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.

Talk to Each Other Face to Face? Scandalous!

“We’re in such a hurry most of the time we never get much chance to talk. The result is a kind of endless day-to-day shallowness, a monotony that leaves a person wondering years later where all the time went and sorry that it’s all gone. ” — Robert M. Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into Values

Perhaps because of the inevitable lunacy associated with the holiday season, I’ve been feeling a little overstimulated with the pace and constant white noise of daily living. With so much information coming at us, it becomes hard to think for ourselves sometimes, much less allow us time to be creative or cultivate meaningful relationships. It seems our world is getting more and more accepting to that “phenomenon” and people simply aren’t willing to say “enough”.

I’m likely in the minority saying this, but I loathe this contemporary way of “connected living”. I hate feeling like I don’t even know the people in my life…like really know them. Because of that, this past weekend I gathered up some good friends for a few days in the backcountry to get away from cell phone and internet coverage, do some touring, ski some untouched glades, flex those creative muscles with a camera and sketch pad and most of all just talk to each other and make sure we didn’t lose those honest connections which have become so endangered.

Maybe if we remove ourselves from the world of connectivity for a few minutes here and there and actually get to really know people the way we can in the backcountry, perhaps there would be less hate and more love, compassion and understanding in this world.

Being simple. It’s not so hard.

Lost in Lobato

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A few years ago (2004) I read an essay by Alison Gannett in a holiday Patagonia catalogue. In the essay, she talks about wandering through Africa, looking for somewhere specific, but getting lost in the mountains of a place called Lesotho. By abandoning her “goal” for a short time, she learned things about the people of some random little village and more importantly, some things about herself. As is most often the case, the original goal is sometimes not the end game, but instead the journey becomes the purpose. This article has stuck with me for a long time (obviously) and to this day remains an important reference in my own journey through life. You can read it here if you’re interested:

http://www.patagonia.com/ca/patagonia.go?assetid=48936

This past week we did a little road trip down to Santa Fe. Instead of blasting down I-25 at the speed of lunacy like everyone else, we opted to cut over into central Colorado, do a little biking, explore a couple of places we rarely get to and take those lesser used roads as we made our way to the Land of Enchantment.

I don’t think anyone who knows me would be shocked by the fact I would take a circuitous route to get there, or anywhere I go for that fact. For a few days before leaving, I’d been looking at maps and reading about the areas we’d be driving through trying to get a little info on local history, interesting characters and some local’s faves for food and drink.

When I look at maps thinking about a road trip, I always seem to find myself tracing those dull, almost translucent lines across vast expanses between the thicker, more heavily fonted direct lines indicating major roads. The way it worked out in this trip was that I had a Point A (Boulder) and a Point B (Santa Fe), but connecting those points involved doing so via Point D, then Point E en route to Point C while passing Point G, but only after stopping at Point F. There is life in all these places and I want to see it and experience it.

Leaving Buena Vista after our first night and heading south toward New Mexico, I found myself lost in thought while imagining the area a hundred years ago and what life in those vast open spaces much have been like. As we continued on, I remembered reading about an old bridge crossing the Rio Grande and how at the time it was considered a structure “modernizing” travel by efficiently connecting some of these remote communities in all seasons. The Lobato Bridge eliminated the need to travel dozens, if not hundreds of miles to find a bridge to cross the river. The more I thought about it, the more I wanted to try and find it.

We didn’t have a map with us but through my previous reading and tracing lines on maps in my office, I thought I had a pretty good idea how to get to it. My basic information was from the small town of Antonito, Colorado I needed to go east on Road G. Of course in the town of Antonito, Road G was not marked as Road G, but the totally intuitive 5th Street, or maybe it was 6th Street? I eventually deduced 5th Street (or 6th) would turn into Road G because it was the only road heading east which extended past the city limits. I suppose I could’ve pulled out my GPS, but what fun would that be?

About half an hour after leaving the pavement, Donna gave me “the eye” and asked, “Do you really have any idea where you’re going?” Well, I sort of believed I knew where I was going so I threw out some confident words and soldiered on east at 35 mph leaving an impressive contrail of dust — which would eventually settle back to earth without anyone but us and a few crows ever having seen it.

Eventually, that immense and vast landscape seemed to fall off a little and there it was, the Lobato Bridge. Built in 1892 by the Wrought Iron Company of Ohio, this bridge is the southernmost crossing of the Rio Grande River in Colorado and remains one of the few one-lane truss style bridges in the Western United States. This was state of the art engineering back in the day and probably one of the crown jewels for the Wrought Iron Company, yet it was now likely nothing more than a footnote in the county records of Conejos County…unless you’re me looking for these random types of things.

