Monday, August 10, 2015

Hitch'n Rides in Stolen Cars

The Hitch Hiker

Hitch-hiking through Washington in the late spring 1997, I was picked up by a drunk ex-con named Darrel in a stolen car. By the time we got pulled over by the police, I was driving the stolen car. 

Normally I don't except rides by drunk drivers, and I don't condone driving drunk.  It's scary to see drunk drivers on the road, and when Darrel skidded to a halt in the middle of the freeway, locking up all four tires, and skidding the vehicle to a sideways stop - that's when I should have known this was going to be a bad idea.

For some reason I liked Darrel, even though I shouldn't have.  The odd shaped fenders, and the poor paint job, made the car look a bit like a Toyota Celica, but the hack-job was obvious. I figured, what the hell, the car's got plates on it, and Darrel seems fun, so I got in.

Offering me a beer, and grabbing another for himself, he asked if I had any weed on me. I said, "of course man, I just flew down from Alaska, and it's like currency up there."

The first ten minutes of the ride I will never forget. Darrel had the throttle pinned, and was working the stick like a rally car wanna-be. Swerving the little black heat-score around traffic at 90 to 110 mph, passing a line of cars on the shoulder of the road, two wheels in the dirt...

OMFG!!! I was kissing my ass goodbye. Bad idea, bad idea.

"Hey man, let's pull over, and smoke this joint I rolled. Maybe you should let me drive, you are a little drunk,"  I suggested. 

I started driving and we're heading all the way to Spokane. Awesome. This day ride was working out just fine.

But it didn't, and one of the most strange, yet erotic things in my life was about to happen. We stopped for gas and more beer, and Darrel paid with a credit card (stolen) he said was his mom's (lie). I noticed a cop drive by while we were inside, but I didn't think anything of it. (Yes I'm dumb and dumber, I know, and very naive - even for a seasoned hitchhiker with a couple long tours under my belt.)

The cop pulled us over one block from the gas station. When the lights and siren lit up, Darrel started screaming in excitement, pounding his fists on the dash, and getting ready for a good high speed chase.

"Go, go, go man, FUCK YEAH!" Screamed Darrel.

I could tell he wanted to go down swinging in this little rat trap of a sports car, and I'm so glad I was driving, or I don't think I'd be telling this story today.

As soon as I pulled over, Darrel became very quiet, and then nothing happened. The cop approached the vehicle, told us to sit tight, and went back to her vehicle. Ten minutes went by, fifteen minutes went by, Darrel and I were not speaking, the cop wasn't doing anything, and I was starting to freak out.

"What the hell is she doing?" I finally asked about the cop in her car. Darrel responded quietly, "it's procedure to wait for back-up, when serving a felony warrant." That's all he said to me, besides suggesting I stash my weed in the car, because it wouldn't affect him, and I might as well not get in trouble too.

Back-up arrived, and with-in seconds Darrel was in hand-cuffs and being driven away in the back of a Highway Patrol car. Then it was me, my dog Rio, and the cops. They had my expensive skis and climbing gear in the car, and were telling me the car was stollen and the plates on it were false.

I'll have to admit this is where things get a little weird, and a little absurd.

The female cop pulls me out of the vehicle, and right away, I'm thinking the Red Hot Chili Peppers wrote a song about this chick. She was incredible. Tall, gorgeous, strong, dark hair, intense eyes, and looked bad-ass-hot in her tight uniform. (To enhance your blogging experience, click on the link and listen to the music while you read. Warning Explicit Lyrics.)

She slammed me down on the hood of her car, kicking my heels wide, and treating me like a seasoned crook,,, like Darrel.  She was rubbing her tool belt, and her gun, on my ass, pushing my chest down on the hood of the vehicle, and was shouting at me about weapons, and weed. She was patting me down everywhere, and I mean everywhere, and I was getting really turned-on. The Red Hot Chili Peppers have been my favorite band for a long time, and all I was able to think about was the song - Sir Psycho Sexy.

I felt like I was starring in a movie, because she was too beautiful to be a real cop. But I had no swagger and this chick was looking to throw my ass in jail for something,,,,, anything. 

"I thought you said you didn't have any weapons!!!" She yelled at me, as she pulled a pen knife out of my pocket. 

"Oh shit, I'm sorry I forgot." I said, and tried to act nervous and not horny. My swagger was still not working and she slammed painful cuffs on me, and threw Rio and I into the back of the cop car, rolled up the windows, and turned the heat on.

