.

Well. This is unusual.

Well. This is unusual.

It’s been a while since I’ve worn my suit for anything serious. I like to think I still look pretty good in it. On January 15th I tendered my resignation and drove to Seattle for back to back job interviews. It was the sort of affair that you would want to look good in a suit for.

I’ve limited some of the details that I have shared on this blog, but it became clear at the end of 2014 that my professional life needed to move in a different direction. Over the holidays, my family gave me another good nudge. I’m very grateful for the experience I’ve had working in Missoula, and hope to depart without burning any bridges.

I’ve wanted a Professional Engineers license for over 10 years. Since becoming a contractor, I’ve developed a much better sense of where I want to take my career, and the time-honored craft of professional engineering. I’ve also learned that the most fundamental tenant in all of business is trust- at the end of the day, when the client experiences what they thought they bought from you, you’ve built trust. That’s the key to success. I’m eager to fill out the holes in my professional skill set, and take my game to the next level.

The immediate hole is design. Design gives me the power and confidence that I can deliver on the vision of how I think buildings should work. I have a long term plan to make a big impact on the sustainability of our built environment- the sales and analysis work I’ve done in the past are only parts of the whole. I’m past the point now where I’m debating switching careers or “exploring”. It’s time to  plug the rest of the holes and get moving in a big way. That means letting go of the comfortable things. It means chasing the skills I don’t have, and finding next set of smart people to work with and learn from.

It was a rough drive to those first few interviews. Ellensburg, WA, 01.15.15.

It was not a comfortable trip to those first few interviews. Ellensburg, WA, 01.15.15.

Specifically, that means I am moving to Seattle. This past weekend I felt fortunate to accept an offer of employment from a firm that seems to value who I am, my somewhat non-traditional experience, and my intense drive towards sustainable design. The position is in mechanical design and I’m genuinely excited to get after it. I’ll have more to say once I actually start work on April 6.

I will miss the ever-loving shit out of Missoula, and Montana as a whole. While that won’t be fun, it is also worth mentioning that that my landing in Seattle will be significantly softer due to a really incredible woman I’ve gotten to know in the past few months. More on both of these items later.

The best cheap date in Seattle is on a ferry.

The best cheap date in Seattle is on a ferry.

 

Unseasonable

Suffice to say, the weather has been entirely unseasonable. While my wonderful parents face record cold temperatures in Chicago, I’ve been about as disappointed as I can possibly be with 3 weeks of sunny, 50F temperatures in February in Montana.

There is no decent snow for skiing. It is far too warm for ice climbing. My body is seriously confused about what it is supposed to be doing. To make the best of it (and the fact that our respective sweethearts were both out of town), I spent Valentine’s Day on a man-date with one of my favorite mentors and friends.

It's never bad to climb with Michael.

It’s never a bad day to climb with Michael.

While it felt out of season, Blodgett Canyon offers spectacular winter rock climbing when the weather is good. The Drip Buttress is an excellent and varied 5.9 that shoots 500′ straight up. We were just rusty enough that it felt more exciting than sport climbing, but relaxed enough to be a whole lot of fun.

New rope for new adventures.

New rope for new adventures.

Mr. Moore leads P.2

Mr. Moore leads p2

We did the climb as 4 pitches instead of 5. You can also do it in 3 long pitches, but the pitch 1.5 belay is not a great ledge, and it adds a lot of rope drag to the route when you want it least. Pitches 1 & 2 are very straightforwards. Pitch 3 wanders up a funky gully feature that was harder than I remembered. Pitch 4 takes large gear, or not much gear (Michael’s preference), leading to an excellent hand crack at the top of the feature. I had only done it once before, and we had a blast doing it again.

Pulling in to the top of Pitch 3. "It was interesting..."

Pulling in to the top of Pitch 3. “It was interesting…”

Glad to have this shot on the records.

Glad to have this shot on the records.

"So where does the gear go?" ... "It's 5.8, there isn't any."

“So where does the gear go?” … “It’s 5.8, there isn’t any.”

I highly recommend the Drip Buttress as a regular climb for anyone- and it’s particularly good training for more serious alpine climbing objectives. It has fun climbing that demands some thought for protection, rope drag, and moving efficiently. Just another Bitterroot gem that probably doesn’t get as much traffic as it deserves.

Plus- how many other routes feature a 100' free hanging rappel?

Plus- how many other routes feature a 100′ free hanging rappel?

Gear: single master cams 0-3, doubles #0.4-#2, (1) 3, (1) 4. We took a set of nuts, but the only one I placed fell out (dang… rusty). 6 slings, 6 draws, cordalette. You might want an extra #3 for p.4. Most of the climbing is legit 5.9.

Descent: from the top of the climb, look downslope and left to a large evergreen just before the exposed granite slabs (lots of old tat). (1) double rope rappel (~140′ ish) to find a tiny ledge with good quality red tat, (1) 105′ rappel (a single 70m is perfect) to the ground.

