Climbing the Grand Teton

For a simple check list to get you climbing the Grand Teton, click here.

And if you want to know what it’s like and how it feels to summit it in one day, you can read my firsthand account of climbing the Grand Teton. Enjoy and safe climbing.

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Climbing the Grand Teton in 1 Day

I’ll never forget the first time I saw the Grand Tetons. I was driving my old VW van Patches with my good friend Jefferis riding shotgun— this was during my trip around America in 2017. We had spent the night near Whisky Mountain, driven through Dubois early in the morning, and were banking the turn south toward Jackson when the Grand Tetons jumped out of the horizon and I said, “I don’t know how, I don’t know when, but I’m going to climb that mountain.”  

I was going to Jackson Hole for a friend’s 30 birthday celebration, but I figured this would be the best shot I had to climb The Grand, so I extended my trip and starting pressing my buddy Chris to make it happen. We’ve known each other for more than 10 years, but he’d been in that area for less than a year. Still, it’s a small town – he should be able to pull it off.

I land in Jackson Hole and there it is – the Grand Teton – standing tall and unapologetic. You can see it from the tarmac. I hoped Chris had procured a way up the mountain for us. He hadn’t. Believe me, Chris tried — he’d asked every guide he knew and they all said no. No one would take us up that mountain.

I assumed it wasn’t going to happen. The summit would have to wait.  The trip took a different turn and we drove an hour away to Turpin Meadows to play their disc golf course.  Turpin Meadows sits between Jackson and Dubois. Turn north off the highway onto a dirt road and follow it for 10 miles. You’ll come down a hill into a beautiful little resort on the edge of the biggest expanse of American Wilderness in the lower 48. 

After 36 holes plus a do or die playoff hole, I needed a beer. Chris warned we didn’t have much time, but thankfully, I ignored him. I ordered a Grand Teton IPA from the bartender, thinking that if I could never climb the mountain, I’d at least consume it in liquid form. The bartender asks what we’re doing up here, speaking in a suave accent. Chris is saying something but I see a mountain range on the bartender’s belt buckle and interrupt. 

“Your belt buckle,” I lead off, “that’s the Grand Tetons, isn’t it?”

“No you are incorrect. In fact, you’re not close. This is Patagonia. But the buckle looks kinda like the Tetons.” We all stare at his waist.

“Where are you from?”

“I am from Brazil. I have climbed in Patagonia. And Argentina and Chile. I came here to climb.” 

“What about the Grand?” I ask.

“I have climbed it 4 times in the last few weeks.”

“Want to do it one more time on Monday?” Chris asks.

““Ahhh, it’d be tough. I hurt my foot last time. A boulder rolled over it and broke a bone. I’m not sure I can,” he said. I figure this would be a good time to order another beer and while doing so, realize he never said no to Chris’s question.

“So you’re saying your foot is broken and you won’t be able to hike on Monday?”

“I don’t know. It’s…I dont know..75%? Maybe better, maybe worse…” He nods and the sentence hangs. I nod. Chris nods. Everybody is nodding. Then he smirks and says, “but let’s try.” 

“Sounds like we can do it!” I say.

 “Meet me at Lupine Meadows at 4:00am Monday.”

“Will do. What’d you say your name is?” I ask. 

“Marcelo.” 

I barely slept Thursday night due to a stomach bug that had me shitting my brains out. The next day I drink so much water Chris has to pull over 4 times on the drive to Yellowstone. I wake up Saturday feeling good enough to hike the 18 miles up to Static Peak and back. Sunday, Chris and I play 36 holes of disc golf at Grand Targhee resort. We lay down to rest around 11:30pm. I toss and turn, wake up at 1:05am for a bathroom visit, then my alarm goes off at 2:40am. We leave the house at 3:00am to reach Lupine Meadows by 4. We roll in. No Marcelo.

4:15. 

4:37.

4:50. 

Still no Marcelo. At 5:07 we decide to leave and pull out of the parking lot. Just as we drive off, Marcelo texts us: “oh shit my alarm didn’t go off. I am so sorry. ” I wrote him back that it’s ok we’ll do it another time. He responds “I am headed your way right now. I’ll be there in an hour. When I say I’m going to do something, I do it.” Once we had made the decision to leave the parking lot, I had begun looking forward to sleeping, but I couldn’t go back home to bed. No way. The mountain was right there, staring down at us through the darkness. We call Marcelo, say we’re in, turn around and take a nap in the parking lot. 

We finally started the trail at 6:30, two hours after you’re supposed to. Marcelo hiked with a spring in his step unlike anyone I have ever seen. My legs were shot from the previous day’s hike and I couldn’t keep up. Chris was somehow keeping pace with him and chatted him up the entire time. I was barely hanging on, unable to reach a rhythm. I put my head down and walked as hard as I could. Up a cut back then another. We reached a section of boulders – there was no trail, just boulder hopping. After this there was a little campground with 1 yellow tent. The sun had come up and the air a perfect blue crisp. My lungs panting and my legs throbbing, I looked forward. Trees lined the slope – their roots half exposed swaying in the wind. “Reminds me of how most people live,” I think to myself, “right on the edge, barely hanging on.” Their faces pop in my mind – damn I love them. 

 “Wow,” I look ahead “we’re about to climb a thousand steps.” It turned out to be a conservative estimate. Up and up we went. My mind zoned out. Step. Step. Breath. Keep walking. Then I heard a clap. And another. I look up ahead to see Marcelo paused for the first time all hike. A bear is digging at a tree stump just off the trail, only a few yards in front of Marcelo. “Oh we have a guest” I joke, but Chris isn’t laughing. Marcelo stands confident with bear spray in one hand and his camera phone in the other. “Bear” he yells with that smooth Brazilian accent. The bear must have been grubbing because he never once looked at us. Marcelo leads us around the bear and we hike on. We reach the valley between the Grand and Middle Teton. It looks like a river rock bed strewn between the two. Stones of all shapes and sizes filled the gorge in perfect mayhem. We hiked up the center ridge of these rocks and my legs were shot. Higher and higher we hiked one stepping stone at a time. We reached a rock face and caught our breath. Marcelo showed us some ropes to make it up the face and we heaved ourselves up to the Lower Saddle. It had taken us 4 hours to make it 6.5 miles here. We took a seat at a snow-melt stream to eat lunch. I used this opportunity to diarrhea behind a rock. 

“Ok guys,” Marcelo began, “we will hike up the Lower Saddle through the eye of the needle then to the Upper Saddle. Then we’ll make the final ascent. 2200 feet over 1.5 miles. Ok?” I stared at the summit. While we had been sitting there, a hiker had passed us and began the trek up the Lower Saddle. He had not stopped walking for 30 minutes, yet I stared confused: he didn’t look like he had made it more than 200 yards up.

“Ok Marcelo, let’s do it” I said, dreading this hike.

We started up the Lower Saddle ridge. The Lower Saddle is where most people start the hike on Day 2. That’s right, we were packing a recommended two day journey into one day in which we got an incredibly late start. Marcelo bounded up the hill. I did not. Chris seemed fine. I shed every layer, pouring sweat in shorts and a t-shirt. After many steps, I noticed we were using our hands as much as our legs. We were no longer hiking – we were climbing up the Grand part of the Grand Teton. Marcelo lead the way, Chris followed, and I brought up the rear. Grip a hand hold, find a footing, keep your hips close to the rock, move up. Repeat. Repeat. Breath heavy. Do it again. 

“Oh shit” I say. There’s no footing. Chris had found it on his way up. Marcelo had, too. But I did not. “Oh no no no,” I say again. I can’t find another footing. My left hand has a hold, but that’s it. Marcelo reads the moment and sees the fear in my eyes and jumps down the rock face to a tiny ledge above me and sticks his arm out. 

“Grab my hand” he yells like the best action movie hero you’ve ever seen. 

“No, I’ll pull you down” I yell back. I scan my surroundings for a footing. In my frantic search I hear Marcelo yell again, “Look at me. Grab my hand. I will not let you fall.” It’s my only option. I reach up and we lock hands in the strength-and-honor grip. 

“Pull up now!” he says while leaning back and extending his legs. I pull up with my right arm as he single-arm deadlifts me. His feet are on the tiniest of ledges and his toes hung over. He pulls me up and we rest against the rock face breathing hard. I lean into him “Thanks Marcelo. My life was in your hands.” Exhale. “I’ll name my firstborn after you for saving my life.” “Ah, don’t do that to the poor kid” he responds with a smile. 

We squeeze through the eye of the needle. Snow dusts the rock face and ice patches cling in the shadows. I cannot see the top – we are too close to the rock to look up. 

“Ok this next part has the most exposure,” Marcelo begins. Chris interrupts “we’re gonna need to rope up.”

 “Are you sure, I think you guys can do—”

“Yeah, no we’re gonna need to rope up.” Chris stays steadfast.

“Ok let’s get the ropes out” Marcelo says. We do as he leads. 

“Tie your figure-8 knots.”

“Yeah Marcelo,” I say, “I’m going to need you to show me that one. I know how to do a bowline on a bite but that’s it” trying to save my dignity. He tied Chris’s figure-8 then mine, then clips a chalk bag to his harness.

“Ahhh shoot – chalk – I don’t have any chalk,” Chris chirps.

