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.

 

 

 

 

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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.

Pro Leisure Tour

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Sometimes the correct answer is to throw some gear in the truck, throw out any notion of a firm plan, tell no one what you’re doing, turn the key and see where your internal compass takes you.

The result is a pace of life defined solely by our own rhythms, finding yourself delightfully lost out in some big country, embracing random encounters with old friends and new ones alike, absorbing some magical campsite sunrises/sunsets and restoring the term “simple” back into the daily vocabulary.

Less is more.

Never Work A Day In Your Life

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There’s a saying that goes something like, “If you do what you love then you’ll never work a day in your life”. I like it. However, I’d be willing to bet if you took a survey of the average person they’d probably not fall into the “never worked a day in their life” category. I myself actually like my job for the most part, but if things were a little different I don’t think it’d surprise anyone if I didn’t show up every day just for the fun of it.

This makes sense when you consider why billions and billions of dollars are spent every year on vacations where people can be pampered, coddled, catered to and served so they can feel as far away from work as possible. There are resorts here in Colorado with valets who will dry and warm your boots after a day of skiing, then have them waiting slopeside the next morning so you don’t have to lug around your equipment. You can ride a heated gondola equipped with WiFi so you can check in on Facebook and tweet out to the world where you are! You can expect a valet to help you step off that gondola safely once you reach the top of the mountain and hand you your skis. Refreshed, you can then head out to ski a prepared piste that has taken hundreds of man hours to groom to perfection so you can be as comfortable as possible and never have to work too much and enjoy your time away from the grind of daily life. At one resort, there are even chefs waiting at the base area with warm chocolate chip cookies and a cup of mulled spice cider to welcome you back to the warm bosom of luxury, comfort and relaxation.

My preferred way of detoxing from work in the winter season is ever so slightly different. The process for me is turning up early at some trailhead on a cold morning, hopefully pulling on non-frozen ski boots after having accidentally left them in the back of my truck. At the same time, I’m usually hopping around on one foot trying not to step in the snow with my bare socks. After that, I slap the skins on my skis, debate for the umpteenth time whether I’m dressed too warmly, take the last sip of lukewarm coffee from my thermos then head off to climb uphill for the next 1-3 hours…then stop five minutes later to shed a layer because I’m too hot.

Once I’m where I want to be, I’ll begin stripping the skins off and hope the wind doesn’t blow them away or wrap them around my head like flypaper. Once that’s sorted out, I’ll take a drink from my half frozen water bottle, maybe I’ll frustratingly gnaw on a frozen Clif Bar for a  minute or two, snap a photo then proceed to ski back down to my truck. Sometimes if the conditions warrant, I’ll put my skins back on and repeat the process.

Someone once asked me why, in a state like Colorado, with hundreds of high speed chair lifts at my disposal within an hour drive of my house would I chose to suffer (their words) for only one or two runs. I’m constantly reminded that those chair lifts can transport me dozens of times a day to the top of a mountain and I could probably ski ten times the amount of vertical I’d get in the backcountry without really having to work at all!

The short and long answer is, “I love it”.

I took a day off from work this week and headed out with a friend to climb up a peak adjacent to the mega-resort of Breckenridge. Even on a Tuesday, the highway up from Frisco was clogged, the free lots were in complete choas, the shuttle busses were packed to the gills and people around town were too busy relaxing away from their everyday lives to pay attention to crosswalks or acknowledge another human being. Ah yes, the whole town was set abuzz as a new stress free day of standing in lift queues awaited. So hilarious.

The little trailhead where we parked was directly across the valley from Breckenridge Resort, maybe five or six miles away as the crow flies, but seemed a million miles away from the hubbub of town. There were four, maybe five cars there and most everyone already there said hello to us when we pulled up. Of course there is the compulsory five minutes of playing with everyone’s dog when they too come over to welcome us. And as each of those people set off for their own adventures, they would flash a genuine smile and exclaim, “have a fun day!”, then be on their way.

This day was my good friend Carin’s first in the backcountry. Without a bit of trepidation, she jumped out of my truck with an ear-to-ear smile and immediately started packing her gear. Her general stoke is always fun, but that day it was downright contagious! Of course being a beautiful bluebird Colorado day with no wind and having a fresh layer snow, we already had the recipe for an amazing day.

Among other things, Carin teaches spin classes at her home in Vail (altitude 8,500 feet) and I would definitely consider her generally “uber fit”. I’m not exaggerating here. She also races mountain bikes and is a stout whitewater kayaker on top of that. But climbing up the side of a mountain with skis strapped to her feet and a pack on her back soon began calling her out a little, as it does everyone.

