This past winter I embarked on a dream of mine to live in the mountains in an off grid yurt. For 4 months I lived in the Coconino National Forest which is a 1.856-million acre United StatesNational Forest located in northern Arizona in the vicinity of Flagstaff. Originally established in 1898 as the “San Francisco Mountains National Forest Reserve” I would defiantly rank this adventure experience right up there with my best adventures. It was not only life changing but it also found the answer to that simple question. “What would it be like” A question that I am often compelled to find the answer to when applied to certain dreams. This however was a much deferent type of journey than journeys past. In stead of passing by landscapes and constantly moving towards that elusive horizon like my run across America in 2010 or my bike around America in 2011. My 2012 mountain yurt experience was one that watched the mountains move instead of I. Experiencing the Neighboring Coyotes constant prowl for food or the winds kick up and clouds roll in before a big snow storm.
Yurt Construction… I built the Yurt myself from scratch for $700. I came up with the money by selling my Mac Book Air Laptop Computer. The Yurt took about 2 weeks to build during this time I lived out of the back up my 2000 Ford Ranger. Living out of the truck was an experience in and of its self. I quickly found my top priority was finding a way to stay warm at night. I spent $150 on a propane heater that I quickly fell in love with. The first week or so I was very skeptical of the Mr. Heater thinking that I may die of carbon monoxide poising in my sleep but slowing began to trust it and found the back of the truck a pretty cozy place to spend the night. The hardest part of building the yurt was building the insulated circle platform that would become the yurt floor. After I got the lattice all tied together the rest of it went up pretty fast. As winter quickly approached the construction of my yurt was coming to an end as well as my quest to summit all of the area’s major mountain peaks. I putting on a few finishing touches on the Yurt which included a custom log counter and end table both made from Aspen with hand tools.
Winter… I woke up and scraped some frost off the window in the door and peaked out. A blanket of white snow covered the tall ponderosa pine forest. It was so cold in the Yurt I slept with my snowsuit and winter coat on. My failed attempt at installing a home-made barrel stove forced me to resort to plan B. Since the vinyl of the yurt was literally only two separate peaces it majority of it was air tight, However the crack between wall and the roof let in way to much air. After stuffing the cracks with clothes, plastic bags and basically anything else that did not have a practical use I decided I just needed to spend some money on insolation and a bigger propane heater. I did and the results were amazing. My goal was to be able walk around my yurt in my normal clothes on a cold winter night and be worm. It work. Since heat rises I bought reflective bubble wrap insolation and covered the roof placing it in between the rafters and the roof vinyl. I also bought pink insolation to replace the clothes in the cracks. Along with my new Big Buddy Mr. Heater these upgrades made the 200 square foot yurt into a warm winter hut.
Here is where I spent most of my work day. It was a 30ft rental yurt with a nice wood stove.
This was that farthest yurt out on the trail system, named morning-glory. It had a great view of San Francisco Peaks and was a favorite among them more advanced skiers or outdoors men. It was 3 mile and a 1000ft elevation gain to reach.
Work… Along with the snow came the opening of the Flagstaff Nordic Ski Center that I would be working at for the winter. The Nordic Center was located about 15 miles out of flagstaff in the national forest. The 40 miles of groomed ski trails through the national forest would soon feel like my personal winter playground. One of the groomed trails passed by my front door not more than 10 yards away. This Nordic Ski Center is unique in the fact that it provides skiers with an over night option. 5 yurts and 4 cabins scattered the mountain side giving guessed the option to pack up some gear and head out to one of the remote off grid geta ways. Although the pay was only $9 per hour I would consider this a dream job. Since no one lived out there it was part of the agreement that I keep and eye on things at night. On a typical day I would walk over to the lodge about an hour before anyone got there and start the fires. The whole lodge was off grid and used wood as its main source of heat. Next I would put all the ski boots away that were on the drying rack from the prevues day. Maybe shovel and restock the wood piles or cut kindling. Around 10am people who had spent the night out in the yurts or cabins would start skiing in. We offered a gear shuttle service which ment a co-worker or I riding out on the snowmobile to pick up their gear. Often times we would clean the yurts while we were out there to save trips. I really enjoyed these days as it basically ment driving a snowmobile around in the mountains all day. Most of the yurts has amazing views of the San Francisco Peaks. I would describe the position as a mountain man house keeper and I loved it. The other half of the job was renting out ski gear to people excited to try out the trails. Since most of the people who rented were first time skiers from Phoenix it was a joy to introduce them to the sport. One of my favorite perks of working at a place like this is the type of people who it attracts both as guest and as employes. Most of my co workers were guides in the Grand Canyon in the Summer ether by rafts or hiking. Two of them had were planning major hikes in the spring. One the continental divide trail and the other the pacific crest trail.
Cooking one night over my out-door wood grill.
I really enjoyed being out there. Living in a yurt feels like you are living with nature like you are part of it. You can hear it and feel it. With out electricity you need to find new ways to do things. You need to plan ahead. It forces you to slow down and enjoy your surroundings. To go out skiing or snowshoeing on a daily basis instead of sitting inside all winter and watching TV or something. I have now moved back to Wisconsin to work my second season at the DC Adventure Center but have passed on the Yurt dream to my co-worker Dan who is currently living in the yurt down in the valley. Dan is a backpacking guide in the Grand Canyon and although he spends most of his days on the trail. When he does have off he calls the Yurt home. Thanks to those who helped make this dream a reality. It was an adventure.
This past week I had an interview with the Door County Adventure Center and decided to do a little camping on the peninsula while I was their. With summer being the peak season the spring peninsula was pretty quiet and I had most of it to myself. I decided to hike into a camp site on Europe Lake in Newport State Park which is located northeast of Ellison Bay. Newport is a 2,400-acre “wilderness park” with 11 miles of Lake Michigan shoreline and 3 miles of sand beaches. Newport has more than 40 miles of hiking and mountain bike trails. The park features 16 backpack, walk-in campsites, including several along Europe Lake. The shore’s of lake Michigan can get pretty cold at night especially this early in the season so I brought two sleeping bags placing one inside the other and brought a light winter coat as well. Usually when I am expecting it to get cold I prefer using the ground set up for the Tent Hammock but it was a still evening and without much wind I figured I would be fine to hang it next to the lake and still stay warm. A tip for anyone who uses tent hammock (use a sleeping mat inside your hammock it does wonders for your insulation. I actually had two and was warm all night despite the under flow of air which usually keeps people away from the hammock set up in colder weather.) I went about the usual business of setting camp up before it got dark. Strung the hammock, rolled out the sleeping bags, filtered some water, and gathered fire wood. It was some quality alone time and as the sun set over Europe Lake it defiantly reminded me of why I think of the peninsula as on of the top 5 place in the U.S. I fell in love with this place back in 2009 when I had my Pearson 26 sailboat. Spending the summer exploring the islands, small walking towns, sea caves, high bluffs, state parks, and cookie cutter harbors was defiantly the best summer of my life. Door County is also known for their cherries and while sitting in a small café the previous day I over heard locals talking about how they might have lost 75% of this years cherries do to the unseasonably nice weather and a recent frost. Nevertheless there is more than enough to do in this Northern Paradise besides stuff your face with cherries. Check out the Adventure Center for some guided sea kayaking or zip line fun. Rumor has it that sailing lessons are new this year. Not only can you stop in with your family but they also have a lot of group team building programs so check it out for your group as well. Depending on how well I was able to communicate in the interview my love for adventure, people, and door county I might just see you there. For now here are a few photo’s I snapped to get you excited to visit that peninsula that I would consider Wisconsin’s heaven.
This is some of the coast line on the east side of the peninsula. I believe this was taken at Cave Point near Whitefish Dunes State park. One of the area's the Adventure Center explores by kayak
I spent a lot of time with my little brother this week and when that happens a good throw down of Cripple Creek is usually not to far behind. Enjoy!
