The log of one man's quest for wind and sunshine

Kitebus Chronicles

California Love

I’m in back in Cali after an amazing time in Brazil.  I am backlogged about three posts, but just wanted to throw some fun photos of a recent trip I took to Mammoth.  I particularly like this kitebus shot:

I played around with my NIK plug-in a bit to get the old-film look I wanted.  Thank you Caitlin for the teamwork photo!!

It was great to be back on the snow after two years of Endless Summer, and spend time with old friends.  I am already looking forward to next snow season!

 

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The Road to Zion

From Moab, we made a quick stop in Grand Junction Colorado to drop Scott off at the airport, and then continued on headed toward Bryce Canyon and Zion National Parks.  The road to Zion is beautiful and takes you along beautiful parts of Utah where the desert gives way to the forrest, and then turns into desert once more.  We happened to roll through the Escalante National Monument area whilst the Aspen where dressed in booming yellow fall colors — a gorgeous sight.

Chris and I spent a rainy night in Bryce Canyon, but were rewarded with sunshine the next morning.  We proceeded to walk down into the canyon along the Queen’s Garden trail — an easy path with quite a few hikers on it, but we found it well worth our while.  Bryce Canyon is so unique, there really isn’t a bad photo to take.  In just about any light condition the colors really pop.  I tried to shoot some lightning at sunset, but alas, that is a tough proposition and I did not get a capture.  I found it a fun activity though much akin to fishing, and I will try again in the future.

On we rolled to Zion National Park, where the rain let up initially, and we enjoyed a sunset hike to Angel’s Landing —  a somewhat perilous hike with rewarding views looking down the majestic Zion Valley.  The park’s names nearly all are biblical and Mormon references, and that seemed apropos as the place feels heavenly.  The following day we had several options on the table, but Chris had a hankering to hike The Narrows — a famous slot canyon hike popular in summer (it was now fall), and I was certainly interested in checking it out as well.  To tackle the hike, we were recommended to rent drysuits and some special canyoneering boots, as most of the hike is spent wading through the river that formed the slot canyon.  The only hitch in our plan was that there was rain in the forecast for the afternoon, and flash floods are a real threat in slot canyons.  The lovely girl at the shop assured us we would be fine as long as we got out of the canyon by 1pm.  That seemed doable enough, so of we went.  The hike was marvelous,and very unique.  The dry suits turned out to be a smart decision, particularly in case something were to go wrong, and we were forced to spend some extended time in the canyon.  All turned out fine even though the rain did show up creating a dozen waterfalls on our way out of the canyon.  By the time we were covering the final quarter mile or so, the water level had risen noticeable and we had to swim some parts we walked before.  I can imagine if we had stayed in much longer things might had gotten sporty.


Desert Dwellers

When you’re cruising through the desert, you come across some interesting pieces of Americana — Ghost towns, lone structures in the middle of nowhere.  They seem kinda creepy at times  — cars parked, but no one around — gently bubbling meth labs, but no cooks in the kitchen…

This trailer reminded me of the one in Kill Bill 2 where Uma and Daryl Hannah duke it out, until someone loses an eye.


Moabosity

So, basically, the original motivation for getting the bus was to go explore southern Utah and environs with the underlying ambition to eventually take the bus to Baja for kitexplorations.  It took a while to get there, but at the beginning of October I finally made it to the colorful south of Utah.  The area holds a slew of national parks, national monuments, and various other classifications protecting this incredibly interesting and geographically varied part of the US.

My friends Chris and Scott joined me for this part of the trip, and we picked the city of Moab as our base of operations, planning on visiting Arches NP, Dead Horse Pt. SP, and whatever else we had time for before we had to drop Scott back at the Grand Junction airport.  We ended up having a blast in this veritable outdoor playground.  We hiked up to Delicate Arch, got lost in the Fiery Furnace, and engaged in various other adventures in Arches.  Outside the park we amused ourselves with stand up paddling the Colorado River (even some Class .5 rapids), and mountain biking the fabled Slickrock trail  above Moab — a global classic in mtb trails.  We managed to finish all these treacherous feats without personal injury or loss of limb though I’m afraid my rear wheel will never quite be true again…If you go to rent a bike for Slickrock, I would recommend a full-suspension bike with 26″ wheels — not a 29’er hardtail, but anyways.

Having these guys on board was the a great testament to German RV design, as we camped for five days with three adult males fitting inside a 34 year-old, 15 ft vehicle.  I think everybody was comfortable (especially me in the penthouse) though longer than this would become a challenge.  We had a fantastic time all together, and I was excited to share some of the kitebus chronicles with my friends.

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Here’s a video of Chris showing us the ropes on Slickrock:


The American Pilgrim

It is a given that at least once in his or her lifetime every American aspires to visit Yellowstone National Park — the oldest of all National Parks signed into to law by President Ulysses S. Grant in 1872.  The draw to come here are all the animals that move through and live in this large area as well as the interesting landscape and features formed by geothermal activity.  The holy relic is of course Old Faithful, the geyser of all geysers.  There are in fact many geysers in Yellowstone as well as various sorts of holes in the ground bubbling steam, hot water and noxious fumes.  It’s kind of a marvelous mystery land, in particular for a certain breed of microbiologist who study thermophiles or organisms that love hot environments.  I know this because while waiting for the “Vixen” geyser to erupt two German travelers sat down, one being a microbiologist who had been at a recent thermophile convention nearby (nerd!).  Susi taught me some basic stuff about these fascinating organisms, and we hope she will be able to characterize some hypothetical samples that may or may not have been collected after an eruption.

The park was quite cold while I was there with temperatures dropping down to 28ºF (-2ºC).  Campfires kept us warm, but sleeping definitely required proper gear.  Every morning the water in my glass would be frozen as well as my olive oil….brrr

 


Lewis and Clark

When traveling through the Oregon-Idaho-Montana corridor I believe it is imperative one reads at least part of the Lewis and Clark journals.  This expedition — brainchild of Thomas Jefferson and executed by the two dapper captains — is one of the great American Tales.  Mr. Bielicki, my high school history teacher,  told our class the stories of the wilderness and Sacajawea with such enthusiasm as if he were there himself, and I was always curious to see this part of the country for myself.

Finding the right book isn’t easy as there are many abbreviated and interpreted versions of the journals.  I ended up getting the Bernard DeVoto edited version written in the fifties.  This edition does not include the entire journals, but close enough to feel as if you are along for the expedition on a day by day account.  Devoto garnered some respect as evidenced by a patch of the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness Area bearing his name.  L&C’s chronicles are impressive, hilarious, and quite accessible even in the original writing.  With some regularity there are encounters with Native Americans, Grizzly Bears, and other interesting features.  They really didn’t have many dull moments.  The men, in particular Clark were  misspellers of fantastical proportions finding seemingly endless ways to spell thing like “Seouex”, Sacajawea or “brackfast” etc. etc. and proving you don’t have to know how to spell to write a great work.  Pick up a copy for yourself when you travel their path.


Along the Oregon trail and through Hell’s Canyon

Heading out of Hood River was heartbreaking.  The wind was cranking, my friends were staying for a good while longer, and when I shipped my kite gear to Florida, a tear may have started to form in my eye.  On my final day, Curt and I constructed a roof rack for my honey bee (new moniker for the bus). Felix came by and offered a software coder’s point of view on the subject, and between the three of us (i.e me) the job turned out road- and bus-worthy.  The total sum for the materials (one 2 by 4 and four eyebolts, two beers) was less than $10 and the project was completed in one afternoon.  That included picking up my new Stand Up Paddle (SUP) board that the rack was built for.  We ended up going out for my send-off in town enjoying some of Oregon’s finest live Bluegrass.  When we stared out the window of the bar about 2am, we realized the trees were moving…hmm it’s windy.  May have to do a little final session!  On borrowed gear and under the cover of darkness (new moon)  We proceeded to kite out of the familiar event site, and managed to return to shore without injury or death.

I set out the next day with four hours of sleep and drove straight to Hells Canyon where the Snake river North and eventually joins the Columbia.  It is dammed in several spots and provides power for both Idaho and Oregon.  I took advantage of the smooth water between the Oxbow and Hells Canyon Dams to go for a paddle with my new toy, going for swims, watching the fish jump, and taking in the view.  Further down past the Hells Canyon Dam, the river is left to run its course, and the resulting rapids draws kayakers, river rafters, and they even run a jet boat for part of the river.  I did a short hike along the river , and swam in some of the milder currents.  I made a note to come back for the spring melt some time and float down the rapids — seems like it would be fun…

