A Year in Review

Forward:

With the end of another year, it’s time to review my life.

I have written very little of my life and adventures. While I document my journeys in handwritten journals (and thousands of photos!), my writing has always been personal and selfish. I first began adventuring because I was lost in life. I had no direction. I suffered from severe anxiety and deep depression. Traveling changed everything and, slowly, I was able to heal. I built confidence and self-esteem along the way. I even found direction for my life creating a lifestyle around adventure travel. Now, finally, I feel comfortable writing publicly about my wanderings. Expect a lot more from me this year.

The following is a “brief” recap of a long, crazy year ending with my 2018 plans.

Baja Divide:

January 2 – March 4

December 30th: It is 11:35pm at the train station in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. I am standing beside a giant box persuading a woman behind the glass to let my bike on the train. I am five minutes late for checked luggage. They want to ship it tomorrow.

“Please! I’ll put it on the train myself! I need it with me because I will spend the next two months living off of it as I ride to the bottom of Baja.”

My story and plea work. The very strict woman allows me to check my bike. I spend the next three nights sleeping on the train as we slowly rumble across the country. I have a layover in Chicago where I visit a friend from the Appalachian Trail. I make friends on the train sharing drinks in the lounge car.

January 2nd: I arrive in San Diego and assemble my bike. I missed the group depart. Earlier tickets were more expensive. I am broke having spent nearly eight months hiking the Appalachian Trail in 2016. I had a month between adventures to work side jobs and, barely, pay for the trip.

I ride into the dark meeting one hundred other riders at Barrett Junction, Ca. There is food and beer and camping behind the building. I am exhausted after the train ride and the days exertion. I stuff my face, setup my tent, and pass out after a little mingling.

In the morning, we ride to the Tecate border and enter Mexico. I spend the next two months climbing mountains, riding beaches, exploring old Missions, and sleeping beneath billions of stars. I eat my fair share of tacos, too.

Light painting on the Baja Divide.
A self-portrait on the beach near La Paz
Riding along the beach, we pass the skeleton of a dead dolphin. Ryan is a wildlife biologist and knows such things.
Watching the sun set at camp on the Pacific side. Whales enter this bay to birth. We can hear them breathe.
Cowboy camping on the beach along the Sea of Cortez
I met these two hippies while riding down the beach. They invited me to stay. We ate dinner together and they took me Kayaking
Venus to the left, Milkyway to the right at one of our group camps in the desert
The MilkyWay over a turtle research facility in Bahia de los Angeles
Sunrise over the Sea of Cortez

Hitchhiking & Death Valley:

March 5 – March 22

March 4th: I am in a hostel in La Paz, BCS., Mexico. I am sitting in the common area with fellow riders. I mention that I may hitch up the peninsula instead of fly. A guy overhears. He says he is headed to Las Vegas and Death Valley and that I am welcome to ride along. The next day, my bike is the back of a minivan, with a kayak strapped to the roof, and I’m in the passenger seat flying up the Mex 1 highway.

We take our time stopping to feast on our last tacos. We camp taking time to seek beautiful sites. We fix a flat tire. And we are detained at the border. Mikko and I cross the border once without problem. We are in the United States. But then, he realizes he forgot to pick up his deposit on the car (required to take a vehicle into Mexico). We drive back across the border, pick up his money, and attempt to cross again.

This time, border patrol flags us. A man places a card on the windshield and we are told to pull into secondary inspection. We are removed from the vehicle and separated. Are belongings are removed. Dogs climb into the car. Customs officers interogate me. They ask the same questions over and over in a period of many hours. Are there drugs in the vehicle? How do you know this man? What were you doing in Mexico? They tell me the vehicle is “flagged” (attempt to scare me). If we find drugs, you will be charged just the same as your friend. Hitchhiking is illegal and dangerous. Don’t do it. Just when I think my life is over, I am brought into another holding area to wait with Mikko. Our stuff is put back in the van — minus fruits, vegetables, and eggs — and we are free to go. It’s late now, well after dark. We drive into a State Park and sleep.

