Busting out of travel ruts

Ruts suck. That's just what ruts do.

The quickest way out of a rut, for me anyway, is travel. Some kind of an adventure to shake things up. But lately I've come to realize that my approach to travel has fallen into a rut of its own.

The root cause is one that I'm actually thankful for: over the years, I've fallen into a slew of annual trips. Buddy trips, family trips, and so on. Many of them are little more than long weekends (or regular weekend-length weekends). A few are longer. But I've accumulated a bunch of recurring commitments.

Given my hillbilly ways, many of these getaways include the word "camp," such as Trout Camp, Deer Camp, Ice Camp, etc. There are also several that go by "The ______ Trip" such as The Canada Trip, The River Trip, The Utah Trip. You get the idea. Each of these outings includes its own recurring cast of characters, a recurring location, and a recurring set of dates on the calendar. To be clear, I love them all. I'm grateful to have the opportunity to reconnect regularly with people and places and activities that I love. However. While these getaways get me away, they don't get me anyplace new. What I'll see on them, I've seen before. What I'll do, I've done before. And so on.

I've also noticed that even my non-recurring trips have recurring commonalities (typically blue sky, white sand, and mangoes for miles). If you're going to fall into a rut, of course, that's a helluva rut to fall into. But it's a rut nonetheless.

So anyway, all this has been on my mind lately. I've been thinking about how to get my brain onto a different track. Then, just a few days ago, I stumbled across what might be the world's finest oddball travel destination idea generator. It's the Explore tool on KAYAK.com. Just enter your home airport, adjust the $ slider, and it will tell you everywhere in the world you can get to for that amount. 

Why I dig it is this: The process doesn't start by asking "Where do you want to go?" (Obvious rut bait!) It starts with "Here are all the places you could go."

I quickly learned that 89 bucks can move me all over the U.S. (round trip, tax included). Of the options, Houston caught my eye. I've never been to Houston. I've never considered Houston. Left to my own devices, if I'm headed to Texas, Austin wins every time. As a result, I've been to Austin quite a bit. I've stumbled 6th Street. I've got a favorite spot for breakfast burritos the next morning. I know Austin. I dig it.

But I see that for the price of 10 six-packs or, say, eight jugs of Cheer laundry detergent, I could wake up in a place I've never been before.

What if I up the budget a bit? For less than $500, I can get to Oslo, Barcelona, or the Philippines. Or Lima, Guangzhou, or Copenhagen. And yeah, I see flights to plenty of my old haunts in the Caribbean too. But it's the farther flung, more rando destinations that are capturing my imagination.

I haven't even looked at when these rates are available. I assume they're short-notice though, and/or awkwardly timed. I could set preferred dates and see what comes out. But for me the random timing somehow adds to the appeal. After all, getting out of a rut is rarely a smooth transition. More often than not it's a herky-jerky affair. A sudden lunge. A clumsy up-and-out and grace be damned.

But then. Then! You're free. On your way to a different place entirely.

Mesmerization and cracks in time

You may have noticed a dip in activity around these parts as of late.

I'd like to attribute it to several months at sea with only occasional wifi access. Or maybe an extended session with a purloined case of Plantation Pineapple Rum. But alas, no. Shit just got busy, as shit does.

To help stay sane during this stretch, I leaned heavily on a new ukulele. She's a real beauty, wonderfully figured willow, in the tenor size: a bit bigger than the itty bitty soprano most people think of when they think of a ukulele. To be clear, when it comes to the ukulele I'm not what you'd call "talented." Or even "a musician." I mostly just fall in love with certain chord progressions and loop them over and over. There's nothing fancy about it whatsoever. As Leonard Cohen put it: "It goes like this, the fourth, the fifth, the minor fall and the major lift." But it's mesmerizing to me. And it can make 20 minutes feel like I just spent an entire weekend away.

The other thing I started dabbling with recently is meditation. I liked it from the start, combining the breath awareness of yoga (and freediving for that matter) with the blankness of driving four chords into the ground on a ukulele. In its own way, meditation is mesmerizing too. An hour spent meditating can feel like a lifetime, in the best possible way. 

