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It was “go outside and start sweating instantly” hot with 100% humidity.
We had finally made it to a suitable campsite at about 4:00pm and I was quickly running out of water. The 4 liters I had packed in the morning were all bone dry, save for a few drops in one of my bottles.
The rum was still half full though… But that wasn’t going to do my dehydration much good. I glanced at my two friends, both dropping their packs and seemingly exhausted. We were the only 3 humans within 50 miles on the uncivilized edge of a Costa Rican rainforest. Ocean to our west and deadly rainforest to our east. The options were few.
I knew we had to take care of a few priorities. Quickly. Darkness was coming and we needed to set up our tents, start a fire, and find water. All of which were priorities if we expected to make it another day out here.
At the ripe age of 22 (when you think you know everything then eventually hit 30 and realize you didn’t know anything – I hear this cycle continues) I was blessed with the experience of a lifetime… I just didn’t realize its impact and importance in my life until recently… (I’m 32)
I spent 21 days hiking across one of the deadliest (and most beautiful) places on earth with 2 very close friends… All to collect data for my graduate thesis.
No roads, boats, trails (in many places), or people – unless you ran into drug smugglers. Not exactly the lifeline you’d be looking for.
Don’t even waste the time thinking about typing: “what about stores or a hospital?” Those were all many miles away. But they might as well have been thousands of miles because it would’ve taken us days to get there.
The location (this taken from my thesis):
“…As one of the most biologically diverse places on Earth, the Osa Peninsula has been long classified as a biological ‘hot spot,’ with [significantly high levels] of species present there.
Given that the Osa Peninsula encompasses some of the most significant remaining lowland Pacific tropical rainforest habitat present in Central America, it has been identified as Costa Rica’s last Wildland Frontier and a vital portion of the Mesoamerican Biological Corridor which connects national parks and protected areas from Columbia to Mexico.
Further, because of Osa’s great wealth of ecosystem types and biologically diverse areas, Gilbert (1999) argues that the peninsula is especially conducive to the development of new species. For these and other reasons, nearly 40% of the peninsula falls within a protected biological reserve, Corcovado National Park.
The national park was established by the Costa Rican government in 1975 in an effort to preserve the forested areas and the great wealth of species there. Yet, this has never been an easy task to accomplish.”
Why had I chosen this peninsula to study?
Well, as you can read above, it was full of all different kinds of plants and animals. Beautiful birds, wild pigs, and left cutter ants (they made farming a thing way before we did):
On top of the beautiful creatures, Osa is extremely isolated
Because of the difficulty just to get to many parts of the peninsula (let alone to try and circumnavigate), the region is severely understudied. Scientist have a tough time getting there.
So if you couple that with the fact that there are so many different types of species: that may present unique scientific findings – and we had the makings of quite the research project on our hands. All we needed were a few strapping young men, dumb, brave, and lucky enough to go and collect some data.
I raised my hand instantly.
Bear Grylls referred to Osa as one of the most naturally deadly places on earth
It’s not all pretty birds and diverse freshwater fishes (my species of interest). Osa is also home to big cats, Tapir, at least a handful of different types of venomous snakes, and inch-long ants that fall from the trees (just to name a few). Oh, and those ants are venomous too. It seemed like everything had the potential to be venomous…
But we were 22, supremely confident, and honestly just intoxicated by the idea that the “adults” were going to go let us play in the rainforest for months without supervision.
Are you kidding me? We were 110% in!
We planned for 6 months. Secured funding, obtained permits from the Costa Rican Government, scouted a route with 18 potential stream sites, and talked logistics. Then one day we took off with everything we’d need for 21 days out alone in one of the deadliest wilderness areas known to man.
Do you think I took some great life lessons from this experience?
Your damn right I did
(…Back to the story)
Bryan (the lone Costa Rican among us) started on the fire while Justin (a mentor and fellow graduate student) went for water. I was up on the tents.
And as we had done this dance many times already, we had refilled our bottles, set up camp, and were cooking on the fire by 5. Not too bad.
After dinner we had an hour or so before the sun would set, so we chose to head for a swim in the ocean
After a morning that started at 0500, tough sampling in 2 rivers, and countless miles hiked in rubber boots over mountains and across the scorching beach – this swim was well deserved and much appreciated. It rejuvenated the soul.
