A Life Outside is Now a Channel on Vimeo

Lately I find myself watching much less cable television and instead turning to streaming services for my entertainment.  And one of those go-to services is Vimeo.  So many cool videos out there to stream.  So I decided to create my own channel on Vimeo as a way to share all of the videos I watched and liked.  It’s called–what else?–“A Life Outside”.  Check it out.  And let me know if you watch any cool videos you think I should add to it.

A Life Outside on Vimeo

Road Trip: Eastern Sierra and Western Nevada, August 2013

The summer was quickly slipping away, so I decided to do a quick end-of-summer road trip with Mike and Andrew before Andrew had to go back to school.  We drove up Hwy 395 through the Eastern Sierra and then up to Reno to see my parents for a few days.

Our first fun stop was at Deadmans Summit:

01Deadmans used to be one of my favorite places to boulder in the Eastern Sierra, and is featured in several of my old climbing and road trip stories.  Due to a combination of injuries and other things, I hadn’t climbed there in 14 or 15 years.  It was so good to be back!  Such a classic place.

02Andrew loved it here.  He really enjoyed walking around and exploring.  I finally convinced him to boulder a little bit.  On his second attempt, shortly after this photo was taken, he came off and landed awkwardly on the crash pad on the sloped landing, and rolled his ankle.  At first I thought he might have broken it.  Turns out it was a really bad sprain.  He barely made it back to the car, using my large Metolious crash pad as a crutch.

03We stopped at June Lake and bought a 7 lb. bag of ice, and used some trash bags to make a gigantic ice pack.  Then we were off to the Aeolian Buttes.

aWhat a strangely awesome place.  I had wanted to go here ever since I first saw the photo of the place on the cover of John Sherman’s classic bouldering bible, Stone Crusade, so many years ago.  Why did it take me so long?

04Because Andrew was in a lot of pain, I decided not to climb here, just to walk around and check out the scenery.  Which was incredible.

I wanted to get a photo of the cover of Verm’s Stone Crusade in front of the boulders…but wait, something seemed a little off…?

05On seeing this photo, John Sherman remarked:

“The ascent was a cruise, but turning the boulders back around afterward was tough.”

bUnbelievable that these boulders are so close to the road, and I’ve driven by them probably a hundred time but never once stopped.  And you can actually see them from the highway!  At least from the southbound lanes.  I remember looking at these two boulders while driving back from Reno a few months earlier, and thinking they might be climbable…but they look so small from the highway.  Very deceiving.  Can’t wait to go back and try these boulders out!

Andrew’s ankle was feeling just slightly better after an hour or two of icing, but he didn’t want to ruin the trip for us.  So we decided to drive up Lundy Canyon and do a little kayaking on Lundy Lake while Andrew rested his ankle.

On the drive up Lundy Canyon, a momma deer and her two little babies ran across the road in front of us.  I pulled over and managed to squeeze off this tranquil photo through the dirty windshield of my car.  Then we continued on up to Lundy Lake.

06I had kayaked at Lundy Lake once before, several years ago, on a solo road trip designed to knock off as many lakes and streams as possible (the final count was 17 on that trip).  Went back a couple years ago with Mike and Geoff, but the DWP had drained the lake so low for dam repair that it was not kayakable.

07Since Andrew was out of commission, we didn’t need three kayaks so Mike’s inflatable stayed in the car and he used my little green Perception Swifty.

08The weather was interesting.  There was a 40% chance of thunderstorms, and it looked like it might open up at any minute, so we only kayaked about 2/3rds of the way down the lake before turning around.

09In the Loon 111, enjoying the scenery.

10Heading back to the launch to check on Andrew.  He was able to get out of the car and limp down to the shore.  He sat on a rock and watched us for a while.

11After we left Lundy Lake and resumed the trek up to Reno, we did hit some rain.  We also saw a fair amount of smoke emanating from a fire east of Bodie.  As we got closer to Reno we ran in to even more smoke, which was blowing over from the big fire burning west of Lake Tahoe.  And about half an hour after we got to Reno, it was like a thick fog bank moved in–a weather system west of Lake Tahoe pushed the smoke over Reno like a blanket.

