Archive for the ‘Adventure’ Category

Travel can be tough.


Just ask that 80-year old guy going down the ramp at the Montreux train station in Switzerland last week. But, more on that in a moment.


The cliché goes that getting there is half the fun. Yeah, that may be the case, but getting there might also be twice the hardship. I am not sure my math makes sense, but nevertheless, it’s a given.


Take our recent three-week trip to Europe (no, my lack of blog posts for that period was NOT due to me being stuck under my desk in a drunken stupor…this time).


Our destinations included Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, France, and Switzerland—including the spectacular Lucerne area.


 wrong turn to Lucerne


The trip started poorly as soon as we left the house, and I made a slightly wrong turn. And, by slightly, I mean I thought I could drive there.


My first clue should have been when Google Maps said I could drive to Lucerne in 1 hour and 58 minutes.


  map to wrong Lucerne


After the wife-person applied the appropriate dope-slap to her clueless husband, we got on the Delta flight that was closer to 10 hours and 58 minutes.


Hey, I was only off by a zero; give me a break.


And, eventually, we made it to the “correct” Lucerne.


 the right Luzern


As to a few trip highlights, I stood in a public plaza in Belgium with thousands of World Cup fans and watched the home team  beat Korea.


 Belgium football


Down the road—or more accurately, down the river, the Rhine River—I got to stand in an outdoor viewing venue in Germany and watched the home team beat France.


 German French football


As might be expected, there were also dozens of, what one local guide actually called, ABC’s (Another Bloody Church). Yes, many were brilliantly beautiful, but, well, we did see a lot of them.


 Luzern ABC


Also, there is no lack of really old shit over there, including interestingly painted buildings, and…some other stuff.


 Luzern building art


As to really memorable moments, there were gallons of great local beers, but that will have to flow into another blog post.


So, to conclude today’s sermon, let us remember that our life’s travels often include at least some scintilla of travails, which seems all the more appropriate, as that is the root of the word describing such treks.


Or, more plainer said, travel can be tough.


Extended transits through Europe often encompasses trips by train. In and of itself, that is typically a positive experience, as the rail system “over there” is well planned, well run, and well laid out.


But, it often requires swift transitions between track platforms, which are sometimes on multiple levels. If you are lucky, you might find an escalator or elevator at the bigger stations.


 Antwerp train station


In others, you get to run up and down multiple stairways, while hoisting your roller luggage. In those stations, you are grateful if you happen to find ramps to run while pulling your bag behind you, as it bounces against your ankle and spins around, twisting your wrist.


It was in one of our transfer stations near Lake Geneva where we had but minutes to race down one ramp, then up another to make our connection.


It was there that I decided that “you kids” texting and checking what Facebook posts you missed in the previous 15-seconds while you were getting off the train, and 80-year old guys who insist on strolling smack down the middle of the ramp…well… I am an American and I have already put up with your strange languages and weird currency…I’m coming through!


Sorry, 80-year old guy.


I have got to get to the next really old place, with narrow, bumpy streets and old churches to visit.  And, some other stuff.


sleeping lion rock

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Whoa. This is some seriously scary shite I’ve gotten myself into.


     PNH heli crevasses


I wasn’t as concerned about being faint of heart, letting a helicopter drop me off on the top of a near-vertical slope, strewn with seemingly bottomless crevasses, and patches of exposed diamond-hard, luminescent blue glacial ice.


Primarily, because I lack the primal mental acuity when to know better.


No, it was more being feint of physical ability and skiing agility, to handle the massive mountains of much sought-after deep blankets of fresh powder.


     frank going down

    That’s actually me almost looking like I know what I am doing. Thanks Photoshop.


To summarize, the conditions were steep and deep.


Unfortunately, I was proven to be weak and meek.


     guide guidance


My last post presented an overview, but there was more…much more.


While not necessarily the case in all things, when it comes to this heli-skiing stuff, getting up was much less an ordeal than going down.


Out in the play zone, getting up was quick and thrilling, while going down took ignoring the obvious and pretending that it felt good.


     heli base pickup


Points North Heli-Aventures makes it almost as easy as falling off a barstool, whisking us up from the lodge base in one of three, sleek, dark blue helicopters in a matter of minutes, up to almost unlimited possibilities of downhill runs.


     where next


The choices abound.


There are massive open slopes where skiers and boarders can make fresh tracks, day after day after day.


    skier on big slope


Or, for those with even less faintness of heart—or a total lack of primal survival instincts—there are narrow, steep paths, rimmed with razor-sharp rocks, known as couloirs, which is French for, “ARE YOU OUT OF YOUR EFFING MIND?!?”


     PS FB pic1


Apparently, going down only once was clearly not enough for somebody.


So, instead of looking down (which I now find, sometimes scares the shite out of me), looking ahead to our next AA meeting (A-wannabe A-heliskier), I will reveal the coping strategies of this support group in this vertical winter playground.


Hint – it involves ice.


     ice balls

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Here we are, sitting in near darkness, seduced by the spectacular scenery of this wilderness setting.


We are neither cold nor uncomfortable, or bothered by the hard ground.


Maybe it has something to do with the fact that we are sitting in plush seats of a temperature-controlled movie theater.


Nevertheless, I recently asked myself,

“Self…why do we wander out into the wilderness? What does it do for, or to, us?”


        Grand Canyon - Colorado River


I have been getting into the great outdoors for as long as I have been breathing. While I came onto this planet in the suburban setting of the San Francisco east bay area, I was lucky to be born to parents who had a love for the fresh, pine-scented forests of the Sierra Nevada mountain range, where I spent many a youthful summer.

We used to take annual family car camping trips up to places like Lake Tahoe, and stays at Camp Mather, just outside of Yosemite.


In my formative years, I donned the merit badge-festooned uniform of the Boy Scouts of America—long before scandals of homophobia and the concept of low-impact camping techniques were de rigueur.

(One of our first tasks when making camp was to surround our canvas tents with drainage ditches cut deep into the fragile soil.)


       This is how we rolled back in the day.


While in college in the early 70’s, I joined the Chabot College hiking club, where we would venture up to the central Sierras. My love of wilderness grew during those treks, which may have had something to do with the recreational herbaceous materials we would pass around in the back of the van during the drive.


Or, maybe it was that I discovered women would backpack topless and were—occasionally—not averse to sharing a sleeping bag, after the ritual herb sharing around the campfire.

Hey, remember that was the post Haight-Asbury, Summer of Love era.


But, what really broadened my horizons was my 30- year affair with the iconic outdoor travel writer, Tim Cahill. Whether from Outside Magazine articles, or his series of travel tales with tantalizing titles, his evocative prose, infused with self-effacing humor, created an impetus for global adventure discovery.


I also discovered that the outdoors meant different things to different people.


Over the intervening years, a lot of people decided that the wilderness was not just a place to get drunk, get naked and sit around in a drum circle all night.

(That is what Burning Man is for.)


The fact was, adventure travel seemed to lean more and more towards the adventure aspect of the outdoors activities.


       You go...no, you go...


Enter the world of extreme adventure. Doing it harder, faster, longer—and scarier—became the attraction, in and of itself, for some.


        Waiver...did I sign a waiver?


Is there some form of “runner’s high” which revs up the desire for extreme adventure? Can this just be the outcome of self-induced morphine-like neurotransmitters, namely endorphins, dopamine, norepinephrine, serotonin, and even something called endocannabinoids, which the human body naturally produces?

(Thanks, U.C. Berkeley Wellness Letter for all those intelligent sounding words.)


Whatever the catalyst, for some, it ain’t a good time unless they bleed and it hurts. And, it gets filmed.


Back a few years, the goal for a few was to be labeled Jackass and get their videos viewed in a hit movie and television series. (I am not sure, but I think now days, you might find some of those that survived those exploits on Tosh.0)


Those wishing to forgo the gaping wounds and severe pain can still venture out—at least virtually—into slightly less testosterone-stimulated situations by viewing various adventure films.


        Brighton Bilek blood


This would include offerings from Warren Miller, Radical Reels, and locally inspired versions, like the Lake Tahoe Adventure Film Festival, or what I just saw at the Davis High School theater, a showing of the Banff Mountain Film Festival World Tour.


I could not help but notice that the majority of the attendees seem to be a league of  like-minded, tattooed tribe of wannabe adventurists, displaying a true sense of uniform individuality by their apparent requisite costume, bearing labels of Columbia, Patagonia, North Face, and REI.


        AG tattoo


But, my guess is that most of that audience does get out, notwithstanding the tagline of one of those adventure film posters that boasted—albeit absurdly—watching others out there in a movie is ”the next best thing to doing it.”


Nah, we know that is not even close to being true. Really, how likely are you to see even one topless woman in an adventure film audience?


I certainly did not see any at the Banff Mountain movies last week.


Although, I did smell some smoke of a particularly distinctive odor in the parking lot during the intermission.


        Jackass movie poster

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The way I do the math, 2½ out of 4 ain’t all bad.


I established this here blog many a fortnight ago to showcase my global adventure humor writer chops, and clearly, I have left the habitué wanting. (Take that Maureen Dowd..you’re not the only one with a thesaurus.)


Yes, wanting; wanting something more than my half-ass humor.


And, I guess going two weeks without a measly missive of a post does not really fit the definition of being a writer.

(As if the quality of my writing skills could be based solely on the frequency of my pontifications.)


At least I seem to be making a mild attempt at the global adventure aspects; to wit, scuba diving in Honduras, skiing in Utah, and yacht sailing in the San Francisco bay, all in just the last few weeks.


     Snow is soft; trees are not.


A couple of days ago, I excitedly waxed my sticks after hearing the forecast for a foot of fresh pow in the Lake Tahoe area. What started out in December with promises of fathoms deep of the frozen fluffy-soft white stuff has morphed into rock, dirt, and brush covered ski slopes with recent proclamations of “western states desperate for snow.” 


Lake Tahoe is only a couple of hours away and offers some of the best winter recreational opportunities imaginable.


After spending the day on the slopes proving I don’t have half the skiing skills that I imagine, I can then go lose oodles of cash on the blackjack table, when I imagine that given enough time and money, surely I will win all that money back.


     Golden Gate shines


But, as it happened, I got a better offer when I had the chance to drive a couple of hours in the opposite direction to spend the day on what is one of the most cherished and challenging sailing venues, anywhere.


We cherished the spectacular views of sailing off the San Francisco city front, just downwind of the iconic Golden Gate Bridge, while the America’s Cup mega-multihull sailing speedster practiced nearby, with their appurtenant helicopter and rigid inflatable boats (RIB’s) in full pursuit.


    AC 72 boat practice


The challenge was not getting run over by a mammoth Matson container ship that seemed to come out of nowhere.


Apparently, these behemoths move deceptively faster than they appear to, at upwards of 25 knots, as in, “I did NOT see that guy coming directly at us!”


     Whoa, where did he come from?!?


Our skipper was not entirely sure we would clear the shipping channel under sail power alone, especially given the infamously strong tidal currents in the bay.


I honestly did not know it was physically possible to get a sailboat’s engine started and shifted forward into flank speed in mere seconds, all before the containership’s captain could even blow his warning horn for the fourth time, as he was picking up the radio to call the Coast Guard on us.


     Capt'n, we ARE at flank speed.


We were able to scoot out of path of the leviathan with furlongs to spare—and, I’m sure the skipper only looked as concerned as he does in this picture.


As you can tell, the locals, who witnessed the whole event, barely raised their heads in concern.


     Give us a kipiper to keep us quiet.

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Breakfast with Bardem; the beer was mine.It was on my recent flight to San Salvador, El Salvador, with Javier Bardem, while enjoying a clearly healthy breakfast, I was reading this month’s Outside magazine.


Sure, Lindsey Vonn posed near-naked for the magazine cover, but, I’m happily married; so just like I used to tell the wife-person when I “read” Playboy, I was only looking at the articles.


And, just like those “professional models” in Playboy, we guys tend to lust over things that are out of our reach.


For me, that includes my longtime burning desire to take in all the sensory pleasures of Cuba. As I mentioned in our last visit, that would include the,

“…fine cigars, aged rum, magical music, and classic cars…”


Notice, I did not mention the incredibly hot, sexy Latinas that inhabit those dimly lit cantinas of Havana, since as I just mentioned, I am happily married and those voluptuous women wearing threadbare half-shirts and skintight shorts that barely cover their…well, I hardly think about them at all.


A while back, I reported that during a scuba trip to the popular destination island of Cozumel, given a similarly simple connecting flight to Cuba, I supposedly skipped the temptation to visit my mysterious mistress of desire.


In other words, I would like to say that I did not go to Cuba when I had the opportunity on that occasion. That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it!