“It’s ok,” responds Marcelo, “you have a rope. I do not.” He smiles then disappears over the rock. Chris and I are both tethered to him. We wait in silence. How much time passed? I don’t know but we hear a Brazilian accent echo off the neighboring mountain. “ON BELAY?” Chris yells. We hear something but can’t distinguish it. We go back and forth until very clearly we hear “CLIMB!” 

Chris scurries over the rock and I’m a step behind him. We follow our tethers around the mountain. Marcelo comes into view, sitting on a ledge. In front of him is a rock like an anvil – he has the ropes anchored to it and is belaying us as we move toward him. At this moment we come upon the exposure he mentioned. It’s a thousand foot drop. For those of you who don’t climb (like myself), ‘exposure’ means if you fall you die.This was my first time feeling exposure. It’s weird, the more you stare at it, the more it speaks to you. Like Frodo and the Ring of Power, it captures your gaze and whispers fear in your ear. 

“Ok Chris, just squeeze through that crevice then I will tell you where to climb.” The crevice turned out to be a slit in the rock about as wide as a bowling-lane gutter. It ran at an angle for about 15 feet. To the left, it dropped over a thousand feet. He squeezed through, Marcelo pulling rope. After the crevice gutter, you have to grab a rock shelf and swing your feet down to a blind foothold. This is the biggest exposure of the entire climb. There is no other footing and if you miss it, whoops. Thankfully, I thought, we were roped up. I assessed the rope situation. Marcelo was even with us, meaning the ropes were running almost perfectly horizontal. If we were to fall, whatever rope distance was between us and Marcelo, well, that would be how far we would swing until we hit the rock face. 

“Chris, don’t miss the grip.” I yell then catch my breath. Chris makes it across and yells at me to come. My frame is a tad wider than Chris’, and Marcelo’s, so squeezing through the rock crevice felt like a birthing experience minus the fluids. With kicking and screaming, I make it through the crevice and now had to accomplish the exposure move. I catch the grip and go for the blind foothold. My foot can’t find it but I can hear Marcelo calmly saying, “higher, By your knee.” I don’t see it, nor do I feel it, but again I hear Marcelo’s voice. “There it is.” I step over and join them on the ledge. “Ok guys, there is one more difficult part, the chimney, so let’s leave the ropes out to save time. We are close to it…but still have a way to go.” 

The day had gotten away from us at this point, it was almost 3:00pm and the horizon looked grim.  A storm rolled through the great expanse of land, casting dark shadows and dropping its contents with bolts of lighting and rolls of thunder. All I could think about was getting off this giant mountain.

We reached the climbing point for the chimney.

“Ok,” Marcelo lead off, “here I will go up, then yell for you guys to come.” 

I interrupted him, “Storms are surrounding us. We gotta get off this mountain. Can we go back down?” 

“Umm, unfortunately,” Marcelo began, “no we cannot. To go down would be too long and too dangerous. We must go up, then we will reach a rappel anchor and we can rappel down. It is much faster and safer.” 

“So you’re saying the only way down is up?”

“Correct. Yes.”

“Ok, that’s what we needed to know.” And he was off, scurrying up the chimney while Chris and I waited on the ledge. The temperature dropped and I felt the cold for the first time all day.

“Put your extra jacket on,” Chris could see me shivering. Why wouldn’t I do that? I questioned myself then zipped it on. I thought about gloves next, but decided not to wear them – I thought  they would deter my grip on this climb.

Anxiety rose as we waited. Perhaps we could actually feel the storm about to hit— the tension exploded with a white flash of lightning and a thunderous boom. We cowarded against the rock as the thunder echoed. The sheer power of the storm terrified me. I can’t think of another moment where I’ve felt like that. The storm clouds darkened the mountain and snow fell. Another lightning strike, another thunder boom. It surrounded us – I wondered if people in Jackson could even see the summit – were we in the storm? There was no time to think such silly questions – my mind, my body, myself raced with feelings. Fear set in thick and I couldn’t look at the storm. I resolved to look only at the rockface. Turning around, I found it to be a few inches from my face, and I stared at it with all my might. I could hear Chris, “Jesus get us off this mountain. Protect us in our stupidity.” I prayed too. Wind whipped around the rock and came screaming across our little ledge. I looked over at Chris and our eyes met. “This is the most terrified I’ve ever been in my life,” he said. “Me too.” We spoke like we were sipping our morning coffee. Neither of us had any alpine experience, climbing background, or many hours logged above the treeline. We had just met Marcelo 3 days ago at the bar, and here we were in the midst of a lightning storm on the side of the Grand. Every now and then, we’d hear a fell voice on the wind, and we realized that someone somewhere below us was trying to get down from this storm too. I envied them, headed down to safety. 

The ropes got tight and though we couldn’t hear the Brazilian accent through the storm, we were confident Marcelo was telling Chris to climb. So off he went. There I stood, face to face with the rock, alone on the mountainside, shivering in my shorts as the snow piled up around me. At some point, my rope got tight, I gave it a tug and the other side tugged back – it was the best communication we could do given the howling wind. As I climbed, I felt the storm get worse. The chimney itself was feeling the storm – by now, snow rested in any pocket it could and ice lined the rock walls. My fingers went numb from the cold and this was the moment I regretted not putting my gloves on – a gloved grip is better than no grip. I found two good footholds and blew heat on my hands. It did nothing except stall me. “Get up here! You got this Tim,” I  barely hear Chris yelling from above. I went up, only to run into a problem. No hand holds. The chimney butted out, and we hit chest to chest. The rock continued angling up, making it impossible for me to see over this bump. My hands searched and searched and the only thing they found was cold. The whole thing felt freezing until, well, it didn’t feel at all. My foot holds were shitty, and I made the mistake of looking down to confirm this, which only made me freak out that my right foot hold would surely slip. Cold. It was cold. I try another hold. Nothing. And another. No dice. “Shit, I can’t do this.” I say out loud. The wind picks up and my mind drifts off… “how the hell did Chris do this and I can’t? Physically, he can’t beat me…but Marcelo? He free-solo’d this thing. What–” thunder interrupts my thinking, the boom cackles off the rock faces. “I can’t do this. I don’t got it today.” I’m standing one foot, chest to chest with the mountain, defeated head down. “Tim,” I hear my name faintly on the wind. “You. Got. This.” Chris’s voice pierces through the noise. I lift my head up and figure I’ll give it a go. I don’t know where or how, but I got one more shot in me. My hands go horizontal into whatever snowy crevice they can find. I do not feel them. My legs move upward and my chest scrapes the chimney. I move up and make it past the bump. I don’t feel it but somehow I find a handhold and grab it. With one handhold secure, my gaze moves up the chimney and there at the top I see Marcelo. He is seated behind another anvil-like rock, using it as a belay point. The storm swirls all around him and the dark sky frames his silhouette. Thunder rolls and he looks me dead in the eyes. His piercing blue eyes, bright as the Pacific, are the only color I see. A soft smile reaches his face and he gently nods his head. In the chaos, he remains unflappable, calm, and in this moment, smiling. My mind jumps to Jack London’s Seawolf, and I liken Marcelo to the Seawolf himself – though only for a second. Chris yells at me to hurry. I get to Marcelo and say, “that’s the best smile I’ve seen in the last 5 years.” He shrugs it off. The storm continues. 

“I’m very very nervous right now. The most nervous I’ve ever been in my life. This is the worst place I’ve been in my life. Ahhh man. Help us Jesus. I miss Jesus” Chris is saying. 

I thought to myself, “you’re not going to have to miss Him for much longer. You’re probably gonna meet him soon.”

The snow falls harder. Marcelo simply looks upward, catching the snowfall to the face. We still have to go up to get down. Marcelo organizes the rope. “We don’t have far to go.” He ties one rope to the top of my climbing pack and puts the other in Chris’s. We brace against a rock face. The storm isn’t as angry anymore. We make a push to the rappel point.

“Ok let’s get the ropes out and we will rappel down.” Marcelo leads. I look up toward the summit. We’re close.

“Marcelo, I’m gonna do anything you tell me to do – whatever you say – but I just gotta ask: is it stupid to make a run for the summit?” His piercing blue eyes stare through me, then look upward, then back to me. His expression relaxes, he gives a soft shrug and says, “we’ve already made plenty of stupid decisions today.” 

Without saying another word, we both begin for the summit. Chris laughs, then begins to climb too. At this point in the climb, snow clings to any crag it can find and there’s not really a ‘route.’ 

“Oh I forgot to say,” Marcelo yells back to us, “no more roping up. We don’t have time. Free solo to the top.” Chris nods. I do too. And then something strange happens. The storm advances to attack another mountain and in its wake, a rainbow appears. The sun hits my face and Chris captures this moment in the picture below. 

Final ascent of the Grand Teton

Summit approach grand teton rainbow

The way we pushed for the summit was this: Marcelo went one way, Chris went another, and I watched to decipher who made the better choice, then went that way. The sun shining down had my spirits up, and Marcelo had slipped me some salt tabs. I was feeling delicious. Having never free soloed anything, I was taking some pretty strange approaches to gain altitude. Compared to Chris and Marcelo, my shoulders are broader as well as my thighs. Marcelo is built like a mountain climber, Chris like a golfer, and me, well my uncle tells me I inherited my mother’s calves and hips. All that to say, certain times I was using my knees or bracing the rock with my hips – doing all sorts of things to keep my weight close to the rock and guarantee I wouldn’t fall. This was fine until I made one weird athletic move — thrusting my right hand for a grab as I extended my right leg — and I felt the rope on my pack come loose and tumble down my backside. I was in a position where I could not look back. Instinctively I yelled, “MARCELO!” He paused from his perch up above and watched the rope falling. Thud. The rope landed on a patch of snow on a tiny ledge 75 to 100 feet below me. I regained my stance and looked down. The bright-orange rope against the white snow on a tiny granite ledge – thousands of feet of drop off on either side. “Do not worry, I will get it on the way down” I hear Marcelo’s voice from above. We press on. 