They call it a heat-tank, and it's a tactic to break you down if you're lying, and we were in it bad. I couldn't feel my hands from the cuffs, and Rio looked like he was going die from the heat. His tongue was white and hanging out of his mouth, panting like a heart attack.

The two cops pulled out all my possessions from the stolen car, and told me up till this point, I had not broken the law, but if they found anything illegal on me, I was going to be arrested. Then the first thing the other cop pulled out of my pack was my lucky trucker's hat. 

Now this bonafide lucky hat said, "DOPE SMUGGLING it's more than a job it's an adventure."

Yep, that's what it said… I was a derelict ski bum living on the fringe of society, and wore stuff like that to look cool in lift lines in Jackson Hole, and muddy parking lots across Alaska. The cop whistled at the other cop and grinned, showing her the trucker's hat, as they dug into my pack and ski bag with added frenzy to bust me for something big. 

But they never found it. All they found was $58 dollars in cash, my plane ticket from Anchorage to Seattle, Rio's vet papers, and 150 pounds of smelly ski gear. My swagger was starting to work, and my story was starting to pan out. 

OH, he really is a skier and a mountaineer, and not a crook. That's almost commendable.

When the cops released me and Rio from the back of the car, they filled me in on who Darrel was. An ex-con, heroin addict with a record of stealing anything he could get his hands on, and sell them for drugs. They told me he would get me into the city, and steal everything I had, and my dog too, if he could. That's funny, because Darrel had been talking about going into Spokane together. I kept saying no, I'll stay on the highway and push-on to Idaho or Montana. But Darrel insisted we go into the city together…. Hmm?

As the cops drove me and Rio up to the highway, I thanked them for not arresting me. The female cop I was secretly in love with said, "best of luck, and you better know, we just saved you from having everything you own and your dog stollen." She was right, or at least I felt like she was right, and I couldn't get that song out of my head. 

"Feel her getting wet through her uniform..." RHCP

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Liven Pain

I run to be here, and here is beautiful.

"…some people say I'm heavy, they don't know what I hide." Ozzy Osbourne (old tunes)

Sprinting over rocks, and roots, I feel connected to the trail. The trail has been there for me lately, or better yet, I've been there more and more, on the trail, with running shoes, my thoughts, and the emotion.

Some days I can't hide it, and I run from the gut. I run the fear and madness away and tap into the sounds of the trail, or the music in my earphones. I don't feel right if I don't get out there on the trail and run. I take everything in my life that's difficult, and I leave it behind me in the dirt, sweat, and tears.

"If the world gets you down, don't be afraid to wrestle it." Birdy (new tunes)

Chris Bender is a Hulk, and he is my strength conditioning coach at Fuel Fitness. As a trainer he is unbelievable. Last month while training for my first trail race, The Old Gabe 50K, I pulled a muscle in my back at the bouldering gym.

My first thought was Hulk would take it easy on me. I'd show up for my weekly session, complain about being injured, and I get away with a light routine. Easy and done, right?

Well, I call him Hulk Bender for a reason. Sure he's the nicest guy in the gym and everyone knows him, and I feel cool just talking to him, but he's been a strength condition coach for more than twenty years, and is amazing at what he does.

The three weeks I dealt with a back injury were some of the best and hardest workouts I've done with Hulk. Outside he had me sprinting up and down the sidewalk, holding handles out in front of me like superman, attached to the heavy car tire I was dragging behind me.

Then I'm inside doing half-squats, where the bar is raised half way up. Hulk is always paying attention to my form, and asking me how I feel, and if everything is ok. Then we move up in weight, until I'm half-squating so much more weight than I've ever full-squated before. And all this with a very painful pulled muscle in my mid back. (Disclaimer: Don't try this at home. Use professional help.)

My back felt better each week, and each session with Hulk made a noticeable difference. As an athlete I know the importance of not letting an injury take over. Growing up as a soccer player, I played some of my best games injured, and felt ripped off if I walked away from a game without a battle wound.

In the fall of 2001 I met Rob Smets in Denver at Larry Lancaster's Rock and Roll Rodeo School. Rob was our bullfighting (or rodeo clown) instructor for the three day bruiser. To this day, I have yet to meet anyone as intimidating, and real, as Rob. He's like a Samurai Warrior in a Cowboy outfit. The way he spoke was direct, and when he called out your name to jump in there and save the fucking day, you did.

