Saturday, September 19, 2015

Plane Trip: Asheville

Sunrise over the Black Canyon
Having spent a good portion of my youth in the southeast dreaming of ice, snow, and craggy mountains, I made a break for the Rockies as soon as the opportunity arose. In the decade since, for various reasons (including humidity, traffic, Atlanta), I’ve probably not seen my family as often as we’d all like. However, with my parents retiring and moving to Asheville, NC, where there’s significantly less traffic and humidity, visitation may begin to increase. Adding in that Asheville is also home to a sister and her family, along with Grandma, multiple aunts, uncles, cousins, lots of mountain biking, rivers, breweries, it’s not Atlanta, and a ridge top yurt, visiting gets sweeter.

Clementine, my niece

Yurt, you say? Like that round tent that the moguls patented a couple of years ago?


40 years ago, my Dad bought land in the backwoods of western North Carolina and hand-built a two story log cabin on the valley floor. Since retiring and moving back to NC, my parents have reclaimed the cabin and have been working to build a yurt higher up on the ridge as their anytime retreat. Hidden on the hillside among the poplar trees with spring fed, gravity powered running water and a view of the setting sun, it’s a lovely spot. 

Leaf prints in 40+ year old chinking

Looking out over the Blue Ridge Mountains from the solitude of the yurt is as deceiving as a siren’s song, for hidden beneath those gently forested ridges lies a truth I’d forgotten in the years between visits. 

They’re steep and rugged. Trails run straight up the ridge to a summit and turn straight down the proceeding ridge. Riding a bike down them is an absolute blast; covered in roots and rock from every direction creating a puzzle of drops and jumps, twists and turns. Dark tunnels through the laurel and rhododendron that have the uncanny ability to close in further when the trail is at it’s most demanding. Riding to the top is laughable. Large sections of trail (miles) require pushing and/or carrying your bike up the hill, fighting vegetation the entire time. What takes an hour or more to hike-a-bike up takes minutes to ride down. I have a love for technical riding and won’t shy away from ascents or descents, however, the key word there is RIDING. While adventure was high, I questioned if the effort was worth the rides on a whole. In my mind West is best, no apologies. 

A few final thoughts on the trip:

  1. I will not miss riding or walking through countless spider webs. If it ever becomes an issue back home, I’d think about moving.
  2. I’m terribly spoiled with trail access and the riding in my hood
  3. The forests are dense, I missed the openness of home
  4. Bring lighter sunglasses next time (dense forests)
  5. Next trip, the bikes stays home. I’m bringing my paddle and boat
  6. Put your bike in a hockey bag, smile at the ticket clerk when it checks in less than 50lbs and pay your $25 baggage fee. Walk away quickly

Grand Junction

Live Caged or Die

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Big Waves, Little Boats

10+ years ago, while likely avoiding a college paper, I somehow learned of an Alaska based company named Alpacka. Alpacka's product was a 5lb inflatable packraft that was designed for use in the Alaskan wilderness. Within seconds, I wanted one for adventures that were not yet thoughts. The pricetag was out of reach for a college student working part-time at a gear store and the raft drifted into the back of my mind. Over the years, I'd take notice of a photo or read a blurb about one, but was focused on all things climbing or mountain biking; packrafts stayed in the dusty corners of my mind between calculus and aging.

MC, said friend
This summer, a random email from a friend reading something like, "would you be interested in doing X and Y via packraft? I have a boat you can use."

Perhaps the smarter choice would have been to say thanks, but no thanks. I'll never know since I quickly punched the send button with a YES in reply.

All the borrowed gear became owned gear and at least a day per week was spent at the local whitewater park, floating a river, or rolling in a lake. With the increase in skill and confidence came more challenging waterways.

This summer's experiences on water recently peaked when that same friend who put me in a packraft offered to secure a permit to float Westwater Canyon, a classic 17 mile Class IV stretch, on the Colorado River. Our group consisted of 8 guys, all sporting 6lb packrafts from Alpacka.

7 miles of flat water floating led us into the 3 mile stretch where the canyon pinches down and the rapids begin. Though the rapids don't require too much in the way of eddy hopping or tricky maneuvering, they do consist of large wave trains and munchy holes.

It was read and run. A few of us ran everything clean on sight and a few had some nice swims. By the end of the day, those who hadn't swam on the first go, hiked the boats back above a rapid looking to find the biggest waves and deepest holes. We all swam eventually.

The passing of a flask full of Mezcal, bantering about gear, and smiles had the leisurely 7 mile paddle to the take out over too soon.

Not trying to surf the hole...

Find the face in the rock