Tag Archives: danger

BC Summer — Part 2 (of 2)

Near the end of May, I quit my job and fled to Canada for two and a half weeks. The first week was spent sight-seeing with Erika. The second week involved backpacking down the West Coast Trail. The last few days were spent riding the Amtrak down the coast to L.A. This entry will focus on Week Two.

I fumble around in the twilight. My hand finds the zipper. I squeeze through the tight space between the tent opening and the adjacent rock face and into the cold sand. Before me are the remnants of our failed fire. I stand, squeeze past the tent, and inspect the clothesline. Our quick-dry clothing is still drenched. The air is too damp for anything to dry. Oh well. I exit the cave and step down onto the beach. The rain has ceased for the time being. The sky is still overcast, but the rising Sun is strong enough to illuminate a gray haze. A light mist rolls across my skin. I stare out into the ocean for a bit. It’s cold. My body tends to run warm, except in the morning. No point in lollygagging. The sooner I get moving, the sooner my core temperature will increase. I hike down the beach to a small cove where I stashed my bear canister. Still safe. The bell sits atop it unmolested. Steven slides out of the cave. Time for breakfast. We sit in the sand huddled around my tiny stove and watch the ocean. The world is waking up. Birds fly past, waves roll in, the Sun fights to be seen, and perched on a rock yards away sits a bald eagle. It watches us as we eat our modest breakfast. We laugh. In America, it is Memorial Day. As we share breakfast with a bald eagle, we realize we are having the most patriotic Memorial Day of our lives. We are in Canada. It’s day three on the West Coast Trail.

A few years ago I realized my life wasn’t headed in the direction I wanted. I was coasting. I had become complacent. When I imagined my life had I lived in centuries past, I liked to think I would have been an explorer boldly trekking across newly discovered wild lands. Yet, little in my present life leant credence to that thought. Other than moving across country, struggling to find a living, and taking public transportation around Los Angeles, there hadn’t been much adventure in my life for years. At least not the kind I longed for. I knew I needed to make some big changes and I struggled to decide what those changes should be. Suddenly, fate intervened. My greatest fear came to pass—my great grandmother died. She was an old Cuban lady who spoke very little English, yet somehow communicated with everyone. Everyone called her ‘Mima’ which essentially means ‘mother.’ It was a very apt name. My family had lost its collective maternal figure. Nothing makes life seem more precious than death. It was time for change and I couldn’t wait any longer. Shortly after, I instituted several changes in my life including ending an eight year relationship with my then girlfriend that was being held together by familiarity and convenience. It was time for big changes and time to evaluate my life. Much changed over the next couple of years. As I became more proactive in my choices, I found myself finding more successes in all aspects of life—business and personal. One of the decisions I had made was to integrate adventure back into my life. Hiking, backpacking, climbing, rafting, and other outdoor pursuits became a priority. The more time I spent in nature, the more I learned about myself. It was making me stronger—physically, emotionally, and psychologically. When I read about the West Coast Trail in British Columbia, I knew it was a chance to push myself further.


The West Coast Trail runs 75km—that’s roughly 48 miles—down the Western coast of Vancouver Island from Pachena Bay to Port Renfrew. It is known for brutal storms and a history of disastrous shipwrecks. An early version of the trail was known as the “Life-saving Trail.” Its purpose was to give survivors washed ashore a solid chance of making it to civilization alive. Now, it is a week-long backpacking challenge for those who want to experience beauty and hardship in the Canadian wilderness. The descriptions I read of the WCT excited the adventurer inside me: suspension bridges, miles of mud pits, hand-operated cable cars, surging tides, river crossings, dozens of tall ladders, rocky beaches, and unpredictable weather. I knew I wanted in.

The last few years had been going well, but the time for drastic change was coming again. I decided to quit my job and embark on the path of full-time self-employment. But, first, I would go to Canada. What better way to baptize a new path than the West Coast Trail? My friend and coworker, Steven, was also quitting for similar reasons and agreed to meet me in Victoria, Canada. Together we would face the WCT before putting our individual professional lives back together. I knew the trail would be both fun and miserable. I expected both. My secret hope, although, was for an epiphany along the way.


Read the rest of the story and see more pictures…

Return to Tahoe

My first experiences with skiing and with respectable snow were in Lake Tahoe. It is also the place where I had first seen whitewater, though not where I would first navigate it. It had been a few years since I’d visited and Erika had never been. We drove up the Saturday morning of MLK weekend. Camp Richardson’s Historic Hotel in South Lake Tahoe is where we stayed. Erika found a great package deal: $260 for the weekend including breakfasts, a voucher for dinner, and two lift tickets at Sierra (we traded these for beginner’s packages – gear, lessons, and a limited lift ticket).

There was no shortage of snow. It was deep, it blanketed everything. We had Saturday afternoon, all of Sunday, and Monday morning to make the best of it. We spent Sunday at Sierra learning to ski and repeatedly taking the bunny slope. I am always surprised just how quickly you can shoot down a bunny slope if you aren’t careful. Sierra was nice, but it can’t compete with Heavenly where I first tried skiing a few years back. Both make Mountain High look like a slushy skate park. As the day passed, snow began to fall harder. It took us a while to find Erika’s snow-covered Yaris in the parking lot. The ice scraper we’d picked up on a whim the night before came in very handy. We ended the night with a nice meal at an Irish Pub and a soak in the snow-coated hot tub. As steam rose from the tub, it cooled, then fell back on us as water.

