February 19, 2013
That Wicked Country
“When are you going to that wicked country? Your father tells me you are heading down soon. How do you pronounce it? Ba JA?” my 86 year old grandmother inquired from my cousin’s couch in San Diego.
“Dan and I are leaving tomorrow morning.”
“But it’s Christmas. You’re not going to stay? You just got here?”
“I know, Oma, but the highways in Baja will be empty.”
“Isn’t it dangerous? I hear all these stories of people being found with their heads off.”
“It sure can be. The border areas around Texas and incredibly dangerous, but the place where I go is empty. It’s just fishermen and a handful of surfers,” I explained.
“What do you do for food and water? Isn’t it incredible arid?”
“Well we bring food and water in jugs, and we spear fish. Depending on our luck, we buy fish from fisherman”
“So there aren’t restaurants or towns?”
“Think of it like Nevada with waves. You drive 10 hours on a beat up, two lane road and then turn off and drive a few hours on dirt roads and then you park on the beach.”
“…And then you surf all day? Sounds wonderful.”
“It sure is Oma. Especially if you’re into surfing.”
My cousin Becca sat down on the other side of my grandmother, and the conversation shifted away from my upcoming trip. It was already 9:30, and my jet-lagged relatives from the east coast were starting to wind down. The fireplace popped away on wood trucked in from the Sierras and the smell of a Christmas tree overpowered the scraps of dinner still lying on the dinning room table. I was full, too full, and I laid my head back against the wall. I could fall asleep right now, I thought to myself. Across the room, Dan talked with my aunt. Over the chatter, it sounded like he was having a similar conversation with my aunt about the tenets and risks of driving to Baja.
Sunset at low tide in Central Baja.
A Taco stand in Guerrero Negro.
Two 10 footers.
Naranjas for sale on the side of the 1 in Northern Baja.
There is a bad moon on the rise.
Home is where you park it!
Dan after a four hour session.
The refrigerator at a road side Taqueria.
Off my wave cook.
Red, white and blue #vanlife.
A gringo dog watching over a camp in Central Baja.
At 5:32, the standard IOS allarm went off, waking me from my slumber on the couch. Rolling over, I rubbed the sleep from my eyes and looked out the window. It was still pitch black. The street lamps lit the palm trees and a sixty degree Southern California breeze blew in from the open window. Nothing felt like Christmas morning. My cousin Nikko’s snore crept under the bedroom door into the living room. Sunrise wasn’t for another two hours, but we still had to park Dan’s van at the airport and get gas. Those two hours would go by fast. Kicking off the blankets, I reached for my jeans and pulled them on. Feeling around in the dark, I grabbed my backpack and made sure my iPhone charger was in it. Being as quiet as possible, I locked the door behind me and headed out to my van.
Dan was already waiting right behind my van.
“Happy Kwanzaa to you too.”
“You ready to go?”
Here are some more links,
Out of Reception (Tumblr).
January 22, 2013
Nick Dirks’ Van
Mt. Bachelor’s parking lot was empty, save for a few RV’s and vans parked in the corner of the lot. Looking for Nick’s van, I spotted it nestled between two pickup truck campers. Pulling up behind the group of campers, I parked and walked towards Nick’s van. Icicles hung from the corners of every vehicle as a result of the mid-teens temperatures the night before. Knocking on the window, I heard movement in the van, and opened the door.
“Rise and shine, it’s butt whipping time!” I said, drowning out Nick and Alex’s groans as I opened the front door and hopped into the passenger seat.
“You guys stay warm last night? It’s fucking freezing out.”
“We had the heater cranked all night, it wasn’t that bad,” Nick said from the fold down bed in the back of the van.
“Ha, how was the floor?” I asked Alex. He lay on the ground wrapped in a Poler napsack surrounded by a few empty 12 ounce beer cans and a bag of chips.
“It was fine. What time is it?”
“Uhh… Let me check..8:15,” I said checking my phone. ”It’s dumping out!”
“Yah, you guys are tripping! I’m going to go get first lift. They start running in fifteen”
“Uhghh…” Nick rolled over onto his stomach. ”We’ll see you up there.”
“Have it your way dude…” I said tracking in snow out of the open door. ”Give me a ring.”
Ass, Gas or Grass, Nobody Rides for Free. For the record these empties were from parked activities, not mobile.
Shutting the door, I grabbed my board and headed towards the lift line. They’ll be up in an hour I thought to myself.
I first met Nick snowboarding on Mt. Hood ten years ago. Nick, myself and our friend Jarad ripped around Mt. Hood Meadows like we owned the place, cutting lift lines, going out of bounds and occupying the lodge. In the winter of 2004, we went on our first road trips by ourselves together in search of snow and hand rails. When we graduated from high school, I decided to go to college, instead of focusing on snowboarding. Nick went on to be a pro shredder and has rode his board in places like Lebanon, Russia and Chile. Whenever I came back to Portland, I’d meet up and chew the fat with Nick and Jarad. During college and my stint in New York, these stories of old times, and Nick and Jarad’s current shenanigans, made me question my path. Seven years later, we are both living in our vans.
