A 2017 Summer Recap: What's to Come

As the sun filled days of 90+ degree heat began to wane and thin, I figured I might as well update my blog for a few reasons. The first being that I have a new website, same url and all, but a new design none the less and I'm quite happy with it. The second reason being to recap the 2017's summer activities that occurred. And the third? I'll be outlining my goals for this upcoming 2017/2018 year and updating the few people that'll read this on whats going on in my life.

Summer 2017 (May - August)

To say the least, this past summer flew by and dragged on all at the same time. I began working at the Patagonia store in Boulder, Colorado and started photographing things a whole lot more. During my first few weeks out of school, I flew home to Davenport, IA for my sisters graduation/graduation party from high school. While at home I met up with one of my buddies Kyle Dietz, who runs trails for Under Armour, and simply realized that if you have a mullet, you're bound to run faster than others. Spent an afternoon in the scorching heat photographing one of his track workouts while he wore WAY too much spandex. 

Mullet Man aka Kyle Dietz runs towards the moon in Davenport, IA.

Mullet Man aka Kyle Dietz runs towards the moon in Davenport, IA.

Upon returning home, I drove to Vail, CO to photograph the Vail Go Pro Mountain Games, specifically the IFSC Bouldering World Cup. While the heat was high, so was the stoke. Throughout my years as a teen, I watched the world cups religiously, always fascinated by the sheer super human power that some of the competitors possessed. This World Cup was no different. 

Chon Jongwon (South Korea) celebrates after completing the final boulder problem to secure him the win at IFSC Bouldering World Cup Vail.

Chon Jongwon (South Korea) celebrates after completing the final boulder problem to secure him the win at IFSC Bouldering World Cup Vail.

The next few weeks consisted of everything from spontaneous backpacking trips with friends to getting into alpine climbing with co-workers. I climbed higher and ran more than I have in previous years and just absolutely loved it. One of the most memorable experiences from this summer was doing a big 1,100 ft climb up in Rocky Mountain National Park, my first real climb that surpassed 500ft. It definitely got me thinking about completing some larger objectives in the upcoming year such as The Diamond and maybe something in the Black Canyon of Gunnison, Colorado.

Riding the wave of climbing, I headed off to Lander, Wyoming to photograph the International Climbers Festival. Let me just put this out there. If you're ever in Wyoming or within a 5-6 hour drive, head to the festival. The week was full of great people, great climbing, great music, and even better beer. From the amazing clinics that were put on, to the pro talks that were given throughout the event, there was never a lull moment. I was lucky enough to stay with a killer crew of previous CU grads that housed me for the week.

Tommy Caldwell cruises up Bobcat Logic (5.12C) in Wild Iris, Wyoming.

Tommy Caldwell cruises up Bobcat Logic (5.12C) in Wild Iris, Wyoming.

After the climbing festival in Wyoming, I headed back to Boulder with no real plan for the rest of the summer. A weird thing then occurred... I started getting into trail running. Since I moved to Boulder two years ago, I would run once or twice every two weeks, nothing serious, just enough activity to keep my aerobic rate up. Then came this summer and I started running a bit more, putting in around 10 - 12 miles a week on the trail. Once I was home from Lander, I started hitting 20-25 miles a week with around 4000-6000ft of elevation gain. I'd always loved the idea of trail running but just never had the motivation to go out consistently. Maybe it was the Salomon Running episodes or the challenge of pushing my limits, but I kind of fell in love with it. Which leads me to the next section of this article; objectives for the year.

Evan Valencia mid-run up South Arapaho Peak in Indian Peaks Wilderness.

Evan Valencia mid-run up South Arapaho Peak in Indian Peaks Wilderness.

Objectives

This summer, I came to realize that I don't think I've been making the most of my time here in Colorado. Sure, I get out and climb either indoors or outdoors about four times a week, run trails another four times a week, camp around five to seven days a month, and hike around the front range trails a good bit. But to me, that seems like a typical existence here in Boulder, Colorado. While it's a great time and I recognize how lucky I am to be here, I do feel as if I'm missing out on something. Not any physical thing, but more of a sense of fulfillment and an eagerness to see what I'm capable of. That is why this year I'll be attempting some things out of my comfort zone, seeing how far I can not only push my body but also push my creativity through photography and filmmaking.

Since June, I've been on sort of a training schedule. The increase in running, climbing, and participation in strength workouts have been means to prepare for this fall and winter. The goal for this fall is begin to hop on some larger alpine climbs. Taller, longer, more committing walls. Eventually after another two seasons or so, I hope to begin to try my hand at some mixed climbing, with goals of getting into winter climbing. However, thats a bit further. For this winter, I wish to begin the quest of skiing off of some of the Colorado 14ers, getting on some steeper and narrower stuff throughout the state, and trying my hand at more ski mountaineering. While doing this, I plan on attempting to get better at my craft of photography as well. I've always found photographing winter sports extremely tasking due to the variable conditions and brining extra weight into the backcountry, however, I aim to improve on working in those environments.

Now this next goal is kind of the main one for the upcoming year. While it is still far off, I need to have it in writing in a pubic place (such as the internet) so that I don't back out of it. Come next summer, I plan on running a 50 mile trail race. Just typing those words makes me laugh and twinge with fear. The longest race I've ran is a 5k, granted I've ran up to 15 miles in a day, but 50 miles is pretty dang long. I figure with running more in the fall & spring and ski touring a large amount this winter, I'll hopefully be prepared by summer. Also for this fall, an idea is brewing to run the Rim to Rim to Rim (R2R2R) of the Grand Canyon.

My final objective is to actually update this blog consistently. Ideally, I'll be writing more articles and creating small updates throughout the month. I believe this will actually be the hardest task...

THE COLLEGE ROAD TRIP

NOVEMBER 17TH, 2016. COLORADO.

Snow. Lots of it. It seemed to be just our luck. After an oddly long dry spell here in the front range of Colorado, Mother Nature reared her head in familiarly beautiful way. Blanketing every surface in a thick coat, making all things appear nearly four inches taller.

That morning I packed my girlfriend’s car full of the gear we’d need over the next ten days. Sleeping bags? Check. Crash pad? Check. Boots, Puffies, and PBR? Check.

Nearly two months ago, my girlfriend, Kayla Williams, and I planned out a road trip during our college’s thanksgiving break. The idea was to drive from our home in Boulder, Colorado to Redlands, California, the place where she grew up. Along the way, we strove to hit as many National Parks as we could, climbing and hiking until our bodies begged for a quick nap in the back of Kayla’s pickup.

That pickup’s name is Riley, Riley The Truck. A 2003 Chevy S10 coated in a matte brown paint. During the summer of 2016, we schemed up the idea of a car we could camp in after days of climbing, skiing, and hiking. Thus, Riley was born. The topper that fits her rear end is full of scratches from an accident the previous owner was in, and after a few heavy snow and rainstorms, we learned she was equipped with leaks as well. Plywood extends across the back, held up a few support beams that give the framework to our climbing and skiing storage areas. An Ikea mattress covers the wood grain of the plywood, while our sleeping bags cover us.

As we drove through the freshly snow covered canyons of 1-70, we expected the worst. A massive winter storm, the first one of the year, was predicted to fall directly on our route to Moab, Utah. Sadly for us, the meteorologists were finally right for once. But we pushed on, full of ambition and the drive to see new terrain. As we chugged up the canyon, cars were pulled over every few miles, most of them seeming as if they hadn’t expected that much snow to fall. Go figure, nobody entirely trusts the meteorologists here.

We were lucky. Within ten minutes of crossing through the Vail Pass, the Colorado Department of Transportation closed the road. As the night longed on, we longed to reach our campsite outside Moab. Arriving around midnight, we pulled off onto a Bureau of Land Management road, setting up camp on a well established site. Off to bed we went, mentally exhausted from the weather and driving combination.

NOVEMBER 18TH, 2016. MOAB, UTAH.

I opened my eyes after realizing my entire right side was freezing. That was the morning I learned to cover the exposed metal in the back of the truck with a blanket before falling asleep. After rubbing the moisture off the windows, I got my first glimpse of the Utah desert. Stumbling out of the back of the truck, I was treated to a beautiful palette of colors in both the sky and the land. Having never visited the desert, the idea of red dirt had always made sense to me but seeing it in person just blew my mind.

As I made breakfast on the tailgate of Riley, Kayla came out to join me. We cooked our cheap oatmeal and topped it with crasins from our family sized bag. Laying the crash pad on the ground, we leaned up against the wheel well of Riley and were treated to a beautiful sunrise. The desert colors lined up with colors of the sky, basking everything the sun’s rays touched in a surreal orange and pink haze. After working on some post-breakfast homework, we packed up our camp and headed to Arches National Park.

Kayla had visited plenty of National Parks when she was younger, constantly traveling through the west with her family. I, on the other hand, had never even visited one. The most federally managed land I had ever been exposed to was the national forests of the Rockies with my family. Passing through them as we drove every year to Steamboat, Colorado in search of deep snow and beautiful blue bird days.

Driving through the maze of mesa’s, I was struck with a sense of wonder. This was the land that I had grown up staring at through means of photographs from Patagonia and The North Face catalogs. Standing out in the vast desert, it was almost as if I could hear Edward Abbey’s quotes from Desert Solitaire in the wind. We made our way to Delicate Arch and hiked up before the crowds managed to get there. Surreal.

