Monday, September 25, 2017

Flashback: Lava Coast.

I shared this about 6 years ago, and hadn't thought much about it til it came up in conversation yesterday.  After reading and watching it just now, and thinking about how common fatbikes, packrafts, and combining them has become, it seemed worth a bump to the top.  Enjoy.

* * * * *

Lava Coast: Adversity, entertainment, and out-takes.

All too often I'm accused of painting a slightly-too-rosy picture of the trips I've done.  People tell me that I underestimate the amount of hike-a-bike or other foot slogging when bikes were supposed to be ridden.  They tell me I underexaggerate times and distances.  They accuse me of doing these things deliberately, in an effort to sucker people ("them") into joining, just so that I can watch them writhe in misery.

They're wrong.

I think it's a simple misunderstanding.  I don't enjoy watching people suffer -- neither friends nor strangers.  It's just that a long time ago my idea of fun somehow got intertwined (chemically, I think) with my idea of ridonkulous.

An example: On my 2010 traverse of the Iditarod Trail I crossed paths with a pair of rookies near the top of Rainy Pass.  The snow was bottomless, the wind was strong, the trail was gone, and when we weren't wallowing and wading through the unconsolidated fluff we actually had to leave our bikes and *swim* forward through the snow to create a trough.  After a few exhausting minutes we'd turn around and wade backward to where the bikes lay.  Then we'd waddle forward once more.  Then back.  In so doing we'd create a 'trail' that would allow us to drag the bikes forward maybe 50 yards every 15 minutes.

This lasted hours.

While taking a much-needed breather one of the others quipped, "At some point it gets so ridiculous you just have to laugh...!"  She said it with a tone of incredulity, a look of befuddled amusement on her windburned face.  I smiled as the wisdom of her statement sunk in: She couldn't have been more right.

Traveling to or through difficult-to-access places is rarely easy or straightforward.  At some point it's going to get downright difficult, if not seemingly impossible.  I relish these moments more now than ever before: I can't google the answer; Can't call information and ask them what to do; Can't call 'time out', can't push a button and be transported elsewhere.  I have to put the brakes on, slow down 'til I am here and nowhere else, and figure out a solution.  Often that means grin and bear it, and move a few feet every few minutes.  Sometimes it means retreat and find a better way.  Occasionally it means sit down and wait for something to change.

Any one of the above is priceless.  We've become so conditioned to being ants-in-the-pants go-go-go now-now-now with the world at our fingertips that we rarely process what's happening right now.  We're always thinking three steps (or hours, or days) ahead while glancing, uncomprehending, at the scenery and talking over the music in our ears.  Putting myself into ridonkulous situations has become an 'out' of sorts, where I have no choice but to embrace whatever is happening at this precise moment.

And once you've gotten yourself back to 'now', there's just no sense complaining when you're the cause of your own situation.  Is there?

So it's not that I try to dupe people into doing miserable stuff.  I'm actually trying to enable them to have some reptilian fun!

Which is which depends purely on perspective.  Are they looking at it from here?

* * *

On this last trip up Alaska's Lava Coast I didn't document much of the adversity that we encountered.  It seemed that usually when our fun meters were pegged it was also raining and blowing, and I try to keep my cameras holstered when it's like that.  Either that or my hands were busy with the handlebars, or paddle, such that I couldn't stop what I was doing to shoot.  So I can't show you the defining moments: The uncertain crossing of Moffet Lagoon at dark.  The terrifying-for-all-of-us realization, while crossing Hague Channel, when Pete finally understood he was being sucked out with the tide.  The white knuckle crossing to Egg Island in 4' whitecaps with 30 knot winds.  The tension of the Bear River incident, when we were outnumbered, surrounded, and unsure if any direction was safe.

Can't show you any of it, nor can I explain in such a way that you'd 'get it'.

But I can show you this:

And after watching that, maybe you'll understand on some level that it wasn't all peaches and cream.

Or... might just see that it *was* all peaches and cream.

There is, to some extent, a choice.

There is.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017


The arrival of fall in the high country has always been highly anticipated by both of us.  Call us suckers -- the shoe fits -- but we find cool temps, dramatic scenery, uncrowded trails, the anticipation of coming winter, the nostalgia of seasons past, all rolled into one blink-and-you-missed-it package positively irresistible.

And, now, we can roll in the anniversary of our marriage.  No real reason is ever needed to coerce us into the high country, but with all of the above considerations it has become nigh on impossible for us to want to be anywhere else this time of year.

A route was discussed.  Bikes and bags were packed.  Forecasts were checked and rechecked.  Friends were invited.  And then up we went.

Our batteries have run low from the past 6+ months of balancing (interesting term, considering how bad we are at it) work pressure and stress with sleep, and rest, and spending as many heartbeats as we can outside.  

So we set the bar low, choosing to make an overnighter out of what we once thought of as a long day out.  Essentially leaving time for a nap, or photos, or doing nothing at all.

Grinding out 3000' of friendly but persistent gradient we're passed by an apologetic guy on an e-bike.  He realizes that he's "cheating", but says that it puts a smile on his face.  He seems content with that tradeoff, as, I imagine, are most heroin addicts with theirs.

Rounding each bend and savoring each new perspective makes us yet more appreciative that the harsh light and temps of summer are behind us.

