December 29, 2011

Dark and Stormy

The river along US-26 boiled like two week old coffee down the drain.  Rounding the last corner before merging with 101,  a gust of wind shook the Syncro’s flat sides, forcing me to take a kiddy pool sized puddle head on.  With a crrrrshhh, we displaced half the puddles contents onto a Toyota Tacoma in the oncoming lane.   For the last few hours,  the rain had battled with the fastest setting of the windshield wipers.   Advantage rain.

Pulling off the highway a few miles south, the streets of Canon Beach were empty save for a few SUVs and local pickups.  Gusts on the flags at souvenir shops and water around the storm drains hinted at why.   Eager to catch a glimpse of the ocean,  I pulled off onto a side street.  Familiar with the saying, “We’ll get’em when he comes back in,” well the last scene of Point Break was filmed at this beach in similar conditions.

“That looks like…hell,” my mom said rolling down the windows to get a better view.

“Yah.  Wow,  that’s what a half mile of whitewater looks like.”

“Let’s go for a walk.”

“A walk?”  Looking down the beach I spotted a lone person leaning at a twenty degree angle into the wind. “Yeah lets.”

Shortsands Beach.

Serious #vanlife envy.  These Mitsubishi Delica’s can’t be imported into the US, but our friends to the north, and the rest of the world, can get one for a few grand.  They are 4wd, come in turbo diesel and get between 25 and 30 MPG.

A duly named street.

Some fresh driftwood.

Wet.

Taking it all in.

It’s often said that, “the Pacific Northwest has two seasons,  August and 11 months of rain and fog.”  While I agree with this maxim,  it fails to capture the violence and intensity of the storms that charge down from the Aleutian Islands in the “Winter Months.”   Before bringing waves to Hawaii’s north shore,  these storms slam into the PNW as feral beasts, pulling trees from the ground, flooding rivers and closing harbors.  They breaking up the endless months of fog and mist,  with weather alerts and road closures.  Nowhere is their power more evident than on the northern Oregon Coast.  They make you feel small and vulnerable.

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December 27, 2011

Dumb and Lucky.

The Syncro skidded to a stop on the golf ball sized rocks as I stomped on the clutch and break pedal. “Did you hear that?” I asked my cousin, Nikko.

“No,  what was it?”

I turned down Secret Garden, by the Boss, to a whisper.  “I thought I heard a hiss,  it could have been a varmint though.”

“Nope, didn’t hear anything,” Niko said poking his head out the rolled-down window and looking around.

Momentarily relieved, I let off the break and  the Syncro lurched forward down the one lane road, the kind of road that donkeys died making a hundred years ago and  where yahoos get their jollies in jeeps today.

This time, the hiss left little to my wishful imagination.  “There!  Shit.  Could you take a look?”

Without saying anything, Nikko opened the door and took off his seat belt.

Over the rumble of the liberally muffled engine, the hiss continued.

“There is a hole the size of my fucking thumb in the front tire,” Nikko said looking down in disbelief at the front passenger tire.

Confirming my fears, I pulled the emergency break, popped my seat belt, and scurried around the front of the van towards the hiss sound.  Just as Nikko had described,  a hole the size of my thumb exposed the cavernous interior of the BF Goodrich Mud Terrains.

In shock, we stood side by side and stared down at the hole.  The escaping air kicked up a cloud of dust.

“So that’s what the inside of the tire smells like.”

“Yup. Well, this is what a full sized spare is for.  Plus, its not an adventure until something goes wrong.”

“I guess so.  How familiar are you with that jack?” Nikko asked motioning to the red Hi-lift Jack attached to the tire swing on the back of the van.

Neither of us moved.

“Well to tell you truth,  I used it once to try to get the van out of lake full of mud in Nevada.  I ended up having to get towed.  Haven’t changed a tire with it but I’m no stranger to a changing, just not on a hill like this.”

“Gotcha.” Nikko kicked the tire. “This thing’s losing air fast.”

Breaking inertia, I headed towards the drivers seat. “Yah, I’m going to pull it up towards that straight away.  This wont be too bad,  maybe take 20 minutes,” I asserted.

Creeping down the hill towards a relatively flat section, I put it into second gear,  turned off the ignition and cranked the emergency break.

“I’m going to grab the jack.  Could you pull off the spare?  Here’s the tire iron,” I said reaching under the bench seat and grabbing the tire iron and Vanagon jack adapter.

Five minutes later, we had the necessary ingredients laid out a few feet from the van:  Full sized spare,  tire iron,  jack adapter and Hi-lift. “Okay,  let’s dance.”

With a few cranks of the jack,  the suspension started to ease.

“Just a little bit more,”  I said out of the corner of my mouth,  fully articulating the arm of the jack.

As soon as the front tire left the ground, the Syncro lurched forward an inch, spitting gravel as if in disapproval of the entire scenario.

“Fuck.  FUck. Fuuuuhhhhhhkk.”  I jumped back.

The van skidded another inch, forcing the Hi-Lift jack into an even more precarious angle.

“Shiit, that is not good. This is not good.”

The creeks and groans continued.

“We gotta get rocks under the tires!  Now!  Now!”  I screamed running around to the driver’s side and shoving any rocks I could crab within arm’s length under the tires.  The wedges worked and after a few seconds, the creaks stopped.

“What the fuck do we now?”

“If that  jack knocks out and hits one of us, well,  this goes from being a shitty situation to a desperate one.  Totally screwed.  We are a good five-hour hike back to Racetracks,  and that’s assuming that someone is there for the night.”

“Yah that would not be good. Who knows how long that thing will hold.  I mean, that looks pretty fuckin’ precarious,” I said pointing to the jack, some 20 degrees off a comfortable axis.

“I’m not putting my head anywhere near that shit.”

“Me neither.  Let’s be calm.  Man, I wish we had another jack.  We could jack up the back and we would be fine. Should we wait for another jeep to come around?”

“Its the middle of December, in Death Valley.  We have seen two jeeps today.  Who knows how long it would be?”

“If the jack gives out the whole weight of the car will drop onto the that suspension arm.   Bye bye disk break. Bye bye CV joint.  We are 40 miles from the nearest paved road and there is no way we are towing this shit out of here.”

“Damn,  we are in a tight spot.”

“No shit, George Clooney.”

“What if we put the cooler and ammo box under frame and try to knock the jack out with a rock?  If it knocks out, maybe they will catch it, and if doesn’t we’ll at least know it will hold some stress.”

“We don’t have too many other options.  But I’m not throwing the rock though.  Oh no,  this is your rodeo.  Wait a second,  take that food out of there.”  Ni;ko said, rifling through the cooler and removing some necessities.

“Good call.”

Avoiding touching any parts of the van, I pulled the Coleman cooler and pelican box out of the van with a shovel handle and wedged them under the frame.

“Alright.  I guess this is all we can do.”

Picking up a rock the size of a seat cushion from the side of the road,  I took a deep breath, bid farewell to my van and  threw it at the jack.

Instead of triggering the anticipated catastrophe,  the rock bounced off  with a a metallic ding, wedging itself at an opposing angle against the jack.

“Jesus Christ.”

Catching my breath I took a step back. “What the do we do now? Should I throw another?”

“Ughhh.  If it can hold that, then it will probably hold a few more cranks from the jack.”

“Shit,” I said,  adrenaline still pumping strong.  “Alright,  lets  jack it up.  Grab the spare and get ready to throw it on.”

Walking forward,  I cautiously pumped the handle of the jack,  forcing the van up one click.  The precarious angle held.

Like a pit crew,  Niko and I positioned the wheel on the lugs and spun the nuts with purpose.  Scrambling for the tire iron,  I tightened the nuts, shacking with energy.

Breathing deeply, we stood back. High fives were in order.

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December 22, 2011

Death Valley

Chattering over washboards the size of coffee mugs, I continued the Syncro’s acceleration from second to third. 35 mph. 40, the silverware in the cabinet behind me stopped chattering. 45, the coins in the ash tray quieted down.

“I think the sign said, “Dust Control, 15 MPH,” my cousin, Nikko, grinned, peering up from the Delorme Gazetteer of Southern California.

