The Question I Ask.

Pretty much every day of the work week I go out during my lunch hour and take a walk. I’m fortunate enough to work in a place where greenbelt paths and trails abound and the horizon is dotted with snowcapped peaks. It’s my midday regimen of flushing away the mental toxins of working in a cube farm for eight hours each day, plus I like breathing in fresh air and seeing things in non-fluorescent hues.

Today, as I was coming back into the building, a coworker strolled up and asked me where all I walked, whereupon I explained the general route and said, “just a stroll ‘round the neighbourhoods and parks”. Barely could I get the words out of my mouth before he started quizzing me about how long it takes for me to make the loop. Whaaaaaat? Regrettably, I told him about forty minutes and that I typically take a minute or two more because I like to sit on a bench and look at the mountains.

Literally, and I do mean literally before I could get those words out, he informed me that he did it seven minutes faster on average. Clearly I was put in my place and I knelt humbly upon one knee in his presence and the virtual blue ribbon of decisive victory he wore so proudly. What a douche.

Seriously, that was the first question he had for me? Not how was my holiday? Did I go skiing? Did I visit family? Man, I hate that competitive mentality.

Over the years I’ve dabbled in lots of outdoor endeavours, some things I still do, some I don’t. Unfortunately there have been things I really enjoyed but  getting lured into a competitive mentality totally killed the buzz and I quit doing them, at least as much as I was.

Climbing was one of those things. I love to climb and I especially love the process of climbing. I like all the gear, I like the sounds and especially love the necessary focus. What drove me away though was that regardless of what I climbed or wanted to climb, it had to be measured up and graded against a benchmark or it wasn’t really “climbing”.

Climbing magazines are the worst at perpetuating this competitive buzz kill. You can’t pick up a climbing magazine and find article about people climbing 5.8 or 5.9 trad routes, which are considered pedestrian or warm up routes amongst the “core” boys and girls. It’s either the hardest, or it doesn’t count. Never mind that some people like me just like getting out and climbing stuff for fun. Climbing gyms are infinitely worse than climbing magazines. So much flexing and bravado talk and so little actual climbing. I rapidly grew tired of it and eventually drifted off in another direction (though I still love ice climbing).

Skiing in resorts is unfortunately sort of getting that way too. I honestly can’t go skiing without later being quizzed on how many vertical feet I did, how fast I could ski from top to bottom, how many runs I got in, did I only ski groomers or ski off piste, how many EpciMix virtual pins did I get at Vail, did  I get first and last chair and the list goes on and on.

You know that distinct sound a cat makes just as it’s about to hack up a fur ball, that ACK-U-ACK-U-ACK sound? That’s what I start doing when people start asking me all those questions.

First of all I’m a telemark skier. There is nothing fast nor conventionally competitive about it. Many times it’s just survival and attrition. Furthermore, telemark skiing isn’t necessarily conducive to a bell-to-bell day at a resort. It’s hard and exhausting, yet beautiful when done properly.

I picked this sport because it essentially forces me to slow down and by nature, it doesn’t lend itself to a lot of measurements or competitive benchmarks. Oh, and it’s hard, really hard. The unenlightened sometimes say it’s stupid and a dying discipline, yet it’s sort of been around since the 1870s when Sondre Norheim from Morgedal, Norway revolutionized modern ski travel with his radical telemark stylings, so I’m not all that worried about being out of fashion. It may just be me and my silly theories, but I’m pretty comfortable with a 140-year test period.

This past week my good friend Melanie came down from Washington and we called our mutual friend Jesse to coordinate a day of skiing in the backcountry up near Vail. As we were getting sorted out at the trailhead, I realized that this was probably one of the rare times where everyone in my group was on teles. Many times I’m the ONLY one one teles. Realizing the makeup of our little trio gave me high hopes that the day would be one of those special ones, one of those that I’d cherish for a long, long time. Three like minds all together, so how could it not be?

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I love skiing in the backcountry. Yes, it’s risky and sometimes scary and yes, it’s way harder than simply turning up at a resort, plunking down hundreds of dollars to ride a lift and ski on prepared slopes. There are no lifts in the backcountry and you have to climb and slog your way to wherever it is you’d like to go. This in itself is a huge deterrent for the vast majority of people who ski — though you can pay hundreds and hundreds or thousands of dollars and have a cat touring company or helicopter transport you. Add on the little detail of telemark skis having a loose and floppy heel and that they’re very hard to control in deep snow and the list of backcountry aspirants grows infinitely smaller.

