On a road

fpyr9xv9sbyaxq9stxfppa
Ready to rip.

Finally we were leaving Darwin, N.T.. Our bags were back on the bikes, water was filled, food was bought, and gas was topped off. The plan was to make for The Gibb River Road, a notorious but touristy 4×4 high way that runs for about 700km through the Kimberly. Our first day out was pretty mellow yet super efficient. We cruised down bitchumen (paved highway) making great time. We stopped every 100km or so to refuel my bike and its measly eight liter tank, but also just to have a break and chat.

Axel and Mia were greatly enjoying watching me get the hang of riding, let alone riding with a weighted down bike. According to them I was swerving, and rock and back and forth constantly. The best however is when I would start from a total stop, I’d almost hit the deck every-time. So with everyone in good moods and the landscape flying past we arrived at our first camp just outside of Nitmiluk National Park.

The original plan had been to camp inside the park but after realizing that would not be free we quickly turned around and started searching for a new home for the night. With in a few kilometers of leaving the park we found a dirt track that split off from the park road and wound out into the bush. Of course we only followed the dirt track for a few moments before we took off into the brush itself, seeking out a hilltop for our evening camp.

Through the brush we went, Axel and Mia paving a their own paths with me teetering along behind, unsure of how to negotiate non-flat/smooth surfaces. Coming up and over the crest of a final hill we discovered the high point we had been searching for. As we unpacked we noticed the fenced-off area and what appeared to be dump, that was not more than half of kilometer away. Choosing to ignore it and just stay there any way, we went about setting up camp. Distracted by the flora of our new surroundings we were all busy admiring a very white tree when from behind us came a voice.

fpzynxrmr1yzq4zfhnskww
Axel captivated by the very white tree

The voice belonged to a young aboriginal man who was dressed in naught but a loin cloth or maybe a very small pair of shorts, I’m not entirely sure. He caught all of us off gaurd as we were all distracted by other things. He was quite slight in build, but of average hight. He carried a machete as well as fishing gear. He walked bear foot from somewhere beyond the dump. He told us a loud, but not angry voice that we were not allowed to camp there, but that he would permit it for the night. He also gave a warning not to head east towards his community least we encounter cheeky dogs. He also advised us to stay away from an area about 100 meters south west of the dump, he said, “And don’t go over there, thats were we bury our dead people.” We had no contestations or arguments to make and before any of us could really wrap our heads around his appearance he was gone.

That first night Axel and I were jammed into his two person tent, a mistake we would make only once. We slept well, but hot. It was still maybe 90 degrees after the sun went down. We all lost a few liters of water to the night air and our sleeping pads felt more like slip-n-slides than the comfortable beds we wanted. But I will admit it made getting out of bed at 4am at first light all the easier. Because Australia’s populations centers are often times so far spread out states like Western Australia have to make certain sacrifices in terms of how the states time zones are set up. Because the country is so large, the sixth largest in the world, the further north in W.A. you go the more absurd the zoning seems. And so to help us deal with the ridiculousness and ease us into a spectacular sunrise I played the 1980’s hit by Sheana Easton, Morning Train.

The first leg out our day was simple, we had to head down towards Kathrine. There we stocked up on food and water and picked up the gear that we would need for the rest of the trip. This included extra water bladders, a new tent for me, and a 20L jerry can to help us make it across the Gibb River Road. Apart from a pretty spectacular near crash in the early part of my day our ride was uneventful, that is until we got to camp that night.

img_1286
I took this photo of Axel while we were stopped at a small little coffee shop called The Black Russian Caravan Bar. The coffee truck was parked right outside of Kathrine’s visitor center and made for a great central location from which to gather information and prep for out next 500km stretch.

Pushing on from Katherine and headed down towards Kununurra, we made great time flying down the unbelievably straight roads. As night fell we found ourselves somewhere in the middle between the two cities and very much so ready for sleep. After a hearty meal of spaghetti, our only cooked meal while camping of the entire trip, we were ready to pass out.

screen shot 2019-01-22 at 11.22.01 pm

Our exhaustion was however not due to the road traveled that day, but more the offloading once we had reached camp. We had found and heavily used site not far off the road surrounded by a sandy creek bed. A dirt-bikers play ground. Axel and Mia were quick to ditch the gear set up camp and hop back on the bikes to go for a rip. This would be the first of my many crashes due to the sand. Instead of trying to recall the event in totality, I’ll just copy my entree from my journal that night.

Time: 0548HR
Weather: Clear/humid/hot 31°C
Elevation: 436.35ft
Coordinates: 15.8457° South
129. 9082° East
Roadside having ridden 400km from Kathrine, headed to Gibb River Road. Bikes are running great. Took them into a sandy creek bed which was hard as hell, crashed and ripped right sd mirror off. Crashed again on a 2ft drop got thrown from the bike entirely. Big fire, easy sleep, spicy sour cream burritos.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I think that says enough.

