Dana is a bike nerd through and through, but also loves to tinker, make, and photograph. You can find him hiking, skiing, or mountain biking most weekends. Check out his personal site for cool data visualizations!
The day we moved out of the trailer we had lived in for over a year was bittersweet. Gathering our things, and buttoning up the trailer was a tough day. We truly enjoyed our time spent on the homestead that we called home, and the departure wasn’t completely by choice. We actually planned to live in the box for more than just a year. We planned to take it with us to the next city. And when Heather did score that new job in another city, we knew we had to move. The new job was about an hour North, too far to be on call at the hospital at the current location. But after hours and hours spent talking to people on Craigslist, seeking a new place to park the tiny house, we gave up. It couldn’t be done. Not here, not now, anyways.
There simply was no place to move the trailer to. So, hesitantly, we started looking for a room in a house. We found one, and found ourselves moving the small, but surprisingly hefty amount of things from the trailer to our new fancy appartment. The trailer would stay on the land it was on, acting as a getaway spot for the time being, and getting a few necessary repairs. We would plan on finding a spot to move it to in the next few months.
Then the rains came. The heaviest rainy season California has seen in almost 20 years. And catastrophe struck: The single large tree near our trailer came crashing down in a windstorm. The main part of the tree missed the trailer, but its limbs poked some holes in the roof and sides, and ripped off the awning and ladder. Thankfully no one was in the trailer, and nobody was hurt. We realized that even though we were bummed to leave the trailer, leaving it for the winter may have been a wise decision.
After clearing the tree off the trailer, we discovered that the damage was significant, and the insurance company declared it a total loss. We are very thankful we had insured the trailer. If we had taken the loss ourselves, it would have really hurt. We owned the trailer, so getting a big check was great. It will fund whatever we do next. The insurance company asked when they could come take the trailer to the landfill, but we still saw value in the trailer, and couldn’t bear seeing it go to the crusher. After some pleading with insurance, we were allowed to keep it. We now will fix the broken bits, and decide what to do with it. Should we keep it, or sell it to fund our next adventure or next project?
We’ve got a long list of amazing things to see in California, and recently checked off a major adventure; Death Valley. We made the trip down over President’s day, which, as it turns out, is the busiest weekend of the year. We’ve been to some of the more popular National Parks in peak season, and wouldn’t recommend it. But Death Valley is so large in area, and still relatively unpopular, that we were still able to find plenty of seclusion and adventure. It didn’t feel overcrowded, and the weather was amazing. Highly recommended. Instead of writing about our experience, I’ll just share some photos. Enjoy.
If you’re following us on Instagram(You are following us on Instagram, right?) you’ll know that we recently purchased and converted an old Ford cargo van into an adventuremobile. That’s right, we’re jumping into this whole van life thing (#Vanlife.) If you don’t follow us on Instagram, you should go do that right now. And then come back and read the rest of this post.
Now that that’s taken care of, I’ll explain exactly how and why we entered into the realm of van life. We purchased a 1990 Ford Econoline 350 van. Her name is Connie. She got her name because her insignia was already missing the “E” spelling only “Cononline.” With a little imagination, she became Connie.
All it took to make Connie’s name official was a flathead screwdriver and some rubber cement. She sports a diesel engine, with less horsepower than an average Honda Accord. Her transmission slips when shifting from 1st to 2nd, and she gets a bit hot when we take her through mountain passes. But she always starts up (after installing a new fuel pump) and has solid 4 wheel drive, that has only let us down once(see caption below.)
Looking at that last paragraph I guess you could say we’re ironing out the kinks. But honestly, that is what van life is all about, figuring everything out. Maybe it’s a metaphor for life, trying things out, breaking things, and failing. Trial and error, deciding what works and what doesn’t – maybe I’m getting too deep.
You might be asking why we got a rig that is older than us, has some mechanical issues, and needs to have her oil checked each time you fill-up? You might be asking how we’ll survive without traction control, headlights that turn in the direction you’re steering, or the light that blinks on the dashboard when you have a flat tire(actually that would have been nice last weekend when we got a slow flat and didn’t realize until we got to the top of a mountain.)
I sometimes -but rarely- ask myself the same question. In actuality, I also drool over the brand new 4×4 Sprinters, with enough room to stand up in, the fuel efficiency of a Subaru, and central air/heat. Instagram is full of Sportsmobiles that are closer to RV’s than vans, yet still can get up that snowy mountain. There are countless, amazingly awesome, but expensive and overcomplicated rigs out there. There are vans that cost more than a moderate sized house on a small plot of land. And don’t get me wrong- those vans are awesome! But honestly, for me, that’s not what the van represents.
