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Fun at the High Cascades 100 (Video)

The dust has settled and the High Cascades 100 race is fading into the rear view mirror. Don’t worry, 100 miles and 9+ hours of pedaling didn’t beat the love of mountain biking out of me – I’ve already ridden again!

I’ve got a blog post brewing with details of the race (spoiler: it was awesome), which I’ll post soon. For now, here’s a 1-min video cut showcasing pre-race preparation. I hope you dig it.

Onward!

An Alpine Adventure in the Canadian Rockies

alpine-mtb-in-the-rockies

The text message read, “You interested in an alpine adventure?” Having no idea what that meant, I (of course) said yes.

My guide was Jake, a local from Canmore I met through Instagram who offered to show me around. Our destination was Black Rock Mountain, a peak in the Canadian Rockies near Canmore, Alberta.

A bit of exposure on the way down...

A bit of exposure on the way down…

Biiiig cliff, tiny little biker.

Biiiig cliff, tiny little biker.

Jake’s truck easily bombed through gnarly 4×4 roads and river crossings to the bottom of the mountain. We were ready to rumble.

Well, almost: For the first time in my life, I forgot my cycling shoes, making a great impression on my new friend. Nothing like downhill mountain biking on SPD pedals while wearing thin, flexible barefoot shoes. Sigh. I’m sure he wondered whether this total noob was going to survive the day.

We pushed and carried our bikes 3,000 feet up steep rock chutes, scree slopes, and other “holy crap, this is unrideable terrain” and finally arrived at a fire lookout. Peering down the 45 degree slope, I admit to having a questioning moment. However, I sure as hell wasn’t going to carry my bike back DOWN the mountain.

Nothing but downhill and views!

Nothing but downhill and views!

Jake leads the way down a narrow ridge line.

Jake leads the way down a narrow ridge line.

Up next was one of the gnarliest, scenic, fast, and exhilarating mountain bike rides of my life. Words don’t do it justice, so check out the video I made and Jake’s incredible pics of our descent (see below).

For reference, he’s in the orange jacket, I’m in yellow. Follow him on Instagram for more amazing alpine shots. Unlike me, he does this all the time!

Enjoy.

P.S. Don’t worry, mom, this isn’t my typical kind of ride! There were no wrecks and I only used up one of my nine lives (and one carbon rim).

Me dropping through a steep rocky chute.

Me dropping through a steep rocky chute.

River crossing on the way in, Black Rock Mtn in the background.

River crossing on the way in, Black Rock Mtn in the background.

Top of Black Rock at the decommissioned fire lookout.

Top of Black Rock at the decommissioned fire lookout.

black-rock-mountain-biking-drop

Dropping down a narrow ridge near the top of Black Rock Mtn

Dropping down a narrow ridge near the top of Black Rock Mtn

black-rock-mountain-biking-downhill-on-ridge

Running from the thunder clouds.

Running from the thunder clouds.

black-rock-mountain-biking-cliff-edge

Forget Logging, Let’s Pedal – Oakridge, A Mountain Biking Paradise

Heckletooth Mountain descent

I recently spent four days mountain biking in the outdoor playground of Oakridge, Oregon. All I can say is: Visit. This. Place.

Riders out there, bring your mountain bike. If you or your family are into other sports, there’s fun to be had in a kayak, with a bird spotting scope, and by lacing up hiking shoes. It’s time to play outside.

Oakridge is a small town on the west side of the Cascade Mountains. Founded as a rough and tumble logging town with more taverns than churches, it wasn’t always a place that attracted adrenaline-loving yuppies like me.

Old habits meet new activities on a connector fire road.

Old habits meet new activities on a connector fire road.

These days, it’s different. You’re as likely to see a cycling jersey as a plaid work shirt.

With a vision many rural communities in the west can learn from, Oakridge is leveraging its natural assets via tourism. It now hosts big events like Mountain Bike Oregon, races like Trans-Cascadia, or great fun for groups of friends coming in to ride. It’s not a one-stop solution, but the town is definitely attracting cash to revitalize the local economy.

The climb to Heckletooth Mountain might just pop an artery, but what a place for lunch.

The climb to Heckletooth Mountain might just pop an artery, but what a place for lunch.

Access is a key component – Oakridge lies at the center of five major trailheads with enticing ridges rising in all directions. The International Mountain Biking Association (IMBA) just labeled it a Gold-Level mountain biking destination, just one of six in the country. The town is the hub in a spoke system radiating outward with hundreds of miles of trails.

