Dave Creech is a successful business owner and entrepreneur based in Phoenix, Arizona. He shares his personal story and lifelong passion for travel and rugged outdoor adventure through his blog at WildernessDave.com. David’s focus has been on trip stories, gear reviews, Wilderness Medicine and a series of articles aimed at introducing Yoga to hikers and backpackers as a path to staying fit, healthy and injury free.

Columbia #OmniGames: Supporting Storylines…

Columbia Omnigames

Dog sledding

The raw excitement around the dogs was palpable and contagious as they yipped, barked and howled with anticipation in the falling snow.  While one group of riders split off and mounted their growling machines, I followed Beth, Justin, Katie and Derek through the thick snow to the sleds.  Snow swiftly swirled around us and the restless dogs as the winds picked up and visibility diminished.  The wirey dogs were quickly harnessed up and attached to the leads one by one, each of them seemingly bursting with excitement for the first sled run of the day.

Columbia OmniGames

Due to injury and lack of mobility, I would not be competing in the long anticipated games.  Nearly 40 outdoors enthusiasts and social media influencers from the past four seasons of Columbia’s #Omniten program gathered near Park City, Utah for a collective competition.  The competition would be a secret set of challenges, completed in teams, with a serious prize on the line.  Once the content of the games was revealed and the teams were chosen, I began my own challenge: To tell the story of the games through photographs.

The final challenge for everyone in the competition would be “Charles Dickens”, a storytelling challenge.  I knew the teams would be immersed in their activities,  in some cases fighting the clock, and there would be little time or opportunity for them to capture the images that could bring their stories to life.  In the highly visual mediums we have to portray our stories, images are invaluable and grab a reader’s attention quickly.  So my challenge, my contribution to the games, would be to capture the moments that would help support the narratives of the competitors to the best of my abilities.

I chose to start my shoot with the first dog sled teams, passing up an opportunity to follow the first snowmobiles to the archery site.  Everyone was excited about the dog sleds and I knew I needed to capture that excitement early while it was still raw, while the dogs were still fresh, while the apprehension was still visible.  I wanted to focus on two things at this station, the excitement on people’s faces as they readied for their first ride and the explosive energy of the dogs.  The dogs were much less cooperative than the #omniten but were the real stars, beautiful animals straining against their harnesses with incredible power.

Columbia Omnigames

The shooting wasn’t too difficult here, but getting around in a foot and a half or more of snow with a bad knee made for some sketchy moments.  A couple of falls and bad twists made things interesting and set a cautious tone in my head about being physically able to follow the games.  Still, I would do my best.

Making fire exciting

It was quiet once the dogs had run off with their sleds in tow.   I set off across the snow to find the other teams working on their challenges.  luckily for me the other events were clustered together, but they were up a hill…normally not an issue but this time it felt like an arduous trek.  I struggled up the snowy, uneven path to the Fire Challenge.

Columbia Omnigames

Each team had 25 minutes to light a fire and get a small pot of water boiling.  Not quite the excitement surrounding the dog sleds.  Looking for storylines I focused on the expressions of concentration,  I tried to capture the spark flying off the flint starter, and for those who were successful…flame.  I started to realize my background in graphic design and sequential illustration played in to how I thought about the photos.  During the Fire Challenge I really began to treat the photography like I was setting up a storyboard. I looked for “scene setting” images, “character” images and “action images” while in my head I stitched them together sequentially so I could visualize and capitalize on the gaps.  This technique of visualizing a sequential storyline helped get me through the next few events.

Columbia Omnigames

I can’t be everywhere

I really wish I could have covered everyone at every event, but it just wasn’t possible. The Dog Sledding was too mobile and the archery event was too remote.  Even the clustered events were difficult because I was having a hard time moving quickly enough through the snow to catch each team at each event.  Knowing I couldn’t do it all, I began to broaden the scope of the story I could tell.  Instead of focusing on individual stories, I realized I needed to tell the broader story of the games in general. I started thinking about the group story and how the individual stories would intertwine.

Columbia Omnigames

This released me from the idea that I had to capture everyone at every station. As long as I could cover different crews at each event I would be supporting the overall story. Still, the first day was a serious challenge.

Archery in the snow

I managed to grab a ride along on one of the snowmobiles later in day one. The weather had become more aggressive and our visibility was getting pretty tight when we took off. I remember thinking that this could make for some great dramatic images or it could ruin my equipment. I stored my gear for the ride out to protect it then set up once we reached the archery station.

Archery turned out to be some of the most dramatic imagery I captured on the first day. The wind picked up and the snow whipped through the frame while I narrowed in on the expressions of focus and concentration of our archers. Just the image of a drawn bow exudes tension, power and drama and has been used in imagery of warriors for millennia for just that reason. This was a pretty stationary event, like the fire building, so I worked my angles to capture a higher sense of action to support the narrative.