I awoke to the sound of semi-trucks rumbling over the bridge at 4 a.m. Slightly board and a bit cold, I crawled out of the hammock to rebuild the fire. After watching the sunrise I packed up Ruby and hit the road. The camping site worked well and if the opportunity presents itself I’ll try the method again. It has been cold in the mornings, and I usually leave night gear on for the first few miles before slowly shedding layers as the day goes on. I occupy my time by playing games like trying to keep Ruby’s front wheel on the white line.
I had never been more excited to make it to a town where the population sign read 100 (I think they rounded up). I walked to the only place open, JB tire. The guy built the place himself in 1961, and I’m sure at one point the business had its glory years. Our dialogue went something like this, “do you have an outlet I can plug my phone into?” His reply, “right over there in the wall.” My response, “thanks.” His annoyed statement, “don’t park your buggy there I might get a customer.” The other 10 citizens of Essex may have been loyal customers of the old tire garage but I had my doubts that there was a customer within 100 miles.
The next 10 miles felt like the earth had doubled its gravitational pull and my legs were heavier than logs. I kept thinking there were Ninjas hiding on the side of the road throwing knives into my legs. I don’t know where these shooting pains were coming from, but they had no rhyme or reason and usually left as quickly as they came. However, I had housing in Goffs and was determined not to spend another lonely night in the desert. When I got to interstate 40 there was a slightly normal gas station where I sat in the shade and stared out over the Mojave Desert for who knows how long. Before I left I bought a hot dog and snickers bar. It made for a good lunch when combined with a power bar and energy gel. A few minutes later I was flying down the road to Goffs and throwing my fists in the air to get a toot toot from the train conductor. I’m not sure what they put in those energy gels, but it was awfully powerful for 3 or 4 miles. I could see Goffs in the distance and was thrilled when two older men came out to meet me in their golf carts.
Last night was pretty rough. I ended up camping in the back of Monongo Valley’s wildlife viewing park. For 3 hours I attempted to find a place to string my hammock. Trees are now sparse. After changing my hammock location four times, I finally settled for a less than perfect location. Two huge hills that came together formed a slopping ravine. I tied one end to a three-foot palm tree, crossed the ravine and tied the other to the base of a bush.
It was almost sunset as I unloaded the necessary gear from Ruby. A couple hand fulls of trail mix and a few pieces of beef jerky would serve as my meal for the evening. I put on all my clothing, took my 10 inch flat bear knife, bear pepper spray and crawled in for the night. It was a nightmare trying to get my sleeping pad and sleeping bag properly arranged in the swinging tent-hammock. I was exhausted. I was out cold the minute I was situated.
I woke up to find myself barely off the ground with little assurance that I wouldn’t end up rolling down the ravine. I checked my watch. It was 8 pm. I was in for a long night. The wind would blow up under my rain fly and lift the thin layer of insulation exposing me to the cool night air. If I breathed into my sleeping bag and didn’t venture any body parts off my sleeping mat, I was warm. The night wore on. At one point I heard cats meowing and thought nothing of it till the next morning. A sign read something to the effect of, “mountain lion warning, do not venture from trail.” I was happy I hadn’t discovered the sign yesterday for I’m not sure what my reactions would have been!
As the sun rose I started packing up camp. Ruby had survived the night as well, minus the small rodent that gnawed a hole in my trail mix bag. I found my way out of the park with only a few stares from avid bird watchers and was back on hwy 62. I felt accomplished having survived the night.
I jogged out of Morango Valley, and a green sign read 32 miles Twenty-Nine Palms. The highway was wide and long with gradual sweeping hills. It was all runable and I made good time. My hips ached from sleeping pinned between the hill and the hammock. Fortunately, my brother found two marines for me to stay with in Twenty-Nine Palms, and I couldn’t wait!
An ultra marathoner whom I, and many others, have quickly grown a deep respect for is Geoff Roes. He has dominated the ultra scene for a number of years but probably first became a common name with his 2010 Western States 100 mile win which has now been made into the remarkable and intriguing film “Unbreakable” His quite humble nature mixed with a relentless drive to push past physical limits is simply mind-blowing. His recent win at the 350 mile Iditarod invitational was unreal and a great example of his character. Such an event tends to shed light on exactly who we are at our core, this in itself has tremendous value. In modern-day society we do not face our core nearly enough to have any recollection of who we are and what we are made of. Geoff Roes defiantly found out what he was made of.
