Alaska Part 7: Whitehorsing Around

“Oh maaan howya doin’ eh? Gettin’ hot out derr eh?”, I overheard from my table at Tim Hortons; the temperatures had just crested 50ºF. Timmy Ho’s, the undoubtable center of the morning universe of Whitehorse. I had been in town for a few days and was still trying to figure out the vibe of the city; somewhere between affluent/upbeat and alcoholic/decrepit.

My buddy, Nick had managed to intercept me in my haul and it was great to see a familiar face in the Yukon territory. Getting to Whitehorse felt like an accomplishment within itself and was the single biggest push in degrees latitude since driving from Los Angeles to Oregon. The notable difference was the sun angle.

We spent the week trying to feel-out the place, complete with checking out the river and many watering holes around town. The Yukon river passes right through town and there was a path that lead past the hydroelectric dam and fish ladder. Unfortunately the last day of the season had been the day before to view the fish, but the salmon run had pretty much expired anyway.

A short drive to the top of the dam and a bit further on was the gorge; a narrow stretch of the Yukon that drove a deep gash into the rock. This straight had historically taken many lives and when looking at the dark waters churning below, it was easy to see we were not on the kiddie end of the pool.

A dive bar reminiscent of our favorite (The White Front of Philipsburg, Montana), welcomed us to their club when we answered a few questions about the taxidermy on the walls. Never mind the fact that we simply overheard the responses of patrons who went before us, we became genuine members of the 98 Hotel bar.

It was Thursday afternoon when the van and I rolled out of the last city I’d see for 700 miles until Anchorage. Fall was in its most colorful phase of metamorphosis and fresh snow dusted the surrounding peaks that passed by for hours. The trip was starting to feel big; big in the way that only one-directional travel can feel. I had driven thousands of miles, hauling thousands of pounds of human produced materiel almost 30 degrees north. There is some sort of purpose inherent within such a long voyage, the ability to call it a simple “vacation” discarded long ago.

 

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Alaska Part 6: The Gnar Cassiar

The Cassiar Highway is one of those roads that feels more alive than a few hundred miles of asphalt; the southern half being rain forest and fjord-ful while traveling north brings grandiosity and desolation. Glaciers sitting between some of the most prominent mountains and wildlife concentrated in every valley’s stream made it seem as though I had entered another world.

My Saturday started by backtracking 40 miles to the Cranberry river where my fishing license allowed for me to try and snag a salmon, I sighted a fox and later a bear right from the highway (by the end of the day bear sightings were boring).  Using some of my limited fly-fishing knowledge and newly purchased flies, I gave it the old college try. It took me about 20 minutes before the barb on the hook smashed off on some rocks and another 40 after that before the fly came completely off in the heavy underbrush that lined the river. Not even a nibble was returned to the other end of my line. All the same, it was a very enjoyable morning excursion and the start of a spectacular day.

In my conversation with Pepe the day before, he mentioned a road that cut to the coast going to the Canadian town of Stewart and Hyder, the southernmost town in Alaska. From the moment I took a left at the Meziadin junction my jaw didn’t come off the floor. Turquoise rivers filled with minerals flowing directly from the last ice age’s glaciers cutting through granite canyons; some terminating in waterfalls hundreds of feet tall into emerald forest. And at the bottom of these streams were the salmon on their last (legs?)…fins swimming against the current to spawn and expire while bears and seagulls picked them apart.

I drove 19 miles of dirt and pothole to reach the overlook of the Salmon glacier. Probably not worth the wear and tear the van endured, especially considering that about 2000 miles still lay ahead, but it became a much more complete sensory experience, wincing every time a tire plunged into a deceptively deep puddle. I had begrudgingly forked over $5 to view the bears and salmon earlier in the day from the viewing scaffold set up by the forest service, and unsurprisingly, no bears were around. By the time I had finished my drive up to the glacier, I re-entered the viewing area and a big male was sloshing around the river lazily looking for an easy catch. There it was, a mighty grizzly bear, and nothing but fascination filled the hordes of people crowded along the railings to get a better glimpse. I had to admit it was very cool, and I couldn’t help but wonder how I’d feel if I met one of these face-to-face.

Finding an unoccupied forest service road of the thousands along the roadway wasn’t difficult, and after finishing dinner I went for my evening beer and hike. I had seen 5 bears that day but couldn’t help but stand amazed at the views every time I turned around; and it just kept on getting better as the sun set. It was a fantastic to finally sense being truly alone, getting northy, getting cut-off from the rest.

The next day was full of mileage as I had to get to Whitehorse, the only real city in the area with reliable internet, for work on Monday (it wasn’t until Monday morning that I learned it was labor day). But a drive can still be just as inspirational as a hike, if not to become grounded, but to become inspired to return.

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Alaska Part 5: The work/ mileage balance

“Why the [expletive] [expletive] isn’t the server running!” I yelled internally in the Prince George library. During the workweek it’s very difficult to tell that I’m on a road trip. The days from McBride to Smithers were a prime example of how work has been coming first even as I put in miles (errr kilometers) across Canada.