Columbia Omnigames

Day one of the #Omnigames wrapped up in whiteout conditions with the last of the #Omniten warming themselves indoors with bowls of fresh chili and hot chocolate. I found myself continuing to head outside even though the games were over just to enjoy the weather. Standing outside, wrapped in my warm Columbia gear with the wind and snow whipping around me I was able to have a little quiet time to think and appreciate where I was and how I got here.

Columbia Sportswear has developed a culture built around pushing boundaries and exploring our limits. Their products are designed with this in mind and the “Trying Stuff” mantra is a corporate rally cry that echoes throughout everything they do. We were brought together by Columbia because we embody this message, we live the “Trying Stuff” lifestyle with everything we do. To me it is just that,  a lifestyle, a philosophy that permeates every part of our lives. It’s a personal commitment to accepting challenges and facing them with persistence and excitement…even joy.

Once you stop facing challenges, once you stop pushing your boundaries, you stop growing…you stop improving and learning. You stop living. I will always be “Trying Stuff” whether that means pushing my limits outdoors, developing my home and gardens to their full potential, learning new skills, or expanding my career. I was limited by injury on this trip but it didn’t stop me from “Trying Stuff”. I was able to explore my limits with photography and push my equipment, knowledge and skills to knew levels. Something that has me excited about doing more photography work in the future. At this point who knows where it will take me, but I’m excited to find out.

Review: Pronto Cafe Coffee…

Every once in a while a brand (or rep) will contact me about testing gear.  A lot of times it just doesn’t fit with what I do, sometimes it fits but I’m kinda settled with the gear I have.  Point being, I tend to turn away a fair amount of stuff throughout the year because I don’t feel like I can do it justice.  But when someone offers me coffee, I’m in!

I started working a little with Sport-Hansa after talking to them at the Outdoor Retailer Winter Market in January.  They’ve been a cool company to work with and represent and distribute several European brands here in the US.  I’ve been experimenting with coffee lately in the field (instant, French Press, Aeropress, Grower’s Cup, etc.) so when Sport-Hansa asked if I wanted to try a new lightweight, portable coffee brewing product I, of course, said “absolutely!”

I first saw Pronto Cafe mentioned at HikinginFinland.com earlier in the year.  Pronto Cafe is a French product with coffee roasted in Italy and packaged in Switzerland.  I didn’t expect to find it in the US, so didn’t give it much thought.  With Sport-Hansa now bringing the product to the US, I was happy to be able to try it.  Each package weighs in at only 8 grams and delivers about 8oz of fresh brewed Arabica coffee.  In the sealed package they are supposed to have at least a 12 month shelf life.  Pronto Cafe seems to be available in a 3 pack sampler (for $3.87) or a 10 pack box (for $12.29) which calcs out to a cup of fresh brewed coffee for about $1.25 each.

Pronto Cafe Field Test…

Pronto Cafe Coffee

Recently I had a chance to do a quick day hike with some awesome Twitter friends in the Superstition Mountains outside of Phoenix.  It was a cold, rainy weekend perfect for desert hiking and fun (dangerous) creek crossings.  As is my usual custom, I brought a Jetboil with me on this day hike so we could warm ourselves up with a hot beverage when we stopped for lunch.  Among the assorted beverages was the new Pronto Cafe packets.

Pronto Cafe CoffeeWhen we stopped I was able to offer up coffee, tea, hot chocolate and hot apple cider.  We tried several of the options including the coffee from Pronto Cafe.  The packets are pretty simple, a bit of ground coffee in a small brewing pouch with built in support arms on either side to allow it to rest at the rim of your cup while you pour water over the grounds.  The water seeps through, delivering hot fresh brewed coffee.  We set everything up and began to pour the heated water through but it poured through very fast not allowing much of a steep with the grounds.  As expected, this gave us pretty weak coffee and left me wondering if there was something that could be done.

Pronto Cafe CoffeeLater I decided to try it again, but this time I tried to compact the grounds a little in the pouch before pouring the water in.  I also deliberately slowed the rate of pour (previously I simply filled the pouch then let it drain out, filled again etc.).  I also made sure I delivered a measured amount of water so as not to dilute the brew.

This method seemed to deliver a better, richer cup of coffee.  The trick seems to be to create a little more of a condensed layer of grounds, then trickle the water through.  It still filters through quickly, but you do seem to be able to control the strength of the brew in this way.

All in all, not a bad cup of coffee for a single-serve lightweight option.  It certainly is lighter and creates less waste than many other brews I’ve tried for the backcountry.  Outside of bringing your own instant coffee, Pronto Cafe seems to be the most compact, lightweight and low waste product on the market.  Given the luxury of space and weight, I still prefer my french press…but this is a good alternative for those lightweight scenarios.

