Tag Archives: family

Big Bend Biking

I still believe that when I die, I want my ashes spread over the various trails in Big Bend National Park. I owe my life to this place. This is where I have so often gone to seek solice. It is where I nearly died, where I learned to live, and it had incredible memories for not only me alone, but also with my wife.

While living in Texas we had made several trips to both the National Park, as well as Big Bend State Park. Don’t let the word “park” disuade you. This is a fierce place where you can quickly find yourself at the mercy of the elements.

Because we have spent so much of our adult lives away from family, Melissa and I have made it part of our tradition to travel on either Thanksgiving and/or Christmas. This is out of the norm for both of our families that draw closer to home during these dates. Because of the geographical distance, it just isn’t possible to get all of us to all of them in the brief period we have for time off. In addition, because of my time in the service, I was often away during the holidays and either drew close to my own family or my military family as we all did with my others being so far away. Melissa and I have had some incredible places all to ourselves including a beach at Thanksgiving, diving in Balmorea on New Years, Mountain Biking Fossil Rim Wildlife Refuge on Our anniversary, and of course, Big Bend at Christmas.

A year before my near death trip to Big Bend, I took Melissa there for Christmas. We left on the day after Christmas from my folks house in Austin. Abby was developing a bit of a cough so my folks asked that she stay with them while Melissa and I traveled the 10 hours west to the Chiuauan Desert.

Winter in the desert can be more than chilli. When you take off without your jackets, it can be downright miserable. Somewhere in the re-packing, the bags containing our jackets were left in Austin. After getting to Big Bend, we opted to drive the 200 mile round trip to buy jackets at the nearest Walmart. Instead we moved our campsite from the shadded Rio Grande Villiage to a sunny site 50 miles west in Terlingua.

Over the next few weeks, me armed with my new Raliegh M-60 and her with a modified Raliegh commuter bike (I beefed up with new shocks and mountain biking tires), we assaulted several trails, traversed into Mexico, and explored several out of the way places. Together we worked our way around the Big Bend area map on our mountain bikes, including a few 30+ mile trips down trails filled with miles of washboard roads, hours of baby head rocks, and endless washouts that would consume our tires. We had much of our belongings packed into a couple of trailers for some of the trips. Together we explored old ranches, rode to abandoned homesteads on the banks of the Rio Grand, and spent hours just riding in silence.

One of the disturbing aspects and one of the moronic decisions made by park authorities in the 1960-1970’s was the tearing down of buildings that had been errected prior to the park’s inception. The idea was to let the park return to its “natural” life, forgetting that there is a historical and archeological aspect to its life as well. Still, there are a few old outpost that still survive.

At the time, l was in great biking shape. I had been racing on the weekends, riding with my buddies all the time, and occassionaly commuting about 100 miles per week. Melissa was in decent shape at thetime, but needed breaks every few days. As a compromise, she would drop me off on a dirt road like Dagger Flat Road in the morning and meet me in the afternoon. This allowed her to pursue her love of history, wild life observation, reading, and just napping. In the evening, we would meet back at our camp and share the experiences of our day. In addition, camping close to Terlingua, we had access to real showers.

We also made sure to reward ourselves for tough days we rode together. I remeber after an incrdibly tough day of biking from Castolon to Buenos Ares and back, we rewarded ourselves with a huge dinner at Tivos. In fact, one evening after a few days of hard core biking we rewarded ourselves with both Tivos and the (can’t remember the name) local Itallian Resteraunt.

Melissa grew up around horses, and since she had been so good about climbing back on a mountain bike after breaking a collar bone, I could mount a horse. While there, we also took a horse packing trip. We signed up for a group horse packing tour. Melissa and I were the entire group. The guide was in a great mood, had no other plans for the day, so he took us to several of his secret spots. I also think that since Melissa is great with horses and I easily adapt to any adventure, he was enjoying our company. I was pretty worried about saddle sore, so I packed a pair of road bike shorts ( the tight spandex) that I covertly wore under my military cargo pants. The horse trip was really cool, and our guide and I would converse on history, philosophy, and politics of the Big Bend region. We capped of the day (late afternoon) with a hot meal at one of local hook-ups. Highly recommend….especially if your wife is really into horses.

We did venture into Mexico, and I will cover that in another post at some point.

