Liberating Crabs

One of my favourite books of all time is Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig. If you haven’t read it, it’s a fantastic book about the metaphysics of quality. I think what resonates most with me is Mr. Pirsig’s discussion of how people learn and why some people excel and some will struggle with conventional education methods. Reflecting on my own education (formal and “life” education), I clearly see how and why I do better at some things and struggle with others.

I’m definitely an experiential learner. Instead of someone just telling me something is fact and accepting it as such, I prefer chasing things down random paths to see where it’ll take me. Maybe that’s my curious nature, but I personally feel like I need to do that so I’ll have a complete understanding of the situation. I even refuse to use that driving app thing (Siri?) because I need to look at a real map and feel like I have a relational connection to where I am. I may take a wrong street every now and again, but that also helps me learn for future reference.

An artist friend of mine turned me on to another great book called The War of Art by Steven Pressfield. The book is a discussion of how our society doesn’t nurture creative thinking, but instead migrates toward conformity. In one example, he equates the creative process to crabs in a bucket. If you put a bunch of crabs in a bucket, it’s more than likely one or two could easily get out. However, before they can liberate themselves, the others will inevitably pull the non-conformists back in. Same with creatives. If someone thinks outside the norms, maybe doesn’t adhere to the Rule of Thirds in a photograph for instance, it makes the majority all twitchy and they will do their best to drag them back into conformity. This says more about the insecurities of those pulling the creatives back in than it does about the creatives themselves, right?

I follow a couple of photographers on YouTube and noticed they’ll sometimes set up their tripod in a crowded place and start shooting. I have to admit the thought of that makes my skin crawl. All I can see are those armchair experts (crabs) coming over to give their two cents on composition, lighting or whatever.

I’m pretty confident overall with my skill and vision, but there again, I need my clear, unfettered space to think through things in my own way, wander around aimlessly when necessary, make mistakes and grow my understanding of things without the distraction of crabs trying to pull me back in the bucket. I already think my creative time and space is extremely limited so having that time altered tends to make me less than happy.

Yesterday saw some impressive storm clouds building to the west so I decided to go out to shoot a couple of compositions I’d spotted over the past couple of weeks. This was unfortunately near a well-used hiking and biking trail. Before I could talk myself out of it though, I loaded up my camera backpack, jumped on my mountain bike and headed over to the mountain parks adjacent to my house.

Naturally, at the very place I wanted to set up, I noticed a few trail runners, mountain bikers and hikers in the area. I hesitated for a second, thinking I’d come back another time, but got to setting up my tripod and went about my business of composing the shot I wanted. Fortunately, nobody stopped for anything longer than to reiterate what a beautiful day it was. I have to admit, once I got going in my thought processes, I didn’t even notice any additional people who may have come by.

I admittedly made a couple of silly mistakes using some new gear I’d just acquired, but I stayed the course while sorting out the whys and why nots of what was happening and eventually got what I wanted. With that said, the next time out I’m confident I’ll be better for learning the way I do best, even in a crab bucket.

Climb high. Ski fast. Pedal far. Live simply.

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A Few Days Under Big Skies

With spring fully at hand, we loaded up last week and headed to the desert for a few days of camping, big vistas, sleeping under the stars and mountain biking.

We knew the wind was supposed to be “gusty”, but what we didn’t expect was near hurricane force speeds. I was literally fighting to maintain 55 mph on the interstate because of the screaming headwinds! Near Crescent Junction we even came upon a semi laying on its side as a victim of what we suspect was a huge crosswind blast. Fortunately no one appeared to be seriously injured.

Despite the annoying wind for the first couple of days, we accomplished our goal of escaping the hustle and bustle of daily life and found those absurdly wide open spaces and explored some parts of Utah that had long been on our wish list.

The rugged backcountry area north and west of Goblin Valley exposed us to some incredibly high (scary) winds, but when that much dust starts flying around, it makes for some exceptionally stunning skies. Our primary focus was finding something leeward of the blasting wind where we could safely pitch our little tent, however, experimenting with some HDR photography was certainly worth a few minutes pause.

After bouncing around the San Rafael Swell and Capitol Reef area for a couple of days, we worked our way back east near Moab where we wanted to re-explore some of the lesser traveled tracks south of Canyonlands National Park. It’s hard to believe any area around Moab isn’t overrun with people, but you can find near complete isolation if you’re willing to go just a tad further afield.

The immense skies of the Desert Southwest get a lot of play, and rightfully so, but the spring foliage definitely rewarded us as slow travelers with an incredible pageant of colour.

 

We eventually continued our way back east on Road 128 which is arguably one of our favourite drives anywhere in the US. However, the popularity of Moab in recent years has made this road anything but an isolated cruise. Additionally, riverside camping in any of the campgrounds along the Colorado River is almost impossible for a person who can’t get there before a Thursday, and sometimes even that isn’t adequate. Every time we come this way we feel lucky for having explored this area 25 years ago when BLM campsites were rarely more than half full even on the weekends. Nevertheless, the stunning beauty of this valley speaks for itself.

