Devil’s Tower, Wyoming: July 7, 2019

“Dad, I am going to climb to the top of this tower someday.”  I said this as an 8-year-old standing at the base of Devil’s tower watching the climbers.  I had never even seen rock climbers before, but I have always dreamed big, so why not?

My family was on an epic 2-week road trip out west in our silver Ford van.  My parents, Doug and Fay, my 15-year-old brother, Josh, and my 13-year-old sister, Mary.  My family was always into long road trips, but this was our first trip out west!  We did all the highlights: Wall Drug, Corn Palace, Badlands, Mt. Rushmore, Devil’s Tower, Yellowstone, and Oregon Trail sites.  On our stop at Devil’s Tower, the rest of my family hung out at the parking lot, but I convinced my Dad to walk around the base of the tower via the 1.3-mile paved walk.  As we were walking, we saw the climbers.  We watched in awe for a while, and that is when I added a new item to my bucket list!

My parents have always been supportive of my dreams and taught me how to achieve huge goals by chunking them up into small attainable goals.  Heck, I got a firsthand lesson from my dad when we were riding our bikes across America when I was 16.  We just need to ride to breakfast, now we need to ride to lunch, then ice cream, then the campground and do it all again tomorrow.  It worked, as we successfully rode, self-sustained, from Seattle to Cape Cod.  I’m so grateful to my parents for teaching me this skill and for always supporting me. 

When I told them that Mike and I were going to take another year to adventure and that Devil’s Tower was an objective, they said just let us know when and we will be there!  My parents have never seen me climb, and here they were coming to witness Mike and I climb 500 feet up my childhood dream!

We met on Saturday at an Air B&B 20 minutes from the Tower in the middle of nowhere Wyoming.  Our original plan was to climb on Monday or Tuesday, but the weather was forecasted for rain, so our window was Sunday.  Mike and I scoped the route on Saturday, talked to the rangers, and found a great viewing spot for my parents.  Then back to the B&B to pack, study the route descriptions and catch-up on the family news. 

Our route of choice was the Durrance, the original climbing route from the 1930’s and the most popular route to the summit.  With this in mind, we opted for a 4:30 wake up to be on the rock at 6am.  I’m not sure my parents were fully aware that it was going to be such an early morning, but they were troopers, and we made it out the door on time!

During the 20-minute drive, we were treated to an amazing sunrise, and our first view of the tower had a pink and purple sky behind it.  Wow, we get to try to climb that!  When we got to the park entrance, there was a mist in the valley, so the tower looked like it was rising from the mists.  So beautiful.  I can see why this is a sacred place for the Native Americans.  It felt special to me, and I was hoping for a safe, fun day of climbing.

I was happy to see that there was only one other car in the lot.  It was a quick 15-minute walk to the viewing spot to leave my parents.  Dad, a professional photographer took a few before pictures, and I got a big hug from my mom.  My parents were warned that this might take 8 hours, so they had chairs, water and food.  My dad brought 2 cameras including the super long-range lens.  This was going to be a well-documented climb! 

As Mike and I started up the climber’s trail to the base, I was worried about the climb, my parents being bored, and excited that this was happening!  From the base of the climb, you look up and see the big (the largest columns in the world) beautiful columns which steepen the farther up you look.  It was breathtaking and a little intimidating.

The original route took exposed 4th class ledges to the starting tree.  We opted for the nice looking 5.4 approach crack.  One more pitch of climbing and the guidebook said if we had any trouble on this approach to bail, as we don’t have the skills to climb the route!  So, this felt like the safest, most conservative option to start.

As we geared up, I could hear my parents below chatting away with some other tourists.  My dad was telling my story.  Mike and I wondered how many times that story would be told today! 

Mike took on the approach pitch which starts hand-sized and widens until it gets to off-width at the top.  A 20’ easy traverse to the belay tree finishes the pitch.  Mike got right into the crack and got the first pitch done.  I quickly followed.  No bailing for the Raffs, although it was worlds different from the sport climbing in Tensleep!

We were now at the base of the leaning columns.  The first true pitch of the Durrance route.  The guidebook suggests combining pitch 1 (Leaning Columns) with pitch 2 (Durrance Crack) for an epic 140’ crack pitch.  Mike kindly gave me this pitch as it was the crux and the best pitch of the climb.  What an awesome husband!

The leaning columns are 2 broken columns stacked on top of each other and propped up by the tower itself.  The first half had good stems and hand jams.  Halfway up, you must commit to some off-width moves using the crack created between the leaning column and the tower face.  I had so much gear on me, I couldn’t see my feet!  I eventually figured it out, got to the top of pitch one and heard my parents cheering below.  I checked my remaining gear and yelled down to Mike that I would continue up the Durrance crack as planned. 

This pitch had 2 parallel cracks to climb.  The right was a large off-width.  The left was hands, then fingers and then off-width at the top.  I stemmed, jammed and grunted my way up.  I was thankful that I took a crack climbing clinic last fall, as I used every technique, I learned leading this crack!  It was stout and I could hear my parent’s cheering below.  I was stoked!  The last 15 feet are pure off-width.  We brought the #6 to protect it and I was happy to pull the top move and enjoy the nice belay ledge!  It was a beautiful 140’ of physical crack climbing.  Super sweet.  We were now over ½ way up the tower!

