When I was three, my family moved from the East Coast to California. My father was a traveling salesman. My mom worked as a medical secretary and, later as a real estate agent. I have a brother named Scott who was born with Cerebral Palsy but punched way above his weight class, graduating with UCLA law school and passing the bar on his first attempt.
As a kid, my folks signed me up for baseball. I was terrible at first. But, I found later, that I was pretty good at a number of positions. As I got older, my parents noticed that I kept getting beat up at school. So, they signed me up for Karate. I never made it past green belt. But, the lessons definitely helped my coordination and my confidence.
In Junior High, I was encouraged to join the track team. My first mile was a miserable 7:58. But, I stuck with both track and cross country in High School. My fastest time in the mile was 4:48, which was decent but, not enough to get me a scholarship in college. Though never the star, I was able to make the varsity team my senior year.
During my teen years, I was also involved in Scouts. Somehow a boy named Brad and I got in a race to see who would be the first one to earn the rank of Eagle Scout. In the end, Brad and I tied, meeting all of the requirements in the absolute minimum amount of time – age 14 (I was 15 when it was finally awarded). Like running, scouts made a huge impression on me. I especially enjoyed camping, cooking and hiking.
Because of my intense interest in computers, my father encouraged me to apply to UC Irvine’s Computer Science program. I totally bombed my first quarter and was promptly put on academic probation. This was a turning point in my life since I knew that if I didn’t improve, I would have to get a “real job”. I doubled down on my studying and got B’s and C’s instead of C’s and D’s. My grades continued to improve throughout my college experience. Upon graduation, I was accepted Merage School of Business and earned my MBA.
While attending UCI, I met my wife, Sandy. After school, we settled in Anaheim, CA and had two children – both girls – Lauren and Kristen. Sandy and I both worked full time.
Though we were very busy with work, we very intentional with our time. We took every opportunity to spend time our girls in order to give them new experiences. Our goal was to ignite with them a curiosity about the world.
During my 25-year career, I worked for McDonnell Douglas (now Boeing), TRW (now Experian) and finally, a boutique software firm called ISD. I started as a computer programmer and worked my way up through management, ending my career as a Director of Software Development. Though there were several high points at work, work for me was a means to an end – it paid the bills and allowed Sandy and me to meet our financial goals.
In 2002, we took a break from our jobs and school and our family took Cosmos – a 4-month journey around the world visiting 12 countries on 4 continents. This impacted the two of us and our children (ages 10 and 12 at the time) in profound ways. Today, Lauren and Kristen have both graduated from college, are in committed relationships and have started their own careers. What a relief!
Ever since we completed Cosmos, Sandy and I dreamed of taking another journey. When others purchased expensive cars, we drove our old ones and even carpooled for a time. While we did go out to eat once in awhile, we prepared our own meals at home. With the money we saved, we paid down our mortgage. As interest rates fell, we refinanced our mortgage (two times, in fact). We paid off our 30-year fixed loan in 12 years. In the end, we were making triple mortgage payments.
In 2011, Sandy decided not to seek another gig after her last consulting engagement ended. While I continued to work full time, she focused on planning a new adventure – one we eventually called Trekking the Planet. I left ISD a few months later at age 49. We billed “TTP” as a 424-day, around-the-world expedition to get kids excited about geography. During our journey, we visited 53 countries on six continents. We also trekked 470 miles in some of the most remote and unspoiled places on the planet. By almost exclusively using public and ground transportation, we promoted an active lifestyle and introduced the concept of sustainability. Before we left on our trip, we spoke to thousands of students about our journey and the importance of staying active and learning more about the world. There were over 55,000 students from 20 countries following our journey through our website.
We returned from Trekking the Planet in March, 2013. By the end of the year, we had sold our house in Anaheim and downsized to a two-bedroom condo in Palm Desert, CA. During this time, we talked extensively about what we would do next. Would we go back to work or would be seek another adventure? We finally agreed upon Race Across the USA – a 140-day trip footrace from Huntington Beach, CA to Washington DC. I was one of the 12 runners who started the race. I and six others made it all the way to the Atlantic Ocean as part of the race. Sandy served as the Race Director during this time. Together, we raised over $50,000 for a charity called 100 Mile Club. Sandy and I found this experience intense – stretching us to the limit – physically, mentally and emotionally.
With the race behind us, Sandy and I are now working hard to figure out what’s next. Though we haven’t settled on anything specific, we are looking for opportunities that are:
- Fun or deeply satisfying
- Allow us to build new or strengthen existing skills and,
- Permit us to give back
We want to do this next project together. And, we somehow want it to be in keeping with our last two projects: Trekking the Planet and Race Across the USA. In other words, the next project needs to “make sense” or “show progression” with what preceded it. We are on a tight budget. But, this is of secondary concern right now since we know big goals don’t always carry a big price tag. At present, we are keeping our minds open as we attempt to find our next challenge.
Darren Van Soye
May 27, 2013