And then we’re there. Marcelo makes the summit, I scurry up right behind him and take a seat next to him. “That’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done.” 

“Yeah, good fun. Good fun.” Marcelo says as he pats me on the back. 

Good fun? I thought I was gonna die! But Marcelo isn’t joking – he means it. The intensity of the storm, the challenge of the climb, and the risk, mainly the risk, is what makes Marcelo come alive. 

Chris takes a few pics. We are at the highest point around, sitting on top of the Grand Teton, storms swirling around us. In the distance, the storms line up like troops about to march into battle. “We’re not out of the shit storm yet.” I munch on clif bar – brownie flavor of course – and we take one timed picture of the 3 of us.

On Top of the Summit of the Grand

Summit of the Grand Teton

“Ok let’s go.” Marcelo leads. 

“What time is it?” I ask Chris.

“3:42” he responds.

“I’m prepared to be hiking down this mountain til 11:00pm tonight. Hope you are, too.”

“Uh, I hope we’re done earlier. Good thing we brought headlamps.”

It’s safe to assume I had not considered the downhill climb. Free-soloing up, you don’t really have many choices, just go up. But down, well now you have some options. Do I go down facing the rock or facing the exposure? I really had to spend some time thinking and choosing – then confirming every foothold before putting my weight on it. I didn’t trust most of the footholds, so I’d attempt to have a strong handhold to be safe. While Chris and I found our way down, Marcelo scurried over to the fallen orange rope then back to our descent line. I don’t know how he did it – I was too busy looking at my next foothold – but I know this: he did it fast and was happy to have his rope back.

We made the first rappel point in no time. 

“Ok hand me the rope.” He already had the orange one I had dropped.

Chris handed him the green rope then got out a rappel tool. “I have my gri-gri, too” Marcelo looked at it curiously.

“What size rope is it for?”

“8.5-11” Chris responds.

“That’s too big. The rope is 7.9”

“Ahhh crap.”

“It’s ok – we will figure it out.” Marcelo says. He went to work setting up the ropes. The sky darkened, the wind picked up, and snow began to fall again.

“You guys have done this before, no?” Marcelo yelled through the wind.

“Oh yeah” I respond, thinking back to my days working the rappel tower at Windy Gap.

“Once or twice,” Chris says. He then turns to me with worry on his face. He’s nervous, really nervous. 

The wind gusts, ripping at my jacket. Shorts – why’d I choose to wear shorts?

But it wasn’t all bad. Some nice climber had left a carabiner on a little chord around an anchor rock. Marcelo put one end of each rope into the carabiner then tied the two ropes together in a knot I’d never seen before. “ROPE” he yelled down below then threw the orange rope, then the green. He looked at us.

“I will go down. Then I will send the ATC up to you. You use it like this. Put both ropes through. Clip it to your harness. Left hand in front of you, right behind you. When you put your right hand out, you’ll move. If you put it on your butt, you don’t move. Easy.” He leaned back to begin.

“Oh wait wait wait,” I cry out through the wind. “What if I go first? I’m happy to lead. Then I send the ATC back up to you, you hook up Chris, send him down, then you come?” 

Marcelo cocked his head. “What?”

“Yeah,” Chris said in agreement, “Tim goes first, I go second, you go last.” Marcelo simply shrugs. “Ok,” he says. I feel a huge relief. I was pretty confident I could get down fine, but I wasn’t so sure I wanted to be responsible for Chris’s life. If you had seen the worry on his face, you wouldn’t want to be the one hooking him up to rappel 140 feet in a snowstorm down the Grand Teton. 

Marcelo unhooks and motions for me to come. I put my gloves on and hook into the line, gripp the rope firm just as Marcelo said: left hand in front of me, right behind. I lean back a bit and  feel the drop. My eyes close and wind whips around my bare legs. These are the moments we feel alive, no? 

“Chris video this” I yell out.

“NO IT’S TOO INTENSE” he replies. He meant the wind, the exposure, and how cold he was feeling. I lean back and stomach the drop – literally, you feel it in your stomach – then push off and bring my right hand in front of me. Down the rope I go. If you were to take the wind out of the equation, it was a rather pleasant thing: the snow falling all around while you bounce down the rock face. I make it to the bottom, detach the ATC, tie a bowline on a bite with a double-overhand safety knot and send it up. 

I find a vantage point to watch Chris. He is basically walking down the rockface, looking nervous beyond measure, stiff as can be, but is making it work. He gets a little twisted up about halfway down. The wind is pounding him, but like any good golfer knows, you gotta play to the conditions. He makes it to the landing zone and I walked over to him.

“Chris! There you —” his expression interrupts me. I’ve known him for over 10 years, and I’ve never seen this look in his eyes. There’s only one way to explain it: if you’ve ever witnessed someone snort a line of cocaine then look up and make eye contact with you, if you’ve seen that person’s eyes, well that’s exactly how Chris’s eyes looked.

“What…the…hell?” I say.

“When I said I’d rappelled  ‘once or twice’ up there, well, this was basically the first time. Right now. Like the other time, was at a climbing gym and they were so afraid of liability that the dude just lowered me down. I didn’t do any of it. This was my first time.” No wonder his eyes looked like that.

“I’ve never been more proud of you in my life,” I respond. “But, don’t be too happy, we gotta do it again. I need one more rappel from you today.”

We send the ATC back up and watch Marcelo coast down as suave as you’d expect. A thing of beauty in a beautiful setting: the pure white snow contrasting the dark granite rock, Marclo gliding down it’s face. Once at the landing, he unhooks then grabs one rope in each hand. He jiggles them a bit, pulls one then the other, then grabs the orange one with both hands and yanked with all his might. It comes down, bringing the green one with it, connected at that special knot he tied. 

“Now that’s impressive.” I say. He smiles. We gather the rope. Chris carries the green and I carry the orange. We make the second rappel point and begin the set up. Chris feels a little more comfortable and snapped this picture:

Second Rappel Point

Rappel point #2 of the grand Teton

Before I go, Marcelo directs, “this one, that last bit is free fall. Uhh, I mean suspended? There is no rock. You will just get to the end and have to lower yourself in the air.” I run into a little tangle, but for the most part, make it down easy. Chris does well and Marcelo of course sticks the landing

Rappel Grand Teton

As we organize the rope Chris tells us the time: 5:30pm.

Thankfully, the two rappels descended us about 300 vertical feet. Now we just had to climb down. And we did. It felt unending. Find a footing, brace with arms, go down. Rinse, repeat. After some time, we make the Eye of the Needle and I squeeze through. The rest of the descent looked like this:

Descent to the Lower Saddle

By 7:15pm we made the Lower Saddle and wound our way to the snow-melt stream where we had eaten lunch. Chris and I had thought we over packed food, but at this juncture, we ate our last bit of vittles. I paused to take in the scene and process what we’d just done. All I could think about was that look Marcelo had given me in the storm. Those piercing blue eyes, calm as a summer breeze, in the midst of the ripping thunderstorm. 

“Marcelo, I mean this when I say this,” I lead off and he looks up, “you’re one of the best leaders I’ve ever been around. If you would have lost your shit in the moment, we were done. Seriously, it was your attitude, your spirit, your demeanor — I could follow that through a shitstorm. We did follow it. I know we still got 7 miles to hike and we’ll be here well into the dark, but you just need to know: you’re a damn good leader.”

“No no, you guys…” he deflected it but Chris added on, “For real, you never freaked out. Not once the whole time. Thanks for getting us down.”

Marcelo smiled shy, shook his head, then said, “alright, time to go.” We began the long hike back down just as night fell. To get off the Lower Saddle, we had to climb a length of rope one at a time. Marcelo first, then Chris, while I waited at the top. Chris hollered he was down, I grabbed the rope with both hands, and just as I began it felt like a rock hit me on top of the head. And then another. And then a whole bunch. I braced myself, looked up, and through the beam of my headlamp noticed the sky had decided to hail us on our way down. All I could do was laugh. Of course it’s hailing. I make the bottom and we walk and walk and walk.

This part of the hike wasn’t particularly eventful or fun. My toes started bleeding from the downward impact, my knees ached, and Marcelo told me, “you sound like my mother you moan so much.” I love Marcelo. At some point, my headlamp ran out of battery, so I walked in front of Chris and his light guided both of our steps. Marcelo lead and I attempted to step precisely where he did. 

Truth be told, I went into some weird exhaustion-induced trance. My mind thinks there’s something in the shadows. My eyes make shapes out of the dark silhouettes. It’s all a ruse, but I believe them for a second, until the next shape-shifter woos my imagination. We get turned around in the boulder maze and can’t find the way. Marcelo stays confident as ever. He finds the trail. We stride on. 

We begin the final cutbacks. At about the 3rd one there’s some fellow hikers, vaping on a THC pen. They had been rappelling when the storm hit and we deduce they were the fell voices we heard on the wind. 

By this point, I am no longer thinking. I watch where Marcelo puts his foot, then I do the same. After a couple of hours like this, we cross a bridge, hike a flat, and we’re back in the parking lot. 

