On road trips, magnificent vastness, and incipient serendipity

Welcome to Twitsville!Unless we’ve walked the trail together or sipped a glass or two and had a chance to let our hair down, you’ve been getting only bits and pieces of me. It’s true: I have devolved into an unabashed microblogger. Like many around us, I’ve adopted a 140-character mentality, having steadily assumed the social attention span of a mosquito, copping the latest buzz. Couple that with the regular rigors of following my hiking muse, keeping my garden green and wearing 3 hats at work, and there’s simply been little left of me for developing creative, long-tail journalism.

Certainly my responsibilities have grown these past few seasons, ever since I closed up shop at California Wine Hikes and returned to my old job. Programs I had steered a half decade earlier had degraded in that time; I’d inherited a dismally broken website and a documentation program that had fallen into disarray. Having spent these past four years treading the grindstone to nearly single-handedly resurrect both, I felt I was overdue for an extended road trip. It had been 10 years since the last one. Ten years!

All work and no road trip makes Russ an indolent grouch.Skyping across the globe in January with my friend Niki had had us both dreaming of her flying from Zurich to California toward a summer road tour of Portland, Calgary, Kalispell and Estes Park; we were going to make one big circuit of things and take 4 weeks to do it. By April, however, commitments to the road had grown less solid; a potential new hire in my department had fallen through and things had changed with Niki’s employment scenario; I was faced with the prospect of picking her up at the airport in Missoula if she could swing it. But if I could manage to escape the office at all, it was beginning to look like a solo road trip.

When May rolled around, I hadn’t yet thought too hard about my road itinerary – I was cranking out the work while attempting to prospect another round of candidates. But when Adam Nutting reached out to me about joining him and 12 other outdoor social media enthusiasts for a sponsored backpacking and rafting expedition in Idaho’s Hells Canyon, I could barely prevent myself from jumping up and down at my desk like a hyperactive schoolboy on a sugar high. I instinctively responded “Yes!”idaho

I was going to Idaho!

Despite my travels thus far, I’ve not yet set foot in The Gem State. Though my company has always had a presence in the Boise area, my particular job role had never dictated that I be sent there on business. My infatuations with the southwest had confined the range of my more recent road junkets to such exotic locales as Ouray, Kanab, Springdale, Shiprock. But truth be told, I am smitten by the entire enormity of the Great American West, and the prospect of exploring northern Idaho excites me. It doesn’t hurt to know that I’ll be exploring it with folks with whom I’ve enjoyed inspiring and provocative dialog these past 3 or so years on social media.

Learn more about the #HellHikeAndRaft adventure!

Not so strange, perhaps, is that it is my social media backtrail that has established why I’ve been selected to participate on the Hell Hike and Raft Expedition. It’s an exquisite honor to be recognized for the efforts I’ve made at sharing my story and engaging in dialogs with you, and I find myself both humbled and grateful for the new level of experience that it brings.

And as to that experience, all of us participating in this expedition – we who call ourselves the #HellHikeAndRaft crew – have Parker and Becky of America’s Rafting Company to thank for their willingness to outfit us as we backpack northern Idaho’s Seven Devils Range and brave the rapids of the Snake River through the Hells Canyon gorge. A number of outstanding sponsors have stepped up to amply facilitate our effort, and we’re excited to test and evaluate their products on the trail, in camp, and on the water.

The #HellHikeAndRaft crew is proud to be sponsored by these fine establishments.

So buckle up, ladies and gents: over the next days and weeks, as the Internets allow, I plan to take you along on this serendipitous journey. After I clear my desk this week, we’ll embark on a 3-week road trip that’ll take us not only to the rugged beauty of northern Idaho, but to the magnificent soul-cleansing American vastness that is northern Nevada, southern Idaho and eastern Washington and Oregon. It’s a pretty safe bet that plenty of hiking and wine will be involved.


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Wildnerness Wednesday Links

Terrific Tuesday Links

It’s our fault

Choosing bonehead technology over trees. Where are we headed from here?

Choosing technology over trees.
Where are we headed from here?

I’ve been reading some of the posts on Cutter’s blog. In one of them, Whose fault?, Cutter, with reference to a Nature Conservancy study, examines why there’s been a nine-year decline in visitation to our National Parks. He raises such questions as “Are we distracted too much by toys and technology?” and “Is it a case of today’s generations going soft and lazy?”

Says Cutter:

“We’ve become afraid of the outdoors. And worse, we have no patience for it. In the process, we’re driving out our natural need to remain connected to the outdoors.”

I have heard — yes, even felt — that siren call of the outdoors for so many years that it’s almost hard for me to grasp that most other people don’t hear it. So Is Cutter’s pronouncement true? Sadly, I feel that it is. Just look at today’s trends — we as a global society tend to admire style over substance, as if being fashion-conscious rates higher than exploring our natural surroundings.

As parents, it’s our fault — we’ve failed to honor the relationship with Nature that we once enjoyed as kids. We’ve failed in our commitment to pay it forward.

Nature giveth. Nature also taketh away. Which is why we need to remain connected to Nature.

But time accelerates. It’s not a case of “need to” — we MUST. We must place less emphasis on our supposed need for toys, set them aside often, and realign ourselves with what’s really real out there. We must honor the real and the tangible (the real rock.) We must continually strengthen our natural connection with our one-and-only Mother Earth, and do it as a matter of course — as part of our educational system, and as part of educating each other, young and old.

It’s either that or hurtle pell-mell toward oblivion because we can’t persuade enough of the next generation that this planet — whether in the macrocosm of global warming or the microcosm of local disappearing species — is worth saving. If we as a society choose to lose our connection to Nature, the consequences are deeply foreboding.

Tell your friends to “go take a hike.” Better yet, take them by the hand, and lead them. I can help


Trees, I think…

Why did I write this post? I'm as stumped as you are. I must have been Madly influenced.

Why did I write this post? I’m as stumped as you are.
I must have been Madly influenced.

Being a former precocious preadolescent, I once used to voraciously read Mad magazine. It’s what you did as a boy back in the 1970s before your testicles descended, and hey — I was no different. For us 12-year-olds hanging out in our treehouses conveniently away from intruding parents, satire was the urban refuge of the budding cynic, and irreverence was a holy thing. While our across-the-gender-fence peers could have been a continent removed from us reading all the latest Tiger Beat gossip about Bobby Sherman, Donny Osmond, and Tony DeFranco, we were passing around well-thumbed copies of Mad, as well as Cracked and National Lampoon.

We were the Kings of All Boyhood.

True, we were hooked on the brazen impudence, the distorted symbolism, the racy chimera of these puerile rags. But as I continued along the winding trail through the rocky promontories of my postpubescence, I discovered real rock: the writings of Aldo Leopold, John Muir, Wallace Stegner, John Wesley Powell, Rachel Carson, Edward Abbey.

I had already become an avid hiker and backpacker, and was later to adopt a 200-mile-a-week bicycling habit. Not to mention a fondness for wine, if I could afford it, and a desire to taste and breathe all things natural and good. I had developed a deep longing to be out there where I could breathe that sweet and lucid, yet unspoiled, rarefied mountain breeze that continually sang to me with its siren call.

My idealism was wholly influenced by all I read, and I went on to pursue studies in biology, botany, physics, geology, land surveying, and, for a while, a degree in forest science. Later, despite my gravitation to a more technical career path yet still drawn by Abbey’s ornery, magnetic prose, I ventured to the stark red rock vastnesses of the Colorado Plateau to strengthen my connection to what Abbey described so vividly as Bedrock and Paradox.

I kept on reading.

If there’s one absolute Truth that I would learn through this timeline, it’s that one can’t be a writer without first being a reader. It was these readings and experiences that began to shape what my Self was to become. Yet for all that I would ever think, feel, do, and share with others, it became apparent to me that there was only one higher Absolute Truth:

Only rock is real.

Yet my attraction to all things bound to this Rock that we — all species — live our lives upon began, as I’ve intimated, with a love of trees, and a desire for their sound management and preservation.

During my angst-prone pimple-ridden wide-eyed youth, I penned the following poem, a Mad parody of Joyce Kilmer‘s oft-quoted World War I-era classic. Some might say that I stole this poem from Mad magazine. All I can tell you is that I was heavily influenced by what I was reading at age 17; I was writing a fair amount of “love and death” poetry at the time.

I’ll let you be the judge.


I think that I shall never see
A poem as lovely as a tree.

I’d hoped, of course, that there would be
A tree still left for me to see.

Some lumber firm from out of town
Has chopped the whole damned forest down.

But I’ll show up those stupid chumps!
I’ll go and write a poem called “Stumps!”


Ouch! I stubbed my brain…

Dan Mitchell, in his blog Dan’s Outside, describes an incident in which, late at night, he stumbled around the house in the dark and smacked his pinky toe on the furniture. Sure — we’ve all done it, right? But right before a 5-day backpack trip?

Yep, I did the same exact thing once. Only it was my left clavicle that got broken. And I kept right on riding, despite my twisted (choose at least one) collarbone/mountain bike/brain/aversion to visiting doctors’ offices.

When you’ve got plans to ride, hike, or wrestle with alligators, it’s all too human that we are *sorely* tempted to keep those plans.