One of my favourite books of all time is Robert Pirsig’s, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Overall the book is basically about how we define quality. At one point in the book he gives an example of the way people learn or measure themselves. He posits that if you take a classroom of students and declare on day one that there will be no tests or grades for the semester, the people who are typically good academic students and who depend on achieving a “grade” will falter. They will not have a tangible way to measure themselves against others and will be knocked off form. Conversely, and quite likely, the students who don’t typically test well in a restricted and measured environment might actually learn better.

Our overall world definitely falls more in the traditional sense of measurement. Everything we do MUST be measured and MUST be compared to validate ourselves. There MUST be questions and answers so we can validate who we are and what we do. No internal questions mind you, just measurement against the masses. Job titles, salaries, cell phone speed, car acceleration, gas mileage…everything. There are questions surrounding everything we do it seems, except the most important one. Does it make us happy?

When Melanie, Jesse and I got back to the car my hopes of having one of the best ski days I’ve ever had been granted. It wasn’t because we climbed “X” number of vertical feet, skied top to bottom in “X” amount of time or anything measurably conventional that skiers typically base their outings on. However, there were two metrics that I measured this day by and they are the two key things I use to determine any good ski day.

The relevant numbers from our day were 22 and 1. Twenty two was the number of photos I took and one is the number of smiles I had during the day, and that one smile started when we got out of the car and I’ve still got it almost a week later.

You know, I never take photos when I’m at resorts because it seems the point is only to ride up and ski down as much as possible to maximize the lift price/vertical foot ratio or some other such thing. I absolutely hate having to race as fast as I can from the top of the lift right back to the bottom only to stand in line to do it all again. I’ve missed everything I went up there to see in the first place…beautiful mountains, clear blue skies, talking to my friends, etc, etc, etc.

If I’m actually taking the time to take lots of photos of the amazingly beautiful places we often find ourselves in, to talk about the latest book we’ve read, to talk about life, to spend time with the people we care about, well, then skiing becomes infinitely more than just simple comparative statistics, it becomes integrated with life itself. I know my non-telemark friends will cringe (again) with all this hippie talk, but it’s why I chose it as my sport of choice to begin with. It’s hard, it takes patience to learn (lots and lots of patience) and it forces me to slow down and appreciate every step along the way. Even the small steps are appreciated and cherished.

I truly believe that the best moments in life are the ones you share with friends doing the things you love, not frantically amassing meaningless numbers or making meaningless comparisons. When the friends you have share the same philosophy and you can merge all that goodness together, your soul can’t help but overflow with a genuine happiness you can carry over from day to day for the rest of your life. You never have to worry about beating a record or someone else doing more because it’s always the right amount, the perfect amount.

The only question I ever need to ask myself, and it’s the most important one, is whether I’m still smiling. If I am, then it was a successful day.

Travel light, climb high, ski hard, pedal far, live simply, smile a lot.

Getting What I Want

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Me getting my first turns of the season.

My friend Jesse and I have recently been talking a lot about visualizing living the the life we imagine — and achieving it. Seems like a huge topic, and indeed it is, but when I really think about it, it’s not such a daunting thought. The only things that makes it seem huge and overwhelming are the self imposed roadblocks we sometimes put up for ourselves. Allowing myself to be truthful (and realistic) about what I want out of life has been an amazing and enlightening exercise. Like the title of my blog claims, I’m “Livin’ the Dream” (at least my own dream)!

As this conversation with Jesse has unfolded, I’ve thought about some silly and benign things from the recent past that now seem relatively relevant, at least as they relate to visualizing what we want from life.

Back in the summer a group of us went to Fruita to spend a weekend mountain biking — always fun and always challenging. Three of us were riding a particularly sandy and technical trail when one of our little posse rounded a corner and took a digger after her tyre dug into some loose sand. As we were sorting out the bike and scrapes, Adam very lovingly said to our riding partner who had crashed (we’ll call her Karen for this story), “I totally saw you look at the exact spot where you were going to crash“. It was certainly only a friendly little jab said in jest, but what he said was 100% spot on. Instead of visualizing the whole technical section of trail were were riding, Karen in all likelihood lost focus of the big picture, saw the obstacle and put to much focus on that. I’m certainly not picking on Karen because I ‘m totally guilty of it too, as we all are at times.

