This much I know

I turned 37 last week. I am now the same age that my mother was when she had me. When Mom was 37, she had been married for almost two decades, had a son in high school and had never been west of the Mississippi.

At 37, I’ve been west of the Mississippi at least once or twice, have never been married and have no children of which I am aware other than two furry half breeds.

Mom’s life and mine have been quite different but we have a lot in common. We’ve gone through some difficult times together and have experienced things that no wife, son, mother or brother should. As such, I’ve often had to turn to her when I didn’t understand what was happening in our lives. I’ve learned a lot from her. I like to think she has learned a thing or two from me as well.

But she hasn’t been my only instructor. Life has taught me a lot and I’ve been fortunate enough to have some great mentors along the way who have cued me into the more important things in life. I’d like to share some of these lessons with you.

A lot of this comes from personal experience but very little of this is truly original content. I’ve “stood on the shoulders of giants” so to speak in compiling this list. I’ve given credit where it is due.

Without further ado;  in no particular order, here are 37 things I’ve learned so far –

#1 – Flying a cut rate airline is rarely worth the hassle

#2 – Hugs > handshakes

#3 – If you order burnt ends at a BBQ joint & they don’t know what you are talking about, that might be your cue to go somewhere else

#4 – Traveling alone, especially internationally, will open doors and windows into your heart & soul that you never knew existed

#5 – Smile. Even if you don’t feel like it. Especially if you don’t feel like it

#6 – Everyone should drive Interstate 16 between Macon & Savannah on a holiday weekend at least once in their life so they can fully appreciate the rest of the country’s highway system

#7 – “The less you want, the more you got.” (You can find this sentiment in various religions and schools of philosophy going back to ancient times but I owe this particular phrasing to WSP)

#8 – Losing my grandfather was the hardest thing I have ever experienced

#9 – It can all change in the blink of an eye. If there is something you really want to do, somewhere you really want to see, something you really need to say, do it now. “Someday is a disease that will take your dreams to the grave with you” – Tim Ferriss

#10 – Moes > Chipotle

#11 – If you don’t want to read this list anymore, go watch some Seinfeld. You can learn almost everything you need to know about life & more from George and Kramer.

#12 – The half hour before the sun comes up & the half after it goes down are the most magical parts of the day

Fire on the Mountain

#13 – A thin layer of mayo on your PB&J takes it up at least two notches. Thanks, Peanut

#14 – Toenails are overrated

#15 – Learn CPR

#16 – Be wary of Crossfit on military holidays, during the Open, when your trainer is in a bad mood, on birthdays, during the Games, when your trainer is in a good mood, during Hero Week, etc, etc

#17 – Most people are inherently good. Except for bad tippers, litterers, people who talk in the theatre, obnoxious types who wear their sunglasses inside & those jerks who cruise in the far, left lane

#18 – Pack light. (See #7) When going on a trip, lay out everything you want to take. Put half of it back in the closet & take twice the money

#19 –  DFL > DNF > DNS

#20 – Don’t rely on others to explain everything for you. You have Google. Use it

#21 – “People will tell you anything” – Mom. I think it was Poe who said you should believe almost nothing you hear & only half of what you see

#22 – I try very hard to not let my ego stop me from telling people I love them

#23 – When I feel I’m losing perspective, I like to find a dark spot & count stars

#24 – Do not get your car repaired at the dealership (See # 11)

#25 – It is ok for your best friend to be a dog

#26 – Removing or limiting negative people in my life has been one of the greatest sources of happiness that I have found. It is a cancer, cut it out

#27 – 2 wheels > 4 wheels.