“We would separate our retinas, if we did that.”  I swerved around a six inch pothole onto the soft shoulder.  “A teacher in high school taught me this trick on a field trip to central Oregon.  He would go 50 in a fucking school bus on one lane dirt roads. In-Sane… Instead of going up and down with every bump,  we are cruising over the top of them.  Plus it’s more fun.”

“Looks like it, just don’t tweet and drive.”

“Oh noo, this is a two handed, white knuckle job.”

In the distance, the straight-away took a sharp turn up a hillside, switchbacking towards a pass, some 1500 feet off the valley floor.

“Where are we camping tonight? I asked, looking back at the dust plume behind us and the warm light on the opposite hills.

“In the next valley.  The Park Service map says this shit dead ends in two miles, or so, but we’ll take that pass into the next valley.”

“Party on Wayne.”

A #vanlife kitchen.

Sunrise.  Dirt roads, like in the foreground, are standard travel.

Nikko taking in the view.

Translation  from Park Service Square, this means, “Good things lay ahead.”

Flash flood’s a’comin’.

Red roads.

Ribeye with asparagus and bacon. Dinner.

Sunset on the Saline Valley.

Flat.

4:52 PM.

Open country.

An abounded mine turned rust pit turned shooting range.

Death Valley comes to life when you head off the main roads, away from the Cruise America RV’s, fanny packs and gas stations with scorpion lollipops.   Various jeep and hiking trails crisscross the park and surrounding BLM land, exposing remote areas.  This access combined  with December’s short days and relatively cool temperatures keep the park quiet.  For four days,  Nikko and I explored the area, and encountered 5 other groups.  Some things are better off season.

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December 20, 2011

A Skate Sesh with Mike Vallely

“Want to go on a skate mission after the rain clears?” the email from Mike Vallely read.  I checked it twice.

Stumbling to respond, I tapped “Absolutely.  When and where?” on the screen of my broken iPhone and pushed send.

I met Mike V. at the Goruck Ascent in early September  after growing up watching  videos of him skate places like the Brooklyn Banks and his parts in the various iconic skate videos like, In Search of the Animal Chin.  For those unfamiliar with Mike’s body of work, he’s been a pro skateboarder for 25 years and has worked on a handful of other projects ranging from a cameo in The Hangover to a career as a semi pro hockey player. Few are cut from his cloth.  On the Ascent, we chatted for a few hours while hiking on an especially grueling two day summit.  Back at base camp, we exchanged contact info and then went our separate ways.

Last week, I made my way back to LA and looked Mike up.  We exchanged a few emails and settled on skate mission in his hometown of Long Beach.   Meeting at Mike’s house, we hopped into the Syncro with veteran filmer Mark Nisbet and set out to one of Mike’s favorite spots, a bank on the LA River.

Parking the van a few blocks away, we locked up and headed towards the spot, crossing a bridge before dropping down past a corrall of horses.  After a few pushes, it was evident why Mike was still skating after 25 years of trials and tribulations in a sport notorious for burning people out.  He has the energy of a teenager,  easily ollieing over a curb with three boards in his hands and a backpack on.  I caught my back truck.   Every block or so, he looked back with a genuine smile, making sure I hadn’t been jacked by a vato or- more likely- caught my front wheels in a gap in the pavement.   It didn’t look like a job.

Regardless of the vocation, it’s inspiring to see someone doing the thing they love and making it work. Mike is certainly is.

Tail sliding.

Mike was kick flipping this thing. No problem. It’s as wide as my surfboard.

Afterbang.

This river, if you could call it that,  eats skateboards and smells like a dirty hot dub.  It almost got mine.

Mike is working on a new board project.  He showed me some of his shapes. They looked great and I can’t wait to shred one of them, albeit in no manner resembling Mike.

Kicking and pushing,  doing my best to catch up.

Shadow catching.

Cruising.

After stomping a head high wall ride off the quarter pipe onto the bank, Mike skated over to his pack and checked his phone.  Seeing my window,  I took a few pushes and pumped up the bank backside, some five feet bellow Mike’s wheel marks.

“Hungry,” he asked looking up.

“Always.”

“Lets roll,  it’s always good to leave this place with dry boards.”

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