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.

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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.

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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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Get back to Big Sky Country

Let’s talk about Boulder for a second.

The first time I had been to Boulder was when my dad, brother, and I came out in the spring of 2006 for me to check out the campus. It’s not so much the place that has changed, but myself. During my first foray I remember being very concerned about how I would deal with the cold winters. Now, having spent the last few years in Montana and Concepción, there hasn’t passed a day where I’ve had to run without my knees exposed. In many ways, it’s obvious that the Treasure State had spoiled me. Where it used to be that I could simply strap on my pack and go running, hiking, and backcountry snowboarding in a wilderness that was within walking distance of my front door, I now bump shoulders with dozens of others on a run around Mount Sanitas. Am I being a little cry-baby stick-in-the-mud? You bet your ass, but this was one of the biggest shocks I had to immediately come to grips with. I believe (hope) I’m getting better but I’m still that opinionated Negative Nancy that I’m having a hard time overcoming.

Trying to describe the life I had out in MT is sometimes difficult as, for many people, Colorado is their first real experience in the Rockies and I am, admittedly, a bit callous to the fantastic scenery and wilderness that surrounds. But for every person that says “Isn’t Colorado just the best!?”, I have to hold myself back from saying “Oh yea? Well you should try Montana. That’s where the wild things roam”.

It’s with this semi-sour mentality that I found myself leaving Colorado for a bit and heading up to the north in late August. Amy, a friend of mine that I met through Couchsurfing, spent a bit of her life in the small town of Sandpoint, Idaho and convinced me to take out the Santa Fe for another trip on the tarmac. After the necessary stop at Kris and Ray’s where a day-hike into the Absarokas was aborted due to the darkening skies. We headed west to my old stomping grounds of Philipsburg.

Absarokas through the smoke.

Absarokas through the smoke.

We spent a few hours at the ranch but I had a hard time dealing with all the emotions and left for Missoula to tailgate and hit up the town. Of course I had a beer at the brewery.

From Missoula we took Hwy 12 out of Lolo and camped at a hotspring. The smoke had been horrendous ever since we left Billings, but we were hit with some decent rains that cleared up the moonless night sky.

Bob Wier hotsprings.

Bob Wier hotsprings.

Misty mountain hop.

Misty mountain hop.

Another contemptible bit of driving the day after landed us at a friend’s of Amy’s on the Washington/Idaho/ Canada Border. A great man by the name of Hank showed us spectacular canoeing, four-wheelin’ and border-hopping that anyone would be jealous of.

Pewee falls. Hank and Amy.

Pewee falls. Hank and Amy.

Apple picking in northern Washington.

Apple picking in northern Washington.

US - Canada border. Not similar to US - Mexico border.

US – Canada border. Not similar to US – Mexico border.

From Newport, Washington we made our way back, camping in BLM land and National Forest in northwest Montana and visiting the Goldbug hot springs near Salmon, ID.

Cold waters of the Pack River

Lake Ponderay, ID.

Lake Ponderay, ID.

Daybreak on the Twin Peaks of the south Bitterroot Range.

Daybreak on the Twin Peaks of the south Bitterroot Range.

Goldbug hotsprings.

Goldbug hotsprings.

From the out roads of Challis we picked up the good soul, Kevin. From what it seemed, he had hit the hard times of a car accident and quite certainly the wrong (only) end of an amphetamine dependence. We dropped him off in Idaho Falls and continued south to Utah on Memorial day.

What a welcome it was to politely ask some road warriors to turn off their generator at 10:30 to the response of “but we have a baby…”. Let me rant a bit: here you are on Memorial day in the middle of a national forest with a million other people camping around you and you have the nerve to think that your precious bundle of joy needs that 50 watt generator to live? Suck it up and wrap some blankets around that thing. It might reach into the 50’s MAYBE inside your goddamn “American Dream” of a camper at 35 feet and 5 tons of steel. You have no right to be “camping” in my point of view. Read (if you can) a documentary about the Donner party for shit’s sake.