Mike climbed the leaning columns quickly.  He slowed down for the Durance crack.  I heard a lot of grunting, but he made it to the top using lots of leg jams (he had the bruises to prove it too)! 

We also combined the next 2 pitches: Cussin’ Crack and Flake Crack for a 70’ pitch which Mike led.  Cussin’ crack is 5.8 off-width.  Mike used the #6, the #5 and #4 x 2!  The flakes crack eased up to 5.6 up a dihedral with nice flakes to climb.  We were cruising.  I couldn’t hear my parents much anymore, but every time I waved, they waved back!

The next pitch was a 40’ chimney filled with 3 chockstones.  The first 2 can be used, but the top one is loose and cannot be touched.  As I squeeze myself into the chimney, I told Mike he better drop the pack on a leash as it was super tight for me!  I’m thankful for the experience of climbing chimneys in the North Cascades, as I quickly got up it, skirted on the slab below the loose chockstone and made the belay.  This was a hard pitch for Mike as he had to deal with the pack and the chimney was a true squeeze for him!  I yelled down “Just get ‘er done”!

At this point, we had a choice.  We could continue straight up 100’ to the summit via Bailey’s Direct or stay on the original route and do the jump traverse pitch!  Looking up was more chimney, so we opted for the iconic jump pitch.  This pitch was a traverse to get you from the column that we were standing on to a few columns over to our right.  There is a 5’ gap between columns which you can jump, no way, or delicately face climb over, yes please.  Mike went first and opted for a reachy hop made possible by his arm-span and long legs.  I opted for a small crimp, and delicate foot work to get me across. I whooped when I made it and heard a faint cheer below!  It did get my heart going as a fall there wouldn’t be pretty.

From here, we walked on a trail through “the meadows” to the final pitch.  100’ of 4th class chimney-like scrambling to the summit!  It was my lead, and I was thankful for the easy climbing!  Finally, I was on the summit!  I couldn’t celebrate yet, as I needed to get Mike safely up as well.  He cruised it.

The views were incredible.  Unlike mountain summits, there are no mountains in sight.  Just green plains with red cliff bands and a river.  360-degree view of gorgeous Wyoming countryside.  The summit had grass and flowering cactus. 

We signed the register, had a snack and sorted gear.  The climb was only half-way done.  Now we had to get down safely.  We had opted to bring only one 70m rope per the rangers’ suggestion, but we had to be very careful to make sure we selected the correct summit anchor, otherwise we wouldn’t have enough rope.  After a thorough review, we found our anchor and started the 4 full 35m raps to the base.  Luckily, we had no rope snags!  As we descended, we witnessed the human traffic jam on our route.  Thank goodness that we got up early.  There was a party on every pitch!

At the base, we kissed, and then I quickly changed shoes and ran down the hill to give my parents a hug.  I left all my gear on for the after pictures!  Little did I know, I would have a hug fan base waiting for me.  My parents were busy making friends and pointing us out, the team in blue.  I had several pictures with little girls – maybe I will inspire them to dream big.  Then big hugs and celebration with my parents!  

Mike joined us and we headed down.  Mom and Dad told us all about their morning.  They had a ball and said that the 7 hours flew by!  I’m glad that they found it fun.  We couldn’t have asked for a better location for them to watch us as they could see us the whole time up and down.  Plus, they had shade and lots of people to talk with.

We wrapped up the day with a giant burger and enjoyed the front deck of our B&B discussing the climb.  It was one of the most physical climbs I have ever done.  Our bodies were pooped, bruised and already sore.  This was no sport climb, and it was old school 5.8!

My dream came true, and it lived up to everything I thought it would be.  It was a beautiful line and fun, physical climbing.  The weather was perfect, and we beat the crowds. 

Thanks Mom and Dad for making the drive to support me and for always believing in me and giving me the confidence to not only dream big but to make your dreams a reality.  Thanks to Mike for being the best partner and for giving me the best pitch!  I look forward to many more adventures.  I owe you one!

My Dad’s amazing photos can be viewed here. Enjoy!https://dougmathews.smugmug.com/Travel-Photography/DevilsTower/

Posted in 2018 - 2019 Still Mooning, USA - Summer 2018 | Leave a comment

Ten Sleep, Wyoming: Celebrating Independence Like a Limestone Cowboy—June 29-July 6

‘Merica…a land of independence, opportunity, the pursuit of happiness, and currently a place of extremes. It seems appropriate, then, that we found ourselves in a tiny town in a big canyon full of cowboys and dirtbag climbers during a thunderstorm-filled 4th of July week. We neither loved nor hated Ten Sleep, Wyoming, but we certainly grew to appreciate its extremes.

If you will recall, when last we corresponded, the Raffs were hunkered down in Pocatello, Idaho waiting for the locals to park their stock car Buicks, so that we could safely make our exit. The following day, we were treated to a host of beautiful experiences including Targhee Pass (a land of many uses…inspiration for Keen’s bestselling shoe), Jackson Hole and the Tetons, the Continental Divide, and some stunning canyons along the Wind River. We felt a little bittersweet to see all of the snow in the Tetons; it was gorgeous, but it’s looking like the Grand Teton may not be in the cards for us this summer if a dramatic melting isn’t on the way soon.

