Friday, October 3, 2014

Floating Around the Internet, Looking Ridiculous

In case you found your way here via the November issue of BIKE magazine, above would be the "Beverly Hillbillies" photo of me that Graham was referencing. I just finished up reading the piece, and I have to say it is very accurate and authentic. Nice work, Graham, and the editors at BIKE.

Also while you're here, check out Dave Chenault's article, in the Sept/Oct issue in Adventure Cyclist, about our Tobacco Root packbike trip. Heads up though, this may be Adventure Cycling member's-only content. I'm not sure. Someone let me know in the comments, will ya? Here is the map of our route I made for the occasion:

Below is a couple more shots from the BIKE photoshoot I did with Aaron Teasdale a few months ago. Talk about a fun day, and definitely not your normal photoshoot. Here's was Aaron's take:
Went out on a lightning-fast shoot of packbiker extraordinaire Casey Greene for BIKE magazine the other night. The mag was about to go to press and this was our one chance to get the images they needed. (No pressure!) To make it even more interesting, heavy storms moved across Western Montana that day. After studying the doppler all afternoon, we decided there was one spot within striking distance that _might_ have dry weather. Picked up Casey from work at 4:30 in downtown Missoula and beelined for two-hours into Idaho, throttling my van up a narrow dirt road until it petered out high in the mountains. 
The gods of fate smiled on us—the sun was shining. With only 90 minutes to work with before it slipped behind the western horizon, we moved fast, running along the rocky ridgeline to the next photogenic spot. The sun went down all too quickly and, concerned I didn't have enough diversity, I kept shooting, experimenting with super-high ISO, super-low shutter speeds as we made our way back to the van in the dark, lightning strobing the sky in the distance on all sides. 
I ended up sending BIKE 144 shots the next day, which was pretty satisfying considering that 24 hours earlier, watching heavy rain move across the region, I was worried we'd be skunked. Thanks to Casey and BIKE for the opportunity and challenge. And thanks to the mountains for gracing us with sun and allowing us to shoot on their slopes. Yet another great night in the wilds.
True that. Check out more of Aaron's photos here. And on FB here.

These photo copyright Aaron Teasdale.
A little off subject, but I'll be giving a talk about the Idaho Hot Springs Mountain Bike Route maps at the NACIS cartography conference in Pittsburgh, next Thursday. More info here. If anyone is in the area, stop by and hear about what went into the design of the route, and the maps.

More: You're going to die, Ohio Boy - by Dave Chenault
Inspiration: Mountain Bikes From Hell! - by Roman Dial

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Bikepacking Yaak's Fire Lookout Towers

I'd been to these mountains before. I'd ridden my bicycle through them 4 years - a lifetime - ago. I'd never been so happy. Each night on that outing, myself and my friend Shaun had stayed at forest fire lookout towers, perched high on mountain tops. We had started in the Selkirk Mountains of north Idaho and seemed to dance across the peaks and river valleys right to the edge of Glacier National Park in Montana.

This time around, we had come back for more of the same: 4 lookout towers in 5 days. Shaun and Reuben picked me and my bike up early on a Wednesday morning. We drove past Arlee and Thompson Falls. We passed the town of Troy and hung a right along the Yaak River, where we drove straight for the little town of Yaak. The forested hills closed in.

September 17th

My bike is a 2013 Surly Krampus. It's green and has really big tires. Even though it is new, it seems old. A throwback to a bygone era. But it's not new trying to be old, like an FJ Cruiser. It's the original: a 1972 BJ45 Troopie. And just like my dream truck, it promises to be dependable and crawl over anything, but get me nowhere in a hurry.

I can agree to this.

But I haven't yet. There has to be some skepticism, some weak point to worry about. Maybe it's because I'm a pre-trip worrier, or maybe it's because I've not had a successful multi-day outing this year and I'm trying so-god-damn-hard to make this one work. Or maybe, it's because I'm in the Yaak where everyone is skeptical of everything. The kind of place where outsiders are looked at not so much as aliens, but more so Cold-War-Era Russians. The weather is harsh here too, and the outside world far away. If you spend winters here, you have to be skeptical, and you better own two of everything: two chainsaws, two generators, two trucks, two winches, two radios, two wood stoves, and three of each wouldn't be a bad idea.

So, I pick the bike's hydraulic disc brakes as it's achilles. I'll focus on that. That's the weak point. Now the world is in order, and I can climb to the top of it. Which today happens to be Mt Baldy.

September 18th

Winter is never too far away in the Yaak. In mid September, it is just waking up, like a spring bee buzzing around drunk from hibernation. You can feel it's presence, but it won't sting. The air is crisp on the morning descent, but not cold. Not even close.

There are 3 paved roads out of the Yaak. The South Fork Road heads over Pipe Creek Summit past the old ski hill, past the bar and pizza joint at mile marker 7, and down to Libby. The East Fork Road winds it's way up between 2 giants, Mt Henry and Mt Robinson, and down towards Eureka. And the Yaak River Road follows the Main Yaak River to Troy. This morning we are on the later.

