Outdoor Retailer Bestuvs

Imagine you’re at a mall on the weekend before Christmas and all the crowds around you are fit, driven, and over-caffeinated. That’s pretty much the scene at the Outdoor Retailer at the Salt Palace convention center. Thousands of vendors and tens of thousands of buyers, managers, and working media types (like me) are meeting. It’s easy to be overwhelmed.

Among the offerings, there are a lot of technical pieces (specialized climbing rope, specialized paddle boards, specialized watches, specialized phone chargers, etc., etc.) bright, snappy clothing, and the latest on how to bring domesticity into the back country. We managed to whittle through the morass and find some excellent (and perhaps overlooked) products:

Good to Go – this Maine-based company, led by an accomplished and adventurous chef, takes the same ol’, same ol’ out of camp meals.

Pull Start Fire – taking the wishing and finger-crossing out of campfires, even in the rain.

Rite in the Rain – notebooks and writing implements that work, even in the rain.

Duckworth Wool – wool from Montana, crafted into fabulous clothing in North and South Carolina. We’re verrryy keen on this new company. Review of their Vapor t-shirt coming soon.

Benchmade – we found some female-friendly knives from this Oregon company. Review coming soon.

Green Goo – natural salves from this women-owned Colorado company. We love their Travel Packs, which come with lip balm, first aid and pain relief salves, and bug spray.

Adventure Medical – We love their Me and My Dog first aid kits. An essential for your barn, truck, or camper.

Bullfrog – horse riders sweat, too! We dig their sweat-resistant, sunscreen/bug repellant combination lotion.

And it was fun to visit with Bullfrog’s celebrity kayaker Nick Troutman, too. Read more at UtahOutsider. 

Klean Kanteen – this company sets the bar for doing the right thing in a complicated market. It’s a B Corporation and is especially innovative and transparent. “We adhere to the triple bottom line: People, Planet, then Profit,” said one representative at the OR. Aside from that, we love their new colors and kits. Check out there starter Coffee Kit here. 

Stanley – the company’s Switchback mug gets the prize for no-spill, no-drip To Go mug. It’s also pretty easy to clean between uses.

OsanaBar – a new, awesome-smelling, mosquito repellent soap that works! The company also has an excellent charitable arm. It supplies soap to communities threatened by malaria, the sometimes deadly disease carried by mosquitos.

LL Bean – the Maine company continues to introduce fun, tough, not-your-gramma’s clothing. The colors and fabrics are perfect for us horse riders. We love their Back Cove Heathered tee, their Luna jacket, and their Whisper Lodge flannel. 

Whisper Lodge flannel shirt from LL Bean

Rattlesnake Avoidance Pays Off

Here in Colorado, one niggling impediment to carefree hiking and riding is the prospect of rattlesnake encounters. The possibility of harm and crisis – for horses, humans, and dogs – is enough to motivate several preventative strategies.

There’s not a lot we can do for horses aside from education, preparation, and embracing our ability to keep calm and to keep the horse calm. Check out these helpful articles:

UC Davis report on rattlesnake issues

Wyoming newspaper column on rattlesnakes and horses

Horse blogger’s tips for rattlesnake encounters

Dogs are different and we can help them out a lot more tangibly. Like Frontline and other topical tick deterrents, the rattlesnake vaccine may help. Research is somewhat equivocal but my dogs have all been vaccinated. With it, my 30-pound sprite, Peeko, might survive long enough to get to the vet. The vaccine may also help significantly reduce the vet bill and the bite’s overall impact on the dog.

JJ Belcher works with Kip

JJ Belcher works with Kip

Another preventative measure is a Rattlesnake Avoidance class, something my dogs unwittingly enrolled in last weekend. It involves a shock collar, a big-ass rattlesnake (who goes by the name Brian, is 12 years old, at least five feet long, thick as a Campbell’s soup can, and has had his venom glands surgically removed), and an experienced canine trainer from Arizona. Watch video. Read more about JJ Belcher and Sublime Canine here.

Individually, the trainer led Kip, Peeko, and Monty to the snake. When they got curious, they were hit with a jolt from the collar. Later, Belcher returned with each dog to visit Brian. My dogs had caught on quickly; as soon as they spied the snake, they went in the other direction. When I led each dog to a bag full of snake sheds, they also steered clear.

