Archive for the ‘travel writing’ Category

The tales of adventures that went awry abound.


Books such as Not So Funny When It Happened (edited by the target of my adventure travel writer man-crush, Tim Cahill);  No Shit! There I Was; and Oh No! We’re Gonna Die, are but a few of the genre.


Truth be told, the awryer the better if you’re an adventure humor travel writer (or wannabe facsimile of same)…assuming you survive the ordeal, that is.


And, for anyone having followed my decades of travel ordeals knows, I should have tomes of travel tales on the aisles of the digital bookstore shelves over at Amazon. 


I should.



  rocky path



Most of my adventures seem to take place on, or under, some form of water, so yes, my travel stories are truly all wet.


One waterborne pursuit I partake pretty often is lake kayaking. Compared with scuba diving 100-feet down through rusty wrecks, helicopter skiing deep powder on steep slopes, or taking a shower in a tub with no non-skid pads, you would not think much could happen on a calm mountain lake, while safely ensconced in a stable, high-flotation watercraft.


You would think.



  there will be blood



Viewer caution suggested for visual grossness of this next picture.



                  knee injury1



How, you might ask, is that type of injury even possible under such conditions?


Well, my first instinct was to proclaim that I jumped off a cliff to save a young child from drowning, but apparently that cock and bull story has already left the farm




       cliff jumping



Like my dad used to say, “The second liar doesn’t have a chance.”


O.K. How about this: I was attacked by a yet unknown, high sierra cousin of the feared freshwater piranha.



     local fish





Well, I just remembered. A huge, winged marauder swooped in to grab my iPhone 5S off of my lap.


Ha, ha, stupid winged marauder; I already paid $1,000 for someone to stand in line for me for the new iPhone 6 Plus.



  Egret in flight



No, not that either?



Well, what certainly should have not happened did not happen, was that, as I was taking three steps in knee deep water, I tripped on a rock and landed on another.


Ha, ha stupid rock. It only bled for an hour.



      plants in rock wall

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The main event on tonight’s ticket will be the perennial powerhouse, Facebook status updates, versus the clear underdog, WordPress blog posts.


Given the literary—and spousal—abuse bestowed on us hapless bloggers, and the ubiquitous popularity of Facebook posting, why do I continue on going against the upstream current, whether it be on a VIKING RIVER CRUISE up the Rhine River through Germany and France, or even on a simple day paddle up the American River, on Lake Natoma, on my WILDERNESS SYSTEMS kayak, which I purchased at REI?


Excuse me while I take another healthy gulp (possibly a questionable adjective given the reference) of my BOMBAY SAPPHIRE gin.


My mélange of not-so-hidden ad references, folded into the present-day publishing paradigm, reveals the recipe of our changing tastes as to how our appetite for recreational reading is satiated by how we consume our daily diet of the written word.


(Why did that sentence suddenly make me so hungry?)


In dehydrated terms, why is Facebook so overwhelmingly more popular than blog posts?


Isn’t one a bunch of pictures surrounded by a few words, and the other, a bunch of words interspersed with a few pictures?


Wait, I think I just answered my own question.


Add to that, the collective diminishing attention span of the typical “reader,” which is further fulfilled by Twitter Tweets of few words, Instagram photos of no words, SnapChats of transitory existence, or GrindR reach-arounds (sorry, wrong forum on that last one).


To make matters worse, for some time now, quality travel writing prose of the Tim Cahill-genre has been supplanted by vaguely disguised advertising “articles,” which at least used to be disclosed by tiny font notices, barely visible through the clutter.


Nowadays, even that modicum of fair waning has been thrown under the bus by the business of publishing, where something called “native advertising” totally blows up the wall between intellectual property and biased-by-nature advertising, as John Oliver so expertly explained on his weekly program.


No wonder most people would rather look at shiny pictures, and skip the yada-yada-yada of those pseudo stories.


O.K. Time to get back to writing…as soon as my buddy and I finish our CORONA and PACIFICO cervazas. 


     frank with drinking buddy



NOTE TO ADVERTISERS: royalty checks for the aforementioned advertisements can be sent to my mailing address of record.


I am being paid for this drivel, right?

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For many an author, the road to writing is lined with empty bottles.


