Monday, June 11, 2018

Beastie Part I

         I was trying to figure out how to describe my location, for my mom, who consistently worried about where I would decide to set up camp each night.  As I sat behind Beastie in my camp chair, eating the dinner I had just prepared on my Jet Boil stove, asparagus and chicken sausage wrapped in a spinach tortilla, with a well deserved beer in hand, I thought I was exactly where I wanted to be, nowhere. 

         I found myself sitting in an empty campground along the Canadian River a mere 11 miles and 40 minutes away from pavement, on the western side of the Kiowa National Grassland in the Northeast corner of New Mexico.  No one was in sight, exactly how I wanted it.  I was content.  

         I was unwinding my nerves after driving some of the toughest terrain I had been on up to that point.  I began to think about why I do this, why do I enjoy driving dirt roads with rock obstacles which often put my four tires off kilter?  This is often a questioned I am asked from family and friends outside of the Land Cruiser community.  

          Once I shared my location with my mom via my InReach, a GPS and two way communication device, I settled into my sleeping quarters, which tripled as my living room, sometimes kitchen, and all around get out of the elements room, or in reality, the back of my Land Cruiser.  I had cracked open a book and begun reading when I heard my InReach ping.  Must be mom.  It was. Her message read, “It looks like you're in the middle of nowhere, is anyone around?”.  I typed back, “Nope, that’s exactly how I want it, I love it here.”  My travel style and desire for solitude has always baffled my mom, and on occasion my dad, but he voiced his concerns less, allowing my mom to act as his mouth piece in most instances. I thought more about my drive to push my comfort zone, push the boundaries that my parents had envisioned for me.  The act of pushing these boundaries is exactly the reason I’ve come to realize why I have fallen in love with off-road travel.  My anxiety melts away on the road even if my pulse quickens a bit on uneven terrain, because after working through tough sections of road I always come out the other side in a stronger stance, taking that strength back to my life outside of road travel. 

           I have never quite understood, myself, why I enjoy solitude so much, but it was clear having one of the most capable off-road vehicles afforded me the opportunity to truly explore my fascination with getting off the grid.  My enjoyment of solo travel stems from being my ‘true’ self on the road, feeling little pressure from societal structures and norms that we all face on a daily basis.  On the road there is less pressure to fit in because most times you are not in one place long enough to feel like you have to ‘fit in’, you can just be you.  

         It was 9 years ago when I fell in love with Toyota Land Cruisers.  I had searched 4-Wheel drive vehicles on craigslist and a mint 1982 FJ40 came up on my search.  After viewing that car and then the inevitable onslaught of research, I was hooked, I had to have a Land Cruiser. Over the years the obsession grew and my knowledge expanded. With my older brother traveling overseas, I was in the clear for a few years to use the family spare car as I saved up for my dream car.  I was in search of a diesel, which of course led me to the import market.  As I did with the FJ40, I soon fell in love with the BJ40, the diesel iteration of the FJ40.  I wanted a reliable car I could take anywhere, and not spend my entire paycheck on gas.  

            I soon found that clean left hand drive BJ40s were a bit out of my price range, by a bit I mean a lot.  So right hand drive imports soon filled my searches, and I quickly found many BJ70s.  I loved the look 40 series but liked the creature comforts that came stock in the 70 series, including power steering, a radio, front disc brakes and the like.  June 2014 is when I really ramped up my search.  I had done the research, I had saved enough money, and I was ready to buy my first car.  Yes, my first car.  Over my many years of infatuation, I had talked to many importers, but somehow did not come across Land Cruisers Direct until late June 2014.  I would spend the slow nights at my work, managing a climbing gym in Santa Barbara, CA, scouring his inventory.  Every time, a silver 1986 BJ70 JDM import kept catching my eye.  The price was right, a little cheaper then the typical 70 series due to some frame rust that had been fixed in Japan.  

