My Favorite Lake Tahoe Mountain Biking Trails

Views of Lake Tahoe from Freel Peak trail.

TAHOOOOOE! The word is fun to yell and the mountain biking there is even better.

When a blog reader asked for recommendations of California mtb trails, I pointed him at a past blog post about coastal rides. However, I didn’t have anything written about Tahoe trip Chelsea and I did last summer. Now I do!

I’ve ridden all these, with the list drawing from various websites and local friends who recommended their favorite trails. I’m an advanced rider (stop chortling, mtb friends) and these trails are blue or black difficulty. I linked to many of the trails on Trailforks to make it easy.

I love multi-hour rides that cover lots of distance, plus enduro-style descending. If you’re looking for tame, flat (cough boring cough) trails, this isn’t your list!

Without further ado, my favorite Lake Tahoe mtb rides:

Rolling down the TRT above Spooner Lake.

Tahoe Rim Trail (TRT) from Mt. Rose to Spooner to Van Sickle:
Starting at Mt. Rose, pedal the Tahoe Rim Trail up and down to the top of Van Sickle, then descend into the tourist loony bin that is the S. Lake Tahoe. Fantastic lake views, playful and engaging riding (ahhh, granite is so fun), remote riding, and a healthy dose of effort make this a must-do. The full shebang is 45 miles and took me about 5 hours, so plan for a full day of riding and bring a water filter.

Getting up there at High Meadows near Star Lake.

TRT from Kingsbury S to Star Lake, Freel Peak/Meadows, down Mr. Toads: A close second place for favorite ride around Tahoe! Starting from the Heavenly Resort (we stayed at Chelsea’s parent’s timeshare there), pedal south on the TRT Heavenly and High Meadows to a refreshing (cold!) dip at Star Lake and eat some lunch.

Keep pedaling on Freel Peak trail as views across Lake Tahoe open up, then one last push on Freel Meadows. Finish with a rollicking shred down Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride (a fantastic ride by itself). There’s a huge day ride called Rose to Toad’s that combines these first two rides.

Monument Pass and Cold Creek – you’ve got to get up there somehow (I pedaled in from Kingsbury South trailhead on the TRT Heavenly), but once you’re there, it’s all fun downhill. Monument Pass is smoother terrain with lots of switchbacks up high; Cold Creek sports rocky sections with large boulders that are a) fun and b) dangerous when your front wheel disappears into a deep pit. #wreckingsucks

My sister-in-law on Sidewinder.

Corral/Sidewinder – I linked Monument and Cold Creek (above) with this ride, but most people do them on their own. FUN trails!
Sidewinder is a natural granite playground into Corral’s flowy jump trail. Gotta ride it if you’re in the area. The climbing is on pavement so you can crank out laps if you want.

California Hangtown, baby! The climb to the top of Sidewinder.

Christmas Valley – a local Tahoe rider recommended this. Moderate-grade climbing that results in a low-flow descent with way more pedaling than I expected. Entertaining and the end makes it a worthwhile ride, but if you are only doing a couple rides in the area, I vote for skipping this one.

Chelsea’s bro enjoying the fruits of Tahoe.

Armstrong Pass – I linked this with Christmas Valley and it worked well. Similar riding to the rest of the Tahoe Rim Trail and it dumps you out right at the top of Corral/Sidewinder for more fun. A good way to get up to Star Lake if you want to ride Monument Pass and Cold Creek.

Hole in the Ground and Donner Lake Rim – Everyone loves Hole in the Ground…and I confess that I don’t know why! There’s a big climb up, lots of techy traversing (ok, that part is fun), and then it dumps you onto a FIRE ROAD for almost the entire 2,000’ descent.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t ride UP singletrack and DOWN fire roads without a lot of sadness… An out-and-back on Donner Lake Rim Trail was interesting purely for the tech-nasty bike handling required, but it’s mostly flat.

Sneaked a gratuitous van shot in after all!

Bonus Rides:

Flume Trail – Ok, so I didn’t ride ALL of these. Everyone rides Flume Trail near Tahoe, but I opted for the Tahoe Rim Trail from Mt. Rose right above it. However, 12.7mm tourists and Instagram posts can’t be wrong…right? If you want a green trail with views of the lake, I hear it’s great.

Downhill to Downieville!
Downieville fun on Gold Valley Rim.

Downieville – my mountain bike friends speak of Downieville like it’s hallowed ground, a shrine of trails not to be missed. I needed to go there, so on the way back from Tahoe we detoured a bit to explore.

You can pay to shuttle from Downieville to avoid the ~3k’ climb up from the highway. NAH. Just pedal it! The fire road is steep, but the views are great. I added a bit to my day and did the climb from Sierra City, then rode Gold Valley Rim, Pauley Creek, Butcher, 2nd, 1st divide, which is (mostly) the route that the Downieville Classic follows.

Note: I considered riding up the highway, but it’s narrow and people are going fast. Hitchhike or catch a shuttle if your awesome wife isn’t available to meet you at the end of the ride.

The less fun, but good-for-ya route to the top at Downieville. Shuttles are overrated.
Getting up high on Mt. Elwell near Graegle!

Graegle –  Say it like “Gray Eagle” and fly like… anyway.

This little town is COOL and geared toward mountain biking like Oakridge, Oregon. I did a double-whammy day of Mills Peak and Mt. Elwell, which is either a big ride or my legs were tired from all the Tahoe riding! Mills is the easier of the two, with climbing on the highway/fire road to the trailhead. From there, shred back toward town on well-built, varied trails.

As for Mt. Elwell… Pedal back up from town (or ride this on the second day if you’re wiser than me) and then huff and puff up the too-steep-to-ride trail to the top of Elwell. I knew it was steep when a guy on an electric bike couldn’t pedal it!

Why ride uphill when you can carry your bike?

From the top, buckle your shoes and don the pads cuz it’s game time. Rocks! More rocks! ROCKS. Be prepared for black diamond riding. Nothing is crazy and there aren’t any big gaps, but the riding is in your face and challenging. Disclaimer aside, it’s also suparad! At the bottom, jump in the reservoir and enjoy the laidback vibe in town.

Chelsea’s mom laying down a patch of rubber on the trail from Tahoe City.

Family Fun: we did two rides with C’s family on the paved trails along the lake. One starts west of S. Lake Tahoe and the other we started in Tahoe City on the north shore. Both were fun and bike rental shops abound.

The first is shorter (maybe 10 miles available), whereas the second one has ~30 miles out and back, which Chelsea’s parents crushed on their rental cruisers. Someday I’ll be that tough!

Fabulous lake views from the top of Ellis Peak.
Fabulous lake views from the top of Ellis Peak.

Hike Ellis Peak – need a rest day (well, from biking)? This six mile hike ends with a full-on amazing view of Lake Tahoe. Highly recommended!

In a funny small-world moment, we picked up two PCT hitchhikers on the drive back from Ellis Peak’s trailhead. Turns out one follows me on Instagram and is the personal trainer for Portland friends. Her girlfriend Carrot is a well-known thru-hiker whose excellent book we’d read. I love that kind of random stuff!

Small world!

That’s all I’ve got. If you have trails to recommend, fire away below in the comments. Happy pedaling!

Onward!

Downshifting from Van Life

I’ve aimed to write this post for over eight months. (All photos in this post are from that time frame too!) It’s for anyone dreaming of traveling long-term, and also for those living that dream wondering, “Will we do this forever?”

***

As long-time readers know, Chelsea and I launched our van trip in fall 2013 for a four-month jaunt down the coast of California. “FOUR MONTHS IS SO LONG!” our friends opined. “Don’t forget Oliver,” said Chelsea’s parents as we dropped our fuzzy companion off for cat-sitting.

Little did we (and my unsuspecting in-laws) know we’d live the van life for three years, not four months.

Backpacking with Chelsea’s parents in the Jefferson Wilderness last July.

The Magic of Full-Time Travel

The excitement of travel pulled like a large planet’s gravity. We easily fell into an orbit that took us to 18 countries by van, bike, and plane. I freed up time and mental space by hiring more people for my business, extracting myself from day-to-day client work. It was a scary leap with a real chance of disintegrating into a broken heap. (At least we had the van!)

Things worked out.

Patrick rappelling off a route at Smith Rock.

So we traveled. It was relaxing, simple in many ways (open calendar, every day!), creatively inspiring, a sabbatical from many of the responsibilities of “adult” existence.

I dove into photography and writing and built this blog. My random musings somehow attracted a million visitors and allowed us to meet many adventurous people who eschew the (typical) American Dream.

Many readers are in our shoes, professionals tired of living someone else’s narrative of “success.” They’re flipping the bird at the 9-to-5 and proverbial picket fence and heading out to find open space where the wind sings through trees or roars over the desert landscape.

I met Rich and Esther at a trailhead in 2016. “Hey, I know your van!” Here’s Rich a year later zipping down Xanadu, a sweeeet trail with sweeter views near Leavenworth, WA.

We chewed up mountain bike trails, then 7,000 miles of roads while cycle touring the U.S. and Europe. New York and Santa Cruz each distracted us for a month, as did studying Spanish in Mexico, roadtripping Iceland, and volunteering at a farm sanctuary.

Our travels also strongly focused on people. We spent quality time with our families and developed friendships all over the globe. I regularly stay in touch with buddies from our travels and see them around the states.

Making a snowman with my nephew, Sam. He then crushed me at a snowball fight.

 On the Road…Forever?

At one point, Chelsea asked me, “I wonder if we’ll always be nomads?” At the time, the answer felt like a resounding yes.