Put some fun between your legs

#28 – It could always be worse

#29 – If I could listen to only one album for the rest of my life, it would be Eat a Peach

#30 – “Do not pray for an easy life, pray for the strength to endure a difficult one” – B. Lee

#31 – Everyone should work in the service industry at least once

#32 – Apologizing to people I have wronged in the past has simultaneously been one of the most challenging/rewarding things I have ever done. Most are gracious, some don’t respond, a few have told me to get lost. Either way, it doesn’t matter. It is not about me

#33 – Experiences > possessions

#34 – No matter what my situation or excuse for not doing something, there is someone who is in the same or worse position who is doing that very thing I think impossible

#35 – Lunch with friends, afternoons with my nieces and nephews & afternoon strolls are all markedly better when I leave the pocket computer in the car

#36 – Learning to stop making excuses & to start saying “I choose not to” instead of “I can’t” & “It isn’t a priority” instead of “I don’t have time” has literally rewired my brain

#37 – I don’t really care what you do for money or how big your house or bank account is. I care about what sets your soul on fire, how you treat your parents and the homeless people out on the street and what you’re doing for the less fortunate all around you

Thanks for stopping by. I hope you enjoyed today’s post. Please feel free to leave any life lessons you’ve learned in the comments section below. If you’re enjoying The Juandering Advocate, I invite you to subscribe and join the tribe. Much love everyone!

These are a few of my favorite things

Before I get started, let me say that I was blown away by the overwhelming positive response to my first post. Thank you for all the love and comments. I heard from new friends, old friends, people at the gym, people out on the trail and even people in countries and on continents I’ve never even been to. THANK YOU. I frequently say that I’m the luckiest guy on the planet and it is precisely because of people like you. I am immensely grateful for all the incredible individuals in my life.

As promised, this post will focus on my favorite places, both near and far. All of these places hold special meaning to me and I hope that you are inspired to check out one or all of them in your future travels. And if you find you need an adventure buddy, tour guide or just somebody to make you look good in your Instagram photos, hit me up!!!

Las Vegas, Nevada

Yup. You read that right. America’s Playground. Before you click unsubscribe or go back to your social media, hear me out. Now, I don’t consider myself a city boy. Or a country boy for that matter. And it makes little difference to me if you happen to lean one way or the other. To each their own. But, whatever floats your boat or milks your goat, Vegas has something for you.

World class shows, five-star restaurants and high roller rooms where the minimum bet might be as high as $500. Not interested in squandering your retirement in a matter of hours? Fine. Buy some two dollar tacos, play the penny slots and check out the street performers. The world really is your oyster here. Want Thai food at 4AM? Not a problem. Care to see the Strip from the seat of a helicopter? Easy peasy. Want to go to a spa and sit on a heated bench while fake snow falls all around you? Yup, it’s all right there. In the middle of the desert no less.

But, let us just pretend for a moment that you can’t fathom setting foot in Sin City. The thought of all that neon and excess just rubs you the wrong way. So be it. Buy your ticket anyway. Why? The Colorado Plateau. That’s why.

Ever heard of the Plateau? Probably not. Most people haven’t. Ever heard of the Grand Canyon, Lake Powell, Zion, or the Colorado River? Sure you have. Know where you’ll find all those things and dozens of other mind-blowing landscapes? Yup. On the Plateau. The late, great Edward Abbey once famously described a piece of the Plateau as “the most beautiful place on earth.” You’d be hard pressed to find a larger, wilder, more beautifully diverse area in the lower 48.

You would be similarly hard pressed to find another major metropolitan area more conveniently located and prepared to equip you for your Plateau trip than Vegas.

You can go from Vegas to here in a matter of hours

You can touch down at McCarran, pick up your rental car (I suggest red convertible), turn your tail lights towards the neon on the Strip and find yourself completely alone in a true desert paradise faster than it takes an Elvis impersonator to go through tonight’s selections of the King’s greatest hits.

Not a fan of the desert? No worries. One of the largest lakes in the Western Hemisphere is just a thirty minute drive outside of Vegas.

Prefer higher elevation? Head west out of Vegas up to Mt. Charleston where you’ll find plenty of skiing, hiking and camping to satisfy your adventure itch.