Things of note on this 8 mile stretch: few cars, a Forest Service Work Center where I unload some trash - mostly beer cans, and large pile of ruble near mile marker 13 where the Golden Nugget bar use to be.

The Spokane newspaper ran a story this past March about the Golden Nugget's mysterious fiery demise the month before. The journalist who wrote the piece thinks it may be related to 5 other rural bars that have gone up in flames over the past 12 months. I'm skeptical. But then again, the owner was a formal Grand Dragon of the KKK who did federal time for burning down a church in Kentucky - so there's that. Regardless of gossip, the Yaak now has 3 storefront businesses instead of 4, and the remaining 3 are also bars. I hope the journalist wasn't onto something.

September 19th

Yesterday was a hard day. I did not anticipate the rolling nature of the East Side Yaak Road. I struggled up the final 2000ft climb to Yaak Mountain. I was anxious, and riding too hard. Breathing too much. The rhythms of this bike tour have not settled into my system yet. The rhythms of the Yaak would probably take a lifetime to settle into, but I'm not going to have enough time to figure that out. The best I can hope for is the bike tour.

Rick Bass' book, Winter: Notes From Montana, is a fine read. In it, Rick tells the story of his first winter spent in the Yaak. From what I can gather he house-sat a ranch on the east side of the South Fork Road, near Lost Horse Mountain, that first year in the late 80's. Here's some of my favorite quotes from the book:
"But the fishing stinks. It's almost Paradise up here, but not quite. And maybe, if I understand it correctly, that's what's needed in Paradise, to make Paradise be Paradise: a flaw. One small thing, one small evil, to define the wonder and richness of everything else."
"It can be so wonderful, finding out you were wrong, that you are ignorant, that you know nothing, not squat. You get to start over. It's like snow falling that first time each year. It doesn't make any sound, but it's the strongest force you know of."
 "Everyone back east wants me to send them pictures, but very few of them sound serious about visiting. This is fine with me. I will send them pictures."
There are other good one too, but it's hard to find quotes in a book without reading the whole book from front to back searching for them, and if your searching for quotes, you miss the fluidity of the story, or bike tour. Or, whatever.

The decision is made to head down to Troy for breakfast and coffee, then onto Libby via US 2, and back into the Yaak via Pipe Creek and the South Fork Road. After those 50 some miles, we'll start the climb to Big Creek Baldy. It looks like a beast on the map.

September 20th

A logging truck passes on the morning climb to Pipe Creek Summit. It rattles and hums it's way down the hill towards Libby. All property in the Yaak is ether National Forest or private. There are no National Parks, Recreation Areas or Monuments. This is fine by me. Some people think the best way to ruin a piece of land is to invite industrial companies to have their way with it. Others think the best way to ruin a piece of land, is to make general public aware that it exists by naming it a National Park, Recreation Area, or Monument.

The driver of the logging truck does not wave back.

My butt hurts. The worst comes when I'm slowly trying to peel it off my saddle. It's gotten worse over the past few days. I'm getting older. Rueben's and Shaun's aren't feeling much better, and because of this, we ditch our bikes, and decide to backpack up to our final destination: Mt. Henry. It feels good to be on my feet. Bikes are nice, but they're not all that. At least not today. And today is perhaps the finest September day in the history of September days.

September 21th

That last sentence, in that last paragraph, was appropriated from my friend Aaron Teasdale's article about fire lookout towers in next month's issue of Adventure Cyclist magazine. I didn't want to use quote-marks because that breaks things up too much. It would leave too many questions - especially at the end of a paragraph - but I did want to give him credit. It is a fine line.

Aaron is also the reason we are up here at Mt Henry. Last week he sent some pictures of the dilapidated tower on top, with a warning: "That’s the best spot in the Yaak. Amazing views". To my surprise, it fit into our schedule, which had been planned out for months.

It's hard for me to separate the experience of bike touring to lookout towers, from the experience of that first trip me and Shaun did, back in 2010. On that occasion, everything was new, we were ignorant, and we knew nothing. We just went for it. Now, we know too much. At what point does knowledge and experience extinguishes that sweet bumbling bliss of a possible shit-show?

A tough question. But this is not something to think about now. This can wait. There is a priority right now, on the catwalk surrounding the Mt Henry lookout tower, and it's not worrying about any of that.

He was not wrong about the views. The world is slowly revealing the Cabinet Mountain's snowfields in a blanket of alpenglow.

On the playlist: Hurray For The Riff Raff - End of the Line
Inspiration: Slaying The Badger

Friday, June 13, 2014

Designs, Interviews, and a Whole Bunch of Stuff

Erin, Phoenix & Coral dwarfed by a feature that needs no introduction. April 2014.

As I said in the previous post, I have been a few months behind, but that doesn't mean things haven't been moving forward. Here's a bunch of stuff that's happened in the past number of weeks and a couple of things going on in the near future.

