Chief’s Head Peak, Rocky Mountain National Park

Photo journal of my trip up Chief’s Head Peak, the third highest peak in Rocky Mountain National Park, this past Sunday.

 

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Bridge I built with Texas Trail Tamers back in 2007. Still standing.

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Trail sort of ended in the snowbanks. Find footprints to keep going.

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Chief’s Head Mountain. Our objective.

 

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Lion Lake # 1. Group break time on the other side of the lake.

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Breakfast time.

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First snowfield to climb.

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Mount Alice as we approached the Divide.

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Approaching the Pass and Continental Divide via a spur ridge.

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Chief’s Head from the Divide. Still another hour or so to go.

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View from the top.

 

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Panorama

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Crew on top

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Long Peak, Pagoda Peak and Mount Meeker (left to right)

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Preparing to slide.

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Triple slide

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We hiked up from that lake.

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Panorama of most of our route.

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Panorama of more of our route.

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Alice and Chief’s Head

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Good route panorama

 

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Long’s View on way down

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Bridge beams pushed into a log jam by the flood.

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Washed out bridge

 

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4/20 Weekend in Denver

I moved the thRockV to Colorado over Easter weekend, where it was better known as 4/20 weekend.

 

I spent most of the day Thursday moving the thRockV across Kansas, taking some of the slower back roads to avoid the interstate. Looking at the map, I saw there was one county in Kansas along I-70 in Mountain Time Zone, so I made the push there to spend the night.

 

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When I turned on the TV in my hotel room, the Denver was on and the first three stories had something to do with marijuana and how many people were expected to descend upon Denver for the weekend.

I got online and looked for the nearest dispensary along my route towards Fort Collins. I figured out a route I could take through northern Colorado and stop in Garden City, which is a small enclave on the edge of Greeley. I had recently seen a major morning news show segment about Garden City, which was founded after prohibition and seems to have always been more on the personal liberty side of things.

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Friday morning, I pointed the thRockV towards Fort Collins and ended up rolling into Garden City right before the dispensaries opened. I had to take a number and wait to go in the back, which allowed me to observe the other patrons. There were, of course, your classic “pothead” types, but also people in dress clothes, a woman and her mother, another woman who looked like she came from working out and a general mix of population in the waiting room.

Once my number was called, I stepped into the back, where there were three beautiful young female “budtenders.”  I discussed with one of the budtenders what kind of experience I was looking for. I really like an actual high which makes a person want to do all sorts of stuff (yes, that does exist). I also asked for more of a downer/painkiller. So, I was shown a few different strains and allowed to smell them. I walked out with two grams of two different varieties packaged in pill bottles.

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I now legally owned marijuana. I still had an hour drive or so to Fort Collins, though, so I held off on smoking until I got there. It is a crime to drive while high in Colorado, even though it does not seem to be too enforceable. Considering I was also driving a giant RV, I wanted to err on the side of caution.

Once I got the thRockV parked, however, I packed up and enjoyed a fine spring afternoon on my friend’s  back porch. That is nothing new, but it was nice to actually be in possession of a controlled substance and not be paranoid about anything negative happening from a law enforcement standpoint.

I spent most of Friday and Saturday running around the state, catching up with friends all over.

Easter Sunday, 4/20, was yet another pleasant spring day in Colorado. By then I was in Denver and figuring out what to do until my eastbound Greyhound back to Missouri left a little after 7pm.

The most interesting draw for me was the Leftover Salmon show in Five Points.  We rented bike-share bicycles and pedaled up to Welton Street around mid-day. The street was closed off and a fence pulled across the Light Rail tracks. When we got there, the stage was being sound-checked.

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Having gotten there before the venue officially opened, we walked behind one of the soul-food restaurants and drank a couple of beers in the shade. Groups of people clothed in their Easter finest would arrive in nice cars and walk into the back of the soul-food restaurant, being greeted by the matron as they walked in.

Other groups who were clearly headed to the show trickled in by foot or bicycle. We went in after a couple of beers and found a very dark bar where there was a small band playing inside. Eventually, we made it to the patio of the bar, which was still under construction. Literally, under construction as two men were still building a row of seats constructed out of heavy rough-sawn timber. Rough-sawn, as in they busted out a chainsaw and sawed part of it, while people were milling around in the sun, waiting for an act to make their way to the small outdoor stage.

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I eventually went inside to use the restroom and looked out onto the street to see Elephant Revival on stage. I headed back in to tell my friend and we headed out towards the stage. I have seen Elephant Revival several times in Colorado or Arkansas. The lead singer plays a washboard and has a voice she can fluctuate and change while singing. She was dressed in a green and white dress with a marijuana-leaf necklace.

The crowd started to build in as the time neared 4:20. Elephant Revival left the stage a little before 4:00 so the roadies could do a quick change. Fortunately, several of the instruments were already set up as musicians from both groups have been known to jam together.

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A quiet anticipation began to grow in the crowd as various member of Leftover started to find their way to the stage. I am not sure if the time was exactly 4:20, but it was pretty damn close. It was probably the first jam-band concert I had been to which the main act started on or near the exact posted start time.

Leftover’s lead singer made it up on stage, pulled out a joint and lit up to a massive cheer and puffs of smoke floating out over the street. I had not even brought anything with me, as I was taking a bus across Kansas later, but that was no problem. Soon, I had a joint handed to me. Then another, and another. Every time I would puff and pass another one would be coming from the opposite direction. Quickly, everyone around me had had enough and people started turning down joints (including myself).

Leftover Salmon kept the crowd grooving with their long jams as everyone sweated in the sun and swayed to the music. A general calm fell over the crowd and the air slowly cleared out. My plan was to walk from there to the Greyhound station. So, we only stayed until a little after 5pm.

