Articles about Travel

Forks in the Road – A Travelers Cookbook

Forks in the Road Cookbook

An argument could be made that eating is the backbone of travel. In my experience, most travel (road trips, plane flights, camping, backpacking, rafting, etc.) revolves around food. What food do you pack? Where do you eat? When should we stop to eat? What is the local food like? Who are we eating with tonight? And what do we have to bring to cook? Food, and cooking, is a huge part of our day to day lives and it’s importance is amplified when traveling. It’s no wonder, then, that a book compiling recipes collected while on the road and focused on travel cooking has surfaced…in fact, I’m surprised there aren’t more of them.

Forks in the Road – Overland Expo 2014

Overland Expo is a symphonic cacophony of adventurous travel stories. To get into the individual accomplishments of every Overlanding group becomes an ego driven exercise of carefully stacking the number of miles driven, countries visited, tires changed and officials bribed in a round-the-world pissing match. All in good fun, of course, as every storyteller is also an avid fan-boy of the next adventurer recounting the comedy and tragedy of their own epic sagas. Ultimately, it’s the not how far or how long your trip was that sets your story apart but the personalities involved and how they’ve shaped the journey that really matters.

This year at Overland Expo I made an effort to look past the dusty statistics and find something that really captured my interest among a whole collection of unique and interesting stories. The stories that captured my interest were the ones relateable to me, aligning with my own experiences as I begin to dip my big toe into the Overlanding lifestyle. I love all land south of the border including Mexico, Central America and South America and long to travel more extensively in that part of the world. I am also a cook, at home and on the road, and meal prep is a big part of our travel experience. Ask my wife, she’ll tell you that proper food on the road may make the difference between a happy road trip and a miserable meltdown.

Enter Life Remotely.

Kobus - Life Remotely

I met this trio for the first time as I walked along the dusty path between vendor booths casually assessing this year’s assortment of new products. I lingered at their booth eyeing the hand-made grills and metal Expedition Tongs sitting neatly on the edge of the table. I was drawn in further when I realized they were hosting some cooking demos I had already decided I wanted to sit in on. Immediately I was engaged by their outgoing front-man, a charismatic South African native by the name of Kobus who doubled as grill-master and crowd wrangler. He took a break from working the crowds to tell me a little about their new cookbook and introduce me to Jessica, the “token female” of the group and Kobus’s wife.

“This is a collection of recipes we put together during 19 months on the road through Central and South America…”, I don’t even think I let her finish the whole sentence before I said I wanted one. Jessica operates as the Navigator and, seemingly, primary income provider of the trio. Working as a photographer and graphic designer who successfully manages her business from a small laptop between internet connections, her income fuels the ongoing journey. Her brother, Jared, claims she is the primary reason there always seems to be a bottle of wine around to roll out fresh tortillas but she is also responsible for the beautiful photography featured in their book.  Just flipping casually through the pages and knowing they collected local recipes as they traveled in Latin America sold me on their book, Forks in the Road.

Jared is head chef of the Life Remotely crew, taking responsibility for almost everything they eat on the road. Throughout their 19 month trip, they’ve cooked about 80% of their own meals mostly planned an orchestrated by Jared with grill help from Kobus. Forks in the Road was his baby and while all three of them are listed on the cover, Jared is credited as author. I caught up with Jared as he was preparing empanadas for a Dutch Oven demo later that morning. He talked about technique and the importance of flexibility in recipes while traveling in foreign countries all while trading good-natured insults with his sister and brother-in-law. The finished empanadas were pretty amazing.

Life Remotely - Empanadas - Forks in the Road

Dutch Oven Empanadas - Forks in the Road

Forks in the Road – A Cookbook for the Road

Forks in the Road is specifically designed as a cooking guide for Overlanders by Overlanders. Jared chronicles the book’s authenticity ,

“Every recipe in this book was discovered, adapted, cooked, written, revised and meticulously photographed somewhere between Tijuana, Mexico and Ushuaia, Argentina. The first recipes were written mere miles from The Death Road in Bolivia. In the following months they were photographed on the coast of Chile, edited on a cruise ship in Antarctica, formatted in a Uruguayan hotel, and finally submitted for publishing from a rental house on the beach in Brazil.”