After about 30-minutes of swimming, we sat toweling off on the beach. Just watching the sunset over the waves when Justin spoke up first…
“Hey, do you see that in the waves? Is that a log?”
Brian fell silent as he studied the scene while I looked, just trying to make out what it was that Justin had spotted. This object was traveling from right to left through the break, drifting slowly toward our position on the beach. It was where we had just been in the ocean only minutes earlier. And as each wave would crest, we were afforded another glimpse…
Brian spoke next. “Mae (man/bro), we should back up.” And as the next wave crested I began to see the vertical ridges atop this 7-foot long object. “Cocodrilo.” (Crocodile)
While we retreated back to the relative safety of our fire, I couldn’t help but think how lucky we had just been.
But honestly, that was just one of the handful of moments on that specific trip that could have turned my life in a drastically different direction. In retrospect, our hike was filled with laughter, joy, wonder, jubilation, exhaustion, and some good ‘ole fashioned near-death experiences. This just happens to be one that I’ve told my wife about… (We’ll keep the pit viper on the leaf 2-feet from my face just between us, alright?)
I write this story above not to boast or beat my chest, but to give context to what’s below
I found true happiness and learned what joy in life can really be on that trip. And the great thing for us is that it doesn’t cost much to obtain… Do you want to know how to find true happiness in life? Well here are the 5 things that I’ve taken from that 21-day experience and applied to my life since:
1- Unplug from the world for a bit and go play outside
That’s why I’ve carved out a specific time each day, from 4:00-7:00pm and right after I get home from work. I’ll put the phone, face down in a different room and hang out with my family. We’ll talk about the day, I’ll color a picture with my daughter, or we’ll just go play outside. After a day at work with the constant notifications and emails buzzing in my pocket, there’s nothing like the innocence of a 3-year-old, some regular conversation with my wife, and the fresh air that re-centers my frame of mind.
2- Challenge yourself
I learned from these trips to Costa Rica that challenges give me an occasion to rise to. So often we get caught up in the day-to-day that the routine becomes comfortable. And comfortability breeds complacency. I don’t want to be complacent.
Whether it’s consciously or subconsciously, I’ve found myself taking on new challenges left and right. In just the last year, we purchased a business, I’ve jumped all-in on the blog, and we’re having another baby… We literally HAVE TO learn new things every day… And I love every minute!
3- Spend time with people that support you and your goals
I count my lucky stars and thank God every day that I get to live with and run a business with my best friend. Life is so much better when it’s spent with people that support you toward your goals.
I’ve been in different types of relationships and I’ve seen friends go through difficult times because of a lack of shared vision with a spouse, family member, or close friend… And life’s just to short to spend with people that don’t want what’s best for you.
4- Have a purpose
Every time I get my social security mailing I get excited. You know the thing I’m talking about? It has all of your past work and wage history on it. I scrutinize that document every time it comes in the mail. It’s awesome!
It’s crazy to see the first job I had at 15 and how much I earned…
For me, that light turned on when we decided to go into business for ourselves. I had finally found my professional purpose, and since that moment I can’t turn off the creative engines. Not every idea is a great one but the process is so exhilarating when you’re driven by a true motivator. A purpose.
5- Adapt to change
The only thing that’s certain in life is variability. And the sooner you accept and learn to thrive in that, the sooner you’ll be able to rest easy and enjoy contentment.
I used to get so worked up when a plan didn’t go to the ’T’ that I’d drive myself crazy, but on the trip, I talked about above, we couldn’t control the weather, dehydration, the terrain we were traveling over… There were just so many unknowns before we set out.
So we set out with a general plan and adjusted course as we progressed. On that trip, I learned the importance of caring less – without being careless.
We set out on the trip above to collect a ton of great data and to come home safely as a team. But oh did we get so much more than that. By pushing outside of our norm and challenging our minds and bodies – we learned things about ourselves that were otherwise unknown. And along the way, we learned what true happiness is, and can be.
I’m no saint when it comes to accomplishing these tasks on a consistent basis. But I’ve found that when all five are in balance, I am less stressed out and much happier as a result.
Have you ever had an experience like this one and if so, did it make as significant of an impact on your life?
Have you found success in trying any of the 5 tactics above? What works for you that I didn’t mention?
I’d love to keep this conversation going in the comments below!
Thanks for reading!
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