These trails saunter along alpine ridges speckled with wildflowers, slip through old-growth forest and wind along green, moss-lined green river trails. Pedal from a cheap rental in town or camp at the dozens of great National Forest Service campgrounds; either way, life is good. Five friends and I rode until we dropped and barely dinged the shiny surface of this pedaling paradise.

Gabe enjoying wildflowers (and fast downhill, of course) on Alpine Trails.

Gabe enjoying wildflowers (and fast downhill) on Alpine Trail.

The badass trails are the major draw. What also impressed me is the vision and creativity the people of Oakridge are employing to make it a destination, not just a place Oregonians ride. They aren’t just order takers like a cotton candy vendor at a busy fair. It’s a place where you can tell they appreciate having you around.

Take the Mercantile, for instance. This cool bike shop rents and sells fancy downhill bikes, but also stocks plaid workshirts. There’s a huge trail map on the wall and the employees happily pointed out which trails were clear of snow and which had tons of downed trees.

You know there's some fun about to happen when the rigs are loaded and lined up like this!

You know there’s some fun about to happen when the rigs are loaded and lined up like this!

Then there’s the We Speak pins that people around town wear, touting their local-only knowledge. “I Speak Camping,” says Heather’s pin, and another guy knows wildflowers. Instead of grouchy order takers, the town seems to exude hey, we’re glad you’re here!

Oakridge isn’t a secret. We met multiple parties from out of town, including one down from British Columbia (a destination itself). Still, with so many trails dedicated to non-motorized vehicles, there’s lots of room to play!

If you’re planning a summer or fall mountain biking trip, put Oakridge on your list. Forget the crowds in Moab and the lifts of Whistler and head to this Oregon gem. I’m definitely going back soon.

Climbing a fire road to a trailhead with views over the trees.

Greg takes a moment to enjoy the views over Larison Creek.

Resources for your trip

For general info, check out this solid Travel Oregon video  or visit OakridgeChamber.com.

Trails to Ride

In our four days in town, we explored five different trail systems. The only thing more tired than my legs was my jaw from all the grinning!

Based on my experience and beta from friends who know the area well, I can recommend the following trails for anyone heading to Oakridge. Ride Oregon Ride has good info too.

Alpine – the famous (for good reason) shredfest. Get ready for alpine wildflowers with views of the valley followed by fast single track snaking through forest.

Evan topping out on a big climb to the stellar views on Alpine Trail.

Evan topping out on a big climb to the stellar views on Alpine Trail.

Little Bunchgrass into Heckletooth Mountain – you’ll weave through huge trees high on a ridge, test your skills on some steep rocky sections, and then climb (and climb some more) to the top of Heckletooth. The descent is a steep, furious ripper on switchbacks that’ll test your skills. Enough said – this is my favorite ride of the trip. (I might have said that after every ride…)

Middle Fork Willamette River – this one has echoes of the McKenzie River Trail, a famous destination in Oregon for biking. I’d ride the West Fork any day for the remoteness and lack of hikers gaping at the oncoming bikes. Beautiful riding.

Jim splashes through a creek on the Middle Fork trail.

Jim splashes through a creek on the Middle Fork trail.

Larison Creek – a 10 mile fire road climb followed by some of the most beautiful, mossy, technical creekside riding I’ve done.

Gabe zips through the emerald palace of Larison Creek.

Gabe zips through the emerald palace of Larison Creek.

Salmon Creek Falls Trail – accessed right from town, it’s a smooth beginner trail on the north side, classic technical river trail on the south. The climb out of the south will test any rider’s fitness!

Gabe on Salmon Creek Trail.

Gabe on Salmon Creek Trail.

Places to Check Out

  1. The Willamette Valley Mercantile – bike shop and all-around knowledge center for anything you need.
  2. Local 180 Brew Pub – a top nanobrewery and watering hole for mountain bikers. Live music and friendly staff.
  3. Oregon Adventures – don’t feel like pedaling to the top or need a local guide? We didn’t need their services, but multiple friends have recommended this company for those looking to shuttle Oakridge or not get lost in the wilderness arguing with your map about which direction is west. They arrange a 17k in a Day shuttle with close to 20,000’ of descending on the best trails in Oakridge.

