One Journey Ends and Another Begins

WHATS NEXT YOU ASK?

Or maybe you don't ask...but if you do, here ya go.

As most of you reoccurring readers know, I'm off of the Pacific Crest Trail for the remainder of the year. If you're new to the blog, well, now ya know. When I made the decision to get off of the PCT, it wasn't easy. I was making a decision that was going to impact the rest of my year, and who knows what else. After I left Portland and flew home back to Ohio, I was immediately welcomed back by all of my friends and family. The first day back in Ohio I was lucky enough to attend one of my best friends' wedding reception. It was a beautiful night as everyone laughed and hung out into the evening. After three days at my parents house in Canton, OH, I meandered on down to Cincinnati to do some work for a friend of mine. He needed some photos of a few houses taken as well as some appliances moved and general labor help. I needed some quick cash, so my buddy Danny and I went down for a couple of days. Cincinnati is a pretty rad city, and I'd be lying if I didn't say that I almost stayed in Ohio because of the opportunities in Cincinnati. Although my decision could have been easy, I decided to stick with my original plan. 

Orignial Plan?

Surprisingly enough, while I was in Lassen National Park eating breakfast at JJ's Cafe, I was on the phone with the same good friend mentioned above, Danny. I'm talking to Danny on the phone outside of the cafe and all of the sudden a man walks behind me as I'm mentioning something about Denver, CO. He interrupts briefly to inform me that him and his wife own a gardening service in Denver. "Come over and talk to us after you're off the phone, man!" he belts out as he strolls away. I did just that.

After about 20 minutes of conversation about the trail, what I'm doing, and what I'll be doing after the trail, both Chris and Amy, the two owners, offer me a seasonal gardening gig in Denver whenever I get off trail. Now, to be honest, I really didn't give it much thought at that very moment. To be completely open, at that point I hadn't give anything much thought other than how I was going to finish the PCT. Although I had obviously thought about what I would do, and when, after I got off trail, I wasn't sure what that would be. I knew I had 100 days, I guess I was just obvious to the fact that the time was finally there. Ducky and I strolled off into the National Park and the moment passed. 

Fast forward to the last day on trail before I headed to Portland. 

I was debating on exactly what I wanted to do as we all sat in the hotel room. I knew it was decision time, but I just wasn't sure what I had in store for me. As you may know, I had a few options. One of those said options was taking the seasonal gig in Denver for the rest of the year and figuring the rest out once I got there. I mulled over it for the rest of the day, and when the time finally came to head to Portland with Scooter, my mind was made up. Now, it wasn't just an 'easy' decision, as some would probably like to assume. I really could have gone, and still could, go back to corporate if I every so choose. I could stay in Canton, and pay $200 less per month just for rent alone, not even calculating in other expenses that are higher in Denver and other cities. I could have gone back to Columbus, only to fall rightly so back into my routines. I could have stayed and been comfortable. 

I asked myself, "Would I regret this? Would I take a risk?" 

I answered yes to both questions.

I would go to Denver after a week at home, work for Amy and Chris, and figure the rest out. My main motivations weren't for the money, because after all, gardening doesn't pay too much, but more for the location. After working in corporate sales for the majority of the last three years in between thru hikes, I knew that I didn't want to immediately go back into an office, but I definitely needed to work. Although gardening isn't the most lucrative job, I'm at the point where I'll gladly sacrifice some pay for a less stressful, more enjoyable gig that doesn't drive me up a wall into insanity. 

I drive a 2009 Nissan Versa. I bought it after I got home from the CDT. Funny enough, I sold my Honda Element before I started the CDT. It's white, has a slight rattle in the exhaust, is manual, and is the very base model they made. No power anything. No cruise. No AC. Neemor, Scooter and I took it 7,000 miles across the country and back with no problems. Well, next to no problems. I trusted it to get me to Colorado once more, so the 1,100 mile journey began out of Cincinnati. I said my goodbyes to Danny, Jiries, and Jay and got ready to here the hum of a car for the next 24 hours. I don't mind driving for long distances, just like I don't mind walking for long distances, I suppose. I got some quick snacks at the gas station, filled up my Nalgene and hit it. Indiana and Illinois flew by, and then Missouri felt like it dragged on forever. Not until I got to Kansas did I realize how much I truly hate 70West. It's one road. Forever. 

I slept for 6 hours from 11-5 and woke up in a daze. I tried to drive for another hour and a half before I ended up pulling off on a country dirt road and zonking for another 2 hours. I was exhausted, but with only 7 hours left, it would be over before I knew it. I pulled into my good friend Justin's apartment as my eyes began to get heavy again. Turns out, Justin's roommate is traveling for work and never even moved into the place. His open room is going to be vacant for the foreseeable couple of months. I wasn't planning on getting a place due to the cost of the rent here in Denver, but the opportunity was too good to not take it. Although the apartment isn't in Denver Proper, it's not far. Just a short 20 mile drive outside the city is the Centennial / Aurora area. Only about 40 minutes from Boulder and almost equal distance to Colorado Springs, it's a damn good location. I was planning on living out of my car and spending most of my time at the coffee shop, in the mountains, or at the climbing gym, but life always has a different plan. I brought in the two boxes of clothes and gear that I brought with me an that was it.

