Monthly Archives: March 2010

Rocks Rock

When I finally finished designing the basics of my website, I had a large set of photos with which to choose it’s content from. The hard part was whittling it down to a few that I thought were “website worthy”. Now, after a couple of months of giving myself some time to critique the website with a little more of an objective eye, I see that I’ve indeed been remiss in including photos of rock climbing….lots of ice, just no rock.

Well, that is something I endeavour to remedy in short order. Rock climbing has long been something I do whenever the opportunity has arisen. I’m by no means a world class climber, but I consider myself pretty solid at the moderate grade level (trad, sport and ice) and truly enjoy the processes of climbing. Sounds cliché I know, but it’s true. And to that end, I’ve written countless essays, missives, epistles and short stories about why I’ve chosen to pursue these shenanigans associated with vertical world. But I will spare everyone another droning communiqué on that subject.

Anyhow, to begin to rectify the lack-of-rock-climbing-photo situation on my website, I’ve fortunately got a couple of climbing trips coming up in the next few weeks.

First, Jason and I are heading to Taos, New Mexico next week. I have a secret spot out on the West Rim of the Gorge where I’ve camped for years. Although extremely flat and vast beyond reasonable comprehension, I have unobstructed views of the Sangre de Cristos to the east and the Jemez to the west. And just a few meters from my super secret campsite, the Taos Gorge falls hundreds of feet down a sheer rock face to the Rio Grande River below. To rise before daybreak and sit on the rim with my coffee waiting for sun to rise is in a word, magical.

A couple of weeks following the Taos road trip, I’ll be heading to Moab, Utah to hook up with the First Descents organization to photograph young adults attending a climbing camp. I first crossed paths with First Descents a few years ago but have just recently got re-acquainted with them. Strange how it happened actually, but since then, I can say that I’ve seen a side of goodness and giving that I haven’t seen in quite some time.

First Descents is an organization started by Brad Ludden (a truly awesome guy and I’m certainly privileged to call him a friend) that offers one week kayaking, climbing and mountaineering camps for young adults with cancer. It gives everyone attending the opportunity to take on stiff but achievable challenges, meet people in similar situations and give them the building blocks to overcome fears and accomplish goals. It’s also a format to gain back some self confidence that may have been stripped away by this horrible disease.

This past weekend I attended the First Descent Ball up in Beaver Creek. I was in all honesty completely blown away with the outpouring of support from the community, past participants and individuals alike. Contrary to what you might think, it wasn’t a complete downer of an evening only focusing on the negatives of cancer. Instad, it was a sincere celebration of the battles being waged, the successes won, and yes, even a celebration of the battles lost. It was probably one of the most humbling, eye-opening and uplifting evenings I’ve ever had. The people at First Descents ARE making a difference, a big difference ,and I was happy to be a part of it.

Okay, that said, I am stoked to be able to go to Moab and hang out with my friend Karen and the other peeps from First Descents as well as all the campers. There is no doubt they will inspire me, humble me and teach me a thing or two about truly living in the moment and genuinely appreciating life. And it will certainly be my privilege and honor to be able to be there with those guys and try to capture some images of the emotions, excitement and energy of the week.

With these two events on the horizon, it shouldn’t be long until I have a ton more photos to sort through for consideration to include on my website. I think I’ll probably change the tab title that is currently “Alpine” to “Ice”. I’ll then add another tab called “Rock”. 

Rocks rock any way you look at it, but sharing them with old friends and new friends alike always makes them just a little more special.

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J’aime la France

 

Photos Courtesy of Johanna Saldyt

The travel bug has been killing me lately. Although I don’t really have anything huge on the slate anytime soon, I’ve been fortunate enough to have enough friends who are currently traveling or will be traveling in the near future. Besides Matt and Karen sailing around the world, I have friends who will soon be traveling to Costa Rica, France, Spain, Canada, Syria and Morocco. Being able to at least hear their stories temporarily keeps me from quitting my job, selling my house and car and striking out with nothing more than my backpack, camera and a penchant for adventure. Okay, maybe that’s an extreme scenario, but don’t think it hasn’t played out in my mind a zillion times over.

This morning I went downstairs here in my office building to talk to a friend about something totally non-work related….actually about borrowing a hat for Donna to wear this weekend at an event we are attending. Anyhow, she, Johanna, is without a doubt one of my favorite and most well-traveled friends. In fact she’s getting ready to leave to Spain/Morocco in the next few weeks and of course we had to talk about that after we finished talking about hats. Blah, blah, blah, eventually through our circuitous conversations she told me a story about a guy from her neighbourhood that she’d recently met and who is now painting the inside of her house (which is another story in unto itself since it’s one of the coolest houses around!)

Because I love, love, LOVE this type of story and lifestyle, I had totally forgotten all about the hat request I’d originally gone down to talk about and was now fully engulfed in this awesome tale. As everyone that knows me knows, this type of person is exactly why I travel to faraway places or at least seek out funky places close to home to hang out and meet people. Everyone has a story and most are pretty interesting if we don’t judge first and find out the truth later (or never).