We spent our last couple of days camping near Fruita (Colorado) where we got in some fun, albeit crowded mountain biking. Just like Moab, the popularity of Fruita has exploded in recent years and finding reasonably uncrowded trails is likely reserved for the Tuesday through Thursday time slot. However, we undeniably savour the big, open spaces of the North Fruita Desert and of course no trip to Fruita would be complete without eating what could possibly be the best pizza in the Rocky Mountain Region at The Hot Tomato.

These quick hit jaunts are never, and will never be, long enough for my liking, but it’s still good for the soul to get away for a few days to clear the mind and hit the proverbial reset button.

Climb high. Ski fast. Pedal far. Live simply.

Patience.

Our patience this winter for waiting on any significant storm cycle hasn’t come easy, but the effort finally paid off over the last few days with the appearance of heavy spring snow across our part of the state. With almost three feet of snow in the last 72 hours, a few of us got together and hit the backcountry to lay down some fresh, deep tracks.

Other than “climb, ski, repeat”, our only proviso for the day was to constantly evaluate the increased avalanche danger, choose our routes wisely and keep the egos in check to make sure the day stayed on the positive side. Seriously, if you can’t tailgate with a beer at the end of the day it’s not really worth it, right?

Here’s a little peak into one of our best days of the season (so far).

This actually required a little digging to get Kelly safely extracted. Fifteen minutes later it was all smiles again!

Climb, ski, repeat…then have good beers with good friends. A benchmark ski day doesn’t get much simpler than that.

Climb high. Ski fast. Pedal far. Live simply.

It Wasn’t As Hard As I Imagined

 

It wasn’t as hard as I thought it might be.

It took me about a week to contact the people I actually know on Facebook in order to make sure I had their current email addresses and also jot down the website data of a couple of businesses or blogs I enjoy keeping up with. More importantly, I was candidly evaluating WHY I should or shouldn’t keep my account before finally clicking the “deactivate” button.

In this process, I paused to ask myself if I was doing this as a knee jerk reaction to the recent privacy issues surrounding Facebook, or, was I somehow being too anti-social in even considering closing my portal into what has become one of the most ubiquitous social media platforms on this planet?

Was I being heartless for not caring what people’s daily eating and binge drinking rituals were? Could I possibly know how to vote or know what religious deity was right for me? How would I know what state my personality would best fit in? Would this be the cataclysmic end to the fantastic world of cat videos? Geez, could I possibly think for myself?

For a while now I’ve been thinking about the people who are registered as my “friends” on Facebook. When I thought about who I really know, like who I’ve actually interacted with in the last year, my list of 230-ish friends diminished into just a few, maybe two dozen. To take that one step further, I thought about out of those couple of dozen, how many have I had a meaningful conversation with in person, on the phone or even emailed when the physical distance dictated. That list was immediately cut in half, if not more.

One thing I was always extremely careful about when using Facebook was never to divulge much personal information about myself or my family. Sure, lots and lots of biking and skiing photos because that’s what I enjoy, but NEVER anything about my political views (apolitical in my case), my spiritual self, any medical ailings as is so popular, or my work. The people who needed to know, or I wanted to know, already knew. The information listed under my “About” tab was actually blank.

I have a few friends scattered around the world who I consider close friends. There are some who live close by here in Colorado, Montana and one just a little way over in Utah. I also have a couple of good friends who actually live on a sailboat in the South Pacific and even a friend living in China. These are the people who I know I could sit down with to share ideas, dreams, theories on art or just talk about anything really. Though we may not agree 100% of the time, I am secure in knowing we’d walk away still having a respect and appreciation for each other and look forward to the next chat. Trust is probably what I’m getting at.

I read an article recently, one obviously not written with me in mind as an audience, which went into great detail about how people weren’t optimizing their personal “brand” on Facebook. I managed to gag my way through the article, just barely, and it made me realize that more than likely I don’t know anyone anymore (other than those people I mentioned above). You can stage any photo you want to make yourself into something you’re not. It’s simple, just imagine the persona you want to portray (real or not), post it on Facebook or wherever, generate likes and eventually you can probably make yourself believe you are way cooler than you really are. Rarely do I see the not-so-sexy photos of people puking or slobbering all over themselves while they’re suffering up the skin track in the backcountry. I’ve seen very few (i.e. none) posts from the #vanlife hashtag explaining how much it sucks sometimes to be living in a van without a shower or other conveniences after only two months…and I know firsthand how livin’ in a van down by the river can sometimes suck. Nope, it’s probably more often than not just smoke-and-mirrors photos with beautiful backdrops, perfectly tanned girls in skimpy bikinis and of course those thoughtful quotes or words of inspiration to let their followers know their lives are awesome and everyone else’s sucks. #authenticlife #icallbullshit

I guess my question is what happens when you get asked to back up these staged images with action? Oh, you can’t really ski, ride or climb that hard? What happens when you run out of excuses NOT to go because you really aren’t all that. Maybe you just keep people at arm’s length forever, become a social recluse and keep posting those photos for the benefit of the people who really don’t know you at all? I’m sure this new way of living (and I use that term loosely) is a psychologists dream come true when pitching ideas for research grants.