I think the ideal van is the ultimate adventure platform. It’s a no frills recreation-enabler. It’s not concerned with style, luxury, or grace. It’s the old, slightly rusted and very clunky multi tool that has all the tools you need, and none of the ones you don’t. It needs to be oiled now and again, and the knife sometimes doesn’t want to flip back in. But it’s scissors are sharp, and its bottle opener also works as a screwdriver. You wouldn’t trade it for a brand new Leatherman.
The purpose of a van is to be a mobile base-camp for anything you want to do. It may not have all the amenities, but it houses all the necessities. Mobility. Shelter. Food. Entertainment. And that is what van life is about. Distilling life, and adventure, into its purest form, and getting rid of the rest.
We designed Connie to be the ultimate vehicle to live out of, not live in. And there’s an important distinction there. Connie, while having a semi-comfortable IKEA foam mattress, is not really designed to be a hangout spot. Sure, she’s got enough room to cook, read, or just take a nap, but her main purpose is getting us out into the world. If we wanted amenities, we’d tow our tiny house trailer around, or just use Airbnb. She carries much of what we need, but little else. And that’s why she’s perfect for us.
She’s got a small fridge, a water jug, and a camp stove. Honestly, that’s more than we’ll ever need to feed ourselves while on an adventure. She has a solar panel on the roof, and plenty of space to hold our gear. She can charge our phones and computers, fill our water bottles, and provide a safe place to rest. She keeps us dry and warm when it’s storming, but is also perfectly happy sitting for a few days while we head into the wilderness. She’s slow and steady, but delivers us to any trailhead we can locate on a map.
Van Life is the start of a new adventure for us, and Connie has already brought us to new places, and enabled us to experience new things. While she’s not pretty, and doesn’t have all the bells and whistles, we love her for it. Her scratches, dings, rust spots, and creaks give her character. They add to the adventure, and for us, that’s what’s important.
A few more photos from our first few vanlife adventures:
We’ve been working on this post for a little while, and realized this
was our New Year’s Resolution, so we should share it sooner rather than later. Happy New Year!
Leave It Better
On a recent road trip, outside of Bend, OR, we were dismayed at what we found. A campsite FULL of trash. Not just a couple beer cans, but lots and lots of trash. Like someone had lived there for a full week, and had just thrown all of their crap in the surrounding woods. It made us so sad and angry that someone had disrespected the land in this way.
As Joan Baez said, “Action is the best antidote for Despair.” So we took action, and cleaned up the campsite. We filled more than two garbage bag’s worth of trash from this small area. It was gross. It smelled bad. For some reason, other people’s trash seems so much more disgusting than your own. But it made us feel better, and it brought back some of the lost beauty in this majestic public forest.
At this point we realized that there is a reason why most campsites cost a fair bit of money- because people tend to wreck them. Whether it’s with litter, by chopping trees down for the campfire, or carving names into the picnic tables. Most campsites cost real money because fixing that damage costs real money. And that fixing doesn’t happen at the free campsites.
That was also the point that we realized we needed to do something more. From now on, whenever we camp at a free campsite, we will clean it up. We are imposing a small tax on ourselves to maintain the public lands that belong to all of us. Challenging ourselves to leave each place in better condition than we found it in. We will do this so that hopefully the next person who comes along will not only enjoy a more beautiful place to sleep, but will also respect the land enough to not add to the clutter. And we are asking you to join us.
Whenever you encounter human impacts in wild spaces, we challenge you to take the time to clean it up, and pack out the trash. While you are enjoying the trails, the beaches, and parks that you love, take a little bit of time and energy to restore that land to its natural state. Help it stay beautiful. Reduce the impact of your fellow explorers.
Leave it better for the next person. Leave it better for the animals and plants that live there. Leave it better for the next generations of adventurers. Leave it better, because we have to do better. If you leave it better, take a photo and send it to us. Better yet, post it on Instagram, tag us, and use hashtag #leaveitbetter. We may just get in touch to send you a token of our appreciation!
We promise to do our best to Leave it better in 2017, and hope you’ll join us!
If you are unfamiliar with the Leave No Trace organization, please visit their website and learn how to enjoy the outdoors responsibly and sustainably.
When we first bought our Travel Trailer, we had no idea how to repaint the walls. All we knew was that we wanted that hideous color and vinyl decals GONE. We knew that a fresh coat of paint and our own decorations would turn our trailer into a home. After much research, trial and error, and many long nights spent covered in primer, we finally got the result we were looking for. We hope this post will help you with your DIY!
How to Paint RV Walls
This process is tedious and frustrating. To be honest, painting was our least favorite part of our build. It took several days, and a lot of sweat and cursing. But the result was definitely worth all the trouble. Need inspiration? Take a look at our finished product.
Step 1. Prepare Walls.
You don’t want to be painting around light switch covers, photos, or appliances if you can avoid it. So take everything you can off your walls. You’ll be happy you did later. Now is also a good time to strip off any “decals” that came with your RV. I’m not sure why the manufacturers thought these were a good idea, but many RV’s have them, and they can be a pain. Get your razor blade and Goo-Be-Gone, and be prepared to spend some time stripping the sticky residue off the walls.
Step 2. Clean
If there is any sort of oil or dirt on your walls, it will be apparent after you paint. So spend some time now using a spray bottle filled with dish soap and water, and scrub with a Brillo pad to get off all the grime before you put a fresh coat of paint on your walls.
Step 3. Sand
Use a coarse, 100 grit sandpaper to rough up your walls, and give the weird vinyl coating some texture for your paint to grip onto. Don’t push too hard, or spend too much time in any one spot. Try to do this as evenly as possible. After you rough it all up with the 100 grit, spend some more time with finer sandpapers. We used 400 grit paper to smooth it all over. This takes a while to do well- for such a small area, it seems there is so much wallspace!
Step 3.5 Clean Again!
You need to get all the dust off of your workspace in order for the paint to adhere well, and give the proper finish. Bring out the spray bottle, and some rags again, and get your space spotless.
Step 4. Cover Everything
Somehow, no matter how hard you try while painting, the paint always seems to get everywhere. We suggest you cover the floors, appliances, and anything else you don’t want paint to get. Doing this is far easier than scraping paint off after it has dried. Also, use painters tape to ensure you get crisp lines.
Step 5. Prime
While some folks don’t prime before painting, we suggest it for an RV. The walls typically don’t take paint as easily as traditional home walls, so any advantage that can be gained by using a primer should be taken. We used two coats of oil based primer. While water based paints have come a long way in the last few years, the reading we did suggested oil based primers still have an advantage. Talk to the folks at the hardware store about this, and they will suggest a good oil primer.
extra tip: Don’t forget ventilation! It seems obvious, but it is SO important- especially in a small space. Open all the windows and run the fan on full blast. It will protect you from the paint fumes and help with a faster dry-time.
Step 6. Paint!
Surprisingly enough, We used a latex based paint, on top of our oil primer. The oil seals well to the wall, and the latex seals well to the primer. Make sure to do at least two coats. You may want to consider choosing a gloss or satin paint, instead of a matte version, as those are easier to wipe down for quick cleaning (think, grease spatter in the kitchen). In our tiny house/RV, the walls take a lot of abuse since there is such a small amount of space, so we are happy that we chose a durable, easy-to-clean finish. Another thing to remember is that it takes quite a while for the paint to properly cure. While it may seem dry after just a few hours, the paint doesn’t reach it’s full level of hardness for a week or more!
As mentioned before, this process is time-consuming and tedious. Just remember that the finished product is worth some patience and hard work.
“You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone” or so the song goes.
The folks at the farmer’s market seemed down. Maybe it was just the hazy, smoky, gray sky lighting the scene that made it feel glum, or maybe it was the collective loss felt by local residents. Trying to enjoy this weekly celebration of life, in the shadow of a life-sucking wildfire burning just a few miles south felt a bit strange to me. The particle filled sky filtered the sun’s light in an eerie way onto the people congregated in the town center. Like a large umbrella covering much of the Central Coast, the smoke obscured the sun’s rays, and transformed the normally sun soaked bazaar into a monochromatic display of folks just going through the motions. While there were still many children running around the park, playing, screaming, and having not a care in the world, the adults talked a bit quieter, and stood a bit less tall then they normally do.
We were 15 miles away from the Sobranes wildfire, burning between Big Sur and Monterey, CA, and like moths to a flame, or onlookers to a car crash, we felt compelled to venture down to ground zero. Something inside me wanted to experience first hand the loss that was occurring. This day, like folks peering into the open casket at relatives funeral, we wanted to see for ourselves the cancer that was quickly spreading through this cherished area.
Whenever we have a spare day, and want a quick dose of natural beauty, we head down Route 1 and explore the seemingly endless coves, dirt roads, and mountain vistas that Big Sur has to offer. In the year or so that we’ve lived in California, we’ve spent many days and nights in this area, but still haven’t absorbed nearly enough of what this magical place has to offer. And we might never get a chance to explore the rest of it.
The Sobranes fire started some point last week, and as of Thursday, July 28, it has burned nearly 30,000 acres, and is only 10 percent contained. It has torched over 30 homes, killed 1 firefighter, and closed all the state parks in the area for the foreseeable future. We drove south, and immediately started passing countless fire engines, bulldozers, and firefighters. It’s not until you actually see the effort that is going on to contain this inferno that you realize the vast scale that wildfires occur on. It’s not until you smell the smoke, and feel the particulate matter in the air that you realize the transformation that is occurring. A transformation from living, breathing earth, to scorched, dead, blackened ground.
Some of our favorite places to explore won’t be the same for a long, long time. It may have been this realization, or possibly just the smoke irritating my eyes, but a few tears ran down my face as I got out of the car to take some photos.