We walked down towards the station and I looked for some kind of restaurant to be open. Being Easter Sunday, even Subway and McDonald’s were closed. I did find an open 7-11 and bought a chicken sandwich, large chex-mix and a large Gatorade. I said goodbye to my friend and walked on to the bus station, where I ate my chicken sandwich and charged my phone as I waited for my bus to load.

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Luckily, this was the beginning of a new trip, so the bus was not overly full. I managed to get a window seat and try to lose myself looking out the window. Since I had gone to the show earlier, I only had a small backpack for the trip, as I had left the rest of my stuff spread all over Colorado. With figuring out what to bring, I brought an ipod charger with no ipod. I had a jacket and maybe a change of clothes, which took up most of my pack. At least I had my heavy-duty chainsaw earplugs with me.

The last overnight bus I had ridden was across the Pampas of Argentina. On that bus, they had flat screen televisions and showed B-roll movies in English, from the United States. There were two or three attendants who served dinner with wine and beer and a champagne nightcap and the route did not stop until it was daylight again. The seats reclined to 160 degrees and pillows and blankets similar to ones found on airplanes were standard issue. In the morning, the attendants served coffee and breakfast. The price I recall my credit card ticket purchase converting into was approximately $160 dollars.

I also paid approximately $160 dollars for my Greyhound to cross the plains of North America overnight. I had to carry on my own food and water and provide my own entertainment. There was a charging strip along the windows and the bus did have wifi, so I could at least look at the internet. However, I did not have any headphones. My seat reclined about 5 degrees and I rolled my jacket up to use as a pillow, crammed it between the headrest and the window and curled up into a ball to try and stay warm across the cold prairie night. I spent most of eastern Colorado eating my chex-mix, sipping on my Gatorade and watching the steady blinking light of hundreds of windmills in the distance.

What really freaked me out, however, was that the lights all blinked AT THE SAME TIME! I know I had smoked a lot of pot that afternoon, but this was no optical illusion. I was still trying to figure that out when we rolled into the Burlington, Colorado McDonalds around 11pm, for what would be our longest stop until Salina, Kansas.

Between Burlington and Salina, we stopped at the WaKeeney I-70 Rest Stop. Salina was a longer break and a driver change sometime around 330am. I had lost all sense of time as we had also gained an hour traveling east. I do recall a small ruckus when someone was supposedly left behind. I also had to give up the extra seat next to me as the bus had slowly filled up with more passengers there. Apparently, 330am at a truck stop, in Salina, Kansas is when Greyhound has decided to have busses from three different directions make connections.

I suffered through the Flint Hills of Kansas, sitting mostly upright and attempting to put my neck into a position which was not painful. The miles dragged on as the horizon slowly started to brighten. We made it through Topeka and on to the turnpike as a rain started to fall. I slowly counted down the miles until Kansas City and the time which I could get off of the bus for a couple of hours, at least.

Eventually, we made it in Kansas City and unloaded. I had a couple of hours to wait for my connection to Springfield. The café, which advertised as opening at 4am was still closed around 8am and eventually opened about an hour later, where I bought a muffin and some juice.

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My Jefferson Lines connection left on time and had enough room I was able to spread back out and attempt to nap some more. We stopped in every town of note along the way and made a 2.5 hour trip into about 4 hours.

I bought a six-pack of beer, went home and drank it while sitting in my one piece of furniture and looking out the window.

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How Craigslist is too much like OKCupid

Since deciding to move to Denver, I have spent a lot of time on both Craigslist and OKCupid. There are striking similarities to how both of these websites function. The basic premise is someone has something available (apartment, furniture, their free time) which they put on the internet and allow other users to search for those items. If someone finds something or someone interesting, they send an email expressing their interest through a masked email server.

I was able to easily sell all of the large pieces of furniture I wanted to get rid of through Craigslist. All I had to do was post a picture and a price and I was getting several emails per day inquiring about my furniture for sale.

I have been searching for both apartments to live in and perhaps dates to have in Denver.

I thought my original success with Craigslist would parlay into success finding one or both of those items in which I am interested (apartment, girl, girl with an apartment?).

Six weeks or so before my move, I started searching Craigslist for apartments. I spent hour upon hour at the library, searching through ad after ad, trying to find a cheap place to rent. When I found one which interested me, I would send an email. All I could say was that I was interested and a single, professional male who keeps quiet and clean. How are you supposed to express yourself and your interest with these online ads? I have no clue.

It is trying your best to put your best personality out there through cyberspace and hope beyond hope that someone writes you back and wants you to rent their extra room, sublet their space or what have you.

I worked at this for several afternoons over the course of a couple of weeks. I finally had exhausted all of the properties which appealed to me and I sat back and waited . . . and waited . . . and waited . . . Finally, one day, I received an email inquiring if I was still interested in a tiny sublet downtown. Yes! Only because the person with the room had another 49 people interested in his sublet. No . . .

That was it. A lot of work for one email saying I had a 1/50 chance of renting a tiny room downtown for maybe three months.

Perhaps my OKCupid search was better?

While I was online, I started browsing through “matches” offered to me by OKCupid based on questions I had answered several years ago. I spent hour after hour searching through profile after profile and sending emails attempting to express my interest in these other persons. They could also view my profile and see what I had written and the pictures I had posted.

So, after sending several emails I received exactly two replies.

Yup, one Craigslist and two OKCupid replies.

So, why should I bother with these websites anymore? All they are is a massive amount of work and investment in time for a miniscule return to me. Not a great way to build confidence in myself or others.

Time to go meet real people.

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The flower man

I started out one of my many jobs in Denver, delivering flowers for Mother’s Day weekend, on the Thursday before the holiday. It had rained all night and the roads were slick with a cold breeze blowing in from the mountains when I got up with the early risers to head to the flower shop.

