He Paddled In

Hopefully pictures like this take a little wind out of the tow-surfers' sails.  Getting towed into a wave is lame like taking a helicopter or snowmobile to a mountaintop.  Real athletes don't burn gas while gettin' er' dun.


The Pothole... Part Two: Hood River to NORCAL

Now that I'm back to ski bumming the days all blend together into one blurrily good time.  Though I can't remember what I did the day before yesterday, every moment of my recent 16 month sailing adventure still burns in my mind.  Here, in the murky depths of The Pothole, I'm sharing just the highlights...

Part 2: Oregon to Norcal.

Recap: After a summer of fun in the sun and occassional lazy preparations, the 27 foot sailboat "Sin Fin" was almost as UNprepared as her Captain for the voyage ahead.  I had $2500 in the bank and Mack, an inexperienced but eager crewmember willing to split some expenses.  We had a decent motor but it burned more gas than we could carry.  We hoped to go as "Oil Free" as possible and intended to use it only in emergencies.  Altogether, the boat, supplies, and equipment (dinghy, handheld GPS, radio, fishfinder, new batteries, liquor supply, etc.) cost about $9000.  So far, pretty cheap, though I was already well aware that staying fed and keeping Ol' Sinful afloat would be a painful financial enema.

The loosey-goosey plan was sailing out the Columbia River to the North Pacific and hanging a Louie in hopes of reaching La Ventana, Baja for the winter Kiteboarding season.  With luck, Mack and I could find work there, and kite our faces off while replenishing funds to continue onward into Central America.

The Oregon Coast is known for terrible storms and rough seas so I'd been following the weather religiously, waiting for a window of goodness.  Finally, in late September... long after I'd hoped to be underway...  magicseaweed.com called for a solid week of high pressure.  In four to five days of continuous sailing, we could cover the 450 miles to the California border and put one of the more treacherous stretches of the trip behind us.

Kiteboarding the day before our departure, I fell hard and shredded my right knee.  Instead of proclaiming it a bad omen, I took it as an ultimatum: there'd be no skiing on a fucked up knee so the boat trip had to succeed.  The injury proved a blessing in disguise because I was forced to delegate tasks, and Mack learned to sail quicker than he would have otherwise.

That night Dank Dave threw us a bitchin' farewell party.  Well-sauced, at about midnight Mack and I turned in for our first night together on the Sin Fin.  I quickly learned that Mack snores loudly, erraticly, and chronicly.  In the floating equivalent to a mini-van, that's a pretty big deal.  I couldn't have done the trip without him, and he was great company, but for the next two and a half months we only slept simultaneously when I passed out from exhaustion or intoxication.  Ironically, Mack's snoring may have been a blessing in disguise as well: I rarely had trouble staying awake on watch.

At 4:30 a.m., we checked the weather one last time and set sail for Portland.  There we had a date with a boatyard for some last minute upgrades: slapping toxic bottom paint on and installing beefier bolts in hopes of keeping the keel attached to the hull.  After 60 miles of fun sailing we arrived and found the boatyard doing unscheduled repairs to their boatlift.  Stuck at the dock, Mack and I watched two days of perfect weather slip away.

Once they caught wind of our plan, all the yachties around the boatyard thought we were nuts and told us so.  This didn't make the waiting any easier.  Only one of a dozen folks offered us any constructive criticism.  Big thanks to him 'cuz his advice came in pretty handy.

The boatyard finally pulled Sin Fin out on a dreary Thursday morning, and we were informed we'd have to wait until Monday to put her back in the river.  This would effectively close our good weather window, and I had to wonder if the boatyard was intentionally stalling us in hopes we'd give up our foolish plan.  Nevertheless, Mack and I worked frantically on our projects in hopes of getting back in the water before the weekend.  It started to drizzle, and the paint wasn't drying, so we walked to the mall and bought four cheap hair dryers.  We ran the dryers all night, and by mid-morning Friday the paint had dried and the boatyard reluctantly consented to put us back in the water. As soon as the straps were undone, I fired up the motor, and Mack cast us off.  We didn't hang around long enough to be presented a bill, and I still haven't seen one.  The boatyard had my email address, so I've never felt too bad about it.  Plus, I knew I'd need the $450 they would've charged.

It was early afternoon and we had 90 miles of river to navigate before hitting the ocean.  At sundown, the current pulled us past a sailboat stranded on a sandbar... a good reminder to stay alert as we sailed through the night.  Nevertheless, I almost hit a wing dam, and a big tanker came close to squashing us from behind.  We couldn't see shit and would've hit something if not for the detailed nautical charts I gangked off the interweb and uploaded to our handheld GPS.  Big thanks to an aptly named website, thepiratebay.org!

Shortly after dawn we could smell the salt as we tied up in Astoria to refuel, await for right tide, and hope the fog would burn off the intimidating mouth of the Columbia River.  The largest river on the West Coast of the Americas dumps a lot of dirt into the rough waters of the North Pacific, and the ever-shifting sandbars there are notorious for eating ships.  After a nerve wracking night, and now facing this, we were too gripped to rest so we said "fuck the fog" and got going promptly after paying for gas.  

After a close call with an Exxon tanker we broke out of the fog and could see a clear channel through the breakers and out to sea.  As soon as we started celebrating I noticed six inches of water (and rising!) flooding the cabin.  We were sinking, but it wasn't a big deal.  The weight of our extra gasoline had put the bilge output hole underwater, and we faced our first of many technical problems with minimal freaking out.

The next two days were amazing.  We hung out with seals and whales as we drank, read, and fished our way slowly down the Oregon coast.  Mack is a sushi chef so we had Salmon sashimi and caviar daily.  I slept by day and Mack helped keep me awake at night.  NOAA Radio assured us that the weather would hold, so it was no worries, no hurries until our weather window slammed shut unexpectedly at dusk on day three.  We needed to find a place to hole up until this blew over.

As if on cue, the Coast Guard started hailing us over the radio.  Mack's Mom had, understandably, alerted the Feds that we were out there in rapidly worsening weather.  After conferring with the Guard, Mack and I decided to battle upwind an additional five miles to scenic Bandon, Oregon instead of backtracking ten miles to an industrial hellhole called Coos Bay.  Two hectic hours later we blindly squeaked between the jetties at the narrow mouth of the untamed Coquille River, slipped into one of many empty slips in the derelict Bandon Boat Basin, and celebrated surviving at the one open restaurant, a damn-good Mexican joint.

What we'd just experienced later proved to be nothing major.

The locals in sleepy little Bandon are as friendly as they are wary of outsiders, so the next day we had a stream of gawkers and the occasional unintentionally-standoffish visitor.  We learned we were lucky to make it over the river bar alive: it's only dredged a few times in the summer and most of the year it kicks up a breaking wave when there's more than a few feet of swell running.  We'd come in during a 4-6 foot swell that was certainly breaking across the river mouth.  Had the Coast Guard mentioned the dangers entering (and leaving) Bandon we would have opted for Coos Bay.

But there we were, gratefully trapped in Bandon as storm after storm and a growing swell battered the coast.  We stayed toasty warm by running those recently-acquired hair dryers on shore power.  The Port Captain, convinced we'd be stuck there until spring, encouraged us to save money by renting our slip by the month as opposed to by the day.  As the forecast worsened and the days went by, I began wishing I'd followed his advice.

Fortunately, while we were stuck, those storms and 6-8 foot swells from the NW provided Mack and I with a week of the most exciting Kitesurfing we'd ever had.  My knee felt a little better, and, wearing a beefy brace, I was willing to risk it.  Gusty winds, confused seas, and well-overhead waves kept us on our toes, as did the obvious presence of Great White Sharks.  Hundreds of cute little Harbor Seals live at the mouth of the Coquille River. Great Whites eat Harbor Seals.  Circle of Life 101.

One particularly cold and stormy day Mack and I were sessioning an ugly reefbreak near the rivermouth.  The water was so frigid I wore two wetsuits, giving me the equivalent to a 8.6mm suit.  The wind was ridiculously gusty, the water black as hell, and I had a bad feeling from the get go.  Adding to the chaos were countless Bull Kelp stalks floating around after losing their moorings in the storms.  I immediately hit one, ripping the left fin off my surfboard.