And yet, like any frequent activity, the shiny luster faded from full-time travel. What started as a sort of sabbatical turned into a repetitive daily orbit of logistics. Traveling went from stimulating immersion in new places to shallow dips into too many places, voyeurism without involvement. Even a few multi-week stays and volunteering felt too short.

 

Paul dives into Waldo Lake on a chilly October day. Yes, that water is as cold as it looks.

We missed community and tired of constantly saying goodbye. We met adventurous and stoked people, but interactions were short-lived. Was it possible to create a traveling caravan of friends who rolled around together, we wondered…?

Instead, we dug deep in a short time period with people, talking life, traveling, unconventional choices. Then travel inertia – gotta keep moving! – or common courtesy to not overstay our welcome would grab hold. We’d exchange hugs, talk about plans to meet in the future, and point our wheels toward the distant horizon.

Enjoying the views off NW chair with my buddy Robert on Mt. Bachelor. That’s Sparks Lake and South Sister in the distance.

The Travel Pull

When I questioned why I wanted to keep traveling, I unearthed four primary reasons:

1) Daily access to the outdoors
2) Momentum (we’re moving and therefore must keep moving)
3) Positive reinforcement feeding my ego (people saying “wow, I’ve always wanted to do that!” or “you’re living the dream!”)
4) That we COULD travel full-time, so we should (right?).

Not if it no longer fed what we sought to do or how we wanted to grow.

Of those four aspects, only daily outdoor access made sense anymore. Chelsea felt this earlier than I did and was ready to land in one place.

There’s a metaphor here about hanging onto something…

I’ve seen this shift in dozens of travelers. Friends with big social media followings or a popular blog often hit a point where another new place didn’t ring their bell anymore. Posting online starts to feel forced, a job rather than a joy. Their social media profiles blinked out, blog posts shifted to every few weeks, then quarterly, then gone.

I was no exception.

A magic, strenuous day on Angel’s Staircase in the N. Cascades.

Figuring out where to park the van was the hard part. When we’d return to Portland for visits, I felt trapped by the big city. The combination of gray days and no quick access to nature dragged on me. I was depressed and irritable, frustrated with concrete and traffic.

During our travels, we eyed mountain towns in the west as potential places to pop out landing gear and stick around for awhile. Santa Cruz, Boulder, San Luis Obispo, Bozeman. There was always a reason a place didn’t feel right.

Enter Bend, Oregon, the seat of Lifestyle Awesomeness. We’d visited the surrounding area a fair amount, but never dug into the city. After traveling Iceland and Canada in 2016, we rolled the van into Bend to rent a friend’s place and see how things shook out.

Sunset at Old Mill on the Deschutes River in Bend.

How It Feels to Be In One Place

Over a year later, our new homebase is Bend! We sold our Portland home and bought a house in Bend in a quirky, connected neighborhood.

People don’t randomly wind up in Bend. Most work hard and create the opportunity to live here. We’ve discovered new friends are available and prioritize investing in friendship and family, time outside, health, travel and giving back to the community. We’re loving the strong community of active, positive, engaged friends and the easily accessible outdoor magic.

Cookbook club! Get a bunch of friends together and cook amazing food from one vegan cookbook per month. It’s that easy!

Thanks to prioritizing access to and preservation of public lands, Bend is an outdoor playground with miles of singletrack for mountain biking and running, skiing on Mt. Bachelor and world-class rock climbing at Smith Rock. If there’s a downside to the town, it’s minor growing pains as it goes from small to medium size. Sometimes there’s a 3 min wait at a roundabout! (NOOOO.)

What makes Bend resonate for us isn’t solely the outdoor wonderland. For a mountain town, there’s a lot going on. Music, coffee shops, kombucha makers and breweries galore (not that I drink beer!), unlimited festivals in the summer, all the running and biking events you’d ever want, and a growing business hub are just a sampler.

The open space we created for traveling shifted easily to other arenas. A natural organizer, Chelsea spearheaded things. She joined the board of a local vegan nonprofit, started a plant-powered running group and cookbook club, and filled our calendars with marches, fundraisers, and political events. In a year, we’re more involved in Bend than we ever were in Portland.

Plant-Powered Runners! This crew is awesome.

Rallying friends at our house for the Jan 2018 Women’s March in Bend.

On top of that, I’m finding myself more active in Bend. This is thanks to the strong outdoors scene and access to everything I love to do so close to our door.

I spent 2017 in a mix of physical activity (perhaps too much!), joining events with Chelsea, and investing energy into my business. This year, I’m aiming for less work and more creative time and travel, plus weekly Plant-Powered Runners outings, big dinner parties, and community events. I’m surprised how easily time traveling is filled with other satisfying pursuits.

How can you not get outside with this 30 minutes away?

So What’s the Plan, Yo?

This city is a stellar fit for us and we’ve decided Bend is our home for the foreseeable future. We’re rooting, but we will still step off into sweet adventures.

“Are you selling the van!?” people have asked. No. Freaking. Way. Too many climbing areas the van needs to visit! I also need it to scope out the trails around Crested Butte, c’mon! A trip to Wyoming and Idaho is already slated for May.

My shredder friend Jeremy launching off Trail #3 at Cline Butte with the Cascades in the background.

We’re kicking around an idea for another bike tour; the idea of long climbing trips to Greece, Spain, or Mexico makes me salivate. These travel boots aren’t even close to done walking!

This is a shift to a lifestyle we talked about for the past few years. We’ll dig deep into community and still water the seeds of travel when we feel the itch. By spending months in Bend mixed with trips near and far, we’ll polish both sides of the travel and home coin.

A snowy Crater Lake during a week-long mountain biking van trip to Southern Oregon.

Van Life as a Mindset

The social media tag #vanlife represents freedom from a staid, boring existence. There’s a reason Millennials are flocking to it. We’re repeating the paths of anti-establishment parents back in the 1960s. This time around, though, people can work remotely, freelancing from Yosemite, writing software code from Moab, or editing science papers in a ski resort parking lot.

Even if Chelsea and I aren’t traveling in a van full-time, #vanlife carries into the way we live. For me, it’s a mentality as much as a way of life, encompassing adventure, minimalism, and an open-minded, flexible approach to travel. It’s an examined, intentional approach.

About to examine the downhill on Fuji Mountain near Waldo Lake!

This is a new phase, and not the last. I expect continuing shifts filled with moments for play and exploring, time for growth and building, space to give back, and occasionally the chance to do it all. There’s no playbook for this version of the American Dream, just an evolving patchwork quilt called life. A stitch here and there adding new experiences, a rearranging of the patterns as needed.

It’s about the adventure of living a balanced, exciting life of play, community and contribution. Full-time travel no longer lit us up, so it was time for a shift. We all need to weave together pleasure, purpose, and pride. Done correctly, it creates a strong rope to hoist away toward a happy, satisfied life. That’s our aim in this next stage.

The ever-evolving book of our lives continues. The Bend chapter continues with rip-roaring satisfaction and fun. Instead of “going places to be moved,” as Pico Iyer describes travel, we’ve landed and sunk both feet in deep, toes gripping, arms wide.

It feels great.

We’re still having fun!

***

Have you traveled long-term and felt the pull to land somewhere? I’d love to hear how you handled the shift from full-time travel to a rooted existence.

Favorite Mountain Bike and Hiking Trails in the Canadian Rockies

black-rock-mountain-dh-mtb

After two summers of bike touring, we carved out September for a Canada mountain biking van trip. A glance at the Trailforks app whet my appetite: British Columbia has 7,182 mountain biking trails and Alberta chimes in with 1,329.

This was a lifetime of pedaling, and there just weren’t enough sunny fall days to explore it all. My ambitious goals to explore more of British Columbia and Vancouver Island ran aground the shoals of realistic time constraints, so a return trip is already brewing!

Not all biking - the Rockies have some awesome hikes too! Here's Chelsea heading down toward Waterton on the Carthew-Alderson.

Not all biking – the Rockies have some awesome hikes too! Here’s Chelsea heading down toward Waterton on the Carthew-Alderson.

Still, in 25 days, I managed to squeeze in 20 bike rides, plus four excellent hikes. The only thing that accumulated faster than the lactic acid in my legs was my appreciation for the beauty and fun of Canada. I also learned that solo rides make all tree stumps closely resemble large grizzly bears…

Here are some of my favorite locations and rides (plus hikes) from the Canadian Rockies and eastern B.C. It’s not even close to comprehensive, but hey, it’s a start. We didn’t make it west of Nelson/Revelstoke, so please cease irate trolling if you think I missed something in another area.

Hiking above Lake Agnes in Banff.

Hiking above Lake Agnes in Banff.

Lake-side break in Waterton.

Lake-side break in Waterton.

Note: Chelsea joined me for a few rides, but mostly stuck to hiking and running because the trails in Canada are, shall we say, a bit gnarly and not her style. Her sense of self-preservation is more acutely developed than mine!

1,000 miles of views and good times!

1,000 miles of views and outdoor fun!

Favorite Mountain Biking Town: Fernie, B.C.

Bikes perch on every car in Fernie, B.C. If you’re looking for a place to park and just RIDE without driving all over, this is it.

Known as a ski town in the past, strong investment in bike infrastructure makes this a MTB destination. The signage is fantastic and there are dozens of trails accessed directly from town.

Cranking up Hyperventilation in Fernie.

Nathan cranking up Hyperventilation in Fernie.

Stay downtown, or camp at Fernie Provincial Park, which has big, private camp spots, hot showers, and feeder trails leaving right from the campground.

Trails of note:
Stovepipe/Brokeback: rooty, rocky chaos after a lung-popping effort to the top via the aptly-named Lactic Ridge
Hyperventilation/Hyperextension: switchback climbing to test your skills, then a fast descent back to town. Try Broken Hip as a kicker finish – it has a corkscrew section you won’t forget.
Lazy Lizard: machine-built trail that is fun for beginners or at Mach 7.