Then something strange happened. The air was thick with smoke, but somehow, I started to see beauty in the fire. The combination of late afternoon light mixed with some fog off the ocean, and the smoke from the burning trees and grasses made for rare, majestic lighting conditions. It was hauntingly beautiful. At this point I also remembered that fire is a natural part of the cycle of life for many ecosystems. These areas actually evolved with fire. Fire allows for new life to spring up out of the ashes of old. There are certain trees that rely on fire to open their pinecones, and kick start the germination of the seeds inside. Soon after a fire sweeps through, the nutrients released into the ground by the fire are taken up by the next generation of plants. Animals soon return. And humans rebuild. While fires of this massive scale are not natural, and the loss of human life is always terrible, it is reassuring to think that maybe there is a bit of good that can come out of such violent disasters.
While the charred, blackened remains of beautiful forests, and the torched foundations of people’s homes are surely a sad sight, we must remember that these are only temporary, and the beauty of nature will reclaim the land eventually. The power of life on this earth is incredible, and can overcome nearly anything that gets in it’s way. So, enjoy the forests while they are alive, and protect them with all your might. But when mother nature decides to start over, don’t despair, because she will eventually rebuild.
I have always felt a connection to Henry David Thoreau. Growing up just 8 miles from Walden Pond, I loved riding my bike to the location of Thoreau’s experiment in simplicity. We would walk our bikes down the steep grade to the pond, and go for a swim in the ice cold glacial water, or fish from the shore. After visiting the pond, we would continue on to Concord Center, where Thoreau met with Ralph Waldo Emerson, to grab a snack at a favorite cafe, or fill our pockets with sweets from the old fashioned candy shop.
When I wonder what Thoreau would think of our trips to see his old stomping grounds, I can’t help but think he would be disappointed. I rode a 24 speed bike, with all sorts of gears, racks, lights, and even an electronic speedometer. We fished with complicated spinning rods, and had backpacks full of lures, hooks, and sinkers. We took pictures of the beautiful scenery with the .33 megapixel camera’s on our fancy flip phones(early 2000’s tech for spoiled kids). Thinking back on these trips now, they were anything but simple, when compared to the two years, two months, and two days Thoreau spent on the shores of Walden.
“Our life is frittered away by detail. An honest man has hardly need to count more than his ten fingers, or in extreme cases he may add his ten toes, and lump the rest. Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity! I say, let your affairs be as two or three, and not a hundred or a thousand; instead of a million count half a dozen, and keep your accounts on your thumb nail. In the midst of this chopping sea of civilized life, such are the clouds and storms and quicksands and thousand-and-one items to be allowed for, that a man has to live, if he would not founder and go to the bottom and not make his port at all, by dead reckoning, and he must be a great calculator indeed who succeeds. Simplify, simplify. Instead of three meals a day, if it be necessary eat but one; instead of a hundred dishes, five; and reduce other things in proportion.”
Comparing the life that Thoreau lived to the life of an American teenager in the 21st century isn’t really a fair comparison. In the 160-plus years since Thoreau published walden, a lot has changed. Nowadays, spending $28.12 (about $863 in today’s money) will not allow you to move into pristine woods, build a cabin, and survive for over two years. We spent many thousands of dollars to move into a tiny house trailer, which is of the approximate same footprint as Thoreau’s cabin. And that’s not including land. Today, not paying your taxes in protest of war will get the IRS at your door in short order. Today, there are over six times as many people on the earth compared to when Walden was published.
How do we reconcile the simplicity Thoreau lived with todays seemingly ever more complicated world? Are Thoreau’s words now just relics of former possibility, steamrolled over by industrialization, complication, and globalization?
When you dive deeper into Walden(the book, not the pond), you find Thoreau has to do some reconciliation of his own between his simplistic ideals and the reality of making life possible on the shores of the Pond. He realizes his simple stone and wood structure isn’t sufficient to keep him warm in the winter, so he has to construct a fireplace, and plaster the walls. He also ventures into town frequently to pick up essentials, and to meet with friends.Thoreau understood that humans have basic needs. We need food and water. We need a place to stay warm and dry. We need social interaction and emotional stimulation.
While Thoreau might be dismayed by the complexity of modern society today, we must also realize that he was dismayed by the modern society of his day as well. So instead of directly comparing our technologically advanced, ever connected lifestyle to Thoreau’s simple cabin, subsistence farming, and handwritten correspondence, maybe we need to compare the simplicity of our lives relative to that of modern society.
If we focus on meeting our basic needs, without accumulating too much extra, we have succeeded in living simply. For us, that means a small place to call home, with gardens to grow a bit of food, and a slow internet connection to check email. We know a simpler life is possible, and are always striving to simplify, but we also take pride and enjoy the simplicity that we already have. And that is what ourexperiment is all about.