“What time is it?”

“10:43” Chris says. 

We all agree to meet for dinner the next night. I hug Marcelo, thank him profusely to the point of uncomfortability like a true Southerner does, and Chris and I climb in his Jeep. We drive into Jackson, limp into Pinky G’s for a pizza, limp back out, then make the pass for Victor, Idaho. We get back past 1:00am, easy to fall asleep.

At dinner the next night, I asked Marcelo the closest call he’s ever had climbing. He told me about it then said, “people think that such a thing will make you stop climbing. Actually, it has the opposite effect. Because you survive it, you realize how capable you are. It makes you want to continue. You do not stop. You want to climb more.”

As he spoke,  I realized that we wouldn’t have made it to the summit with any other guide. They would have decided to turn around. And that would have been the right decision. But we all have choices in life and I tend to land on the riskier side. Marcelo does too. 

Multiple times during the climb, Chris and I would say to each other “I’m never doing this again” in some form or fashion. But as I listened to Marcelo talk, a feeling to go for another mountain began stirring inside me.

“It’s what they call Type 2 fun,” Marcelo continued, “not fun in the moment, just fun after. It makes you want to do it more.” 

Until then….

———

Timeline

2:30 AM wake up, dress, snack

2:50 AM depart Victor, Idaho

4:00AM arrived at Lupine Meadows parking lot 

6:30AM began hike. 6.5 miles up to Lower Saddle

10:45AM made Lower Saddle

11:15AM began summit ascent

1:56PM storms come in. 500ft from the top, can’t see it/the storms in our line. 

2:05ish, storms hit

3:37PM make the Summit!!!

4:49PM finish the first rappel

5:02PM began second rappel

5:30PM finished second rappel 

7:30PM began descent from Lower Saddle. It starts hailing 

10:43PM made it back to parking lot 

***9 hours spent on the summit ascent from the Lower Saddle to the summit back to the Lower Saddle. Largely due to inclement weather

—–

Follow Marcelo on Instagram at the most aptly named account on insta: @climb_any_mountain


Simple How-to Guide to reach the summit of the Grand Teton

Assuming you’ve never climbed before, here’s what you’ll need

Step 1: Find a guide.

You will not make the summit without someone who has done if before. You’d be able to make the Lower Saddle, but the ascent is not marked. Their are two routes to make the summit. Neither are marked. We chose the Owen-Spalding. It is not marked. In case the point is not clear, the #1 most important thing for climbing the Grand Teton is to do it with someone who has done if before.

step 2: Get proper equipment, Food, Water

  • harness for every person attempting to summit
  • 2 ropes, at least 140ft long each
  • 2 ATCs minimum, but better to bring one for each person
  • Cams, quick connects, chalk.
  • Ascent shoes. Marcelo used them. Chris and I did not.
  • Gloves. It can get freezing cold fast. Also, they come in handy on the rappel
  • Water purifier. You hike along a creek and there’s multiple places to fill up. Last fill up before the ascent is a snow-melt stream on the Lower Saddle
  • salt tabs, gels, bars. Really, whatever foodstuff can give you the extra push.
  • However much food you think you should bring, double it. You will be burning tons of energy going up ~7500 vertical feet. You’ll need the calories.
  • Rain gear.
  • Headlamps.

Step 3: Hike Lupine Meadows Trail

Here is the google maps pin to the parking lot and trail head. Our intention was to begin the hike at 4:30am. If you’re attempting to climb the Grand in one day, aim to start that early. If you start late, chances are you’ll get caught in a storm like in my story above.

Step 4: Make the Lower saddle

This is 6.5 miles of switch backs and uphill hiking. It took us ~4 hours to do. Marcelo was pushing us at a fast pace, so allow yourself more time if you’re not a strong hiker.

Step 5: Ascent

Now comes the hard part. Hike up the Lower Saddle to the Upper Saddle, through the Eye of the Needle, around the heavy exposure problem,  up the chimney, then free solo to the summit. Sounds easy, right? Wrong. This part alone took us over 4 hours. Mainly because Chris and I are total amateurs, but if you’re reading this, so are you.

step 6: ENJOY THE SUMMIT

You’ve just finished climbing the Grand Teton. Take in the view, eat a snack, catch your breath and snag a picture or two.

Step 7: Descend to the lower saddle

Thankfully, you’ll be with someone who’s done this before. Climb down to the first rappel anchor. Rappel down. Organize the rope and hike over to the second rappel anchor. Be careful, the last segment of this rappel requires you to descend suspended in the air. Be ready for it and stick the landing. Congratulations, now you only have to make it through the Eye of the Needle and the Lower Saddle will be in view. Be forewarned: the ascent and descent took us 9 HOURS to complete. Again, much of our time was spent dealing with the challenges from the weather. But you should be prepared to give a lot of time and effort here.

Step 8: Hike back down Lupine Meadows trail

Easy peasy. But not really. Tons of skree and boulders, downward impact, and unclear trail markings make this a challenge to do. We did it in the dark while it was hailing, making it suck even more. And all my toes started bleeding from the downward impact. It’ll take about 3-5 hours depending on how well you can see the trail and how fast you can move.

And that’s it. Now go eat a pizza.

193,000 Words Later

Big news – since publishing a reflective post on my 30th birthday, I have finished the first draft of the book. Holy shit, here we go…

I began writing this like I start most things in my life, I just said “Sure, why not?” But, as I got more and more into it, I was able to define one goal for the book. That’s right, only one goal:

I want to have one person read it 100 years after I die.

And no, if you’re reading this announcement, you don’t count. I don’t care if advances in modern medicine allow you to live a century from now.

So, why is that my goal? I mainly read dead authors. And it’s strange to me that even though they’re not here anymore, their words are still communicating to me. They are long gone and yet they have influenced me and will never know.

Defining the goal changed my writing. In a way, it simplified things: I could write with an appreciation of the present as if it were the past, removing company/brand names, highlighting current technologies that in 100 years will be obsolete, etc. On the other hand, it complicated things. Not in the writing, but in me personally. Let me give you an example:

Write 3 different beliefs you have that you will still be proud of in 10 years.

I mean it, this isn’t rhetorical. Do it. Send them to me if you wish.

Most of what I wrote, I questioned — am I gonna be proud of this in a decade? What about past that? Or what about right now? Who am I?

The writing needs some serious editing. But today, I can’t believe the draft is done. Here are some fun numbers:

193,470 words
That’s how long my first draft is. In comparison, check out the lengths of these familiar books:

Two of the Harry Potter’s got me – Tolkein was perfect so I won’t speak in comparison there – and thankfully I edged out the Twilight series. (To note: I expect to edit it down closer to the 170k length; my editor thinks 120k — that’s why I pay him the big bucks)

403 days
That’s how long it took me to write. Said another way: 1 year, 1 month, 8 days. My goal was to write 500 words every time I opened my computer for the day. This did not happen. I missed every deadline, took some time off to mourn the loss of a friend, participated in a MIT-business accelerator for Ungrocery, and blah blah blah. Even so, at 193,470 words over 403 days = 480 words/day. I’ll take that. 1 year, 1 month, 8 days.

It felt longer, much longer. I poured my heart and soul into this draft. At parts, I cried; at others, I cringed; and at 1 or 2, I cracked a smile. But most of the time, I thought it to be terrible writing.

I heard someone say, “when you put your heart and soul into something, sometimes there’s nothing left.” He nailed it. Most nights when I finished writing, I felt empty, isolated, numb. I’d crave some sort of feeling, some sort of fix, but please nothing social. I’d go into a funk and need solitude. All part of the process. More on that to come.

Did it change me? Sure, why not. Two things come to mind. First, gratitude. Thinking and processing made me more thankful for the people in my life. Second, no more mundane. Writing made me notice more, feel more, and do more. I haven’t felt like I’ve had a “normal” day in about 2 years. I don’t expect that to change.

Where do we go from here? I don’t really know. But here’s the “plan”:

A) let it sit for 3 weeks. Do a single, solo edit. Just me and the text.

B) send it to the editor. Just him and the hard copy.

C) Discuss his findings. Write Second Draft.

D) Have a group of 5-7 people read it (could be YOU!). Take in feedback.

E) Send to polishing editor. She’ll look for grammar/punctuation/etc to turn this into a finished work.

Other things I have to do:

1) figure out how to publish it.

2) record the audio-book in LA (Or have James Earl Jones do it if he’s available)

3) Publish hardcopy.

You’ll learn about this process with me — I’ll post here as I stumble through it.

Lastly, I will never write a book this personal again. One and done. There’s a lot of other stories I wish to tell – just not mine.

Writing isn’t the hard part. Honesty is.

Thankful for you – more to come,

Tim

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Reflections on the past 10 years

I still remember the night I turned 21. A group of friends were over to celebrate as soon as the clock struck midnight. This was back in the day when I didn’t consume alcohol. About 10 minutes before midnight, I snuck out and went on a walk in the dark of night — I wanted to welcome my 21st year of life just me and God. The sky was clear and the air cold, and I dreamed of what life could look like. Adventure, please give me a life of adventure.

I thought I understood God. I believed.

I returned to the party past midnight and remember Rachael saying “where’d you go?!” I just laughed and ate cake. Rachael and I were best friends and then we dated and it was terrible. I lost all my self-esteem. One summer she worked in Colorado and I went to visit her. I camped out in a forest by myself and would see her when she got off work. The highlight of the trip was camping alone. Time to move on. She didn’t like me. It was ok, at that time I didn’t really like myself. We broke up while I ate the most delicious feta-burger on the planet (if you’re ever in Athens, Ga get the Meteor burger at Clocked).

