Catastrophe or Catharsis?

 

Let me just say straight away that I am 100% at fault. I heard what people said and dismissed it. I heard the horror stories of people who didn’t heed the advice of “professionals” and discounted them. I’d harboured a mistrust of those handling that mysterious “cloud” data so didn’t investigate it. All that complacency and mistrust of “The Man” did was lead me into losing thousands upon thousands of photos I’d taken since around 2005 when I got my first digital camera.

Shit.

To make a long story short, last week I plugged an external terabyte storage device into my laptop, the device with all my photos on it, and it failed to connect. That was the exact moment panic swept across my entire being. To make matters even more unsettling, we were leaving for a weekend trip so I’d have to wait until we got back to figure it out. I tried all weekend not to think about the “worst case scenario”, but it was hard not to.

Once we got home, I took it to some experts to see what the problem was and see if the data could be retrieved. The ugly verdict was the drive was fatally corrupted and there was less than a 5% chance they could extract any of the that data, even a little bit…at a cost between $500 and $1,500…with no guarantee. Ouch.

As I drove home from the data recovery place, it felt as though someone had kicked me right in the crotch with one of those fancy pointy-toed cowboy boots. The thing that made it doubly worse is I knew it was my own fault. I owned this one 100%, period.

But before I was home, I sort of came to terms with the loss. There was no more wondering if I could get those photos back because I couldn’t. I’m not saying it didn’t sting, but there was nothing I could do and the pain from that initial gut punch subsided. The unknown was now known, as ugly as it was.

I knew I had to let it go, and I did.

As I thought about everything on that drive, the photos I was most devastated about were my travel photos, especially from my sabbatical in Nepal, India and Bangladesh. My extended travel there was one of those times in my life where I can point directly at it and say the experiences literally changed my DNA. Honestly, I could’ve easily pulled over and cried for a day or two over losing those photos alone, but at the same time I felt sort of at peace. I knew in my soul I hadn’t lost the experiences, only lost the material representations of those experiences. In fact, the experiences there are what allowed me to accept losing the photos.

Over this past week, losing the photos has obviously still been on my mind, but it’s not consuming me. I can’t say I’m laughing about it just yet, but at least I’m not nauseous anymore.  I’ve purchased a couple more multi-terabyte storage drives and some cloud space to store things going forward with hopes this will never happen again. You could say I’m now working under the title of the “Department of Redundancy Department”.

I lived, I learned.

On a positive note, my buddy Jason who I traveled to Nepal/India/Bangladesh with still had some of the photo CDs I’d burned for him so I’m gratefully getting those back. A few other friends have sent me photos I’d taken of them in the past, so there’s that. I’d made prints of my favourite or more meaningful images from all of my travels so I still have those. I know I’ll never be able to get everything back, but at least there is something.

I’ve also decided to keep the corrupt external drive for a while with hopes that technology may advance to the point where something can be harvested from it. Not overly optimistic, but you never know.

I’m now looking at this miscue as a catharsis of sorts. Yes I lost the photos, but it also makes me appreciate all the associated experiences that much more. I’ve thought about all the travels and life experiences more this week than I have in years, which has been absolutely wonderful. Who knows, maybe this will even put me on a new path to becoming a better photographer, one who appreciates and treasures every single image I produce even more…and one who backs up their work in more than one place.

Climb high. Ski fast. Live simply.

 

Spontaneity Wins Again

A friend from Salt Lake and I recently met out in Fruita, Colorado with hopes of shooting some landscapes around Colorado National Monument. For the couple of weeks leading up to the trip we scoured photography sights and Google Earth searching for potential photo locations. In addition to that, we’d kept a close eye on the weather hoping for interesting storm clouds to make for those gigantic and dramatic skies common to the desert. We even plotted our tentative photo locations on the Photographer’s Ephemeris just so we’d be sure to have unobstructed lines to the sunrises and sunsets. We made note of sunrise and sunset times and quasi laid out each day so we’d have plenty of time to get where we wanted, find a composition and get our cameras set up. This is so unlike both of us since we’re both kind of laissez faire when it comes to trip planning, but again, with limited time, we thought it might be a good idea.

All that planning and naturally it didn’t even come close to what we thought.

In short, it was way hotter than the forecast predicted and was actually quite miserable. There wasn’t a “dramatic” cloud to be had anywhere for three days. The places we thought we could get the best shots were mediocre at best and always left us scrambling for alternate compositions. And those exploding sunset colours common to the desert sky? Yeah, never materialized.

We eventually got a few sunrise exposures in the Monument we thought were acceptable, but certainly nothing “portfolio” worthy. However, by total accident, I got one photo that I’ve become quite fond of. Not an award winner for sure, but it’s grown on me and taught me a bit of a lesson.