My friend Ellen recently said something that struck a deep chord with me, and maybe that’s what got me thinking about once and for all putting an end to my Facebook relationship. She simply stated, “Less virtual, more reality”. I have to agree.

Climb high. Ski fast. Pedal far. Live simply.

Achtung! Langsames Fahrzeug (Slow Moving Vehicle)

A month or so ago I finally reached the end of my tether with the constant outside tugging at my time and decided I had to get away. I needed time to think and dream freely without the constant filters of daily life, see friends who I haven’t spent enough time with lately and hopefully flex some creative muscles which I’d neglected for far too long. To do that, I decided I’d go find and explore the thinnest red lines in my Rand McNally Road Atlas…and some places that it didn’t identify at all.

When I started thinking about the trip, I read through a few overlanding blogs and found some “roads” that had long been forgotten by the mainstream. I thought by finding and following these little known tracks, it might be just what I needed to have some mini adventures and hopefully get me back to my customary slow and low key pace. Once I had my ideas in mind, I contacted a couple of friends to let them know I’d be in the area then proceeded to operate under radio silence until it was time to roll out.

I’ve done a fair amount of roaming the Southwest in a VW van (1987 Westfalia campervan) and needless to say, road tripping in that thing was the pinnacle of slow travel. It’s a way of life that I loved then and appreciate even more now. Even though I drive a Toyota Tacoma and can easily maintain modern interstate speeds, I decided for this trip I’d channel that VW way of life and wouldn’t drive over 60 mph for the entire trip. I figured at that speed I could still move on down the road and cover some ground, but like traveling in the Westy, I’d also see more and be more prone to pulling over and getting my camera out. I also resolved to forgo tech assistance and only use printed maps or get beta from locals to find my way around.

My first stop was to see a couple of friends over in Summit County, just 45 minutes from home. I hadn’t seen my good friend Kellyn in far too long and we had a laundry list of things to catch up on so I arranged to have an early breakfast with her. After that, I’d meet up with Lu, my regular backcountry skiing partner, to do some climbing and skiing near Mt Baldy down near Breckenridge.

Skiing in the backcountry with Lu is always good for my soul because we both honestly appreciate the lost art of using our time in the backcountry to actually talk to each other, not be out there to prove anything (but she skis really, really well!). With 14” of surprise new snow overnight, let’s just say it was well worth the exhausting second lap and surely one of the best days of climbing and skiing of the season.

From Summit County I drove north to Steamboat Springs where I wanted to catch up with some other friends (Cindi, Greer and Nate), all great friends who I regrettably haven’t been able to catch up face-to-face with in quite a while. Seriously, I have some absolutely amazing friends and having a day like this where I could see lots of them immediately reminded me how lucky I really am.

The drive to Steamboat isn’t all that long, a couple of hours with good roads, but I managed to stretch it out to almost three and a half by holding to my “must drive under 60 mph rule” and stopping to look around when something caught my eye. It’s almost startling when you’re not consumed with the omnipresent “buzz” of city life how you can actually slow to a natural pace and enjoy your surroundings.

Leaving Steamboat the next morning is where I knew the drive would start to get more interesting. I’d follow Highway 40 as far as Dinosaur, CO then leave the pavement and start following some of those obscure  roads and tracks I’d found in the overlanding blogs.

One thing I love about living in the west is the wide open spaces. I love seeing for miles and driving without seeing but one or two cars per hour. Leaving lightly traveled Highway 40 meant seeing even less people and isolating myself even more. Having grown up in the Desert Southwest I’ve always loved those big open places and crave getting back in them every once in a while.

So I ducked the paved roads and started tracking my way across dirt roads and eventually onto vague two track trails that seemed to terminate at the very end of the earth. I crossed over the 40 a couple of times, but I think I got about 70 miles of remote dirt before getting to the Green River near Jenson, UT.

The drive on these remote, rough and sometimes tiny tracks was everything I hoped for…no cell service and I saw nothing and everything at the same time. Dare I say I even saw myself? I even came across a sheep camp where the herder, Don, lived far from anyone in a covered wagon. Super interesting to think that way of life can survive in the world we now live in.

Eventually I made my way over to Park City to visit my good friend Jason, who I’ve shared plenty of backcountry and travel adventures with over the years. He guides in the St Elias Mountains up in Alaska during the summers so I wanted to catch up with him before he headed out.

We spent a couple of days skiing, one day at Deer Valley where he works in the winter and one incredibly nasty day in the Wasatch backcountry. Mostly though, we just spent some quality time catching up, laughing until our sides hurt and we might have squeezed a couple of local beers into the mix here and there.

From Park City I headed down through Provo Canyon and made my way onto the 191 though Price Canyon towards Moab.

I had hoped the 191 would be a casual drive all the way into Moab, but what I found was that it’s a preferred shortcut from Interstate 70 into Salt Lake City and was equivalent to driving a NASCAR circuit. My resolve to drive 60 mph or under was put to the test and found myself pulling to the hard shoulder pretty often to let cars and semis blast by me at 80+ mph, but I stuck to it.