Throughout my early twenties I threw giant rave style parties that were drug and alcohol free with an entire team of students. And for better or for worse I was leading them. I had a partner in this endeavor, Chris. We started as roommates, then best friends and grew into business partners. But we weren’t ready to be business partners.

I spent 6 or 7 years throwing these parties. The first year or two was pure discovery and thrill. Every party got bigger and badder, but we had no clue about turnover and my senior year of college I looked around and there was only four of us. It was a bad year. So I stayed for another senior year. This year went well and I graduated.

I didn’t attend my own graduation. Instead I went and played frisbee golf on north campus with the group of guys that had thrown those parties with me. The fireworks went off and we paused and they congratulated me. That was the right way to celebrate — they really were my college experience.

I went full time throwing parties and it became my first job after college. I had to raise money. If you know me, you know I’m always raising money. We ran out of money. My salary was $19,000. Someone told me that was close to the poverty line in America. I didn’t care — I had my team of guys and we were building something special, something priceless. I had done it for free for years. I lived in a frugal way. I saved as much as I could.

My friend Todd asked me to go to Beijing for Chinese New Years. His family friend was doing a lot of business over there and invited Todd, telling him he could invite a friend. He chose me. That trip changed my life. Every time I travel to another culture it changes my life.
I took a one way flight to Istanbul when the semester ended and then popped over to Greece and traveled through Europe for 89 days. No plans, I just went. There still wasn’t enough time. I pulled more all nighters during those three months than all of college combined. That’s what happens when you desire everything. I saw as much as I could see, from the fjords of Norway to St. Peter’s and I barely scratched the surface.

In Italy I met up with Will, one of the students who was throwing parties with me. He had become like a brother to me, and we stood atop the duomo in Florence and he told me how he could build a full-size Spanish galleon complete with two 60-foot mast beams because everyone knows a true Spanish galleon has two giant masts. I didn’t know that, but right then and there atop that beautiful cathedral I shook his hand and said we’d build it as the centerpiece for the next party.

I continued my travels. I got food poisoning on the Mediterranean and thought I’d die there alone. I ran with the bulls in Pamplona. I ate a thousand kebabs. I stayed in a shitty hostel that had bed bugs. I journaled every day.

I got back to the States and two weeks later we threw that party featuring the Spanish Galleon Will had talked about on top of the duomo in Florence. It was a slamming success. As the year went on I believed the team of students could do it without me. The organization was growing, but my relationship with Chris had deteriorated. Even so, I went back to China for Spring Festival (what Americans call Chinese New Year) and invited Chris and his brother. On that trip I knew it was time for me to leave the thing we had done together for so long.

In fact, I decided to leave solely because of my relationship with Chris. It was beyond repair at that time. It taught me how important and how powerful relationships are. Relationships are everything.

I still remember the day Chris and I agreed it was best for me to leave. That conversation finished, I walked over to the piece of property where we had hosted thousands of people for parties. I climbed up into the DJ treehouse that Will and his dad built. The morning sun filtered through the trees and the place was still. A highlight reel played in my mind and I could see everything we had accomplished there. Great memories of times past filled me. It reminded me of looking at ruins in Rome — no one really understands what happened there, only those that lived it. Yet there was something hesitant in me to leave, something tugging at the core of me. I leaned against the railing. What? Why am I feeling this deep in my chest? And then it all hit me. The team. I didn’t want to leave them. The guys who had given me their college careers, who had spent countless hours, who had followed my lead even when I didn’t know what I was doing — those guys — the ones I had chosen when they were nothing more than high school boys and watched become men. I witnessed them come into their giftings to create things, to build things, to lead people themselves. I love them, that’s what I was feeling. And that’s when God spoke to me — I don’t know how– saying “so it is with you. I choose you, I’ve been leading you, I’ve watched you freely come into your giftings. I’ve loved you all along.” I cried forever in that tree house. I’ve told that story 3 times and cried all three times. I’m crying right now as I write this. I don’t understand God. Those guys are the best theology I’ve ever known.

There’s no playbook to life, you just follow your instinct. When I left, I had no clue what to do next. I heard about a vacant building in Clemson. I thought I could turn it into a music venue. I hired the (then) owner of the Georgia Theater to be the lead consultant on the project. I began raising money. I’m always raising money. I tracked down the building’s owner. Will and I went and walked the building. It needed a ton of work. I called an investor and met with another. The second one I met with changed my course forever when he said “I’d be shocked if you raised the money for this. The business model just doesn’t allow much profit. But honestly, I’d be even more shocked if you don’t find a different idea to work on. One that’s better.” I went home and sat on my mom’s couch and thought. He was right. I hated to admit it, but he was. The deal fell apart and the building still sits vacant today, five years later.

I knew exactly what to do next. I walked outside and called my friend Daniel in Texas, saying “I’m going to move out there now, on one condition, we build businesses and lives worth living.” He said he’d been expecting that call for years.

Yet life makes things much more complicated than they should be, and I got in a wreck which delayed the move a month or two and while my vehicle was still in holding, I said screw it and hopped on a one-way flight to Austin, TX. I still remember Daniel picking me up from the airport. It was late at night and he brought chicken nuggets. I was carrying one duffel bag that Chris had given me as a parting gift. Life is all about relationships.

Ok, I’m in Austin, now what? The first day I went to change my driver’s license then walked into a fast food restaurant and asked for a job. They hired me. I worked in the drive thru. I went from throwing raves with thousands of people to working in a drive through in less than a year. Damn.

I tried to build an app. I lost all my money and went into debt. The idea doesn’t matter when the execution is atrocious. I’d never been in debt. I hate debt.

But, at the same time a friend who worked in the airline industry gave me a companion pass that let me fly anywhere in the world for super cheap. Though there was a catch — I could only use it for the next 8 months. I went everywhere I could. Chile. Israel. China. He said he was spending his birthday in Dubai and I should join. So I did. I still remember returning from Dubai and putting on my fast food uniform and walking into work and the owner saying “how was your weekend?” and I thought about answering “have you ever been to Dubai?” but I just shrugged instead.

After a few months I calculated how many flights I’d taken. I was averaging 2.3 flights a week. In December, I flew from Texas to Seattle to Japan to China then made it back to Augusta, Georgia on Christmas Eve just before Santa Claus, hopping 7 flights in total. That was my saddest Christmas — I didn’t give any gifts to anyone because I was so broke. I felt empty. Not one gift. Not even a stick of gum or a pair of socks. I flew back to Austin and wrote myself a letter admitting what a fuck-up I was for not being able to give one thing to my mother who brought me into this world. I vowed to never let it happen again.

As soon as Austin ok’d the ridesharing companies, I began driving for them. I could make more money doing that than in the drive thru, or so I thought, so I quit my fast food job. My first night driving was one to remember. I figured I’d go on when the bars let out and get the big fares from the high demand. The first ride came in and I drove to 7th and Trinity. Three people came up to my car: a tall, muscular black guy, his beautiful girlfriend in a skin tight dress, and a scrawny white guy rocking the frat bro look. As they were getting in, the frat bro said, “hey look there’s that asshole from the bar” and yelled something at him. The next thing I heard was “Oh shit, here he comes. Drive! Drive!” but I couldn’t go anywhere. Cars were in front of me, they were behind me. I looked over to see a giant roided-out dude in an Ed Hardy tee running full speed at my car. He didn’t stop, just letting his momentum carry him to the car and into a punch. The punch was aimed at the frat bro, who happened to be sitting in the backseat right behind me. The only problem was the window was up, but Giant Ed-Hardy-wearing-t-shirt guy didn’t seem to mind and punched right through the window. Glass exploded everywhere. Everyone got out of the car to fight except me. I called 911. Then everything happened really fast. The black guy went over and started shoving the roided-out guy back and forth. Then the little frat bro got out of the backseat, went and tapped the giant on the shoulder, he turned around and the frat bro hit him one punch to the jaw and knocked him out cold, ice cold, and the giant Ed-Hardy-wearing-t-shirt guy fell to the pavement, landing face first on the curb with the sound of teeth crunching. Yikes. You’d think it was over but no. Apparently this giant Ed-Hardy-wearing-t-shirt guy had a sister, and I heard her running down the way just in time to turn and see a female version of the Kool-aid man coming down the track. She was huge and round and she ran full speed at the innocent beautiful girlfriend in the tight dress who was now standing on the road. Bump. The tubby sister used all her weight to bellybump the slender girl down to the ground, and she hit hard and lay unconscious on the pavement. That now brought the count to two. The muscular black boyfriend saw this, and reacted by grabbing the tubby sister around the shoulders and throwing her down the hill. The tubby sister hit and rolled down the hill. Now we’re at three. I thought it was over, but it only escalated — for someone in the distance saw the black guy throw a large white woman and yelled out “You don’t hit a woman, nigger!” I jumped in and separated the new aggressor all the while wondering where in the world were the cops — it felt like we were about 3 seconds away from this thing combusting into a race riot all over some stupid comment from a frat bro to a guy in an Ed Hardy tee. Just then sirens blarred. The muscular black guy picked up his girlfriend while the frat bro hailed a cab the old fashioned way and the three of them pulled off in a yellow taxi just as the cops showed up. It was quite a timely exit. I was the only sober person on the scene and explained it all. At the end of it, I went to my friend Ben’s apartment and slept on the floor. It stormed so bad that the trash bag I used to cover the window blew right off and I woke up to standing water in my backseat. Austin flooded. I wasn’t cut out for rideshare driving, after all, that was my first attempt.