I came in around 7, as I was asked and watched the morning clusterfuck begin. There were carts with several bouquets stationed and ready to go, for drivers whose names were called but not present. Finally, the expediter gave up and just started pairing drivers who had been there for a while with carts ready to go. I got my chance around 8 and set up with six deliveries in the back of my SUV. In my naiveté, I had just assumed these arrangements would stay upright in the back of my car. That lasted until I put my foot on the gas and heard crashing and subsequently, water spilling. I stopped, ran to a large dumpster with boxes in it, grabbed a couple and set everything back up in my car. That lasted until I turned on to the street. Finally, thinking that I had everything secure, I took off yet again and made it down the street about four blocks until I had to make a hard stop at a red light. This time, I heard water pouring out of every arrangement, so I pulled into a parking lot and opened my door to a tiny waterfall. At least it was only water, which, in this climate, will dry out when I get a day to leave my windows down. I made it maybe another mile to a gas station, before I had to again, reorganize everything. This was starting to be a problem, as some of my deliveries were several miles away. Finally, I thought I had everything right, until I pulled out of the gas station and right back in.

On to my deliveries, I went. Unfortunately, the first round, I just glanced at the town names and just made a quick delivery order in my head. I could not have been any more mistaken as I crossed my own path probably five times during my first trip through the southern suburbs. Most of my first deliveries were to businesses and a home or two. Nothing remarkable, other than the exorbitant toll I had to pay traveling on E-470 out to the southeast part of Aurora and back.

As I am new to the city, flower delivery is becoming a great way to learn new parts of the city. I finally recognized a King Soopers that I had passed at least six times from all four cardinal directions. Although, I am not sure I could locate it on my own. Thank goodness for the GPS-enabled smart phone!

My second and third trips around the suburbs, I began to see the faces of Denver . . .

Most were just regular folks, but there were a few interactions that stood out. One delivery was into a sort-of-gated community. All I had was a street address, which was for the entire community of about 80 houses. Thankfully, there was a mailman at the main gate filling the mailboxes, who gave me the proper duplex number. Upon arrival, no one was home, but there were two elderly ladies having a conversation at the adjacent house. I scared them by saying “hi” and then asked about their neighbors, who were not home at the time. I brought in the plant and placed it in her kitchen sink for safe-keeping.

I was then on my way towards the more affluent parts of town beyond the 470 loop. I circled through one suburban hell and finally found the house I was looking for, a split-level walkup. There was a chainsaw-carved bear, chained to the porch, with a sign that read “bear feet please.” I rang the bell and heard a kid screaming, which meant an adult should be home. Once the door creaked open, there was a woman, not much older than me, holding a baby, with no less than three toddlers at her feet. I offered to bring in the very large vase of roses, to which she was more than grateful. I left my shoes on as I traveled inside and down the split level, counting at least five children and about ten thousand toys scattered about. Whoever lived there needed those flowers.

I surprised a woman at her workplace, which was some sort of insurance company in an office tower south of town. After going to the floor with the Swedish Consulate, I found the right floor and office. When I was shown to the recipient’s office, it was not more than a block of area that looked like it used to be a closet, with filing cabinets on two sides and a computer desk at the closed end. She was quite surprised by the roses and chocolates and wondered who it could have been from . . . as I was leaving she was racing down the hall to thank one of her male co-workers for sending the gifts . . .

My last two deliveries of the day were back to the affluent far south neighborhoods. One was a sympathy delivery to a house with three younger, attractive, brunette women who answered the door accompanied by two golden retrievers. I petted the dogs, handed over the flowers and left. My final delivery also had a dog, who got out onto the porch and into the yard. I tried to corral the dog by grabbing it’s collar, but it slipped over the dog’s neck, causing the man of the house to go out into the yard and chase the puppy back inside. It was quite the scene for four in the afternoon.

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The flower man receives no tips, just picks up the broken pieces.

As I was making my way home, storms started to roll in and I decided on calling it a day. I could have made another run, but the rain combined with afternoon traffic was not making it all that appealing. More of the city to see in the next few days . . .

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Jamaica on my own

I spent 12 days exploring the island of Jamaica. Ostensibly, I was there for the wedding of a friend and a one-week stay at an all-inclusive hotel in Runaway Bay. However, having some extra time off, I was able to fly down to Jamaica early and spend that time exploring the island on my own.

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In the first twelve hours I spent in Jamaica, I rented a car, met a local celebrity, Dolly, who has an unassuming restaurant only minutes from the airport, ate a Callaloo sandwich, got a flat tyre after running over a large boulder in Montego Bay, got essentially robbed of $40 when I pulled over and a large group of hustlers changed my tyre for me, got offered both ganga and coke by said hustlers, got the hell out of Montego Bay and learned how to drive a right-hand drive car on the left hand side of the road through narrow village streets and pot-holed highways on my way to the famous resort town of Negril on the west coast. I checked into a yoga centre, had the security guy at the yoga centre offer to purchase ganga for me, had incredibly strong rum punch, ate an escoveitch fish (whole fried fish, including head, eyes and tail), walked down the beach, saw a live reggae show that was worth the $500 Jamaican entrance, talked with singers after their sets, watched the waiters and old rasta bottle collectors jam to the groove, was offered ganga, was offered girls to dance with, girls to walk down the beach with, and ate some of the local Jamaican ganga the security guy had purchased (I didn’t have pipe or papers) before retiring to the sounds of birds, tree frogs and the fan cooling my excessively hot room.

My first full day in Jamaica began by waking to the birds, heat and noises of everyday Jamaica. I got in a quick stroll to town to exchange my US$ into Jamaican and of course was hustled and honked at every turn in the road. I walked across the trash-filled Negril River lined with colorful fishing boats.