Personally, I have found that alcohol works well when it comes to my insubstantial adventure travel writing, both in terms of execution and while awaiting acclamation.



  bar quote


Notwithstanding my early years in Scouting, and subsequent decades of literature-inspired adventure travel, an occasional blog post about my latest adventure folly in the field, an accomplished travel writer does not make.


The path I have taken en route to becoming a global humor travel writer has been ignominiously ignored by both print media and online domains, which is not to say, that this is not an undeserved plight. 


But, my travel  adventures are relatively mundane, thus lacking the fodder for exhilarating tales.



            jackrabbit in motion


While I was once frightened by the looming shadow of a rather large rabbit, to date, my flesh remains unmarred by jaguars, and my lower limbs have suffered nary a gnaw by wolverines.


I once got a menacing stare from a duck because I would not share my butterworms,  but thankfully, I avoided being pecked to death.


Possibly, I would be a better writer if enlightenment was not so hard to hold.


Contrary to certain world renown travel writers who are said to have gotten lost in their own backyard, as I previously pontificated, I have never been in that predicament.


I do seem to get myself into an occasional outlandish travel situation that is cause for clamorous celebration of my travel companions, even though I might think that it was not so funny when it happened.


And, even with my chronic fever for road trips, my dreams have been buried by editors who have rejected my countless un-written, thus un-submitted travel stories.


Yet, my lack of writing acumen has not deterred me from years of self-published posts, thanks to any-idiot-wannabe-writer-can-use blogging software, which I also link from Facebook, as if I needed the added literary indifference.


And amazingly, still no one has confused me with the storied statesmen of evocative adventure travel writing prose, Tim Cahill.

(Tim, please note that I did not say “elder” statesman.)


   Tim and I on the mountain


Whether Facebook posts represent even a scintilla of a legitimate alternative to “real writing” remains to be determined,  Even then, I sometimes struggle with the minutiae of Facebook.


The other day I was playing with my self (portrait) for a possible profile picture, which somehow posted itself worldwide. I was not sure how that happened, but ultimately two people even “Liked” it.


One was my adopted, third daughter/ ski-snowboard buddy, who I bribe with brews for her positive acknowledgements of my blog posts.


The other was the world renown, and my longtime adventure travel writing hero/mentor, Tim Cahill, who I once bribed with a substantial amount of Bombay Sapphire. (You would have thought it would have worn off by now.)


So, as I surmised, my road to writing has benefitted, at least in some fashion, from the drink.


And, improbably, has made my face Likeable.



Photo by Shiloh

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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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The places we take in, the food we eat, and even the words we consume are all subject to the inexorable onslaught of time.


It’s the Forth Law of Thermodynamics you didn’t learn about in school, which postulates, “here today, gone tomorrow.”


Like the plethora of people Rick Steves convinced to visit Vernazza—to my mind the crown jewel of the spectacular series of towns perched between the Ligurian Sea and the steep hillsides of Cinque Terre—last year we mourned upon hearing the news that upwards of 12-feet of storm-generated mud and silt accumulated along the narrow path which winds down from the grapevines and olive tree covered hills to the clear blue sea.


    Cinque Terre mudslide


The fact that second story windows were suddenly at street level only hinted at the clean-up job at hand, which is still on going, according to a recent update by Rick Steves in HuffPo.


I have oft repeated that Vernazza may be my favorite place on earth. Eating fresh pasta with freshly caught anchovies and locally produced pesto while sipping on their wonderful local white wine was one of my most memorable travel meals.


Hopefully, with my needs in mind, “those people” can get going and put it back the way it was. For me.


     Cinque Terre


While most of the mom-made home meals I grew up on were more of a German origin—which was not surprising as both my parents were born there—I got an early inkling for quality Italian cooking, as we frequently dined at a San Francisco east bay dining institution named Banchero’s Italian Dinners, in Hayward.


My sister sent me a note that, after 63-years in business, this fine family restaurant will shutter its doors. I have to wonder, if they even considered the impact to me and how I would get by without their amazing minestrone soup, chicken and pasta dishes, followed by colorful spumoni ice cream. To me.


Finally, in some late breaking, first alert news, the one guy who is probably the person “most to blame” for prodding me to produce all these, oh so many, insufferable blatherings, has decided to pull the plug on his own postings.


I would describe his writing style as if Hunter S. Thompson had a fly fishing blog, but often wandered afar from the fish.


As I often would follow his storyline leads for my own plagiarism inspiration, I have to say that he never discussed this with me and I certainly don’t think he had my writing needs in mind when he made his decision. With me.


Hopefully, there is no truth to the rumor that he was so embarrassed to have had even the smallest connection to my verbal wonderings, that he felt he had to fall on his own sword, as a form of literary reparation.


    Singlebarbed header


Regarding those planned travels, as my running “friends” would always yell at me as we approached a busy road intersection,

“Go now!”

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Not Lon and I, but close to it.

This time it looked legitimate.


As anyone who does any amount of online writing knows, you tend to get weary of weekly requests to publish something on your site which provides free advertising for someone else, or requests that you provide content to bolster their commercial site, whereas you are doing the heavy lifting while they reap whatever monetary rewards.


This time the request came to do an interview for a website called National RV Parks. Yes, it does seem to fit the latter category, but I guess it came in a weak moment, and by weak I mean I had just had my second glass of Scotch.


My older daughter thought it was “nice” (I’m not sure if she meant my interview answers or just the fact I was asked), but went on to remark,

“How’d you get connected with that website? Especially considering that you don’t actually own or travel by an RV.”


Yes, that question came to me, also.


But then I thought, didn’t our 1985 VW Westfalia camper count as an RV, just one with an under-powered engine and under-sized brakes?


Hmmm. Now I’m starting to think that I should not have provided them with my checking account number and personal information. I thought, how else will those checks start rolling in?


In any regard, here is the entire interview. I assume I am not violating some copyright protection for quoting my own words. But, then again, maybe I should have had a lawyer check over those 17 pages of legal documents that I signed.


             *                     *                     *                     *                     *             


        Not ours, but just like ours.


Please give my readers a background about yourself. What made you want to start sanddollaradventures.wordpress.com?
It’s Outside Magazine’s fault. While I can thank my parents for getting me outdoors as a youth, and then later, gave me an interest in travel given their European roots, it was probably the travel adventure stories in Outside that planted the seed to want to become a travel writer.

Along the way, I learned that just about anyone can venture out on a road trip or hop on a plane to some exotic locale, but it takes at least a modicum of aptitude to create a compelling written account of said travels.

While editors seem to insist on writing skills, a friend of mine convinced me that a travel blog would allow me to exercise my "writing muscles," until either I garnered those skills or realized my time was better spent, say, organizing my sock drawer.

In all of your travels, in your opinion what country has the best food? and the worst food?
Think location, location, location. I am convinced that your taste buds are influenced by where you happen to be at the time. I recall the freshly caught anchovies, served in locally prepared pesto, eaten as we sat at the marina in Vernazza, Italy, while over looking the Ligurian Sea, as one of the best meals I have ever had.

Or, maybe it was the many bottles of the locally produced Cinque Terre white wine we consumed.

The worst food is whatever precedes me spending the night on my knees in the bathroom in close examination of porcelain polishing practices. That can happen anywhere.

And, I don’t follow widely held stereotypes of lousy cuisine in certain countries. Recently, I had a steak and mushroom pie at the Lamb & Lion pub in York, England, and it was one of the best meals I have ever enjoyed.

Or, maybe it was the numerous pints of bitters (local ale) I had to go with it.
What country has the best looking women?
Sorry, I have been married for almost 34 years. But, someone told me that the women sunbathing on the beaches of San Sebastian, Spain, are amazing. ("No dear, I wasn’t starring at that athletically-toned, well-tanned topless woman. Ow, that hurts.")

What country has the ugliest looking women?
Well, they are all less-good looking than my beautiful wife. ("Yes, dear. You are welcome. Now care to lie a little closer to me?")

If you were drunk on a plane and you knew it was about to crash, what person would you want by your side and why …..
Come on, you’re throwing me softballs. A parachute salesman with more booze, of course.

Did you always have a love of travel or did you develop your passion for traveling as you got older?
The travel bug came early. How much and to where was function of available time and money.