Drowning out the generator with a Terminal Gravity IPA.

Drowning out the generator with a Terminal Gravity IPA.

No matter. The generator was still on by 7 the next morning and we were out of there by 7:30.

Long hours of driving the next day and squeaking away from a speeding ticket then we were back in Boulder.

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Catching up

Let’s see if I can’t get everyone caught up to speed.

August 2014 – I spend my last nights in Philipsburg, Montana. Fly back to Hermosa Beach and drive out to Boulder, Colorado. In my excitement (or insomnia that tends to strike before every momentous occasion) I sleep for 3 hours that night and depart L.A. at 3am, missing all traffic but forcing me to take a rest in the back of my car around 6am en route to Las Vegas. I make it to Parachute, CO that night following the same route I had taken a few years earlier when I had delivered a VW Cabrio from L.A. to (state abbreviation) LA. It had been 8 years since I had taken my first road trip in the same Hyundai Santa Fe (lovingly nicknamed the “SantaFe-go”) with good friends right out of high school in 2006.

The day after Parachute I somehow charmed my way into convincing the coolest cats in Boulder into allow me to rent a room in their apartment.

First stop in Colorado, the beer isle.

First stop in Colorado, the beer isle.

September – I begin a 10 week intensive program that will give me the tools to make web applications and transform me into a “web developer”. To be completely honest, when I signed up for this course I didn’t really even know what web development was, but after dealing with databases and the like at Project Vote Smart I knew that all this computer code and junk was where I wanted to be. It didn’t hurt that the job market is much kinder to those with experience in this industry, apparently a masters in “hitchhiking and vagabonding” doesn’t appear on too many job descriptions.

October – Eat, drink, sleep, and dream in code. No joke. My Halloween was spent connecting a non-relational database to the front-end of my application using Node.js… and a beer. I should take the time here to explain the difference between a website and a web application for those not in the know. When one visits a “website” they are usually viewing something on the www that’s comprised of static content. Think of a Wikipedia article, a story from the New York Times, or this blog post. A web application, on the other hand, is something that the user interacts with. In this category we find eBay, Amazon, Facebook, and many of the other services one usually must sign-in to. A website is “static” meaning the content usually does not change (you can comment on this blog post but for the most part you can’t interact with what I’ve written). A web application might have you posting a product, setting up a profile, or some other meaningful interconnection. This might require a database with a bit more vitality than that which serves a static website. This dealing with the “frontend” and “backend” of the web browser and server relationship makes web development as a “full stack developer” a bit more complicated and intricate than the “You’ve got mail!“ internet of 1995 (yes my History degree crops up here and there).

November – Finished my final project (a web application that would hypothetically connect up and coming craft breweries with the equipment they needed) and set out on the job market for the second time that year. As someone who has held a job no longer than a year point-five having graduated 4 years ago, this isn’t a new scenario.

How I spent my Halloween.

How I spent my Halloween.

December – Travel up to MT to pick up a few things from aunt Kris and uncle Ray then snowboard around a bit at Big Sky. A few former colleagues at PVS were able to borrow the Winnebago from the mayor of Philipsburg (yup, that’s called small town livin’) so we parked it in the lot and used it as HQ as we lived as ski-bums for a few days. The propane heater cut out about mid on our first night and gave me a good re-initiation to the Montana cold. The snow may have been sub-par, as it was across the entire Rockies this year, but at least it was no Sierra Nevada dirt patch (California, lo siento). A 15 hour trip through West Yellowstone, Pocatello, Little America, Rock Springs, and Laramie brought me back to my new home of Boulder. I landed a job at the end of the year. In a few words, the best way I can describe Human Design is a design and development agency that is contracted to create web-sites and applications.

Moon-set over Lone Peak.

Moon-set over Lone Peak.

Inside the camper.

Inside the camper.

Weber stovetop.

Weber stovetop.

Nothing starts a grill better than ether.

Nothing starts a grill better than ether.

