Welcome to my story! Read, share, and enjoy my musings!

30 December 2010


Heavy lids lap against glazed eyeballs that stare out of a groggy mind filled with numb space. Cloudy thoughts give substance to giddy realizations mingled with temper flare ups in the timeless void. Sibling banter across digital fiber keeps smiles growing, laughter grumbling, keeps extreme fatigue at bay. Fiber has just enough space for more words of love, filling the heart, making heavy body feel lighter. Food  not digesting, lack of movement slows metabolism, slow flow begs shut down, but lacking horizontal space, waxy eardrums battle gravitational siren song. From hyper space time zone leaping to solitary sedentary sitbone indulging, senses know nothing. Remain confused. Body grossly upset yet mind serenely satisfied.

Painful bliss. The juxtaposition of transit.

28 November 2010

The Touch of the Desert Goddess

The stark night surrounds me. The humming starlight casts its glow on sand rock and sage. Black massifs lean in from the skyline. My breath clouds vivid shadows. A smiling crescent moon climbs gingerly over the canyon rim and crawls into the night. I cough to make sure I am real. Erin moves close to me and I know I am real. Cows moo in the distance. We have arrived in the desert.


There's sand everywhere. Under my nails. Clogging my nose. Thickening my eyebrows. Flossing my teeth. It has ground itself into a permanent paste in the threads of my water bottle. Red blankets the car, the tent, the shoes, the gear, the cookware, the food box. The landscape is swallowing us...

Every evening there is another centimeter of sand atop our bags in the tent. It doesn't matter that it was zipped and secured. It doesn't matter that the wind didn't blow. We breathe red. In the mornings, the horizon blazes burgundy, more than the day before... is it the sun or is it... my eyes, saturated?

My skin is desert varnish.


I kick my feet in rhythm off the front and back of the crack as Laurelyn leads off on the next pitch. She talks to herself, keeps herself company. So I take the liberty of leaning off my perch and glancing down to the base of the tower, a hundred feet below. I smile. It feels good to get off the ground. I bang my feet some more.

I glance back up to her. Not sure which crack to take... left or right. She goes right. She starts cursing so I pay more attention. Looks slippery. Calcite can be a boon or a bane. The white mineral was deposited on the sides of geisers a little while back that used to pepper this landscape. The hard white stuff is harder than the sandstone bedrock, so it kept these spires and narrow mesas around longer than the rest of the land. One of the results is the fine piece of stone we find ourselves perched upon.

But, man is that stuff slippery. On the last pitch I puzzled for many a minute before figuring out how to hump my way up a slick calcite squeeze chimney. My mouth goes dry thinking about it.

I follow Laurelyn up and the pitch is exciting, for sure. Now my turn for the crux offwidth crack. I warble the pinon jay call to get my energies revving as I start up (imagine a toothless old woman standing on a precipice. She begins to lose her balance and is about to fall in, but steadies herself at the last minute. This is the noise she makes. This is the pinon jay call). It's my signature call.

Offwidths demand creativity. They are cracks too big to get a reasonable hand or fist jammed in there, and too narrow to squeeze your whole body in and use chimney-climbing technique. You have to use ridiculous maneuvers. Some of the more popular styles are the chicken-wing, the arm bar, and the heel-toe. Of course, much of what you do is your own. Some of "my own" were: the head stuff, the curse-and-scoot, the shuffle-and-slip, the pull-push-clench, and my favorite, the triple pirouette.

Grunting and thrutching, I make it to the top. I then have the pleasure of watching as Laurelyn laughs and narrates herself up the pitch, styling nearly everything I struggled on. Since I watch through the wide crack itself, her peals and commentary echo off the walls and into my smiling ears.

She dances the next pitch, and we are on top. We laugh and smile and hug. We talk of the Desert Goddess.


"The damn hooker got away from me!"

The flaming log sails through the air. Fortunately it lands where no one is standing. Scalding coals burst out from underneath the fireball and sputter into the dirt. I make a silly face, part bewilderment and part beguilement, and hook the escapee back into the fire ring.