While many in the United States are fussing over which Presidential Candidate has the best economic policy, how to keep guns out of the hands of lunatics, and how Donald Trump keeps his hair looking so great, I have been fussing over an issue which I deem equally, if not more important: the Environment. While I certainly believe that everyone should have the right to love who they want, have control over their own bodies, and have an equal chance at monetary success, I also believe that all humans should have the right to enjoy clean air, clean water, dense forest, and sprawling desert. I believe that pristine, clean, untouched outdoor space is an American tradition that is in ever increasing peril. The most overarching issue of our generation is the issue of climate change, and we are not yet fixing this issue. If we don’t change our carbon heavy ways, society as we know it today may cease to exist. And the journey down that path will make our current social issues seem like child’s play. Said another way, if humans continue to turn our beautiful planet into a hot, dry, dirty wasteland, there may be no Congress to debate in. There may be no President to blame for all our issues. There may be no people.
While this may seem like a worst case scenario, the environmental degradation that is currently taking place is also the worst case scenario. There is still time to change our ways, but the accelerating emissions of CO2 doesn’t paint a pretty picture for the future of this place we call home. Greenhouse gas emissions are only increasing, with no signs of slowing down. You know what comes next in this story: melting ice sheets, rising seas, extreme weather, food and water shortage, mass extinction, etc.
While I applaud President Obama for preserving more than 265 million acres(more than any other president), I also am scared by the many threats that the environment faces, and wish he and other politicians would do more, particularly around climate change. There are many other Environmental issues, such as air pollution, habitat loss, water pollution, overpopulation, overfishing, plastic islands, genetically engineered organisms, hydraulic fracking, deforestation, and acid rain. These issues are important. But if we cannot solve the most important issue(climate change), attempting to tackle these issues will be a lost cause. While it’s important to celebrate the victories won in all of these fights, I’m afraid that they are too little too late. How is it possible that we know so much about these issues, and their catastrophic consequences, yet somehow we don’t take the necessary action to prevent them?
Our current economic system overvalues short term gains, and undervalues long term risks. The current economy would gladly take a dollar today in return for a kick in the face someday next month. There are countless studies that suggest immediate action on environmental issues today is far cheaper than the costs these same issues will incur in the future. Why can’t we just plug this information into the algorithms that run our economy, and get it fixed?
How I see it, the folks making the big decisions about these big issues will never even see the effects of their decisions, either way. The folks making these decisions today will be super-heated, over-fertilized, GMO-planted, mercury-infested dirt by the time the consequences of their actions are fully realized. But it isn’t just the old-guard politicians that are to blame. Each and every human being on this earth makes decisions every day that will affect future generations.
While the economy as a whole doesn’t do a great job anticipating future risks, it’s the individuals that make up the economy that have the final say, and for some reason they are saying the wrong thing. When asked directly, every man, woman, and child, whether Democrat or Republican, rich or poor, male or female, claims they want to leave the world a better place than they found it. But right after they answer this question, they climb into their SUV, eat their steak dinner, and go to sleep in their 4,000 square foot air conditioned home. So why do we do this to ourselves?
I think it’s because our brains are programmed to care more about what happens today than what happens next week. The thick fatty steak we eat today somehow tricks the gray stuff inside our skulls into believing that 30 minutes in culinary heaven are worth the 2,500 gallons of water, 27 lbs of CO2, and increased risk of heart disease that come from such consumption. The dopamine dump that results from this combination of salt, fat, and protein temporarily affects our decision making skills. Too bad the environmental and health effects aren’t so temporary. When looked at from this perspective, I don’t understand why eating steak is such a common occurrence, yet somehow, I still crave the juicy, salty, and tender experience that is steak consumption.
Personally, my emotions towards environmental issues seem to swing on a pendulum. I mostly understand the science, and fully understand that change needs to come in order to ensure that the natural world will be there to provide food, air, and water for my body, and, equally as important, nourishment for my soul. Where I waver, however, is how I react to these facts. It feels like I swing between hope and despair, depending on the news dominating the headlines. Obama saves another million acres and I swing towards hope. BP spills another billion barrels of oil, and I swing into a mild depression. It’s hard to make conscious decisions each day to reduce your footprint, when you feel like your actions are minuscule in the grand scheme. And honestly, your actions are minuscule in the grand scheme. But collectively, over time, each of our actions are not insignificant.
What has helped me become more even keeled in this rough sea of environmental instability, is doing my part to minimize my impact, and enjoy each adventure out into this beautiful earth as if it could be the last. I believe action is, in fact, the best antidote to despair, whether that action is having a salad instead of a steak, chaining yourself to a tree, or writing a letter to your congressman about local issues. Writing this article makes me feel better.