Gear Review: The Mini Mojo Load Out Bag…

In addition to being a gear guy, I can also be sort of a Tactical Geek.  I like the heavy ruggedness, versatility and modular nature of much of the gear designed for the military.  So when the guys at TopSpecUS.com reached out and asked if I’d like to review one of their utility bags I was more than happy to take a look.

Voodoo Tactical Mini Mojo

I’m a sucker for a good bag.  I especially like duffel bags with a lot of versatility in storage and carry options.  The Voodoo Tactical Mini Mojo Load Out Bag is that bag.  Don’t let the “mini” part fool you, this is a huge bag.  It’s a smaller, more manageable version of the full sized bag which, in my opinion, is too big to be usable for anything but light gear like clothing.  Once you start packing hard gear into a bag, you want a realistic size and the Mini Mojo is just about right.

Mini Mojo Technical Data:

Voodoo Tactical Mini Mojo Load Out Bag 15-9684 Features:

  • Available in black, olive drab or coyote brown
  • Measures 25″L x 15 1⁄2″W x 14″H
  • 11 exterior pockets for storage
  • MOLLE / Universal compatible
  • Plenty of “D” rings for attachments
  • Secure double-zip main compartment
  • Double compression straps on both ends of the bag
  • Removable, padded shoulder harness and backpack straps for comfortable traveling
  • Wrap-around carry handle feature

Mini Mojo Field Use:

I initially wanted to try the Mini Mojo as a range bag, but quickly found that it’s just too big for that.  Loaded with a couple of pistols and a pile of ammo the generous 24″ main compartment still had tons of room left, way more room than necessary for a range bag.  I would want an even smaller version of this bag if I were to use it for the range.

If you live in a place where you’ll pack a bunch of extra light gear to head to the range, especially an outdoor range, then this might suit you well.  The bag is certainly rugged enough to carry a ton of ammo as long as you can hoist it yourself.

Voodoo Tactical Mini MojoOne of the features that I really like about this bag is the removable (and hidden) backpack straps.  This feature alone makes me think this bag would be an excellent 72-Hour Bag (Bail-Out-Bag) to keep around for emergencies.  It has super strong, heavy duty handles and straps to carry a substantial load but with the backpack straps you can manage that load over greater distances in the case of an emergency.  We keep a couple of Bail-Out-Bags around the house and I loaded up the Mini Mojo with the gear we have to see how well it would manage our setup.

Voodoo Tactical Mini MojoI unloaded our existing duffel bag of supplies into the Mojo Mini including spare clothing, canned goods, cook kit, water, toiletries, first aid kit, flashlight, multitool, etc. and despite being smaller than our original duffel everything fit.  Not only did it fit, but I found I had extra room to stuff in 4 or 5 MREs.  With all the outer pockets I was also able to organize the gear better instead of it all just lumped into one compartment.  And I still had extra room.

Altogether the load weighs close to 50 lbs, considering it’s a Bail-Out-Bag, it’s not really tailored to be lightweight.  I really wanted to see how the backpack straps worked out under some weight so I tossed the loaded bag on my back, adjusted the straps and wandered around with it.  I can’t really say it’s the most comfortable backpack I’ve had on my back.  The straps do cut in and the balance of the load isn’t managed the way it would be in a traditional backpack.  Being as it’s NOT a traditional backpack, but the straps are just a carry option I can overlook this.  I’d much rather carry an awkward load on my back than have to carry it like a traditional duffel.

Voodoo Tactical Mini MojoThroughout the use and testing of the Mini Mojo I was continuously struck by just how much crap you could stuff into this bag.  Between the huge main compartment and all the outer pockets, it’s hard to fill this thing up.  I couldn’t imagine trying to load up the larger version.  I really like the pocket configuration on the bag and the MOLLE system on one side for adding your own modular components if necessary.

This is the kind of bag you could load heavy and toss around in rough conditions and not have to worry about the bag getting beat up.  It’s tough, rugged and versatile and would be good for any variety of conditions where you’d wanted a pre-loaded bag ready to grab and go.  The backpack straps are especially handy and I really like that they can be stashed away in a hidden compartment on the bottom of the back when not in use.  This is a fantastic option especially if you’ll be traveling with the bag at all.

You can find the Mini Mojo Load Out Bag for yourself at TopSpecUS.com for about $100.  That’s a pretty fair price when you look at comparable bags on the market.

A Year in Review (in photos)…

Despite fighting injuries that have severely limited my mobility throughout most of the year,  it’s nice to look back and see that I still had a pretty stellar year.  Between travel for family, trips with my wife and various Social Media events (including #Omniten and Outdoor Retailer) I have managed a hell of a lot of travel this year.  I owe a lot of that to finally living in the same city with my wife, thus cutting down on the travel time we spent just to visit each other.

Even though I’ve spent half of the year in pretty bad pain, I still consider myself luckier than the average bear.  The following is my Year in Review through the images that best represent each trip.  Now, where should I go in 2014??