Local Mountain Biking Events and Races

  1. Mountain Bike Oregon – this event put Oakridge on the map. Join hundreds of mountain bikers for food, riding, and tales of valor after three days shredding the best trails in Oakridge.
  2. Trans-Cascadia – friends of mine created this enduro race series. Test your mettle against some amazing riders.
Ricky wisely chooses to walk, not ride, mossy logs on Larison Creek

Ricky wisely chooses to walk, not ride, mossy logs on Larison Creek.

I Like Big Tires and I Cannot Lie (An MTB Video)

Downhill mountain biking Petzen Austria

Two months ago, my friend Michael told me about the Petzen downhill mountain bike area in SE Austria. Since it is hunkered in the Carpathian Mountains near Slovenia and 1,500 miles from where we were in England, I figured that would never happen. Nevertheless, I added it to Evernote just in case.

Sometimes, these things work out. As we pedaled through Slovenia, I mapped out a route to Petzen. As luck would have it, we found a vegan hotel/restaurant on Lake Klopein, the perfect location for a few days off after our tour through Hungary. Petzen happened to be just a few pedal strokes (ok, 15 miles) away. A perfect day trip.

The warm-up ride to the park was worth it: the stellar downhill and views of the valley make Petzen was the best flow trail I’ve ever ridden. It was so flowy that my first six-mile run through the berms actually made me slightly motion sick! The trail, which won IMBA’s 2014 Flow Trail of the Year award, is fantastic.

Enough said. Other than visiting it, the best way to experience Petzen is through a video. Here it is.

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!

Control Freaks Never Prosper

Sunrise climb at Smith Rocks in Central Oregon.

Sunrise climb at Smith Rock in Central Oregon.

There’s a moment of truth in rock climbing and mountain biking where forward progress is the only option. Letting go of a solid climbing hold to make a move, fear swells in your throat until you reach a safer zone and breathe easier. Launching into a treacherous descent on the bike, you grip the handlebars in anticipation, then relax and go with the flow.

For me, these are two distinct types of fear, static and dynamic. Rock climbing is the former, an evaluative fear of leaving a position you know in a slow, calculated manner. Slow is good when you’re perched high above the ground on tiny footholds, fingers gripping a ledge, forearms filled with blood and thoughts of falling racing through your mind. Overgripping expends more energy and makes you fail faster.

On the other end, mountain biking is a dynamic fear where you rip around a corner, suspension jackhammering over rocks. Decision: weave left, right or try to jump the whole damn thing? One split second to decide how to navigate obstacles and then they’re behind you. Both these sports are certainly adrenalin-filled and intense, yet so different.

Climbing was my primary sport for 10 years, the thrill of conquering new routes crack in my veins. Chelsea grew to know terms like “redpoint” and “5.12b” like she was a climber herself. I dreamed about routes I’d climbed, retracing each move in my mind before I’d go back and repeat them in person, pushing myself. I loved it, and just writing this makes me smile thinking of climbing High Plains Drifter with my buddy Zack, views of the Columbia Gorge stretching out for miles behind me.

High above Banks Lake in NE Washington on a climb called "Fire Crotch." Because if you slip and fall, it's not good for things...

High above Banks Lake in NE Washington on a climb called “Fire Crotch.” Because if you slip and fall, it’s not good for things…

Fear of falling off a route is always present, even as merely a grain of doubt. There are a couple ways to go about it – believing you can’t make a move and giving up, or knowing the consequences and going for it, attempting to latch onto the next hold. Either way, if you fail there is brief moment where you’re in flight before the rope, bolts, quick draws and your climbing partner all work together to stop your fall. They are usually clean and smooth, yet falls are something that can be intimidating. Failure and its byproducts usually are!

For a long time, falling was something I would literally practice. Climb above my last protective bolt, let go and take a fall. Repeat. The idea was to disconnect the anticipation of falling and fear rather than dreading slipping off a move. Non-climbers will think I’m crazy, but every single book about mental training for climbing that I’ve ever read recommended this. And it works! You can literally train your mind not to fear the fall, and I was able to push my skills to new levels. The sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach at the start of every fall was never eliminated, but my nerves steeled against it.

When Fear Takes Over

In early 2012, a switch flipped inside me. I suddenly loathed the idea of falling. Even writing about falling, my palms are sweaty as if I’m approaching a tough section of a climb where I know falling is likely. I stopped dreaming about a successful ascent and dreaded the failure. It was no longer fun, yet I kept going to the gym or heading out to climb outside as part of my programming. “I’m pretty good at this, so I’ll continue.” I still enjoyed the social aspect of the gym and the puzzle-deciphering of climbing, but something was missing.