The plan was that after a couple days in Reno doing stuff with my parents we would take half a day and kayak at Echo Lakes, which are south of Lake Tahoe and Fallen Leaf Lake.  But if the smoke was bad in Reno, it was even worse down at Echo Lakes, much closer to the fire.  So I developed a plan B.

Plan B was Donner Lake.  I sent a text to my old friend Joe, who lives and works in Truckee, and asked if he was free for lunch.  And then we took off to Donner Lake.

12Andrew’s ankle was feeling a little better, so he joined us.  Which meant he used the green Perception, and Mike pulled out his inflatable.

13My first experience on Donner Lake was unpleasant–Mike and I went there at the peak of summer, and it was very crowded.  A couple years later, I went back in the spring and had a real nice time there with Mike, Joe, and Steve.  There was still some ice on the lake, and as I recall there were no other boaters.  Very enjoyable.

On this, my third time paddling at Donner Lake, conditions were almost ideal.  There were other kayakers out and some SUPers,

14

15

1718Not as much smoke as there was down in Reno, but there was smoke.  On the plus side, the smoke enabled me to take this great picture of Andrew.

We loaded the kayaks back up and met Joe at the Truckee Airport.  It was great to see Joe again, and we had a great lunch at Red Truck while watching the comings and goings of the rich folk and their private jets at the Truckee Airport.  Funny…this is where the rich and famous go on vacation, but Joe is lucky enough to live here.

After lunch we followed Joe down to see his new house, then said goodbye and drove down to King’s Beach at Lake Tahoe.  It was Andrew’s first time at Lake Tahoe, and unfortunately it was really smoky.  We drove around the lake to Incline Village, then up through the mountains and back down to my parents house in Reno.

That evening, we got to see a fabulous light show and thunder and lightning rolled through for a couple hours.  We stood outside and watched, and I was able to capture some of the strikes by shooting video with my GoPro.

19I’m sure I have some better bolts than these two, but need to find the time to sit down and go through 20-30 minutes of video frame-by-frame!

20A short time later, the sunset over Reno was spectacular thanks to the combination of smoke and weather.

21The next morning we drove home, but not before I got this cool shot of the full moon setting above Mt. Rose.

22As we left my parents house, we ran in to a herd of wild horses wandering the neighborhood.  A nice parting gift.

23Next up: a quick trip to Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons.  It will be much shorter than my road trip there 4 years ago, but I’m really looking forward to it!

Flatwater Kayaking: A Story Map

Flatwater Kayaking: A Personal JourneyOutdoor/adventure/travel writing doesn’t pay the bills. Hardly. At least not for me.

My “real” job is that of GIS, Science, and Geodesign Evangelist at Esri.  As the title implies, one of my broad areas of responsibility is getting the word out about the value of geographic information system (GIS) technology.  And the recent advent of Story Maps has made this a lot easier.

Allen Carroll left National Geographic and joined Esri two or three years ago and immediately embarked on a mission to make it easier to tell stories with maps.  The result: Story Maps.

What are Story Maps?  “Story Maps combine intelligent Web maps with Web applications and templates that incorporate text, multimedia, and interactive functions. Story Maps inform, educate, entertain, and inspire people about a wide variety of topics.”  You can see some great examples here.

Lately I’ve been thinking about new applications for Story Maps, and it’s very easy to see to overlap between my work in technology and my passion for the outdoors.  I have a number of ideas in mind, which I will prototype and share on this blog over the coming months, but first: my Flatwater Kayaking Story Map, which showcases of 60+ paddle-powered adventures across California, Nevada, and Wyoming.  Enjoy!

Flatwater Kayaking: A Personal Journey

mOthEr rOck: A Look Back at Southern California’s Climbing Magazine

mOthEr rOck #1Oh No, Not ANOTHER Climbing Rag…

Welcome to the first issue of mOthEr rOck, a homegrown newsletter dedicated to informing and amusing climbers in Southern California.

First let’s get something straight. What you won’t see in these pages is trad vs. sport posturing, run-on sentences about the ethics of bolting on rappel, and other similar babbling which seems to take up too many precious pages in our favorite magazines like Rock & Ice and Climbing these days. Shut up and climb already!

mOthEr rOck #3What you will find here is some fun, adventure, humor, … whatever. We’re not out to find a solution to overpopulation or world hunger, or make ourselves financially secure by selling billions of dollars in advertising. We’ll simply give you some information about local climbing opportunities. You know, the kind of stuff that helps you enjoy your chosen hobby. Not the kind of stuff that makes you embarrassed to climb.

…and so it began in July 1996.

mOthEr rOck was a low-budget Southern California rock climbing magazine that dominated all of my free time from 1996 to 1998. If you’re interested in seeing what it was like, this document contains all 14 issues and mini-guides.

In September 1997, mOthEr rOck Magazine spawned mOthEr rOck Mail, an E-mail based newsletter chock full of useful info about the climbing scene in Southern California. You can read all past issues of mOthEr rOck Mail here.  Believe it or not, there’s still some useful information in the magazine and e-newsletter, more than 15 years later.

By the time the publication was killed off in late August, 1998, mOthEr rOck Magazine had about 125 paid subscribers and mOthEr rOck Mail was read by nearly 1,000 climbers in Southern California and beyond.

And this is how it ended…

mOthEr rOck #6After nearly three years, more than a dozen issues of the paper magazine, numerous E-mail newletters, and about ten guidebooks, mOthEr rOck is calling it quits. Why? It’s a lot of work, and I’m tired of pulling all nighters trying to get the next issue together. Plus, it interferes with precious climbing time.

What So Cal climbers don’t need is another climbing “fashion mag.” Over the three-year evolution of the mag, we’ve tried to take it in new directions and upgrade the quality, while still staying true to our roots. It’s been a wild ride. Lots of hard work, and lots of fun. The best part was all the people we’ve met along the way. Reese Martin, James March, Max Armept, Wills Young, Aaron Rough, Louie Anderson, Chris Miller, and so many others that we better stop now before filling the whole page with one long list of names.

mOthEr rOck #10

While mOthEr rOck has only been on the scene for a little while, it’s been the catalyst for a number of friendships that I have a feeling will last a lifetime. If you have any questions about your subscription, please E-mail me. All comments are welcome…as long as you don’t try to talk me out of this!

Matt Artz, editor, mOthEr rOck Magazine, 30 August 1998

Road Ends Ahead: Reflections on Aging and the Outdoor Lifestyle

Road Ends Ahead: Reflections on Aging and the Outdoor LifestyleI’m getting older.  I’m slowing down.  I can’t do everything I used to.  And as the steamroller of old age continues its relentless advance, there’s not much I can do about it.  Except bitch a little.  And write.

When I realized that many of the outdoor stories I’ve been writing over the last three or so years are about aging and how it’s changing my perspective on life and the outdoors, I half-joked joked with my friend Mike about possibly compiling them into a short book about aging and the outdoors.  The conversation quickly devolved into a discussion of catchy titles for the collection.  Some of my ideas included:

  • Rest Home for Climbers
  • The Last Mile
  • Stick a Fork In Me, I’m Done
  • Over the “Hill”
  • Old Man and the Trees
  • Bury Me at Plastic Knee

After much rumination, I settled on “Road Ends Ahead.”  It should be available in all the usual formats, in all the usual places, by the middle of September 2013. [Update: available now — Paperback | Kindle | NOOK | iPad]

Mike suggested I title the book “Adventures in Alzheimer’s,” which seemed a little premature.  Perhaps I’ll save that title for the next book, if I can remember it…

Coming September 2013: A Life Outside 4

A Life Outside 4 -- Coming September 2013I thought that A Life Outside 4 would probably be the last book in this series.  I also thought it would take me until at least the spring of 2014 to finish it.

I was wrong.

As it turns out, the stories I was working with, and the list of stories yet to write, was more than enough for at least two books.  So there will be a fifth book in the series.

Meanwhile, I finished the final edits to A Life Outside 4 today.  Layout of the paperback book is all done.  The cover is done (as you can see–it’s a gorgeous shot of Temple Crag in the eastern Sierra, on the hike up to Palisades Glacier two summers ago).  Just a few more hours of work to get the paperback set up on Amazon.com, and the e-book formatted and set up on Amazon.com, the Barnes & Noble web site, and in iTunes.  But that will have to wait.  I have other plans for the next week or so…

Meanwhile, here’s a sneak preview of the table of contents.  I’ve included links to early drafts of a few chapters (warning: may contain minor errors).  Included in this new book are two fabulous interviews I did with two spectacular climbers–John “Vermin” Sherman and Robs John Muir–back in the day.

[Update: Now available — Paperback | Kindle | NOOK | iPad]

Taking the Hint

The Big Lebowski: “What…What makes a man, Mr. Lebowski?”

The Dude: “Dude.”

The Big Lebowski: “Huh?”

The Dude: “I don’t know, sir.”

The Big Lebowski: “Is it…is it, being prepared to do the right thing?  Whatever the price?  Isn’t that what makes a man?”

The Dude: “Sure.  That and a pair of testicles.”

The Big Lebowski: “You’re joking.  But perhaps you’re right…”

—–

My first hint came while riding my new super-bike up the same old trail I’ve been riding for more than 20 years.  I had been riding dirtbag, second-/third-tier, and older used mountain bikes for my 25 years in the dirt.  But when I turned 50, I bought myself a brand-new, state-of-the-art 29-inch mountain bike as a present.  It easily cost more than all of my other bikes, combined.  It felt so wrong…but it felt so right.

Shortly after purchasing this dream machine, a guy stopped me on the trail and said two simple, innocuous words that shook me to the core:

“Nice bike!”

In a quarter century of riding, that had never happened to me before.  It was a very uncomfortable feeling to be complimented on something as shallow as a mere purchase.

A comment like that would make many a conspicuous consumer flush with pride, but not me.  I don’t judge my worth as a human being by how much stuff I buy, and how expensive that stuff is.

My "go-to" trail for the last 20+ years above Highland, California.

On my “go-to” trail for the last 20+ years above Highland, California.

They say the true nature of a man can be discerned from his relationship with his car, and that this can be boiled down to two different sorts: “the man makes the car” versus “the car makes the man.”

I’ve always been uncomfortable with material possessions.  It’s a love-hate relationship.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m as excited as the next person to get a new car.  But I’m excited because of the implied reliability and the lack of maintenance for at least the first few years.  The thought that a new car, or any other kind of purchase, somehow increases my value as a human being is something that I find sad and repulsive.

In regards to my latest material purchase, did “the man make the bike,” or did “the bike make the man”?  Such thoughts pulsated through my brain after receiving the unsolicited comment about how nice my new ride was.  It left me with a hollow feeling.

For the first time in my life, I might be in danger of letting my bike define me.  And it was not a pleasant sensation.

—–

My second hint was not nearly so subtle.

For years, Geoff and I had been talking about riding up Keller Peak Road, a narrow paved road high in the San Bernardino Mountains.  Geoff had actually ridden it before, more than a decade ago.  He enjoyed it greatly, and wanted to do it again.  I also wanted to do it, for one additional reason: to descend down the Exploration Trail.

The Exploration Trail is a multi-use singletrack trail designed to be shared by hikers, equestrians, and mountain bikers that runs roughly parallel to Keller Peak Road for about four miles.  In spots it’s very rocky and technical, and beyond my capabilities as a mountain biker.  The plan was to take it slow and easy down the Exploration Trail, probably walking my bike as much as riding it, while Geoff cruised down the paved road, and we would meet back at the car.  But then I began to hear that voice.  Her voice.

“You’re young again…”

It was my new bike.  The she-devil was whispering sweet nothings in my ear again.  She was using her advanced technology to conceal my advancing age and lack of technical abilities.  She was telling me I could pull it off.  And like a fool I believed her.

It was that intoxicating voice.  It got me every time.  And the sweet curves of her tightly-sculpted aluminum body didn’t hurt, either.