Hot tip: make sure to get a huge smoothie downtown at Lunchbox. The Solara was my favorite.

Hiking a couple hours north of Fernie in Banff.

Hiking a couple hours north of Fernie in Banff.

Bright Blue Rivers and Wildlife Viewing: Jasper, Alberta

Jasper is renowned for its beauty, not to mention the stunning drive up the Icefields Parkway. It’s a laid-back town 1/10th as crazy as Banff, with equally impressive sights. The wildlife is also very present: giant elk stopped traffic on the highway and mountain goats/sheep gazed down as I rode by.

Overlander Trail north of Jasper.

Overlander Trail north of Jasper.

mountain-sheep-jasper

Trails of note:
Valley of Five Lakes: rooty, rocking riding through pretty forest, along lakes like blue gems, all with views of snow-capped mountains. Hard work, but so worth it.
Overlander: similar to #1, but less rooty and with bigger views. A good point-to-point ending right in Jasper.

Hot tip: Try the pizza downtown at Famosa Pizzeria; do your laundry at the most-excellent Coin Clean Laundry.

A fine day on the Valley of Five Lakes trail.

A fine day on the Valley of Five Lakes trail.

Crazy Alpine Adventures: Black Rock Mountain near Canmore, Alberta

I’d never heard of alpine hike-a-bike until Instagram showed me a dude drifting steep, rocky mountain slopes. His buddy Jake was kind enough to invite me on an alpine MTB adventure at Black Rock Mountain. What followed was a day of riding unlike any I’d done before.

If you’re an experienced rider looking for an adventure, try bagging some alpine peaks in the Rockies while you’re there! Make sure to bring a full-face helmet.

Good times on Black Rock Mountain.

Good times on Black Rock Mountain.

Best Flow Trail: Nelson and Revelstoke, B.C.

Two options here, both awesome. Nelson is famous for tough, steep trails; Revelstoke has stuff equally as fun.

Turnstiles and Lefty (Nelson): For huge, perfect berms, head up to Nelson’s magnificent jump trail, newly built in 2016.
Flowdown (Revelstoke): grand fun easily accessed with a pedal up from the highway. Four miles of quintessential Canada fun.

Sean pretending it's not snowing on Keystone Standard near Revelstoke.

Sean pretending it’s not snowing on Keystone Standard near Revelstoke.

South of the Border Bonus: Continental Divide NST #337 (Helena, Montana)

A varied, challenging, and FUN trail. If you ride uphill through the rock gardens without dabbing a foot a few times, I’ll buy you lunch!

Best done as a shuttle from MacDonald Pass, about 30 min west of Helena on Highway 12. Rowdy, tough rock gardens the first few miles, then FAST downhill from there on the Switchback Ridge Trail.

A fine day on the Continental Divide!

A fine day on the Continental Divide!

Favorite Day Hikes:

Since my focus this trip was riding, we stuck to accessible, well-known hikes for rest days. They were all scenic and worth doing!

Hiking Helen Lake in Banff.

Hiking Helen Lake in Banff.

Waterton National Park: Alderson-Carthew

Everyone goes to Glacier National Park, but just north across the Canadian border is Waterton. This scenic park shares the border with Glacier and gets 1/10th the traffic.

We checked out the excellent Alderson-Carthew hike, a 15 mile point-to-point journey. There’s a free shuttle from town that runs until mid-September. Sign up online or at Tamarack Outfitters on the way into town.

Chelsea takes in the view on the Carthew-Alderson.

Chelsea takes in the view on the Carthew-Alderson.

Banff/Lake Louise: Devil’s Thumb

Fear the crowds of Lake Louise! They are REAL, and they will engulf you like the flames of Mordor.

As usual, if you hike a couple miles up, you’ll escape the crowds and find the real fun. A local photographer showed us Devil’s Thumb, a scramble up steep scree to a viewpoint of Lake Agnes and Lake Louise.

For my money, you won’t a much prettier view than those two with the snowy mountains as a backdrop. Throw in yellow larches and the scrum of selfie-snapping tourists around the lake is a small, small price to pay.

View of Lake Agnes and Lake Louise from Devil's Thumb.

View of Lake Agnes and Lake Louise from Devil’s Thumb.

Yoho National Park: Iceline hike

Just the name of this park makes it worth a visit, and a trek up Iceline is another reward. For the full shebang, do the 17-mile loop; for a more sedate hike, just head to the toe of glaciers, eat lunch with a stunning view, and head back.

Lunch break below the glacier on Iceline.

Lunch break below the glacier on Iceline.

Iceline hike looking north.

Iceline hike looking north.

Banff Honorable Mention: Helen Lake

This hike is a steep climb through forest until you break into the scenic valley. Freezing sleet and snow dampened our enthusiasm for scaling snowy peaks around the lake, but apparently the views are stunning from up there.

Winding trails toward Helen Lake.

Winding trails toward Helen Lake.

The high alpine season tapering off...

And that’s all she wrote!

Eye-Popping Awesomeness in Glacier National Park

View Grinnell Glacier hike

Our NW Montana/Canada road trip continues! Currently, we’re up in Canada enjoying most-excellent MTB trails near Canmore. Jasper and the Icefield Parkway beckon to the north as September steams ahead.

***

The end of the NW Montana plains is a splendid sight as craggy peaks of green and white spike toward the moon. It’s the front range of the Rockies cracking the earth, a reward for miles of rolling hay fields. Welcome to Glacier National Park!

We pedaled through this gem in 2014 during our U.S. bicycle tour and I also roadtripped through last fall with my dad. Crazy as it seems though, I’d never done any of the iconic hiking for which Glacier is famous.

In an effort to maximize the crowds, we left my friend Keif’s wedding and arrived on the 100th anniversary of the U.S. National Park system. Thanks to a big berry season, encounters with bears also resulted in trail closures for three of the trails we had planned to hike.

A curious sheep in Glacier.

Not a bear! Just a curious mountain sheep in Glacier.

This served to funnel hikers up a small number of trails. My guess is it is a devious plot by the Glacier Grizzlies (a rough, tattooed gang) so the bears could pick and choose the fattest, slowest tourists to gobble up. (I’m kidding – bears don’t eat people. They just scare the beejeebus out of them.)

We still found quiet and alone time in the park. Hiking 15 miles anywhere will get you that! While a favorite is hard to choose, we loved the Highline and Grinnell Glacier trails, both famous and highly trafficked for a reason: THEY’RE AMAZING.

Chelsea enjoys a view west from Highline Trail.

Chelsea enjoys a view west from Highline Trail.

Grinnell Glacier

Accessed right from our campground at Many Glacier (HQ for three of four nights we stayed in the park), Grinnell is a must-do. Get there before the glaciers are gone! If you can’t, don’t worry – Glacier will still be a stunning place even without the white stuff.

Grinnell starts out through pretty pine forest while skirting Swiftcurrent Lake, then climb climb climbs up to the glacier. Along the way, views open up big and loud like a Christmas present from a favorite uncle. The sparkling lakes line up toward the plains, sharp peaks surround the trail, and you might even spy a mountain sheep gnawing on some foliage.

Mountain sheep Grinnell Glacier

At the top is a brilliant blue lake with icebergs floating in it, while Grinnell Glacier and the crest of the Continental Divide serve as the backdrop. Turn around and it’s an eye-popping view; stick your feet in the cold (SO COLD) glacial-melt water and your eyes will bug out a second time.

My advice: Hike a few hundred yards past the viewpoint to the glacier and find a flat, warm rock right next to the water to recline on. Soak in the majestic amphitheater and be stoked to witness such a fantastic place.

Take a small iceberg with you! They're great travel mementos.

Take a small iceberg with you! They’re great travel mementos.

Before you turn around to hike out, check out the view to the east from the lake rim. Lower Grinnell and Swiftcurrent lakes spill through the deep valley and it’s possible to see the plains rolling all the way to the Atlantic Ocean.

View from Grinnell Glacier

Highline Trail

This splendid trail is perfect for experiencing Glacier’s west side. You’ll snag expansive views toward Lake McDonald and likely spot mountain goats or sheep as you hike beneath the western crest of the Continental Divide. If you’re up for a steep spur hike, huff your way up a 900’ climb to overlook Grinnell Glacier for a panoramic view of the Rockies.

Highline starts right on Going-to-the-Sun Road, either at Logan Pass or down a few miles at The Loop. Free park shuttles connect the two, making logistics simple for a ~15 mile point-to-point hike. By starting at Logan, you’ll avoid a steep climb up from The Loop…though the knee-pounding descent from Granite Chalet to end the day had me questioning that logic. Pick your poison! Either way, it’s sweet.

Hiking Highline trail Glacier

Our initial plan was to hike Highline to Granite Chalet, then connect to Swiftcurrent Pass and head east down to the Many Glacier campground. Unfortunately, a woman encountered a bear the night before our hike and Swiftcurrent was shut down. (She was apparently only scratched up and recovering nicely in the hospital. Yikes! Note to self: don’t pick berries alone at 8 p.m. in bear country.)

Mountain sheep in Glacier National Park

No, I was not 2′ from this Manly Mountain Sheep – hooray for telephoto lenses!

Instead, we shuttled at both the start and end of the hike and still had a marvelous day. Traversing the ridge above Going-to-the-Sun Road yields big views that just keep expanding. Any hiker worth their trail mix will love this trek.

About a mile south of Granite Chalet is the spur trail to overlook Grinnell that is worth doing. Pro tip: No matter how badly you’re gasping and want to sit down at the top of the spur, KEEP GOING.