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Lobato Bridge in Conejos County, Colorado

There were no souvenir stands with commemorative pins and cheap 50/50 cotton-polyester blend t-shirts featuring Minions standing on the bridge and no 64 oz. tankards of pop on offer, but this was good stuff. It was obscure, historic, way off the beaten path and certainly contained infinite stories related to the history of the region. I looked around and could imagine a family traveling this way in a horse drawn wagon taking hours if not days to travel what I had in about 45 minutes. I imagined them being blown away at the modern convenience of this bridge as they made their way east or west across this huge expanse of openness and how appreciative they must have been for this simple bridge, something we take for granted every single day.

After another 20 minutes of impressively lengthy dust contrails as we continued east toward the communities of Mesita and Jarosa, we spotted a lone grave a little way off the road. Literally no one or nothing for miles and strangely there was the grave of Torrey Marie Foster. Who was she? How did she die? Did she die here on the spot or was she placed there for some reason I’d never know? I saw no remnants of an old home site anywhere nearby to maybe explain the situation. I honestly intend to at least try and find the answers to these questions about Torrey.

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The grave of Torrey Marie Foster, somewhere in Conejos County, Colorado

After another couple of historic bridge crossings, more singing along with Taylor Swift on our iPod (loudly and without shame), Native American Pueblos, random antelope sightings and more meandering translucent line following, we finally made it to Santa Fe, about six hours after we originally thought we’d arrive.

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Taos Junction Bridge near Pilar, New Mexico

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San Lorenzo de Picuris, Picuris Pueblo, New Mexico

While certainly beautiful and featuring some amazing food, the original idea of winding up in Santa Fe as the terminus of our road trip seemed a bit anti-climactic. Turquoise tourists working themselves into a consuming frenzy clogged every nook and cranny of the city making it near impossible to take a single moment to consider the history of the place or enjoy any of the abundant art galleries. We found ourselves feeling anxious and frantic instead of relaxed and inspired as we had hoped. I didn’t even feel like searching for and buying that commemorative rubber tomahawk I really wanted. We did manage to get a couple of good mountain bike rides early in the mornings, but that was about the extent of it. Honestly, after just a few hours in town, I think we were both ready to hit the road again and do some more exploring off the beaten path.

I know it sounds super cliché, but I’ve again pleasantly reaffirmed that for me, the journey really is the destination. I love staying off those thick red lines on maps and seeing where those translucent gray lines will take me.

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Backroads between Mesita, CO and Jarosa, New Mexico

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The Taos High Road near Nambe, New Mexico

I love getting lost in places like Lobato. And like Alison said, in the end getting to Santa Fe never really mattered at all.

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

How South Africans May Have Saved My Retirement

My wife and I have been developing a plan on how to hit the “ESC” key on our careers since we were in our early 20s. The plan has been simple:

  • Work hard
  • Save lots of money
  • Live well below our means in every aspect (travel, material purchases, life philosophy, etc)
  • Keep everything in life simple (travel, material purchases, life philosophy, etc)
  • Trust in the plan and be dedicated to the plan
  • Walk away early in life and commit to doing whatever the hell we want

There have certainly been diversions and obstacles along the way, but we’ve been super good about quickly recognizing the value in simplicity when it happened and always dutifully returned to the plan.

As we get closer to hitting “ESC”, naturally we’ve started to get a little impatient. Like when you’re a kid and drive into the parking lot at Disneyland and your excitement almost makes you pee your pants before you can get to that first ride. This is what we’ve diligently been working toward for over 30 years, so of course the closer we get, the more palatable and raw the emotions.

With our “ESC” within sight, we’ve been spending more and more time fine tuning the details, thinking of all the adventures that lie ahead and shaping all these thoughts and dreams into what the new reality might look like. As I mentioned before, with any impending approach to an event you’ve been forever planning for, the dopamine and adrenaline starts to flow like wine from the scepter of the Gods and you unfortunately sometimes take leave of your senses.

If you listen to your heart, it’ll always lead you correctly. In this case, we muted that voice and were forging ahead, longstanding plan be damned. We were literally seconds from making a decision, a very large financial one at that, when we thankfully had one of those “WTF” moments. I know our individual decisions are always our own, but last night I had a little help from a family of South Africans to slap me upside the head and bring me back to earth.

A few weeks ago I was over in Utah doing some climbing, canyoneering, mountain biking and wild camping. The best thing in the world is finding a campsite without another soul for miles, literally, and having some massive landscapes gobble you up and let you know your miniscule place in the world. In the middle of nowhere is where all the petty stuff of this world can’t survive and you can “think” without bias, filters and influence.

