News I can lose

Like a lot of people these days, it seems, I've taken an interest in simplifying my life. My intentions are good. My aim is true. My follow-through, unfortunately, is for shit.

I did read a book on essentialism. I've watched many tiny houses being built on HGTV. And I've converted my Instagram feed almost exclusively to people living in vans down by rivers. But that's about as far as I've gotten.

So. The weeks around Memorial Day were especially busy with a bunch of work related whatnot. One night, around 2 a.m., I climbed into bed completely beat. I thought I better chill for a while before going to sleep so I opened up the Apple News app. The next 45 minutes were spent drinking from the Geyser of Dumb. Although I needed none of that information at that hour, I silently pressed on. Spiritual self-immolation. The alarm went off early and I knew the 45 minutes I spent "keeping informed" would have been better spent sleeping.

By extension, I realized that all the time I've spent keeping up with the news would have been better spent doing other things. My phone settings showed that I spent, by far, the most time on the News app. It was a wreck on the side of the road that I couldn't stop staring at: porn stars and animatronic politicians and people pointing fingers at whatever they decided to hate most that day.

As I was contemplating all this, I learned that the President of the United States of America was meeting with Kim Kardashian on prison reform.

It was the little nudge I desperately needed. I immediately deleted the News App. Also: No more CNN. No more Huffpost. No more keeping an eye on Fox News just to see what they're up to. No more. Done. 

My initial plan was to extract myself from the news, and everything that goes with it, from Memorial Day through Labor Day. (Summer of love!) I assumed doing so would be difficult. That I'd need to check in from time to time.

Yeah... nope! I'm several weeks in, and I haven't missed it at all.

I was at the gym the other day and accidentally glanced up at a CNN screen. The graphic included the words "U.S." and "Canada" and "War." I looked away as quickly as I could. I don't know if it was referring to a trade war with Canada or, you know, a war war. I still don't. But I figure if it was the latter, someone would have mentioned it to me by now. It's not the speediest system, but it's noise-free. If ignorance is bliss, and yes it is, I'm totally fine with that.

On the road with my mom, the bad-ass.

Last weekend my mom and I met in Los Angeles for a wayward run down the coast. According to the Google machine, the drive to San Diego takes two hours. We wisely gave it four days.

The first morning found us on Manhattan Beach at 6 a.m. The grey dawn was working its way up to 60 degrees – water temps were cooler than that. A line-up of wet-suited surfers bobbled out along the second break.

Locals only. And my mom. 

I had a surfboard that I snagged from our AirBnB. She had a body board. I have no idea if she's ever used one before. I realize now that I never asked. In my defense, she was in the water and paddling out before I had a chance to inquire.  

We got pounded by the waves that day, and the next, and the days after that. It's what the ocean does best: it reminds us of where we stand. It pounds and pushes and puts us in our place. But then occasionally, whether we deserve it or not, it lets us ride. Fast and free and grinning like children.

Life can be the same way. And so it came to be, for four days last week, that my mom and I rode fast and free.

From sea level, to the rooftop bar at Hotel Casa Del Camino, to the wonderfully curvy road leading to the 6,000 foot peak of Palomar Mountain. And then down, down, down, lost maybe a little, until we finally dropped right into the heart of San Diego as if that was the plan all along. Music loud, top town, fueled by joy and a massive cache of roadside-stand strawberries.

Along the way, I learned that my mom can road trip like a champion. I also learned that, as a child, I had trouble pronouncing "T" sounds. So when I wanted my toy truck I'd yell "Fuck!" Or when passing the fire station: "Fire Fuck! Fire Fuck!" This anecdote has no bearing on our road trip, other than it never would have come up otherwise. Also, I'll add, it makes me very very happy.

I've always recommended taking any road trip, anytime, headed anywhere, alone or with anyone who's wired right for road trips. It's never a bad idea. But if you haven't tried it with your mom? Damn junior! You need to get on that!

Whatever happened to happy?

I've been away for a while.

My last post, back in May, might have suggested I finally fled to Canada once and for all. Although I did consider just disappearing into the woods, I ended up returning home with a cooler full of walleye and a sheepish "I can't quit you 'murica" grin.

You wouldn't know I'm back, though, from the look of things around Bring Limes HQ. I've been laying low as of late, in a deepish funk for reasons that took me a while to fully understand. Nothing I considered sharing here felt right (except for this sweet-ass jazz/surf video which wasn't embeddable but oh man hit this link because it's so cool).

Nothing I wrote seemed, I don't know, appropriate?

The fact of the matter is that we're living in strange times.

That's not a political statement. That's a no-shit-sherlock statement. Calling these End Days, I hope, is an overstatement. But it sure feels like we're experiencing the end of something. The continual squelching of compassion, the suppression of hope, the fear. The feeling is palpable and, on some days, it seems inescapable. Good old fashioned happiness, it seems, has gotten harder to come by.

But here's the other piece: Being happy is only part of the challenge. Just as problematic is the notion of seeming happy. In a world that's grown wobbly and dark, happiness has fallen out of fashion. Sure we're allowed to momentarily enjoy things – a majestic sunset, say, or a duck confit salad. But true uninhibited joy? It's become gauche – a guilty pleasure that, at best, should be indulged in the privacy of your own home.

Being outwardly happy, in 2017, has become an indicator that you're either ignorant, tone-deaf, or Chance the Rapper. Lil Chano gets a well-deserved happiness pass. But the rest of us? It feels sometimes like we're just trying to avoid the ignorant/tone-deaf label. We've become the Great American Congregation of the Appropriately and Respectfully Subdued. 

I know happiness isn't a switch that we can just turn on. But that doesn't mean we should keep it in the off position all the time either. On a recent flight to Boston, I realized that's what's been holding me back. How do margaritas and clam bakes align with Manchester and the Paris Accord and the perpetual waiting for shoes to fall? The short answer is that they don't. Last summer, I was accused (by me) of ukulele-ing while Rome burns. I see now that Rome was merely smoldering at the time. These days? Holy shit. 

Like a lot of people, the ways of the world have been wearing me down. I didn't understand how much until this past weekend. On Friday evening I took my son and his two buddies out on the boat. My head was kind of elsewhere (see: all my gibberish above), but they asked to go so off we went. As we eased out of the ShoreStation, they were already excited. As we passed the Slow No Wake buoy they were giddy. When I put the hammer down – laughter and high fives all around.

Out on the open water, with our faces tilted toward the setting sun, I realized this: It's okay to be happy. As one of the kid's bracelets reminded me, it's okay to laugh.

And so laugh we did. I swallowed a few bugs along the way, but that's alright. The world could use a few less bugs anyway.

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.

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.

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.

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."

Jim Whittaker on a life well lived

A life well lived indeed...

Jim Whittaker is the first American to summit Mt. Everest. He did it in 1963. As you'll quickly see, thanks to this pretty stunning archival footage, they had to do things a little differently back then. 

But it's Jim's take on nature, adventure, and existence that really rings the bell for me. He's lived a pretty awesome life. I'd say getting a sense of it might be worth 3 minutes and 42 seconds of yours.

Can't find the perfect island? Make your own!

 Happy Island, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, July 18th, 2013

Happy Island, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, July 18th, 2013

A while ago I wrote about finding the perfect island to live on. One of the assumptions I made is that the perfect island actually needs to exist in order for you to live on it. Wrongo! 

In 2013 we spent some time on Union Island which is part of St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Union Island is an island that actually exists. But out in the Clinton harbor sits Happy Island which didn't exists until one guy, Janti, decided to build it. He started in 2002 with a pile of conch shells, a couple small palm trees, and a cooler full of beers that he'd sell to passing dinghies. Today, Happy Island is considered one of the classic Caribbean beach bars and a must-stop destination for anyone in the area. It's really a helluva story.

But it's the kind of story I assumed could only happen in a distant corner of a distant sea. The Caribbean consists of 28 different nations and more than 7,000 islands. I figure nobody's going to get too worked up about a guy building one more.

But surely, building my own island in North America would be frowned upon and/or wildly illegal. Then I came across this video and now I'm not so sure! Freedom Cove is a Wonka-esque island/compound/sustainable-living garden built by artists Catherine King and Wayne Adams in a cove on Vancouver Island. One main difference between Happy Island and Freedom Cove, besides latitude, is the fact that it's entirely afloat. I'm assuming there's some legal reasoning for that. I'll definitely need to look into it before I officially unveil my island nation of Limeland.

You can read more about Freedom Cove here. But start with this video!