Thursday, September 29, 2011

'rental units.

I had the great fortune to receive a visit from my parents last week. We ate good food, had some great conversations, and spent a good chunk of every day outside, playing.

On the first day we kept it mellow by paddling around a local chain of lakes and soaking up the sun, with dogs as both escorts and entertainment.

On the second day we headed for the alpine with fishing rods, leaving late summer in the valley and driving up into fall in a matter of minutes.

Early on the third day I checked weather closely, knowing that only the bluest of bluebird days was going to be good enough (at this time of year) for what I had in mind. Nothing but bright sun was on tap, so we loaded up paddles, boats and lunch and left the dogs to sleep away the afternoon.

Our destination? A quiet little slice of slow moving river to transport us, ever so slowly, through a gorgeous canyon on a stunning afternoon.

Never having paddled a river before, they were justifiably nervous upon putting in. But the river was low, and it seemed the worst luck we might see on this day was grounding out and dragging our butts on the bottom. With a little instruction and a few river miles behind us, they forgot their nervousness and really seemed to enjoy watching the canyon, with all of her attendant views, history, and wildlife, come floating by.

It was a long day for all of us--lots to see, lots to wonder about, lots to process. Sleep came easily after 5+ hours out in the sun.

The next day we all felt a bit tired, so we opted to meander around the house, reading and napping in the shade most of the day, then head out for a sunset hike. I kept them on their toes by choosing a place they'd not yet seen on previous visits.

We topped the ridgeline in the last light of day, eating sammiches with root beer and ginger snaps under a crimson tinged sky.

Then we hiked down in the dark, with the city lights twinkling beneath our feet.

It was a great few days. But then, all too soon, they headed for home.

Mom, Dad--thanks so much for making the trip! Hope you had as much fun as I did showing you our little slice of earth.



Tuesday, September 6, 2011

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.

Full report is a few days away--stay tuned.