Some of our oldest friends, Scott and Janet have a place in Moab and as they were fortunately in town, it seemed a natural place to post up for a night. Not only are they incredibly fun to be around and any time spent with them winds up being a laugh-a-thon, but Janet is known for throwing down some seriously tasty food and Scott has the science of the margarita mastered, of which I may have partaken in one too many, just sayin’.

 

I won’t lie and say I didn’t wake up the next morning in a bit of tequila haze. I had planned to get out fairly early because I wanted to explore some backroads on the way back to Colorado, but that didn’t exactly go to plan. Instead, I stuck around to gorge myself with the breakfast Janet had prepared. With  “a few” cups of coffee downed to clear the cobwebs, I finally headed out to Road 128 just north of Moab. I’ve driven this road dozens and dozens of times and I never, ever get tired of it. Such an amazing valley.

However, what I hadn’t done in a while is take the La Sal Loop or driven some of the four wheel drive accessible sections of the Kokopelli Trail, or any of the Cisco Wash trails.

The La Sal Loop is a stunningly beautiful drive that leaves the desert floor and climbs up into the Manti La Sal Mountain Range. Spectacular ALL THE WAY but as I climbed through the aspen groves still bare from the winter, I vowed to come back in the autumn to see the colour changes!

The Kokopelli Trail and Cisco Wash system were full on desert driving with lots of rocks and sandy arroyos to cross. I chose carefully where I drove because I don’t have a winch (yet) and I didn’t want to risk getting myself into too big of a jam and have to make the walk of shame out to get help. All in all it was a remote, rough and an amazingly beautiful crawl through the high desert.

When I made my way back out to I-70 around Westwater, I knew it’d be pretty much interstate driving all the way back to Evergreen. Still, once I got out there, I set the cruise control on 60 mph and cowered in the right lane as the posted 80 mph speed limit seemed to be only a suggestion instead of a law.

When I approached to town of Fruita, just across the border into Colorado, I spotted what may be the the highlight of my trip. It may have also been THE ONLY vehicle I passed in five days. This van was definitely an oldie and the dude driving it seemed about as legit as it gets, but it was the sticker across the back that made me smile and reminded me why I originally set out to be a right lane and dirt road dweller for 1,136 miles.

Old friends, new friends, wide open spaces, slow travel, big skiing, new beers, strong margaritas…couldn’t ask for more.

Climb high, ski hard, pedal far, drive slow, be a good friend and live simply.

I’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling

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Change is inevitable in every aspect of our lives. Sometimes a change is good and other times change causes us anxiety, confusion and sometimes even emotional pain. No matter how hard we try to “hang on”, we just can’t stop the ebb and flow of life that precipitates change.

I’m a student of certain Eastern philosophies and one of the things I’ve learned (and still learning) is the concept of detachment. This is actually a very difficult concept to warm up to because as humans we tend to attach instead of detach. We love our things, our friends, family and ourselves and the thought of losing any of that stuff can almost be paralyzing. But the cold hard facts are that everything is temporary in our lives and we must accept that we can’t hang on for eternity. We’ll lose things, break them, part ways with friends and ultimately we will all leave this earth and travel on to whatever afterlife your beliefs teach.

The way I see it, we have a couple of choices when it comes to this reality. You can fret over the changes that will surely take place, or you can accept the temporary nature of things as a gift and live more in the moment and cherish the time you have.

Think about it this way. Say you go to the store and buy a pint (or quart) of your favourite ice cream. You have to know from the time you plunk down your cash the ice cream is temporary…because why would you buy it if you didn’t plan to eat it? Again, you have two choices. You can eat it and fret the entire time about the fact it will soon be gone, or you can accept that the ice cream is temporary and enjoy every spoon-licking bite until it’s gone…then lick the carton dry.

I’ve been skiing at Arapahoe Basin for almost two decades and have loved it for the most part. It’s always felt homey and not overly commercialized like most of the mega resorts here in Colorado. For sure that’s been a huge part of the allure. But the crowds have grown and that homey feeling has slowly been slipping away. I attribute a lot of that to the Basin being part of the Epic Pass where you can pay one (big) price and ski lots of resorts on a single pass.

At first it never seemed to be such a big issue, but in the past few years the crowds and overall vibe has gradually changed as more and more people started discovering it. It’s especially evident when all the other resorts close and the only resort left standing on the Epic Pass after mid-April is the Basin. Think about the thousands and thousands of people who spread out during the season at Breckenridge, Vail, Keystone and Beaver Creek (and it’s ALWAYS crowded at those monster resorts) then all of a sudden those same people descend on The Basin’s modest 850-ish acres all at once.

I don’t think I’m alone feeling this way or this phenomenon is exclusive to the Basin. Little Eldora Mountain Resort partnered up with the Colorado Super Pass and is now sharing a common pass with Copper Mountain, Winter Park and Steamboat. I hear the same thing from long time Eldora skiers that it’s now grossly overcrowded, the laid-back vibe has changed and it’s just not that much fun to go anymore.

I get that money is the primary driving factor in the ski industry and for those small resorts it’s probably a big financial boon.  Cash fat Vail Resorts is buying ski areas right and left and it’s no mystery that growing those share prices and keeping shareholders (and executives) financially happy is the end game…not necessarily skier experience. That’s business and that’s reality.

For quite a while now I’ve been paring away a lot of things in my life, detaching from some things when necessary and basically trying to get back to what truly make me happy. In doing that, I’ve discovered a lot of things I’d been doing had sort of become default decisions. I’d always buy a ski pass and it would always be Arapahoe Basin. I’d do this or that because that was the way people were doing it. I wasn’t always listening to my heart and saying “no” when maybe I should have. Pretty much I’ve been examining every aspect of my life and thinking long and hard about whether it really makes me happy. If it didn’t, well, I’d apply some of that detachment I mentioned earlier.

This season we decided to escape the norm and ski at some of the smaller, indie ski areas around the state in an attempt to simplify the experience and try to reignite our love for skiing. In a word, the result has been FANTASTIC. Friendly people, no crowds, MORE skiing, cheaper and dare I say, even more enjoyable than skiing some of the big trophy resorts.

Because of our experiences at these small resorts, we’ve made the decision to not buy our Basin passes for the first time almost 20 years. We are getting passes next season, but it will be to an independent ski area where we hope to slow down, enjoy the overall skiing experience again, make new friends and enjoy old friends even more. We also plan to spend a lot more time in the solitude of the backcountry where we can casually tour, take in the amazing scenery here in Colorado, get to know our friends on a deeper level and enjoy life at a slower pace.

I’ll miss the Basin, but I think I’ll more miss the way the Basin used to be instead of the way it is now. I guess you could say my quart of Arapahoe Basin Ice Cream is down to the bottom. I’ve enjoyed it while it lasted but when that last bite is done later this season, it’ll be time to put that carton down, savour the good times, then move on.

Ski hard, climb high, pedal far, live simply.

The Payoff

 

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Early morning in Elk Meadow near our house.

At some point, we all have a dream of “livin’ the dream”.

From my very first memories of visiting an alpine setting, I’ve dreamed of what it might be like to wake up every morning, look out my windows and not only see the mountains, but have them cradling me and my home. I’ve lived here in Colorado for a quarter of century and have spent considerable time climbing, hiking, skiing, biking and backpacking in the high mountains, but our home has always been just out of the foothills. Sure, it’s been great being out a little where I could get views from our upstairs bedroom of Longs Peak up to the north all the way down to Pikes to the south, but it wasn’t “living” in the mountains.

We’ve talked a lot over the years about whether moving somewhere else was really worth the effort. We’ve talked about moving to places like Taos because we love the food and architecture, Idaho because it’s beautiful and there aren’t a lot of people and places like Whitefish or Kalispell, Montana because, well, Montana is awesome. But the caveat ending all those conversations has always been, “would it be the same feeling living there as it does when we just recreate there?

Over the last couple of years we earnestly started thinking about moving on up to the mountains…like IN the mountains instead of right outside of them. We had all these visions of how awesome it would be to wake up in a beautiful valley with high peaks all around us. We thought about how how cool it would be to have trails we could ride or run just out the door instead of having to drive an hour or two just to reach a trailhead. How we’d feel part of a small community again instead of just feeling like another worker drone in a giant anthill of people.

So early in the process we each got a sheet of paper and wrote down everything that was important to us. Nothing was off limits, nothing was right or wrong. Once we took a few days or weeks to compile our individual lists, we then compared them to see how many items were the same (if any). As predicted, we were pretty close on most.

The next step was then to start looking at communities that would meet those requirements. I think we wound up with probably half dozen real contenders and probably a dozen more that at least that needed further consideration. My personal list of possibilities was closer to 100 towns, but I reluctantly agreed to trim it down for the sake of time.

After lots and lots of thought, vetting and thoroughly checking out the towns in person, we finally narrowed it down to two real contenders. Once that happened, we began the important step of assessing the pros and cons of each and also dreaming about what life would really be like living in those towns.

I’m a strong believer that life can be, and is, whatever you make it. I loved our place in the Boulder Valley and living there never deterred me from doing all the things I wanted to do, other than maybe having the ability to go surfing. We were 10 minutes commute from our offices, had tons of restaurants and entertainment opportunities at our disposal, several ski resorts only 1.5 hours away, lots of great friends….we were livin’ the dream! And with that said, we had to sincerely think about what we might be giving up. Was it worth it? Maybe, maybe not.

I think this is where a lot of people get bogged down. Change is scary, on any level, and it can become paralyzing and easily lead to non-action when the decisions get bigger. Moving our entire lives was one of those things that seemed overwhelming and at times it seemed the only prudent thing to do was just stay put and enjoy the status quo, because after all, there was nothing wrong with our lives the way it was.

My friend Jesse and I have spent a large number of hours climbing around in the mountains in the winter talking about how the best times of our lives were initially the most uncomfortable. It’s hard to get out of your comfort zone, period, and most people work very, very hard to build a certain level of comfort and protect that feeling with everything they have because, well, it feels safe and comfortable. But Jesse and I have concluded time after time that when we’re put under duress is when we begin to learn about ourselves and grow as humans.

