Suitably Shamed and Chasing Redemption – Part 3 of 3

This is Part 3 of a three part series. Be sure to check out Part 1 and Part 2!

By the time we rolled into the Sisters Motor Lodge and splayed our tents, sleeping bags, and clothes across their lawn to dry, fat cumulus clouds had sprouted and grown to tower over the Sisters Wilderness. We had a cup of coffee and each wolfed a handful of characteristically excellent gas station tacos before dinner (we were eating quite a lot at this point), and turned in early with our sights set on skiing Middle and North Sister the next day.

You should know that the alarm on my cell phone is not your archetypal harsh ringing or buzzing sound. It’s a gentle bell-toned crescendo that doesn’t snap you awake into parasympathetic terror but rather eases you into the morning. It’s also easy to sleep through the first part of it, and the thing had been doing its damnedest for ten minutes by the time I actually woke up at 5:10am. A few minutes later Phil poured coffee grounds directly into his mug instead of the Aeropress, and we conceded that the trip was really beginning to take a toll. Nonetheless, we ate some oats and more candy and by the earlymorning gray were riding our bikes toward the trailhead.

The dirt road was soft, and the thirteen mile bicycle approach took two hours. We transitioned leisurely despite afternoon thunderstorms in the forecast, and by 8:30am were hiking through a recent burn and toward the Sisters, which were obscured by clouds.

Sisters-1

We spent several hours walking on flat, dry soil before we could don skis. The experience was familiar, and not only from earlier in the trip, on Jefferson. We’d heard numerous harrowing stories about the approaches to some of the mountains we had in mind, but compared to backcountry skiing in western Montana, the approaches were dreamlike. They have trails in Oregon that go to where the skiing is! No bushwacking required.

Fun ski trips at home have given new meaning to my surname, and most friends won’t come out for a Saturday ski, citing the pejorative “Horan Adventure.” These kinds of adventures tend to include a great deal of creative route finding and good natured discomfort.

The creative route finding and good natured discomfort that we turned up in central Oregon was downright pleasant by comparison, and I felt a new kinship to that guy who keeps getting shot down in Catch 22:

“If you had any brains, do you know what you’d do? You’d go right to Piltchard and Wren and tell them you want to fly with me.”

“And get shot down with you every time you go up? What’s the fun in that?”

“That’s just why you ought to do it,” Orr insisted. “I guess I’m just about the best pilot around now when it comes to ditching or making crash landings. It would be good practice for you.”

“Good practice for what?”

“Good practice in case you ever have to ditch or make a crash landing.”*

*Taken from a free online version of Catch 22 which further fact-checking reveals is perhaps of dubious integrity or abridged, but you get the point.

Skiing in the Missions is great practice for if you ever have to ski in the Missions, or in other places where approaches don’t involve skinning from the car.

But eventually we did put on skis, and after looking west all morning to a mass of clouds which we suspected held mountains, we finally got a look around 11.

Middle Sister peaked out from inside the clouds.
Middle Sister peaked out from inside the clouds.

By late morning the day was already quite windy, and with a stormy forecast we doubted that our original plan, to ski the Middle and North Sister, was still in the cards. Even so, we scooted up the SE ridge on the Middle to find a cloudy, windy, and enjoyable summit with no view of North Sister and then leapfrogged holes in the cloud cover down the way we’d come up.

Cold wind and clouds on the top of the first one.
Cold wind and clouds on the top of the first one.
We found several thousand feet of Oregon sweet corn down the SE ridge of the Middle.
We found several thousand feet of Oregon sweet corn down the SE ridge of the Middle.

Later in the day we would have the opportunity to see an intuitive and straightforward ski line down the north face of the Middle and directly to the foot of the North, but lacking visibility we opted for the circuitous and not-at-all straightforward traverse of the not-totally-snow-covered moraines that flank the volcanoes. Two hours of boot packing and a little bit of semi-exposed fancy footwork allowed us to stand on the Quitter Summit of North Sister, near the base of the rocky summit pinnacle. Wanting for both ropes and daylight we called this the top (remember a summit is really only defined by how you draw your axes). It was about 6pm at this point, and rather than being struck by lightning we enjoyed a cloudless quiet snack before dropping back to the trail.