Leaving the park was difficult for me, but we had only ten days so our time was sadly limited. I wasn’t too worried however, I’ve always heard the desert draws you back. And off we went, traveling to Nevada and camping in a location that we were directed to by street signs littered with bullet holes.

NOVEMBER 19TH, 2016. NEVADA.

We hit the road, driving through the barren Nevada landscape. Old abandoned buildings were scattered through the desert, only made visible by the brightly colored spray paint that covered their dust soaked walls and the trash that had accumulated around their edges. In a way, it was beautiful.

We stopped for lunch and a shower on the side of the road. Granted, the shower was freezing and we had malfunctions while cooking some eggs but it was well worth it. Piece of advice, if you make sure the skillet is on a flat surface, you won’t end up with a stove covered in egg whites.

To the Sierra Nevada’s we headed, setting course for Yosemite National Park. However our plans were soon corrected by Mother Nature once again. Another storm was traveling across the west, shutting down the direct passes into Yosemite. Disappointed and tired from a long day of traveling, we drove north towards Lake Tahoe, hoping to drive through the one pass that was still open. As the elevation grew so did the weather. Winds bustled down the mountain pass, blinding us as the snow came at the car from multiple directions. After a stressful drive, we arrived in Yosemite only to find that every single campsite was full. Go figure, we should have expected that. So we did the second best thing, we camped in the back of a hotel parking lot.

NOVEMBER 20TH, 2016. YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK.

We secured a site the next morning in the Upper Pines campground and headed out to get some bouldering in outside of Camp 4. Although we couldn’t climb trad due to our lack of gear, we managed to scramble up some Boulders throughout the afternoon.

For me this was a pretty big deal. As a kid, my bedroom walls were plastered with images I’d cut out from assorted outdoor magazines. Waking up next to images of Yosemite everyday kind of instills a weird obsession in you, especially if you’re from Iowa. Walking, let alone climbing in a place with this much history brought upon a feeling of deep respect for those who had scaled the exposed granite faces of the canyon. Not to mention, Adam Ondra was currently nearing the top of the Dawn Wall, so that was pretty cool.

We spent the final hours of sunlight resting by the fire, enjoying our dinner as the rain came spitting down on us. Full from pasta, s'mores, and beer, we climbed into the camper and fell asleep, unaware of the tiny water droplets collecting on the inside of our topper from the semi-constant rain.

NOVEMBER 21ST, 2016. SEQUOIA NATIONAL PARK.

Waking up to a crisp, clear morning in Yosemite was a treat. After enjoying a late breakfast, we set out to to explore the park for a few more hours before heading to Sequoia National Park.

The drive to the sequoia’s was quick and easy, pulling into a campground during a beautiful sunset wasn’t a bad way to end our day of traveling. If I recall correctly, we were hit again with rain, but that didn't stop Kayla’s slight obsession with charring the s'mores that made up about half of our dinner. We rested that night in Riley, listening to Jack Johnson as the rain thudded on the topper’s almost waterproof roof.

NOVEMBER 22ND, 2016. SEQUOIA NATIONAL PARK.

Giants. Unbelievably huge. Up until the point where we physically saw the sequoia's, I had assumed they’d be large trees. Mixed into the climbing and skiing magazines that were plastered to my childhood room, a National Geographic poster was hung, outlining the differences of redwoods and sequoias. The poster stated their average heights and ages, but the numbers were nothing in comparison to the trees. The idea of a singular plant living and thriving for that long was just surreal to me. I’m still at a loss of words.

As we walked through the groves of sequoia’s, we felt humbled by the presence of these towering giants. Due to the early nature of our arrival into the park, we were some of the only people on the trails. Thus we began to yell, listening to our echoes as they slingshotted from tree to tree and back into the beautiful silence that filled the forest.

NOVEMBER 22ND - NOVEMBER 25TH. REDLANDS, CALIFORNIA.

Asides from traveling to the beautiful parks system, our main goal was to get back to Kayla’s home in Redlands, California for Thanksgiving. During our stay we managed to wake up for a sunrise hike up Zanja Peak, travel to Malibu for some amazing food, and relax while we geared up for another cross country trip. Not to mention, we also picked up some of Patagonia Provision’s Long Root Ale for the road. It definitely lived up to the hype.

I had visited California a few times before, but it was typically with my family. Traveling around and actually experiencing California with a local like Kay was pretty eye opening.

NOVEMBER 26TH, 2016. ZION NATIONAL PARK.

Packing up the car the morning of the 26th brought upon the excitement of the road once again. The nerves of traveling cross country began to appear, only to be confronted with copious amounts of coffee. As we said our goodbyes, we headed east, towards the Nevada desert.

Landing in Zion National Park in the evening, we only had an hour in the park due to the lack of sun. However that one hour was filled with beautiful sunset, which is even better when it’s paired with a beautiful girlfriend.  We promised each other while driving through the park that we’d come back sometime soon to spend a bit more time in the Zion.

Driving out of the park and up a Bureau of Land Management road, we pulled off atop a beautiful mesa. We set up camp and started the fire with only the distant sounds of coyotes yipping at us from across the canyon. The stars began to fill the empty sky, treating us to a beautiful scene as we listened to the University of Colorado vs. University of Utah football game on a static filled AM radio frequency. That was a perfect night.

NOVEMBER 27TH, 2016.

A perfect night followed by a painful morning. My alarm filled the topper with an overly aggressive sound, jolting us awake at four in the morning. The night was a restless one due to the gusts of wind that continually slammed the side of Riley, shaking the truck in every way possible. This was our time to head out on the road, back to Boulder, all in a rush to beat a massive snow storm that was brewing in the rockies.

I took the first driving shift, downing my coffee and then Kayla’s too as soon as she fell back asleep in the passenger seat. Through the Utah desert and to the rockies we went, stopping only for gas and much needed quesadillas. Conveniently we were able to make it through the mountains with clear roads and blue skies. If we hadn’t left at four in the morning, it may have been a different story.

Finally Boulder was in sight. It was a miracle. Nothing had really gone wrong. The truck was in the same condition as when we had left, just a little smelly, kind of like Kay and I. As we pulled into the Boulder bubble, a sense of sadness came over me. I didn’t want to finish this road trip. I had fallen in love with the beautiful landscapes of the west that we saw together. Despite the sadness, I knew we’d be back one day. Hell, we live out on the edge of those wild lands, it’s essentially our backyard.

THE TRUE BEAUTY OF THE WILD

"Wilderness is not a luxury but a necessity of the human spirit, and as vital to our lives as water and good bread" - Edward Abbey (1927-1989)

All humans have their own ways to deal with things. There are people who watch television to relax, sing in the shower to think, and some that listen to death metal music to relieve stress (how that works still confuses me, but to each their own). These ways are not right nor are they wrong, they're simply the ways those specific people deal with things, and like opinions, they're unique to those individuals.

Personally for me, none of those things work. I don't really like death metal, my singing in the shower usually consists of bad alternative rock covers, and we don't have cable in my apartment so television is out of the question. And for years I struggled with not having a way to relieve my stress and truly be myself. 

For a time I thought photography was what really made my stress and headaches of the everyday world disappear. However I soon found that not to be entirely true. Instead I began to realize that the only times I felt completely at ease was when I was photographing things in the outdoors. Thus I came to the very non-scientific conclusion that the outdoors was something that helped my physical, mental, and spiritual state in more ways than I can express through words. And I don't feel alone in this, I actually feel as if many people can relate to that as well.

"Wilderness is not a luxury but a necessity of the human spirit, and as vital to our lives as water and good bread" Edward Abbey (1927-1989)

While the importance of the outdoors does rival my love for good bread, especially fresh sour dough, I believe that good ol' Ed truly was on to something. When you're sitting at home on your computer, phone, or maybe even a typewriter, if you're into that hipster thing, you can't help but feel a little disconnected. Sure in a sense we are more connected to people today than ever before via social media, however we are also less connected. Less connected in the sense that most people truly don't know what it's like to be away from the modern appliances, social media, and the ever growing amazon prime receipt that's hiding on your desk.

The beauty of the wilderness is that it makes you realize that none of that stuff actually matters. The wild will make you discover who you truly are, in the most beautiful or screwed up ways possible. Being in nature provides a sense of clarity, love, and happiness that I haven't been able to find anywhere else.

To be outside, in nature, is to go back to our human roots. The roots that many people have forgotten in the past decades, the ones that I fear may soon be lost forever. And it truly saddens me when I meet a person who hasn't woken up on the ground of a forest covered in dew or at the base of a mountain in an ice covered tent and experienced that slight chill that occurs when you realize that you're nothing but small. When you grasp the concept that you're of minor importance compared to the ancient trees, the old mountains, or the deep rivers. It gives you a kind or perspective that can immediately kill the stress that was on your mind and let you live in that moment of pure bliss. 

To close your eyes, listening to the deep rumble of the distant storms brewing across the plains. To smell fresh glacial water rushing through the eroded canals of rivers and streams. To feel the new fallen snow on your face on an early December morning. To just take a moment, just be there, away from anything and everything, and realize that the wild can mean so much in the simplest of ways.

To say the least, that is why I truly love the outdoors and I will try and pass on my passion to the future generations to come.