Lesson of the Day: Stay away from something that looks or smells or moves like Brian. I was pretty confident that the education would stick. Little did I know, we’d put the training to the test almost immediately.

Jessica Kahn trains with her dog, Remington, and JJ Belcher

I was ponying a group of horses and my dogs were tagging along, off leash. We had a mile of gravel road to cover. Halfway, we encountered a rattler in the middle of the road, coiled up and ready to take on all comers. I think I saw a brief flash of curiosity, but then the dogs steered clear. Hooray!

A few days later, we saw another rattlesnake on the same stretch of road. The dogs came close (a few yards), almost by accident, but otherwise did not approach or return to it. Hooray II!

Avoidance training, said JJ Belcher, is not like ordinary obedience. It’s important not to encourage dogs to check out dead rattlers. Contact should be discouraged. For more on that, check out Sublime Canine.

Monty learns that steering clear of rattlers is optimal.


Diversity Reconsidered

This opinion piece appeared recently in High Country News. Here is the unedited version:

Diversity is such a funny word.

Most folks think of it in terms of skin color or ethnicity. I picked my college because of this so-called diversity. For a white girl img_3915from a white state (Maine, 95 percent Caucasian), the experience would be enriching, I thought.

Of course, diversity applies to upbringing and income, too. Mancos is mostly white, but it is diverse in purpose: folks here are dedicated to ranching, farming, artistry, outdoor recreational and non-profit work. It is a Colorado Creative District and its ranchers account for millions of dollars in livestock sales.

Regardless of how you use the word, when you talk about diversity, there’s an assumption of commingling, of different people interacting in a holistic and harmonious way. We often consider diverse communities healthier and more commendable than homogenous communities. (Mancos was named one of the Top 20 Small Towns by Smithsonian Magazine.)

But in my experience, diverse pockets of people act more like species in the wilderness. They mostly avoid each other and interact only when they must or when they stand to benefit. That’s the way it was at college and that’s the way it is here. The electoral purple is only purple from outer space.

That’s too bad since reaching beyond our comfortable circles has mostly positive consequences. Researchers at Stanford and Harvard Universities say so. Yet I see plenty of disdain and non-communication between community groups.

Mancos’ motto is Where the West Still Lives and sure enough, cattle drives are regular deals here.

img_3839Recently, I helped friends move 50 head along a few miles of back road. Most cars stopped to let us pass; some even pulled over and took pictures. But one local driver in a new Subaru tried to passed a stopped car and push through the herd. Now side-by-side vehicles blocked the cattle.

The driver, in his ignorance and impatience, had made matters worse.

This scene plays out in scores of small Western towns. And if you swap out the rancher for the lobsterman, you’ll see it along the Maine coast, too. “Recreational boaters have no respect for the guy who works on the water,” said a friend who’s hauled traps for forty years. “No knowledge of tides, of buoys running hard with the current. They’ll row you (rocking the boat by passing at high speed). It’s just plain ignorance.”

Colorado is a fence-out state, so gates and fences are nothing new. But more and more transplants lock their gates. Inevitably, cattle get through their fencing. How now does the cowboy get them out?

“You either have to cut the fence or cut the lock. Things could go smoothly but don’t because of that,” said Wyatt Cox, a local rancher.

You might think differences could be worked out over a cup of coffee. But even coffee gets divisive.

Most ranchers grab their morning cup at the Conoco station or at the P & D, which for decades has served as the town’s grocery store. A quarter mile away, Fahrenheit Coffee Roasters charges the same price but hosts a different clientele. They tote img_0027laptops and smart phones. Some sit for hours at the metal tables, working online.

Matt Lauer, who owns Fahrenheit with his wife, Linda James, chuckles at perceptions of his business and of his clientele, “It’s ‘yuppy,’ ‘new age,’ ‘expensive,’” he said. “There are folks who grew up on Folgers who think this coffee sucks.”

One rancher told me that cowboy hats don’t fit through Fahrenheit’s doorway and that Lauer’s customers “need to get a job.”

You might assume that transplants are better at embracing a town’s diversity. But sandal wearers with messenger bags are just as rutted in their routines as the cowhands dipping Copenhagen.