After my recent week of incredible diving in Cuba Roatan, I needed to avoid any underwater forays the last day, which all divers must do for 24-hours before flying home.


That is either to allow my body to purge any remaining excess nitrogen in the bloodstream—which could go to my brain and possibly kill me—or to make sure I have time to polish off that large bottle of Flor de Caña rum that I purchased when I got there—which could go to my brain and possibly kill me.


Such are the risks that a global adventure humor writer takes, all for your amusement and reading enjoyment.


So, it was that last day of the trip that I decided a kayak paddle would be a good way to while away the time; unfortunately, I forgot my place.


Things were going peachy, just until I noticed I had garnered the attention of the locals and obtained a navel escort of sorts. Needless to say, I began to paddle towards shore with just a little bit more urgency.


   What do you mean, turn around?


It was then that I remembered that I had left my passport in the room; the passport that would have made it clear that I had strayed a little off-course.


Could I claim that I really thought this was Honduras? After all, it was only a few nautical miles to the southwest.


The actual distance was just under 900 kilometers, which we Americans do not really understand, but when converted to nautical miles, given the prevailing wind and current directions, it was only just mostly an inconceivable distance to paddle in a morning jaunt.


I could plead cluelessness; that sometimes works with the wife-person (actually, almost never).


As I approached the malecón, I could not help but notice that I might have a problem claiming that I thought this was the Honduran city of Coxen Hole (which would be a great name for a porn star).


    Sorry, no habla Español.


But, then it came to me.


It is not this government that minds me visiting and spending copious amount of American greenbacks…it’s OUR government that minds, as if somehow my purchase of a few cigars and bottle of rum might help prop up the régime of some ancient revolutionary on his deathbed. 


But, mind they still do, and that might explain the noise I heard coming from just over my head.


When I looked up, there was this strange skeleton of a flying object that was…HEY, it was one of those small drones that I had read about in the latest Outside Magazine—once I got past the pictures of the near-naked Lindsey Vonn.


    What's that noise?


Cool, I thought. Must be some guy out playing with his new toy. Basically, these new personal drones are kind of like those old radio-controlled airplanes. And, as the Outside article pointed out, these things are easily obtained; you can even buy one from Amazon, which you can control from you iPhone.


That was just until I saw the long, narrow object with the trailing smoking plume, apparently headed my way.


   They never see it coming.


WTF? I thought. Who would be firing upon me, an American citizen in mostly good standing, just because I was paddling in the wrong neighborhood?


That was until I made it closer to shore and caught two guys red-handed—and by “red” I am not talking about their political affiliation.  Check out their matching government issue, logo shirts (although I never did see their stinking badges).


   Great disguise, guys.


And, while this was nowhere near the Bay of Pigs, after a week of sans showers or shaving, I was beginning to look pretty sloven.


Maybe this scuba diver I met on the shore won’t mind the smell.


               scuba dog

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map and compassEven though Oprah didn’t invite me on her show to bare my soul, I will take Lance’s lead and just confess.


I am about ready to walk out the door, headed for Roatan, which is an island off the right coast of Honduras.


Maybe I will bump into Hugo Chavez.


Oh, wait. Chavez—who’s quite possibly still alive—is in Cuba, a different island entirely, but also off the right coast of Central America.


But, getting there, contrary to the cliché, is not half the fun.


The travail of the trek entails a drive in rush-hour urban traffic, hours spent at an airport, then finally boarding for a sure-to-be long, cramped flight, followed—after waiting at a different airport—by a somewhat shorter flight, more airport time playing luggage carousel roulette, and then we’re headed for the high seas for a boat ride on hopefully calm water, and finally a bus or shuttle to…where is it I am going? I already forgot.


BTW – My Editor-in-Chief once questioned my use of the word “travail,” where she thought maybe I meant “travel.” Given the tedious task of the trip, travail is exactly the proper word; furthermore, I once read that the word travel actually originated a long time ago from the word travail, and represents the difficulties that early travel bloggers had centuries ago, before airport bars stocked a decent brand of vodka for their pre-flight Bloody Marys.


        You want to put my meal tray where?!?


Speaking of forgetting…the promised confession is that I may sometimes be guilty of overusing performance-numbing beverages…no, no, that’s the wrong confession.


I just wanted to admit that I am the type of traveler that begins weeks (months?) before a trip by making long, long lists.