A couple of weeks ago, I was out riding here near my house and without really thinking about it in the context of me and Jesse’s conversation about “life visualization“, I decided I would try and ride my bike along 100-150 meters of trail with my eyes closed, just to see if I could do it. The first 10-20 meters went pretty well but my mind was consumed with what could go wrong…what WAS going to go wrong! Sure enough, I lost my focus of the overall goal and ran off the trail and crashed. When I dusted myself off, I looked back and was disappointed that that I’d probably only made it about a quarter of what I originally wanted. For some reason, the whole thing really bugged me, a lot. Right then I remembered what Adam had said, and I also put it into the context of me and Jesse’s ongoing conversation. I had done exactly the very thing we’d talked about having to avoid in all aspect of life…losing our focus.

Before I had even started physically pedaling on my first go, I had closed my eyes and rode the entire section in my mind. I saw every bump and bend and I saw myself being successful. The very second I pushed off and clipped into my pedals, I thought of every imaginable thing that could go wrong and I immediately lost my way. What if I run off the trail? Where am I? Of sh#$%, this is really stupid! Turn right, TURN LEFT…..aaaaaaand then I crashed.

I love this stuff.

Undeterred, I hopped on my bike and rode back to where I started, looked at the trail again and decided that what I needed to do was only focus on the positives, the path, the place I wanted to be and not break away from that. That didn’t mean that the obstacles weren’t there and I should consider them, I just needed to contain them, manage them and deal with them…and not let them stand in my way of achieving what I wanted to achieve. Once again, I looked down the trail, then shut my eyes and visualized a clean ride. I opened once more and confirmed the physical trail, shut my eyes again, visualized it again, and pushed off.

This time I forced myself to feel how fast I was going and visualize where I was on the trail — not where I going to crash. I could remember the subtleties of the trail and the one slight bend. Most of all,  I visualized 100% that I was going to do this. When I stopped and opened my eyes, I was about 5 meters short of where I thought I was, but I hadn’t run off the trail and I hadn’t crashed!  Most importantly of all, I hadn’t let negativity get in the way of what I wanted.

Fast forward a couple of weeks and this past weekend Adam and I went up to Keystone for our first day of pre-dawn skinning and skiing of the season. The first day of climbing on skis is always an experience. The ski legs usually have acquired a thick layer of dust on them from non-use over the summer season. And regardless of how much we mountain bike, hike or climb during the summer, it’s just a different muscle group being called into action and something we learn to embrace with love each and every year. Much to my surprise, this year wasn’t horribly painful but still, you’re climbing steeply for close to 1,000 vertical meters in just a couple of miles (with skis on—at altitude) so it’ll still get your attention. Anyhow, we quickly climbed up to the summit in about an hour and fifteen minutes and though I was a little worked, we had a world class resort all to ourselves and life was good.

As I was stripping the skins off my skis, I knew the five alarm quadricep fire was going to commence once I dropped those first few tele turns. Again, I don’t care how much you train, those first couple of days of the season on teles are downright painful. Nevertheless, I was excited to get going. Adam dropped in and  true to form, was at mach speed ripping long, beautiful arcing turns down the wide open trails. He would never admit it, but that dude can totally rip it on skis. Holy crap! I followed (well behind) and true to my expectations, my quads were ablaze after the first six or eight long, deep telemark turns. It wouldn’t have mattered if we’d ridden the lift to the summit instead of climbing, those first few turns are always like heaven and hell…oftentimes more to the hell side. Still, we had the place to ourselves so I took nice, long turns without ever a fear of being plowed over by another skier. Just sit back, drop the hammer and enjoy the ride.

About half way down, I admit I was forced to stop and let the lactic acid drain from my quads. While I was standing there (massaging my quads, truth be told), I looked below me and saw a long, beautifully rolling, fairly gentle trail falling away below me. I know Adam will cringe (and laugh a little) when I say this, but for me, making telemark turns is something you feel and experience, not just something you do. When you link turn after turn together, it’s like dancing and flying all at the same time. It was right then when I decided I would make six turns with my eyes completely shut. Just like I did on my bike, I’d visualize the path in front of me and 100% commit to it. I visualized the rhythmic turns I would make and the concise arcs I would carve in the untracked snow. Most of all, I visualized success.

Without much ado, I shut my eyes and made those six turns without once opening my eyes. I stopped exactly where I had envisioned. When I looked back up the hill, I could see that my turns were uniform and exactly along the path I had imagined. I never once thought about failure, only about doing what I love and making it exactly what I wanted it to be.

I’m usually pretty good about visualizing exactly what I want from life and letting that be my guide. That’s certainly not to say that I fly through life with my eyes closed! It would be naive to think that obstacles won’t come my way from time to time in everything I do. But what I’ve become so incredibly aware of is that just like Adam mentioned to Karen, like what I proved out on my bike a couple of weeks ago, and like I demonstrated to myself on skis that past weekend, I have to keep my focus dialed in on what I want out of life for it to go off the way I want it to. Take on the obstacles and bumps which will inevitably come, but never, ever lose focus of what I want.

