I guess one way to get good at something is to do it a thousand times. I’m not really sure what I wanna be good at though. I’m realizing more and more that I’m a generalist. I like to do as much as I can. You might call it an identity crisis or you might call it overly ambitious but I call it fun. Every single day that I wake up I seem to ask myself, “James you sly son of a bitch, what do you feel like getting into today?” I usually answer with a clear and resounding, “Whatever.” This is not a passive response but rather a recognition of the fact that I am really down for whatever. If I get a phone call and am asked to go to work that is what I’ll do. If I’m not working and I have an offer to go adventure somewhere i’ve never been you’d be right to suspect that I’m going adventuring. But my desire to learn and explore as many facets of the human condition goes far beyond just the possible activities one can do in a day or night: it extends also to academic disciplines. To learn and grow as a person in whatever capacity I can manage is my ultimate goal. But I’d like to point out that I don’t chase these opportunities.
For me life is and for the last few months has been all about the cliche of living in the moment. I’m not getting ahead and planning my next six moves or anything crazy like that. Some of you might say, “Well see here now James, you planned a trip to South America on a motorcycle and backed out, and then you said you were going to head north to Alaska and now seemingly without reason you’re on your way back to Colorado. You have plans young man you just never commit to them.” But of course I’d disagree. I have ideas of grandeur, things I’d like to do and places I’d like to see. And yes I plan something of these things out in order to make trips happen or help ideas reach fruition. But what I don’t do is become attached to these goals. When it became clear to me that I needed to stay stateside to be near my family these last five months that what I did. When I realized that I wanted to go back to school I dropped my AK plans in favor of heading back to Colorado.
There is a flow to what I do. It seems jumpy and chaotic sometimes and honestly it can be. But it’s also a natural progression. With no attachment to these plans of mine I’m able to float from one thing to the next and be perfectly content and stoked about whatever I have in front of me. Am I ever disappointed by the outcome of a situation? Honestly I can’t tell you the last time I was. Everything I do is so worth my time. Every mistake a lesson learned. This is not so much a practiced mind set but more or less the way that I am. It can seem a little disorganized but it’s working for me.
Just kidding my day didn’t change at all after the before mentioned point. In fact the only thing that changed is I kept hiking, got tired, ate a snack, finished my hike and went back to the car. but that is not the point of my little story. In almost every outdoor magazine at least a few times a year, you’ll see a story start out the way mine did. When everything’s going just fine. And then, out of nowhere disaster strikes. But in my world, in the backcountry, most of the time disasters are the anomaly and it is in fact human error that leads to the majority of backcountry rescues.
In my particular story, a simple hike, there were several things that were done in such a way that if any disaster had struck my misfortune would have been compounded creating a far worse situation than if I had been adequately prepared. Now this is not a how to. Nor am I going to elaborate on the mistakes that I made the other day. It’s just that I find it rather interesting that even with all the stories that I’ve heard, the training that I have, and the misfortunes that have befallen me that I still make poor decisions. T Solitude, wilderness, flora and fauna, or any other of the countless draws the backcountry has on us are all great reasons to go and to chase beauty and adventure. But in learning to chase we must learn to control risk. And I’m learning that it’s not as cut and dry as I thought it was.
So this morning I woke up in Incline Village on the north shore of Lake Tahoe. Right around 8:45am my alarm rang like it does everyday at that time to prompt me out of bed before 9am. That is the latest I’ll let myself sleep in these days. With plans to hit a yoga class around 9:30am I stretched and and did a bit of a morning workout routine that I’ve been employing for the last several days. Followed by a quick bite of breakfast a cup of coffee I was heading out the door. As I was I learned that my class had been canceled and that I now had a more solitude filled morning. So natural I retreated to my phone. Scrolling through social media, which I have carefully sculpted to be a barrage of outdoor inspiration, medical advice columns, climbing photos and a select group of friends I was looking for the motivation to get up and get my day started. That when I got a call from my current host Carol Fowler. Carol called to tell me about a hike that was only about a mile away from the house that had spectacular view of the lake. And she also quickly pointed out that, “I’ve never seen the lake look more like the caribbean than it does today. It’s beautiful.” To say the least, that is all the motivation I need to get into my car and head to the trail head.
