Thursday, July 5, 2018

Our Winter in British Columbia

After plenty of time to reflect on our winter, I'm feeling reminiscent and motivated to document it.

During the winter of 2018, while most of the western USA saw very little snow, most of the Canadian mountains got hammered. Before the snow really started falling, sometime in December, we fortuitiously committed to a 1-month rental in Nelson, BC and 1 month in Golden, BC.

The contrast between the two locales and towns was striking, which is exactly what we were aiming for. Snowy, cloudy, hippy-cool Nelson contrasted perfectly with cold, beautiful, sunny, small-town Golden. In both places, we pretty much did about the same thing every day. Climb up, snowboard down, climb up, snowboard down, eat, drink, eat, sleep, do it again.

Nearing the top of our climb, outside Nelson, with a rare glimpse of blue sky

Snowboarding down the mountains outside of Golden

While in Nelson, it was rare that we didn't see at least a few inches of snow *everyday*.

Climbing up, outside of Nelson. Never at a loss for new snow. 

In contrast, Golden didn't have as much snow, but the stunning mountain scenery and sunshine made up for it. We learned a valuable lesson in Golden, too:  -15 F is too cold for recreating outdoors. In fact, after we learned our lesson, lucky to have our toes and fingers intact, we were grounded for 5 days because it was too cold.

The backcountry outside of Golden allowed us to get out of the trees into the high alpine.

Snowboarding outside of Golden

Sunshine was usually easy to find near Golden, even when there were clouds

While climbing up one day, we noticed some tracks (other than ours) in our old uptrack. After a bit of research, I learned it was probably a large wolf. The tracks were impressively large. I was hoping it was a large cat (cougar?) or maybe even a bear but it was probably for the best that we weren't being tracked by a hungry cat or un-hibrating bear.

Since we did a similar thing last winter (staying in Nelson for 2.5 months), it seems we're in a bit of a pattern. Having a solid structure to live in during the winter has been pretty damn cool. Both of us love it - LOOOONG hot showers after a cold, active day outdoors, followed by oven-baked food, and warm solitude on the computer, with Netflix, or a book.

Homer overlooking Scott, while he researches the weather conditions and watches streaming music performances

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Red Rock Canyon Rock Climbing

A few miles outside of Las Vegas, you'll find what I like to call the Disneyland of rock climbing. Red Rock Canyon is stunningly beautiful, and offers climbing for everyone from beginners to advanced rock climbers. With more than 2,000 climbing routes, it's in the top 5 destination climbing areas in the U.S. There's a 13-mile scenic drive through the National Conservation Area that attracts lots of tourists from Vegas, too.

The sun setting on Calico Hills in Red Rock Canyon Conservation Area

We spent part of December and January learning to rock climb here. At first, neither of us were convinced we'd continue with this new sport. A few days in, both of us were saying, "this is kind of a silly sport". I mean, what's the point of buying all this special gear so that you can climb a vertical wall, all while risking your life? Imagine how far we could hike in the same amount of time!

Our beginner training ground

After a few days working through our beginner shit-shuffle, we started to really like it. We have finally purchased the last expensive bits of gear to make it real. Here's why I love it. First, getting to the crag (climber speak for "rock climbing spot") is an adventure in itself. It's just another way for us to spend time outside in beautiful places.

Walking into Calico Basin

Time for a lunch break

Taking a break at Civilization Crag

Next, the gear and knots definitely challenge (in a good way) the engineer in me. There's a never-ending list of knots and hitching methods - some that you MUST know, some that you should know, and some that would be really cool to have in an emergency.

Lead climbing on The Sun Never Sets

The best part of rock climbing is the zen-like focus you feel while climbing up a vertical wall. It's like meditation without meditation. The Colorado rock-climber, Pat Ament, once said:

"When you ride your bike, you’re working your legs, but your mind is on a treadmill. When you play chess, your mind is clicking along, but your body is stagnating. Climbing brings it together in a beautiful, magical way. The adrenaline is flowing, and it’s flowing all the time."

You know that saying, "the smell of fear"? Well, each day, Scott would get back to the camper and lament how his new "natural" deodorant wasn't working. It wasn't a problem with the deodorant, it was that his adrenaline-charged, fear-filled sweat was a little more ripe than usual. Seriously.

Fear-filled sweat on The Three Kingdoms

Viagra Tower (we don't name these things) crag

Besides learning about the physical techniques and gear for rock-climbing, we're also slowly working through the mental techniques necessary to climb. Until now, I did not appreciate how scared of heights Scott is. His mind plays tricks on him like I've rarely experienced. As an example, when I get barely near a ledge, he's convinced I'm going to somehow fall off, and that I need to be anchored. I'm so impressed with his perseverance in working through it. It is eerily reminiscent of how I acted during our whitewater kayaking days. I was completely irrational about the danger I was in. I was constantly scared. We even had a term for part of it - PKS (pre kayaking syndrome). I'd get a headache and become cranky before our kayak run. I would be convinced I didn't have the skill to run the river safely. In reality, I was pretty skilled - if only my mind hadn't held me back so much. With these memories in mind, I try to be patient with Scott when I see him succumbing to irrational fear.

My mind screaming "no" in 2003

Blue skies at the top of Civilization Crag

Rock climbing in the southwest is a great thing to do in the spring and fall (when it isn't so hot). We're excited to do some more as we head south this spring.