The hooker is my new favorite toy. It is a beer-brewing carboy brush, with the brush tips melted away. After a slight adjustment in the L-shaped tip, the hooker was born. It is a semi-flexible fire hooking device. It is quite unlike the standard poker we are all familiar with. It requires precision and tact. With a flick of the wrist one can whack a log and precisely remove excess coals to free up more burning surface area. It is also capable of hooking, scooping, and lifting flaming logs for repositioning within the fiery furnace. Maximal burning efficicency is the hooker's code.

Unless of course you start to jettison missile-torches at the rest of the party. This is less efficient.


"Rowan, you need to go lower." Laurelyn looks nervous.
"Yeah Rowan. Lower." So does Jen.
Erin isn't saying anything.
None of them are looking at me.

I am hanging off the side of Morning Glory Arch, a rather massive landbridge that hovers eighty or so feet off the canyon floor. A canyoneering adventure has brought us to the top of the arch, and a simul-rappel is to be our finale. But it's not going right.

A simul-rappel is when two people rappel off opposite ends of the rope. In this case we have two ropes knotted together and draped over the top of the arch. Rowan is lowering off one side, and I am on the other. The key is for both of us to weight the rope and descend at the same rate. Otherwise we risk pulling the other off and both falling to the bottom.

After committing to the rope and sending my rear over the edge, the girls instruct me to stop. I keep my hand on the brake but I continue to descend in fits. I lose sight of Rowan as rock rises up to my face. I am not asking questions and I am not getting answers. I can guess why they aren't looking at me.

"Rowan, you need to go down NOW." Laurelyn is getting more assertive, and more anxious.
Jen and Erin stare intently off the other side.
I drop lower.
My heart races.

I watch the girls but my internal strings continue to tense as their faces get tighter and their pleading voices waver more. My white knuckles chafe against stone. I lean my forehead against Morning Glory and close my eyes. The darkness is overwhelming at first. I breathe deeply once, twice. A swirling fit of lights ignites behind my eyes and I watch the patterns ascend in a spiral. They leave me again in black. I suddenly feel deep comfort in the darkness. I listen to my accelerating heartbeat and find amazement at its pace. Breathing. I understand for a brief moment that I will die, and it may be now. And it is completely out of my control.

I don't know how long I hang in my reverie.

When I open my eyes, the girls are looking at me again. They are talking to Rowan in a more relaxed tone. I can go down. I lower myself fifteen more feet and look across to see Rowan's smiling face hanging in space.


We pull into the lot as the sun slips down and out of sight. Erin and I read the description and stare up the wash. The route is unmistakable. A massive left facing dihedral on the edge of the buttress. There is nothing else around it. It stands firmly on the sun-shadow line, and we watch the shadow grow. The Heart of the Desert.

We are running and laughing our way up the wash. A wide sandstone bed acts as a trail in this part of the canyon and small curves and dips and bowls still hold water from the last rain. Cams and carabiners swing from my harness and clang and jangle against themselves. I look back and Erin smiles. We are out of breath, and we are walking.

The corner looms large above us and we ease our way up the fragile slopes to get to the base. Don't bust the crust, bonehead! I can't resist and run the last few steps. The Heart of the Desert.

We rack up and rope up. I huff a couple times and look toward Erin for moral support. She gives it. The sun has started to climb the wall at my side. I decide to climb with it.

The crack in the corner is perfect. It undulates and performs. Narrows and thickens. Grows sandy then firm. Takes blood. I sweat and I breathe. I balance and pull. Thrust and jam. Take rest. I smear and it smiles. I'm at the top.

The sun has left the corner and I don my hat as the cold creeps in. I settle into a comfortable stance and proceed to watch Erin climb with such grace and style as I have not yet seen. I admire her form silently. She moves fluidly up the crack, and I mentally contrast my brusque technique with her feminine strength. She comes to a difficult section and works and hangs for a while. I can see she is getting frustrated. Then a lightbulb. An "aha." She steps back into it, breathing steadily, moving rhythmically. She works through another hard part and is at the top.