I'm now living in Denver. 

Sonic ascending Bierstadt last June

Sonic ascending Bierstadt last June

I have a few goals while I'm out here, and they all revolve around photography and the mountains. I'm in the process of putting a list together of the 14'ers I'd like to summit before the season is up, and my hopeful and maybe ambitious goal is around 20 of them. I only have Saturday and Sunday each weekend, but I'm going to make the most of each day. During the week I'll be going to work, just as most of us do, from 8-4, then either writing, editing, or filming. Somewhere in the time after work I'll be fitting in some training runs at the local state park near me to work on sprints, hills, and tempo runs. I want to be in shape to where I can link together a dew 14'ers in one go, meaning I need to keep the shape I'm currently in.

As far as the photography portion of the reason I moved to Denver; I'm going to immerse myself in the outdoor industry here and really try and start working more with brands, small companies, and people who have an awesome product or idea. I want to film for companies. I want to take photos for brands who represent the values and ideas that I value and hold close as well. I want to shoot rad climbers sending insane routes. I want to hop out on the trails and shoot Ultras and work with people who have a vision. Not only that, but with the real estate market as good as it is here, I want to capitalize on some additional work in that market. Although real estate photography would never be my first option as a profession, it is something I'm relatively decent at and enjoy. Some of the houses I've shot are quite pretty and have some intricate architecture to them. Really, when I look at it from a broad perspective, Denver is a place I think I can really thrive at. I think there's enough of what I love here to make it worth while for me to pursue something here.

Red Bass climbing the ridge towards the summit of Parkview on the CDT

Red Bass climbing the ridge towards the summit of Parkview on the CDT

After all, I moved here voluntarily with the initial intention of living out of my car.  

Be on the look out for a Trip Report from every 14'er I summit this year. My next project is based here in Colorado, and I'm incredibly excited to share it with you.

Maroon Bells, CO: An Unforgettable Experience

Before we even set out on our road trip, I had mentioned to Neemor that one of my most sought after locations to shoot was a place called Maroon Bells. The Bells, as they are referred to by locals, are a pair of 14’ers near Aspen, Colorado, that are legitimately the most photographed mountains in all of the lower 48. With the snow pack being a deterrent for most of the day hikers that would normally flock to the location during less inclement months, we added it to our list of hopeful places we would visit along the way.

As we snaked through Colorado on our way out West to get to Utah, I wasn’t sure if our path was going to lead us back towards my most desired destination, but I was excited for what was to come regardless. Eventually as we exhausted our time in Provo, Yosemite, Zion, and eventually Arches, we found ourselves returning to Colorado, a place where we all had friends and our coveted destination lay. Well, I guess I should say my coveted destination. I’m the only one that had even heard of the location prior to the road trip, so I suppose that needs to be clarified. Nonetheless, we were in Colorado, one of my favorite places I’ve ever been, and as a group I think we all were stoked to hang out for a day or two and get some much needed rest in. Scooter’s good buddy Alex that he’s known for quite some time now has a pretty rad apartment in Avon, CO, so we headed there for a few days before proceeding with any more adventures. Alex offered us not only a place to stay, but showers, food, more weed than I could smoke, and just some of the most genuine hospitality I’ve ever received. I was more than grateful for such an unsuspecting opportunity that has now led to a friendship. If you’re reading this Alex, thanks for everything.

After we enjoyed a few days off from the road and our relentless schedule of driving, hiking, and climbing, we gathered our belongings and headed for an outfitter in Aspen where we had plans to rent snowshoes. The day prior during some of our down time, we had the chance to check some of the maps about the Maroon Bells hike, and we decided that we would give it a go the following day. It was labeled as a 7 mile snowshoe to the lake where we would be presented with massive, sweeping, overwhelming views of the Bells, and then a 7 mile snowshoe back to the car. 

Prior to arriving at the Bells, we had been in contact with another thru hiker who I’ve had previous conversations with, Whisper. She thru hiked the AT SOBO in 2016, then last year completed a hell of a NOBO hike on the PCT. She’s a bad ass woman, hiker, and person in general, and when I told her we were coming to the Bells, she immediately offered us a place to stay, as well as an invitation to join her at the Banff Mountain Film Festival that her Outfitter was hosting. Although she couldn’t join us on our snowshoe, when we hopped out of our car to begin our hike, a fella revved up his snowmobile and shouted to us, “Are y’all Maya’s friends? She said you guys were coming! My name’s Zach and I’ll be coming to the film showing with y’all tonight!” We were initially very confused considering we’ve never met Whisper (Maya), or Zach, but we rolled with it and said what’s up. After our initial short interaction, we began our snowshoe towards the bells as he drove off into the group of people up ahead. 

Neemor and Scooter getting into the deeper snow.

Neemor and Scooter getting into the deeper snow.

