Monthly Archives: June 2014
We just finished the long drive from Boise, Idaho to Skagway, Alaska! We’re off the bouncy, remote Alaska-Canada Highway, or “Alcan” for now. The Alcan starts in British Columbia and travels north through the Yukon Territory all the way to Alaska. It features endless seas of trees and huge mountains. About half of it is really boring and the other half very scenic. It’s easy to view animals up close without ever leaving the car. This has been one of my favorite parts of the drive. Here are some of the animals we’ve seen on the drive:
I’ve watched the television show “Outdoor Idaho” since my childhood, and as an adult it is still one of my favorite shows. I was ecstatic when Bruce Reichert, the host of Outdoor Idaho, asked me to organize a women’s canyoneering show! I got busy right away with planning and dreaming about how to maximize this incredible opportunity to showcase Idaho’s remote canyons and the unique dynamic of a group of female canyoneers romping through the wilderness. I started canyoneering in Idaho in 2012 as a way to explore new places in the state where I had lived most of my life. I had no idea it would lead to an appearance on Outdoor Idaho!
Although I love planning adventures for friends, I had no idea how to produce a compelling television show. Luckily I was paired up with Sauni Symonds, a very talented producer who is also an awesome outdoors person. I would go on an adventure with her any day. Sauni helped me plan the itinerary and select the participants. Her vision for the show included a very remote location where few people go, a group of women of various ages and backgrounds, and a challenging backpacking and canyoneering trip. She also suggested we include some mother/daughter canyoneering teams, which added a wonderful dynamic to the group.
While living my vagabond lifestyle from the van and sailboat, I planned the trip and worked with Sauni via phone and email. When she suggested including a mother/daughter team on the show, I interviewed people on the phone from the cockpit of our sailboat in Mexico. Sometimes the phone reception worked, sometimes not. Eventually I was able to complete all my phone calls. I was apprehensive about inviting ladies I had never met but there was just no way to meet them before the filming – my vagabonding schedule was too packed. I ended up inviting a mother/daughter team to join the show that I hadn’t met because they sounded really inspiring on the phone. I also invited another mother/daughter team I already knew and several other friends from different walks of life.
I had total confidence in all of the ladies and felt I could get the group through the canyons safely. The biggest question in my mind was how people would handle the 90 foot free hanging rappel near the end of the adventure. It’s a big, airy rappel with a high freak-out factor. Wouldn’t this dramatic moment make good television? I also suggested that at least one of the ladies rappel in a bikini. Now, that will definitely make good television.
Before the filming, Brian and I went on a two day scouting trip to find out as much as possible about the area where we would be filming. It had been a couple years since I had explored this area. The scouting trip turned out to be a grueling expedition with plenty of bushwhacking and off trail hiking. My feet were blistered and sore by the end of the weekend. We suffered so the group wouldn’t have to, and picked a smooth route where we could enjoy great slot canyons without having to fight our way through brush. We found a wonderful cave coated in rat amber (petrified rat urine) which had been shown to me on a previous trip but was difficult to find since it was buried in a maze of slot canyons.
Brian was very supportive throughout the entire process of filming this show. Not only did he help with the scouting trip, but when it was time for filming he helped carry the heavy camera gear and hung out with the film crew as I enjoyed camera time with the girls. He encouraged me when I struggled with planning the show and making the phone calls from Mexico. He continuously pumped me up and told me this would be an awesome experience and I would do a great job leading the trip. He was truly the man behind the scenes who assisted with this adventure every step of the way.
I didn’t sleep very well during the few days leading up to the filming. I felt excited and also nervous about planning something this big and having it all caught on camera. Whether this adventure was a failure or a success, it would be memorialized forever. I grew up in Boise and hundreds of people I know will see the show. Doubtful thoughts swirled in my mind as I lay awake at night:
What am I thinking, inviting people on this trip I’ve never met?
What am I thinking, planning a television show about canyoneering? I barely even watch television.
How am I going to convince everyone to do a big, airy rappel on camera? What if I make a mistake and someone gets hurt?
Whenever I do something new and out of my comfort zone I have these types of doubtful thoughts. When I approach new experiences it usually feels like I’m not ready yet, and that’s how I felt about leading this trip. Often, those things I’m not ready for become my most treasured memories and this show was no exception.
When it was time for the filming, I felt relaxed and enjoyed being in front of the camera. The filming of the show was a wonderful experience. Everyone was enthusiastic. The two camera experts, Jay and Seth, were great to work with. Jay scrambled all over the rocks with a big, heavy camera and a big smile on his face. Brian followed him around, carrying extra gear. My planning and scouting paid off as I lead the group through mazes of slot canyons, feeling confident about the best routes to take. It was amazing how tiring it was to start, stop, wait, set up shots, act out scenes and work with so many people with so many different needs. Filming the show was definitely harder than my regular job and at the end of each day I felt totally exhausted, but also happy and satisfied with how well everything was going.