My new goal with my new bike was not just to enjoy a scenic ride down this glorious mountain trail, but instead to push my limits and haul ass through the technical challenges.  After all, she said I could.

On the Exploration Trail, a couple miles before things got ugly...

On the Exploration Trail, a couple miles before things got ugly…

I bombed down the trail, pedaling hard, constantly gasping for air from the combined effects of exertion and terror.  I rode over things that just an hour before had been beyond my technical abilities as a mountain biker.  And for a brief moment in time, I felt free.

Several times I came off the bike because obstacles were far beyond even what a sexy female voice and adrenaline could power me through.  About half a mile from the end of the trail, I knew the toughest challenges were beyond me.  I was pleased that I was going to make it down in one piece.  And then it happened.

—–

I’m still not sure exactly how it happened.  It was on a section of trail that wasn’t at all bad.  Not too steep; a little loose but not tire-eating sandy; a little rocky, but just a few scattered cobbles here and there that were easily avoidable.

Something grabbed my front tire, pitching me slightly to the right, to the downhill drop off of the side of the trail.  I over-corrected, turning the bars to the left (uphill) side of the trail.  The front tire caught again, only this time harder, and twisted the bars almost 180 degrees.

I should have gone over the bars, but my body somehow became wedged in the frame of the bike itself.  I reached out my left hand and landed hard on my left shoulder against the pine needles covering the uphill side of the trail.

Momentarily stunned, I paused to gather my bearings.  My head hurt a little; I had hit it on something.  I looked around on the dirt where I impacted and saw no rocks, so my helmet had probably just impacted the dirt.  My right should hurt, and with every passing second the pain increased.  My legs and arms stung all over, scraped from impact with various bike parts and dirt, with pine needles sticking out of them, making me look like some kind of bastard cross between a human and a porcupine.

The pain coming from my shoulder concerned me most.  But the first task was to extricate myself from the bike frame, which proved challenging.  There was some urgency to this action, as I was in a precarious spot where another mountain biker bombing down the trail might come upon me quickly and not have enough time to stop before causing me further damage.  It was an unlikely scenario, since the trail saw very little use, but it was enough of a possibility that it got me motivated to move more quickly.

After what seemed like a minute or two, I finally figured out the puzzle and was able to move body parts and bike parts in the correct sequence to unwind the mystery pretzel.  By now my shoulder was throbbing with pain, and I as pretty sure it was broken.  I started to de-quill myself, pulling pine needles out of my arms and legs, and then realized that if the shoulder was in fact broken, time was of the essence.  I could clean myself up later; better to use what precious time I had to get back to the car as quickly as possible.

After the ride...back at the car, all cleaned up!

After the ride…back at the car, all cleaned up and de-quilled!

Back at the car about five minutes later, I told Geoff what happened as I washed up a little and continued to pull pine needles out of my skin.  The shoulder was still throbbing with pain, but it didn’t feel broken.  So we drove back down the mountain.  I could monitor the situation form the comfort of home, which was just a five minute drive from an urgent care facility should I decide I needed to get it x-rayed.

Then a funny thing happened: my shoulder got better.  After a few hours of pretty intense pain, and a few days of dull pain, there were no lasting effects from the crash.  It had just been a bruise after all.  No permanent damage.

At least no permanent physical damage…

“You’re young again,” she had whispered in my ear seductively.

“You’re young again.”  If you say that ten times really fast, it sounds an awful lot like “You’re dumb again”…

I finally took the hint.  I had been focused on the wrong things.  I was letting the bike change the way I rode.  I was letting the bike define me.

—–

My bike does not define me.  I define my bike.  No matter how cool, how expensive, or how advanced, the bike is little more than one of the tools at my disposal to help me enjoy a life outside.

—–

“Get yourself a cheap-ass mountain bike and ride it. Ride like the wind. Ride like today is your last day on earth. Ride like any other cliché you can think of. But just ride. After all, that’s what it’s all about. Everything else is just posing.”

–“Mad” Joe Jiminez, Founder and President of Black Death Mountain Bikes