Friday, February 27, 2009

Run for the Hills

Chasing Winter Into The Sierra

There is a lot of road between Bend and Grant Grove Visitor Center at the northern terminus of Sequoia National Park. After hours of lodgepole lined south-trending Highway 97 I got my first glimpse of Mount Shasta welcoming me to California. At the town of Weed 97 melts into Interstate 5 and begins a steady drop into the mighty Central Valley. I could name the towns I passed through but it is more fitting for them to remain nameless. The Central Valley, for all its worth as a agricultural hotbed feeding the nation, has little worth for the traveler looking for scenery and wildlands. My favorite thing to do here is drive, fast and efficiently, all the while keeping my eye on the mountainous prize at the end of the mind-numbing concrete dreamland.

At Fresno I stop for gas and beer. I can see the Sierra crest now, lit up orange from the setting sun and hemmed by darkening forests. 180 is the Highway number now and it makes a circuitous easterly line across the oak woodland and up into the rugged Sierra foothills. I am approaching one of the last explored regions of lower 48. The highest peaks in the Sierra, many over 13,000 feet, are out ahead of me, far ahead of the beam of my headlights but magnetic and making themselves known in the dusk.

In the summer tourists from around the world flock here to stand humbly below regal giant Sequoias. They head straight for the General Sherman Tree, maybe see a black bear leap across the road in front of the family SUV, buy a couple “Squeeze Me S'More” T-shirts, and return to the sun-scorched valley below. In the winter, many roads are closed and those open require escorts along the narrow, snow-carved pathways. The tourist crowd is notably different in the winter. We all share the desire to meet the forest under the cover of snow, to slide into the woods rather than plod, and are chasing (whether knowingly or not) the comfortable loneliness that is held in the winter wilds.

In the morning it's another blue sky day in the Southern Sierras. It's the type of winter day that every snow bum greets with mixed emotions. When one is happily stuck for the weekend at 7500 feet at a comfortable and secluded mountain lodge ( its hard not to grin as the sun begins to warm the firs and soften the snow, yet snow is what we want. Snow is why we bought skis in the first place – melting snow is fun but fresh snow is divine. Each evening I read the weather with contempt as I yearn for the 'storm of the season' to be predicted, yet each morning I happily apply sunscreen and squint at the brightness. Somewhere along the way I mistakenly taught myself I only like skiing powdery, fresh snow. Though, after some careful research (the methodology I will have to explain later) I find that all snow, when placed at an angle, punctuated by mighty old-growth California red fir and Jeffery pine, and ringed by granite domes and spires is pure enjoyment. Always.

Photos: 1)Alok gains Baldy Ridge 2)Shasta with the camera held out the window at 60MPH 3)The view from home - this week 4) The crew loving the employee built snowcave

Monday, February 16, 2009

Bend, Adventure, and Why Elephants Are Good Painters

It has been just week since I returned from my Asian dream world. Seattle for a day and then snowy Central Oregon has been a welcome slow dose of America to comfort my landing in the western world. I thought I would miss the jungle warmth, the unrefreshing temperature of the sea, or the pleasure of enjoying the evening with shorts and a T-shirt. In short, I thought I may miss the climate.

Turns out its very much the opposite. I am happy to be back in cold and snow, to drive on icy roads, to have powder thrown into my face and down my jacket. I am happy to remember that tired feeling that can only be accomplished on a winter day. Instead I miss my Thai friends and Thai food. I miss the relaxed pace and complete flexibility of being on my own adventure in a place where new experiences are too easy to come by. I miss Thailand, Laos, and China because it was new -always adventure – I like adventure.

But here's the caveat. Bend is far from new, it is essentially old, when it comes to my experiences in adventure here. I have done this or that before, but my lifelong memories have not rendered the activities of the past week null. In fact having life knowledge in this place allows me to better plan my day, it allows me to track down the good snow or know when Smith is gonna be warm enough. I can pick an idea out of the blue and know it'll be a good one or network with old friends that have a finger on the pulse of the place.

Place is the canvas for the adventure but the mission, for me, is far from complete without the right team. This transition back home, which admittedly I was slightly worried for my sanity before my plane touched down, has be smooth and mentally comfortable because although the place is homely it is not stagnant nor deserted. I was fortunate, it seems like a lot of my friends are actually moving to my hometown. Even better (for me) they don't have jobs! So I got two days of resort tele-ripping with Quinn and Adam, a fantastic warm day at Smith with Wally, old-fashioned Valentine's Day sledding with Tyler and friends, and modern sledding (read Ski Doo 800) with the Harveys. Pretty good for a weeks work.

So here's what I've put together. The adventure equation is more complicated than I thought maybe. You pick a canvas (turns out its not the most important part, but don't go buy a cheap one from a back alley) start to mark out (maybe with pencil) what your product will be, and then go to town. The more good people involved hypothetically the prettier it'll be (there is a breaking point in life and analogy). Last time in Thailand I saw an elephant paint a picture of red and black flowers with its trunk. The massive animal did much better than I could have done. And its true two elephants could paint more flowers and usually came out with a nicer painting. Not so true for all the elephants. They couldn't even line up at one painting – they were much too big.

Photos:  1)Squeezed into Josh's beast on the way to Paulina.  2)The Harvey fleet.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Tonsai Remembered

Being back in Bend doesn't mean I'm out of stories to tell about my Asian adventure.  In fact I can't get many images from my trip out of my mind.  Most of them are the days I was saying to my self 'now this is classic Thailand.' I was usually holding  by fingers to a bright orange wall of limestone looking out over the sea and watching the boats coming and going.  

My favorite days were when we were up high and thus getting a light breeze to whip away the stifling jungle heat. Many days were spent climbing and hiking through the vines and eating Thai food with tall Beer Changs to follow. There were many more days looking out into the jungle from the bungalow deck, watching the monkeys throw things, waiting for this or that to 'go into the shade' so we could dare to climb it.  We relaxed in phychadelic bars lit up with colored lights set in bamboo, hammocks hung at every junction.  We ate out for every meal everyday, what else is there to do. The resturanturers became our friends and suggested special dishes upon our arrival. 

We bought beer from 13 year old boys, unlike in the US, its always cheaper to buy from the little guy. I discovered BBQ beef thai salad and mango sticky rice. My bungalow had a tin roof that drummed me awake everyday as the jungle animals, lizards, squirrels, rodents, birds played their own assymetrical rhythm. After climbing we would head for the sandy iddyllic beaches and bounce around in the ocean, washing the sweat from our faces, and watch the sun go down in a smooth firey drip. It was hard to not be merry.

 I almost died trying to slackline from razor rock island to jungly gray island above the sea.  But somehow after we all realized I was indeed not dead, and escaped with meager scratches and a bruised foot, we laughed and laughed. The thought of paradise did not mix with such immediatedly dangerous events - laughing was all our brains could do to put it into perspective. Some of us woke up in the middle of the night and found our stomachs very upset with us - ' felt like I was gonna die,' I overheard. Yet in the morning we were all still smiling and laughing. What else was there to do - expect embrace the fact that 'everyday is exceptional.' Tonsai is so full of so much just try not having fun. Try. I dare you.

Photos: 1) Sunset bathes crags. 2)Climbing natties unite: Andrew, me, Sunshine, Liz

Also: Szu-Ting has more Yangshuo, China climbing stories and beta up at