On the very first evening we were out near the Kokopelli Trail in Loma (CO) hoping to get the classic desert sunset shot of the surrounding mesas using the Colorado River as the obvious leading line into what we hoped was going to be an amazing, colour vomiting sunset. My buddy eventually found a composition he thought would work and I too flailed around for about an hour until I thought I had something myself. Again, nothing revolutionary or all that unique, but it was something. It was honestly one of those obvious shots probably millions of mountain bikers had made millions of times before…but damn it, we were going to shoot it anyhow.

While we waited for the light, with cameras mounted on our tripods ready to go, we’d chat with passing mountain bikers and try desperately not to lose the incessant battle against some ferocious mosquitoes. As I alluded to before, the light stunk, no clouds for background interest, no brilliant colours and my composition was average at best, but I took the shot anyhow. I then looked at the back of my camera, said “meh” to myself, then began packing my stuff away. I wasn’t really all that disappointed because the elements just weren’t there.

As I was leaning over my backpack to put my camera away, a mountain biker was approaching rather quickly. For some reason I quickly lifted my camera (it was literally just inches from being completely in my bag), pointed it at her and activated the shutter. I hadn’t made any adjustments to the “landscape” settings from my sunset attempt so I figured they’d be all wrong. Also, I had the camera in the single frame mode instead of rapid fire mode so I figured my chances were probably nil for even getting her in the frame in a single shot. It was a total reactionary move to point the camera her direction so I had ZERO expectations at all. I honestly didn’t even look at the screen to see if it worked and just crammed it into my bag and kept packing away for the dark hike out.

When I got home and downloaded everything into Lightroom, I immediately deleted about 75% of everything “landscape-esque” I’d done. The majority  of them simply weren’t all that interesting. I might even say “boring”. The one that surprised me though…you guessed it…the random reactionary shot of the mountain biker. Award winner? Not even close. Portfolio worthy? Probably not. Fine art? A laughable thought. But I liked it, a lot.

For days I’d glance at it and the more I did, the more I liked it. Not sure why, but it became one of my favourite photos of the weekend.

I think the unintended consequence of the photo was that it reminded me to never try and control the situation but adjust my creativity to the moment at hand. Yes, I can plan a trip, look at weather forecasts and even line up my compositions with the Ephemeris, but that in no way will ever guarantee it will work the way I think it will. I don’t live my life that way so I shouldn’t expect my photos to work that way.

My favourite photos always come from spontaneous situations where the moment came to me, not me going to the moment.

Climb high. Ski fast. Live simply.

Competitive Art? I’m Not Really a Fan.

I’m not a competitive person at all, never have been really. I played organized sports back when I was in school, but to be completely honest, I liked the training processes more than the competition itself. Of all the sports I participated in back in the day, individual type activities like track and field best suited my personality.

Since then, my pursuits have been oriented to those more individual type endeavours. I’ve been fortunate to have enjoyed a long career of backcountry skiing, mountain biking, climbing and trail running, and to this day I get far more out of a day when I can just go out and have fun and not feel like I need to measure myself against others.

I also typically take my trusty camera along with me to the backcountry. Beyond the obvious photo opportunity reasons, it tends to slow me down, forces me to look more closely at my surroundings and keeps me completely tied to the present. Most importantly though, it’s my creative outlet of choice.

I’ve always considered photography a form of art, but in the past several years I think I’ve come to appreciate photography as an art form. Instead of simply looking at a photograph for only the visual aspects, I try to imagine why a photographer paused to take a photo in the first place. Why did they feel the need to capture it? Was it something truly personal or just something to make money?  Maybe what’s in the frame is less important than what’s NOT in the frame, and what could that something be?

Because I strongly believe that art is truly a creative reflection of the artists themselves, I’ve never really been fond of art “competitions”, but then again, I’m not competitive. Art is 100% subjective at its core, so how can there really be a universal measure of what is good or bad, right or wrong? Some of the most iconic photographs ever taken have not adhered to the rule of thirds, had balanced light, had perfect bokeh, etc., yet they’ve managed to capture an immeasurable or esoteric quality that rendered them universally appealing. How do you measure that? Of course this very subject is covered extensively in one of my favourite books titled “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” by Robert Pirsig.  

We are all unique individuals with our own unique experiences and perspectives in life. Similarly, we are also unique in our way of interpreting art. There is no right or wrong, good or bad, winner or loser, only individual interpretation.

When I really stop and think about it, art is the most basic form of self-expression and maybe even a creative manifestation of the photographer’s entire life. Art is art. Wouldn’t it be nicer for everyone if there were a little less competition and a lot more simple appreciation of it?

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.

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.

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.