Author Archives: GAC

Childhood Adventures

 

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The First Adventure

By Brian K. Brecht

I don’t think I appreciated the value of this trip when it happened, but now, looking back, I realize this was probably the first example of “an adventure” I ever had.

I’m not exactly sure how it all came about, but likely began as conversation between my best friend’s father (Paul Sr.) and mine, culminated in the idea of a weeklong canoe trip down the Thornapple River. How or why I really don’t know, it wasn’t as though I was kicking and screaming to go canoeing. In fact I think at the time I was somewhat reluctant to the entire idea.

But as the weeks went on, my best friend Paul (Jr) and I, secured the required permission from school to be gone for the better part of a week. The most frustrating moment was asking “Yoda”, our Algebra teacher, who did indeed look just like the diminutive Star Wars character, if I could go. He grilled me on “why he should let me go”, likely due to my failing algebra grade. But somehow, perhaps because I was going with Paul, he seemed to let my academic excellence slide. Perhaps feeling if I spent time with my best friend, he might instill in me the require algebraic knowledge he possessed and I did not.

This was in many ways the first of those experiences to push myself, and do something I wasn’t completely comfortable with. Hearing someone talk about a weeklong canoe trip sounds great! But going out and doing it yourself, becomes an exercise in “I just don’t have time, I really can’t afford it”, or “why should I bother”. In this case, it wasn’t up to me, but up to the two fathers who crafted the idea of some father and son bonding.

For Paul and his father, this was nothing out of the ordinary. Both had been long time hunters, campers, and general outdoorsmen. For my dad and I, this was unusual. My Dad loved the outdoors, to be sure. He got his hunting licenses every year, he worked outside whether freezing cold or blistering heat. He taught me how to shoot and explore the forests around our house as best as he himself understood. But my Father fell into the same category (guess where I got it from), of there’s always a reason why we couldn’t go “do that thing”. So I think part of my resistance to this endeavor, was a lack of belief it would actually happen to begin with. But here I was, asking “Yoda” to sign my permission slip, in the middle of the fall semester, and wondering what the hell I do now, that he actually signed it?

Paul and I had become the best of friends in a very short time. We’d only known each other since the start of freshman year, but to this day he remains one of only a few men I call brother. So to head out on this adventure with him seemed only right.

We set out on a bright but chilly morning, putting in on the southwestern shores of Thornapple Lake. I can’t remember a boat launch specifically, or if we just put in where we could find access to the water. I do remember, it being a rather cool October morning, the wind cresting over the water as I looked out over our piled supplies.

I remember being awestruck and confused by the amount of packing Paul Sr. put into the FullSizeRendercanoes. We had two canoes, conveniently one for each “family”. Dad and I in one, Paul and his father in the other, both fathers, taking the steerage position at the back of the canoe. Paul Sr. clearly had done this before. In a time before carbon fiber, or plastic camping gear, Paul Sr had fashioned two, white, (heavy) wooden camp boxes that, by design, fit perfectly between the gunwales of the canoes midsection. In one, all our food and cooking supplies. In the other, tools and camp needs, most of which I didn’t understand why we would need.

Along side this, packed the rifles, the tents, the packs, and all the things I was completely unprepared for, but somehow managed to bring along. I’m sure, all thanks to my dad.

We kicked off, the canoes now sitting much lower in the water than when we first dropped them in, and soon we were paddling across the Lake to the river mouth on its western side. I remember feeling irritated right away, as we paddled straight into a headwind and wondered what in the hell had our fathers gotten ourselves into. I mean come on! Wasn’t this a vacation? Why was it so much work? How was this supposed to be fun? We leaned hard into our paddles and after about 30 minutes of fighting, we pushed ourselves out of the face of struggle, and into the waiting mouth of the Thornapple River.

The goal wasn’t distance or some dramatic feat, it was merely to head west and put out, by the end of the week, just prior to the east side of the town of Hastings. It was enough to get a sense of remoteness I think our fathers were looking for, all the while, close enough that we were within range of civilization should we need it. So to my surprise, the time along the Thornapple felt much more remote than we probably were.

Once we breached the mouth of the river, the winds calmed and we moved easily with the current. There are moments when you see your father in a different light, a new light that burns away the cover of the every day, and reveals the man you had always admired below. This was one of those. My father guided the canoe easily through the currents, coaching me through when to change sides, when to paddle harder, when to keep us from tipping with the current. It was those moments, when you get the chance to see your father for what he always wanted to be, and not the man he has to be day to day. You can appreciate everything he wanted to be but perhaps has put on hold for his family and responsibilities. Its only in hindsight that I’ve realized this.

At one point we wound up speeding through some small rapids, and Dad kept his cool the entire time. As the river sped faster and faster, it began curving to the right. It became clear, the river waited for no one. It was a classic scenario where, if entering the rapids at the wrong angle, regardless of their diminished strength, it would easily spin the canoe around and possibly overturn her. Dad slowly pulled the nose of the canoe into the arch of the bend, and gently slid the canoe sideways into the rapids. The canoe, never even rocking, blended together with the rapids, and gently drifted on, all in one with the churning water.