Pro Tip: check for ticks. No really, check again.

2015

 

The first sunrise of 2015. SF Bay Bridge, California

The first sunrise of 2015. SF Bay Bridge, California

New Years has always been a really special one for me. I love the way the calendar resets, and the fresh feeling on life that I get around this time of year. More daylight and good skiing don’t hurt either. This blog will be a less active project this year as I focus on other things. Follow me on instagram (skanderspies) or facebook for more casual followings. I will update with adventures as I’m able. Best wishes for all big things!

San Luis Obispo, California

The airport code is SLO and it’s been a good place to be after a decided manic December. My grandmother was a really special woman- but our family is really spread out and it wasn’t possible to be together after she passed away last February. My family has been blessed with more than enough resources to have a beautiful time together.

Real slow.

Real slow.

Conveniently provided at our accommodation...

Conveniently provided at our accommodation…

Aussie relatives note the entirely different night sky.

Aussie relatives note the entirely different night sky.

Going to get dinner.

Going to get dinner.

Hearst Castle library. Absurd, but amazing.

Hearst Castle library. Absurd, but amazing.

Living fully often means filling every moment, but having some downtime is just as important. My family is as different as the geography that we inhabit, but a shared love for each other, and great food makes time together easy. Workouts with my nephews, talking business with my uncle and brothers, and music together with everyone are a perfect way to recharge for 2015 adventures.

Perfect weather.

Perfect weather.

Lots of eating. Lots.

Lots of eating. Lots.

Start them early!

Start them early!

Brothers. Strong.

Brothers. Strong.

Many thanks to Dustin for facilitating my Red Eye connection in Portland.

4am in PDX.

4am in PDX.

Snow

It’s frozen water and air. There is a clarity that comes from all simple things. In the waxing complexity of my life, the simple things speak the loudest.

St Mary's road bitterroot, mt

Another good season begins.

Last weekend, Martin and I opened our the ski seasons on St. Mary’s (in the Bitterroot). Our bodies quickly remembered the easy rhythm of pushing skis uphill. Step, breath, step, breath. The closest common feeling is sitting in church. It’s a meditation. Quiet snow under foot, the smell of deep evergreen freezing deep in our nostrils. Perfect. Simple.

IMG_1017

avalanche pit, st. marys bitterroot, 11-23-14

Nov. 23, 2014 Avalanche pit. South aspect at 8000′ on St. Marys ridge. Numerous weak layers between 60-90cm from surface.

It is tempting to get caught in the drama of this world. The simple things cut it away.

For so long, I’ve defined myself by what I do. I have to change the way I think about myself in relation to the way I think about what I do to pay the bills. Some of the most put together people I have ever met have been unemployed or underemployed. I fear for them- and I know that my fear does nothing for them. In light of how I let my job both define me and consume me, their grace in that particular regard has always impressed me.

I should be grateful for having a job- but a lot of days I dread going to work because I feel like there is no way to win. There is no way for me to find peace with my career. There will always been more work than I can do. I will never ask the right questions, do the right things, or plan far enough ahead. I let the mistakes I make eat me alive, or at the very least, they crush my morale. You know all those quotes about all the great innovators failing a lot before they struck it big? I’m starting to wonder if I’ve got the guts for that. More often than not, my career has always been this evil nemesis in my life. I’ve never been able to master it, or even balance it. I’ve missed bluebird days, real friends in places of real need, and probably a relationship or two because I was more dedicated to my desk than my heart. Yet, paying the bills and “being a responsible adult” (e.g. saving for retirement,  compiling “professional experience”, etc.) can seemingly only be avoided for so long. There’s a balance there, and I’ve never even gotten close.

Seen at Costco.

Seen at Costco.

I spent most of this weekend stressed out and worried about how to make a major mistake at work come out right. I’m embarrassed to say that I also spent most of this weekend with 20 totally wonderful people that I feel deeply connected to. People that inspire the best in me. What did I accomplish in my worrying? Not much. What did I miss out on? Probably more than I will ever know.

Thanksgiving feast

So much to be thankful for- and this was less than half of it.. Don’t miss a morsel..

It is easy to think we have it hard, but the real fact is that most of the junk we deal with at the office is contrived. I know that it starts with me. It starts with remembering that I am not my work. That there is more to all of us than how we pay our bills. Indeed for most of us, the everything else is often the part that matters the most.

friends, sky, landscape, montana

These men matter.

I’ve said it before- the only real limits are the ones we create in our own minds. This time around- the only real problems are the ones we make in our own minds. Don’t let anyone, or anything, live inside your head for free.

No-Vember

(This post is about activism. First and foremost, please vote on Tuesday- it is the most important and functional form of activism. I really don’t care how you vote, just make sure you do it.)

The crisp air smelled of sage and yellow like the larches that rolled past the windshield of the work truck. I had spent the day working with a new employee, and the 3 hours in the car together left ample time for a deeply meaningful conversation that spanned religion, environmentalism, social justice, and fatherhood. One more sign that we are not your average construction company.