So here’s my call to action for you: Focus on your impact on the environment. Don’t let others’ poor decisions influence yours. Rise above, and make more decisions with the environmental implications in mind, for you and for your children. Find the internal motivation and reward for making these decisions, and take pride in the decisions you make. There is so much that is outside of your control, and it isn’t worth fussing over. Educate yourself to the issues, but don’t let setbacks derail you. Educate others, especially those close to you, and use whatever power you have to better the environment. And remember, if everyone acted in this way, our issues would be met with solutions in short order.
Please, join me in this fight.
Here are a few more things you can do that will help you calm your despair, in no particular order:
I pushed the shifter once more, hoping that suddenly another, lower gear would magically appear on my cassette. The pedals suddenly became lighter, and my feet pushed the cranks another half turn with ease. I wondered if my silent, sweaty prayers to the climbing gods had been answered. Had the EPO finally kicked in? Had the earth’s axis shifted? Then I quickly realized that my attempted downshift with no more gears to shift had pushed my weight a tad forward, and coupled with the 18% grade, and sandy, loose, dry dirt covering this “road” that I had once again just spun my rear tire. As soon as I escaped the death grip of my pedals, and set my feet on the rutted fire road, I rested my arms on my bike, and took out my phone which had my route loaded onto it. I was only a third of the way up Plaskett Ridge Road, the 3.5 mile forest road which starts at the Pacific Ocean, in the heart of Big Sur, and makes it’s way up to 2,500 feet, to the center of the Santa Lucia mountains. The average grade of just under 14% is enough to scare any cyclist, but the views promised after such an ascent in the middle of this picturesque coastline was enough to attract me. Little did I know that this dirt road would be considered the easy part of my ride.The forthcoming adventure promised to make me rethink ever attempting the route again.
The ride started at the Eastern gateway to the Big Sur area, on Nacimiento Fergusson road. The night before, I navigated to Big Sur through the eastern slopes of the Santa Lucia mountains, and the largest Army Reserve base in the country, my headlights revealing much wildlife including deer, raccoons, and a baby coyote. I slept at the top of this iconic road, which descends from 3,000 feet to Route 1, and the Pacific, in short, steep, switchbacking order. As I drank a beer, and ate my burrito, I gazed up over the dark ocean, and watched a few meteors light the sky. This area, protected from the light pollution of the surrounding cities by the tall mountains, may be the best place to watch the night sky in the region. Even with a bright, near full moon, I could see the Milky Way better than I ever had before.
I rose early the next morning, consumed a balanced breakfast of Instant oats, pop-tarts, and coffee, and looked over my planned route. I would fly down Nacimiento Ferguson’s winding descent, enjoy 5 flat miles South on the Pacific Coast Highway, head up the steep Plaskett Ridge Road, and then venture north on a 10 mile traverse along the Coast Ridge Trail which follows the ridge of the Santa Lucia Range, surrounded by views of the Pacific Coast and the green, untamed slopes of the Ventana Wilderness. It would be a challenging, but straightforward route, or so I thought.
The pavement down Nacimiento was smooth, the turns sharp, and the views around every corner seemed only to be eclipsed by the views at the next switchback. Carving the turns, I was greeted by many rising campers who spent the night on the numerous pullouts along the roadside. I was tempted to stop and beg for some of the delicious smelling bacon that one group was cooking.
I reached the bottom of the descent, out of breath, and amazed by the incredible nature of what I had just ridden. I turned left onto the iconic Route 1, and traveled south along one of the most recognizable roads in the country. At times, this route is filled with RV’s and tourists, and would not be a very safe place to cycle, but at 7:00 AM on a Sunday, the only vehicles on the road were motorcycles. Perfection.
After sucking in the majestic scene of the deep blue ocean, rocky cliffs, and green hills of Route 1, I arrived at Plaskett Ridge, turning left, and immediately having to shift my bike into the easiest gear. The road was a seldom travelled dirt track, hardly wide enough for the 4×4 vehicles that are the normal mode of transportation up the rocky climb. I labored up the climb, rarely able to sit on the saddle, the severity of the climb requiring every last bit of torque that I could wring out of my legs, which were already tired from long rides the days before. After an hour of repeated spinouts, false starts, and carving a serpentinus route up this grueling incline, I reached a spot which flattened out a bit- say to an easy 5% grade. There were two mountain bikers taking a selfie here, and they asked if I was planning on heading to the ridge road. I replied yes, and they informed me that might not be a passable route.
I pressed the other riders to explain why this mapped road would not be passable, and they told me they had attempted to do the same, when a crazy old lady started screaming at them. The road, while mostly situated on public land, actually bisected a small tract of private land, which this women had carved a homestead on. The cyclists said she was out on her porch, which overlooked the road(her driveway), screaming and hollering, threatening to get her gun, and to release her barking guard dogs if they travelled any further. We could actually still hear the guard dogs barking from a mile down the road.