When we pulled into our campground, it was a humid 90 degrees, and we were tired after a 10-hour day of driving. It looked like rain, Ten Sleep’s reputation for hard climbing intimidated us since neither of us knew much about climbing limestone, and our guidebook was full of pictures of American Flags, Popes, Kittens, and Pamela Anderson in spandex (what’s wrong with a simple star system of ranking?). We decided to celebrate the Sabbath and take an honest-to-goodness rest day on Sunday before trying to figure out how to tackle this canyon.

What’s extreme about a rest day? We’d climbed 13 of 14 days, so it was sort of a big deal to take a day off! I fried up a good breakfast, and then we toured a nearby fish hatchery that helped populate most of the lakes with Cutthroat Trout in that part of the state. Most helpful, though, was a drive up the canyon. It was full of beautiful, stark bands of brown, grey, and red limestone cliffs rising above a snake-like creek. Using our weird-ass guidebook, we were able to at least figure out where to climb. A good afternoon nap in the Craggin’ Wagon left us ready to get on the rocks come Monday.

We started at the innocent sounding Pooh Corner, only to find that we could barely climb 5.6! What the heck was this slick, sharp glob of irregular pockets and nubs? It sure wasn’t anything like the granite we’d been climbing the past 2 weeks! Sarah started to get it after a couple of climbs, but I thought I might be in for a really tough time! It turns out that Pooh’s Corner must be named after the body function and not the cute cuddly bear because we eventually found some better climbing and started to have much more fun!

Basically, we had to either find morning shade and climb hard until the daily afternoon thunderstorm came in, or we had to fart around at camp all day before climbing a few lines after the daily morning thunderstorm finally subsided. Either way, you could have some fun…just not too much. Highlights included a 5.9 steep bolted crack (I think these guys would bolt down their kitchen table if it looked fun to climb) called Ice Station Zebras, a 5.8 super pocketed steep column called Suits and Boots, a slabby red old-school 5.9 that ran about 10 feet from a waterfall (Water into Wine), and then getting good enough to push a bit harder on a new type of rock. The bolts are typically really close, and the climbs are pumpy but short with good jugs; a combination that made for some bold climbing. Sarah led an 5.11A called the Godfather II, which was a really proud moment for her! We then climbed the Godfather I, which I think would be a classic 10C if it were longer—sweet hero holds all the way up the overhung boulder! The signature climb of the week, though, came on Saturday right before we headed out: a full 60 m. 10C called Big Bear Memorial; this steep corner required jug hauling, foot stems, jams, liebacks, and good body turns. Very cool—I’m glad Sarah put it up for us!

As I said at the beginning of this post, though, we were also here during a week to celebrate ‘Merica, and it turns out that Ten Sleep is a great place to celebrate the 4th of July! The local brewery (a really cool place with delicious beer and a real enthusiasm for climbers) hosts fireworks on the 3rd, although that is really not pertinent to us because we did not go. 😊 The 4th begins with a parade with all the bells, sirens, and—more importantly—Walt Longmire’s creator, Craig Johnson! Yup, one of my favorite authors lives about an hour away from Ten Sleep and came to read from his upcoming book. Sarah hasn’t read the books but really enjoyed the TV show, so we both had a good time hearing him read, joke about the area, and discuss his characters. Plus, it was only an hour, so Sarah had plenty of time for a Wyoming-sized ice cream cone afterward.

The big event on the 4th, though, is a rodeo! Sarah had never been, and I think I’d only been to a small one years ago. I’d say the whole town came out, but I think several whole counties would be a better description. We saw a little of everything: barrel-racing (Sarah loved), calf-roping (Sarah gasped), bronc-riding (Mikey liked), team roping (Sarah tolerated), and bronc-riding (Sarah closed her eyes). The people-watching was even better—pretty much any stereotype you could imagine. We sat by a sort of jarhead that tried to be funny when people walked by but clearly came off as mean (his wife chewed straight Copenhagen); other highlights included the requisite senior bikers in full ZZ top glory that yelled across the stadium at each other while getting re-beers, and lots of long-legged cowboys and cowgirls dressed in their finest Wranglers and button-downs. We weren’t the only climbers there, either. Really, it was a pretty cool mixture of folks enjoying the same show. Before the rodeo ended, they auctioned off a limited-edition rifle that fetched $8,000. The rodeo emcee went full-on auctioneer, “Ahheara2500—2500—cannagetanittybittyprettykitty—26—26—gottabeatta26—SOOOLD for $8,000!Next up, the bulls!” We may not have experienced a typical 4th for us, but we sure did have a ton of fun!

Ten Sleep may not be for everyone; we’re still not sure it’s for us, but it definitely grew on us as the week went on. Just like the storms and the climbs, though, everything was a series of big highs and lows. One minute we met new friends Kelly and Maria who pushed us to climb harder and got us super-stoked about climbing in Europe this fall; the next minute I was repeatedly ransacking the van trying to find my lost phone (I strip-searched that friggin’ thing 3 times, only to find it 4 days later sitting in plain sight at the bottom of a cup holder!); then, a few moments later, we’d be at an awesome climber’s festival listening to Paige Classen discuss her latest sweet climb in the Fins. Then, just as we started wondering what Ten Sleep might hold next for the two of us, we discovered a nearly perfect weather window at Devil’s Tower. We didn’t have this canyon figured out quite yet, but sometimes you gotta’ change plans. Ten Sleep started as an extreme frenemy, but now I think we just might go back.