We rounded the bend around midday and decided to stop for lunch. This was fascinating to me as, again all this was new. Stopping for lunch? How? Where? Was there a McDonalds along the shore? We drifted into the bank; I remember it was somewhat steep, which was fine, as we weren’t really looking to pull out of the water. We found a small manageable spit and slid the canoes up along the bank. From the larder nested between the side rails of the “Paul(s)” canoe, we pulled bread, turkey, ham, mustard and ketchup, all which seemed a grand feast in this remote environment. It was here I started to realize the benefit of these excursions. We take for granted the availability of such staples in our every day. But when presented in a manner, that by all accounts should seem a struggle, they somehow seem manna from heaven. We weren’t starving, or under any hardship, we had just started, but I had forgotten how something so simple as a turkey sandwich, can be so rewarding after fighting the wind and weather for even a few short hours.

This was the first stop of many, but the first in my realization of what I should expect along the way. The second came quickly at its heels when I complained to my father of a slight stomachache. Nothing serious but clearly nerves, anxiety, and being in unfamiliar territory were working against me. My father’s solution… beer. One of our essential stores was a case of BuckhornBuckhorn beer my father had in our canoe. Perhaps there was some method to his madness; perhaps it was simply a rite of passage, but his cure for a stomachache? A slug of beer, and by god, I was going to drink it. It was enough that I had a couple sips, and then we were repacked and on our way again. All the while, I was thinking to myself… my dad just gave me beer!?!?

The continued ride with the current was wonderful as I slowly settled into the experience ahead of me. Looking back I realize that has always been one of my problems, that of just leaning back and embracing the experience. I remember at one point just watching the scenery go by and enjoying the calm that the river brought. Dad and I hung back in the second position and let “the Paul’s take the lead. At one point I remember some kind of bird coming up in front of us, and Paul Sr, saying to Paul Jr, “get you’re gun out!” Paul reached back and pulled out the shotgun neatly planted along his right side. As the flock took off (I think they were ducks), Paul took his shot as they pass in front, unfortunately still at a distance too far out from our canoes. In the end, he missed his target(s), but I remember being a bit awe struck at how easily it came to my best friend to grab, load, aim and shoot at what could have been our dinner that night. I had a lot to learn it would seem.

Thornapple River

We continued on, the river cold and black, the sky, overcast, gray and cool. There were jokes, discussions, various points of nature, which for some reason every little change in landscape seemed interesting. But there were also moment of quiet. Time to just watch, to listen, and envelope yourself in the surroundings.

As dark approached on the horizon, it was time to find the first campsite of the week. We found an easy sloping bank which would give us plenty of cover under the trees and a high enough shore to get the canoes out of the water and us on dry land. We landed the boats, climbed out and gave ourselves a good stretch. We noticed two things right away, first was an old abandoned foundation that sat down the bank and under the trees. It was difficult to discern what it used to be, but the foundation would make a great fire pit and provide some break from the increasing wind.

The next thing, we were not alone. As the night darkened, and the campsite became bathed in firelight, we heard rustling in the nearby trees. Slowly what emerged was a heard of cows who were moving from their pasture, back toward the home barn. Reminding us we were still close to civilization, there came a pickup from wherever the farm was, and they came by to check on who was hanging out on their river’s edge. After a nice enough exchange, they left, the cows followed, and eventually we moved to our tents and settled down for a crisp night sleep.

The next few days provided more Midwestern fall beauty and new challenges along the river. One I will never forget was the logjam. At the beginning, when commenting about the wooden food crates and all the “extra” equipment, the one that went into the Paul’s canoe which I just couldn’t’ understand was a chainsaw. A chainsaw? We were on a river? What on earth was that for? I learned by midweek exactly what for.

We rounded a bend again and the river began to narrow, at a few points becoming no more than 20-30 feet wide. Our pace slowed to navigate the slower current and shallow depths, and eventually found ourselves at a total roadblock. Clearly in years past the river, the weather, Mother Nature at her best, proved to a handful of tress, it was time for them to come down. And down they were, directly across the river, completely blocking our forward progress.

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Right away my young mind goes to “GREAT! Now we have to take everything OUT of the canoes, then carry it down river then…” I can honestly say, teenagers don’t appreciate the experience at hand. Regardless, thanks to Paul Sr’s forethought, the portage around the fallen tress wasn’t necessary. As though some superhero pulling his sword from a hidden sheath, Paul senior reach into the canoe, and pulling it above his head almost in a defiant stance, removed his chainsaw and gave the pullcord a hefty yank! The saw fired right up and soon he was climbing the morass of logs, sawing through them with ease, clearing our path to freedom.

There was a level of elation at the experience, watching the two dads, beat back nature with a defiant “stick”. Thinking us now superior, we reloaded the tools, and began to paddle under the remaining logs to the other side. But no, Mother Nature wasn’t done with me yet. The clearing we had made was just enough to slide the canoe and all the gear and passengers underneath. However in my exuberance, I failed to realize, that the wooden supply box was right behind me, so when the time came to lean back and glide under the logs, my head locked back against the supply crate, and my forehead smacking directly into the logs I so arrogantly attempted to avoid. I remember having a small goose egg on my forehead for the remainder of the trip, just to remind myself that we (or I) was in no way king of this river.

The river eased us on for the remainder of the week. Our last night was spent on a small peninsula of land that jutted into the right side of the river. A comforting dinner, and an evening helping Paul Jr clean the dishes. That meant heating the solidified grease in the cast-iron frying pan, and pouring it over the fire to get rid of it. As boys will be boys, it clearly was a reason to let two young boys play with fire.

The fathers just sat back and watched and let Paul and I enjoy our selves. We spent our evening huddled next to the fire, discussing our most recent D&D adventure, while the men drank beer and talked about the things Fathers talk about.

As I prepare for my next adventure, heading to the UK in the fall, I want to remember that time on the river and what it gave me. And to not take for granted the experience at hand.

Of the Southern Continent

The facade of the Scott Polar Research Institute – *photo from the official website

Preparing for our Grand Tour of the UK, beginning in September, we found a likely destination from a great website called “Atlas Obcura”.

Always enthusiasts of polar exploration, Atlas Obscura highlights the Scott Polar Research Institute, and organization dedicated to the history and exploration of the Arctic and Antarctic poles.

Definitely check out the article.

GAC

http://www.atlasobscura.com/places/scott-polar-research-institute-museum-library

 

 

 

Latest and Greatest

Hello fellow adventurers! Here’s hoping you’re making the most out of your 2016.

We have a few posts dropping soon, some from over the winter, others, some more recent fun.

As we look to some planned trips this year, pirate hunting, trips to the Yukon, finding some long admired treasures in the UK, and a Wing Hunt in October, we wanted to ask two questions.

1st what are the most recent adventures you’ve been having? We’d love to add some of your adventures to our roles.

And 2nd, what are the adventures you’d like to see from us going forward? We have lots of thoughts in mind, but want to hear from you.

Shoot us a message or reply to this thread. We want to hear and plan some adventures that you’d like to see the most.

Finally we’re exploring some ideas for our next site design, continuing our Expeditions and Club Chair sections, but also looking at some Gentlemanly Lifestyle and Leisure ideas. Again, if there are topics you’d like us to cover going forward, just let us know.

As always, keep searching for those every day adventures.

The Gentleman Adventurer’s Club

Adventure Defined

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What is Adventure?

We spent this year making unexpected changes; career, location and focus found new twists and turns as the year drew on. As we shifted our plans to accommodate, I found myself questioning what kind of adventure I was looking for.

I’ll expand on this as we move into 2016, but in my searching, I remembered an article from one of our favorites sites “The Art of Manliness” called “The Churchill School of Adulthood — Lesson #5: Don’t Give Up Your Sense of Adventure”.

We’ve mentioned being fans of the AoM for some time, and they have an entire series called the “Winston Churchill School of Adulthood” I would recommend reading. Lesson #5 in particular, is enjoyable when looking to define what your personal sense of adventure might be. They start with some basic tenants such as;

  • A chance for failure/harm.
  • The inability to completely plan out what will happen and how things will go.
  • Challenge and the calling forth of one’s abilities.

But then expand on those given modern variables and environments. I’m using the article as something of a template as I define both my own personal approach, but also the GAC’s to our adventures in 2016.

I hope you’ll enjoy the Art of Manliness as much as we do, and their articles from “The Winston Churchill School of Adulthood”.

http://www.artofmanliness.com/2015/01/14/the-churchill-school-of-adulthood-lesson-5-dont-give-up-your-sense-of-adventure/

Far East Adventures

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Whisky Samurai

By T. Dietz

We’re at the tail-end of a five week trip to South East Asia spending a few transition days in Tokyo when I’m ready for a night with no kids, alone time with my wife, and a great whisky. A fitting end to a great summer holiday adventure that covered so much-from an elephant safari to diving with sharks and giant moray eels in Thailand. As we at the GAC have pointed out on more than one occasion, we like to finish our adventures (of all and any kind) with a whisky (see our previous whisky tasting article).

I’ve been to Japan, and Tokyo in particular, several times and know first hand of the Japanese’s passion for cocktails and whisky. So instead of heading down to the Shangri-La Hotel bar or the Park Hyatt Hotel’s New York bar, where too many people need to have a drink because of the bar scene in the film Lost In Translation, I turn to the interwebs for the “best whisky bar in Tokyo”.

Up came a number of great bars highlighting chemistry major-be-proud alcohol concoctions, FullSizeRender 8 copyhand shaved ice, dinner-jacketed bartenders, and rarified whiskies from around the world. Many, like the Society at the Park Hotel or the Bar High Five, would easily of met my need for the evening. But, I was intrigued by several articles that highlighted the oldest master barman in Tokyo, Mitsui Yoshida. He is known for having trained many of Tokyo’s great mixologists, his perfect ice and Yoshida Martini, and one of his specialty cocktails called the Kaikan Fizz. Turns out he is bar tending at a bar called Y&M Kisling and one on the “best of” list. Unfortunately, he only tends bar a couple of nights a week and it was not a night that my wife and I had free. BTW, yes, GAC adventures can include your beautiful blonde wife.

IMG_1659 copyThe Y&M Kisling sounded intriguing in and of itself. A small venue that was named for the French painter Moise Kisling and highlighting his painting Jeune fille en rouge, 1925. Although M Yoshida would not be there we figured his protégés would be. Off we went to the Ginza district of Tokyo.

 

 

We were let off at a plain looking office building that, without the sign, would provide no insight IMG_1658 copyas to what was up on the 7th floor. We jumped on a tiny elevator that made us intimately acquainted with one other vertical traveler and up we went. We weren’t off the elevator five seconds when a door swung open and a gentleman in a crème-colored dinner jacket and dark pants invited us into what felt initially like someone’s apartment. A few feet of richly stained wood paneling opened up into an intimate narrow, low lighted old world bar right out of the early part of the 1900’s. Ambience perfection. Just four very nicely dressed patrons were huddled at either end of the long bar- barely looking up from their IMG_1660 copyconversation, drinks and smokes- and we were escorted to the middle section. The bar was pristine with a variety of chilled glasses on display and a deep selection of distillates and spirits. And at its center, the Kisling artwork stood out in riveting contrast to the subdued surroundings.

My wife and I both smiled at what was likely going to be a great evening despite the Master barman’s absence when he just appeared and bee-lined straight to us. With a dignified bow and two other bar tenders standing in military attention at his sides he asked what we’d like to drink. I couldn’t help myself and despite the apparent obviousness of his presence I turned to my wife and said meet M Yosihida, legendary barman.

Without hesitation, my wife ordered up the Yoshida Martini. In an instant, hands were flying around as a perfectly frosted Martini glass was placed in front of M Yoshida and the mesmerizing art of cocktail alchemy played out, perfectly orchestrated. M Yoshida pulled out his pristine ice and chilled everything he used in the process-constantly replacing the ice fresh. Never once did he use a jigger but rather his years of honed skill to pour the exact amount of ingredients into the shaker – a dash of orange bitter, Gordon’s gin, Noilly Prat Dry Vermouth and lemons. His concentration was absolute and his “assistants” never took their eyes off of his efforts nor were a step behind in having what came next at his fingertips. His stirring of the mix, which you can see in the lead-in picture, was performed with the utmost concentration. He finished the cocktail with an absolutely perfect pour and squeezed a lemon a few inches over the glass from left to right. He then presented the drink to my wife with a hand gesture but never looking up and bowed. Over the course of the evening we watched this choreographed mastery many times.

M Yoshida didn’t move until after my wife took her fist sip and smiled. Another bow followed. He then turned his attention to me and what would I like. I said that my experience with whisky FullSizeRender 9 copywas good but extremely limited when it came to Japanese malts with only a 12 year Suntory Hakushu (tasted at our GAC whisky event) under my belt. He quickly brought out a number of Japanese whiskies – a 17 year Nikka, a 12 year Taketsuru, and a 12 year Hibiki.   I tasted each one and favored the Nikka. He nodded in approval and moved away to other patrons while I enjoyed smooth brown liquid. Over the next bit my wife and I relived some of the adventurous trip we were just finishing up and decided it was time for another round.

Having enjoyed the Yoshida Martini so much she elected for it a second time and M Yoshida again enthralled us with his time-honed skills. In broken English he asked us where we were from. We said the San Francisco area and he was excited to tell us he’d been there for a visit years before. I told him again how much I liked the Nikka and he then just stared at me – kind of like when you’re deciding on whether you should do something or not. He turned to one of his assistant bar tenders and after a brief and hushed conversation the IMG_1669 - Version 2 copyassistant bar tender left the bar and went to the wall seating behind us. He lifted one of the seats and reached in. He quickly took the bottle to M Yoshida and then returned to the wall seating to put it back in place.

The bottle was in Japanese with beautiful artwork on it. M Yoshida opened the bottle, took a glass and poured ever so small a portion. He breathed in the aroma and then slid the glass in front of me. I honestly can’t remember the smell. I felt I was drinking something that doesn’t often come out for his patrons. He waited for me to taste it and when I did I just thought it held up to the best whiskies I have ever had. He smiled for the first time and the bottle was taken back to its hiding spot. After some searching I figured out I had tasted from an older stock bottle of Karuizawa whisky, a rare and expensive malt. Nope, I didn’t even think at that point to pull my phone camera back out being completely in the moment.

But two more treats came when first I noticed that the bill did not include my special tasting and then M Yoshida came around from the bar with his assistant and asked for my camera which he gave to another assistant to memorialize our evening adventure in Tokyo.

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Iceland

Iceland

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We love highlighting other writers and like minded adventurers, friends who try to step out of the norm and explore the world around us.
 
We’ve highlighted our friend Matt Brisbin before and his blog :The Mountains are calling and I must Go!”. This year, as careers changed for both Matt and I, Matt took the time to explore distant Iceland.
 