Amidst all my traveling I was working to source manufacturers to run production on a consumer good my friend had imagined. A local Austin entrepreneur heard about it and hired me on the spot to help bring his product to market. I still remember him saying “I’ll pay you some shitty salary, I don’t know 38, 40k or something, to bring this to market.” I was happy — that was double what I made throwing parties and way better than my hourly wage in the drive-thru. I’ve always done the work I believe in whether someone pays me or not. He found a spot to use as a distribution center and I became the ecommerce and warehouse manager. We did a production run out of China, arranged 9 containers to get it all the way to Texas, and were waiting at the door when the trucks starting pulling in. We unloaded more than 20,000 boxes, one at a time and arranged them according to the plan I had come up with. It wasn’t perfect, but it worked. Yet distribution is harder to get than we imagined and now we had almost a million dollars in inventory we were paying to store. I told the owner I would leave if it helped his bottom line. He said it would and thanked me for the work.

I left there and pitched the owners of a medical software company my idea for a “food startup.” They decided to take me inhouse and absorb the costs of launching my business. I was ecstatic — I’d moved to Texas to learn about software and now I’d be working with a tech company to bring my idea to life. It was a dream come true. But, I was young and idealistic. I didn’t know how to navigate a company or lead product development. I’d read books while waiting for responses. I spent too much time reading, waiting.

After doing one marketing video for the “food startup” the owners of the company asked me to do marketing for their product, which was the money maker financing my deal. I said yes as long as my best friend Daniel could come on to keep the startup moving and they agreed. After a little while they asked us both to do marketing for their software and put my startup on the backburner. Their pitch was that we’d set a goal for specific revenue, hit it, sell the company then everyone would be flush with resources to pursue whatever. I talked with Daniel and choose to do it.

So now I was a healthcare marketer. I didn’t know what I was doing.

It took over a year but we hit the revenue goal, not really because of anything I did. We didn’t sell the company. It takes a long time for a company to sell, and even longer for shares to vest and yada yada yada. The company set a new revenue goal. I lost all my worth ethic. I despised the financial side of the healthcare industry — it’s slow, everyone is afraid of a lawsuit, and no one grows up wanting to work in medical billing (except Morgan K, she loved it). For the first time in my life, I was doing the bare minimum.

One weekend I told Daniel I thought I could build the first version of the website for the “food startup” myself. When I came back on Monday the owner called me into his office and asked if I was happy working there. We’d always been honest with one another. I still remember exactly what I told him, “If I’m still in the healthcare industry in 3 years, I’d consider myself a personal failure.” He told me I could leave and he’d pay me til the end of the month. I’ve always liked him and respected him, and our parting was as amiable as can be.

Ok, back to square one. How do I build a tech company myself? I don’t know, I just started. A lot of my time went to self-doubt and loathing. I built a website. It crashed all the time. It worked sometimes. I reached out to people. I just kept trying things. Somewhere in the midst of this I realized this was my one time to go.

A friend of mine got a new house. I installed a floor in exchange for storing my stuff there. My stuff is still there right now. I packed a duffle bag, the same one Chris had given me as a parting gift. I moved out of where I was living. I planned to sell my car, and one morning I woke up and it had been hit. I got $2k from the guy’s insurance and sold it as is for $1600. I had no income, no place to live, no car, and no clue how to build that which I imagined. But I had an idea. What if I drive around the country to discover more folks making real food?

You could say I couldn’t afford to do it. I saw it on the contrary — this was the only time I could afford to do it. Sure I didn’t have the money, but I’ve never had the money. If ideas are the new currency, I had two compounding ideas. Not just starting a business — but doing it while driving around the country. I wasn’t looking to do something remarkable — I was hoping to find something remarkable.

Daniel and I went in 50/50 on the vehicle for the trip — a 1980 VW Vanagon Westfalia. We could only afford it because it didn’t run. We bought it and I spent 3 or 4 months banging my head during an engine rebuild. Carlos, Daniel and I took that thing apart and got a machinist to do the longblock portion, then tried to get it to run. I’d never recommend doing an engine rebuild while starting a company — it allows a lot to go wrong in a day — but that’s what I did. Finally we got it to crank. I was ecstatic. I couldn’t wait to go. But Daniel said we should throw an event to launch the trip and he was right. Before I knew it we were hosting the First Annual Ungrocery Dinner in Austin, TX, a 4-course plated meal featuring local food with beer pairings all prepared by a super talented Texas chef. We sold out on word of mouth alone — no emailing, tweets, or loathsome facebook posts. Just wait for the next one…

When the dinner ended, I felt sick — I was so excited for the trip, but anxiety filled my chest because I had been responsible for the engine work. I wouldn’t have let you take it down the street for fear it’d breakdown. Hell, I hadn’t driven it more than 10 miles myself before setting out.

I left Austin Wednesday evening. I barely made it 30 miles before breaking down. Thankfully, it happened near Big Matt’s neighborhood on the night of his birthday party, so we drank beer and tequila before I crashed on his couch. The next day I “fixed the issue” and had a last supper-esk moment with Daniel and Carlos. We ate taco bell in the van during their lunch break then I hit the road. Ah day two, I didn’t make it past Waco before breaking down again (I was spewing hot oil out of the back of the van). I pulled over and the engine drooled black everywhere. All of my anxiety was coming true. I determined a fix which took about 8 hours to dry, so I holed up in a coffee shop and began editing pictures from the First Annual Ungrocery Dinner. It had really been a smashing success, but that felt like years ago as I sat in Waco alone uncertain if the fix would work. It’d been two days and I could have ridden a bicycle further. I pulled out of Waco around midnight and drove through the night. I saw the most beautiful meteor streak across the night sky — all sorts of brilliant neon green light illuminating the landscape brighter than all the dancehall signs in Texas combined. For a moment, I lost my mind — the light was too much.

I drove as long as I could before sleeping in a truck stop, my old VW among giant big rigs. After a few hours rest, I drove off then did an oil change on hot Mississippi black-top and drove the rest of the day. I discovered my gas gauge didn’t work — it stuck at a quarter tank — when I ran out of gas just past Birmingham. I made it to Atlanta about 1am Saturday. I had left Texas on Wednesday. The trip, well, it started slowly.

And then I had the time of my life.

Today I turn 30. Someone asked me what I was doing to celebrate. They said I have to do something special. I laughed and said half my 29th year was spent traveling around America — that’s what I did for my 30th.

I had the best 20s of anyone ever. I wanted to try as many businesses as possible; to learn as many skills as I could; to see as much of the world as I could; and most of all, to live a life of adventure. I’ve spent all my energy pursuing that which I believe in. I’m shocked I still have friends. I’m a hard friend to have — I’ve woken up Daniel at 4AM for a ride to the airport; I called David at midnight to see if me and another guy could crash with him and his wife for a few nights; I took Graham on a 19 mile march from the south rim of the Grand Canyon down to the river all around then back up in a day simply to exhaust him (and because the park rangers told me not to do it); I’ve pulled pranks on Todd so much now I have to get others to do them — one prank was so good he didn’t speak to me for a week and we still don’t talk about it — just wait til he sees what’s next. If you’re reading this, there’s a 75% chance I’ve crashed on your couch. All that to say, I count myself the lucky one in every friendship I have. All of them. To everyone I know, you’ve made me the wealthiest man on the planet. Seriously, all the bank accounts in the world can’t add up to the love you’ve given me. Consider this an infinite IOU. And a thank you. Yes, you, thank you.

On the trip, I hiked alone through the Redwoods, the ancient trees standing unapologetic — timeless — and thought of my brother Joe. While I was throwing drug and alcohol free parties, he went missing. He ran from the law and we didn’t see him for 2 years. He was 20 years old. I have no clue how he celebrated his 21st birthday, but I bet he was questioning God too. He probably doesn’t remember, too many drugs. The law caught up to him. He plead guilty to it all and got a stint in the state pin. Today he’s a husband, a father, and a business owner. He got married on my mother’s birthday — the greatest surprise of a present she’s ever received. I’ve seen her cry the saddest of tears while he was on the run; I’ve had long silent car rides with her after she got done visiting him behind bars; I’ve seen the pain he caused her, pain he’ll never see. But I’ve never seen her smile bigger than on his wedding day, her birthday. I call her on the phone and she talks about how much she loves her grandbaby, Lilly Kate, Joe’s little girl.

When he was missing, I’d dream he’d come back, but it seemed impossible. Too many felonies, too many drugs, too many broken relationships in the family. I’d pray, but I didn’t understand God. I’d cry in anger, but only alone.

He’s been called many things, and all of them accurate, at one time or another: addict, fugitive, convict, prisoner. But he’s none of those things today. He’s the comeback kid. A free man. A man who loves his wife, his daughter, his mother, his family.

I’m proud of him. Not because he’s made money, but because he’s made a life.

This is it. We only get one life. I feel as though I just got here, like I just woke up, that there’s so much left to discover, to try, to explore. So many more tears to cry, joys to share, moments to grasp. Struggles, failures, successes, all on the horizon. Are you sure we only get one life? Is this it? I don’t know — even though we differ on the destination, we are the only species that believes in an afterlife. Heaven, hell, this planet or another — I stand amazed that we discuss it at all. We definitely are the only species who buries their dead.