We smile and kiss and go down. Walking out my heart is full. Erin makes fun of me for my ginger elf-stepping when I must cross the crust. I tell her it works. We walk down the wash holding hands.

The Heart of the Desert.


I stand naked.
She stands next to me.
My hand is around her waist and hers around mine.
The brisk air blows through us.
It cleanses, replaces our dust.
I kiss her moonlit shoulder.
She shares her radiance in return.
We have warmth though our teeth may chatter.
Sand covers our toes,
A patina, our skin.
We breathe the desert.
It chokes us with beauty.
I smile, she nods.
We walk together.


The Touch of the Desert Goddess

22 October 2010

Goodbye Boulder

Boulder, Colorado. The formidable Flatirons. The bountiful beer. The insane fitness that seeps from the air of the place. The infinite sunshine. The beautiful people. The rock, the trails, the snow, the scene. The center of the universe. Boulder, my home.

The blue skies, red rock and soil, steep and forested mountain slopes, and expansive plains have been the backdrop of my life for the past six years. First as a geography student at the University of Colorado, stumbling through life trying to figure out my passions, my sports, my loves. Confusion and excitement, raging parties and all night school projects, backcountry skiing and avalanche education; just a glimpse of my life as a student.

I worked for CU's Outdoor Program, guiding and teaching and learning. Through the OP I met Hallie, my girlfriend of three and a half years. My first love, my climbing mentor, backcountry skiing partner, soul mate. We explored Boulder and Colorado together, grew together and challenged each other until our paths veered apart and sent us on new adventures, much stronger for what we shared.

After graduation I fell into a spectacular job as a research assistant on Niwot Ridge, forty-five minutes outside of Boulder, nestled against the Continental Divide. Skiing, hiking, hauling, and soaking up the beauty of the place occupied my last two and a half years. Alpine stream sampling, snow surveying, winter-time lake coring, and permafrost seeking with ground penetrating radar; just a taste of my tasks.

The people of Boulder have always kept me company and kept me interested. And entertained. So many spectacular people from all walks. Climbers, skiers, geographers, recyclers, partiers and barhoppers, musicians, scientists, beer brewers and beer drinkers, students and teachers, triathletes, hikers, gamers, meditators. I continue to meet exciting people with amazing things to offer even in my final days here.

Two months ago I met an incredible girl, Erin, who has shared so much with me in our short time together. We quickly discovered a special connection between us which has been growing stronger since. Our story continues...

Boulder has molded who I am. I have given to this place and it has given so much back. I have learned a tremendous amount about myself in my time here. Who I am and who I am not. What I am capable of giving. Where I am headed (at least a general direction). When to listen and when to speak. Why I react with conditioned responses. How to begin living a life of gratitude.

Several weeks ago I ran most of the Boulder skyline traverse, a trail run that summits the five major mountains that form the city's western skyline from its southern end to the nearly northern limits. Being in somewhat poor form that day (I blame it on spicy Italian sausage, pu'er tea, and sleep deprivation) I ran out of juice before climbing Mount Sanitas, the final peak of the traverse. Of course, I couldn't leave the skyline unfinished so I ran through the mists and rains this afternoon up the rocky trail to the summit in the clouds.

The views from the top of Sanitas are usually spectacularly clear and distant, crisp crystal blues touching down on deep evergreen slopes, and an eastern horizon so vast you can nearly see the curvature of the Earth. So it seemed appropriate today on my last run in Boulder that unusual and unique be reality, that the mountain be swathed in thick cloud. At the top, I could hear the sounds of the city below but see nothing. The easterly wind pulling livestock odors off the plains wafted up to my nose as the saturated air kissed my skin. Unseeing and unknowing, I felt comfort. I did not need to see or to know what was beyond, just out of view. I felt content with what I have at present, what I have experienced here.

My next step is a step into the fog. I do not know what awaits me in China, and yet a growing calm is settling on the summit of my mind. I cannot foresee what will happen in that land, I only know that I have a great amount to learn. And often times that wisdom comes when seeing and knowing is most difficult.

Thank you Boulder, for being my home. A home that has grown into me, into the man I have become. My legs are now stronger and my lungs fuller than when I arrived. My feet more nimble and my hands more deft. My smile still wide and my mind better trained. My red nose now perma-tanned. You will always be a comfy abode for me, a familiar hub on the journey of life. Until we once more share a finger-lock and an IPA, I bid you farewell. Stay weird.

08 October 2010

Ode to Wind

- I dedicate this to all my incredible friends who have shared the rigors and wonders of Niwot Ridge with me.

Oh Western Wind that cuts through fancy clothes
If only just to rest against my skin.
The beard-cicles that hang from leaky nose
Are frosty heaven's gates: now come on in.
My flesh, which once was warm, now beckons thee
To enter every crevice, crack, and crease
In my fine garb, expensive yes indeed
Yet willing to allow your sharp caress
To enter, join my lonely soul, my fleece
The blanket for our lovemaking. I feed
On your attention in excess.

Face masked, face chapped by your shuriken kiss,
Sweet breath, you hurl this blowing snow along
My reddened nose, small tender bites of bliss.
In aching eardrums lives your siren's song,
Oh spawn of heaven! Give this tundra plain
The gift of symphony, of strident strings
To bring our blustered minds serenity.
Remove my excess particles of brain!
So oft consumed by mundane, silly things,
No thought but you, no hot obscenity.

A blessed whiteout gives us time alone
Please give me guidance, lost I am this morn!
Into prostration I am roughly blown
And clearly see: my pants crotch has been shorn!
And though you blew my jacket-down away,
And tried to steal my hat and lunch and gloves,
And nipped with frost my nose and fingertips,
I know your fickle flow prefers to play.
So let us sail this arctic breeze like doves
Until once more I taste your icy lips.

Forevermore I crack ajar my fridge,
I'll long for thee, oh Wind of Niwot Ridge.

13 September 2010


Mother Nature bearing her breast.

This is Alaska.

There is a conduit, a portal, a tunnel to the center of the Earth that opens near the Arctic circle and funnels the heart of the planet to the surface. In Alaska, everything is bigger, more exposed, and has the capacity to deeply impress your soul.

Breaching whales, calving glaciers, soaring bald eagles, belching sea lions, constant rain and piercing sun. Ice and moon and stars. Mountains massive. The biggest darkness.

The place changes the people that go there, that experience this beauty, this raw awe. It has changed me. Twice I have gone and been profoundly affected. My recent journey was with my mother, sea kayaking and whale watching in the Icy Strait of the Inside Passage near Glacier Bay National Park. Days spent paddling on the water, with steller sea lions huffing and burping and splashing alongside us; harbor seals poking their slippery, silent heads above the surface to inquire of our nature with flaring nostrils; bald eagles coasting out of the old growth forest, chittering peal resonating off the still waters of the strait; jellyfish pulsating across our paddles.

A nighttime fire, full moon obscured by clouds. Humpback whales blaring, jumping, slapping, feeding, calling, crying through the darkness. Hours of prehistoric cacophony filling the strait. The voice of a 45 foot, 40 ton mammal is LOUD. The voices of many are louder. Their full moon symphony accompanied us to sleep.

Such a special place attracts and creates special people. Our guide and avid naturalist, Annette, led us through bays and channels, estuaries and rocky coastline while describing to us the vivid and detailed natural history of the place. She watched and understood. She not only knew the names but also the behaviors and interactions of all our surroundings, flora and fauna; the tides and currents and climates. She quietly absorbed while we absorbed, and enthusiastically shared when our gaping jaws and shiny eyes turned to her for information. She led us and befriended us.

Our hostess in Gustavus, Sally, advised us over delightful breakfasts of currant juice and nagoon berry jam, eggs from their backyard chickens and fresh coffee. She laughed with us in mornings and evenings and shared with us her life in Alaska, and a window into life in Gustavus.