Anyhow, his name is Phillipe, probably in his late 40s and originally comes from Paris (France, not Texas). Johanna explained that he’s a very kind, interesting and humble guy with no car, no phone and in true Bohemian fashion, lives on the garden level of a friend’s house there in the Highlands neighbourhood of Denver (and has for the previous seven years). Get this, if he attends a concert at Red Rocks Amphitheater (which is about 15 miles from their neighbourhood), he walks there and back. Grocery shopping? Walks. Errands? Walks. How novel is that? Somebody actually walks these days!! Insert sarcasm and a roll of the eyes here. Anyhow, to add to his coolness, he only wears sandals, even when it snows. Johanna said that when he arrives to work, he kicks off his wet sandals on the porch and fishes dry ones out of his backpack to wear around the house while painting.

Johanna said that Phillipe works for $100 per day. Pretty good given that he has no expenses. But you ask, isn’t living in someone else’s house like sponging off of friends and taking advantage of the kindness of others? At first glance, yep, that’s what the drones of today’s American society would think. But in the world outside the Universe of the United States, things sometimes aren’t always so material or cookie-cutter when it comes to sharing and “paying back”. Again, that’s why I travel! I want to see different ways and means of living. I want to see and experience it all!!

So back to Phillipe and what he contributes. It seems that every Sunday he will invite friends, old and new, to dinner. He treats everyone to a fabulous French dinner complete with all the usual suspects of French Cuisine, especially the pastries, which I naturally only tolerate to be courteous to my French friends. Yeah, right. I could never live in France because I would weigh as much as a Peugeot within a year. Hello, my name is Barry and I love French food! There, I said it.

Anyhow Phillipe invites everyone for the feast that he’s prepared and gets to know people through food, wine, music and relaxed, festive conversation. This is not networking or gratuitous socializing because he doesn’t need material or “status” advancements, only friendships and the associated treasures of human interaction. He gives back through his culinary talents, something he obviously does quite well.

We’ve hosted many, many exchange students over the years. Some from Japan and another from Germany. Absolutely, positively some of the highlights of our entire lives were during their stays with us. And among the most memorable times were when they’d cook their native foods for us a couple of times a week…that and when Yuki sang the most amazing “a capella” solo as a gift to us for letting her stay. Talk about a tear jerking few minutes!! Oh my gosh, that was truly, truly amazing! Anyhow, for them to share their culture and food with us and to trust that we would accept their culture and difference without judgment or prejudice was by far the most flattering and rewarding gift we could have EVER imagined. We still consider Nina, Hitomi, Yuki and Daisuke our own kids.

For Phillipe to prepare meals from the heart and from his sincere appreciation for the graciousness and kindness of others, well, that pretty much tells me that for the people lucky enough to be part of his world, he more than surpasses any monetary expectations the rest of the world may have envisioned might have been required.

Giving of ourselves is a gift that I wish everyone appreciated. I know I appreciate people’s time when they cook a fab meal, host a party or take time to talk. And wouldn’t it be an awesome world if we did nice things for nice people every day, just for the hell of it?

Bravo Phillipe. Viva la France.

Downsizing, Better Photography…Correlated?

If you’ve read any of my latest entries you already know I’ve recently been immersed in downsizing and de-cluttering lots of things. Just this weekend we took two Toyota Tacoma loads of stuff to places like ARC, Goodwill and the Broomfield Public Library. The books were still difficult for me to part with, but I have to admit that seeing the glee on the library staff’s faces after receiving almost 100 books was well worth the donation. Other stuff wasn’t so difficult nor as rewarding. At the ARC donation center they pretty much just pointed at an already immense stack of items and emotionlessly said, “just pile it there”.

Equally rewarding was taking an entirely full pickup bed of stuff to the landfill. Most of what I took was scrap lumber that I always thought I might use someday, but never did. I also disassembled the crappy workbench that our house’s previous owners had constructed and hauled that away. Other stuff was just junk that had cleverly crept into the nooks and crannies of our house over time and had managed to escape our eyes and attention. It felt so good to toss all this stuff and feel the weight literally be lifted off our shoulders. However, it almost wasn’t that positive experience when I tried to leave the landfill. It was snowing like crazy and where I’d backed down to toss the stuff was super deep with mud. It took putting my truck into four-wheel-drive and slowly and patiently working my way up a hill. All I could think of was how embarrassing it would have been to a) slide back into the open pit at the dump, or b) flag down a trash truck and have them pull me out! Fortunately neither happened.

So once everything was properly tossed, distributed and donated, I set to the task of building a functional workspace in the garage by constructing a new workbench, hanging old cabinets to use for storage and essentially getting what little remained into some sort of order. Our garage is now clean, uncluttered, neat and useable. That was Saturday (and all of last week going through stuff and deciding what needed to be tossed). Yesterday when I went out for my long run I was thinking how liberating it felt to de-clutter all aspects of our lives. I could honestly think more clearly and life just seemed “lighter”. Even my gait seemed livelier!

Being on a domestically productive roll, and because I had a little more than two hours during my run to think about it, I remembered that I still had some photos from my recent trip to Ouray that I needed to finish up, organize and get onto my website. Of course photography is one of my favorite pastimes so the thought of having to work on the photos certainly didn’t seem like a chore, however, it was still another task I needed to tackle.