The only thing I truly want from this life if to be happy and share that happiness with those who I care about. The rest is just icing on the cake.

Travel light, climb high, ski hard, pedal far, live simply.

Last Minute Road Trip: Land of Enchiladas

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We were a little bummed last week when we found out our friends had a family emergency and we would have to cancel our trip down to Santa Fe for the weekend. Since we’d already scheduled time off from work for that Friday, we started thinking about alternative things to do or places to go.

With a clean slate, pretty much everything was in play. I scoured the internet travel sites looking for cheap airfare to places like Portland, Phoenix, Spokane, Boise and a couple of others but nothing popped out as a screamer deal. We considered staying put and getting some early season skiing here in Colorado since the some of the resorts have opened their “white ribbon of death” (one trail open with hundreds of people jamming it) but that held about as much appeal as it does every season. Moab sounded pretty good too until we found out that some kind of testosterone laden motorhead event was going on so that was quickly crossed off the list. We also thought about Jackson Hole but it was pretty cold and windy up there and we could easily get that down here.

After a couple of days of thinking about it, we finally decided we’d just do a mini road trip to Taos. We hadn’t done a trip down there in a while, it was close at only about 4.5 hours away, we could ride mountain bikes on warm, uncrowded trails, it was a ‘tweener season so the town wouldn’t be jammed with people working themselves into a turquoise buying frenzy and we could get our fill of New Mexican fare, which we were really looking forward to in our original plan. We thought we definitely had a winner!

We thought about camping but came to the conclusion we wanted “not cold”. We called around looking for cheap places to stay and discovered that because it was in fact the ‘tweener season, some of the places we’ve stayed in the past were closed. Then the idea of staying at the Taos Inn hit us. We’ve had an embarrassing number of margaritas in the Adobe Bar and heard countless bands there over the years, but only now realized we’d never actually stayed in a room there. Fortunately there were plenty of discounted rooms available so we booked a couple of nights, loaded the bikes and readied our GI systems for a weekend in the Land of Enchiladas.

The majority of the drive down to New Mexico from the Boulder Valley is pretty dull. First you have to fight your way through Denver, then there is the Indianapolis 500-esque, free-for-all stretch of highway between Denver and the Springs followed by the 100-year highway construction projects in the Springs proper. From the Springs on down to Walsenberg, where we turn west to take the back roads into Taos, it is pancake flat, barren and always windy…always, always windy. We had all day to get there so we decided from the start to kick back, dial up the iPod, drive in the slow lane and let the relaxing commence from the time we backed out of our driveway.

Let me clarify that the relaxing part actually started once we left REI where I had to buy a new lockset for our bike rack. I guess the last time I took my bike rack off, I laid the hitch mount’s lockset on my bumper and forgot about it. I’m sure it fell off somewhere along my route to work one morning and now it’s lost forever. I wish I could say this was the first time this has happened, but I can’t.

Once we got off of I-25 in Walsenburg and headed due west, we were immediately reminded why we love escaping to the desert from time to time. The sun was starting its final descent for the day and the colours of the desert, normally muted in the harsh midday sun, started to explode and the optical kaleidoscope commenced. It’s always a toss-up whether the sunsets or the food is the biggest allure of road tripping to New Mexico. Instead of debating that question for very long, we feasted solely on the sunset for the next hour knowing that the food and beverage part was not too far away.

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I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the first thing we ate that evening was an appetizer of rattlesnake and rabbit sausage with a chipotle sultana sauce! Dee-freakin-licious. This of course was washed down with what Doc Martin’s Restaurant calls their “Perfect Margarita”…and it was. We won’t mention how many we had, but I will say they were all indeed “perfect”. Great food, great live music, great company…great day all around.

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I’m always stunned by the lack of people on hiking or mountain biking trails in New Mexico. I’ve ridden down there many, many times and seldom have I ever seen more than two or three people during a full day’s ride. It’s not like the riding is terrible either…it’s actually AMAZING. Maybe people are too interested in buying cheap turquoise trinkets to hop on a bike and explore the landscape? People certainly aren’t shy about packing the ski areas, but hiking and biking trails go pretty much unnoticed. I’m definitely not complaining here.

