Category Archives: Adventure Romance

IMG_0058About a year ago, I had given up on love. My activities and lifestyle were just too obscure to allow me to share my life with anyone else. My regular canyoneering trips and desire to live in a van definitely filled my life with plenty of excitement and fabulous friends but kept me romantically lonely. When I would attempt to go out on traditional dates, I was quickly reminded that everyone is living very differently from the way I live. I wouldn’t compromise who I was, either.

AE05D1FB-9888-49EB-9EAA-8F4153FB8066As I read Brian’s blog and emails before meeting him, I realized I wouldn’t have to compromise anything about myself to date him. I wouldn’t have to give up living in a van because Brian was already living full time in a pop-up camper. I wouldn’t have to give up canyoneering because Brian was already doing it, and at a very competent level, too. I wouldn’t have to give up my remote work style because Brian was living and working almost exactly the same way I was. He was truly the no compromises man.

Soon after we met we began doing nearly everything together. It quickly became clear that Brian is the perfect man for me. We quickly built an amazing life together that is much more fulfilling than what either of us could achieve on our own. He understands me and shares my values and lifestyle.

IMG_1619-1 (Large)We have known each other less than a year, and during that time we’ve lived primarily in my van and also spent a couple months living on a sailboat. This means we’re together nearly 24 hours per day in a small space. During our last canyoneering fest together, one of our friends asked if we ever make a request for personal space when living in the confines of the van or sailboat. The answer is no. We just really enjoy being together.

If I found my soul mate while living an incredibly obscure lifestyle, I truly believe it can happen to anyone! I feel blessed to enjoy a partnership with no compromises, and feel very thankful I was true to myself and wasn’t trying to become someone who would be easier to love, easier to date, easier to share a life with. I was just doing what I loved.

10006104_10203430314861109_7141591738791182826_n-1Brian and I talked about getting married on our most recent sailing trip and when we returned to Phoenix, Arizona we began looking for a ring to make it official. I needed a ring I could canyoneer with, so most traditional styles were out. I am also not fond of big diamonds or the marketing manipulation by the De Beers cartel to create illusions about the value of big diamonds. I selected a gorgeous ring I love that works with my active lifestyle – a sparkly banded ring covered in small rubies and diamonds. Perfect!

IMG_0232-1 (Large)Even though we picked out the ring together and I knew the proposal was coming, it was still very exciting to anticipate when and where Brian would ask me to marry him. We went mountain biking near Phoenix early yesterday morning on a beautiful trail surrounded by blooming cactus. Brian waited at the top of a hill, and when I arrived at the top, breathless, he pulled out the ring and asked me to marry him. Of course, I said yes, and of course, the ring fit perfectly. We took some pictures of ourselves and the ring there in the blooming desert, then completed our ride with big smiles.

Our wedding will be this September in Boise, Idaho. After the wedding, we’ll leave for a six month honeymoon in Mexico on our sailboat. Yes, dreams do come true!


IMG950039 (Large)I have a dark history of traumatic downhill skiing experiences. My first time skiing was around 10 years of age on a church youth group trip. I was sent to the top of the bunny hill with no instructions about how to stop and was just told “it’s easy”. Yes, skiing was easy. Stopping wasn’t.

I sailed down the entire hill at high speed and crashed into a plastic mesh fence at the bottom. My ski penetrated the fence, still attached to my foot. I thrashed around like a fish caught in a net, my church “friends” nowhere to be found. Then a kind stranger finally released my ski and I spent the rest of the day in the lodge.

Over 10 years later, I tried again. My brother watched over me on the bunny hill, then I took some group lessons. I learned to snowplow on green and easy blue runs. Success!

Then, skiing at Anthony Lakes resort some idiot sped down a green run at high speed, clipped the back of my skis and then crashed into another lady further down the slope. She left the mountain on a stretcher. Once again, I decided I was done with downhill skiing. I love cross country skiing and snowshoeing. I’ll just enjoy those. They’re safer, quieter and better exercise.

Fast forward five years and I’m dating Brian, an expert backcountry skier. Backcountry skiing does sound like a superior way to ski. I like the idea of powder, exercise, the lack of people around to crash into me, or fences for me to crash into. I decided to give downhill skiing another go to try to learn enough to safely ski some backcountry powder.

There I stood at the bottom of the Park City Resort bunny hill, afraid to board the magic carpet. The magic carpet is a slowly moving conveyor belt which gently transports the skier to the top of a very small, almost horizontal slope. After five years away from downhill skiing, and two times of saying to myself “I’ll never do this again”, there was a big part of me that did NOT want to get on that magic carpet. Then I saw my double-black-diamond skiing boyfriend riding the magic carpet with a big, encouraging smile and I knew I had to try.

After I got over my initial aversion to the skis, things went pretty well. I began my bunny hill tour of all the famous Utah resorts – Park City, Canyons, Snowbird, with Brian at my side the entire time. I read a book called “Inner Skiing” filled with zen advice to feel at one with the slope, and it helped a little. I started to feel comfortable on the skis and began to practice some parallel turns. I took a two hour private lesson at Alta. Now I was actually skiing green runs instead of inching down the bunny hill in a clenched snowplow position. It felt great!

We skiied green runs at Brighton and I kept challenging myself to go faster and faster. I eventually topped out at around 10 mph and Brian and I celebrated my progress. We returned to Alta the next day and I felt better than ever about my skiing skills. So good, in fact, that we even went out of bounds and skied in a little bit of powder! It was just a small taste of the potential of skiing in the backcountry and it felt great, like skiing on a giant pillow.

After skiing the Alta powder and skiing all day at Brighton the day before, my legs were wasted. It was hard to even execute a turn on my way down the groomed run after the powder. My form looked terrible and my turns felt incredibly lazy, and who do I run into on the slope? My ski instructor from earlier in the week! I tried to explain the lesson had really helped but my legs were just tired at that moment. He didn’t look convinced and we laughed about the unfortunate timing of that encounter as we left Alta.

In case anyone wants to know which Utah ski resort is best for beginners, I would recommend Park City Resort. The approach to the two magic carpets was short and flat and the magic carpets were very gentle. The bunny hill had a friendly lift and two different slopes which made it easy to gradually progress to steeper terrain. For true ski chickens, Park City Resort offered the most comforting experience.


IMG_0321 (Large)I’ve seen way too much Sex and the City. I never imagined our recent trip to New York would include a day of ice climbing in a beautiful gorge. I met John Udall and he mentioned he loves ice climbing and would be willing to take us to one of his favorite places. This was a dream come true for me because due to other amazing adventures planned this winter, I would miss my two favorite winter festivals: Freezefest and Icefest. He had New Year’s Eve off from his job at an outdoor recreation store in Ithaca, New York, so we made plans to spend that day hanging in the air and chipping away at a wall of ice.

IMG_0263 (Large)Freezefest is a winter canyoneering event which takes place around New Year’s Day. We swim in icy water, rappel snowy slots and suffer in the cold. It’s an amazing time with great friends, regardless of the conditions. Icefest is an ice climbing fest in Ouray, Colorado where gear makers allow climbers to demo clothing and gear while ice climbing in easily accessible canyons with fantastic ice. Both these fests have been the highlights of my winter adventures during the last few years. Of course, no one needs to feel sorry for me that I’m not getting enough adventure…but I felt sad to miss these fests this winter.

Then I met John Udall, Brian’s former scoutmaster who he hadn’t seen in a decade. He offered to take Brian and I ice climbing in upstate New York at Tinker Falls. He also offered to supply all the gear, drive, and even bought me breakfast at Dunkin Donuts, too! John is the best. He did a really good job of selecting a suitable climbing area early in the season, evaluating the ice, setting up the anchor, demonstrating some techniques and helping to keep us warm and safe.

IMG_0236 (Large)We drove to Tinker Falls and hiked a quarter mile to the climb. The approach was a little sporty with a creek crossing on a snowy log and some side hill hiking on a shallow layer of snow at a steep angle. We arrived at the climb and admired the setting in a gorge deep in the middle of a hardwood forest. Snowflakes swirled around in a gray sky. A small waterfall poured over a wide, curved lip of shale and sharp white icicles, creating a swirl of ice formations at the bottom. A tiered wall with glassy ice and more icicles had been created by a small seep to the side of the waterfall. Later in the season, the waterfall turns into a thick, freestanding, vertical pillar, but today we would just climb the frozen seep.

IMG_0343 (Large)Ice climbing season is just beginning in New York and the seep of ice was less than a foot thick, but in great shape and our crampons and ice axes just sunk right into it. We stayed all day and did many laps on the 25 foot tall, vertical wall before it was time to go back to a hot shower and a New Year’s feast of prime rib, shrimp, oysters and champagne. This was the best way to end a day of adventure. It was a great day out. Thanks so much, John!


IMG_0051-2 (Large)We just finished a two week climbing trip in Joshua Tree National Park. Several of our climbing days were pretty terrifying. We’re both safe and currently relaxing in Phoenix, Arizona, so all is well. Our efforts paid off. By the end of our time in Joshua Tree we were both climbing some pretty hard routes, which means relying on tiny, 1/2″ edges and perfect balance to make your way up the wall. Fun!

The climbing wasn’t the scary part. The scary part was hanging 100 feet up from the ground on a big rock wall for 30 minutes with nothing but two 1″ pieces of webbing holding me to two bolts. I hung there in my climbing harness next to the wall, slowly feeding out rope as Brian climbed Moosedog Tower. This is called a multi-pitch climb, where the total elevation gain is too tall for the rope to reach, so we had to break it up into smaller parts by stopping in the middle, pulling up the rope, and continuing the climb from a belay station 100 feet in the air.

moosedogOn this trip, I watched cams and nuts pop out of cracks. I saw Brian take several scary falls. He didn’t seem to be afraid of anything. I can’t say the same thing for myself. I don’t know what to think of trad gear. These metal things called cams are spring loaded with moving metal lobes. Those moving lobes are supposed to hold the cam in a rock crack while a person falls on them with tremendous force. They worked most of the time, but most of the time doesn’t seem like enough when your life depends on them! There are a lot of subtleties to placing these cams, so taking a class on leading trad climbs seems like a good idea before trusting them on big climbs.