The odd thing is that even while I was running and focused on that task, I could remember almost every one of the 150 useable photos I took that weekend in Ouray. Then, that made me start thinking about why I could remember the details of thousands of photos I’ve taken over time and yet didn’t remember to bring my hydration pack for my run that morning! Yep, for the second time in as many months, I’d forgotten it. Had it been a 5-6 mile run it wouldn’t have been a big deal, but going beyond a half marathon distance starts to make the oversight a little more relevant. Fortunately I’m used to going longer distances and it didn’t prove to be all that much of a factor…though I was definitely feeling it a little toward the end.

So back to why I could remember the details of thousands of photos. The thought kind of consumed me yesterday and eventually proved to be quite insightful. The answer/theory finally came to me when I was sifting through the aforementioned Ouray pics. I could remember the details because typically when I take photos I “zone out” and only focus on the photo or situation at hand. It’s similar to climbing, running, snowboarding or whatever else in that when I’m immersed in those activities I shut out the rest of the world and can live in only that very moment.  In other words, I de-clutter my mind of all the things that really don’t matter at that moment and enjoy what I’m doing at the 100% level.

Then I started thinking about some of my favorite photos and that really emphasized the point. One of my favorite photos is the very first one you see when you click onto my website — the one of the Quechua woman. Although I can’t see the woman’s face nor much of the surrounding market, the photo instantly takes me back to the village of Pisaq, Peru where I can literally see those colours again, hear the voices of vendors hocking their wares, smell the rustic truchas al mojo de ajo wafting from a food vendor’s comal and physically feel the frenetic energy of that high Andean market. Why can I still do this? The answer is because at the time of taking the photo(s) I wasn’t thinking about Boulder, CO, answering a cell phone, work or trivial things like mowing the grass. Instead, I was truly living in the moment and sincerely “feeling” what I was trying so desperately to capture. Nothing else existed. And the result of doing that was capturing an image that I think may singularly define my work as a photographer.

From that single photo, I then started looking back at ALL the photos on my website and thinking about why I chose them to publicly represent my work. The answer was the same. Every photo there was taken at a time when I was able to unload the burdens of outside clutter and truly focus on what I was seeing and experiencing at the time. Naturally I will never be able to capture the “feeling”, but what I hopefully can do is capture enough of the visual representation so that I can evoke a memory of how it felt to be there or possibly give someone else the ability to “imagine” the feeling.

I loved looking back through those images and bringing back memories like the feeling of standing at almost 19,000 feet above sea level at daybreak and seeing the shadow the mountain on which I was standing being cast across a valley more than 10,000 vertical feet below. Standing at the Sun Gate on the Inca Trail and watching the sun rise over Machu Picchu. Waking up early at one of the 10th Mountain Division Huts here in Colorado and seeing the myriad of colours in a sunrise that only nature can produce. Standing at a food cart in Bangkok, sweating in life threatening heat and humidity, eating Pad Thai as fantastically delicious as you can only experience in Thailand. The list goes on and on but it was those unique moments (and images!) that could only come about when I had tossed aside the weight of clutter (be it material or mental) and truly lived in the moment.

Now back to de-cluttering my house. Even though I didn’t rid myself of every material item I own, getting marginally lighter in the ownership department definitely helped open up my mind and I instantly felt compelled to do more, see more and live more. For example, I love to cook new and interesting ethnic foods, something I haven’t done much of lately. This weekend though, I once again had out the cookbooks dreaming of traveling the world via our kitchen.

Funny how one thing leads to another and a cycle of complacency can quickly be broken. Had we not recently been talking to Jason about his de-materializing and subsequent re-tooling of careers, we may still be living status quo and unnecessarily accepting (and adding to) the clutter. But the spark was sparked and that’s seriously all it took. We’re once again getting leaner, meaner and freer to do more things like traveling, climbing and adventuring.

So in the end, for me at least,, there really is a direct correlation between living a downsized and de-cluttered life and taking better photos. Without the distractions I do better work. With better work I’m more inspired. With more inspiration I push farther. The farther I go the more I can experience. The more I experience the better and more understanding of a person I can hopefully become. And if I can become a better person, hopefully I can spread that feeling and help make the entire world a better place.

Downsizing (de-cluttering) = better photography = better world. Pretty cool.

Anchors Away!

A few years ago we decided we would de-clutter our lives. It was a daunting task at first but eventually we both agreed that it would be a catharsis of sorts and relieve some of the inherent pressures that ownership entails. That’s not to say that we dumped everything we owned and resigned ourselves to live in my truck/tent, but that definitely crossed my mind, just not Donna’s. Another story altogether.

As we started, we decided to go through our house, room by room, and evaluate the necessity of every single thing we owned. And as we expected the first room was the hardest. Everything we owned, from the house itself to a tube of Chapstick had some sort of sentimental or at least some form of minimal tangible value. And obviously some things were easier to evaluate perceived “need”, while others proved more difficult than we imagined. However, once we got started, it scarily got easier and easier. So easy in fact that every once in a while we’d have to stop and take a breather so that we wouldn’t do something we later regretted. We even went through old printed photographs and tossed all those crappy images that we previously couldn’t part with. It was truly that detailed for everything in the house.