As we figured, there were only two other cars at the trailhead when we showed up at 10:30 a.m. This was late for us but we’d been busy stuffing our yaps with delicious huevos rancheros at the Bent Street Café while we waited for the temps to warm up. Keeping with our “just relax” theme for the weekend, we took our time getting our things ready knowing there was no need to beat the rush or worry about fighting through the throngs of other bikers on the trails. Also, before we left Colorado, I had realized that this ride would be my 100th ride of the season and I couldn’t think of a better way or place to commemorate it.

I love desert riding in and around Taos. Typically there are no long, protracted, painful, high altitude climbs like here in the Central Rockies. It’s still usually fairly warm during the day and even as people are skiing just a few miles away, I can generally still ride in shorts and a light jacket. And unlike riding in the desert around Moab and Fruita (which I love), riding around Taos and Santa Fe isn’t generally overly rocky, which can turn a half day on the trails into an exhaustion-fest. I’m not saying there aren’t some techy areas where you need to be on your game, but a lot of the trails out west of town are pretty straightforward, low stress riding.

We wound up only riding about 12 or so miles in and around the Taos Overlook Trail System. The Rift Trail, rated easy to moderate, pretty much encircles the entire area, with various other trails intertwined within it. I’d never ridden there specifically so was pretty excited to check it out. While riding we saw a grand total of one mountain biker (cool local guy named Roland), two hikers, one cute dog (named Moxxy), one bighorn sheep, one tarantula, a Redtail hawk, some mutant-sized crows, an ocean of sage, an epic view of the snowcapped Sangre de Cristos to the east, mind-blowing views into the Rio Grande Gorge and a bluebird blue sky that was immense beyond comprehension. It’s just crazy how places like this aren’t jam packed with mountain bikers and hikers, especially on such a typically beautiful New Mexico day. Again, no complaints whatsoever.

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For us, there is no outdoor activity in Taos complete without a stop at Orlando’s New Mexican Café afterward. We’ve been to Taos more times than we can count and eaten at tons of places, but Orlando’s is by far our favourite — bar none, hands down. Orlando’s has a genuinely friendly staff, consistently amazing home style, authentic, non-froofy food and a relaxed atmosphere perfect for reliving a day on the bike or skis. You may have to wait a few minutes for a table since it’s a small place with limited seating, but you can always grab a beer and sit out by the fire pit while you relax and make a new friend or two.

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We love New Mexico but it’s always good to get back home to Colorado. Although we didn’t get to see our friends, this little unexpected mini road trip turned out to be exactly what we needed to shake clean the Etcho-Sketch of daily life. Slow pace, no plans, no timetables, no stress, fun mountain biking, plenty of green chiles, tasty margaritas and a little touch of the funkiness of Taos.  Adios por ahora Nueva Mexico, pero nos vemos pronto.

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Travel light, climb high, ski hard, pedal far, live simply.

Ready, Set, Go.

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I spent some time this morning talking to my friend Jason about a trip we’ve been working for quite a while, a long while in fact. Needless to say it’s to a place that’s been high on our list or we wouldn’t have expended all this time and effort trying to make it work.

We could certainly throw a wad of cash at some well-known “adventure” company (which is essentially an oxymoron), but that’s not our style. We prefer to come up with an idea then figure out every aspect on our own, but without over-planning the hell out of it. That way, from start to finish, we own it. Like building a bike — if you build it from the ground up, every pedal stroke will have a personal investment in it because you own the entire experience.

In a nutshell, our trip outline started like this:

-          Turn up at the airport

-          Fly as far as we can

-          Take a bus

-          Walk the rest of the way

-          Experience

That plan was all fine and good but what we found was that airfare was insanely expensive to our destination of choice and wasn’t getting any cheaper. The airfare alone was close to the entire cost of our two months of travel in South Asia. Week after week I’ve been trying to connect the dots in different ways through different hubs here in the States, but the results were always the same, too expensive. It seriously got to the point where we had to start thinking that maybe the trip wouldn’t go off this year after all and we’d have to resort to Plan B. Sure, we could simply choke down the cost of the airfare and go anyhow, but we wanted to stay honest to our travel style and not just sell out to “easy”. By the way, Plan B was not all that bad!

Anyhow, our proposed departure date is coming up fast and we needed to make some serious decisions, pronto. That said, I recently started pondering my approach to our airfare search and realized that maybe I’d been walking too straight of a line with my thinking. Independent international travel requires us to think outside the box almost every minute of the day and when we do that, we can make things happen on the fly that probably we’d thought impossible before. Why we don’t think that way when we’re home is a mystery.

I can vividly remember me and  Jason having a conversation with a lady in Nepal who was traveling with a tour group (I think it was Backroads). She told us there was no way she could just pack up and come to Nepal and start “traveling” on her own. First of all, yes she could. To do so though, she’d have to be willing to be uncomfortable, to think outside the box (again, almost by the minute), be willing to “let go” of control and be willing to learn something about herself. Linear thinking and self imposed limiations are definitely not your friends when traveling solo.

I honestly think trying to find air transportation after being back in a comfortable, in-the-box routine sort of led me down the path of NOT truly thinking creatively. With the balance of the whole trip now teetering on how creative I could be, I basically just set the box on fire and get serious about it.

The result? I managed to save us almost $600 per roundtrip ticket is what! Yes, now we may have to spend a night or two in DF or BOG coming and going, but added mini adventures in non-planned foreign cities has never been a bad thing in our world.

Getting back outside the box, flexing that adaptive travel mentality and coming up with a viable travel solution definitely gets my travel adrenaline flowing again. Certainly doesn’t help my work motivation or focus, but it definitely gets me excited! It almost makes 30+ hours of air travel seem fun, well, at least tolerable.

Tickets, passports, backpacks, open minds…ready, set, go.

Travel light, climb high, ski hard, pedal far, live simply.

Different Places, Different Paces

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I love autumn. LOVE. IT. And right now is arguably the best mountain biking of the year because the weather here in Colorado is about perfect. Not only that, it seems our entire state is blanketed in an ocean of gold leaves providing us a backdrop to trails that will take your very breath away. Because of that, the trails we’ve been riding all summer have suddenly taken on a different feel and it’s sometimes like we’re riding them for the first time instead of the 20th time. Even better, instead of dropping the hammer every time we clip into our pedals, our pace seems to slow and we tend to spend more time absorbing the views, our friendships and our good fortune of living in such an amazing place.

This week I’ve been making a point of riding after work just about every day simply because next weekend the time will change and our midweek afternoon rides will all but dry up with the lack of afternoon sun. Sure, we’ll still take a full afternoon off from to time to ride, but our staple afternoon routine of starting at 3:30 and riding until 5:30-6:00 (and many times later) won’t be so convenient as with the long daylight hours of summer. There is definitely some fun to be had night riding in the evenings, but again, not quite as relaxing as a summer ride if you have to wear a headlamp and bundle up against the cold.

As I mentioned above, I love the slower pace that seems to accompany this time of year. On Tuesday I rode with Adam and right from the start we set a nice leisurely pace, enjoyed the views, chatted aimlessly and caught up on life (like we don’t do that about every day) while riding familiar singletack we hadn’t been able to ride until recently because of the flooding. We’ve literally ridden hundreds and thousands of miles together since spring but I liked Tuesday;s ride as much as any other we’d done. We’ve definitely had epic days where we both were gasping for air on long climbs at high altitude and been gripped out of our minds on some pretty spicy descents, which aren’t really all that conducive to idle chit chat. That’s not to say we never talk when we ride, we do, but it always seems a little quicker pace of riding during the height of the season.

Same with my friend Carin, we’ve ridden hundreds of miles since spring and most of the time we’d just leave the trailhead and simply take care of business for mile after mile of singletrack. Yet, last night we left the trailhead to do one of our staple afternoon rides and right from the start, the pace was subdued. Unlike mid season, in a sixteen mile loop we probably stopped no less than half a dozen times to take in the view, talk about life, our future travel projects and take a few photos along the way.

To give you an idea of our pace, we can normally complete this sixteen mile loop, even with the climbing and couple of technical sections, in about an hour, maybe a few minutes more. This week when I rode it with Adam and again with Carin yesterday, it took us closer to two hours. Carin even commented at one point that she couldn’t remember a time when we rode so slow.

Sometimes during the season we’d get back to the car after a big day out and we’d feel mentally and physically exhausted, though fulfilled, with pushing our respective envelopes, which is always fun. But in direct contrast to that, I’ve felt that our rides this week have been even more fulfilling because it was more about slowing down and simply spending time with each other while we do what we love.

Same thing when I ski. Yeah, there are days when it’s fun to come out of the parking lot with our guns a’ blazin’ and just rip up thousands of vertical feet in a matter of hours on the piste — and those days definitely have their place in the mix. But the days I love most are the early mornings when we get up (and I’m talking about 04:00 a.m.) and skin up a resort long before the crowds ever wake. Just me and a friend trudging up some steep trail to a ridge where we’ll sit, talk and wait until right before the lifts open to the crowds whereupon we strap on our skis and helmet and let it fly in complete solitude. Same with the backcountry. I love getting away from the crowds, setting a climbing pace where we can talk, catch up, philosophise and exactly like I said about about mountain biking, do the things I love with the people I love.

I’m so fortunate to have such amazing family and friends who truly appreciate the fortune of good health and the fact that we live in such an amazing place and can do the things we do. But I’m even more fortunate that these same people appreciate what livin’ the dream is truly all about — sharing the things we love with the people we love. That’s the only stuff that counts when it gets down to it.

Travel light, climb high, ski hard, pedal far, live simply.

When It’s Not Fun, Well, It’s Not Fun.

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I love taking photos, especially when I travel or sometimes when I’m out riding my mountain bike, skiing and out road tripping. I also love taking photos of my friends doing what they do, or taking them for their Christmas cards and other such things. And sometimes I love taking photos just because I want to experiment with some creativity. The only times I don’t like taking photos is when I have to sacrifice a moment of enjoyment, like stopping during some amazing powder turns, watching life unfold in a foreign city or when I’m ripping some epic singletrack or basically when taking photos starts to feel like a job.

I seldom feel creative when I feel like I’m sacrificing one thing for the other. I’d rather enjoy the moment than alter it with hopes the altered moment will be better. I get lots of ski days in a season and ride hundreds, if not thousands of miles on my mountain bike in a given year, but the reality is that few of those days are epic powder days or mind blowing singeltrack adventures. Sometimes I have to decide whether I want to enjoy the moment, or capture the moment.

While I fancy myself a fairly decent photographer (when I actually do more than just point and shoot for giggles), I certainly don’t categorize myself as a “pro” photographer. I have a nice DSLR, have some cool mid-level lenses and I love trying to capture photos that will hopefully help me relive places I’ve traveled and spark memories of things I’ve seen. This especially applies to travel photography. I’m also the first to admit that I seldom share a lot of my photos with others because sometimes I want to remember them the way I want to remember them — without judgment, bias or critique from the general public. That may sound weird, but it is what it is. I did however start a website and do that thing for a while and even sold a few photos, but I haven’t been good about keeping it updated of late. http://barryreesephotography.com/index2.php#/home/

Anyhow, in the last several months it seems that I’ve fallen into that “point and shoot for giggles” rut and really haven’t flexed my creativity with the camera all that much. Here and there I will, but not as regularly as in the past. My buddy Jason is currently in grad school studying illustrative arts and is blowing my mind with his work. My good friend Jesse is of course crushing it with his amazing sculptures http://roguestudios.biz/. Similarly, my good friend Eleanor Moseman was just featured in an article in Nikon USA http://www.nikonusa.com/en/Learn-And-Explore/Article/hjbkuyyd/going-solo-a-two-wheel-photo-journey-across-asia.html. (No, I don’t even consider myself close to her level of talent!) My long time friend Marc Hudson http://marchudsonartgallery.com/, is also creating amazing things down in Santa Fe. My friend CJ, uber talented http://lathamjrphotography.com/. While they all serve as motivation for me to jump out of the rut and start creating again, I think it was more important for me to rediscover the spark for creativity from within. I personally think the best work always comes from within the heart, regardless of what art medium is chosen.

I had a fantastic mountain biking season, right up until the flooding here in Colorado washed away much of the local trails I loved to ride. I think a lot of the reason this season was so great is that every time I went out to ride, I focused on the ride and living in that very moment. If it was raining, I tried to enjoy it. If it was a day for lung busting climbing, I tried to get into the rhythm and enjoy the process. Blistering fast descents, well, let the adrenaline flow uninterrupted for a few minutes. Because of this, I seldom if ever took my DSLR along and mostly only opted to carry my little point and shoot. Part of that is because it makes me nervous to carry an expensive camera given my propensity to crash and harshly find the ground from time to time. Still, I just wanted to ride for the sake of riding and enjoy the scenery with my eyes.

This morning I was looking back at some of the snapshots I took while biking and stumbled upon a little project I did with my friend Bryan Kramer, who happens to race singlespeed mountain bikes all over the world. He’s a super cool guy who I always love hanging around with because he shares that live-in-the-moment attitude that I find so essential. I think being around him one evening back when I did this project sparked my desire to pick up the camera one morning and play around with some ideas. He fortunately humoured me and met me at sun up to take some photos and let me experiment a bit. Again, I am no “pro”, but it was a fun morning for learning a little about my camera — as well as how I could get my ass kicked by a guy with only one speed on his bike (I sport 30 gears by the way and sometimes would like another).