The Iditarod Invitational is a human-powered race through the Alaskan wild in the dead of winter set on the Iditarod trail. The race is open to bikers, skiers, and foot racers. Roes not only won the foot division but nearly beat out all the bikers as well. This was in large do to some extremely harsh conditions that brought the speed of travel down to a crawling pace, (Literally Crawling) With temperatures plummeting to -50 degrees at some points in the race survival becomes part of the game as well (not to mention having to cover 350 miles on snow) I have personally been in Alaska when it has been -50 degrees and basic breathing is difficult. When the air hits your lungs it feels like your whole chest is going to collapse.
Geoff Roes nearing the finish line of the 350 mile Alaska Iditarod trail invitational
One thing I admire about Roes performance was that he had attempted the race the previous two years and failed both times. I don’t know how many times in life we see the final product and success of an individual and later find how many times they failed before everything came together for them. I truly believe that fueled by failure is a trait of many successful people. Most people give up on something far to soon. Roes wrote up a very detailed race report about his experience. It is pretty long (it was a week-long race) but if you have some time it is defiantly worth the read. Roes character, respect for his fellow competitors and astounding drive to push pass human limits really comes through in this race report. Here is a short excerpt from his write up.
Day 6 / Mile 165 – 210 – “The wind had done its thing here also, and left in its wake some amazingly hard sastrugi drifts. It wasn’t the surface that was the comical part though; it was the lighting that was so flat that I couldn’t see what I was walking on. Numerous times I would walk off 2-foot ledges without having any idea that they were there. At times I was crawling on all fours just so I could feel what was underneath me. It was so difficult and absurd that it was funny. And so I walked, crawled, and inched my way upward toward the pass.” Geoff Roes
Read the whole story over at irunfar.com or check out the 2011 race video
The three degree air hit my lungs as my walk from the door step turned into a slow jog down the side-walk. It was only a mater of time before everything would go numb. It was the transition that was by far the worst. A mile later I cut into the woods and onto the single track trail. A packed trench in the snow wound its way along the half-frozen river proving that I was not the sole user of the city escape. The evidence of the well-traveled path lay still and silent, today the trail was all mine. The recent cold spell that finds Wisconsin every winter was finally upon us. It had been a mild winter up until this point leaving the trail surface covered in mud more often than packed snow. I crossed over the pedestrian bridge to the far side of the river and pulled my yowie down off my face. The gentle yet bitter wind was now at my back and the emedeate changed in comfort brought a sigh of relief to my now numb body. I looked forward to the stretch ahead, 4 miles of beautiful trail before I would cross back over the river to the east side. My pace quickened as I ripped down the technical trail, with the absence of my yowie my breath was now visible and hang in front of me. Up ahead a startled squirrel sprinted down the packed trail in an attempt to out run my constant pursuit. He sensed my closing speed and hooped off the trail and on to a bent tree that leaned out over the trail. As I ducked under the tree he scampered across sending a shower of fresh fallen snow into my face. I guess he got me in the end. The trail snaked along smooth and fast for a few mile before climbing up a ridge that over looked the river. Now out of the woods the wind once again nipped at my leather face. The front of the yowie was completely frosted over along with my mustache and eye lashes. My face would take the brunt of the bite for the remaining miles. The sun had disappeared leaving twilight and I to face the night. As I crossed back over the river darkness seeped throughout the bare trees engulfing the trail in darkness. I often thought the transition to simply be time it’s self unfolding before me, steady, beautiful, relentless. The contrast of black forest on white snow fascinated me, surrounded me, consumed me. I slid under the dark blanket and over the white sheet. The only sound was crunching snow and my own breath as my crosslite’s ripped at the packed trench. Miles and mile in the frozen in-between, a trail runners winter.