You get up around 5:20am at the fishing launch on the Holmes river just 7 miles outside of McBride. Florida time, aka work time, it’s 8:20. You pierce the fog into McBride and find the cafe run by a hilarious couple that love their classic rock radio station. Think Ozzy Osborne over the speakers as you hack away setting up a new web app environment over an orange ginger tea – you love it of course. 6 hours later and you’re just about at your limit for sitting in one place capacity, so you close up shop and blast 2 hours down the highway (seeing another bear) to Prince George and find another coffee shop, put in some more solid coding time, and get to a good stopping point.

Some might find the above scenario stressful, but I’ve really come to enjoy it. First, it forces me to make the most of my internet time and it’s done wonders to creating a hyper-efficient mentality, because as much as I value my current job, I also want to make the most of where I’m at. So on that day in Prince George I had arranged to crash on a couchsurfing host’s couch, something I hadn’t done for a few year now. And boy how I missed it. To a certain extent, working during this trip has made me a recluse. Keeping to a time schedule has kept me out of the late night back-slapping dive bars and when I am in a social space, say a coffee house or whatnot, I very much keep to myself to get my work done. Monday was a great break in that pattern, while my couchsurf host attended a yoga session, I went to one of the microbreweries (surprise surprise) downtown and had a chat with the bartender about all the great ski hills in the area. I then talked hours with my host about topics ranging from learning Spanish to, of course, US politics. I may be an introvert but only part time, and it was refreshing to communicate with people outside of my text message and work chats.

After the work grind the following day, I left Prince George in the evening for Burns Lake and stumbled upon a recreation area. In Canada, these are usually free or very cheap campgrounds similar to BLM land in the US. Amazingly, I still had great cell coverage, which meant I was able to spend the next day with my wifi hotspot working out of the back of my van. There was a tadpole hatching that covered the entire shoreline with thousands of hope-to-be frogs. I considered how they would complement a meal for a bit but after a quick Google search decided my stomach just wasn’t ready for amphibian meat yet.

I followed the Yellowhead highway to the town of Smithers and set up shop for the day. There is a public forest on the nearby mountain and I decided to take a quick, post-work stroll through the woods. It’s amazing how many public recreational facilities exist in Canada and the level to which they are maintained is excellent. This trail came complete with a self guided pamphlet and even had a wildlife blind to use for birdwatching. I had a little bit of extra time that day so I decided to make the most of it by setting up my drum kit to be sure it hadn’t been damaged in the previous 3500 miles. Link to video.

A father and son came by later that evening to drop off supplies for the public, non-profit nordic ski program and we got to talking about the fires along with other things British Colombian. I mentioned I was headed up the Cassiar Highway and without blinking an eye, their tackle box was conjured up and they began gifting me lures for the revers I would encounter and the best spots I should go to try my luck. Canadians really are some of the most outwardly kind people on the planet.

Finishing up work on Friday I headed west on Hwy 16 and turned North on the Cassiar (Hwy 37). At one of the rest stops I began a conversation with a bike touring Spaniard, brushed off my rusted Spanish, and got a few laughs talking about his adventure coming from Alaska. Hearing about the ride made me want to unlock Brucey (my own touring bike that I took to pick up the van) and ride the rest of the highway without being dependent upon demon 87 unleaded.

I was treated to a spectacular sunset show that evening as the grey, overcast clouds turned to a burning orange and for the first time on this trip I began to feel like I was finally entering the northern reaches of the continent.

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Alaska Part 4: Cruising Jasper

Still looking at the map and saying “damn…”

But then I also look at the scenery and can only say the same thing.

I made the most of my weekend and spent my time in Jasper National Park. I would have loved to spend time in Banff as well but I prefer to stick to one park and know it better than be completely out of sorts and know nothing about both.

As with most things I do, I didn’t look into camping and reservations until the night before when I was stealthily parked in a college parking lot. Of course all of the spots were taken and I would have to wager with the first-come, first-serve. I was admittedly nervous and cruised straight through the entirety of Banff Park in order to get to the Wilcox campground, and found it half-unoccupied. I was also very happy to have my first truly cool weather of the trip as the temperature gauge dipped below 40 that night. It didn’t hurt that I was downwind from the katabatics of the Athabasca glacier.

I wanted to take full advantage of my time and wagered that running the hiking trails would be my best bet. That morning I went up to Wilcox pass overlooking the glacier, it was as clear as a bluebird day could be without a wisp of burning pine in the sky. The bighorn sheep were hanging around and I forced myself to stop and take a few pictures with the old, outcast alpha, that had lost a horn. When I reached the van, I noticed a RV had perfectly (purposefully?) parked in the sunshine of my solar shower, so my rinse off was more of a brain freeze.

I powered through Jasper to get to Snaring campground (another first come, first serve) and was glad I arrived early as it had already filled up. After checking in I hit a sizable fatigue wall and it took a lot of self-convincing to get out on another trail. The trail I found however had not been marked on any map and it was clearly a mix of human + game created. It followed the gorgeous turquoise waters of the Snaring upriver towards the northern boundary of the park. I was uneasy the entire walk, even with my can of bear spray it didn’t feel secure. Perhaps it was the riverside berm that had turned into a 60ft cliff which was pinging my fear of heights but I just wasn’t in the game that day. All the same, I was able to take some great pictures of the mountains from afar.

The following morning I awoke early and hit the road to find some hot springs. Upon arrival I discovered there was another 8km round trip trail climbing a mountain; a perfect post-run use for a soak I thought. I hit the trail at a slow tempo-ed trot and the first group of hikers on their decent greeted me with “oh so you think you’re going to jog to the top eh? It only gets steeper from here”. Challenge accepted. The 4-5 hour hike as posted was completed in 1 hour 10 minutes, 42 up, 18 down (including all the talks and waits I had with passerby). I sat down on the pool step allowing my joint to indulge in the hot water and I hear to my right “are you the guy who ran up? Holy shit, you are.” And if I didn’t say I was a little proud of myself then, I’d be lying. There were also cold pools at the facility and as I came up for air after jumping in one a couple to my left asked “Hey, aren’t you that guy who ran up that hike yesterday?”, apparently I was making a name for myself at the park. What I find most entertaining, is that if a quarter of any runners from Boulder had found themselves in Jasper that weekend, I would have been no better than middle of the pack.

I drove out of the park and back into the Pacific time zone, constantly looking back into the rear view mirror and pulling over every time one of the ginormous peaks from Robeson Provincal Park loomed in the reflection. I’ve gotten in a groove selecting where I go to camp for the night: preferably be off the road by 7 to let the engine cool down and thus not overheat the cabin when I crawl into bed, look for Canadian Parks and Trails recreation areas as they are free to camp at and meticulously maintained, always park in the shade, and finally always have a place available for the morning constitutional. I saw my first bear that Sunday, a small blackie scampering across the highway, and camped at a fishing launch. I sipped on a spruce tip ale and saddled up for the 5 days of work ahead, there was no way to deny my first week in Canada had been absolutely spectacular.

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Alaska Part 3: Eh?

“Well there’s no wall yet!”

“Yea and let’s keep it that way!”

And so ended my first Canadian conversation with a couple passing through the rest stop that would be my campsite for the night. The friendly stereotype had already become apparent.

The day before I had been fly fishing the Yellowstone river in Billings with my aunt and uncle before they loaded me down with everything I would need for my first week in Canada including bison sausage, home grown zucchini/ tomatoes, eggs from the chickens, and a complete fly rod setup. When I passed through the border crossing that connects Glacier Part to Waterton, I was expecting the gruff border agent, tattooed and grapefruit biceped, to give me a rough time. He was more perplexed as to how I didn’t have a gun and was going to Alaska more than anything else I was bringing into his country. “So you’re telling me you don’t have a gun? Has there ever been a gun in this vehicle? Do any of your family members own a gun?” I can’t say I’ll answer those questions with the same responses 10 months from now once backpacking season starts again.

My first full day in the maple leaf country was a Monday, meaning I needed to find a good place to start work. It just so happened that I rolled into a small, hip, ski town named Fernie and I didn’t leave it until Thursday evening. It suited my needs much too well: many coffee shops with solid internet connectivity, plentiful forest roads to camp on, streams nearby where I could go for a run up the forest trails in the afternoon and then rinse off, and to top it all off there was a brewery. If I wasn’t on a time schedule of sorts I would have stayed for a month.

When you hang around town for a while, especially one as small as Fernie, people tend to recognize you. The barista, Gary, at Freshies cafe was a former software developer and enjoyed greeting me in the morning with gems of how things used to be in the tech industry. An old gnarled dude who simply said “people call me ‘G Money’ “ told me stories about his snowboarding travel back in the heyday of the sport. And the lady who tipped me off to the campsite location I would stay at for the week would wave at me as I sat by my van eating dinner after she had fed and taken care of the communal “therapeutic” ponies for the night (who knew there was such a thing).

My initial attempt at getting my bike onto the road as a sort of “scout” vehicle quickly came to an end about 2 miles into the ride as the decade-plus aged tires came apart. I somehow managed to find a pair of treads for $20 CAD and when all was said and done, the repairs were no more than $40 US. It’s kind of nice when everything you buy has a built in 20% discount.

I left Fernie that Thursday making a personal promise to come back some day. Even though it wasn’t exactly as gritty as I would have liked (I didn’t see a single homeless person, not one dive bar, and the wifi networks were all suspiciously password-less) as I write this from the back of the van camped out in Jasper National Park I’m smirking at how I turned out to be such a sucker for small mountain towns.

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Alaska Part 2: Montana

There’s only 2 turns to make from the I 90 East to get to Philipsburg; a small town in the Montana foothills that will always hold a part of me.

As I rolled down the main road, one of the few paved, I was acutely aware that this visit would be a bit different than all of the rest. It’s been 3 years since I lived in the area, a year and a half from my last visit, and 6 months after Project Vote Smart (PVS) moved away.

Throughout the week I saw many of the townies that had embodied my Pburg years. The bartender who had served me my 21st birthday shots before, during, and for years after that memorably unrememberable birthday is still there and still just as inspiringly kind to anyone who walks through the doors of the White Front. The town caretaker, a perfect manifestation of The Dude from the Big Lebowski and Los Angeles expatiriate like myself who purchased his first ET surfboard back in the heyday of a more pure Hermosa Beach. Even the rock-climbing, mountain-ascending, impossible-to-reach  father-figure of many PVS intern had come back from the depths of Connecticut to once again grace the area.

Of the very few PVS friends that remained in town, it was very clear that the days we remembered were very much over. Pburg didn’t seem to care but there was a coming to terms moment that passed within me.

My last night, and the hungover morning that followed, was as good of an old fashioned Philipsburg sendoff if there ever was one. We started the night with a few beers at the brewery before sauntering across the street to the bar. The bartender gave us a few free shots that we hadn’t even asked for and soon a few of the more close-minded locals struck up a conversation as they didn’t think too highly of my curly hair and the fact I was born in L.A. I tend to enjoy these types of encounters, as they’re some of the few that ever connect both sides of our horribly dichotomized political system. It is an obligation to use my white male “diplomatic immunity” and engage some of these people from the other spectrum of my political position.

I’m not entirely sure that anything was accomplished that night other than the searing headache the morning after, but as I made a left onto the highway and drove towards Bozeman I knew that the dialogue was for the most part civil, and we saw one another as countrymen; something that cannot be claimed for many of those that represent us in office.

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Alaska Part 1: From the 405 to the 45’N

I have too many friends and they live in too many places. The initial week of the drive north has proven to be quite the whirlwind of catching people as I momentarily pass through their lives.

Friends in San Luis Obispo now have mini versions of themselves. Neighborhood get togethers in Elk Grove are just as I remembered them 5 years ago. Meandering around Portland with old Hermosa cronies reminisces of middle school days. Jumping in the Willamette river with a former Moose Lake coworker to beat the heat. Spending the best quality time with family in Bend. Finally catching old Montana friends and beers back in Missoula.

There was a day spent in Bend, OR flushing the transmission fluid in hopes of correcting a problem with the van shuddering when feathering the throttle. The mechanic didn’t find any problems with the transmission which is promising, but it didn’t entirely assuage my anxiety as the issue still seems to be occurring.

It’s been a little bit of an adjustment moving from one place to the next especially while holding down work, driving, and visiting people; but seeing my favorite people has been all worth it. It is looking to get much easier this next week as I appear in places where I know fewer people

. The wildfires have been particularly bad this year and the smoke might continue to frustrate my efforts to photograph and enjoy the scenery. Things will certainly be interesting heading into British Colombia.

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Back East is always “Back” East

Ok, time for me to play catch up on the last year.


It wasn’t until the 3rd sequential Beiber barrage that the boxed merlot began to batter the brainstem enough to dull my senses a bit. We were blasting through the fourth state line in the previous 15 hours, and the only antidote for Gia’s drowsiness was the same pop music her middle-school pupils indulged in? Time for another swig.

This wasn’t the first cross-country foray, but it was surely the most rapid. Around 6 that morning we had boarded G’s olive-green bullet of a Subaru Outback and rushed through artisanal coffee drenched Denver suburban commuters eventually coming out eastern Colorado to the great plains.

Kansas. It’s bigger than you’d imagine.

Columbia, Missouri is home to Logboat brewing and a hefty imperial red ale.

First brewery of the trip

Day 2, and we pushed through the flat until the rolling hills of Pennsylvanian Appalachia greeted us with emerald applause. The beer-radar was pinging a brewery on the Delaware

ShawneeCraft Brewing

water-gap and given my wonderfully inherited near-sighted vision, I was deemed not to drive at night, meaning there was no problem in purchasing a full taster flight of brews as I passed the keys back to Gia.

3 harrowing hours later and through the metropolis of the tri-state area, we landed on the edge of the Atlantic ocean.

I spent my first 4th of July on the eastern seaboard and the ode du Americana hung for days after as we made it up to Vermont.

Vermont means “green mountain” in New English

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We properly sampled the green mountain state’s finest breweries and after Gia was all checked in to her graduate program, I hit the road from Ticonderoga; home of the No. 2 pencil.

It was a slow day of hitching but I met a few interesting people along the way including this conversation:

“Hey man, so why’d you decide to give me a ride?”

“Well, you’re not exactly a big guy, so I figured I could take you if need be.”

“haha, yea, but that’s why I’m a runner!”

“Well, I have something under my seat that I can guarantee will run faster than you.”

I love rural America, and after a 7 mile walk, I ended the day at Sacandaga camping area with a Crusher from the Alchemist brewery as a nightcap.

The next morning I started very early, the fact that there had been a kidnapping of a teenage girl earlier that week with the suspect still at large didn’t help my chances. I made it to Amsterdam by midday and had already set my mind that I was going to take the bus. I only had the next week and a half to spend with friends and there was no point in using all that time just fishing for rides. Amsterdam to Albany to New York City where I crashed with one of my good friends from back in the dorm days at Cal Poly. The next morning before heading out via bus to Pittsburgh I was even briefly reunited with the chef from my days managing the ranch in big sky country.

12 hours later I arrived at my destination and proceeded to do my best at painting it red with another friend, Leisha, from my Montana times. The next few days were spent getting acquainted with the first Trump town experience outside of the Boulder bubble; I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Something I’ve missed about living in working class America is it’s ability to humble my liberal tendencies.

From West PA it was the Greyhound to Cincinnati. The Greyhound bus mentality is summed up perfectly in the first lines of this song: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IJHdPjQuMFs

Cincinnati was the first time in decades that I’ve dealt with true humidity; humidity that just sucks the life of of anyone caught in it. I had walked a good 10K from my friend’s place to downtown and decided to take a breather in the shade of a plaza to cool off a bit. I must have watched 200 teenagers search for pokemon before I was able to lift my ass from that bench, search for the library on my phone, and get to the A/C ASAP.

A note about anyone visiting cities, Libraries are a great way to get into the heart of the area. A few days earlier when visiting Leisha, we took a good half hour or more just looking into the newspaper archives of Acme, Pennsylvania. If you’ve never looked at your own local branch’s archive, I’d highly recommend it.

I love checking out old PSAs

My final day in Cinci was spent appreciating some of its beer (of which there is plentiful and high quality) before making my way back to Boulder.

Church converted to a brewery, that’s what I like to see.

Here’s a quick slideshow of all the other bits and pieces that happened in the past year.

I hope to be a bit more entertaining in the coming month with posts on my trip up to the Alaskan north!

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The Rewind

Here’s a little ditty about how I relived the last 4 years of life prior to my time in Colorado back in January and February of this year.


 

There are some places I will never be able to do without, and one of those is Montana. In January I went to visit some old stomping grounds.

This was the first major outing I’d made with the van and noticed a few differences in the way it handles in comparison to the Santa Fe. It’s a sail. In shorter profile cars you’d probably notice the 55+ mph crosswinds of Wyoming, but in this thing you notice your knuckles wringing-out the steering wheel. I passed a cop in the middle of my hours-long fight versus the gale and he tailed me for a few miles, probably checking my plate for amber alerts.

I stayed with Kris and Ray in Billings for a few nights and did a bit of hiking in the Absarokas before getting a sickness that lingered throughout my entire trip.

absarokas

From Billings it was on to Bozeman where I saw some good friends and spectated some skijoring.

Onward west and a few hours in Butte to pick up my friend Leisha before the last leg to Philipsburg. Butte is one of those cities I’ve always enjoyed simply for the rough edges. Even on a sunny day it’s not exactly a bright place, and damned if it ever will be.

The drive into Pburg felt as it always had, precarious from the fresh fallen snow, and as if I were returning home. We kicked it in town for a few days as my ear became infected and my peepers simultaneously contracted a case of conjunctivitis. All the same, we were able to hitch a ride from the new maintenance director on the snowmobiles to the trailhead of Senate and a few miles later were up at the cabin. Luckily I didn’t have to shovel out the chimney this year but we were out of luck in the axe department. Burning log rounds only heat up the place a little bit, but it was much better than a snow cave.

We managed a few tests of the snowpack that afternoon and I was surprised at how right-side-up it lay. Not a facet to be seen. We were looking good on the avalanche report.

The following sunrise we were up early with gear ready and avy-beacons in check. The slog up to the ridgeline was tough going as Leisha didn’t have skins for her skis and ski boots have a much smaller surface area than those for snowboarding. + 1 for snowboarders. The slog to the top was a pretty big energy sap and after a quick lunch we made smaller laps around the bowl area.

A video of the fun time hiking in waist deep powder.

Click the link below to check out a bit of the gps watch metrics for the day.

http://labs.strava.com/flyby/viewer/#522415949?c=c2pm85b5&z=G&t=1Mfw9O

We were able to make it back into town for Wednesday night bar fun. Gwensday they call it, as Gwen was the bartender and for $10 you were sure to leave the bar walking in a line as straight as a sinusoidal wave and another Lincoln still in your pocket. That’s the Whitefront Bar I remember.

backintheburg

Back in the burg with the PVS crew.

After dropping off Leisha at a god-forsaken hour at the Butte airport I drove to the top of the continental divide and parked off the road to catch a few winks before heading on the long journey back. I was trying to make good time in order to beat a winter storm coming through Wyoming and made it 3/4 down the state until the 65+ mph gusts forced me to camp out at an unnamed rest stop. At least I had a few beers with me this time around.

