I took all the following photographs with my iPhone. I was naked when I took one of them. And one video.
To start things off on a high note, I drove a half-hour west in the wrong direction. By the time I reached my “destination” it was 11:00 p.m. and a damp fog had set on the Lower Yuba River. I put “destination” in quotes because I didn’t really know where I would be sleeping. I had more or less dropped a finger on a map in the general vicinity of an area I’d heard had “good camping along the river, and it’ll be warm down low”.
The air temp couldn’t have been below 50, and the smell of a wet lawn beneath my feet rejuvenated the senses. I had been day-dreaming of summer camping and backpacking lately, so with two days off work I loaded a bag and drove down out of the hills in search of warm weather. That night I didn’t bother pitching a tent. The moisture in the air would lead to a wet shelter in the morning, and sleeping in the back of the station wagon seemed much more practical.
The next morning we set off on the South Yuba Trail from the bridge at Poorman’s Creek, and we were lost within two minutes. Someone had mined for gold over winter and completely covered the start of the trail, so it took a few minutes navigating the brush (and lightly panicking as I brushed ticks off my arms and neck) to find the path we came for. So far we had been lost on the drive in, and lost within the first minutes of the hike. This was not the best prelude to an adventure.
But things picked up from here on out, and the hike rewarded us time and time again with beautiful views of the river we paralleled, hillside pools and moss-rock waterfalls, and rolling hills topped with infinite pines. The only sounds I heard for two days (besides Rowdy sounding off, of course) were echoes of wind through the canyon, birds and insects coordinating among themselves, and water slowly clearing its way through stones. Nothing more, nothing less. This was the perfect escape. Not that I have anything to escape from, but if someone wanted to escape I would recommend this location as a noteworthy contestant.
On a side note, on the drive in I passed (twice) signs that warned drivers not to pick up hitch-hikers. There must be a prison somewhere nearby. So, if any prisoners happen to be on ‘good-behavior’ and are reading this right now while simultaneously planning an escape, I suggest you head toward the river. There you should find solace, waterside camping, good fishing, and possibly even a young man skinny dipping with his dog. **Please do not approach the young man or his dog. Enjoy your new freedom and let them enjoy theirs.
Here’s a video of Rowdy enjoying his freedom. If you listen close you can hear me panting louder than him. The water was freakin’ cold, so we just had a short dip.
Shortly after our quick bath I found one or two-day-new mountain lion scat on the trail. The next few hours of the day went something like this: Me walking along somewhat paranoid that a cat was stalking us. Me speaking louder than necessary to Rowdy and even encouraging him to run ahead at times, especially around blind corners. Then I found fresh (green, even!) cat poop on the trail and the nerves really set in. Why didn’t I have a gun? Why have I never had a gun? After hitch-hiking around Alaska and walking the woods of Colorado alone I should have a gun by now. Where’s my pocket knife? There it is! Hold on to that puppy. Be ready in case something lunges off that big rock and lands on your back. It’s a good thing I’ve got this big pack on. But would it help shield me from sharp cat claws or just slow me down, assuming I even get the chance to run? It’s a good thing I’ve got the dog. A cougar would for sure go for the dog before me. Or would it not settle with just one? And say Rowdy did distract him. Could I resist jumping in to break up the fight? Ah, it feels good to at least have this knife. But a gun would be much more reassuring. This knife’s hardly four inches long. A corkscrew would serve me better. Would I wear the gun on my hip or keep it in my brain (top pocket of my backpack)? On my hip it might be a nuisance trying to hike, especially uphill, but above my head it may be too difficult to grab in an emergency. Especially with hands this sweaty. Don’t grip the knife so hard you can’t open it in a hurry! Geez, you’ll never get it open in time if you’re panicking this much just thinking about it.
We never saw a mountain lion. But we did see this awesome waterfall and Rowdy took another awesome bath.
