Where the Yaks Roam

Taking his foot off the gas, John Hooper — or as my family had taken to calling him, Farmer John — slowed down and peered over the edge of the vehicle. “Oh no, that’s a bad sign,” he murmured. I looked down at the gravel road. Three mounds of poop. That could only mean one thing: the yaks were loose.

Just an hour earlier, my dad had pulled our van into farmer John’s driveway in Cold Spring, Minn. It took us two hours to drive to farmer John’s yak farm, but our offbeat family vacation started months earlier during a night out at a St. Paul restaurant. My sister, being the adventurous eater she is, ordered a dish with yak meat. That’s when we saw the small type at the bottom of the menu — “yak locally raised.”

The adventure began.

Challenge Day 1 Photo 1

My mom called farmer John (who listed his cellphone number on his website with an open invitation to call anytime) and set up a tour. A couple months later my parents, sister and I were riding down a gravel road in a refurbished army ambulance driven by the farmer himself — gray hair, glasses, knee-high rubber boots and a hot pink collared shirt that caught you off guard among the other dusty shades of his country farm.

Before climbing into the yak mobile to visit the adult herd, we bottle fed Lassa and Dolman, the two fuzzy black and white babies roaming around farmer John’s backyard that followed you around like puppies. Then it was off to the pasture to see the 40+ herd. But we only made it a minute or two down the road before farmer John spotted the mounds of manure on the gravel road. That’s when I looked out into the bean field and saw seven yaks barreling though the plants.


“Well that group I don’t have to go looking for,” farmer John said as he hopped down from the driver seat. Soon farmer John’s bright pink shirt mixed among the green as he strode out toward the rebellious crew — but not before he asked my dad to hop out of the yak mobile and lend a hand steering the wanderers back within the fence line.

Immediately five of the seven yaks dashed back to the pasture. That left two. Stubborn. Defiant. Bushy tails swishing and tall curved horns leading the way. Up until this point, my dad had simply stood in the center of the gravel road, hands on his waist, watching farmer John round up the herd.

Bur his role was about to turn crucial.

In an attempt to coax the stubborn pair back to the fence, my dad waded into the field, waving his arms around looking like someone trying to make a snow angel out of air. The yaks didn’t budge. So he moved closer. And closer, crossing well within goring distance. That’s when it looked like the yaks finally come around to the inevitable and turned to walk into the pasture. “Keep moving!” Farmer John yelled — though it was unclear whether he was shouting at my dad or the yaks. That’s when the shaggy black yak closest to my dad whipped his head — and horns — toward my dad in one last hoorah before trotting off with the other into the pasture.

Crisis (goring) averted.

Challenge Day 1 Photo 2

With the herd secured, we piled back into the yak mobile to finish the tour we traveled more than two hours to see. Farmer John drove his ambulance nearly vertically up what felt like a 90-degree hill (it’s a surprise his Corgi, Bristol, didn’t slide out the back of the ambulance while she sat at my feet). We crested the grassy peak and the countryside opened up below us dotted with bushy-tailed yaks nestled in tall grass and roaming about. My sister and I took turns sitting atop the gentle giant with the biggest horns in North America — so long the ends curved and met below his head.

We clamored back into the cab of the ambulance and returned down to our car triumphant — we fed yaks, herded yaks, pet yaks and rode yaks, all without a horn in our side.

Say Yes To The Tribe


Photo by C.C. Chapman

Did I make a mistake?

I drop my bags on the bed. My day in Fargo begins with a moment a panic on the heels of a nearly four-hour drive. Within minutes it feels like the walls of my hotel room are closing in around me. I spent most of the money I had to buy a ticket and trek up Interstate 94 to North Dakota — for a conference I knew little about and with people I had never met.

Facing the cracked TV stand, I take a seat on the edge of my queen-sized bed. I’ve got time to kill before the conference starts, and without a plan tense and unsettled feelings start to bubble up. I need to get outside.

There’s little proof online to corroborate why I’m in Fargo. MisfitCon — an intimate gathering of about 150 people on the edge of North Dakota’s eastern border — doesn’t have a website.  Forget about speaker lists or an itinerary. Tickets are invite only.

There’s simply a secret group on Facebook I’m added to about a week before I take off for the high prairie. Oh, and a text message service I sign up for with the promise that it will update me about where I should be and when during my five day trip.

I bolt out the hotel’s main doors and toward downtown. I take up post on a concrete ledge in the center of a plaza, just past the artfully done-up billboard announcing that the Misfits are in town for the conference — a group to which I supposedly now belonged. But I felt lost.

Deep breath. In through the nose; out through the mouth.

My skepticism ran deep as I perched on the wall alone, under the shade of a tree to escape the heat.

“8 p.m. at Ecce.”

A group text message popped up on my phone. Details for the opening party. I breathe a sigh of momentary relief. Plans. But I still had to deal with another challenge first: dinner. Luckily, the secret Facebook group came in handy. I piggybacked onto a group headed to eat at one of the hotels in town.

“Is the newbie invited?” I inquired.

I showed up to the restaurant and promptly ducked into the first empty chair I saw. “Can I sit by you?”