Another five minutes of fun scrambling to the next cliff gets you to a 360 viewpoint of Swiftcurrent and Grinnell, plus a vantage west across the rest of the park. Another hiker mentioned this to me and it was worth it. At the top, you’ll be alone and grinning like Yogi Bear in a picnic basket.

Does it get any better than this? Can you spot Lake Superior in the distance?

View from the top! Does it get any better than this?

Two Medicine Lake – Pitamaken/Dawson Loop

A few people told me that the 18-mile Pitamaken/Dawson Pass loop is the best hike they’ve ever done. We rolled in late and didn’t get a chance to do anything but a shorter loop near the lake, but this one is on my list. For you confident day hikers down for a big day with 3,300’ of elevation gain, hit it up and send me a picture!

Instead, I enjoyed a sunrise the next morning that had my jaw scraping the lake shore.

I'll get up at sunrise ANY day for a view like this.

I’ll get up at sunrise ANY day for this.

Shout Out for The Bob Marshall, Land of Solitude

Want to dodge the summer crowds? An hour south of Glacier is the Bob Marshall Wilderness, the fifth-largest wilderness area in the lower 48. The list of wild animals here starts with mountain lions and grizzlies and ends with “hike in large groups.”

The Bob just FEELS wild. Pre-blog in 2011 (when my life was a secret), I spent 10 glorious days backpacking and rafting there. I’ll admit to feeling more on edge at night there than anywhere else I’ve camped. Bivy sacks are basically tortilla shells for grizzly bears, after all.

Chelsea tries to summon lightning near the top of HQ Pass.

Chelsea tries to summon lightning near the top of HQ Pass in the Bob Marshall.

This time around, Chelsea and I hit the Bob by driving 35 miles west from Choteau to hike Headquarters Creek Pass. (Thanks for the tip, Eric!) We trekked the entire eight miles completely alone as we switchbacked our way up to the pass. Pika popped in and out of rock slides doing their best squeaky-toy impersonations; spruce grouse blocked our way on the trail and eyed us as if to ask, “what are you doing here?”

Thanks to our wimpy bear bells, loud talking, and Chelsea singing to iPhone backup from Kanye, the Grizzly Gang didn’t make an appearance. Instead, we enjoyed a expansive views east over the Montana plains, followed by perfect wild camping by a stream in solitude broken only by curious deer meandering past. It was tremendous.

A spruce grouse (or so my amateur birding skills claim) in the Bob.

A spruce grouse (or so my amateur birding skills claim) in the Bob.

The Bob: Check it out.

Glacier: Check it out, but aim for the shoulder seasons.

I’ll leave you with another decent view from Glacier.

Whether you come for the glaciers or the views, you can't go wrong in Glacier! (Shot from Grinnell Glacier trail.)

Whether you come for the glaciers or the views, you can’t go wrong in Glacier! (Shot from Grinnell Glacier trail.)

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!

Living the Van Life Adventure at Home

Mountain biking Syncline WA Scott Rokis photography

Enjoying a perfect day in the Columbia Gorge at Syncline Trail. (Photo: ScottRokis.com)

**This post first appeared here on MindBodyGreen**

It started as a four-month trip to get out of the rainy Portland winter. Just a camper van jaunt down the coast from Portland to San Diego, Chelsea and I declared. We had no idea we’d end up traveling for 2.5 years.

During this adventure-filled time, we mountain biked all over the western U.S., parked the van and bicycle toured unsupported 7,000 miles through 14 countries, lived in New York City for a month, volunteered for a month at a farm animal sanctuary and studied Spanish in Mexico. Yet all those things followed a simple decision to leave on a journey and break out of the usual.

Beyond that, 30 months away created the mental space for other major life adjustments. We morphed my business to allow unlimited travel as digital nomads, shifted to a plant-based diet, met countless amazing people, and completely changed our perspective on life.

Hard to avoid being a dork and doing tree pose in a tree FARM!

When you find a tree farm, you have to find a matching yoga pose.

We’re not the only ones jumping into van travel. If Instagram hashtags are any indicator of the temperature of #vanlife is right now, it’s a flaming rocket. Whether it’s a return to the 60s Vanagon culture or a completely new way to live, people young and old are jumping into the freedom and openness of traveling in a van.

Tens of thousands of people are nomadic in a van or RV in the U.S. It’s not all retirees in giant motor homes either. Some travel on the cheap and live on savings; others take their work mobile like I did, or find jobs along the way to fund their travel. Vans are the ultimate freedom mobiles.

Getting ready to ride a favorite trail (JEM) outside Zion National Park.

Getting ready to ride a favorite trail (JEM) outside Zion National Park.

There’s just one problem: many people can’t or don’t want to live in a van full-time. (“I’d choke my husband in such a small space,” we’ve heard a few times.) Constraints like family and work also preclude traveling long-term. Is there a way to embrace the van life mentality and bring the adventure into an otherwise “normal” existence at home?

It’s all about the mindset. While I think many people can (and do) thrive on a long van trip, we can also rack up brilliant experiences while rooted in one place. It just takes looking at things through a different lens. Van Life Goggles, if you will.

Embracing the Van Life Mentality

Downsize your space and stuff to minimize daily maintenance. Camper vans are small, and so is the time to keep one tidy. Take that mindset into your home! Check out The Minimalists blog for tips. Smart design of small spaces (the tiny home movement) is packed full of inspiration – Pinterest is a great resource.

Say yes to invitations to new experiences. Most days exploring in a camper van featured somewhere, something, or someone new. If someone invites you somewhere, go! Design life on your home turf around daily exploring, whether it’s a new class, day hike, or event you’d usually never attend. It’s easy to get stuck in the grind of the same commute, same restaurants, and routine – break it up.

New experiences make me happy!

New experiences make me happy. (Photo: ScottRokis.com)

Say no to the busy trap. Immerse yourself in things you enjoy as much as possible and deliberately cut out the rest. The freedom of not being heavily scheduled opened my eyes to leaving open space for free time. In return, my creativity blossomed as I started writing, playing music, and studying photography.

Get outside every day. Our van delivered us to nature’s gateway on a daily basis, something that’s possible at home as well. Even if it’s just a short walk through a city park, seek nature every day. Your body will thrive and your energy levels will soar.

Connect with other travelers on social media. During bike tours, we stayed with dozens of strangers through Warmshowers (a cycle touring site). Our blog and Instagram have generated many invites from complete strangers to meet for a bike ride or a meal, not to mention offers of guest bedrooms. Bring the energy home by reaching out to other travelers or offering space.

New friends from our blog and Instagram!

New friends in the past month from our blog and Instagram.

Design your downsized, streamlined life for frequent short trips. Once your systems are in place, it’s easy to be packed and heading for the hills in an hour. It’s like putting your running shoes by your bedroom door: if you remove the little blockades, you’ll find it easier to make it happen. Keep camping gear organized in containers and ready to go so you can seek an adventure in no time.

Never stop dreaming! Three years ago, the idea of building out a DIY camper van, renting out our house and hitting the road for four months was intimidating. Now that we downsized to less stuff and our systems are efficient, it’s easy to consider new trips and ponder fresh adventures.

Even at home, looking at life through Van Life Goggles keeps me open to serendipity and flexible. I’m still seeking fun people and activities – in a month back in Portland, I’ve already done four trips to new locations close to home and met up with multiple travelers coming through town. It keeps things fresh while we scheme the next big adventure…which isn’t far off.

Thinking of the future...

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.

The Road to Adventure – A Podcast Interview

Startup Sessions interview traipsing about

I’m stoked to share this podcast interview with me and Chelsea. It’s a fun conversation packed with discussions of business and travel, plus lots of joking around.

It’s a great way to learn more about what fueled our desire for our footloose lifestyle. You’ll also dig it if you’re dreaming of working remotely or currently building a business with the goal of a travel-filled, flexible lifestyle.

Our interviewer is my friend Michael Knouse, one of my favorite people. He runs The Startup Sessions and “helps entrepreneurs create extraordinary lives while building meaningful businesses.”

Ready to listen? PLAY IN NEW WINDOW | DOWNLOAD

Podcast Highlights:

One of my favorite quotes from the interview: “Focusing on the day in front of you will prepare you faster and more effectively than trying to forecast what’s ahead.”

Questions that made our brains smoke:

  • Most influential book
  • Our business super power
  • What idea or belief do very few people agree with us on?
  • If we could call ourselves five years ago, and only had 30 seconds, what would we say?
  • What do we most want to be remembered for?

I hope you enjoy listening to the episode as much as we did recording it! Below are a few playback options.

A Springtime Portland Pit Stop

Portland spring blossoms

We’ve spent the last two weeks visiting Portland. Spring is in the air, a battle of cherry blossoms, occasional sunshine, and frequent rain showers.

The mountain biking and running trails here are a bit mucky with mud, but the hills are a vibrant green and the waterfalls are firing. Best of all, I’m hitting the trails with buddies that I haven’t seen for a year.

Hiking in the Columbia River Gorge.

Martin hiking through mossy trees on the north side of the Columbia River Gorge.

Ryan beneath the roaring Upper Horsetail Falls.

Ryan beneath the roaring Upper Horsetail Falls.

This Portland visit reminds me there’s nothing like old friends and a deep-rooted community. We’ve house-hopped from friend to friend, dropping briefly into daily routines, and also randomly run into people we know almost every day. While traveling is wonderful, there’s magic in the simple moments with people we’ve known for years.

It’s been a multi-faceted visit. Lots of physical activity (as usual), plus hauling a friend’s new water heater and reading books in goofy voices to toddlers. Green tea swims in my veins thanks to frequent coffee shop catch-ups, and we’ve also gobbled food at our favorite restaurants, listened to a friend perform Joni Mitchell’s Blue album, and downed more vegan chocolate truffles than is probably healthy.

