Adventure Etiquette = Life Etiquette

December 23, 2015 § Leave a comment

I love camping with my best friend Arnold. Here he is building a tiny snowman:


We’ve spent approximately 3% of the last 8 years camping together. Caves, mountains, bikes, sharks, horses, kayaks, fish, and fires. The adventures have been grand. He’s got a measured temperament in stressful situations. Lost on a snowy peak? No problem. Snorkled into some sharks? It’s cool. Lightening storm on your float trip? Land ho! He’s flexible when it comes to the plan – both in suggesting detours and following off-route – and pushes his adventuring to a level that I’m comfortable with. Plus the dude is strong and lift some heavy shit. Pretty helpful to have around.

His adventure attitude is great. His camp etiquette is even better. Tent and personal belongings in the tent first. Wood collection second. Fire and food preparation simultaneously third. Once dinner is going, then personal time. Dishes are split. In other words, shared camp tasks first. Personal tasks second, unless you’ve really gotta pee. The guy is totally selfless and minimalist. He once took just two towels for sleeping for a two week bike trip. I’m sure he would have given me one if I had asked for it.


Going camping / adventuring with someone is a really good way to get at their character. Are they calm under pressure? Are they risk averse? Do they help out with shared tasks or do they do their own business first while you set stuff up? Are they totally oblivious to the work you’re putting in to keep up camp? Do they ask if you want help or do they just jump in to help if you’re doing something?

It’s all pretty basic stuff that comes to light when you’re living a pretty basic existence.


So I dragged my girlfriend camping in November without any of this in mind. I just wanted to go camping after a long summer campaign with no respite. It seemed like a good thing to do to clear my mind, and great with my favorite person and partner.

It happened to be in Florida. On a swampy trail that looked like this…


Except that we got a way late start and it was dark already climbing through that muck. And did I mention that we were covered in mosquitoes and that the campsite was 2 miles out and primitive? Oh, and also we passed this sign –

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She’d had a tough week (the Supreme Court made a shitty decision on one of our campaigns) and wasn’t too stoked on the overnighter, but knew that I’d had my heart set on it.

We set out into the darkness.

And it was totally awesome. We got off trail in the swamp and she put her foot down on not splitting up in a totally stern but respectable way. She offered to switch packs and encouraged me chill when I wanted to muscle my way there with all the firewood attached to me. She prepped the food as I started the fire in simpatico. We got to zen out in the wilderness together and it was just lovely.

Apparently, (I just Googled this to confirm), they say you have to camping with your partner before you really know them. This probably isn’t true – all of these things arise in one way or another in normal life – but it is a very concentrated situation where all of the things come to light in a short period of time.

So there you are. Go forth and camp with your betrothed, folks.



December 23, 2015 § 1 Comment

Indoor bouldering is a body puzzle in a bubble. A game of balance and strength, of virtually endless attempts and cushy falls. If you get freaked out, you just climb down on some juggy holds or tumble roll on an endless mattress. It’s a community of helpful athletic hipster nerds cheering you on and giving you beta.

You can pee in a toilet and buy Cliff bars and eat them on a couch. It’s a constant 65 degrees.

When you’re done you do some finger pull ups and jump kicks for good measure.


Outdoor bouldering. Outdoor bouldering is an adventure.

You’re lost on the approach and your map isn’t helping because it’s a picture of a bunch of boulders and trees and everywhere around you is boulders and trees. You’re surrounded by endless boulders to top and you want to cry because you want to climb THEM ALL but you know that that’s not possible and that just makes you so sad. You got fixated on one boulder for an hour making up problems. You’ve been working on one problem all day. You’re trying to top all the 15 footers. Your buddy got diarrhea from the tacos yesterday and you’re stuck at camp.

The rock is gritty but it takes. It’s chossy and wet. It’s smooth as a baby’s butt and it grips like a vice. It stabby and all the crimps suck but the slopers are awesome. It’s heinous and you suspect someone has covered it in butter. It’s covered in glorious, beautiful jugs that feel like total cheating. It’s covered in dried mushrooms because it rained last week. It’s got cactus growing out of half the holds.

You can’t make the next hold because you’re off route. You can’t make it because you’ve been there for three days and your arms don’t work anymore. You can’t make it because you’re bleeding. You can’t feel your fingers because it’s 50 degrees. You can’t make it because you only slept for four hours. Because you drank too much around the camp fire last night. You can’t make it because you’re fucking terrified. You go for it anyways because you’re too high up to fall now and the only way to go is up.

You stick it and float through the crux and you feel heroic. You stick it and slowly calculate the rest of the way, full of fear, trying to get it over with. You stick it and it’s totally the wrong beta and you feel around to see what you missed.

You’re a few small people in a large expanse. You go home and agree that it was all pretty epic.

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Pinnacles National Park

April 15, 2015 § 1 Comment

Recently dubbed (knighted? redesignated?) a national park, Pinnacles is a wee little thing in the valley with road access on the east and west and trail access all the way through. We did a whirlwind 40 hour exploration – drank many beers, climbed many feet, played many songs, and discovered just how out of climbing shape we were. Not a bad way to spend a birthday.