The reason life seems so short is because you only realize what’s good at the end. That’s why I write everyday — to get to the end of a story, to get to the bottom of things, one thing, to find the essence of good in all the shit.

Because stories of redemption are happening all around us and rarely do they involve an altar.

Because humanity devours conflict while our souls crave peace.

Because death is a guarantee and life is not.

Because there’s more, there’s got to be more,

Right?

Tim Felz

I’m publishing a book this year.  Whatever is the opposite of a self help book, that’s what I’m writing. If you found these stories remotely entertaining, submit your email address here for more and first access to the book.

It Started Slowly

Much has transpired since my last writing. So, I’ll give you some highlights and then tell you an entertaining story from the first leg of traveling/living in a van. First, the highlights:

Hosted the 1st Annual Ungrocery Dinner (pics from the event).

Drove 3,162 miles from Austin, Texas to Virginia.

Actually planned out the ultimate road trip (you know it – the Ungrocery Best Quest).

Started an Instagram to push content.

Started making drone videos of places (Folley Beach, SC and Asheville, NC)

Published my first food writing post.

Let’s go behind the scenes of #vanlife. The title of this short story is It Started Slowly.

If you’ve ever done a complete engine rebuild, I don’t recommend breaking in the new engine on a 1,054 mile trip from Texas to Georgia with a hard deadline of a friend’s wedding. But, that’s what I did.

We hosted the 1st Annual Ungrocery Dinner on a Monday and I returned all of the items on Tuesday then departed Wednesday May 24th for Atlanta, GA. I barely made it 50 miles before the van broke down. The engine was doing its job, but the cable from the ignition coil to the distributor was too loose and the van died in Georgetown, TX. For those of you who don’t know Texas geography, you could leisurely bike from Austin to Georgetown on a Saturday morning, so needless to say #vanlife was on life support early into her existence.

The engine had thrown oil everywhere and I was fortunate that Daniel and Carlos were literally pulling up behind me on the exit ramp when the van quit. We got it started and limped to Daniel’s father-in-law’s house. The most baffling part of the whole story: Carlos followed behind us and when we parked the van, he said “you guys were driving and I saw a piece of the engine fell off.” He stopped, picked it up, and I was able to secure it properly in the engine. But just think about it – the part could have fallen off any time during the 50 miles, especially when I was driving 70mph on the interstate. Instead, it fell off during the 1.2 miles Carlos was behind the van, no one hit it, and we were able to put it in properly. Baffling. Well, except that Carlos is the unsung hero of the story, per usual.

We worked on the van the next morning and celebrated with a last-lunch of tacos in the van. I drove off to make it to Atlanta! About the time I hit Waco, I looked in the rear view mirror to see oil spewing out of the back. You don’t need to know too much about vehicles to realize you’re about to have to eat a shit sandwich when you see that, so I pulled over to discover the dipstick sheath had come out of the engine block. An engine requires oil to keep the parts lubricated and the oil remains under pressure while the engine is running. Thus, if there’s a little hole in the engine block, say for example where the dipstick sheath was formerly attached, then all the pressurized oil now has an exit. That’s what happened to me. I stopped at a Buccee’s and the engine drooled oil.

After making a few phone calls trying to figure out how someone else would fix it, I finally said, “fuck it, I’ll fix it myself.” The fix I came up with involved using a silicon epoxy, which took 6 hours to dry. Seeing as it was late afternoon, this wasn’t optimal. I had now been gone from Austin for two days and hadn’t made it past Waco. I could have navigated waterways further in a kayak during the same time.

I worked in a nearby coffee shop until they closed, then laid down in the van to take a nap while the epoxy cured. I woke up around 11 PM, checked my work and decided it was time to test it. Plus, I had to make it to a rehearsal dinner in less than 24 hours that was still 1000 miles away.

I departed Waco at 11:34 PM with a healthy uncertainty. Thankfully, the van’s engine is in the rear. When it leaks oil, the oil catches a draft and the wind throws it up on the back window. This is good, because it allows an amateur like myself to know when something is going wrong. As I drove back roads through a beautiful, clear Texas night, I kept my eyes in the rearview to look for oil on the back window. Sometime around 2 AM, I became increasingly scared that my oil pressure was low. I called Daniel (yes, I realize he has a wife and a baby) to have him do some research on oil pressure. I was the only vehicle on a 2-lane highway in East Texas. All of a sudden a bright flash came from behind the van then began moving forward. It was the most radiant neon green I have ever seen in my life, streaking across the sky racing to the horizon illuminating everything with an eerie green hue. I’ve seen 9 meteor showers, and I’ve never seen whatever this was. I started yelling “OH SHIT OH SHIT” and naturally Daniel thought the van was igniting so he started yelling back “WHAT?! WHAT’S WRONG.” In fact, I recorded our conversation and here’s the rest of the transcript:

TIM: AHHH AHHH HOLY SMOKES

DANIEL: WHAT’S HAPPENING? ARE YOU OK?

TIM: DUDE. DUDE. OH MY GOD. I, I, I, DON’T KNOW WHATS HAPPENING

DANIEL: ARE YOU OK?

TIM: A GIANT GREEN LIGHT STREAKED ACROSS THE SKY. IF I’M INCINERATED IN THE NEXT 2 SECONDS, KNOW THAT IT WAS A BEAUTIFUL WAY TO GO.

Turned out, it wasn’t a warhead from Kim Jung Un’s arsenal. I suppose it was a giant meteor burning through the atmosphere, though the color and magnitude were beyond anything I’d ever witnessed. The drive continued.

Sometime around 3:30 AM, I decided it’d be good to get some shut eye. I rolled into a 24 hour truck stop and parked Patches the van between a few big rigs. After a quick brush of the tooth, I was lying down to spend my first night in the bottom bunk. I set an alarm for a few hours later, got up at 6:30, brushed my teeth again and drove off.

About 6 hours later I had to stop in Mississippi to do the 500-mile oil change a new engine requires. Now you’re probably asking yourself, “where would you change the oil during a road trip?” Never change your oil on a black top parking lot in Mississippi during the summer. That’s what I did, and it was a different level of hot. The job got really fun when the trash bag holding the used-oil ripped and a steady stream of warm oil was pouring out on the hot black top of the local Walmart.

Thrilled to be leaving Mississippi, I put the throttle to the floor, hitting 0-60 in ~4 minutes, and cruising steady to Atlanta. I passed through Birmingham hours later, thrilled to be getting more than 20 miles-to-the-gallon. I couldn’t believe there was still a quarter tank left after having driven almost 300 miles on it. I typed out a text (yes, uh, while driving) to express how unbelievable this gas mileage was and the moment I was hitting send, I learned that my fuel gauge was broken — it doesn’t read below a quarter tank. I was out of gas and came to a puttering halt in West Alabama.

Running out of gas ensured that I’d miss the rehearsal dinner which I was already scheduled to show up late to anyways. Patches finally came to a stop in the Atlanta neighborhood of Brookhaven at 12:34am.

It’d been 3 days since I left Austin, but we made it, Patches and I. A thousand miles down, thousands more to go,

It started slowly…

Tim

 

Sorry, You’re Not Allowed to Do That

We’re all looking for permission.

Earlier this year, a top elk-hunting guide told stories of some of his trips. One thing was consistent with every hunt – he had to tell his clients to shoot. Think about that: they’ve paid thousands of dollars, have the most expensive gear, have trekked multiple days for this one moment and they would not take the shot unless he told them to. He said, “I get a wild bull elk within 25 yards and they wouldn’t take the shot. I had to give permission to shoot. They needed me to do that.”

From an early age, we’re taught that we need permission. Raise your hand if you need to go to the bathroom, ask if you can have a turn, get the boss’s approval first.

But life is not about permission. Life rewards action.

Nobody gave the Wright Brothers permission to fly (but the government gave this guy permission).

Sergey and Larry didn’t ask permission – Google was the 21st search engine to enter the market. Rest in peace Ask Jeeves.

And Casey Neistat has no business being on a tv commercial – but, there he is.

Most of the time, the best words we can hear are the ones we fear the most.

“No.”
“That’s against our policy.”
“We’re going in a different direction.”
“Leave.”

History is full of those who did not ask permission.

If you believe that what you’re doing needs to exist, here’s all the permission you need:

No one cares if you fail.

Game on,

Tim

The best things I’ve come across since last email

Ignaz Semmelweis had blood on his hands. Actually. Not a metaphor – 20 minute read that I can’t stop thinking about. Shows the power of noticing a problem, naming it, and not stopping until you have the solution.

Self Publish the Best Seller Inside of You: A How To – particularly part G, in which he writes “Inside of their own copy for my book they had links out to ads for other books. They didn’t really care about me. They sold almost none of my book on a two million person list.”

Unicorn Swaps and Falling Complacency – if you read nothing else, simply scroll down to the 1MDB section because there’s a new rule in metaphors “Okay new rule: If you ever say that any financial market event is a “perfect storm,” you have to continue the nautical metaphor for at least a paragraph and follow the relevant ship all the way to port or to the bottom of the ocean, as the case may be.”

And yes, all three of those go against the tl;dr crowd. Enjoy 🙂

Introducing the American Food Tour

Here’s the vision: find the best food from every part of the country.