Diversity is only what you make of it. To benefit from it requires initiative:

  • Consider drinking coffee somewhere else.
  • Diversify your routine.
  • Extend a hand.

Books help. My favorite is The Good Neighbor Guidebook for Colorado, edited by Nancy S. Greif and Erin J. Johnson. The driver stuck in cows would do well to read it: “New neighbors must be prepared to assume responsibility for the impact that their presence can have on working farms and ranches…Living next door to a farm or ranch involves … a commitment to open communication, hard work, and constant learning.”

Great Work, a business practices book by David Sturt, specifically points to the need to reach outside your usual circles. When people do that, “it makes communities interesting, welcoming, vibrant,” Sturt writes, supported by the aforementioned university research. It’s actually a disadvantage to only talk with people “who like us, care about us, and believe in us.”

I mentioned the cattle drive snafu to Sturt. He laughed and offered the driver some advice:

“Get out of your little bubble. Roll down your window. Smell the cattle. Listen to them. Get off autopilot. It takes more effort. And it’s a delight.”


Kevin Fedarko Interview, Part III

We spoke recently with Kevin Fedarko, author of The Emerald Mile: The Epic Story of the Fastest Ride in History Through the Heart of the Grand Canyon.
Fedarko, a former senior editor of Outside magazine, spoke at the Cortez Public Library as part of the Amazing Author series.
fed6We met over lunch, before he headed off to another speaking engagement in Telluride.

Read Part I

Read Part II

COO: This is your first book. When it came to the story of the Emerald Mile, did it call to you? Did people around you say ‘this story is book-worthy, you gotta do it!’ Or was there any compulsion, like, ‘at this time in my life, I gotta write a book’?

KF: It might have been a bit of the latter. A book represented where I wanted to get with writing. Not so much because a book is longer, but with a book, you get to focus on one thing. Not writing about something, then moving on. Even writing for a monthly magazine, you parachute in with a set of ideas. You emerge from a two-week process with something to say about it. That became dissatisfying for me over time. I really wanted to dive much more deeply. I think I’ve always wanted that.

This story took an enormous amount of time to coalesce in my head. I couldn’t figure out: what was the story? where was the center? what did it involve?

At first, it didn’t even occur to me that there were two stories, one at the dam and one on the river. So all that stuff got worked out in the very messy process of writing a proposal and trying to write the book.

It was chaotic and messy and lacked anything remotely approaching clarity.

COO: After the proposal, did it evolve again? Or did the folks in New York respect your vision?

KF: This was my first rodeo with book publishing. It doesn’t always work this way. I wound up with an agent who was very hands-on. She helped me shape the proposal. It was 20,000 words. She was part of the process.

The proposal is like a sales document. It’s not the book. It’s not like you can take it, like a balloon and blow it up into a 110,000-word document. I needed to throw that away and start from scratch again.

COO: Right. The sales document is how the book will fit into the publishing world and supersede all the other books out there. And why now is the time for it to be published.

fed7KF: By the way, The Emerald Mile was not a bestseller at the beginning. I talked with Brendan Leonard of Semi-Rad and there’s a DirtBag Diaries podcast that describes the whole thing.

[Simon & Schuster debuted the book in March, 2013. The release coincided with a long-running dispute between the publishing company and Barnes & Noble that climaxed with the bookseller refusing to sell any books by S & S rookie authors. For The Emerald Mile, “the marketing feel apart. It was a downward spiral that ends with the death of a book,” said Fedarko, who responded to the debacle by relentlessly touring the western states, doing book signings, sleeping in the back of his truck, “living like a river guide”, and cultivating his own following.] Listen to the podcast here.

Some people have criticized The Emerald Mile and it did get me thinking. It might be going to far to say I appreciated it, but it’s been useful and valuable.

COO: Yeah, readers tend to be unhappy if the book wasn’t what they expected. Not that it was a bad book, but book reviews tend to be 2 stars when the sales pitch wasn’t the same as the goods.

KF: It’s so interesting you say that because the single biggest criticism has been that it wasn’t enough about the journey and it was false advertising. It has to do with the subtitle. A certain type of reader has felt he’s been sold a bill of goods…I was

Fedarko speaks at Durango High School. Courtesy Durango Herald

Fedarko speaks at Durango High School. Courtesy Durango Herald

explaining the criticism to kids at Durango High School because I thought it might resonate.