As we started accumulating a pile of downsized items in a spare bedroom, we were blown away at how much stuff we had identified as things we could part with. Before long, the room was so full that we couldn’t cram anything else in there…seriously. The next step was to have one of the very few garage sales we’ve ever had.

As we started moving things into the garage we came up with a steadfast rule. The rule stated that once an item crossed the threshold into the garage, it could never come back inside the house. Some things were super easy to take out, even physically throw out into the garage. Other things we really had to think about, even to the point of keeping them in the bedroom for further evaluation. Happily, even after thinking about it longer, everything we initially took to the room finally managed to find its way onto the “sales floor”.

When the big clearance sale day came, all the stuff strangely became nothing more than inventory and we had no problems watching all those things we “had to have” drive away in someone else’s car. As a matter of fact, those things we “had to have” were now only worth about $0.25 to us and we were more than happy to be rid of them. And when the sale was over, the remainder of the stuff was loaded into the Subaru and taken to Goodwill. NOTHING came back in the house!

I think that was by far the best demonstration and testament to just how silly accumulating so much crap really is. And to be fair, it’s not like we really had all that much stuff. A lot of it was things that seemed like a good idea at the time (gimmicky kitchen appliances for example) but really didn’t have any lasting use. The crazy and scary part of doing this was realizing how fast those little things add up. Before we knew it, we had clutter!

Jason, a really good friend of ours, has recently had me thinking more and more about another hard core downsizing. When we moved from our other house into our current house, we definitely did a large scale reduction. But since then, I know for sure we’ve let ourselves get a little cluttered again. Anyhow, Jason is currently executing a plan that I have dreamed of implementing for, well, let’s just say I’ve dreamed of doing this for just about forever.

He is an extremely well educated (has a PhD), well travelled and well experienced dude. He took his education very seriously, pursued a career as a forensic chemist with the Navy and once released from that duty, held a position in some sort of bio-research at the University of Colorado. Definitely not a slacker. For some, that would seem like the ultimate achievement in academics and career development. But if you really talk to Jason, you’ll discover that all the education and career experience is just a tiny, tiny fraction of who he really is.

Like many of us, he realized that all that stuff (intellectual and material) was meaningless without actually “living” life. Fortunately, I also discovered that important factoid in my early 30s!! Like Jason, we too dropped solid careers and chased a different life here in Colorado. However, he took a slightly different and arguably a little more aggressive path than we did.

He loves the mountains, adventure and possesses a deep spiritual love of embracing life’s experiences. So much so that he’s shelved his research/science career, shucked all his belongings (save for what will fit in his Honda Civic) and is chasing a lifelong dream of being a mountain guide. Again, five minutes into a conversation with him and you know how deep his love of the outdoors is and how sincerely he wants to share it with everyone in the form of teaching through outdoor experiences. Having climbed and adventured with him over the past few months I can attest to his extremely contagious enthusiasm.

To say that his decision to walk away from a “normal” career was probably difficult is likely the understatement of the century. It totally goes against the convention that we should follow the cookie cutter prescription for “success”. But what Jason, as a few others of us have discovered, is that the prescription for cookie cutter success oftentimes neglects the successes of the spirit and soul.

Over beers one night he was telling us that people have actually accused him of “giving up”. Douche bags. To me the only thing he’s actually given up is someone else’s restrictive parameters of life and is now doing it on his own terms. And how many of us can say that? I suspect not many at all. Giving up? Hardly. The awesome thing is that he’s pretty much downsized and upsized (SUPER-sized) his life all at the same time.

Since having that conversation, I’ve had some quality time to think about his new “life model”. It’s exactly what we were doing when we started shucking things a few years back, just not to that degree. It’s pulling up the materialistic anchors and sailing with more favorable winds on calmer seas.  It’s so much easier when we’re not burdened with the weight of stuff and the responsibility that comes along with it. Not that “things” are always bad, it’s just that too many of them become a burden and don’t allow for certain freedoms.

So this week I’ve been on a tear around the house doing inventory of “things” and starting that wholesale culling of the clutter that has once again crept up without me really knowing it happened.

Some of what needs to happen is just organize things a little. My climbing, camping, snowboarding, etc. etc gear had sort of taken on a life of its own over the past few months. About the only word to describe it is as resembling a “blob”. In fact, I almost had a seizure this week when I went into the basement to pack for a trip and saw the mountain of stuff spread out all over the place. I honestly use it on a regular basis, it just needed to be organized. So I’ve been building storage/organizing systems to hold the essentials. The rest is going out.

I’m also in the process of packing up some of my books that I really, really like. This is probably the hardest thing for me to consider de-cluttering with. I know I’ll probably never read them again, but honestly they make me feel good to look at them — yet they’ve been in a box for two years. Now they’re going to the library where everyone can share in their treasures. I also have lots of coats and jackets, more than I can actually use. That makes me think of all the people who don’t even have one as a basic need for warmth. The extra coats are going to Coats for Colorado. I have nine, yes nine pair of used, but still usable running shoes. They aren’t ultra-distance trail running worthy anymore, but they’d certainly serve the purpose of warm, dry footwear for those who can’t afford shoes otherwise. So those are being donated to Goodwill, ARC or some other such organization. The list goes on and on and I can feel the de-materializing momentum building with each and every item culled.

