November 3, 2011


There is surf spot on the Northern California Coast  only accessible by bush plane, Zodiak boat or an eight mile, tide dependent, hike in along the coast.  Since traveling through the area a month ago,  I started picking up tidbits about a remote point break nestled in the largest undeveloped section of the west coast.  These tidbits led to research and an eventual plan to backpack in and surf this remote break.

According to lore, locals bury boards in the woods so that they don’t have to schlep them on their back.  In the early 00’s, a few hikers died when they were caught against  cliffs by high tides.  In addition, the (frigid) waters are infested with great white sharks and the shores team with black bears.  Nestled on a point,  the break is exposed to swell from the both the north and the south, meaning that rogue waves three times larger than normal can catch surfers.   “Get hurt out there, and you’re looking at a life flight out courtesy of the US Coast Guard,” a local explained through the window of a Toyota pick up.

These “obstacles” contribute to a deserted point break surfed by few, but known in the Norcal surf community as one of the best in North America.

“If not now, then when?  I just don’t think we will have another opportunity,”  Dan said from his apartment in Arcata. “The swell is building and it’s from the right direction.  The weather will be in the 70’s too, in late October.  We can’t pass this up.”

“I’m down,” I answered into my phone from the side of Route 1 in Big Sur.  “I’ll be up there by Wednesday.  The waves will be better by the end of the week, huh?”

“Yahh,  that should be perfect.”

We arrived at the trail head late the night before, greeted by the site of another Syncro with a few surfboards on top and an early 80’s Westy.  Waking before dawn, we packed our things, hid our valuables and started down the beach.  Racing along as an eight foot high tide chipped away at the narrow beach,  we covered four miles along the beach then scrambled up a hillside.  As the tide recessed,  we sprinted around small rock points between waves.  Cove by cove, we marched ever closer to the distant point.

We dinged our boards and cursed our packs.

After eight hours of watermelon sized rocks, exposed beaches and jagged points, we finally made it to the bluffs over looking the break.  To our surprise we saw not one break but a handful of pealing, uninhabited waves.  A far-cry from Southern California: just a single team of two surfers taking turns riding a wave and driving a jet ski.   With the eagerness of a group of nine year olds on Halloween, we shed our backpacks, changed into our suits and charged into the waves, intent on reaping the benefit of our day’s effort.

For the next three days, we surfed the handful of breaks along the abandoned coast when the tides were right.  When the water was flat, we explored the beach, scavenging for driftwood, and other odds and ends to improve our makeshift home.

Tired from the day’s sessions, we packed it in early each night.  Waking at dawn, we checked the surf.


Low tide.

Using salvaged marine rope,  we lashed two trees together, creating crows nest.  From this vantage point, we could see breaks a mile down the beach in either direction.

In the mornings, we spotted bear and deer tracks on the trails along the bluffs.


Our shelter,  my LL Bean tent.


Our planks.

Next time, I will probably come in on one of these.


An Aran Sweater for the cold nights.

 After three days of playing lost boys, our food ran short and more importantly, the swell died down.  Much to our chagrin,  we broke camp, took one last look at the swell from our crows nest, and hiked back a long the coast.  Motivated by the promise of a convenience store at the end of the beach, we walked in relative silence.  Some things you will never forget.

Here are some more links,

Lost (Picasa).

August 30, 2011


Growing up with  parents  who went backpacking on their honeymoon soured my relationship with hiking as a kid.  I bitched when my dad dragged me on hikes around the Columbia River Gorge and was jealous when my friends went to Mexico for spring break while we went backpacking through the Grand Canyon.   “I just don’t see the point of walking for the sake of walking,” I often spouted on our weekly jaunts.  Huffing and puffing up hills, I fantasized about chairlifts, four wheelers and other painless ways of making my way to the top of mountains.

My early attempts to distance myself from dehydrated meals and Thermarest sleeping pads proved to be futile.  As my teenage insecurities subsided and my attention span lengthened, I founded comfort in cruising along trails through the woods.

After spending a few nights in eastern Oregon, Idaho and Utah,  Tim and I headed towards the mountains and valleys of the Gunnison National Forest.

Slate River Valley, outside of Crested Butte CO.

Outhouses along the Gunnison River.

Avalanche chute.

My Henry lever action .22L.

Ridge top.

Reflection at 11,00o feet.

Stream crossing.

Snowfields above treeline.

Four skips.


Remember Sinkers or Floaters from Most Extreme Elimination Challenge?