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I took in the morning yoga session and enjoyed the outrageously good cooking of the Jamaican chefs on site at the yoga centre. I took off to explore and ended up at the Royal Palm Preserve just outside of town. There was a nice boardwalk set up and interpretive signs for the different kinds of jungle plants I found there. I drove into the hills outside of town and saw the mansions mixed with the shacks that seems to be de-rigeur in every Jamaican neighborhood.

I managed to find my way to Rick’s Café, one of the most notable places to visit on the planet, apparently. Rick’s is a cliff-top bar from where persons could jump into the sea from various levels of the cliff. Of course there were locals there collecting a penance before attempting various kinds of acrobatic jumps. I saw a couple of jumps, visited the nearby lighthouse before returning to the yoga centre for a typical Jamaican afternoon of relaxation and Red Stripe. I visited the beach for a very pink sunset, some jerk chicken and a lot of beer.

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My second day, I began by taking my time checking out of the yoga centre and enjoying some more of the island cooking. I quickly came to realize anywhere I ate on the island, as long as it was cooked in a small kitchen by a Jamaican cook, was going to turn out excellent.

I made my longest drive of the trip yet from Negril through Savannah-la-Mar and Black River on the way to Treasure Beach. I almost got a ticket for running a stop sign in Sav-la-Mar, but somehow was told to go on. I wasn’t sure whether or not the cop, who happened to be just standing beside the road as I ran the stop sign and pointed for me to pull over, was asking for a bribe when we were discussing what happened. He seemed to be asking me how much I wanted to pay for a ticket and after a few minutes apparently figured I was harmless and sent me on the way towards Black River. Most of the road was in the hills above the sea with a view through the jungle towards the ocean.

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The one place that the road dropped to sea side, there was a large seawall to the west, a few multi-colored fishing boats moored in the deep blue sea, and across from this beach was Peter Tosh’s crypt and gardens. I drove past at first but immediately turned around and inquired about heading in. There was a large gate with Peter’s picture painted on the side and “Legalize Marijuana” painted in rasta colors. I was shown into the crypt that was adorned with Peter’s picture and a few stained glass windows and was overwhelmed with the smell of ganga. My guide opened up a large plastic bag full of buds and asked if I knew what that was. I was then shown the garden of marijuana seedlings that had been planted just the night before.

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Soon, I was back on the road through Black River and then into the hills towards Treasure Beach. My trip of 75-90km or so only took about three hours from Negril. I checked into a very spacious guest house in Billy’s Bay area of Treasure Beach. From there I walked to the more commercial area of Calabash Bay. Treasure Beach is for the most part an unassuming quiet fishing village with a picturesque, somewhat rocky beach lined with multi-colored wooden fishing dories. Granted there are still hustlers here and there but not as bad as most other towns.

Most of the Jamaicans one meets are friendly and Treasure Beach was no exception. I even met a guy who had his beard in dreads, he of course, wanted to sell me something but I refused. I had a late afternoon escoveitch fish lunch while sitting at a beach side restaurant enjoying the scenery and the Red Stripe. I walked back to Billy’s Bay and watched one of the most spectacular sunsets starting from the roof of my guesthouse and then ending at the beach across the street. It was amazing to see the different hues of the fishing boats bathed in that perfect sunset light while watching the sky turn pink, purple and orange.

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I wandered down the beach a bit to a purple-colored beach shanty serving as a bar and finished watching the sunset with two Jamaicans who tried to sell me everything in the bar, I wouldn’t be surprised if they had tried to sell me the building even. I learned about the Jamaican drink of a “Steel bottom” from them, which is a shot of run followed by a Red Stripe. One of them gave me a bracelet in the Jamaican colors because he said it matched my Oakland A’s hat. Unfortunately the bracelet of fishing line and tiny beads only lasted about three weeks. I realized that I had better get out of the shack while I was still somewhat competently sober and free of any ownership of the beach shack, especially as the two men in the shack wanted to take me dancing nearby and introduce me to Jamaican girls. Who knew where that would go.

Day three, my guesthouse loaded me up with “some breakfast” which turned out to be a four-course meal which took almost an hour to consume. I was not in a hurry to leave the front porch that overlooked the Caribbean and soaked in the sea breeze. I could not get out of Treasure Beach without being re-routed for some construction by a dreadlocked flagger smoking a spliff as big as a cigar, who gave me some direction with distances measured in chains (one chain equals 66 feet). I then took the longest, hardest, most dangerous and most interesting drive I could take in my rental car. I had my Lonely Planet guide book and picked out town names and navigated towards those towns as best I could, either by asking someone standing at an intersection or reading what very little road signs there were available. I made it through Mountainside, Lacovia, Bamboo Avenue and past YS Falls with relative ease.

Past YS Falls the road – what I thought was highway B6 – started to climb up into the forest covered limestone slopes that make up the inner portion of this island country. Most of the time the road was only wide enough for my tiny Mitsubishi Lancer to pass through. I dodged post holes like a champ, honked at every blind corner and asked directions at every possible intersection. A couple of hours into my drive I had forgotten to notice the stunningly beautiful mountains I was surrounded by and was concentrating hard on returning my car to Montego Bay.

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I was beginning to think that Montego Bay was just a superstition somewhere on the other side of this endless range of karst topography. Every intersection I came to, it being a Saturday, there was usually a small group of people that could point me back to MoBay. Most of the towns also reeked of ganga as I drove through. I am not even sure where I was, as most of the towns did not appear on the limited map I was following in my guide book. It only took me about four hours to traverse the 60 km up and over the mountains from Lacovia to Montego Bay. Eventually I came to larger and nicer roads and was back in Montego Bay returning my rental car. I was charged for the tyre and rim I ruined by running over that boulder and they left out charging me for the winder that was stolen from me when the hustlers changed my tyre. I finally signed all the paperwork and was given a ride to my hotel choice for the night at the northern end of the Hip Strip. I went back to my hotel, where my balcony room was in sight of the large neon Red Stripe sign over downtown, drank some rum runners by the pool and sequestered myself in for the night, being tired from driving all day and tired of getting hustled at every turn I took in Jamaica.

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Day four, I started by taking an early morning walk along the Hip Strip, visited Doctor’s Cave beach and bought some Cuban cigars. I was one of the few persons out on the street at nine in the morning on a Sunday but yet there were still hustlers trying to see me something: cd’s, girls, ganga. I had the traditional breakfast of Ackee and Saltfish, it’s a taste to get used to eating salty fish and vegetables for breakfast and spent the morning in the air-conditioning of my room.

I dropped by Dolly’s on my way to the airport and had her cook up some traditional Jamaican fare for the wedding party that was due to arrive early that afternoon. I managed to make it out the door with four huge bags of food and then to the taxi door of Montego Bay airport. I had to stand outside the door and wait for a representative from the resort to come out, take my info and tell me to wait some more. In all, I think I waited about an hour outside the taxi door and then was taken to wait outside the bus gate to the airport for another half hour or so. Eventually, the largest vehicle I had seen in Jamaica, a tour bus, pulled through the gate, stopped and let me on. Most everyone on the bus was unsure what was going on when I stepped on with four bags of food for them. It created quite the surprise and pleased all the hungry stomachs.

The bus stopped about halfway to the resort, for a “bathroom break,” where I picked up a bucket of Red Stripe and other patrons of the bus followed a dreadlocked rasta behind some buildings to purchase some ganga. The party was on from there, I was in the back of the bus, with some kind of band, who began passing around joints while we consumed our buckets of Red Stripe.

Somehow, I eventually made it off the bus, out to the bar of the resort and had a few Steel Bottoms before I even checked into my room. I suppose I was the drunkest of all that night at dinner as I had to have one of the friendly Jamaican waitresses hold my hand around the buffet and fill my plate with dinner. I entertained all my friends, both old and new with my adventures around Jamaica and all my stories of the past four days. I even passed on my opinions on the wonderful food and the speed with which the island should be approached: “Like walking drunkenly through the sand.”

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A Rave and a Bathe

When in Japan, do as the Japanese . . .

 

While I was exploring the town of Hirafu on my first evening, I picked up a card for a “psychedelic trance party” Saturday night. Someone saw me contemplating the card and told me I should go. I kept the card and continued about my business in Hirfau the rest of the week, which was skiing massive powder.

 

The trance party, or rather rave, was being held at a tiny bar called the Jam Café, which was conveniently located only a few blocks from my hotel. I spent a long Saturday on the mountain, followed by a visit to the Onsen (more on the Onsen later) to clean up.

 

I arrived to the Jam Café around 9, as the card stated the party started at 8. I knew the Japanese valued punctuality, but I was not sure about the punctuality when it came to a rave. I paid my cover in a foyer large enough for me and the bouncer, which had a blanket blocking the dance floor.

 

There were three girls doing the “hippie shuffle” to the house music on the wooden dance floor and the bartenders against the far wall. My cover included one drink, so I went ahead and ordered a Jim Beam on the rocks from the English-speaking bartender. I watched as the bar staff kept busy with hanging lights and black light posters around the venue. Apparently, punctuality is not necessary for a rave.

 

As I was sipping my one free drink a large group of large Australian males came in to the Jam Café. One Australian came over to me and rubbed my head for some reason. He then told me “whatever you do, don’t let your morals get in the way of a good time” – when he took off his jacket, I saw the same slogan printed across his back.

 

The Aussies were disappointed the bar had only Jim Beam and not Jack Daniels. Seemed like everywhere I went in Japan I heard Aussies ordering Jack Daniels – which is good to hear for a boy from Tennessee. I told my new friends that I grew up near the distillery and had visited there as kid, even, which made them even more friendly with me. Maybe next time I go to Japan, I’ll stock up on Jack Daniels souvenirs at the Nashville airport.

One of the more quiet members of the group, who had been standing in the corner watching the bar staff, as I was, asked if I knew of any psychedelic drugs going around. I told him that I was not even interested in Japan, due to their illegality here. I barely even saw people smoking cigarettes, certainly in Japan people still smoked cigarettes, somewhere. Later I would find that somewhere would be in the Jam Café, which would get so thick with smoke at times I had to go outside to get some clean air.

 

I talked with my new friend until his group decided to leave. It was probably good they were on the way out the door as he was getting upset about me not knowing the metric system. What could I say? Even as a trained scientist, I barely understood how far a meter was. He was getting excited and to the point of almost yelling something about: “why is this six-foot, four inches, when you can just say 185 millimeters, it is so easy,” while pointing at a board in the floor. Then, getting agitated about liters of petrol and how a dollar a liter was more expensive than our three or four dollars a gallon and I was completely lost.

A few more people trickled in to the Jam Café and I decided to do as the Aussies and visit another bar down the block called Wild Bills until the crowd at the Jam Cafe got a big larger. I went in to Wild Bills and it was packed – with Aussies. I do not think there was one Japanese person in there. I saw the group from the Jam Cafe in there. I talked with more of the Aussie group and one of them asked what part of Canada I was from. I told him not to insult me like that and left it there.

 

Wild Bills had a DJ spinning some popular music. I thought it was funny as the DJ spun “Welcome to Jamrock” in a bar full of Aussies in Japan, called Wild Bills. Then I started to think that I might be the only person there who has been two different places where Wild Bill actually shot someone – including the town I was living in at the time. Probably, some of the Aussies had been to Jamaica, seeing as it is part of the Commonwealth. I had been to Jamaica as well, several years ago. Here I was on the opposite side of the world, in a bar named after an American folk hero, listening to Jamaican music. I was contemplating that odd fact of transplanted American culture being celebrated by Australians in Japan, as the staff started to clear a dance floor, while I finished up my drink before returning to the Jam Café.

Jam Café was now a little more crowded. Considering the room was about fifty square feet total, being crowded was not hard to do. I initially sat one of the few benches against the back wall, then got up and worked my way the few feet towards the front of the crowd and the DJ booth.

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We were all bouncing around, screaming and yelling and having a good time. I started thinking about how late it must have been getting and if I was going to ski the next day. Then, I started thinking: “fuck skiing tomorrow, you are at a rave in Japan! You only come to Japan once and this is way cooler than skiing!”
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I had brought some Mardi Gras beads and started handing them out to girls I thought had good moves – or who complimented me on my crazy purple cowboy shirt. Soon, I had a little group of girls dancing right in front of me – with my beads on. If I would have known then, what I know now, about the more open sexual culture in Japan, maybe one of these beauties would have gone home with me. They certainly did not mind my hand on their hips occasionally, as I leaned forward to scream at the DJ.

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One of the more fun DJs would give us hand signals to jump up or whatever. I could have probably touched the buttons on his laptop, I was that close. I did talk to him a couple of times during some quieter moments. We were all pressed up against each other and pressed as close to the tiny DJ booth as we could get. I was making fast friends of everyone around me, with my yelling, bouncing around and handing out beads. At one point, I started taking pictures, then I handed my phone to a Japanese person behind me, to see what would come out. When I looked later, I had some nice dayglo-streaked blurry photos of a dance floor. Did I mention all the yelling the crowd was doing? Being a large, loud American I am sure my voice was heard all over.

 

I would work my way between the bar for my Jim Beam over ice, my girlfriends in front of the DJ booth who understood little beyond “hello,” and the cold alley to breathe smoke-free air until my sweat would begin to freeze, then back inside for another round.

I finally ran out of cash for alcohol and decided I should attempt to find my hotel around 2 am. I wonder how long the rave lasted, as it was still going strong when I stumbled down the street.

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I woke up the next morning, or rather a few hours later in the same day as I left the rave, with only a few minutes to spare before the end of breakfast service at my hotel. My head was throbbing, my clothes reeked of cigarette smoke and I stunk of sweat from the hot dance floor. I needed to visit the Onsen.

This was one of my favorite things about Japan – the Onsen, which is a bath house typically fed by a hot spring. My lodging had one of the first floor and I visited two others in town.

Of the three I visited, they all had the same basic premise.

First, you go into a locker room and strip completely down. Usually, you are given a towel, but that is just for drying off after. In my hotel, I could wear a kimono provided in my room down to the Onsen. Of course, this would never happen in the prudish old USA. Maybe some places, but they are rare. Of course, the Onsens are separated by sexes.

I do recall Tecopa Hot Springs way out in the California desert being similar to this experience – a bunch of naked Asian men and myself lounging around, but the Onsen was a whole new level compared to that.

Next, you go into the pool area which typically has a row of faucet heads down a wall. You sit on a stool, which is short enough that your knees are about touching the faucet head, which is maybe two feet off the ground. The faucets in Japan are very easy to figure out. The controls are two paddles, mounted on either side of about an 8″ pipe. On the left is a paddle that controls the temperature and goes all the way up to 40 C. On the right, the paddle controls whether the water comes out of the tap, or out of the shower head. Down for the tap, up for the shower head. The farther you move the paddle from center, the stronger the flow.

At your stool, you get a wash basin, which I was not sure what it was for, maybe soaping up. I usually let mine fill with cold water as the temperature was heating up, then used it to rinse the soap from my hands. The wall is lined with mirrors and lines of soaps and shampoos. One even had foot scrubbers on chains.

You rinse before the pool. I never figured out which direction to go here – wash with soap first, then the spring or rinse, spring, soap or what. So, I just went ahead and soaped and rinsed first, then hit the pool. No one seemed offended that I did it that way.

To be seated next to several other naked men, all just calmly bathing themselves, like this is what they do everyday (which, it probably is what they do everyday) is not as awkward as one might think. Of course, I am a little more open about exposed skin, so I don’t really care. I thought perhaps, if this was how persons were raised in America (as there were all ages at the Onsen), maybe we would be less of a prudish nation about seeing some exposed skin. Remember Janet Jackson’s nipple? Why can we not accept this level of openness about each others bodies? After all, humans all look the same eventually.

After rinsing, you get into the spring pool. My lodging had one completely inside. The two other Onsens I visited had a pool both inside and outside. It was really nice to sit out in the pool in the cold weather.

My favorite Onsen in Hirafu was called Yuokoro. Yukoro had been built right on top of a travertine formation. The main wash room was in a deep, dark cave, with a couple of indoor pools. The best part about Yukoro (other than the beer machine and drinking being allowed in the pool) was the outdoor travertine pool. I sat out there, with a bunch of naked Australians drinking beer (no surprise there) and watched the snow melt into steam just above our heads.

The Onsen in my lodging also had a “traditional milk bath” which was a large, warm tub that could be filled with milky water. I only used it once, but it was truly relaxing.

Once you have had your fill of the hot pools, you can step out and rinse off. Or, if you want to soap up and wash, you are welcome to do as such. Then, back into the locker room to dry off and change into fresh clothes. Or, at my hotel, I just put a kimono on, visited the beer machine in the hallway and headed to my room to change.
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Let me tell you, after a long day skiing, the Onsen experience is incredible. It is also nice in the morning after a late night out at a rave . . .

 

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Hayduke Lives!

I was inspired yesterday by a friend on Facebook who tagged me in a post that read: “Hayduke Lives.” A tagline from the “Monkeywrench Gang” by Ed Abbey, which is held in high reverence by a lot of folks in the desert southwest. I remembered that I had a few pictures of actual areas that were settings for the book. So, I wanted to add some quotes to the pictures.