Note the icicles and empty beer holder.
The inside of #vanlife.
The Vantasy’s custom board rack. Pure Cambvibes.
An hour later, my phone rang in my pocket as I road up the lift. Sitting on my gloves, I wrangled my phone out of my breast pocket with my slow moving fingers.
“Where are you guys? It’s going off!” I laughed, tucking my phone under my goggle strap.
“We are at the bottom of Sunrise (a lift). Where are you?”
“I’m a few chairs a head of you, see you at the top.” Shutting off my phone I shoved it back into my pock and checked the zipper. I couldn’t remember the last time Nick and I took laps together. It must have been at least seven years. I hooted in anticipation.
Here are some more links,
The Vantasy Christmas.
December 12, 2012
A Fellow Van Dweller
The sun sagged in the west as I rounded a bend near Tioga Pass in Yosemite National Park. Up ahead, a handful of rented RV’s and cars filled to the brim with backpacks and climbing gear dotted a large parking lot. At 9,000 feet, the Syncro’s engine labored at 5,000 RPM’s in second gear. Fifteen miles of this climb up from the Valley had warmed the oil up. Shifting into neutral, I coasted into the lot and pulled into a parking space. A lone Vanagon with a hand-painted mural stood a few hundred feet away.
Grabbing a down jacket, I locked up the Syncro and checked out the Vanagon. It was an early 80′s aircooled hard top that, based on the bike, curtains and artwork, was most likely someone’s home. Scanning the parking lot, I saw no likely candidates.
I turned on some Pink Floyd on my iPhone and shoved it into my breast pocket, as I often do when alone. Marching to the tunes of Wish You Were Here, I followed the setting sun’s rays up the hill. Following no defined path, I saw a group of Teva wearing, DSLR brandishing hikers heading down the hill.
“Certainly not van dwellers…RV’ers for sure..” I mumbled to myself and continued up the hill. My sea legs, and lungs, were burning by the time I finally made it to the top. Scanning around the 360 degree view, the last rays of light bounced off the granite. Picking a ledge, I sat down and turned up the volume on my phone.
The sun lowered over the sheer granite faces. Zoning out, the Pink Floyd songs meshed together. Slowly, I realized that I wasn’t the only one on top of the mountain listening to my playlist. Sometimes you can sense it. Turning around, I saw a man in his late forties sitting a hundred feet behind me watching the sunset. He sat calmly and without the anxiousness of a most tourists on a weekend trip. He had been traveling for a while and was very familiar with spending time by himself. He didn’t fidget or fire away blindly with a digital camera. Instead, he sat with watching the sunset over Yosemite Valley as if he does this every evening.
“He must be the van dweller…” I thought to myself.
For a moment, I felt like breaching the silence and starting a conversation. For a song or two, I debated in my head. A certain type of person is drawn to traveling by themselves and that type of person, although often lonely, values solitude.
I kept to myself.
Back in the parking lot, I fired up the Syncro and blasted on the heat. The late October evening was chilly, and according to a Park Ranger, Tioga Pass would soon be closed for the season. Backing out of the space, I rolled down the parking lot towards the exit. The lone man from the hill was just getting back to his yellow Vanagon. Rolling past, I waved in approval and respect.
He nodded in return with a smile.
Here are some more links,
November 14, 2012
Closed for the Season
The campground looked empty from the road. Rolling past the welcome sign, I cranked down my dirty window and stuck my head out, scanning for a dollar sign. $15 per night. I let off the clutch and continued on the dirt road. Avoiding the chilly breeze, I rolled up the window.
“Might as well be free,” I chuckled to myself. The afternoon sun was dropping quickly and the north side of the adjacent hills was already clocked in shade. Driving around the perimeter of the campground, I looked for familiar sights.
Sixteen years before, my family rented an RV and explored the eastern Sierra for a month in early fall. Although somewhat hazy, the trip stands out as a highlight of my childhood. Motivated by a sense of restlessness brought about by lack of surf and nostalgia, I cut out from the coast the week before and headed up 395 towards the Tioga Pass area.
Basing my plans on a few calls with my parents, I bounced around the Tioga Pass area for a week in late October. During the week, I headed over towards Yosemite, and as as the crowds picked up, I retreated back towards the Mono Lake area. In passing and without cause, some of the sights touched on memories from my first trip.
Boarded up for the winter.
Those dots in the middle of the wall are two groups of climbers bivvying for the night.
Home is where you park it! I also run a site called Vanlife.
Sunset at 9000 feet.
Looking back through Tioga Pass.
Half Dome, in Yosemite Valley.
I wonder if they will keep the sign in the spring?
Custom Camper on a 1967 Dodge PowerWagon. This baby has 600k miles on it, and has run over a cow.
These mountains are now covered in snow.
Wish you were here.
Looking east towards through Tioga Pass.
Traveling alone affords you the time and flexibility to linger in some areas and pass through others. The Tioga Pass region is one I advise lingering in, especially in the off season. My weeks spent there 16 years ago and last month are highlights of different eras of my life. Somethings don’t change.
Here are some more links,
Out Of Reception (Tumblr),
A Restless Transplant (Facebook).