The Top

The Top of Huayna Potosi; Cordillera Real, Bolivia

Take the broad shoulder
Above the Upper Lake
To the North Ridge.
Then, follow it up to an obvious headwall.
Bypass that to the east
And gain the summit pyramid.

Thirty degrees,
Mixed terrain.
One step,
Rest,
And breathe.

Dirt, rock, then snow.
Be careful
With your feet.

Step,
Rest,
And breathe.

Crampons,
Balling up.
Tap with
Your ice axe.

Step,
Rest,
And breathe.

Look to the west,
And see the mountains
Create the horizon.

Step.
Rest,
And breathe.

The rope,
Keep it
On the downside.

Step,
Rest,
And breathe.

Chunks of snow,
Sliding
Down the slope.

Step,
Rest,
And breathe.

The tie-in,
Check
The knot.

Step,
Rest,
And breathe.

Ice axe,
In the
Uphill hand.

Step,
Rest,
And breathe.

Don’t fall,
But be ready
To self-arrest.

Step,
Rest,
And breathe.

Blue sky overhead,
Cloud build-up
In the west.

Step,
Rest,
And breathe.

Hot and thirsty,
Snow and ice
Everywhere.

Step,
Rest,
And breathe.

Wind,
Slapping
The face.

Step,
Rest,
And breathe.

Keep following
The trail
In the snow.

Step,
Rest,
And breathe.

The top,
Over there and
Not so far.

Step,
Rest,
And breathe.

Steeper,
But only
For a short distance.

Step,
Rest,
And breathe.

Water,
Got to stop
To take a drink.

Step,
Rest,
And breathe.

That has to be it.
The summit ridge,
Straight on up to the top.

Step,
Rest,
And breathe.

Plumes of snow,
Being blown
Over the top.

Step,
Rest,
And breathe.

Everything,
Seems to be
Below.

Step,
Rest,
And breathe.

Which one
Is the actual
Summit?

Step,
Rest,
And breathe.

Pain,
Lungs burning, and cold feet.
Joy.

Step,
Rest,
And breathe.

No more up.
No time to rest.
Don’t waste your breath.

Just one more step.

The top.

A Bolivian Adventure- The Road to Sorata

 

Soggy sky,
Fog and mud,
Mountain pass,
Another rut.

Land Cruiser,
Bikes on roof,
Brazilian driver,
And a dirt road that wanders.

Six with driver,
All cramped inside.
Hours of driving
Relentless ride.

A lot of dozing,
Engine droning,
And a Pink Floyd song
Floats through the speakers.

A dream, he wonders?

Over the crest
And then we stop.

Unload the bikes,
Attach the wheels,
To Sorata we ride.

No need to pedal,
It’s mostly down,
But check your brakes,
Control your speed.

Intriguingly,
We’re riding a fine line,
Between old world and new.

Muted colors of the Altiplano,
Wool Ponchos, and Fedora’s.
Brilliantly contrasted
With lightweight bicycles,
Colorful jerseys and helmets.
Soon, the town appears
In the valley below.

No surprise- the map said it would happen.

So, on down we go.

Get to town,
Find the hotel,
Unload the stuff,
Take a shower.

But there’s no water.

So,

Take a nap,
Wander the hallways.
Consider the snake skins,
Along with some maps.

And then it happens,
The water comes back.
Wash off the road,
Break-out the wine.

Finally, it’s time to tell the tales.
While there was nothing gruesome,
Or crashes that day,
There is still so much that remains to say.

Ultimately, it’s off to sleep.
Quiet time to wonder, ponder, and dream.

About the things to yet unfold.

Some will seem profound, others trivial,
Many unexpected, and all amazing.

And each with a story
That begs to be told.

For what it’s worth
A word of advice…

Embrace the unknown,
Hang on for the ride,
Travel the road,
Make adventure your guide.