I frankly don’t know why my desire to climb disappeared so quickly. Initially, I thought I was just bored after doing it for a decade. I suspect it was deeper than that though. I think it was continuously pushing boundaries with my business at the time, every decision a difficult one that my success hinged upon. There’s a fear management reservoir in my body and mine was tapped out.

There are studies about our ability as humans to only make a certain amount of choices per day, even easy ones, and I think that applies to managing fear as well. Even free-solo climber Alex Honnold, whose abilities to curb fear are famous, ran out of his elixir halfway up free-soloing 2,000’ Half Dome in Yosemite. Watching the (recreated) moment on film, he freezes (2:20 in the film) with his back to the wall, a quarter mile of potential free fall below him, and then summons the courage to continue.

Since shelving my climbing rope, I’ve picked up mountain biking as my primary activity. Oddly enough, I’d abstained in past years because I considered it more dangerous than climbing. Something about ripping down a trail into the unknown made it seem more treacherous. Tougher to control my surroundings in a free-flowing trail ride than a static, move-by-move climb. (After wrecking numerous times following skilled friends down rocky trails, I know there is more risk of death with climbing, but more frequent injury with biking.) The learning curve is as steep as the slopes I rode, and bouncing off rocks happened a few times in the first year of riding.

Climbing trip to Lake Louise (Canada). Climber is Dan Suppnick.

Climbing trip to Lake Louise (Canada). Climber is Dan Suppnick.

Ever since I was a little kid, I’ve over-gripped and tried to control my surroundings. Something in me craved routine and order, neither of which were prevalent in my family. (Something I’m grateful for now!) Playing Monopoly with me involved rolling the dice…and that’s all. I’d move the pieces, hand out money and cards and control it all. A small example of a reality resulting in not being vulnerable and truly trusting others to do their part. Self-sufficient and in control, always. Running the show solo has absolutely helped me with whatever successes I’ve achieved, yet the expression “your best is also your worse” is certainly accurate. My control freak side is both one of my greatest strengths and also my Achille’s Heal, depending on the situation.

Letting Go

What I find interesting is that my transition from the static fear of rock climbing to managing dynamic fear mountain biking coincided with breaking loose blockages in my work and physical life. In June 2012, I was square in the middle of business building and settling down in our lovely home, nesting away. Yet deep in my core was a strange unsettled feeling. I think it stemmed from a calcification of a reality I didn’t truly desire, the same way fear was beginning to freeze me on a climbing route. I was going through the motions in a framework I didn’t truly embrace. A good life, to be sure, yet one in which I felt stuck and unfulfilled.

While climbing, you can have all four appendages on the wall yet be totally out of balance. Picture your feet and hands off to the right, with your body leaning left. You’re straining to hold yourself in place, gripping holds with calloused fingertips. But what if you realigned things, moved a foot and hand left, and suddenly are able to rest easy, with 20% of the previous effort and a relaxed smile on your face.

At various points in my life, I’ve been the pumped out, a tired climber laboring to maintain my status quo, and it was more difficult that just letting go – except for the mental part. Even an incredibly uncomfortable position can seem safe sometimes. Think of a job you want to leave, yet the transition to a new career or working for yourself is scarier than being unhappy every day. I’ve been there, and the dislocation wasn’t easy. Yet my life is so much better for the fracturing, and I’m stronger knowing I can change paths again and will survive it.

Grinning during a 45-degree descent on Hi-Line trail in Sedona.

Grinning during a steep descent on Hi-Line trail in Sedona.

Control and letting others take the reins and lead is something with which I continue to struggle. However, right around when I stopped climbing and started mountain biking, it was as if a valve opened up inside me. This shift happened rather quickly. I certainly can’t give the credit to a switch from climbing to careening down trails, yet the parallel is interesting. In fall 2012, we took a six-week road trip through Colorado and northern California, testing the limits of my work. It forced me to hire another person, which I had been avoiding. Must…control…everything. That hire has changed the course of my business and led to others while allowing greater freedom, giving me the confidence to continue testing boundaries further.