Poor video of the van setup.

I awoke much before sunrise and hopped off the I-25 at the US 26 junction and headed east for a bit through Fort Laramie, turning south at Torrington. I wouldn’t have mentioned these places had it not been the eerie creepiness I’d felt while driving through the ghost-like towns in the early morning hours. I say ghost like because while nobody has completely abandoned these parts, it feels like they want to be. You can drive through at 5am with the stereo blaring CCR, cabin warm from the heater, with no real danger existing and come to a red light and the thought will just hit you, “this place doesn’t want me”.

I rested up for a few days in Boulder before taking the flight south. Ruben had been my roommate for a short time when I lived in Chile and was one of the great friends I had left down there; now it was time to return for his wedding 4 years later. It had been almost exactly 4 years prior that I had left that country hitching out of the Atacama into Bolivia, and the moment I heard some of that undeniable Chilean slang in the Atlanta airport, my brain made a switch and I was back in Spanish mode. So well had my mind made the transition, that it took the Chilean sitting next to me a few entire sentences before I told him that I wasn’t from his country.

Upon arrival in Santiago I immediately took the 7 hour bus to Concepción and reunited with Michael and Jorge. The following morning I promptly took another 7 hour bus to Valdivia to where I’d warmly embrace Ruben and he would treat me to my first food in an entire day, a sopaipilla straight from the street vendor.

I stayed with Ruben and his friends for the next week or so slugging beers late into the night and remembering Chile the way I had discovered it, by walking aimlessly through the streets for hours at a time.

rubenhija

A lot can happen in 4 years.

The wedding was beautiful. Very similar to the US style but the drinking waited until much later and the drinking was, expectedly, much harder; almost to the point where I won a dance competition. The next morning I remembered there was a reason the slang in that country has so many words for “hangover”.

After bidding chau to Valdivia and Ruben, I hopped on the bus again back to Concepción. With Michael and Jorge we had a planned trip to the headwaters of the Archibueno river. http://www.wikiexplora.com/index.php/R%C3%ADo_Achibueno , unfortunately not everything always goes to plan. It took a good bit of public transport magic to near the trailhead and we had to camp at a pay-site because it had taken so long. The following day my companions weren’t super keen on the hike itself and after I stupidly forgot any form of identification, we were back on our way to Conce. Luckily a customs fair and a bit of hitchhiking made the trip a bit more tasty and exciting.

Riding in the back of another pickup.

asadocueca

Asado cueca.

chelayerba

Tasting beer with a very special ficus plant.

The next days I spent meeting with old friends and remembering the city. One night I went to a reunion with one of my former co-workers in the English program and the most magnificent “small world” experience transpired. I went around meeting the guests and shook the hand of Boris. Boris, I thought, I’ve heard that name before. As the night transpired I learned that Boris was a musician. Curious… I had once known of a musician named Boris who played the Chilean Tuesdays at my favorite bar, El Averno, from many years back.

“Hey Boris, did you ever play at El Averno?”

“Yea, I’m not sure what’s up with that place now though.”

“About 4 years ago on Christmas day, do you remember picking up a gringo hitchhiker on the ruta de Itata?”

“…yea… wait a second…”

“Dude, that was me!”

And it was in this way that I re-acquainted with the first person to give me a ride on the pinnacle of my South American experience 4 years ago.

Eventually it was time to leave Conce and head back to the capital for my flight home. I spent the night with Rocio and her splendid family familia; all of whom were just as hospitable as they had been to me when I couchsurfed with them years ago. There really is something to be said when a family accepts you with open arms and open hearts… unfortunately, I can’t put it into words.

And with that, the rewind finally caught up with the present. I was back in Colorado and it was time to begin work again.

amigosdeconce

Back with the Conce crew.

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“And so I said, ‘Hey! Look at that crazy guy on the bike!’ Then I saw your struggling cadence and thought ‘This guy isn’t doing too well’”. -Randy, a bit paraphrased.

Lately I’ve been having a bit of a tough time stomaching rent. It’s not that I’ve been sweating the payments, it’s that I’m baffled at the ridiculousness of paying 700 dollars a month for a place to shit, shower, and shave. I don’t even do the last two that often! So since July I’ve been cruising Craigslist in search of a van to live in… Grandma just fainted and Mom just rolled her eyes.

A few weeks ago my roommate Gia and I took a little road trip over Independence Pass into Aspen to check out one of these homes on wheels. I ended up putting down some hard earned cash and signed the bill of sale that day. It’s here that I decided to make a bit of an adventure out of the process. Rather than have Gia drive back the Santa Fe and me the van, I thought it would be interesting to bike back to Aspen.

Consult route for location references. https://www.strava.com/activities/423867419

Years ago my uncle John gave me a Bruce Gordon touring bike (look them up, they’re legendary). My second outing I broke my arm after failing to clip out, let’s call it an Artie Johnson to use my dad’s lingo. Anyhow, I’d been meaning to take it out on a real touring adventure but never found time to commit. No time like the present, even if it is the last week in October.

The original path I had planned took me over the formidable Independence pass but after considering the weather and heeding the words of cyclist extraordinaire, Jordan, I opted for the bike path that followed the I-70. It would offer much less precipitation, and much more bike path.

I set out Tuesday morning running a bit late on the bus up to Nederland. “Well I wasn’t expecting this” said the bus driver as the bus’s extra large wipers smeared wet flakes of snow on the windshield. It was a premonition for what would come. My first few miles were wet and soggy, making me wonder what the hell I had gotten myself into. In comparison to hitchhiking where you can hide from the weather at a gas station or some other shelter and still travel a respectable distance in a day, the mileage you travel bike touring corresponds directly to the amount of time your ass is in the saddle. Sitting out for an hour might leave you 15 fewer miles from your goal, this left me with a more “suck-it-up-and-ride-through-it” mentality.

Wide load.

Wide load.

After a good up and down battle on the Peak-to-Peak highway that decimated my menisci, I arrived at Idaho Springs just as a cold rain began to fall. It soon turned to sleet as I made my way on frontage roads to Downieville and my hands froze to the handlebars. I finally had to hop off and stick my hands in my armpits while jumping around to save them. A few girls pulled over and offered me a ride to the Conoco because I “looked so incredibly cold”. They gave me the uplifting news that the gas station was only 2 miles up the road and I jumped back on my iron horse, mostly in excitement to find some warmth, but also to get out of the area because someone was getting a bit over zealous with their 12 gage target practice and I wasn’t sure where the gun range was in relation to my location.

I purchased the only coffee shop drink I know, a large hot chocolate, at Starbucks while my hands thawed and customers looked at me like some crazy. Before I left I carried out a pack of hand warmers, in case of emergency.

By this time the snow had started coming down in full force and it was only because the asphalt was still barely above freezing that kept the surface rideable. I found a private frisbee golf course and based my decision to camp there merely because it was in such opposition to all the frisbee golf culture I had ever known. What lame people would create a private course for FRISBEE GOLF? I set up camp out of the main path on a nice flat tee-off platform. I fell asleep for a few hours before awaking again around 10. My support team (Gia) let me know that the temps would reach the teens that night and a few hours later I became familiar again with winter camping. How enjoyable it was to not allow my legs to fully stretch out because the blanket I brought was too short to fill the length of my bag. Somehow I managed to sleep through the wind and passing semis on the interstate below. God bless ear plugs.

Down in the 'teens.

Down in the ‘teens.

Winter camping = no bugs!

Winter camping = no bugs!

The cold morning made camp cleanup take twice as long but that ended up being the least of the day’s troubles. The winds blowing across Georgetown lake almost knocked me down a few times before I made it up to Silver Plume and the roads turned to ice thanks to the storm the day before. About an hour and a half of mixed walking/riding on ice ended up in a situation that was even worse.

Old railroad bridge near Georgetown.

Old railroad bridge near Georgetown.

No bueno.

No bueno.

The bike path approaching the Eisenhower tunnel began with just a few inches of innocent powder, easily rideable and admittedly fun to cruise without a sound while snow clumps flew off the tires. But this wasn’t for long. The powder turned to crust and heavy slabs that stuck to my spokes and got caught up in the brakes. It was so deep at some points I could leave my 75 pound Brucey to stand upright without needing any tree to support it. At a few hours already on the trail, I was committed and couldn’t turn around. I’d trudge for 50 meters, let go of the handlebars, and yell some sort of four letter combination to an empty forest while the blue sky mocked above. By the end of the path, I had travelled 5 miles in 4 hours, and Loveland pass still loomed before me as the sun crested the ridge line.

No ride like snow ride.

No ride like snow ride.

IMG_0296b

My squeaking knees could barely get over the top tube and my clips were crusted-over with ice to the point they had no prayer of locking in. A black car rolled by and I managed to raise a hand to simulate a happy, friendly gesture. I must have failed. Out of my periphery I noticed the vehicle reverse to match my blazing uphill speed of 4 mph.

“You’re not thinking of heading up the pass are you?”, I hobbled to a stop.

“Are there any places open I can warm up in? Otherwise, yes, I’m hoping to pull off one of the switchbacks for the night.”

“The resorts open tomorrow.” a slight pause, “Why don’t you load your bike into the back of our car and spend the night at our place. We’ve got a warm bed and a hot shower.”

I thought for a second. It’s not my style to cut corners on a trip even to the extent of the impossible to fathom miserabilities. But at that moment, with knees killing me, frozen feet, and the lowest morale, this sounded like an absolute godsend. And I was curious as hell to meet these people who would pick up some long-haired kid off the side of the highway.

Much happier to be off the road.

Much happier to be off the road.

https://www.crazyguyonabike.com/doc/?o=tS&doc_id=249&v=3

Back at Roberta and Randy’s place in Silverthorn I got to meet this beautiful couple a bit more. Bike tourers themselves, R&R were always on the lookout for fellow cyclists when they were on the road. “When I saw you I said ‘Hey look at that crazy guy!’ Then realized you might be needing some help”, Randy told me. Well, I truly can’t imagine I’d have finished this ride if the two of them hadn’t pulled over. It’s amazing what good company, a warm bowl of chili, and some soft sheets to curl up in, can do to help a weary traveller on his way.

I awoke the next morning feeling 100 times better and ready to hit the road. We had done a bit of research the night before and concluded that the pass over to Vail was probably not going to look good on the bike path, and if it was anything like I had endured the day before I was in no hurry to tramp through snow again.

In any case, I figured I would ride to Frisco to ask the local bike shop what their interpretation of the conditions would be. And boy was I glad I did so. The path along the Dillion reservoir was gorgeous and I managed to catch a spectacular red-tail hawk launch right in front of me as I rode along the path. It was the beginning of a good day.

Dillon reservoir.

Dillon reservoir.

To no surprise, the local reviews of the path said that it had iced-over and I rode to the entrance to the I-70 to do what I do best, hitchhike. 45 minutes later Brucey was in the bed and I was in the cab of a F-350 talking about the amazing ability of the human body to recover from it’s ailments. Periodically I’d peek out the window to glance at the bike trail. Sure enough, there were many sections with nothing but snow, and I was glad to not be chasing freshies sans snowboard.

I was dropped off in Minturn and thus began the day’s descent from 8000ft to 6000ft. It’s astonishing how much more ground can be covered when a bike tire is in its natural element of asphalt, not ice. I cruised to Glenwood Springs and made it to the brewery before happy-hour was over.

Heading west from Eagle.

Heading west from Eagle.

Closed path for a bit.

Closed path for a bit.

Trail-mix for dinner.

Trail-mix for dinner.

Glenwood canyon.

Glenwood canyon.

I began conversation with Bill, a Vietnam war vet who was also an avid cyclist in his day, riding to and from New York and Chicago many times. We talked for hours over a few imperial pints and double pours of Jameson. He was genuinely excited to help me on my trip to Aspen and even offered me a place to stay for the night. I politely declined, as I wanted to at least use some of the camping equipment I had been lugging over 100 miles. I found a grassy field next to the municipal airport that night and the air was a balmy 50 as I curled into my bag. The wind was stirring a bit so I expected it to rain, and it eventually started a light shower around midnight. I put up my rain fly and went back to sleep.

I found it curious to be awoken by my own sweat, as it was pretty cold outside so why would I be… OH NO. I bolted upright and turned on my headlamp. Even with my vision being on the verge of legal blindness I could see a puddle forming around my sleeping mat and felt the icy dampness that had soaked my sleeping bag. In my Jameson haze, I had failed to pull my floor tarp from underneath my rain fly, causing a pool to form under myself. It was 6AM and I had nothing left to do but pack my soggy belongings and try to find a place to warm up before setting off on the final 45-mile leg to Aspen. Thanks to the incredibly poor circulation in my fingers, I could only work for about 5 minutes before I’d have to stick my hands in my armpits to get the blood flowing again.

I chatted with the convenience store attendant while I warmed and learned the directions out of Glenwood Springs. “I’m definitely not jealous of you!” she called as I mounted Brucey and set off. Aside for a few brief rain showers, the slog up to Aspen wasn’t particularly bad. I was dead tired from the poor sleep of the night before and yawned through my first 20 miles. It’s worth noting how incredible the bike trails are in Colorado (when they aren’t snowed over). Between Glenwood Springs and Aspen is a path that used to be the old rail line following a river almost all the way to the mountains. It’s wide, has many bathroom stops along the route, and has very low traffic, (probably due to the season, but still worth a mention). It’s infinitely nicer to travel on these bikeways and never have to worry about speeding vehicles as it allows one to view a bit of the scenery and utilize the senses without being distracted.

Nothing but stream and sky.

Nothing but stream and sky.

As the miles whittled away, and the elevation increased I became increasingly excited as the journey was nearing its end. I rolled through the canyon and into Aspen to where the van was parked. Vince, the seller, had a pot of tea ready on the stove as I walked through the door. I recounted a few of the more memorable events as we re-scribed the bill of sale and then went out to go over a few final aspects of the van; it has so many features I’ll be learning the inns-and-outs for months to come. A few minutes later he wished me luck and hurried back to his home, hiding tears. Vehicle purchases are much more fulfilling when you know the previous owner cared so dearly for the intricately assembled mass of plastics, rubber, and steel. Don’t worry Vince, she’s got a good bit of adventure left in her.

As I relaxed by the fire of Bonfire Brewing in Eagle that night with an Imperial wet hop IPA, I settled in with the fact of how much more nomadic my life would become. I’ve still mentally committed myself to Boulder for the next few years to learn all I can in the web development industry before exploring new places, but rest assured (especially you Gram), I’ve still got a few Aces in the hole to keep life a little interesting.

Mission accomplished.

Mission accomplished.

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