Rob scared me. When we first met, I don't think Rob liked my pony-tail, and told me if I was some college drop-out, looking for kicks, to tell some stories, then I'd better get lost and pack my bags, cause I'm just going to get someone hurt…... I liked Rob, and his Texas attitude. I told him I was an ice climber, and just moved from Alaska. Then I told him I'd grown up at Montana rodeos, watching the famous Flint Rasmussen, and this was something I wanted for myself, no one else.

By the end of the three days, Rob and I got along so well that when I got hooked and cartwheeled by a huge bull, he laughed so hard some of the parents commented. Then everyone saw the grin on my face and he said, "look, I've been cartwheeled in front of huge audiences who laugh." Then he pulled me aside and said, "if you want to make a living, and you break some ribs, you have to take shorter breaths, because you don't get paid by sitting down." He spoke from experience, and that was exactly what I came for. Thanks Rob, huge respect.

So on a whim, I entered the Old Gabe 50K. I'd been trail running for about three months, and I was quasi training for something. My life has changed dramatically, and well, I don't do small things. In fact, I didn't know about the race until about three weeks before the event…….. What the hell, right? I'd fallen in love with trail running, and pushing myself feels good - but my backed ached like crazy, and at times I couldn't tell if the pain was down in my hip, or up in my back. Sitting was painful, but running felt good, so I kept at it, and began focusing on the race and wanting to finish strong.

Two weeks before the race I went to Adam Burke @ Spring Integrative Health for a massage. At this point I thought I needed chiropractic help, because things weren't getting better, and the pain sucked.

Adam assured me it was a pulled muscle, nothing spinal. He noted my rotated hip, my dominate right side, and we talked about body work, and how the body aligns for each person. The session was painful and took time to recover from. Thanks Adam. Therapeutic massage is one of the best forms of body work you can do for yourself.

The Old Gabe 50K is one of the toughest 50K's in the country. There's four steep climbs that cover more than 11,000 vertical feet. The trail is rocky, and there is not a single flat section over the 31 mile course. I bonked on the final steep downhill, from pain in my quads, and finished the race in 17th place with a time of 8 hours, 32 minutes. And yeah, I loved it.

It was great to meet the other racers, and my hat goes off to all of you. A few honourable mentions to the overall winners, Peder Anderson, and Becky Wheeler who set a course record, and John Hallsten who placed 15th overall and first in the men's senior. Inspiration, respect, good game, high fives and butt slaps all around.

Chris Bender @ Fuel Fitness
Injured myself bouldering again this week. 
Intense hour long work out with torn stomach muscle.
I would never attempt this without a professional trainer.
Every week is a new routine. 
Side-stepping sumo squats w/ ankle strap.

Keeping a runner's log.

Life is emotional, so I try to write it down as I go, but mostly
it's a waste of time.

Ran to this lake last week on a whimsical day east of town.

Race Bib, and the Amazing Grass performance enhancer.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Flow or Die

Setting a pint of Coldsmoke in front of me right as I sit down, the bartender says, "This one's on the house, you look like you've had a hard day." Her voice is beautiful, and I savour the sound in my mind.

Apparently she had seen me coming for days.

I smile and say, "Thann…ks." It comes out slow. I'm trying to count the number of days I've just spent, battling with myself, my desires, and the elements.  I wanted to say, "27!", and blurt it out, like a survivor on TV.

But I never did. I was still in the zone, starring at my beer, totally spaced out and unable to ask a beautiful woman for her name.

Long exposure, or high doses, to flow states leave me stupid, and unable to make sentences in my head. It happens all the time on long expeditions, long days in the mountains, running, biking, climbing, skiing, etc...

Technically this is fine, because the brain is shutting down parts it doesn't need.

But sometimes it's embarrassing when I forget how to order off a menu, or why I'm standing in line, under bright lights, around people who smell nice.

But really, flow states are the most rewarding, addictive, and powerful experiences we can have. It's what I live for, and there are so many flow states to go through, so many transitions, lapses with time, and differences in power and effects.

A full force macro-flow state, where time might stop completely, and reaction and super human strength become required - these are often do or die moments. I've had them falling off a roof, surviving an avalanche, and being attacked by two english mastiffs.

In these experiences everything changed. Time changed, thought patterns changed, and the voice inside my head changed.

Make no mistake, finding flow is the most dangerous thing you can do.

