First backpacking trip in 11 months

It's been a bit since I've been on a backpacking trip. Actually, the last backpacking trip I was on ended September 18th last year, a course I taught for NOLS. Life went to hell the next day, so there is something of a full circle being completed by the fact that my wife and I are going on a backpacking trip tomorrow. To a mountain range neither of us has been to, to a place neither of us has been. That was by design, as we want to experience something new together – not just me showing her places. It's got to be a mutual experience where we grow together. It should be good – according to the map, it's at 12,000 feet, it's a stunning lake and it's ringed by a wall of jagged mountains. I got her a new pack and a fleece for her birthday today, freeze dried food is stocked up, appropriate maps are packed and we're ready to roll. We're going minimalistic style with few extras: some good tea, a few sticks of incense and the Rocky Mountain Natural History book. And of course Stella – for she is our family – and one can of wet dog food to make it a special treat for her.

We're both giddy excited, and I think these little exploration overnights are going to become a trend till November. Once you get in the rhythm of heading out there, it's hard to stop. As we told her mom and dad in that very uncomfortable "we're getting married" meeting back in May – a big part of the draw in this relationship is that we DO like to do the same things – backpacking, backcountry skiing, etc. I'm not really sure that argument made the impression we were hoping for, but it's true, and it's a beautiful thing.

I've been getting back on the bike quite a bit, just with the early morning rides up to the 'bou. Stella comes along for the exercise. It's a good way to start the day, going up high and watching the morning light bask the tundra. There is definitely a fall feel in the air…something about the wind, the light. Or, more tangibly, those little flowers under the aspen trees are starting to turn yellow.

We're entering the magical season, autumn in the Rockies. I missed it last year, and that hurt more than anything. Not this time.

Perseids day one

There is a crispness in the air the last few mornings, and despite the fact that it's supposed to be 93° in Boulder today, it's evident the change in seasons is coming. You can feel it first in the mornings, and while it's certainly not the full blown fall frost feel, it's getting there. I rode up to Caribou this morning with Stella and winded back down. It's a great workout for me, but an even better one for her – she gets to run all the downhills. Went out and checked on the Perseids last night. We're about 48 hours too early, but nevertheless in a twenty minute session we probably saw 8-9 really good shooting stars. The stars were simply incredible, deep, layered and shimmering along the Milky Way. Tonight should be good, Thursday even better.

Another day

Trail

Got the chores done early. 6 am ride up to Caribou to get the blood flowing and the lungs working. And, simply because going up high is a fun way to start the day. Checked out the local plant life and found the hail storm has done massive damage to our wildflower season. Wilted and pounded, like London in 1942. Up the old mining road for a last little bit of suffering. Dog fed, walk the elves loop, solar shower on the porch. Chocolate Matte tea to start the morning with a little sweetness. Time for breakfast with Elaine, some hours dedicated to earning money and then an evening of writing and relaxing with my wife. When the typical days are good – life is good.

To top it all off – some really GREAT news on the wolf front…thanks mom.

Best show in the universe this week

P7161959 Last year, on one of the worst days of my life, I came out of the field from my instructor course and found my world rocked. No blame cast here…that's just a reality. It was a rough night – I missed the end of course celebration and wasn't in a good place. But I made some phone calls that night to some good friends, and they helped me out. And then I drove up to the Indian Reservation at midnight and sprawled out on the top of my truck, watching the night sky. The Perseid meteor shower, seen from one of the most desolate spots in the lower-48. Huge streaks of purple, green and red, arcing across space leaving trails of glitter in their wake. It was a necessary perspective from the biggest picture possible. I won't say it cured all…not even close…but it served an important message about our significance in the universe – the shit that we deal with and that we bring on ourselves – that stuck with me in the months to come. I don't feel close to God in a church, but I felt close to EVERYTHING when I sat out there that night

Check it out…the Perseid meteor shower…it's as good a show as you will find. August 11-13…coming soon.

POSTSCRIPT: A good quote from Elaine just now on that matter: "Yeah, people say our lives are just a tiny speck. But it's my speck."

Twelve Great Fall and Winter Books

I always do a lot more reading in the winter. Long nights and crackling fires tend to have that effect. With that in mind, I thought I'd offer up my personal list of twelve books that fit the winter season perfectly. I have ten minutes to write this, so we're going to tap into some of those deadline skills I learned in journalism school!:

12. Manual of Ski Mountaineering by David Brower – A classic read, written in 1949, with great advice like, "skiing in the high mountains without a shirt on is great for your health, when done in moderation." It's old school and it hearkens back to the early days of our sport from one of the sport's legends.

11. Banner in the Sky by James Ramsey Ullman – This is a fiction book of real life events – the climbing of the famous Matterhorn (named the Citadel) in Switzerland from the town of Zermatt (named Kurtal). If you dream of skiing in the Alps and visiting this mythical town with huge mountains and no cars, this book is for you.

10. The Edge of Never by William Kerig – One of the few quality ski books written, it follows the real-life story of 15-year old Kye Peterson's trip to Chamonix to ski a 50° chute where his father and famous extreme skier Trevor died in an avalanche. It ties together generations of skiers from Glen Plake to Anselme Baud. There is a movie with the same title and story, but the book is better.

9. Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien – Not so much a winter book per se, but there is nothing like diving into a mythical land with mountains, adventure and magic on a snowy night with a raging fire and a cup of hot cocoa in hand. Preferably hardback. This will be my personal project this coming winter.

8. Allen and Mike's Really Cool Backcountry Ski Book by Allen O'Bannon and Mike Clelland – These guys do awesome "how-to" books with good, practical advice and funky illustrations. We use these at NOLS all the time, and this one is perfect for anybody who loves backcountry skiing, from the novice to the ten-year veteran.

7. Owl Moon by Jane Yolen – A simple kids book about a father and daughter's trip into the woods on a cold dark night in the Minnesota north woods to call owls. If you have a kid (or are a kid at heart) and you like reading to them, this is the winter book for you.

6. Lost in the Barrens by Farley Mowatt – Story of two teens who get stranded in northern Canada and have to survive in the wild for an entire winter. Cool integration of imagination, real-world outdoor functional skills and historical knowledge in this haunted land.

5. Call of the Wild by Jack London – They don't come any more classic than this. Buck leads a pack of dogs across the Alaskan wilds during the Gold Rush and fights – and eventually succumbs to – the wild call. A great read for all those who struggle in the hinterlands of the civilized world and the more primitive place in our hearts.

4. Colorado Hut-to-Hut Volume #1 by Brian Litz – This volume focuses on the northern Colorado Huts. Great directional guide and information on the best skiing experience in all of Colorado. If you have never done a hut trip, don't…that way there will be more spaces open for my wife and I!

3. Winter: Notes from Montana by Rick Bass – The authors memoirs from northern Montana, following the seasons from early-fall to the dead of winter. A memoir of the passing of time in a wild, mountainous country. Start this one soon and follow it all the way through as the seasons change in your own world.

2. Shadow Mountain by Renee Askins – Simple the best book I have ever read. Miss Askins played a key role in the reintroduction of wolves to Yellowstone. This book is a combination of mountains, wilderness, passion and biology. It will make you cry and examine your own life and priorities.

1. Ski Fast, Ski Long by Helen Markley Miller – The first book I ever picked up and read straight through. Hey, it's not Hemingway, but how many books are about a fictitious college nordic ski team that has fires out in the woods everytime they take a lunch break? Between races the kids rescue a dying Finn who cut himself skinning a deer and save the crew of a plane that crashed in the Idaho Rocky Mountains. Bad ass. It's out of print but there are four copies left on amazon.com.

That my list. Feel free to add as you see fit!

Renewed enthusiasm

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It's been a LONG time since I've had this feeling. You know the one. It's the night before, and you're a little bit giddy. And this time it has nothing to do with snow or a hike up a peak. It's about the mountain bike. It's about waking up early, putting on the smelly biking garb, and hearing the tire roll over the wet, monsoon-season dirt.

I lost my passion for mountain biking, and it wasn't just because of the past couple of years. In 2006 I took a job as SMBA bike coach, and while it was great position where I got to share the stoke of the sport with kids it took it's toll. Actually, that year wasn't bad, fun even. The kids were super strong and we just explored. We went everywhere, me and the posse of 5-6. Sam, Mike, Brae, Ben, Ellie, Kirstin and Ellen. There were others, but that was the regular crew. And on Monday through Thursday, they would unload from the van and I would take them on 6-7 hour rides in the woods. It was awesome. Every single one of those kids has progressed to new levels in cycling, nordic skiing, backcountry skiing and downhill ski racing, and I like to feel like I played a small part in building that stoke.

2007 was harder. The regulars graduated and it was a much younger crew, a little less just exploration. It wasn't the kids fault at all – it was the result of 15 years in the saddle without a break and making a passion a job. I got bored riding West Mag everyday, and truthfully I got a little bored with the bike. Montezuma's Revenge got canceled that year, so I started training for a race in Alaska, the Soggy Bottom 100. I over-trained and got hurt. And what should have been an amazing trip turned into something less than enjoyable…personality clashes with my traveling partner. I should of gone solo…my mistake again. But honestly, it put me in a bad mood that lasted for awhile. To top it off, I crushed my knee in that race, popped something like 15 advil to finish, and couldn't ride till November. By that time it was ski season. And then the winter of 2007-2008 hit, which in many ways parlayed to where I am now.

I think back to 1999. That was a good year, that fall. We were all just getting into singlespeeding. I bought the Ionic Johnny Rotten. I remember one ride…it was me, Meriwether, Hludzinski and Webber. And this kid Matt from Iowa, an intern at IMBA. We all raced, but it was the end of the year and this was a more social event. We rode our singles up the now-plowed-over roots trail to the top of Tennessee – I remember Meriwether cleaned the fucker. We got to the top and scouted the view, trying to figure out where the hell we were. We decided to loop back down to Eldo, and headed down some trail, where Hludzinski crashed and popped his shoulder out of socket. Dislocated it right on the spot. Hludzinski – a fast as hell pro bike racer – liked to partake in a little smoking of the weed from time-to-time, and as he was about to pop his shoulder back into place, who could blame him in this case. The dude whipped out a Campagnola bottom bracket from his pack, did what he needed to do to get the desired effect, and then popped the shoulder back into place right there on the trail. Nary a tear, tough as nails. But poor Matt had never seen anything like it. The kid was 18 from Iowa for cris-sakes. He started crying right there on the spot. And again, who can blame him? We'd been out for four hours, with four more to go and he'd just seen a guy smoke weed (a first) and a severely dislocated shoulder popped back into place (also a first). Initiation was tough back in those days.

The point of this story is…the energy. It was infectious. We loved bikes. God damn we loved them. Life at home could suck, girlfriends could get sick, dogs could get sick, we'd go through break-ups, but the bike would cure it all. Singlespeeds in particular.

So here it is, ten years later. All those old bonds have died. But I sit here at the train car with Elaine, and I'm feeling that stoke. Right now. I've been riding. Climbing Caribou every damned day. At first I couldn't even ride up it without stopping, but now I can. Oh it hurts like the devil, but I can do it. And I'm getting stronger. And with each pedal stroke, that stoke is returning. I'm giddy right now…to ride. To get Elaine on some sort of bike. I wish I still had Johnny, but I don't so we'll have to come up with an alternative. Dave told me of a project. Damned straight I'll be there. 6 am, and I'll bring the java. I haven't felt this way about the mountain bike in 4-5 years and it feels good. So I went and bought a map, published in 2008. I didn't like bikes in 2008. But I do now. I like the woods, I like singlespeeds (rigid thank you), I like the wetness, I like getting lost, suffering, and doing it often.

It's time to explore. 

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