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On our way back, we stopped in Moab to get gas, ice and generally restock our supplies (i.e. beer) as we moved on to the deserts of Fruita, CO. While there, we took advantage of free WiFi at the Visitor’s Center and checked messages, emails and news from back in the BoulderValley. While doing this, I saw where a family from South Africa I’ve been following via the internet for a while were also there in Utah. They’ve been overlanding for three-ish years in South America and are now making their way north to Alaska. Immediately I thought of tracking them down just to say hi and maybe hear a story or two. Unfortunately they were pretty far away in Kanab and we simply didn’t have the time to get down there and find them.

Anyhow, we did our mountain biking thing for a couple more days in Fruita then headed home. Still, I was thinking about this family as we drove back and when I did finally get home, immeditately ordered the book they’d written about their travels.

A few more days passed and one morning as I was catching up on the blogs and websites I follow, I saw that this same South African family was now actually in Boulder! I immediately shot them an email asking if I could swing by and chat, see their Land Rover and hopefully hear some amazing stories from a life lived overlanding. Graeme quickly wrote me back and said they were attending an event in an adjoining town and said to definitely swing by.

I’m a strong believer in people’s energy. I can usually walk into a crowded room and within seconds know who I’d feel comfortable talking with and who I’d definitely need to stay away from. We had ridden our bikes to this event and when I saw the Land Rover and the Bell family next to it, I literally got that positive “I need to talk to these people” vibe and quickened my cadence at little.

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To make an impossibly long story somewhat short, we found the entire Bell family to be sincerely warm, charming, funny, and incredibly interesting. I literally could’ve stayed for hours discussing the mechanics of the Landy alone, much less all the amazing stories of adventure they no doubt possess. On the surface the entire expedition seems exotic and perhaps rightfully so a bit of a complicated affair, and maybe it is to some degree, but to me it was a testament of absolute simplicity.

Even though I’d purchased their book via Amazon about a week earlier, I couldn’t resist buying one right there and having them sign it. I can always give the unsigned book to someone I think would properly appreciate it. With other engagements that morning unfortunately bearing down on us, we wished them safe travels and regretfully were on our way.

Fast forward a couple of weeks and I’m now well into their book appropriately titled, We Will Be Free. On the upside, it’s an incredible book filled with honest stories about how this expedition came to pass and some hilarious and sometimes tense tales of adventure along their journey. I love it. image

On the downside, it’s a career killer. I’ve thought of nothing since page one except how I should shuck everything I own, buy a Land Rover (a TD5 equipped with 2.5 litre turbo diesel, right hand drive and attached rooftop tent for anyone curios and interested in giving me one) and set sail to see the world.

Parallel to all this world of global overlanding, being free and unadulterated simplicity, we’ve recently been mired in a vortex of making our long term plan entirely too complex. To call a spade a spade, we got caught up in sexy houses, sexy neighbourhoods and America’s dream of what retirement is supposed to look like. We were sliding down the slip-and-slide of material prison. Man, it’s sooooo easy to let it happen if you aren’t careful.

So, last night we had just come from looking at one of those sexy houses in one of those sexy neighbourhoods, which sported a not-so-sexy price and were literally one click away from putting our house on the market and charging ahead. Should’ve been a time of excitement, but instead we were both literally sick to our stomachs. Although we couldn’t seem to verbalize it at first, we knew in our hearts that we were wholesale abandoning our longstanding plan at the eleventh hour and about to make what could be a colossal mistake costing us another year or two of work…instead of freedom.

As we sat at what may have been the worst Mexican Restaurant in the whole of Colorado, I thought about the Bell family and how in their book they explained how they’d experienced that “dream” but knew what the right thing to do was, how it kept tugging at their hearts until they finally had to listen. When we met them, it was easy to see the genuine peace in their souls. They were doing what their hearts told them. Our hearts were telling us too, but we were ignoring it.

We finally got home after driving from Golden in a pissing rain storm and finally, finally said it out loud. This just doesn’t feel right. When the words came out, there was literally an audible sigh of relief. I called our estate agent, a good friend, and told her we were having a change of heart and needed to throw the brakes on. We felt absolutely horrible because of the work she’d already done, but being the awesome person she is, she understood. I owe her a beer for sure.

We slept better last night than we have in weeks.

People and experiences come to us all the time and they all have purpose, sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worst. I feel so fortunate that I seem to have a keen sense for when those people and experiences are there to help point me in the right direction, or in this case, keep me on the right overall path altogether. Yeah, we’re anxious to take on this next adventure, but straying from the basis of simplicity and trying to force the goal to fruition through complexity, which is oftentimes the easy way out, would’ve inevitably take us farther away.

Thanks Graeme, Luisa, Keelan and Jessica for appearing from nowhere right here in my backyard at exactly the right time and keeping us on track. Beers on us when we see you again.

www.a2aexpedition.com

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

 

 

 

 

To Pass Or Not To Pass

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Less is more. I’ve always been a big fan of “less” but lately I’ve been hearing that phrase more and more from the people closest to me.

