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The new site is up and running, though not quite finished.

The new site is up and running, though not quite finished.

They tell you that having a child changes everything. While I’m  not sure that’s entirely true, I am sure that bringing George into the fold has resulted in a shift in our priorities and goals. With that, Mike and I have started a new project to celebrate and sometimes commiserate integrating a child into an outdoor-oriented lifestyle. Please check out raisinggus.com and let me know what you think. Are there topics you’d like to see explored? What’s been your experience with bringing your kids along for the adventure? I’m looking forward to sharing the journey with you.

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BearThis guy wandered through the neighborhood two nights ago. I saw him through the window as I sat piecing fabric together. When I went outside for a closer look he turned and ran. Why do they call them black?

Off the beaten path, Wallowa County, Oregon

Yesterday, my work plans were cancelled and I ended up with most of a day to kill. The weather was threatening a spring blizzard, low 40s and dropping with winds gusting at about 20-25mph. The Eagle Cap was already turning white under new snow. The only reasonable thing to do – go fishing. The north east corner of the state is filthy with trout streams, and though it was a holiday weekend, it seemed like getting out on the river could still be awesome. It was!

Unfortunately, today, in a sad turn of events on a different river, I broke my first-ever fly rod, then realized I had a massive leak in the wheel cylinder of back rear brake on the truck. With it being Sunday and Memorial Day tomorrow, there aren’t any auto part stores or mechanics available until Tuesday. No transportation, no fly rod, but plenty of fish. I guess it’s time to lace up running shoes, then do some work.

ImageFrom The Source Weekly’s Outdoor Column:

They go from town. Pedaling down the shoulder, they ride side-by-side because traffic is minimal and the cars that do pass have bikes on top. The woman is local, the two men are from out of town. She takes a left toward the trailhead and they follow, passing a parking lot half filled with dirty Subarus and Toyota pickups. A 1984 VW Westfalia the color of burnt toast sits off in one corner with the sliding door open, giving the riders a quick glimpse of goose-bumped skin as someone shimmies out of their shorts.

On the trail there are still patches of snow. Rather than avoid them, the woman climbs out of her saddle and goes through them, keeping the single track single. A mile down the trail, she hears laughter from behind and knows what’s coming.

“What is that? A flaming chicken?”

For the whole piece, visit: Trail Blazing.

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Spring is great. Glopping is not. Drying climbing skins on the ski in to the Hemlock Butte Shelter in Diamond Peak Wilderness.

My Spidey-sense says, winter is winding down. It says, the storms that have pummeled us the last few days are some of the last we’ll see before next October. It says, it’s time to start taking advantage of longer days by skiing volcanoes, running trails, and riding bikes.

Winter has always been my favorite season. (Spring and summer are right there next to it. Fall is just awesome — all those crisp nights and anticipation.) And while this winter fell a bit short of what I hoped it would be, it was still brilliant and filled with new experiences and adventures that feed my stoke for next year.

What about you? How was your winter? Did you ski enough, play enough, get out there enough? Are you amped up for spring, big days and funny tan lines, or are you ready to migrate to the southern hemisphere in hopes that they’ll get what we never quite got?

Are you planning to ride your bike everyday for 30 days next month, run a new trail race to kick off the season, or take a wilderness float down a wild and scenic river?

Me, I’m hoping for a little of everything, and a lot of some things. Spring is coming and it’s going to be great!

Remember when skiing was all you thought about? When you’d lay in bed at night and visualize how you would cork your body to bring that spin around just a little more. When you’d call the ski report starting in October and well into June just to hear Don say, “Good Morning skiers and snowboarders!” in a voice that was both incredibly dorky and totally awesome. When you constantly refreshed the forecast on your web browser because maybe it was going to be good, and even if it wasn’t, maybe it was going to be fun. Remember 20, 50, 300 days a year on the hill? Yeah.

I quit skiing almost a decade ago. I moved to a town that wasn’t even close to the mountains. I put the boards in the garage, and the gear in a bag at the top of the closet. I watched dust build up on my boots and bindings. First just a light coating then a few centimeters, artifacts of neglect. The batteries in my transceiver grew old and died. I didn’t replace them. Life took over. Relationships started and ended. Degrees were sought and earned. Jobs taken and left. I had winters where I spent more time in the gym than outside. Winters where I never broke a trail, rode a lift, threw a slasher across a perfectly formed wind lip. Winters where I surfed more than shivered. I think I believed growing up meant leaving behind the things I’d loved when I was young.

