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A Montana Bachelor Party Float Trip

 

Bachelor party float

Hey y’all! After a week chilling out in Idaho after Iceland, we’re on the road in the Sprinter. This time, it’s for a van road trip I’ve wanted to do forever.

After some fun in NW Montana, we’re exploring western Canada for a month of pedaling and hiking. On the list are Waterton, Fernie, Banff, Jasper, Golden, Revelstoke, Whistler, Squamish,Vancouver Island, and more. Got tips on favorite spots, hikes, or mountain bike trails? Please drop me a line!

We kicked off the road trip with four days of Montana wedding antics in Helena and Butte for a good buddy. Part of that was a float trip down the Missouri River with 15 rowdy and hilarious fellers.

The video tells the story best! More antics from the wilds of Montana and Canada coming soon…

Onward!

Enjoying a crazy sunset in Montana. In the valley behind us were 80 elk grazing away. #vanlife sure is awesome sometimes!

Enjoying a forest-fire-fueled sunset in Montana. In the valley behind us were 80 elk grazing away. Van road tripping sure is awesome sometimes!

Quitting Doesn’t Mean You Can’t Start Again

Screaming Yellow Zonkers Smith Rock

Me high above the Crooked River at Smith Rock on the aptly-named “Screaming Yellow Zonkers.”

Have you ever quit something you used to love? A job? A relationship?

Well, four years ago, I quit rock climbing. It was no longer fun for me, so I stopped after a decade going at it.

At the time, I was also cranking on my fledgling business and every day was intense. Keeping climbing in the mix felt like tapping a dry reservoir, not a release of pent up energy.

Kicking back around the fire after a great day outside.

Kicking back around the fire after a great day outside.

Enter mountain biking. Instead of static, cautious moves on a rock wall, I spent hours pedaling through wild areas and ripping down rocky trails. I was a control freak in my business, but I could hit a flow state on a bike. I shelved my climbing gear and spun pedals, initially near home and then all over once we hit the road in 2013.

I still love biking, but a funny thing has happened since we landed back in Portland two weeks ago – I’m stoked to climb again. And now I have two things I previously lacked in Oregon, our Sprinter and a flexible schedule to explore my backyard.

To kick off our Pacific Northwest spring/summer stay, we landed and I quickly turned around to hit the road with my friend Martin. Bachelor trip! Chelsea waved sayonara and went back to back to relaxing at home, exactly where she wants to be right now.

Martin at the top of Smith Rock.

Martin at the top of a climb at Smith Rock.

For me, five days in Central Oregon followed. I’d forgotten the easy nonchalance of a bro trip, the swing of pushing hard physically and then sitting around a campfire trading stories. With the van as base camp, we launched into days rock climbing at Smith Rock and a “rest day” mountain biking in Bend.

After 2.5 years traveling, I’ve found that I’m definitely calmer and more centered now that work doesn’t dominate my mental space the way it used to. (Martin even noticed.) The angst I used to feel climbing a hard route is still there, but to a much lesser degree. It was actually fun to be on my edge, teetering on a cliff, not just a fear-soaked experience.

Nothing like a trad lead to keep the heart rate high. Here I am on Spiderman at Smith Rock.

Nothing like a trad lead to keep the heart rate high. Here I am on Spiderman at Smith Rock. (Photo: Martin Tull)

I attribute this to happiness via subtraction, as these days I’m rarely doing things I dislike. The result is that I don’t hit decision fatigue, mental exhaustion, or frustration as often. I’m still working on curbing my road rage though!

Realizing my head is stronger while tied into a climbing rope is one thing. Translating that into appreciating being home for awhile is another game entirely, and I’m trying to apply my feeling of contentment to the (relatively) stationary life.

Smith Rock in all it's glory

Smith Rock in all it’s glory. This place should be a national park!

After all, I can do all the things I enjoy here, even if it doesn’t carry the cool factor of traveling to new places. We both want to be in one place to just hang out and not constantly be exploring distant realms.

My goal is to appreciate the Pacific Northwest for all the excellent fun it offers, whether in or around Portland. It just takes a new head space. As travel writer Pico Iyer penned, “Going nowhere is not about austerity so much as about coming closer to one’s senses.”

Onward!