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“All we need here, God, is one little pre-cision earthquake” – – Seldom Seen Smith

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“Like many other canyons, mesas and monoclines in southeast Utah, Comb Ridge forms a serious barrier to east-west land travel. Or it used to. God meant it to.” Chapter six, The Raid at Comb Wash.

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“The train rose up from the rails, great balls of fire mushrooming under its payload. Hayduke dropped again as pieces of steel, cement, rock, coal and wire hurtled past his ears and soared into the sky.” Monkeywrench Gang, chapter 14, Working on the Railroad

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“The only folks want this road, says Smith, are the mining companies and the oil companies and people like Bishop Love. And the Highway Department, which their religion is building roads. Nobody else ever heard of it.” Monkeywrench Gang, chapter 26, Bridgework: Prolegomena to the Final Chase.

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Virginia’s Rainbow

For a large part of my adult life, I have believed in some sort of spirit world, inhabited by souls after passing from Earth.

 

Not sure what to call it, most would just go ahead and assume “Heaven,” I think. Sure, if that is what you believe in. I would like to think that we all attain some kind of eternal paradise when we pass.

 

I might not take to religion all that well, but most tend to have good points such as: love each other, be nice to everyone, and so forth. I do believe in Jesus, for there happens to be quite a lengthy and old book written about him. I also like to believe in Muhammed, Buddha, and any other number of “gods” that have inhabited the Earth in the long (much longer than 6000 years) existence of humans. I am not quite sure which higher power I might ascribe to, but I know there is one out there and that she or he or it has left me quite a few clues about their existence, many of those being found in nature (perhaps because of my enjoyment of being outdoors?)

 

During my Mother’s illness and subsequent passing from cancer in 2009, I have three very pertinent examples of a spirit world, which I feel were passed along to me from some kind of higher universal power.

 

I had been removed from my Mother’s sickness by several thousand miles as she was in Tennessee and I was living in Nevada and then Utah in the Spring of 2009, when the final stages of her disease began to run their course. I was continually told, by both my Mother and Father “you don’t need to come home,” every time I talked with them on the phone, and in my removed innocence, I believed them.

 

Towards the end of April, I moved from Nevada to Utah and was informed a couple of days later that my Mother had entered the hospital, then subsequently moved to Hospice care. I had little clue what that meant, having never had a close relative in such a predicament.

 

Soon, the calls were daily and only from my Father, repeating the same mantra: “you don’t need to come home now, we will let you know.” Every day, a new voice mail, every day the same few sentences: “your Mom is in hospice care, but we don’t want/need you to come home until I need you.”

 

I came home every afternoon to that same voice mail for about two weeks. I knew my Mother was dying, but I also kept believing things would improve and continued to be told “we don’t need you to come home.” Why? I still cannot wrap my head around an answer to that.

 

I was living in my motorhome near the mule corrals at Bryce Canyon at the time. I would come home, turn on my tiny am/fm radio that was my only entertainment and listen to the one decent FM radio station out of Page, Arizona that seemed to continually broadcast the “Mother’s Day Special Brunch” advertisement from Antelope Point Marina, just to depress/irritate me.

 

The Thursday before Mother’s Day I was called by several relatives imploring me to travel to Tennessee for the weekend. Perhaps they were trying to make me feel guilty for not being there, or upset that I had not come previously, or whatever, but I wonder how many of them knew that I was consistently and constantly being told “don’t come home until we  need/tell you to (which had become, in my Dad’s language and thinking ‘for a funeral?’)”

 

I was continuing to think that I was respecting and following my parent’s wish for me to perhaps not have to see or deal with the ravages of my Mother’s sickness. In retrospect, I should have traveled home more often that spring when I had the chances, but how was I to know? I was still under the impression (for most of January through April) that this was something that could be could and would be cured.

 

After thinking about what I should do overnight (as it was not like I could just pick up and go to the nearest airport (Las Vegas – five hours away) as soon as I got all those calls) I bought a plane ticket in the morning (for that afternoon) and began the long drive to Las Vegas for a similarly long flight to Nashville.

 

The first example of a spirit world/higher power came as I was leaving Bryce Canyon. An early season thunderstorm was just gathering up steam to slam into the west side of Powell Point, as was often the case with early season thunderstorms and the highest (10,000 feet) point around for several hundred miles. As I was watching the intense dark clouds and lightning wreak havoc along the side of the massive pink cliffs and ponderosa lined plateau from which the point protruded, “Knocking on Heaven’s Door” began playing on my car radio. I cannot remember if it was from the obscure Page radio station or my iPod, but I felt it a fitting score to what I was witnessing, given the circumstances for my travels.

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Powell Point in the far distance, with thunderheads building.

 

My second example of the spirit world/higher power came on the day my Mother passed. I had returned to work at Bryce Canyon and it was late in the afternoon on a Thursday (I believe we had Friday off). I was introducing my crew to the tasks of closing “social trails” which involves picking up rocks, sticks, leaves, pine cones, dirt or whatever from the forest floor and depositing it onto the trail you wish to close, in an effort to mimic the forest floor.

 

I was picking up pine cones and had a childhood memory of picking up pine cones in the woods with my Mother, likely for some kind of future craft project. I was perhaps wondering about how much longer she could last when I had the thought: “if God wants her, he can have her.” When I returned to the office, someone sought me out and told me I had an important message and I should call one of several relatives. I had left my phone in my jacket pocket, in the office, and I reached in and saw several missed calls from relatives. I knew what that meant. I wondered if she had passed during the moment I had my short talk with “God”.

