When the rear is cracked, the smells roll in…

By opening up my pseudo-convertible, the sun warmed my head, I could glance all around at the tops of the collegiate peaks, and cool mountain air could flow completely through the vehicle. Beautiful driving, a couple weeks ago, on our Colorado roadtrip, it was. I have already told you some about our exciting rockcrawling adventures…

I didn’t tell you one of my favorite features of my beat-up 1997 mid-sized SUV: It has a sun roof. I’ve never had a sun roof before, in a car of mine. Also there is a button on the console that rolls down the window in the rear. The back of the car can open up on command. By dropping the four windows, sliding back the sun roof, and letting the back glass sink all the way down, you have an ‘almost’ convertible.

Out in the mountains of Colorado, I really appreciated letting the sun the sights and sounds come in from every direction. Something else came in too. The Smells.

At the beginning of our mountain driving, I was so excited and anxious. I was begging my wife to let me open up the car, and cruise. On I-70 the wind was wonderful but loud, at 60mph through the inclines and much, much faster on the way down. The sun too began to bake us. On our first day of mountain driving, we had almost reached Aspen by the time Lindsay mentioned the nasty smells that were spoiling our beautiful views.

With the car completely opened up, you get a new perspective on the road and traffic. Although you can’t see it with your eyes, your nose begins to tell you, that all the pretty Jeeps and Subarus and Mercedes SUV’s cruising along with you, are kinda farting their way down the interstate. Yeah, you really find out that our cars are relieving themselves mile after mile. The heavy, putrid corridor of polluted exhaust gas creates an invisible river of stench, and we just drive along through it.

I have been around enough to remember plenty of times that I noticed a nasty smell, coming from a vehicle up ahead. I usually hope the problematic smoke isn’t my own, and I notice when it clears up as I pass them. Most of the time it does 🙂

This was something different though. I had been waiting to get alone on the byway, and really enjoy the mountain air, instead of everyone else’s fumes. Then finally, just after cresting the peak of Independence Pass, and we were the only car on the road, the yuck, was still with us. When Lindsay said again, that the gassy odors were bothering her, it occurred to me, that we might be smelling our own exhaust. 🙁

As we twisted our way down the mountain at 25mph or so, that open back window was creating a draft, and it must’ve been sucking the air right from our tailpipe, into the car. Darn. My convertible and wide-open ride, was actually part of the problem. As soon as we rolled up the rear glass, and the fun swirling air ceased, we didn’t have to breath the nasty smog smells anymore. Problem, pretty muchly solved.

Since then, as I drive around, I have tested the theory again. If I’m not driving very fast, or the wind is just right, there it is, an almost headache inducing cocktail of exhaust smells, all of my own.

Okay, big deal. Who cares. Your old car smells yuck, probably needs a tune up, and you are pretending to have a convertible, when you don’t. Is this really a blog worthy topic???

Maybe not. True. BUT! The metaphor hit me just yesterday while cruising downtown Ottawa.

In the last few years, I do feel that I have opened up my mind, more than ever before. Whether it is new ideas about debt and money, living in sobriety, relationships and marriage, or even the real biggie, a spiritual walk with the Christ Jesus himself. I have found certain buttons that dropped open some of the windows in my mind. Maybe I didn’t do it at all. Maybe it was the divine hand of almighty God redirecting my life path. Who knows! I don’t.

Anyway, now that I feel more open, more aware, more awake to levels of consciousness that I didn’t know before, I seem to notice more of everything. My mind has more exposure to the beauty and divine artistic creation of our universe, the physical and spiritual. My soul is touched in most warm and heartfelt ways by little things. An a cappella version of Sanctuary, by the kids of Westminster on a Tuesday night at the end of a long day of VBS Day Camp, can melt my heart. Watching several strained steps taken by a fellow church member, heading into the local Wal-Mart yesterday, almost dropped me to my knees. Her spine was crushed in a car wreck last year, and now I saw her taking steps. Wow.

Just like opening the windows of the car, up in the beautiful Rocky Mountains, my life now is more rich with magical scenery than ever before. I am grateful for that. Just like that driving experience though, around others, sometimes I notice the fumes seem to spout continuously, spoiling the air for those nearby. I do hear things differently now. My ears can pick up the excuses, the hopelessness or cyclical self-fulfilling, self-defeating language. It is a yucky sound in my ear. I am bummed out, and let myself be bothered by it now. I never used to before. It just seemed normal, and even endearing, to hear about someone’s problems, gripes and maybe some gossip too.

Not so much anymore. I hear these thing differently now. It is hard not to think that when someone says they have no options, or are stuck, that there are plenty of things they haven’t tried. The victimhood seems so deeply ingrained, that it is woven into the fabric of our beings. And that stinks.