Also, as the decades of marriage marched on, let’s just say I get "encouragement" to travel from the wife-person.
("Yes dear, I can go visit Timbuktu. What, why go for two weeks when I can go for four?")

What impact has sanddollaradventures.wordpress.com had on your life?
Other than spending hours and hours preparing blog posts (yes, I know. I also wonder, "doing what?"), I occasionally get a blog comment that someone got a chuckle from something I wrote. After three years with the blog I realized that I wasn’t in it for the money, so any self-gratification comes from pleasuring others. (Wait, what did I just say?)

What has been the least exciting destination you’ve traveled to?
Well, any time you travel without putting in enough effort to gain a sense of place you are likely to not appreciate the trip as much.

Of course, "excitement" is often a result of when things go bad. Much of the best travel writing is capturing those, "No Shit, There I Was" moments.

What has been the most surprising destination you’ve been to? Meaning, you had a specific mindset about a certain destination but it was totally a different experience than you had imagined.
I am not fond of major capital cities and I typically do not wish to return once I have visited the obligatory landmarks. Beyond the obvious bustle, you expect less pristine conditions than you find out in the country.

But, when we were in London a couple of months ago, I was surprised how often strangers would stop and ask us if we needed help finding someplace. (And no, I did not find my wallet missing after they left.

If you had to decide which destination has been the most influential in your life, which destination would you chose?
Punta Chivato, Baja Sur, Mexico. About twenty years ago, I had the ultimate "No Shit, There I Was" adventure when I got "stuck at sea" while windsurfing in the Sea of Cortez. It took a joint air-sea rescue to haul my sorry ass back to shore. That trip gave me an appreciation to enjoy life, and especially travel.

If you could travel with any celebrity for one week, who would you chose and why?
This is an easy one. I just did it.

I got to spend my 60th birthday on a travel writing workshop, while doing a white-water raft trip on the Middle Fork of the Salmon River in Idaho, with my longtime adventure travel writing mentor/hero, Tim Cahill, along with Michael Shapiro.

If there was one particular Outside Magazine author that inspired me to travel and wish to write, it is Tim Cahill.

What advice would you give to a newbie traveler?
Put down the damn smart phone.

Sure, I travel with a carry-on full of electronics, but I think the secret to self-fulfillment is to surround yourself with an appreciation for the local life, the food, the alcohol (of course) and most important the people. If you don’t do that, you are just traveling to check off another bucket list item. You might as well stay home.

In 10 years, do you see yourself still traveling or slowing down?
Slowing down? If I slow down much more, people might mistake me for being dead.

But, while traveling is sometimes a challenge at any age, I will hopefully be doing it for another twenty or thirty years. (I apologize ahead of time to you if I am blocking the airplane or train aisle.)

Hell, help me out and I will likely buy you a beer.

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      Into the heart of the my soul.


The campfire crackled in the cool evening air alongside the banks of the swiftly flowing river, as I read out loud from my pieced together notebook pages.

I wanted to get it right.


This was less of an attempt at hitting the perfect pitch for a personal travel essay, but more my chance to say what I really thought about him.


As they say, this time it was personal.


The “him” was Tim Cahill. And the fireside reading was my final assignment of our five-day white water raft trip and writing workshop hosted by Cahill, along with the highly regarded and world recognized travel writer Michael Shapiro.



     Yes, that's a Miller High Life in my hand.

             Enjoying the high life on Johnson Peak: Michael, Owen, Tim, and Frank


You may have read the earlier piece I did immediately after the voyage. That was about the trip. This story is about my longtime love affair with the written word that both inspired me to travel the world and attempt to write about it to move others.


The following is more-or-less verbatim from my chicken-scratched handwritten river trip notebook pages. I had to interpret a few passages that were scribbled during late night insomniac writing sessions.


As you will soon see, you could call this,


  *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

             My Ode To Tim Cahill 


Our 37-minute flight from the small airport in Salmon, Idaho, had me wondering if our trip to the storied Middle Fork of the Salmon River was going to be worth it.


Or, if our trip to the River of No Return would become the trip to the river of never got there.


While a white water raft trip was ostensibly the purpose of this flight, to one of the few remaining pristine rivers in this country, the impetus for my participation was similarly, crystal clear. I was there to learn the craft of travel writing from my longtime mentor and inspiration, the legendary Tim Cahill.