Well offshore, while tacking upwind for another go at the break, I kited through a patch of bloody water and past the remaining HALF of a very recently chomped seal.  After freaking out, falling, losing my strapless surfboard, and hyperventilating as I "trolled" to regain it, I did the only sensible thing and beelined for shore.  Definitely done for the day, I landed my kite and scanned the horizon in search of Mack.  He was nowhere to be seen.

I ran up the dunes and from a lofty 50 feet continued searching the boiling sea for any sign of Mack's big, bright yellow kite.  It definitely wasn't airborne, and after ten long minutes I assumed Mack had been eaten, his kite popped and sunk by a curious shark.  I ran to the road and flagged down the only car I'd seen all day, a rental driven by a young British couple on vacation.  Apparently, they hadn't gotten their fill of cold, dreary beaches back home so they'd come to check out what North America had to offer.  We scanned the horizon together and eventually spotted a yellow speck way too far from shore.  Forty minutes later and two miles downwind we greeted Mack as he scrambled ashore.

About a mile offshore, Mack had been hit by a strong gust which broke one of his kite lines.  After an hour in the frigid waters he was severely hypothermic and could barely speak because his blood sugar was so low.  Mack is a Type 1 Diabetic.  Fortunately, he hadn't encountered any sharks during his long swim to shore and the Brits had a few candy bars to spare.  Once again, we celebrated survival (and our one week Aniversary of being stuck in Bandon) at that damn-good Mexican restaurant.

Now disinterested in Kitesurfing the waters around Bandon and much more respectful of the Ocean in general, we contemplated giving up, but that evening's forecast offered a glimmer of hope.  The currently pumping swell was expected to drop to the 3-4 foot range the following afternoon, which would make the river bar passable.  That same afternoon, the storms were supposed to temporarily abate, although a weak cold front was set to make landfall throughout the following night.  The next morning, a 12-15 foot swell from a storm off Alaska was predicted to accompany building North winds as high pressure filled in.  By noon, those winds were expected to reach Gale Force, and NOAA had issued a Small Craft Advisory for the following several days.

If we left the river when the swell dropped and held our own through a moderately stormy night, we'd, hopefully, ride the downwinder of our lives to what looked to be a very safe harbor just across the California border.  That night we prepared ourselves and the boat for what would be, best case scenario, a very rough hundred mile run.  Well, we assumed it would be rough: we had very little prior experience to compare predicted conditions to.  I'd sailed a few times in 40+ mph wind and five foot chop on the Columbia River, we'd both kited safely when it was gusting to 53, but neither of us could imagine how 12-15 foot swells rolling through that sort of sea would feel.

If we stayed put, the extended forecast called for a week of big swells and a return to stormy weather.  Mack would have gone home and I'd have been stuck in Bandon for the winter.

After a fitfully sleepless night, I ate five Tums and walked through town to the jetty at dawn.  For the first time in a week, the sun shone through the clouds.  I sat there and watched the water for a few hours, timing the sets in search of a pattern and trying to decide if things were getting smaller: three to five wave sets every 12 minutes and seemingly growing in size, which I attributed to the outgoing tide.

We ate and slept the rest of the morning in preparation for the trip, and at two pm we agreed to give it a shot.  After idling in the channel for 20 minutes, we decided the bar wasn't breaking anymore and went for it.  A few folks on the jetty cheered as we crested a not-quite-breaking but too-close-for-comfort swell and motored out into the Pacific.

Returning to Bandon wouldn't be an option once the BIG swell arrived so we motor-sailed as far offshore as we could, gaining sea-space while the getting was good.

Shortly before sundown the clouds darkened, a nasty headwind developed, and the ride got real bumpy.  The worse it got, the sicker I got and soon I was puking over the side.  I threw up and dry heaved countless times that night, staring into the phosphorescently inky depths.

Our chintzy autopilot couldn't possibly handle the conditions, so Mack steered almost all night.  The few times I composed myself enough to try steering, I threw up all over the cockpit and myself.  Fortunately, the rain and spray cleaned things up pretty quickly.  We were soaked, frozen through, exhausted, and pretty damn scared when we stopped making progress and hove to at about 3:30 am.  We went below, laid on the floor amidst the clutter, and tried to block it out.

