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2015: A Year in Review

Sunset in Morro Bay, California

On Christmas Day, Chelsea and I talked about 2015 during a walk along the sea cliffs of Santa Cruz. Instead of throwing out new adventures and aspirations, we studied the rear view mirror.

We are currently landed in Santa Cruz enjoying the sunshine and excellent local trails. This stillness affords reflection on what we’ve done, seen, and experienced this past year. (To see what we’re up to anytime, check out a new page I added, inspired by Derek Siver’s movement.)

Sitting down to write after a few weeks off, I broke things down into four categories:

  1. Fabulous Moments
  2. What Went Well
  3. Things to Improve
  4. What I’m Excited About

This is also a chance to share some of my favorite photos from 2015. Let’s begin with the fun!

Fabulous Moments

Exploring Half Moon Caye in Belize

We kicked off 2015 by snorkeling and kayaking in Belize with Chelsea’s family. With warm blue water, incredible birds, and a friendly group of other travelers, (luxury) camping on this tiny island was an unforgettable trip.

Sunrise on Half Moon Caye

Mountain biking and building community in Utah

I can’t get enough of this red rock playground. I certainly mountain biked my legs off, yet my April trip through Utah was also about community.

I met up with half a dozen friends from Oregon, California, and Colorado, crossed paths with various blog readers, and built a friendship with the Keys to Freeze crew. There is nothing like spending time in nature with great people!

Porcupine Rim above Moab

Porcupine Rim in Moab

Cycle touring Europe

A highlight of 2015! If you are into cycle touring and haven’t experienced the car-free bike networks throughout western Europe, I can’t recommend it enough.

Loving the views on the north side of the Slovenian Alps.

Loving the views on the north side of the Slovenian Alps.

Over 3.5 months, we biked 2,500 miles through 13 countries, taking plenty of time to relax and explore along the way. Experiences like volunteering to help refugees in Salzburg, pedaling with buddies in Croatia, and exploring the deep history of the continent only whet my appetite for Europe.

We finished pedaling in Prague, a special place for me and Chelsea since we met there nine years ago for our first date. It was a treat to return to the romantic Czech Republic and walk down the cobbled, uneven streets of memory lane.

A gondola glides through the canals of Venice.

A gondola glides through the canals of Venice.

Road tripping with my dad

I’ve wanted to take my dad on a trip for years. As fall colors faded and October wrapped up, we finally did it, rolling out in the Sprinter van to explore Montana for a couple weeks.

We cycled in Glacier and watched geysers in Yellowstone, then explored old mining towns. It was a powerfully bonding trip.

Exploring the east side of Glacier National Park.

Exploring the east side of Glacier National Park.

Things That Went Well

A stronger relationship with Chelsea

People ask us how we tolerate so much time together. (“I’d go nuts being around my husband all the time.”) While we have some tips, the summary is that long-term travel brings us closer together because it requires mutual support.

If there’s an issue on a bike tour, we’re the only two there to get through it – together. We can’t just sweep arguments away to be dealt with another day. Handling it immediately removes the potential for a tiny fight to fester and become gangrenous. Two years traveling together has bonded us more than ever.

Living a vegan lifestyle was easy

Shifting to 100% plant-based in 2013 felt like a big change. These days, it’s both easy to navigate and authentic to who we are.

We’ve traveled through 16 countries, eating amazing food and encountering great support along the way, all while living true to our values. As an added bonus, the selection of vegan options for yogurt, meat, cheese, milk and beyond continues to expand. (You have to try Miyoko’s off-the-hook vegan cheeses.)

If you’d like to try a month-long vegan adventure in the new year, Veganuary is a great free resource and community.

Lobbying with the Humane Society of the US in Salem, Oregon.

Lobbying with the Humane Society of the U.S. in Salem, Oregon.

Lots of reading

Immersing myself in a book remains one of my favorite pastimes, and I’m happy to say I read more in 2015 than in any other year. Picking up a book is like taking a class with an expert for free (via the library) or for the bargain rate of a $10 ebook.

Business more streamlined than ever

This year marked the first in nearly a decade where I didn’t work directly with clients. While less profitable overall, managing my business instead of client expectations is both less stressful and frees my time to pursue other passions.

I’m still involved on a daily basis, but my mental energy isn’t drained at the end of the day. It was scary letting go of the day-to-day interactions with clients, but remains one of my best decisions. To those of you deliberating over hiring someone, I say do it.

Pausing for a moment in Bryce Canyon

My friend Reese pauses for a moment in Bryce Canyon

Things to Improve

Less pressure on myself to constantly explore

The flexibility and openness of our lives sometimes creates a compulsion in me to string adventures together the way we did in 2014. While I’m (usually) aware of this, I still find it hard to be content just being instead of constantly doing. In February and March, I struggled to feel centered in Portland and mostly dreamed of leaving again.