January…

Eastern Oregon

Winter in Oregon - Oregon Trail

Salt Lake City with Everybody!

Snowshoe at Silver Lake Utah

Idaho with @TrailSherpa, @Wigirl4ever, @AColoradoGal, @Active_Explorer

Sunrise in Idaho- Photograph edited in Lightroom

 

February…

Chalk Canyon

Sunrise light at Spur Cross

South Mountain with @TheMorningFresh and @BananaBuzzBomb

Simply Adventure-South Mountain

 

March…

Haunted Canyon with @BananaBuzzBomb and @MountainMatron

Haunted Canyon- Superstition Wilderness

Skunk Tank with @WriterintheWild

Skunk Tank in Tonto National Forest

Lost Dutchman with @BretEdgePhoto

Photograph of the Week - Lost Dutchman and Four Peaks

Superstition Wilderness

4 - Boulder Creek-Superstition Wilderness

 

April…

Zion National Park with @DavidWherry

View of Watchman from the Campground in Zion National Park

Saguaro National Park

Saguaro National Park

 

May…

Monterey Bay

Monterey Bay Aquarium

Big Sur

Photograph of the Week - Big Sur Sunset Final

Overland Expo 2013

Epic whiskey-Overland Expo 2013

 

June…

Apparently June was a quiet month.  I only have this image of a giant horn worm from my garden…

Monster in the Garden-Horn Worm

 

July…

Grand Canyon National Park

Desert View Hike - Adventure

Lake Tahoe

Lake Tahoe

Mono Lake

Mono Lake-California

Pinetop

(photo credit goes to Mic Waugh)

Crossbows and beards

 

August…

Rogue River, Oregon with the #Omniten

Rogue River Rafting Trip

Sedona L’Auberge Resort

Oak Creek Hike- L'Auberge Sedona

Mount Graham

Mount Graham photography view

 

September…

We technically started our Hawaii trip in September…but…

 

October…

Hawaii

Grassy hills outside Waimea - diversity in Hawaii

Arches National Park

WD at Arches National Park

Monument Valley

Monument Valley

 

November…

Oak Creek, Sedona

Oak Creek-Fall Photography Trip

Death Valley National Park with @AmericanSahara and @valinreallife

Death Valley Sunset

Return to the Superstition Wilderness with @HikingTheTrail and @BananaBuzzBomb

Boulder Creek - Superstitions

All in all, I would say it turned out to be a pretty epic year.  I want to thank everyone who joined me and helped make this year’s travel possible, especially my patient and beautiful wife.  And a special thanks to Angela and Tracy for helping to watch our four-legged family while we are off having adventures.

I also started my virtual Photo Gallery this year and many of these photos are available as prints.

Happy New Year and may your travels be a little messy,  heavily spontaneous and never go according to plan!

Easy knots with the LoopAlien…

LoopAlien

A little while back I was contacted by Claire over at Outdoor Trail Gear to take a look at the LoopAlien for creator David Burrell.  David developed these cool lightweight gadgets a while back and I’ve seen them around, but never had the chance to play with them until now.

I am not an Ultralight guy when it comes to hiking and backpacking, but I do like to keep things as light as reasonable.  So lightweight, versatile gadgets like the LoopAlien are interesting to me to see how they fit into my overall kit.  This is especially when the weather permits me to do some hammock camping.  Hammock camping has some unique challenges because most of your setup is suspended (sometimes all of it) and that means a fair amount of rope work, small rope work where knots and adjustments can be challenging.  If you’ve ever tried tying a knot in a 2mm line and then untying it…it’s like trying to untie fishing line.

In my setup I’ve got some Dutchware that I use to fasten line, tie things down and string ridgelines and they’re great but somewhat limiting.  The LoopAlien can do the same thing, with an insignificant weight difference, and much more.  I’ve used them to tighten tie downs, secure loads on the backpack, hang gear, etc.  They’re light enough (at 2.5 g for aluminium and 2.9 g for titanium) that the weight doesn’t even factor in to my overall load.  They’ll work well with the 1.75mm and 2.2mm Dyneema chord but also work easily with paracord.

In a pretty nasty little storm we encountered in Arches National Park, I used the LoopAliens to rig my tent to a tree to reduce the shaking from heavy wind.  In the cold, windy conditions at night the LoopAlien made it easy to secure the improvised tie down line without having to fumble around in the dark and cold with a knot.

I’ve also used it to add secure attachment points in line that’s already tied down.  Pushing a loop of line through the large hole and wrapping it around the outside of one of the smaller holes allows me to secure a tight attachment point for tying off another line or hanging something from a ridgeline.  I’ve only been using these for a little while, but it seems like the potential uses are endless if you work with small line a lot.

David was just successfully funded at his kickstarter for a new LoopAlien design that will prove to be even more versatile that the original.  Check out the design at the kickstarter page to see the new design and info on when they might be available.