No matter which direction or adventure you choose, you can do it all within a few hours of the Strip. The highest and lowest points in the lower 48 and all the excitement that lies between are less than 200 miles away. Get out there and get after it. Just be sure to hit up a buffet and catch a show or two before you grab your redeye back home…

Vegas Love in Container Park. Downtown Las Vegas

Circleville, WV

Population: 772. Home to Spruce Knob – West Virginia’s highest point.

I left my heart in the Monongahela National Forest. Part of it at least. I’m pretty sure one of my favorite sweatshirts is still up there somewhere as well. That’s ok though. I will be back soon enough.

This isolated spot in the heart of rural Appalachia is a magical place.

The magic might come from the near absence of cell phone and Wi-Fi signals bouncing around. (Spruce Knob sits near the middle of the U.S. National Radio Quiet Zone which limits the amount of radio transmissions in the area.)

Maybe it is the fact that this area boasts some of the darkest skies east of the Mississippi.

Spruce Knob Star Pic
I did not take this picture. But I enjoyed this view many a night. You can too.

Maybe it is the hundreds of acres of old growth forest filled with hemlock, spruce and pine.

Some people even claim that the magic comes from an energy vortex on the mountain.

Whatever the cause, it is tangible and one that I highly recommend experiencing for yourself.

I first learned about Spruce Knob shortly after I received my Wilderness First Responder certification. I worked as a field instructor at Experience Learning where I had the opportunity to share my love of the outdoors with children and adults of all ages and backgrounds. That was when part of my heart decided that it would stay there permanently. This is a common experience. Lives are changed on that mountain. It gets in your blood. You don’t leave the same person you were when you arrived. Some people just don’t leave.

Some great life lessons were given to me during my time on Spruce. I learned more important things there than I ever have in a class, office or courtroom. Some of my best teachers were still in single digits. I hope to share some of their tutelage with you as this blog progresses.

I could go on and on about Spruce Knob but I have my eye on a word limit and honestly I’m not gonna do it justice anyway. If you want to know more or you’d like to experience it for yourself, don’t hesitate to contact me. Seriously. We’ll climb a mountain or two, swim in an underground creek, pick some ramps and wild mushrooms to go along with supper and then relax in a yurt while we wait for the stars to come out. If you’re lucky…and you almost certainly will be, you will also get to enjoy the best s’mores you have ever had in your life.

“I hear her voice, in the morning hour she calls me…Almost heaven”

Namche Bazaar, Nepal

Few places stir up as much wanderlust in my heart as Namche Bazaar. Even though I only spent a few days here going to and from Everest Base Camp, this tiny alcove tucked high in the Himalayas left an indelible mark on my soul. I’m a huge fan of watching the sunrise and the early morning celestial show around Namche rivals any that I have seen.

Imagine this…you’re awakened by the sound of bells and yaks hooves as a procession carrying mountaineering supplies passes by the window of the lodge where you lay under heavy, woven blankets. You reach the window in time to see dawn light painting some of the higher reaches of the peaks nearly two vertical miles above while the rural village in the valley remains shrouded in relative darkness. That is Namche.

My best view of Everest and its less famous/more beautiful sister Ama Dablam both came during these early morning hours before the clouds descended and covered the iconic peaks. The skies are generally clearer in the morning before the mighty giants pull their curtains closed and obscure their riches to everyone not brave enough to take an up close and personal look.

But Namche isn’t just yaks and views of the Himalaya. There are also enough gear and coffee shops hawking legit and not so legit merchandise to outfit your own personal expedition if you decide you need that personal look (trust me, you probably don’t).

View of Namche from the ridge

Much better to sip your off brand Starbucks coffee and mingle with the locals and tourists alike while you walk around in a slightly oxygen deprived state of giddiness. Just remember to look up every now and then and take in the sight that is one of the most awe inspiring spectacles that exists anywhere on this planet.

