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!
So where was I? Standing on a ledge shivering sound right? Well there I was perched 80ft up on the side of a whispering waterfall. The mossy walls of silver schist making them far more slick than they already looked under the pearl sheen of the water way. The ledge that I was on was under constant bombardment from what Chris Atwood aptly called a rooster tail, the same effect is easily observed by a water skier who’s carving into the wake super hard. Unfortunately for me this rooster tail was aimed directly at my back. Fortunately for me I had a 70L pack with a cover that was taking the most direct hit. But it was constant. Always trying to drown me or dislodge me from my already terrible footing. Anchored into the wall as I was I wouldn’t have fallen more than a few inches before my sling caught me and I smashed my shins on the ledge, but that was not something I wanted to experience so I attempted to keep my feet.
The rooster tail in full effect; water spraying every which way and splashing on two the only necessary lens of my glasses. (For those of you haven’t read anything else by me or don’t know me, I have one eye.) And I suddenly had an immense burst of energy and yelled, mostly to myself, “LET’S GET WET!!!!”
The level of endorphins soaring in my body, warmth returned to the tips of my fingers and I began to slide as smoothly as the water below me down the face of the cliff. About 60ft down this awesome face I came back into the line of site with my partners Chris and Kathy. Chris was posted up knee deep in an eddy off to the side of the creek and his camera raised to the right eye while the left eye was shut tight. Snapping a few slow exposure shots, which I’m excited to see, he had me pause in the more diffuse water tumbling down over my feet. I was still perched about 30ft from the base of this particular rappel and at Chris’ request to pause so he could take a photo I also remembered to slow down. To enjoy myself.
I looked up then for what felt like the first time since I entered the slot. My comfort with my surroundings growing with every passing second, while my appreciation for where we were swelled as well.
Wow! What an unreal few days I’ve had! I finished my WFR, Wilderness First Responder, went canyoning in the Grand Canyon into a slot known as Garden Creek, and in what is perhaps the biggest deal for me I landed my first professional writing job! It’s pretty simple, I’m working as a freelance writer for a larger company that specializes in academic writing. So basically they connect clients with writers. Its super simple but its a foot into an industry I never thought I’d break into. So to say the least I’m beyond excited right now. Not to mention I only have $1000.00 left in my account soooooo I kinda need cash in a real bad way! I’m hoping that this gig will help keep me afloat for the next several months. And if I get good at it maybe even longer. I don’t see a reason why I couldn’t crush it thought, it seems like it is right up my alley.
In other news I’m headed down to Phoenix this afternoon, meeting up with my new friend Zach O’donnal from my WFR course. After which I’m heading over to San Diego, CA to stay with Jamie Sullivan and Courtney Clark for a week or two and hopefully get my feet under me and start to generate some income.
The weather in Flagstaff is hard to leave though, we experienced a really wet snow last night, about four inches of it, and I really feel at home here. It’s easy living but I guess that means it’s probably time to go.
It is amazing how many transformations this trip has taken on in its limited three month duration. I’ve learned a lot and experienced a ton while at the same time feeling like nothing has changed. But what I once thought was going to be a journey of outdoor shenanigans has now become more about people. Meeting new friends and seeing old ones. I think it has turned out this way in part because I can’t stay quiet in new places and as some of you know it is people that light my fire! That being said I’m still getting out and doing awesome stuff in the backcountry. (i.e. the overly dramatized story about the WFR and canyon I’m interrupting with this piece of writing here.)
But to say the very least, I’m beyond stoked to be able to write for a potential living. I’m also beyond excited to be making my trip about people. And especially people that mean something to me. The friends and family that I have been able to connect with thus far have really made this trip. And I think the best part about that is that I was planning on doing this trip with the majority of time spent isolation. It is definitely the unexpected things that makes life worth living.
Get outside, meet great people, and live the best life you can. Also chase what you want. (I’ve sent out probably close to 50 copies of my resume in order to get this one intro writing gig. So worth the work!)
So flashing back to April 16th, 2013 I was 22 years old, recently started college at CU Boulder, and convinced the only thing I needed in life was a breath of fresh air and a break from reality. It has been three years since I felt that initial urge to ditch the so felt monotony of my everyday existence and chase something a little more meaningful, and I’m proud to say that I finally took a step away from my day to day comfortable, unchanging lifestyle and I jumped into something with a little more risk.
Since 2010 I have held six different jobs, working approximately 15,685 hours, 392 weeks, which is 7.54 years of work in just six years. that’s 1.5 years of working two full time jobs. Aaaannd don’t forget that during these last six years I have have been enrolled in approximately 88 credit hours at two different academic institutions. Needless to say that the exhaustion that I thought I felt in 2013 was lame and has since paled in comparison to what I am calling exhaustion now. But this is not a place for me to complain, just to take stock of where I am coming from. These last six years have enabled me to live thus far debt free, with a car that I purchased almost entirely in cash, and to live an extremely comfortable life. I’ve learned several different skills, meet hundreds of people, and have had thousands of experiences that are all fitting of their own pages and stories.