But first, we had to get there.


My initial cause for concern was when I noticed that our pilot, Jerry, was drying his hands from the air vent on the ceiling of the eight-passenger Islander aircraft, just as we were cresting the 10,000-foot jagged mountain range en route.


I thought, “Wait, our pilot has sweaty palms?!?”


Thus, I began to wonder, was this trip going to be worth it?


Then came our approach to the dirt landing strip at the Indian Creek put-in. A straight path to the runway was blocked by a small stand of ponderosa pine trees, necessitating the pilot to “crab” the plane in order to avoid them.


Then, to lose sufficient altitude to land the aircraft, the pilot had to make, not one, but two, hairpin banked turns that I thought would surely leave tire tracks on the steep slopes of the river canyon walls.


Was this trip really going to be worth it?


So began our five-day journey into the depths of the Salmon River canyon and to the heart of my 30-year relationship to the writings of Tim Cahill.



     Forget Waldo, where's Frank.


Between rambunctious river runs through foaming rapids, and daily gourmet table fare prepared by our tanned, young guides with their river-honed muscles, we wannabe writers got group and—more than ever dreamed of—personal one-on-one time with the master of the evocative travel adventure personal essay genre.


Cahill created a desire in me not only to travel to far off exotic locales, but a fantasy that I might write like him and make my readers feel like he made me feel.


This goes back to the early years, when Cahill was the founding editor of the groundbreaking Outside Magazine, when quality travel adventure writing was virtually unknown between the covers of a monthly magazine.


While growing up, our family car camping trips, and later as a Boy Scout, started me down the trail of adventure travel, it was Cahill’s writing that pointed a path to see beyond simply the mechanics of the travel. Cahill shown a light that allowed me to see how those special locations were not just places on the planet, but were the secret to my soul.



                      Secrets of the river: hot water, cold beer, good friends.


During my recent rafting adventure, I endured hours of writing in the middle of the night. Tim had done such a good job of inspiring my writing, my racing brain won the battle of not allowing me—though tired from hours of white water paddling—to close my eyes and get some much needed sleep.


So, was the not-really-all-that-harrowing flight getting there still worth it?


Hell, I got to hear the statured story teller, Tim Cahill, sing William Shakespeare dialog as a country-western song after consuming two fingers of straight Bombay Sapphire gin…O.K., it was four fingers of gin.

(I would know…I poured it.)


Yeah, you’re damn right it was worth it!


(Cue thundering applause, bring up the theme music, dim the river scene and roll credits.)


  *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

Thus ended the recounting of my blessings how I spent six decades of getting to this special place in my life.


And after all that paddling, fly fishing, drinking, eating, drinking and, of course, writing, there was only one thing left to do.


      Too much fun.


Finally, here is a fantastic video of our trip put together by one of my new river friends, Mark L.


Where next, everyone?

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It’s all a matter of taste. Or, maybe in this case, smell.


There’s what attracts some folks to natural environs and others to the fast-paced urban life style.


Do you prefer your wild-life to be hairy and growl, eat gross stuff, while spending most of the time thinking about mating…


OR, would you prefer to be in the outdoors with nature?


(Didn’t see that juxtaposition coming…did ya?!?)


A few months ago, I mentioned that I would be going on a whitewater raft trip down the Middle Fork of the Salmon River in Idaho, as part of a writing seminar hosted by my longtime travel writing hero and mentor, Tim Cahill, and his trusty sidekick Michael Shapiro. (Truth be told, Shapiro kicks nobody’s side and is a venerated travel author, in his own right.)


Well, that trip is next week. Let the packing games commence.

              And this is just one of the piles to pack.

I have been fortunate enough to have met Cahill at a session of an annual, nationally-known Travel Writers Conference, which will be held this year starting on this Friday.


Cahill had me captivated.


I listened lovingly intently to his wisdom, asked vague, self-aggrandizing questions, and even sat next to him at lunch one day.


We got along famously, at least until he tired of me putting a death grip on his lower leg, as I vied for his attention.


So, it was with great anticipation when I signed up for the upcoming raft trip with Idaho River Journeys, where Cahill, along with Shapiro, will, I assume, teach us how to become world famous travel writers making millions of dollars, get interviewed by Jon Stewart and gain the adulation of wannabe travelers worldwide.


I was, as you kids say (or, at least used to) stoked.


That was just until I heard a story on NPR yesterday morning about  a group known as the Urban Rangers, who were part of a whitewater kayak trip down the Los Angeles River—where, one would assume, the white in the water would be probably caused by household detergents spewing into overloaded sewer systems, combined with a deadly mixture of industrial chemicals that might be seeping from the nearby factories.


         Just don't touch the water.


The news of this desire to go into this mostly channelized, concrete walled drainage with the idea to kayak and canoe has not flown under the radar of the mainstream media, as it was also reported in the L.A. Times.


The concept was stated as,

“An expedition along a muddy stretch of the waterway offers a glimpse into the potential recreational and environmental jewel running through the city.”


Excuse me…”environmental jewel?!?!” These people need to get out of the city more often.


Their description of the trip said,

“Awaiting them downstream were quiet pools draining into noisy chutes, strewn with shoes, clothing, shopping carts, tires and plastic bottles…. The river was running warm, greenish and, as one of the kayakers put it, smelly as old socks."


These must be some crazy-assed Angelenos looking for the latest in extreme adventure sports.


Or, at least people with a very poor sense of smell.


But, the L.A. adventure has me square in a dilemma. Which river trip to partake in and write about?


A legitimate travel writer would see an opportunity with the Urban Rangers, to create an evocative sense of a familiar activity placed in an alternative environment, while melding in the complex personal stories of an urban population desperate for a connection with a world outside of their daily lives.


I am not entirely sure what that means, but while I am floating, next week, down one of the most remote and pristine wilderness settings in the country, on fast-running water so clear it appears that you are floating, I will attempt to find out, What Would Tim Cahill Do?


         Time for my GNT (gin, no tonic)


That is, if he doesn’t remember me from the last time and insist that I stay 100 yards away from him at all times.


Cahill: “Have we met before?”


me: “Ah, no Mr.Cahill…ah…hmmm…why do you ask?”


Cahill: “Well, when I meet people they usually shake my hand…not get on their knees and grovel.”

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paraglider in sun

I would like to think myself somewhat of a global adventure traveler, but compared to these people, an indication of my typical level of risk is me getting up off the Barcalounger and walking outside to get the morning newspaper while barefoot.


Thus, I settle to live vicariously through literature and film of those that do.


For a quick fix, I will pick up one of the many travel magazines that pile up next to my aforementioned lazy-boy—with emphasis on the word “lazy”.


But, I quickly tire of the vacuous stories that are thinly veiled advertisements containing photos of models with Über perfect bodies, entirely all about the same age (about half of mine…or less), the men clothed in high-end labels and the women clothed in not much of anything. Expensive watches and jewelry are, of course, de rigueur. 


So, to experience the rigors of extreme-adventure taken by others, you might find me confined to the safety of sitting in the recliner grasping a good book. You already know about my serious man-crush on Tim Cahill, as I have followed his years of engaging and evocative prose on the subject of adventure travel.


Banff poster

As to watching adventurers in action who truly define the meaning of extreme, every year I take in the traveling Banff Mountain Film Festival when it comes to my neighborhood for a two-night stand of over-the-top, mind-numbing action adventure.


The clips are submitted by hundreds of independent film makers from which a sample gets lugged around the globe by so-called Road Warriors, who stop off at 32 countries in every corner of the planet, to be viewed by hundreds of millions of wannabe adventurers…just like me.


Many of this year’s films take the definition of extreme to, well, new extremes.


They run the gamut of the globe and at a wide range of altitudes, with crazy-scary stuff from deep underground to high above the earth.


The movie aptly named, “Into Darkness,” is about a special breed of people—and by “special breed” I mean totally whacked out of their minds—who travel four miles under the earth and crawl, shimmy, and squirm through cracks in the slimy rocks just barely bigger than their body.


True, they often discover awe-inspiring auditorium-sized caverns with amazing, multi-colored rock formations, and true, I myself have gone scuba diving through cenotes in the Yucatan of Mexico—albeit at relatively shallow depths and short distances from daylight; still…these people are certifiably crazy.