That’s when it all began.

Raul Colon Misfit 6

Photo by Raul Colon

In many ways, MisfitCon is backwards. At least when compared to most other events or conferences.

Forget handing out business cards. That’s what I usually do within five minutes of meeting someone at a conference. All in the name of making those professional connections, right? MisfitCon is different. It’s a deliberately small, handcrafted event set on inspiring people to walk away and make a dent in the universe. You meet people first as friends and co-conspirators who want to make a difference in the world. Awkward interactions become inside jokes within minutes (I had quite a few of those). You don’t just talk about what you do; You talk about your journey, what you love, what matters to you, and even what beer you like to drink.

The hierarchy between speaker and attendee is gone. Everyone mingles together. You often don’t realize that person you’re chatting up is going to chat with everyone, all at once until they get up and make their way to the stage. But it doesn’t matter. Everyone has a story to tell.

This is a gathering of people from more than 15 countries and countless states. It’s a group of artists, writers, entrepreneurs, bikers, beekeepers, black smiths, nonprofit founders, and CEOs at Fortune 500 companies. For three years, the group has converged upon Fargo — led by AJ and Melissa Leon — to talk about leading life with intention. It’s an event the husband and wife team call a love letter to their community, their tribe. And every year they take a break from the work they do with their agency, Misfit Inc., to write it.

But MisfitCon isn’t just an event where people from from far-flung countries such as Switzerland, Ireland or Puerto Rico come together — it’s a feeling. One that shakes you down to your core, takes hold and doesn’t let loose.

Welcome to the tribe.


Photo by C.C. Chapman

“How many people can we get?” I ask. “Twenty? Thirty?”

I put the phone back up and relay the number to the restaurant manager. The sun beats down as I stand in the center of a park, where a group of misfits and Fargo residents convene to try and beat the world record for the most people in hammocks. Why? Because nothing beats swaying in the breeze. It’s my fourth day in Fargo. Now I’m the one making dinner reservations, rallying enough people together to reserve all the tables in the mezzanine. I’ve eased into a routine — one where discovery and exploration reign supreme.  I’ve embraced the unknown, and even learned to revel in its possibilities.

MisfitCon prides itself on creating experiences — a party in the middle of the woods or an abandoned middle school; bourbon-soaked cherries stuffed with white chocolate; honest stories of failure, success, and struggle. The beauty of MisfitCon isn’t just in the speakers or the painstakingly prepared food, the beautiful spaces or the extraordinary parties each night.

The beauty is in the tribe. A tribe of people who open their hearts and minds freely to others, whether it’s about their love of Spider Man (made evident by a matching wallet and t-shirt), or their struggle to keep up a healthy lifestyle. It’s a tribe who immediately takes you in and ushers you around to meet the rest of the group. The beauty of the conference is in this incredible internal transformation and attitude it facilitates in the people who attend.

MisfitCon breeds a group of people who inherently believe everyone has value — no qualms. In two days the group started at least two campaigns to fund projects people spoke about at the conference. Picture the most insane college alumni group you could imagine, and then crank it up a notch. That’s the misfits. Within five days they feel nearly as close to you as the friends you spent four years making in college. All of a sudden you’re planning monthly Skype calls and agreeing to visit each others’ home cities.

On the drive out to Fargo I felt plagued with anxiety over meeting enough people, or the “right” people. Two days into my stay I realized it didn’t matter. We all had this weird and incredible experience that bound us together. We were all misfits, and that’s a connection not easily broken.

Raul Colon Misfit 5

Photo by Raul Colon

Driving out of Fargo felt like leaving a family behind. A longing started forming in my heart for people who were former strangers just days before. The instantaneous support and value I felt from the people I met there wasn’t something I wanted to let go of so easily.

So I started thinking: How do you keep the spirit of Misfit Con alive, even after Fargo is long gone?

Everyday I walk by people — at the studio, in the gym, at the grocery store, on the street. I see people who would have made me to stop, smile and strike up a conservation had I been in Fargo. Everyone has a story. Everyone has value. Everyone has something to teach. These mantras don’t just apply to our tiny group of misfits.  And that spirit of openness shouldn’t just come around once a year when we get to Fargo. It’s a choice. One I hope to say yes to every day.

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Exercise and take care of your body. Stay active. The physical and mental are equally important.

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Feel like you’re short on time? Stop checking Facebook and email so often. Especially at stoplights.

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List out your ideas.  Act on the one you’re most excited about or still thinking about in a week.

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Wake up and start your day in your happy place by doing something you love.

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Start. Do. Act. It doesn’t have to be perfect. You don’t have to be perfect. It’s an evolution. Let others appreciate your journey. Projects will progress and become better by just by doing.

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Act fast on inspiration. It’s fleeting.

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Create more than you consume.

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Be kind.

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Ask others (and yourselves) the tough questions, the real questions, the ones that dig deep. What is the one world problem you want to tackle? What are your biggest barriers to achieving that or tackling the problem?

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Work toward utopia. Retrain your mindset to look towards the positive instead of dwelling on the negative.

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Your path is your own. Listen to others’ advice and take what you can use, but make your own way.