It looks to have been an amazing trip and something we wanted to share with our audience as well.

The end, but the beginning!

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Catching Up

Well THAT was unexpected!

As 2015 draws to a close, we’ve realized our sophomore year has seen some interesting challenges. If this year has taught us anything, it’s that sometimes, the greatest adventure is life itself.

This year we’ve seen changes in family, changes in career, changes in lifestyle, and changes in focus. All these things bring something new, challenging and adventurous to our plans and goals.

In 2015 the GAC found itself split between two coasts, and the “hop in the plane and take off” excursions, became more difficult to pull together. Nonetheless, Tom and I still found ways to seek out adventure, as did a number of our members.

In the coming weeks we’re going to shotgun through some of the stories we wrote, but never posted, and those we meant to write, but never had the time.

Its helped to remind us, we found adventure where we could, and we’ll continue to seek out adventure, no matter what path life steers us down.

As always, we hope you’ll seek out your own adventure, and continue to follow us through 2016 and beyond.

Wishing you the most joyous of holidays, and many inspiring adventures in 2016.

The

GAC

Under the Southern Cross

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Under the Southern Cross

By Rick Cleveringa

 

Caraça – Pronounced /KA-RAH-SA/

Brazil_Map 2There was packing and much paper work in obtaining my visa to head to South America. Months of prep work and attempts to learn a language that I could only order bread and coffee in. After a10 hour flight we arrive in Brazil. This would be my first trip south of the equator. “E’s” family met us at the airport and welcomed me to their home as if I was a long lost brother and son. It was wonderful to share in the daily life in the city of Belo Horizonte. Walking to the tiny shops and feeding the chickens in the yard. After a few days in the busy city “E” has planned a trip to the mountains in her state. I was sitting in the bus station under strict orders “To keep my mouth shut” and watch my backpack closely. The dust and pollution of the city has taken its toll on me and I am ready for the four-hour bus travel to fresh air and Caraça.

After a very dusty bus ride and a cab that takes us high into the mountains, we make it to the office to check in. Our arrival was early and the young woman at the desk gave us vouchers for lunch and told us to walk around, have lunch, and our room will be ready at 1:00. “E” and I are very excited and joyfully explore Caraça. It’s a Portuguese style Mission, built in 1774. The hand dressed stone walls have been standing now for the last 240 years. The jungle and surrounding mountains seem timeless. We walk past some of the buildings, find a path, sit near a pond, and relax. The sun reaches noon and is smiling on us. We make our way to the dining hall. Lunch was serve-yourself with large pots on a wood-burning stove. It’s beautiful, pots of rice, beans, vegetables and large hunks of meat. We filled our plates and our bellies in the great echoing hall.

Room 147 was now ready; we get our key and walk the stone path to our room. It’s clean, sparse, a large bathroom and comfy bed, but its cold and damp. It feels like a cave. The door and window go open and fresh air comes in. I lay down to nap and “E” goes to explore the grounds. Our room is on the main walkway and shortly voices wake me. I go out to find “E”, sitting on a bench in the front garden I spy her. She says, “how did you find me?”, “I am a hunter” I say. From the front garden with its fountain, hedges, and Jaku birds, we look down deep into a valley towards a river that could be heard but not seen through the thick jungle. “Its beautiful”, “E” whispers. Indeed…. We sit for some time in peace.

Dinner and a Show

The old bell in the church steeple banged six times, by then we had our showers and clean clothes on. We walked in the dusk cold mountain evening to the dinning hall, which now was lamp lit and gave the room a warm glow. The hall and all its long dark wood wooden tables, chairs, floor, cream-colored walls and amber light were inviting. The visitors now were all overnight guests and an older crowd for the most part. We get our plates and line up to the wood stove. More rice, beans, meat, veggie, and something called Shoo Shoo. It was a tasteless

dreaming of desert

dreaming of desert

green vegetable, boiled lifeless and served. Dinner was nice, dessert disappointing. Desserts are served in a large bowl. Typically it could be a caramel sauce or some fruit puree’ + sugar. I could

kill for a piece of cake, a big yellow cake with chocolate frosting. It’s all nice and “E” has spoken in a whisper since our arrival.

 

Lobo-Guara (Chrysocyon brachyurous)

A priest in a red hoodie calls out into the pitch-dark night. His deep voice and strange words go deep into the jungle. He calls again. The flashlight in his hand signals safe passage. The beam of light cast a tiny spirit against the endless dark of the forest. Before too long a wolf appears. It timidly approaches and climbs the stairs up to the balcony where we wait. With long elegant black legs and red coat she looks much like a giant fox. The priests here have been feeding them for generations. There is a large tray of bones and meat sitting on the stone porch in front of the church. She comes to feed nightly. The priest speaks and “E” translates. There has been trouble in the jungle and wild dogs have attacked this wolf and now she is more cautious than ever. These wolves are specific to Brazil. Never before have I seen a more elegant, graceful animal. She is lean, tall, beautiful and pranced over to the tray; she retrieved some bone and meat. With powerful jaws and without effort she crushed the bones, the sound was magnificent. I loved it. It reminded me of my dog eating her treats but this is no ordinary canine. “E” and I are in heaven. The wolf would eat, tip toe off, and then come back later. One could stay for hours watching this and I did. At 8:00pm “E” went to the church and attended the mass. I pulled my hat down over my ears in the mountain cold and stayed to watch.