Lists of things to pack. Lists of things to do before I go. Lists of my lists to make sure I list everything.


Then, when it finally comes time to pack, I tend to lay everything out, which is partially OCD and partially to allow the wife-person to tell me I am nuts, and proceeds to remove at least half the stuff I have carefully laid out.


There are two truisms as to my travel packing.


First, I will continue to futz with how I packed everything until I finally get dragged out to the car, and second, I will continue to add items, given the theory that nature abhors a vacuum, and where there still is some room, there must be something more I can stuff in there.


All right, I gotta go shave and shower before I leave in a couple of hours.


And, certainly there must be a few more items I can tuck in the side pockets of the luggage (when you-know-who is not looking).


Roatan…here I come.  Or is it Cuba?


          I may, or may not, be one of these guys.

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Fully equiped.

We were there to gorge on pig parts, but how could I resist an offer for a peaceful float down a placid stretch of river?


It was a warm day and there was a promise of cold beer.


The venue was the lower Truckee River as it flows deep among the gorge of towering high-rise hotels and casinos that is downtown Reno.


There was nothing mentioned of steep drop-offs, boulder strewn riffles, and pit bulls.


I began to wonder if Number One Son-in-Law-To-Be, Jason, really wanted me at the wedding.


The wife-person and I were in the neighborhood for the storied Best of the West Rib Cook-off, held in Sparks, Nevada, which puts up so much barbeque smoke it can probably be smelled over the hill at the annual Burning Man desert happening.


They burn an effigy of a man, while back in “civilization,” thousands of pounds of pig are sacrificed for our dining pleasure.


The offer for some time on the water was perfect to whet the appetite for the upcoming gluttony of barbeque sauce-saturated charred meat. I mean, what could happen such a short distance from a bustling city, which is home to a major regional medical center?


We put onto the river aboard bright blue and white squishy float tubes with integrated headrests and handholds, which I assume are there to provide some false sense of safety for unwitting occupants who had no idea what awaited us downstream, namely me.


“Trust us,” is what I was assured by Jason, and his trusty sidekick Ryan, with his Olympic swimmer physique. (I could look like that…if I was 30-years younger, 50-pounds lighter, and a 100% in better shape.)


I guess I should have initially recognized these were not designed for serious whitewater, given that each tube had two beer can holders; serious drinking maybe, but not Class III and above whitewater.


My second clue that the afternoon excursion had more of the latter expectations of an expedition, was the matching floating ice and beer carrier that was lashed to Jason’s river craft.


It’s not like I haven’t done some big water before. I’ve rafted the Main Fork and, more recently, the Middle Fork of the Salmon River. I survived summer monsoon-generated flash floods on the Green River in Utah, and experienced other white water rafting runs in northern California and southern Oregon.


Cue 2001 Space Odessy theme music.

Our three-hour cruise began innocently enough on a slow moving stretch of the Truckee River, where we climbed onto our watercraft along the bank of a quiet, tree-shaded city park. Beers were passed around and we sat back and lazily stared aimlessly as the puffy white clouds drifted overhead.


It was shortly thereafter that the river took on a different persona. I think, maybe, it was when we passed an ominous six-story monolith when the pace of the river hastened.


Large boulders began to make their presence known in increasing quantity and bulk, which required a fair bit of course correction to avoid catastrophic confrontations.


And with many just below the surface, I sustained more than a few abrupt bumps on my bottom.





Being equipped with neither a raft nor kayak paddle, my only method of navigation was frantic paddling with nothing more than the palms of my hands, which also required putting down my nicely chilled can of Guinness.


And then things got worse.



               No one said anything about rapidssssss....


As we approached the downtown area of Reno, it came to me that a serious whitewater run had been created for kayakers practicing whitewater wave surfing, perfecting their Eskimo rolls, and playing in their nimble, stubby squirt boats.


We, on the other hand, were sitting high, on large easily capsizable tubes with the stability of a floating bar of soap and the maneuverability of a barge.


The roar of the foaming drops was almost drowned out by the cackle of Jason and Ryan when they saw my eyes widen and my grip tighten.



       What's that noise?


By some miracle, or possibly under a physical state of extreme relaxation brought on by a “number” of cans of Guinness, I survived the horrific massive waterfalls and limped over to the take-out, along the constructed concrete riverbank.