Yet! I am not finished.

Just like the analogy of the car, with it’s windows rolled down, I am experiencing lots of fumes that don’t come from someone else. My enjoyment of this ride of life, is just as polluted, or maybe made more toxic by my own byproducts than those around me. I see that clearly too. Opening up my mind, experiencing new ideas firsthand, I am quick to notice my own bullshit, and be bothered by it. I hear it in my own voice. I see it in my own actions, the re-actions, the non-actions and the too-little-too-late ones.

I am more aware than ever of my own faults these days. I ‘know’ that I can grab my own bootstraps at any time and get to work, and yet I don’t do it. I ‘feel’ that if I get on my knees give myself fully to the Lord God Almighty, that good will come of this pea-sized life of mine. Every day that I put that off, leaves me smelling the stink of my fear, my weakness and pride. I see more now than ever, my own smallness, my lack and yes my excuses too.

So, what is the solution? So many times I wish I could find the button again. I want to roll the windows back up. I want to see the world again through a greasy glass lens, that separates and distorts me from the truth. I want to hide behind the faux protection of this thin clear sheet. If only I could get back to that place where the problems all belonged to everyone else, and not to me. I could go back to living in the moment, feeding my flesh each of its desires. I could laugh again and talk trash, and tear down others, in order to prop myself up higher. I want it again like that, so many times, I embarrass myself.

But, I don’t think it works that way. These windows seem to have one-way motors. I still have more opening to do, to fully realize the expanse of the world seen and unseen that we’ve been give to occupy. I probably have them only barely cracked. I am grateful for these little clues I get, through everyday moments, like driving this budget 4×4 truck. I am bothered most, by my own smelly crap. If you see me, or talk with me, or have ever thought I may be depressed that day, it is probably because I am wallowing and sucking in too many of my own fumes.

I do thank you, for taking the time today to read the words on this page. This place is an outlet for some of my exhaust. I release little black characters of BS line by line, and most of it is worth just what you paid for it. Nothin’.


I hope you have a blessed day 🙂


Aaron Nichols

The last twist of the deodorant stick, Plop! Onto the floor

There is a guy who has designed the plastic parts that make up the container and dispenser that holds and applies my sport stick deodorant. WHY didn’t he design some sort of catch or lock, so that the last little bit could be used, instead of just falling out onto the floor every time it is almost all used up? Sure, I have tried to pick it back up, reinsert it into the ovalish tube and swipe again, but it usually doesn’t work.

I have even tried just using the ejected end piece on it’s own. And that is less effective yet! I guess I am frugal, and want to apply every ounce of deodorant that I bought, instead of throwing it away. In these moments, I usually think of some guy like me, who uses 3-D CAD or something to design the packaging materials, and who maybe had an idea for a locking system, but was told by the higher ups, to skip it, let people trash that last 1/16th ounce, and just buy another overpriced deodorant stick…

Do you spend a lot of time ‘thinking’ about the origins and decisions behind these little insignificant pieces of our lives? Remember a few months ago, I wrote a blog about how the spout on my coffee pot was designed so small, that you had to barely tip the thing, to not spill coffee everywhere? This is typical for me, to notice a slight error or problem in the design of something, and wonder how it wasn’t already addressed before I noticed it.

I do this alot. It happens at home, with household products. It happens at work too. I notice flaws in design, and especially in the systems which we use to operate and interact with our physical world. At one point, I thought this blog project may become a string of stories about the little things I notice, and how maybe there is a bigger meaning behind it all. I really like when I pick out some life lesson, from the patience it takes to pour a cup of coffee from my tiny-spout pot…

Today though, the motivation is different. Yes, I notice that I am aggravated by the poorly constructed deodorant container, and probably a bunch of other things too. BUT, I wonder if this little pattern and habit of noticing is helping me or not. In the workplace, many times my insight to a better system, or noticing a speed bump in production is highly valuable. We can increase efficiency, and maybe cut costs, by smoothing out the workflow. Yet, sometimes well enough, is better left alone, and we can just focus on the work itself, instead of changing the way we do it.

Sometimes I can turn off the ‘problem solver’ part of my brain, sometimes I struggle to. See what I’m saying is that using this skill may in fact be creating the problem, so that then I have a solution to work on. My mind may be powerful enough to invent a problem, where none exists, just so that it has a ‘job’ to do, and an answer to craft.


Reminds me of an email I got this week from the wise Mr. Steve Chandler. I wouldn’t say that I ‘worry’ about the deodorant stick, or even the tiny lip of the coffee pot. But let’s do replace ‘worry’ with scrutinize or over-examine.