Here’s a book that starts with two chapters, these kind of sexy things happen. But the next thing you know, you’re in the 1500’s with Spanish conquistadors and then you’re thrown 70 pages of environmental history before you even start to connect things. Certain readers felt that was unfair. It goes back to the subtitle. I would have really liked the subtitle to get away from what it is now and towards what’s more essential.

One of my favorite critiques: a guy wrote on some blog that The Emerald Mile was a terrible book and how there are only three chapters that deal with the speed run. His advice to readers, particularly kayakers, was to buy the book, rip out 75 percent of it, keep the last three chapters, and then throw that in the trash, too.

Isn’t that great?

COO: Well, at least one boater is reading the whole thing. My son.

KF: The idea that young people are reading it is great. Durango High School adopted the book. That’s the most amazing thing that’s happened.

COO: I’m sure the teachers chose it for the very reasons critics have panned it – the research, the history, and environmental issues.

KF: Right. They’re using it as a sort of base camp. They go to a power plant. They go to Glen Canyon Dam. They go on a camping trip. They’re on the Animas. Their adoption of the book is the single most gratifying thing that has happened in connection with the book.

Read Part I

Read Part II

Kevin Fedarko Interview, Part II

We spoke recently with Kevin Fedarko, author of The Emerald Mile: The Epic Story of the Fastest Ride in History Through the Heart of the Grand Canyon.
Fedarko, a former senior editor of Outside magazine, spoke at the Cortez Public Library as part of the Amazing Author series.
We met over lunch, before he headed off to another speaking engagement in Telluride.

Read Part I

COO: You’re really self-deprecating. Not just as a public speaker but as an oarsman (Fedarko manned the boat which carried fed6the latrines during his boating stints on the Colorado River). Are you really that bad?

KF: No, I can’t resist a good joke on myself. The basic parameters of that story are true. I was a very bad oarsman. I’m still not great. And I did become the permanent poo boat guy. But I also knew that it was a great story. It’s kind of hilarious. And I knew that it would teach me something. Had I focused more on being an oarsman, I would have gotten better. I would have proven myself over time and acquired those skills. But I made a conscious decision not to because ultimately I’m a writer. I’m not a dory boatman. I had to decide that one avenue was more valuable than the other.

COO: And you’re not a bad presenter either. Your presentation was polished and thoughtful. Did you have help?

KF: I haven’t had any coaching. I have done it dozens of times. It is kind of polished. But I am really awkward when I start. It takes me a good 10 minutes to get going. That’s who I am: someone who’s very uncomfortable being up there, who’s stumbling over himself, who’s not a natural. Someone once told me that the difference between an introvert and an extrovert is that an extrovert derives energy from being around people and an introvert has energy sucked out of them. I’m definitely the latter.

COO: How do you divide your time now? Over the last few months?

KF: The last several months have been sort of insane. Pete and I have been trying to complete this walk and then write the story immediately. It’s been kind of like two trains colliding. I have also just completed a ghost-writing project. You’re also catching me at a moment where I don’t think I’ve ever been more exhausted. There is no balance in my life at the moment.

But starting June, I have nothing for two months. I have a pile of books I want to read. Nothing else.

COO: Are you happy with your daily, monthly, yearly life? With your accolades and whatnot?

KF: I think you’re laboring under the misimpression that there is all this acclaim. Sam Carter interviewed me for a radio interview and asked ‘What’s it like to be famous?’ I’m like, ‘Dude…’

COO: But book tours and racing around southwestern Colorado is not sitting in a lonely, dark room, typing away.

KF: It’s not as if the phone is ringing off the hook and people are calling all the time, asking me to speak.

Kevin Fedarko pauses before heading to Telluride

Kevin Fedarko pauses before heading to Telluride

COO: At the Cortez library, you showed a video of the specter of Grand Canyon development. Looking ahead to the generations to follow, are you depressed, optimistic?

KF: I’m not a father and I don’t think I know enough about young people to either be inspired or depressed. Around them, I find myself experiencing a bit of both. I worry that people don’t read. I worry that kids spend most of their time indoors.