Posted in 2018 - 2019 Still Mooning, USA - Summer 2018 | 2 Comments

Craters, Cracks, Ribs, and the Pocatello 500–June 22-28

Greetings from the Super 8 in sunny Pocatello, Idaho: home of the prestigious Pocatello 500 race, also known as Friday night rush hour! Sweet baby Jesus, all of the Earnhardts evidently live here and want to kill us via ill-advised, sudden left turns at unholy speeds in front of the Craggin’ Wagon! I fully expected my father-in-law, a photographer for the Indy 500, to document our demise coming out of turn 3!  Really, I wasn’t even planning on contributing to this blog, but I am in fact terrified to leave this hotel room!

Anyhoo, our week began with a rest day at Craters of the Moon National Monument, a large volcanic area along the Great Rift and above the Snake River Plain. The Shoshone tribe had long explored these lands until Oregon Trail people happened upon it, ironically, in an effort to find a safer passage that avoided skirmishes with, um, the Shoshone tribe. A dude named Limbert, who apparently was also a traveling trick shooter (I swear I am not making this up), did a ton of exploring and documenting of the area. In 1924, Silent Cal designated the area as a monument, and in 2019 the Raffs came to visit.

We spent a few minutes checking out the visitors’ center, which had some neat information on geological history, current wildlife, and different types of lava. According to the exhibit, the craters were formed by an enormous eruption 15,000 years ago and reshaped every few thousand years—the last one coming around 2,000 years ago. A friendly electronic voice assured us that “now is a great time to explore the Craters of the Moon before the next cataclysmic event.” Before leaving, one must stop to get a cave permit, which is a nifty stamp of a bat that grants you entry into the caves because you haven’t worn today’s outfit in any other cave within the past 10 years (apparently, there is some sort of terrible bat-killing disease that can survive on your clothes for a decade). Having procured this nifty stamp (that no one ever checked), we also landed a campsite nestled (wait, nestled?) into the lava. Sarah got a great piece of van porn for your viewing pleasure.

Highlights of the area included, the Devil’s Orchard, the Inferno Cone, a two-mile hike to see tree molds, and the caves. The Devil’s Orchard was interesting because it really captured the disruption that humans can have on something even as barren as lava but also the potential of nature to replenish itself—in one spot, you had ghostly witches’ broom created by misguided park service workers and broken lava tubes courtesy of human boots, but at the same time, Limbert pines (remember that trick shootin’ lava lovin’ explorer?), tiny pink monkeyflowers, and masses of green sage grew right out of the lava. Eventually, almost the entirety of the monument could be green, unless the volcanic cycle repeats.  The orchard ended with a great Shoshone proverb, “The frog does not drink up its own pond.” For me, it was a nice reminder not to love our mountains, trails, and rocks to death.

The Inferno Cone was probably my favorite part of the day—it was a short hike up to a high viewpoint. From the top, we enjoyed a panoramic view of cinder cones along the rift. The most notable, and most beautiful, was the Big Cinder Butte, one of the world’s largest cones (not to be confused with any ice cream cone that Sarah purchases). Balanced by a beautiful blue sky with low-lying fluffy white clouds and green mountains in the background, this view was truly spectacular! The hike and the caves were both fun, but the Inferno Cone was the part I will remember about Craters of the Moon.

Climbers, have patience, I will eventually get back to the rocks. However, Sunday’s breakfast in Rupert, Idaho at a place known as Sophie’s Chatterbox was one for the ages. This diner is a cool little place with signs that really spoke to me…things like “I love you like biscuits and gravy” and “Watch out—I’m about to put on my fat pants!” I ordered the plate-sized garbage burrito for $7.00 and was rewarded with 3 types of breakfast meat, hashbrowns, various other vegetables, and cheese in a giant tortilla—it was everything I needed it to be. Incidentally, Rupert’s town square, featuring the classy Wilson Theater, is on the National Register of Historic Sites. In 1902, the Reclamation Act made way for the Minidoka Dam Project (and later, the Bonneville and Grand Coulee Dams, I believe), which pretty much made Rupert the place to be. Due to hydroelectricity, in 1913, their school became the first in the nation to be heated entirely by electricity.

So, I realize this is a mostly a climbing blog, and we got a ton of good granite in this week. Everyone knows that Sarah is the real talent in our marriage (I would like to say I was only referring to rock climbing, but some of you may be trying to swallow food while reading this), and I am really not that great. It was pretty cool for me, then, to jump out of the car that Sunday and run right up my first 5.10 lead in the city. Sarah led it after me and said it met the test, which made me happy.

On Monday, after yet another 10 hours sleep (yep, we are averaging double digits of shut-eye), we pulled some classic trad lines at Elephant Rock—really fun stuff—including Wheat Thin, Columbian Crack, and Conceptual Reality. You have to use good crack climbing technique on these, and we got in our share of jams. Sarah wanted to lead Rye Crisp, but the sun was blazing, and the route was crowded. We moved up the road, and she put up a super fun 5.10 sport called New York is Not the City—steep down low with slabby crimps up top…good stuff!

The highlight of the climbing week, though, was the Red Rib, an old-school 5.10 at Castle Rocks State Park that is nearly 200 feet long. The first crux is at the bottom, but there is a place about halfway up that is really steep with really thin edges for feet and fingers—Sarah later noted the route should be called “Gotta’ Have Faith”! Anyway, she led it really, really well, and I was just happy to climb it. She won’t ever say it, so I will say it for her, she friggin’ rocks!