A few nights ago, I watched an indoor soccer match with a couple of guys who were originally from inland Mexico. They laughed at my poor Spanish as we cheered for the players out sweating on the field, and then they were kind enough to switch to English when they had anything complicated to say. One of the men apologized for his accent, saying that after living in the states for 25 years it embarrassed him that it was still so thick. I told him my spanish must sound awful to him because of my gringa origins, but that maybe our accented language is no big deal. Maybe we can be proud of it because it’s who we are and signifies from where we come.

I came from skiing, and while I left for a while, I’m remembering that it is part of me. A big part. Even now as the west sits starved for snow, I’m calling the ski report and refreshing the forecast. I’m going up and riding ice because today there’s nothing else I’d rather do. Then when the grocery store clerk notices my ski pants and asks how it was on the hill, I tell her simply, “Shiny.” Shiny and bright.

The video above, presented by Sweetgrass Productions and Patagonia, showcases some of the best in the business out doing what they love in Alaska’s backcountry. Welcome to the new dreams.

 

In DC, I rode clipped in, wearing a mini skirt, in rush hour traffic. After knee surgery, 30, 40, 60 miles at a time on skinny tires across rolling hills and rural pavement. My brace left me with tan lines running like tiger strips down my left quad and calf. To school, to work, carrying bags, skis and other bikes. On loaned-too-big cruiser bikes, cross bikes and 14-pound carbon fiber frames, I can make it happen. But I can’t mountain bike to save my life. It scares the beejeezus out of me. Perhaps because of that, I can’t seem to let it go.

Last year, under the tree, Santa stuffed knee pads with a red ribbon tied around their mesh bag. This year, Mastering Mountain Bike Skills: 2nd Edition, came wrapped in snowmen and red Christmas paper. Neither of us are giving up. Stubborn.

Tonight, I spent 20 minutes riding laps around the front yard in the pouring rain by the glow of a headlamp and a 50 watt porch light. Maybe, if it would snow, I’d stop. I’d go back to doing things I’m good at rather than falling off my pedals and into my handlebars. But maybe not.

I’m aiming for basic mountain biking competency by spring, and I’m accepting that to get there I’m going to have to suck for a while. That’s hard for me. I think it’s probably hard for a lot of us. Harder, though, would be to stop dreaming of the lines I want to ride, but can’t yet handle. Harder still would be to stop trying, to come in from the dark and admit that this isn’t my sport, that I’ll never ride those lines. By comparison, in the rain, 20 minutes at a time, is a cakewalk.

I’m trying an experiment. Starting this Saturday I’m going to spend one day a week not plugged in. Barring emergencies, I’ll be leaving the phone turned off, the laptop closed. I won’t be checking email at five in the morning and 11 at night, or problem solving photography issues for a story that’s due on Monday. One day a week I’m going to cut the figurative wires. I’m going to stop Z*, and it’s going to be awesome.

*See the essay below written by Anthony Doerr for Orion Magazine in 2009.

Am I Still Here?: Looking for validation in a wired world

I HARBOR A DARK TWIN INSIDE. He’s a sun-starved, ropy bastard and he lives somewhere north of my heart. Every day he gets a little stronger. He’s a weed, he’s a creeper; he’s a series of thickening wires inside my skull.

Call him Z. I like weather; Z survives in spite of it. I like skiing; Z likes surfing the web. I like looking at trees; Z likes reading news feeds. I pull weeds in the garden; Z whispers in my ear about climate change, nuclear proliferation, ballooning health-insurance premiums.

Last week I flew into central Idaho on a ten-seat Britten-Norman Islander to spend five days in the wilderness. The plane’s engines throbbed exactly like a heartbeat. The sky was a depthless blue. Little white clouds were reefed on the horizon. Slowly, steadily, the airplane pulled us farther and farther from the gravel airstrip where we started, over the Tangled Mountains and the Tangled Lakes, big aquamarine lozenges gleaming in basins, flanked by huge, shattered faces of granite, a hundred miles from anything, and the ridgelines scrolling beneath my window were steadily lulling me into an intoxication, a daze—the splendor of all this!—and then Z tapped me (metaphorically) on the (metaphorical) shoulder.

Hey, he said. You haven’t checked your e-mail today.

“I THINK,” Thoreau wrote in his essay “Walking,” “that I cannot preserve my health and spirits unless I spend four hours a day at least—and it is commonly more than that—sauntering through the woods and over the hills and fields absolutely free from all worldly engagements.”

Ha! Four hours! Clearly Thoreau did not own a BlackBerry.

Yesterday—and this is embarrassing—I checked my e-mail before leaving for work and after I got to work, and I checked it every now and then during the day at work, and, after bicycling home from work, a total distance of two miles, I checked my e-mail again. Just in case a few e-mails flew over my head through the rain while I pedaled home.

It’s disconcerting, it’s shameful. I tell myself: e-mail is work-related. E-mail is work-related and anything work-related is family-related, right? Because work makes money and money feeds the family. Money justifies all. Doesn’t it?

What my evil twin Z knows, and what I am loath to articulate, to even contemplate, is that checking e-mail or tinkering around on Facebook or reading snippets about Politician A on Blog B is not about making money at all but about asking the world a very urgent question.

That question is this: Am I still here?

For the full essay, click here: Am I Still Here

My dad lives in southern mainland Mexico. He’s way down low where the continent starts to curve like a backward “J.” He cleared some land, not to far from a small pueblo, out on the edge of a coconut field. He built a little house out of cement. Painted it sunshine yellow, periwinkle blue, lime green. Put solar panels on the roof, pumps water twice a week from the river with a Honda generator. Showers outside.  He has a 1985 Toyota grey 4WD pickup. The bed’s completely rusted out and has been replaced with planks of palm wood. I have that truck’s brother here. It’s not in much better shape.

Dad’s not that old. He’ll turn 60 next week. He’s been living down there for ten plus years now. He can stand on the deck that is the roof of his kitchen and check the swell. Right in front of the house the waves break consistently in a hollow right point break. A couple hundred yards north, a river mouth causes the waves to break both left and right. There can be a nasty rip. We’ve all had some long walks back to the house. It can definitely hand out a thumping, but that river mouth can be something like paradise. It’s remote enough, and deep enough into what many people consider the stronghold of the cartels, that the crowds don’t come.

When I first started surfing there it felt like I was regularly being put through the washing machine. Dad would stand on the deck that is also the kitchen roof and watch with binoculars. One day after a particularly nasty moment of first going over the falls, then being held down for more than a few minutes in the spin cycle, he walked down to the beach and waved me in.

“That’s about as bad as it’s ever going to get,” he said. Then he paddled past me into the line-up. In my family you’ve got to be tough.

People ask me what he does down there. For a long time he was too young to be considered retired. I tell them that he’s the pueblo’s local mechanic, that he works on the land, that he wires in electrical systems and retools water lines. He cleans the beach and takes thousands upon thousands of pounds of plastic to the recycling center 50 miles away. Those things are all true. But mostly down there, he surfs. Almost everyday, often twice a day. He’s not the best guy in the water. He misses waves on occasion, but he loves it. In the afternoons, he sits on the deck that is also the kitchen roof and just watches the ocean. I don’t know why I feel like I have to validate that to people. I love that he surfs. I love that he’s followed his passions and built a life in which he can indulge them. I love that when I emailed to tell  him I was quitting my regular job to “pursue happy,” he replied simply, “Good.”

Now, I find that I’m back in the mountains. In the evenings I watch the horizon line looking for clouds, promises of weather. I find that I’m giving up on validating Dad’s habits at the same time that I’m giving up on validating mine. I hope that when I’m 60, I’m still following happy.

I ran into a girlfriend I hadn’t seen in a while. We started chatting about jobs, then trips, then winter plans. She’s hoping to move this way. Hoping for a little skiing this winter. Some climbing when it’s warm. I asked if she’d want to jump in on some tours, maybe a bit of mountaineering. She hesitated. She said she doesn’t want to be uncomfortable, and that she doesn’t find suffering fun. She’s a rad girl. Strong, intelligent, aware. She knows what she likes, and is empowered enough to lay claim on what she doesn’t. I like that.

In continuing to talk she asked why I seem drawn to discomfort. I didn’t have a good answer. Or, I had a lot of good answers:

I like walking into the storm, and coming out of the cold.
I like sunrises, and emergency headlamps.
I like the taste of blood in the back of my throat.
I like the shared experience of doing something hard with a close friend, running out of water half way through, and dreaming about what we’ll eat if we ever get down.
I like trying to face up to the fact that in a battle between mind and body, mind is almost always the weaker of the two.
I like falling asleep sitting up, with boots on, and a hat covering my eyes.
I like being dirty, smelling slightly wild, and then the magic of a hot shower.
I like how one good day outside turns the volume down on a week inside.
I like feeling soreness in muscles of which I’d forgotten.

I like all those things, and they all, in one way or another, point to the real truth: I like it when it hurts a little.