Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Plan B Lifestyle

Whatever you do, don't lean against the truck.


And don't assume the ski conditions will get much better than this (although they will).


Don't count on long days.


Or bluebird skies.


"You chose the Plan B Lifestyle," Adam said.

It's true.


"You will always sleep in the back of your truck," he said. "It's not something you'll grow out of. If you suddenly earn more money, you won't move into a hotel, you'll just spend more nights in the back of your truck."


The Plan B Lifestyle means I'll always be pulled aside for secondary questioning at the Roosville border post, but that I can walk through some remote border crossing in Southeast Asia with only a backpack and a tattered Lonely Planet and not even earn a raised eyebrow. The Plan B Lifestyle means dinner will be prepped on the truck tailgate, and that I made things like Third World travel a priority over things like career advancement.



Plan B Lifestyle wake-up scene: steps from my bed in the back of the Nissan.


Plan B Exercise Plan: who has money for fancy things like lift tickets?


Or groomed cross-country trails?


Alaska is just two and a half hours away?


When you must buy lift tickets, the Plan B Lifestyle ski area is not Verbier, but Shames.


Plan B road trip: a Wednesday morning in the Canadian Rockies.


And Thursday.


And Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, too. At some point I'll have to turn around and head home.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Que bueno!

Already at the departure gate in Houston, the preferred language has become Spanish, as though we have already left America. It's too crowded, people have too many bags, and everyone is talking too loudly. It feels like we are there already, except of course until the moment I cross the threshold into the 737 I can still turn around and back out. But I'm no longer nervous about arrivals the way I used to be. My early travel experiences were all in Africa, when deplaning into a foreign customs could be a big, scary deal. Not so any more.


(And here we are, on the Corredor Sur, the city looming.)


I know this flight pattern pretty well now. The plane flies over Galveston Island -- sometimes right over the house my parents used to have on Indian Beach -- and then makes away across the Gulf of Mexico -- sparkling blue from 33,000. We cross the Yucatan near Merida, and cross it again south of Cancun. More ocean, then the Rio Segovia marking the junction of Honduras and Nicaragua, and spilling a huge amount of sediment into the sea. Then ocean again, until I see thunderheads on the horizon and we descend, quickly crossing Colon, the canal, the wing dipping over Puente de las Americas, ocean again, and Panama City, wide and impossibly dense and skyscraper filled. Immigration is a smile and three stamps, customs is cursory, and suddenly we are on the curb, wondering which taxi to take.


(Yes, that is a freeway which now encircles Casco Viejo, a UNESCO World Heritage site. They killed it.)


(Here's a lesson for everyone: learn a few words so you can, uh, chat with the locals.)

Laura and I went to Panama about 10 years ago. Man, has it changed. High end hotels shadow the lumpy streets, and cars are newer and fancier than what you see in most of the U.S. The buses are new and air conditioned and much more more boring than before, and the squares of even small towns have free wi-fi.


(Los Santos)


(Los Santos)


(So we decided to get Cooper's hair cut. The barber used clippers and then told me "Tell him not to move." It's a blurry picture, but yeah, that's a razor.)

Anyway, Panama remains attractive today for many of the same reasons we found it attractive before: it's fun, loose, simple, safe, easy to get around, and the Spanish is spoken with a flat, slow accent.


(Wild beaches on the Azuero Peninsula.)


(Black Friday in Playa Venao.)


(We found these things all over. Boy, is he going to be pissed when he learns that for a simple quarter they shake up and down.)


(Playa Venao)



(Pit stop after hiking near El Valle. This was the next-to-last full day and I was already nostalgic for the trip.)


(I can work the system pretty well. We payed $58 for a four-star hotel in Panama City.)

When you just have a week, and you already live at the end of the line (life in Missoula), where you go on vacation depends to a large extent on where you can get easily. El Salvador is easy, but too dangerous. Same for Honduras. I have mixed feelings about Guatemala after a semi-traumatic trip there years ago, and Belize and Costa Rica are simply too boring. What's next? Colombia?)


Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Terra nullius

Well, it's almost winter, so we're growing our hair out.


So many places to see, and so few weekends with good weather to get to them. After wondering for a few seasons about a place on the edge of the Big Hole called Mussigbrod, we spent the weekend there. How was it? So-so.



After thousands and thousands of miles, we are close to retiring the Chariot. Cooper is now bike commuting to day care, and in September was knighted the city's bike commuter of the week.


He won an ice cream cone for his efforts.

Another fill-in-the-gap spot: Fishtrap -- the Montana one. Dozens more spots like this.


Noah and Ginny and son came up with us for a remarkably quiet weekend.


Look at the map and pick a spot. Here's Cabin Lake.


One last evening bike ride.


This summer and fall we continued our quest to bike the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route through Montana, Alberta, and British Columbia, and in three weekends I knocked out a big stretch, including Elk Lake to Banff. I've now done about one-third of the Montana and Canada portion of the route -- but more than that in a way, actually, since I don't use a shuttle but instead bike each part in each direction. I'd like to write more about this great trail some day but for now here's a few photos.

The Morrell-Clearwater Divide:


Medicine Lodge:



Looking across to Fleecer:


Back home, catching up on some reading.


This was the first photo I took of Patrick Carter's crash. I had just locked my bike up at Missoula International Airport when I heard an oddly loud plane take off. I looked up to see his yellow biplane launch nearly straight up, then go silent as it hit its apogee and turned toward earth. For a moment I thought it was going to hit me, but the crash took place about 50 yards away.


I ran over to the site, but there was nothing to do to help. There was not a part of the plane that was not on fire. Later, I sent the photo the Missoulian and talked to Kathryn Haake. Carter was of renown in a way I did not completely understand, but I wound up talking to media outlets in Alabama and New York about his passing and the better-composed photos taken after that one above were published sort of widely. Someone suggested that I should have sold the photos instead of give them away, but it did not seem right to make money off someone's fiery death.

Galveston. Kind of unreal that we could go swimming in mid-October, but I guess I'd forgotten how things go in Texas.


Brazos Bend: not as natural as it looks.







The ever-present need to keep the closets clean.