The E face of North Sister is rad. More chutes than you can shake a stick at. When it was time to drop in we found it all covered in breakable crust, so we left it on the To Do list and skied the SE ridge.
The E face of North Sister is rad. More chutes than you can shake a stick at. When it was time to drop in we found it all covered in breakable crust, so we left it on the To Do list and skied the SE ridge.
Pippo basks on the Quitter Summit.
Pippo basks above the clouds on the Quitter Summit.
Here's Phil dropping back down the SE ridge on the North. Middle and South Sister look on in the background.
Here’s Phil dropping back down the SE ridge on the North. Middle and South Sister look on in the background. You may notice the intuitive and straightforward traverse that we did not.

In spite of low expectations and tired legs at 0500, we were out for sixteen hours and made it back to pizza and beer at the Motor Lodge after dark.

In penciling this trip out, I was a little bit worried about the itinerary taking us through Bend so close to the finish. The plan was to stay in some fancy digs there, then ride past Bachelor and finish up in the south end of the Sisters Wilderness. Mike had to leave us for things like “work” and “an infant son,” and so getting him to the airport aligned nicely with a short layover in town with creature comforts and soft beds.  It also gave a premature sensation of closure on the trip, and riding toward darkening western skies and minus one compatriot felt less like triumphant culmination than self flagellation.

Our spirits rose while we approached the Fall Creek trailhead but were met halfway by torrential rain, hail, and lightning. Tom, Phil, and I sat drinking beer in a USFS outhouse, illuminated only by the glow of our phone screens while we looked at the weather forecast. Rain. Hail. More rain. Lightning. A local guy who said he’d like to ski with us texted a cancellation.

And so we pulled the plug and retreated to Bend. A glance the next morning confirmed that it was the right call: heavy storms in the Sisters would have kept us far from the top, but it was still an unceremonious end to a great trip (cue montage). We skied from (or from near) the tops of four volcanoes in an area we’d never explored. It’s one that I know I’ll be back to, skiing in the Sisters was particularly impressive, and I suspect that to catch Jefferson in corn is one of those Until The Dementia Gets You kind of memories. We rode for hundreds of miles along roads that seemed purpose built for bicycle touring, and found cinnamon rolls like they made them in the old country at KC’s in Detroit.

The trip was at once a release of nervous energy and ambition, and fuel for the fire. The terrain, difficulty, and company of these two weeks is the food of dreams, and another reminder of why we chase horizons.

The Gods Must Be Angry – Part 2 of 3

This is Part 2 of a three part series. Be sure to check out Part 1 and Part 3!

When Scott Fitzgerald boasted that all he needed to write a tragedy is to be shown a hero, I doubt very much that he had in mind a bunch of guys riding bikes around the northwestern United States. And to be fair, I suppose we were only heroes in the eyes of our mothers, and spending two weeks leisurely skirting rain storms in Oregon doesn’t fit any definition of tragic that I know. But that doesn’t change the feeling that our trajectory from resplendent blue skied summit photos on Mount Hood to cowering around a sixpack in a Forest Service outhouse a fortnight later while lighting and hail descended on all sides felt something like a fall from grace. It was at least an inauspicious end to our tour.

The trip started a little like this. Tom's having a look down our ski line with the Steel Cliffs in the background on Mt. Hood.
The trip started a little like this. Tom’s having a look down the second pitch of our ski line with the Steel Cliffs in the background on Mt. Hood.

See, the weather is a funny thing. It’s the element in our lives that has the most bearing on our mood and well-being over which we also have zero control. As a result of this, it obsesses us. “How’s the weather” is a cliche for small talk when there’s nothing substantial to say. The Weather Channel churns out regional forecasts 24 hours a day, yet when it turns sour the only advice they can offer is to grab an umbrella, stay indoors, or screw plywood over your windows.

When we arrived in Oregon we had the clear skies, warm days, and cold nights that had been typical for the area for a month. After we’d spent a couple of days the horizons darkened and the rain began to fall; we were reminded why sailors are superstitious and ancient cultures attributed storms and drought to having displeased the gods. When our discomfort is inexplicable we search for something to blame, even if it requires fabricating a scapegoat.

I blamed Phil.