As I ungracefully rolled out of my float tube and crawled up to the walkway, I discovered this area of downtown Reno happened to be the local hangout for, what I will call, overly tattooed, unemployed people with nervous mannerisms, brought on by certain manufactured pharmaceuticals, which sometimes cause violent behavior.


You probably know this class of citizen by a word that sounds like Tweakers.


They also seem to favor burley, menacing pit bulls with spiked collars. And, there on my knees, I was face-to-face with three of them.

“Nice doggies…nice doggies…”


I’m sure that Jason and Ryan will claim that this tale is rife with embellishment and hyperbole, but this is my story and I’m sticking to it.


Given my advanced age and ever-worsening memory of facts—kind of like Paul Ryan at the Republican National Convention (sorry, Tom)—at least I can claim that this was the truth as I wish to recall it.


What were we talking about…???




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It was 4:30 in the morning and I awoke in a strange, dark place. A strong smoky scent hung heavily in the air, like a musty old wool blanket.


At first, the smell seemed familiar and friendly. I have been known to occasionally sip a wee dram of single malt Scotch, and this was reminiscent of 10-year old Talisker whiskey, with its peaty smoke signature.


But, I had not imbibed in one of my favorite libations for some time, and this smoke was all too real. The guestroom bed was blanketed with a deliberate heaviness in the air that foretold of the pending pain I would succumb to in the coming hours.


I was about to undertake a physical challenge more befitting of a person half my age. Or, at least someone who treated a training regime with more effort than walking out of the house to retrieve the morning newspaper.


The fact that much of Northern California was aflame in forest fires apparently was not enough to dissuade a date with destiny that had been set some twenty years previous. That, or we were just being idiots not to cancel.



        Older, but maybe not wiser.


The last Saturday in August has been the chosen day for the past twenty years for The RAH Tri, short for the Rural Aging Hippie Triathlon, held at Eagle Lake, up in the northeast corner of the California.


       Too young to know better.


This supposedly social outdoor challenge has probably been misnamed for all these years, as not all of the original eight brave souls were really all that rural to begin with. Plus, some of the group definitely took exception to being described as a “hippie,” whatever that term means, to begin with.


The course consists of an open water swim of unknown length along the buoy line along the south end of the lake. Wetsuits, fins, goggles, and snorkels are allowed, and possibly motorized propulsion units disguised as flotation devices.


This is followed with a mountain bike ride on a treacherous rock-strewn steep dirt road, and then onto a paved road, often chocked with oversized RV’s clamoring for campground sites.

        Mind the boulders.

Finally, the group—once gathered—finishes the fun with a run of five-ish miles, back to the area where we started.


Even though our event once had the subtitle of “Tri for Fun,” I don’t really remember it ever being all that much fun twenty years ago.

Nowadays, I think I would  rather go in to have my prostate checked. (Wait…did I say that out loud?)


In addition to the lung-choking smoke, I also had the handicap of competing in this event while suffering with an elevation change from sea level one day, to 12,500 feet above my level of conditioning, the next.

(And by  “competing,” I mean showing up.)


One of the arcane—and probably unique—rules of this particular triathlon is that everyone must wait for everyone else at the end of each leg of the event.


This rule was enacted by the RAH Tri Official Rules Committee, which happens to consist of a solitary participant of the group, who: (a) self-elected himself, (b) has steadfast refused to either share the committee responsibilities or relinquish the duties, and—not surprisingly—(c) is a terrible swimmer and doesn’t want to get left behind.

It would not be nice to this person to be embarrassed by name. (His name is JOHN!)


But, I thwarted the grasp of the rules committee (Is there a singular form of the word committee?) by creating my own RAH Tri course.


Given my sore knee, I only swam “some” of the course, rode a “portion” of the bike ride, and then returned to the area, where we parked along the beach, to create my own private triathlon event, which consisted of a relax, drink a beer, and nap a time of an unknown length.


After all, this was not the Expedition Man Triathlon for the truly disturbed overachievers being held at the same time, not far away. That torturous event involved a 2 1/2 mile swim in the arctic-temperature of Lake Tahoe, an over-100 mile bike ride over the mountain, followed by running a full 26-mile marathon for dessert.


       Where's the billboard for the RAH Tri?


Not that we couldn’t have been competitive.


I mean, look at our pictures taken 20-years apart…I say none of us looks a day over 80, right?