And while you’re waiting for the clouds to pass, ponder this – for many years, this land was seen mostly only by those who lived there. No high end mountaineer equipment. No carts full of oxygen bottles. No helicopters buzzing the skies above. But then, Hillary and his British expedition came through and helped pave the way for aspiring individuals who want to take their chance at the tallest mountain in the world.  If it weren’t for man’s seemingly irresistible urge to conquer things; perhaps Namche wouldn’t even exist. Certainly not in the commercial form that it does today. But, I for one am glad that it does and I know at least one other Georgia boy who probably feels the same way.

Jimmy Carter Hostel
At the Khumbu Lodge where The Man from Plains and yours truly both hung out just a few decades removed

Zurich, Switzerland

I visited Zurich the summer after my first year in law school. While most of our classmates were getting their first taste of shuffling papers and learning how to bill hours, my buddy and I were bumming around Europe under the pretense of studying international law. We visited quite a few cities in the seven countries we visited while we were there but Zurich was undoubtedly one of my favorites.

I was training for a half marathon at the time and I ran in almost every city we visited during those six weeks. It was that first run in Switzerland that made me fall in love with the place. Yeah…I fall in love with a lot of places. Sort of a hopeless romantic when it comes to travel. It is a common side effect of the incurable disease known as “Itchy Feet.”

With the help of my travel journal, I can still remember the specifics of that run despite the passage of over a decade. I set out alone since my buddy needed a nap. I remember thinking right away that Zurich was one of the cleanest cities I had ever seen. The stunning architecture that greeted me at each new turn left vivid memories that I have not forgotten even a decade later. As any avid runner will tell you, certain runs stay with you. Excursions where the conditions were so right or so horribly wrong that your brain stores them in a protected backup folder that you can access months or years later.

I quickly got lost in the maze of streets and by the time I pulled out the paper map the hotel front desk had given me, my sweat had rendered it largely indecipherable. This oversight coupled with my inability to remember the hotel’s name ended up adding miles onto my route. At the time, I never ran more than around five miles at any given time so I became overly attentive of my surroundings looking for anything that seemed familiar.

I ran along the Limmat river, past the uber high end stores and bank headquarters of the Bahnhofstrasse and around a couple of Zurich’s famous cathedrals. And the chocolate stores. I’ve never ran by so many chocolate stores in my life. I knew exactly how I was going to replenish all those calories I was burning.

It was around that time that I seemed to let go of my worries over being lost and instead found myself enjoying the moment; willing to let it lead me wherever it may. Maybe it was the release of endorphins from the smell of the chocolate. Maybe it was my brain throwing its hands up in defeat. I don’t know what it was; but I do remember feeling like I was right where I was supposed to be.

As a runner, I long for moments like that. They are frequently few and far between. Most days, it is just the repetitive left/right/left/right. A process of trying to block out distracting thoughts so I can focus on my breathing; or my form, or ideally nothing at all. But, every now and then, the air beneath my feet becomes a bit more buoyant, my smell and vision slightly more crisp and for a few precious moments, the exertion becomes somewhat effortless as I become one with my immersive environment. That’s the good stuff and ultimately one of the things that keeps me coming back for more.

I could go on and on about Zurich’s chocolate, beautiful churches and the spotlessly clean streets, but if I am really honest with myself, it was that near perfect run that really made me fall in love with the city.

Don's Europe Pics 258
This guy was admiring the view of the Limmat and the Grossmunster. I was trying to find high ground to see my hotel

And that was a few of my favorite places…

Thanks for stopping by. I hope that you enjoyed learning a bit more about some of my cherished spots on this giant rock that we all call home. I still have three continents left to check out. I am excited to add to my list that I’ve shared with you. And if you have any suggestions about places I should visit in my travels, please leave them below.

I also welcome any ideas for future posts comments about improving the blog or features that you would like to see added. I would love to hear your thoughts. One final thing before I go – If you haven’t done so, please click the link below so that you will know when my next post goes live. I thank you in advance for joining the journey.

Much love and happy trails.