I asked them what they were going to do, and they said they would ride down the same road that we had all struggled up, and admit defeat. That was probably the smarter option. They took a final selfie, released their brakes, and presumably had a blast down the steep road. I took out my map, and thought over my options:
Turn around, descend the road I had just painstakingly climbed, and climb back up Nacimiento, or craft another ride.
Sneakily ride as close as I could to the crazy lady, and then attempt to speed by, pretending not to notice her, or the possible German Shepherds, bullets, and expletives chasing behind me.
Traverse the mountain under and around her property, and meet up with the trail once it became public again.
I obviously decided against the first option, because that would mean skipping out on the whole purpose of the ride, to hit the Coast Ridge Trail, and would also mean admitting defeat. I opted against the second option because getting shot, or bitten by dogs would be bad. So that left the third option, traverse the face of the mountain underneath the madwoman’s property. It seemed straightforward enough, and there was a game trail that looked like it led in the correct direction. So I jumped off my bike, and started picking my way across the steep mountain, keeping my brand new bike on the uphill side, so as to not allow it to tumble if I were to slip-I know my priorities. At first the ground was loose, rocky, and covered in high grass. Not ideal conditions for walking in spandex, and brand new road cycling shoes, but doable. I was on the lookout for rattlesnakes and beehives, of which I think I saw both. It wasn’t fast moving by any means, but at least I was progressing. I thought I’d be done in no time. Then I came around a ridge, and was greeted by thick woods. Where the mountain shaded sections of itself, and the rainwater presumably drained, the dry hillside was transformed into dense thickets. Fallen trees, thick brush, spider webs, and flying insects greeted me, and made my progress extremely slow. But at least I could see what seemed like the edge of the forested section, and there wasn’t any Poison Oak. I eventually passed through the thicket, very happy to see more of the open grassland that I had started the traverse with. But just around the bend, there was another thicket. Looking back, this would have been the perfect time to turn around, and ride home. I was still close enough to the trail, and had plenty of daylight left for a different ride. But instead, I pushed aside the first branch, and began the death march.
After passing through this thicket, there was no turning back. Over an hour had progressed by this point, and I was most certainly over halfway there, or so I thought. I wandered my way up and down the slope, wheeling my sad steed along, trying to find the best route through the next ravine and overgrown area. I could hear the dogs barking at the crazy lady’s house, but by this point I wished that I had just gone with option #2 and taken my chances. The third thicket was basically a Poison Oak forest. There were some other trees and shrubs to halt my progress, but everywhere I turned there was another poisonous plant, ready to redden my tan lined legs. At first I was very cautious, noticing each and every plant, and playing twister around them, like a bank robber dancing around lasers. But there’s only so long one can handle this, and eventually, I brushed a bit of the plant. (Quick note: I am very allergic to Poison Oak. If I look at it the wrong way, my skin will break out into millions of pus-filled pimples). I was a bit worried, but I knew that I had a value-sized bottle of Tecnu in the car, so If I could get out soon then I might escape unharmed. I continued my snail’s pace through the dense woods, putting more and more scratches into my brand new carbon road bike, slapping away the biting flies that seemed to really enjoy my left arm and shoulder.
I began to wonder how long it would take the authorities to find my body, if I were to tumble for a bit after one of the many times I had lost traction in my carbon soled stiff-slippers. Would the crazy lady’s dogs consume whatever was left of my Poison Oak covered body? I was alone, 2,500 feet above flat ground, and running low on food and water. Nobody knew I was out here, and I hadn’t had a single bar of cell coverage the whole time.
At the next thicket, I became careless. Or rather, after 2 hours on the side of this mountain, I was quickly losing faith in my ability to navigate out of the woods, and find the trial, if the trail even existed past the woman’s house. I still attempted to stay away from the Poison Oak plants, but they were so numerous and dense, that to fully steer clear, my detour would have kept me out past dark.
By the time I got through the last thicket, over 3 and a half hours had passed, I had ruined my new cycling shoes, scratched the hell out of my bike, and rubbed more Poison Oak over my body than I had previously known existed in all of California.
When I finally regained the trail, after carefully checking for crazies, dogs, and drones, I let out the loudest, most cannibalistic, raw noise I had ever produced. I had overcome what seemed like an imminent death, and my bike was still in a rideable condition. I mounted my plastic horse, and pedaled off on the rolling fire roads, somehow feeling higher than the 3,000 feet of elevation that had almost killed me.
If only for a bit, I had gained a new appreciation of life, and especially for riding a bike on a solid trail. I absolutely crushed that last 10 miles of the fire road, drifting sandy turns, hammering the hills, and floating over the rocky descents. I was riding a wave of pent up adrenaline, dopamine, and sheer stoke, and it was bliss.