Just a few random highlights: pulling a man from a burning car in 2011, cutting the tip of my ring finger off in 2012, starting at CU Boulder, renting my very own place for the very first time, loosing my aunt, and falling in love. In 2013 I became a server, bought a car, failed a chemistry class, and realized how much I loved the desert. By 2014 I was most adeptly described as sophmorish, I squandered and partied and was frivolous with no regard to myself or others, I also learned what responsibility to myself actual meant, I became a bartender, worked harder than I’d ever worked. By 2015 I was entering a rhythm and a pattern of success and comfort I had money, time, energy, and was increasingly doing and living with a luxurious style, from visiting friends in different states to spending almost every weekend in the backcountry hiking, exploring, and living well. By the end of that year however, I began to itch again and this time for something more than a break. I’d become accustomed to the life in which I worked hard and played harder, but working as a bartender a job I’d come to love so much no longer held the same appeal to me that it once did. I decided to go back to school starting in January 2016. Six credit hours in the spring turned in 15 in the fall, and my work load never changed but my lifestyle of living and loving in the outdoors took a dramatic hit. By September of 2016 I was set on leaving and doing something completely different come 2017.
I cycled through several different plans and finally settled on the Western United States Road Trip Extraordinaire that I started five days ago on December 24th. Well, on day one of this proposed five month road trip I hit a deer and totaled my car. And just like that I’m stuck only 525 miles from my starting point. That’s about an eight hour drive. I hit the deer just about 40 mi southeast of Evanston, WY which in turn is only about 79 mi away from my father’s house in SLC, UT. At about 6:15pm MST, traveling at about 74 mph in the right lane of interstate-80, I collided with a yearling deer crossing from the right side of the road to the left. With so little reaction time I was unable to comprehend what was happening and thus unable to make any stupid decisions that would have worsened my situation significantly. Instead, after having the airbag gently explode in my face and slowing to a stop on the shoulder of the road realized that I had just hit a deer and was now on a very different type of adventure than I had anticipated.
Before I’m able to take any real action, the sound of my car horn ringing ceaselessly in the frozen night air, the fog lights of a truck light up my stunned face. Reaching into the back of my overly packed Forester I reach for my down jacket just as a woman from the truck now parked behind me starts to ask if I am okay. Angela and Trevor. These two saw the deer run out in front of my car, saw me hit the poor creature, and ran to my aid when I was fumbling around in the dark for a jacket and a headlamp. Together Trevor and I were able to get the hood of my car open and wrench the horn fuse from its housing successfully creating a silence only broken by the engines and rattling chain-linkages of passing 18 wheelers.
The blood and guts on the driver’s side of my little white Subaru were still steaming, the airbag still smoking, Trevor and Angela’s child in her car seat still sleeping silently as the gravity of my situation seemed to come down on my shoulders. Before I really know what is happening, Angela has dialed the number of a towing company from Evanston, WY the next town down the road. The rough sounding man on the other end of the phone says it will be a while and to get comfortable. Of course it will be a while, it is Christmas Eve and the biggest storm of the year is on its way in from the West and the Salt Lake Valley.
I return to the driver’s seat after saying thanks and goodbye to Angela and Trevor, their daughter had woken up. The airbag hanging down from the disemboweled steering wheel and acrid smell of burning synthetic material in the air as the dust and other residue from the airbag settles into my skin. Lights again, this time they flash red and blue, signifying the arrival of Wyoming State Patrol Officer M. Adams. Officer Adams is a man of about 65 years with a crisp white, well groomed mustache and a receding equally as white hairline. After giving me a once over and realizing that I was fine and just shaken, Officer Adams and I returned to his cruiser allowing me to escape from the physical reality of my situation. After properly filing his report of the accident, we took a short drive back about 100 yards to the scene of the accident to see if the deer had remained in the road. However, we discovered that not much actually remained of the deer at all. We found just the head attached to the fore legs, and beyond that just bits and pieces of the animal’s body scattered over about a 25 sq yard area. We returned to my car and waited for Jim, the tow guy who Angela had so readily called for me. Apparently everyone in the area knew him. Apparently everyone in the area were also not strangers to rough and tumble situations. Officer Adams recounted a few for me; from the time a man in a Geo hit a bull moose and it bled to death on his lap, or the time that he himself hit a deer and a drunk man from a local bar offered to finish it off with a hunting knife from his truck. These short stories normalizing my situation, I was able to begin to calm down.