Monday, January 29, 2018

Sedona and Catsitting Tucker

At the end of 2017, we were patiently searching for that perfect snowy winter rental. During the search, we were distracted by a house/cat-sitting opportunity in Sedona, AZ. We just couldn't pass up a log cabin in Sedona with a cat and a hot tub. We didn't plan it, but while much of the nation was getting hammered with record-cold weather, we were enjoying unseasonably warm 70 degree sunshine.

Sedona is well-known for its amazing natural beauty with countless hiking and biking trails. But, there's an invisible side to Sedona. The cabin's owner clued us into much of this. The "VisitSedona" website described it like this:

"People travel from all across the globe to experience the mysterious cosmic forces that are said to emanate from the red rocks. They come in search of the vortexes.  

What is a vortex? Sedona vortexes (the proper grammatical form ‘vortices’ is rarely used) are thought to be swirling centers of energy that are conducive to healing, meditation and self-exploration. These are places where the earth seems especially alive with energy. Many people feel inspired, recharged or uplifted after visiting a vortex."

The jury is still out on how Sedona affected us, if at all. I promise, we were open to anything.

Since Sedona is popular for so many reasons, our adventures were shared with hundreds of other people over the holidays. As usual, the longer and harder trails provided an escape from the crowds.

We walked to the end of the driveway and up the road 30 seconds to take this picture at sunset - such an incredible location

Biking towards the famous Cathedral Rock

The Wilson Mountain hike rewarded us with awesome views.

The creek in the backyard of Tucker's dad's house

Tucker was a sweet kitty that finally warmed up to us after a few days (our house-sit was 10 days long). After a week, Scott finally got an evening lap session. Tucker must not have been impressed, as it never happened again. He would teasingly walk across Scott's lap, but wouldn't sit down. Tucker never got up the nerve to sleep with us either, but on our last day, he gently climbed into bed for 30 minutes of morning snuggles. I'll take whatever I can get.

That's the look of a kitty who is trying to sleep but also keeping an eye on the strangers

A good view of part of the log cabin. I took this picture of Tucker above (with the Panther!) eyeing Scott below.
So much going on.

Kitty trust

While grounded in Sedona, we sold our well used mountain bikes and bought some cross country ski gear for Scott, all via Craigslist. That was an unexpected bonus to spending the holidays in Sedona. The whole experience was a worthwhile diversion.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

The Overwhelming Beauty of BDLA

The surfing spots in Baja have a special kind of raw beauty that sometimes only a surfer can appreciate. You have to be able to look beyond the barren backdrop of blowing dust and rocky desert. These are the places where we spend a lot of our time, but occasionally, we venture to the waveless east side of Baja. The east side is not so subtle with it's natural beauty - dramatic mountain peaks, calm blue water, nearshore islands, and most importantly, whale sharks.

One of the near shore islands (Isla Coronado) has it's own volcano

We had been waiting the entire month of October for the weather to get cooler so that we could swim with the whale sharks in the calm waters of Bahia de Los Angeles (BDLA) on the Sea of Cortez. This had been at the top of my bucket list for 6 years. The whale sharks spend the hot summer and fall months there. Whale sharks are not whales, but sharks, and they are the largest fish in the world. Ignoring people around them, they skim the surface, mouth agape, sucking up plankton as their main source of food. How can something so giant, survive on something I can't even see?

The water was a bit murky, teaming with food for the whale sharks.
This whale shark continued to eat as we slid into the water with our snorkel and mask.

Sucking up breakfast.
Juvenile whale sharks eat 46 lbs of plankton per day. 

Right at the end of October, the weather cooled down considerably, so we finally headed to BDLA. We got so lucky on our first visit. While driving to the south end, we questioned a guy about where we could access the water with our paddleboards. He owned property on the bay (along with many other gringos), so he kindly opened a gate that allowed us to drive to a beautiful, private beach. We launched our paddleboards, and within a few minutes, we were sharing the surface of the water with the resident, polka-dotted whale sharks. I was so happy, I could feel it in the pit of my stomach. I felt like a kid again. It was so awesome, we returned a week later (after some surfing on the Pacific side) to do it again. 

Private, gringo beach on the south bay

According to wiki, the largest recorded whale shark is 41 feet (12.6 m) long. Unfortunately, we did not see any that big. We only saw the juvenile whale sharks that were probably only 15 - 20 feet long (still huge!). We spent enough time paddling around that we could recognize the "personalities" of the different whale sharks. One of them was very playful, and would swim directly under our boards. Another one, the biggest, was hanging out so close to shore that you could see the bottom below.

This was the biggest one we saw. Look at how close it is to the shore. 

On our second visit to the bay, we camped at the north end (Punta La Gringa) for 5 days. It was unusual for us to stay camped somewhere so long, when all we really did was watch the world go by. I couldn't put the camera down. Later, while I was going through all the pictures, I noticed I basically took the same pictures everyday. It was so beautiful, I couldn't stop. Some of the keepers below:

We saved the GPS coordinates for this camp spot and named it "Best Camping Spot Ever"

Moonrise at Punta La Gringa

We ate dinner while the moonrise entertained us

Sweet, sweet Baja dogs. These were our pets for a couple hours.
They were so thirsty and hungry, I gave them their own bowls so they would stop the frantic inhalation of food.

As a side note, after BDLA, I realized, we should probably own a GoPro instead of an old point-and-shoot camera in a waterproof bag. Maybe I'll get one for our next visit.