Friday, January 18, 2013

Ghosts of Outdoors Past

It's probably one of the best things about social media — at least in my view: Every so often, a person or image from long ago or far way pops up at a random time and suddenly redirects your thought stream. I was all set to continue my 2013 goal list this evening when my friend Jen uploaded an album titled "Oldies — College Days" to Facebook. And of course I got completely lost in them, flipping through all 250 re-photographed glossy prints, digesting the scenes and trying to remember the placement and people in any picture I was remotely involved with. Too much fun — only for me, of course. But then again, everyone has these kinds of photographs — pictures of their youth, quick captures of incredible life moments. They're always relatable, these pieces of the storyline, and I usually enjoy looking at friends' old photos. And anyway, I couldn't help but move a few to my blog.

The top photo is a group shot taken before a hike down Quandary Canyon in the San Rafael Swell, in October 2002. It's probably my favorite shot ever taken of our old "D Street Crew," but if I look sorta grumpy in that picture, it's because I was (reference: scowling person in big gloves and hat.) I had reached the point where I was certain I was terrified of canyoneering, and knew I was headed into a slot canyon that involved a rappel, a few swims, and some sketchy downclimbs on loose boulders and near-vertical slickrock. I gave it my best shot, though. Then, much like now, I was easily coerced into adventures that were well beyond my skill set.

March 2000 group shot of the University of Utah crew who headed out to Arcata, California, to do volunteer work as part of a program called Alternative Spring Break. The bulk of our work was unearthing nonnative lupine plants from the sand dunes along the coast. So if you live in Northern California and like the pretty purple flowers on the beach — it was once my short-term mission to destroy them all. What was great about this trip, is this is where I met several people who are still pretty good friends.


Fall 2000, hiking Pinnacle One in the San Rafael Swell. This picture is notable because, as you can see, I am wearing jeans and platform Sketchers, which is what I used to wear on all of my hikes back then. And Pinnacle One isn't exactly a stroll. I'd rate it as a solid Class 3. The kind of hike where you use your hands almost as much as your feet.

Lower Black Box of the San Rafael River, also sometime in Fall 2000. This box canyon hike involves something like ten miles of rock scrambling and river hiking, varying from ankle-deep to over our heads. There were several stretches of at least 500 yards that required swimming, which is why we're wearing wet suits. This outing was humorous because I decided it would be a great idea to load a fanny pack with a jar of peanut butter and a zippy full of Triscuits as my entire day's worth of food, because river water can't get through the plastic, right? Wrong. After the first swim, my peanut butter jar had filled the rest of the way with muddy giardia water, and the Triscuits were mush. My friends had a few nibbles to spare, but it was a long, hungry day.

I'm guessing this is sometime during the winter of 2001-2002. I couldn't quite place the location or circumstance of the photo, but it was notable because Beat commented, "At least I don't have to drag that sled across Alaska," followed by a pause, and then, "Well, I guess I am building a six-foot sled." (Yes, I know this is a boat.)

Summer 2002. While I was working as an editor-slash-feature writer at the Tooele Transcript-Bulletin, I made it my mission to visit every single ghost town in that large and remote desert county, and write a newspaper article about them. Under the guise of adventure, I invited friends to help me document Ophir, an old mining town in the Oquirrh Mountains. I remember this town had strange graveyard that had been cut into a narrow ridge, and a spooky cabin with a real estate sign out front, which we all resolved to buy someday.

Jen also posted a bunch of pictures from our Alaska adventure in the summer of 2003. My friends Jen, Chris, Geoff, and I traveled in a van from Salt Lake City to Alaska, where we spent the better part of three months. I don't remember the location of this camp, but I do remember being incredibly happy because we stumbled on a spot with a great fishing hole (Arctic grayling) and a ton of already split firewood. Probably somewhere in northern British Columbia.

We traveled up the Dalton Highway "all the way to Prudhoe Bay" in early June 2003, when daylight was endless but the air was still crisp, cold, and largely bug-free. This was our jalopy vehicle — a 1990 Ford Econoline Van with two spare tires strapped to the roof (they were needed), a trailer built out of a Datsun truck bed with a ton of gear inside, and four mountain bikes on a roof rack (mine is the red one on the right, a Trek 6500.)

In Prudhoe Bay, we paid for a long and boring tour guided by BP, just so we could say that we stood on the Arctic Ocean. The guide alternated between BP propaganda and bogus stories about polar bears, but I'm still glad we went on that tour. Hey, I stood on the Arctic Ocean. I hope I can go back someday.

The van was always breaking down. Big surprise. But it was maddening and I grew to dislike this vehicle so much that upon returning to Utah, I happily disowned my quarter stake in it while refusing a buyout, just so I wouldn't have to deal with it anymore.

Backpacking trip on Resurrection Pass in Alaska, July 2003.

In Valdez, Alaska, we rented a small motor boat and trawled around the Prince William Sound. Our plan was to sight-see and camp on an island where there were no bears, but as we motored along, we saw hundreds of pink salmon swimming close to the surface of the water. So with our lightweight trout-fishing gear and lures, we caught a few in a matter of minutes and cooked them over a fire for dinner. Alaskans tend to turn up their noses at pink salmon, but it was delicious, one of my most memorable meals of the trip.

Toward the end of our trip, we caught a ferry from Haines into Juneau in late July. We unknowingly set up our tents at a city-sanctioned homeless camp several miles outside of town, and then proceeded to get rained on for three days straight, without relief. The only thing I remember about that particular segment of the trip was battening down the tents again and again, cooking dinners in a musty hantavirus hut at the campground, hanging out in the library, and hating Juneau. It's amazing I ever returned.

Thanks to my friend Jen for posting the pics. It was a fun tour down memory lane.