I’m still scared of obstacles. This trail called life is full of rocks, drops, and sandy corners that leave me shaking my head after a wipeout. Yet I’m finding that moving past obstacles is considerably easier when I’m in motion, not stuck in a static position (be it physical, emotional, or intellectual). When I’m still, I over-analyze and “control” the future until it passes me by with a hot spray of dust in the face. The more I flex my dynamic fear muscle, the stronger it gets, and I think it helps me handle static fear as well (such as when I’m on an airplane on a bumpy takeoff) . I’m feeling more comfortable letting go of my status quo of the moment, knowing that I’ll be able to handle whatever comes my way. And though I’m not climbing now, I suspect that I’ll strap on climbing shoes again in this life and get back out there to test my limits.

Here’s to acknowledging your fears, whatever they are, and not letting them control you.

Dakota


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Rappelling off a long climb at sunset in the City of Rocks.

Rappelling off a long climb at sunset in the City of Rocks.

 

Three Weeks in Santa Cruz

When our dear friends Jamie and Evan told us they were moving to Santa Cruz from Portland, not only were we super sad, we didn’t quite get it. How could anyone leave Portland, an amazing city with so many fantastic people, forward-thinking projects, great food, not to mention bike jousting or guys riding unicycles wearing kilts and playing bagpipes…random Portlandia scenes, ya know.

Panorama in Santa Cruz.

Santa Cruz cliffs.

Now, we get it. Santa Cruz is a perfect blend of city, ocean, forest, and fun, all smashed into a sunny pocket of Central California that just served up a seriously awesome holiday break for us. Here’s the story of three excellent weeks in a few sentences and lots of pictures!

Looking back during a beach walk.

Looking back during a beach walk.

-Riding the Ohlone Bluff trail on with Chelsea and her family. It’s a rutted dirt road framed on the west by cliffs that slip down into the water of the Pacific, brussel sprout farms to the east, and red tailed hawks soaring in the wind above us. Chelsea’s parents, who will forever be tougher than us, rode 18 miles on town comfort bikes with no suspension (or padded shorts) on the rough, bouncy road. I don’t know how they do it!

Hamming it up somewhere along the Ohlone Bluff trail (C photo credit)

Hamming it up somewhere along the Ohlone Bluff trail (C photo credit)

This trip is all about teamwork and a cheery outlook!

This trip is all about teamwork and a cheery outlook!

-Hours of Settlers of Catan with the family eating food, trading laughs and commodities, and trying not to team up on Chelsea’s brother Jesse too much.

Settlers of Catan. Game time with the family!

Settlers of Catan. Game time with the family!

-Mountain biking. I adore Santa Cruz trails! Right out our door, I could ride a mile to single track trails that led up through grasslands into scrub oak and then into redwood trails twisting around gnarled limbs and stumps. Unreal fun – I can’t get enough of it! Eleven rides in three weeks.

Sunset ride at Wilder Ranch north of Santa Cruz.

Sunset ride at Wilder Ranch north of Santa Cruz.

Exploring the Demonstration Forest in Nisene Marks State Park with Evan.

Exploring the Demonstration Forest in Nisene Marks State Park with Evan.

Cruising trails with new friend Craig in Nisene Marks State Park.

Cruising trails with new friend Craig in Nisene Marks State Park.

-Watching Monarch butterflies start their winter migration. They start at Natural Bridges State Park clumped in frozen masses waiting for the morning sun to hit their wings. Then they power up like little batteries, their wings acting as solar panels. Soon they are flittering about in the light, heading northeast eventually as the weather warms up.

A bundle of monarchs in the morning sun.

A bundle of monarchs in the morning sun.

-Walking West Cliff Drive, a long ocean-side path looking south across Monterey Bay. We watched seals, dolphins, sea lions, pelicans, and cormorants mingle and play on the water. Along with what seemed like hundreds of surfers out on Steamers Lane by the lighthouse, bobbing up and down.

Chelsea and her family watch seals on the cliffs of Santa Cruz.

Chelsea and her family watch seals on the cliffs of Santa Cruz.

A pair of seagulls hanging out.

A pair of seagulls hanging out.

Ice plants and Santa Cruz homes.

Ice plants and Santa Cruz homes.

Sunset on the cliffs.

Sunset on the cliffs.

Sunset on the cliffs of Santa Cruz.

Sunset on the cliffs of Santa Cruz.

Coastal view north of Santa Cruz on a family walk.

Coastal view north of Santa Cruz on a family walk.

 

A cool arrangement of keys in a local Santa Cruz shop.

A cool arrangement of keys in a local Santa Cruz shop.

