June 18, 2013
Rolling over, I rubbed the sleep from my eyes and looked out through the dust covered sliding window. The stars were gone from the predawn sky save for a handful of planets and the crescent moon. My bladder swelled against my jeans’ waist band, courtesy of a few Tecates the night before. There was no point in putting it off any more. Unzipping my sleeping bag I crawled out of the hinged door. The cold Dip-N-Dots-sized rocks of the high desert stuck to my clammy feet as I walked towards an outcropping. The splatter cut through the calm morning air; announcing my relief and the start of my day to a dozen or so slumbering lizards nestled away in cracks in the rocks.
The rest of our camp kept sleeping despite my yawns and the occasional groan when I stepped on a sharp rock with my bare feet. The last memories of the fire from the night before glowed in tiny embers in our makeshift fire ring. Pushing the coals together into a pile with one of the remaining logs, I sat down and watched the fire run its course. Slowly the log started smoking. Leaning forward, I took a breath of fresh air and blew on the coals. Smoke gave way to small flames. Other than the squeaking of a nearby Blue Jay, camp was dead quiet. I glanced at my watch. It was 5:51.
There’s a few week stretch each spring before the start of Day Light Saving time , when I feel like a morning person. By most accounts, I wake up early, between 6:00 and 7:00. Living in your car and spending the majority of your time outside shifts waking hours earlier. During those few weeks before the clocks jump forward, I wake up at times that would make 70-year old retired man proud. In high school I woke up early and go skateboard at Burnside. While living in New York, I’d go for runs during the quietest time of the day in my futile attempt to make it as a New Yorker. Regardless of the place, there’s something about being up long before everyone wakes up and for the two weeks, it stays novel. Part of you wants some company, but as soon as another person wakes up, the day starts, and that feeling of detached observation and introspection leaves.
Hot springs shrapnel.
Jeff having some coffee.
Dan starting his day.
View from the bedroom.
The search for a level place is an essential vanlife skill.
Hot springs walk way
Looking towards the east, the sun flirted with the hills, accentuating its rolling saddles. To the west, the summit of 14,000 foot Mt. Whitney was already coated in pink light. The sun tracked down the Sierras like a tractor tire on a runaway death course. Watching it accelerate, I sat by the fire, pocking at it with a hatchet. The shadows had now retreated to the valley floor. Any minute now, the sun would breach the hills, casting light on our camp and waking up the rest of the crew.
Jeff’s door slid up with a hiss courtisoy of nearly a decade of heavy mountain and beach use. ”AAyyy Fosterrr,” Jeff whispered in a faux Australian accent. ”Do you want some coffee?”
Here are some more links,
Out of Reception (Tumblr).
May 28, 2013
Matt and his Honda Trail 110
“Have you ever had your shit stolen?”
“Three times,” Matt said casually, as if discussing how many times per year he cuts his hair. “Last time I was in Mexico, banditos showed up in the middle of the night with assault rifles and took everything.”
“Even your passport?”
“No, they let us keep those,” Matt said, grabbing his sleeping bag from a dry bag.
“Well at least they were considerate,” I joked. ”How has the ride down from BC been?”
“The CT’s been great. Oregon and Washington were a little brutal,” Matt said in a thick Australian accent. “I drove through Oregon in a day and a half.”
To my untrained ear, it sounded like Irish. That combined with his short stature reminded me uncontrovertibly of a leprechaun. “I’m sure,” I interjected. ”I grew up in Portland. I would have gotten the fuck out of there too.”
“Well I did. The rain was crazy.”
“If you ever have the chance, you should check it out in late summer. Its pretty special.”
Matt works in stints in construction or as a plumber back home in Australia. When he gets fed up, he travels and surfs until he runs out of money. He’s been in this pattern for the last 15 years. It’s taken him all over the world. I first heard about Matt’s travels through my friend Cyrus Sutton. A few years back, Cy and Matt went on a trip to Iceland. Cy often speaks of Matt’s commitment to the traveling life and ability to make it with very little resources. Matt is a rare breed.
By most accounts, Cy’s and myself included, Matt’s travels are that of character from a Krackauer book. He relinquishes the culture expectations yet has a deep seated trust in the people he meets. Talking with him left me with the sense that I could be roughing it a lot more than I am. My life in my camper felt safe and calculated compared to his travels on his Honda.
I wished him safe travels on his trip through Baja. I told him that with any luck, he’ll catch that last Northern Hemisphere swell of the season. A week later, I was in San Diego with Cyrus when we got word that he had everything stolen from by some banditos in Northern Baja. I wasn’t surprised or scared for him. Out of anyone I know, he could handle being trapped in the desert with nothing to his name.