Our good friend Karen joined us for the final two days of our City of Rocks tour, and it was really fun to hang out. We had some fun climbing together, enjoyed some pizza and suds, had a great campfire, and scrambled up above camp for some pretty killer sunsets (for some reason, when Karen showed up, the nightly gales disappeared). Sarah and I often talk about how lucky we are to have so many kind people in our lives, and Karen will be one that we greatly miss this year.

City of Rocks was a great first stop, and somewhere we will definitely return! The ease of cragging and camping, the sweet granite playground everywhere we turned, the novelty of van life, and the super slow nights of downtime melted away the stress. Before joining the Pocatello 500 today, we showered and dressed nice—we both look younger than when we left—the bags are gone from under our eyes. Life is pretty good when we slow down…hopefully, someone will tell the people of Pocatello!

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On the Road Again…

The stress of the last few weeks is starting to peel away slowly the farther from Portland we go and as the days pass.  It was such a whirlwind, crazy, exhausting few days leading up to our departure.

I had an amazing last few days at KEEN and it was hard to say “Until next time” to my teammates.  I had such a great journey over the last 4.5 years, and I am so thankful for the experience.  My team gave me a very heartfelt goodbye, and I felt overwhelmed with the recognition that I received.  My boss, Dan Tilden, even wrote me a limerick that he read during our 3rd floor Gutcheck meeting…

It was a letdown the following day, as all I had to look forward to was 3 days of hard work getting the house in rental shape and finishing off the packing.  Mike’s last day of school was Friday.  We celebrated “fun-employment” with a nice dinner and wine. 

On Saturday, we enjoyed summiting Nacho Mountain at Breakside Brewery with our friends, Sam and Lindsey.  We will greatly miss them over the next 14 months as they are always up for an adventure!  That evening, we made it out to drinks with our friends from Philadelphia, Trung and Francesca, who we will be visiting at some point on this trip. Several other friends were there, and it was fun to have a second last goodbye.

Finally, it was time to go, but not before waking up at 5 am to finish the last-minute chores and packing.  It was a huge sigh of relief when everything that we planned to take along fit into our van, The Craggin’ Wagon.  Maybe a little last minute on the final pack, but Craggin’ was loaded for 14 months of adventure. 

Our first stop…Pine State Biscuits, sat a whopping 2 miles from our house.  We had worked so hard, that I couldn’t resist a buttermilk biscuit sandwich before saying goodbye to Portland, and we all know about Mike’s love affair with gravy.

Finally, we were on the road and headed east!  This was really happening!!  We were both so amped and stressed that the first 1.5 hours to The Dalles flew by in a whirlwind of questions and worries…did I remember to pack this, did I do this to the house, we need to send an email to this person, etc. 

We paused in The Dalles for our second stop… groceries.  The shopping was easy; it was after the shopping that caused us problems.  I had to return an item, so I got stuck in the very long return line while Mike organized the Yeti with all the food we just bought.  Mike finished first, so came in to find me.  He mentioned that it was windy and that our sunshades flew out from the back of the van, but he was able to get them all back.  Well, about 5 hours down the road, I checked to make sure we had them all and realized we were missing one.  It only took 2 hours into our trip, for us to lose the one item that I didn’t have a backup plan for!  We’ll manage😊

A very long day of driving, but the stress did start to dissipate as we got settled into the drive.  We finally arrived at City of Rocks, Idaho at 9:30.  It was still light, and we were able to watch the last of the pink sunset atop a rock near our campsite.  We were “home” for the next 2 weeks!

Climbing at the City of Rocks was a perfect first location for our trip.  The camping is in the middle of nowhere, so no email, texts, or calls.  The approaches to the climb are very short, 5 – 20 minutes, and the climbing is moderate, so we can ease ourselves into shape!  It was perfect. 

We had 2 days on our own and then our friends Mac and Regan joined us for the remainder of the week.  The weather started off warm and pleasant but disintegrated as the week went on.  The wind gusts on Thursday evening were 40 mph.  I was so thankful to be sleeping in Craggin’!

Climbing highlights for the week included:  slab climbing at Lost World, sport climbing in Hostess Gully, climbing Intruding Dike, Mystery Achievement, and Twist and Crawl.  Almost getting blown off Scream Cheese and climbing a Colossus, a pumpy, reachy sport climb!

We lost our camping spot on Friday.  After a full day of climbing, we said our goodbyes to Regan and we joined Mac in his hotel in Burley for the night.  The shower felt marvelous!  It was fun to spend time with friends during our first week.

What an awesome first week of our 14 month journey.  Usually after a week of climbing, it is time to head home and go back to work.  Not this time, we get to do this for the next 14 months!  I can’t wait!!

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Ready for the Adventure

The last few weeks have been a whirlwind. The to do list is dwindling down. It is finally less than half a page long! My favorite task has been to inspect the wine cellar and determine which wines just had to be opened before taking off for the next year. It has been a nice perk to have really good wine on with our weeknight dinners for the last few weeks!

The house is almost rental ready. I will be wrapping up the packing and cleaning this week during my two days off from work while Mike is still at school. We had quite the adventure figuring out what to do with our spare bedroom queen size bed. Our first thought was to store it in the basement for a year, however due to the 90 degree turn in our basement stairs, that was a short lived adventure. So we found a local donation spot, strapped the mattress and box springs to the top of the Transit and drove very slowly. It a relief to cross that off the list!