COO: I noticed that most people at your talk were our age. (We’re both around 50 years old.)

KF: You’re right. But there are times when I run into young people and I think they’re amazing. There’s an organization called Grand Canyon Youth. The whole mission is to put young people on the river. They’re incredible.

People my age have been worrying about the superficiality and general cluelessness of young people since probably the age of rock art. I think some of these worries are a bit manufactured.

Read Part I

Read Part III

Kevin Fedarko Interview, Part I

We spoke recently with Kevin Fedarko, author of The Emerald Mile: The Epic Story of the Fastest Ride in History Through the Heart of the Grand Canyon.
Fedarko, a former senior editor of Outside magazine, spoke at the Cortez Public Library as part of the Amazing Author series.
We met over lunch, before he headed off to another speaking engagement in Telluride.
ColoradoOutsider: Wilderness and being outside are your topics. You’re recording, experiencing, and trying to be mindful. How does that work for you? Like on this recent trek, walking the Grand Canyon (on assignment for National Geographic), were you “on” all the time?

Kevin Fedarko: In that context, I’m always on. I’m very cognizant of the fact that everything that happens is grist for the mill. I think it’s really essential to record as much as possible, in situ, to get it down in the moment.
That’s a huge challenge during a trip like that because I’m always so exhausted. You can’t take notes while you’re walking. It’s just impossible. And I was so exhausted in camp at night that all I wanted to do was go to sleep. So I carry a tape recorder right on my backpack, on a strap. I found it was amazingly efficient.
Pete (photographer and videographer Pete McBride} was constantly recording as well. Much as I’d love to be in Zen poet mode or whatever, and not worry about being a journalist, this is my material, what’s happening. Also, to get down thoughts is really important even if it’s in a really rough moment.

COO: My kids and I have an ongoing argument on whether taking pictures takes away from the moment or adds to the moment, adds to one’s ability to be in the moment. When you’re on assignment, does that make your recall and memories sharper? Or does it put blinders on, because you might not recall what you didn’t record?

KF: For me it does make them sharper because I’m forced into a level of engagement that goes beyond having fun or registering its beauty and then moving on. When you’re forced to record, you’re forced to articulate your thoughts. That pulls you in. Some might say it’s a false engagement because it’s an intellectual engagement. I’m sure you could go down that road and have a long PhD thesis on that. But for me, it does heighten the experience. It imbues it with a coherence and meaning that wouldn’t be there otherwise.

Kevin Fedarko pauses before heading to Telluride

Kevin Fedarko pauses before heading to Telluride

It’s also less enjoyable. I can’t coast through it. Even when I’m trying to do that, I’m often pulled back in by some sort of insight or observation. My tape recordings may be just five seconds long or so. They are just impressions.

COO: Key words or snapshots?

KF: Absolutely. For instance, the way the pebbles at the bottom of a slot canyon are all different colors because the floor of a slot canyon collects all the different layers of rock and they are literally all jumbled together. Each represents a different place in time. Some are 2.5 million years old and some are 1.7 billion years old. So you have time jumbled together in rock, represented in color. That would be an example of an impression.

COO: But you don’t have time to fine-tune it as a wordsmith. You table that bit.

KF: Right. It seems to me it’s most important to record it. I can then think about the words later.

Read Part II, in which Fedarko discusses the specter of Grand Canyon development.

Read Part III


Cowboy Up! Time to run in Mancos

The Mancos Half Marathon, featuring a scenic course on mostly dirt roads, will kick off early in the morning on June 25, right here at the Mancos Public Library.

(I love the Mancos library. It has the most engaged and engaging staff I’ve ever encountered. It has a nifty building with FullSizeRendercomfortable chairs and conference rooms. It has free fiber Internet.)

The day’s events also include a 5K race, a free fun run, and health, wellness, and kids’ activities. The 12-member organizing team has done an incredible job with course route planning, sponsor recruitment, and behind-the-scenes organization. I expect a stellar day. There will be prizes from Osprey packs, Salomon shoes, the Durango Running Company, and others.

According to the Mancos Valley Chamber of Commerce, “Mancos” refers to someone with a maimed arm. I’m thinking it will be maimed legs and lungs after this race. The town sits at 7,000 feet elevation and the route peaks at 7,600. Yikes! Anyone coming from sea level will surely struggle.

Heck, I will struggle. With a nagging injury and lackadaisical training, you’ll find me at the back of the pack. Or, in wrangler terms, riding drag.

A view from the off-road element of the Mancos Half Marathon

A view from the off-road element of the Mancos Half Marathon

The race is in its third year, its first with a new name. It was the Cowboy Half Marathon when Ben Hahn, founder of the Mancos Project, established it . Here’s hoping race organizers reclaim that superior moniker next year.

To check out the half-marathon course, with views of Mesa Verde and the LaPlata mountains, click here.

Listen to an interview with race organizers Duff Simbeck and Annette Mullikin on KSJD radio.

See you there!

It Fills. It Spills!

Like sands into an hourglass, the San Juan Mountains snow pack has been flowing into the Dolores River and filling the McPhee Reservoir in southwestern Colorado.

A mural in Dolores

A mural in Dolores

For weeks, the boating community has been watching the granular increases (posted online by the Dolores Water Conservancy District) and waiting with collective breath for the reservoir to reach its 381,000 acre foot capacity or an elevation of 6,924 feet.

It fills. It spills.

For the first time in five years, the DWCD has announced a “spill” or managed release, beginning June 3 and lasting for three days. Rapids from Class I to Class V will return to what some have called one of the most iconic stretches of American river. Read more release information here.

“The way it’s managed now, you really have to drop everything and go,” said Jane Dally, a board member of the Dolores River Boating Advocates.

Boaters above McPhee. Water won't be so calm on the Lower Dolores this weekend.

Boaters above McPhee. Water won’t be so calm on the Lower Dolores this weekend.

The 30-year old dam, along with seven pumping plants and 80 miles of canal, have pretty much nullified the good times of yore for boaters. Earlier this year, “River of Sorrow” premiered in the town of Dolores. The 45-minute documentary, funded in part with $12,000 from Patagonia, includes footage of the “world-class white water” before the establishment of the reservoir and dam.

McPhee was named after the old sawmill town which harvested Ponderosa Pine until the Great Depression and a series of fires shuttered it in the late 1940’s The Bureau of Reclamation bought out the properties before dam construction. It’s now under water.

There have been 19 spills since then. In 2008, one lasted 80 days. But times are tougher now.

“We have a lot of obligations to a lot of different people,” said DWCD general manager Mike Preston, who recalled hardship three years ago. “First there is no boating. Then the next level of pain is a shortage.”

McPhee, the mill town, before fires, the Depression, and being submerged.

McPhee, the mill town, before fires, the Depression, and being submerged.

Vern Harrell, Cortez manager of the Bureau of Reclamation, which owns the project, has worked closely with Preston as well as DWCD’s Ken Curtis, the head McPhee engineer.

Harrell said a small spill like the one planned for this weekend is “the dicey-est thing on earth.” Based on inflow and outflow predictions and calculations, their margin of error is bigger than the release itself. Yet, “you make promises, you have to keep them,” said Harrell, referring to the delivery of water to the many stakeholders.

This year, things started looking good around February, said Preston, when snow pack was measured at 150 percent above average.

Stakeholders (including the 7,600 acre Mountain Ute Farm and Ranch

Great Cut Pumping Plant. At right, the Dove Creek Canal. Left, the Lone Pine Lateral

Great Cut Pumping Plant. At right, the Dove Creek Canal. Left, the Lone Pine Lateral

enterprise, fisheries, ranchers, farmers, and boaters) have worked together. The release has been “packaged for good boating days,” said Preston. “Filling and spilling the reservoir is good for everybody. The recreational experience is tied to the health of the environment.”

Dally and fellow DRBA members will survey downriver campsites and work with the BLM to review the presence of invasive as well as native riparian plants. She called the collaborative measures by the DWCD and others “very encouraging.”

You’ll likely see a carnival atmosphere, with bright kayaks and rafts and a celebratory community vibe. Alex Mickel, director of Mild2Wild Rafting, is offering three- and five-day excursions, starting from Bradfield Bridge, the most popular put-in, about eight miles downriver from McPhee.

Some boaters feel good times should return for real and have pushed for the dismantling of the dam, emboldened by the recent New York Times opinion piece, which suggested that the Glen Canyon Dam should come down. But Harrell and Preston dismissed the notion, saying it would demonstrate the height of community irresponsibility.

“I lived here before the reservoir was built,” said Harrell. “It was just sagebrush. Mesa Verde [National Park] would be your only draw.”

So, for three days, anyway, let the good times roll.

Absence Makes the Heart Grow Fonder

IMG_1835They say Zen mentality gives you the ability to be at home anywhere. Over the course of three weeks and six thousand miles, home was anywhere with a truck camper and three dogs.

That was the set-up as I traveled to Maine and back, with two trips to Utah added on. Compared to trips past (in total, I’ve crossed America’s bulk at least 20 times), fewer things were broken or went missing. I felt happier and calmer. Was this the result of trying to be more “in the moment”? More “Zen”? Roadtrip maturity? I can hear my sons saying, Whatever, Mom.

Some highlights and lowlights:

Rivers crossed:

Arkansas, Rio Grande, Miami, Missouri, Mississippi, Catherine on Hudson, among others.

An overturned livestock trailer just east of Wolf Creek Pass along Highway 160. Scores of emergency vehicles. Six dead cows IMG_1966hauled out of the wreck and deposited on the shoulder. Three more standing placidly next to them with what I deduce to be life-ending injuries. The scene makes me wish more people were vegetarian.

But then, I like leather, so who am I?

In Cheyenne Wells, Colorado, I share a gas pump with an elderly man in overalls. He’s filling up an old tractor, perched on a flatbed trailer. I ask him how old it is. “Not as old as me, but older than you,” he says with a smile. 1954, he guesses. Pretty good guess.

In Genoa, Colorado, a dilapidated tower structure announces the seriously sketchy proclamation: “See Six States!” (Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska, Wyoming, South Dakota, and New Mexico).

A billboard near Indianapolis. “We’re into S and N” (spay and neuter).

A bigger billboard announced “Size Matters”

Ashland, Ohio – “World headquarters of nice people”

IMG_1870Dogs now sit up and whine whenever they hear the blinker or deceleration. They are similarly tipped off by the undoing of seatbelt or turning off of radio.

A tiny, old-time windmill is dwarfed by a dozen wind turbines on a stretch of Kansas plain. A lone daisy in a stand of sunflowers.

As we move away from working with land and animals, our ability to de-stress and be in the moment wanes, too. ‘Multi-tasking’ was not a word 50 years ago. Nor was ‘Internet,’ ‘cruise control,’ ‘teleconference.’ We move away from farm and the outdoors, then gravitate back as our bodies and minds suffer. It’s like the Slow Food movement, you know? There would be no Slow Food without Fast Food.

Rest stop weirdness: I stop for the night at a quiet, isolated rest stop near Lake Erie. The dogs and I watch three young guys with hoodies head into the woods. I’m thinking, ‘okay, they are going into the woods to have a drink and a toke and then they will get back on the road.’ They return 30 minutes later and we watch as they lift up a bulkhead of sorts and step down underground and disappear. At which point, I’m thinking, ‘shit, these hoodlums are going to emerge after midnight and attack me.’


Traveling companion, David Foster Wallace, on audio.

I mosey over to the bulkhead to investigate. One of them flips up the hatch. I say, ‘hey, whatcha doing?’ They are public works employees trying to figure out why the septic pump has failed. (Thank you, Lordy.)

All the road kill. I think my fellow drivers disassociate road kill from real live animals (with every day lives and families) as much as we disassociate animals from packaged meat. Jeans from a cotton plant. Paper from a tree in a forest. Did I mention leather?

Do dogs understand “road trip”? Or is it: Hang out in truck for another day. Run. Drink. Eat. Sleep. See humans we recall from ages ago. Get back in truck.

Top-rated, little-known dog-friendly pit stops (while still logging 600+ miles per day):

  • Closed weigh stations
  • Shuttered motels
  • Ranch exits
  • National forest trailheads or turn offs.

Enjoying roadside open space

Out west, it’s not unusual to have a gravel road start at the end of the exit ramp. But Interstate 70’s Exit 311 ramp in Kansas is itself gravel. The dogs and I walked for 30 minutes on the stretch of road, just off the highway here. No leashes needed. No other vehicle seen.

The problem with Mancos is that when you travel, you see how undesirable other places are and how unhappy, unfit, unhealthy other people appear. Elsewhere, people seem more hip and more cynical. In Mancos, you can be earnest and un-ironic and no one will smirk. Not so, elsewhere.

It doesn’t help that I’m listening to David Foster Wallace’s essays on the Maine Lobster Festival and on the hell of weeklong cruise.  No one disses Americans better than DFW. He calls them, “the only known species of bovine carnivore.”

In line with this star of smart snark, fellow travelers appear to me:

Pear- and apple-shaped



Too heavy for their own shoes

Drive-thru obsessives

Wolf Creek Pass

Wolf Creek Pass

Knowingly ignorant

I mean really, folks: How and why does one stop at a rest stop, get out of the car, and then sit some more?

Listening to Salman Rushdie’s interview with Christopher Hitchens. They discuss fun stuff and serious stuff, such as the ideology of doubt and the flawed logic of “It must be God because if it wasn’t, we wouldn’t be here to say it must be God.” Watch it here.

A big sign on a Colorado state highway, in front of a ranch. “Not 4 Sale”

On Wolf Creek Pass there are still snowmobilers and snow parked along the side of Highway 160. There are not one, but two runaway truck ramps. And sure enough, in mid-May, I head over the pass in wind and snow.

Interstate 70 sunrise, in Kansas

Interstate 70 sunrise, in Kansas

Raves for Raven Narratives

Last month, I had the supreme joy of participating in the Raven Narratives, the new storytelling project developed by my community heros, Sarah Syverson and Tom Yoder.

Listen to my story.

13239263_1439789109380657_6219832636324042774_nWe, a group of seven storytellers along with Syverson and Yoder (who told a story and co-produced the event), performed to sold-out shows at the Sunflower Theater in Cortez and the Durango Arts Center theater in Durango.

We told eight-minute stories of losing loved ones, of epiphanies, of mysterious knives, and, in my case, of rescuing lambs on a cross-country road trip. The theme was Baggage.

All our Raven Narratives will soon be available as podcasts. The inaugural Raven Narratives, with a theme of Wild Places, took place earlier this year and those podcasts are available here.

As you might imagine, public speaking is not my forte. I was more anxious about stepping on stage than I’ve ever been for, say, competing in a running race or horse competition. As fellow writer, Kevin Fedarko said, “This isn’t an environment in which I feel comfortable. What I’m most comfortable doing is putting words on the page.” (Fedarko, author of The Emerald Mile, spoke at the Cortez Public Library recently. We’ll post a three-part interview with him soon.)


A dry erase note left by fellow storyteller, Dan Jenkins, in the Sunflower Theater green room.

But peer support and positivity make for great worry balms. Along with Sarah’s pre-performance tips (“stay hydrated,” “do something you love to do”), my colleagues were rock stars. Theirs was a laughing, ‘hey-I’m-nervous-too,’ spirit.

Storytelling is enjoying resurgence, led by national projects like the Moth Radio Hour and Story Corps. Even the Department of the Interior is getting into the game. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said recently: “The National Park Service is America’s storyteller, and we know that there are very, very important parts of our story that have yet to be told.” Jewell was speaking in support of the Park initiative to recognize the Stonewall Inn in New York City as the country’s first national monument to honor the LGBT rights movement.

Here in southwest Colorado, the Raven Narratives are succeeding because of the inclusive, open-minded mission, crafted by Yoder and Syverson: to connect us with each other and the places where we live and play through the ancient art of storytelling.


Sarah Syverson and Tom Yoder

The productions, the pair explained from the stage, are just as much about the audience as they are about the performers. When we lean in and listen, we open up as a community. We avail ourselves to differing points of view. We grow.

When my kids were younger, I stuck a handwritten note on the fridge.  It said: “Listening is the most powerful thing you can do.” It stayed there for years (Teenage boys especially need reminding that it’s not all about them.)

Syverson introduced the evenings’ program by citing Story Corps, which promotes listening as an act of love. Watch fantastic video here.

With this kind of cradling support, how could a public-speaking crawler not stand up and walk?

Listen to my story.


Raven Narrators gather before the Sunflower Theater


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