Audio Version:

The Pre-trip Orientation

Getting Organized

Latimer pulled his F150 into an opportune parking spot near the Green Cow’s front door and stopped. He got out, locked the door, and went inside– eager to hear about the trip and meet the others. A fit-looking young man wearing a Wildbrink Adventures t-shirt met him just inside the door, introduced himself as the Assistant Trip Leader, and directed him into a back room. A group of six were already there and standing around in a jumbled circle, with drinks in hand and making small talk. Like him, most were in their 40’s, except for one especially hardened and hearty older woman whom he recognized from her photo in the brochure as the group leader. Instantly, he saw her as just the kind of person he wanted to be with in the South American wilds.

Before he even finished his first beer, the leader elevated her voice and addressed the entire group, saying, “okay, everyone, take a seat and let’s talk about the trip.”

Within minutes, everyone was seated and quiet, and she began. “Welcome, and I look forward to spending two weeks with each of you in the Andes. My name is Regina Gurgola, but everyone just calls me Gurgles. That guy sitting over there is my cohort and second in command, Kevin. The two of us want to do all we can to help you get the most out of your experience and to keep everyone as safe as possible. Of course, safe is a relative term since nothing is actually guaranteed to be safe. But we do make an effort to be well prepared for dealing with whatever situations might arise. To that end, expect the unexpected, and just embrace it.”

“A few things to know about the area,” she continued. “It’s a really majestic and wild place that’s probably unlike anything you’re used to. Don’t be thinking that where we are is a bad place, because it’s not- it’s just different. Undoubtedly, you’ll experience many amazing and interesting things. A few hints or insider tips to help you get the most out of the experience: first off, the water system down there is not like what you’re used to, so don’t drink the water out of the tap—only put bottled water in your stomach. That’s especially important because your time down there is limited, and you don’t want to waste it dealing with the yilly yally ying-yang. Also, in that regard, avoid eating any fresh produce that you can’t peel. We’ll have bottled water available to us all of the time and just plan to eat cooked meat and potatoes. More often than not, at least they’re predictably overcooked and sterile. Salads are a big no-no, and don’t even think about biting into one of the apples you’ll see in the markets. And on that note, you also might want to think about what meat you’re eating and if it is actually fully cooked. FYI, Guinea Pig is considered a delicacy in the area, and reliable cold storage can be a problem. A lot of people also try to conserve what gas they have and tend to eat their meats on the rare side. So just beware.”

“For those of you non-Spanish speakers, you’ll want to know the word “bano,” which means bathroom. That’s one you’ll use more than any other, but hopefully not in an emergency situation. This brings me to toilet paper. Don’t put it in the commode! There will be a separate bin for that, and the plumbing systems aren’t built to accommodate it. Don’t forget or challenge the technique because the result can lead to a big mess that you certainly don’t want to deal with. I know it sounds gross, but it’s just the way things are.”

Then, Gurgles seamlessly turned the discussion to poison insects, but Latimer didn’t hear anything she was saying from that point on. That’s because he was deeply engrossed in trying to figure out what to do if he got stuck on a bus amid a personal intestinal emergency situation. The “what ifs” instantaneously began overwhelming his thoughts. What if I’m in the middle of a town? Do they have public bathrooms? What if I get water in my mouth during a shower or forget and rinse out my toothpaste with tap water? What if a Guinea Pig’s eyes are staring at me while I try and eat it? What if I take a bite of chicken and it’s not fully cooked? What do I do with the toilet paper if there’s no trash can? What if I wash my hands with tap water and then eat a hamburger?

And the questions continued until there was a moment of silence, and his focus returned to Gurgle’s words as she said, “well, that’s the most important stuff. Thanks for coming, and we’re both looking forward to the adventures we’re sure to share. If you have any questions, just stick around, and we can talk them through. If you need to get going, don’t feel compelled to stay- we’ll have plenty of time to talk as things develop. Latimer stayed because he had the time and a lot of questions.

Audio Version:

The Leaders

 

The Trip to Corcovado

Sleeping in the Jungle

Corcovado,
Costa Rica,
Rivers, jungles,
Pura Vida.

To the station
Called Sirena.
Must cross the inlet,
Before dark.
When rising tide
Will let the sharks
Into the river to feed.

Heavy backpacks,
Walk on beach,
Sloping sand,
Glaring sun,
And Howler Monkeys
Screeching in the forest.

That race is won,
And we arrive unscathed.

So, we…

Unpack the packs,
Set up the tents.
Cook the supper,
Then dishes rinse.