Grabbing my small day bag with my epic kit, 1.5 liters of water, two power bars, an extra layer and a headlamp but without reading any information on the trail, without checking the weather report, and perhaps worst of all without telling anyone where I was: I started up the Flume trail. While Carol had suggested I go check it out we had not confirmed in any real way what that my plan for the day would be. Stopping in at the coffee shop near the trailhead I briefly chatted with a young woman on trail conditions and I set up off a paved track that would lead me to the trail.
We rationalize things based on past experiences. We find patterns in history and we adhere to them because of the cumulative knowledge through experience. That is exactly what I was doing today. Based on a variety of factors such as altitude and assumed trail difficulty I did not behave in a manner that would suggest I was heading into the backcountry. To me I was on a simple routine day excursion into the woods.
The hike started off simple enough with the paved path leading up to the edge of the park and the beginning of my trail. The altitude was right around 6,200 ft above sea level and the lake was perfect. The sun shone brightly and there was only the occasional gust of wind to chill me. Overall I could not have asked for better hiking conditions so I quickly pressed forward. Crushing the first mile of the trail in under 20 minutes only spurned me on faster since I felt that I had my altitude lungs back. I made quick work of the trail as it rose from 6,200ft to 6,550ft above sea level. The feeling of bliss, the warm sun, the smell of spring sap leaking from the pines: the entire world faded away from my reality as I enjoyed purely the moment I was in. With the slight rise in elevation however came snow, and with snow more physically demanding hiking. I was not wear my crampons nor did I really need them but I did need to pay attention to how I stepped on the crust as to not twist my ankle or soak my socks.
The snow did not slow me down in the slightest. I’d was born in Salt Lake City, raised in Colorado, I was a passionate and competent mountain kid. So I carried on a slight breeze filling my hair and cool the sweat under the straps of my pack. Since starting out around 11am I’d really only seen folks descending the trail and only a small handful at that. The day was perfect for hiking why were more folks not out there enjoying the natural beauty of our world? I puzzled over this as I worked my way up a much chillier 7,300ft. The trail here was all snow. Trudge through the hardpack ice was not to difficult, and honestly was pretty entertaining. And right at about 12:32pm nearing 7,400ft was when my day changed.
It’s quite titillating how my writing is directly linked to where I am, who I am with, and what I am doing. I find that more often than not if I’m alone and in the wild I write the most. If I’m around friends but still in the woods, I still write but not nearly as much. However, If I’m with friends, new or old, and in society, I don’t seem to write at all unless I’m drunk. And currently I’m drunk. I’m sitting on a couch in my uncle’s place in North Lake Tahoe, one of the more beautiful places I’ve ever been in my life. It seems to me that when I’m with people, could be anyone, I’d rather spend my time engaging socially. However, when left to my own devices, I create a sense of social interaction by writing. This allows me to satiate my constant lust for human engagement. Because as much as I love writing it’s really just a coping mechanism for me to use when I’m not with people.
That being said most of my traveling the last month has been with people. And not just any people, my people. Friends and family who I have not seen in years. This reunion of sorts started way back on March 20th when I left Flagstaff and headed for Phoenix and met up with Zach O’Donnal. Zach and I met on our WFR training course in early March and he offered me a place to crash and shower in Phoenix on my way through. (He also left his water bottle at a bar and I had to return that to him.) Zach was much more than just a gracious host however seeing as he treated me to several hot meals, excellent hiking, numerous beers, and a few guitar lessons! The Tenacious D was flowing freely.
After a short yet wonderful stint in Phoenix it was time for me to move on. I headed pretty much directly west to the love city of San Diego. As many of you know the exact translation of the San Diego was lost by scholars years ago but some claim that it actually means, “A whale’s vagina.” What I found in that sunny city was far and away from the reproductive organs of a Cetacea. With the ocean in plain sight, Joshua Tree National Park only three hours away, and an unbelieveable amount of recreational opportunities in between San Diego is a place I could easily be happy for the rest of my life. That being said I’d have to take up surfing. And there is only one thing that I’m worse at than surfing and that is understanding organized religion. Which means I’d at least have something to work on or do if I moved there.
While in San Diego I had the privilege to reconnect with several folks from my life including old friends and family. An college roommate of mine Jamie Sullivan and his fiance Courtney are now calling Carlsbad home, and a beautiful home it is. Situated 3/4 of a mile from California’s I-5 and only a short mile to Carlsbad village their home was mine for about a week and a half. Reminiscent of our college days Jamie and I were able to enjoy eachother’s company and catch up a little bit as it had been about three years since we’d really had a chance to talk. Our days mostly consisted of starting out with eggs and bacon, some coffee and the physical activity of the day. Jamie who is currently unemployed to prep his home for his wedding, and I spent our days hiking, paddle boarding, and lounging about the greater San Diego area. But it wasn’t just Jamie I was able to reconnect with.
As it turns out I have a substantial amount of family in San Diego area. My Aunt Cami lives in Del Mar which is right on the coast just north of La Jolla. The area is gorgeous and the ocean can be seen from Cami’s front porch. With Cami I found myself sea kayaking and hiking. And even more unexpected was connecting with her roommate the oh so excellent Mattie. Mattie is 24 and just starting her second year in San Diego after finishing school in Utah. Mattie and I jetted out to J Tree for a quick 24 hour climbing mission which really just consisted of us road tripping jammin and messing around on the epic boulders that can be found in J Tree. No serious climbing took place. But we did laugh a ton.
After leaving San Diego I headed up to Fallbrook which is between SD and OC. Since 1989 Fallbrook has been home to Gloria and Walt Mattson, my mother’s aunt and uncle. both of them are in their late 80’s and getting on fairly well. Walt took a serious fall in 2014 and has deteriorating health since then but still manages fairly well. While his memory is not what it once was, he is still surprisingly with the program. He took me to his woodshop in the garage of his home and together we turned a bowl on his lave and cleaned the shop up a bit. Seemingly mundane task but for a fellow who was slotted to move on a few years previous I was pretty impressed. His wife Gloria was an entirely different matter however. She was spry, sassy and filled with youthful enthusiasm. Making quick, but appropriate jokes to underscore Walt’s current mental status she runs the house. She manages a part hours volunteering with local libraries and taking care of two dogs and Walt. To say the least she is an amazing woman. To have had the opportunity to reconnect with these two in their more advanced age is something I will be forever grateful for.
Soon after leaving Fallbrook I was on track to rendezvous with Sava, another dear friend, and her husband Palmer. While I was obviously there to see them I spent most of my time in Mission Viejo with their dog Jordan. Jordan is a 95lb husky and he sheds like a waterfall. Between an amazing dinner of thai food, slacklining in a park, and getting a new phone I’d say my time here was a massive success. I also got to hug Sava a few times which after not seeing her since her wedding was a truly welcome experience.
Moving on from Mission I stopped over near Long Beach in Cypress, CA to see my mother’s cousin Garth and his wife Peggy. Once there Garth and I paddled out near Rainbow harbor on an ocean kayak and did a small two mile lap. All be the first to admit that this was the first time that that I felt a strain on my upper body from paddle but apparently Garth was letting me do most of the work, he’s so thoughtful.
So shortly after arriving with Garth and Peggy it was time for me to leave yet again. Traveling up highway 395 towards Lake Tahoe I was on my way to see Joe Dunkley, my mom’s brother. Upon arriving at Incline Village I was greeted by a bottle of tequila and a case of beer. Not much more you can ask for in my opinion. Since being I have been snowboarding and slacklining to pass the time. Walk down by the lake and taking in a whole new world has occupied my time thus far. Currently I’m posted up at the island in my uncle’s kitchen post ramen and post gin martini, and I’ve got to say life is pretty damn good!