Something worth standing for.

Something worth standing for.

I joked about a stop at the local brewery on our way home, and Sam* politely offered to join me, but that he didn’t drink. We didn’t stop. After years of alcoholism, he’s been sober for a year and loving it. He pointed out that alcohol in America is a tragically powerful, chronically unrecognized drug that our culture is disturbingly casual about. I couldn’t agree more.

Thursday I posted a link on Facebook about Apple CEO Tim Cook publicly acknowledging his sexual orientation- a move that I applaud and that supports our cultural evolution away from institutionalized bigotry. One line in his statement stood out in particular though – “I don’t consider myself an activist, but I realize how much I’ve benefited from the sacrifices of others.” In the age of the “self-made millionaire” it’s unfortunately rare to hear one of the titans of business acknowledge the unknowable and invaluable contributions of others to their success. We all, even the titans, need each other. Secondly, he recognizes that we have a cultural aversion to activism.

The greatest blow our culture has suffered from the conservative movement is that activism has become a dirty word. That Mr. Cook’s statement has been heralded (even as I herald it) as admirable belies an assumption about speaking out. That making our most authentic and passionate desires known is an act of boldness, rather than an act of normalcy, is sad to me. We all have things that mean something to us. Our actions will always stand for something. In the pursuit of living fully, the greatest tragedy might be that we might let our lives slip away without being honest about what we stand for.

Sam’s commitment to sobriety reminded me of a commitment I made last year. No-booze No-vember. Some people prefer to celebrate “Movember” by growing mustaches, but I’ll re-up my commitment this year to stand for something a little bigger. I’m all for moderation. I also regularly enjoy good craft beer or locally produced wine. Alcohol warrants serious respect and taking a month off of drinking seems like a fitting way to check the casual cultural attitude that tends to prevail.

Join me. Or not, but think about what you stand for, and don’t be quiet about it. Our lives are too amazing not to stand for something.

*name changed out of respect for privacy.

Canyon Peak, Bitterroot, USA

This isn’t a post about philosophy, politics, or even really pushing the limit of anything. It’s about climbing and autumn. No question about it- fall is my favorite season. A few months ago I went on a lovely walk with some technical gear and got surprised by how far back our goal was. While we didn’t summit, we had a beautiful day out, and I got fully hooked for the objective.

The obvious right skyline beckons us. For another time.

The obvious right skyline beckons us. For another time.

I knew this would be one of the last weekends to tick Canyon Peak, and suspected the colors would be pretty spectacular too. Based on what we found, I was right on both counts.

Mr. Smithicus charging off the start.

Mr. Smithicus charging off the start.

The approach is long, and somewhat steep for a single day adventure. Evan and I left the car in trail runners and jogged to the base of the steep hiking. We each carried layers, food, and a climbing harness. We took (7) nuts, (1) hex, (5) runners, (1) 30m dynamic rope, (1) 25m static line, and bail tat. Evan had approach shoes and tights, I chose proper rock shoes and no pants. Evan is a wiser man than me.

Canyon Peak basin in fall. Worth the hike.

Canyon Peak basin in fall. Worth the hike.

A leisurely start meant leaving the car at 11:15am- we made the lakes in 2 hours, refilled water, and made the col at 2:30p. The north ridge is obvious, but there isn’t really a clear line- I stayed back from the edge to mitigate issues with loose blocks. We stuck to the ridge and kept eyes out for rappel slings- the summitpost description is about as good as it gets. Class 4 might be fitting, but there are many variations – e.g. ways to make it harder on yourself.

On belay.

On belay.

Livin' the dream.

Livin’ the dream.

The rock had started its winter transition- frozen lichen, thin ice in cracks, and snow on most of the ledges made all of the climbing pretty “heads up.” If you caught this on a hot day in mid-summer, the climbing would be substantially easier. We found moves up to 5.7 on solid but dirty rock. We mostly simul-climbed, with a few belayed bits around hard moves for the leader. Wind, ice/snow, and my choice of running shorts as my only leg-wear made for cold climbing, but I couldn’t have been more stoked to be on the sharp end pulling the ridge. We made it to a small ledge just below the true summit plateau at 4:45pm and realized we had both gotten what we came for- it was time to head home without the true summit.

Calling it here. The wind was howling.

Calling it here. The wind was howling.

The rappels are perfectly set for a 60m rope, but we made due being 5m short. We were walking again at 5:45pm after 4 rappels and some downclimbing. We refilled water again at the lake, and dropped most of our elevation before dark. I was embarrassed to not find a headlamp in my bag, but I kept on Evan’s heels and we made the car just before 9pm. A full day out, with a perfect partner and weather. This is what fall is about.

Pink shoes, shorts, and 3 layers on top. Makin' a statement.

Pink shoes, Patagonia “technical softshell” shorts, and 3 layers on top. Makin’ a statement.