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).

May 8, 2013

Not the First or Last

“Has anyone seen the shit shovel and TP?” I asked, hunting around our camp.

“Dan took it and the Lambo (Dan’s shitty mountain bike with Lamborghini badges) ten minutes ago and headed out for his morning routine.”

My small cup of freshly percolated coffee  was kicking in, bringing the mid morning stroll into the desert for a scenic shit from casual to imminent.

“Fuck.” This is not the answer I was hoping to hear. I scoured our camp of three tents, Dan’s Vanagon, Johnny’s pickup and a dozen or so surfboards for an unmolested roll of toilet paper.  Finding one by the camp fire, I left with purpose.

“Those fifteen tacos you ate yesterday coming back to haunt you?”

“Hardly dude,” I responding with wavering confidence , still believing the hubris that my stomach could support the onslaught of a dozen street tacos in Ensenada with no delayed after affects.

 My brisk walk turned in to a slow jog and eventual settled at a dead sprint down the dirt road leading towards the desert and undefined outhouse zone behind the row of camps.  Looking back, our camp and half a dozen other surfers slowly shrank behind me. “I can make it,” I groaned to myself. A hundred yards in front of me,  Dan crested the small hill walking his bike and holding the TP and shovel in one hand.  We moved with a different sense of urgency.

“Give me that fucking shovel,”  I yelled,  doing my best to mimic Usain Bolt at the Beijing Olympics.

“Oooooh, Taco Greed?”  Dan bent over laughing.  Holding the shovel out in his left hand,  I grabbed the baton and kept on my path.

My situation was quickly deteriorating. Perhaps if, I walked slowly I could control myself?  No time for that. The shovel would be used as a clean up operation not to dig a premeditated, shallow grave digging tool as I had hoped when I left camp a minute before.

Avoiding cactus and other foot fuckers that could compromise my chances of making it out of this unscathed and unsoiled,  I left the trail and set out over the hard ground of the Baja Desert.  Dan’s laughs faded as I crested the small hill.  Glancing behind me, Dan’s head was still visible but the camp behind him was blocked.

I spun around, dropping the shovel and TP in one motion. Frantically, I fidgeted with my belt.  Despite my sprinting and efforts, the dike broke as I unbuttoned my jeans.  Inches from the finish line, I crashed.

Nap time.

Home is where you park it!

Suiting up.

Restocking on produce at a local grocery store.

Local transportation.

Erin attending to the morning dishes.

Everything you need,  nothing you don’t.

Tide pool exploration.

Siesta Time.

Kitchen for six.

A luxury.

Shred sticks.

Halibut beware.

Right by the beach.

Let there be light.

Dan’s Subaru powered Vanagon.

Shred sleds.

Ryan heading out to shred a few.

Banana boat.


Changing room.

Going through the roll of toilet paper like a ten year old through Fruit Stripe Gum,  I  cleaned up the mess as well as I could.  Periodically, I paused to burn the mountain of paper collecting in front of me.  As the sun ross behind me,  the off shore wind picked up.  The swell, that we chased down from Santa Barbara two days before, was showing up.  Lines, groomed by the wind,  were bending in around the point.  A few of the old time Baja guys were already out on their fun boards catching the best ones, showing their hard earned knowledge of the finicky wave.

Removing my boxers, I put my jeans back on and started my bowlegged retreat back to camp.

My boxers flapped from my index finger like a flag of defeat.  I considered berrying the boxers along with the mountain of rejected tacos in a shallow grave.  Coyotees would get it in no time and leave them discarded along the beach and I opted to burn them.  Thankfully, the off shore wind kept the shit smell at bay.  I walked slowly,  watching the waves break a hundred yards out from our camp.

“I’m not the first person or the last one to shit myself in Baja,” I reassured to myself. “It’s a cost of doing business.”

Here are some more links,

Fun and Dusted (Korduroy TV),

Old Clothes (Johnny McCann).

April 29, 2013

Limited Space

Living in a camper forces you to prioritize your possessions.  You have to be selective.  A camper has thirty square feet,  mine has twenty five.  Everything  must have multiple uses.  This ethos attracted me away from my cluttered New York City apartment in the first place and is the same interest that inspired The Burning House Project.  After continuous tinkering here’s a list of things that are essential for my life on the road.

iPhone 5.  Want to find a place to eat?  Whats the weather doing?  How long does it take to get to Bishop from here?  It’s my connection to the world and spontaneity.  Mine is jailbroken and with the help of a handy  $20 tethering app, I can connect my laptop to the phone’s 3g modem.  Screw telephone companies and their price gouging ways.  (MyWi tether app)

LL Bean 20° Goose Down bag.  Few things are more essential to a nice camping experience than a good sleeping bag.   20° covers pretty much all of the temperatures I’ve come across in the last 60,000 miles.  After over 500 nights in the last two years,  my bag is still going strong. (LL Bean)

Poler Camera Bag.  I use this thing as a murse to hold headphones, iPhone Chargers and of course, my camera gear.   Remove your chatskis, and it doubles as a cooler for a six pack of your favorite beverage. (Poler)

Gerber Multitool. A solid pocketknife is a must.  It comes in handy in all sorts of situations. I’ve worked on my van,  cleaned fish and taken out a cactus spike in Mexico with it.  Plus it works when you need to open up a snack.  (Gerber Gear)

Casio F-91W watch. Back in the 90′s, a training camp in Afghanistan taught Al-Qaeda members to use this watch as a timer for bombs. Rumor has it that because of this,  the CIA has thrown Arabs into Gitmo and other godforsaken places simply because they wear the watch.  It also happens to be the most widely distributed watch in the world and costs $9 on Amazon.  The box claims that it’s water resistant but I’ve surfed with it dozens of times.  (amazon)

Dr. Bronner’s.  I don’t always shower, but when I do, I use Dr Bonner’s peppermint soap.  Me and every other NPR listener you’ve met raves about this stuff, but honestly its a must. You can wash dishes, clothes, your hands and even your teeth with this stuff. (amazon)

Short rubber boots by Tretorn.  When the weather gets shitty, you don’t want to have shoes.  These short boots have 90% of the upside of full-size rubber boots without the inconvenience.  I’ve worn them in the forest in British Columbia and on the beach in Mexico.  They have a faux-fur liner so your feet stay warm when it’s cold.  Don’t take this fur as invitation to not wear socks though, or they will start smelling like a DARPA-funded science project.  (Tretorn)

Down Jacket.  I wear this jacket 70% of the time.  It packs down into a travel pillow.  I take it everywhere.  Patagonia has a rock solid warranty so if it starts hemorrhaging feathers,  you can take it back. (

Backpacking Stove.  This thing packs into a box half the size of your fist and can cook a steak.  Need I say more?  It also has an auto lighting feature so you don’t need to fuck around with matches or a lighter,  things I’m always losing.  The tanks are easy to get your hands on and last a while.  (amazon)

John Wesley Twin Fin Pin Tail.  My friend Beamer turned me onto John and his Pin tail twin fins surfboards.  I’ve surfed them up and  down the coast and had a blast on them.  If I had to take one board with me on a trip, I’d take this one. (John’s blog)

Wrist Rocket. If I ever get around to it, I’d love to write a piece called Zen and the Art of the slingshot.  There are so many variables at play.  Rock size, distance from target, aiming technique.  It’s great for passing the time. (Amazon)

One of my favorite parts of living in a camper  is how it has shown me that I can be happy with very few things.  I’ve met a community of people on the road that take more pride in what they do than what they own.  These people have inspired me to think differently about my relationship to things.

Here are some more links,

Vanlife (Tumblr).

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).