When I fell off the roof I was 18 years old and working in Santa Cruz, Ca.  I knew I would be fine right away. I'd slipped on a piece of masking paper, and was speeding towards the edge of the building. Below the boss and the home owner were screaming, but my mind was calm. I was ready to take the plunge off the roof, there was no escaping it. I was backwards, with a giant paint bucket in my right hand, but knew if I could spin around, I'd land on my feet or my ass, and not on my head. There was no fear in my body, and I can remember thinking to myself, "would you please stop screaming down there, I'm the one falling off the building."

I landed on my feet, sort of, cracked my left wrist, and didn't spill any paint. The look on the land-lady's face - priceless.

The day I survived being swept in a deadly avalanche in Valdez, was another one of those experiences. It was like I knew how to survive, on a whole different level.

The Spring of 2000 was a dangerous year to be a skier in Valdez. In two short weeks there were so many avalanche burials and rescues it was hard to keep count. Twice, entire guided groups got swept, and many people, including guides, were seriously injured. Thankfully nobody died.

My friend Will and I had spent the night in a snow cave high on Mount Diamond, one of the tallest peaks in the area. Our reasoning for going up high during avalanche danger, was higher and steeper slopes were holding better snow, and most the avalanches were happening at lower elevations and lower angled slopes.

We planned to ski something big that day, maybe off the summit.  As we went higher, the danger became apparent and we turned around and were heading down. The slide happened on the final 2,000 foot slope, less than 30º degrees steep.

Will went first, and I waited. There was no safe spot to watch from so I just stood there and waited. When I did approach the edge and start down, I triggered a class 3 avalanche. It was two to three feet deep and propagated a hundred meters to my right, and more than three hundred meters to my left.

The last thing I saw before going into survival mode, was Will in a death-tuck, and the lighting bolt crack of the avalanche propagating towards him, like he had pissed off Zeus. It was real life James Bond. The avalanche cracked over a quarter mile, and Will out ran the lighting bolt by less than ten feet, pushing his skinny telemark skis to the max, and dashing into the safety of an adjacent slope and the comfort of a dense forrest, just in time...

My ride was different. I was in the avalanche, as it had cracked about ten feet behind me. At first it started moving slowly, and there was a moment where I thought I had options. Then I realized the size of the avalanche, and at the bottom of the slope was a deep ravine and a two hundred foot drop into a tight chasm. I had to get out, there was no surviving this ride.

Flow creates action with no hesitation. I can remember everything that happened and everything I did to get myself out of the avalanche, I just don't know how I did it. My mind spoke in the most comforting and soothing way. I was able to produce complete images, that operated like thoughts.

I knew how deep the slide layer was, and the amount of force I would need to puncture through with my ski poles. I knew to choke up on my poles, grab both poles with both hands, and blast downward into the snow,  and pierce the hard icy layer underneath. Then I had to hold on for dear life, as the slide washed over my head.

When my ski detached,  I calmly reached down with one hand and grabbed it. It was like super-cognition. Like I knew my ski was about to release, because there was no way I could have reacted that fast. No way, right?

Not without flow.

The day my neighbour's english mastiffs attacked me, time stopped completely. I was skiing down the road next to my cabin when the attack happened. At first all I could do was back up and swing my ski poles at the two dogs, and yell at them. But as the attack continued, two things happened - the dogs narrowed their distance and my fear grew like a giant balloon.

The last moment before my blood would have been spilt, time stopped. And I mean - it stopped completely. One hand was above my head holding onto the ski pole, the other hand stretched out in front of me with the other ski pole. The two dogs had me cornered, one was flanked low on my left side and the other was taking point, inches in front of my face with his mouth open and his teeth out.

When time stopped, I wasn't thinking about whether I'd see my family again, I was visualizing how to kill two big dogs with my bare hands. Then I took a pin and popped the balloon of fear inside me, made peace with the world, and prepared for battle.

When I hit the go button, and time resumed, I dropped both of my ski poles and went for the kill. It was awesome, because dogs smell fear, and because I'd lost mine, both dogs retreated, and found me chasing them into their yard, yelling at the owner behind his door,,,,,, "IF I EVER SEE THOSE DOGS AGAIN, THEY'RE DEAD!"

My neighbour was a notorious boxing promoter in Anchorage, a scumbag under most opinions, and probably watching the whole attack. I never did see those dogs again.

So how does flow work, and what is it? I've read a couple books about the subject that I would recommend to anyone. Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi  detailing the psychology of  flow, and The Rise Of Superman, by Steven Kotler, exploring the potential of human performance in flow.