          On another painfully slow night at work in mid-August, I ogled over this 70 and then it clicked, that was my car.  Not just any 70 series, this specific vehicle.  It was everything I wanted, and more.  It has a factory PTO winch, auxiliary lights; it was my car.  I have since been asked why that 70, and I still cannot fully answer.  Something simply clicked.  That little silver box was to be mine.  I called Steve Jackson, the importer, the following day and asked all the necessary questions. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary, I had already looked at the nearly 100 photos of my car on Steve’s website, I already knew about the good and the ugly.  I knew what I was getting into, or at least I thought I did, with purchasing a nearly 30 year old car. I was going to be replacing parts, some big parts including my radiator, and dealing with the rust I already knew had been a problem.  I exchanged a few more calls with Steve over the course of the next week, asking about shipping costs etc.  I came to the conclusion that it was going to be cheaper for me to fly to Missouri, where Land Cruisers Direct is located, and drive back to Santa Barbara, California.  I called Steve on my 22nd birthday, August 25th, 2014 and committed to purchasing my cruiser.  

          Two weeks later I boarded my one-way flight to Missouri to begin my journey into car but more importantly Cruiser ownership.  

            I found myself in Ozark, Missouri September 9, with my mom in tow.  My parents were not excited about my decision to purchase my car, and my dad convinced my mom that she needed to come with me on my adventure to bring my car home. Mainly because I did not know how to drive a manual before boarding our flight to Springfield, Missouri, and my dad figured I would need help getting through the Rockies being a first-time manual driver.  I later learned, he would be right. 

            Steve usually picks up every buyer from the airport in the vehicle they are purchasing, but seeing as I did not know how to drive manual, we were picked up in an automatic so I could get used to piloting a car from a drivers seat situated on the right, before tackling driving a manual.  As I drove the 40 minutes to the shop in Ozark, my excitement building, lined by the occasional heart pump due to drifting into the right lane.  A hazard, I discovered, as a first time right-hand drive driver. That and hitting the windshield wiper every time you go for the blinker.  This, years later, is still the one thing that trips me up when switching between right and left hand drive.  

           I pulled onto the freeway exit, guided by Steve’s shop hand.  My excitement continuously growing, while I could see my mom’s bewildered face in the rear-view mirror.  It was not hard deciphering her expression, “I still can’t believe Maggie is doing this, and I can’t believe I’ve flown to Missouri, and I’m escorting her back.”  

         A right turn from the freeway offramp, a left at the next light, and another left and a nondescript road in an industrial area.  One more right turn and we were at the shop.  There on the left of the driveway was my purchase.  Sparkling silver, clearly fresh from a detailing job.  


           There, little did I know was my future.  There sat a little silver box sitting on a slowly rusting frame, waiting to shape my life and myself as an individual.  There sat, not just a vehicle for road travel, but a vehicle into a better understanding of myself. I had no idea the people Beastie would bring into my life, and those Beastie would help me move past. I had no idea how many times Beastie would shelter me from the elements, and act as my solace to the hardships of life, my shelter from pain.  Standing at the shop in Missouri, I could have never guessed the many turns my life was about to make because of a mechanical genius and well assembled piece of metal. 

I'm resurrecting my defunct blog!!  With my 'big trip' I've been getting asked a lot about if I'll have a blog, well I guess I should, so if you want some longer than Instagram length musings, follow along here. 

My first post will not be trip related, but more a piece I imagine will turn into something much longer, so I'll call it Beastie Part I. 

Monday, March 2, 2015

Missing Photos of the Week

I have been absolutely failing at my goal, but I have a really good defense.  Last week I was out with a strained back and could barely move, let alone go out on a photo adventure.  So that was last week and I'm missing this week because I couldn't go anywhere last week.  I was still out with my back.  So apologies for this incredibly boring post.  On the bright side, I'm mobile, and I even climbed yesterday.  It'll be slow going to get back any endurance and strength, but I'm on my way.  I'm also still putting together Part II of my trip report from last February.  I'm failing on so many counts.  Midterms are behind me so I'll have more time for me and my tasks.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Photo of the Week 2-16

Burnside Bridge, Portland, OR. 2010.

Alright so I failed a little bit with actually shooting last week, so this one's from the archives.  Although I didn't actively shoot, my inability to forced me to revisit old images and rediscover my own work.  This is from September 2010, and previously has probably only been seen by me.

Burnside Bridge was built in 1926 and spans the Willamette River.  Interesting fact, it is the only bridge in Portland that spans the Willamette that was built with an architects input, that is why it his the Italian Renaissance towers and decorative metal railings.  

Monday, February 9, 2015

Photo of the Week 2-9

There are a couple things going on with this image, first this is a film scan, second this was color film that was crossed processed, processed using BW chemistry, and third I was having issues with my film camera at the time and while rewinding the film after it getting stuck I accidentally damaged it.  The vertical streaks you see at the tip half of the image is a result of that damage, and yet I still think its a great print.  I took an iconic natural wonder and presented it in a new light, the light of unpredictable film troubles and and alternative process.

This was not taken last week, but I finally had this film developed after sitting on my desk for nearly 3 years.  So although I didn't really pick up my camera last week I'm still keeping with my goal to move my photography forward by actually developing all the film I've had sitting around for years.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Wanderings and Thoughts of Thoreau Part I

I decided to drive to Colorado Springs, CO last February to support one of my incredible youth climbers from the team at USA Climbing's ABS Nationals.  Long story short, it was to late to find a decently priced airfare, so I had a 'to hell with it' moment and decided I needed some time off anyway and turned it into quiet the adventure.  This was my first major solo trip I had ever been on, and looking back I'm still happy I didn't have anyone else with me.  It was as if I had a chance to press a re-start button.  I only had myself to worry about, which is probably the most selfish statement, but how can you be there for others if you don't have yourself figured out.  Whenever I get a chance to drive more than 30 mins, I find I can process things.  Whether its thinking about a friendship, relationship, work, etc driving has always been my time to just process. This trip gave me the ultimate opportunity to do just that, process.  It was also a chance to just enjoy my surroundings, and appreciate the landscape.  I think many times people forget to stop and look around, if you live in an overly developed place,  I don't blame you, but even then architecture is an amazing thing to observe.

On this ~2500 mile journey I drove through 5 National Forests, 1 Conservation Area, 1 National Monument, and 4 National Parks.  I had ample opportunity to just be and enjoy.  I can't put my thumb on it but there's something about wilderness, it hits me, not in a subtle 'oh this is pretty way' but in an indescribable impact on me.  I want to live somewhere, where the wild landscape dominates, there aren't to many people and I can appreciate the silence and beauty that those types of areas have to offer.

I am currently in an American Environmental History class, while reading one of our assigned books I came across a quote that resonated with me, "Let me live where I will, on this side is the city, on that the wilderness, and ever I am leaving the city more and more, and withdrawing into the wilderness," Henry David Thoreau, may I say one of our earliest environmentalist made this remark.  When I came across this, I stopped and took a minute, Thoreau stated perfectly how I feel so often. I find I'm happiest, not surrounded by people, but by nature and most importantly animals. The relationships you can cultivate with animals don't necessarily mean more than those with a person, but they just have this extra quality about them.  The ability to create a relationship not through words or conversations, but through interactions and understanding that animals instincts and signs makes for a much deeper level of understanding.  I digress, back to the trip.

The first half of my trip was tightly scheduled, I had to be in Colorado Springs by Thursday, February 27th at 6PM.  I started out on Wednesday from Santa Barbara to Zion National Park in Utah.  I arrived in the early evening delighted to find that in the off season you can drive through parts of the park in which normally you're forced to take a shuttle.  It was refreshing to see Zion at my own pace. It was so quiet that I could stop in the middle of the road to take pictures, which is especially useful if you intend to capture wildlife, if you don't have to walk up to them they won't run away before you have a chance to snap the shutter.  In off seasons national parks and forests seem to be reclaimed by the wild.  Native animals roam free again and even take over the developed areas.  I woke up at dawn to deer munching away on the vegetation at my campsite.