So this is where we were. Should we go for it and see what the unknown had in store for us? Would it be as cool as we thought? Would it suck and we’d regret giving up a sure thing? I think all the life experiences and travel we’ve been fortunate to have in our lives gave us the answer. The answer was the most memorable and influential experiences in our lives have been the ones we didn’t plan but in fact, were the ones that put us way out of our comfort zone.

Not only did we go for it, we went even bigger and decided to completely remodel an older mountain home, with us doing the majority of the work. Talk about surprise after surprise after surprise. We were both well off centre most every day for months dealing with the thousands of details and issues we never dreamed of or considered. Admittedly there were more than a couple of days where we felt this move/project may have been a colossal mistake.

However, as hard as it was, both mentally and physically, we pushed on endlessly for week after week working late into the night every night…after working at our regular jobs. I would personally leave in tears some nights because I simply didn’t feel I could keep the pace any longer.

Then, out the fog, we finally reached the day when we could get our temporary certificate of occupancy from the building inspectors. The house was still a full-on construction zone and there was lots of work ahead, but we could at least finally be in one spot. No more living out of a tiny apartment 45-miles away with our belongings scattered all around the Front Range in various PODS and storage units!

We’ve now been living in the house and our new community for approximately eight weeks. I’d say it’s about 95% finished save for a little more trim work around a couple of doors (we’re still staining!) and some stone work around the fireplaces, but those are things I can do without all the previous pressures of juggling contractor schedules with ours.

There were times during the last six months when I actually hated the house. I hated the thought of leaving my day job and going up there to work another eight hours..then drive back to our apartment later in the night. I couldn’t see the end of the tunnel because every time I thought we were on track, another crisis would appear and it seemed we were taking two steps back. I honestly couldn’t imagine it ever being a place we could just relax and enjoy much less love.

Someone at work asked me a week or so ago if all the stress was worth it and if it felt like we were finally getting settled in. It was ironic they’d asked me right then because the day prior I’d gotten up for the first time since moving in, hopped on my bike and rode some of the trails leading from our house up Bergen Peak.

I had indeed woke up in that cradle of the mountains, had incredible riding right out my door and had that crisp mountain air with the smell of ponderosa pine greeting me when I walked my bike out onto our deck. And to put a little icing on the cake, fifteen minutes after leaving my house, as I was huffing my way up a steep section of singletrack, I had to pause for a few minutes just to listen to the elk bugling in the meadow down below.

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Climbing the steep singletrack on Bergen Peak…with the elk bugling in the valley below.

Six months of excruciating stress and it was all wiped away with some crisp fall mountain air, the smell of pine, a bugling elk and a long singletrack mountain bike ride…from home.

Climb high, ski hard, pedal far, live simply.

Perhaps I’ll Go For a Little Ride.

Crossing the 10,000 mile mark.
Crossing the 10,000 mile mark.

I like having goals.

Sometimes my goal setting is for serious stuff like saving enough money to retire early, saving for our daughter’s education and so on and so forth. But when it comes to keeping me motivated to stay healthy, I like to set goals, or benchmarks that’ll get me out the door when it’d be easy to say it’s too cold, too hot, too tired or whatever excuse de jour may be handy. Having been an ultrarunner for quite a few years, it was literally the only way I could maintain the motivation to keep going out the door every day to run…again, and again and again.

A few years ago I had three friends who came up with a wild idea they’d buy a sailboat, refurbish it and render it ocean worthy enough to sail around the globe. One knew a moderate amount about sailing, the others knew very little to nothing. Obviously a ballsy quest but despite the endeavour being fraught with obstacles, they went for it.

To make a long story short, they found and bought a boat in Mexico, moved it to Emeryville (CA) and spent about a year getting it ready. When the big day came and the boat left the San Francisco Bay, one guy (with the least sailing knowledge) had already abandoned (for a girl) so they were down to a crew of two. Fast forward a few months and the two crew members who originally left Emeryville were off the boat and the original defector was back on after the girl thing went sideways. The original defector eventually found himself living aboard the boat in Brisbane, Australia working with a yacht broker to sell it so everyone could hopefully salvage some of their investment and simply wash their hands of the whole of the deal. And no, the last I heard they were still not friends. Cordial I understand, but not close.

While the original goal of circumnavigating the globe may have fallen short, my takeaway was the fact they set an audacious goal, worked through the minefield of obstacles to prepare themselves then actually left the harbour in San Francisco. To me, that’s just as huge as the actual feat of circling the globe. The first step is always the hardest.

As I followed their progress, it made me think long and hard about my own personal goals. I was definitely dialed in to setting big goals, but I’d really never set a goal to build something mechanical from ground zero and take it on a long journey.

I know precisely zero about sailing or ocean adventuring other than if you fall off the thing at sea, there’s a chance you could be eaten by a shark or mauled by any number of other things with sharp teeth…and then the sharks eat you. Eliminating sailing was a pretty straight forward process.

I also thought about purchasing an older adventure motorcycle, building it up to be expedition ready then riding it to Alaska from my home here in Colorado. As cool as that seemed (and still does), it didn’t feel like the right time.