Early on the weather couldn’t have been better. Warm sunny days and clear cold nights made for buttery corn snow on Hood, but gave way to turbulent low pressure and rain for the next ten days. Sure, the stormy weather corresponded nicely with the time that we spent on the west side of the Cascade Divide, remaining blustery but dramatically less damp as soon as we crossed back to the east and to Sisters, but it also corresponded nicely with this:

pwned

Here, we have an image of Phil swilling a hoppy ale at the top of our first of 6 objectives with the caption, “Mount Hood: #OWNED!”. Oh, the hubris – and so early in the trip. After perfect weather for the first several days, it seemed like hours after this photo got its first like, the clouds formed and opened and we spent the next week in the rain.

Drying gear below Jefferson. Photo by Tom Robertson.
Drying gear below Jefferson. Photo by Tom Robertson.

Undeterred, we made our way south toward Mount Jefferson, living on 6,000 calories a day of Snickers bars, Swiss (not Swedish) Fish, and freeze dried chow mein. I’ve never eaten so much candy in my life. With bikes as heavy as they were, we were trying to balance carrying as little as possible to save weight with the fact that the only resupply spots before Sisters are gas stations and grocery stores that are really just gas stations but without the gas. For several days I got much more than half of my caloric intake from gummy bears and candy bars, and it wasn’t quite as cool as eight-year-old me might have guessed.

Somewhere outside of Detroit I pointed us toward a steep, winding dirt road which led us 7 miles and 3,000 vertical feet toward a trailhead on Mount Jefferson. I say “a” trailhead because while not technically incorrect it was not “the” trailhead that we were looking for. Phil smoothed things over in camp with a round of fresh greyhounds which at once kept me from being tarred and feathered, and dissolved any animosity I still held toward him for having single-handedly caused all this rain.

EarlySample-8

The weather delay before Jefferson was also a great opportunity to sleep for 14 hours, because at this point in the trip I was beginning to get very tired. In 11 days on the road, we didn’t take a rest day. Sometimes we might only ride for a few hours, but that’s still a three or four hour ride on a 150 pound bike, which doesn’t count as rest even if all you do for the remainder of the day is eat candy and nap.

The riding is quite nice, though. Photo: Tom Robertson.
The riding is quite nice, though. Photo: Tom Robertson.

When we finally started walking on Jefferson we left camp with a vague idea of where we were headed: through a misty rain and up (kind of left then kind of right then kind of left again until we’re on the top – n.b. don’t fall off any cliffs) and low expectations. In spite of a negative prognosis, the approach through the temperate rainforest, while wet, was pretty and made for an interesting walk.

Photo: Tom Robertson.
Photo: Tom Robertson.
Rain gave way to snow, loam gave way to boulders, and running shoes gave way to ski boots. 
Rain gave way to snow, loam gave way to boulders, and running shoes gave way to ski boots.

The rain we’d been riding and living in for a few days had manifested as snow above around 6,000 feet, and so we skinned and then booted to 9,500 or so. Higher on the mountain we found ourselves standing on steep and unfamiliar terrain, and the four inches of heavy snow was only partially bonded to the older surface. Deteriorating visibility pushed us off of the shoulder and we camped another night before heading to Sisters.

Jefferson-1 Jefferson-2

Jefferson was far from a low point. Hiking through the rainforest with skis was a fantastical experience, and what glimpses of the alpine landscape that we stole there were dramatic and compelling. Mostly, Jefferson felt like the end of a chapter. We’d been at odds with the weather, and as we rode away the next morning the blue skies over the summit there seemed both to taunt us and promise better luck in the Sisters Wilderness.

Bike 2 Ski Oregon — A Bikepacking and Ski Mountaineering Adventure

Just put another first half trip report up over at Dirtbag Dreams. Check ‘er out, and keep your eyes tuned for more updates!

Dirtbag Dreams

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Ben Horan is a freelance writer and sometimes-guide based in Missoula, Montana, and blogs at www.thegentlemanatlarge.com. Tom Robertson is a photographer out of Missoula, whose work has appeared in a variety of national and international publications, and is currently surfing from bike tour to bike tour around the Americas. Ben, Tom, and two buddies are riding bikes from Portland to Bend, OR, with trailers full of ski gear, in an attempt to ski as many volcanoes as possible in two weeks entirely under human power. You can keep tabs on those guys on Instagram following #bike2skiOregon.