Constant motion makes for an interesting life, but eventually it decreases my appreciation for an activity or location. This is not a good thing. While the list of places I want to explore is long, I don’t have to visit them all in the next two years!

The other downside of constant motion is that routines are tougher to uphold. Practicing the guitar or finding space for yoga is tougher (my tight hip flexors will attest to that). Focused time for deep work doesn’t just materialize; it must be a priority. Pausing in one place provides the platform for all of that.

This coming year, I want to embrace pauses as creative periods and time to reconnect with friends and the routine of a grounded life. Hopefully we can then launch into new experiences with vigor and energy.

Columbia River Gorge in the fog

Relaxing with a view of the Columbia River Gorge at sunset.

Writing more

I’ve consistently written here, and in 2016 I’m also aiming to write two articles per month for outside publication. This means I need to write more, a challenge I’m excited to take.

What I’m Excited About

More videos and interviews with people we meet

Until recently, I never seriously considered pursuing video. It seemed outside my sphere – photography and writing were enough. After creating a few videos, however, I’m hooked.

My primary desire is to tell better stories. Video is a perfect way to do that, and I’m looking forward to making more of them in 2016 and sharing them with you.

Our buddy Stevie from SprinterLife.com and her friend.

A perfect day in Yosemite at Vernal Falls with our friend Stevie from nomadlyinlove.com.

More music and art

No, not just Macklemore at full blast in the van. (Been awhile since we did that.) Guitar! I’m a few weeks into online lessons to finally crack through the intermediate-level swamp I’ve been mired in for ten years.

Chelsea is digging into watercolor pencils and is far too good already. I may give it a whirl, but I sure as hell am not sharing the result here. I respect you more than that.

Onward!

Here’s to looking back and congratulating ourselves on a year well-lived. For 2016, Neil Gaiman says it well:

I hope that in this year to come, you make mistakes. Because if you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world. You’re doing things you’ve never done before, and more importantly, you’re doing something.

To everyone out there, thanks for sharing this journey with us, both on the road and on the web. I hope 2016 is full of adventure, growth, and creativity.

Happy New Year!

Grinning it up in Death Valley.

Five Rad Mountain Bike Rides in Southern Utah

Porcupine Rim above Moab

The spring pilgrimage to Utah is a common trek for avid mountain bikers. They flock to the southern part of the state in search of dry trails and to avoid nasty east coast weather or the rainy Northwest. Moab is the well-known Mecca of Fat Tired Fun, but there are two-wheeled adventures splashed from there all the way to Las Vegas.

In April, I was lucky enough to spend a few weeks romping around on the splendid singletrack in southern Utah. Under blue skies, my tires crunched and whirred over miles of red rock until my legs burned from climbing and my neck creaked from rocky descents. Some days I rode solo, hours in the middle of nowhere where I could stop on a bluff and enjoy a solitary lunch. I also met up with friends from Oregon, Colorado, and California to form biker gangs bandying about enough acronyms to make a newbie rider’s brain bulge.

Group ride on Magnificent 7 in Moab

We rode singletrack, not fire roads… This is a connector section on the Mag 7 trail.

Here are the trails I’ll ride again when I return to Utah…which I certainly plan on doing! Even if you’re on a family trip or are cruising with a partner who doesn’t ride, I suggest that any mountain biker driving through the five national parks of Utah should bring a (full-suspension) bike with them to fully enjoy the fun.

  1.  Porcupine Rim (Moab, UT) – first up, any mountain biker visiting Moab needs to shred down Porcupine. It’s one of the most famous trails in the U.S. (world?), and for good reason. The trail is miles of downhill fun that, depending on snow levels, starts as high as 11,000’ elevation and finishes at 4,000’ at the Colorado River. Along the way, the action heats up from silky singletrack into rockier terrain, finishing with riding to test the best riders. All the while, you’ll be craning your neck to catch views of the red rock valleys that make Utah famous.A tip: don’t be a Roadie Punk – pay $25 for a shuttle from one of the bros in town (Porcupine Shuttle is great, as is Coyote Shuttle) and let them drive your lazy butt to the bottom of the snowline. You’re going to have 20+ miles of downhill; save the vertical gain for your commute and weekly ride back home! You came to Moab to shred the GNAR, bro.
  1. JEM/Goulds Loop (Hurricane, UT) – sick of rocky drops and full-face helmets, and simply want to grin your face off? If JEM were a song, it would be a Green Day jam cranked to full volume. Pedal as hard as you can on this IMBA Epic and live it up! The trailhead is right outside Zion National Park, an easy hop free of tourist throngs in the park. Add Goulds/Hurricane Rim to the mix if you want a big (and very fun) day on the bike. Hurricane Rim
  1. Thunder Mountain (Bryce Canyon NP) – hoodoo rock spires, backcountry riding, and solitude are the name of the game on Thunder Mountain. Just a few minutes from the entrance to Bryce Canyon, this ride is a remote ride to a lunch spot overlooking the valley. If you see another person on the trail, I’d be surprised.