January – Started on a real production website, RacingExtinction.com and it went live. Was given a hash name. This was my first real delve back into the 9 to 5 since March of the year prior and it ended up being more than 8 hours a day on the norm. The difference here is that I loved every bit  of it and was mentally engaged from then moment I got to the office. The coolest thing about launching a website is when I can tell a friend “hey, go to ‘something’.com and check out the navigation bar on the top. See how it all fits onto the screen no matter what device you’re viewing it from? Yea, that took me x number of days to get that working”. Work at Human Design let me showcase my newfound skills front and center on pretty high profile site. The fact we were pulling some pretty late nights didn’t phase me at all.

February – Work, hashing, work. Really nothing to note about this month other than the fact Boulder recorded temperatures literally 110 degrees warmer than my last February in Montana. Jacqueline and Zach also came to town but I don’t think they agreed with my feelings on the weather front.

March – Work was consumed by bug fixes with Racing Extinction and at the end of the month HD simply ran out of tasks for me to do. Once again I found myself in a similar position I had been in a year before, jobless, but at least not homeless.

April – As I am prone to do and now with some free time, I went on a hut trip with my roommate, Gia, into the Elk Range outside of Aspen. As the lone snowboarder on the trip, I couldn’t simply shuffle my skiis up the mountain and had to trudge, like I always had, in my Bogs mucking boots to the hut. On the outside of my pack I loaded my snowboard boots, snowshoes, and snowboard… along with a few bags of salad that I didn’t want to get smashed between the 2 25ouncers of child, a six-pack, and a liter of whiskey I had inside. Altogether, the 45-50 lbs of crap I was lugging up was better suited for a much more hardy experience than I was expecting. The hut was no hut, but a full blown cabin stocked with firewood, cooking utensils, two stoves, and a covered walkway to the outhouse. The views… just take a look at the pictures. I had a pretty good time hiking around the area checking out the abandoned mine road. The better part of my self-preservation instinct (yes it exists), told me not to cross a part of the road that had been clearly avalanche hewn. I spent a good part of the afternoon hucking air on the kicker that was set up just above the hut. Riding out the next morning proved to be difficult. As a snowboarder, the board must be either on a heel or toe edge lest one be dug into the snow, causing a serious case of problems. With a still considerably heavy pack up on me (even after finishing the chaladas, beers, and 1/2 the whiskey), I was riding down and the momentum of my strapped companion caused me to catch a toe edge and pitch me forward straight onto my chest. I was down for a good minute after getting the wind knocked out of me and gingerly scooted down the rest of the way. It wasn’t until that afternoon that breathing and certain torso movments has me wincing in pain. For the next three weeks I’d thought I broke a rib.

Can you tell which one I am?

Can you tell which one I am?

But there was no time to rest as I had the Hash House Harrier Phoenix Red Dress Run to partake in the next weekend. For those not in the know, a red dress run is a hashing event that comemorates the gusto of a daring hasher http://www.reddressruns.org/?page_id=2 Needless to say, the party in Phoenix was one I will only half forget. Noteible memories are all the Boulder hashers (with their altitude advantage) absolutely running the rest of the participants to the back of the pack. Even though my chest was in probably the worst state it’s ever been, I couldn’t resist running.

Fun stuff.

Fun stuff.

The next week Mom and Dad visited and Colorado finally got some snow. In fact, picking them up from the airport was a bit of a nervewracking experience as the skies opened up. While they were here, there was much brewery visiting and food tasting to be had. Once my parents were gone, I was finally able to start looking for work again in full force and amazingly, it seemed to fall in my lap. When I was let go at Human Design, my roommates and I had been hosting a couchsurfer, Amy. She told me of a friend that had just happened to move to Boulder and worked in the web development industry. I was able to meet up with Nick and start working for him before the end of April. I’m still amazed at the luck and rapidity in which I was able to find new work.

May – Not much to say about this month other than the fact that my parents are now tuition free and can travel the world without fretting the specter of college fees. Oh, and congrats on Jacq being the most successful post-college Peha to date.