“It doesn’t rain in Oregon. Not in the spring, anyway.” I kept hoping that maybe if I repeated that to myself enough times the pattering on the tent fly would stop. That I would crawl out at dawn to hot coffee and dry shoes and one of those star-pierced blue-gray skies that heralded…

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On two wheels at last – Part 1 of 3

This is Part 1 of a three part series. Be sure to check out Part 2 and Part 3!

Ooof.

When we passed a weigh station on Hwy 26 east of Portland, I figured it was calibrated for vehicles in the multi-ton neighborhood and pedaled past it at a crawl. We weighed our bikes and trailers before we left, mine came in at 127 lbs., but that was before adding food, water, batteries, and a few incidentals and I left it to the imagination to account for the last few pounds. Phil is more of an empiricist.

He rolled over the truck scale and registered a GVW of 350 pounds.

These bikes are heavy. Even with reasonably stout frames and wheels, they feel like noodles underway and descending faster than about 20 miles per hour brings on a speed wobble crescendo that I think could easily run out of control.

Fortunately we made it to Government Camp after scaring up some side roads that got us off the highway. A few photos are stuck on here, but keep on eye on Instagram for tomorrow’s first ski attempt: Mt. Hood.

PLODding Along: Explained

A few of you followed along during the PLOD experiment of this past winter’s darker months, wherein I tracked my Perceived Likelihood of Death through ten straight days of three or more hours of training per day. The study was billed not as a way to see if I could make it through ten days of relatively low intensity exercise, but rather how grim that experiment made me feel about my prospects of survival of a future trip, which at the time was laid out ambiguously as something with skis, bikes, and rigor.

Today, I’m pleased to unveil the itinerary and to report that the PLOD Index is registering all time highs. For a couple of weeks in May, Tom Robertson, Mike Wolfe, Phil Grove, and I will embark on a bicycle tour from Portland to Bend, by way of iconic ski lines on the half dozen volcanoes that form central Oregon’s spine. Here’s a map:

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My head is swimming in a frothy cocktail of trip logistics, apprehension, and excitement, and I hope that you’ll keep tabs on the trip as we try to keep updates current on Instagram and right here on this blog. So fire up the phone and follow @thegentlemanatlarge, @thrphoto, @wolfepaw, and @puglife83, and keep an eye out for #bike2skiOregon over the next few weeks. Of course if you’re local and want to do some skiing or you have a line on a good taco bus, we’d love to hear from you!

Doomed to Repeat Ourselves: Taylor Swift, Millennials and the New Romanticism

hipsters

OK so Edgar Allen Poe, Taylor Swift, and a bunch of Occupy Wall Street protesters walk into a bar. They don’t have much to talk about, right? I mean, what could a macabre poet, America’s sweetheart, and a handful of disgruntled neo-libs really have in common?

Well, kind of a lot, really, but it takes backing up for a minute to think about in detail.

So go back a ways to your high school lit classes, or wherever it was that you first really started to think about literature and artistic movement. For me, that was not literature class. Most of what I remember from English Lit was Mr. Demos reiterating that “all love is tragic (but lust is fun!),” something about a loss of innocence, and that if you leave your wife for a younger blonde girl your jilted ex will definitely chop up your children with an ax.

While that’s all helpful advice, most of my more rigorous thought on literature has come much later in life. In fact there’s probably something to the idea that we aren’t even really meant to get anything out of our high school lit classes beyond the lesson that there are some really great books out there that aren’t about vampires. At 17 I don’t think I finished The Great Gatsby. At 27 it made me want to be a writer.

Most of my literary education has taken place since high school. Even since college, really, and it’s been after dark, with booze, and usually with a lot of yelling. A few years ago I was in a bar in Guatemala, arguing with a Scottish guy about who Shakespeare really was and the finer points of Jack London’s demons, and at some point in the rum-addled conversation he claimed that the whole Romantic movement was really just a bunch of whiny rich kids who hated their parents.

Now, I don’t think we got to the bottom of the Shakespeare issue, and I maintain that Martin Eden is London’s most underrated work, but that last part is really what stuck with me.

“A bunch of rich kids who hate their parents?” I thought. “You mean like the Millennials?*”

And so think about it. Dig way back into those little crevices of your memory where you store things like the Quadratic Formula and what the hell a covalent bond is, and think about the characteristics of the Romantic literary movement.

It flourished on the heels of the Industrial Revolution, as a rejection of the environmental decay and inflicted order of industrialized Enlightenment thinking. Romantic thought is characterized by an embrace of the natural world as well as the macabre, by a cultural celebration of the medieval over the industrial, and by the pursuit of an aesthetic sublime over brute force rationality. By self-reliance, independence, and a rejection of religiously based moral convention.

Sound familiar?

The burgeoning economic growth fueled by the proliferation of the internet has been widely hailed as a second industrial revolutionAnd if you overheard me mention a person who “considered folk art and ancient custom to be noble statuses, but also valued spontaneity, as in the musical impromptu” would you picture Ralph Waldo Emerson? Or a waxed mustache and a mandolin?

How is the Best Made Company anything but an aesthetic celebration of the medieval?

Is an effort “to escape population growth, urban sprawl, and industrialism” what’s driving the minimalist movement and all those 180 square fot mini-houses in Portland? Or is that why Thoreau moved to Walden Pond? Poe’s writing brought to life horrifying stories of strange death and torture in the 19th century, but that would never be popular now, right? That must be why True Blood, The Walking Dead, and Dexter all flopped.

The first Romantics came of age during the French Revolution, in a time when Europe’s cultural center was embroiled in tumult and popular thought began to strike back against plutocratic traditions. Does this remind anyone else of growing up during the longest lasting U.S. military conflict in history, or of staging sit-in protests during the financial crisis? Sure, we didn’t cut off the Lehman Brothers’ heads, but I bet a few of you wanted to.

Millennials buy homes, marry, and start families later than any generation in history. This may be a manifestation of an uncertain economic outlook, but is certainly a shift in thinking from our parents’ generation on how best to use the resources we have. And who better to challenge the moral order of our parents than the mouthpiece of a generation: Taylor Swift?

Tay Tay’s newest album is a wholesale rejection of the swooning young girl, waiting for prince charming, that won her fame and acceptance by a nascent generation. Instead 1989 assiduously celebrates the individuality and confidence that formed the foundation of the Romantic movement. In her song, New Romantics (really), she extols the virtues of allowing haters to hate while evoking Hester Prynne, the Romantic era protagonist. If you can’t take it from me, surely you can take it from Taylor?

It’s easy to dismiss the Millennial generation and our infuriating hipster movement as the most entitled generation, or as a bunch of cry babies. Maybe it’s even accurate. But what we’re seeing is a shift in creative era that rekindles the tenets of Romantic thought. The conditions that gave birth to the Romantic artistic movement are as present today as they were 200 years ago, and the people that we so easily disregard as stupid hipsters and lazy teenagers are not simply a generational phenomenon, but rather the standard bearers of a 21st century Romantic renaissance.

And so when Poe, Swift, and those people off the street finally agree on a place to get a drink, my guess is that their bartender will prefer the term mixologist.

Bonus Quiz

To further solidify the point, I’d like to add a quick “Who Said It?” quiz. So who said it? Taylor Swift? or Ralph Waldo Emerson?

1) Always do what you are afraid to do.

2) Dare to live the life you have dreamed for yourself.

3) I’m intimidated by the fear of being average.

4) Whatever you do, you need courage.

5) “Fearless” is not the absence of fear. It is not being completely unafraid.

6) No matter what happens in life, be good to people.

7) When it’s dark enough, you can see the stars.

*It’s probably important here to clarify that I love my parents, and that you likely do too. By this I don’t mean actually hating your mother and father, but resisting the trends and values cherished by the previous generation.

Solace of the Huts

December brought us such high hopes for a winter that never seemed to come. The storms that pounded western Montana in the early season were cold and deep and set the tone for a ski season to match last year’s banner conditions, but January’s doldrums have stuck around through March and what moisture we’ve gotten has come as rain in the high alpine.

When the skiing is bad, though, the living can be great, and sometimes getting rained on in an alpine yurt isn’t the worst thing that can happen.

Poor conditions send the folks inside for group-cooked meals and a reminder that skiing isn’t just about the snow. Retreating to the dry warmth of an adoptive mountain home forges camaraderie or allows for a few moments of respite before descending back to the ringing phones and shirked duties that never seem to take a breath.