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Eastern Sierras – Alabama Hills & Bristlecone Pines

January 4, 2015 § Leave a comment

Now that my sister has gone off to Berkeley to set the curves in her math classes, my Dad has taken up outdoorsmanship full time… and IT. IS. AWESOME! Combine Asian thriftiness with the internet and a love for the outdoors and BOOM,  I arrived home to find technical rain jackets, soft shells, a 15 degree rated sleeping bad and a top notch Thermarest. There’s really no better way to celebrate the holidays than some -12 degree father-daughter camping.

Definitely Type II fun.

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Bristlecone pines don’t biodegrade – the oldest logs are over 9,000 years old. Wicked awesome.
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Right after this photo, my iPhone warned me that it was too damn hot and the phone was shutting off until it cooled down.

Hiatus in summary

August 23, 2014 § 1 Comment

In the summer, I run citizen outreach offices that take about 100 hours of work a week – the last two years this has meant a pause from written reflection on the outdoors. I always loathe not having the time to write about my wanders in the summer (you can’t really capture the feeling or the colors of a moment three months later), but I suppose being too tired to write is a testament to how much you’re accomplishing and that is something worthwhile in itself. Thank god for iPhones I guess..

This summer –

I biked from New Jersey to Boston

Near New Paltz, NY

Near New Paltz, NY

Taconic St. Park NY - fun fact, there are no national parks in NY, only state.

Taconic St. Park NY – fun fact, there are no national parks in NY, only state.


I was in D.C., living about a mile from my office near Capitol South. D.C. is a weird place. Very nice in some parts, kind of crappy in others, all mostly along racial lines. A flat, fairly green city with many bike commuters and mediocre bike friendliness.

I finally wore my Toms to their final steps this summer.

I finally wore my Toms to their final steps this summer.

The zoo is free and an nice bike ride from the capitol.

The zoo is free and an nice bike ride from the capitol.

Chesapeake Bay Beach

Many dead fish in this bay.

I rounded the summer off with a trip to naked desert hot springs and the Colorado River in California. Mostly this made me think that clothes are a terrible societal convention and that nudists really know what it’s all about…

Croquet re-imagined..

Croquet re-imagined..

Favorite shot from the trip.

Favorite shot from the trip.


Deep Creek Hot Springs

Deep Creek Hot Springs

Cibola Nat'l Wildlife Refuge along the CO river.

Cibola Nat’l Wildlife Refuge along the CO river.


Lesson reinforced: adventures are where you make them.


Demystifying the bike tour

February 25, 2014 § 6 Comments

This post is dedicated to:  all of the people who ride their bikes every once in awhile and have ever thought about touring, all of the people who haven’t ridden a bike in years and are afraid to get back in the saddle, and to all the people who never learned how to ride a bike, but wonder what it might be like.

Hey – yeah, you – I love you, man. And I believe in you.

Dear friend,

Have you ever thought it might be cool to be out there on the open road with the world as your playground? Do you relish in personal feats of greatness, like the first time you chugged a beer or did a pull up? Do you believe in you like I believe in you?

If your answers weren’t yes-yes-and-yes than go back, fix it, and read on.

I’m not sure how it happened, but when I was in college I decided that it’d be a good idea to bike for hundreds of miles while carrying all of the stuff that I needed to live with me. I had biked 30 miles in the California Central Valley flat-lands at a maximum of 15 miles/hr and thought, “how hard could it be to go 50 a day with some stuff?”

At the time I had a heavy blue women’s road bike from the 80’s. I got it from a bike auction for $50. It barely shifted gears and weighed a ton, but I was proud of it. With the help of the internet and the nice people at Ken’s Bike and Ski, I changed the handlebar tape, got new tires, adjusted the break pads and pretty much thought that with enough mental fortitude, I could go anywhere with it.

a bike and some field

I’d biked around the neighborhood in high school (both in Naperville, Il and in San Diego, CA) and even hit a trail or two when I was younger, but by no means was I particularly fit or well versed (hell, not even mediocrely versed) in bicycles. I struggled to change the tires with two butter knifes and was pretty sure the gears shifted by magic.

So what was the difference between me and the folks who don’t up end up bike touring?

Definitely not experience or the right gear. Not money or physical aptitude. Not training or extensive research. Not friends who knew what they were doing or backup from a supported touring company.

The difference comes down to two things: Hardheadedness and Wanderlust.

Wanderlust: At a base level, if you can take all of the imagined barriers that would stop you from bike touring and pull them out of your head (“I’m not fit enough,” “It seems dangerous!,” “What if I get lost!” … etc.) and imagine instead coasting on a downhill of an empty road – feeling like you’re flying, no cars in sight, the smell of sweet summer all around and a warm sun keeping you company, a rolling landscape of greenery all around you … And then ask yourself, does that seem like a totally awesome place to be?

If the answer “yes,” than congratulations, you qualify for having wanderlust! Step one towards bike touring, check.

At the base level, potential difficulties and bumps in the road aside, you have to want to be out there. You have to be able to imagine navigating the world around you like it belongs to you, like it’s yours for exploring.

Hardheadedness: Of course, that imagined world isn’t the full reality of bike touring (or anything for that matter). You’ll crest hills just to see another hill and wonder why in the hell you ever thought this was a good idea. Your butt will hurt. You’ll chaff. You’ll wake up and be sore and have to get on a bike again. You’ll be smelly and maybe have a sunburn too.

Inevitably, someone’s bike will break, or you’ll get lost. If you’re going 300+ miles, you’ll definitely get in your own head. It’s not like a marathon or climbing a mountain. If those things get hard, you can just turn back. If you’re in the backcountry 200 miles from where you started, you’ve pretty much got to power through it, pain and hardness aside.

Even with a lot of wanderlust, many people think of or hear these challenges and think, “Man, that doesn’t seem worth the idyllic scene I dreamt up,” or “it seems worth it, but I’m not sure I’ll be able to overcome it.”

These did not seem like fun parts bike touring, but my hardheadedness meant that overcoming these parts were totally a challenge I wanted to face. I read bike blogs where people got so far down the rabbit hole in their posts that I could only imagine the terrible place they were in real life. Testimonies of strained muscles, dog attacks, and walking bikes for half the day … they all sounded like a mental challenges that I wanted to win at. They all sounded like things I wanted to test my resolve against. I thought, “Fuck the hard things! I’m awesome. I’ll make them my bitch!”

Call it hardheadedness, tenacity, stubbornness, or ego – I was convinced I could take on the challenges of going long distances carrying all of my shit.

But here’s the secret…

It doesn’t actually take that much mental fortitude to tour. I had read the worst blogs and imagined the hardest situations, and then put myself there. I’d acquiesced to the fact that I would be the one in the worst shape and that I’d be the one to fall over and get injured. I’d acquiesced to the fact that these things would be terrible, BUT that I’d surely overcome them. Hardheadedness.


That’s how I got over the “Well that’d be nice, but …” hump and onto the “Alright, win or lose, I’m doing this thing” side of the fence.

And really, like most things, that was most of the battle.

The secret of getting ahead is getting started. The secret of getting started is breaking your complex overwhelming tasks into small manageable tasks, and then starting on the first one.
– Mark Twain

steps to bike touring

If you’re looking to break down a tour into victory, the first think you absolutely have to do is actually decide. This seems silly to say, but going on a long bike tour is not like deciding to do your laundry or go to law school or run a marathon or even go backpacking in Europe. These are all things that are within people’s experience and understanding of what is possible, things they’ve heard of, things people they know have done. So trust me when I say that you can do it and decide. Post it on your blog, tell your mom .. twitter it, tumblr it, snapchat it, whatever-else-kids-do-these-days it.

The rest..

Deciding is over half the battle and the internet (and maybe your doctor?) is full of advice and how to on the rest. Figuring out which bike is best to how much you need to train are more issues of personal preference than I expected when I went on my first tour. I met people on the road with one change of clothing and single gear bikes. I met others with fancy GPS’s and the latest lightweight backpacking gear. One of my friends did his tour on a mountain bike with three gears and some $5 canvass bags zip tied to his Rite Aid bike rack.

I read blogs on Crazy Guy on a Bike, pulled various people’s route maps, read their testimonials, and mostly wandered into bike stores in town and bought gear that looked like it wouldn’t fall apart, which really meant the cheapest gear (the nice thing about a niche hobby is that there really isn’t enough of a market for low end gear to have infiltrated the market). I didn’t do any loaded rides. I didn’t even think to bring spare tubes (maybe don’t follow my lead on this one…).

And I made it.

450 miles down the coast of California, drinkin’ and lounging and watching the world in the light of endless possibilities.

So friend.

I hope this was inspiration enough, because bro, I believe in you. I look forward to totally awesome pictures and reports from your trip.

The Water Gap

July 8, 2013 § Leave a comment

The Delaware Water Gap is the 10th most visited national park in the country. It’s an oasis of wild in a coast of development, a real respite from the hum and the buzz and the humanness of the northeast. If New Jersey were LA County, the Water Gap would be the Malibu hills.

Now we trekked up with a group of 100 people so much of the weekend was as ruckus..

water gap
On big outings like this, I always get that kind in a candy store feeling. I’m a chronic extrovert with no self control, everything seems totally awesome!

When I could tear myself away, I spent my time circling the lake in a kayak, snacking on blackberries and blueberries, sneaking up on animals.

tiny frogTiny frog!

Big turtle!

On the last day, a pair of Carolina wolf spiders snuck up on me in one of the kayaks. I didn’t snap a photo, because you know, these guys were fucking giant and terrifying.

kayaks water gap

When I first read A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson, I thought “this all sounds terrible – all the landscape is the same! why come all the trees…?” After a few trips to the Water Gap, I may be a long distance hiking convert after all. There’s FOOD, INSIDE the forest, after all.

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