Jeny, repeatedly: "Oooh!  Oh!  I want to go there!"

At a bend in the road where the gradient goes richter just as the surface devolves, we step off the trail, lean the bikes against conifers, don layers and collect burnables, then settle into the space for the night.

Peet and Lulu arrive just as fire is kindled.  All present can attest that their company warms the place at least as much as ember and flame.

Night is cold and long, a welcome precursor of the season approaching.  Morning sun is sparse and welcome.

Straight out of camp we push, toiling happily if effortfully toward a ridge and a trail that have featured prominently in all of our lives.

While pausing to suck wind we notice snowflakes: Ones and twos at first, then the valleys fade behind billowing curtains.

All are prepared for the temps and moisture, especially when laboring uphill.  None of us expected nor could have prepared for lightning.  When it appears we are inches from our high point, with the much-anticipated fruits of our labor stretched immediately ahead over the next miles and hours.  

A brief pow-wow on what to do is interrupted by a few close flashes, each nearer than the last.  The discussion is moot: Down we go.

Thousands of feet of vertical evaporate in moments, each more thankful than the last as electricity repeatedly zaps the ridge we've just abandoned.

Down low brief sunlight intervenes, brightens our moods.  And then the next wave, and the next, roll in and shellack us.

Jeny, while riding a river of babyshit to close the loop: "I'm disappointed that we didn't get to connect up there -- with the place, and each other".

Me: "I'm glad we aren't welded to our bikes".

While dodging puddles and aggressive drivers we have the chance to put the weekend into some semblance of perspective: Life is rarely as we expect or hope it to be, and for that variety we should all be grateful.

Thanks for checkin' in.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Free Thad.

Alternate working title: "Save Ferrell!"

My friend Thad likes to climb.  From my perspective it is not a stretch to say that climbing and fishing are the things he likes to do, and thinks about doing, the most.  With maybe a little bike riding, smack talking, and coffee and beer drinking along the way.

A few days ago Thad was climbing with friends when a miscommunication occurred.  I haven't heard the fine details yet, I know only that said miscommunication resulted in Thad hitting the deck from 100' up.

Think about that for a moment.

Once you've digested what that means, how it manifests itself in the body of a human, you might realize, as we all have, that Thad is lucky to be alive.  Lucky, but also very broken.

He was flight-for-lifed to a hospital and has been in surgery every day since.  With many more to go.  He is not paralyzed, thankfully.  But he has a long, long road filled with surgeries, infections, and ultimately recovery, before he can truly start to pick up the pieces and get back to being a husband and father.  Right now, Thad needs help from the community.

From us.

Please find your way here as soon as you can, and give as much as you can.


Tuesday, September 5, 2017


As we left the desert and approached the alpine last Friday afternoon, neither of us were prepared for what we found.  Labor Day in Western Colorado is synonymous with summer, and summer means heat.  Lots and lots of dry heat.

So it was with considerable surprise that we rounded the first bend above Mesa Creek and were confronted with changing aspens.  Not just one or two, but a solid third of the deciduous forest glowed yellow.

Late summer + early fall = "small".

Over the next few days we wondered at how dry these normally moist trails were, and ultimately deduced that the colors we camped, napped, and rode within were more drought related than fall related.  Given that this landform sucks moisture out of the winter sky to the tune of more than 30' of snow between November and May, there wasn't much cause for concern about drought.  Instead we marveled at fall colors weeks ahead of schedule, enjoyed cool temps and delicious breezes, and generally reset ourselves for the last month+ of summer down low.

Hope that you got up to something equally perspective enhancing.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Friends in high places.

A Friday evening phone call.  This late in summer?  More or less a hail-mary.  

Doom actually answers, immediately apologizes for being "booked solid".

A casual inquiry into said plans reveals that we're thinking alike, and could easily meld two plans into one.

In the name of Jaybs' going away party, we do.

Early Saturday morning we find ourselves in the alpine, inhaling deeply not only to ingest more of the place, but to get yet higher.  No easy way home from here, work will need to happen.

Upward we toil, sometimes pedaling, sometimes walking, always with attention turned outward, soaking in the bigger picture.

"The bigger picture".

A month+ of rain has left verdant meadows, heroic dirt, lush jungles of aspen.

Where gradient and exposure combine just so the earth is exposed, open, actively shifting and eroding.  More often our tires roll across tender brown soil.

Jeny and Pete are often out front, motivating each other uphill and down, showing the rest of us the best lines.

Man of the hour regardless of day, week, or month, today we celebrate Jaybs leaving to study for a few months, and anticipate the time when he'll return and bring so much light, joy, laughter back to our lives.

Look to the horizon or gaze beneath your feet -- either way there's a whole world here to appreciate and savor.

Hafta come back and 'splore this'n some day...


Brett tied the group together with his unique blend of what-me-worry optimism and backcountry savvy, along with a pile of engaging stories told on-the-fly.

I expected nothing more than aster and browning skunk cabbage. and was frankly stunned at how many and diverse were the remaining flowers up high.  

"How many knuckledraggers does it take to screw in a lightbulb?!"

One minor mechanical and one tiny crash seemed only to highlight what an exceptional day it was.

Thanks to the crew for making the day 'So good'.

Thanks to you for checkin' in.