LoopAlien from Canny Designs

At only $4 for the Aluminium LoopAlien is pretty affordable to add to any gear set.  The most expensive version (heat anodized Titanium) is $10 and is still not a bad price for something like this if you are going to be using it often.  They’re nice to have around and a set of 3 or 4 of these would be a sweet stocking stuffer for the hammock enthusiast or lightweight backpacker in your family.

Feeling Alive in Death Valley…

I just got back from an amazing first trip to Death Valley National Park with some amazing people and I desperately want to go back.

Death Valley Sunset

Twitter has been amazing for a lot of reasons, but mostly for it’s role in allowing a community to come together that would otherwise probably never have any contact.  The weekly twitter chat #ATQA (Adventure Travel Question & Answer) has introduced me to a group of incredible people online and I’ve had the great fortune to meet quite a few of them in person.  So when #ATQA host and Adventure Travel Aficionado J. Brandon started talking about a group meet up in Death Valley, I was in without hesitation.

#ATQA is a pretty big community online and the weekly chats bring in a lot of participation.  But when it comes down to planning a trip, very few people can make it happen.  I have found this to be pretty typical with most group trip planning: lots of interest, little actual participation.  Not that that’s a bad thing, fewer people is often better and easier to manage, more flexible…and fewer people to drink my whiskey!

Mosaic Canyon ATQA- Death Valley

Three of us made it out to Death Valley and I could ‘t have spent my time in Death Valley with two better people.  Val said it best, “…an amazing confluence of travel, people, and place”.  It’s the trifecta of happiness!  I have always loved to travel and I’m not the cruise-ship-resort-tourist type of traveler.  I find real bliss traveling in dirty places, off the map, encountering real people and I generally enjoy the company of the people I find there.  Even though we were in the California desert only a couple of hours from Las Vegas, this felt like real travel.  Long bumpy drives on lonely dirt roads to obscure sign posts in the desert had something to do with that, but this really did have more to do with the people.  I haven’t had this sense of ease and understanding on a trip since traveling South America with my dad.

I think it’s easy to feel at home anywhere in the world, it’s rarely a “place” that makes me feel more comfortable and at ease.  Although there are places that call to me, like canyons and rivers, feeling at home is much more about the people you share that place with.  Those interactions and relationships are what shape an experience more so than the water, rock and sky.  Traveling solo is sort of a cheat, you can be comfortable in your community of ONE.  But traveling in a group, and feeling a definite sense of community and understanding is much harder to find.

I have to thank Val and J for making Death Valley one of my new favorite places and I can’t wait to go back for more.

 

Teakettle Junction- Death Valley

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Images from this trip are available on my gallery at WildernessDave.Photoshelter.com.

Finding diversity in Hawaii…

The trip was doomed before it even began.  My wife and I (mostly my wife) had been planning our first anniversary trip to Hawaii with focus on spending time in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.  We poured over places to stay and tried to compile a list of things to do inside the National Park as well as outside the park.  We settled on a promising little cottage just outside the park in the village of Volcano where we would be close enough to the park entrance that we could easily get in early and have no trouble staying late (so I could get my sunrise and sunset opportunities).  But things began to unravel early…

Two weeks before our departure from the mainland my knee decided to fail me.  I had been training again trying to get in shape from my foot being broken nearly all Summer.  Miserable as that was, I was excited to be out again and getting in shape in time for some Winter fun and our anniversary trip.  My knee thought otherwise and I was reduced (once again) to painfully hobbling around the house with limited mobility.  Awesome…Hawaii here we come!

Also looming on the horizon was the giant black cloud of the government shutdown.  In my mind, it would be a game of chicken until the 11th hour and then someone would give in and the crisis would be averted.  Never did I expect it to actually happen and, even if it did, I didn’t expect the National Parks to shut down.  I guess that’s the naturalist in me that considers the National Parks and Monuments part of the “essential” services that would be untouchable during a shutdown.  I also, naively, thought of the National Parks as truly public spaces that would still be accessible even if the Park’s services were closed.  But clearly I was mistaken…

Honolulu and the North Shore

North Shore of Oahu

Honolulu, Oahu Hawaii

We arrived in Honolulu for the first leg of our trip.  We would be staying one evening here before moving on to the Big Island so that I would get to see the USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor.  My wife has been, but since this was my first trip to the islands we made time to make sure I would be able to see the Memorial.

The long flight had been hard on my miserable knee so we reluctantly chose to push Pearl Harbor off to the next morning and explore the North Shore a little bit and maybe catch the sunset.  We fought our way through afternoon traffic to get outside Honolulu and head toward the beaches.  Still pretty sore and stiff from the long flight, I had a hard time getting around but luckily the road pretty much follows the shoreline and there wasn’t much hiking to get to the beaches along the North Shore.