This is usually the part of the programme where most people cease loving it and it starts becoming a job. Not Carin. You could see her mind cranking away trying to figure it all out (steep climbing with skis on isn’t exactly a unicorn picnic). She would ocassionally comment on how her quads were getting thrashed but would always follow up the comment with how it would definitely make her stronger for other things. Not once did her enthusiasm crack!

We toiled away until we reached the high point of our ski tour. When she looked around to see the view, she was literally almost brought to tears. Yes, I’d made the plan for the day, had chosen the location and had driven us to the trailhead, but she earned 100% of that view with the big effort she put in. It makes such a massive difference in the meaning of that stuff when you’re fully invested.

Skiing the backcountry is straight up harder than skiing a nice prepared piste inside a resort. As we were preparing to start back down, Carin voiced her concerns about being able to find the flow and balance on her board with the added weight of her backpack as well as the variables of the terrain. I of course eased her nerves by telling her not to worry because everyone falls. Oh, I also reminded her to keep a keen eye for buried stumps, logs, rocks and that she might also want to avoid tree wells…you know, the stuff that will help put a person at ease so they can relax.

As she started down I could see in her body language she was anxious about making that first backcountry turn. But true to her spirit (and of course my awesome words of encouragement), she reigned in the fear, fully committed to the turn and ripped a spectacularly beautiful arc in the deep snow. When she looked back up, the huge smile on her face told me she was undeniably hooked. Of course the whooping screams of delight as she was about mid turn sort of clued me in well before that!

We skied our way down through an amazingly beautiful glade to an old mine where we’d agreed to stop and regroup. She was literally still sliding toward me when she asked if we should do another lap. I actually had to laugh out loud before I quickly agreed! Once again, without mention or concern of the hard work ahead, she quickly set to prepping for another climb up.

When you can spend a day with the people closest to you doing the thing you love, you’ll truly never work a day in your life and can also consider yourself the luckiest person on the planet. I have to say I’ve been pretty lucky to have been happily suffering with those people in my life over the last few weeks…and you know who you are.

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

Check In or Check Out?

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During the past two winter seasons here in Colorado we were situated solidly in the storm track and seemingly every weekend got exponentially better and better for those of us who love skiing powder. It was so consistent and so good that instead of “spring skiing” in May we were still skiing legit powder of the knee deep variety until almost Memorial Day. Well, so far this year our seasonal snowfall has been classified as “average” according to the National Weather Service and other such agencies who track all kinds of fun weather related statistics. After being spoiled for two seasons, average now seems anything but.

It took me all of about about two days of standing in those long lift queues, endlesly waiting to ski the hardpacked piste, surrounded by people more concerned with “checking in” on Facebook, updating their status or checking on their Epic Mix apps than actually skiing, before I started thinking of better ways to spend my time.

From that point, I started spending most of my weekends climbing well before daylight to the high point of my favourite little resort, whereupon I could watch the sun come up then ski back down on empty trails and actually enjoy making turns without fear of other people crashing into me. After that, maybe I’d do a couple of lift assisted runs then head home around mid-morning. Every once in a while I’d get a wild hair and decide it was time to ride lifts all day again…and that fantasy would generally last about two hours.

As slow to come along as it was, the backcountry here in Colorado finally shaped up to a reasonable level. Instead of fighting those crowds (and traffic), I started spending most of my weekends with one or two friends touring quiet valleys and skiing the glades off the surrounding ridges. As usual, besides the lack of crowds and general anxiety, the backcountry has lots of benefits our society sort of forces us to ignore.

My wife has a job which requires, or at least “expects” her to sort of be in communication range about 95% of the day, including late into the evenings sometimes. I guess you could say she finds herself “checking in” quite a bit. While her job does have the benefit of being a rather fairly compensated position, the balance of pay and “time” sometimes gets a little tilted to the negative side and the stresses of it start filtering out the important experiences of life.

The funny thing about employment is we work our entire lives to accumulate money and material things and theoretically, the more we work, the more we have…and I use the word have loosely because those things actually own us! What our app-oriented, faster-is-better society fails to capitalize on is that we were all born with a wealth of currency in the form of time. We are conditioned to work ourselves to death, literally sometimes, frantically climbing the waterfall of accumulating money and material things. And although we know it all too well, we will NEVER be able to keep pace with the materials things we “need” because marketing firms will spare no expense to insure we are always insecure with what we currently have. The sad thing is we will let the balance in our “time account” go bankrupt while we try.

Last weekend Donna and I went out for a backcountry ski day to a place a friend recently turned me onto. She skis very well, but is still rather new to the backcountry and isn’t yet overly comfortable with skiing the oftentimes variable conditions. However, she’s learning quickly and getting more comfortable every time out. That said, we chose this place because it has a relatively mellow tour into a beautiful valley and features some low angle glade skiing as to keep things on the low-anxiety side of things. There is nothing really all that easy about backcountry skiing to begin with, so finding places that are skill appropriate for the people in your group is always the first key to having a good day. It’s also key to maintaining a firm level of marital bliss…just sayin’.

So we set out well before daylight to hopefully get ahead of the I-70 weekend traffic. After 20+ years of living in Colorado, it’s still shocking to me that no matter what time you leave, it’s never a relaxing drive into the mountains around here. Anyhow, we initiated the alpine start and arrived to the trailhead right around daybreak, where much to our delight we found we were the only car there. One car in the parking lot where we were, yet, literally three miles away there were thousands upon thousands of people piling into the expensive pay lots at a major resort…and of course “checking in” on Facebook to make sure everyone knows it.

As I mentioned, the ski tour up this valley is rather mellow. It follows an old mining trail through a dense pine forest before eventually breaking out at tree line into an incredibly beautiful and majestic bowl rimmed with jagged peaks above 13,000 feet. On this day the cloud deck was low and it was snowing lightly so the highest of the peaks were hidden, but there was still no denying the magic of being in a place like that and having it all to ourselves.

About the time we reached tree line, Donna stopped for what I assumed was a little oxygen break given we had been traveling at a little above 11,000 feet for a while. That was partially true, but what made me more happy was I discovered she had stopped to listen to the absolute quiet, something I myself cherish when I’m climbing alone at a resort or skiing the backcountry. You could even hear the light snow as it drifted down onto our nylon packs. We just stood there for a bit and let the energy of the place seep into our soul…and stresses of our everyday lives drain out.

We’ve been out skiing a few times together this year, mostly inbounds, but this was the first time I’ve actually seen her relax and actually take the time to enjoy the experience instead of starting the day anxious about fighting the crowds, the traffic and the general lunacy of what we’ve come to accept as acceptable. I think she clearly saw why I choose to ski in these places despite the hard work it takes to get to them.

Backcountry skiing is hard, especially if you don’t do it often. Regardless, I could see a distinct energy about life in her I don’t see all that often during the work week. She seemed less stressed and was willing (with encouragement) to fight her way up some steeper sections of the skin track to reach a flat spot on the adjacent ridge where we’d start our ski down. It definitely got her out of her comfort zone a little but the positives of being there and experiencing kept nudging her appreciation of life upward as the weight of everyday life lifted. Skiing at a resort seems to congregate and intensify people’s everyday stresses, where skiing in the backcountry seems to give you enough room to dissipate that stuff and see a little more clearly.

Once we reached the high point of our tour, it didn’t take much more than a cursory glance around that cirque to realize just how special it was to be in a place so beautiful and not have another person within miles. Instead of spending our currency of time being surrounded by hordes of oftentimes rude people on a crowded piste, we had invested our time in getting to a place that allowed us to relax and earnestly experience our surroundings and fill our souls…exactly what skiing is supposed to be about. Most importantly, we got to share that investment of time together and make another deposit into our “joint experience account”.When everything is said and done, all we’ll ever have in our lives are our experiences. It’s why I choose my time investments and who I invest them with very carefully these days.

It wasn’t exactly the powder day we hoped for, but we had a wonderful ski down despite the challenging variable conditions. Progress and growth of any kind is oftentimes a process of two steps forward and one step back. Skiing in the backcountry will definitely teach a person patience, humility and how to take broader strokes to the way you see things. You have to work through the tough times, trust the process and keep trudging down that road of self discovery. In the movie 180 Degrees South, Yvon Chouinard spoke of doing anything that involves discovering something spiritual about yourself by saying, “if you shortcut or compromise the process in any way, you’ll be an asshole when you start and you’ll still be an asshole when you finish”.

I saw some more big progress in Donna’s backcountry skiing and I know for sure she built another good layer of confidence in herself to tackle things that aren’t always very straightforward. I think that revelation came after the exhausting part of trying to get up after a fall or two in baseless snow…but it did come. Next time we go out I know she’ll grow yet again…we all do. I can’t help but think every day out there will help her compartmentalize those stressful days in her work life and keep them from filtering the amazing experiences we’ve had and will continue to have.

We didn’t “check in” that day like the thousands of people were doing just a few miles away, but we did manage to “check out” for a little while, which we tend to find a lot more appealing. It’s also nice to enjoy our long time home here in Colorado the way it should be enjoyed. It’s especially enjoyable to share those experiences with the ones you love.

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