By the time we finally reached Missouri Flat it was two in the afternoon. And it was definitely flat. But that was about all. The beach here wasn’t nearly as cool as the last one where we dipped, and the gnats were getting to me while I stood around looking for anything to catch my eye. This was the campsite I chose, but it wasn’t living up to standards. (It’s tough to research a new campsite from your phone after work while driving in the dark!) Seven miles in and plenty of daylight left, but what to do now? Start walking the same direction and hope we reach the next landmark by dusk? The last time of day I want to be out in cat country is dusk. That’s huntin’ time. The map said 5.8 miles and we’d be exhausted by the time we got to camp. Then we’d have to do almost 13 back out the next day, and my legs weren’t up for that. Neither were our food rations. But what about that lovely beach we found on the way in? That was about three miles into our hike, so it must only be four miles back. And if we ran the flats and downs and walked the ups, we could make it before the canyon walls robbed the beach of sunlight. Bam! That was it. The decision had been made. We started running.
Then we stopped running. And we walked for about a mile. But then we ran again, and did this on and off as often as I could justify. Lo and behold, it was all worth it in the end – we reached the beach with a half-hour of daylight to spare. I sat on my sleeping pad and stretched my legs, sand between my toes and a tired dog splashing at my feet with whatever energy he had left to muster.
I envy that my dog can find joy and resourcefulness in most anything around him, no matter where he may (or may not) roam. A pine cone on the back porch or a stick on the Yuba River, a back window in my Subaru or a snow-covered mountainside. It’s all the same to him. Yet I feel cooped up after a week at work, even though I get to run on the beach every morning. Rowdy’s stoked in rain, sleet or snow, yet a shitty winter has me on an early hunt for warm weather.
Quick! Here’s another cool picture to keep you interested while I blab on…
Although I complain about the urge to escape, that becomes natural wherever you reside. Routine gets boring no matter how exciting something is to begin with. It’s good to have outlets, and often you don’t have to search far to find them. This particular outing, we searched for exactly ten minutes. Well, I searched for ten minutes. Rowdy sniffed around the store after hours while I frantically studied a map under a dim lamp, then snapped a quick pic with my phone to save myself ten bucks on the cost of that map. Given the opportunity I would have begun this particular trip much more prepared. Sometimes a spontaneous getaway is all you need to replenish the spirits, and in many cases you don’t have to go far or plan much.
Although I do suggest taking more than a photo of a map saved to your phone. This way when you get lost you don’t have to guess or kick yourself for not being zoomed out another half-inch, thus making it tougher on yourself to locate landmarks during a dark drive.
Here’s one thing you should always bring with you: plenty of fuel. My camp stove has seen its better day and I forgot to grab my buddy’s superb one when I left town in a hurry, so I had to boil my drinking water. Boiling water, usually seen as a relatively mindless task, takes a helluva lot of patience and mind control when attempted with my stove. Expect constant pumping of pumps, opening and closing of valves, and continual reigniting of flames and tempers alike. Thankfully on this day, I was able to go through these shenanigans in a spectacular location. In fact, I’m usually in pretty sweet locations when I bust out my stove. Occasionally at truck stops or parking lots, but most often in the wilderness and hopefully with a good view. Perhaps that’s what slows the effort to replace my current POS.
When we were all settled in, we had a fire. Aww…isn’t that adorable? Yep, it sure was. You should have seen us there, all tired and cute as buttons. Luckily for you I didn’t take any self-portraits. Instead I’ll just leave you with this cool picture of fire. Because fire is always cool.
I haven’t exactly been gettin’ after it lately – at least, not to my own standards. As we all can attest, work tends to take over. We’ve all got to have balance in life. Be that a morning jog before work to wake up, a glass of wine and a book to wind down, a sixer with the boys after a long week, quiet time to oneself, a strict diet or daily regiment, or whatever your hobby, or vice (pun unintentional), may be, it is most important that we find time to relax, reflect, and rejuvenate. Fortunately for me, there’s the outdoors. And sports. And my dog. And photography. Preferably, a combination of the three. What gets you going? Or better yet, keeps you going?