 

 

 

Camp fire in a parking lot

As I approached the big left corner the smell of acrid smoke got stronger and the engine began to sputter. I was definitely running out of gas, but what could the smoke be? I had no idea. I kept calm as the engine died, pulling off to the side of the road 100 yards to the corner I’d been staring at. Swinging my left leg up and off the bike and through a cloud of dark gray smoke it became apparent very quickly what was wrong.

Dave, Lucas, Mia, Axel and I had set off from Holtze Rd, Dave’s house, that morning just shy of noon. The plan was for the five of us to ride from Holtze to Litchfield National Park do some sight seeing than part ways. But with all good days, it didn’t go to plan. Starting off our day was more of a joke than anything else, as I was still learning how to pack my bike and flat out ride it. Not only that but I didn’t even have boots. We spent a solid 45min of our morning zipping around the out skirts of Darwin looking for boots.

Finally right around lunch time we were on the road. Cruising down bitchumen at 110kmh. With in the first 5 minutes on the road I had more than three cars desperately try to tell me that my left blinker was on. (I still can’t figure out why they were all freaking out so much over a blinker.) We left Darwin heading south taking a more indirect route, more reminiscent of Dave’s childhood rides in the area. Corrugated dirt track and mellow highways. The road was open and we flew.

Flew, that is until I started breathing in gray smoke. Clambering off the bike, it quickly became apparent that the smoke was coming from the exhaust. A giant hole had appeared in the side wall of the exhaust pipe, which was supposedly carbon fiber, but clearly was not. The smoke however, was in fact steam. I had placed panniers over the rear plastics on my bike which had pinned the plastics onto the exhaust pipe cause it to melt the pipe, the plastics, and through my pannier bag and then melt the water bladder contained inside. The pipe was destroyed, the plastic melted but still usable, the pannier was also destroyed.

screen shot 2019-01-16 at 4.43.05 pm
The melted exhaust pipe and damaged plastic siding on the 650L

Half of what I thought was smoke, was actually steam and most of the truly acrid smoke was coming from the water bladder. Lucas was the first to notice I had fallen behind and in short order he was helping me to get the bike back into riding condition. Axel happened up on us moments later and between the three of us had my bike refueled, from a fuel bladder I’d been carrying; we also managed to rearrange the damaged bits to make the bike rideable for at least the rest of the afternoon.

Which of course we did, we rode another 75kms at least into Litchfield National Park and did that same distance again before we happened onto another bit of a mess. We had just finished exploring the beautiful Wangi Falls, which honestly felt a little to touristy for us.

cxoo3qtdq429gfv0xxkaqw
Me (left) Axel (right) looking out over Wangi Falls very happy to not be Swedish tourist infested waters that might also have salt water crocs.

Leaving Wangi we rode for about 30km down the road before I realized that Axel was no longer behind me. Catching up to Mia, I quickly without much speaking, relaid that Axel was no longer with us. Mia taking little time to evaluate the situation turned around and ripped down the road and out of sight. We had stopped at left hand turn to head towards another few waterfalls and watering holes, Dave and Lucas had continued down and around and were out of sight. After 15 minutes of waiting impatiently I decided to ride after Mia to see what the hold up could be. Two minutes down the road I saw Axel off the right side of the road gear off, tools out.

When he saw me coming he ran to the top of the ditch he was nestled in, waving me down. He explained Mia had blown right by him taking no notice of his attempts to get her attention. I’d later have it explained to me by Mia that, “If you’re not where you’re supposed to be, you’re dead or dying. I can’t just leave Axel while he’s dead or dying.” Hence the urgency in her initial reaction, however ineffective it was. A few moments with Axel it became clear is bike was unrideable without cause significant damage to the rear arm, part of the frame. On this rear arm is a small piece of black rubber about a quarter inch thick shaped like a very deep U. the U is about six inches long on each side with two little eyelets on the tips of the U for it to be screwed to frame. This had totally been eaten away by Axel’s chain and had fallen off somewhere further back down the road. At higher rates of speed, the chain would grind on to the swing arm and grind into the soft metal. Any significant distance and Axel would be looking at an expensive repair or maybe just a new bike.

When Mia finally turned around and the three of us were able to rendezvous with Dave and Lucas it was clear the day of riding for Axel was over. And considering the poor fuel economy my bike was experiencing due to over sized jets in the carburetor and not to mention the destroyed exhaust pipe, it was decided it was best if Axel and I parked the bikes at one of the near by water holes and waited while Lucas drove back 150km to get his ute to haul us out of this particular situation. It was our shake out run. And shake out problems we did. Lucas and Dave immediately began to slab it back to Darwin taking a more direct route while Axel, Mia, and I embraced our inner tourist and decided to go for a dip.