The book is a collection of local favorites and down-home comfort food with simplicity and minimal equipment in mind for ease of cooking on the road. It caters to the novice cook and experienced camp-chef alike with basic building-block recipes as well as complicated day-long, whole-hog roasting events. That’s what I think is so great about this book. If you’ve never cooked on the road before, these recipes will get you started. If you’ve cooked on the road for years, these recipes will still likely introduce you to flavors and techniques that are entirely new. These are recipes that bring a level of joy and comfort to your journey that it may have been lacking. Whether it’s Dutch Oven cinnamon rolls for breakfast, Chimichurri  Steak for dinner or a killer Caipirinha for an after dinner cocktail this book has you covered. Organized into sections with names like “Comfort Breakfasts”, “Eat Lunch Like a Local” and “I’m Tired and Dirty and Just Want to Eat Dinners” this book is made for travel but offers a nice change of pace for the home cook as well. Hell, even part-time road warrior and self-proclaimed “non-cook”, Val-in-Real-Life picked up a copy of the eBook for some less frightening culinary ideas on the road and actually put it to use on her 7-week Pacific Northwest Tour.

Aside from the recipes, Jared has presented well written stories and detailed techniques for finding food, fun and adventure on the road. Accented with Jessica’s photography my copy of Forks in the Road has an honored spot on our coffee table…that’s when it’s not actually on the road with us.

Forks in the Road

Forks in the Road – Bringing in the Crowds

So, how do you cut through the chaos and bring in the crowd in the middle of a noisy, fast paced event like Overland Expo? Easy: Feed the people!

Yup, the Life Remotely trio executed the perfect PR stunt by spending 6+ hours Saturday morning during the peak of the Expo fire roasting a whole 40 lb lamp on a home-made spit over an open fire. Continually basted in a chimichurri-like marinade the enticing aroma of garlic and roasting meat whipped by high winds attracted huge crowds all day Saturday with the tantalizing promise of a free tasting when it was done. As the designated hour approached hoards of sun-baked, dust-covered, hungry Overlanders began to gather sensing the time was near. A long, haphazard line quickly formed as the meat was removed from the spit and laid whole across a table while Jared and Kobus stripped it clean and processed the meat into bite size pieces for the eager crowds.

Life Remotely Forks in the Road-2

Life Remotely Forks in the Road-5

Life Remotely - Forks in the Road

Life Remotely Forks in the Road-8The lamb roasting event was a big hit as Life Remotely took the opportunity to work the crowds and talk about their book. Jared, Jessica and Kobus put on other demos and tastings throughout the weekend sharing recipes and techniques they’ve experimented with on the road. The Dutch Oven empanadas, a mud-baked whole chicken and chilaquiles from home-made tortillas rounded out the weekend’s demonstrations. With every demo you could tell that they’ve learned to work together and manage minor frustrations without letting them get in the way. The trio’s time on the road has truly made them a team.

Jared talks about finding balance. How important it is to strike a happy medium between chaos and comfort to stay sane:

“It turns out that much of this world is full of dirty bathrooms, noisy campsites, inaccurate maps, understocked grocery stores and horrible road conditions. It also has a fair share of excellent accommodations, spectacular scenery and very friendly people. Not knowing which to expect as you roll into the next town is one of the best, yet most difficult parts of traveling. Finding the balance will help you deal with these uncertain circumstances without turning grocery shopping and nightly meals into a burden.”

Simplicity, flexibility and a willingness to experiment seem to be key factors in keeping sane on the road. Especially when it comes to food. It appears the Life Remotely crew have found their balance and it’s a pleasure to watch them show it off.

Check out more of their adventures at LifeRemotely.com and I encourage you to grab a copy of their book, Forks in the Road, by clicking here.