IMG_0042 (Large)We hiked to Hidden Dome to do what we thought was a nice, moderate day. Not so! We hiked a mile across the flat desert surrounded by big, spike-topped Joshua Trees, then found a steep, boulder-choked gully standing between us and our desired climbs. The boulders in the gully were car-sized and house-sized, beautiful granite, with deep, dark chasms of doom between them. Make a mistake, fall 20 feet. This approach lasted over an hour until we got to a tall granite wall on the side of Hidden Dome. We enjoyed some wonderful 5.8 climbs with airy views down to the desert far below, lightly sprinkled with gray, fuzzy bushes. After the climbs, we had to once again face the boulder gully. I rejoiced when my feet were finally on solid ground at the end of the descent.

904649_10202848816400319_1050039510_oBy the end of the trip we had both learned a lot about climbing, risk, and working together. Even the scary moments did not deter me from wanting to continue with this sport. Sometimes it felt like we were learning the hard way, but at the end of it we finished the trip in one piece so I can call it a success! It’s always fun to look back on challenging trips. What’s that saying… “That which is bitter to endure may be sweet to remember?”

Our next step is to take some classes to prepare for longer multi-pitch climbs in Red Rock Canyon near Las Vegas.


img_4080With my ankle still healing, Brian and I decided to rent a kayak for one of Yellowstone’s classic backcountry trips. We paddled across two lakes to reach a remote thermal area. From that thermal area we backpacked another 10 miles into one of the finest soaking springs anywhere, Mr. Bubbles. I’m from Idaho which is famous for natural hot springs, but Mr. Bubbles is definitely unmatched.

img_4004We loaded our light blue, double sea kayak on a very cold, foggy morning. The boat quickly swallowed our gear and large amounts of decadent food. We started out with a calm paddle across Lewis Lake. During the first hour of our trip, a bald eagle hunted right in front of our kayak. He swooped down to the water and created a small splash over and over as he tried to catch a fish. We watched quietly, then cheered when he finally came up with a small fish in his talons.

The next portion of the paddle took us up the Lewis River to Shoshone Lake, the largest backcountry lake in the lower 48 states. As soon as we started up Lewis River, we found a snobby Osprey in a tree who turned his back to us as we approached, resistant to our attempts to get a nice photo of him. He was probably just hoping we would go away. Then, as we got closer, he took flight and left the area.

img_4054We also met a very friendly Beaver in Lewis River who glided along the top of the water for quite awhile examining our boat. He came closer and closer, and once he identified us as human he dove quickly underwater with a big splash of his round, leathery tail and was gone.

P1430203 (Large)As Lewis River nears Shoshone Lake, the current becomes too strong to paddle and the boat must be drug upstream. The water is very cold and there are many rocks to rake the boat over. The larger rocks have colorful marks on them that look like crayon scribbles from all the different colors of plastic boats that have scraped them over the years. This is certainly not a trip for a delicate sea kayak. During this mile long boat drag, I got to sit in the boat and watch Brian yank the boat over rocks and splash through the current to pull it upstream. This was great fun for me, and he was happy to let me play “queen of the boat” while he worked hard to pull us upriver to Shoshone Lake.

Shoshone Lake is a magnificent sight, especially for someone who has just drug a boat upstream in a mile of freezing water. The lake is huge, lined with thick forest, with crystal clear water. We paddled all the way across the lake to our first camp, near the Shoshone Geyser Basin.

img_4147This steaming, bubbling backcountry thermal area has no boardwalks or signs, only a small footpath which winds its way through bright blue pools and calcite formations which intermittently bubble and even erupt over 25 feet in the air. We enjoyed a leisurely stroll along the footpath and then focused on our goal: to find the rumored soakable Shoshone Creek Hot Spring. We looked around for about an hour and finally decided to very carefully skirt a sign the park service had placed in the basin which said “Danger! Thermal Area.” Behind this sign we found some social trails leading to Shoshone Creek and we found our first soakable hot spring.

P1430218 (Large)Clouds of steam indicated the hot water source on the hillside was very hot, and it needed to be mixed with the river water to make it a safe soaking temperature. When we first got into the small soaking pool at the side of the river, the streams of hot and cold were not well mixed. It needed some work since the last people had soaked there, which looked like quite awhile ago. Soakers create natural hot springs by building a ring of rocks at the side of a river which loosely hold a mixture of hot and cold water for soaking. Hand built rock channels move hot water from the spring and cold water from the river into the ring of rocks. Once the two channels are in balance the perfect soaking temperature is reached within the ring of rocks. I moved some rocks around in the hot and cold channels to modify the flow and we enjoyed a short soak before splashing off to find more hot springs. We joked that a park service sign which says “danger” means the area may be worth exploring and we should keep this in mind in the future.

P1430231colorized (Large)The second soakable hot spring we found along Shoshone Creek was surrounded by red, orange, green and yellow moss which had been sculpted by the flowing water to look like very thick strands of hair. The hairy hot spring cascaded down some small terraces the size of stairsteps and then joined Shoshone Creek, where a small ring of rocks held the hot water loosely as the cold river trickled between the rocks into the soaking area. The hot water source was a milder temperature than the previous spring we found, and the soaking area was the perfect temperature without any modifications. The bottom of the small pool was filled with algae, so we cleaned it out and settled into the relaxing, hot water. Often these seldom used natural hot springs require a bit of maintenance upon arrival to create a pleasing soak, and it was well worth the effort to soak in a beautiful creek right next to a colorful hot water source and listen to a geyser regularly erupting nearby. Only in Yellowstone!

img_4166Satisfied with our two soaks in the Shoshone Geyser Basin, we enjoyed a dinner of fresh pasta, fresh basil leaves, butter and alfredo sauce. We then camped near the lake and slept near bubbling thermal pools and steaming fumaroles. We slept well after 12 miles of paddling, then exploring and soaking. The next day would start our backpack trip on the Bechler River trail to the famous Mr. Bubbles hot spring.

DAY 2

Poised for sightings of dangerous and delicious animals

Poised for sightings of dangerous and delicious animals, with a large canister of pepper spray on my hip

As we were getting ready for the kayak trip I asked Brian where I should put my backpack. He looked confused and asked why I would bring it. I laughed, I guess he was offering to carry all our stuff on the backpack since my ankle is still healing. That morning we hid our kayak by a hillside, hung most of our food in a tree, and Brian packed up my two down coats as well as all our other backpacking gear and we set off to hike 10 miles to Mr. Bubbles. The hike was pretty but almost completely devoid of “dangerous and delicious” animals, as I had started calling them. Brian spotted a small deer, but my Grizzly Bear fantasies went unfulfilled.

Once we got to the small valley where Mr Bubbles sits, things got interesting. Steam filled the air and a huge white, yellow and blue pool cascaded down the hillside. It was one of the prettiest thermal features I had ever seen, but far too hot for soaking. We continued. Mr. Bubbles was waiting.

img_4180We got to the end of the trail and reached the grand Mr. Bubbles, a bright blue pool 30 feet across with a steady stream of big bubbles erupting in a three foot circle in the center. A hot creek surrounded by yellow flowers and red dragonflies fed the pool on one side, and a small river skirted it on the other. Steam from the other thermal features in the valley set the scene for an amazing backcountry soak in crystal clear water. Luckily, a group was just leaving as we arrived.

We spent hours in Mr. Bubbles in total solitude and even had a dinner of tortillas and a package of pre-cooked bacon in Mr. Bubbles. It was hard to finally leave, but when the next group arrived we felt it was the right time to hike back to camp. We heard animals outside that night but didn’t bother to investigate.

Underwater view of the vent which creates the bubbles in the center of Mr. Bubbles hot spring

Underwater view of the vent which creates the bubbles in the center of Mr. Bubbles hot spring

While camping in the Yellowstone backcountry it’s easy to imagine every branch snapping is a ferocious Grizzly Bear, but at that point we were just too relaxed after the long soak in Mr. Bubbles to care.

DAY 3

We backpacked out to the lake and were happy to see our food still hanging in the tree. Our glorious boating food — including ham, avocados, and nectarines — was a welcome sight after the backpack. We began paddling and encountered some very strong afternoon winds. The boat bounced along in huge waves and I got a little nervous. We decided to cross the lake and in the middle the rolling waves got so big they lapped over the top of the kayak. I was frightened by the size of the waves and the cold temperature of the water and paddled as hard as I possibly could. The big, heavy boat just cruised right over the waves. After the crossing we camped for the night.

DAY 4

IMG9504732We enjoyed an easy paddle down the Lewis River with very little boat dragging. Once again, when it was time to drag the boat over rocks I got to occupy my “queen of the boat” throne as Brian lugged it downriver. Lewis Lake was very wavy, and after the exciting crossing on Shoshone Lake the day before we stuck to the shoreline. We ended the trip with big smiles and a beautiful drive to Jackson, Wyoming to return the canoe and enjoy a mountain bike ride in the Teton National Forest. The trees were changing color and riding a single track trail through bright yellow Aspen groves was magical.


IMG_0471edited (Medium)I’ve been to Yellowstone National Park many times, and my latest trip was really great. The weather ranged from warm sun to snow to heavy rain. Vanifest saw its first snow of the season, too. Brian and I hiked and biked when it was warm, and hid inside when the snow was swirling and the rain was falling in heavy sheets. One afternoon we soaked in a wonderful hot spring called the Boiling River hot spring. It is probably my favorite spot in the park. It’s a short walk from the road to a beautiful set of pools next to a shallow river. Our timing was just right to see a herd of elk making their way across the Gardner river to graze on the other side.

P1430151 (Medium)Brian and I headed to the Boiling River Hot Springs with his mom and her husband after a busy day driving all over Yellowstone. We had just had a late lunch and it was early evening when we arrived at Boiling River. We hiked ten minutes to the soaking pools where the Boiling River gushes into the Gardner River, creating some areas which are the perfect soaking temperature, and some which will scald or freeze you. We chose our spot carefully, then settled into the hot, clear water to relax. We even found a wonderful little cave that was the perfect temperature with hot droplets trickling over the opening and splashing softly into the water. As we sat in the hot cave, we saw a huge bull elk crossing the river only 50 feet away. We emerged from the cave to see what would happen next.

P1430171 (Large)This was the start of an amazing elk display which lasted about 30 minutes as we watched from our hot spring location. First, a huge bull with tremendous antlers crossed the river. He held his head high and pranced to the top of a small hill, perhaps trying to appear even larger. Then a group of female elk followed, lingering in the river with their young.

As the females and young elk lingered, another large bull appeared at the other side of the river, interested in the herd. The first bull quickly crossed the river to defend his harem and help them cross to the other side. There was no confrontation. The other bull quickly retreated, knowing he did not want to challenge the first huge male. By the end of this amazing show of strength and protection there was quite a crowd watching the herd of 20+ elk as they all finally made it across the river. The first proud bull elk stood watch over the entire herd as they peacefully grazed on a hillside next to the hot spring.


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Cypress Canyon, Vancouver, British Columbia

I stayed injury free during my last 8 years of technical canyoneering. Then, I sprained my ankle in Cypress Canyon in Vancouver, British Columbia. It put a damper on my adventures for a couple weeks. I took supplements, iced my ankle, rested it, and prepared it for my next canyoneering and backpacking trip. This trip was only three weeks after the injury, and sprains typically take 4-6 weeks to heal. I was really pushing it, but once I was able to balance on my injured ankle I decided it was ready for canyoneering. I still felt some pain when I bent my ankle at certain angles, but it was mild and I felt I wouldn’t hurt it more by taking it through some technical canyons.

It probably wasn’t the smartest idea to begin canyoneering so soon after the sprain, but I really wanted to attend Mossfest. Mossfest is a Labor Day canyoneering fest in Vancouver, British Columbia. Ironically, this fest would come to be jokingly known as “ankle-fest”. Two other canyoneers at Mossfest fractured their ankles and had to limp out of the canyon in pain. Both times I happened to be wearing an ankle brace from my previous sprain and was able to take it off and give it to my injured partners so they could wear it as they exited the canyon.

P1420987 (Medium)Also, I really wanted to do a 50 mile coastal backpacking trip with Brian after Mossfest. We planned to hike the West Coast Trail, a fantastic route through coastal rainforest and along beautiful beaches. I wasn’t sure my ankle could handle it, though. Then, on day two of Mossfest, I discovered ibuprofen. Having never been injured, I had no idea how effective it could be. I descended Cypress Canyon (the canyon where I originally sprained my ankle) with the help of ibuprofen and had a great day of canyoneering with very little pain. After that, I decided I could get through the West Coast Trail with my injured ankle. No problem. I would just bring plenty of extra strength ibuprofen.
P1420805 (Medium)I now know this wasn’t very smart, but Brian and I were still able to complete the entire 50 mile trail in only 5 days. The average time to complete the trail is 6-7 days. The West Coast Trail is a serious undertaking. Only about a third of it is easy beach walking. The rest involves boulder hopping on slippery rocks, crossing rivers and gorges in small cable cars, hiking up and down steep hills where the mud can be knee deep, and traversing rotten boardwalks that can give way at any moment. There are also 50+ ladders to climb, some of them very long and steep with plenty of exposure and an occasional missing rung. This is a trail for adventurers only, not an easy coastal stroll. If you’re going to attempt something like this when you’re injured, which I wouldn’t recommend, you had better bring along a few things:
P1420873 (Medium)1. Plenty of ibuprofen and maybe some Vicodin for backup in case the pain gets a little too epic. I didn’t resort to taking the Vicodin but at least it was there if I really needed it.
2. A good attitude, because there will be pain, no matter how many pills you eat.
3. An ultralight pack to minimize the effects of the hike.
4. A super strong adventure partner, and one with a big heart, because you will certainly need a lot of support to complete a big adventure while sporting an injury.

Luckily, I had all of these things as I made my way down the trail wearing my ankle brace and a pack weighing only 20 pounds. Brian’s pack weighed about 25, until a couple hours into the first day of the hike when he saw me wincing as I pulled my injured ankle over a log. He offered to carry all of our food at that point. The second day, after 10 hours of technical hiking on muddy trails and climbing about 50 ladders while favoring my ankle, I told him I was very tired. He took the tent and my sleeping pad. On the third day, my injured ankle was very sore.

P1420877 (Medium)My good leg was also sore because it had done all the hard moves the day before. Every time there was a ladder to climb or a big step over mud my good leg did the work while my injured ankle followed uselessly behind. I also had a blister forming from wearing wet 5.10 canyoneers for three days. These boots have tremendous traction in slippery conditions, plus they were the only reasonable hiking boot I had in my van at the time. However, once they got wet and I hiked 10+ hours in them, blisters were inevitable. Brian looked back at me hiking in the mud with my injured ankle and blistered feet and saw me struggling. At that point he offered to carry my entire pack.