Ryan tightrope walks the ridge on Indian Point, a calf-buster hike east of Portland with killer views.

Ryan tightrope walks the ridge on Indian Point, a calf-buster hike east of Portland with killer views.

Road Trippin’ With My Pa (Video)

To share the latest happenings, in the future I’ll occasionally start blog posts with italic notes like this. This week’s announcement is an interview we did with Bicycling Magazine. Check it out!

Father Son Road Trip

For years, my dad and I talked about doing a road trip. We made it happen this October, carving out 10 days to drive the Sprinter van through the mountains and plains of Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming.

The journey was a mix of goofing around (as you’ll see), long talks about art, and exploring beautiful places by bike and on foot. The video is one of my favorites so far. Enjoy!

Exploring the east side of Glacier National Park.

Exploring the east side of Glacier National Park.

Lake McDonald on the west side of Glacier National Park.

Hiking on the Continental Divide on the east side of Glacier National Park.

Hiking on the Continental Divide on the east side of Glacier National Park.

Our route, clockwise starting and finishing in Moscow, Idaho.

Our route, clockwise starting and finishing in Moscow, Idaho. A solid 1,800 miles through some stunning landscapes.

Happy Wife, Happy Life – Keeping It Together On the Road

Columbia River Gorge in the fog

Some people get cranky when they’re hungry. I summon NARG.

NARG is an ugly, surly monster. He lacks empathy or logic and excels at blaming. Slumbering most of the time, this Creature From the A-Hole Lagoon climbs out of the depths and controls my being when my stomach grumbles too long.

Chelsea created this all-caps creation to separate the venomous devil of a cranky person from her usual (awesome, sweet, playful…HA) husband. That raging maniac telling her she’s the hungry one? That’s just NARG, not her husband. Feed the slavering beast and I return to Dr. Jekyll, Mr. Hyde’s shadow disappearing into the foggy swamp.

Along with keeping me fed and subduing my alter-ego, we have a few other coping mechanisms for traveling together. You might wonder how our marriage survived eight months in 75 square feet of a camper van, not to mention weathered the 4,000 mile bike tour last summer without the van. It’s a good question, as I seldom write about our travel ethos or discuss practical advice regarding surviving (enjoying!) our travels.

Well, I’ll say this: there were no pre-established ground rules. They evolved. Slowly, in some cases, and immediately in others, usually after I was overly controlling and tried to tell my (always stubborn) wife what to do. Some practices evolved via discussion, others from necessity. It’s still a work in progress.

It's all about balance!

It’s all about balance! Chelsea and our friend Brooke demonstrating perfect form on a hike in the mossy Oregon coast range.

 

To wit (I’ve always wanted to write that): we recently did an excellent interview over lunch with my friend J.D. Roth, founder of the popular finance site Get Rich Slowly. The interview discusses many of our thoughts and philosophies related to staying sane and happy while exploring the world together, with ideas that apply to any kind of travel, whether by van, plane or bicycle. The discussion began because J.D. is about to launch on a long RV trip around the U.S. and is interviewing inspiring people along the way. I’m honored to be included.

We talked about many things, but one of my favorite quotes from our chat came from Chelsea. It totally sums up our current approach to travel (and life, for that matter). “I guess the bottom line is to be easy-going and adaptable,” she said. “When you’re nomadic, you’re open to serendipity. It permeates your whole life. You find yourself saying ‘yes’ a lot more. It’s a very ‘yes’ experience.”

When NARG isn't around, C and I get along. :) Here we're enjoying a walk on the Oregon beach. Always sunny in the NW!

When NARG isn’t around, C and I get along. Here we’re enjoying a walk on the Oregon beach. Always sunny in the NW! (Photo courtesy of Nicole B.)

You CAN Go Home Again

Empty chairs in the Adirondacks

You can’t go home again, wrote Thomas Wolfe. He means we can’t return to “the escapes of time and memory,” those days of youth we reminisce about, a happily tinted past filled with cotton candy and water slides. I think he’s right.

After 15 months on the road, we scooped up the van from its summer parking spot in Idaho and drove to Portland, pulling in for landing earlier this week. Our trip, initially planned as a four month jaunt, finally hit a juncture where no location beckoned us more than planting our feet back home…so here we are. Our tenants’ lease was conveniently up, so we don’t even have to park the van down by the river!