The plan is to take a 7 month road trip around the US in search of delicious food. Find it, work out the logistics, and sell it on ungrocery.com.

Few people take a go to market strategy as literal as I do. Here are the markets I plan to go:

American Food Tour

I will go to all the colorful states. If it’s not colored, I’m either a) saving it for later b) will go to it on the test voyage or c) it’s a crappy state (I’m looking at you North Dakota). I’ll spend 4-6 weeks in each region, and as of right now, the total trip duration is 218 days. There’s a fair chance my calculations are incorrect given all of the unforeseeable variables.

This 1980 VW Vanagon will serve as my trusty steed:

VW-Vanagon-1980

You’re also looking at the first physical asset of ungrocery – a 36 year old van. His previous owner named him patches, but I’m open to suggestions.

Why do this? Why now?

In all my travels, I’ve found food to be this fascinating thing — it becomes part of you (eat alot of twinkies if you don’t believe me), it’s an expression of the region, and it’s different wherever you go. People may hide their beliefs, their history, or their opinions, but strangely, people love to share their food. And not just a bite – people want you to experience the best food they have to offer.

Ungrocery gets great food to places it would not have ventured otherwise. A vendor with delicious items from Florida should have people in Oregon enjoying them. Ungrocery is the bridge that makes it happen.

Nothing brings people together like sharing a meal. My goal is to show that while the food may taste different, we can all eat from the same table.

And the best time to do that is now.

Let’s Eat

Understanding Goals

We’re one month into 2017 and the new years resolution posts, tweets and open letters to ones unwanted fat cells have vanished.

Yes, the cessation of such posts gives us much to be thankful for. But I don’t think we should abandon goals just yet. Let’s begin by understanding them.

It’s hard to imagine our ancestors having goals. But they did. Just one:

Survive.

Survival is being. It’s in even our name (human being), our language and surprisingly it’s not on our to-do list.

You and I don’t think of survival much. We can order food to eat, swipe right to procreate, turn a faucet to drink and take a pill to sleep. We’ve reached the ‘inherent survival’ point of humanity.

This is a pretty recent development for mankind and we don’t know how to handle it. While it’s unlikely a giant predator will attack us at the watering hole, we are wired to expect it. “Stay with the herd, it’s safer. Follow the crowd, it’ll be easier. Don’t get out of line, you could be noticed.”

All of us have one thing in common: impending doom is our default operating system. Our impending doom operating system (idOS) developed over thousands of years, and its sole concern is being. Being safe. Being secure. Being comfortable. Our imagination is strong, rooted in fear, and determined to keep us safe (for the record, we live in the safest time in history).

So what does this have to do with goals?

Goals have nothing to do with being.

Your favorite stories have someone accomplishing a goal while being scared shitless. Or being under qualified. Or being too this or too that.

Yet most people totally miss the point and set goals about being. And that’s why they’re stuck. Their idOS kicks in and they STOP – fear derails their effort.

So just get rid of fear – that’s it? No, eradicating fear is not the point – without fear we’d cease to be human. The point is to recognize it’s there and to do the shit we are terrified of anyways. Or as my grandfather called it, courage.

While fear is all about being, goals are all about doing. Real goals have three questions attached to them:

Can you measure it?
Can you put a timeline on it?
Can you fail?

You only have a goal if ‘yes’ is the answer to all 3 of those questions. Especially the last one – the chance of failure is what makes it a goal instead of a guarantee.

Do you want to be fit? It’s not gonna happen overnight. Instead, go get your body fat measured and decrease it by 2% in 6 months. That’s exercise, diet, and sleep – all packaged into one goal.

Do you want to be free of credit card debt? Great, grand, wonderful, but most Americans take on more consumer debt the more money they make (baffling, I know). Start getting out of debt right now with a real goal. Make $200 a month payments on that debt for 6 months.

Do you want to be more thankful? Simple – write down 5 things you’re thankful for every morning before you start your day for 1 week.

Last week, a friend texted me every evening with a productivity score ranging 1-10. If he did not text me a score, I would punish him. He’s a perfect example of taking the pseudo-goal of “being more productive” and turning it into an actual goal that was measurable (1-10), he had a timeline (1 week) and the possibility of failing.

The best way “to be” something is to start doing it today. Make a real goal. Tell a friend. Can you answer yes to all three questions? Great. Now get out there and do it.

And please, no #squadgoals, ok?

Tim

1 Month Old: How ungrocery is doing

As of yesterday (January 25), the ungrocery website has been live for a full month.

Here’s an in depth look at my work flow when creating ungrocery.com:

Ah yes, it’s been fun. Here are some numbers:

-ungrocery has generated $483.12 of revenue. We plan on doubling that in month two.
-our official launch email had a 57% open rate.
-we had 1 person use Internet Explorer to visit our site – who still uses Internet Explorer?!? Sadly, Netscape Navigator was nobody’s browser of choice.

Below is a chart of our website visits. Can you guess which day we sent out the launch email for ungrocery?


Even Sherlock Holmes wouldn’t need a magnifying glass to see email is not dead. Far from it, actually.

(A brief side note: I use MailChimp to get to people’s inboxes. It’s the OG among all the email service publishers, super easy to use, and has a great pricing model based on subscribers. Plus the founder gives cool talks and a good friend from college works there. Here’s what an unskilled designer like me can make with it).

In this post (and moving forward), whenever we discuss money it’s important to remember the difference in revenue and profit. Revenue is how much money you generate. Profit is how much you keep (before Uncle Sam).

For example, when you buy a bag of peanut brittle from ungrocery, you pay $16.74. Thank you, our revenue is now $16.74 higher.  Our profit from that sale is dependent on 3 variables: 1) cost of goods sold, which in this case is the brittle itself,  2) payment gateway costs 3) shipping costs (fyi if you’re considering purchasing, the shipping cost remains the same up to 4 bags…giving you a better price per unit the more you buy).

Right now, I’m building ungrocery with a bootstrapping approach, meaning profits are the only way to grow the business. Our next move is to introduce a premium product. Yes, it’s more expensive, but at the same time, it’s a high value item. It won’t be for everyone, but no product is. We’re talking 5 premium cuts of red meat, grass fed and finished, dry aged to perfection, and shipped to your front door. This product will be 10X the cost of the peanut brittle. Remember, we only sell products we believe in and use ourselves, and this steak collection is made for the conscious carnivore (ok, or omnivore).

The plan is to introduce a new vendor/product every week. For each vendor we create a ton of original content, but we need help distributing it. If you know any food/health/lifestyle bloggers I could reach out to, please let me know.
I’ll keep my ungrocery posting at a balanced level, I promise – perhaps a monthly update like this may become the standard?

Thanks for being here. And thank you for all those readers that have turned into customers – it’s because of you that I’m not working in a drive thru again 🙂

Thank you,

Tim

How ungrocery started

Like most good things in life, the concept for Ungrocery originated on the heels of a fishing trip. Having more fish than we could eat, my Guinness-world-record-setting, artist uncle and I decided to sell some in order to offset some of the trip’s cost. We sold as much as we wanted in the next 20 minutes. Hmmm..maybe there’s something here?

I phoned my friend Daniel back in Austin and asked him if he wanted to open a tuna stand on South Lamar. He laughed, then asked, why not sell it online?

So I tested out some other products I could acquire: jerky and raw honey. I had no trouble selling either online. What other bounty could we sell online?

Now, while this testing was happening, I was living in a shipping container outside of Austin. Before you get all judgmental, it was a really nice shipping container. Check out the white oak paneling and chrome flashing on the ceiling. Pretty dope.

If you’ve ever lived in a shipping container, you probably didn’t have much cash either. “Broke” was a nice way to put it.

Even so, on November 5, 2014, I purchased the domain name “mundobo.com” thinking I’d made a great new word to represent the ‘world’s bounty’ (’Mundo’ meaning world in spanish and the B-O from bounty).

And so I excitedly sold under this name. Then one of those telemarketers from India called and could not pronounce ‘Mundobo.com.’ While his attempts were humorous, if the guy trying to sell me a website design couldn’t pronounce it, we’re in trouble.

Next, my cousin called me. I had told him about the idea previously, and he had created some sales on the jerky. The convo started, “Hey Tim, how’s that Mun-DODO…I mean Mun-DOBE or whatever going?”

My response, “Well the name sucks but I’ve sold some jerky.” That’s when I knew it was time to change the name. The name Ungrocery came shortly after, inspired by my ceaseless search for “un” foods, as in unwaxed apples, undyed fish, and unprocessed meats.

The tests had proven people desire honest food. And I knew I could sell food directly to consumers. Who knows, perhaps it’d allow me to move out of the shipping container. It was time to begin.

If you’ve ever started something before, you know you don’t start with thousands of users. You start with one. We started with perhaps the best beekeeper on the East Coast, Mr. James Knox, who had been keeping bees for 67 years by the time we approached him. He had an established customer base for his honey, sold nucs (bee hives) consistently, and could have very easily declined.

The weekend we spent with him was one of the most impactful experiences of my life (I wrote about it then and when I heard of his passing). After getting to know him, the pursuit became clear: find people who are passionate about what they are creating.

Back in Central Texas, we started working with passionate people creating delicious products like peanut brittle, jerky, and pasta. We attempted to capture their attention to detail, careful processes, and constant energy in short videos. We weren’t creating an online retailer—we were building a community.

And that’s still the work I do today. Whether hosting dinners, driving around the country, or launching new products, the goal remains the same: connect people to people through real food.