Our van doesn't just haul bikes - here it is carrying a new water heater and two boxed cabinets for my buddy Eric.

Our van doesn’t just haul bikes – here it is carrying a new water heater and two boxed cabinets for my buddy Eric.

In short, it’s like “normal” life. This is a novelty because at some point in the past 2.5 years, traveling stopped being a novelty and morphed into simply life. Home shifted into wherever we were. Then a strange thing happened: the newness of a constantly footloose lifestyle stopped feeling revitalizing.

This clarity surfaced last year in NYC after we pedaled 2,500 miles through 13 countries during our European bike tour. Chelsea was ready for a break at home; I found myself preferring reading a book than seeing a Broadway show. We wanted to dig into projects, stop the logistics of daily travel, and revel in routine.

Paul leads the way on a glorious day of mountain biking at Syncline in the Columbia Gorge.

Paul leads the way into the steep stuff on a glorious day of mountain biking at Syncline in the Columbia Gorge.

Despite feeling road worn, we headed to San Diego for a Chelsea’s brother’s steampunk wedding, road tripped up Highway 1 in California, and then landed in Santa Cruz over the new year to recharge. Our time at Farm Sanctuary served up a fulfilling February, which is right when our tenants let us know they’d found a house to buy. Perfect timing to land at home! We’ll be back in our king-size bed by May for a few months.

When we paused in Portland in early spring of 2015, I wasn’t ready to be stationary. The red rocks of Utah wailed a siren song and cycle touring in Europe trumped stationary summer plans. (Can trump be a positive word anymore?)

Sitting down for a (super serious) podcast interview with Michael Knouse from the Startup Sessions.

Sitting down for a (super serious) podcast interview with Michael from the Startup Sessions.

This time, both Chelsea and I are ready for a base from which to launch adventures for a few months. Stopping when we want – rather than of necessity – is a fantastic option. I’m grateful to have the choice to switch at will between on the road and parked, and we’re going to take advantage of it.

Plans for Portland abound, mostly revolving around connecting with our community, exploring the shifting landscape of this rapidly growing city, and focusing on deepening various skills (e.g. guitar). We’re also excited to jump back into hosting mode. Chelsea is planning many ladies-only nights where I’ll be banished from the house. Apparently she’s spent enough time with me!

I hadn't climbed for 2 years (!) before Martin (climbing here) coaxed me into a bouldering session.

I hadn’t climbed for 2 years (!) before Martin (climbing here) coaxed me into a bouldering session. Now I’m back at it.

We’re not done traveling. Far from it. We’re resting, refilling the energy stores. I’m already mapping out an overseas adventure trip for mid-summer; shorter jaunts around the Pacific Northwest beckon in the meantime. It’s a temporary shift from full-time wandering to exploring our back yard with the van. And of course sinking my mountain bike tires into grippy Oregon loam after two summers away bike touring.

My personal challenge is to not view our time in Portland as the rainy time and travel as the bright sunny days. Variety is key, and pauses heighten my appreciation of travel. I’m committed to staying stoked about the fun the city (and Pacific NW) has to offer. It’s an opportunity to stay creative without travel as my muse.

But for now, the rain just stopped and the sun is peeking through the gray morass. Time to slip on the running shoes and head out for a jaunt up Mt. Tabor. See you in PDX!

A vanagon dreaming of its next trip... (Shot by me at Farm Sanctuary.)

A vanagon (and me) dreaming of future trips… (Shot by me for Farm Sanctuary.)

Essential Apps for Your Next Camping Road Trip

Open road in Utah

Whether you’re road tripping for months or heading out for spring break, technology can make your life easier. A purist may insist a tech-free road trip is the way to roll, but I think most of us appreciate traveling with a smartphone.

People are always asking me about my favorite apps for car camping or rolling in a camper rig. (No restaurant or hotel-finder apps here!) Take the ones that seem helpful and skip the rest.

None will drive the car or van for you (yet). Still, most are free or cheap and worth checking out. I’ve linked to the main app page for iPhone/Android download for most of these rather than each one. Happy road tripping!

Finding a place to stay

Ultimate Campground – I tell every traveler about this app, which has saved us hundreds of dollars in camping fees over the years or helped locate paid camping. More importantly, we’ve used it to find beautiful, low-traffic spots to park the van away from the crowds.

US Public Lands – this is similar to the above – with better boundaries shown in most locations – and definitely worth checking out.

Enjoying free camping near the Valley of Fire in Nevada.

Enjoying free camping near the Valley of Fire in Nevada.

Navigation and weather

Google Maps – still my go-to. There are dozens of maps apps out there and I still think Google is the most solid, consistently accurate one. For overview maps to scope out an entire state, I still love a solid road atlas and use our National Geographic physical atlas frequently for trip planning.

GasBuddy – This app saves you money by showing gas station locations and the price of fuel at each. Save $10 by driving a few extra blocks. Fuel may be practically free at ~$2/gallon right now, but it won’t be so low forever!

Storm – look no further than this app. I denied how awesome it was for too long, but have found it’s the most accurate free weather app that I’ve used.

Locating trails

Singletracks – my go-to app for finding mountain bike trails. Find trailheads, scope out trail linkups, and see what people think of various rides. The online version is also good.

AllTrails and TrailLink – these are great for locating hiking and running trails.

Hiking in San Luis Obispo, CA.

Hiking in San Luis Obispo, CA.

Driving entertainment

Spotify – need a driving mix? This is our favorite. Owning music is so 1995! (Pandora just bought Rdio, so they may be rolling out some good stuff too.)

Audible and Overdrive – audiobooks are fantastic. You can buy them via Audible, but I prefer downloading them from our library via Overdrive.

Podcasts – I usually use the basic podcast app on my phone. Stitcher is also a fun way to discover live radio shows and podcasts.

Finding wifi and a cell signal

WiFiMap – It can be a pain to find reliable wifi while you travel. This app points you to it. I usually use my phone as a hotspot, but sometimes you just want solid wifi.

Coverage – Need to catch a mid-week conference call while on the road, but have no idea if you’ll have a signal? The nomadic tech whizzes at Technomadia developed this overlay map to show you reception for various cell phone providers.

No coverage up in the Sierra Nevada!

No coverage up in the Sierra Nevada!

Finding cool places and things to see

WikiTravel – Ever stood in front of a landmark and pondered what happened there? This crowdsourced tool solves that problem.

Oh Ranger! Parkfinder – Wondering which parks are nearby and what they’re all about? This will tell you. I don’t use it often, but occasionally it comes in handy, especially in an area we’ve never visited before.

Badwater, Death Valley: The lowest point in the U.S.

Badwater, Death Valley: The lowest point in the U.S. at 282 feet below sea level.

Photo management

Mylio – this app/desktop software syncs photos from your computer and backs them up online. I use this not just for iPhone shots, but for my entire photo and video database. I haven’t seen a better solution for multi-platform photo management. (Thanks to Brad Feld for writing about this.)

***

That’s all I’ve got. What are your favorite road tripping apps? Let people know in the comments or share this post with a road warrior friend!

The rolling hills of Black Butte Lake in N. CA at sunset.

The rolling hills of Black Butte Lake in N. CA at sunset.

Santa Cruz Shenanigans

Santa Cruz California surfer

Mix a hippie vibe, grunge undertone, and a few yuppies like us and you’ve got Santa Cruz’s base flavor. Churn in street punks bumming change, plus some hardcore cyclists and surfers, and you’re almost there. All you need is handful of old timers complaining about real estate prices and the North Coast Smoothie is complete.

On big surf days, it feels like the waves practically crash into the Santa Cruz mountains. You can walk to the beach and surf in the morning, then roll out of your garage on your mountain bike onto sweet singletrack in the afternoon, finishing with a coastal sunset walk perfumed with reefer smoke.

Exploring the rocky beach south of Santa Cruz.

Exploring the rocky beaches near Monterey (south of Santa Cruz).

All that makes for an interesting place to call home for six weeks, which we did starting mid-December. Our time included some side trips in the area and house sitting in nearby towns, but we spent the majority of our time near downtown.

There’s a ton of pictures in this post because, well, who doesn’t love pictures? Let’s kick it off with dropping holiday pounds.

Boardwalk fun

Working on our beach bods at the SC boardwalk.

The Ultimate Diet Plan

I don’t know about your family, but my Italian grandmother’s favorite nine-letter word is “EatEatEat,” and she doesn’t take no for an answer. In the new year, you can hit the gym to burn off grandma’s holiday meals, OR you can make like an elephant seal and follow their ultimate diet plan.

Traveling north toward Santa Cruz, we watched these awesome creatures piled in snoozing groups on the beach near San Luis Obispo. For three months, the seals sleep on the sand not eating, losing hundreds of pounds in the process. How they do this is a marvel of evolution.

Elephant seals

When they’re in the water, which is almost all of the year, elephant seals get fresh water via their food and by metabolizing fat. On land, their bulbous noses act like a rebreather and absorb moisture from the animals’ exhalations, condensing water for their needs (they have a cranial cavity that stores the water). It’s the ultimate helmet sippy cup.

For food, the seals rely on hundreds of pounds of blubber that they pack on during the holidays…errr previous months of eating more fish, octopus and squid than you’ll eat in your entire life. Lying on the beach, they can drop their breathing rates to once every 30 seconds, snuggling close with their buddies in a motionless slumber party. Check out my post from 2014 about these cool animals if you want to learn more about these badass beasts.

Sleeping Elephant Seal

Mom and brand new baby slumbering in the sand.