Turtle Beach on OahuWe stopped at a few places, got to see some turtles, had a little snack and waited out the sun as it slowly settled to the horizon.  We stopped at Sunset Beach and while my wife got out the beach towel to lay in the sand and soak up the last hour or so of sunlight, I hauled out the camera gear and set up to catch the fading light.  The weather was nice, there was a slight breeze and a nice set of clouds in the west for the sun to play with as it set.  The sunset wasn’t spectacular but it was pretty nice and it allowed me to get the equipment dialed in.

After sunset we headed back to Honolulu for a nice sushi dinner and some much needed rest.  My knee kept me from getting much rest, but we were excited to get out to the National Memorial before our flight to Hawaii.  My wife turned on the news as we were getting ready and that’s when we found out about the closure of the National Parks.  Blindsided and somewhat devastated that we were going to be denied access to the only reason we stayed in Honolulu AND potentially miss out on the main reason we were visiting Hawaii we scrambled for some answers.  I called the number listed for the Pearl Harbor Visitor’s Center and spoke with a woman who assured me that the memorial, or at least most of it, was still open.

She was partially right, the collection of memorials and monuments at Pearl Harbor are managed by the NPS but some of them, like the Pacific Aviation Museum are actually on the military base property and were therefore still open.  DOD funding was intact, so the USS Missouri and the museum were still open but access was now cut off so they were shuttling visitors onto the military base to access these memorials.  It was a mess and no one really knew what was going on.  We spoke with some very helpful NPS Rangers stationed in front of the visitor’s center, but their news was grim.  This would not be a quick resolution, the parks would likely be closed for a while.

We reluctantly gave in and headed to the airport.  After a pretty rough flight (my knee was really having a fit with all this travel) we landed in Hilo, grabbed our car and headed to Volcano to check in to our cottage.  We rented a private cottage from Hale Ohai cottages in Volcano.  Our place was awesome and set back in the thick jungle vegetation making for a beautiful setting.  Unfortunately, we wouldn’t get a chance to spend much time there.

As most everyone knows now, the National Parks stayed closed for over two weeks which meant that our 5 day adventure in Volcanoes NP was spent outside of Volcanoes NP.  Every morning we woke up hoping that the shutdown was over the park would be reopened.  It was sort of our obsession throughout the trip.  The upside of being locked out of the National Park was that we got to see much more of the rest of the island than we had originally planned.

There is so much to see on the Big Island.  Even being limited by my meager mobility we still got to see a ton of diversity in Hawaii as we ventured out from our home base in Volcano.  Exploring the gardens and waterfalls around Hilo, the rough and rugged coastlines around the southern tip of the island, the high grasslands between Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea and various beaches.  Ultimately we had a great time driving around the island exploring State Parks, beaches and old lava flows.  We had some great meals in Kona and Waimea and found some amazing little roadside mom-and-pop restaurants.  Parks closed or not, we still had a great time exploring the diversity in Hawaii and spending time with each other on our anniversary.

Cape Kumukahi

Cape Kumukahi near Hilo

Cape Kumukahi is just outside Hilo near Puna and was a rough and tortured coastline of old lava flows broken and twisted by the relentless action of the waves.  Throughout our trip, this area was usually cloudy and raining but we happened to catch it one morning when the sun was out and the clouds were still gathering in the distance.  It’s beauty is in it’s hostility, the sharp black lava rock with very little vegetation and the hard crash of the waves on this side of the island.

Rainbow Falls

Rainbow Falls near Hilo

Just minutes outside of Hilo is Ranbow Falls, one of the most visited falls on the island from what I’ve read.  It’s really easy to access and there are paved walks to view points to see the falls.  Many tour buses drop off loads of cruise ship tourists to come in and snap some pictures and gawk at the dramatic falls and lush vegetation.  It is no doubt a beautiful spot, and the falls is much larger and more dramatic during other seasons but I would have liked to visit more remote falls had I been more ambulatory.

Lava Tree Gardens State Park

Lava Tree Gardens outside Hilo

Lava Tree State Park is also near Puna and hosts a unique feature on the island.  Vertical lava tubes dot the park.  These unique features were created when molten lava washed through the area in the 1790s and cooled faster around the large trees as it washed over the land.  The trees burnt out leaving hollow vertical tubes that still stand today.

Punalu’u Black Sand Beach

Black lava shores of Punalu'u beach

Past the south end of the National Park is Punalu’u Black Sand Beach County Park.  It’s a small protected black sand beach area with some cool lava formations and a small section of black sand beach where we saw another turtle on the shoreline.  We actually visited this spot a couple of times during our trip because it was close enough to Volcano to be an easy drive.

Southern Tip of Hawaii

Southernmost tip of the US

The southernmost tip of the Big Island is also the southernmost tip of the United States and is a pretty harsh area.  The seas are calmer here but the currents are still strong.  If you can brave the undertow, there is supposed to be some excellent snorkeling at the base of the shear cliffs.  There was a lot of long-line fishing going on here when we stopped by.  The rugged, windswept cliffs and the expanse of endless ocean beyond really do make this spot feel like the “edge of the world”.