New Years marked our last night in the desert. We hung out at the recreation center in the RV park and met up with a couple and their teenage son who had been traveling the US from Germany. I enjoyed the dialog since living in Germany was and still is one of the most influential periods of my life.

The following morning we packed our camp, loaded the car, took one last tour through the park and began the journey home. We stayed the night in a VERY nice hotel to recover. That evening we soaked in a hot tub, ate a real meal, and while she romantasized the trip, I planned the next.

Big Bend is an incredible place, and spending the holidays touring it with my bride only magnified its wonder. We would make several trips to the area for various holidays, and each one special.

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Breakfast in McCall

My two favorite things in life is breakfast with my kiddo and flying. Since becoming a pilot I have been able to pursue both of these interest together.

My 11 year-old and I have been going to breakfast together for one-on-one time since she was 18 months old. This weekly ritual has very few gaps in it. To date we have had an estimated 1500 hours of time spent with just each other. A great investment in her life as a Dad.

So it is without question that the first weekend after receiving my Private Pilot Certificate that she was not only my first passenger- but my passenger on the way to breakfast. Checking out a plane from our co-op and making a short trip from Nampa to Caldwell was one of the most memorable “first” for both of us.

We have now expanded that to other destinations for breakfast. Lately this has been flying into McCall for our weekly Daddy-Daughter time.

McCall was once a logging and sawmill town but is now an all-season tourist destination for outdoor recreation. The resort town is known for its Winter Carnival, extended winters, and the highest average snowfall in the state. It is simply a beautiful place to fly into.

Flying in from the Treasure Vally you experience breath taking views of the mountains. On the ground there are several local places offering breakfast and the people are very friendly.

If you would like to experience flying on your own, shoot me a note on Facebook, I know of a few ways to get you started.

Square Peg Expeditions

Tonight was answering an email from someone in the expo community I highly respect and growing friendship I cherish. I won’t let on who that was, if they chose they can post up on either the Facebook page or here on the blog.

An excellent point was made on fitting into the crowd. In Seth Godin’s work in “Tribes”. Seth contends that it is natural and in fact, people are desperate to believe in the elusive ‘something’ whether it’s religion, human rights, trail access, or in our case, adventure of places new and unique. unfortunately, there is a despair when the group is going nowhere, yet still committed to believing in the “one thing”. This is where it is essential for leadership in the Tribes equation.

There has been an exciting movement in the Overlanding Tribe, mainly with the Overland Expo event and the Expedition Portal forums. This has been a place for like-minded adventurers and expedition participants to meet and share ideas. But as many Tribes grow, there begins to be certain cliques that evolve. I have already noticed that in the forums there has been a minor divergence of “elitist” who have grown impatient with the weekend adventure postings, the “Jeepers”, rock-crawlers, and those mainly focused on just equipment enhancements.

This is an easy crowd to quickly feel like an outcast. Most of us have day jobs, work towards the few weeks a year we can get away from the boss, pull off an amazing adventure traversing a few states on dirt, maybe a smattering of weekend adventures, and all on a budget. Some of us get lucky and wind up doing a gear review or perhaps a sponsor. When compared to the guy who traverses Antarctica in a rig, the team that explores 5 continents in a year, or makes a pilgrimage to the Mayan ruins, well our feats can feel a bit small. On top of that, going to an annual rendezvous each year to learn about our discipline and not being accepted as equals can leave one a bit jaded.

Truth is for me, while it is a great commitment to unplug and travel the world, I have found it is even a greater commitment to stay plugged in. To be a father and committed husband. While I dream about going to great destinations, my destiny is to be there when my little girl needs a Daddy when she wakes from a bad dream.

I refuse to be labeled as an adventurer because of a $300 camp chair, $100 cooking pot, or $75 shirt. While we still use high-end gear where it makes sense, and will endorse high-end gear when it is something we honestly use, we will not allow product to define us. It’s not the vehicle, the rack, or even the places you go to explore. It is the spirit of adventure and exploration you choose to embrace.

I love the life I have and thankful for a company that financial supports my expeditions in exchange for my trade. I love being on the road with my family, but last night hanging out on a couch doing story time with my family was awesome.