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June –  Started this month with the Trans Catalina Trail. I can say that it’s kind of a breakthrough with my perception of the island. To the date I had not explored much more than Avalon and a few other harbors along the same stretch of the island. In comparison to the hikes I’ve done in the Rockies, it ain’t much, but when one considers it to be just outside of the LA metropolis it’s not a bad showing. I did some ultralight packing and just had dried food, sleeping pad, bag, and booze for the two nights before I met the rest of the family in Two Harbors. There were times when it seemed a bit like Disneyland as I walked down a road just to have a jeep tour come up behind me, “And to your left folks you’ll see one of our Trans Catalina Island Hikers who frequent this migration route this time of year. Be sure to keep your appendages inside the vehicle, they are known to bite.” While such interactions may have detracted a bit from the wild feel of the hike, the leg between Little Harbor and Two Harbors was admittedly pretty damn scenic and going 0 to 2000 ft in any scenario is still a good workout. While my portion of the TCT hike had terminated at Two Harbors and I spent the next few days boozing it up with the family, I took a few scoutings around the fire-breaks of Two Harbors and it more than whetted my appetite to complete all 36 miles of the trail, I had only completed 26.

Catalina Island fox.

Catalina Island fox.

Entering the Bison cage.

Entering the Bison cage.

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Typical camp setup.

Typical camp setup.

Still love that ocean.

Still love that ocean.

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Little harbor.

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Crepiscular rays.

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Looking east.

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Calf workout.

July – Every year, the Boulder Hash House Harriers have a campout out in the hills. In typical hasher fashion it’s also supplemented by about 3 kegs of beer. I and 3 others were in charge of scouting out a spot a few weeks before. We arrived pretty late on a Saturday and most of the prime sites were taken, forcing us to some of the more rougher roads. We came across a lake of a puddle and the conversation went something like this:

Passenger riding shotgun, “Do you think we should get out and check?”

Me, “Nah, I think we’ll be alright”

We charged into the puddle only to realize it was much deeper than expected. I opened my door only to close it immediately as water rushed in and the buddy sitting behind me jumped out the window. Three of us jumped out behind the car and one feathered the throttle as we pushed it out. That car has been stuck in more elements than I can count on one hand and the fact that it still runs is clearly a positive nod towards Hyundai’s engineering.

That car doesn't deserve such punishment.

That car doesn’t deserve such punishment.

A few weeks later at the campout I decided to arrive in the only appropriate manner I could, via hiking. While the campsite was only about 50 miles away from Boulder as the crow flies, it was a 3 1/2 hour drive due to the fact that the mountains were impassible by car. My strategy was to get a head start and hike over the pass and spend the night at an alpine lake the first day and walk/ hitchhike to the campground the next. I started very early Thursday morning to beat the thunderstorms on the pass, it was such a race that I hiked-ran the trail from 10k to 12.5k feet and 5 miles in 2 hours. I camped at Crater lake that night with a few other groups around while I tried to avoid them and enjoy my brew. The next morning was a quick 7 miles out and another short walk until I was able to pick up a few rides with my thumb to the highway that the campout was located near. In all it was a 27 mile walk and I gladly eased my aches with a few pints from the kegs that the hashers provided. It was a lovely weekend with the hashers filled with plenty of the usual craziness that accompanies that group.

Clouds atop the pass.

Clouds atop the pass.

Panorama from Pawnee Pass.

Panorama from Pawnee Pass.

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The next week my buddy and former roommate from college, John, and his girlfriend visited. Between the beer tasting and other explorations we managed to fit in a bike ride. It’s nice to have friends that visit, it’s been a while since I’ve lived in a place where they can reach me.

The end of July I was hit with a call from Human Design to help them work on version 2 of the racingextinction.com project and all told, logged about 110 hours in a 12 day stretch. As hard as some of the days can be (I worked from 9 to 2am on launch day), it’s amazing what can be produced in such a short time frame.

I’ll soon update with the most recent road trip to Montana and Idaho.

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