    Hoodoos! Please excuse the poor quality iPhone shot...

    Hoodoos! Please excuse the poor quality iPhone shot…

  1. Gooseberry Mesa (Hurricane, UT) – bikers rave about Slickrock Trail in Moab, but I’d rather ride the mesas around Zion National Park any day of the week. Why? Gooseberry is the same style of riding (up and down on grippy, rolling rock), but is more technical and fun, especially the South Rim trail. The mesa is accessed via a rough road that results in empty trails and solitude any hermit worth his bushy beard would enjoy, plus free camping. Did I mention sweeping views of the valley outside of Zion National Park? Gooseberry is the well-known mesa, but there are others, such as Guacamole Mesa, that are good fun as well.Gooseberry Mesa
  1. Magnificent 7 to Portal Trail (Moab, UT) – there’s a sign near a cliff edge on the Portal Trail that intones, “Walk your bike. People have died here. People like you. GET OFF YOUR BIKE.” Signs leading to Portal encourage turning around while you still can, shrilly proclaiming that you are approaching trails best ridden by <25 year old males with GoPros strapped to their heads. Don’t listen to them – Mag 7 through Portal is one of the most fun, physical and view-laced trails you’ll ever ride. Use your brain and walk the cliffs marked by warning signs, bring plenty of grub and water, and make this a must-do if you’re an advanced rider looking for an adventure around Moab. Shuttling to the top of Mag 7 (as they call it)  and riding all the way out is a 20+ mile, all-day adventure through the rocky terrain around Moab that you won’t forget.Portal Trail Moab
  2. Durango, CO trail systems. I enjoyed a week of exploring this high-altitude mountain biking destination while local riders I met showed my lungs who was boss. All the trails are accessed right from downtown; this is another IMBA Epic that anyone who enjoys biking will dig. Phil’s World, right across from Mesa Verde National Park (about 40 miles west of Durango), is another stellar area developed by local trail builders.Telegraph Trails in Durango

For trail guides, I recommend picking up maps at any of the bike shops in Moab. For the other rides, the Singletracks.com or Maplets app are great resources. Even without a map, you’ll figure it out…and if you don’t, then you’ll get to do a longer (if unplanned) ride! Bonus miles are the best. Take a picture of the trail head map and head out.

Here’s to two-wheeled fun in the wilds of Utah. Snag a spring break from the cold and wet; head to the red rock! Ride on, amigos.

My buddy John B. riding a ridge on Amasa Back in Moab.

My buddy John B. riding a ridge on Amasa Back in Moab.

Cards Against Humanity game night in Moab

A post-ride session of Cards Against Humanity. John, you know I deserved the win on this round!

Seven Photos to Whet Your Appetite for Southern Utah

Pausing for a moment in Bryce Canyon

“How do you know when it’s spring in Utah?” asked the burly dude astride his ATV. Out of breath from a punchy climb on my bike, I gasped mutely, a fish from sea level caught at 8,000 feet elevation. “Well, I’ll tell ya,” he said, “all the license plates turn green!” Rollicking laughter and slapping of thighs from my new friend (plus a chortle from me) sealed the comedy hour.

It could not be more true. Starting in March, vehicles sporting trees or mountains on their license plates roll into Utah. They converge from Montana, Oregon, Canadian provinces, catapulting their residents south from anywhere with lots of pines and long winters. Snowbirds looking for adventure in the desert, they roll into Utah with mountain bikes stacked on their cars, vanagons towing rafts, and pickups hauling off-road toys.

A sunset trail run in Capitol Reef NP.

A sunset trail run in Capitol Reef NP. The green trees below are part of a 200-year-old orchard in the middle of nowhere! This lesser known park is a hidden gem.

As a member of the forested northern climes, my appreciation for the springtime blue skies, red rock, and vast open spaces of the southern Utah desert grows every time I return. While I feel at home in the mountains, the unexplored, edgy vastness of canyon country is a different terrain. The mountain biking, trail running, hiking, rafting and climbing is enough to keep someone busy for months, and a spring road trip to shake off the winter doldrums is tons of fun too.

Hiking in Bryce Canyon.

Hiking in Bryce Canyon.

Words simply don’t do Utah justice, so this green-plated wanderer will quickly conclude this post with a serenade in photos to this marvelous desert country. However, nothing (other than visiting) captures the true essence of Utah and its eyeball-rattling scenery, rock formations Dr. Seuss on LSD couldn’t even dream up, and an escape from winter’s dreary whip-tail. Point the rig south and head to Utah. If your license plate is green, it will merely add contrast to all the red rock.