What I will say, is flow comes from the heart. It is heart-wave medicine, and flow is the reason I consider myself an artist, and have survived more than two decades as a mountaineer. Thanks for reading, now I am off for a run so I can get a cheap runner's high, (or some micro-flow.)

Thompson Pass, Valdez, AK.

Mount Diamond, largest peak center of photo.

Below the north face of Mount Diamond.

DG's cabin @ 19mile.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

A Rolling Stone

I ask a lot of questions. Like how do you be an actual Rolling Stone? Is it possible? I've seen stones fall, and then start rolling. Maybe that's it. Maybe you have to fall?

Early in life, I knew what I wanted, and I had a list of places in North America where I would live. I was a skier, it was the start of the 90's, and I wanted to become a bad-ass mountaineer.

I fell in love with mountaineering by reading Greg Childs' book Thin Air, along with a number of other books. Climbing mountains captivated me in a way nothing else did. The books were covered with words I barely understood and photographs I longed to be in. There was something special about the sport of mountaineering that I identified with. Maybe it was the stark nature of it. The black and white, do or die shit, with no posturing. Just the ability to tell the truth.

When I met Lynn Hill in the Buttermilks, in 2002, the experience changed my life. I'd never met anybody like that before, had never seen muscle tone like that before, and I had never seen anybody bow and greet their friends like a warrior.

I had left Valdez, AK and was moving to Joshua Tree, CA for the winter. One of my best friends convinced me to come down to the desert, and take a winter off from skiing. At first the idea of not skiing for the winter was preposterous. Skiing was how I identified myself as a person, and there was no way I was going to take an entire winter off.

Well,,,, something was telling me it was time. For almost a decade I had skied a hundred plus days each season in Jackson, Girdwood, or Valdez. I was at the peak of my game in 2001, throwing down (heli-free) first descents in Valdez, and living right on the best ski highway in the world. Why move to the desert, and live with a bunch of rock climbers?

Well,,,, this might sound weird, but skiing wasn't doing it for me anymore. American skiers wanted to go heli-skiing, and I wanted to be a mountaineer, in line with the history of mountaineering I knew from the books I read. There was no skiing literature, and ski-mountaineering had not become an accepted art-form in North America yet. I needed something more - a new arena to play in, real heroes, and a fresh twist on living with meaning.

The day before I met Lynn, I was sitting in the boulder field with a group of people, and turned just in time to see the silhouette of a woman standing on a boulder. Immediately, and without thinking, I knew who it was, even though she was far away. Startled and in awe, I didn't know what to do, and didn't say anything to anybody. It seemed powerful, to have such an instantaneous realization.

The next day Lynn walked up while I was at the Iron Man Traverse. There were only a couple of us there, we exchanged pleasantries, and climbed together. I can't say how, or what, because I was flailing at the boulder problem, but Lynn noticed something in me, and mentioned it to her friend. I wanted to cry and thank Lynn, because I felt lost without skiing in my life at the time, and I was having identity issues.

Lynn is considered one of the best climbers ever, male or female. She told me she spent an entire summer climbing in Yosemite on $50. I'd read her book, and knew the legacy of Yosemite climbing. I was a dirtbag myself, and honour what it takes to be a renegade in the sport you love. Thank you Lynn. Our brief encounter has guided me in ways I can not repay.

That winter in J-Tree I forgot about skiing for minutes, hours, and even days at a time. I was living in a tent in the national park, climbing everyday, and working at Crossroads Cafe in town. I had hitch-hiked to California, and had no plan for the future, or for skiing. I started dating a hot climber chick named Sue Cramm, and thought I might follow her to the Tetons in the spring.

I didn't know it then, but one chapter in my life was over, and a new one was beginning. My days of just being a ski bum were numbered, and I was about to go on my first "human-powered" expedition. Looking back, it seems so perfect, but during those months in J-Tree I was a wreck. When I did think about skiing, it was with a deep sense of loss. I felt like I had lost a close friend, and I wanted to go back to the way things were, but knew it was impossible.

I feel stuck in a similar place these days not being on a bicycle. Like I've lost another friend, and I can't go back to the way things were. I rode a bicycle to go on skiing, rock-climbing, and mountaineering expeditions for eight years before using the tag line "human-powered." Then I chased sponsors for another five years, becoming obsessed with being a professional. Frankly, I don't know what's easier - chasing sponsors, or painting houses, and working in cafes?

I do know it's all worth it. The constant moving, chasing dreams, and falling from grace.