 

Camp Food – Wife’s Favorites

Car camping with my wife has been a lot of fun and a huge learning experience.  I am so accustomed to camping alone and only worrying about my own comfort that I let a lot of things pass just because they’re not priority.  One of the biggest things that changed when my wife and I started camping together was the camp food.  I had come into a habit of treating food like a necessary evil when camping or backpacking, making it as painless, lightweight and worry free as possible.  I would do a couple of nights in the desert with some oatmeal, trail mix and a big bag of beef jerky.  That kind of thing won’t fly when we’re camping together.

First of all, my wife is a vegetarian.  So the beef jerky staple is out and she’s not much for dried fruit, so I have to think about fresh ingredients when possible.  Car camping with the cooler makes it relatively easy to manage, backpacking is a little more of a challenge.  But I promised my wife plenty of snacks in our wedding vows and that means making sure she is fed well even when we’re out in the middle of nowhere.  Luckily, there are some easy go-to dishes that have become her favorite camping meals when we’re on the road.

Grilled Cheese and Veggies

Grilled Cheese

This sounds easy, but there’s some thought that goes into this.  The right bread, the right cheese(s), grilled veggies to add…you gotta get it right! My wife’s running favorite is white cheddar, goat cheese and grilled sweet potato on wheat bread.  If I’m feelin it, we’ll add a few jalapeno slices for some spice.

Grilled Veggies

Remember in Cub Scout camp-outs wrapping veggies in foil and tossing them over the fire?  Yeah, that still works.  We’ll slice up some sweet peppers, squash and mushrooms then add a pad of butter and some seasoning.  Wrap the whole thing in foil and grill over an open flame.  For a little extra punch I’ll add some jalapeno mustard to the mix.

Sweet Potato Pancakes with Berries

Breakfast is usually oatmeal (we make it a little extra watery so we can add powdered peanut butter to it – AWESOME!) but once in a while I’ll make pancakes while we’re at camp if we have time.  On one of our trips to Grand Canyon we got up early so I could shoot the sunrise.  When we came back I put coffee on and started on a big breakfast.  I had some sweet potato pancake mix to which I added powdered peanut butter and blueberries.  I cooked them in my fancy new contraption from Snow Peak and they were amazing!  So good they didn’t need any syrup.

Pancakes in Snow Peak Clamshell

 

Bonus Camp Cooking Tip:

Even if you’re eating prepared, freezedried or leftover food from home, always bring a few fresh ingredients to add some dimension to your meal.  I generally bring a lime, at least one jalapeno and an apple.  Dice the apple and add it to oatmeal for some fresh, sweet crunch.  Add diced jalapeno to pasta, rice or chili dishes for some fresh spice or add slices to sandwiches and eggs.  Lime juice goes a long way to freshen Thai dishes, Mexican dishes or even eliminate that weird flavor we often get from filtered water.

Snow Peak cutting board

For more Camp Food tips, tricks, ideas and recipes check out the Sierra Trading Post Social Hub post about Food for the Outdoors.

 

Overland Expo 2014: What do you mean it’s not about the gear?

Overlanding is self-reliant overland travel to remote destinations where the journey is the principal goal. Typically, but not exclusively, it is accomplished with mechanized off-road capable transport (from bicycles to trucks) where the principal form of lodging is camping, often lasting for extended lengths of time (months to years) and spanning international boundaries.

This was my fourth year visiting Overland Expo.

It’s easy to get caught up in the show.  Every year Mormon Lake finds itself swarming with giant shiny vehicles, classic overland rigs, and custom monsters designed solely to roam the Earth in style.  It’s hard not to get excited about all the chrome, steel, grease and rubber promising adventure and travel like you’ve only imagined it could be.  From restored off-road classics to bright and showroom-shiny marvels of technology the Overland Expo definitely focuses on the vehicles.  But this is no car show.

Range Rover-1

If you’ve got the vehicle, well there’s always the specialized gear to go with it.  You can’t have an off-the-beaten-path adventure without the right field-recovery kit, or high-powered winch, or maybe you need a bad-ass light kit, roof rack or gnarly new bumper.  If your rig is settled, maybe it’s the camping gear you need?  Rooftop tents, pop-up adventure trailers, fully integrated camp kitchens with pressurized hot and cold water and a solar powered refrigerator.  As a gear-head I get it.  I want to see the newest improvements in technology and the bright-and-shiny “best of show” on display so I can picture myself aggressively throwing sweaty handfuls of money at the vendors praying that I’ll get to take it home and love it and pet it and name in George.

Vehicles of Overlanding-4

Maybe you’re not in the market for anything in particular.  Then it’s simply the spectacle of the Overland Expo that pulls you in.  Everywhere you turn there are massive land-crawling monsters of mechanization decked out with every impossible combination of equipment reminiscent of a post-apocalyptic-Mad-Max-sci-fi thriller.  If you should happen to witness one of these massive lumbering beasts in action, growling with every movement and belching diesel-drenched awesome from it’s battle-blackened exhaust pipe, I dare you not to stare in wide-eyed child-like wonder.

Vehicles of Overlanding-2

But there’s another side to the Overland Expo, the real side, the soft pink underbelly where you’ll discover the human element that tells the real story.  People travel from all over the world to converge on the little wind-swept patch of dusty grass outside Mormon Lake to be a part of a unique community that gathers here to celebrate global travel and human culture.  When you venture past the noise and gleaming metal you’ll discover a common theme in the stories of the sun-baked, trail-tested, road-wise representatives of this community.  They are people who laugh easy and place high value on friendships, good cigars and a well crafted story.

Overland Expo 2014-1

The gear becomes less and less important as you realize the human side of the equation wholly eclipses the mechanical.  People that have been away from home, friends and family for months, maybe years, at a time in the holy name of adventure.  In some cases it is a permanent lifestyle change wherein every material possession is sold, donated or abandoned to make life on the road a full-time pursuit.  Others save for years, or sell assets to take extended leave from the day-to-day drudgery of an old career and escape.  Others, usually the younger Overlanders, have found ways to work on the road in fields that don’t require a desk, a chair or a brick-and-mortar storefront allowing them to make enough money to keep moving from one adventure to the next.  The underlying subtext that permeates every story is the urge to experience the larger world first hand, face-to-face, to see it, smell it, taste it and make it a part of themselves.

Overland Expo 2014-6

Spending long months, or years, traveling the globe and living with, around and in your vehicle is a unique experience that may be difficult to relate to if you haven’t been there yourself.  It can be difficult among your “normal” friends back home to find a sympathetic ear for your story about blowing out your suspension in the middle of the African desert on a lonely, rutted dirt road.  It’s hard for the non-traveler to find context with your fear, anxiety and ultimate triumph in that situation.  Finding people to relate to, and who can relate to you, is an important piece of belonging.  For all it offers, the most important value of the Overland Expo is the ability for these people to gather as a community and share their passion with like-minded, similarly-experienced people.  The more unique a community is, the stronger it’s connection and the Overland Expo has the feel of a family reunion where everyone is the crazy uncle with the good stories.  It is, for the most part, a community that doesn’t care if you travel by motorcycle, car, truck, van, Earth Roamer or 1993 Mercedes-Benz UNIMOG U-2450 UNICAT.  The important thing is that you travel, experience the world, get off the beaten path as much as possible and see the world with your own eyes.  If you can make that leap and be brave enough to drive a road that makes you nervous, visit a city with a name you can’t pronounce and have food you don’t recognize with someone who’s language you don’t speak…then these are your people.  Come out next year, say hi, and ask them about their latest adventure.  You won’t regret it.

Overland Expo 2014-2

For another perspective (and a little more information about Overland Expo itself) check out the recent coverage by Val-in-Real-Live about OX14.

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.

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!

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.