-Days and evenings spent hanging with Jamie and Evan. Laughing our heads off at random things and helping them move into their new home after packing them up in Portland. Hanging on their deck watching deer in the field below or listening to owls hooting in the trees. Great friends are hard to find and we are lucky to have these guys in our lives and can’t wait to see them again.

Hanging with Jamie, Evan and their two fun doggies.

Hanging with Jamie, Evan and their two fun doggies.

 And with that, Santa Cruz is behind us. Adios for now good friends and great times. We shall certainly return!

We are currently exploring the wonders of Big Sur and absolutely loving it. What a place. I’ll leave you with a teaser picture…high up on Highway 1 from our van this morning. Room with a view!

View from our window on Highway 1 this morning.

View from our window on Highway 1 this morning.

Why We’re Out Here – A Snapshot

Now that we’re on the road, I don’t want to just talk about the good stuff. After all, the best travel stories are tales of misadventure and discomfort. I can draw a dozen arrows of pain from my memory quiver that still stick in my mind: 14 hours into a packed night train ride in China, Chelsea and I get puked on by a cute little Chinese girl; feverishly ill in a hostel in Burma with MalariaTyphoidDeathFever, which I then give to my friend Eric, who shivers so badly on the plane ride out that he puts a plastic bag on his head to try to stay warm; getting frisked by overzealous Russian policeman knowing that my visa invitation is not legit, and that I’m couchsurfing illegally. You know what I’m talking about. Lost passports, unraveling plans, adversity. The “good” stuff!

All that said: Just so that my mom and dad don’t think traveling is all about suffering, let’s talk about today. It has not been one of those days where we wake up with a Chinese kid’s vomit in our ramen. Today is the wow-how-am-I-so-lucky day.

We woke up to a knock on the van door. Jamie and Evan, our amazing Santa Cruzian™ friends, had a breakfast spread of granola and fruit, buttery English muffins and hot cider ready to munch on looking out over the Pacific Ocean. Yes please, I will have some cinnamon roll too. Then Chelsea and Jamie head out to kayak, and I launch out the door on my mountain bike ride to explore Nisene Marks State Park, right at the bottom of their driveway.

Sunset reflected in the Sprinter. Parked for a few days!

Sunset reflected in the Sprinter. Parked for a few days!

Chelsea is aware that I’m typically an hour to three hours late returning from mountain biking. I’m a punctual guy, yet there is something about biking in the woods that extends timelines and washes away caring about time. Not this time, dang it. I give her a timeline – back at 12:30 – and head out. First phase is a solid eight miles uphill through gorgeous redwoods, and then a quick food break. While I’m there, I chat with three local guys out for a jaunt. “Hey, want us to show you around?” they ask. Yes please.

People who know me (hopefully) consider me a pretty fit guy. Does. Not. Matter. Turns out that Austin, Jeremy and Pete have bikes with rocket boosters on them. Or ate Velociraptor for breakfast and are ready to tear some legs off. We do a climb Jamie said would take me 40 minutes, but in 20. (Wait, I thought this was a good day?) I cease talking about five minutes into the climb and try to keep my tongue out of my spokes and my lungs from pushing my eyes out of my head. Repeat, about a dozen times in the next three hours. Biking is fun.

Mid-ride in Nisene Marks. You can barely tell I'm exhausted.

Mid-ride in Nisene Marks. You can barely tell I’m exhausted. Yes, it’s a blurry snapshot…

However! In between the hamstring-shredding uphills, which I secretly enjoy anyway, we snake through redwood groves on twisty single track that splits my face with a gigantic grin again and again. They tour me through hidden trails cut in way back in the forest where Ewoks chatter from the trees and deer scatter up narrow ravines. It is sunny and 65 and I haven’t a care in the world other than not losing my guides and spending two weeks lost in the wild.

Cut past the end of the ride. Late getting home yet again, only by two hours (sigh). I’m draining four glasses of a tasty berry smoothie while sitting in the warm sun with my shirt off watching birds hop around the yard. Our friend’s dog Cooper repeatedly brings me a ball, which I chuck over and over (who is the trained one here anyway?). I lie down on my back and close my eyes, soaking in the rays on my tired body. This moment right here is why we are on this trip. I know there will be periods of logistical headaches and unforeseen complications that stress us out. Yet as the red glow of a sunset darkens the sky as I write this, I know these snippets of awesome are the reason we are out here.

Now please excuse me while I go stretch my aching hamstrings.

Looking out over the Pacific Ocean.

Looking out over the Pacific Ocean.

Sunset composition.

Sunset composition.