It's ok to lose your identity every ten or fifteen years, as long as you move on, and keep listening to the stones.

Came across this amazing spring, complete with serving cup.

Revisiting old haunts.

Bought a motorcycle. 
Justin Short, ultra runner and counselor at Spring Integrative Health.

To do what I do as an athlete and an artist, I have a network of doctors, counsellors, therapists, and trainers as a support team. It's no secret about my crazy childhood, drug addiction, friends dyeing, depression, rage, and all the pressure that goes with wanting to be the best.

I don't know what this next chapter in life will be. So for now I have picked up trail running, and I love it. I feel young again, like a weight has been lifted off of me, and in fact I have no desire to carry, haul, drag, or pull a heavy pack around for awhile. Cheers,

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Kiss the Artist

Posing with Bugaboo Spire in the background, 2011.

I was forced to consider quitting recently. No shit, and pardon my French. It seems I have reached the end and a new beginning. I have not ridden a bicycle in months and don't know what the future of cycling will be for me.

Over-use, injuries, obsessions,,,, it all snuck up on me at once. To spare the gory details, and my personal drama, I can't sit on a bike seat and peddle a bicycle without getting painful, bloody, and pussy saddle sores. Hope that was gory enough, and I have consulted my doctors.

I've ridden a bicycle as my main source of transportation for decades (in Montana!),,,,,, I train as an athlete on a bicycle,,,,,, and,,,,,, I go on exodus on a bicycle, for months and years at a time on quasi ski and climbing expeditions to the most bad ass stuff in the US and Canada…..!  (anyways) Something had to give. Something had to break. It was to much, and I have reached the end of this period in my life.

Needless to say, dyeing sucks, and this year, I huge part of me died. I questioned myself, I questioned my future as an athlete, and as a human-powered mountaineer. Was it all in vain? It's not like I made a finical killing and can walk away fat and happy. I set out to make my world a more meaningful place by becoming human-powered, and maybe take a few other people with me. Now that chapter in my life is over, and I have to find a way to put meaning in my life again.

I spent months hating myself, hating my blog, and the name human-powered. I'd lost touch with myself, I had become obsessed. The cause I was fighting for betrayed me. I'd been fighting the good fight for so long I'd lost sight of what I was doing. Friends laughed at me, and quizzed me on how much I make. I couldn't handle it. I wanted to escape. I wanted to punch my friends in the face as they laughed at me. And mostly,,,, I wanted to go climb on some rocks, be in the mountains, and get my passion back.

I'm a professional I say, an artist. And if you ask me, you take the first dollar you make at what you love, and you nail that fucker on the wall, call it a career, and never look back. Riding a bicycle to the Bugaboos in 2011, and climbing the NE Ridge of Bugaboo Spire, and 13 other routes, (without a rope) was my form of artistic expression. Did I make much money yet? Why do I feel judged by the amount of money I make, and not my accomplishments?

Big deal right? It's not about the money. But we all know it's the one reason most artists quit, and the rest never try. It's called money.

"Big deal bro, you got pro-deals and free gear. Right???….. "

Yeah, but it gets harder every year. There's more competition. More spoiled college students at REI that can get a "pro-deal" from patagonia, and then posture up next to me like they got balls.

Then we act like posers on facebook. Some of the pros are the biggest posers, and the industry is pushing for pop culture heroes. We have image with no substance, and a ton of fluff to mask our real feelings. We act like heroes, but we are not heroes unless we are fighting for someone or something else.

The world is changing, some of it for the good and some of it for the worse, but the construct for success is the same. We can only change what we deem as success. Believe in yourself, kiss your inner artist, and remember, respect is sexy.

ps. Don't worry, I will ride a bicycle again. There's no rehab for people like me, only the fear of mediocrity.

Mount Moran posing behind Jackson Lake, Tetons 2002.
Posing with my lucky button, Rainier 2004.

The Poser, Yosemite 2006. 
Schlepp posing infront of Mount Robson, Canadian Rockies 2009.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

The Ride Home

Week four of the Fat-Bike Ski-Mo Sufferfest. My hands and feet ached constantly, along with the screaming saddle sore on my taint.  This is a sufferfest, and we suffer until it's fun, or we suffer the whole way home.

In the land of wolves.
Riding through Yellowstone on the return ride was 5º with a -15º windchill. Once again the wind was in my face, serving me an ice-cream headache between the sunglasses and helmet.