For a week, we used the Syncro as a base camp, driving around the seemingly endless single track roads.  By night we  slept around campfires and cooked on propane stoves.  By day we hiked around the numerous mountains and tried to catch fish in the countless streams and rivers.  Change happens fast when you focus on it.

Here are some more links:

Gothic (Picasa).

August 23, 2011

26 East

After months of anticipation and preparation, I checked the roof racks on the Syncro one last time, said good-bye to my mom and left the Gorge heading east.  With my brother Tim sitting shotgun, we pumped “The Weight” as an homage to Easy Rider and cruised down highway 26 at a steady 63 mph.  I rolled down the manual crank window, put on my sunglasses and enjoyed the dry air.

Taking turns behind the wheel, we took the in the scenery and headed towards Colorado by way of Oregon, Idaho and Utah.  Sticking to the back roads,  we moved slowly, camping by night on BLM land and cooking our meals at rest stops and state parks.

Open Country.

300 win mag near the John Day River in Eastern Oregon.

Brush fires in Southern Idaho.
Bruneau Dunes.

Modern navigation.

A barn in Central Oregon.

John Day River Valley.

Dinner by Tim, mug by Snow Peak.

Does any one know what kind of snake this is?

Sunset on I-84.

Gas can, dry bags and 14 gallons of water.

Tim on a morning hike.

After four days ,  1100 miles, and 57 gallons of gas, we finally crossed over into Colorado from southern Utah.  For the next few weeks, we are cruising around CO, backpacking, fishing and enjoying the mountains.

Here are some more links,

26 East (Picasa),

John Day (Picasa),

Utah (Picasa).

July 6, 2011

A One Way Ticket to Reno

“How much would it be to go Newark?” I asked at 3:50am on Friday morning.

“$72,” the driver quickly responded, removing the cell phone from his ear for an instant.

“Forget it. Take me to Penn Station,” I responded, taking off my backpack and setting it against the window.  For five minutes I rubbed my eyes and tapped on the screen of my iPhone as the cab bounced down 8th ave.

“OK, how much you pay to Newark?

“I’d pay $45.”  I leaned forward towards the sliding door and prepared for some negotiations.  Twenty-five minutes later, I handed him $55 and walked into the departures gate at Newark International Airport with my one-way ticket to Reno firmly gripped in my hand.

For months, I had scoured Craigslist and The Samba looking for a VW Syncro Vanagon. This isn’t your grandmother’s VW. Roughly 2,000 were imported to North America from 1985-1992.  They were built in the same factory as Unimogs, Steyr-Daimler-Puch a German tank company to be exact, and have since developed a strong cult following.  Today, these Syncro’s have mostly collected on the west coast in predominant outdoor cities like San Francisco, Portland, Seattle and Boulder.  Eventually, I found one that met my criteria and after exchanging a few dozen emails and phone calls with its original owner, I bought a one way ticket to Reno with a return flight out of Portland four days later.

Arriving in Reno at noon, I waited with my two bags for Deon, the Syncro’s owner of 24 years, to pick me up. Before long, I heard the buzz of the Syncro’s Audi 2.0 engine.  Love at first sight.  After a lengthy test drive and subsequent trip to the Nevada DMV, I headed north on 395 towards central Oregon.   I put on The Weight by The Band, rolled down my windows and cruised north.

As the sun started to set, I passed an abandoned road snaking off of CA-139 into the Modoc National Forrest. Pulling a U-y on the empty highway, I headed up the road for twenty minutes, following the single track in first gear up the side of a mountain.  Eventually, the road ended at a locked gate and I set up for the night, folding out the bed in the back and snacking on some goods from Whole Foods.  I had the valley to myself.

For the next four days,  I explored the Northwest, camping in the Syncro by night and traveling and hiking by day.

My trusty GR1 and the front seats of the Syncro.

Northern California, just south of the Oregon border.

My mom near her house in the Columbia River Gorge.

The Syncro set up for the night in National Forest north of the Columbia River Gorge.

Rolling hills in the Modoc National Forest.

My mom’s soon to be finished house just outside the Columbia River Gorge.

My dad and his signature Pendleton shirt in the Silver Star Mountains, just south of Mount St. Helens.

Late Monday evening, I dropped off the Syncro at my dad’s and headed to the airport to catch a redeye back to JFK.  I slept the entire way, exhausted from a long weekend of wandering.   The Syncro is having some upgrades and repairs done to it (I got reckless off-roading and side swept a stump).  I will be back in a month or so to pick it up and continuing traveling.


Here are some more links,
Hit the Road (Picasa),
A Restless Transplant (Facebook),
Foster Huntington (Twitter).