Eventually I decided since I love to mountain bike, I would build up a nice bike, bolt by bolt, component by component and pick some bigger number of miles to ride. The number of miles would have to test my skills as the builder as well as my mental capability of sticking to something that wouldn’t come easy, but was still attainable with some legitimately hard work. I decided 10,000 trail miles would be the goal. If I were to ride on the road, I could ring those miles up commuting to work or just bopping around town without a lot of difficulty, so trail miles it had to be.

I’ve had lots of mountain and road bikes in my life but that was the first one I’d ever built from scratch. I spent countless hours researching every component, nut, bolt, hydraulic system and every other aspect of the build from tip to tail. Can’t say it was all a glitter and unicorn picnic being new to the build up game, but it was more than rewarding to have to work to figure things out instead of just taking it to a shop and having it done. In the end, I knew that bike inside and out.

I wrote the goal of 10,000 trail miles down on a piece of paper and made a log book to track my progress. I was definitely excited about the goal of 10k, but to be honest, I was more excited about simply riding something I built. The best feeling ever was taking it off the rack on my truck for it’s maiden shake-down ride and it performing beautifully with only a couple of minor adjustments to the shifters. My sailboat had left the harbour!

This week…after four years and some change, 20+ tyres, five chains, three seats and two seat posts, about 900,000 vertical feet, countless brake pads and rotors, a couple of hub rebuilds and a total of 651 rides later…I crossed the 10,000 trail mile mark. I’m also happy to report I’m still married, still have a few friends and have no lingering thoughts of selling my bike.

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Some of those 651 rides were more memorable than others, some warmer than others (it’s been known to get cold here in Colorado) and some definitely less painful than others, but there isn’t one day on that bike I’d trade for the anything. Crossing the 10k mark is just a click on the odometer, the miles and associated experiences to get there is what I’ll always think about.

By doing this I certainly haven’t done anything extraordinary, but I’m pretty happy that in this world of instant gratification, I’ve been able to hold on to the principle the best things in life can only be achieved by hard work, determination and the honest belief that EVERY aspect of the journey is truly the destination.

Climb high, ski hard, run far, live simply.

 

 

 

 

When I Grow Up…

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Brooke schooling me at Arapahoe Basin.

Every year when the snow starts flying in the high country we as skiers start to get that giddy feeling deep inside. We dust off all the memories of previous season’s powder days, bluebird blue skies and all the great craft beers and green chile burgers we’ve consumed after a big day in the backcountry. We believe deep in our guts that this coming season will naturally be the best ever.

Once the season finally does come though, we inevitably get into that mode of judging the snow and weather conditions before we head out. We’ll unknowingly adopt a cumbersome matrix of variables we must consider of where, when or even if we should use up any of our valuable time to ski “subpar” conditions. On top of that, we typically wind up having to cater to the wants and needs of the individual skiers in the group because some will want to be hard chargers and only want to ski the hardest terrain available and others will want to just have a casual day. Leave at 4:30 a.m. to beat traffic or leave later, but that means the snow will be chewed up but geez, sleeping in sounds so good, but hey, we can’t get fresh tracks.  Before long everything starts fracturing and what was supposed to a fun day of forgetting about the rigours of daily life becomes a chore.

How is it that we as adults, supposedly the smarter ones in the food chain, manage to totally eff up a good time by complicating the things that are supposed to help us UNcomplicate life?

This past weekend we decided to skip the backcountry and meet up with some friends for some inbounds turns up at Arapahoe Basin. It was shockingly busy, especially for the Basin, but hey, it was all about a casual day, making turns, working on technique, getting some Vitamin D, listening to a little music and of course having an adult beverage at the end of the day.

For the first couple of hours we did just that…we skied some casual groomers, worked on our tele techniques and battled for space on the piste to make more than three turns without having to avoid dozens people laying all over the trails. Typical day and as usual, after a few runs it started to get annoying and the excitement of the day started to wear off a little.

About two hours in, our other friends, the Tourney’s, showed up. An early alpine start for Team Tourney is probably only a pipe dream given that they have a third and first grader in the mix, but hey, sometimes you just have to take what the defense will give you. Let me just say right here that the Tourney’s are awesome and some of my favourite people, ever. Despite the inherent chaos of having two elementary age kids, they’re out most every weekend killing it on the snow and in the summer they’re out camping, climbing and crushing it on the mountain bikes. Juggle that with volleyball, gymnastics, school, baseball and everything else, well, yeah, they’re freakin awesome.

The first ride up, Brooke (8 years old…almost 9 though!) rode the chair with me and Jason. In the course of eleven short minutes, I was completely up to date on the doings in the world of a third grader, dialed in on her plans to play volleyball via a full ride scholarship to Denver University or Colorado State University (but not University of Colorado, thank you very much), clued in that her future husband would be balanced with cuteness, athleticism AND smartness and finally, we were educated on the pros and cons of her options for middle schools which were rapidly approaching and decisions needed to be made. Not once did I hear about crappy hard packed snow, the blasting wind or the insane crowds.