After mass “E” joined me outside to watch wolves. A most remarkable sight that was special beyond words. At 9:00pm, popcorn and tea were served in the hallway. It was a simple but welcome treat in the cold night in the jungle. We walked back to our little room, under Jupiter and Venus, the Southern Cross, and stars unfamiliar to me. Stars Shackelton would have known. We climbed into our cool bed and warmed each other, and slept like children.

A Walk in the Jungle

Some of the most inviting features of Caraça are the many hiking trails. Each has a point of interest or some natural feature of beauty that draws the mind to jungle adventure. They all sound wonderful and “E” picks out a trail to ‘Cascade’, or a waterfall. I woke early the next morning and walked to the breakfast mess hall. The great wood stove was roaring away. There was actual coffee here. With a cup of coffee, and my book, I waited for “E”s arrival. The local practice for breakfast here is to cook a hunk of cheese and toast a bun on the stove. There were also some brown eggs and a bowl of white batter. By now I’ve had enough bread for breakfast, so I dip a large spoon into the batter and pour a 4” circle directly on the stove face. It certainly was not Aunt Jemima pancake mix. The batter made a thin ‘cake’ of a far less tasty corn based goop with the cooked consistence of a wrapped single piece of American cheese. Maple syrup was well over 6000 miles away so I drizzled some honey, and ate it.

“E” has come, eats her bread and cheese, we look at the map and get ready. We cross a large gravel parking lot for buses, tour groups, and school groups who come regularly to the mission that is situated in a national park. We find the trailhead and make the 3-4k hike to the falls. Its flat, easy, a kind hike, an enjoyable 1st trail and exciting first look at real jungle. The trail is earth and sand and winds past jungle vines & trees. Then it would open up to grassy savannahs. This is Atlantic forest, a transition to the deep jungle of the Amazon to the west. “E” explains this to me as my fascinated heart sucks in the adventure.

The path twists about and I see black sand and quarts all over, signs of gold. This country was once rich with gold. Even the road heading here is called “the road of gold”. We reach the falls, its wonderful. The falls are perhaps 20-30 feet tall, a small stream with water brown as tea runs over the black rocks. We take our shoes and socks off and join others wading, climbing and enjoying this place. As “E” finds a place to sit I begin searching for gold. Sifting sand and pebbles in my hand, looking for a nugget. It was a pretty place; we sat close by one another, talked, felt the joy of being close. Walking around we see there were some bees drinking. Stepping on a South American been seemed like a poor idea. We put our shoes and socks on and left the bees to their work. The hike back was fine; we spent some time in the room. The old church bell rang 12 and we were off to lunch.

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our choices of trails

Once again we poured over the map and picked a trail. This one was about 6k up the mountain, gaining about 1000’ of elevation. About half way there, is a smaller mission and at the top there is “Gruta de Lourde”, a cave! Yes! Lets go see the cave! Now I’m ready. A big lunch and more jungle. Back at the room “E” gets her hat and tells me to bring my hoodie, it might be cold up there. “It won’t be cold, lets go my love.”, and we set off.

Danger on “Onça” Trail

The day was bright and sunny as we cut behind the mission, up a small hill, past a tiny cemetery with its white wall, and iron gate that protect those who need no protection. A gardener with a machete in hand, points the direction to the trail, we go happily. One difference on this trail is we start climbing up right away. We crossed a tiny rustic wood bridge that your step had to be most cautious on. You have seen this bridge in every jungle movie. It’s the one where the planks give way and you find yourself dangling uncomfortably, legs kicking away high above a ravine. “E” crossed first and I would not get on it until she was safely across.

She spied it on the ground and grabbed it up, it was a 3’ crooked walking stick. This was a fine idea as the climb was noticeable. She was most happy with her “sticker” as she called it. Then she prompted me into finding one. Yes! And I looked but found nothing suitable. “E” pointed out every rotted, way too long, way too heavy, log, stick, branch, vine and root she saw. Now I’ve gone calling her “Heidi – There’s s good walking stick Brian!”. I tell “E” the story of our hike on a hot summer day in the Shawnee National Forest.

Our ascension was laborious as we worked our way up stairs of roots, rocks and fallen logs. The trail took us up to a great stone face of black rock six feet tall, and we have to skirt it to the right. On a narrow path that look down into a green valley, up we go through the trees, vines, ferns and past anthills, that are five feet tall and fat as rain barrels. We reach a great plateau, an odd feature in the mountain. Its flat as a table and large as a football field. What

The Iron Gate

The Iron Gate

happened geologically to make this place? What happened IN this place? It appears to be a natural feature; we cross the plain and start to climb again. Through more jungle, the path is red dirt & rock. We are walking under the canopy on slight grade and come to a most strange sight. It’s a gate in the middle of nowhere leading to…? A Spanish style arch, iron gate with two locks. The gate guards a bridge made of stacked stones over a deep gorge. Where the hell does this go, maybe to hell? Fascinating! The gate reminded me of the ‘Pappa Red’ tales Brian is writing. I tugged at the locks on the gate, but “E” wanted nothing to do with it. So we walked on.