Sauni included many “mini-stories” as we filmed this episode. We wove a story with so many different chapters it is hard to know what will be included in the show when it finally airs. One member of the group was two hours late and the film crew enjoyed catching the resulting drama on film. We were approached by a local rancher at the Grand View gas station who told us we were trespassing on private land. Soon we realized there was a miscommunication and our trip would indeed take place on public land, but it was an exciting moment for me to wonder if I had made a mistake and we would need to cancel our plans! The rancher loved the show Outdoor Idaho so much he showed us his “secret canyon” on the map and even offered to haul our packs to our first camp so we wouldn’t have to carry them! He was incredibly kind and I think he would have joined us on the trip if he hadn’t had prior commitments. We didn’t have time to visit his secret canyon this trip but I do want to return to see it someday. We also chose to carry our own packs, since backpacking was a big part of the adventure.
We had a great time scrambling through the canyons and exploring the rat amber cave. When the time came to do the big rappel, everyone approached it with enthusiasm. I stayed at the top to help everyone get started and to talk some of the less experienced members of the trip through the first few steps. It was a very charged moment for me. I felt responsible for the safety of the rappellers. I rigged a contingency anchor so I could lower anyone who had a problem on the rope. I encouraged the ladies who were breathing heavily, hands shaking, nervously making their way over the edge with the pool 90 feet below them.
I gave away most of my carabiners to the rappellers so they could have more friction on this overhanging rappel. Finally, everyone else had gone and I was the last to rappel. After I touched down in the pool at the bottom I felt elated that the rappel had gone so well. I felt very proud of the group.
The producer conducted some interviews after the rappel. This seemed like a perfect time to interview people after such an empowering and exciting experience. Then we began the hike to the car. Our route crossed a meadow full of bull snakes. We encountered one rattlesnake earlier in the trip and now we had a chance to see many large snakes concentrated in one area. I think bull snakes are beautiful and I enjoy seeing them. I’m pleased we didn’t encounter many rattlesnakes on the trip. I thought of them often as I hiked at the front of the group, probing the bushes in front of me with my trekking poles. A rattlesnake bite could have been very hazardous in such a remote area with miles to hike and hours to drive before reaching the nearest hospital.
Filming this show was a great experience and I really enjoyed working with the Outdoor Idaho crew and with the awesome ladies who added energy, smiles, courage and laughter to this show! I enjoyed being in front of the camera and would love to do more.
I have great news – Vanifest is fixed, runnning well and preparing to make the long trek to Alaska again this summer! Vanifest’s leaf springs failed last month in California, creating the “perfect storm” for much inconvenience and expense as we got stranded in the California ghetto with a packed schedule of adventures ahead of us and and no transportation to get there.
A shop in Richmond, California took apart Vanifest’s front end and then couldn’t remount the leaf springs because one of them broke when it was removed. Therefore, Vanifest was stuck at that shop and became difficult to move. There was not much we could do but wait for the shop to work on our van.
The shop certainly took their sweet time (over 2 weeks) to fabricate new leaf springs for Vanifest.
The shop was in a place we did NOT want to spend weeks waiting. We went there for a sailing class but otherwise this was not a fun place to hang out. There was nowhere to camp. The less expensive motels were rumored to be infested with roaches and frequented by prostitutes. The more expensive motels were completely booked. The best thing we found was an inner city community garden with some incredibly cute chickens nesting in raised garden beds.
In the midst of this crisis, we lost faith in Vanifest and started talking about getting a new van that would be more reliable. I cried after spending the second night in the lot of the auto shop and finding out they had no estimate when the repair would be done. I ended up missing one of my favorite canyoneering fests of the year. I had an important project coming up in Boise I had been planning for months. I made plans with the local television show Outdoor Idaho to take them along on a two day canyoneering trip in the Idaho backcountry for one of their upcoming shows. With a dozen people committed to this project, I couldn’t really reschedule it.
Things were looking dark, and then Brian saved the day by renting a big SUV. We were ecstatic to escape from the auto shop parking lot! We loaded all our toys into the SUV and cheered as we drove away, leaving Vanifest behind for an undetermined length of time. We drove the rental car back to Boise and got Brian’s Toyota 4-Runner out of storage. A couple weeks later, the Outdoor Idaho show had been filmed and Vanifest was finally fixed. Brian flew to California at 6 AM one Saturday, and drove all the way back to Boise in one day.
Now that the “family” is reunited (Brian, Lisa, Vanifest), we are back in love with Vanifest and ready to enjoy a summer in Alaska. The dream is alive again!