It’s definitely come time for me to reduce again and start making my way back to having less and living more.

Oh yeah, Jason recently landed a guiding gig up in Alaska which pretty much validates his decision to quit his research job and chase his dreams. When we were having dinner the other night and he was breaking the news to us, you could actually see the overabundance of life oozing from every pore of his spirit — simply because there was too much to contain. I’d be willing to bet no one could ever ooze life by accumulating more crap and dropping more material anchors.

Anchors away!

I Never Wanted To Leave….

 

It was the place where to this day I will always remember as finding the perfect espresso. And this demitasse cup of caffeinated mastery was by the best of good fortune, discovered by accident. For it was only after taking an unexpected exit from the autostrasse en route to Austria that we found ourselves in this tiny Italian village, barely large enough to warrant a speck on our Michelin Italiano road map.

Adding to the unanticipated experience, we sat at the table in the tiny cafe, draped of course with a red table cloth, and sipped our coffees as we “oooohed and aaaahed” at the stunning architecture, cobblestone streets and soaring snow-capped peaks of the Dolomites. This, with the muzak of beautifully spoken Italian as our two baristas curiously questioned us as to where we were from, where we’d been and where we were going. Had it been up to me, we wouldn’t have been going anywhere else!

Naturally, as if this wasn’t already like a stereotypical, beautifully filmed Italian movie, a thin, fit, Italian lad with wavy dark hair protruding from a stylish Italian cycling helmet, dressed in perfectly matching cycling attire (of course proudly displaying the Italian colours and some logo like Cinzano) dismounted his steed and leaned it delicately against a post directly in front of our vantage.

Given the setting, I surmised his name was likely Guiseppe, Benito, Agostino or other such perfect Italian name. As he entered our little café it was immediately evident he was a regular. A simultaneous “buon giorno” and the customary Euro-cheek-kiss were exchanged. A demi-cup similar to mine was handed him and a friendly, exaggeratedly animated conversation ensued. He quickly dispatched its contents followed by more beautifully exaggerated Italian-accented words, another Euro-cheek-kiss for each of the baristas and just like that, he was gone. No money exchanged, just a Ciao! and a wave. Had it not been so damn cool, it would’ve been sickeningly sappy and obtusely cliché.

Regardless, I never wanted to leave.

An experience in Ouray, Colorado this past weekend came mighty close to replicating that exact feeling I got back in Italy.

Ouray, being dubbed by the Chamber of Commerce as being the “Switzerland of America”, for all intents and purposes felt very much like strolling through a village of the European Alps. Of course the major difference being that instead of perfectly detailed Maseratis, Alfa Romeos or the omnipresent Fiat, the main street was dotted with mud and ice covered Ford F-250s, Toyota Tacomas and Subaru Outbacks. Nevertheless, the surrounding peaks and laid back atmosphere evoked a feeling of being in a world far away from the hustle and bustle of the Boulder Valley.

Although we’d just partaken in a tasty, but far from piquant continental breakfast at the Vic (the Victorian), our home for the previous several days, we decided we’d walk the two blocks to town and try to ferret out a gourmet coffee and fresh pastry to appease our still needy appetites. A funky vibe, genuinely friendly greetings from the cool guy and girl behind the counter and the sight of decadent pastries such as pain au chocolat as well as a tray of neatly folded croissant told me that the Artisan Bakery & Café was indeed the right place to be in this mountain hamlet.

Feeling European-y all over again, I carefully scanned the list of available hot drinks and decided on a Café Americano. Espresso was also a thought, but I passed this time. I paid and found a spot on a well-worn sofa in a corner at the front of the shop. Erin was already there with her drink perusing the latest issue of Rock & Ice Magazine — shoes off and feet resting on the equally worn coffee table. Andrew sat in an oversized, overused chair sipping his coffee and scanning through the local paper, all 12 pages of it.

Here’s your drink love”, the young barista with a groovy mountain-aura said a few minutes later, holding my drink just above the counter for me to see. Before putting the lid on my cup, I noted that the thin layer of foam sported an aspen leaf, carefully drawn using a toothpick. “Thanks”, said I and gave an extra smile and nod  in appreciation of the bonus art. Once I returned to my spot in the sofa, my entire world was immediately reduced to about 1,000 square feet of commercial retail space. The rest, well, it ceased to exist.

We read, sipped, chatted about photography since Erin was now engrossed in the Photo Edition of Rock & Ice…only one of the many climbing, biking and various outdoor magazines scattered about. 

Occasionally a truck would pull up in front and a local would come in for their ritual morning beverage. In most instances they never ordered because the barista and guy who I assume was the owner already knew the order and had it started before they could reach the counter. Occasionally though, an “out-of-stater” would stroll in and seem utterly confused by the relaxed, bohemian setup — directly opposite what they were likely accustomed to at their local sterile Starbucks. It was tangibly evident that they felt just as out of place as I felt totally at home. Still, the barista and owner kept right on queue with their friendliness and superb laid back demeanor.

Then, as if I was all of a sudden thrust into some parallel universe, a young girl (a very cute one I might add) rode up on her mountain bike, dressed in her perfectly appropriate and well worn Carhartt jeans, North Face puffy jacket, wool Sherpa hat, ultra cool sunglasses and raggedy looking trail running shoes — her look certainly suggesting that she’d lived there for quite some time and had eschewed the silly fashions of big cities such as Montrose or Gunnison and opted for functionality in the chilly climes of this awesome little town.

 Similarly to what Guiseppe-Benito-Agostino had done in Italy, this girl leaned her bike against the building and came in, pulling her wool gloves off with her teeth. She exchanged pleasantries with the owner and barista (in English unfortunately), chatted about this or that, sipped a little of her very large cappuccino and left. I was hoping to see the Euro cheek kiss thing, but it didn’t happen. As she rode away, she controlled the bike with one hand and held the hot beverage in the other. Behind her, the towering peaks of the San Juans were succumbing to the storm rolling in from the west. A few flurries blew around the mostly empty Main Street and life was for the moment, was perfect.

There again, I never wanted to leave.

I realized, just as I had done in Italy, that my life can so easily get out of control without me even knowing its happening. Why am I not living the life of the girl on the mountain bike in Ouray or Guiseppe in Italy every single day?  We rush around like crazy every day, pin ourselves down with our cell phones and laptops and can’t make a move without checking them every fifteen seconds. You don’t have to look too hard to see what I mean because there is always some douche bag walking around talking on their ridiculous blue-tooth McDonald’s Drive-Thru looking headset, or, every seat and three within its proximity is taken by somebody who feels compelled to make Starbuck’s their personal office and spreads out their laptop and associated papers so that all the passing patrons can revel in their self-importance. 

Although I love Boulder, after feeling so connected to everything around me as I did in those two places, I’m getting more and more convinced that I need more of that Ouray, Dolomite Village lifestyle. And what made the whole experience even better was when we were walking down the street one evening and Joe, a guy who works at Ouray Mountain Sports, calls me out by name after having only met me once when I was down there climbing a few weeks ago. We stood in the lightly falling snow talking about climbing, ultra-running and  general adventuring and in the process so many common acquaintances and experiences just kept coming out. There I was, 337 miles from my house in the Boulder Valley, standing on the streets of the Switzerland of America, talking to someone as if I’d known them for a long time and feeling utterly and completely as if I lived and belonged there. Pretty much perfect.

I honestly never wanted to leave, and if Ouray had had only one decent gelateria to go along with their world class ice climbing, I might never had.

WI4, WI5…whatever…

 

I spent the better part of last week back down in Ouray trying to squeeze the last few crystals of climbable ice out of this winter season. That and I wanted to go back for a little more interaction with The Lost People (see my so-titled February post for the full story on that).

This was actually kind of a last minute trip cobbled together with Andrew and Erin. They’ve recently been accumulating some high altitude, cold-weather mountaineering gear as they prepare to climb Denali this June and this seemed like a good opportunity to “test” things out beforehand without the larger commitment. Unfortunately, and fortunately for us, the weather in Ouray was almost perfect for ice climbing and the opportunity to fully test the gear in extreme conditions never really materialized. That’s not to say it wasn’t pretty darn cold while we were standing around belaying or setting up anchors, but getting battered with wind, cold and snow to really stress the gear simply didn’t happen. As I suggested, it was a good and bad scenario.

One of the nice things about climbing late in the ice season is that many of the people who are amped to climb during prime season start thinking of summer and warm weather endeavours and are nowhere to be found. That leaves a few folks like the three of us who are left to milk out the last dribbles of frozen goodness.

Funny thing about this ice season in particular is that I’ve sort of felt like an ultra-marathoner running a 5k race. And being an ultrarunner, there is more than just a little bit of irony in that statement. Just when I was able to wake up, get into rhythmic breathing groove and feel like I was hitting my stride for the long haul, the race was over. I was hitting my stride on the ice and it was melting way too fast! Maybe I should explain that a little bit so let me back up.

My first ice climbing experience came years ago, probably about 10-12 years back. At the time it was very interesting, but back then I was totally focused on rock so I took the experience for what it was, something to pass a winter day until the snow melted and I could resume my rock projects. I continued to hit the ice, maybe for an afternoon every season, but really never pursued it too much. Eventually, the climbing partner I had at the time drifted off to other interests and ice became something that I simply didn’t pursue. Besides, I had ultra distance running events and some serious snowboarding to occupy my time during the winter months.

For some reason when this year rolled around, I all of a sudden had a surprising interest in revisiting the sport in earnest. Maybe it was the fact that I’d had the opportunity to climb some high altitude alpine routes over the past couple of years and the winter mountaineering/alpinism bug was no longer dormant. Or maybe I just needed a change of scenery. Either way, I entered this season pretty stoked to strap on the crampons, grab the ice tools and find some ice. And combine that with the fact that the vibe of rock climbing, although still extremely satisfying, is starting to change complexion and I’ve had this burning need to get back to the “fringe” thinking and away from the typical lemming mentality…hence my previous post about the Lost People.

So toward the end of January we went down to Ouray and I was once again back on vertical ice after a pretty long absence from the sport. It wasn’t all that daunting really, but more so it was generally just a good time and relaxed atmosphere to swing the tools, revisit some of the techniques I’d previously learned, maybe pick up a few new tips and try to knock the cobwebs off my ice climbing psyche. With no expectations going into the week, all those things were accomplished. What I didn’t expect whatsoever was that a leviathan of enthusiasm for the discipline that would suddenly be unleashed.

As the days after that first trip passed, the time in Ouray got further and further under my skin and before I knew it, I started to fully realize that maybe my outdoor pursuits were about to make a large, wholesale shift. I dismissed it at first thinking that it was just the initial adrenaline shot of the experience, but once I considered the people, the vibe, the beauty, the uniqueness and how it really got me more amped than I’d been in years, I realized knew that I was on to something special.

As February rolled on and I finished up another marathon-ish distance trail race in the deserts of Utah, I still couldn’t shake the desire to go back to Ouray for more ice. I hate to admit it, but my training for the trail race was not as focused because all I could think about was how much fun I’d had ice climbing. Don’t get me wrong, I still put in some significant training time on the trails and took the event very, very seriously, but the lure of the frozen stuff just wouldn’t stop tapping me on the shoulder…no, slapping me in the face is more like it.

Then one evening over margaritas, beers, wine or whatever, we were talking to Andrew and Erin about their trip to Denali and the topic of ice climbing in Ouray came up. Blah, blah, blah, ice, mountains, climbing, gear, hot tubs, microbrews and voila!, we suddenly had our room booked at the Vic (The Victorian Inn), the gear packed and we were on the road back to the San Juans. For me, it was kind of like that famous line in some movie that went something like “You had me at hello”. Well, I was totally “had” early in the conversation.

I can say with all honesty that it’s been quite some time since I woke up on the morning of any event or outing where I was almost giddy with excitement, but that’s what happened. This despite recovering from some extremely nasty food poisoning from an eatery here on the Front Range, a place we’ll refer to as the Baker Street Pub (since that’s the name of it). Man alive, I was wretching all night and all morning, right up until I loaded my gear into the Green’s car. Fortunately I was able to rally and not let it spoil the long weekend. Short of losing a leg, an eye or having some major heart surgery, this weekend was going off.

The next morning as we stopped at the entrance into the canyon to put on our harnesses and crampons, my entire body and mind entirely relaxed. I know it sounds corny as hell, but all the anxiousness and excitement ebbed and I seemed at total peace…like I was once again with my people and things were balanced. Weird. That’s exactly the way I used to feel when I woke up thinking about rock climbing. It was a place of solace and peace, a place not crowded by the masses, a subject of which I’ve pontificated about until I’m nauseous at times.

Normally I like to start off with some easy climbing to “warm up” and gradually work my way into the day. This day was totally and diametrically opposite of that standard theory. Our first route was something in the moderate WI3 range but from there we immediately moved right into the more vertical/technical terrain tackling nothing but WI4 the rest of the day.

The next day was similar except that we went straight into the WI4 stuff from the start and stayed at that level and above for the balance of our seven hour climbing day. As I mentioned, I can’t remember the last time I maintained that level of enthusiasm! And when I managed to cleanly climb my very first WI5 route on a sinister looking column of tricky ice, I was completely out of my mind with confidence and eagerness for more! WI4, WI5, whatever, just bring on more and more!

As fun as it was, reality unfortunately always has a way of coming full circle. For the majority of our last day there my mental game outpaced the looming fatigue, but by late in the afternoon I finally started to feel the lead weight building in my arms, legs and entire body. I actually picked up my ice tools at one point and realized I could barely hold them. I absolutely love that feeling of using up every drop of energy I possess before I’ve realized it happened. To me, that’s the ultimate confirmation of a good day in the mountains. And that was indeed a good day.

The Ouray Ice Park is conveniently located only about a quarter of a mile from The Vic. Convenient in that we were sitting in the hot tub within minutes of leaving. And talk about feeling better that awesome. After pounding and kicking ice all day, there is nothing like soaking in some steaming hot water and feeling all those used and abused muscles relax. It also doesn’t hurt that Ouray is situated in one of the most picturesque places on the planet. They certainly don’t call it the Switzerland of America for nothing. Simply stunning scenery from anywhere in town.

It’d probably be prudent here to mention that if you’re in Ouray you’ll probably want to eat at least one meal at O’Brien’s Irish Pub. I know a lot of people think Buen Tiempo is the shiz, and it is to some degree, but O’Brien’s has great food, super friendly service, a nice beer selection and prices you can deal with. You’ll also be amongst the many climbers and locals who make it a staple eatery. I’m just sayin….

Still lots of fun and challenging mountain/river/running projects to tackle between now and next December when the ice comes back round, but I have to say that I already miss this season of ice climbing although it’s not quite done…but it’s closing fast.

Happy Camper

New Spray In Bedliner - Thanks Rhino of Flatirons

 

Trimming Out the New System

 

Andrew and I sipped our finely crafted cups of coffee as we pondered the project at hand — coffee made all the more enjoyable due to the biting nip in the air of a February morning. A complete camping/sleeping/storage system for my Tacoma was something I’d wanted to tackle for quite some time. And given the traveling around I want to do this coming summer, a cold, snowy day seemed the perfect time to get started.

Over the past few months I’d literally looked at dozens and dozens of individual’s websites trying to conceptualize the perfect combination of usefulness, utility, comfort and ease of removal. And of course I’d looked at a few “professionally’ designed and built units but quickly dismissed those because they were simply too expensive, especially when I knew I could do it myself. When it finally came time to put all my conceptualizing into reality, I garnered most of my inspiration from a guy in Arizona who has totally tricked out his Tacoma for his excursions down around the Baja Peninsula. You can (and should!) check out his website at www.bajataco.com if you need inspiration for your own projects! There are some pretty cool links to other Tacoma projects on his website as well.

Since no project worth doing is complete without at least one trip to the Home Depot, we took the materials list and headed that way. I have to say, driving over in Andrew’s F-350 Crew Cab 4X4 was pretty cushy. And the best aspect of the truck came to light when we were throwing everything in the back!! Man alive, we could’ve put all the materials in the bed of that thing PLUS my entire Tacoma — and several people up front! But alas, I love my Tacoma and realistically there is no way that thing would ever fit in my garage. That being the case, I tried to keep my enthusiasm and day dreaming to a minimum. 

Once we got all the materials back to Andrew’s house, we decided that the prudent thing to do would be to take the camper shell off. This would give us much easier access to the inside of the bed. Four clamps and about five minutes later, the whole thing was sitting in the driveway.

Next we pondered some alternate designs before deciding that the drop-in bed liner currently in there was just too restrictive for what I had in mind. Five minutes later, the bed liner was out too. What surprised me was just how much space was lost by having that type of liner in there! Since then, I’ve decided that I’ll have a spray-in Rhino Liner system done to preserve my space as well as protect the bed from getting any more damage in the future. What was amazing was just how much scratching and rubbing the old liner did to the paint. There are places that are actually worn down to the metal! So much for the protection to the paint that I only assumed was happening.

So, with a clean canvas, we set about determining the new dimensions sans liner. My main criteria for the design were to have storage on the sides with enough room to slide a container tub or large cooler down the middle. I also wanted to design it so that when I wanted to sleep in it, I could simply plop in a couple of custom fit pieces into the middle and voila! I’d have a nice cushy platform the size of the entire bed. Pretty simple concept actually, but I wanted to make sure that it didn’t look like some ghetto-esque project that was conceived and created over a case of PBRs. Oh yeah, and if I leave in the middle pieces, it covers stuff like my snowboard, climbing gear, backpacks and etc. I would typically have to just leave that stuff out in the open!

With the planning and measurements pretty well dialed in, it was then time to start cutting. Let me say here that Andrew is a master wood worker – literally. Next, let me say that having every tool known to mankind at my disposal definitely made this project much, much simpler. Nevertheless, we took our time and contemplated every design aspect. We even cut a piece of cardboard to create a template for the decking pieces so that we’d be sure to have it exactly right before laying a blade to any wood. In the end, everything fit perfectly around every major and minor contour of the bed. 

The base units along the sides were my main concern when designing the system. I’ve spent the last few weeks thinking about exactly what I’d use them for and how to best utilize the space. First, I’d like to keep my tow straps, extra oil, water jugs, windscreen wash and tools in them without them rolling around. Therefore, on one side we built boxes that can easily contain all those items. Next, I wanted enough room to put my fly rods, sleeping bags, camp table, camp chairs, stove, etc. Therefore, on the other side the box is open all the way through from tailgate to cab —with access from the back via a “trap door” in addition to the top lid. This idea was contrived from another link on the BajaTaco website so I can’t take complete credit.

The project was coming along nicely until about the time we got the initial side boxes built — then it started snowing, hard. Fortunately we were able to bring what we’d already done back inside the garage without much difficulty, a testament to the success of my requirement to keep it super simple to remove!

Next was to start covering the parts with the durable, yet stylish indoor/outdoor carpeting that I’d found at the Home Depot. However, what should have been a pretty simple task honestly turned into a messy nightmare. The industrial strength adhesive we used was just that…industrial strength. And given the adhesiveness of the glue and the amount of carpet fibers shed during the trimming process, our hands soon looked completely “furry”. That was by far the worst job ever.  I’m still scraping off glue.

We unfortunately didn’t get completely finished with the project in one day, but we got pretty darn close. I have just a few pieces to cover in carpet, but that’s it. I’ll probably do that this week while I’m having the bed liner done.

Now, after all the fretting over design and the meticulous cutting and trimming, I have to admit it looks far better than I ever imagined it would. More importantly, instead of spending in excess of $1,000 on a pre-fabbed “custom” system, I have a totally customized one for only $150 for storage/sleeping system materials and about $400 for the bed liner. Plus I got to hang out for a full day and do a project with a friend which is always a bonus.

So the first field test of the new system will likely be in April when I head down to Taos, NM for a little high desert camping, climbing, mountain biking, campfire-ing, star gazing and photography. After that, I think Donna and I may head up to Saratoga, Wyoming for a couple of days of fly fishing on the North Platte River. I still love my tent but have to admit that the idea of sleeping under a warm, dry camper shell seems pretty darn luxurious — not that my North Face tent isn’t also very luxurious.

Today, I can say with all honesty that I’m a pretty happy camper.