Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Desert Day Dreams

Most times when I close my eyes I see things... Moving pictures of people and places, some real, and some imagined... And sometimes my eyes will be seeing one thing, but my mind is seeing something else entirely. There are some places that call out to the creative mind, like the sirens did to Odysseus and his crew, and your drawn by this irresistible force that lifts the soul and compels the imagination... One such place for me is the American southwest.

Before I ever visited the southwest I had this idea in my head that it was some ugly kind of barren inhospitable wasteland. I remember when all the Higgins sisters moved to Arizona, I would ask them, “why in the hell would you want to live in the desert?” But I soon discovered that the desert has a kind of majestic beauty all its own. There is a stretch of I-10 that runs from southern California through Arizona and New Mexico into Texas that is absolutely breathtaking. Yes, much of it is desert, filled with cacti and sage brush, but the great thing about it is that it's very sparsely populated in between the major metropolitan areas. You can drive for dozens of miles on some stretches and not see a single man made structure....

It is during such stretches of road that I look out onto the desert plane, and I see a war party of Apaches galloping across the desert, brandishing rifles and spears, with arms raised in the air shouting in triumph the cry of victory... Or I see a band of outlaws racing across the plane, pushing their horses to the limit, looking nervously over their shoulders for the posse of lawmen on their trail... It is easy for me to see such things... But doing 75 down the highway hauling a 24' trailer probably isn't the best time.

But what really gives the southwest it's beauty is the mountains, hills, and rock formations that punctuate the planes. And if you look out into the desert at sunset the landscape transforms into a collage of reds and browns as if it is at this moment that the desert truly comes alive, and you can't easily turn away because you become mesmerized with its beauty... I was working outside of Phoenix during one such sunset, and I felt compelled to write down what I saw. I sat for an hour watching the world transform and describing it on paper, because I felt that others might want to know what I knew in that moment.

...And before I know its happening I see myself leaning against an old wood fence built from logs and stripped of bark. The fence is part of the corral that Ive built with my own hands, and in this corral is the horses that me and my sons use to drive the herd across the desert. I lean against this fence, and look out at the sunset and the metamorphosis that it creates on the land. My eye are squinted, not because the sun is in them, but because I live in this land and that is just the way it is. My sons are finishing up with the days work and my wife stands on the porch of our home watching me watch the sunset... And we all love each other.

Back to reality...

I spent a lot of quality time with my cousin Jesse in California, and one place we visited was the famous Venice Beach. We spent the day walking down the beach, poking in and out of shops, and laughing at the weirdos. It was generally a fun time, but what made it amazing is what happened when the sun started to go down. We just walked out of some “Museum of Oddities” where we saw a three headed turtle, the chuppacabra, and a bunch of other weird stuff, when we heard the drums. We used our ears and followed the drumming to a group of people gathered together on this small hill on the beach. What we found was a drum circle. Perhaps 3 dozen people had coalesced around a circle of maybe 10 performers who were pounding away at a variety of different kinds of drums and instruments. As we stood there, more and more people were showing up, and this mixed feeling of joy and peace and wonderment crept over me. I mean, I know it sounds corny, but it was one of the most magical experiences of my life. People were playing and dancing and kissing and holding each other, and smoking pot and drinking and it was as if none of them had a care in the world. When I looked around I realized that the music was just bringing all these people together, because the cast of characters on that hill were from both ends of the spectrum. Locals, tourists, homeless, wealthy, black, white, native, Asian, men and women of all shapes and sizes were just having fun together, and most of them were complete strangers. And in the background was the pacific ocean looking beautiful under the setting sun which cast this golden light over the entire party...

...And when I looked across the circle I saw a man with a beat up six string. He sat cross legged in the sand strumming an old Johnny Cash tune that I couldn't place, with a Marlboro hanging from his lips. He had a thick beard, and on his head was an old mesh trucker hat that read “I yam what I yam”... And as he played he stared into a small fire that was built in the center of the circle. The light reflected off his eyes, and in them, between wafts of cigarette smoke, I could see a man who was searching for something. I could see a man who longed for something. What he was looking for I could only guess, and as I stood there and wondered, I realized that the song he was playing was “Highwayman”, and when it was over he flicked his Marlboro into the fire... When the smoke cleared, and the fire shone on is face, I discovered that the man I was watching, was me....

Friday, January 27, 2012

Don't Feed the Deer

Yeah I know deer are so cute and cuddly, but they aren't always that way. In fact if you've ever had one make themselves at home in your camp, shoving their nose into your tent or rummaging through your gear, they can be downright scary. I know it sounds silly, but hear me out. Even a doe can weigh well over a hundred pounds, and when they aren't afraid to just walk right up to you and start sniffing around it can make your heart beat a little faster, and I'm pretty sure a large deer, male or female, can kick the crap out of a human being.

Two summers ago I was camped on this lake shore in Montana and this big white tail doe did just that. She strolled confidently right into our camp and started poking her nose into everything. At first it was like a novelty. I got out the camera and started taking pictures. It was a beautiful animal to be sure. The problem was she wasn't afraid of humans at all. She walked right up to us as if we were just one of the herd.  Eventually we grew irritated and tried to drive her off, but she wouldn't budge. She looked at us like she couldn't care less that we didn't want her around. This went on for about an hour, and finally we had to resort to throwing rocks and sticks at her. I know that sounds mean, but a large animal waking you up in the middle of the night sniffing around your tent can be terrifying, especially in Grizzly country. 

She thought she was going to find an easy meal in our camp, but it didn't happen.

The point is, don't feed the deer, or any wild animals. It's not natural and it's not right. You know that saying, "A fed bear is a dead bear", well it can be true for deer as well. When wild animals lose their fear of humans, and begin to associate them with food, they can become unpredictable and aggressive, and that's when we people get killed.

Friday, January 13, 2012


The coolest thing about hiking on the Olympic coast is the landscape. One minute you're trying to keep your balance on algae covered rock or slippery coral, and the next your trudging through sand. The landscape is so diverse, and so unique, sometimes you feel like you're on the moon, or some other planet.

Olympic National Park
Love the green in this shot. You are guaranteed to roll your ankle walking through this.

Olympic National Park
The best shots to take on the coast are at low tide. This is one of my favs but I can't decide if I like  it in color...

Olympic National Park
...or black and white. What do you think?

Olympic National Park
My good friend Steve. We were always racing the tide.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Gear Review: REI Quarter Dome T2 Tent

Originally submitted at REI
The REI Quarter Dome T2 is freestanding tent that pioneers an innovative architecture to keep weight low, ensure high interior volume and bolster strength and stability.

Stargazers paradise
By writeronthestorm from Spokane, WA on 1/12/2012
5out of 5
Pros: Sturdy, Comfortable, Fly Works Well, Waterproof, Easy To Setup, Lightweight
Best Uses: Beach, Backpacking, Car Camping
Describe Yourself: Avid Adventurer
What Is Your Gear Style: Minimalist
Was this a gift?: No
Out of all the hiking/backpacking gear I've purchased over the years, I'm compelled to say that the Quarter Dome 2 is at the top. Put it this way, it's the only two man tent I've ever purchased. I've gone through a couple solos, and every year in the off-season I'm upgrading my equipment. Thankfully the Quarter Dome 2 is one piece of gear I never have to worry about.

For starters I love the pole design, which allows the front and back to actually have 90 degree vertical walls instead of tapering in at the top like the vast majority of tents. It's so simple to set up too. One person can pitch it in the dark in a couple minutes, and that's because the poles are all connected in one unit.

I've had this tent for about 3 years and I've never had any problem with leaks or wind bouncing it around. Even on the coast where it rained for four days straight there was absolutely zero leakage in the fly or the floor.

I love the fact that the inner wall is all mesh. Not only does it nullify any condensation issues, it also allows for quick drying in case it got wet. The tent is very breathable, which is great for odors especially when a couple grown men are crammed in there after a long day on the trail. Which brings me to my absolute favorite thing about this tent: leaving the rain-fly off and sleeping under the stars on those clear summer nights. It feels like you're outside. And when the mosquitoes are swarming your tent like the London blitz, it's nice to know that you can enjoy the sights and sounds of the wilderness and still be protected. I keep the rain-fly off whenever humanly possible.

As you can tell by now, I love this tent. Sure it takes up some room in your pack, but I've never heard of a freestanding tent that doesn't. At least the Quarter Dome 2 is fairly light. As long as you're using it as a 2-man you're looking at less than 2 pounds apiece, and that's not bad at all for a freestanding double walled tent.

My search for the right solo tent grinds on year after yer, but I expect my REI Quarter Dome 2 to last me for years to come. I just love this thing.
Kelly and I on Tumwater Mountain

Seven Devils (mosquito hell)


One statement I've heard people make over and over through the years is “no regrets”, and when I've heard it I've always wondered to myself if the speaker truly meant it. In fact I've always believed that having no regrets was an impossibility, and that anyone claiming to was full of shit...

I think it's because I am incessantly reflecting on my life, not just the events of last week or last year, but from ten or even twenty years ago. But I'm not just reflecting, I'm analyzing and criticizing, and wondering if the choices I made or the road I took was right. There are choices I've made as a teenager that still haunt me, and that's just the beginning. I review the consequences of my decisions and I wonder what would have become of me If I made the opposite choice. Which path then would I have walked? Which roads will I have traveled? How would “things” have turned out?

And when I think back on these choices they seemed so inconsequential when I made them and in some cases I think invisible, as if I did not realize I was making a choice at all. It took time for me to discover that even something as small as a word can change everything. To realize that one moment of false bravado, or pride, or weakness, or selfishness, can alter the course forever.

The times when I hurt people are the worst. Even now I can feel how I must have made someone else feel when my words cut them, or my actions betrayed them, or my inaction let them down.

I found myself asking: What should I have done? What should I have said? How should I have reacted?
I think the answer to those questions is that there is no answer. I tell people all the time to leave the past in the past and yet I cannot seem to live by my own words because I am struggling to find answers where none exist. I'm like a dog going round and round in the living room chasing my tail but never catching it.

When people from my past ask me why I made a certain decision, even though I may have asked myself the same question a thousand times, the only sincere response I can give is to shrug my shoulders and say “I don't know”. Sure I can give reasons. I can play self-psychologist and offer explanations as to why I behaved the way I did, but it's like grasping at straws. It's like buying a scratch ticket but not knowing if you've won because no matter how many times you read the instructions you still don’t understand the rules.

I want to say that I have no regrets, and that every choice I've made and everything I've done has made me the person I am today, but only the latter is true and I'm okay with that. It took me time to realize that having regrets is not a weakness or some flaw in my character, as some people make it out to be. In fact having regret and admitting regret is quite the opposite. It shows strength of character. The hard part is knowing when and how to let go. The hard part is leaving the past in the past and just accepting the choices you've made, because no matter how much you may wish it, they can't be changed.

I regret that my face was this fat when this picture was taken.