But, it makes for a great Banff film selection. Here is the trailer for the piece, but WARNING: this is not for the claustrophobic among you!


Closer to the surface, there are the two young lads who paddle across 2,000 kilometers of shark-infested, and with sometimes hurricane-like winds, high seas, in a modified sea kayak with a cabin below deck slightly bigger than a coffin.


    banff ditch boys


In a movie euphemistically titled, “Crossing the Ditch,” which is named for the body of water between Australia and New Zealand, James and Justin spent two months under extremely trying conditions and numerous challenges on their history-making adventure.


True, I have spent a month at sea on a sailboat, but in my case, there was a refrigerator with ice and chilled pineapple juice to go with my Meyers dark rum, a large bunk with a padded mattress, and a fresh water shower.


These two guys…EXTREME. (You can have a taste of their salty insanity in this short YouTube clip.)


Looking towards the stratosphere, one film chronicles and recreates the story of a young German woman, Ewa Wisnierska, who did not necessarily start out undertaking such an extreme adventure. It just took a turn in that direction.


       paragliders banff film clip


Riding on a paraglider, Wisnierska was quite literally sucked up into a massive thunderstorm cloud to the lofty, and quite inhumane altitude of over 30,000 feet. Floating peacefully along, very frozen, very much without oxygen, and very much unconsciously, she, by some miracle, survived. The movie, not surprisingly, is called Miracle In The Storm. 


paraglider cloud graphic

The team leader, in a gross understatement, is quoted as,

“We underestimated it, of course.”


No, I can’t say I have ever tried this sport. I once considered sky diving, but chickened-out and took up scuba diving, instead.


But, I have friends who are into hang-gliding, including Bill M. who has flown into cliffs…repeatedly!


Ewa…not crazy. Just unlucky. But ultimately…very, very lucky.


Regarding Bill M: does not getting the message constitute being an extreme adventurer?


Some of the Banff selections are highly comical and often quirky, and some are compellingly beautiful in showcasing far-off wildernesses.


Eastern Rises, the snarky piece about fly fishing in Kamchatka is all three.


Who knew that trout eat mice?


trout eats mouse

And how many helicopter crashes will it take to make you think twice whether certain travel adventure may be a lot more exciting than you really want.


I have taken some wild helicopter rides, like dropping instantly down, deep into the Grand Canyon, but on other occasions, I have witnessed helicopter crashes occurring right at my feet, so I tend to think two or three times before I hop in one for recreation or sport. 


Especially, ancient military surplus models.


The website for The Fly Shop has the Kamchatka trip info and a number of film clips that you can check out, but none contain the humor of the full movie, nor scenes of the untimely demise of multiple Russian MI-8 helicopters.


Finally, I would be negligent to not mention one of the “cutest” selections this year, a movie named Kranked Kids.

Think: a bunch of adolescent kids, dad’s pick-up truck, and a case of beer. What could go wrong?!?


Well, worry not. It’s a comical parody, and unfortunately, the film trailer does not really capture the whole thing, which is reason enough to look up when the traveling film tour comes to your neighborhood, or near enough for a good excuse for a road trip.


If you click on this Banff Mountain Film Festival link you can look up the festival’s worldwide venues for the rest of this year’s crop of movies. Otherwise, there is always next year.


Or, better yet, go out and film your own extreme adventure travel, and maybe you will get into next year’s selections.


That is, if you don’t kill yourself doing it.


Me? I will continue to risk my personal safety and hope that I don’t step on a jagged pebble outside my front door.

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Not me, but pretty representative.

My career in journalism started on a one-speed bicycle.


With my overburdened cloth newspaper bag draped heavily over my slumped shoulders, I peddled around my delivery domain, tossing out folded copies of the daily Oakland Tribune, while mostly avoiding those glass milk bottles sitting on the front porch.

(Yes kids, not only were the containers glass back in the day, but someone actually brought them right to your front door.)


Packing those heavy loads, seven days a week, was not as difficult as the day I had to go collect the money. I was forced to front the Tribune the money for the number of papers they provided me before I got to take my measly cut. Any non-payments came directly out of my pocket, so that low-rent motel with its weekly turnover of residents took its toll, literally.


