I often get asked who I spend my time in the backcountry
with, to which I respond something like, “They’re older, with kids. They’re super
rad though.” And many times I get a sort of puzzling look in return; some don’t
understand why I would spend so much time with people in much different stages
of life than me, who I seemingly don’t have much in common with.
In addition to the more obvious reasons I love spending time
in the mountains – the beauty, the sense of calm, the sense of achievement when
reaching a goal, the grandeur – there are reasons maybe even more close to my
heart. As anyone who spends time in the backcountry knows, the partners with
whom you spend this time are of great importance. These people are partners you
form relationships with that transcend the strains of “normal” friendships,
or otherwise put, the ones that manifest in more typical societal circumstances. They can also influence the entire experience of the outdoors, and for me this
experience is why I desire to carve this time into my daily life as often as
It may be selfish to admit, but I’m picky about with whom I
choose to spend my time in the mountains. Although fitness is an obvious and
important quality, it’s not the only necessary one. Often backcountry skiing
means spending A LOT of time around a select few people, and often this time
might be mentally and physically taxing, or involve high-stakes
decision-making. For blatant reasons, in these moments I want to be surrounded
by people with a calm and collected demeanor who can navigate these situations
with a sense of grace and who will also help ease my own anxieties. They need
to be knowledgeable, or at the very least, curious to continue learning.
But there’s more. They also need to be lighthearted – a lot
can go wrong in the mountains and my partners need to be able to laugh with me
(or sometimes at me) when one of us makes a mistake or does something comical.
They must be humble – an ego is really never welcome in the mountains. There are so many instances when we
must accept our fully human qualities and realize that we are in the presence
of a much bigger spirit – Mother Nature – who will always overrule us. And they
have to be able to give me a confidence that will propel me along on the most
strenuous of adventures, even when I’ve lost sight of it myself. Ultimately, I
must be able to trust them with my most coveted strength and simultaneous
weakness, my vulnerability.
The people I ski with are former bike racers and
triathletes, they’re super-moms, they’re World Champion adventure racers,
they’re hunters and photographers. Sometimes they’re even kids. This past
season I had the pleasure of skiing with Mac, at the ripe age of 13. And when I
say skiing, I mean ski mountaineering. I watched this kid slay the Sickle with
more grace than most of us, and I guarantee he’s already skied more classic
lines than most people who will read this. I know that when I tell people I
sometimes go into the backcountry and tackle big goals with a 13-year old, they
assume that it’s dangerous, not as fun, more work, and probably slightly annoying.
But Mac has the right attitude, carries his own gear, laughs his way down a fun
descent, and grits out the long days with a smile – usually ahead of me, I
might add. In the end, it really doesn’t matter that he’s more than a decade
younger than me.
What I love is that all my ski partners have different
careers, different paths, and different strengths and weaknesses. But a common
adoration of being in the backcountry, all together, creates a friendship
stronger than most I have encountered in my short life. And who knows, maybe
Mac and I will be invaluable ski partners to each other down the road when his
parents are no longer skiing with us. The idea that such a passion has
allowed me to meet people I may never have otherwise known, brings my heart great joy, and I’m always
grateful for their teachings and friendship each day I get the chance to spend
All photos taken by Adam Wirth and Michael Tobin. Checkout www.alpineuntracked.com in my Friends and Inspiration tab for more stories and photos!
Last week I found myself laying in my sleeping bag in my own personal tent surrounded by 99 other mountain bikers in their own personal tents at a campground somewhere near Oakridge, Oregon. Each one of us was there to experience the Pacific Northwest riding that is featured in every bike company’s product release videos as well as the party and good vibes that Trans-Cascadia has earned a reputation for since it started two years ago.
To be honest, I didn’t really know what I was in for. I have spent most of my mountain-biking life in Idaho riding our dry, loose, sometimes rocky trails. I’ve also ridden in places like Moab and Fruita, better known for their technical terrain. And I spend my fair share of time riding and racing skinny tire bikes as well. So I figured, I’ll be fine, right? I’m basically just going to a big camping and riding party with a bunch of rad people who also love to shred, eat delicious food and enjoy a few libations.
Well yes, but not exactly. Trans-Cascadia is a “blind” enduro race, meaning that the stages and transfers of the next day are only announced to us the night before. Blind is one thing, but if you’ve never ridden the steep, rooty, loamy, rocky (and everything in between) terrain of the PNW, blind is a bit of an understatement. I started off the first 2 stages on Day 1 getting to know the feel of this amazing dirt, testing out just how hard I could lay it down in the corners and pushing my speed, just a little bit. Then Stage 3 happened. The following is my internal monologue as I descended the 3,194 ft and 3.7 miles of Eula Ridge:
Clip in, pedal, pedal, pedal, shift up, shift up shift up, pedal. Alright, I’m starting to get the hang of this. Let’s push the pace a little. This is SO sick! Loam is everything I ever imagined it to be! Oh sh** I just came way too close to clipping that tree. That could have been bad. Alright, focus. Stay loose. SHIT. BRAKE. Brake more. Woah, that is a corner and I literally almost just launched all the way off it. Okay, slowly turn your bike all the way around. Clip in, pedal, pedal. Get back up to speed. Dammit! Again? What are these hairpin turns that keep almost killing me? Awkwardly get completely off bike, turn it around 180 degrees. Get back on, clip in. Pedal, pedal. Okay when is the next one of those things coming up? Here it is. Brake a little, unclip inside foot. Look around the turn, weight forward, roll through. SICK. I made it. That was so enduro. Clip in, pedal pedal. Holy crap this place is beautiful. No, stop looking around. Focus on the trail ahead. Shit I think my fingers are permanently glued to the brakes. When did it get so steep? My back tire is fully locked up. What if I stop losing traction in the front too? I’m literally not going to be able to stop. My weight cannot be back any further. Yep, that was my tire that just rubbed my butt. I’m practically just skiing down these loose rocks on a bike. Is this how its supposed to feel? Over the handle bars. F***! I saw that coming. Get up. Bike looks fine. Get back on. No, sh**. It’s way too steep, I can’t even start rolling here. Okay pickup bike and run. Just like cyclocross? Oh god, I can’t even run down this. Is this an enduro race or a downhill race? Awkwardly slide down on two feet using bike as a crutch. Jump back on bike. Thank god, a little flowy section. You know how to do this. There’s the finish tape! Finally! Wait, no! Don’t look at that, eyes on the trail. Roots, lots of roots. And off camber roots? Slam awkwardly into root, lose all momentum. Jump off bike. Carry it through off camber rooty section and through the finish. *Sigh*. What in the hell was that? Wait, am I okay? I crashed pretty hard. Oh… there’s a nice cut on my shin and some blood dripping. Oh well. That was f****** epic!!
Not every stage went like Stage 3, but each one had its unique qualities and every single one was a muddy, loamy, rooty blast beyond belief. If you want to read more about the rowdy time that Trans-Cascadia was (or see some rad videos) click here.
*Cover Image by Chris Hornbecker
This past fall my brothers and I felt the urge to have a mini siblings adventure. We found ourselves driving down a long dirt road, deep into the Salmon River Mountains past abandoned mining towns into the peaceful light reflecting from golden, fall foliage.
The air was unbelievably crisp and clean, the familiar brisk breeze blowing through the yellow leaves was the only sound for miles. There is something calming about fall and witnessing the transition from warm summer months and long days to the harsher conditions that are soon to be winter’s cold temperatures and fewer hours of sunlight. It is as if nature is quietly at work, preparing itself for the months to come.
We witnessed a group of horse packers, diligently and beautifully making their way down the trail. I am unsure whether they were on their way to setup a long term hunting camp or had some other reason for carrying so many supplies into the wilderness.
With no sense of urgency, we walked down a trail following the river. It weaved through an impressive canyon and through sections of forest where the sun would shine through in perfect beams of light. Despite the quiet, critters were everywhere, going about their private lives. We saw mountain goats, caterpillars, birds, even a black bear startled by our footsteps in the dark.
Eventually, we found our way to the Upper Loon hot springs where there were multiple hot pools and hot springs cascading from the rocks above. We let time escape us and ended up walking out in the dark, telling jokes and singing songs to let our bear friends know we were near.