This ski season has been described by all the powers-that-be in the forecasting, data research and ski industry, as solidly average and officially been anointed a success. We’ve had average snow as defined by weather researchers, the piste has been covered for the most part, hordes consistently flocked to the resorts and our economy here in Colorado has been mostly smiles. As a guy who works in math as my primary means of income, the term I would use to describe this season would be “expected results”.

Going into this season I had high hopes for yet another above average season, just like the two prior to this one, but I’m greedy like that. Endless powder days, fresh lines aplenty and a season pushed well into June (and even July!). And indeed, others in my greater circle of acquaintances shared that anticipation and talked of all those big days in the backcountry ahead and how every weekend we’d be out early and home late. But once the season kicked off, those things changed.

As normal, I spent the first month or so skiing inbounds, getting the legs tuned just waiting for the backcountry to set up. That stoke and talk of all the backcountry powder lines ahead built to a crescendo and when it was finally time to pull the trigger and pack up the beacons, probes and shovels…the people I thought were in (based on all their big talk), were all of sudden suckling the teats of excuses and were perpetually unavailable for backcountry adventures (but up for resort days). It’s always hard in the backcountry so while it was marginally disappointing at first, it was somewhat expected and certainly not the end of the world.

I have to admit that my patience, will and desire to ski inbounds has been reduced to a flicker. With resorts merging, pimping and gobbling each other up at a frantic pace to see who can be the biggest, sexiest and most expensive, I honestly don’t feel they care much about me or anyone else as a skier anymore. Ski resorts are businesses and understandably are all about rankings in ski magazines and bottom lines on income statements. It’s to the point where I’ve really had to start to thinking about how much I want to spend my money to purchase a pass and commit to them for another season. Isn’t the point of spending your money that you get something in return?

Looking back, this failure to launch by the people who I quasi-counted on was a good thing. It forced me to reach out to a different set of friends, some I hadn’t known as well (until this season that is), and ask if I could tag along on some of their outings. In doing so, I also inadvertently reconnected with old friends who I hadn’t seen in a while and discovered just how much our ideals and thoughts on life had merged. Perhaps this was actually meant to happen?

The more time I spent with these people, the more I started hearing just how the mayhem, expense and aggravation of skiing at resorts had soured them, how they now found themselves earning their turns every weekend and how they’d really reconnected with the soul of skiing. The one thing I also started hearing more and more was that the option of NOT buying a pass to a resort for the next season was being discussed. Two friends in particular have already committed to eschewing a pass next year and will be sticking solely to the backcountry…no pass for the first time in 25 years.

My good friend Jason was here last weekend from Montana on the way back up to his guiding gig in Alaska. I always have a good time talking with him about life because we share the same views on simplicity. He does have a little street cred in that area since he quit his job as a PhD researcher at a high profile university a few years ago to pursue a simpler life as a guide and artist.

Anyhow, we spent a day climbing and skiing in the backcountry in some of the places introduced to me this winter. As always, we found our way into long, protracted conversations about simple living, appreciating life at a slower pace (as we slowly huffed and puffed our way up the skin track) and how conversations like the one we were having were by far the best part of backcountry skiing. Yes, the powder turns in the backcountry are simply fantastic and the feeling of satisfaction of climbing to get those turns is unequalled, but having the time and quiet format to connect with friends on a deeper level, maybe even suffering a little together in a spectacularly beautiful setting, well, that’s the real reward.

On our ski down, Jason and I stopped at an old mining cabin to get out of the wind, take some photos, chat and have a bite to eat. After that we skied a bit more, took some more photos, sat in the snow and chatted for a while, climbed a bit more, skied some more and we even got a little lost and wound up with a mini adventure bushwhacking to get back to the drainage leading to my truck.

In the end we only skied about 2,000 vertical feet in four hours, earned some thoroughly thrashed quads, worked up a massive appetite, didn’t see another person the entire time and I think I can speak for Jason and say we had one of the best days ever on skis. Best of all, a day in the backcountry will cost me a little gas money and about $15 for an IPA and a burger at the local brewery. Cost of a single day lift ticket at Vail, parking, an Epic Burger and a beer, $200. I’ll let you do the math on this one.

The spring-season-pass-sale-silliness has begun here in Colorado and for the first time in a long, long time, I find myself debating whether to buy one at all. If I don’t purchase a pass for next season, I probably won’t be skiing over 700,000 lift served vertical feet which seems to be a benchmark good year for a committed season pass holder. Instead, it’ll probably be more around 100,000 self-propelled vertical feet like this season.

I’ve had such an amazing year in the backcountry this season and I owe that solely to everyone who shared those cold early morning climbs, heart and lung pounding ascents and those long, meaningful conversations. I honestly can’t say that about my brief time spent at resorts.

Climb high. Ski hard. Live simply.