How did I get here?

That’s the thought playing on a loop in my head. This same feeling has always found me when I push a boundary of travel.

The first time I can recall this feeling of freedom was in college at LSU. For those that aren’t familiar with that chapter of my life, I was a thrower on the track and field team at LSU. Track, unlike football, competes in both an indoor and outdoor season every year.

So, starting in January to July, you are traveling every other week (give or take) to compete at different meets around the country. Football season is a much shorter season and the teams don’t really have any freedom. You arrive the night before, go to a hotel, then play, then fly home. For track, meets can start Thursday and wrap up Sunday evening with the running. For throwers, we are usually all done with our events by midday Friday. Also, I was lucky enough to be on a team under head coach Pat Henry.

Coach Henry is a legend and honestly someone I haven’t thought of in some time. As a head coach who coached the sprinters, we didn’t deal with each other a ton. But enough for there clearly to be some impact left. He was my first exposure to a level-headed coach. I don’t remember him ever yelling or cursing but always being cool and collected. Not Rick Rubin by any means but way more that than drill sergeant.

One of the biggest takeaways was trust. We traveled with about 100 athletes, men and women combined. It already seems like there is so much fear as a coach that boundary after boundary for behavior would get laid down, but not with Pat. It was simple. You are an adult, act like it, show up and perform when you’re supposed to. Or you simply will not travel with the team. No exceptions to this. While calm, there was never a doubt that his boundaries were lines in the sand that curiosity to explore crossing was not worth it. The consequences were real, therefore no need to overemphasize the threat.

We didn’t have a curfew, no one did a room check, if you weren’t competing you were not required to be at the track all day. You had to be there to compete and train, then to be there for the final team meeting after the 4 x 400m relay. As my team held multiple Olympians on the team, it was a privilege to watch people perform at that level. Man, they could fly out there. If they ran like a Ferrari, I’d be more akin to the workout moped with no brakes that kid in your neighborhood who started smoking at 8 had. (Shoutout to Dant Hughes).

This calm demeanor and solid boundaries gave us a ton of time for exploration. We would go to parties with other throwers, explore Manhattan, travel all over the country. For me, I took full advantage to check out cities, party, and do rad things.

For instance, one year we were in NY for the relays. Early indoor season, when I wasn’t at the track I was roaming the city. At that point, I was a bit obsessed with bicycling and dreaming of opening a bike shop back in Baton Rouge. I spent two full days taking cabs, walking, riding the subway on my own to countless little bike shops. To grab a T-shirt, get inspired, and chat with anyone who would talk to me. Bike messengers plus doing it in NYC is still pretty punk rock to me.

Those fearless dudes bombing hills on fixed gear bikes, no brakes, and typically no helmets were savages. Like I said, this was also in the early 2000s when the further nerfing of our country was still another decade away. But I remember being down near the Statue of Liberty at a small shop, drinking a coffee, and chopping it up with the mechanic there. After owning a bike shop, these are easy dudes to talk to. They are essentially trapped and completely open to any distraction from working. I’m sure I punished a few of them with my obviously kook questions. I don’t recall having a negative experience, so I guess that’s the reality for how it played out. I do, however, specifically remember chatting with a dude, in his denim vest and a “NY SUCKS” messenger hat brim turned up, gauged ears, and “The Stooges” playing just above comfortable listening volume. Not too loud as to run people out, but loud enough you didn’t hang out on accident.

In the moment, I was hit with that same feeling, “how did I get here?” I grew up in Louisiana hunting alligators, for fuck's sake. But here I was. I’m so thankful to that kid who took off on his own to get around the city, no smartphone, no internet, just a bike shop pamphlet I found. About 30% of them were closed or moved. But

 that feeling of, I have chosen to do things way off the path I was starting down at birth.

That feeling of experiencing something new and different is my all-time favorite high. Fully present in the moment. With tons of gratitude for myself embarking on and the opportunity to have the experience. When I reflect on that feeling, I love tracing it back to a left or right moment where I realized without that seemingly individual choice the dominoes that have fallen after are undeniably only part of following the path. Uganda ignites that same spot in my brain like a lightning storm.


I’m sitting at a makeshift table, in a corrugated tin shed, next to the Batwa King, laughing, watching an old kung fu movie on a TV connected to a car battery and makeshift antenna (everything is makeshift in reality). But here I am. Neither of us speaks Mandarin, but the translation of the plot didn’t obscure any enjoyment we all took from the fantastical fight scenes. Still more believable than any action sequence in the last decade of Fast and the Furious films.

The evening was spent with 30 of the Batwa, laughing, cheering, and mimicking fight scenes. Again, “HTFDIGH?” On that, I can for sure trace it as far back as the decision to pursue track and field instead of football in college. After that, it’s all on the other side of that. Without that choice, I don’t go to LSU, don’t find track, don’t live in Baton Rouge, don’t travel, don’t find Highland games, don’t have the brand, don’t have a podcast, don’t have a YouTube channel, don’t meet Justin Wren, don’t get involved with Fight for the Forgotten (his nonprofit) and damn sure don’t end up in Uganda sitting with the king, laughing at fucking kung fu movies.

That reflection also points to all the hard times that got me here as well. It gives me the current moment of gratitude for everything on the path. Reminding me that all those hard times, where I was depressed, scarred, injured, and in pain got me here as well. The knee surgeries, the pursuit of personal growth, the plant medicine ceremonies, the years I traveled with a cane, my divorce, my father's death, and choosing to chase my dream instead of comfort and the illusion of the safe path. That last one. Takes a ton of OVERRIDE. You have to trust in you more than anything. You have to take full accountability for every choice forward and the ones in your past.

My point is there is no way to map it out before you start. I didn’t get into the Highland Games to start a brand, or write books, or to eventually need to rewire how I perceive the world around me, but it did.

In that reflection, I end with the same feeling. This feeling of inner strength, gratitude, and self-confidence that fully ignited my being.

I say to myself, “That’s how I fucking got here. It wasn’t by accident. I chose to be here every step of the way. It’s not luck. I made this happen.”

March 08, 2024