Interviews & The Idaho Hot Springs Mountain Bike Route

The Idaho Hot Springs Mountain Bike Route maps sold out fairly fast this winter. We immediately turned around a did another printing. If you need maps, we have them in stock. I've also gotten to do a number of interviews about the route in the past few months. Montana Headwall ran a nice piece in their spring issue, and more recently I talked with the folks at The Bicycle Story about the route, my outdoor excursions, and more. Dave gave the Hot Springs route a shout-out in a piece he penned for BackpackingLight (members-only-access). There were also a couple write ups in DirtRag, and on Boise State Public Radio.

Porcupine Rim with Devon(top), Blake(bottom), and Carter(left).

Family Trips

In late March and for spring break, Erin and I decided a trip out of town would be good for us and the kids. Moab was an easy choice. So, we packed up the car and headed south. Erin got to go skydiving for the first time, and I got to get out on bikes with some Missoula boys both in Moab and Fruita, but perhaps the best time was spent as a family. The highlight for me watching Phoenix mountain bike for his 1st, 2nd, and 3rd time ever, on the most famous mtb trail in the world, and totally crush it. This kid is built for outdoorsy sports, and I don't mean physically - although that too - I'm talking about his attitude. Nothing phases him. Always stoked and smiling. It's pretty cool to watch, and encourage.

Phoenix choosing his line in Moab

A couple weeks later Erin and I went down the Main Salmon River as part of guide-training trip, and and a university outdoor rec class, with a company she does part-time work for in the summers. I had reservations going into the trip, but still saw this as quality time I could spend with her.

Out on the Main Salmon River with Ryan behind the sticks. April 2014.
It's a shame the trip ended up pretty awful for the both of us. If it wasn't raining, it was windy, and if it wasn't raining or windy it was cold, and if it wasn't cold - wait, who am I kidding - it was always cold. So cold, we really couldn't even enjoy our surrounding, which were breathtaking. I could also go on about all kinds of other variables, but honestly it wasn't one thing that made the trip the worst I've ever been on, just a combination of absolutely everything. Kinda funny to think about now in hindsight. Type II shit-show "fun", for sure.

There were a couple of highlights too. It was fun hanging out with Bart and Ryan, and it was great to get behind the oars of an 18ft gear boat. I had never piloted a rig that big before, and it was definitely different learning to setup for a line well before I normally would in a smaller boat. I could not have asked for a more gracious and encouraging teacher then Ryan.

New Designs

Sometime this past winter I finished up the identity for Paul's rebranded bag company, Wanderlust. Because he is making bags for bikepacking, I didn't want the logo to have any relation to cycling. I wanted it to have the feel of the destination, not the activity. An end, not a means. The outcome, not the narrative. Where these bags will take you, not how you'll get there.

We went back and forth with a few ideas, but the campfire won out easily. The weight of the chosen condensed typeface matched the width of the logs in the logo perfectly, and we are both happy with how it all turned out.

I just wrapped up the above flyer for the American Packrafting Association. It's always fun to do pro bono work for a good cause. It was a pleasure to work with some great guys throwing ideas back and forth. A big thanks goes out to Tom, Brad, Forrest, and Jim for editing everything. And to Jim again for the use of such spectacular photos.

As for the design, we felt the end goal of it should to make the customer feel like APA is knowledgeable, friendly and approachable. We decided to keep it simple, use great photos and basic mission statements to let folks know who APA is, what they do, how to get more information and join the cause.

My personal goal was to not designing this flyer for packrafters - they (we) will buy the candy no matter what. I designed it for public officials. I want Sally Jewell to pick it up and have it visually communicate to her that APA is an organized, knowledgeable, friendly, and approachable organization. To accomplish that I chose to use the same serif typeface the Park Service uses. It's very graceful, but authoritative. Friendly, but bold. It could not be a more perfect fit.

Really though, I just tried to stay out of the way of the photos. I really wanted four specific scenes on the flyer: a calm river/ big landscape; one of someone hiking with paddles sticking out of their pack; a group shot; and a whitewater shot. The fact we got ones of people smiling was a huge bonus. I could not have dreamed of better photos to work with.

Summer Gatherings

I'll be attending 2 gatherings coming up in the next few weeks. The first is the Forest Fire Lookout Association's Western Regional Conference on the 27th - 29th of June, in Darby, Montana. I'll be presenting a slideshow of ski touring and bikpacking trips to towers in the Northern Rockies. Most of which have been featured here. If your into lookout towers, their history, and the future use of them, it would be worth checking out.

The second is the American Packraft Association's 1st annual Packraft Roundup, July 11th - 13th. It's being held along the North Fork of the Flathead River south of Polebridge, Montana, at the Big Creek Campground. This should be a great low-key event for packrafters, and those looking to get into the activity. Some of the most prolific practitioners will be in attendance for demonstrations, presentations, and questions. There will be organized trips for different ability levels. The itinerary is not out yet, but I suspect most will take place on the class I-II North Fork and the higher grade Middle Fork. Although, I do know of one group from Missoula planning on exclusively running big-drop creeks in Glacier NP. Needless to say, it should be a fun weekend.