When it came time to ski, I found myself completely intoxicated with the unfiltered laughing and playful exuberance those kids had. They were just having fun without worrying about the senseless BS we as adults tend to glom ourselves up with. Green trail, blue trail, black diamond trail….just colours in their eyes and not a badge of honour or shame, nor a barometer of the day’s successes or failures.

Four turns in, I was actually giggling too. I was no longer worried about whether my tele turns were silky or clunky, whether the snow was chewed up or if I had to ski around 300 people every quarter of a mile. It was just fun again…and it continued to be fun the rest of the day, including when Brooke cleverly charmed me out of my French fries during lunch.

I always like to think of myself as pretty open to personal growth, so I’d probably need to be the first to admit that getting reminded by a third grader that simply enjoying everything about the moment at hand instead of getting wound around the axle with the things that don’t really matter was pretty damn awesome.

When I grow up, I want to be like Brooke.

I Just Can’t Give It Up.

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I almost gave it up, until I realized giving it up meant giving up more than I was willing to give up.

I loved rock climbing for quite a number of years, but as climbing gyms became more mainstream and everyone started “climbing”, it got to be more about saying you were a “climber” around the coffee pot at work than actually being a climber. It became all about what grades you were climbing and if that grade wasn’t up to some arbitrary “hard man” standard, you’d be dismissed as a real climber, even though the standard wasn’t being set on real rocks but rather on plastic holds in a converted warehouse.

For me, it got to the point where it didn’t seem to be much of a cohesive community among those with an appreciation for the beauty of the full process of climbing (on real rocks). That said, it honestly wasn’t hard to give up that part of the climbing culture and I’ve since found a smaller, tighter and more genuine community in the ice climbing world.

Similarly, when I got bored with snowboarding a few years ago, I decided I wanted something truly challenging, more so than just skiing again. I naively borrowed some telemark gear from a friend and set out with a grand notion of being a knee dropping, free heeling crusher within a couple of weeks. Five years later I’d finally consider myself pretty solid on the teles but still not really a “crusher”. I still get doled large slices of humble pie often and sometimes have to limp my burning quads and battered ego back to my truck…but always with a perma-smile etched into my face.

However, I think the thing I’ve fallen in love with most is the telemark community. From day one I was never ridiculed or looked down upon while faffing around on easy green slopes like a goober while I was trying to figure it all out, even from people who were ripping super hard. In fact, I was always just blown away by the comradery of everyone in the telemark community. There didn’t ever seem to be a top and bottom of the pecking order, just an equal community amongst everyone involved. Bottom line is that telemark is hard, like really hard, and that fact seems to galvanize those who drink the tele cult Kool-Aid instead of pitting them against each other.

This past week I headed to the backcountry up near Breckenridge with a friend with high hopes of another stellar day of uncrowded glades and endless fresh tracks. In reality I probably had my worst day on teles since early in my first year. I had no explanation for it other than just having a terrible day. I’ve worked really hard over the years to get better and make stronger turns in the backcountry so was mercilessly thrown for a loop when my whole game inexplicably just fell apart. The more I fought it, the worse it got.

I’ll admit, I was really, really discouraged. Just two days earlier I had a great powder day in the backcountry and was riding high and confident…then that happened. It was so discouraging that during my drive home I had stray thoughts of just hanging up the free heel life and switching to the far easier AT gear. I even went as far as looking around on the internet when I got home to see what was on sale in the AT boot and tech binding arena. However, after a night of sleep I decided I would go back inbounds for a day and see if I could right the ship before I sold out and dropped $1,500 on new gear.

Out of the dozen or so times I’ve been out this season, this was only my second day inbounds. Though I prefer the backcountry, it actually felt kind of nice to have a consistent surface under my skis, not fear hitting submerged stumps and logs, worry about tree wells and avalanches and have a cushy chair transport me up the mountain instead of grinding out a skin track for a couple of hours only to get one or two runs.

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So, thinking that this day would either further my rogue thoughts of exploring the AT skiing set up, or forever putting my tele chakras back in alignment, I released my emotional Kraken and ripped like I seldom do for four straight hours. I was able to channel all my anger and frustration into something positive and worked through the valley of angst from the previous day’s ugliness. It felt fantastic from the first turn and fortunately my mojo was quickly restored. No, it wasn’t an epic blower powder day, but I instantly remembered why I love the tele turn so, so much.

Not ironically, on the way home I was listening to the latest Absolute Telemark podcast http://absolutetelemark.com/ and heard free heel icon JT Robinson recount how hard the telemark turn was to learn and then actually do well, but how the “community” is always there to pick you up and help you along when things aren’t going like you hoped. It was right then where I realized had I given up after something every telemark skier experiences, I would be giving up more than just a sport, I’d be giving up the community I love so much and feel so much a part of. Something I’m simply not willing to do. Not many things I can say that about.

So, I’m five years into the telemark tribe and I still love it more than ever. That’s not to say it doesn’t still frustrate the hell out of me some days! The beauty in it is that everyone who teles has their own style and there are no rights or wrongs…just self-expression and individuality without a single care what the mainstream thinks.

Climb high. Ski hard. Travel far. Live simply.