The Journey Begins

Welcome!!! First and foremost, I would like to thank you for dropping by to check out my site. Whether you clicked through from my social media or heard about this from a friend, I extend my heartfelt thanks for checking out The Juandering Advocate. I know you have a virtually unlimited supply of options to fill your time on the interwebs, and I’m quite flattered that you decided to take a chance and spend a bit of it here with me. My hope is that you enjoy what you find here, and maybe even discover a takeaway or two so that this turns out to be something more than a waste of your time. Or mine.

I’m not entirely sure what a first time post is supposed to look like. Or how I even came up with the idea to start a blog. I do know that while I certainly desire to share my experiences with you, I also know well the benefits of journaling as a means of reflection and inspiration. Perhaps this can serve as a means to accomplish both.

For starters – a brief overview of who I am, the things that I enjoy, and what I hope to share here; so you can figure out if you’d like to come back and visit. I claim a myriad of titles and interests as I’m sure you do. But if I really boil it down, I’m a traveler, a lover of the outdoors, a son, an uncle, a brother, a Wilderness First Responder, a weekend warrior, aspiring stoic, volunteer and an attorney. Yes, I put that last for a reason. Priorities, priorities…

Moving along though, I am particularly fond of new places (and really old places), nature, adventure and food. More specifically, I like places where I can run, hike or bike on a trail or a country road, see some new or favorite sights and interact with the locals, both wild and domesticated. If given a choice, I’ll choose the wild ones almost any day!


Before I talk too much about travel, adventure and the stories I’d like to share with you, I want to let you know one more thing about me, perhaps the most important. In addition to all those things I told you above, I am blessed. Extremely so.

I realize that term gets tossed around a lot these days, often for good reason, sometimes not. When Urban Dictionary described “epic” as the most overused word ever, I like to think that they considered “blessed” pretty high in the rankings. But, let me assure you, the word not only describes me, it literally defines who I am as a person.

I don’t just mean blessed in the typical middle class American style either, although that is certainly a large part of it. I mean far beyond anything I deserve. I mean being blessed with second chances. And third chances. And 74th chances. (I’ll explain that one in a later post.) For now, just know that I’ve screwed up a lot in my life.

I’ve made some horrible choices. Lives have been ruined or ended for less than what I’ve done. I’m still here – free, happy and healthy with only a few minor physical and mental scars to show for all the bad decisions that I’ve weathered. And the stories…

I’ve been blessed to have witnessed some of the most beautiful sights this world has to offer and I’ve been fortunate enough to have a handful of “once in a lifetime” experiences. I’ve been to 46 states and stood on top of 18 of them. I’ve visited 17 countries on 4 continents. I’ve had highs like hanging out at Everest Base Camp, lows like baking at Badwater Basin in Death Valley and even found myself smack dab in the middle at the equator.

I’ve been lucky enough to hike from Georgia to New York and from Mexico to the majestic Sierra Nevadas. I’ve gone scuba diving with loggerhead turtles in the Keys, kayaked through limestone caves in Thailand and ridden some of the best mountain bike trails a dirtbag could want.


It’s been a blast so far; I say with full candor that if it all goes out the window tomorrow, I’ve lived a life that most people, living or dead, would envy. (As a sidenote, there is a good chance if you’re reading this, you probably have as well. But, I digress…) I am just going to leave it at that since my purpose here is not to talk about those things. I’m here to tell you about the things that I love and enjoy and the lessons I have learned along the way.

Close behind my love of travel is the love of talking about it to anyone who will listen. Which probably is as good an answer as any as to why I felt compelled to start this. I want to share the richness and varied experiences of the things I love with you. Which is exactly what I am going to do next!

When we meet again, I’m going to tell you about my favorite places, those here in the U.S. and those abroad. And I will even key you in on the places that I am most excited about visiting next.

I’d like to thank you for checking this out. I extend my most gracious invitation to come back for the next installation. If you have any comments or ideas for a future post, please let me know.

Until next time, I hope that you can take a few moments in the following days to just stop and appreciate how awesome an experience this life is, and perhaps share just a little bit of your light and good fortune with some of those around you.

           With the warmest regards,

                Don “The Juanderer” Johnson