I had 50+ miles to ride to get through Yellowstone Park. Camping anywhere besides Mammoth would be illegal, and I had been warned by the rangers before.

Pushing hard across a wild and beautiful landscape, it felt raw and primal to be cycling past bison, elk, and a pack of six wolves. I saw eagles, bighorn sheep, foxes, moose, ducks, geese, coyotes, muskrats, beaver, hawks, herons, ermine, mice, squirrels, ravens, a few birds I didn't identify, rabbits, deer,and mountain goats. Then I howled at the wind. I love this place.

The ride home is when I let go, and truly savour the experience.

In the winter, the cold bonds all life in the wild together. It is the time of death, and the hunter Orion is highest in the night sky.

At the end of the day's ride, with the moon overhead, and the temperature dropping again below zero, I stripped naked, and soaked in the hot springs. My mind wanted to explode as I took in the night sky. Was this my reward? I drifted off, and imagined myself becoming part of the landscape. A man, wild in nature again.

Days later, I got my ass kicked, riding 14 miles up Bozeman pass from Livingston. Yeah, it's not a steep pass, but it's long, and the wind is in your face almost every time.

How many times have I done this ride with ski gear? Six, seven, eight? I've lost count, and think how absurd it is I'm riding a five inch wide tire fat bike. Getting slower, not faster.

Haven't I learned anything? Maybe I should buy a mo-ped, move to the beach, and pick up surfing!

The Black Keys keep rocking on the earphones, but I log a slow pace. I'm fighting the wind to stay upright, and cursing to make sure it's not a one sided battle.

"Is that all you got, you fucker?"

There's no shame. I'm sure of that. The wind doesn't care, and will take you down if you let it.

Mind numbing fight with the elements. 

After three hours, I'm still miles from the top. I scream. This is the way home, and I'm not stopping. I must look like a mad man with tourette's, screaming profanities at nothing.

Doesn't matter, because there's nobody around. It's lonely on the bike. Days on end of sitting in the saddle, growing weaker, getting mad at the wind and the traffic, pushing ahead, wondering how far till water, or camp, and always thinking about food.

It's a miserable way to taste freedom. But keeps me coming back.

Making it over Bozeman Pass on the frontage road, I chose to ride the long way home on the state highway, over Jackson Creek, and down to Bridger Canyon. This added another four miles of hill climbing, and all with a mind-numbing headwind.

Making over the last big hill. I screamed, "Yee-haw!" The Bridger Mountains shown bright in the afternoon sun. I felt comforted by the familiar sight. I was close to home.

The big tires lumbered down the pass, bouncing like a large tracker gaining speed. My taint screamed louder, as I tried to find a comfortable place to sit in the saddle.

Why am I doing this? I don't enjoy pain, and I'm not impervious to the cold.

Is it the adventure? The need to feel alive? The struggle? The unknown? I surely don't know, beyond the abstract sense of that which guides me, I'm an addict. Addicted to flow.

Catching a tailwind into Livingston.

Another cold morning for a bike ride.

 Feeling the flow. 

Elk crossing.

Ice on the Yellowstone River.

Riding with a full moon.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

The Kin Ring Face

The Kin Ring Face, Yellowstone.

Week number two of the Fat-Bike Ski-Mo Sufferfest, and camping conditions take a dive.  -25º Fahrenheit is a brutal temp to be outside camping, and anyone who wasn't ready, went home.

The daytime temperatures hover at -5º,  a cool operating temp for climbing, and skinning through the forrest, but the wind on the ridge tops and the summits, caused gloves to freeze solid, cameras to quite automatically, boots to get stuck in walk mode, and snot to freeze sideways.

I still don't have feeling in the tips of my toes. While at the same time, my face is sunburned and chapped, all the way inside my nose. Feels like fried-icecream.

Week number two I moved camp and joined the scene in the dump. I had my bike locked up in a friends cabin, and was glad to be off the saddle, and closer to town for a while.

One of the most difficult parts of my trip, was carrying a bike and heavy packs through the snow, multiple times, in and out of camp, away from the highway, out of sight. I also love being in the forrest, and deeply value my time there. (Thank you camp-site.)

Some nights were humid, and -7º, freezing everything in my tent together like a pancake. Painful cracks running across my fingers got superglued shut. If it was clear out, it was guaranteed to be below zero at night, even though the forecast never predicted such cold temperatures.

Growing up in Montana, I know Yellowstone can be the coldest, most brutal place in winter. When I'm camping for weeks or months at a time, I don't pay attention to forecasts, because I've learned to pay attention to the weather, it's patterns, and being spontaneous.

With help from friends, and great snow conditions, I skied off three major peaks right out of town; Republic, Abiathar, and Wall. And, I opened up a potential new line on the far side of Amphitheatre.

My second day out, skiing alone below a formation called The Submarine, the left boot froze in walk mode, and a buckle snapped. From then on, I became known as Bootstrap Bangs to my friends. In part to do with the novel of pirates and slave ships I was reading, but also because I had a ski strap cinched down to replace the broken buckle. I skied that way for the next three weeks.

Sitting in the bar one night, I kept looking at pictures of Amphitheatre and the face hiding on the far side of the mountain. Ben, from Beartooth Powder Guides, had pointed it out to me, and I took the photo when we were standing on the summit of Republic together, after chasing his ski-mo friend Tim to the top.

"Never been skied. Not that I know of. You could name it the Bangs Face." Ben said.

Name it or not. I wanted to ski it. And at the same time, she was the best looking thing in the bar.

The face looks like a giant stingray, airborne, flying straight out of the water. I saw steep snow, ice, and rock bands. And I started feeling the initial impulse of the flow state, well up in the back of my spine.

Earlier in the week I skied the east face of Abiathar. Same aspect, similar face, but not as steep. It had snowed twice since then, but only about 3-6 inches at a time, and everything was still bonding very well.

Conditions were right. "Time to sack up Bootstrap."

Nate joined me on the tour out to the far side Amphitheatre for an attempt on the face. Not carrying crampons or an ice axe, Nate wanted nothing to so with climbing the flying stingray, and offered back-up for the day.

It was one of those days where you never know what's going to happen. We walked around the wrong direction on the approach. Stopped to warm Nate's feet for half an hour. And almost vomited butterflies, as if I'd had them for breakfast.

It was a good day. We pressed on. The temp was -5º, and I brought over-pants, hot soup, and toe warmers, so Nate could stand around and take pictures.

Looking up at the top of the face, the snow was stable and almost perfect, only a little wind.

Reaching the face, I scrambled up quickly, excited to be swinging my ice axe overhead into solid ice. On less steep climbs, ice doesn't exist, or it's buried by snow. But on steeper routes, there's ice, and the secure feeling of kicking and swinging the ice axe and crampons into the frozen mountain.

As I neared the top of the face, where the angle is steepest, I continued to gage and read the snow. Was it forming layers, or loading near the edge of the saddle? I climbed higher and looked down between my legs a thousand feet. If the route were to slide, this would be the place.

Skiing into the wave on the face, looked like a tranquil moon, but where it rolled over, and I rolled into it, everything around me started sliding at free fall speeds. As the snow moved faster, I peeled across the face right to left, skiing hard and fast to out-run what I could.

"Stay in control Bootstrap. No mistakes." I told myself.

Half way down the face, my sluff passed me like a runaway freight train. Surreal, angry, and loud. It wanted to be a real avalanche and chased its self like horses trampling each other, gaining volume, searching for me.

As it exploded off the lower cliff band in a cascading visual, I thought about Nate. He's far enough away isn't he? We both knew this thing was coming down, but when you see it for the first time, it's like, "holy shit, dude! Get back."

After I got down, Nate said, "holy shit", and "Bet you're glad…" a dozen times.
"Bet you're glad you didn't ride that one." "Bet you're glad to be alive." "Bet you're glad to be,,, holy shit dude, that was awesome."

Thinking about it, I would like to name it the Kin Ring Face. Named after Kin Ring Sackett, the man in the novel I was reading during my expedition. But first I need to realize this isn't my mountain. Others may have been here before, possibly making this the first recorded descent.

Either way, a face this pretty needs a name. A warrior's name, and something to be remembered by.

The Kin Ring Face, on the climb.

Avalanche on the face.

View of Amphitheater, and the Kin Ring Face, left of center.

Nate on the long tour to the far side of the mountain.

Starting the climb.

Nearing the top of the climb.

Camp life.

Sunny, sunburnt, cold and frost-nipped.
The warm up run. East face Abiathar.

Racing snow down the mountain.

Stoked, and comin' in hot.

Looks steep. Got crampons?

Editors Note:
Ski-mo, is short for ski-mountaineering, and is a popular term amongst people who race up and down mountains in ski gear, or spandex.
It's a growing sport, where the boots cost $5,000, and the spandex is not free.