The map! Starting in Portland in the top left, we headed south...and just kept going.

The map! Starting in Portland in the top left, we headed south…and just kept going. Each dot represents a place we stayed the night. The part along the top was our bike tour, and I ended it with our flight from Mexico to San Diego.

In a way, it feels like giving up. The traveler ego inside claws at my logical, time-for-a-break side and yells at me to not hang up the cleats, to keep going because we can! Well, shut yer stinkin’ yapper, ego. It’s time to rest up, wash off the dirt, and lace back up for the next run.

Part of pausing is to reflect. We’re both different people compared to when we left at the end of 2013, and we want to see how it feels to be home. Pre-trip slashing through the jungle of possessions and obligations and the subsequent travel afforded us the opportunity to be emotionally light, grow bedrock-strong in our relationship, and cultivate a sense of inner confidence that we can accomplish whatever we put our minds to. Rather than cement blocks of comfort solidified around our feet, there’s a fresh foundation under us that feels steady yet springy, a launch pad for whatever we aim for next.

Stepping over the threshold of our house made us feel like honeymooners moving into our first home. After three sets of tenants during our absence, it was a pleasant surprise to not see punched-in walls and broken windows, just spotless floors and gleaming glass. We left the house furnished, so the move was easy. Hauling a few armloads of gear and clothes in from the van, plus all the bikes, felt like a fresh slate and a new beginning. I’ll say this much: simple amenities of home attain a fresh sparkle when you’re on the road a long time, that’s for sure. Hooray for washing machines and dishwashers!

Honeymooners

A fun number that I calculated was that the rent from our house during our time away more than paid for the Sprinter van. Considering my company allowed us to save money AND our tenants paid for our van, I’d say the “four month winter getaway” worked out nicely. Maybe we should do more of them? Twist my arm…

It’s only been two days, but I already am glad to be landed. I’ve only had one short freakout (while setting up internet, but who doesn’t hate talking to CenturyLink?) that I quickly solved by going for a run up a local mountain. Missed you, Mt. Tabor. More importantly, I’ve connected with a number of close friends and it feels like no time at all has passed, a mark of a great relationship. Seeing them reinforces why we invest so much into our community and friendships. Heck, I ran into three friends just on a walk to lunch on our first day back – it was practically an episode of Cheers!

On top of the memories of this trip, I’m grateful to call many places across the U.S. home. Comfortable friendships and feeling at home in cities all over the place is a gift we are lucky to have received. So while you can’t go “home” to a place the way it thrives in your memories, we can cultivate new homes, even in places we’ve lived before, and I’m finding a new appreciation for old haunts as we touched down during January in San Diego and Idaho before picking up the van.

It will be exciting to hit the road for another adventure when we do. (Utah in April, anyone?) In the meantime, our schedule is filled with time with friends, a plant-based nutrition course for Chelsea, short trips to the mountains and coast, volunteering, yoga, and making sure my employees still know what I look like. Life is busy, but totally on our terms these days, and we’re going to make the most of it.

As a framed print on our dining room wall says, “Wherever we are together, that is home.” It’s great to be here.

Dakota

P.S. The blog doesn’t die here, don’t worry!

Rolling toward Portland after our reunion with the Sprinter!

Rolling toward Portland on a foggy day after our reunion with the Sprinter! Seven months away from my buddy the van is just too long.

Closing the Loop and Starting Anew

 

Amazing spring bloom in Grand Teton NP.

Amazing spring bloom in Grand Teton NP. (Click to expand. Mo betta!)

We humans love to celebrate and formally close chapters of our lives. Loose threads, relationships ending and open books need to be tied up and closed with graduations, parties and awesome drunken nights jumping off bridges into rivers. (You know who you are!) New adventures invigorate us, yet tying up a thread of the past in a neat knot is extremely satisfying. The infinity symbol, ∞, always starts anew, the mobius strip woven back to the beginning. This article is a brief reflection on our time traveling in the van from November through June, a chapter we recently closed, for the time being at least.