Glacier Bay. Multitudinous glaciers, rivers of ice falling off mountains and spewing icebergs into the ocean. Fantastic fjords of aquamarine blue cut deep into valleys where waterfalls pour off cliff faces and tumble down steep slopes to churning water below. A lone mountain goat balances on a polished bedrock knob jutting hundreds of feet into the sky, a nearby eagle eyes him from his spruce-top perch. A blubber-fattened grizzly jaws and crunches and tears at the flesh of a washed-up whale, shimmering coat glistening in the sunlight. Buildings and parking garages of ice cleave from the Margerie Glacier splashing into the silt laden water and whipping waves out into the bay. Harbor porpoise travel through water and tufted puffins flutter by air.

This is Alaska.

10 more days in the north. Again I have been deeply moved, finding it difficult to leave and stirred up inside upon my return home. Alaska speaks to a deep part of me in a language I do not yet fully understand. It is a sacred place. And I can hear its call from afar...

"There's a land where the mountains are nameless,
And the rivers all run God knows where;
There are lives that are erring and aimless,
And deaths that just hang by a hair;
There are hardships that nobody reckons;
There are valleys unpeopled and still;
There's a land - oh it beckons, and beckons,
And I want to go back - and I will."

Robert Service, "Spell of the Yukon"

16 August 2010

New friends and old

I recently had the pleasure of seeing two good friends of mine met in far off places, whom I hadn't seen for over three years. Fishey is a wild Californian buddy, befriended in the wilds of the Wrangell Mountains, Alaska. Many sleepless, sun-filled nights were spent hopping moraine-boulders, creeping across gigantic glaciers, and mountain climbing at a fierce pace. Josh (aka Jaaaaash) is an Indiana Jones-type adventurer, both culturally savvy and down to get dirty. Josh and I became good friends during our four month stay in China, especially during our winter-time exploration of Beijing, which would later become Josh's home.

It is extremely satisfying to see these people again, people who were so important to me during our time together. But as life's journeys pull you away from the people you have met you invariably lose touch. It is impossible to stay in touch with everyone you meet in every place. I used to kick myself for not doing a better job at this, until I decided that it was okay. Intense friendship is strong, and distance and time can only scratch away the surface of this friendship. The deep roots are durable, and the sun and water brought by an unexpected visit or phone call can quickly unfold flowers.

Our lives are bound to intertwine with those we have loved and those we will love in the future. Good people attract good people, and ultimately we will meet old friends once again.

As I prepare to depart for China, now four months off, I've been thinking a lot about the people that are close to me. I lead a busy life and often go for long stretches without seeing or speaking to good friends of mine. It is always warming to see these people again and have only joy for the meeting, instead of regret for the time in between. With my departure imminent, the people are now the priority and the anticipation of seeing so many of my friends once again fills me up.

I have already said goodbye to friends that are moving on to new and exciting lives in different states. Nate, Dave, and Jesse are all moving to different cities in California to pursue varying degrees of study. My good buddy John Axel has graced us with a short return visit from his studies in Italy. Laurel is leaving for Germany. The goodbyes will continue in the months ahead.

And at the same time I continue to meet wonderful new people in mass quantity. Two very special friends of mine, Scott and Akasha, got married this past Saturday. Being the delightful and insightful humans that they are, they had an impressive showing of spectacular folks, family and friends join in the celebration, and I had the pleasure of dancing, partying, eating, drinking, and sporting with many of them. Several weeks ago, two other special people, Jim and Lisa, threw a celebratory party for their union, which had occurred earlier in the summer. I was once again amazed with the sheer kindness and acceptance of their family and friends, and felt truly honored to be present and to meet these great people.

I am leaving this home of eight years with excitement, satisfaction, and gratitude. I have been so fortunate to meet the wonderful people I have in this place, and their friendship will continue to carry me to new places and new adventures. My memory will keep us together, however far our feet take us from each other. I am also confident that I will continue to meet people to cherish, that will enrich my life during our time together, that will care for me and support me, that will challenge me to grow and change and learn.

I plan to do the same for them.