The first few miles of our 7 mile snowshoe were relatively relaxed, walking at a general pace through packed down snow that followed the road towards the wilderness area. With camera gear at the hip, snow shoes on the pack, and extra layers ready to be put on, the fun was just beginning. As the road snakes through beautiful aspen rows, the Bells peak out behind the trees intermintently giving me a rush of adrenaline each time they appeared. I could hardly believe that I was finally about to see one of my most sought after locations in the dead of Winter. 

With the last few miles of our snowshoe exposing the Bells in all of their glory constantly, I couldn’t resist pulling out my camera to begin snapping photos. With each step my heart raced quicker. 

First real view of the Bells.

First real view of the Bells.

We arrived at the parking lot that visitors normally have access to, and with the Bells towering over everything on the horizon, we climbed up a little rock face to get a better view of the area and to relax a little bit. We wandered around, took photos, enjoyed a few snacks and just kind of watched in awe as the wind whipped across the frozen landscape. We took our shoes off and let our soaking wet feet breathe a little bit outside of the snowshoes and our trail runners while the shrouded sun attempted to peak through the clouds. All three of us kind of just stared in awe as the clouds swirled above our heads, and before we knew it, our snowshoes were back on and we were looking for other places to go explore around the area.

Scooter taking in the view while we relaxed for a bit.

Scooter taking in the view while we relaxed for a bit.

We looked towards getting closer to the Bells, but as we moved forward, we realized that not only was there no broken trail, but we couldn't really discern where the lake was. We continued on anyways, alternating between the three of us to break trail, and eventually we got to the frozen, snowed over lake. Within minutes of us arriving, the clouds had moved out a bit and the sun was beginning to set behind the massive peaks. We each went out on our own to get the shots we wanted, but really, after snapping a few, I just stood and watched. I still couldn't fathom the fact that I was there. Unbelievable, really.

Approaching the lake after breaking trail.

Approaching the lake after breaking trail.

With the sun now behind the peaks, the temperatures began to drop as the last bit of light faded away. We still had a 7 mile snow shoe back to the car, but that didn't change the fact that I wish we could have stayed longer. My feet were beginning to go numb with the constant exposure to the cold and snow, so we packed up and decided to head out. I'm positive it wasn't just my feet, both Neemor and I were wearing just normal trail runners with no waterproof protection. Scooter may be the only one that thought ahead and brought a gor-tex shoe. Nonetheless, with our sights set on the car, the snow shoe back was quite enjoyable despite my frozen feet. Although the sun had set behind the peaks, we had plenty of light left which allowed us to hike the 7 miles back to the car during the dusk hours. Not quite bright, not quite dark. Just enough to prevent headlights from being busted out of the pack.

Watching the Moon Rise above the peaks.

Watching the Moon Rise above the peaks.

Favorite Maroon Bells Photo I took.

Favorite Maroon Bells Photo I took.

The miles flew by as Neemor pressed on and Scooter and I took our time meandering through the last few miles of our road trip. We arrived at the car not long after Neemor, and before we knew it we were at the Film Festival with Whisper. She managed to get us all in for free somehow, and we entered the theatre while the last film before intermission was playing. After intermission, we watched the few films that remained, then proceeded to get some grub with her and Zach. We ended our night by cramming our sleeping pads into Whisper's room where she was letting us crash. I still am in shock at how welcoming and genuine the trail community is, even when not on trail. I'm grateful for all of the friends I've made over the last few years through hiking, and even more thankful for how they've continuously helped me out. 

Maroon Bells '18 Blog-11.jpg

We woke up the next morning with a fresh shower courtesy of Whisper. After an hour or so of enjoying good conversation, the road beckoned and we were on our way; the snowshoes needed returned and we had one last stop on our way back east towards Columbus.

Post Road Trip Thoughts:

This particular adventure was one of my favorites I've ever been a part of. Having the entire maroon bells-snowmass wilderness essentially to ourselves was almost overwhelming. We had so much room to explore while the wild landscape changed before our eyes with the snow, clouds, and wind. Being able to check off Maroon Bells from my bucket list feels great, but for some reason, I don't feel accomplished there. I want to explore that area so much more. I want to spend a few nights below some of the most awe inducing peaks I've ever seen. I want to climb said peaks, and feel what it's like to stand atop such prominent features. I've climbed a 14'er before, but those twin peaks of the Bells are different. They're memorable in the sense that I can't stop thinking about them. I need more time there. 

Although we only got to spend a short period of time there, it made a lasting impression on me. I left the wilderness area driven to create more. To create things that will continue to inspire others, just as the Peaks have inspired me. My own personal work will never amount to what natural beauty is held within that area, but I can only hope. I'll be back to the Bells. Maybe not this year, or next even, but soon. I will climb those peaks and capture the raw beauty of them. I will feel that same overwhelming sense of minuteness yet again. 

I think a lot of what drives me to explore these vast, grand places is my earnestness to find places that make me feel small to hopefully inspire me to create more important work. As a photographer, I strive to present these places to my viewers in a format that induces emotion. I can only hope that I succeed in that as my work grows. 

I have a few more blog posts in the works about my trip out West, so stay tuned!