Thankfully, the front passed shortly thereafter and by twilight the winds dropped to nothing and the sea slowly settled.  We fired up the motor and dropped the hammer, hitting our 7.5 mph hull speed once the wind waves dissipated.

By nine am we were motoring through an eerily flat sea under crystal clear skies.  A gentle North wind arrived and slowly built in intensity.  Then sets of big, fast, gentle, gorgeous rollers began arriving from behind and helped push us towards our still distant destination.  For a few hours the sailing was perfect.  We sailed straight downwind at or above hull speed through smooth seas. Each time a big roller gave us a gentle push, we'd hit 9 or 10 mph.

I ate some fruit snacks and promptly threw them up.  Though it was now smooth sailing, I still couldn't keep anything down.

At noon things started to get exciting and we began steering by hand again.  By 4 pm it was hectic.  We were regularly hitting 13 mph, almost double hull speed, during descents, the wind kept building, the swells kept growing, and the wind waves started breaking.  By 5 we were sailing under the power of a small storm jib alone.

On a broad reach, we covered the last 30 miles heading into Crescent City in just over three hours.  Our GPS clocked a top speed of 15.8 mph, more than twice Sin Fin's hull speed.  When we rode things just right, it was an amazingly smooth ride.  When we misread the seas overtaking us, things got real scary real fast.  Our biggest fears were getting pooped by a breaking wave or auguring the bow in at the bottom of a descent and "pitchpoling", aka, "going-ass-over-tea-kettle".

The last hour was especially hairy as it was after dark and we had to take the seas at a disconcerting angle to sneak around the rocks six miles of protruding rocks and into the protected bay which shields Crescent City.

Thanks to our trusty GPS we navigated a maze of rocks and made it through the jetties to an empty slip at the Port.  Too exhausted and nauseated to sleep, I crawled up front and marveled at the swirling hallucinations over my head.

A few hours later Mack shook me awake.  A marina security guard had arrived.  The Port charged $25 nightly for visitors, and he was collecting now in case we took off early the next morning.

"My friend," I said, "here's $50.  We're not going anywhere tomorrow."

Fifty fucking bucks, though, right down the crapper.


Quick and Easy

I'm digging the Olympics.  It's a hell of a people-watching spectacle, even via TV.

Nevertheless, I'm well aware that the last thing this planet needs is additional glorification of international competition, even of the good-natured, sporting kind.

I'm supposed to be writing articles about my trip but it's all in the past and really doesn't seem worth reporting on.  It happened.  I learned from it.  I'm too busy living to encourage distant others to do the same.  Seeking inspiration?  Follow your fucking nose.  Me?  Moving on.

I'm still carrying the idea that we've only got a few _________ left until something snaps and life gets much uglier for most of humanity.  I'm well beyond torn up over the idea to the point where I'm gratefully milking moments for all they're worth.  Gratis good times with good friends.  Mother Nature's is one of those good friends.  If you have to pay for a good time, you've been duped...

It's interesting seeing the changes in the JH Ski Bum community since the Ooooooosa got it's little economic dose of reality.  We ski bums are nowhere near perfect but folks are definitely broke as fuck and seem to be constructively analyzing it and making changes.... or drinking themselves to death.

Me?  I've lost the will to succeed in any conventional sense.  I've seen the darker side of money, power, lust, and fame.  I know that it eats souls and prefer to keep mine intact... whatever the cost.

Before being married to my boat I was married to my car.  Now I'm borrowing a bike, shedding baggage, and shredding ski gear.  Soon it'll be just me scrounging along shamelessly.

Funny how that works, ain't it?  The less you've got the less you need.

How about we all get together and rip consumeristic bullshit out of our hearts?

Dump the wealth and start from scratch.

What?!  Fuck that.  You first.

As all Winonans know, the longer you stand on the guardrail, the harder it is to jump.

Lost on the River,



Ski Report, Cascade to Valhalla

Enough surf and sail. It's winter. I'm submitting trip reports to skiingthebackcountry.com so I may as well post them here too. A friend lent me a camera so now I've got pics.
I got my first "alpine start" of the winter, rising before the sun to tour up Cascade Canyon to Valhalla, a hanging canyon rimmed by the Grand Teton and Mount Owen. Getting up before the sun is never fun, but we were headed to VALHALLA. I pity the folks that wake on the wrong side of the ass crack 5 times a week for work.
Bitter cold inversion that morning... and we never saw a ray of light throughout Cascade, so it was a cold one. Shit crust on S and E facing slopes but anything NE to NW is still skiing great. Boot deep sugar with a little surface hoar.