We explore our backyards and backroads….we spend weekends not weeks on end. We traversed Idaho on dirt and probably had the same feeling as those who explored Africa by Land Rover.
In place of high-end sponsors, We have steady jobs that support our adventures, and in most cases understanding employers.
While the expo world has a standard for keeping food cool, we store our pantry in a Coleman we bought on sale, not a fridge from ARB unless we give up a few pleasures or get a great tax return.
Though an Africa to Asia tour may be not be on the horizon, just as many memories are made in finding a dirt road route to Arco a familiar place on a map.

There will be a day when many of us will do a third-world trip for an extended period of time. Some of us will get to spend several months traversing a new country. A few will have the opportunity to be professional transients. It is not those trips that make us explorers, for the adventures we live now will have already made us as that long before we step off.

No we don’t fit the mold…we are Square Peg Expeditions…we support our adventures through hard work and sacrifice…and we are about to ream out the round-hole world….

Our adventures define us…not the adventure cliques, clothes, or having the recognized brand…

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Left Behind

There are many factors that make an adventure experience enjoyable. The places you go, the people you go with, the interactions with the locals, and even the equipment you are using.

For me though, the simplicity of equipment, or perhaps more specific…..the simplicity of access to the things you need. I hate pulling into a potential camping area, getting to a hotel or crash pad, or simply pulling over for a lunch stop, and rearranging the entire back of my rig to get to a tent, clothing, bag, or cooler.
Obviously part of this is an organizational problem. Knowing where to store and pack your items. Having a specific place for an item. Knowing which bag, box, or compartment that something is stored in. Having a spot that the bag or box needs to be placed in each time. We have solved part of this by constructing shelf, box, and drawer systems for our rigs. This takes time, a bit of creativity, a small monetary investment, and basic woodworking skills (and in my case, first aid when a drill bit goes through the finger).

Something that is much more controllable is taking what you need and only what you need. Many of us have a tendency to over pack. While there are idioms out there such as “take half the clothes and twice the cash” are helpful, they really don’t address what is truly needed to be taken, or more important what not to take on a trip.

I use a two-step process that requires a few shakedown trips (hey…more travel opportunities)…
First- I keep a list in my journal for that specific trip of the items I need to pack, the items I had to buy because I didn’t pack but needed, and most important the items I did not use. Things like first-aid kits or other essentials get a free pass if you didn’t use it though. A bird watching book, a novel, a spare jacket, etc that never get pulled from my pack are placed on the list of things I didn’t use. Searching for a store open at midnight that sells deodorant at midnight in London because I packed a new brand that dies after the first hour gets an annotation in the list of things to pack for the next trip.

The other technique is when I get home, I divide my bag into two piles. Stuff I used and stuff I didn’t use. I find that on the next trip, I can reduce the size of my bag. Speaking of bags, I should probably mention that I limit my bag size and then make tough choices to only fill 80% of the bag. This allows for space when you find gifts and souvenirs in the sook or market area.

I should probably mention recovery day packing. My wife is a trooper. She has followed me on multi-day mountain bike trips, put-up with a week in a frozen tundra, explored trails in 100+ temps for days at a time….but at the end of roughing it…she needs a hotel, a restaurant that offers valet parking, and room service. For this we pack a recovery bag. We keep a separate bag that does not get rained on, cross-pollenated with field clothing, and stays in the rig packed well away from everything we use on the trail. Whether its just Melissa and me, or if Abby is along, we place all of our clothes, shampoo, soap, socks, and shoes, even swim suits into the recovery bag. This makes the trip home more enjoyable and relaxing. When Abby and I did a section of the Continental Divide, we forgot her pants for her recovery bag. We wound up having to wash her pants in the shower and dry them with a hair dryer. A big plus for Exofficio clothing!

Sometimes leaving something behind is a tough choice. Reducing your load will help you in staying organized and take stress out of your trip. Nothing can beat experience, and I strongly recommend doing several shakedown trips prior to your major adventure.

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Luggable Loo

Ok…so here we are going to talk crap. This blog is not for the meek….we are going to get personal in this post. We are talking about doing your business in the woods.

When talking with people who at the most, have camped in an RV or a campground, and not taken a multi-day trip completely self-supported, the primary question I get asked (usually in a very quiet tone) is where do we do the business of doo….its an honest question, because at some point in your travel, you have to download.

This can be problematic not just for those who have not had the experience of finding a special spot to squat. Add in weather, children, lack of flora and fauna, maybe a stomach bug. Having a place near your camp that is sanitary, convienent, and private is important.

This last year during the Idaho Overland we kicked off our test of the Luggable Loo by Reliance. We already had a history of using many of their products. They build great consumer grade products that ar reasonably affordable. Because Abby is now getting to the age where she needs a bit more privacy and she was the only girl on the trip, I wanted a solution that offered her a place to do what she needed to do. I also knew that our trip was going to take us through a few barren areas that did not offer concealment. We were also not using any kind of established camp grounds, we were totaly self-supported.

The Luggable Loo was one part of this equation (a privacy shelter that I will do in another blog was the other). The portable unit is a toilet seat with a locking lid to help control odors. It is designed to be attatched to the top of a 5-gallon pickle bucket. You can either by the unit alon or with a bucket. Since I have plenty of buckets like this, I opted to use my own.

For waste collection, I used two thick trash bags that I pre-lined with cedar shavings. I pre-set six of these double-bagged sets for the trip. As we pulled into camp each night, we would set up the privacy shelter and the Luggable Loo. Each morning, it was the last item to be packed and the waste bags were tied and secured with a zip tie, and placed into a third bag, which was desposed of when we came to a dumpster or collection site on the road. Opting to not carry the waste in the Jeep, they were held for transport in a Trassharoo, which is a trash container that hooks up to the spare tire on the back.

For backside cleaning, we kept a couple roles of TP stored in coffee cans along with baby-wipes. Be sure to store your TP role in a ziplock bag when not in use, even in dry seasons, the roll will absorb any moisture in the air. We also would “flush” the bucket after the bags were removed with a squirt of vinegar as a sanitary precaution.

We were very happy with the Luggable Loo. the only downside for us in a tightly packed Jeep is the space it takes. Unlike other prtables I have used, it sits high enough from the ground and places you in the proper “buisiness position”. in fact, its comfortable enough, youo can even take a book or the morning paper with you to read….

Reliance also has a collapsable toilet it sells that we are hoping to test soon.

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Re-Post: Polar Express (2004)

This is a repost/rewrite of a blog I wrote in 2004. At the time I was running a blog called “Tribal Courage” that specifically spoke to men. It was very early work for me in blogging. I was going through some major changes in life at the time and had found two great resources. The first was John Elredge’s book, Wild at Heart. The second was by Gordon Dalby, Healing the Masculine Soul- a book I wish somebody/anybody had shoved in my hands when I was a much younger man. I found my original blog while surfing the net the other night- and thought it would be interesting to re-post. I had started journaling, something most explorers seem to have in common with each other. Perhaps it is the desire to truly know and understand ourselves as we push through what seems to be incredible experiences to others- as we are simply living in the moment, and then simply reflecting on it. The blog I wrote in 2004 corresponds with the season, as well as a reflection of who I am, and a tiny insight to me as a person….

I’m trapped. Coming off a my expedition in the Chiuauan Desert of Northern Mexico, having a near death experience at the hands of a faulty water bladder and dehydration, a new commitment to family, fatherhood, and husband…I decided to treat my family to a night out at the “nice theatre” and not the sticky floors of the “cheap” theater…

We promise my 3-year-old to go see a movie—I vote for “The Incredibles”. A great movie about a family of superheros who put aside differences, depression, the sence of inadiquacy….who hasn’t lived that life? This speaks to my heart and its just what I need to hear at this moment.

I lose. Not to the popularity of vote for another, film, but rather to the availability of tickets. So we buy our passes for “Polar Express”

I’m trapped in another sense. I can’t go to a film these days without pulling some kind of message from it. But maybe this one is safe…or so I thought. Saving Private Ryan, Braveheart, Good Will Hunting…all have deep messages for me about the making of a man, the battles within, the path to becoming a stand-up guy, a warrior defending my family, my faith, my own soul.

I don’t want to get too specific at this point—I don’t want to ruin the movie for you if you haven’t seen it. I also want you to pull out your own themes—maybe we can sit down and discuss it sometime over hot chocolate—served from a more subdued staff than the movie represented.

The spiritual themes that run through “Polar Express” are themselves incredible. The theme of wanting to believe, but not coming to grasp with belief, yearning to hear there is an incredible message for each of us individually, even when others are around you who can hear it, yet no matter how hard you strain to listen-nothing. Silence. Desolation. It feels like abandonment.