Just in time for Jim. Jim was everything but normal in my experience. Jim was 74 years old with a big gray bushy beard, tanned and weathered facial features, and the smoothest and softest hands I have ever shaken on a man who clearly has toiled laboriously for a living. The size of the tobacco chew in Jim’s lower lip was the size of large egg, and everything he said was muffled and stumped of times incomprehensible. quickly loading the truck with my damaged subaru, carrying my entire life on the back of his flat bed wrecker, Jim drove me 42 mi to the Motel 6 off the first exit in Evanston. It was there that I’d slowly, over the course of 36 hours, come to terms with my situation.
The first night was sleepless. I arrived at about 8:35pm to room 124 the second room in from the the furthest Northwestern point of the cheap brick hotel. The room was a combination of cheap linoleum disguised as hardwood, and cheap rattling appliances. The sound of the freeway clearly audible over the constant harassment from the mini-fridges air compressor. I went in and out of the quiet room several times that night, continuously looking at my poor little car as if it would some how miraculously all be back to normal the next time I looked at it. Laughing hysterically at my situation, desperately trying to see a silver lining in what was quickly turning into the single most disappointing accident of my life. Disappointing because everything was actually fine, all my things were fine, my car was drivable but most likely totaled, more importantly I was fine, Trevor and Angela and their daughter were fine, the deer… well that was pitiful sure. But I was 100% okay. Something that seems to have happened to so many people was taking a toll on me emotionally and physically and I didn’t know how to respond. I felt angry that it had happened to me, then I got mad for feeling selfish knowing that millions of other people had suffered far more severe car wrecks and in the schemes of hiccups this was minor. But the longer that I sat dwelling on why I was so upset the more I realized that I was upset because the car that Bambi and I had just wrecked in tandem represented the fruits of my 15,685 hours of hard work. The car had been my freedom, it was the thing that I was taking my road trip in, it had been my reprieve when I only had two hours between jobs and went for a hike, it had been the single largest physical representation of my success as an individual.
I wish realizing this made me less upset but the truth is that night I stayed awake until 4am periodically wiping away a tear or two from my eyes and choking back my self pity. It wasn’t until the next morning at around 10am that the sense of self pity began to diminish. With the rise of the sun came the instinctual urge for task oriented action that I’ve grown so accustomed to. I went to my car and procured food, clean clothes, and other items for the day. I ripped the broken plastic from the front of the car, and turned over the engine; looking and listening for potentially harmful sights or sounds, there were none. I tied up the dangling wires, removed shards of glass and plastic, pulled the entire front bumper from the two remaining pins holding it in place, tied the wheel wells into place, and tied the hood of the car down. as far as I was concerned I was ready to drive again. That was my plan after all. But on Christmas Day, as much as I wanted to be 80 mi along down the road sitting around a table with my family, the storm that had been brewing in the west was starting to wreak havoc on interstate-80 and my plan of driving the rest of the way to SLC was shot down my mother nature herself.
As many of you know for the last 4.8 years or so I’ve been working at Tahona Tequila Bistro, a tequila bar. And on my last day had been given a bottle of my favorite, Tonala four year extra anejo. Aged for two years in sherry barrels and two years in white american oak, Tonala has a smooth, sweet, oaky taste that to say the least brought me a warm and rather disorienting sensation after I drank half the bottle in about three hours.
I awoke face down on the hotel bed, sweating bullets, with a raging headache, and roaring stocmah. Walking outside to the car in search of more food I began to see the actual humor of my situation. Nothing like 4pm hangover to put things in perspective. I had been on hour seven of a 5 month road trip and had wrecked my car, escaped unscathed, and was stucked due to inclimate weather 80 mi away from my family, which would be the first time all of us would be together in one place in the last two years. But nothing ever goes the way we think it should.
In 25 years of life that has always been one of the most consistent lessons I have learned and relearned. Once we think we have something figured out or mastered, under control, or predicted, planned or otherwise have our thumb on it, life seems to slip away and smack us upside the head as if to say remember don’t get comfortable. My friend Sabine once told me that kids from divorced or homes often times abhore change in their lives. They look for stability and consistency. The truth in my life seems to be that we all seek stability and consistency, which is grand and fine thing to have. It’s incredibly luxurious to not have to stress about where your food is going to come from, where you are going to sleep, how your are going to get to work, how you can mean something to the world. But like any adventure in the beginning stages of any grand journey I must acknowledge that the reason I am leaving is because the stability that meant so much to me, that I spent 7.5 years of working time to build, has become suffocating in its own way. And that while no one wants to hit a deer and total their car, I would rather have to learn to deal with that and any other number of traumatic, inconvenient, destabilizing and morality punishing activities than to stay stagnant and never know what I am capable of.
My name is James Hansen, this is day five of my five month long road trip and as of now I still don’t have a car. But I’m not stopping.