Tomorrow will mark eight months since we rented our house, packed our van and lit out on the open road. Our first stop was to drop off our cat Oliver at C’s parents’ up in Idaho, followed by a big, wandering loop south, east and back to the homestead just in time for my 32nd birthday. Eight years ago, I spent my birthday exploring the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia with my brother Finn. In June, for the first time in over a decade, I celebrated it in Moscow, Idaho with my family around a big table in my parents’ dining room with giant cottonwood trees framing the view. Looking back at the arc of those intervening years, it is amazing how we end up where we do! I’m exceptionally grateful to have the life I do, and even with the hard work to get here, I also realize how lucky I am.

 

A full moon rises over Yellowstone.

A full moon rises over Yellowstone.

Next up is the bike tour, another leg in the journey that will eventually loop us back somehow, logistics TBD! The first loop added eight thousand miles to the van’s odometer and baked a cake of hundreds of memories mixed with dozens of new friends, all iced with beautiful landscapes to serve up one fantastic journey. Who knows how many miles our bikes will see before we return to the comfort of the Sprinter van?

As Steinbeck said, “We find that after years of struggle we do not take a trip; a trip takes us.” The initial goal of our “winter escape” was to explore the California coast and get close to nature, with lots of mountain biking and hiking. Check mark next to that…and so much more. The journey (obviously) continues!

Cruising farmland in eastern Washington, somewhere near a little town called Farmington.

Bike tour, day 1! Cruising farmland in eastern Washington, somewhere near a little town called Farmington.

Traveling always breaks loose blockages within me and free up creative flows. I hadn’t written creatively for almost seven years prior to departing Portland and now can’t seem to stop words from tumbling forth. I think of travel in pre-computer days when people just disappeared over the horizon with promises to call on holidays over a crackly line or send a postcard from afar. It’s so different now, with WiFi available everywhere and cell phones linking us to the world. Still, disconnecting from a place physically stimulates a confidence in me, a seething wanderlust, to pursue goals I’ve only dreamed about. Momentum is a powerful force and we’ve been flying downhill with the wind at our back since November.

How has this trip changed me? I feel my brain rewiring priorities daily as distractions and maintenance items like fixing a porch disappeared and made room for creativity and time in nature, which leads to my mind spinning as fast as the wheels on my bike. I’ve always felt tied down by possessions and now I’m also realizing that I can’t do all the activities or hobbies I identified with in the past without sacrificing true competency. Expectations for who I should be or how I should live my life that don’t ring true any longer? Time to jettison those over the starboard side pronto presto.

SONY DSC

Chelsea showing her signature style in Yellowstone.

I’m learning that the threads of judgment other people levy upon us are merely constructs of our own mind and we can choose to not be controlled by them. Powerful forces, for sure, yet our reaction to them imbues their fiery power. I’m trying to operate from a place of courage rooted in self-confidence instead of obligation to anything or anyone. It’s difficult, and I’m by no means perfect, yet clipping restraining strings one by one lets me pivot and wheel about to seek my North Star.

There’s still a little voice inside me questioning, “Hey, why are you traveling? Do something to help the world!” I guess I’m no different than most people in that I need a mission and want to be of service in a positive way. I’m considering this a sabbatical that I’ve earned, yet dealing with that internal questioning while also acknowledging that traveling is exactly what I want to be doing at this moment is a balancing act that I’ll probably struggle with for the rest of my life. In some respect, I think we all toss and turn over the best use of our limited time on this planet. So many factors tied to “best” – for us, for other people, for the environment.

For now, I’m going to continue to explore the world and share what I find. I’ve always wanted to use the syrupy cliche phrase “This road trip called life” and it’s starting to feel accurate for our existence. Where does one trip and another end if we’re on the road the entire time in an untethered ship? As this trip continues to unfold a day at a time, it’s a giant wave of nostalgia and dreams that we are lucky enough to be surfing. Who knows where this section of the infinity loop will take us or how we will change, or where we’ll cross through and return in some fashion, physically or mentally, to the beginning.

Onward we go,

Dakota

P.S. More photos from Grand Teton/Yellowstone coming soon. Didn’t want to bury you all at once!

A slow-moving section through Grand Teton NP where all the animals congregate.

A slow-moving section through Grand Teton NP where all the animals congregate.

Moments before rolling out the driveway toward Maine.

Moments before rolling out the driveway toward Maine.

Why We Traded Our Perfectly Nice House for a Van

People ask why we moved out of our home to hit the road in a van. A reverse American Dream in many ways, right? Stability traded in for the unknown, with all the headaches that traveling daily bring with it. And all the adventures, good or bad. Millennials, through and through!