Looking back through these photos has gotten me back into thinking about formulating similar projects. Yes, I have some travels coming up soon and that is always my time to keep my camera at the ready and be creative, but right now I think I’m ready to narrow the focus and start learning some new things about photography and  some post shooting production methods. Who knows where I’ll take this line of thinking, but I think it’s safe to say I’ll be hitting up some of my friends to use as guinea pigs in the coming weeks. Now that I think about, there’s that living in the one of the most beautiful places on earth that could factor into photographic creativity as well.

Thanks Kramer for getting out on a cold morning back then.

Travel light, climb high, ski hard, pedal far, live simply.

Cha-Cha-Changes

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Had I taken the picture above two weeks ago, there would’ve been no whitish hue across the high peaks. However, every year about this time everyone here on the Front Range peeks up that way during their morning commute anticipating the first legitimate dusting of snow signaling the changing of the seasons. Yes, the leaves generally start changing colours a couple of weeks or so before the peaks get hit with white, but seeing the mountains change really opens the door for thoughts of the next season and all the powder days ahead.

Summer is always full of fun times filled with long days of hiking in the mountains amongst beautiful wildflowers, mountain biking along high ridges, strolling along Pearl Street with friends, music festivals, beer tastings and sitting outside at restaurants with friends long into the evenings. Then, invariably, come late August or early September, the wind will pick up one afternoon, it will smell different, maybe the rain comes and voila!, when you walk out the next morning to go to work, you feel that sharp bite in the air and you grab a jacket for the for the first time in three or four months.

When that scenario plays out, my little group of friends will typically kick into emergency mode and start getting all the season’s unfinished projects (mountain biking, climbing, etc) moved to front burner and completed before conditions dictate they be brought to a close. Just a few weeks ago we rode the Monarch Crest, a classic high altitude traverse down in Central Colorado, knowing that our window for dry trails (re:no snow) was closing fast due to the changing seasons. Sure enough, a week after we rode it, severe weather here across most Colorado pretty well closed out that opportunity for another year.

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Another way we “celebrate” the changes of the seasons is by sequestering ourselves into my garage for an evening to prep the coming season’s gear. For the change from summer to winter activities, we have come to affectionately call these little soirees our “Wednesday, Wax and Whiskey Sesh”. These are nights when we pop the top on a beer or sample a little whiskey while we wax and tune our skis. We also catch up on the latest doings in each other’s lives and in the case of this past Monday, start dreaming about all the powder turns we’ll make in the coming season. Of course during the actual ski season, these Wednesday evening sessions (about every 4-5 weeks) will convert over to reminiscing about all the powder turns we’ve made thus far and naturally, those still yet to come.

I feel bad for people who don’t get out each and every season and have things they love to do. If I didn’t ski, winter would seem way longer than it already is. If I only skied and didn’t mountain bike, trail run, climb, fly fish and camp when it’s warm, summer would just be a time when I had to mow twice a week until winter came back. Making the changes from season to season is easy when you fully throw yourself into life and just have fun with what Mother Nature gives us! Like the saying goes, “No such thing as bad weather, only improper gear and clothing”. Embrace the changes!

So, as you see, I’m usually not all that opposed to changes. In fact, I see changes as opportunities for new experiences, new views and new paths. However, sometimes changes can kick you right in the gut, like the loss of a friend or a family pet, both of which happened in my little household this past month. While the passing of life is painful for the people still living, it is one of the realities of existing we simply can’t escape. Sitting along the Bagmati River in Pashupatinath, Nepal a couple of years ago, watching pyre after pyre being built and seeing the steady stream of the deceased being cremated right before my eyes brought this reality home in very guileless and unnervingly graphic terms.

While adapting to changing seasons can be fun, changes like losing the people and things you love is certainly tougher to adapt to. When this does happen, my therapy is generally to get on my bike and go for long, long rides, maybe strap on my skis and go for a nice, long tour in the mountains or simply go camp by a river and just have time to think. The point for me is not to escape, but to experience ALL the emotions fully, without filters. My meditation is to fall into the arms of the places I love and simply let go. When I do this, I can honestly  learn to accept and more importantly, sincerely learn to heal.

Because of my spiritual and philosophical beliefs, I fully accept the reality of change and accept that there is nothing I can do that will ever stop it. What I can do though is live every day to the fullest, tell the people closest to me how much they mean to me, never let an opportunity for fun pass me by and sincerely live with no regrets. I’ll always miss my friends who have passed and definitely will miss the pets that I’ve loved, but I will always have the comfort going forward in knowing I’ve amassed an over-stuffed cache of good memories because I never let a day pass that I wasn’t up for a bit of fun.

Travel light, climb high, ski hard, pedal far, live big.