Perhaps how at one time we have received something special. Something deep, something spiritual, a very special gift, like the speaking to our heart about who we are, our desires, a special name to be called… a special message-and then losing it…

Then the final scene of that desire being written on our hearts. For some its a new destiny, maybe our new name…simply scribbled onto our heart…a name that in the beginning of a journey had only a few letters.

I saw my own spiritual journey reflected in this film. I understood the frustration of not being able to hear God’s voice when others where having larger than life experiences. I could relate the “wandering” that was taking place on the train, sometimes leading to possible dangers, only to be rescued before I got seriously hurt.

In my own journey I have had the displeasure of being surrounded by those that I had to pull along, the occasional “pain in the @$$” know it all, as well as others who were on the same journey—who built my own confidence and helped me to reach my destination.

RC Adventure

I haven’t talked about this area of our adventure life much. It is a seasonal thing for us, but it is something that at times has drawn us together as a family. That is probably true for so many of our adventure activities, that desire to draw us all together. This can be a challenge since my bride shows up as a 1-1-1 on the behavioral scale of her Emergenetics diagnostic. This means that when presented with a new idea, she can have Spock like reactions and I really don’t know if she is disinterested or her heart has truly stopped. I also have to wonder about her acceptance of the idea of if she is just pondering.

A few years ago when I got super excited about rc cars not only did I feel compelled to allow my life to revolve around the new interest, I built an rc track in our back yard. Not just a section, but the entire yard. I then went about placing plants and flowers to offset the curves and jumps. Then I built a tabletop track in our garage….just because that’s how I roll….

The indoor teack has since been dismantled and the wood has been transformed into a workbench, tre outdoor track is seldom used and is quickly becoming a prayer path or something, and most of the cars we built to entertain guest sit idle.

Still, I love taking cars out with me when traveling or when out for a day/weekend trip in the Jeep. This is why I am in love with 1/16 scale off road rigs. I can place a car, assorted batteries, charger, and small tool kit and parts in a backpack. I have taken my 1/16 scale companion on commercial aircraft, in the back of the little Cessna, and on road trips to the coast for a weekend honeymoon. Whether alone, with the wife, with the kiddo, or all three, we can take a few rigs on a trip with minimal room.

I have had several Revos, Slashes, Rallys, and combinations, conversions, and off-shoots of these three. But by far the most fun I have had was building these two rigs with my wife. A few weeks ago she showed an interest in an old buggy.

Now she has always loved building and painting but driving was not so fun for her. Our building and painting together was great couple time and since she has a preference for structure, she was able to quickly learn thenins andnouts of rc repair.

I desperatly wanted her to learn how to drive and overcome her fear of crashing a car. I took an old slash and put a 23 turn motor in it and placed in training mode. In the privacy of our backyard track she learned to like it.

Each year we hold an event in the fall called Sweet 16. this is held when night approaches earlie in the evening and we can light up our backyard for an rc rally featuring 16 scale vehicles. Last year, for the Sweet 16 Rally, we picked up a mini slash for non rc visitors to bash. She fell in love with the car when placed in training mode.

Her rig came stock with the 12 turn Titan but soon replaced it with the slower 23 turn HPI. That gave her longer run time and slower speeds. this has proven to be effective in the Mini-Summit as well that goes camping with us.

I still like my speed and when speed is the game in a camp site or an empty hotel parking lot, I still pack my MERV. Mini Electtric ReVo is not at all stock. My rig has the Velenion brushless with Traxxas ESC, Traxxas and RPM parts where available, and run it on a Spektrum controller.

I have several Summits, Rallys, Revos, and Slashes, the last takes allot of lip due to stability. My argument is that if you drive a car within its limits you don’t flip as much. We can go through several bettery packs in an evening without ever being on our lids.

The rc cars are just another avenue for us to play. whether on our track, hiking behind the car on a trail, or playing in an empty parking lot of (with permission) an empty hotel meeting room, the cars have kept me out of mischief on the road.

This next year I hope we get into building scale rigs like the Axial SC series. Think scale models, complete with working winches, shovels, loadable gear, etc. these would be fun to build and drive….at scale speeds. I could build one to look just like my Jeep….or what I want my Jeep to be one day.

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