Saturday, August 18, 2012

Follow Through

The Early Winter Spires and Liberty Bell Mountain.

Always do sober what you said you'd do drunk.  That will teach you to keep your mouth shut.
-Ernest Hemingway 

While many grand adventures are born several pints deep at the edge of the bar;  it is for good reason that many adventures are laid to rest at the bottom of the glass.  The packs are always lighter, the miles always shorter and the pitches always less steep when slurring through a fog of alcohol induced courage.  Over the years and through many partners I have learned to accept that when the rubber meets the road,  plans for grade V climbs have a tendency to get watered down to days at the crags, and multi-day traverses through remote ranges often diminish into an overnight bivy and a scramble up a local peak.  Likely, this is all for the best though.   

When I make arrangements with my friend Darin however, this tends not to be the case. 

Somewhere in the haze of a weekend of climbing and debauchery last summer, I threw the idea of a completely human powered ascent of Liberty Crack to Darin, and slightly to my surprise he actually seemed interested.  Fresh off my Mount Olympus odyssey and a little inebriated, I exalted the virtues of  alpinism by bicycle and the purity of a completely human powered adventure over the flicker of a smoldering campfire.  I took another pull off the bottle of whiskey, handed it to Darin and watched him  take the bait;  I have always been an exceptional bullshitter.  

Like many such conversations, I figured the sobriety of a morning hangover would likely ebb the enthusiasm of the previous night's high, but I should have known better.  Darin called my bluff and went home and bought a bike.  He began pedaling to work and going on long weekend rides.  He visited me in the city and we trained together.   We went to Index and he taught me how to aid climb fast without a cluster-fuck of gear tied in knots around my head.  He rode his bike from his house in Bellingham and soloed moderate lines in the Sisters Range.  In short, Darin went to work training.  

In early August Darin and I rendezvoused in Sedro Wooley and set out to accomplish a goal that was a year in the making.  I could elaborate on the details and try to explain the difficulty of pulling a trailer full of climbing gear 200 miles over the mountains the day Darin came to understand the term "pain cave".  I could attempt to rationalize how stepping out on rusty pins pounded in a detached block thousands feet off the ground defies all sense of self-preservation and logic.   I could tell a story of a woman who treated me like a homeless meth addict when I tried to bum a beer at the Blue Lake Trailhead.  I could try to describe of the pure joy of speeding down an empty Highway 20 at 50 mph as the sun rose on my back and Colonial Peak grew taller before me, or of the despair of Skagit headwind that blew at a steady 15 mph from Newhalem to the Sea. The truth is however, that my writing is inadequate to do these stories justice and my words would likely dilute the richness of the experience.  You just had to be there.   

I think the best thing to say is that many of my most special days in the mountains I have shared with my buddy Darin.  I am thankful for his unique ability to follow through.

That's how I roll,


Locked, loaded and Patriotic.

Never leave home without a set of Bubba Teeth.

I don't really need much excuse to take breaks while riding, but passing up raspberries growing wild in the ditch is just dumb.

Chip seal, crops and storms in the Skagit Valley.

The Old Skagit Highway is a nice bypass for cyclists off Highway 20 between Sedro Woolley and Concrete.

Definitely a theme for the trip.

Darin lit up like a little boy at Christmas when we arrived at Rockport and he discovered this relic of his youth had been lovingly restored.

With evidence like this, it is beyond me why the Satsquatch debate is still alive.

One of the best kept secrets and valuable natural resources of the Pacific Northwest.

Diablo Dam was completed in 1930 and once stood as the world's tallest concrete structure at 389 feet.  Still a pretty impressive place to stand today.    

Darin knows which way we are going....up.

Nearing the end of a long day we get the first glimpse of Liberty Bell from Highway 20.


Morning approach.  Liberty crack ascends near the left hand skyline of the right peak in the photo.

Pitch 1:  5:11 for some of us and a whole lot of A0 for others.

The Lithuanian Lip was named after Alex Bertulis who completed the first two ascents of the overhang in 1965.  Pretty wild pitch of climbing.

Long pitches of continuous cracks on good rock with solid gear characterize my lasting impressions of climbing Liberty Crack. 

More convincing proof.

Pretty nice to break up a long ride hanging out with these two.

Nothing quite as fun as sticks.  Testosterone poisoning. 

My lovely mother tries to talk me out of most of my adventurous plans, but the truth is she has always encouraged me to stick my nose out in the world and take chances.  I am thankful for her influence in my life.  

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Reason to Celebrate

What makes you want to celebrate being American Matt?, 
Jenny interrupted the silence of our pedals spinning up the steep hills of Vashon Island.  

Rarely at a loss for words, I stubbled dumbfounded by the question, paused and answered honestly, 
I am going to have to think about that one Jenny.  
Truly, no one has asked me such hard of a question in quite a while.  

I tried to get it out over dinner as we watched the last of the sun cast a salmon pink glow off Mount  Rainier's Sunset Ridge across the Puget Sound, but somehow couldn't articulate just how I felt.  So I dedicated a bit of thinking time to the question, and a month later I find myself a little nearer the answer and hopefully a bit wiser for the effort.  