Mom and brand new baby slumbering in the sand.

Elephant seal fast asleep on the beach.

Getting Outside

I came to Santa Cruz for the mountain biking. El Nino, who doesn’t give a damn about cycling aspirations, decided to drown my plans and turn most of the trails into muck. I parried with runs along the waterfront and into the hills, though I did sneak in a fair number of rides between downpours.

A "6-7 miler" turned into a 14 mile trail run. Watch out for "shake-out" runs with people who just did a 50-mile race!

A “quick 6-7 miler” with Reese turned into a 14 mile trail run. Watch out for “shake-out” runs with people who just did a 50-mile race!

Chelsea and Kristen hanging during a hike at Big Sur.

Chelsea and Kristen hanging during a hike at Big Sur.

House Sitting

Instead of hanging in the van, we opted for Airbnb rentals and also spent a couple weeks of our time house sitting. This doesn’t mean just drinking all their wine – we (ok, Chelsea) also took care of our host’s animals.

House sitting is something we’ve been doing occasionally, since it’s great fun to have some furry creatures around when we stay in one place. Need someone to watch your pets while you travel? Drop us a line. We’ve got references!

As part of the house sitting, I used my new full-frame Sony camera (I’ve wanted to upgrade for-ev-er) to snap fun portraits of the dogs. They were only stationary because Chelsea backed me up with treats, of course.

Is that a treat above the camera? Focusssss.

Is that a treat above the camera? Focusssss.

Ball?! Gimme.

Ball?! Gimmee.

Roxy and Cooper

Roxy and Cooper

Friend, Friends, Friends

We were stoked to hang with various friends who live in or visited during our stay. Trips to Big Sur, exploring Santa Cruz, and hanging out with Portland buddies was most-excellent fun. A formal photo shoot with Reese takes The Random Prize, and our four friends and their two toddlers rampaging around was hilarious. Two years olds are impossibly cute…and an incredible amount of work!

My favorite family portrait (Jamie, Evan, and Anna)

My favorite family portrait. (A very-pregnant Jamie, Evan, and Anna at the beach.)

Joe and Ellee's daughter Ruby anticipates sliding down a sand dune.

Joe and Ellee’s daughter Ruby anticipates sliding down a sand dune.

Long hair antics.

Long hair antics at the Santa Cruz boardwalk.

Tour of Ibis Cycles

One of the dudes I met works at Ibis Cycles, the manufacturer of my mountain bike. Josh was kind enough to give me a tour of their facility on Santa Cruz’s westside. I dug checking out all the new bikes, but especially liked the museum dating back 30 years. Bike tech has come a long way from the no-suspension days of yore.

Brand new frames ready for assembly.

Brand new frames ready for assembly.

Old steel frame mountain bikes in the Ibis museum.

Old steel frame mountain bikes in the Ibis museum.

Santa Cruz Fun

We dug the big Wednesday farmer’s market, the excellent grocery store Staff of Life, the giant waves crashing on West Cliffs, and the VERY serious Hidden Peak Tea House (no electronics allowed). There are also 30 city-sponsored murals that local artists were paid to create on the walls of many buildings. The old Victorian houses on Walnut Street near downtown are a cool historical aspect of city too.

Reese has The Look down. This will be in GQ's fall catalog.

Reese has The Look down. This will be in GQ’s fall catalog. (Photo credit Chelsea.)

Reese and I are way too sexy.

Reese and I are way too sexy. (Photo credit Chelsea.)

Meeting People

My favorite part of traveling is hanging out with great people along the way. Santa Cruz was no different. I made new friends during bike rides, via our blog, at the barber, and also at a vegan MeetUp group we attended. We also hung with friends from past visits. Santa Cruz is officially sparring with San Diego as our California epicenter.

My new buddy Rick. He's sailed the oceans, roamed back roads of Mexico on a motorcycle, and can crank out the hills on a single speed mountain bike.

My new buddy Rick. He’s sailed the oceans, roamed back roads of Mexico on a motorcycle, and can crank out the hills on a single speed mountain bike.

 And that…is the story of our recent visit to Santa Cruz. If you’re looking for biking, surfing, and running in an amazing setting, hit the road to this coastal paradise. We’ll be back!

As for us? We’re currently engaged in a new adventure for all of February in Northern California that I’ll write about soon.

Group shot! Evan, Anna, Jamie, Ruby, Joe, Ellee, Chelsea, me

Group shot! Evan, Anna, Jamie, Ruby, Joe, Ellee, Chelsea, me

A framed Big Sur.

A framed Big Sur.

Chelsea enjoying a sunset on Santa Cruz's west cliffs.

Chelsea enjoying a sunset on Santa Cruz’s west cliffs.

Looking north along Big Sur

Looking north along Big Sur

A Visit to Pinnacles, the Newest U.S. National Park

East side Pinnacles National Park

Hiking a ridge, valley views on either side, I thought, “How do more people not visit this place?” Welcome to Pinnacles, a palace of rocks, where we tromped beneath condors sailing on the wind, wove through oak groves, and lazed on soft moss by creeks.

Pinnacles was a lowly national monument until recently. (National parks sneered at it on the playground and you can be sure Yellowstone never invited it to birthday parties.) Instead, the park was the domain of rock climbers and local Californians in the know.

Now, with the official designation as Pinnacles National Park in 2013, it plays with the big boys and is making lots of new friends. Cue incoming RVs as tourists tick it off their checklist on the summer circuit. Oh, and in case you’re wondering, there are more national parks on the way.

Condors soaring high above the hills.

Condors soaring high above the hills.

Lying on the east side of Big Sur and two hours south of San Francisco, the park is part of the Gabilan Mountains. Well, half of it is. Since Pinnacles lies atop the San Andreas fault, an earthquake years back relocated the other peaks about 200 miles SE toward Los Angeles. No amount of rebar reinforcement saves your property in one of those quakes.

The stellar trail system in the park is signed and well-maintained, but if you aren’t down to hike your legs off or navigate the (fun) steep stone steps on the High Peaks trail, there are also caves to explore.

The east side cave is often closed to protect the bat population, but the west side counterpart is open more often. Heads up that the park is accessed by road on both the west and east sides, but you can’t drive all the way through it.

Hiking switchbacks on the east side.

Hiking switchbacks on the east side.

Overnight stays are only allowed in the east side campground, which luckily is also where the condors roost at night. (Bring your binoculars.) Even better, hot showers at the campground are only $0.50, and there’s even a pool in the summer to entertain the kids.

Enough chit chat! Put quiet Pinnacles on your list for the next time you’re driving along Highway 101. We had zero expectations for our visit and discovered yet another beautiful corner of California.

Chelsea sits and takes in a view looking west from High Peaks trail.

Chelsea sits and enjoys the view looking west from High Peaks trail.

Chestnuts staking their claim.

Chestnuts staking their claim.

All the rain in California was already coaxing spring flowers out.

All the rain in California was already coaxing spring flowers out.

High Peaks trail has dozens of steep stone step sections like this. Fun!

High Peaks trail has dozens of steep stone step sections like this. Fun!

Rocks Pinnacles National Park

A quiet creekside path on the east side.

A quiet creek-side path on the east side.

Get Your Flex On

The Fit Expo women's comp

The neck of the person to my right is bigger than my thigh. Her boyfriend’s biceps obviously contain watermelons, and drunk guys in bars would single him out for a fight to test their manliness.

I’m attending The Fit Expo at the L.A. Convention Center, where there’s a protein shake sample for everyone and a pullup contest in the next booth. Whiten teeth for $99, then hop on stage to flex spray-tanned muscles in front of judges. Don’t forget your tank tops or spandex, the de facto attire. It’s a different world just blocks away from rows of tents housing LA’s downtown homeless population.

The guys compete in a swimsuit physique contest.

The guys compete in a swimsuit physique contest.

I’m here to cheer on a friend. She’s competing in her “first and last” bodybuilding comp, the natural-fit competition. This means contestants aren’t jacked up on steroids and lack the veins-might-pop look seen on magazine covers.

It crosses my mind that this competition is many people’s worst nightmare. Strut across a spotlit stage in a bikini, flex your abs, and then turn around to point your butt at a camera-toting crowd. Finally, get a verdict about your fitness and body from judges. Talk about a vulnerability hangover.

I would never have a situp contest with any of these women.

I would never have a situp contest with any of these women.

Along with 11 friends, we holler our support as Roxanne nails her poses onstage. Another competitor is a professional from Norway. Her perfect orchestration of turns, flexes, and hair flips wins events, but another woman inexplicably wins the overall competition. (I have no idea what the guidelines are, of course.)

One guy in the masters division, an impossibly fit 56 year-old, stomps the competition. He goes up against a 67 year-old who could pass for 40, his chest and arms the origin of the phrase “barrel-chested.” Having read about Ned Overend winning mountain biking races at 60, I’m reminded that a lot of our physical degeneration as we age stems from lack of effort and dedication to our bodies.

Forty pound hammers with a best time of 45 seconds. I just pulled my shoulder writing that.

Forty pound hammers with a best hold time of 45 seconds. I just pulled my shoulder writing that.

Between flexing events, I wander over to watch behemoth strongmen compete in the strength decathlon. Appliance-size men flip over tractor tires, do one-arm overhead presses with weights heavier than me, and hold giant steel Thor hammers in an iron cross pose. Around the corner, a bearded guy as wide as he is tall power squats so much weight that four guys have to spot him. That much weight could mash me into a tiny human sandwich.

Even though this entire scene seems as odd as walking into a Star Wars cantina, I bet most of the crowd and competitors think the same at a cycling or running expo. The hours I spend jumping rocks on my bike or pounding up trails probably seem crazy compared to a good, clean lifting session. No muscles to show for it and cyclists wear those dorky helmets.