Captured a herd of deer along the side of road while driving thought the park.  MMcDermut Photography.
Due to the cold and for safety, I slept in my car.  Here's my set up (this was back when I drove an Acura MDX).  It may look a little messy but it was rather organized.  

Zion National Park. MMcDermut Photography.

Day 2 of driving was a long one.  I woke up around 6AM had a quick breakfast consisting of oatmeal and coffee and headed out.  I decided instead of going up the I-15, I would go up US. Highway 89.  The 89 cuts directly up the middle of Utah, alright a little further west then the true middle.  You drive between the Grand Staricase-Escalante National Monument, Bryce Canyon National Park and the Dixie National Forest.  Needless to say the terrain is incredible, relatively un-inhabited, and the towns you do pass through are teeming with history and are quite alluring.  I have many towns I want to revisit to photograph for a series I have been thinking about for a while. A series about forgotten and decaying places, capturing the beauty not just the decay.

The 89 connects directly to Interstate 70.  The 70 is the most direct way to cut east to Denver.  Admittedly the drive on the 70 through Utah wasn't the most exciting, a lot of desert, a lot.  Right before the state line, the terrain became a bit more inspiring again.

 Once on the Colorado side, it got a bit more interesting, I started to see snow again, and lots of it.  Then I descending upon the White Fish National Forest. Unfortunately I have no photos from this section of the drive.  What makes driving through the White Fish National Forest such an incredible drive?  The interstate is crammed in this canyon meandering right next to and sometimes above the Colorado River.  Many times the east and westbound lanes are stacked instead of laying next to each other, but because of these tight quarters there are not many areas to pull off to snap photos.  This is one of those places you just have to see in person.

This rest of the drive didn't present me with anything overwhelmingly interesting.  Some old historical mining towns, a bison farm, but those are the only things that really come to mind, and Denver traffic.  After driving 12 hours I made it to the hotel at 5:50 for the coaches meeting which started at 6.  I'd say thats pretty perfect timing.  I met up with Mike the other coach, Will, the owner of the gym and then Pablo and his family.  The rest of the night was very mellow, food and then a much needed shower and sleep. The next morning was an early one, Pablo climbed in the first group and absolutely crushed, he easily made it to semifinals. So we had a whole afternoon to kill at this point.

So we went here.  This is Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs.  Not the best photo, I snapped this with my phone, but hopefully you can make out the sandstone fins jutting up from the ground.  Such an incredible place.  These fins tower about you and create a maze walking around them.  And they are climbable, there are bolted routes on many of them.  Naturally, being with a bunch of climbers, we took our empty afternoon and filled it with climbing.
 Mike belaying.  

Pablo making fun of the sign keeping non-climbers out. 

Logan on a seemingly impossible 5.12c (if I remember correctly) 

Again, concluding this day with a nice hot shower, some good grub surrounded by great people.  Pablo's mom, Danielle was gracious enough to have me stay with her great aunt who happened to live in Colorado Springs.  I got to stay with the kindest family, they opened up there home, fridge and pantry to a complete stranger with no apprehensions.  When that level of kindness surrounds you, its infectious, in the long term not just the short.

Pablo climbed mid-day Saturday, faced some of the hardest competition climbs he has ever been put in front of, and just missed making it to finals by one place.  Pablo placed 11th in semi-finals and they take top ten to finals.  Even without making it to the final day, this was incredible.  Pablo had never climbed competitively until this season and here he was making it through Regionals, Divisionals, and onto to Nationals, and not just that through the quarter finals onto semi finals.  This was Pablo's first competitive season and my first season ever coaching climbing.  It was an incredible run and an exhilarating introduction to my job of coaching.  

Perseverance.  Without that Pablo would not have gotten to the stage at Nationals.  I not only teach in my role as a coach, but I learn tremendous amounts from my team.  Its inspiring to see someone so young work so hard for something.  I think I had forgotten how much perseverance is required in life, to get through school, and be able to achieve any goal in life.  Perseverance is mandatory.  That isn't the only thing I was reminded of, I learn from my team every practice.  Just working with youth you are forced to learn how to communicate on so many levels.  You must be able to break something down to many different levels for it to be understood.  My role as a climbing coach is not the only thing that has taught me that skill, being a horse back riding instructor gave me the strongest foundation.  I can now make so many analogies to explain anything I need to, a skill I employ with adults as well as youth.  

After a much earned day of rest and fun we went to  Earth Treks Climbing Gym in Golden, CO on Sunday. 

This wasn't just fun because it's a jaw-dropping gym with its ~50ft lead walls and amazing boulder problems, but because it felt like home.  I started climbing September 2012, right after I moved back to Washington, D.C. the gym I climbed at back east was, you guessed it, Earth Treks.  Earth Treks has 3 gyms around the D.C. and Baltimore area, the owner Chris Warner, who has summited Everest and K2 actually lives in Colorado.  Which is why they opened a gym in Golden, CO November 2013. I climbed at Earth Treks in Rockville, Maryland.  Nearly every night after leaving work with the Senate I would take the metro out to Earth Treks.  I cultivated some of the best friendships I have ever had with folks I met at Earth Treks.  I was living in D.C. with a group of 30 fellow Lewis & Clark students during our domestic study program.  Although I lived and saw these people every single day I didn't connect with them at all.  I felt very out of place and lonely whilst being surround by them all the time, this was on the heels of going through one of the hardest times of my life so far, battling with depression and being extremely withdrawn from everything around me.  So I put my foot down and found a place I fit in and felt comfortable in, which was Earth Treks.  I cannot thank the Earth Treks climbing community for being there and helping me find my place and people I connected with, most importantly to my incredible friends Lauren and Gavin  who helped me keep my head above water.  DDT!  

Earth Treks is home and even though this wasn't Rockville, it was Earth Treks.  I even saw a few familiar faces, when they opened the Golden gym, some staff from back east moved to Colorado to help open the new gym and cultivate the same atmosphere the Maryland gyms have. 

If you've made it this far, wow. I did not realize how long this was going to be.  I've decided to split this trip long into two parts as to maintain some audience instead of boring you to death with one gigantic post.  Stay tuned of part II! 

Monday, February 2, 2015

Introducing my Photo of the Week! And following up on 2015 goals.

As hokey as it is I'm going to post at last one photo from the previous week.  I'm viewing this as a way to keep myself accountable for one of my 2015 goals.  I wanted to explore creative outlets, one being my photography, if I have a photo of the week, I have to be shooting and actively finding things that are intriguing to my eye.  This will also ensure I'm writing at least once a week as well, these posts will certainly be much shorter than my others, but I'm still writing, I'm never to concerned with length. So without further ado my first photo of the week.
Alright not the highest quality image, it was shot with my phone, and its edited a bit, but this was hands down my favorite photo from last week.  This of course is Champ, well being Champ.  He's the silliest horse I know and always give me a good laugh.  One of the great things about taking pictures of him is I never know what I got until I look at everything later,  these little nuggets of hilarity are always a surprise.  

Switching gears; here's an update on the little progress I've made on my 2015 goals.  I got a chance to climb outside this weekend! I went up to Lizards Mouth with a great group of friends and actually had a chance to work on my long term project, The King is Dead V6.  For how weak I've been feeling I certainly surprised myself.  Getting established to make the first move has never been super easy for me.  You have a thin slot for your right hand and a crimp for your left.  Get a high right foot and a barely there left heel hook and blast up right to a sharp gaston crimp.  I hit that move nearly every time I tried it this weekend.  Now its just re-establishing my feet for the next move. It felt really good to hop on that problem again.  I'm feeling more motivated to climb in the gym to train so I can finally tick this problem off my to-do list.  

I finally picked up one my antique books.  I chose William Shakespeare's As You Like It for my first read.  I was trying to pick a book and thought I should choose one of the less daunting books that stared back at me, ease into the harder ones. 

I still haven't started to pen my trip reports, so I'm lacking on that front, but overall I'm moving forward with the 2015 goals.