 

The third example of a spirit world came during my return to Utah, while I was driving up I-15 through the Virgin River Gorge in northern Arizona. The Virgin River Gorge is a deep canyon, carved by it’s namesake river, of various colors and patterns. About halfway up the canyon, I saw a rainbow appear. The minister who spoke at my Mother’s service had said:

 

“I am a visual person and when I think of Virginia now, I can’t help but think of her up in    heaven surrounded by all kinds of fabric imaginable.  She is in her element.  She is   mixing and matching patterns with solids.  She is choosing from millions upon millions   of patterns.  She is chatting around a quilting frame with fellow quilters by her side.  All of her stitches are precisely correct, she never has to rip out a thread and she is quilting   together the next rainbow we shall witness in the sky.”

 

I stopped at a small rest area to admire the rainbow and take a few pictures. I saw that the rainbow seemed to get brighter farther up the canyon, so I continued up canyon watching the rainbow from my windshield. When I got to the top of the canyon, only a few miles from St. George, Utah, the rainbow was still present and still as bright as ever.

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I could see the rainbow gracing the pink cliffs near Zion National Park, which were visible on the far eastern horizon. I even managed to see a double rainbow as I chased down views all over the suburbs of St. George. It seemed that everywhere I turned or looked the rainbow was there shining down on my journey, until the sun began to set and dusk swept it away.

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To this day, every rainbow that I see I can’t help but think of my Mother and her rainbow guiding my way into Utah that June day.

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In remembrance of Jacob Rigby

Jacob “Jake” Rigby, 27, died in a fall from Glacier National Park’s Peak 8888, August 28th, 2011.

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Jake was hiking a route that “few had attempted and as far as everyone knows, no one had completed,” according to his supervisor at Glacier. His final route took him off trail – he rarely ever hiked “on” trail – starting at Sheep Mountain, going over Brave Dog and 8888 with intent to end near Grizzly Peak. He met his tragic end in what was reported to be an 800’ fall while descending 8888, which is described as technical, at best.

 

After several summers at Glacier, I would bet Jake climbed at least 100 peaks there, typically on his own. In Jake fashion, he might tell you about his achievements, but probably not. More likely you would be riding in the work truck with him and he would point out a few peaks and say: “yeah, I have been there, there, and there and there and also there.”

 

During Jake’s stints at Glacier, the Smokies and Lake Mead, he was always hiking, climbing a peak, finding a new route or pouring over sets of maps planning his next adventure. If it involved elevation, lack of people, lack of trail and a difficult route, he was even more tempted, in all conditions. Jake was never one to rest, constantly seeking a new horizon.

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I hiked Mount Bangs, in the Virgin Range, one blustery January day with him and another friend. Starting before daylight, we drove as far as the snow would allow and Jake immediately struck off straight up the side of the mountain, scrambling over boulders and around and under the straggly forest. Without his presence, I would have turned back. Jake pushed us on and up the mountain because he knew the rewards of the once-in-a-lifetime view all peaks hold. We were awarded with sightings of an eagle and a bobcat, sweeping views of the Arizona Strip and spotting the trail that we could have taken — on the other side of the peak. We wrote a snide joke remark in the peak register that only twenty people might understand and descended towards the trail, road and lights of Mesquite.

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I met Jake when he joined the tamarisk removal crew at Lake Mead in fall 2006, where he immediately established himself as the hardest worker and best sawyer any of us could have hoped to be. He was also the person who was constantly exploring a side canyon during lunch or striking out for a hike of indeterminate distance and destination after work. How he managed to work a long day cutting brush and hike Mt Elden four evenings in a row from our hotel in Flagstaff, I will never know.

 

Over the next four winters he was my occasional saw partner, road roommate and truck driver/dee-jay. He had an encyclopedic knowledge of music and one of the most coveted iPods on the crew. Living and working together, I got to know him as an exceptionally goofy person with an infectious laugh and crazy smile who loved life and lived it to the fullest.

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I knew he was a character when I heard he had walked home from a party, eight miles or so, at night, across the desert. I also learned how goofy he was when he would take the time to tease you for something absurd, make up a crazy song about the tiniest (though incredibly funny) event, draw a silly picture on his leather work gloves and purposefully strike an elaborate pose for any picture you happened to capture him in. His father asked: “was Jake as weird in adult life as he was as a kid?” We laughed and said: “Yes!”

 

Jake had an infectious love for the outdoors and challenging himself in all ways possible. If you mentioned a peak or route or canyon somewhere within several hours of your location, he would be on board immediately. He was the fastest hiker I knew of, but would not forget you, often stopping to make a crazy noise and wave, perched on some random outcrop several hundred feet away (and typically above).

 

Jake caught the skiing bug, hard, one winter. He went from: “yeah, I’ll tag along” on a ski trip to Brian Head in December to the guy putting the deposit down for a condo at Snowbird in March and buying skis and skis and more skis until he finally bought an Alta Pass and moved into a former FLDS compound-turned-new age ski lodge at the base of Little Cottonwood Canyon the following winter. During most of my time skiing with him, he was a blur of colors who did two or three runs in the time I managed to do one.

 

If he could not find anyone willing or crazy enough to join his adventures, he never hesitated to strike out on his own. For the longest time, he did not own a car but bicycled everywhere. If he needed to ride thirty miles to town to buy groceries, he would ride thirty miles plus probably a side trip to do a hike. After he bought a car – a small coupe- he would tell me about his hikes in the Muddy Mountains in Lake Mead NRA – a place I dared not take my SUV.

 

Most of all, though, he was a true friend. If he had accepted you into his world he would do anything to support and defend you and the principles that he held. He might laugh at (and with) you, tease you or do something absurd, but the best qualities I will remember him for are his loyalty, honor, willingness to stand up for what is right in the world and hisabiding love of the outdoors.

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Like the music-loving rock star, he was taken from us too early. At least he was doing something he loved. You will be missed by many and revered by all.

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Spring storms in the Plains

Got to watch a frontal system move across the Great Plains most of the morning.

Here are some awesome pictures I snapped with my phone.

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