Weight lifter The Fit Expo
A few key observations from the Expo:

  • Never use the gold-hued tanning spray unless you want to look like King Midas’s favorite bodybuilder.
  • Everyone has different abs. Some get shredded, while others pop out 2” in a neatly arrayed grid.
  • During the weight loss (“cutting”) phase, a bodybuilder’s diet is so restricted that running out of your favorite hot sauce (low calorie condiment) is a big deal. One panel had a guy who talked about it for minutes.
  • Heavy metal is the winning tune for any power lifter.
  • Thousands of weightlifters in one giant convention center is more testosterone than I can handle.
  • I will never pick a fight with a guy who can press me overhead with one arm.

And that’s all I have to say about that. Interesting life experience, check.

"Turn around and face the curtain," the judge said. WTF is this pose?!

“Turn around and face the curtain,” the judge said. WTF is this pose?!

This is the friend you want with you when your car goes into a ditch.

This is the friend you want with you when your car goes into a ditch.

My favorite competition was the bar calisthenics. (Picture gymnastics with break dancing flair.)

My favorite competition was the bar calisthenics. (Picture gymnastics with break dancing flair.)

The biggest poster in the expo. It just sums it up so nicely.

The biggest poster in the expo. It just sums it up so nicely.

Future champs Jen and Jesse demonstrate ideal form.

Future champs Jen and Jesse demonstrate ideal form.

The Power of a Father-Son Road Trip

Father son trip

This article was initially published here on The Good Men Project.

Beneath a crescent moon in western Montana, I park the camper van among thick pines. My dad, who loves to sleep under the stars, lays out his bedroll. Bears (or mice – they sound the same in the dark) tromp through the woods.

“Can I have a metal bowl?” he asks. I hand one over, plus a spoon to bang on it. Bear Repellent Kit, check. Safety first! Our road trip is underway.

Growing up, we spent many holidays finishing home remodeling projects. When I wasn’t wiring our house or digging the foundation, I traveled on weekends for baseball or played video games. I mastered double plays and Warcraft II, but trips with my dad fell by the wayside.

These days, a few testosterone-fueled shouting fights from my teenage years linger as cautionary memories. Leery or not of how the trip will go, my dad and I are making it happen.

We kick things off by cycling the Going-to-the-Sun Road in Glacier National Park through a silent palace of views. Fading tamarack pines paint the mountains a dusky yellow in the perfect fall weather. The solitary few people in the campgrounds are the ones who love the quiet of shoulder season travel, so we fit right in.

A few miles from the top of Logan Pass in Glacier on Going-to-the-Sun Road.

A few miles from the top of Logan Pass in Glacier on Going-to-the-Sun Road.

Next is a hike on the park’s east side as clouds squat on the peaks, the only sounds our footsteps and trickling water. My dad’s knee, wrecked years ago thanks to ladder fall and increasingly hampering his movement, limits our distance. How many more times can he walk deep into the woods? Moved by that thought, he gets teary-eyed as we amble along. I do too as I write this.

We hike and I think of how mountain peaks are unreachable when we’re babies. Our parents first help us walk; later, they cheer as we wobble off on a bike down the driveway. Soon we can hike anything, heading off to forge new, independent lives. Then one by one, peaks and trails we scampered up become insurmountable until we lean on a cane or our own child to get up the walkway. These thoughts push me to embrace adventure in my life, something I’ve continually aimed for the last two years.

We stop at a cafe I fondly remember from a bike tour. Cowboy boots stuffed with light bulbs illuminate the interior; worn-out guns are screwed to the walls. Our waitress Jamie is frank and funny, a sparky woman with a tough story of escaping a bad marriage. She candidly shares and we listen. My dad leaves a 50% tip, saying, “I have a soft spot for people like that.” I was planning the same.

Taking in a view above a Montana valley.

Taking in a view above a Montana valley.

We scarf cinnamon graham crackers and talk about art, travel, stories from his past. Miles roll under our tires as tales crack loose from his mind. Forever grammar snobs, we pick apart historical signs and their poor grammar. (It’s lose, not loose, dammit.) We laugh about a “wildlife view” sign juxtaposed with a pumping oil rig.

I steer the van, but he holds the reins for our route and activities. We visit Charley Russell’s museum to see my dad’s favorite western art. At the Archie Bray ceramics foundation, we talk to resident artists. One woman left a successful teaching position to create art for two years. “Academic politics suck,” she says. My dad did the same when he left Chico State in the 80s to raise a family in Idaho and focus on his art.

I handle all the trip logistics, chopping veggies for lunch salads and picking up the tab for dinner, gas and campsites. It feels good to break his routine and spawn an adventure. How many times has he done these things for me? I ponder while making him a sandwich as we park overlooking a river.

On the east side of the Front Range of the Rockies.

On the east side of the Front Range of the Rockies.

Sometimes I fixate on the little things he does that drive me nuts, but now all I feel is a refreshing sense of calm. What matters is the opportunity to be here, spending time together. There’s no clock or itinerary dictating our travels and we are amiable and cheerful as we reconnect.

At the euphemistically-named Wildfowl Management Area, my dad chats with a taciturn old duck hunter limping his way back from the marsh. They talk guns and swap stories, then stand there a second before the hunter drawls “yeaaappp” to wrap up the conversation as only a seasoned outdoorsman can do.

My dad can shoot the breeze with grouchy ranchers, and he is also one of the most creative people I know. Conversations influence his art and he can work with any medium. He’s created ceramic and bronze monsters, a menagerie of ugly poodle tchotchkes, a broken taillight slideshow exhibition, colorful drawings on Sheetrock, and politically satirical face masks. He made Four More Years – a leering, trollish mask – when George W. Bush was re-elected.

We walked up to Old Faithful in Yellowstone and it immediately put on a show!

We walked up to Old Faithful in Yellowstone and it immediately put on a show!

He downplays his success as an artist, but when I pry, he recounts teaching positions and a scroll of workshops, fellowships and grants. And that’s in northern Idaho, hardly a bastion of funding for the arts.

I tell him I think artists are too hard on themselves. Amanda Palmer’s quote comes to mind: “You’re an artist when you say you are. And you’re a good artist when you make somebody else experience or feel something deep or unexpected.” He did that with an ice sculpture that was on Good Morning America; the DNA helix in our front yard still turns heads.

His childhood was tough, whereas mine was full of love and present parents. “I’m sorry you grew up poor,” he tells me, and I respond with the truth: It taught me the value of hard work and helps me, a textbook Millennial, appreciate how wonderful my life is. I’m lucky to never had to “eat bitter,” as the Chinese say of experiencing hard times.

A silent Lake McDonald in Glacier National Park.

A silent Lake McDonald in Glacier National Park.

We comfortably spend time together in conversation and also in silence, me fiddling with my phone while he scribbles in an ever-present journal. Sitting shoulder-to-shoulder at a picnic table in an old mining town, I ponder how time together can create rifts, but also channel healing powers through its currents. I’m grateful we didn’t put off this trip any longer.

“How would you like to spend your time?” I ask. He thinks a moment. “Reading, writing, making art, spending time in nature, and listening to people’s stories.” The circle is complete. After years of denying myself the joys of creativity, these days I spend my days immersed in those very pursuits. Like father, like son.

Tires spin and stories roll as the van ticks off miles of pines and plains toward the trip’s end. I make dinner as a full moon rises over our sparking fire. My dad finishes a story and pauses, then sums it all up with a long “yeeeeeappppp.”

He grins and I can’t stop laughing. Later, as frost nips the valley and the coyotes shriek at the moon, his earth-cratering snoring stumbles, then creaks to a halt. I know he’s lying there, loving every minute of this. I am too.

***

Want to see more of this journey? Check out the full video or read about the amazing old mining town of Bannack. More pictures below too.

Exploring the east side of Glacier National Park.

Exploring the east side of Glacier National Park.

A big horn sheep spotted during a day in SW Montana.

A big horn sheep spotted during a day in SW Montana.

Yellowstone has the coolest colors.

Yellowstone has the coolest colors.

Closing out a day by the fire in Bannack State Park.

Closing out a day by the fire in Bannack State Park.

A SoCal Steampunk Wedding

Chelsea and Linda steampunk

The wedding invitation from Chelsea’s brother offered three options for the dress style. White. Sexy. Steampunk. We chose steampunk.

Which meant we had to figure out what steampunk was. If you’re wondering, Wikipedia has a long, opaque description…that still left us with no idea what to do.

Google image search saved the day. (Picture steampunk as a mix of Victorian clothing coupled with gears, goggles and gadgets as accessories.) We searched a Goodwill in post-Halloween San Diego and scored corsets, hats, and other accouterments. A visit to a great costume shop and we were set.

Chelsea's parents rocking it. Notice Steve's full-sleeve tattoos and Linda's amazing corset.

Chelsea’s parents rocking it. Notice Steve’s full-sleeve tattoos and Linda’s amazing corset.

We demurred about our costumes and led the bride and groom to believe we’d just show up in standard dress clothes. The delight when they saw Chelsea’s dad in full tattoo sleeves and her mom in an intricate corset was priceless. Surprises are always more fun.

Chelsea and her parents nailed the theme, whereas I cobbled together a gangster-Western ensemble with a flashy belt proclaiming “SEXY.” My idea to be a steampunk California surfer didn’t come together, but there’s always next time. At least I had flip-up punk sunglasses.

Here I am in my 20's gangster steampunk ensemble with my buddy Mike from college and his lady Laura. My SEXY belt fell off for the picture, bummer...