Monday morning, we rented snowshoes and hiked down a trail into a wooded area. We knew a storm was on its way and would be a good idea to leave before it hit in full. It began snowing lightly as we headed back to the sport rental shop. We climbed into the car and I drove us towards the mountains. I tried to, that is. The storm was close enough that chains or snow tires were required in the mountains and checkpoints were set up. The traffic leaving Tahoe was barely moving. As we slowly traveled down the main highway towards the checkpoint, the storm grew closer. I had never driven in snow and never used chains. I had read the directions that came with our pair the day before. The time had come to apply that limited knowledge. Putting chains on a vehicle is not difficult if you know what you are doing. Crouched in slush—reaching behind tires on a low-clearance passenger vehicle as snow falls and cars slide past—while learning to attach tire chains is not so easy. It took me a few tries to discover what works and what doesn’t. I was covered in snow, my toes were wet and freezing, and my fingers cold because my gloves were too bulky for precise chain manipulation. The chains were on, it was cold, Erika’s interior was wet with melting snow, and I hoped I’d done it properly. They were about to be tested and there would be little chance to adjust them once we hit the mountain.

I come from the South, the land of swamps, rain, and humidity. Hurricanes, floods, fog—I have a lot of experience driving in such conditions. I was not prepared for the adventure that awaited us on our 6 hour drive to Sacramento (a drive that took less than 2 hours on the way to Tahoe). The sky was white. Visibility varied by dozens of feet—it was like diving except instead of receding into darkness, details faded to white. Snow fell steadily. I crouched like a hunchback as I drove because we could rarely keep the upper portion of the windshield from fogging up. Snow banks flanked us on either side, ice and snow were caked to the streets. Occasionally we would pass a car stuck in a snow bank. We crept along at 20 mile per hour, an icicle grew from the passenger side mirror. The tire chains clanged and I feared they were loosening and would fall off. Brake lights peeking through the white were my guides around the curves of the mountain. It was nerve-wracking and exciting. 

The snowfall stopped, then started again, falling harder. A checkpoint was ahead. It was time to remove the chains. We were on a decline, the snow was falling harder, there was little shoulder. My chains had lasted! Taking them off would be easier than installing had been, right? Yes, it was easier to remove them… a little easier. We struggled with the locking chains on the inside of the wheel well. Snow falling, cars sliding past, ice becoming slush. Finally they were off! Yet, we still had a few miles to go downhill in snow on icy roads. Why in the hell was I required to take them off now? I drove on. Eventually, the snow was replaced by rain. Hours later we made it home. We had a great weekend and we experienced our first snowstorm. I wouldn’t trade any minute of it.

More Photos Here

Fire Flight Photos

Directly across from us, roughly 200 yards, after we reached the top of our climb.
It took about 3 minutes to turn from a spark into this.
It, of course, doesn’t look nearly as foreboding in a photo.

If you haven’t read my prior post, now is a good time to check it out because I have pictures and you may want to know what I am talking about if you look at them.

More Pics Here

Adventures in Mining

I returned to the Altadena Mines for the third time today. With me were Erika, Patrick and Anne Marie. We visited two mines, I explored the smaller claustrophobia-inducing one further this time, and we were making good time traversing the steep climb to the third cave. We stood at the summit taking a small break before entering the last mine shaft. Erika smelled smoke. Then, I heard crackling. Patrick pointed out a patch of smoke. Ahead, across the thin ravine, dancing up a hillside was a growing flame. It was moving quickly and growing steadily. Adjacent was the path we had taken into the gorge.

There was no time to waste. The route to the third mine is roughly thirty minutes of climbing rock faces ranging between five and fifteen feet, a few mildly precarious. The climb is dry, dusty, and littered with pebbles intent on tripping anyone not paying special attention to their footing. We launched down the mountainside. Sliding, jumping, slipping, occasionally climbing. We moved as quickly as possible without risking plummeting over an edge. As quickly as we moved down the mountain, the fire doubled moving up the opposing hillside. Erika and I slid into the gorge. Across from us, Patrick was waving us toward a somewhat slippery and dusty steep slope that would bring us to the exit path much sooner. Anne Marie was nearly at the top and smoke was beginning to roll in.

We jogged down the path towards the park entrance. Firefighters with hoses and fire trucks passing us along the way. The top of the nearby hill was already black and burned through. At one point, flames flickered along the edge of the trail. A helicopter passed overhead. We approached the street, a news van parked along the curb, spectators gathered outside their homes and near their vehicles staring into the distance. We were filthy, bruised, scraped, but we were not on fire.

I wonder what would have been the turn of events had we made it to the cave five minutes sooner. How strong would the blaze have been when we exited? Some hikers were air-lifted to safety. We were lucky enough to see the fire start and escape before it got too large. We were also lucky the weather wasn’t against us.

Al-Insan asked us not to do anything new and exciting without him. I hope he’s not too upset.
News Report by ABC