The nuts and bolts of travel. Laundromats! Haven't been in one of these for ohhhh 15 years? They have wifi now! A great office. :)

The hidden nuts and bolts of travel. Haven’t been in a laundromat for ohhhh 15 years? They have wifi now!

I don’t have a clear answer to this. Something that struck me is that we are transitioning from holding down the fort, as the inspiring Colin Wright writes about. After seven years of hard work in Portland, we’ve laid a strong foundation of people, place and work to stretch from, to push some boundaries and explore for awhile. Somewhere along the way, perhaps life just got too easy? In our 1st-world-problems life, a nice home became merely another thing to maintain, a big time-suck of a residence only to have a place to sleep at night. I feel like I know only what I experience, so time for a new challenge and changing horizons. Plus, we host people constantly at home, and now we’re coming to visit!

Crescent Beach on the Coastal Trail in Northern CA.

Crescent Beach on the Coastal Trail in Northern CA.

The counterpoint to all this exploring the Beginner’s Mind. Chelsea introduced me to this long ago and describes it as approaching everything as if experiencing it for the first time. Why am I not content waking up in the same place every day and just being, not doing. As my mother, a Buddhist, likes to say, “Wherever you go, there you are.” I’m different every day based on experience from the day prior, so my relationship with my surroundings and the people around me is fresh and new. I recognize this “moving on” could just be running from something, yet I don’t have a grasp as to what that is, if anything. Is it just who I am, or a deeper sense of dissatisfaction I can’t pin down? This post doesn’t aim to address THAT Pandora’s Box – that’s going to take some additional writing and thinking to sort out! I identify with something I read from Rita Golden Gelman, which is that I don’t feel like I’m running away, but rather toward something greater – adventure and discovery. Personal growth, at the very least.

My Beginner's Mind coach, my lovely wife.

My lovely wife.

One truth about me: I’m bored if I’m not learning, exploring, tweaking my systems, or pushing new limits. It’s just who I am. I reset my equilibrium quickly at whatever level of success I attain, so my happiness is often temporary. A challenge becomes routine with boredom leaching in. Time to “get on the cushion” to meditate, as my parents might say.

Whatever the reason, I’m living in 72 square feet because I can’t imagine living in 1,800 square feet. Or doing the same bike rides or runs that I’ve done 150 times prior over the (occasionally rainy) Portland winter. We have no children, our fantastic in-laws graciously are watching our cat (thanks guys!), Chelsea is freed from work and able to be our Ambassador of Fun, and my business allows me to roam. Now is the time to explore for so many reasons, and I feel like we have no excuse NOT to go somewhere. And as a cherry on top, it isn’t even hurting my current or  future business prospects in the way shutting everything down and disappearing for a long period of time would be. Though hanging out at the beach below without a cell phone sounds pretty nice…

Sunset at Haystack Rock on the Oregon Coast.

Roaming’s reward.

One thing I feel the Holding Down the Fort article doesn’t discuss is that there are phases to it. His view comes across as black and white – either you are Barracks Stormer or a Fort Defender – whereas I see periods where you can push boundaries in business, yet live in the same place, and vice verse. Opportunity to explore spiritually while business and physical location are the same probably fits in there too, though I don’t feel qualified to comment on that!

Black versus white.

Black and white.

Whether they are boundaries of borders and new places, or ways of doing business through a new lens, I’m certainly inspired to push limits and create. If we were all revamping systems at the same time, the world would be UTTER FREAKING CHAOS. We need people in different phases of their lives and careers bouncing back and forth between Fort Defender and Barracks Stormer. Right now, I’m in the latter phase for awhile, and I suspect that pendulum will take the long slicing sweep back the other direction eventually. But for now, I’m enjoying working next to an amazing bird watching marsh outside of Arcata in Northern California on this sunny, windy day.

View from the office window bird watching outside of Arcata.

Office for the day.

Here’s to deep, happy satisfaction wherever you are right now. I’m aiming to enjoy this moment, which soon will be a lunch break hike around the marsh watching coots and Northern Harriers duke it out in their Fort!

Lunch time birding watching in Arcata.

Until next time,

Dakota