Last night we went for a short jaunt up the hillside near the Squaw Valley ski area. We skipped dinner on the way so we wouldn’t miss the show, and thankfully so. As I pulled my tripod out of my pack I realized I had forgotten to grab the [camera-to-tripod] adaptor from another pack, so in an effort to capture a stable shot, the order went like this: camera balances on top of bunched-up t-shirt, t-shirt rests on tripod, tripod stands on splitboard-compacted snow. My remote shutter was also left behind during the frantic pack-n-go between the end of a work shift (6:15) and the departure for an epic evening (7:00). For these two ridiculous reasons I was unable to leave my shutter open very long, thus resulting in a darker image than I had imagined. I was still pretty stoked with the end result, although I was reminded that I need to shoot much more often so that I always have my s*** dialed, down to the t. Bonus: We rode fresh snow back to the car under the light of a near-full moon.
Some of the boys got together this morning to bootpack Incline Peak on the Northern Nevada-side of Lake Tahoe. The conditions were so-so, the light was alright, and the vibes were good. I look forward to shooting more with these guys as the winter develops. I got tacky and watermarked a few pics because the Geisen twins get a good amount of exposure.
“I went from a super-steezy tail-butter to floating through the air switch, and I landed exactly one hard left turn in front of a massive tree trunk.”(Not so) Obvious Disclaimer: Until this year I worked at a resort. That is how I have managed to ride almost everyday, and thus still think of snowboarding as a rather routine activity. Most people that read this won’t ski or snowboard more than a dozen times per season, if at all. If you don’t understand the terminology used herein, please read on. Chances are it will all come together as you continue. I try my best to find a comfortable medium in with my vocabulary, constructing all blogs so they’re “universally comprehensible”. Thank you for understanding. Enjoy the show.
“Be, Creative! Be, Be, Creative!”
There isn’t much snow coverage yet in the Lower 48. After all, December is still just around the corner. But that doesn’t mean now isn’t the perfect time to get your legs into shape and practice more technical skiing or snowboarding. Although many would disagree, I enjoy having to put together pieces of a puzzle on my way down the mountain. Most people won’t ride the resort until there is more snow on the ground, usually due to the greater chance of beating up their skis or boards on rocks. Others claim to get bored fast when there are only a few trails open. Some may have been injured riding too early in the year, therefore hold a grudge against early-season turns. However, there are many ways to make more from less if you think creatively.
Unless a sponsor hooks you up with multiple boards per season, I don’t recommend taking your favorite pleasure stick on exploratory missions through rocky terrain. Either bring your rock-board – your beater board, park board or last year’s board – or try not to care so much about a core-shot or a busted edge that you can (almost) always repair later. The more often you ride, the better you become and, in turn, the harder you ride. Eventually you learn not to become attached with snowboards because they rarely last more than a season, anyways.
As Frost would have put it, take the road less travelled. If there is enough snow off-piste to put together turns and make your way downhill, take that route. But don’t just ride recklessly through a snow field without a proper pre-inspection, and don’t ever assume any soft snow will be “safe”. Usually, the lower the snow coverage, the higher the hazard level. But on harder snow that doesn’t give or allow sinkage (hahahaha, he said “sinkage”), weaving between and ollieing over patches of dirt, rocks and bushes can be great practice. It’s also a lot more fun than sticking to the groomed trails, unless they’re decorated with features like boxes, rails and jumps. Or, even better more often than not (in my opinion), moguls.
Moguls are a good on-piste (on a groomed trail) solution to unnatural terrain. Many skiers love moguls. Most snowboarders don’. I like to think of them as mini-berms on a banked slalom course, and I have tons of fun lapping bump-runs until my legs turn to Jello. It’s good to ride uneven terrain and learn to gauge your turns a few moves ahead of time, as if you’re playing a game of chess. If you can get into the moguls early-season, when the snow eventually gets good your legs and core will be strong and shready for action! Which leads us to our next topic, and a justified mantra of mine, if you will:
Ride moguls everyday.
Ride switch everyday.
Ride moguls switch everyday.
Practice riding switch-stance. It’s difficult at first, but definitely worth the investment. I learned from experience how useful this can actually be.
I went from a super-steezy tail-butter to floating through the air switch (backwards), and I landed exactly one hard left turn in front of a massive tree trunk. Luckily my superior muscle memory kicked into gear before I collided head-first with the pine tree I was flying toward at mach speed. I landed switch-stance, dug in my toe-edge and popped out onto a groomed trail, sliding about twenty feet on my butt on a flat surface – dazed, astounded, and speechless. I smacked myself in the sides of my helmet to ‘smack myself out of it’ and patted body down as if I had lost something in one of thirty pockets. The only thing that saved my ass was my training, and that day has been with me ever since.
Early season, before the entire mountain had opened and we were still confined to a few particular trails, we would practice riding the moguls. They’re like a more timid version of what it’s like to ride steep terrain. We made it a point to take a mogul lap every day we went out, and in due time that turned into riding them switch. At the time I knew that I was training, but had no idea what for. Well, I had plenty of ideas: switch 360′s, switch 270 blunt slides, switch rodeo flips. I mostly just wanted to get better at riding switch. Little did I know, all that training would lead up to one switch left turn. And I’m thankful for that turn, because ever since I have made a million more. Turns out it saved my ass…and quite possibly my life.
To this day I make it a point to ride switch every time I go snowboarding. Early season is a great time to practice fundamental work, before the snow gets deep and the time for “learning” has passed. By then, most people (including yourself) probably won’t have enough patience to wait while you figure things out. Nor will it be very practical to work on the basics when the snow is deep and soft. You’ll receive a lot more feedback from your board on hard-packed snow. Plus, although hilarious at times, falling over and getting stuck in powder can be really frustrating. Rarely does this occur without leaving you in an awkward, helpless and pretzel-like position. And you should count on falling when practicing the basics. If you can’t, you’re not trying hard enough.
So get out early and practice the fundamentals. As with any activity, start small and start early. That way when it’s time to play with the big dogs, you’re ripe and ready. Or as I like to put it, Shready. ‘Nuf said? Thought so.
Opening weekend at Squaw Valley brought rain and melancholy weather, but since it was technically a day off work I figured utilizing lift-accessibility was still a good idea. It had been over six months since I last rode a chairlift, I’d already driven the half-hour from home and was dressed to shred, and I could feel the warmth of freshly processed plastic radiating off my season pass. Traditionally on first days I’ve found myself almost lost in crowds of exuberant skiers and snowboarders all sharing the joy of the new season ahead, and we would scream and shout and act ridiculous and party hard on the hill – Click Here To Go Back In Time – Last Day Of The ’011/’012 Season. This year was different. The weather was crummy and spirits were low, and being relatively new to town my options for riding partners is still limited. Still, even if it meant riding solo for the first time in my history of opening days, I was going snowboarding.
One pal bailed via text message as I pulled into the lot. The other called as I was strapping on my boots to say he still hadn’t left his house and wanted to know the weather report. I was brutally honest with him.
“It sucks. The chairs are empty.” I could see Ski Patrol shoveling snow ten feet from the side of the run into the middle so skiers have a white path through the disenchanting, brown landscape. “But I’m here now, so I’m still gonna take a few laps.”
I hung up the phone, grabbed my board, “cham-wowed” the rainwater out of my goggles, slammed the trunk and began the wet trek across the slush-pond (aka base area) toward one of the two lifts in operation.
It was eerily quiet at the resort. I turned up the hip-hop in my helmet and danced by myself on the chairs between laps. I rode switch and practiced 180′s, jib-jabs and nose butters. I worked every little bump and pseudo-mogul I could, making the most of those eagerly anticipated in-bounds turns. I also pondered the time that would pass before I felt moisture break through my pants to my thermal underwear.
The only others riding must have been those who had planned their trips in advance and made the voyage from the city, intending to spend money on a lift ticket regardless of the weather. There were also probably a few that figured since it was raining in the flatlands it must have been snowing at 8,000 feet. Eeeeehhhhh!!!!! Wrong! Then again, most wouldn’t have predicted rain, especially after the last two storms that dropped a lot of snow on the Sierras. It just wasn’t cold enough for the rain to freeze. In fact, the only water that I witnessed freezing the entire day was that which accumulated on the back of my helmet while riding the lift.
There were also a few Squaw employees making some turns on their lunch break, but I have to emphasis the word “few”. Even they know better than to stay out longer than a lap or two. After all, it is only November and you can’t expect much this early in the season. The last two storms were almost ‘freaks’, but they still brought early faith and optimism to a new season, so naturally most of us predicted more snow as the cold and rain arrived last Friday. Besides anyone who read the weather report, of course.
And then there was me. Alone, soaking wet and smiling. Although I felt as if I were navigating a mine field, meticulously connecting the dots between dirt and rocks, I was stoked to be riding. It poured rain the entire two hours and I quickly came to the realization that I would need an extremely waterproof wardrobe if I wanted to properly climatize in this region. In Colorado the air is dry and “water-resistant” outerwear did the trick just fine. In California and on the West Coast, however, fully waterproof membranes and quick-drying (and preferably removable) liners are the only way to go. On my fourth lift-ride I rang about a half-cup of water out of my “powder” glove. That was the same chair on which I decided my next course of action for the day: use my pro-form deals to purchase new pants and gloves.
After six [awesome?] laps and feeling like I sufficiently surpassed my own expectations for a rainy, solo day at an unfamiliar mountain, I headed home. Waterproof research was done over a hot cup of coffee and the sound of wet, heavy clothes and metal buttons bouncing in the dryer. The ideal pants and gloves were discovered, just not purchased. Perhaps after I deposit another paycheck. Instead I uncovered another project and decided my money would be better spent on a handsaw. A handsaw? Rather than new gloves and pants? But why!?
I’ve never had my own work bench, that’s why. After two hours of lifting, organizing, dusting, flinching from close-calls with arachnids and coughing up dust mites, I had the space. Until now the shed in the backyard was a place to avoid. Like the “haunted house” at the end of the street you grew up on, it was a structure you just did not enter, unless you were double-dog dared by your peers.
After a trip to the thrift store for support brackets – which I was given for free in exchange for carrying a heavy load of glass to the dumpster – and a quick stop at the Kings Beach ACE Hardware for a $13 handsaw and a $7 extension cord, I had the tools required for the job.
This work bench is not your ordinary work bench, and this shed is not your ordinary tool shed. It is a waxing and tuning bench, and it’s inside of what is now the ‘tune shop’. I finally have a place to prepare my shred-stick the night before, when I anticipate a big day of touring or a major overnight change in weather. The ‘tune shop’ is also an asylum, as are most men’s tool sheds or garages. This new sacred ground is a sanctuary. A place to escape and find solace in one’s own thoughts, craftsmanship and creative outlets.
The extension cord running from the house will provide electricity for power tools, a light fixture and some good old rock n’ roll (hip-hop just doesn’t go as well with “construction”). The old beach chair I tactfully placed in the corner is currently empty, the work bench sawdust-free, and the air stagnant and dank. But I foresee myself spending lots of quality time in the new shop over the next six months, both alone and at times with another, be that my dog or a touring partner who shares the same appreciation for quiet, wild spaces.
Saturday morning we took a walk in the woods behind Alpine Meadows Ski Resort, searching for a taste of all the freshies that had just blessed the Sierras. Apparently Chris, Eric and I chose wisely…and ended up swimming more than we’d anticipated.
I believe the saying goes: “Should have packed a snorkel!“
The new home away from home just may be North Lake Tahoe. Initial residence: Kings Beach, California. Time can only tell what will arise further down the line. For now, you can’t beat the location. One minute bike ride from the beach, four minutes to work. A half-hour drive to terrific backcountry access. Mellow local tree skiing right back down to our neighborhood. This is a pretty quiet town, and it’s not uncommon that Rowdy and I have the beach to ourselves. I’ve managed to pull the camera out a few times in the past two months, and on jaunts that necessitate packing light I’m usually grateful for my iPhone’s camera-capabilities.
I hope everyone appreciates these photographs. I sure do enjoy taking them.
Up next, shots from the iPhone: