Go Big AND Go Home

IMG_20150705_100808149_HDR A new chapter of our life is upon us— traveling with a baby on board.  Camp celebrated his fifth week of life with his first adventure (outside the womb), which had us going big – 20-hours, 1300-miles, 4-states – up to Aminda’s home town in Oregon. Here’s are some highlights.

The Highs

  1. First day was a confidence booster. We braced ourselves for the worst, got an early start and planned our shortest distance for day one. Camp was not yet taking bottles, so we assumed our frequent stops would necessitate double the normal travel time. We were pleasantly surprised when our happy camper slept for hours, and we reached our destination shortly after lunch.
  2. Camp’s first night camping! Thankfully, the rain stopped soon after IMG_20150706_061956201_HDRpitching our tent, so we could sleep without fear of a flood. (more on camping with baby later)
  3. Five weeks into parenting, we proudly pulled a veteran move with a middle-of-the night departure. Our third driving day was our longest, nine hours at a normal pace. After Camp’s night feed, we hit the road at 3a.m. Our plan was successful, as we arrived 13 hours later.
  4. After our long, desert drives, watching the sunrise in northern California’s Lassen National Forest was a refreshing treat.
  5. We fully broke in our “new to us” truck. (more on that later)

The Lows

  1. Our first stop was Mt. Charleston, a sky island north of Las Vegas where we were looking forward to walks in the cool piney air. Instead, we arrived just in time for the afternoon thunderstorm. After hours of driving, we then spent hours inside the truck waiting out the storm. We couldn’t even get a break to set up our tent (we didn’t really want it sitting out getting soaked, anyway). At least with the truck parked, Camp wasn’t confined to his car seat.
  2. The thunderstorms dumped hail — on our “new to us” truck.
  3. On day two, Camp revolted against his car seat. We were lucky if we could drive more than half an hour at a time. The route between Las Vegas and Reno is bleak… with very few places one would want to pull over and feed a baby. At one point we found ourselves in the parking lot of a brothel. Ick.

So, that’s traveling with a baby. I wish we had some words of wisdom or tips and tricks, but there really isn’t much else to do but stay flexible and patient with a baby whose needs are constantly changing. (and with each other!)

We did work out a pretty good system at our stops, with Josh would take the baby first for a diaper change, while Aminda used the facilities and situated herself to take the baby for feeding. We both became very efficient and skilled at performing our tasks in a confined space.

We’re grateful to Aminda’s parents who are allowing us to hang out for a few weeks and give us break before we have to turn around and do it again! Any advice for a successful second part of our road trip?

Chillin’ in Costa Rica

Spring break in Costa Rica was so relaxing and uneventful, it doesn’t seem to even merit a blog post. No major highs and lows like we’ve experienced in other trips- just completely chill, or as the local Ticos say, “Pura Vida.” Guess that’s why Costa Rica is such a popular destination.

Josh had already been in Costa Rica for more than two weeks, working and hanging out until Aminda could join him. The area he had been staying was in the hot, dry north (at the end of the dry season, so was looking pretty scortched). So as soon as he picked up her up at the Liberia airport, we headed straight to the mountains that are home to the Monteverde and Santa Elena rainforest preserves. (we stayed at the Pension Santa Elena, value priced with a great staff).

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Where better to cool off than one of the lush, tropical, cloud forests that are so synonymous with Costa Rica?
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Our trusty rental car, a cute little Suzuki 4WD, which helped us get around on the many unpaved roads.

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This black guan, which is in the turkey family, noisily crashes through the trees, even though it does not look graceful enough to even balance itself in a tree.

We enjoyed a couple days hiking around… ultimately deciding against a guided activity like ziplining, canyoneering or mountain biking… which would probably be fun but unfortunately our standards are pretty high when it comes to activities we don’t usually have to pay for. But we really did enjoy the well-signed trails that allowed for independent travel in the forests. Our last visit to the rainforest was a heavily guided excursion. (we fully appreciated the guide, since there were no trails and we weren’t about to go wandering around the Amazon on our own). And we understood that without a guide we might miss out on seeing some wildlife and on some fun facts about the local flora and fauna, but we traded that for the opportunity to just be alone in the forest.

Once Josh’s body temperature had returned to normal, we headed back down to the beach, and the warm ocean waves we came to play in. Our first beach town was Malpais, a surfing destination for beautiful, young travelers from around the world, like the trio of Swedish girls and Australian guys who were seemingly destined to be staying at the same hostel at the same time. (The Tranquilo, where we finished off our days in comfy hammocks)

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The trip to Malpais, required a breezy ferry ride on which we picked up a hitchhiker, a local expat who entertained us with his perspective of local culture and stories of expat life.
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How does such a cute face produce such a big, scary howl?

The waves here were a little big for us non-surfers, so we entertained ourselves with standup paddleboarding, snorkeling and swimming. And watching howler and cappucine monkeys frolic, in the beautiful Cabo Blanco preserve, where a forested trail leads to a secluded beach.

Our final stop on the way back to Liberia was Samara, where we entertained ourselves surfing the mellow breaks. (and hammock time at the beautiful Tico Adventure Lodge)

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nuestra playa privada

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Costa Rica Map

Here is a map of our loop, which made a great week. There are plenty of options to add stops, like at the Arenal volcano or the Barra Honda caves.

Yes, we did take a roundabout way between Malpais and Samara. the direct route is a rough 4WD road. Our car may have been OK, but it was making a funny noise by that time and we didn’t want to take the risk.

Au revoir, Oh Canada

This week our trip winds down as we start our journey back south. Hard to believe—the last six weeks have gone so fast. The timing is perfect, though—we’re tired. Tired of carrying a pack, tired of hiking up (and down) steep hills, tired of wearing really uncomfortable shoes, tired of tweaking our bodies into unnatural positions. We’re ready for a week of R&R (well… maybe less) until we miss it again.

It’s difficult though. We’ve both really enjoyed Squamish and feel like we’re leaving with too many routes undone. We’ll miss the soft grades–good for the ego. We’ll miss pitches that have you use as many tree roots for holds as you do rock. Just good motivation to return.

And while Canada doesn’t exactly feel “foreign”, we’ll miss buying groceries with loonies and toonies. We’ll actually miss guide books that utilize the metric system, since that’s way more compatible with the ropes which are manufactured in metric lengths. And of course we’ll miss the beautiful scenery and friendly people.

This week the weather jumped from cold and rainy to dry and hot ensuring we got to the crags early to get the most out of the morning shade. Rest days found us doing touristy stuff… going to the farmer’s market, touring the Olympic Park (pretty unmemorable, sorry to report) and hanging out in Whistler Village — a cool outing since there was a mountain biking festival taking place. Which of course had us jonesin’ to get on our bikes again!

This week’s ticks

The Apron, Snake. Cool, wandery line with lots of slabby laybacking.

The Apron, Rock On. Steep and straight up. Nice, shady north-facing route, perfect on a 90 degree day.

Bit of cragging at the Chief Base (cool!), Smoke Bluffs (crowded!) and The Upper Malamute (windy!).

Summer in “Squish”

We’ve settled in to our current temporary home outside the coastal town of Squamish, BC. Or as we’ve affectionately come to call it – “Squish”. With several days of cloudy, rainy weather that seems to describe the landscape of the Pacific Northwest quite well—a groundcover mud, moss, roots and pine needles that takes on a permanent moistness being in constant shade under towering pines. But you sure can’t beat the wonderfully fresh, piney air that results. And after a few days the clouds parted and we could finally see the beautiful mountains surrounding us.

There’s a view out there…somewhere!

We’ve found some creative ways to entertain ourselves while it’s been raining. We join the rest of the fleece-clad crowd at the comfortable, friendly local library to bum the Wifi. We’ve had some wifi issues on this trip with our normal library stops being unreliable. Previously we’ve gotten on-line everywhere from a Jiffy Lube to a Safeway store to the Laundromat.

We’ve watched movies in our tent, soaked our muscles in the hot tub at the community pool and consoled ourselves with large quantities of Nutella. (found here in a large size jar under Walmart’s “Great Value” brand…to our amusement)

Our campground is nestled in the peaceful forest at the base of The Chief, the granite cliff that presides over the valley, reminiscent of Yosemite’s Half Dome, attracting climbers from around the world. This climber’s camp is a hybrid – with walk-in sites that are more spacious and private then Camp 4 (thankfully, we were blessed to snag one of the more secluded ones) but with less amenities than you’d expect at say you’re typical state park campground. Sites are basically limited to a tent pad but there are plenty of communal picnicking areas available for the young, social crowd.

Above the noisy, dirt-bag, “what are you twelve, where are your parents?” crowd, sits the reason we came here—trad climbing on granite.  Perfect cracks lead the climber up granite walls high above the town of Squamish.  Great vistas and excellent climbing creates smiles from ear to ear and some sore feet and hands as well!

This week’s Ticks

The Bulletheads. Cream of White Mice and Xenolith Dance – COWM had an OK first pitch, rest was unmemorable. XD was slabby fun, first pitch had some nice underclings and crimps, second was pure friction.

Cheakamus Canyon. Slipped in a couple nice, long, well-bolted sport routes in the evening once the rock had time to (mostly) dry after morning showers.

Pappoose, Hairpin. Fun, varied route.

The Squaw, Birds of Prey. First 2-3 pitches are really aesthetic cracks. Upper section is OK- pretty dirty. Nice views.

Road-side Attraction

With great sadness we departed the Rockies on a drizzly morning. While looking forward to new adventures in Squamish, BC, we knew we would miss the grand peaks of the mountains and we did as we kept driving down the temps kept going up and the scenery started to look more like, uh, Arizona. We’d soon learn that we were literally only about 20 miles north of the upper border of the Sonoran Desert. In Canada…who knew? Gotta say, we didn’t feel any burning desire to drive down and check it out.

Anyway, we’ve embraced the change of scenery and the local way by spending some relaxing rest time on the beach. Yep, the lakeside beaches that the Okanagan Valley is well known for. That and the wineries. And, the reason we’re here, for B.C.’s other climbing hot-spot, Skaha. Unfortunately we haven’t gotten in as much climbing here as we’d like as we were pretty worn out by time we’d arrived. First was a drive that took twice as long as it should have. We spent two hours sitting on the highway after an accident shut down traffic. That was followed by a time-consuming search for a campsite. The one we finally snagged—literally 20 feet from the highway—stole two nights of restful sleep from us. Our nickname for this campsite was BCE aka Best Campsite Ever!

Canadian’s must get pretty sun-starved during the winter because it seems like the whole country flocks here to soak up the sun. The reason behind our campsite challenge was our mistake of arriving during a holiday weekend. Alberta was gearing up for Heritage Days. Then we crossed the provincial line and all of a sudden they’re celebrating British Columbia Day. So which is it and what exactly is the holiday all about? Well, wanting to be culturally sensitive, we did a little research. While I’ll admit that Wikipedia is not exactly a bastion of facts, the explanation given for this holiday is pretty amusing.  Who can’t use another holiday?

Civic Holiday is the most widely used name for a public holiday celebrated in parts of Canada on the first Monday in August… Unlike most holidays, Civic Holiday does not commemorate a specific event, but was created for its timing. Between Canada Day and Labour Day there are no recognizable holidays, one of the longest stretches on the Canadian calendar without a holiday.

This week’s ticks

Cougar Canyon. (Canmore) Beautiful creek-side setting for long, single pitch cragging. Greasy limestone reminiscent of The Pit…we didn’t waste too much energy here.

Guides Rock, Sea of Dreams (5 pitches). We conserved our juice for another awesome bolted multi-pitch. Great limestone with lots of texture. Steep, calf-burning approach. Great views.

Mount Bourgeau, Walk of Ages (4 pitches). Short and sweet version of the last route.

SKAHA. Nice crag in lower BC that sports over 700 single- pitch routes on good rock. Definitely a worthy stop between Banff and Squamish. Long, varied routes on edgy gneiss. Friendly local crowd.  Hot and muggy but the rock is so edgy!

**we’ve also posted a couple new photos under last week’s post.

Man vs. Wild

Two factors have most influenced our climbing over the past week – the weather and the mosquitoes. The weather has actually been fantastic… we’ve only had one drizzly day and actually managed to get some climbing in that day on a wall under large imposing roof. The challenge is that the rain is really unpredictable. We’ve been finding ourselves climbing on rainy days and planning rest days only to find that the 60% percent chance of rain never produces a drop. It’s been a bit tricky.

We came prepared to battle it out with the bugs and we have. Deet, citronella, you name it, we’ve got a layer of it covering our skin. It’s been a wet summer up here producing swarms of blood suckers. Josh seems to be particularly attractive to them and I’ve actually read one study that may actually explain this better than him just being so nice and sweet. Mosquitoes may actually be repelled by cortisol, a chemical produced in response to stress. Josh being such a laid back guy probably doesn’t have as much of this natural repellant as some of us more up-tight personalities.

And it’s sure easy to be relaxed around here. We enjoyed a couple days clipping bolts at Lake Louise—the iconic Canadian Rockies image—jewel colored water surrounded by towering peaks, imposing glaciers and endless forests. And hordes of tourists. But we’ve been able to get away from the crowds by enjoying a couple of multi-pitch route, which provide views in every direction.


This week’s ticks

Lake Louise – fun cragging. Routes aren’t all that memorable but there aren’t too many other places you can clip bolts in such a beautiful alpine setting.

Tunnel Mountain; Ballista – great eight pitch limestone route. Short approach, varied climbing, lots and lots of bolts. Just bring your helmet, lots of loose rock.

 Nanny Goat; Beautiful Century – another cool well-bolted limestone route.  More loose rock at the belays. Approach is a big slog.

Border hopping

We’re finally at our destination of Banff National Park and we’re happy to stop driving. It was starting to seem like the driving was never going to end. At least until we crossed the border – those kilometers fly by so fast it made us feel like we were making really good time. So far the Canadian Rockies look a lot like – the Colorado Rockies. Beautiful. And not hot. Perfect.

We haven’t suffered any culture shock yet, just mild sticker shock. The weak U.S. dollar makes foreign travel pretty rough. $40 each day for entrance fees and camping is hard to stomach for us budget conscious dirtbaggers who like to hang out for a while in one spot. Good thing we’re not hooked on camp fires, since it’s an extra $8 to have one. OK, we’ll stop whining now. Did we mention how beautiful it is?

Our last U.S. stop was Eureka, MT, where we explored the climbing along a lake that straddles the border: Koocanusa (a fun word to say out loud…try it). This word is created from three parts: Kootenai (the name of the forest it’s in + Canada + USA (the lake crosses the border). Clever, eh? (Just trying to practice our Canadian language)

We were pretty excited about exploring Montana—the climbing in the state is somewhat mysterious but rumored to be excellent. So we dug through guidebooks and picked the brains of local mountaineering shop employees and found…well, not much. Montana climbing consists of a bunch of extremely scattered small crags that all seem to be south facing, ie. scorching hot all day. Yeah, yeah, it’s Montana not Arizona but really, a rock face baking in direct sun is going to be hot whether it’s 90 degrees or 115.

But the climbing at Kookanusa, or Stone Hill as it’s known, has been worthwhile. Plenty of accessible crags and variation from steep, bouldery mixed routes to thin, balancy bolt sport lines. Much of the rock still gets afternoon sun, but if you start early enough you can get a nice day in then go take a dip in the lake.

Shout out to Barrell Mountaineering in Missoula and Rocky Mountain Outfitters in Kallispell for their friendly service.

On the road again

Josh and Aminda are excited to have embarked on summer road trip 2010! Our goal is to explore the crags and mountains of Western Canada. We already found that our biggest obstacle to embarking on this trip wasn’t job or time related…it was regaining possession of the passport that Josh had sent for renewal.

Dealing with this arm of government bureaucracy is…well, frustrating to put it mildly. Anyone who is responsible for the actual processing of passports seems to be completely impossible to contact. 100% impenetrable. And there is an entire team of employees working diligently to ensure that the people who actually know anything about your passport absolutely cannot be disturbed. Unless you send them a letter. Yes, a letter via the U.S. postal service. (Seriously. Like this is still 1950). To which they might respond either by mailing you a letter back or by phoning you. But you better have your phone glued to your hand because they won’t leave a message, a name or a direct call-back number. Anyway…phew…guess we should let that go, now.

We only have two months to travel this year and we know it will go fast. Our transportation has changed – instead of the crusty old ’85 Toyota truck (still running with only 300K miles) we’re cruising in the (well, slightly) more stylish ’92 Toyota Corolla. It’s made even more stylish by the addition of a roof bag (and a blue pinstripe). The downside is that we can’t take out bikes along. The upside is that we have a better stereo, automatic transmission and best of all, air conditioning (and of course a sexy blue pinstripe).

After talking with so many climbers from all over the country last year, we came back last year with a long list of areas that need to be climbed. So our journey is taking us a different direction this year. The first leg has taken us due north through Utah and Montana. While Utah is best known for its imposing desert towers that are more pleasant in the winter, we’ve found plenty of beautiful high-elevation crags to keep us entertained—it’s been so nice that we’ve hung out a bit longer than planned.

One of those locales was Maple Canyon.* The crowd here was really laid back and friendly. So friendly that one evening we returned to our campsite to find that a family of seven was using it for a picnic. We casually asked if they were staying overnight and the one English speaker just shrugged and said “no, just a couple hours”. (It was already approaching 9p.m.) Then we asked them if they realized that this was a campsite that they had paid for, he had about the same response— “We won’t be here long”… Shrug. (uh, okay, you didn’t notice our tent 10 feet from your corn on a stick) Then I (Josh) thought he might want to buy my Corolla, so I pointed at it and said “not for sale.”  That seemed to get them moving.  Wow, that was weird!

Then I felt bad that I didn’t sell the Corolla to them. I just can’t face the thought of not looking at the blue pinstripe everyday.  So when Aminda noticed a couple of ladies driving around looking for a campsite, we were quick to offer up our as a great place to BBQ into all hours of the night.

Alrighty then. Thanks for that interesting perspective, Josh.

Best camping value this side of Lander…water, electricity and showers for only $10. Plus a scenic view of the interstate.

**climber beta**

*Maple Canyon was a blast. The rock is a conglomerate, walls embedded with various stones and river rocks. It takes some getting used to. Most of the routes are short, steep and well bolted. With short approaches, cheap camping (unless you stay in the group site with 7 random strangers who want to buy your car) and plentiful shade, it makes a perfect summer climbing destination.

Our next stop was Big Cottonwood Canyon (but don’t worry, my corolla is not intimidated by the word “big”). Little CC gets the most hype but we hoped BCC would be a better summer spot. We can’t really compare the two, but found BCC to be a nice & scenic. Quartzsite is great rock and the routes, mostly trad craggin’ and short bolted multipitch were generally aesthetic, particularly this one.


Almost 7000 miles driven, more than 200 miles biked, and close to 5000 feet climbed.  Phew! What a summer it’s been. And man would we love to spend the fall up in the mountains watching the aspens change, but since we’re back in Phoenix in time for Josh to start teaching his fall classes, we’re ready to get resettled.  And, believe it or not, I’m even ready to land a new job and return to being a productive member of society.

Of course this trip was overall awesome; visiting amazing places, meeting new people, having the freedom and relaxation of not working, doing activities we love, together.  But there were some simpler pleasures that really stood out.  And we know that bringing up the few negative aspects will be about as welcome as listening to a movie star complain about how rough their life is…but since we hope all of you are working on planning your own trip, we thought we owed it to you to point out some potential hurdles.   After all, being without a home and a job can at once be completely liberating and also a little unsettling.

Josh’s favorite things:

1. I had a constant smile on my face that I was not in Phoenix during the summer.  No 115 degrees for me!

2. I do admit that I appreciate the amenities that the big city has to offer.  I enjoy the various business opportunities and all the events and activities.  However, my love for the outdoors supersedes all that fluff and camping almost every night for 90 days was a dream realized.

3. Everyday was like a new painting or professional photograph, such beautiful creation around every corner.

Aminda’s favorite things:

  1. Being able to hang out in a sports bra & tee every day.  As well as not having to get fixed up, but rather just be casual and comfortable. Of course it was nice, every month or so, to get a little done up and feel feminine.
  2. Being a complete glutton of both food and sleep, both of which are totally satisfying after wonderfully long days of physical activity.
  3. Constant natural light and fresh air. It just feels good and invigorating.
  4. Having such a great partner to share the experience with.  When backpacking in Europe (in my single days) it was just me and my journal.  It’s wonderful to have a partner to make decisions with, laugh and share observations with.  I love that Josh and I are taking so many inside jokes, stories and memories from this trip.
  5. Plenty of time (maybe too much) for reading fiction…something I haven’t done for the years it’s taken me to complete my master’s.

Aminda’s biggest challenges:

1. Lack of personal space.  Public showers, public laundromats, public campgrounds.

2. Having our very limited personal space invaded.  For the most part, we’re pretty quiet, keep to ourselves and try to be as respectful as possible of others.  So it’s difficult for us when others seem to ignore our presence either when they themselves or their dog feels free to wander about in our campsite, or when their noise carries into our tent, long past standard quiet hours.

3. Lower standards of cleanliness. In addition to infrequent showering, dishes and clothes just never seem to be as clean as they are inside.

4. Food storage challenges.  I’m pretty anal about minimizing waste (and, in turn, our trip expenses) so it was really difficult to see so much food spoil, spill or get scavenged by critters.

5. Wearing the same 3-4 outfits for three months gets old.  Especially by the end of the trip when almost every clothing items has gotten torn.r.

 Josh’s Biggest Challenges:

1. No a/c in the truck.  Even though it was pretty cool during our trip, I really missed my Tacoma push-button a/c.

2. I love food.  However, I do not love the same food everyday.  This was not an ongoing problem and we came up with creative ways to have some new and creative meals.

3. It’s just weird when your vehicle is invaded by mice that do not leave, even for someone like me.


So, after all this time, we’ve learned a few things about living out of a car.  Well, not that any of these are brand new concepts to us, but rather were basic principals that we’ve been reminded (the hard way) not to ignore.

1. Treat guidebooks like necessities not luxuries.  Their detail saves time and headaches.  Without guidebooks we found ourselves riding around in circles, mostly uphill for hours trying to navigate back to a trailhead, we would ride loops backwards, or we wouldn’t be able to find the trail or the crag at all.

2. Along those same lines, if you don’t have a guidebook be wary of trails that start with a descent.  It’s too easy to keep moving forward downhill and lose track of the distance you’re going to have ride back out.

3. Avoid packing white clothes.  It’s dirty out there.

4. Be wary of leaving the trailhead after a group of 15. (see our post from Idaho)

5. Be always deliberate about food storage.  Keep everything in the truck at all times and even when food is in the truck, keep it in storage containers.  Campground scavengers such as bears, squirrels, raccoons and mice are smart and savvy.  Bears and coons recognize coolers by sight, not just smell.  Mice and squirrels are tenacious and devious.

Full Circle

This week marks the occasion of having traveled full circle and arrived back in Flagstaff where we started.  And it’s raining, just like it was the weekend we spent at the same camp back in June.

Poor Josh had to get an early Saturday and his night was cut even shorter by a pre-dawn thunderstorms.  Now, I have always loved the grandeur of a good summer thunderstorm, but it’s quite different experiencing it from the thin nylon walls of a tent compared to peering out the window of a sturdy house.  It wakes you up when it’s about “15 seconds away” (for those who used to count the seconds between the lightning and thunder to determine how far it was).  Each subsequent strike gets about a second closer until all of a sudden the thunder and lightning feel frighteningly connected.   By then you’re wide awake since the lighting feels bright enough to cause eye damage and the crack of the thunder sounds like there has been a head-on collision in your campsite.  But it doesn’t last long – soon enough the thunder is 6 seconds away, then ten, then it finally fades far enough so you have to strain your ears to hear it and you can drift off back to sleep.

Returning to Arizona is a bittersweet occasion.  Of course neither of us are quite ready to face the reality of urban Phoenix.  But we also don’t take for granted that we are blessed to have had a fantastic summer with many treasured memories.   Josh is already busy, spending the weekend on a four-day rafting trip in the Grand Canyon.  (and so this will be the first post that hasn’t been “Josh-approved)

While it’s lonely without him, I’m excited that he’ll get to spend a few days hanging out with some dudes – 15 to be exact.   I’m sure he needs it after spending 90 days with a capricious woman.  And I’ve had a fabulous time spending a couple days with some friends who are up from Phoenix.  Not to mention, it’s a treat to be able to spread out in the tent, which has felt smaller and smaller each day. We both have been pondering some end-of-trip top five lists which we’ll have to post next week given Josh’s absence.

If you would like to get a taste of Grand Canyon rafting, Josh will be guiding a trip for Scottsdale Community College, October 2-6.  Check out the details on how to register at his web site.

Otherwise, live vicariously and enjoy one of the funniest accounts of life on the river we’ve ever read, in this article from Outside Magazine.