Alaska 2018

Last July, I went to Alaska with Keya and my family. We had a family reunion on an Alaskan Cruise. While the cruise was certainly nice, I much preferred being off ship. The majority of photos are taken when Keya and I did some exploring, camping, and hiking during the stops.

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Ghost towns, mountain passes, a wildfire, and a Corgi

Obviously, I have to lead with the picture of Pueblo the Corgi. I mean look at this little buddy!

Last weekend, right after the Fjallraven Classic USA, Keya and I met our friends, Veronica and Evan, near Jefferson. Then we headed up some mountain passes to find ghost towns! We started on Boreas Pass on Saturday and veered off onto some high clearance “roads” to find some old cabins and other buildings. On Sunday, we headed all the way up and across Mosquito Pass. Pretty stellar views (and wind from up there).

Here’s a video of Evan getting buffeted by the wind at the top of Mosquito Pass:

On the way back, we had to go around the Weston Pass fire. This thing:

Fjallraven Classic USA 2018

Well, we did it. Thirty miles in three days on the Colorado trail. Beau already did a great writeup of last year’s Fjallraven Classic USA. Definitely give it a read if you are interested.
Some notes from my experience:

  • I packed light opting for the (not super comfy) bivy sack instead of a tent. Because we didn’t have to carry much water (thank you again, Grayl) I wish I had just brought my tent.
  • I won’t start with as much water next time. The Grayl is a beautiful device. I never needed to carry more than a liter at a time.
  • The Therm-a-rest Z Seat was a wonderful last minute purchase. I strapped it to the outside of my bag and used it every time we stopped. It also doubled as a place to stand when I was at camp and changing.
  • The altitude is no joke. 80+ people came rolling in suuuuper late on day two where we did the 3000+ feet altitude gain. Some were extremely sick or shaky. Please keep altitude in mind before heading on a trip like this.
  • We were advised by some pros to hike 50 minutes and then take a 10 minute break. On the break, drop the pack, have a seat, and just chill. This was a great was to set a pace and stay strong. We also got to just enjoy some nice views and hang with some people from all over the world. Definitely adding to my hiking arsenal.

We started out as a group of three. Here’s our crew as we finished the trek:

It was so great to hike with all of you. See you next year!
Here’s a video I made out of the Live Photos that helps capture the experience a bit more than the pictures alone do:

Under the ledge

Last weekend we headed down into the Canyonlands in Utah. It is one of my very favorite places to be and one of the most pristine environments I have experienced. Where we went is definitely the road less traveled. In fact, it’s impossible to get to for most vehicles. Usually, it’s super photogenic, but it was cloudy the majority of the time. I still took a ton of photos, but I thought I’d try making them black and white. I did save some good color photos for the end, though (and a couple crazy videos).

And here are some of the color photos that were just too good to desaturate.

Here’s a video of our last camp sight. It was quite a doozy. (And we had to be super cautious at night.)

The last video is me riding on the bumper of the Jeep while Keya tried to give me a few mud showers.

This trip was intense, but equally fun. We had to bring our own food, water, and poop bags. We were roughly 40 (very slow very hard) miles from the ranger station and around 100 to the nearest gas station.
I would be happy to answer any questions you have about doing a trip like this (except the location). I also could be convinced to join expedition trips like this. Let me know what you think about the trip or the photos!

Buckskin Gulch

About a month ago, Keya and I hopped into my Jeep and headed down to Buckskin Gulch. Buckskin Gulch is the longest slot canyon in the USA and runs into the Paria river. It’s located on the border of Utah and Arizona. Getting to it can be done in any vehicle since most of the roads are really well maintained dirt roads.
We had an initial plan of dropping our bikes at the middle exit and riding back to the Jeep. When we went to check out the middle exit, we found out the entire road to it is super soft sand. We tried riding it, but ended up doing some pretty hilarious crashing mostly. We bailed on that idea and decided to do an out and back starting at Wire Pass.
We camped out close to the Wire Pass entrance near some unusually friendly jack rabbits. They kept us company in the evening and morning. The next day we headed into the canyon. It was intoxicating. Every turn yielded more spectacular canyon scenery occasionally opening up into massive open areas with trees and grass. It was wanderlust heaven. We hiked about ten miles in before turning around. We didn’t want to be caught in there after dark.

The next day, we decided to head to Lake Powell to do some kayaking! We found a kayak to rent and headed out toward Lone Rock and all the little canyons surrounding it. The water was super cold, but great for quick refreshing dips.

Then, we drove through Monument Valley to get to our camp site in the Valley of the Gods. Both are amazing places often seen in old westerns. The next day we did some off roading to get to some Native American ruins.

This was a great weekend trip. I highly recommend getting some fry bread and getting lost in the canyons in the area. Thanks for the fun, Buckskin!

Photos by Keya Lea Horiuchi and Michael Arestad

The Maze

Last weekend, Keya and I went on a bit of an expedition down into the Maze District in the Canyonlands. It was unbelievable. If you’re thinking about going, you’ll probably want a pretty high clearance vehicle, as much water as you can carry, a few good maps, and maybe some extra gas. It’s pretty dang remote in there. I think the closest gas station to our camp site was 99 miles away and there aren’t any rangers around to help you out. Enjoy the photos. 🙂

Surfing in Tofino

A few weeks ago, I made the journey up to Vancouver Island. I had heard some great things about Tofino, a small surf town with legendary tacos.
With no prep and on a whim I departed. Google said it would take me around five hours to get from where I was staying near Squamish to get to Tofino and that supposedly included the ferry ride. Deal! What I didn’t know is that the ferry included a several hour wait.
When I arrived at the ferry, I paid for a ticket and got in line. I was about an hour and a half early for the ferry, but nonetheless, I didn’t make it on that one. There were quite a few vehicles ahead of me, apparently. It was a few hours until the next ferry. For those of you heading to or from Vancouver Island, you can actually make a reservation on the ferry to save potentially hours of waiting. The waiting wasn’t too bad since there was a bit of a town nearby with plenty of restaurants and coffee shops. I found one with wifi and wrote a blog post in the meantime.

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In line for the ferry to Vancouver Island.

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When I wandered back over to my Jeep about thirty minutes before the ferry left I started up a conversation with the folks in front of me. Apparently they make this trip regularly and they informed me about the reservation system. They also explained that the drive to Tofino might be a bit dangerous in the dark because it’s a remote highway through the mountains. I noted that and decided if it was too dark, I would just camp near one of the towns. Thankfully, I made good enough time, I didn’t have to.
The ferry ride itself was uneventful, but filled with stunning scenery the entire time. The grey skies and constant drizzle only added to the beauty. There weren’t many people willing to brave the deck, which made it feel like I was the only one on the massive ferry. It was surreal. I took way too many photos and videos:

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To Vancouver Island

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Leaving the mainland.

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On a boat

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After the ferry, I had a pretty fun drive all the way to Tofino. I was about through the mountains when it got dark. There’s really just one road into Tofino and I saw some hitchhikers heading there. I decided “why the heck not?” and picked them up. They turned out to be super friendly skaters from Ontario. I picked up on the accent right away after hanging out with my friend Stephane for a few weeks. I brought them into town where we shared some drinks at the skate park. Then we ventured way the heck down the beach to camp for the night. In the morning I realized it was probably not the most legal thing as there was a no camping sign about 100 yards from our camp site. Whoops! 🙁 We packed up when we saw that and left no trace. Then we went our separate ways. They wanted to skate and I wanted to try surfing.
I made my way to a recommended surf shop. I ended up getting a lesson from Westside Surf School because I had never surfed before and grew up in a land-locked state. I had no prior surf knowledge at all. They hooked me up with a wetsuit (also totally new to me), which I had my doubts about considering how dang cold that water was when I waded into it that morning. They also gave me a gigantic foam board. It wasn’t nearly as cool looking as the ones we saw the pros using, but I didn’t mind. I had no preconceived notions that I was going to be looking cool by the end of the day.
Once our group gathered up at the launch time, we headed to the beach. The instructor walked us through several exercises on the beach to get us used to standing up on the board. After that, we walked into the ocean. The wetsuit went from this stiff uncomfortable thing to a super well-fitting warm beautiful thing. It was amazing! We started out paddling into and riding the tail end of the waves on our knees. The waves were between ten and fifteen feet high. There was no way we were going to catch them where the skilled surfers were. I did above average for the group and ended up standing about five times. Really only one of those times did I ride it all the way in (the last wave).
I have to say, it was absolutely a blast. Even though I spent most of the time flailing around and falling in new cool ways, the few times I stood were enough to get me hooked. I would definitely go again.
After surfing, I hit up the famous Tacofino food truck for some absolutely legendary tacos. Then, I went to one of the two or three places to drink in town, the Tofino Brewing Company. There, I met some fellow travelers. They had a kickass vanagon with a lift and all sorts of upgrades. The two were doing what I did and spending the weekend in Tofino on a whim and for some reason brought their friend’s dog.

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At Tacofino. Arguably the best tacos I have ever had.

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After the tacos, I headed back down to the beach to just relax a bit and enjoy the “sunset” even though it was cloudy and drizzling. It was beautiful anyway.

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My night before heading to the brewery.

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I needed a shower after all that beach time, so I got a room at a decently priced motel in town that night. Worth it. the next day, I had some breakfast at a great little coffee shop. I hit the beach for a bit and then started the journey to get to Bowen Island. This turned out to be just as rough as my previous experience, but I’ll get into that when I post about Bowen Island.


Trans-Canada adventure part two

Sorry about the delay, folks. I’ve been pretty dang busy the past several weeks and this post is long overdue. I am currently writing this at a friend’s beautiful goat farm near Portland Oregon. Time for part two of this little adventure. For those of you who missed it, here’s part one.
So there we were on Sunday the 11th. In Calgary after 13 hours on the road. At the airport picking up the Matt Mullenweg who decided to join us for the last three days of travel to Whistler. Matt is one of the founding developers on the WordPress project and the CEO of Automattic (where I work).
We headed to a hotel near the airport for the night to rest and plan our next few days. Unfortunately, the bar didn’t stay open long enough for us to even have one drink, but we still figured out a rough plan. The hotel also had fancy glowing beds.

On Monday the 12th, we got up pretty dang early in order to make it back onto the TCAT (Trans-Canada Adventure Trail). When first got onto a dirt road, we stopped to get our Jeeps ready. We deflated our tires a bit and added a few flags to our Jeeps because it seemed appropriate at the time.

As we drove along these roads, Matt spotted both of these quirky signs:

Apparently, where we were near Calgary, a cattle guard is called a Texas gate. Both Matt and I are from Texas and had never heard of a Texas gate before.
As we headed up into the mountains, we had nothing but beautiful views. At one point, we even found winter in full force with a bit of a snow storm, some fresh snow, and an amazing mountain pond. Also, cows. Many many cows.

We did occasionally make our way through small towns to gas up and admire local cuisine.

We didn’t stop for lunch in that town. Instead, we headed back into the wilderness to find a good spot near a river for lunch. We made a small campfire to head up some sausage from Montreal for some delicious sandwiches. Also, a rock skipping contest was had between Matt and me. There was no clear victor because we’re both pretty good and it’s hard to count when the skip counts get too high.

After lunch, the trails got a bit narrower and a ton muddier. We did lots of this stuff:

And stuff like this:

Which looks like this:

And this:

And this:

Until we had a technical issue. Stephane’s Jeep refused to start in the middle of the mountains somewhere. We had been hitting puddles pretty hard se we thought it was a short. After some looking around and trying a few things, we decided we needed to get some help from our phones. Stephane (or Matt?) remembered we had reception a bit back so we decided to drive back to get reception in order to do some searching online. Matt volunteered to stay behind with the broken Jeep.

After trekking back a ways, we eventually found some potential answers. We turned around and then came to a pretty interesting realization: We left our employer in the woods with no reception and we forgot to mark on the map where we left him.
Anyway, we found him eventually which is all that matters, right?
It turns out, the only thing wrong with Stephane’s Jeep was that the battery leads wiggled loose. After he tightened them, it started right up again.  YESSSS!!!
After finding Matt in the woods and getting Stephane’s Jeep started, we made a stop at “THE BIGGEST TRUCK IN THE WORLD!” There was also a huge rock chain saw.

Then we headed back into the wilderness.

Where we found a trailhead that we thought was a promising place to look for a camp site. It ended up not being ideal since we couldn’t find the open water we were hoping for, but we got a short fun hike in anyway.

Next stop: camp site! We kept driving until we found a good spot to camp off a logging road next to a river and set up our shelters. When I was out gathering firewood, a moose apparently walked right through our camp. There’s a photo of Stephane below running to call me over. I just missed it. I have yet to see a single moose in Canada.

We made some dinner, told some stories, and then when it started getting just a touch too chilly, we went to bed.
In the morning on Tuesday the 13th, there was frost everywhere, but it was a beautiful day. I headed down to the river to hang out on a rock until the others woke up. There were also huge prehistoric-looking logging trucks whizzing by.

Then we headed back on the dirt roads. Matt did some driving today as well up by some power lines. We stayed out of trouble most of the day.

We stopped at a lake for lunch and made more sandwiches. More rock skipping as well. This time, we got a little competitive. There is still no clear winner.

We then hopped back on highways and headed down to find an old friend of Stephane’s. Jim is a master of all trades and someone who can make anything out of anything. When we arrived, he put some music on in his custom audio soundscape of a living room. He was also kind enough to make us a most memorable meal. Jim also happens to be a master mad scientist chef using both found and fresh ingredients including some lobster mushrooms, blueberries, and a chicken. It was fantastic experience!

On the last day of the journey, Wednesday the 14th, we headed out after saying our goodbyes to Jim.

Shot with DXO ONE Camera

My future home?

About halfway to Whistler, we had to take a ferry. It was pretty dang fun. I had never been on a ferry with my own vehicle, so this was a big first for me. It was quite fun chatting with some of the strangers waiting for the ferry and on the ferry. One of them helped inspire me to make it up to Tofino a few weeks after.

After the ferry, we had quite the scenic drive to Whistler with a few quick stops along the way. It was quite the curving steep mountain road, though, and we had to stop to let our brakes cool. At the place we stopped, I noticed Matt was standing next to a Brake Specialists sign. Talk about a perfect place for that ad.

At the end of the day, we finally pulled into Whistler and met up with the rest of Automattic. This journey was unbelievable and I hope to continue on adventures like this.

Thank you Stephane for helping make this happen. Thank you for joining us, Matt. It was awesome to get a chance to roam the wilderness with you both.
Shot with DXO ONE Camera
All images and videos in this post were taken by Matt Mullenweg, Stephane Daury, or me.

Trans-Canada adventure part one

I’m sitting in a coffee shop in Horseshoe Bay waiting for the ferry to take my Jeep and me to Vancouver Island. A little over two weeks ago, I left on a trek from Montreal, QC all the way to Whistler, BC. According to my trip meter, we travelled about 5,800 kilometers (3,600 miles). We did not take the direct route.
This whole thing started when I jokingly told Stephane Daury that we should take a Jeep across Canada to get to work. Stephane is one of my coworkers at Automattic and is one of the main influencers in me getting a Jeep in the first place. He lives in Montreal and has been spending a bunch of time learning to weld and building up his Jeeps. Now, when I brought this up, he enthusiastically agreed to do this trip. That’s when it got all too real. The initial plan was to carpool, but as it grew nearer, he decided to bring his own Jeep so we could hit some seriously epic trails. (Never Jeep alone. That kind of thing.)
I met up with Stephane in Montreal a few days before our departure date to work with him to ready both of our Jeeps. Stephane had welded together a rack for the back of his Jeep enabling us to carry extra fuel, water, wood, and some charcoal. The wood and charcoal turned out to be pretty great as most of the places we stayed were extremely damp. Even the standing dead wood was soaked. Check it out.

Stephane had discovered a route called the TCAT (Trans-Canada Adventure Trail) documented on this website. It’s a scenic off road trail designed for motorcycles that utilizes old roads, trails, and county roads primarily. There are often side routes that involve much more difficult terrain. It runs from coast to coast through Canada and takes around three months to complete. We did sections of it at a time and jumped onto the main highways to make up some time when necessary. Needless to say, we were pretty excited to find this gem of a trail. I will definitely be sending a donation to the creator.
Stephane had already scoped out a good section of the TCAT for us to spent a couple days on while we were in Ontario, but other than that, we just knew we had to head west. Our deadline for arrival was the 14th.

Day 1: Tire trouble and a dip in a lake

On the morning of Wednesday, the 7th, we set off on what would end up being quite the unbelievable adventure across Canada with no real plan as to where we were going to stay or even what routes we were going to take.

Our trip was not entirely smooth sailing. Almost immediately after we set off, two and a half hours precisely, Stephane’s rear tire dramatically exploded with a huge gust of smoke billowing out of it. It was extremely hot to the touch and looked like the sidewall had melted and then exploded in a huge tear. It was smoking from the inside for about ten minutes. We quickly swapped out the tire and hopped back on the road. We had my spare to swap out if need be for the rest of the trip. Thankfully, we didn’t need it.
We made up time stopping only for a few minutes of relaxation at some rivers and lakes along the way. I had never personally seen rivers quite that large. They looked wider than some of the lakes I’ve visited in Colorado.

We stopped for the day at Driftwood Park in the afternoon. It was just too perfect a spot to pass by with a beautiful beach to camp on and a clear lake to swim in. At this point, we were both fairly novice at setting up hammocks and hammock camping in general, but we set up our hammocks, some tarps, and went swimming while the sun was around.
In the evening the mist from the lake, the clouds, and the low lighting created quite the scene. If you stood right on the edge of the lake you couldn’t really focus your eyes on anything and it felt very much like staring into a welcoming abyss. Later on, when it got dark, our frog friends swam to shore to join us and sing us to sleep.

Day 2: The roads less taken lead to a pleasant surprise

Thursday the 8th we ventured onto the TCAT. We had no idea what to expect other than some cliff notes from the TCAT website. We started on some logging roads that took us pretty deep into the mountains.

For lunch, we found a beautiful spot near a lake where someone had previously set up a perms-camp. It hadn’t been used in years when we found it, but we took good care of it and were thankful for the lone chair and the phenomenal view. We brought eight french sausages from Montreal to use along the way as well as a few baguettes and cheeses. These were our primary food sources for lunch and sometimes dinner.

Once we passed the lake, we decided to take a road that could barely be categorized as a trail. Yes, it was on the map, but you wouldn’t know it from looking at it.
The trail was part of the TCAT, but hadn’t been used in quite a long time. It was heavily overgrown and was laden with trees that had fallen across the path. As we went, it got narrower and narrower and narrow occasionally opening up for some rocky fun along some power lines. The larger rock faces were covered in the softest spongiest moss I have ever seen. We couldn’t resist lying down on them.

We were initially pretty excited at the opportunity to test out our axe and my chain saw. My chain saw is just a flexible chain with a handle on each end and a cutting blade similar to a normal chainsaw. We discovered that with two people, we could make quick work of a large tree with the chain saw. We cleared several trees and even had to winch one out of the way. Then we hopped in our Jeeps, drove ten meters and realized we had quite a long night of work ahead of us. We got into a really solid groove of moving trees and only cutting what was absolutely necessary.

Each night we tried to stay somewhat near a body of water for the views, potential swimming, and water access. We saw what looked like some good sized ponds or lakes on our GPS maps and did our best to get there, but it got dark a bit too fast. Like Captain Ahab, I pushed us forward looking for a white whale. Inevitably, it became too dangerous to continue in the dark so we backtracked a little and found a quite nice camp spot to hammock up for the night. I believe it was the first night Stephane slept in his Jeep.
In the morning I slowly and quietly emerged from my hammock cocoon, slipped on my shoes, and wandered over to find a place to pee. I didn’t want to wake up Stephane yet. Along the way, I noticed a grey streak glinting to my left. Was it water maybe? Then, out of the bushes I heard Stephane running over and yelling. He was apparently already awake. He excitedly told me to follow him. We ran through some brush around the corner and revealed a huge beautiful lake I dubbed “Surprise Lake” due to the nature of how we found it. The place we camped was just on the other side of this huge lake the whole time! It was glorious! Our hard work paid off and we certainly spent some time celebrating and enjoying the view.


DAY 3: A bunch more dirt and a baby bear

Friday the 9th, we packed up after some quick breakfast, which most days consisted of a banana along with some tea or coffee. We said farewell to Surprise Lake and emerged from the deep woods onto some delightfully curvy logging roads. Before getting too far, though we stopped and went swimming in the river.
We saw a massive sand hill and tok the opportunity to test out our vehicles. Only Stephane made it to the top.

Later on, we saw what I thought was a huge dog running on the road, but as I got closer, we saw it was an ultra fluffy black bear cub running to its mother. We didn’t stick around long enough to find out. 🐻

Days 4 and 5: endless highways

Saturday the 10th we decided to really pick up the pace. We had made very little progress and we knew we had to be in Calgary by Monday morning to pick up a special guest. In order to make good speed, we stayed almost entirely on highways for the next 24 hours of driving time.
Even though we were in a hurry, Canada put on a beautiful show for us with sparkling lakes, thunderstorms, and fantastic cloud patterns.

We stopped by a lake for lunch. The calm and quiet it brought was welcome after hours spent in a Jeep. Dinner was even better. I followed Stephane off the highway onto a service road into the forest and we found a beautiful place for dinner. We had some of the french sausage we had brought with us from Montreal.

On Sunday the 11th, we realized we could actually make it to Calgary in time to pick our guest up from the airport if we headed out a little early. We jumped back on the road stopping only for the occasional silly selfie and gas. It’s hard to tell from my photos, but the clouds in the evening were phenomenal.

We made it to Calgary, picked up some Timbits for our guest and headed to the airport. Who did we pick up? Well, you’ll have to wait for part 2 to be published or skim our Twitter feeds. 🙂
All images and videos in this post were taken by Stephane Daury or me. 🙂

The Trans-Canada Adventure kickoff

After months of preparation, Stephane Daury and I are heading out in our Jeeps across Canada. We have left Montreal and are heading all the way to Whistler via the TCAT (Trans-Canada Adventure Highway) and some of the main highways.
The TCAT is a trail mapped all the way from coast to coast across Canada designed for motorcyclist who want to travel off road. It normally takes weeks, so we’re only doing the more interesting segments of it.
We have no plans as to where we will be sleeping other than we know we’ll be camping the whole time if all goes well. If we are exhausted or need pampering, we may crash at a hotel for a night.
Stephane has built himself a custom rack for the back of his Jeep to carry our extra fuel, water, some wood, and a grill. I’ll elaborate more if I get to a good spot with wifi because it’s something that should be seen. It looks pretty dang nice.
I don’t have any data up here right now so I’ll probably be posting photos and updates in bursts if I come across a coffee shop or something. If not, I’ll write some recap posts. I will have normal access to SMS and phone calls where there is coverage, so feel free to text or call to send support.
We have our camping gear. We have plenty of supplies. We both have rigged up ways to sleep inside our Jeeps if we need to. Wish us luck and follow our progress on the trail!