The water falls we found ourselves at were a little further off the beaten path but still very much so in the park. The thing was had going for us however is that tourist season was long since over, and the sun was slowly but surely setting. It gave us enough time to take a dip and even for Axel to do a bit of climbing about.

We were pretty exhausted after our first day of riding and exploring but not so tired we didn’t want to keep exploring the area. So after an hour or so of swimming about we started to venture back towards the bikes taking a different path. Getting back to the bikes we realized we still had at least an hour and half before Lucas would be back with the truck so in order to kill time we decided a fire was in order. Finding some benches in the parking lot was no problem, nor was finding wood to burn, and kindling to get it started. mdbyirvmq0+wwjvh6chokg

Within moments we had a roaring fire, just enough to keep the bugs at bay. We really didn’t need to keep us warm considering it was still 90 degrees after the sun went down. Lucas finally made it back to us and we got the bikes loaded up in his ute (utility vehicle), pick-up-truck. The drive back to Dave’s house on Holtze road was largely uneventful, however I did learn that Axel, like many others, myself included, is a sucker for falling asleep in car that is just a little to warm and a little to cozy. wzhuxtglt%2oz0aabdaktgMia rode behind us, keeping close, but not too close to the rear of the truck. She later admitted she was worried about us hitting a kangaroo and spitting it under the truck back at her. Back at Dave’s house, repairs were made over the next two days and many beers were drunk. All in preparation for our real departure. The shake down run had been a success, we had shook ourselves proper and knew we were about to have our asses kicked.

Cause I need to be writing.

So I have finals and I’m stressed the hell out. So here is a story from my summer.

In early August of 2017 I was finishing a summer of working with the summer camp Avid4 Adventure and getting back to my usual grind behind the bar at Tahona Tequila Bistro. I was working about 65hr a week and doing very little for myself. In fact my self care was so poor it pretty much killed a relationship I was having. Having just taken 6 months off of work though I could not justify a slacking schedule. Having crushed through most of the summer I was close to my goal of dropping the summer camp job, dropping hours at Tahona, and getting back to school. I was beyond excited for school to start, it is my last year after all. The start to August was hot, but stunning. The fires that ravaged the West were yet to really cast a cloud of smoke south and east towards Boulder, and the front range was breathtaking.

I decided that I needed to get up into the mountains and get me some fresh air and stretch the ol’ legs! So I picked one of my favorite local spot, the Brainard Lake Recreation Area (BLRA). Being the ambitiously minded 26 year old that I was I woke up at 5:30am and drove up towards Ward, Colorado the small town just east of the entrance of BLRA. I gotta say I really enjoyed driving up the small pothole filled road in the early morning light following the twists and turns in my newly acquired subaru outback, (Thanks Rita) It’s always fun to drive a new car in the mountains.

Thinking I would just have a mellow day I decided to go hike to Blue Lake, a roughly 4mi hike on the western edge of the Brainard Lake area. Pulling into the parking lot that morning was fantastic! I was one of three cars in a lot that only a week before I hadn’t been able to find a space. Hardly anyone was out which meant I’d be having a blast. Grabbing my pack, and my poles, checking my water, and maybe even retying my laces I started up the dirt track next to the pit toilet.

Now if you’ve never been to the subalpine at 9-10,000ft above sea level you’re really missing out. The smell is probably my favorite part. If cold had a smell that would be what the subalpine would smell like. Not that it was all that cold this time of year at 6:15am, maybe just 45 degrees fahrenheit. I think it might just be the smell of freshly melting snow cascading through the soft topsoil on its way to join on of the many winding streams and into the Saint Vrain drainage. Combined with the soft piney smell of subalpine fir and spruce trees there is nothing else in the world that calms me down so much.

Crushing up the trail dirt and pine needles underfoot I was in very high spirits. The sky was just starting to lose the orange glow that screamed sunrise and was taking on a classic Colorado blue sky. The deep deep blue that I’ve only ever seen here in the summer. And it was only about halfway up the trail before I came upon the only folks I’d see that morning. The owners of the only other cars in the lot, a group of photographers wrapping up a sunrise shoot of the alpine cirque to the west of Blue Lake. Stopping to make small talk and make the required exclamations of not wanting to be anywhere else; two of the photographers asked me my plans for the day. The two fellas asking were older maybe 65 or 70 years old. When they found I only planned on heading to Blue Lake they suggested an alternate route. Above Blue Lake, maybe a 1/2 a mile there is Upper Blue Lake, and if you follow the draining up towards the base of the cirque, there should be a trail. That’s what they said, “should be” a trail. They mentioned it had been a few years since they’d been up to check it out, but that trail used to lead from Upper Blue Lake to the summit of Mount Audubon which is a 13,000ft peak that creates the northern crest of the cirque.