Those who know me can attest to the fact that I tend to be fairly critical of the direction our Nation seems to be headed; at times that makes it pretty darn hard for me to celebrate this American life.  I guess I got a little jaded somewhere between the second oil war, bank bail-outs and the widening gap between the super-rich and super poor.    None-the-less, it really troubled me that I had such hard time coming up with a few things that would cause me to raise a glass of beer and toast this great American experience.

One of the most important things that I have learned in my life is that the sky is often the color you  paint it, and focussing constantly on negative tends to make one a cynical individual.   The truth is that our country is full of people and organizations that are fighting for a future America that makes sense.   I decided that in honor of the Independence of the United States of America, I would not be a pessimistic prick and instead celebrate a few things that represent the America I dream for the future.  

Thats how I roll,


Barak Obama.  I don't know about you, but I feel a lot better about the future of our country than I did four years ago.  The man has made decisions which have brought me disappointment and not followed through promises that defined his campaign.  Despite, I still believe in his vision and respect him enough to send him a few bucks for his campaign.  He likes to to drink beer too.  

Skagit Land Trust.  Not to far from where I live there is a valley where conservatives and liberals alike recognize the value of fertile farmland, productive forests, clean water and native wildlife.  The Skagit Land Trust works with private landowners, the community and conservation groups to preserve natural lands and wildlife habitat in Skagit County.

The Happiness Initiative.  We live in a culture that constantly sends the message that consumption and collection of material goods is the path to enlightenment.  Work more to make more money to buy more shit that you don't have any time to enjoy we are told by our consumer driven economy.  The Happiness Initiative challenges that model, invites individuals to examine what truly brings them joy in life and is amassing data that supports the contention that the best things in life really aren't things at all.

Adventure Cycling Association.  One of the ACA's main projects is building the US Bicycle Route System (USBRS); a network of urban, suburban and rural paths, roads and highways to facilitate interstate bicycle travel.  A year from now Jenny and I will depart on a bicycling adventure across this vast country of ours and I am happy to know that there is an organization that is working to make it a safer and more enjoyable experience.

Elwha River Restoration.  The largest dam removal project in the history of the United States began in September of 2011 and already wild steelhead are returning to spawn in the tributaries of the Elwha.  This makes me hopeful that with concentrated efforts, we can preserve vital parts of our ecosystems for future generations to enjoy.

Teaching Tolerance.  I have been to a conference put on by these folks and read their magazine on a regular basis.  Teaching Tolerance was founded  in 1991 by the Southern Poverty Law Center and is dedicated to reducing prejudice, improving intergroup relations and supporting equitable schools for our nation's children.  A young man stopped by my Front Door today promoting the organization's new anti-bullying curriculum and we ended up having a good conversation about his experience of being run-out of his high school because of assumptions of his sexual orientation.  Every boy and girl in our country has the right to attend a good school and pursue an education without fear of persecution because of color, creed, religion, income or sexual orientation.  These people are pushing this agenda forward and I support their work.

My Peace Flag.  I  am a patriot and I like to think that motor vehicles will be less likely to run me over if I am flying the colors.

Reaching Vashon is reason to celebrate when you forget to get off the ferry the first time around.  Yes, we were THOSE people.

Vegetable delight by Jetboil.  Jenny is the master of the the outdoor kitchen.

Nothing says Happy Birthday America like hot buttered corn on the cob... well except maybe blowing off hundreds of thousand of dollars worth of Chinese-made fireworks directly over the Puget Sound.  Magnesium and phosphorus are probably good for the salmon and whales though.

My type of fireworks from our room with a view.

Don't worry Mom, Jen and I are not foraging for seaweed salad quite yet...but it kind of sounds like fun.

My wife is easily motivated to ride up steep hills several miles in the opposite direction of our destination by the prospect of good coffee and fine pastries.  

Tasty morsels from Bob's Bakery on Vashon Island, WA.

Our new friends don't say much, but are happy to pose for lots photos.  

Sunday, July 1, 2012


Intuition becomes increasingly valuable in the new information society precisely because there is so much data.
-John Naisbitt

Statisticians are brilliant folks; they have the magical ability to take a pile of data and make it say whatever they really want to it to say. I respect their practice; data drives many aspects of our modern lives and we rely on it heavily as a civilized nation.  Despite the fact that I often call on my good buddy data when trying to bullshit my way through an argument with my wife, I recognize his shortcomings and have learned to be leery.   For example, there are fairly credible piles of data that assert wearing bicycle helmets actually makes cycling a more dangerous pursuit.

While the numbers may not lie, data simply can never stop your skull from exploding when it hits the ground at 20 mph.

I can't say for sure that a helmet saved my friend Marin's brain from some serious damage, but a smashed helmet and a "Thanks for being there" message on my voicemail this morning is strong enough data for me.

Thats how I roll,


Bufo boreas, also know as the Western Toad.  I don't think a helmet would have helped this fellow.  

Mustela frenata , the Long Tail Weasel is a fierce predator and known to attack prey that is over twice his size.  It seems that the fight with the tires attached to the moving vehicle was a little more than this guy bargained for.