It's an interesting word "mesmerize." One of those that sounds like what it means. It originated with Franz Mesmer who was a German physician (1734-1815). He had a theory of energy transfer between animate and inanimate objects that he called animal magnetism. In 1843, Scottish physician James Braid expanded the theory to include hypnotism which... ah hell, Wiki page here.  My main point: Mesmerization = Hypnotism. I'll move on. 

When we're mesmerized by something, it's like discovering a tiny crack in time – a place to explore, or just hide within, that's completely removed from the machinations of the day. Fly fishing, drum circles, laying on the ground and looking up at the trees...they've all provided me with spiritual hidey holes over the years. Places to expand or recover or just chill tf out. 

Invisible Oregon, the video below, did the same thing for me this morning. 

For the record, I didn't think I needed to see any more time lapse videos in my lifetime. Of course many of them are beautiful.  But at a certain point, I came to the conclusion that I've probably gleaned everything there is to learn from fast clouds and twitchy trees. I was wrong about that.

Invisible Oregon was shot by Sam Forencich using infrared converted cameras. They capture the infrared portion of the spectrum which produces amazingly ethereal imagery. It exists somewhere between conventional and thermal photography, both technically and visually (here you go nerds). 

But "hey, pink trees!" is far from the whole thing. Sam's landscapes are stunners, the edit is fantastic, and the sound design takes it all to a higher level. 

I truly find it, yep, mesmerizing. If you could use a little escape, I'd suggest full screen mode, some headphones, and seven uninterrupted minutes to climb inside. 

On catching songs and other things

There was a pretty awesome article in the New York Times a few days ago called Three Iconic Musicians on Artistic Creation - And Its Importance Now. It features Kendrick Lamar, Beck, and Tom Waits, all three of whom I adore. And all three of whom are really articulate about their music. 

This quote right here though, from Tom Waits, really stands out to me. It's about songwriting, of course. But in a way it's about life writing too. Good energy attracts more of the same. 

5 Reasons to give Trevor Hall a try

As you might expect, I find myself feeling in an island way from time to time. When that's the case, it brings to mind certain things: The squeezing of limes, for example. Starfruit and fresh fish. Bikini ties and tanlines and open-ended days. And of course at the center of it all is music. 

My problem with music, though, is that when it comes to the island flavors I've wrecked a lot of it for myself. I'm an overplayer, you see, an obsessor. Over the years I've driven poor Bob Marley into the ground, along with Toots and Peter and Yellowman too. It's not that I don't still LOVE them, and reggae overall. I just, damn... I just need to lay off for a while. Until I can actually hear it again. Dancehall has weathered my relentlessness better than reggae, but dancehall isn't everybody's cup of rum when they're looking to chill. And you need a majority in these situations.

Stepping in to fill the island music void for me, over the last 10 years or so anyway, is a bunch of musicians that, for the most part, aren't from islands and don't write songs about islands. It's just that the vibe feels right to me. The group would include people like Xavier Rudd, Michael Franti, Nahko, Mishka, Donavon Frankenreiter and, sure, Jack Johnson would be in there too. (Sidenote: Why are these all guys? I'm at a loss for women in this realm. Jesus. Even Related Artists in Spotify just brings up more dudes. Help?!?)

More than any of them, though, the person who hits the sweet spot for me is Trevor Hall. Working late one night, I heard his song "The Lime Tree" on a compilation album of some sort. I happened to be looking at the wiki page for the island of Carriacou at the time, which has several old lime plantations on it. That night I decided a trip to Carriacou needed to happen, and it did. Several times actually. This was all before Bring Limes existed and, I'd say, those trips and that song played a major role in the inception of this site. 

Anyway: Trevor Hall. His quick story is that he was an incredibly talented kid living on Hilton Head island, South Carolina. He studied classical guitar, recorded his first album at 16, signed a deal with Geffen while still in high school, and... you get the idea. His less specific (but more important) story is that he's obviously a seeker. I can't speak to his success from a mystical standpoint, you'd have to ask him about that. But his search, musically, has lead to a deeply joyful blend of reggae, sanskrit chanting, and just plain old killer hooks.

Trevor Hall strikes me as an old soul. But even old souls know it's important to shake your ass from time to time.

Below is a little sample pack to get your started. If you're looking for an album of his on the island-vibier side, I'd suggest This is Blue

He's great live too. Here's an older version of The Lime Tree that I've always dug. 

Paul's Boots + the Many Feet that Filled Them

I was in southern California last week for a photoshoot. We were about five miles off the main road in the mountains of the Cleveland National Forest when I heard a voice: "That's my hula hoop!"

It came from an area where I knew we didn't have any crew. I looked over and saw two people coming up a trail that I didn't realize was there. If you're going to overhear a single snippet of dialogue in a wilderness setting, "That's my hula hoop" is about as good as it gets. Two fully loaded backpackers, a man and a woman with dreadlocks both, passed by with a friendly "hey bro" and disappeared down the trail to the south. 

That's when I first noticed a small trail marker: Pacific Crest Trail. We were on the famed PCT and I didn't even know it. The trail runs the distance from Canada to Mexico (the PCT is the trail in Cheryl Strayed's book, and the movie, Wild). I like to think that the hula hoop duo started their journey on the British Columbia border. When I saw them they were about 20 miles from Mexico. 

Anyway, this sighting got me thinking (again!) about thru-hikes and routes like the Pacific Crest Trail, or the Appalachian Trail, or even the Superior Hiking Trail along the north shore of Lake Superior. On my flight home from San Diego, I pulled out an issue of Backpacker magazine that I had been carrying around unread for a few weeks. And what do you know, coincidentally (or sign from the universe?) it was a special thru-hike issue.

Now, getting to my original point: Paul's Boots!

One article that hit me especially hard was a tribute called Paul's Boots. It's about a man named Paul Evans whose dream it was to hike the Appalachian Trail. He never made it. But Paul's boots did and it makes for a great read

It also makes for a great documentary which you can watch below. The film tells the tale of Paul's Boots, of course, but then also expands so far beyond that – telling the tales of all the wonderful people who volunteered to bring Paul with them on their journey.

The AT stretches 2,181 miles. And yet, the sense of community and caring is about as tight-knit as you'll find. This story captures it all so well.

The Books of John

I'm not a scrapbooker. Those big-ass ziq-zag scissors always intimidated me. I'm not a diarist either, nor do I capture every detail of my day on social media. As for my biographers, sadly, they'll find that over the years I've archived zero correspondence for them to work with.

My occasional scribblings on this site notwithstanding, I've come to believe that experiencing life is much more important than recording it. A photo of a long toeside turn on a snow/surf/skate board simply can't compare to the feeling of an actual long toeside turn on a snow/surf/skate board.

But wait! However! Nonetheless!

Trips are different. Every major trip I've taken in recent years has included a journal. I've never come close to filling a journal on a single trip, but I start with a fresh one each time anyway. That way, one or five or 10 years down the line, I can pull that book off the shelf and revisit a time and a place that, otherwise, would be limited to hazy generalities. 

The things I document when I'm on a trip, and how I choose to document them, are random at best. I've found, to my taste anyway, that the highest quality journals are the ones where quality was never a consideration. If quality was the goal I'd cut my word count by half, my rum intake by a quarter, and my "illustrations" entirely. But no. Fuck that. Instead I've decided to go all in on doodles and gibberish – as conceived and executed by a remedial first grader.

This past weekend I desperately needed a getaway. I pulled a few journals off the shelf and added some coffee and Wailers to the mix. I slowly settled in. As it turns out, a return to St. Elsewhere was exactly what I needed. 

Here's to craftsmen

Oh I like craftsmen. Especially those who combine art and utility with a personal passion for some weird subset of something or another.

In the past I've written about a maker of musical ice instruments, a kayak builder who uses ancient methods, and I seem to remember some beautiful kooks who crafted an entire orchestra out of vegetables, although damn if I can find the link.

Today, we've got Mike Parris. He was a Carnegie Mellon robotics engineer working on Mars rovers (smarty pants!) when he decided it would be cooler to craft custom skis and snowboards for people instead. Today he runs Igneous Skis out of Jackson, Wyoming. They limit production to around 100 pairs a season which means these are some freaking beauties. 

A closer look at mountains and other things

It's easy to not see mountains.

I don't mean, like, "what did I just trip over?" and then you turn around surprised to find the Grand Tetons laying there.

I mean it's easy to not see mountains for what they are. For what they're made of. It's easy to overlook the kabillion bits and pieces that make up the panorama we typically see when we "see" mountains.

How come? Well, mountains are big broad bastards. Overwhelmingly so. Wrapping our head around them requires far-focus, a suspension of disbelief, and some serious peripheral chops. It seems that clearly establishing a sense of distance is key to understanding mountains at all. 

But unfortunately this sense of distance also creates, I don't know else to say it, a sense of distance.

I've spent thousands of hours in the mountains – boarding, biking, backpacking, catching brookies, and just generally dicking off. I'm wildly comfortable at elevation. I feel as one. But still, when I'm there I tend to look at a mountain range as if I'm looking at a photo of a mountain range. I take in the beauty, of course, but abstractly so. Like most, I tend to focus on the tallest peaks, the deepest valleys, and the farthest horizons: happily wallowing in the wallop of scale while I miss the rest.

What got me on this path? I spent last week in Utah which included some time in the Wasatch Mountains. Over the course of seven days, Big Cottonwood Canyon got 61 inches of snow. Of course this sort of weather system makes for damn fine snowboarding. It also makes for piss-poor visibility. 

As a result, there were no stunning vistas in the Wasatch Range last week. No panoramic photo ops from the chairlift. No mountain's majesty, purple or otherwise, in any direction. There was just snow and clouds and, down in the valley, fog.

And so that's how things went down – me in the mountains, slicing long soft turns through an empty grey. 

I have to say it took a while for my mind to recalibrate, for me to stop looking toward a non-existent horizon for perspective. Over time though, I gradually surrendered my need for the far-away for what was right in front of me: dark stabs of douglas fir, non-negotiable walls of stone, the gloved transfer of snow from mountain to mouth.

Once I noticed these smaller things, of course, I couldn't stop noticing them. Thanks to the weather's veil, my view had shifted from macro to micro. I found myself seeing, and maybe even coming close to understanding, some of the individual pieces that make up the usually inscrutable mountains.

Hoping to find a lesson here, or at least an obvious metaphor to jump to without a properly fleshed-out transition (as I do!), I'm left with this:

We're living in stormy times; an era of uncertain horizons. I feel it every day.

I'm saddened that the forecast for tomorrow, January 20th, 2017, calls for more of the same.

I know that eventually, inevitably, the sky will break. So I plan to keep looking outward with patience. But in the meantime, I'm going to appreciate what's right in front of me too. The kabillion bits and pieces of life are far too important to overlook while I'm busy scanning the horizon for something more.

On fewer but righter things

December 30th, 2016, Presque Isle, Wisconsin 

December 30th, 2016, Presque Isle, Wisconsin 

I spent the last few days alone in the woods.

I was camping on a rise of conifers in northern Wisconsin, a spot I discovered years ago while grouse hunting. It's an area I call the Cathedral. I borrowed the name from one of my favorite writers, Gordon MacQuarrie. He called a rise of conifers that he discovered in northern Wisconsin while grouse hunting the same.

If you're making your way by foot this time of year, snowshoes are required. As are a good amount of resolve and a layering system that allows for the quick ditching of clothes. Put simply, pulling a sled through heavily crusted snow is a bitch. The progress I made was largely thanks to increments and incentives of my own invention: Counting my steps in groups of 17, for example, seemed to speed things along, as did "Make it to that next birch tree, Johnny, and it's Snickers bars for everybody!"

Well, I made it to that next birch tree. And the one after that. And so on. Until finally it was time to turn off-trail and push through a rolling pincushion of sled-snagging maples. Eventually, they gave way to the rise of fir and balsam and pine. To borrow again from MacQuarrie, the Cathedral took me in.

Camp sets up quickly in the winter; meaning your tent, your situation, your supplies. For the first few hours, anyway, there's little time for dicking around. Stomp out a spot for the tent, get it up, get your gear inside. You do it as quickly as you can so you can move on to a more important matter: the business of fire. Although actually, the busy-ness of fire might be a more accurate description.

They say you should gather three times more wood than you think you'll need before striking a spark. I say that's cutting it close. I collected some dry birch and cedar bark from fallen trees on the trek in, so getting the fire started wasn't a concern. But man, keeping it fed! A new fire, especially in the winter, is a hungry fire.

Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. 

But eventually. Eventually. You'll find yourself with a good bed of coals. You'll have dried your gloves. You'll have a pile of wood and a place to sit and a single bottle of Dogfish Head 90-minute IPA that you sledded in, weight be damned.

On the edge of the fire's glow, you'll see your tent protecting the barest of necessities: a tiny camp stove, tomorrow's breakfast, an embarrassment of goose down. You have tropicalia music that you'll play through your phone speaker at dawn like a transistor radio. You have a candle lantern and a bag of jerky and the solitude of the outdoors.

Everything you have with you has a purpose. Everything earned its spot on the sled. 

As we move into a new year, I'm hoping to carry that mindset forward. I don't need more things – I just need the right things. I don't need more undertakings, more accomplishments, more checks added to my list – I just need the right ones.

Taking a look over my shoulder, I've come to realize that I've been pulling an unnecessarily clumsy load. It's time to tip the sled and start over. It's time to think in terms of fewer, but righter, things.

Happy New Year everyone.

Happy holidays? Let's give it a try.

2016 was a full year. Much in the same way that a diaper might be described as full.

Over the past 12 months, I've lost faith in more people and more principles than I can count. I've come to learn that much of my country hates those that I love – because of how they worship, or who they screw, or the shade of their skin. I've watched the overriding principles of our nation grow mean and loud and dumb.

And yet.

On a daily basis, I find myself surrounded by kind people. People full of love and respect and, even still, full of hope. They've brought me into their fold, and I've brought them into mine. And together, even still, we're strong.

For the next week, anyway, that's what I'm going to focus on. The strength of my children, my family, my friends. The strength of the sun and the moon. The strength of what I know is inside my heart, even still.

Happy holidays.

Sea change: The photography of Sarah Lee

The earth is 71 percent water.

The human body is 60 percent water.

For the next several months, in my neck of the woods anyway, both of these things will be frozen solid. 

Before I get going here, let me just say that I'm a big fan of ice. Ice is one of the few things I like in my cocktail (other than the cocktail itself). I appreciate what ice has done for hockey. I enjoy cutting holes in ice and extracting fish. But goddamnit anyway. In the end, I prefer water when it's moving around. When it's pushing me this way and that. I prefer water when it's alive.

Case in point is the work of photographer Sarah Lee. She's born and based on the Big Island of Hawaii and her love of moving water comes through in every image. Her still photos are amazing. 

And the video at the top of this post? Yowza. It's a teaser for a short film she collaborated on called Kainos which, as far as I can tell, hasn't been released. But oh man I'd love to see it.

Earlier this year I wrote about freediving photographer Daan Verhoeven. His work, to me, carries serious weight. There's a stillness to what he does – an almost religious sense of gravity. It's stunning.

Sarah's work is stunning too, but in an entirely different way. It's an outright celebration of moving water – swirls of slivering beauty and brute force and the lucky ones that have found their place comfortably within it. 

Sarah was kind enough to let me share her images. Not only that, she signed off her note with "mahalo nui." Some people are just cool like that.

Check out more of her work, underwater and alongside it, on her site.

Let's dance. Yes?

I know what you've been thinking...

"Bring Limes" is okay I guess, but it could really use a few more Friedrich Nietzsche quotes.

Well, have I got just the thing for you!

“Those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music.” - Friedrich Nietzsche

So with no further ado, I present Matt Bray, this perfectly silly dancing guy that will make you happier than Nietzsche ever did, even during your angsty freshman year of college when all you did was quote him and Kierkegaard and Morrissey, like some goof-ass, when you could have been dancing instead.

Bruce Gold: Last of the surfing hippies

I love people that love something. I mean people who really really love something. Every day. For all their days. 

The age of the person shouldn't matter I suppose. Passion is passion. But, for me anyway, somehow age does matter. Which probably explains why I've done more than a few posts featuring old people who are still committed to doing their thing. This includes one of my favorite things that I've shared here: A skier named Snowflake who advocates loving something so much that you forget to go to the toilet. 

With all that said, here we are again. This time we're being invited into the life of Bruce Gold who surfs Jeffreys Bay in South Africa. What's most impressive about Bruce isn't just his passion for surfing, but the extreme life decisions he's made as a result of that passion. As Bruce puts it, "It's hard to be a hobo. But it has it's rewards."