Having no real plans for the day and feeling very good I mentioned to the photographers that I might go check it out. With a quick smile and a nod I was off down the trail again quickly moving towards Blue Lake. The sun was moving higher in the sky as I crested the final little hill and the lake splayed out magnificently before me.

IMG_9469
Blue Lake, Aug 2017

Upon reaching the lake with the sun still far behind me in the east and with the boost of energy that came from crushing an energy bar I decided to keep pushing up to the upper lake. Moving quickly along the outside edge of the lake, soaking in the sun I headed towards a rock shelf in the rear of the glacial cirque where I assumed that Upper Blue Lake would be hidden out of sight. Within about an hour I’d reached the steepest part of the shelf and started to scramble up the rocks on my hands and feet. Quickly breaching the crown of the shelf I looked expectantly for the next lake and saw nothing. Having just traveled off trail for an hour I was a little peeved about the lack of a lake. But I still had my bearing. Mt. Audubon was an obvious and hulking  guide for me. deciding to head towards the peak and look for a trail I began moving even further away from the trail and Blue Lake.

30 minutes of walking on rocks while dodging the hopelessly sensitive patches of alpine vegetation, I quickly meandered my way northward towards the massive scree slopes of Audubon. It was just about now when I realized how much larger the cirque was than I had thought. The time it took to cross was only increased by my hoping and skipping across the granite to avoid the sensitive flora. However, its when I made a misstep and my foot went through what I thought was a solid soil surface and into the stream below that I realized that I was walking on loose rocks covered by barrenground willow. This plant grows near water at high altitudes. My attention was then taken again as a very small lake appeared right in front of me as if out of nowhere. I’d found Upper Blue Lake.

IMG_9482
Looking down on Upper Blue Lake. Blue Lake would be just out of frame in the center left of the frame. This view is from the south slope of Audubon.

Upon arriving at the upper lake I began to search for the trail that would lead me up to the summit of Audubon. It was getting later in the morning, right around 10am. The sky was starting to give up a few wispy clouds. Knowing the area is prone to afternoon showers and that the last place I wanted to be was below treeline on an exposed face when a storm rolled in I had a choice to make. Head up to the summit on a trail I was having a hard time finding. Or I could turn back and go down the same way I’d come up.

Common sense would dictate that I turn around and head back towards the car, but I was feeling particularly good this day and decided to push on. Giving up hope on a trail I began searching for a navigable way up the formidable boulder fields and cliff between me and the summit of Audubon. Finally just going forward I soon found myself at about 12,200ft, as according to the altimeter on my watch. The time was 11am and by this time clouds were actually starting to roll in. The dark gray in the west a familiar albeit a very unwelcome site for me at that point. With a few loose rocks tumbling down below me I made my summit bid. A quick 30 minute push up the final 800ft to the summit. But within about 15 min I’d made it to saddle I’d not been expecting. And here on this unexpected saddle I found a trail. A trail that dissipated into the rocky drop and boulder fields I’d just climbed out of.

Jogging along as best I could I pushed fast to summit. The air was obviously thinner and I had to slow my pace several times to catch my breath. The wind was picking up and making breathing even more difficult as it started pressing in on my mouth like a suffocating hand. Sun breaking through the cloud and wind whipping against my jacket strongly enough to support my body weight for a split second I rounded a bed to the last slight slope to the summit of Audubon.

So I’d found my way to the summit. Up a sketchy scree slope and even worse boulder field. Finishing the coffee in my thermos, which was still hot, I enjoyed another energy bar before turning for the trail that would lead me down the eastern slope of Audubon towards the Brainard Lake drainage.

I’d beat the storms. On my way down I passed about nine other folks on their way to the summit but when I was passing them the first drops of the afternoon storms were starting to pepper the brim of my hat. At this point I was booking it for treeline, not out of fear of a storm but more for the feeling of security that comes from being in a familiar place. The alpine is gorgeous. Above treeline the when the wildflowers are in full bloom, there are very few more beautiful places. But when the rocks start to match the color of the sky one begins to feel very exposed.

I made it down to my car before the rain really started, right around 1:15pm. The first clap of thunder reverberated loudly through the plastic panelings on my car door. My seat was reclined all the way back and I began to doze off to the sound of the pitter patter of rain on my windshield.

(I guess thanks for letting me share another story without much of a point. I guess it’s just fun to write sometimes. To go back to these memories helps to keep me calm while I’m dealing with the stress of finals. To put them out into there world, well I don’t really know how that’s gonna make me feel yet. I guess I’m finding out.)

North Tahoe’s Flume Trail

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.

IMG_8858

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.

IMG_8864