Monday, April 25, 2011

Eighteen months in California, Expedition # three

Little did I know that I'd be packing for an 18 month adventure.

The last 3 years of Rio's life where some or our best years together.  It was also the longest I've lived in any one place as a adult.  Rio was my best friend for fourteen years.  Half airedale terrier, part black lab, part bear, and one hundred percent ready for anything.  My dog Rio was a living legend.  Hitching rides by himself in Santa Cruz, fighting bears in Alaska, fording frozen rivers, climbing mountains, fending off robbers.  For more than ten years we adventured together up and down the west coast and through the Rocky Mountains.  Wyoming, Colorado, Alaska, Montana, California, British Columbia.  Yeah we had some good times together out there on the road, but those last 3 years in Missoula, giving him a proper retirement.  Those where some of our best years together.  He deserved it.  He'd saved my life in more ways than one, and probably more times than I knew also.

But those last 3 years where also hard for me.  I could feel myself wanting pick up and go.  To travel to new places and meet new people and climb new mountains.  Yeah I got the itch.  I got it bad.  And I'm good at it too.  Some people say that if they could do it all over again that they'd be able the do it that much better.  I say, just keep doing it, whatever that is.  Whatever you love and whatever keeps you young.  Keep doing it.  You will get better at it.  Because life is a challenge and to be really good at living is the whole point.  Right?

As soon as Rio died I left.  Well first I buried him down by the river and then I took his favourite toy pig to the top of Mountaineer Peak in the Mission Mountains.  There I set him free.  We had one last talk together and I wept for the last time.  I brought his spirit with me to the most sacred place I know.  Where I've experienced the closed form of communion on this planet, and I let him run.  Now when I see those mountains from the Mission Valley.  When I look up and see the Garden Wall and Mission Falls, I see him up there running across the mountain tops, playing with his favourite squeaky rubber pig.  The Great Rio.  My greatest friend and teacher.  Living where he belongs with the spirits of the mountains.

That was the end and the beginning.  The end of one life and the beginning of another.  I know that to some people all this might sound a little strange.  It's just my way.  I've always been like this.  I've always chosen to live a simple life.  So when I left Missoula in September of 2006 I didn't have much of a plan.  I'd been working as a house painter and saving money, knowing that some day the time would come when I would pick up and leave.  I decided to go to California to go rock climbing.   That seemed simple enough.  I knew that in California I'd meet lots of people to climb with.   The few objectives that I did have where to climb the East Face of Mount Whitney, boulder in the Buttermilks, and learn to big wall climb in Yosemite Valley.

Other climbers on Borah Peak in Idaho.  My only "rest" day on the way to California.

I carried a minimal amount of gear with me on my bicycle.  Still the bike and the trailer where quit heavy.  Bishop would be my first stop.  The place is a mecca for climbers and I knew that I would be able to find plenty of climbing partners and do a lot of bouldering there as well.  It's 1100 miles from Missoula to Bishop.  As usual I didn't spend much time researching my route.  In fact I spent about one minute looking at a map before I left.  It was that easy.  Route 93 out of Missoula all the way into Nevada.  Then onto Route 6 straight into Bishop.  Two highways.  First south, then west.  How hard could it be?  I was even going by Borah Peak in Idaho, the state's highest point.  Figured I stop there and climb it on the way.  What the hell, why not?

Now actually I do not recommend travelling like this to other people.  And when I travel with other people I save them the trouble that a lack of planning brings.  But I like it.  I don't mind making so called mistakes.  Like riding across Nevada on Route 6 with no water, streams, lakes, rivers, or convenience stores for 160 miles.  When I got to Elko and realized what I was about to encounter I found it was kinda funny.  What was I supposed to do?  Turn around and not keep going?  There's no way for that.  At this point I was only a few days ride from Bishop and I could smell the California air.  So I mailed some stuff in front of me self to make room in me trailer and bought 40 pounds of water.  That's right, 5 gallons of it.  Then I loaded it all into the trailer and split town.  I covered the distance in a day and half.  It was the fastest I've ever ridden on any trip.  Even surprised me self in the making.

On me second to last day cycling through Nevada I was hit by a wind storm.  At one point I was blown off the road and crashed in loose gravel next to a busy highway full of big semi rigs.  Cursing and bleeding I got up and kept riding.  My speed on the little bike computer strapped to me handle bars read 5 mph.  That's just as slow as climbing a steep mountain pass, but it's a lot worse.  Climbing up a mountain pass can be fun.  There's the scenery to enjoy and the thoughts of making it to the top and coasting back down the other side to look forward to also.  But riding in a wind storm is pure hell.  Your head's down, your getting blown around, either off the road or into traffic.  There's nothing to enjoy.  It's a mental and physical nightmare.  A psychological beating.  And if your lucky, you won't start hating yourself and cursing your bike and other meaningless things like the barren state of Nevada.  At one point I wanted to give up.  I wanted to let it out, start crying, and hitch a ride the rest of the way.  I got off me bike as the tears started to swell.  The dust and the wind whipped me in the face.  I had a hard time just standing still holding me bike up.  I wanted to yell and to scream, to throw me bike down and give up.  But there I was.  Looking at myself in this total chaos.  Seeing myself in this situation, I couldn't give up.  I realized that at that moment.  I knew I had to keep riding at least till the end of the day.  Then maybe I could give up, or maybe the wind would die first.  I had to keep going.   Up ahead there was a road junction, maybe there'd be a little store I would be able to go into or a diner to sit at.  That would have been nice, but no.  Not that day.  That day was not finished with me yet.  When I got to the road junction the reality of my situation really hit home.  The gas station had been burned up some years ago by the looks of it and all the other buildings had been looted and vandalized pretty badly.  I started to look around for Mel Gibson hiding in the shadows because at that point I was fairly certain that Nevada was definitely home to some post apocalyptic scene from the Road Warrior.

There was broken glass everywhere, and I mean everywhere.  Bottles, windows, freezer cases, anything that had glass and could be smashed into pieces was there busted up on the ground.  I parked me bike next to the first building and went to look around.  The place was a wreck and on top of that the wind had a creepy and eire feeling to it.  I've never felt so on the edge.  So certain that some Mad Max looking zombie was just around the next building.

As I looked inside the half burnt up old gas station I read some spray painted graffiti on the wall.  It was a quote by Nietzsche.  "He who has a why to live can bear almost any how."  I read the quote over and over as it seemed to fit perfectly for me here in this fucked-up waste land.  Who wrote this I wondered? Who ever it was is a genius I thought.  How could they have known to write this here?  I kept wondering if it was written just for me, or if other people had experienced a day like this?   To find themselves at the crossroads of chaos and self discovery.  I started to feel a little better about myself and the day.  About the choices that I've made in me life, and where I was at that moment.  In a burnt up old gas station, in the middle of a terrible wind storm, in the barrens of Nevada.  Nothing left to do now except cook some dinner and go to sleep.  If this wind will let me.

Getting ready for me first big wall in Yosemite Valley baby!!!

to be continued...


  1. I cried, I laughed, and now how long do I have to wait for the next chapter? Barb

  2. Barb, I can give you an exclusive interview for a very small fee

  3. LMAO, love the other comments

    The first part is super inspirational. A beautiful story of friendship.

    You have amazing stories, thank-you for sharing