Here I am in my 20’s gangster steampunk ensemble with my buddy Mike from college and his lady Laura.

The costumes laid a fun foundation, and the ceremony was a beautiful, moving event with Jennifer and Jesse’s closest friends. A big resounding congratulations from us!

Now Chelsea and I need to find other events to bust out our new costumes. Fancy restaurants? Movie theaters? The beach? Nowhere is off limits.

Brother and sister.

Brother and sister.

The bride and groom.

The bride and groom.

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.

Cycling Going-to-the-Sun Road in the Fall (Video)

Going to the sun road cycling

One of the finest routes I’ve ever cycled is Going-to-the-Sun Road in Glacier National Park. The winding, beautiful trip over Logan Pass starts by a rushing river and climbs (and climbs) for 11 miles as views of the valley below open like a magical picture book. During a recent road trip through western Montana, my dad and I were lucky to catch a nice fall day to pedal to the sun.

I rode through Glacier last year in July – one of our favorite days of our U.S. bike tour – and this time of year revealed another brilliant facet of the park. Fall colors were firing and, an added bonus, the road was closed for the season to vehicle traffic. During the summer, the park requires cyclists to be off the road by 11 a.m. This time around, we dawdled, pedaled in the middle of the road, and soaked in this gem of the Rockies.

A few miles from the top of Logan Pass.

A few miles from the top of Logan Pass.

Pictures can’t capture the experience. Instead, here’s a short video of our ride. Kudos to my dad for cranking up the steep grade for miles and miles!

More to come from our Montana adventures…

Going-to-the-Sun Road valley view fall colors

Two Years On the Road, a Podcast and Thanks

Sprinter lift off

Yesterday marked two years to the day since we fired up the Sprinter van and headed out on this trip. The picture above captures how excited we were.

The time, while highlighted by various adventures, has also freed me to invest in creativity through writing, photography and (lately) video. Another huge benefit is that traveling non-stop together and the mutual trust needed to survive (and enjoy!) long bike tours has greatly deepened my relationship with Chelsea. These past 24 months have been some of the most satisfying of my life as we’ve explored many places (<–map) via van and bike and reshaped the way we choose to live.

Fall colors in NW Montana as the tamarack turned yellow.

Fall colors in NW Montana as the tamarack turns yellow.

It seems fitting to share a podcast conversation Chelsea and I had with Paul at The Pursuit Zone. I bet many of you will enjoy listening to Chelsea’s side of the story instead of just mine! Her ideas for adventure frequently inspire our trips, and then I dial in logistics. I loved hearing her thoughts on the biggest challenges of our bike tours, plus what it’s really like to live in a van for months at a time.

Also, I’d like to say THANKS to my blog readers for all the positive feedback and support during the past two years. Who knew I’d make great friends through this site and enjoy writing so much? Sharing our adventures and meeting readers adds depth to our travels and contributes so much to the experience. I can’t imagine it any other way. A big high five to everyone out there, and please feel free to say howdy anytime if you’re so inclined!

Here’s the podcast. Below are a few of the questions Paul asks us, in case you’re wondering what to expect. Enjoy.

  • How did we meet?
  • What was the evolution to the start of our 2013 adventure?
  • How difficult was it to leave our old lives behind?
  • What is it like living out of a van for months at a time?
  • How did the idea for the 4,000 mile U.S. bike tour come about?
  • How difficult is it to follow a vegan diet while bicycle touring?
  • What were the biggest challenges and what did we most enjoy about our U.S. and European cycle tours?
  • What’s our advice for people that want to do a Europe cycle tour?
  • What are some tips for easing into a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle?
  • What do we hope people get from reading Traipsing About?
  • Are we still having fun? (Spoiler – yes!)

What comes next? We shall see!

What comes next? We shall see!

Searching for Gold and Ghosts in Bannack

Bannack view

It’s 1863. The Civil War rages, herds of (dwindling) bison still roam the plains, and Conestoga wagons are in style. Henry Ford won’t drive the first Model T off the line for another 45 years.

In the hills of southwest Montana near the Continental Divide, the mining town of Bannack is thriving after gold nuggets were discovered the prior summer. The rush fuels such intense growth that men all over the played-out Idaho territory ditch those claims and convene in Bannack to test their luck anew. Rather than building shelter in the summer, they mine non-stop until the reality of cold weather dusts their dirty beards with a hard frost and they hack together rough cabins.

The collapsing remains of cabins in "Bachelor's Row."

The collapsing remains of cabins in “Bachelor’s Row.”

Bannack is the kind of town where the sheriff, Henry Plummer, leads the local criminal group ironically called “The Innocents.” In just a year, they rob and kill 102 people before a local group of vigilantes uncover the conspiracy and hang the leaders. Even with the no-good sheriff gone, bullets still whiz about the mud streets. Luckily, many fatalities are avoided thanks to the poor aim of drunken shooters. Or perhaps it’s thanks to the strychnine in the whiskey, an additive used to “add a little tang.”

Prosperity eludes most of the miners. Most spend it on booze and other entertainment as fast as they can make it, their money funneling into the pockets of local merchants. Women comprise less than 5% of Bannack’s population, so the Hurdy Gurdy girls – named after the hand-cranked music device – do well charging up to a dollar per dance to whirl and spin with the attention-starved miners.

Over the next century, the town’s fortune ebbs and flows as new mining technologies are developed. Most of the gold seekers leave, the population of 3,000 dwindling fast, but others stick around and mine until the early 1940s. Only the federal decree to cease all non-essential mining during WWII sounds the death knell for Bannack, and the last resident leaves soon after. The one-room schoolhouse, built in 1874, finally shuts down in 1951. The town is donated to the state soon after and becomes a park in the 1970s.

Years of lessons are carved into a desk in the one-room school house.

Years of boredom are carved into a desk in the school house.

****

Over 150 years after the first gold was discovered in Bannack, my dad and I wandered through the ghost town during a road trip through Montana. Colder fall weather had recently teased yellow colors from the trees, and the hot campfire the night before warmed our backs. I tried to imagine living in this hard-edged frontier town, and decided I am not nearly tough enough.

Camp fire in Bannack State Park

The streets are no longer muddy, and the boardwalk in front of the remaining 60 buildings makes the place feel almost civilized. Most establishments are still accessible to the public, so we spent the better part of a day exploring the quiet homes with the aid of an informative pamphlet with grammar so bad one of the original miners may have written it.

Enough chit chat: this awesome experience is best highlighted by a photo essay! If you’re ever in the SW corner of Montana, make sure to pencil in a stop at Bannack State Park. You won’t be disappointed.

My dad hanging in a cabin.

My dad exploring a cabin.

Slash marks from an adze on an old cabin in Bannack.

Slash marks from an adze on an old cabin in Bannack.

Old mining equipment in Bannack State Park.

Old mining equipment in Bannack State Park.

The jail house with its spiffy sod roof. Henry Plummer, the corrupt sheriff, had it built, then ironically spent a couple nights in it before being hung for being a bandit.

The jail house with its spiffy sod roof. Henry Plummer, the corrupt sheriff, had it built, but never did much with it since he was hung so fast.

Worn edging on stairs in Bannack's Hotel Meade.

Worn edging on stairs in Bannack’s Hotel Meade.

A view across town.

A view across town.

An old wagon wheel.

An old wagon wheel.

An old dugout cabin.

An old dugout cabin.

Bits of linen flap on a door frame. The fabric was layered around the door to keep out drafts.

Bits of linen flap on a door frame. The fabric was layered around the door to keep out drafts.

Old iron mining carts and other equipment rust in place.

Old iron mining carts and other equipment rust in place.

An old cabin with Hotel Meade in the background.

An old cabin with Hotel Meade in the background.

Doorknob

Chinking in the cracks of a cabin.

Chinking in the cracks of a cabin.

The most important (and first) building in town: the assay house. This is where the gold was assessed for weight and quality. Compared to 80% purity for most gold, Bannack's was 99.5%, as good as it gets.

The most important (and first) building in town: the assay house. This is where the gold was assessed for weight and quality. Compared to 80% purity for most gold, Bannack’s was 99.5%, as good as it gets.

When linen tacked to your cabin wall serves as wallpaper, you know things are rustic.

When linen tacked to your cabin wall serves as wallpaper, you know things are rustic.

My dad sits in the old schoolhouse.

My dad sits in the old schoolhouse.

How many times has this house's screen door been wiggled open by prying fingers?

How many times has this house’s screen door been wiggled open by prying fingers? Many more shall pass through here…

Paying It Forward, Van Style (Video)

Road Angel Keys to Freeze

Kindness from strangers is a side to travel that frequently surprises and humbles me. From help with directions to an unexpected offer of a place to stay, I’ve received gracious treatment dozens of time. Having the opportunity to pass along the goodwill is just as much fun.

I missed the publication of this short video called Road Angel while we were biking in Europe, so I wanted to share it now. It’s a snippet with me in front of the camera instead of behind it (for a change). I love that a meetup at a Colorado bagel shop turned into a chance to give back, not to mention created some enduring friendships.

The back story: I met the Keys to Freeze crew this April in Durango during their 8,500 mile cycling trip from Key West, Florida to Deadhorse, Alaska. Over the next month, we crossed paths in Utah’s national parks, Yosemite, the coastal redwoods, and Portland. They pedaled as I road tripped in the van, our trips diverging for days or weeks at a time, then re-intersecting as we all explored the famous sites in the southwest and California.

Here’s to new friends and paying forward road trip karma!

New friends! Snow on the motel roof and flurries signal the start of Keys to Freeze heading from Dove Creek, CO to Moab, UT.

Hanging with Keys to Freeze on a sub-freezing morning near Moab.