Restless night,
Hot and sweaty,
Lot’s to see,
We will be ready.

Trees and bushes,
Bugs and birds.
A world alive,
Beyond mere words.

Down the runway,
One dark night.
Perhaps a Tapir,
Will catch our light.
And it does.

The next day…

We walk to ocean,
To fish and look.
A great big shark,
Just bends the hook.

The big fish are everywhere,
And a feeding frenzy begins.

The next day it happens,
We pack the gear.
Time to go,
The end is near.

Into the forest,
A path is taken.
With heavy packs,
And legs a achin’.

Thorns and vines,
Mud and sand.
To the north,
Lay promised land.

Unseen gold miners,
A guard with gun.
Miles of walking,
But all still fun.

Then like always,
The end arrives.
One last step taken,
Our lives awakened

Audio Version:

Not a Shark

Life’s Mysteries

Alpine View

Open the gate.
They await.

Unknown, unique;
Unanticipated,
Beyond imagination.

So simple,
So complex.

You might reach a summit
In the middle of a foggy night,
And stand on a rock looking out
At distant peaks
Poking out above the clouds,
And illuminated by a full moon.
It could happen.

Perhaps, you’ll walk for miles
Along a hot beach
To get to a place
Where you can see sharks
In a feeding frenzy,
And where Tapirs still
Roam around at night.
It could happen.

It’s possible that you’ll retreat
From a poorly conceived climb,
And walk-up on a naked beauty
In the middle of nowhere
Washing off under a waterfall.
It could happen.

It’s not out of the question,
That an unknown young Tarahumara man
Will walk into your camp
And invite you to a
Dutuburi.
It could happen.

Perhaps you will be lucky enough
To see elk calves
Sliding down a snowfield,
And being scolded by their elders
When they reach the bottom.
It could happen.

Maybe, an Andean wolf
Will appear
Out of the clouds,
On your way down
From a high-altitude hut,
Look you over,
And just disappear back into the clouds.
It could happen.

Sometimes:
Upper stories of hotels are uncompleted;
Moths fly into ears;
Anchors hold;
Treble hooks get lodged in eyelids;
Rattlesnakes don’t strike;
Storms end;
Trees go up in flames;
Boats show up with your gear;
The Corona truck falls off a cliff;
The fish are biting;
The trail just stops;
The Northern Lights appear where they’re not supposed to;
Handlebars break;
Your hair stands on end;
Shortnosed Spearfish take the hook;
The wind blows your raft upstream;
Climbing routes run out;

Don’t close the gate.
Just be ready for the unexpected,
Because mysteries happen.

Audio Version:

3 Climbers

Recipe

On the Summit

Water,
Sand,
Snow,
And rock.

Fly fish,
Cycle,
Ride,
And walk

Gravel,
Grass,
Mud,
And scree.

Backpack,
Wander,
Scale,
And ski.

Mountain,
Cavern,
Dirt,
And ice.

Explore,
Trek,
Cave,
And climb.

Talus,
Forest,
Stream,
And crag.

Summit
Surf,
Sail,
And cast.

Tundra,
River,
Lake,
And hill.

Yoga,
Swim,
Camp,
And chill.

Ocean,
Desert,
Cirque,
And peak.

Prepare,
Proceed,
Persist,
And Seek.

Simple,
Treasures,
Pure,
And sweet.

Audio Version:

On the Road

Some of Life’s Good Things

After a Storm

The wind at your back.
Warm sun on your face,
And a bluebird sky.

Hot unflavored dark roast coffee.
A climbing rope that holds your fall,
And a self-arrest that works.

The first time a trout takes your fly.
A big stack of dry firewood,
And burned-bottom cornbread.

Rain pelting your tent with you inside it and dry.
A full water bottle,
And tires with enough air.

Arriving back.
A trail that flows well,
And a Snickers bar.

Shifters that work.
A hoppy IPA,
And a thunderhead in the distance.

Good sitting spots next to a campfire.
A warm coat,
And chips and salsa.

Extra room in your backpack.
A tank full of gas,
And shoelaces that stay tied.

Heading out on a journey.
A flat place to sleep,
And new terrain.

Star-filled skies.
A light switch that works,
And money in your pocket.

A crime report that doesn’t include your name.
A colorful sunset,
And paint that doesn’t peel.

Someone to tell your stories to.
A rock that breaks where it’s supposed to,
And lightning that strikes something besides you.

Sitting on a mountain summit when it’s not windy.
A bear that leaves you alone,
And a falling tree that misses you.

Crawling into your sleeping bag on a cold night.
A near-miss,
And homegrown tomatoes.

Tent zippers that work at 2:00 am.
A river that’s not flooding,
And fresh batteries in your headlamp.

Trouble-free audio on a Zoom call.
A door that only opens when it’s supposed to,
And a full roll of toilet paper.

The smell of a forest after a rain.
A waterfall where there’s not supposed to be one,
And duct tape.

Someone to tell you stories.
A red sky at night,
And new places to go.

Audio Version:

10.5 mm of rope

Re-finding the Silver Trail- Copper Canyon, Mexico

Hike-a-bike on the Silver Trail

From the mines near Batopilas,
To the bank in Chihuahua.
And then by train,
To El Paso.
Haul the silver,
Hide the gold.

125 miles of trail.
Trains of mules with steel shoes,
Tarahumara’s with none.
Five stations along the way.
Mountains with pines,
Canyons with rocks.
Following the path,
That leads,
To the wagon road,
At Carachic.

A generation of travel,
Stopped by time.
Trees grow,
Meadows change.
The route forgotten,
Except for what,
The mules cut,
Into the rock,
With their hooves.

Forgotten stories linger:
Pilares, El Patron,
La Laja, Los Conchos,
El jefe with the knife,
Teboreachi,
The piano,
Huajochi.

Eventually, the day arrives.
And we go.
60 years later.

Years of talk and wondering,
Turn into action.
How hard could it be?
Mountain bikes, walking, and camping
Many questions asked,
But few answered.
Is this the trail?

We do it backwards- from Carachic.
First to El Ojito, then on south.
Past La Herradurra,
Night with Gabino Flores at Huajochi Station,
Walk through the Arroyo de las Iglesias,
Camp at The Hot Springs,
The next night with support at Pilares Station.

On to Siquerichi.
Cold night at La Laja Station.
Camping near Teboreachic Station.
Past Coyachique,
Then down to the Batopillas River.
From there, it’s ten miles of gravel road,
Finally, we arrive in Batopilas,
And Casa San Miguel.

The trail re-found
Was it ever lost?
Reconnoitered, mapped,
Ridden, walked, photographed,
Written and talked about.

Then,
Like before, the Chabochis
Move on.

But the trail stays.

Audio Version:

Morning Dawns in Huahochic

Tarahumara- a poem

Tarahumara Man- Copper Canyon, Mexico

 

Drum,
Beating slowly,
And filling the air
With distant
Thumps.

A sound that connects
One canyon
To another.
One village to
The next.

Like a heartbeat,
Faintly pounding,
Almost rumbling,
As the people
Move their feet.

Walking
Somewhere, always somewhere.
Down the arroyo,
Across the meadow
To the big rock,
Never talking.

Soft, but hardened,
Mostly happy,
Sometimes sad,
And often burdened.

By others,
Who want something more
Than….

Semana Santa,
Matachines,
Tesguinado,
Raramuri.

Many
Places to go,
People to see,
Things to do,
And a world to ponder.

Audio Version:

Semana Santa, Noragachic

Mine Riding

033_Old_Mine
Porfirio Diaz Tunnel

The entrance to a horizontal mine shaft that we could ride our mountain bikes into was music to our eyes. The stone opening to the Porfirio Diaz Tunnel sat solemnly on a hillside in the middle of a barrio in Batopilas, Mexico. Sure, it’d been abandoned for 70 or 80 years. But that was of no consequence to us at the time. The entrance was circular and at about 12 feet in diameter, a little bigger than we’d each envisioned it to be previously. A flat dirt surface/pathway- perfect for mountain bikes– led into the darkness. Even though the place had the ominous appearance of almost being eaten by the solid rock, its beckoning call was persistent and ultimately won us over.

Continue reading “Mine Riding”