I got to spot out a bunch of lines for later including (L) a sexy little shot, (C) the Tallboy Couloir off the Pass between Teewinot and Owen... 4000 vert of fun. (R) Guide's Wall looking like fun mixed climbing.
After 3 miles on the groomed XC trail, 1.5 miles crossing Jenny Lake, and another 2.5 gentle miles up Cascade Canyon (fuckin' flats!) we finally started the true ascent into Valhalla Canyon. Though only about 2500 vert, it provided exciting ascent route finding and a great ski descent.
Here's an interesting section of our skin track. The background gully looked primed to slide so we followed the windlip at the base of a cliff to this funky little wraparound scramble.
As we ascended the sights to our North got more appealing. There's some great skiing to do on the South Facing wall of Cascade as well.
North Wall of Cascade Canyon from the hanging (and jaw-dropping) mouth of Valhalla Canyon.

Three little peaks comprising the W Wall of Valhalla Canyon and the rollover down into Cascade.
Trippy light wrapping around the Grand Teton from the NW flank of Mount Owen.
No, there are no skiiing shots from the descent... no time for such nonsense.

It turned into a 12 hour mini-epic as a partner had skin troubles and the entire trip car to car includes about 15 miles of skinning... way too much of it on the flats. But the skiing was good and the views in and en route to Valhalla Canyon well worth 6 hours of flatlanding.

Checking out the ski potential in Cascade proved worthwhile as I got photos of several lines I'm looking forward to hitting this spring. Easy S facing ascents to pow on the N facing slopes of Cascade... no brainer.


Fallin' In the J-Hole

It's pretty easy to find satisfaction in the Tetons.  Explore casually daily, bullshit with free folks, steal the occasional cookie outta GOD'S JAR, and sleep hard every night.

I'd be writing more if the enjoyment it gave came close to comparing.
Pull pointless teeth or play in the powder?
The decision makes itself.

I mean, seriously, look at these pillows.

I'm healthy (knock on wood) and skiing perfect backcountry conditions daily.  I've got in about 40 days already and have slogged close to 100,000 feet o' vert.

My M.O. this winter is apparently sharing all my lines with anyone interested, this with intent to push myself to find new zones.  I'm jonesing to nab every ridge in the range and am currently eyeing obscure flanks off Teewinot.

A few days back I kicked off a three foot hard slab that stretched about 200 feet and ran about 1000 vert through steep trees and talus fields.  The debris pile at the bottom was at least 20 feet deep.  Here's a pic of the crown.

Had I been caught, odds favored a mangling and burial.  Fortunately, it broke just ahead of me as I traversed above a rollover that gave me the willies.

I haven't witnessed a slide like that since kicking off one my first winter in Jackson.  The experience didn't elicit the existential crisis one would hope for.  I got ten pumps of jello-leg and that's about it.


I've got a few bigger projects on my mind and am just waiting for the right snowpack and weather window to make them real.  I've got competent partners lined up willing to take it as far as we can.

I'm still living (rent free!) in a shed but nary a Jacksonite, myself included, finds this inappropriate.  If anything, folks are endeared by the fact that I live in a shed, that I work 10 hours a week, that I don't have a car, that all my ski gear is second-hand and falling-apart.  I couldn't be bothered.

If this is a rut, I can see how I got stuck in it for five years.  Maybe it's not a rut.

Then again, maybe I'm just artificially enthused.  I never buy the stuff, but damned if I don't stumble across it thrice daily.

This is one of my favorite lines.  I call it the TOMAHAWK.

High Five!

Going winter camping with cool people.

Anyway, with all the amazingly awesome yet fundamentally stupid shit I'm doing and the complete lack of mental effort I'm putting forth, I don't have anything worth saying.

Additionally, I find it impossible to draw a bead on stateside-existence and drop that fucker in its tracks.
Do you really have it all figured out?
I mean, sure, there's always the obvious but the fleeting is so much funner.

Live it up.