We continue North riding historic Rt. 66. We spend a night wondering the streets and casinos of Vegas. We drive into Death Valley to explore and recover. We follow a jeep road six miles back and camp for the night. In the morning, as we are driving back to pavement, Mikko asks, “What does this light mean?” I look at the dash. Check gauges. “You have no oil pressure. Stop!” I crawl under the van and find the problem. There is a fist-sized hole in the oil pan. We are towed by a 4×4 to a service station, the only one around. The mechanic starts the van, “hear that sound? The motor is blown.” Mikko leaves the vehicle with the mechanic and hitches to the airport. I ride out of Death Valley, at least I try to.

I’m on jeep roads attempting to traverse the Panamint Range. I am close to the divide when my rear derrailluer is sucked into the wheel. I set it up single speed and ride back to a man camping who I passed earlier in the day. We share stories over beer. In the morning, we strap my bike to his camper and he takes me to the highway. Hitching is unsuccessful, I am frustrated after less than an hour. So, I decide to ride my derelict bike to the train station instead. I avoid the highway and ride through the desert and salt flats. My bike breaks further forcing me to the highway. I am driven to Barstow, Ca by a California Highway Patrol Officer where I board the train to Pittsburgh.

Roadside camp heading north up Baja
Mikko and I in Death Valley the night before the van dies.
Pushing my broken bike through sinking salt flats late into the night
Another view and one of my favorite photos to date.

Work, Training, and Trail Days:

March 22 – July 3

It is almost April and I am in Pittsburgh staying with family. I find a job cutting grass only a few miles away. I commute to work on my bike (I sold my car in 2013 when I decided to travel, almost, full-time) and work 6-7 long days every week.

After work, I ride to the gym where I lift heavy. I focus on compound movements and the major muscles — squats, deadlifts, bench press, rows. I work on muscle imbalances performing movements with one dumbbell and switching sides. And I stretch. I set personal records reaching 355lbs for two reps in deadlift and 225lbs in my Squat.

Everyday I am absolutely exhausted. It’s all anyone hears from me, “I’m SOO tired!” or “I’m starving!” It’s impossible to eat enough with this workload and I allowed little time for recovery. I missed a day or two of work because I couldn’t get out of bed.

May 18th: I take a mini vacation borrowing a car and driving to Damascus, Virginia for Trail Days (Appalachian Trail festival and celebration). I spend two nights camping and partying with old friends. I get soaked in the hiker parade (downpour more than the super soakers) which ruins my camera.

Time with family
Riding lawn mowers
Soaked with friends from the Appalachian Trail at Trail Days

Pacific Crest Trail SouthBound:

July 3 – August 22

July 3rd: I am on another train heading west. I arrive in Seattle and stay with a friend from the Appalachian Trail who is also hiking PCT SOBO (southbound) this year. We explore the city and prepare for our hike. We shop at Costco and mail resupply boxes for the next few weeks. I play with my new camera lens.

July 12th: I am standing in the border clear-cut (USA and Canada) before the monument demarking the Northern Terminus of the Pacific Crest Trail. Two days ago, we were dropped off at Ross Lake where we caught a ferry to the Devils Dome trailhead. We hiked over Devils Dome to the PCT and then north to the border. I will camp here for the night — waiting on proper light for a portrait of course!

I spend the next month-and-a-half hiking through some of the most beautiful lands I’ve ever experienced: North Cascades National Park and the Pasayten Wilderness; Glacier Peak Wilderness; Alpine Lakes Wilderness; Mount Rainier National Park; Goat Rocks Wilderness; Mount Adams Wilderness. I make many new friends. And I capture some beautiful photos.

Unfortunately, I do not finish the trail as intended. I am carrying 8lbs of photography equipment including a tripod. I stop to take A LOT of photos. I take my my time soaking in the beauty of these places and enjoying the moments with my companions.

When I reach Cascade Locks and the Oregon border, I am slightly behind schedule. To finish, I decide to lighten my load mailing my tripod and extra lens home. However, much of Oregon and Northern California is on fire. To continue I must skip hundreds of miles of trail including some of the best areas of the state: Mount Hood, Mount Jefferson, Three Sisters, and Crater Lake. Fortunetely, another option comes along.

Self-portrait at the Canada border. I slept here waiting till morning for the perfect light
View in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness
Goat Rocks Wilderness
A typical camp
Sunset reflected in a lake
Camping beneath all those stars
And swimming in glacial lakes

Kings Canyon High Basin Route:

August 22 – September 11

August 21st: I am in Cascade Locks enjoying PCT Days, a festival celebrating the trail, when I receive a message from a hiker asking if I want to hike an off-trail route, the KCHBR, through the California Sierra’s. I google the route and decide, “Yes! I am in.” I drive her van, conveniently in Portland, to Bishop, California. I input the waypoints into Gaia, quickly study the guide, buy eight days of food, and start the route the next day. We scramble over talus and scree through 12,000 foot passes for the next sixteen days. The route is challenging and stunningly beautiful. I have the time of my life.

Victory photo as we finish the route late at night
Mountains everywhere and no trail in sight
Idyllic campsites at 12,000ft
Gnarly climbs up and through high mountain passes
And long descents into valleys and basins
With plenty of rainbows during afternoon showers

Mount Whitney:

September 11 – 12

September 11th: I take a shuttle to Lone Pine meeting my PCT friends, Emperor Thomas and Mystery Man, to hike Mount Whitney. We spend the morning waiting in the ranger station for a permit. Then, after dinner, we are shuttled up Whitney Portal to the campground. It is storming and we hunker down for a few hours sleep. We wake early and begin the climb before sunrise. It is beautiful. We watch as the sun’s first rays paint Whitney then work their way to us. More storms are forecast. We are behind schedule. Mystery Man turned around with Skylar who was suffering in the thin air. Thomas turns before the summit worried about the weather. I run to the top and meet them further down the mountain just before the storms begin.

Celebrating on the summit of Mount Whitney, the highest peak in the lower 48 at 14,505 feet

Working on a Farm:

October – December 5

Carrot, my friend from the KCHBR, meets us at Whitney Portal. We shuttle Mystery Man, Thomas, and Skylar to a hotel. I shower then set off with her bound for Oregon. We bum around Ashland waiting on work to begin. We run, we hike, we climb things (South Sister and Table Rock). I attempt a section of the PCT, but am forced, by snow and freezing temperatures, to call it a season. I lacked the proper gear — shoes, warm clothes, an insulated pad, and four-sided shelter — and I am out of money. Work begins in the last days of September. I spend the next two months living in a yurt on the farm without cell service or wifi. I work my ass off averaging twelve hour days with many fifteens. I take one or two days off. I nearly loose my mind.

The Summit of South Sister
Friends heading down from the summit
South Sister at night in the light of the full moon

San Francisco:

December 5 – December 15

I leave the farm behind taking an overnight train to San Francisco to spend ten days relaxing and hanging out with Emperor Thomas who I met on PCT. We celebrate the annual Santa Con partying with a bunch of crazy Santa’s. I test a new camera lens on a friend in the sand beneath the Golden Gate Bridge. I attend her yoga classes and I wander the city. Thomas and I contemplate life over many breakfasts and dinners. We both hate small talk preferring to go deep examining our lives, motivations, and dreams.

Sunset on Lands End in San Francisco.
Portrait with a friend after a yoga shoot on the beach.
A photo from the shoot
San Francisco at night from Twin Peaks
Santa Con is an annual event in major cities around the world where thousands of Santa’s parade and party

Christmas and New Years:

December 15 – Now

I board yet another train for my fifth cross-country trip. I arrive in Pittsburgh after three long days and walk to my families house to spend the holidays. I am here now training and planning for my next adventure: a photographic journey beginning in the American Southwest and ending in Prudhoe Bay, Alaska where I’ll celebrate beneath the Northern Lights.

Union station in Colorado
How I slept on the train. I will also lie on the floor of the viewing car between the seats and window.
On a short layover in Chicago, I went for deep dish pizza. I ate the leftovers on the train making everyone jealous.
I arrived in Pittsburgh early in the morning. Stir-crazed after three days sitting, I walked to Mount Washington in Pittsburgh and watched a cloudy sunrise.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *