Category Archives: Outdoors

Ben And Travis Send The Nose In A Day

Meanwhile, all I’ve done this summer is fly over Yosemite.

In a jet.

Even from there, it looked pretty cool. I couldn’t see these guys from my vantage point 20,000 feet in the air, though, and since they did this a month ago and I flew over Yosemite this weekend and I cannot see back in time when I fly in a plane, we are fortunate that they brought a camera and filmed their exploits.

Yes. You should watch their videos. And probably start doing some pushups in the morning.

Bears! Part 1. Watch it all. Be patient. Don’t skip around.

Bears! Part 2. Ben and Travis recall the past few hours of their day.

El Capitan. “Aid climbing sucks. Aid climbing really sucks bad.”

The Nose In A Day. Travis talks, ten hours into the climb.

The Nose In A Day. Pitch 25. 1:00 in the morning. Spirits low.

The Nose In A Day. Summit. Daylight. Delirium.

Astroman. “That fall is terrifying. And I’ve taken it five times.”

Fairview Dome Attempt. “This is Kill-Ben-And-Travis Weather.”

Urban Excursion

You can tell a lot about a neighborhood in San Francisco based on how frequently they need to clean the streets. While biking around Sea Cliff today in a super-ritzy part of town I noticed that they have scheduled street cleanings twice a month.

My street? Three times a week.

I went for another bike ride today, starting out towards SoMa then up Embarcadero into Fisherman’s Wharf. I took lunch at the In-N-Out Burger, based on its legendary status in certain enclaves. A number of folks from WWDC were haunting the joint, along with perhaps the rest of humanity. Tables were scarce, and people were hunched over their claim hissing at passersby who would dare wrest it from their filthy clutches. I stood and waited for fifteen minutes in that awful purgatory between “In” and “Out”, getting jostled and manhandled by every other packet of flesh in the joint. That’s the thing about cities. No matter where you are, someone else always wants to occupy the space that you are taking up.

As for the burger? Not very good. The fries have promise, being truly potato-based in origin, but mine were as though they had been dipped in tepid oil and set to soak through their paper basket.

I continued on my journey, stopping at the Palace of Fine Arts on my way to the Golden Gate Bridge. I crossed over this time around, buffeted by strong winds for the entire length, and got to witness firsthand the circus that is the parking lot at the north overlook. I crossed back and continued west to Land’s End, a decidedly classy locale where a woman with a solid gold tooth asked if I could point her to the nearest restroom.

I dropped in at Seal Rocks and headed south past the Cliff House, and swung back east through the south edge of Golden Gate Park. Following my usual route I went out through the Panhandle, and took the Wiggle to Sanchez to Delores Park. It was here that the jeans got noticeably tighter, the keys began dangling on carabiners clipped to belt loops, and the U-locks were safely stowed in the left back pocket. I spun down Valencia and was soon hauling my (beautiful, lightweight) bicycle up to our third-floor flat.

All in all it was probably a 25-mile bike ride, and I’m hoping I slathered myself with enough sunscreen to stave off any further burns. My arms are peeling like crazy after last week’s ride, and everywhere I go I leave a disgusting trail of skin in my wake.

Kate noted how funny it was, that I had to move to one of the biggest cities in the country to become active in the outdoors again.

I Enjoy Myself

Today I saw a gal riding a bicycle in high heels. “How did that work out for her?” you might ask. The answer is apparently not well at all, as her right ankle was all scabbed and bandaged up.

I hope she said yes.

I biked out to Ocean Beach this afternoon via Golden Gate Park, and spent some quality time in the Botanical Garden. It’s truly a beautiful, remarkable place, all split up in worldly biomes that let you trot the continents without leaving your skinny jeans and All-Stars. Really, it was the orange construction fences, road cones, weed whackers and front-end loaders that made it such an enlightening experience. I don’t know where I would have been without the delightful serenade of heavy machinery in reverse.

Gah. You ever wear the coat of sarcasm for so long that you don’t know how to shrug out of it? No really, I loved the Botanical Garden. The redwood forest was almost spiritual, with its cool damp air, soft mossy ground and towering trees. The garden even features all sorts of fun, interactive exhibits:

Poison Oak

Some of which border on the truly ludic:


All in all I biked about 17 miles today. It’s reassuring how quickly I’ve been able to abandon that bullshit graduate school lifestyle and instantly reengage with my formerly active self. It gives me hope that if I can endure one more year of satisfying the sedentary demands of academia, I can actually enjoy being myself again.


Three weeks ago, I packed up my Subaru and left Minneapolis in one heck of a hurry. It was Monday, we had just been socked by a winter storm over the weekend, and another one was forecasted to hit on Tuesday. Thus, making it back to Bloomington in a timely fashion required that I gracefully duck between competing storm systems. Just as when I drove to Minneapolis for winter break. Just as when we drove to Madison for Thanksgiving.

My plans in Bloomington were about as time-sensitive as they were ambitious. As soon as I arrived home I placed myself under house arrest and spent the next two days writing and typing. Indeed, twelve hours a day I did nothing but write, drink green tea, and draw down the already-vanquished stores of our refrigerator.

Today we learned that all our hard work finally paid off. Our extended abstract paper for the CHI 2009 Student Design Competition got accepted, and we will be presenting at the CHI conference in Boston this April. We spent the bulk of last semester working on this project, and after a series of fits and starts and upsets came upon the idea for WattBot, an energy usage feedback monitor for the home. Enormous thank yous and shout outs to everyone who helped make this possible.

Meanwhile, this semester is off to a strong start. In one class we’re working on designing a new wayfinding/wayshowing system for downtown Bloomington, and in another class we’re getting all philosophical about what “experience” actually means in the context of HCI. I’m also taking a typography class in the School of Fine Arts that continues to blow my mind every day. We sketch letter forms and talk about counters and tittles and finials, and bask in the glow of 46 new Gothams. Tomorrow we will start working in the type shop with real mechanical type, and I will probably pee my pants the first time I open a California Job Case.

On the weekend Kate and I have gotten out hiking at McCormick’s Creek State Park and Brown County State Park, and we are duly impressed with the quality of outdoors available in Indiana. There is some beautiful country tucked into this state, and kudos to Indiana for doing such a wonderful job maintaining their parks and trails. Indeed, we will vehemently defend this bluff country from any west coast douche bag who wants to talk smack.

UPDATE: Yup, it is just a coincidence. Our proposed WattBot system is by no means affiliated with Wattbot, a home energy advisor that is available for realz!


Indiana University is as beautiful as all get-out, and I’m as stoked as hell to be here. This morning I meandered through a campus shrouded in fog, weaving between beautiful limestone buildings and cool, soothing forests.

Tiny streams flow across campus, cutting through the soft soil and spilling over the hard layers of native limestone in small waterfalls. There are arching stone bridges and wooden pathways. On these walks, surrounded by towering oaks and maples, I sometimes feel like I’m closer to Ihduhapi than I am to Bloomington. The cicadas and humidity lend credibility to this illusion.

I’m sitting here now in the South Lounge of the Student Union, a confused and sprawling maze that is at any point a museum, study lounge, hotel and food court. The university swag store is in a cathedral, with soaring arched ceilings and thick exposed timbers. On one floor, which so far I have only been able to reach by taking an outside stairway, there is a piece of wood in a glass case that no doubt has some historical significance. Two floors below that is a pool hall and a bowling alley.

South Lounge is an old and ornate room, done up with a squeaky wooden floor and wood paneling, stone arches and chandeliers. Belle and Sebastian echoes softly from the Starbucks next door, and the morning sunlight filters in through a bank of arched windows.

They didn’t get everything right. The hallways of Ballantine Hall smell like must and pee, while the library is a windowless hulking mass that is unaffectionately referred to as the Triscuit. Kate’s building looks like gymnasium.

Nevertheless, it’s all about finding your environment and occupying spaces that inspire you. There’s still plenty more here to explore, and I love what I’ve found so far.


So. My kiteboarding photography is going to be featured in the next issue of Sports Northwest magazine, perhaps even on the cover. I must say, however, that the current cover will be a tough act to follow:

Maybe I can convince Mike to get a bikini wax and pose with his new kites.


It’s been over a week since I watched Into The Wild, and the convolutions of my brain are still busy processing it. I was prepared to be consumed by a brilliant fire of jealousy, but in the end I was completely blindsided by the familiarity of the story. The parallels between our journeys, our desires to seek out new adventures, I realized that the differences between our individual experiences were only a matter of degree.

I am drawn to the story of Christopher McCandless not because it represents the extreme, but because it represents the familiar. As Krakauer states in his foreword, “…were it not for one or two seemingly insignificant blunders, he would have walked out of the woods in August 1992 as anonymously as he had walked into them in April.” Though our paths were different, I believe McCandless and I pursued them for similar reasons, with similar philosophies and a similarly intense passion for life.

When they showed Emile Hirsch traveling through the Pacific Northwest, tromping around Sahalie Falls and McKenzie Pass, I felt a slight tinge as my life twisted in and amongst this work of fictionalized non-fiction. These are all places that I myself have visited, and at times while watching the movie it felt as though I was witnessing my own journey through the landscape.

While I haven’t enjoyed nearly the hardscrabble life as McCandless, I do have friends scattered throughout the world who are living out similar experiences. From squatting at Camp 4 and sneaking half-eaten meals from tourists, to shoveling snow at the South Pole, to spending a sleepless month exploring Alaska, my friends make it clear that McCandless is not alone in giving his middle finger to conventional living.

I’m currently rereading Into The Wild, and I find that Krakauer paints the story in a very eerie, very chilling light. In the movie, Sean Penn has made a great effort to capture that passion for life, that mighty yawp of existence that all who knew McCandless say he possessed. To that end, what Eddie Vedder has done is magic in its purest form, and the soundtrack for Into The Wild resonates to the very marrow of my soul.


After finishing some client work this evening I intended on watching Into The Wild, which just arrived from Netflix. For ten years it has been one of my favorite books (its challengers include Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and The Rand McNally U.S. Road Atlas) and I have to admit I was a little bit apprehensive to watch the movie.

My nerves about it are prickly not because of the usual “OMG they better not ruine mine favorite Book!!1!” but because I’m afraid of what I might find out about myself. You see, aside from the whole “starving to death in the wilderness” thing (which I’ll admit has a fair amount of romance to it), I want to be Alexander Supertramp.

At least, I used to want to.

Or do I still?

My post-collegiate path has been a winding one, both of place and of being. The spring I graduated from college I skipped my graduation ceremony so I could leave Minnesota and start driving to Oregon just one day sooner. I loaded up all my worldly possessions in the Green Dragon Wagon, not knowing if I would be gone for three months or three years. In the end, I worked as a windsurfing grunt until I ran out of summer, a snowboard instructor until I ran out of unbroken legs, and a web designer until I ran out of Vicodin.

I stayed in Oregon for two years and lived in two towns, moving back and forth between them until I moved back to Minnesota to work as a wilderness guide. I took an eight-day Wilderness First Responder course. I met someone lovely. I spent three months growing a beard and living in the woods. That fall, my reintroduction to civilization involved getting choked up over such amenities as toothpaste and ice water.

The following summer I did it all again, only this time I was joined by someone lovely. I grew a beard. I stomped through Yellowstone for twenty days with five guys and three mohawks. That fall I moved back to Oregon as my love traveled all over the Western United States, living outside and learning about land rights and trying not to freeze to death. We reunited that December, though she was kind of freaked out that I had shaved my beard.

For 1 1/2 years now I have been planted in Hood River, working with the intertubes, kiteboarding during the summer, snowboarding during the winter, and occasionally visiting Walla Walla for some reason or another. In four months Kate and I will be moving across the country to attend graduate school at Indiana University, she to study environmental policy and me to study interaction design. After finishing my program I want to be involved in some Pretty Big Shit in my industry, which likely means I will no longer be taking three months off at a time to guide trips or teach snowboarding or fret about not having work during those unfortunate “in between” seasons.

Aye, and there’s the rub.

Part of me thinks that I’m ready to move on from this lifestyle. Another part of me fears that for all these nomadic experiences, for all this living in the outdoors, I have still managed to miss something, some hidden meaning. This elusive nugget of truth drove Christopher McCandless in his travels, and is what gave rise to Alexander Supertramp. I’m certain that Christopher would agree with me when I say that the logical conclusion of this journey is something besides starving to death in the backcountry of Alaska. What it is, however, I haven’t figured out yet.

I’ve changed a lot over the last five years, especially over the last two, and I’ve noticed my nagging sense of wanderlust begin to fade. With it I fear my curiosity goes as well, my unconventionalism, my identity. I speak of piling all my furniture on the front lawn and burning it, and people laugh as though I speak in hyperbole. I do, to be sure. But for me, owning more stuff than will fit in my car is painfully embarrassing, every bookcase and file cabinet a trophy to defeat. I have lost my mobility, but I have gained… what, a sofa? A coffee table? These are changes I have not been dealing with well.

It was in this context that I started to watch Into The Wild.

I got as far as the DVD menu. I watched it loop a dozen times. My vision blurred and my chest tightened. A dozen times Christopher burned his money, hitchhiked to Alaska, grew a beard, and posed in front of the bus.

I turned off my television.

Hot Air

The other night I went to see Playground, Warren Miller’s new ski flick. I believe this was about my third or fourth snow pr0n movie of the season, and to be perfectly honest I’m going to vomit if I need to sit through another half-hour of Alaska heli-skiing. Seriously, I don’t care how hardcore the terrain might be, or how many times you can say “stoked” in a sentence, your big-mountain shit bores me to sickness.

I suppose Playground was decent, in that it was just like every other flick I’ve seen so far this season. Except, what the hell was up with the ten-minute spot on Bode Miller? How the hell do you toss that f-wad in the middle of your ski movie, with nary a hint of irony, and expect to be taken seriously? The ass didn’t even bother to shave for your interview, for chrissakes.

Additionally, there were times where I felt like I was watching an ad for Corona. After about the fifth hot tub shot (in the Alaskan Chugach Mountains, natch) framed with a half-finished bottle in the foreground, I became a bit suspicious. Indeed, I came to discover that Corona was one of the major sponsors for the movie.

In wholly unrelated news, I got a flat tire today. After spending fifteen minutes trying to fill it back up at the Chevron’s broken-ass air compressor, I went across town to the 76 Station next to the freeway, where you can enjoy Oregon hospitality at Washington prices. One person didn’t know what I was talking about when I asked if they had compressed air, and the other person looked at me funny.

“Compressed air? Do you mean air? Like, just, air?”
“Uhh, yeah. That’s right. Air.”
“Oh yeah, we got that. Blue hose, right over there by the propane tank.”
“Blue hose? Now, you’re sure I won’t be filling my tires up with propane, right? Because I don’t want that.”
“Yeah. Yeah, I’m sure.”

He seemed a bit too sure.


From Minneapolis to Hood River, everyone I know is safe. I emerged this evening from The Simpsons Movie to stinging eyes and the taste of smoke thick on the air. At 4:00 this afternoon a wildfire started in someone’s backyard up near Country Club Road and Frankton Road, on the west side of Hood River. Helped by the awesome winds that made my afternoon on the water so much fun, by 8:00 tonight the fire had burned to 50 acres and they’ve been evacuating homes in the area.

This fire is completely unrelated to the twelve acre fire that popped up on the east side of Hood River last week, which started when a trailer lost a wheel and threw sparks into the grass. That one struck as I was out kiteboarding last Friday, and it was a bit scary to have this huge kite in the air as all these low-flying planes and helicopters were swooping about. I know they only look close, and they’re still probably 500 feet or more in the air, but there’s just something about a crowded airspace that puts one’s nerves on edge.

My session that evening came to a graceless end as I was sitting on the beach packing up my kite. All I remember is my friend Jason yelling “Oh shit!” and diving for the ground, as I was suddenly enveloped in someone’s kite lines. I cursed like a sailor at the offending person as the lines raked across my skin, one of them wrapping itself around my ear. I freed myself from the lines as they ascended with the kite, but I was caught off-guard when they immediately swung back for a second round. We made contact again, and by the third passing I had finally rolled off to the side and out of harm’s way.

The next thing I saw was a gal being dragged head first on her stomach across the sandbar, and Jason running to grab the handle on the back of her harness. As it turns out, a complete moron was teaching her to kite, and he had opted to teach her directly upwind of Jason and I, upwind of the only two people on the fucking sandbar. She had lost control of the kite and had put it into “death spirals”, where the kite loops repeatedly in the same direction, crossing the lines and making control nearly impossible.

After watching me go toe-to-toe with the kite lines, the guy had the sense to see how I was doing once his girlfriend had been rescued from her kite. I asked him to look at my ear, and he told me it was scratched up but otherwise it looked fine. I pressed him, insisting that he tell me whether it was still attached to my head. He chuckled, and assured me it was still attached.

He chuckled. At the time I wasn’t in the mood for confrontation, but it made me realize something startling. The fact that he laughed at my question suggests that he totally did not understand the gravity of what he had just done. Those kite lines could very well have taken my ear off, possibly more. They use string to cut clay, and the spectra line used for kiting is good to 700 pounds before it will break.

This guy’s sheer stupidity could have killed two people. He should not have been teaching his girlfriend so close to land, he should not have been teaching her directly upwind of people, and most of all, he should not have been teaching her in the first place. This is the reason we have certified, professional kite instructors. Please use them, people.

As it is, I now have rope burns across the back of my ear, my forearm, and four long gashes under my arm. They didn’t look like much the night they happened, just grazes through the first layer of skin, but man have they ever scabbed impressively over the last few days. I look like I’ve been whipped.

As for the girl, she emerged from the fray considerably shaken, but otherwise unharmed. She told her boyfriend that she had had enough, that she was frightened, that she wanted to be done with kiting for the evening. It sounded like a reasonable and intelligent request. Instead, the guy relaunched her kite, took her back upwind, and made her keep practicing.

Jason and I made a quick exit from the beach.