 ” A foolproof piece of advice for the chronic worrier: and I promise you this will work.  For the next two weeks, take immediate notice of every time you worry.   

      When you catch yourself worrying — take an action.  Any action, but make sure you take one. Do something. Anything. And remember, you must do something every time you worry.  This is a great way to train yourself not to worry. Especially if you hate being in action. 

     The truth is not that I worry because I care.  The truth is, I worry because I am in the habit of worrying. If I really cared that much, I would stop worrying and take some action.

      I worry in order to do nothing.  Doing nothing about a problem soon becomes the problem.  I’m not taking any shots at this thing, and, like Wayne Gretsky said, you miss one hundred per cent of the shots you don’t take.”

– Steve Chandler

Wow, Steve has some real gems in there. Short and to the point. I don’t scrutinize my world because I care, and that I want to improve it always. I do that because I’m in the habit of doing in. Sometimes I take action, sometimes it is positive and helpful, sometimes not. Sometimes I just notice the problems and do nothing. That then, becomes the problem, like Steve says. Then the problem grows, the issue becomes embedded. I could scrutinize and over-examine and then worry that the fix will never come. I could become entranced with the idea that I am stuck forever with no solution. I could lose hope. Eventually I may take action, bold action, the ‘wrong’ action, based on an over-inflated mental image of a distorted reality….

Oh, that could maybe happen….

Oh yeah, that HAS Happened!

Just something to notice to myself today. Just an idea I want to bank and refer to from time to time. I may be ‘worrying’ in order to do nothing, and planting myself a fertile garden plot full of future problems, to be dealt with at harvest time.

One of my favorite things that our Pastor Tim Soule says usually at the closing prayer for Bible Study, has to do with thoughts. He usually says something like ‘Lord, take these ideas we’ve discussed, that are of You, and let them take hold and grow within us. And, Lord, for those ideas not of You, let them blow away and be gone.’

Just because a thought crosses the window pane of my mind, doesn’t mean that I must believe it. It is a projection that is apart, adjacent, and although hard to let go of sometimes, will always be replaced with another in some amount of time.

Helpful thoughts Lord, I ask today that I will notice. And I also ask that all others be blown away in the summer breeze. Thank You, Amen.


Aaron Nichols

The way is rocky, the risk is death, all in good fun

On the edge, cold crosswind blasting and we’re barely moving at all. Bouncing up and dropping down, one set of tracks against the steep slope, the other set on the edge of a thousand-foot drop. Last week I got to spend lots and lots of time, doing something I love. Yes, I love to be perched up on some high altitude 4×4 trail, exploring and enjoying the “summit’ing”  experience.

I love that stuff so much, that the transition back to the ‘real world’ this week has been quite tough.

I did learn a lot last week, while on vacation in the Rocky Mountains. I finally got to spend a good amount of time driving the upper pass roads and rocky trails. I again thank my wife for letting me have my fun 🙂

I keep talking about how much fun it is to be up there. I have told lots of people how I enjoy the thrill of piloting my beater ‘Yota up and over the mountain. I also hear feedback that not everyone thinks this would be a ‘fun’ activity.

Some say it would be scary, or crazy, or risky. Some ask, what would happen if you broke down up there? Others, remind me that you can still see perfectly beautiful views from the bottom, with no need to drive to the top 🙂

Well those things are true. It is risky. I could break down up there. I also see the beauty in the streamside winding paved roads at the bottom. Much smoother to drive too, than those no-maintenance rock trails above.

We all have different tastes don’t we 🙂

I do need to notice and share a couple insights though, about my drive on Mosquito Pass, or Richmond Hill Road, or especially Express Creek. These roads are ROUGH, my friends. These aren’t roads in the sense that the ground itself is a smoothed out cleared stretch of land that is covered in pavement, or even little gravely-sized pebbles. Nope.

These roads we played on, are well worn, but all the soil, in between the rocks that ever was there, is now gone. The rocks range in sizes. Sometimes they are gravel yes, but many times bigger too. Baseball Size, grapefruit size, sometimes a basketball or two. Usually you are driving around the bigger stuff, like chest-freezer size or car-size. Anyway, this kind of driving is much different than our normal cruise.

Even though it’s not muddy, I use 4 wheel drive. The steepness is easier to climb with two wheels pulling and two wheels pushing. I use low range in the transfer case. This reduces the output speed of the driveshafts and lets the motor torque it’s way up the mountain. It helps going down too. Using the lower gears reduces the wear on everything. The truck is happier, and so is the driver. I try not to use my brakes, so I shift a lot too. Even though it is an automatic transmission, many times I want to use only the lowest gear. Also, I could want to prevent too high a gear from kicking in, so I shift constantly back and forth throuh L, 2 and D.

Advice I got way back in 2012, out in Ouray, on my first ever 4×4 mountain drive, was simple. Go Slow. Slow is the key. Slow feels better on you, and the machine. Slow is the only way, to take a stock suv, up these trails and return in one piece.

I’m not talking about the slow in the driveway on Sunday stuff here. I am talking, barely moving. Sometimes, you want the vehicle to just simply inch forward, and you don’t care how long it takes. You just care that you stay slow, steady, in control. Gravity can be pulling you severely, either forward or backward, or sideways too. You just sometimes want to stay upright, and let the movement happen at the slowest (and safest) possible rate.

Yes, I really enjoy those moments too. Sometimes after climbing a spooky little incline, or skating some off-camber dipty-doo, or dropping ever so slowly down a cliff’s face, I would cackle and rejoice and laugh out loud, a hyena crying into the mountain air. I would amaze myself at the obstacle we just conquered and joy was coursing through my veins!

Funny huh! Funny how back in the ‘real world’ I don’t treat my life in the same way as these mountain roads. Funny how, I detest and scour every time I hit a little bump. Funny how I hate the razors edge, climbing toward an obstacle or dropping down into a valley. I seem to despise every and any pebble in my way.

Nope, in my ‘real life’ I want things to be smooth. I want them paved with glass. I don’t want turns or hills or have to stop. I seem to want a perfectly-paced highway all to myself, wide and clear. I don’t want to stop to refuel, I don’t want to maintenance my ride, and I don’t want anyone or anything in my way…


Yeah, we know different don’t we. Traffic is busy, others are all around. In my ‘real life’ I rarely feel that I am on some thrilling adventure. Instead I’m bored with the mundane-ness, yet rarely steer away from my normal route. Road-rage happens all the time in my ‘normal-life’. I loose my temper, in fact, right now I’m boiling-over, and seething.

I see the irony here. On one hand, I want the challenge and thrill of a difficult road to travel. On the other hand, I want it easy, without stress, I don’t enjoy this version of it, I say to myself, I would rather be on some other road.

That is another thing about the real mountains. Up high you can see so far. Up on Mosquito Pass, outside of Leadville, Colorado, I could see many other roads to travel. We spied them from afar and then made our way down and over and up to them. From far away those tracks looked so smooth. The pitch looked gradual and shallow. The rocky obstacles just blended into the trail from far away. A simple and fun dust covered byway to the sky. That is what we see from a distance…

Not true, once you finally made your way there. Just as many bumps, just as steep up, just as slanted down. The roads were pretty much the same all over those mountains. They are ROUGH. That is the advice we always got, when asking about a new trail. “It is ROUGH”, they would say. “Go Slow! You’ll enjoy it if you take is easy. The views are spectacular.”

They weren’t just talking about Hagerman Pass, or trail to our lunch spot above Leadville to the East. Life is rough. My normal everyday travels are rough. There are many obstacles big and small. There are lots of ups, and lots of downs. This moment includes all same characteristics as those bumpy tracks…

Except. Except, I don’t usually slow down, in my real life. I don’t usually drop to the lowest possible gear. I don’t usually inch my way through anything. I go too fast. I am bouncing and crashing and smacking into the debris. I am tense and stressed and worried about never making it to the top. I am looking all around at the other roads, other people’s roads, and thinking they are all so smooth and attractive. Not like mine. Not rutted and rocky, like mine.

I am abusing myself, abusing the vehicle that got me this far. I bang it up and bruise it. Dents are all over, from the reckless ways I drive myself in my ‘normal life.’ I am mashing the gas, and stomping the brakes, all at the same time. I want to get to the end, and I’m terrified of moving foward too. It’s a discombobulation. The transmission grinds, the tires squeal and the motor races. Meanwhile, the mountain abides.

The mountain and it’s road is rocky, yes. But it is not going anywhere. It is stable. It is solid. It provides a foundation to view spectacular grandeur. The weather can be harsh up there. It will turn on a dime. I must be prepared for it, but If I go slow, and don’t panic, it will all be okay. I forget that too often.

Steve Chandler is a world-class life coach and author. I have talked with him many times. Not recently though, it’s been over a year. His words were fresh in my mind, up on those granite ridges last week. ‘Slow Down,’ he would say. If things are not going well, you are going too fast. ‘Slow Down’. I get it now, more than ever.