——

PS: Trip update! After over a month of bachelor life in Utah’s gorgeous country (here’s the map), I’m picking Chelsea up at the Las Vegas airport today and we’re heading north through Death Valley into the Eastern Sierra’s. Back to the pines, granite and cooler temps as May heat rolls into Utah and flushes thin-skinned northerners toward the Arctic Circle like scared caribou. I’m stoked to get my road trip partner back, as five weeks apart = a long time. Onward we go!

End of a mountain bike ride near Arches NP.

End of a mountain bike ride near Canyonlands.

Can't always avoid bad weather! A snowstorm hits on the way over the 9,600' pass near Escalante, Utah.

Can’t always avoid bad weather! A snowstorm hits on the way over the 9,600′ pass near Escalante, Utah.

Bryce Canyon is just otherworldly.

Bryce Canyon is just otherworldly.

23 degrees overnight calls for a campfire!

Hanging with the Keys to Freeze bike touring crew in Bryce. 23 degrees overnight calls for a campfire!

 

Exploring the Southern Utah Wonderland

Viewpoint from the famous Angel's Landing in Zion National Park.

Viewpoint from the famous Angel’s Landing in Zion National Park.

Utah is a magical playground. There is a reason Edward Abbey loved to escape into its hallowed hills on a road trip. Between giant rock columns, sweeping vistas and solitude for miles around, it also carved out a spot as one of my new favorite states. Wandering through with my mouth ajar at each new view, or grinning on yet another awesome bike ride, I was already making a list of places to visit again!

Our route took us from the SW corner, coming in from Las Vegas to Gooseberry Mesa, then NE through the five major national parks in the state: Zion, Bryce, Capital Reef, Arches and Canyonlands, plus some fun in Moab. In between, we free camped high on mesas overlooking valleys (Gooseberry is seriously amazing), on ridges over canyons in the Grand Staircase – Escalante, along rivers, among pine trees at 8,500 feet near Bryce Canyon, and even braved a night in fight-for-a-campsite Zion National Park, perhaps the busiest place on earth in the late spring.

The mountain biking trails were fantastic (I’ll write a summary post about that sometime) and the hiking was equally scenic. Waterfalls in hidden canyons and hoodoo rock formations lined trails and vistas were point-your-camera-anywhere pretty for photos. Even though it was late May, the high elevation kept the weather crisp and perfect under a clear blue sky.

Enough chit chat. Let’s see some pictures, because that is the best way I have to convey the Wonderland of Utah. Get here when you can! You won’t be disappointed.

Onward!

Dakota

Chelsea takes in the view from Gooseberry Mesa.

Chelsea takes in the view from Gooseberry Mesa during a ride.

Thick chains assist hikers during the last, tenuous ascent to Angel's Landing. Thousands of people grabbing this one cut a groove in the sandstone.

Thick chains assist hikers during the last, tenuous ascent to Angel’s Landing. Thousands of people grabbing this one cut a groove in the sandstone.

Hoodoos in Bryce Canyon.

Hoodoos in Bryce Canyon.

The many fans of Delicate Arch at sunset.

The many fans of Delicate Arch at sunset.

One leg of Delicate Arch in Arches NP glowing at sunset.

One leg of Delicate Arch in Arches NP glowing in the late evening light.

Sunset on thousands of Bryce Canyon hoodoos.

Sunset on thousands of Bryce Canyon hoodoos.

A lovely hike to Calf Creek falls somewhere in the Grand Staircase - Escalante between Bryce Canyon and Arches.

A lovely hike to Calf Creek falls somewhere in the Grand Staircase – Escalante between Bryce Canyon and Arches.

Chelsea slicing along the edge of Hurricane Rim near Zion.

Chelsea slicing along the edge of Hurricane Rim near Zion.

A 5" moth in Bryce Canyon!

A 5″ moth in Bryce Canyon!

Slot canyon hike in Goblin Valley State Park.

Slot canyon hike in Goblin Valley State Park.

More hoodoos from Bryce Canyon.

More hoodoos from Bryce Canyon.

Dakota taking a break in a canyon in Zion.

Dakota taking a break in a canyon in Zion.

Fairyland Loop in Bryce Canyon.

Fairyland Loop in Bryce Canyon.

Hanging out in Canyonlands.

Hanging out in Canyonlands with views of the Green River below. There is a 110-mile fire road ride, White Rim Road, that circles Canyonlands. You can camp all the way around…next time!

A famous arch in Canyonlands frames the valley below.

A famous arch in Canyonlands frames the valley below.

A sunset ride in the Valley of Fire State Park (Nevada).

A sunset ride in the Valley of Fire State Park (Nevada).

Fairyland Loop in Bryce Canyon.

Fairyland Loop in Bryce Canyon.

Panorama from the western point of Gooseberry Mesa.

Panorama from the western point of Gooseberry Mesa.