Now the day was warm and brilliant and “E” had a scarf about her long neck that I’ve tied around her hat. With her10” brim hat, she in a clingy brown dress with small deer skin handbag and walking staff, it harkens my thoughts to 1800’s explorers. I see her in the path ahead of me; I call her “Lady Penelope” in my head as if we were Victorians out on a safari.

 

Gandalf’s Staff

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Found it! After searching every twig along the route I pull up a 7’ long tree about 2” in diameter, with the root ball on the end. Its heavy, dense, jungle hardwood and I snap off about 18” between the forks of two trees. I leave the roots on and dub it Gandalf. Climbing ever up, Gandalf, myself and Lady Penelope make our way to the mission up the mountain. We had seen it some time back but it was so distant and on another ridge of the mountain that it seemed unreachable. Yet here we are we made it. On the trail leading to this place I noticed tracks in the sand, feline by the pads, some dog tracks (wild dogs), two hikers from the day before who had gone up and back. Lady Penelope asks if we should go back after seeing the cat tracks. “Of mission 2course not!” I say, no it’s gone, they were small, no worries I say. She says, “what if a cat comes at us?”, “It won’t, lets go.”. She was a bit reluctant but now that we’ve made the mission she’s excited. It’s a large rectangular white building, doors locked and beside it a large section in ruins. Why would they build here? So close to the 1774 Caraça mission? It’s all odd and wonderful.

 

 

 

“Did you hear that?

After we explored the grounds, Lady “P” and I pressed forward up the mountain on a path that shows little use. You can tell people make the mission, don’t see the next trail head to the arrows 3cave, or simply turn back. The jungle crowds this path and we start climbing up, then down into a deep ravine. A small run of water is at the bottom and I look for tracks in the mud and see none. We cross the small stream; Lady “P” has her dress tucked up to keep it away from the mud and to keep her cool in the warm jungle air. We start the climb once more. Its steep and our walking staffs push us upward through the jungle. The path winds about and out of the forest cover to a ridge the path follows. From this rocky outcrop we can see down into the valley on to the other mountain peaks opposite of Caraça mission. No longer are there any signs of man. Its raw and beautiful, the view is breathtaking and so is the climb. We pause to enjoy and breathe the thick jungle air and take in the wonder. Soon we are leaning into out staffs and climbing, Lady “P” is in the lead. For me I am alive, noticing every stone, plant, flower, breath, and wishing I had my longbow and a quiver of arrows. Lady “P” stops and says “I wish you had your bow and arrow”, yes me too!

With the trail so steep the path ahead of me was at eye level, my face a few feet away and in a small pocket in the trail, I see deposited in it was a crystal. Perhaps 2” long, 1.5” wide. Broken away from a larger globe the inner has an opaque purple hew, the shell of quartz is dark and striated. It catches my attention and I slip it into my cargo pocket.

We are nearing the summit and the cave cannot be far. We break out from under the puma 2canopy into some tall grass and 20 yards away is the top. We can see blue sky, almost there when we heard, “Rrrooooaaaaaarrrrrr………” a very low sound. My first thought was to look up at the sky, thunder? No it’s clear. “E” looked back at me, her face white as a ghost, her expression confused and frightened. Her lips and mouth drawn up like an “O” sound, she says “Did you hear that?!”. “Yes, it was a warning.” I say. “E” then, with her back to the tall grass and predator, she crouched down to make herself small. She was just a big hat and dress. I said “Esther! Stand up SLOWLY, walk, do NOT RUN toward me! Come here!” She did as instructed and once she bumped passed on the narrow path, she proceeded down the mountain at a high rate of speed. I stayed facing the grass, the sound, and the puma. Backing up slowly with Gandalf in hand. I made my way down, glad not to see the catamount follow.

 

Retreat to the Retreat

At a safe distance I turn and try to catch up with “E”. She is moving swiftly down the trail. I use Gandalf to pole vault me down from rock to rock. On one vault my arm received a large gash, 3 long scrapes from a broken branch in the path. She is ahead of me but I’m gaining on her. As in every jungle movie you have ever seen, a thing so cliché’, you don’t believe it could ever happen but it did. The heroine, upon fleeing danger or death, trips on a root or rock and twists her ankle. From where I’m at, I see “E” step on a steep bolder and her boot slides down the face of the stone and her foot gets wedged between two rocks at the base. In my mind I think “shit she just broke her leg”, but I know she is so terrified she will run 4k more down hill on a busted limb. This is when I catch up.

She is pulling on her leg desperately and frees her leather boot from its trap and I say, “Use your stick”. She moved on without injury cursing me all the way down the mountain. At the deep ravine near the mud and stream we cross up on to the other side, there is a log and I beg her to sit and rest. She says “NO WAY! I don’t trust YOU any more!” Me, I think? “Dis is not a MOVIE!” she professes and off she went, down the rocky path to the mission.

All I can see is her backside, her large brim hat with scarf tied around it. She is murmuring on and I can’t make out what’s she is saying. At the small mission on the hill she says to me “what if the puma followed us?”. “It didn’t” I respond. “How do you know?” she demanded. Oh we would know by now, so on we went. The hours of climbing up the mountain seemed to be 20 minutes run back. At the base of the trail we meet a family heading up. E tells them of the puma, the two children looked scared and they turn back.

Back at Caraça Mission we found a park ranger and he confirmed a puma has been in the area. There were guide books on tracks and the cat tracks I saw in the sand belonged to a Jaguar. Later that night at dinner it was a true celebration. We had experienced real danger and survived. The thought of “E” getting injured chilled my guts. But hey we were safe in a lovely hall, with big plates of food in front of us. We just laughed through dinner, now we had a real story to tell and we did. “E” had to tell it in Portuguese and I made the cat sound. My throat was hurting later from so often making the pumas growl.

That night we sat in the dark and waited for the wild wolves to be just feet away. Their food was in a large tray and not on a jungle trail.

Skinning

Climb-B&W

“Skinning”

By T. Dietz

It’s been several weeks since the last snow fell in the Lake Tahoe region, and with warm temperatures, gliding sports are suffering. Not wanting to be deprived of a little outdoor adventure, I decided to fit my new “skins” to my skis and search out some backcountry terrain with whatever form of snow there might be.

Rose map

Mt Rose Wilderness

 

If you want to go backcountry skiing or boarding, you’ll likely need to climb (some do it in snowmobiles but they’re missing the good sweat). In an upcoming GAC article, Brian and I chronicle our snowshoeing trek up the Mt. Rose Wilderness. my go to area for “close-to-civilization” backcountry

 

 

 

Skins

Skins for skiing have been around for a very long time, thousands of years in fact. Up until the free ride up the mountain by way of a ski lift, snow cat or other means, skiers earned their ride down the hill by first climbing. Historians report that the first skins were indeed skin, namely the skin of seals. The hair growing out of the seal skin, grows out at an angle allowing a smooth glide in one direction but gripping in the other. Think petting a dog in one direction IMG_0091 2 - Version 2where its smooth while petting in the reverse raises the fur. This dual action is the basis of using skins to glide the ski forward but giving it traction when you push against it. Skins can get you up fairly steep grades either directly or by traversing.

The new skins I acquired (fitting to my skis below) from Black Diamond are synthetic – nylon, while some enthusiasts still use mohair (goat hair). The skins are attached to the skis by means of a loop at the front and a hook at the rear. In addition a special, reusable glue is used that holds the skins fast to the skis but comes off fairly easily. Adhesives for skins have been around for over 50 years.

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The photos here show the very straightforward way I prepared my new skins to fit my skis. The process took about 30 minutes. The skins are first cut to length, fittings attached, then trimmed to get good coverage but leaving the ski’s edge accessible to the snow.

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Fitting skins to skis can be done by most ski shops that carry them but with a little patience you can produce a quality fit on your own.

 

 

 

IMG_0135Anxious to test the new skins and absorb some of the grandeur of the Sierra Nevadas, I set out for the Mt. Rose Wilderness. Wanting to get used to the whole process I geared up as if preparing for a much longer trek. To be prepared for more intense expeditions there’s nothing like getting used to your gear in a controlled IMG_0137environment.

Although the staging area was only a short distance from the road, I packed in my gear, skis, poles, etc, an
d then “skinned up” when I was ready to being the climb.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My skis have a backcountry alpine touring (AT) binding
from Marker that can easily transition from alpine skiing to touring with the flip of a lever. The binding allows you to step and pivot freely in a climb. The walking motion is very easy and comfortable especially with my boots set for walking mode.

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The pictures from midway up the climb and from where I stopped to transition to downhill don’t do the scenery justice. The 30,000+ acres Mt. Rose Wilderness is named for the highest peak in the Carson Range, the area being wholly situated within Nevada.

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From the trailheads near the top of the Mt. Rose Highway I head west. This area is also trafficked by snowmobiles whose tracks you can see in the photos.

 

 

 

 

 

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This wilderness is a real treat and only 40 minutes from Truckee.   There are deer, black bears, mountain lions,and coyotes among other animals here. Although I wrote this time mostly about the skins and using them, the real motivation is to get out into nature and places that not a lot of others are willing to take the time or energy to get to. The gear is fun but it’s also a means to get to those unique places that can take your breath away.

 

 

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Adventures in Brazil

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Under the Southern Cross

Over the summer our friend and member Rick Cleveringa journeyed south to Brazil for family, friends, and destinations unknown. Many of you should remember Rick from his provious article “Pappa’s House”.

This time, its a trip into the Brazilian mountains thats brings him beautiful sites, sounds and a close encounter of the four legged kind.

We hope you’ll all enjoy “Under the southern Cross”.