Here are some more links,
A Few Sketchy Moments (Blog),
Matt is on Instagram too,
Matt Whitehead (Korduroy TV).
April 2, 2013
Bobbers and Sinkers
The underpowered Volkswagen hummed as we we sped through the cobblestone streets of the tiny Spanish town. Jokin, the Basque local whose house we were staying at, sang along to some American pop song that was never popular in America. I didn’t want to spoil his illusions of America with this insight however, and kept my mouth shut. The van smelled of damp wetsuits and smoke from hand rolled cigarettes. Surfboards of all shapes, sizes and colors took up two thirds of the bench seat beside me. Rounding a sharp corner, I braced the stack of boards with my forearm.
“How much farther until we will be able to see the wave?” Ryan Burch asked from the passenger seat.
“Ehhh five minutes, maybe a little more,” Jokin responded optimistically. This meant about fifteen minutes, I surmised.
For the last few days, Ryan had been working on shaping and glassing a board specifically for Mundaka. A looming swell had the locals in a frenzy. Big waves spots in Portugal and Spain were breaking and surfers from around the world were flying in. Garret McNamara would ride a 100 foot wave that same day, a few hundred miles from where we were on the same coastline. It was pure coincidence that we were in the area for the swell. We had been planning our trip for months. Unprepared for the coming waves, Ryan shaped a new board, designed for bigger waves. Ryan’s boards are unlike anything I’ve ever seen. As a gifted surfer and visionary shaper, Ryan pushes the boundaries of what surfboards can do. Instead of imitating and updating the past, as is the norm these days, he experiments with new designs. Form follows function. My good friend Cyrus has believed in Ryan’s surfing and shapes for years, but it took seeing him in action to fully appreciate it.
As a goofy footed surfer, Ryan’s boards are specifically designed to work with a right foot forward stance. The carbon rails give the board strength and allow them to flex. Check out more of his designs on his tumblr, Bobbers and Sinkers.
The van pulled over on the shoulder on a grassy hill. Firing up the hazard lights, we jumped out and stood on the guardrail. A warm south wind blew from behind us. Even from the hill, a few miles away from the wave, I could tell there was something special happening. Starting at the point and feathering a few hundred yards into the river mouth, the waves lined up. They were big. Bigger than any surfable wave I’d ever seen. The look of shock and anticipation on Ryan’s face reinforced my growing idea that this was a day I couldn’t miss. The urgency and severity of the opportunity was contagious.
“Classic Mundaka! This is rare, a gift.” Jokin said in a thick Basque accent as swung back into the driver’s seat and shut the door. Turning on the van, we peeled off. The whole stop had lasted maybe fifteen seconds.
“You gotta go out.” Ryan said, facing forward in the passenger seating. Before I could answer, he turned around and looked me in the face. “You’ll be fine. Take Cy’s gun.”
As soon as I saw the waves, standing on the guardrail, I knew I had to go. Smiling sheepishly I nodded in agreement.
Sprinting toward the harbor, the arms of my wet suit flapped at my waste. At the end of the walk way, we zipped up our suits, pulled our hoods over our heads and checked our leashes. Pausing, I watched a wave grind through, sucking sand up the face and throwing spray fifteen yards behind it. As I stood in awe, Ryan moved with the efficiency, seemingly unimpressed.
Standing up, Ryan tested his fins and moved towards the ten foot ledge over hanging the mouth of the Harbor.
“I’ll see you out there.”
Here are some more links,
Bobbers and Sinkers Tumblr (Ryan Burch’s Blog).
March 19, 2013
Cooped up in my apartment in New York, just over two years ago, I started obsessing over buying one of my own and living out of it. Since then, I’ve left New York and moved into a van. This transition has fueled my interest in and appreciation for such vehicles. Shortly after moving into my van, I started tagging vans and other campers with #vanlife tag on instagram and then put together the submission-based Tumblr to go a long with it. Recently, I worked with my friend Maddie Joyce on coming up with a new design for the site. I’m really happy with how it turned out. Here are some of my favorite shots I’ve taken doing the last two years and shared through the site.
A Nissan pick up in Central Baja, Mexico, Winter 2013.
A Westfalia parked along the PCH north of Ventura, Winter 2013.
My Syncro parked in the Los Padres National Forest, Summer 2012.
A Toyota parked on the beach in Southern Baja, Winter 2012.
A surplus Russian Transport parked on the Beach in Kamchatka Russia, Summer 2012.
The idea isn’t a fetishizing of the vehicles themselves, but a celebration of the idea of traveling by cheep in a vehicle. The site has received thousands of submissions since launching and its been great to see all the inspiring photos come in. Head over to van-life.net and share your photos of ships of the open road.
Here are some more links,
Vanlife (#tag on instagram),
Home Is Where Your Park It! (Facbook).