O.K. maybe it would have been tough at Tahoe. Hell, I needed a nap just typing this story.

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Stay thirsty, my friends

The beach was Baja-esque and the beer was distinctly Mexican, but any additional resemblance to previous sojourns south of the border would be based on our chosen camping comrades and the prolific consumption of fresh lime slices appurtenant to a multitude of Pacificos.


Besides, this trek required neither passports, nor pesos.


Given the superb camping site at the end of a rough, rocky dirt road along the shore of a beautiful, large northeastern California lake, I was cautioned by our posse not to divulge the specific details as to our location, under threat of severe pummeling by a large metal liquid-carrying container.


But, I am getting ahead of myself.


Before we could even leave home, there were camp lists to flesh out and flasks to fill.


Well, that killed that bottle.


A bantam-sized flask of Makers Mark whiskey was requested by the wife-person (almost half of which made it back home), and then there was a somewhat more ample container of Bombay Sapphire gin, which actually holds over a “handle” of the so-called Blue Bottle.


Full disclosure: almost none of those two liters of that libation remained at the end of the campout, but truth-be-told, it was somewhat of a community “resource.” (And that’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.)


Once the packing list was compiled, the truck was loaded and the drive was on. Given that this was the first camping trek with my relatively new truck, the last thing I wanted was dog hairs all over the seats, and since the back end was full of absolutely necessary outdoor equipment (see previous discussion regarding liquid provisions), well, you wouldn’t expect me to put the poor pooch on the roof of the vehicle, would you?


He runs faster than he looks.


But, not to worry; I did stop occasionally to allow him to catch his breath.


Once we arrived lakeside, we found a lone shade tree, which proved perfect to protect our ice chests from the weekend’s blistering temps.


morning glow


Cool quiet nights along the placid lake were pierced by a spectacular sky show, as part of the peak of Perseids meteor shower. Some searing streaks seemed to hang in the night sky like shiny bright tinsel.

While the night sky was clear and full of bright stars, the days were sometimes clouded with the smell of nature burning.

Apparently, we had not followed the local news reports that much of northern California was being scorched as a result of multiple wildfires. Dependent on the whims of the wind direction, we were sometimes subject to heavy drifting smoke.

It wasn’t until the drive home, did we see the many end times-sized smoke columns billowing up along the Sierra Nevada mountain range, as well as from new fires popping up within the interior coastal range.

The massive fire near the Feather River canyon had created a colossal column that had become a huge cloud typical of a thunderhead build-up.

In other words, if it wasn’t the end of the world, as predicted by the Mayan calendar, it could have been an effective film trailer for the next post-apocalyptic Hollywood movie.


quiet times


Nevertheless, our days were occupied with windsurfing, stand-up paddling, mountain biking, hiking, swimming, and other, somewhat less energetic activities.


The solitude of the scenery was stark yet settling.


Golden glow evenings


This was a good place to hang out and I am sure we will return again.


Sunday, another blood Sunday


But, I will have to check: do they make flasks larger than half a gallon?


A person doesn’t want to end up dangerously low of necessary provisions.


Caution sign

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Yet another boring sunset in paradise.

By definition, when I travel—as they say in those Southwest Airlines commercials—I wanna get away®.


In my mind, the more exotic the locale, the less “here” it seems, which is exactly why I travel in the first place.


The last thing I want to do is to hang out with a bunch of people “just like me”—albeit, likely not as good looking or as smart as me—in a setting that looks, for all purposes, just like a city near me, complete with American chain hotels and familiar looking corporate restaurants.

(Unfortunately, I think we are stuck with the Starbucks situated in just about every corner of the planet.)


If my goal was to just avoid mowing the lawn and dealing with other typical honey-do list items suggested by the wife person—and by suggested I mean, they better get done by the end of the day if I have any chance of eating dinner or sleeping in my own bed—well, I can drive a few miles over to Sacramento and check into the local Best Western, and dine at the downtown Denny’s.


If all I am looking for is a swimming pool, late night bar, and midnight snack, they’ve got it covered.


It is with that personal bias in my travel philosophy that, when trekking south of the border, I eschew booking trips to places such as Cabo or Cancun, Mexico.


Both of those places are mega tourist magnets with miles of cookie-cutter high-rise beachfront hotels, occupied by platoons of sunburned, chaise lounge occupying vacationists, clutching over-priced, alcohol-light umbrella drinks.


And, those locations have at least one other key similarity: the Mexican government officially sponsored both of these massive tourist traps through FONATUR, which is Mexico’s state agency in charge of planning and developing large-scale tourist projects.


My only reason to fly to Cancun is to rent a car and head south into the Yucatan as quickly as possible, to places off the beaten path and visitation by cruise ships, such as Akumal, which still maintains a modicum of Mexican charm.


If you happen to catch me at the airport in Cabo, expect to see me quickly exiting the airport, getting past the armies of aggressive timeshare condo troops, and drive—not south towards the high octane area of Cabo San Lucas—but rather north, along the southern end of Baja’s East Cape, which skirts the stark shoreline, yet vibrant marine life of the Sea of Cortez, where my destination will likely be the rustic town of Los Barriles.


        Baja Sur map


While the Los Barriles area offers plenty of laid back housing, amazing local cuisine, miles of kite boarding and windsurfing beaches, nearby secret canyons with crystal clear cold water and cascading waterfalls, it is the nearby Cabo Pulmo National Marine Park that beckons me to don my scuba gear and immerse myself into the magical marine world that thrives just below the surface.


This area is home to the only coral reef in existence in the Sea of Cortez, and at an estimated 20,000 years old, said to be one of the oldest in this part of the Pacific Ocean.



    Rays jumping for joy?



I have experienced numerous encounters with massive humpback whales with their clinging calves, frolicking schools of dolphins racing alongside and riding angled bow waves, squadrons of airborne manta rays splashing down in the shimmering sea and onto our dive boat, and stupendous schools of slivery jacks that darken the water by their sheer numbers.



        That's my dive buddy, Amada.



Thus, I had read with great dismay some time ago that the Mexican government had issued provisional permits for an enormous planned resort area, which involved almost 30,000 rooms on about 10,000 acres, in this unique area of Baja.



         Please, please don't happen.



Assuming, with the official backing of the government and deep pocketed developers, this would be yet one more corner of the world’s dwindling special wild places to be lost forever, I pleasured myself by recently reading that the proposed project was dead.

(Ah…maybe I should clarify by saying I became pleasured. Hmmm, not much better sounding.)


While environmental issues were mentioned, interestingly, it is the financial crisis in Europe that may have had more to do with the collapse of the mega project than concerns about sea critters.

Mexico’s President Felipe Calderon said,

“The permits were being withdrawn because the developer ran into financial problems during Europe’s financial crisis.”


Maybe not so surprisingly, Fox News Latino seems to “credit” environmentalists from blocking this massive development project, which would have surely generated millions of pesos for Hansa Baja Investments, a big time money interest, apparently not even based in Mexico. (According to another website, the company is a joint venture of HANSA URBANA, of Spain, and Goodman Real Estate, of the United States.)

Fox’s slant on the story read,

“The Cabo Cortes tourist development…sparked concerns among the local communities, academics and environmental groups.”


Adding intrigue to these environmental/financial dealings, National Geographic reported on what they called, “Pulmo Gate,” which has

“Revealed on TV that emails were exchanged between Mexican federal authorities and the developers of Cabo Cortes, which question that authorities granted the permits in this case either because they wanted outside investment or because they were afraid of the consequences if they didn’t approve them (under trade pacts like those signed by Mexico’s officials).”


Whew. Nasty business.


For many years, the once vibrant marine life of Cabo Pulmo suffered assaults from industrial scale fish mining, sometimes by foreign-based trawlers. In all good conscience, I cannot call those activities “fishing,” as they consisted of dragging huge nets along the sea floor, from which they cherry picked what they wanted, and discarded the rest to float away and die.


It was thanks to Herculean efforts to protect the area that lead to tremendous strides towards not only recovery, but also now a return to a thriving marine environment.


How much do I love this place? Check out the banner picture which has always sat atop of every travel story I have authored on this blogsite.


That picture is looking out from a laid back beachside cantina in Cabo Pulmo where weathered, well-worn pangas take divers out to enjoy a magical part of the world that John Steinbeck and Jacques Cousteau recognized as one of a kind.


Finally, I also found this picture on the web of what the area still looks like, along with a caution what might come.



     The preverbial "before" picture.


My Español is muy mal, but I am pretty sure the text does not read,

“We only have the best interest of the fish in mind.”

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