This was in the pre-PayPal/ credit card era. One might say it taught a young, brash 14-year old responsibility and a good, old-fashioned work ethic. 

I say it just taught me the priorities of a big company, and it sure wasn’t me.


town crier


But, it did introduce me to the concept of journalism and the immediacy of getting the news out, immediacy being a relative concept.


While it wasn’t the town crier or the pony express, it sure as hell wasn’t the Huffington Post online, let alone Facebook or Twitter.


Somehow, over the intervening decades, my interest—not to say, my skills—in writing tended towards the travel genre.


Now that I have gained international publishing experience, I have even provided others with tips on becoming a successful travel writer.


Unfortunately, my delusional dreams of monetary success have not kept pace with my clearly unattainable writing goals.


A few years ago, I took an excellent course on getting published in magazines by an award-wining writer and editor based in Sacramento, by the name of Doug Herndon. While the course gave me all the tools I really needed to get going, let’s just say I have been somewhat laggard in my attempts towards being published in print magazines.


More recently, I attended the prestigious Travel Writers Conference, where I got to meet my mentor—and serious man-crush—Tim Cahill. The result of that great session was lots of inspiration and little productivity to date, on my part.


Almost a year ago, I attended a talk by Arianna Huffington on the future of print media. We all know that the Huffington Post proved the popularity of an online news site. Arianna addressed the brave new world where we all want to get everything on the internet for free. And we want it in glorious multi-media glamour. And we want it NOW.


So, not surprisingly, with our general unwillingness to pay for online content, the big mega news outlets—just like the one that used to stiff me out of a few bucks every month—have suffered majorly, forcing massive cutbacks and layoffs. The outcome of this has been multifaceted.


One aspect that caught my eye was a small bit in a recent Newsweek Magazine (also suffering financially) about the state of Kansas, where,

“The state’s Department of Education decided to stop funding high-school instruction in the subject [of journalism].”

The reason being,

“After a review of labor-market data, the state deemed journalism a dying industry unfit for public funds, which are meant for ‘high-demand, high-skill or high-wage’ jobs.”


Ouch. That hurts.


Literally on the heels of that story—as in only five days later—Forbes Magazine announced a new direction in their publishing paradigm due to dwindling personnel as a result of dramatic declines in advertising revenue.


They are euphemistically calling this new business model "entrepreneurial journalism."


Here is what that translates to:

“Forbes is constructing a vast network of bloggers, each expected to build their own personal audience and brand around a steady stream of Web postings and links to social sites like Facebook and Twitter.”


In somewhat of a gross understatement they proclaim,

“In doing so, Forbes is throwing out some of the old norms of journalism.”


By which they mean,

“Many of these bloggers won’t have any background in reporting.”

“And they won’t have a lot of immediate oversight.” [ed.- I think they used to call this editing]


This did not go without stated concerns of the current staffers;

you know, the ones who actually know how to write.


Here is what Forbes had to say regarding concerns of a potential loss of accurate, well-written news reporting,

"Quality in the [print] magazine is about craftsmanship.

On the Web, quality is different.

Quality is about timeliness, relevance, engagement.”


I guess that means, if you can’t be good, at least be fast. And talk about it online.


Well, there go my chances. I am not only not good, I am not even the least bit fast at it.


Just ask my wife how many hours I waste dedicate to my wannabe writing craft.

 Wait, that's not Rupert Murdoch

But, I am sure many of you have heard that Rupert Murdoch is here to save the day.

He just announced that News Corp has teamed with Apple to come out with an iPad-only version of a daily newspaper.


At $40 a year, we will see how many people are willing to wean themselves off of our free online content habits. If it works, there still may be hope for those interested in earning a living wage in journalism.



Now, I know it sometimes seems that I am somewhat of a Luddite on all this new technology stuff, but what I don’t understand is how will those paperboys get those iPad-thingies to fold up so they can put a rubber band on it, in order to toss it up on the front porch.


Well, at least they won’t have to avoid those fragile glass bottles of milk sitting up there. There’s always that.


And, finally, thanks to our friends over at xtranormal, here is a short video that does a great job of explaining the whole journalism dilemma. What is amazing is that, I believe, a lot of people still don’t get it.



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