At the slowest pace, these bumps are little thrills. In the right gear, with the right speed, any of these roads are doable, in even the most modest of 4-wheel drive cars. A jacked-up Jeep is not necessary. The view are stupendous, from 13,000 ft above sea level. Of course, you can only see them, if you are going slow enough, to look up from the road. Otherwise, you just stare at the rocks ahead in fear.

Speed is one of my biggest problems. I want it all now. I don’t want to go slow. I am ‘over’ the bumps of life…

Except, they will keep coming. They will always be there. Even in the flat lands of Kansas, our inner worlds, can be continental ranges of peaks and valleys. Right now, in this very moment, I need to ask myself if I can slow down. I need to define the way I want to travel the road I’m on, or if I want to detour, and find another. I wonder, If I will take the advice that I got from the camphost at the Ouray KOA, or from Steve Chandler, or from the guys at the Aspen forestry office. I wonder if I will even take my own advice, and Slow Down??


Aaron Nichols



Overdrive Off… At least this week!

Wham! Skidddd…. The heavy metal picnic table went grinding backwards. Moments ago as my wife was gone, I decided to move our truck real close to the table so the unloading-reloading process would easier. I got it there, and a new dent too. Oh well, just below the taillight, and the truck is already beat up. Could have been worse.

This camping, hiking, 4×4 trip to Colorado (that we are on right now) has been full of little moments just like this. My best intentions and pre-planning have produced baby disappointment while the happy accidents and favorable blessings are really what is making all the difference.

Even in the midst of this vacation I want to take the time out here to record some of my experiences and share with you.

As you read last week, I recently bought a beat up old truck to drive out on this trip. Before we left, I had only taken it for a twenty minute test drive. Needless to say, I was a little nervous that it wouldn’t make it across western Kansas. Luckily it did.

Then I was hoping it could handle the mountains okay. Luckily it did. And even yesterday we banged across, tumbled straight down, and crawled straight up, some seriously gnarly backcountry trails. All good right???

Well almost all good, almost all bad…

See, as we slowed down and entered our campground on the first day of this trip, I heard a reoccurring squeak. I jumped out and went to the driver’s side rear wheel. Sure enough, all the lug nuts were finger loose. Did I mention that this campground sits near the bottom side of the high altitude switchbacks of Independence Pass, that we had just drove over? This was after our trip through Leadville, and the I-70 mountain runs before that.

These are deadly places to lose a wheel.

Not by my power or prowess did we escape serious trouble. Some Angel held that thing on.

After I checked things out and we headed out for more fun, I just kept thinking about how lucky we got. Amazing.


Yesterday’s adventures included driving to the top of Aspen mountain, we took a guided hike tour with other folks, all of whom rode the gondola up there. We were told at the forestry station that Richmond Hill Road was impassable due to large snow drifts in the shady spots. We wanted a nice mountain top lunch spot so we figured we would drive till we couldn’t anymore, then stop and eat and turn around.

We did find a great spot for lunch with 360 degree panoramic views. Then we found mud holes where the snow drifts used to be. We found thousands upon thousands of baby boulders to bounce across. We even found some super steep loose rock washes that we had to climb.

One particular spot was a short steep switchback with almost no room to pass next to a big pile of icy snow, it was melting and the ground was slippery wet rocks and mud. On my second straightened-up-start the wheels spun then finally grabbed. I could hardly watch as I was driving the razors edge of a slimy cliff, with a several hundred feet drop off to the side. I really didn’t even think of praying to make it up. Just as we motored beside the snow pile and crested this little obstacle amongst many, I said out loud, “Stay calm, take it easy, don’t panic, don’t do anything stupid right now.”

And that is one of my big takeaways so far on this trip. It could help me in lots of moments of my life, to just remind myself of that…


Earlier I mentioned an angel. Well, during every one of these exhilaratingly terrifying moments, an angel has been sitting right beside me. My wife has been the number one best part of this trip. Better than the durable Toyota, better than the mountain top views, better than watching the sunrise from my hammock, better than the campfire burger at the end of the day. None of these things would have any of the rich value to me, without her.

It amazes me, that she is willing to let me take her to the top of the Rockies and back. Her trust is all my strength, period. As I am puckered up and wonderin’ if we will get out of these mountain roads in one piece, she is there too. When I ask if she is scared, she says she just closes her eyes. Even these times are important, she lets me work, she is hopeful, she stays calm, so I can too. She is the best partner I could ever have hoped for. She shows me, beyond love.


I am so good whenever she is with me, and when she is not, well… I run into picnic tables!

This beautiful Colorado day lies ahead of us. I can’t wait any longer to get out there and do it again with Her 🙂 oh, and Roxy too 🙂

From the Nichols family to you, I hope you have a wonderful week, wherever you are.

With Love


Aaron Nichols