I made my way back to the truck, quickly de-robed, and slathered my scratched and sun-baked skin with the slimy white nectar that is Tecnu. The cool liquid felt good on the scratches, but didn’t spare me completely. As I write this, I have a dozen large, and growing patches of the Poison Oak rash, and a precautionary Prednisone prescription. While I might not take the same route next time, I think the rash is worth it.
I awoke, or rather rose from bed, after 4 hours of attempting to sleep, at 3:30 AM to start the journey. I was too excited to sleep, because I knew in a few short hours I’d be skiing untracked snow, with my best friends, in one of the most beautiful places in the U.S. I scarfed down a bowl of cereal, donning my headlamp to gather my things, and walked out to the truck. As I normally do when starting an adventure, I cranked the stereo to some Warren Zevon. Don’t ask why, I just do it. The trip had begun.
Getting to Stanley, Idaho is never easy, but during the winter, it becomes even harder. The small outcropping of civilization is an hour and a half from the closest commercial airport- if you are lucky enough to make it there. The mountainous area of Sun Valley frequently traps thick clouds, and the airstrip is a one shot deal. Flights landing here are often diverted to another airport 2 hours south. My flight was one of these diverted trips, as a few inches of snow had recently fallen. Fortunately, there was a bus to Sun Valley, where friends driving from Utah were planning to pick me up. We were greeted to the tiny airport by a grandmotherly women, yelling directions as friendly as one possibly could, through a megaphone. She also encouraged us to stop by the bar while waiting for the bus to board, where we could take drinks to go.
I heeded her advice, and grabbed a beer to go. The lack of sleep, beer, and high altitude quickly knocked me out, and I soon awoke to a very snowy Sun Valley. Jake and Forrest met me in the parking lot, with a lifted, light bar outfitted, wheel drive, 2 seater Tacoma, stuffed with groceries, beer, and ski gear. 3 people on the tiny bench seat of the truck made shifting challenging, and leg circulation non-existent. We drifted, slid, and skidded our way across the snowy highway into Stanley, blowing donuts in front of our hosts house upon arrival.
Tanner, a deep voiced, mustached, mountain man has taken residence in Stanley, guiding ski trips in the winter, and river rafting adventures in the summer. The top-of-his-class engineer decided the mountain lifestyle was calling, and packed his Element after graduation, and has never looked back.
Mike arrived that evening, and the five of us caught up, drank some more beer, and talked avalanche safety. While our talk was filled with jokes, screams, and flatulence, the mountains we would be skiing were no laughing matter. The Sawtooth Mountains, and other peaks in the proximity are steep, deep, and unforgiving. If something bad happened, we would be on our own.
The next day we spent the morning doing avalanche rescue drills. Finding a buried beacon seems easy when reading about it, but in reality is actually harder than it looks. After brushing up on our skills, we headed uphill. The pace was fast. The company was made up of bike racers, so when there is an opportunity for competition, it is taken fully advantage of. Now, some of us have gotten faster, while some have slowed a bit. The professional mountain guide, and pro mountain biker had a good time ripping everyone’s legs off. The rest of us were just happy to reach the top. The skiing was incredible. Deep, soft, light snow, coupled with mild temperatures and light wind made for unforgettable turns.
Emily Arrived that night, bringing cookies, whiskey, and a children’s accordion. We told stories, sang songs, and drank more beer. The crew at this point included, Tanner, Jake, Forrest, Mike, Emily, and myself. We all know each other through the the University of Vermont cycling team. We spent countless hours driving up and down the east coast, mooning opposing teams, and heckling each other on the racecourse. We all now live about as far apart as possible in the U.S. We are residents of Idaho, Utah, Vermont, Washington, and California, but once together, all the jokes we laughed at in college seem to be even funnier now.
Our next day we ventured to Gelena Summit, for a few laps in deep snow, under bluebird skies. At the top of each run, we peeled off our skins, buckled our helmets, and ate our squished PB&J sandwiches, taking in the serene beauty of the white landscape.
That evening we soaked in one of Stanley’s numerous hot springs. We enjoyed the whiskey Emily had brought- the spoils from winning a cyclocross race the week before, and filled each other in on what was going on in our lives. After finishing the whiskey, we walked home, our hair freezing solid in the sub-zero temperatures.
The next morning was a bit slower, thanks to the whiskey the prior night. We were awoken from our slumber in the unheated laundry room by the sound of Emily playing her children’s sized accordion. We made eggs and potatoes, and ventured out to the mountains. We were pretty tired from 2 days of hard skiing and one night of heavy drinking, so we ended up spending the majority of our time building a backcountry jump, and attempting various tricks off it in the afternoon sun. Highlights included 360’s, backflips, and an errant ski sliding to the bottom of the mountain.
It was only a 5 day trip, but man, did it feel great to ski with good friends. While we only spent a few days together, we quickly remembered what it was that made us all such good friends in the first place. While we all returned to our very different lives in different parts of the country, we all share the great experience, and you can bet that we’ll do it all again next year.