P1420929 (Medium)He continued to carry my pack for most of the remainder of the trail, about 25 miles. My heavy, wet canyoneering shoes swung back and forth on the back of the packs as Brian moved down the trail. He carried both packs up and down tall ladders, through muddy bogs, across slippery logs and over rotten boardwalks. He did it with a smile on his face and every time I thanked him he would just say “really, it’s no problem at all”, or “it’s OK, I want you to enjoy the hike”. I walked along with only my trekking poles, nearly pain free on a gorgeous trail through the rainforest and next to the ocean. Everyone stared at us and made comments like “well, you’re packing light”, or “he’s doing double duty”.

P1420936 (Medium)The boat operator in the middle of the trail, Carl, said it had been 20 years since he’d seen someone carrying two packs on this very difficult, rugged route. We had a great time with Carl, exchanging jokes and enjoying a fresh crab, which cost $25 and was worth it’s weight in gold in the middle of a 5 day backpack trip. While sharing the most delicious crab I’ve ever eaten, Brian and I met Kamran, a solo hiker from Vancouver who almost died on the West Coast Trail on day 2. Kamran decided to leap across an 8 foot wide surge channel instead of taking the trail up and around it. A surge channel is a deep cut in the rock next to the ocean where the surge churns in and out. These surge channels are very difficult to escape, as Kamran discovered. First, before jumping, he threw his pack across the channel. The pack didn’t make it and fell into the channel. Kamran jumped in after it and was tossed around for several minutes in the surge. He thought it was his time to die, but then he somehow found just one foothold which allowed him to get up above the crashing water and climb out of the surge channel with his pack. Ironically, once he escaped the channel he was right back where he started and still had to use the trail around the channel. When I said paying $25 for the fresh crab seemed reasonable since backpacking is an inexpensive sport, Kamran heartily disagreed. He had ruined both a camera and cell phone in the surge channel incident. Thankfully, we saw Kamran at the end of the hike. He was still alive and seemed to have enjoyed the hike overall, except for the almost dying part.

On one beach, several people asked Brian questions about the direction of the trail and which route to take. They must have thought he looked very knowledgeable since he was wearing two packs and appeared to be guiding me along the West Coast Trail like some sort of sherpa.

P1420838 (Medium)
During a couple days we found miles of technical hiking through bogs of mud. I started thinking of the mud bogs as “mud-rapids”. They were like whitewater rapids because you needed to maneuver carefully to keep your feet from sinking into knee deep mud, and sometimes a slip in a mud rapid could mean big consequences. First, we would scout the mud rapid. Identify the holes. Start left, work right, jump onto a slippery log, hope you don’t slip off, cheer if you finish it without getting wet. These mud rapids were very challenging, both mentally and physically. We navigated them for hours and hours on day two, along with many high, exposed log traverses. I came up with a system for rating the “mud-rapids”:
Class 1 – Slippery but easily navigable mud
Class 2 – Some holes but easy to traverse around them
Class 3 – Many holes and many slippery logs and tree roots to utilize during the crossing
Class 4 – Requires maneuvering from side to side over logs, roots and rocks to make it through the mud rapid without a leg knee-deep in mud
Class 5 – Serious consequences if you slip during the mud crossing. Most of the class 5 mud-rapids involved decayed, mangy boardwalks with a big drop below them and some missing boards.

P1430060 (Medium)These boardwalks were the only way to cross and some of them were one shred away from falling apart, covered in slippery mud with plenty of exposure beneath them.
The mud-rapids were exciting and also very tiring with my injury. The ladders were well designed, and as long as the wood was in good condition I enjoyed the endless ladder climbing and descending. Some of the ladders were in sad shape, though, and you just had to hold your breath and hope the rotten rungs would hold you and your heavy pack as they creaked beneath your weight.
No wonder there are so many evacuations from the West Coast Trail. This is a serious hike.

P1430092 (Medium)There were also some very beautiful, relaxing sections where we got to enjoy easy strolls along sandy beaches with bald eagles soaring overhead. On day two we saw a grey whale feeding in a kelp bed just 40 feet from shore. The whale’s glossy, rounded body would surface every few minutes with a spray of air and then he would go back under water to feed more. We also saw two black bears foraging near the shore one evening. Brian found some fascinating live barnacles which had been washed ashore on a small log. They were Gooseneck barnacles, still alive, their necks waving and mouth parts reaching out for food, confused about their location.

P1430087 (Medium)These barnacles formed a colony on the log and then high tide washed them ashore. They were so lively and hungry that I wished I had something to feed them. I guess they would not have appreciated the M&Ms in my pack, since they feed chiefly on plankton.
Overall, it was a fantastic backpack trip, and we completed it on schedule and with plenty of enthusiasm. Reaching the end of the trail on schedule and feeling good felt like quite an accomplishment with Brian wearing two packs and me nursing my injured ankle and painful blisters throughout the second half of the trip. There is usually at least a little drama on a long wilderness adventure, and this trip was certainly no exception.


P1410891 (Medium)I chased solo adventures in Alaska all summer long. I was in true superhero mode for nearly 8 weeks. I camped wherever I pleased and felt sure no one would bother me in the middle of the night in my van. I hiked solo in areas known to have healthy bear populations during salmon season, when bears are voraciously feeding to fatten up for winter. I pushed the limits of muddy 4×4 roads and got stuck in the mud. Energized by the 20+ hours of sunlight each day, I was constantly pushing the envelope. I’m surprised I came back alive from that trip.

Even superheroes can get hurt, though. I had no idea trouble was waiting for me at the very end of my successful and heroic sprint through the 49th state. I thought I was home free. I was safe. I had finished the five day drive south through the most remote areas of Canada and arrived at my friend Kevin’s comfortable home with his loving family in Vancouver, British Columbia. I thought my next step was to exhale and enjoy some comfortable canyoneering after my biggest solo adventure yet in Alaska. I was wrong.

This should have been an easy transition back to the lower 48. I had plans to enjoy some waterfall canyons with Kevin and felt sure this portion of the adventure would be a breeze. I’ve been canyoneering for eight years now and I don’t even see it as risky anymore. I trust myself to evaluate risks in canyons and I’m careful to select canyoneering partners whom I also trust. I always move conservatively and I have no ego about my sport. If something is scary, I know how to create a safer solution. Canyoneering? No problem. Rappelling big waterfalls? No problem. I had become complacent.

jennifer (Medium)Earlier that summer, some of my friends introduced me to a fellow canyoneer named Brian via email. As we emailed each other that summer about our adventures, it became clear he was a fellow superhero. While I was seeing bears on the trail from 30 feet away and packrafting glacial rivers with people I just met, he was riding his mountain bike 490 miles over the Colorado mountains with all his camping gear. I could tell we were both slightly insane yet both saw our activities as perfectly rational. These two superheroes needed to meet. I decided to invite him to Vancouver for four days of canyoneering.

Enter my safe, supportive friend Kevin. He offered to take us into his special waterfall canyons around Vancouver. I felt grateful Brian and I could temper our lunacy by relying on Kevin to come up with a reasonable itinerary.

I first met Brian at the Vancouver airport around 9:30 PM, only an hour after finishing the drive back from Alaska. I hadn’t seen many pictures of Brian and wasn’t really sure what he looked like. I was also incredibly spent from the drive. As I stood there with Kevin, a man walked toward me who sort of looked like Brian’s photos and I gave him a huge smile and waved enthusiastically as he sailed right past me and hugged another woman. Oh, I guess that wasn’t Brian. Kevin and I had a good laugh over that.

Then, the real Brian appeared and there were hugs, handshakes and smiles all around as we left the airport. We chattered about canyons and canyoneering fests on the drive back to Kevin’s house.

We all got up at 6 am the next morning to descend Box Creek Canyon and picked up Thomas, a local canyoneer. As we drove to the canyon, Kevin’s vehicle made horrible rattling noises and Kevin decided to go home to get his jeep and left his vehicle in the shop. Brian, Thomas and I enjoyed an epic park walk in downtown Vancouver where we challenged ourselves to see all the bridges in a small area criss-crossed with walking paths.

P1420081 (Medium)Kevin resolved the vehicle issues by around 2 pm and we decided to descend Cypress Canyon. Cypress Canyon is a beautiful little gem right in the heart of Vancouver with several nice waterfall rappels and an easy approach trail. As soon as we entered the canyon our vehicle trouble was forgotten and we splashed down gushing waterfalls and moved through rock hallways in the fading afternoon light. This was a great canyon and the mood was high. Between the third and fourth rappel, everyone else jumped off a rock into a small pool. I don’t particularly like jumping, so I chose an easy slide down a small waterfall into what looked like a deep pool. At the same time I sat down and started my slide, Kevin said to be careful of the rocks below but I was already in motion. I hit the water and my right ankle slammed into a rock. Immediately I knew this wasn’t good. I was swimming and my ankle was floating in water but it definitely hurt. I exited the pool and examined it. It still rotated and the pain wasn’t very intense, so we all decided I had sprained it and thankfully not broken it.

Now my progress through the canyon became very slow and the ankle was more of an annoyance than anything else. I couldn’t trust it and had to drag it around like it was dead weight. This was very tiring in the wetsuit I was wearing. I wanted to finish the canyon, but after about 30 minutes I saw an easy exit on the right and I knew taking it was the right choice. I was able to move well enough and hobbled back to the car on my own, stopping at the last rappel to watch my friends and wishing I could have gone down that last waterfall with them.

P1420202 (Medium)I’ve never injured myself in any way canyoneering, or ever, really. I was in denial about my ankle, or cankle, as I started calling it, and I hoped it would be better by tomorrow so I could go canyoneering again. Thankfully others in the group told me to elevate and ice it. Kevin got me a compression bandage from a drug store and gave me some Tylenol with codeine. My ankle swelled to twice its size that evening and I couldn’t even bend it. I started to realize that my canyoneering on this trip was over. We all camped out that night and the next day the rest of the group went down a fantastic canyon called Monmouth while I relaxed on the beach and went to Starbucks. The next day Brian and I paddled a canoe around the sea and saw many cute seals sunning on rocks and logs. We also enjoyed a short walk on an island, but I still wasn’t ready to do much. The day after that Brian and I explored the nearby Sunshine Coast. The day after Sunshine Coast Brian was scheduled to depart from the Vancouver airport at 6 AM. This was a flight he wasn’t going to make.

P1420235 (Medium)As we finished our day on the Sunshine Coast and drove toward the ferry, my special van, which has never had any mechanical trouble at all, started slipping gears and the transmission temperature light came on. “Oh no”, I thought. I’m on a ferry only accessible area in Canada where my roadside assistance won’t work and Brian’s flight leaves at 6 am tomorrow morning. We both kept calm and made it onto the ferry with Brian driving. After the ferry ride I was afraid to drive the van through the heavy Vancouver traffic so Brian devised a way to baby the van across hilly, bustling Vancouver using second gear, slow speeds and slow acceleration. People glared at the van making its slow progress and passed us whenever they had the chance. We held our breath on every hill as the van struggled and the gears and engine made noises that could definitely not be considered normal.

Finally, we arrived at Kevin’s house and felt like we had performed a heroic act by getting the van home. We were relieved and it was very late. I didn’t sleep well and wondered what I would do the next day. I had a work meeting in Moscow, Idaho starting in two days that I had been planning for months. I didn’t know a good mechanic in Vancouver. I didn’t have roadside assistance in Canada to get the van to a shop. This was not a good place to get stranded. My right ankle was still painful and it would be difficult to drive a long distance. How could I get to Moscow, Idaho and how would I deal with my badly broken van? Brian had figured out how to drive it but I was afraid to take it to Moscow and get stranded in Seattle traffic, or the middle of nowhere in central Washington. I couldn’t even walk if I needed to go for help. I was definitely in need of rescue.

Although I just met Brian, I knew he was a superhero who could handle anything so I got up at 4:30 AM to say goodbye and ask for his help driving my van to Moscow so I could make it to my work meeting. At first he said no, he needed to get back and had a flight to catch. I said yes, I know we just met and I don’t expect you to start rescuing me already. He started looking at alternative flights on his computer and in less than 10 minutes he had booked a later plane ticket departing from Boise and he said yes, he will accompany me on this crazy mission to get the van to Idaho so I could attend my meetings and work while my van was rehabilitated.

We hoped for the best as we departed from Kevin’s house a couple hours later, Brian driving. The van was still slipping gears like it was the day before, and we both acknowledged this drive could have a horrible ending. We could end up getting the van towed and taking a Greyhound bus all the way to Moscow, and then to Boise. My van could end up in any shop along the way. The transmission could fail anytime, even in the traffic in the middle of downtown Seattle. This could get ugly. We both knew it. We kept on going.

The transmission temperature light kept coming on every 15 – 30 miles and we would stop and search for even the smallest patch of shade to park under. Even after a 30 minute stop, the transmission had barely cooled. Brian started splashing water from a bottle under the van and the transmission cooled faster this way. Then, he thought of the ultimate way to target the parts of the transmission on the undercarriage of the van: super soakers.

super_soakers (Medium)I giggled at the thought of it but immediately saw the wisdom in getting the super soakers. I started to search my phone maps for the nearest Walmart and we went inside to obtain our transmission cooling devices. Super soakers just happened to be on clearance for only one dollar so we bought two of them.

In the Walmart parking lot, we filled our super soakers and started spraying the undercarriage of the van. People stared at this spectacle in the parking lot. We had become “the people of Walmart”. You know, the ridiculous looking customers who get secret phone photos snapped of them and posted on the “people of Walmart” website. Usually the people of Walmart have ridiculous outfits or flabby body parts hanging out somewhere, but I’m sure using super soakers to cool a big, creepy van in the parking lot would make the website.

We continued to Seattle to meet my friend for lunch. Lunch plans became dinner plans as our progress became delayed by stopping every 15-30 miles to douse the undercarriage of the van with super soakers. It was hilarious the first 20 times we did it, and only mildly amusing after that. At one rest stop, an older lady approached and we start chatting. I told her to take a turn and handed her the super soaker. She shot the transmission with glee.

Finally we arrived in Moscow, Idaho and the van got to take a nice, long rest as I dashed off to the University. I had sent them some emails along the way with my progress and we all wondered if I would make it to Moscow. When I finally appeared in the doorway of the office around 3 PM I was greeted with hugs and applause! We were all very happy I made it to Moscow.

Now the van is in the shop receiving several thousand dollars of transmission work but at least the shop says we didn’t do any further damage by driving it all the way from Vancouver to Moscow on the failing transmission. Also, the undercarriage is exceptionally clean.



 

About the Author

Hi, I’m Lisa. I’m a tall, blonde superhero and I live in a van and on a sailboat with my superhero husband, Brian. I do it all. I rappel big waterfalls, scuba dive with sharks, dodge encounters with bears and wolves, and work remotely as a full time computer programmer.
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About the Van

Hi, I’m Vanifest. I’m a big, 4x4, off-the-grid van complete with solar panel for power. I'm a 2000 Dodge Ram Van and Lisa has had me since 2009. Read more about me here.


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