Grasslands outside Waimea

Grassy hills outside Waimea - diversity in Hawaii

Totally unexpected to me were the rolling hills and open grasslands dotted with cattle.  I never expected to see expansive wild grasslands in Hawaii and I found myself staring out at it every time we drove through these areas.  It was different than anything I expected to find on a Pacific Island I was slightly in awe of it.  We stopped one evening on our way from Kona to Waimea as the sun was setting to grab some pictures at the edge of the highway and these ended up being some of my favorite pictures from the trip.

As disappointed as we were to NOT make our trip about the National Park in Hawaii, we still made the best of it and had a great time checking out all that Hawaii had to offer.  As I said to my wife several times throughout the trip, there’s no way to see it all in a week.  We could spend years out here and never get to see it all.

We are already talking about getting back to Hawaii soon to handle some unfinished business.  Keep those parks open, Hawaii, and we’ll be back soon!

A little something about #TryingStuff…

OmniTEN-jump3

The Columbia Spring/Summer 2013 #Omniten set out on the Rogue River in southern Oregon this Summer in the spirit of #TryingStuff.  A grand time was had by all and I wrote about my experience a little bit, and some of you may have seen the pictures and read posts from the other Omniten about the trip.  Amazing group, amazing time, all with a truly amazing company.

We had a great photographer on the trip by the name of Mark Going who took some cool footage and interviews with the group.  This is the resulting video sent to us from Columbia.  Toward the end there’s a peak at me doing a little bit of a back flip.  Good fun.

Rogue River with Omniten

It’s pretty awesome.  The Winter Omniten has been selected and I can’t wait to see what’s in store for them!

Crossing paths on the Rogue River…

Rogue River Rafting Trip

“We don’t meet people by accident.  Each and every person that crosses our path does so for a reason.” -

I’ve never been a believer in the deterministic universe, that everything happens for a reason, but sometimes it’s hard to dismiss.

When Columbia announced that our #OmniTen trip would be on the Rogue River I laughed.  I’ve only been on the Rogue a couple of times since my dad passed away but when I was younger we did regular trips down the Rogue and I know the river well.  Columbia was going to take us to my old stomping grounds and I knew it would be emotional for me.

Then the fires started.

The fires closed down the river.  Some friends of mine put in on the last day they allowed anyone on the river and they pushed to get off the river as soon as possible because parts of the valley were so choked with smoke you couldn’t breathe.  This was 2 weeks before our trip and every report estimated the river would be closed for at least 3 weeks as fire crews struggled to get the Big Windy fire under control.  Columbia was scrambling to come up with plan B.

Several days before we were to converge on Oregon for our adventure, the word got out that the river was going to open back up.  Plan A was back on schedule and we would be floating the Rogue.  At the same time, this meant a scramble for the outfitter, Rogue Wilderness Adventures, to grab some last minute guides for the trip.  Aaron DeSilva was one of those guides, setting our paths on a collision course.

I wasn’t planning to be on Aaron’s raft.  I had intended to grab a spot on the other boat, but ultimately ended up in Aaron’s crew and as others traded spots throughout the trip I stayed put.

Aaron is a local guy and grew up running the Rogue, and other rivers, with his dad.  Even though I moved away from the area to pursue a career, we shared similar stories.  We both grew up playing in the larger than life shadows of adventurous fathers, learning to live a life of actions not talk.  We both grew up on the river, developing an appreciation and respect for the river and the outdoors.  We both developed close friendships with our fathers in our adult lives, something that doesn’t seem to happen as often as it should.

So when I found out that Aaron had lost his father I understood, all too well, what kind of impact that had.  It was later, when I accidentally walked across him having a private moment with the river, that I started feeling that our meeting was intentional.  Walking back from the river’s edge he smiled and shared that he was scattering a handful of his father’s ashes in the water, something he had been doing on all his trips since losing his dad.  This hit home hard and I mentioned that I had done the same with my father.

Aaron DeSilva on the Rogue River

This was right above Blossom Bar, one of the most technical runs we would deal with on the three day trip.  Blossom can be tricky, and if you don’t nail it the consequences can be severe.  Aaron had been looking for his good luck charm, the Bald Eagle, all day.  He was nerved up as we float toward Blossom.  Only a couple hundred yards away from the top of the rapid he spotted a Bald Eagle resting in tree leaning out from the canyon wall.  We quietly floated past, Aaron never took his eyes off the bird and it returned his gaze until we had passed it by.  Aaron’s mood changed, nerves seemed gone and Blossom went by without incident.  Good luck charm indeed.