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Hood River

Ah, at last, the promised land of milk and honey, complex IPAs, and Elysian winds.  I had been trying to reach this place the entire summer, and by beginning of August finally achieved my goal.  Summer in Hood River is pure bliss with warm days, cool nights, and a beautiful strong breeze blowing most days.  There are lots of outdoors activities to partake in:  The Dirty Fingers Bicycle Repair Shop Thursday group ride (with free keg of quality brew after), kiting off the sandbar with your friends, or paddling around on a SUP board — the fun just doesn’t stop.  I have to admit I didn’t take all that many photos, as I was too busy doing other things…

There is also a whole sub-culture of van dwellers, and I have to thank my friend Tanya for showing me the ropes of the lifestyle when I first arrived.  On several occasions locals told me they first arrived in HR in their windsurf or kite van and never ended up leaving…Let’s see if I make it out 🙂

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California Gold

Some final preparations over Fourth of July weekend had me ready to hit the road at last.  I set out northbound on PCH, hoping to catch some wind along the way.  I didn’t find too much wind to kite with, but a steady headwind seemed to be there cutting down the gas mileage of my breadbox to below 18 mpg.  I visited friends in the Pismo/SLO area and continued on, taking my time, but trying to reach San Francisco with some expedience.  Four days later I arrived in this marvelous city, and got to enjoy all the bay area has to offer for a wondering, wind-loving hobo.  Lots of time with friends, good coffee, heaps of wind, and a thorough check-up of the local green tech scene.  It was neat living on the Haight (in a bus man!) and cruising around the Castro, Berkeley, Panhandle…So many places to explore! I never thought it before, but this is a place I could end up living!

Here is a drawing one talented fellow made of the scene near my friend Tony’s house at Buena Vista Park: 

I continued on and met my friend Chris at Sherman Island, a kite spot everybody said I should check out on the Sacramento River Delta.  Sherman did not disappoint.  Chris and I ended up spending a week there with the wind building from steady to nuking through the week.  I was also dog sitting Kodai for this week, and it felt like a blessing to get to spend some more precious time with my old friend (14.5 years old).

I continued on, and spent some amazing days among the Redwoods vibing in with these magnificent trees, the tall ones standing near 400 ft tall, and up to 600 years old.  I visited both Humboldt Redwoods State Park along HWy 101 and Redwood NP near the Oregon border.  Both parks are spectacular, with the latter being more humid and oceanic, and therefore having more undergrowth etc.  I enjoyed some great mountain biking in both parks.  In Redwood NP, I nearly ran over a black bear on a downhill run, and stopped to watch him scamper up a large redwood.  Those guys can climb!  In seconds he was 30 feet up.  Do not try to climb a tree to get away from a bear.  Bribe them with Huckleberry pie instead…

Continuing on I visited several spots on the Oregon coast, but for some reason didn’t take much photos (though kited several spots).  One of the spectacular spots where I did not spend enough time was Pistol River — I vow to return.

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Back to the US!

Remember Kevin and Kristine‘s rig?  This gem made a lasting memory, and when I knew I was homebound somewhere in February I started researching getting my own rig like it.

The concept seemed reasonable: so as not to shock myself with immediate reintegration into Western society I would get one of these and hobo around some more, and finally do the road trip to Southern Utah and other gorgeous scenery in the Western US I always wanted to do, but never had time (damn you successful career).  It eventually could serve as a most excellent Baja mobile as well.  Such was the concept, and I started researching from the Far East, so I would hit the ground well-prepared when returning to SoCal.

The choices of VW Campers seemed abundant in the Southern California area when I was investigating from the Philippines, but by the time I got to LA, pickings were slim.  I ended up buying a pretty beat up bus from a young guy who didn’t seem to know more about cars than to put gas in them and turn the key, but, hey, I found  a running bus albeit with a minor oil leak.

Of course, where there’s smoke there’s fire, and where there’s a minor oil leak, there can be a massive oil leak.  The story is long, but the engine was blown, the transmission was whining, and I was pretty much ready to douse her in some gasoline and bid her adieu.  The exit strategies were limited though, and the cheerful plaid interior and commingled layers of orange paint on her dented exterior would melt even the staunchest car-hater’s heart.  So, with moral and facility support of my good friends Dan, Holden, Jason, Karen, Chase, Peter,… I set out to fix her up and now have a reliable classic to show for it.  I stil went ahead and got the AAA Platinum membership, just in case 😉

One of the key features installed: