Saturday, June 26, 2010

Rise of the Catalyst; the Fall of the Concord

This excerpt from my journal is from the two most interesting days of my life:

Waking to the morning heat at our campsite below Kite Lake could not have been more relaxing; M&M pancakes, topped with a delicious blueberry syrup, and fresh coffee to start the day. We reorganized the van and set off on to our next destination, Aspen, CO. With a full tank of gas we surveyed the options as the mammoth mountains stood directly between us and our destination, three hours around to the south, two hours north, or a mountain dirt road pass; usually pushing motorists to log the hours and safely navigate around the range. We consulted with the local general store, Al*Mart, employees who directed us away from Mosquito Pass but offered an alternative route, a “maintained county road”, Weston Pass. Looking for epic views and adventure, it was an easy decision. We charged the dirt pass dodging crater size potholes, the washboard grate vibrating the Concord, flying through turbulence. Up…Up…Up we went gaining elevation, loosing oxygen. We pushed hard towards the crest, the grade was steep and the top was near.

Four hundred yards from the top of the pass, The Concord hissed, white steam poured from beneath the hood; the ultimate distress signal. Chris and I jumped out of the car as he threw it into park, quickly popped the hood and stared blankly, thousands of thoughts flying through our minds like a supersonic star field time travel. Once we had gathered our composure we created a plan. We would feed the thirst of the blown radiator until we crested the top, pop the transmission in neutral, and use the force of gravity to descend to civilization, some ten long miles away.

The first push with a newly filled radiator and a cool engine crushed our delicate optimism, making it only a few hundred feet before The Concord spewed the last of the water we had on board. Our next five stops only helped to reduce our fragile minds to dust and anguish. We crested the hill and the hard part was over; so we thought. The downside of the pass proved to be less ‘maintained’ for antique airplanes (The, 330,000 mi old, Concord) and more suited for an off road monster truck. Giant boulders exploded with laughed at us as we attempted to dodge the biggest behemoths and take as little damage to the underbody as possible, while dependent on gravity to push us each inch closer to a mechanic. We traveled downhill, each corner providing the opportunity for a smooth road or any sign of civilization…that never came. What did come, were more decisions; a grand canyon sized pothole putting us on two wheels or a boulder the size of a tortoise accompanied by many friends. We sat quietly on pins and needles traversing the sketchy scenery. An occasional “nice line” or “good miss” would come from Chris in the passenger seat, when he took the time to stop holding his breath. The tension boiled like a hot teakettle. Occasionally, we would abruptly stop, throwing our 4x4, off-road, van into park, cooling the engine and releasing the pressure from within the cockpit, as it balanced delicately on the brink of a piercing whistle. After hours of stress-rich survival driving we met US-24 placing us seven miles downhill from Leadville, CO (the highest city in the U.S). One last hill to crest putting us within reach of a local mechanic. The engine in 2nd gear struggled as we crept toward the city, successfully getting ourselves to Ron the Mechanic. He delivered the fatal news…cracked radiator, $540, with the possibility of cracked head gaskets. The Concord’s death ticket had been signed. Opting to stay with the Concord for its final heartbeats left our bank accounts in tact but ourselves stranded. We solemnly wheeled our wounded solider behind the Leadville Opera House, where we could park for the night and reorganize our thoughts. Attending the local bar’s Friday night Dollar beer special was the immediate conclusion, in need of some liquid confidence. I pulled clothes from my duffel attempting to appear ‘clean’. Straightened my pants, threaded my belt through the loops, and pushed my pockets open to find an unexpected piece of paper in the front pocket of my khaki pants; it read:

“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose ones attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” – Victor Frankl

We had maintained our composure, but now our attitudes toward the situation became lifted; we went to the bar. The Minnesota bartender served us dollar beers until our eyes became dizzy. We sat at the bar surrounded by local men, all relieved that Friday had made its way around once again. A 3rd generation descendant of an early Leadville miner glanced down the bar piercing my returning gaze, Chris quickly started conversation. He taught us about the land, how the continental divide held no mineral potential, but the mountains to the East were home to Silver, Zinc, and Molybdenum, but the EPA held the key to those riches. We exchanged stories and talked about possible radiator fixes but the possible head gasket problem loomed over this solution. Ordering another round of drinks had us conversing with Rebecca about her past mistakes, bankruptcies, and her daughters who were only a few years younger. We told her our story and she presented a possibility; an old station wagon sat unstarted for years, consuming precious yard space at her house on Alder Ave. We made sure to exchange cell numbers, like we had just found our lucky lady, reminding her to call us at the agreed time, 11:00am the next morning, as we waddled behind the Opera House to the awaiting Concord.

We sat in the wounded Concord, butterflies flittering deep inside our stomachs as we waited to see the fruits of our drunken agreement. At 10:57am the phone rang and Rebecca’s name came across the caller ID. We met at her house and helped her clean years of junk from the old cavity only to find the battery lacked the juice to turn the archaic engine. Our anxiety wouldn’t be coaxed until the charger delivered enough volts to jump-start the cranky engine. We awaited a phone call to discuss the successful start and finish the deal, but the battery had seen its final day years ago. We decided we would try to drive our van, as it held loosely to the strings of life, across town to transfer our battery, starting the engine. The Concord pushed down the road emptying the radiator after only several hundred feet of work.

Rebecca came to the rescue to transport the battery and us. The old station wagon housed a side-mount battery, which differed from the battery within the Concord. We bought a, non-returnable, battery on a whim, hoping it would be the Catalyst to an awaiting engine. Rebecca sat in the driver’s seat, cranked the key giving it a hint of the gas pedal. The ol’ wagon shook the collected dust from the engine and purred to life! We shouted with joy, a slight wave of relief softened our faces; we connected fives, up high. A drive around the block proved her worthy of completing our journey with a new respected style. We returned to our broken down van on the roadside, and nursed her back to Colorado Mountain College where fajitas were for dinner and relief was for dessert. Sleep came easy that night.

*This is a poem I wrote about this same incidence once the dust settled:

The Plight of the Concord


We pressed forward, the boulders shook

Our van violently, up, down, left to right

As they sat stably supported by the earth, not moving an inch

Providing more anxiety than a Senior riding the bench

The pot holes, ravines, and rocks got larger

But we could not stall, car in neutral, gravity pushed us farther

Each corner our drug, we phened on the hope

Like a drug addict in need of coke

The road continued on like an uncut rope

Finally the pavement began, but the uphill started

Unexpected and grotesque, like a dog had farted

In our faces the, tension was present

Hazard lights signaling, radiator fluid trailing

Like cars behind a hearse, death was happening.

-peoples names have been changed for privacy purposes

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Journal Entry [5.11.2010]

I could hardly sleep, anticipating my journey North. I tend to hesitate claiming to be a true 'Michigander', having hardly explored my own state. Traverse City was always a city that sounded appealing. The thoughts raced through my mind as I searched for sleep. A 30min snooze wasn't enough to make up for my lost sleep, but when I couldn't find my wallet I felt as though it was all a dream. After my expired debit card failed at the ATM, I was lucky to remember the archaic form of money, checks, were stored in my study desk. Tip Saved!

I spent the morning driving North where spring has yet to take full effect. The forests thickened as I navigated to Traverse City. I was fortunate enough to catch up with Morgan Truelove in a small window before he embarked on his own journey westward (Colorado river guiding). We played disc golf, gathered supplies for his trip, chicken potpies with his parents, and set the slackline on the beach of Lake Michigan on the Leelanau peninsula.

I awoke to Morgan tapping on my van windows, a blank map in my mind. While Morgan packed his final necessities I searched the map deciding my direction. The predicted rain posed no threats or limitations in my mind. Saying farewell to Traverse City, I headed North on the 'stickered' famous M-22. Leelanau State Park was my destination. When I arrived I contemplated paying the entrance fee at the self-service welcome center. Once the park employee arrived I knew I had no choice, it wouldn't fit my budget. I decided the drive was good enough; on to Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore! Heading South I anxiously awaited the first signs indicating my arrival, but they seemed misplaced, there was no park infrastructure so I continued to drive. As I weaved along the fresh water coast a side road caught my attention. I was looking for a nice lunch spot and came upon the Lane Rd. dead end, landed the Concord (van) and surveyed the scene. The dead end sat on the top of a forested dune, the beach below. I grabbed my Crazy Creek chair and my Subway and headed to the beach for lunch. Once I arrived at the water edge I forced myself to eat, hardly able to sit still, with motherly words running through my head, "You have to finish your lunch so you will have the energy to play." While swallowing my final bite I packed my gear and stowed it on the beach; time to explore!

The rain drops lightly misted the rocks awash, exposing my first petoskey stones. My eyes were glued to the beach searching for exciting rocks. I managed to pause and look around coincidentally spotting a Cairn. I placed a black stone on top to signify my presence and symbolically removing all negative energy. A trail appeared just beyond the Cairn, I followed the path randomly choosing this fork and that. I stopped for a breath, to take in the surroundings, I spotted a cemetery. I approached with the excitement of a 13year old on his first date, unsure what to expect. A moment of silence then I entered examining the headstones that dated back to the late 1800's, the Ericssons laid peacefully below the sandy soils and a mighty canopy.

The trail continued on, opening to a huge grass pasture, an old crop field I presume. An old, but well built barn lay on its edge. I managed to squeeze inside, reminiscent of my adolescent years climbing the rafters in our old Victorian barn on E Dr S. I didn't stay long, more beach to explore.

I found my way to the top of a dune, a lonely bench sat for passerby's to soak in the panoramic landscape. When I reached the beach once more I was sure to keep my eyes on alert, fully present. My senses keen, I spotted an old green ranger cabin. Sliding a rock to the side, I let myself in. It was filled with crayon drawn images from 2000 and 2004. Old candles also lined the inside, some advertised "Anti-Jinxing Candle". I didn't stay long, with a feeling I didn't belong, snapped a photo and left.

Once I returned to the Concord (van) I scouted a nice hammock location on the side of the dune, the waves impacting the sand a hundred feet below. The aqua blue water disappeared into the horizon, meeting the deep blue sky, disguising the transition. A long read on Ed Viesturs 'No Shortcuts to the Top' allowed my body to rest. Only half of the beach had been explored by my footsteps, the other half awaiting my quick sneakers. The cool day didn't hold back my sweat as I ran towards the North point, and the clear cool water didn't hold back my smelly energized body. I ran across the beach into the blue with nothing on but water! Clean from head to toe, flesh to soul, it was time to feed my hunger. Wild Rice with a hint of Lake Michigan's finest sediment, sand. It was satisfying tasteful and warm. My hammock cradled me tightly as I enjoyed a beer for desert, watching the clouds absorbs what would have been the sunset. I sit in Grandpa's van 'the Concord', bed is made, zipper pulled tight. A night next to the Lake, excited for what awaits.

photos at:

Sunday, March 14, 2010


This past week I took a journey to Mount Pleasant, MI, for my week of spring break. It was an eventful week. I was able to get my Wilderness First Responder certification and I also got a Job!

All About Visiting Earth (AAVE) gave me the good news, employing me for the summer 2010. I will be leading highschool adventure trips throughout the western US for the summer.

The possibilities are beyond exciting with graduation on the horizon. More adventure synopsis's to come....

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

October 21- 25 happened to be the peak of the Fall Colors in Great Smokey Mountain National Park. Chris, twelve friends, and I were lucky enough to absorb the experiecne below the canopy as we set out on a 3 night 4 day 21 miles backpacking trip.

We all raced from class to Battle Creek, MI where we rendezvoused at my home. We hit the road with excitement and energy, Great Smoky Mountain National Park or bust. 14 deep, we drove through the night. 7 people per van allowed little time for sleep. As we approached Pigeon Forge, TN the horizon began to illuminate. By the time we were climbing the twisted Smoky Mountain roads, the sun was peaking her face over the Appalachian Forest horizon. With a reclaimed energy we convinced ourselves to start our 4 mile day upon arrival. We trekked up, up, and continued to climb elevation, not until our food deprivation matched our sleep deprivationdid we arrive at camp; exhausted.

We woke to an Autumn rain that was pleasing to to the ear, and our feet soaked up the weather. It rained throughout the day but we battled the elements. Without a complaint we did everything in the rain; hiked, cooked, set up tents, ate lunch, dinner, went to bed.

The third day provided a great mix of terrain that led us into a stand of old growth forest. Trees towered above us, some as much as 10ft diameter. We arrived at camp, a small group occupied the designated site, so we cross a stream onto the stream bank and found just enough room to construct our tent city. Once we were established, we realized that the site was closed due to bear activity. However, the sign looked faded, and we would make sure to take ALL necessary precautions.

Day four, we climbed again, this time to victory; to the concord (van). For some it was their first trip, the most miles ever hiked in one day or in one outing, others enjoyed the company and new friendships, others reconnected, but we all enjoyed the simplicity of our party of 14, living in the backcountry.

Fall Colors Tour 2009!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

This past weekend, some friends and I were lucky to be part of the 2nd Pine River Extravaganza. Tanner, Carsten, Chris, Trent, Matt and I made the trip into the Huron-Manistee National Forest to a hunting cabin secured by Tanner. We all opted to sleep under the stars instead of using the security of the trailer.

I was happy to be able to sleep in my hammock and took full advantage of the area and found two trees that would suffice. However when I was awaken, fear running thorough my blood, by the yelling of some Michigan wildlife I was wishing I had someone near to confirm the bloody kurdaling scream coming from 20ft. At first my panic placed me in Colorado, with campers sleeping all around me, once I realized that I was in Michigan and there is nothing to worry about, I was able to fall asleep. The next morning we concluded it must have been a rabbit being slowly killed or making love, yelling like a school child or Nevadan prostitute. (one or the other)

The Pine river is the fastest running river in Michigan, and it gave us a wild ride. The river meanders seemingly unaltered by human activities which provided some technical terrain for us to navigate. We all made the complete trip on water without a single canoe tipping over. Big improvement from last year. This trip was wonderful and we really lucked out with the weather, blue bird skies throughout the weekend. It was a great end to summer. Yesterday being the autumnal equinox, it's time to welcome the cooler nights, foggy mornings, changing leaves, and apple cider.

Monday, September 7, 2009

All moved in, Grand Rapids, MI. Year five of college has begun at Grand Valley State University. One more year until I hold the bachelor in hand. Classes have begun and the great Michigan fall is near.

My latest adventure was for a college credit. Large boat sailing, in fact. The most fun credit I have taken at Grand Valley State University by far. 8 students met on a sail boat in Great Lakes marina, located on Muskegon Lake. The first evening we took the boat out and learned the skill by doing the task, Myudic (the name of the boat). We had light winds but nothing extreme. That night Capt. Rick took us to a funky pizza place, but had delicious beer and pizza.

Day two we were able to go out on the Big Lake, Lake Michigan. I was amped to take the boat out and sail in some great wind. Unfortunately there was no wind forecasted, and indeed none came. However we made the most of our adventure to the depths of Lake Michigan, and jumped off the boat (pic above). The water was clearer than imaginable. I was able to see the sail boats keel underwater from 20ft away. I took the opportunity to try to swim as deep as I could, and was surprised when Capt. told me he could see me the whole way.

Marina, include your email in a comment, so I can contact you!!