Later that afternoon we ended our river trip and piled into the shuttle vans.  Everyone randomly grabbed a seat and Aaron and I ended up in the same vehicle.  Due to road closures because of the fire, we had to take the long way back to Grants Pass which meant a long detour south into California…right along 197 and the Smith River.  This had already been an emotional trip for me, but it was going to get worse.  Not only would we be driving right by my parents’ old house, but the accident that took my dad happened along highway 197.

An eight year old scab was quickly torn open as we drove along 197.  Knowing Aaron would understand I mentioned what I was feeling and shared the significance of where we were.  It was then that I learned just how raw and recent things were for Aaron.  While I had lost my dad almost 9 years ago, he had lost his only 9 months ago.  It came together, Aaron is the same age I was when I lost my dad and the closeness of their relationship had left him adrift.  No one understood the depth of what he had lost and he couldn’t communicate it even to his wife.  And here I was, eight years ahead of his position and understanding exactly what he was going through.

We had an emotional exchange as we drove along 197, the rest of the bus quietly gave us the space to talk (either out of respect of awkwardness).  I offered understanding, I offered advice, but most importantly I offered proof of the healing nature of time.  Strangely enough, this exchange brought me a measure of closure.  I really, really hope it brought Aaron a measure of relief as well.  I remember that first year and I would have given anything for some true understanding.  It was a very lonely time.

The Rogue River was fantastic and Columbia puts on a hell of trip.  Rogue Wilderness Adventures and their guides do a bang up job providing way more comfort than most of use are used to outdoors.  And having Ninkasi Brewing along was some seriously tasty icing on the cake.  All in all an unforgettable trip with some really genuine and amazing people.

After the trip I received a message from Aaron, he had found me on Facebook and reached out.  He had found some of the articles I had written about my early adventures with my dad.  He mentioned he had enjoyed our talk and asked if I had written more stories about my dad, so I sent him some links.  I told him that writing had eventually helped me work through some of the loss.  For Aaron, the river is where he finds peace.

In chatting back and forth after the trip I learned a lot.  His father, Tom, had been running the Rogue River since the 70s.  Everything Aaron knows about rafting and the history of the Rogue (which is extensive) he learned from his dad.  They also shared a love of flying and sky diving.  Aaron’s description of his dad reminded me of my own, “The rogue is one of his favorite places in the world. On day two you could always find him sitting in a lawn chair in the middle of mule creek with his feet in the water and a cold one in his hand. My dad was always my best friend, father, mentor, roommate, coach and most of all my true hero.”

Blossom Bar in particular holds a lot of significance, and dusting the river with his father’s ashes upstream of the rapid Aaron had been looking for guidance.  I’ve done the same thing myself.  Aaron and his father, with their love of flying, have always told each other that if they came back they would want to come back as a bird.  Aaron looks for a Bald Eagle on every trip now, thinking of it as his father watching out for him.  To Aaron it was no coincidence that the Bald Eagle appeared as we approached Blossom Bar and he felt the strong, reassuring gaze of his father that morning.

Hopefully I’ll get to see Aaron again one of these days, maybe share another trip on our favorite river.  But I can’t shake the feeling that so many events came together for us to cross paths.  I just can’t help but think it was not an accident.  Even if we never cross paths again, we connected at a pivotal time that made big ripples in our own little ponds.

Well played, Universe….well played…

Happy Birthday National Park Service – Welcome Parksfolio…

Today, August 25th, the National Park Service turns 97!

I’ve recently rediscovered a love and passion for the National Parks starting with a trip to Zion NP back in April.  Since then I’ve visited Saguaro National Park and the Grand Canyon and have plans to visit Hawaii Volcano National Park and Death Valley before the year is over.  Next year I hope to see Bryce, Arches, Canyonlands and Joshua Tree…maybe more!

National Park Series - Grand Canyon

My Zion trip inspired a cool collaborative project you may remember from previous posts.  The Trail Sherpa National Parks Series is a collection of National Parks photos collected from the Trail Sherpa Network of bloggers, processed and curated by me.  This project was really cool and a lot of fun.  When we posted the collection publicly, Tim and I were flooded with emails from people who had photos they wanted to add to the collection, some of which seemed to have great stories behind them.  The Trail Sherpa Series wasn’t the right place for that but we really wanted to be able to showcase some of these cool images and stories that people were itching to share.

Enter Parksfolio…

Parksfolio

Parksfolio website

Parksfolio is our answer.  Parksfolio will be a photographic journal of the National Parks as told by the many visitors who have a piece of the story to tell.  We want Parksfolio to be THE place to share your favorite memories from the National Parks.  It will be a place where people can tell us about their favorite trail, most amazing viewpoint, most memorable campsite or just share a really cool experience.  What better way to honor the Parks Service’s 97th birthday!

Read the stories.  Submit your own photo and story.  Join the conversation by commenting on any story that moves you.  Or search the stories to find inspiration for your next trip.