Saying “See you later” to our friends is the hardest thing for us to do. We are so lucky to have such amazing friends in Portland. We hope to see some of you during the next 14 months at various locations. Please let us know if you would like to meet us somewhere.

My last day at KEEN is tomorrow. It has been such an amazing journey over the last 4.5 years. I am thankful for the opportunity and for the incredible team that I got to work with on a daily basis. It has been fun to reflect and see what we were able to build.

The last big item is packing the van. I’m trying to remember less is more, but it is hard to figure out what exactly we will need for the next 14 months while we rock climb, mountain climb, travel, etc. This trip seems much harder to pack for, but I just need to remind myself that we can buy things along the way as we need them. The planner in me wants it all to be perfect from the get go, but I should remember the number one rule of forecasting… You are always wrong! 🙂

We leave for Idaho on Sunday, Father’s Day. 23 years to the day from when my dad and I left to ride our bicycles across the USA! It is a special day for me and a great day to kick off another epic adventure! I’m so excited to get started and enjoy the next year of adventure with Mike!

Posted in 2018 - 2019 Still Mooning, Preparations | 5 Comments

Still Moonin’

Still Moonin’ is the name we came up with for this trip because the first trip we took was called Many Moons, as we had just gotten married. We decided to keep with the theme as it is funny and fitting (also, Mike has always been fond of mooning things). The trip will be primarily climbing focused, both rock and alpine. We will be spending 8 months in the USA and 5 months abroad. Check out our itinerary page for the details.

We are thrilled to hit the road again and travel long term. It will be a different trip with having a home base in the craggin’ wagon (our Ford Transit Connect) for the majority of the trip. We will also have more than 1 backpack of gear – which is actually making it harder to pack! For our overseas portions, we will be back to the lighter load.

The preparations for our trip are well underway, and the to- do list is getting shorter daily. The majority of the large items are now completed… selling our second car, renting out our house, getting our house ready for our renter, giving notice and buying gear. Now we are on to the minor details, and the list is finally getting shorter!

After all the planning and organizing, I am really ready to hit the road in 3 weeks! I am sure it will take a few weeks for reality to hit and for us to settle into our new routine. We were laughing the other day that we will again be sharing the same experiences 24/7 and our dinner conversations will be not your typical “how was your day?” I can only imagine the new adventures, the people we will meet, and the places we will get to experience. I know it is going to be an amazing, fun-filled journey and I am looking forward to sharing a few of our stories along the way.

Posted in 2018 - 2019 Still Mooning, Preparations | Leave a comment

FAQS

Home is sweet but catching up with all of our loved ones is even sweeter. We are getting settled back into “real” life in Southeast Portland. Mike starts school next week, and I am looking for full-time employment. It is good to be home, but we are missing the daily adventures of traveling.

We thought it would be fun to blog our top ten frequently asked questions as we are re-entering life again. So here we go…

What was your favorite country that you visited?

New Zealand was the best country because we loved everything about it! The people were super friendly, the scenery was gorgeous, there were tons of outdoor activities, and the wine was fabulous. What more could you ask for in a country? Plus, we got to drive “The Hoff” around and take our time visiting each area. It really was the perfect month of going at our own pace, plus seeing and learning about an amazing country.

Were you ever scared?

Our normal answer is yes, crossing the streets in Hanoi was taking a risk to our life! Mopeds were everywhere and did not follow the road rules. So really, no, we were never truly scared for our safety. I think the only time that was really nerve racking, and we really had no idea what we were in for, was Egypt’s airport. If you read our blog, you already know the story, but for those of you who just couldn’t read all the details here is the short version…

We arrived in Egypt in the middle of the night to switch planes and continue to Tanzania. As soon as we were off the plane, we met chaos. There were tons of people yelling at each other, plus our gate was hard to find with only a few minutes until our next flight took off. The security machine was broken, so they went from letting no one through for 40 minutes to letting everyone through without checking for weapons. Turns out we were delayed and put into a small room with 200 screaming Egyptians who had been waiting for 8 hours for their flight. We went into survival mode and grabbed some bottled water and found any empty corner. We recruited 2 big Scandinavian guys to help protect our corner and sat down for the long haul. Luckily, our flight took off after a very stressful hour of waiting. The chaos confirmed our decision not to visit Egypt on this trip.

Where was your favorite food?

That is a tough question as we ate so much yummy food while we traveled. My favorite food was Thai. It was delicious and flavorful. One of the great things in Thailand is that we could easily eat at the street markets and vendors without the worry of getting sick as everything was super clean. We also tried to go only to restaurants with Thai people because we knew it would be good stuff! It also was great to take a cooking class, and since we have been home we actually have cooked pad thai and tom yum soup!

Italy and India are not very far behind Thailand! Needless to say, we ate pretty well! Although, Mike did lose 30 lbs by the time we got back!

Were you ever homesick?

One of the hardest days of the whole trip was Thanksgiving. We were on day 15 of our hike on the Annapurna circuit and had a relatively short day of trekking. So we had a lot of time to think about our families and friends. We really missed our traditional Thanksgiving meal as we ate Daal Baht for dinner! It was also really hard as we hadn’t had any communication with the families since we left on our hike, so we didn’t really know what was going on at home.

It was especially hard as my uncle was admitted to the hospital and put into a coma right before we left on the trek. So we did not know his status until we got back to town. Sadly, he died the day we got back, and so that was another hard day of not being home with the family. He was an incredible person and I miss him!

What did you miss the most?

We missed our family, friends, and our dog, Gidget. Once a month or so, we skyped with both of our parents; it was great to catch up real time. Facebook helped as we could get the gist of what was going on with everyone too. Gidget was a little harder, but Bonnie kept us posted with pictures:)  I also missed my bathroom!

What was the weirdest thing you ate?

Unfortunately, we don’t have a great answer for this question. I would love to say we ate crickets and tarantulas, but we missed our chance in Cambodia because I wasn’t feeling very well. So, I think horse would be the strangest.  Mike tried guinea pig, and it was disgustingly awful.

How much were you sick?

Luckily, we only got food poisoning once for the whole trip. It occurred while we were in Turkey, and we were both sick for 3 days! I think that because our malaria medication was a low dosage of antibiotic that it helped us from getting sick more. We did both get the flu and really bad colds in Argentina. I also got what I think was a mild case of Dengue Fever where I wanted to curl up and die in Ho Chi Minh City!

What was your least favorite country?

India was our least favorite, mostly due to the short amount of time and the large amount of stuff that we crammed into it. Our travel schedule was very fast paced which was nice because we got to see a lot of sights, but also exhausting in addition of just the chaotic nature of visiting the country. We did really enjoy the Taj Mahal and observing the holiday festivities of Dewali. I’m not sure Mike will ever be convinced to go back, but I would be open to it if we had more time and preparation.

Would you take a trip like this again?

Yes, I would love to take an extended trip to travel again! I am not sure I would spend a whole year away from home, but I think 6 months would be a nice amount of time. We hit a little bit of a wall at 7 months. Africa, Europe, and central America are calling our namesJ

What was your favorite piece of gear that you brought with you?

Mike and I packed minimal gear for this trip with about 25 lbs each including sleeping bags and a tent. It was great to wake up and just wear whatever was clean, or well clean enough, for the day. One of the things that was the most handy was our calculator. We kept track of our daily spending and also used it for currency conversions. I also loved my pink fleece which was always the perfect layer. Nothing too exciting here.

We also wanted to put together some fun facts of our trip around the world…

* We went through 3 wine openers

* Mike had to buy 3 new pairs of sandals

* 21 countries and 6 continents (We are counting the Vatican City and USA!)

* Traveled through 16 states during our 2 road trips

* 3 is the number of large animals who hung out by Mike’s bathrooms

* 1 large bird who played chicken with us

* Watched Forest Gump 3 times in 3 different languages

* Gained more elevation than the height of Everest on our Annapurna Circuit hike

* Rhode Island was the only license plate that we did not see on both road trips!

* 98 blog posts

* 956 pictures taken in Argentina

* Yet to calculate, how many miles did we actually travel in distance!

Pictures… We will be posting links to our pictures from our trip by country. I am hoping to start in September, so please stay tunedJ Thanks again for following us around the world!

 

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USA! USA! USA!

When last we left you (well over two months ago), we had just finished basking on the beaches of Ecuador and were preparing for the 30 hour trip back to Lima.  I’d love to tell you that we had a daring and adventurous time in the infamous capital of Peru, but truthfully, the tourist areas of Lima are pretty darn safe and even sort of boring.  We enjoyed walking along a clifftop walkway between the beach and hoity-toity shopping district, and we also took one of those double-decker bus tours, mainly because it would take us to the cathedral.  The cathedral was quite grand and featured the bones of Inca conqueror Fransisco Pizarro, but mainly we were just killing time until our night flight back home.  Quite possibly the most exciting moments of our Lima visit were to be had in the final hour of our ongoing Rummy competition; fueled by generous happy hour pours of Peruvian white wine and a chicken tamale, I came out victorious after months of keeping scores with a decisive victory in our final game abroad.  🙂

The flight into Houston was really uncomfortable; we both were feeling the painful effects of countless hours sleeping with crooked backs on night buses, and we also had managed to contract a stomach thing in Lima (and no, it wasn’t the generous happy hour pours).  Anyway, we were happy to land in Houston, which had very clean bathrooms.  Customs was backed up, but we had no problems getting back into our normal country.

More trying was the act of obtaining breakfast; you may not realize it, but you are all friggin’ crazy at the airport!  Rushing here and there, talking on I-Phones while simultaneously pounding on I-Pads, while also somehow holding a cup of coffee and a small child in each hand seems to be an American specialty!  All the while, the bright lights seemed to threaten my retinal well-being, and those guys on the golf-cart train that carry super-sized people holding super-sized Wendys bags and eldery people carrying eldery suitcases seemed determined to run me down!  I had gone for coffee while Sarah got bagels, and we met up only to realize that we had both endured equally horrifying moments…we found an empty gate and sat nibbling the bagels like nervous squirrels chomping acorns before the neighbor dog gets outside!  There was a plane to Portland leaving next to us, and I nearly got on it and headed directly home!

Things settled down as we made the flight on to Washington D.C. and enjoyed a grand greeting from Sarah’s mom and dad.  It was 100 degrees that day, so they treated us to a nice little air-conditioned driving tour of DC before heading up the road for a real American burger (which the Peruvian bacteria in my stomach seemed to detest).  As we headed towards the Outer Banks of North Carolina, I realized how really nice it was to have a few hours–the entire next day, in fact–just to catch up with Doug and Fay before the craziness of the rest world caught up to us.

We spent the next week with almost all of Sarah’s entire family; they had spent many family vacations on the beaches of the Outer Banks, and I must say that they know how to do the beach vacation like no others!  Some of the highlights were celebrating Sarah’s Grandma’s birthday a few months early, playing in the waves with our neice and nephew, spending afternoon hours hanging out with everyone at our swimming pool, and watching Doug do his best Gallagher impression as he attempted to determine whether watermelons or cantaloupes could float…this could only be accomplished, of course, by tossing said melons off of the third floor balcony into the pool.

The second week of our road tour home included Christmas in July with the Mathews after we had all gone back to Indiana, visits with Sarah’s friends in the Chicago area, a tour of Sarah’s old schools and neighborhoods in the town in which she grew up, and another road trip with Sarah’s grandma up to the Upper Peninsula in Michigan.  Ruth is an amazing person, and I am very lucky to have been able to get to know her better during our time up at her house the past two summers.

By the way, while I have mentioned spending time with friends…y’all kept saying that “things were about the same” and that you were just living your “boring lives,” but many of you have kids on the way, upcoming marriages, upcoming marriage proposals…what do you want, an alien abduction?  🙂  Seriously, we greatly enjoyed hearing what life has brought you over the past year, and your “boring” details were pretty exciting to two out-of-touch repatriots!

Another highlight of our trip was spending time with Sarah’s brother and sister-in-law, along with our new nephew!  Gracin is an adorable little guy who always seems to be wearing his smile, and we had a blast playing with him…Josh and Tracy even trusted us with him for a day of babysitting, and I was glad that he liked us so much that he didn’t poop all that day!  Josh and Tracy had scouted out a brewfarm in Wisconsin for a great picnic and tasting on a Sunday afternoon, and we laughed a lot during our visit.  They are fun people and great parents, and it was great to see how much they all enjoy one another.  We also got in some friend time while in Minneapolis, and life seemed to be good all-around.

Back on our own, we returned to our nomadic ways and spent a couple of days exploring South Dakota and Wyoming, with a quick stop in Iowa to summit the corn field that is the state’s highest point–Sarah noted that you couldn’t even see over the corn!  In South Dakota, we visited the Badlands and Mt. Rushmore, which I would highly recommend, and the work-in-progress Crazy Horse Memorial, which I would highly recommend avoiding.  A three hour hike took us to the summit of South Dakota’s highest peak, and then we rocked on to Wyoming.

Devil’s Tower ranks its own paragraph; in addition to being a very important figure in Native American folklore and history, it also carries a very significant meaning to Sarah…plus it looks cool.  As a child on a family vacation here, Sarah vowed to become a rock climber!  She has, indeed, become a very good rock climber, and next summer will include an attempt by the Raff family to climb Devil’s Tower.

As we headed back home, I was eager to see my family; it had been 13 months since I’d seen my parents, and I couldn’t wait to get home.  At the same time, the trip wouldn’t have been complete without a stop in Bozeman, Montana, to visit my closest friend Dusty and his wife.  Sarah and I had been wondering whether they would have news for us, and a jubilant Dusty jumping up and down while pointing at Courtney’s belly and yelling, “look what I did!” answered our question.  We can’t wait to meet their daughter!

Finally, our trip led us back to Longview, Washington.  We spent three days catching up with my parents, who hadn’t seemed to age a bit over the past year…even though, we probably caused some extra worries for them, not to mention for Sarah’s parents, too.   We also dropped in on my uncle and aunt, and I gave Sarah a tour of my old stomping grounds, as well.  My parents seem to live a pretty relaxed lifestyle (they worked hard enough for long enough…would you have wanted to raise me?), and it was a perfect way to end a fun but hectic monthlong parade of welcome homes.  Thanks to everyone we saw along the way!

Our first couple of weeks back home were incredibly busy; lots of cleaning, moving, and readjusting to life.  The craziest thing, though, wasn’t how hard it was to readjust; surprisingly, it was how quickly the sense of adventure gave way to everyday life.  Thank you for your questions, it makes the trip come back to life all over again!

So, I guess this a wrap for me.  We left Portland on July 1, 2011, and stayed gone for 13 months…nearly 12 of them outside the United States.  We’ve travelled a lot of roads…six continents and 21 countries…making a ton of memories along the way.  From the Colosseum to Ephesus, from Mt. Kilimanjaro and the Serengeti to the Cape of Good Hope, from the Taj Mahal to the Annapurna Circuit, from rock climbing in Thailand to Angkor Wat, from snorkeling in the Great Barrier Reef to trekking the fjordlands in New Zealand, from the slow hilltown life of Northern Argentina or the rugged beauty of Patagonian Chile, from the Amazon jungle in Bolivia to Machu Pichu in Peru, from climbing in the Andes to relaxing on the beaches of Ecuador, it was a long and glorious hit parade, but it’s also good to be home. 

Here’s a hope and a promise, though, that not too many moons pass over us before we tackle another (though shorter) version of our many-moons adventure again; after all how many people get nearly their entire first year of marriage all to themselves.

Y’all thought you were reading an adventure blog, but it turns out that at heart, it’s a love story.  Peace.

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BBQ Party/Welcome Back: Fri., Aug. 17 @7:00

Hi All,

As you probably know, Sarah and I are back in Portland.  The readjusment hasn’t really begun yet because we have spent the last month visiting friends and family and are now working our rearends off to get moved in and catch up on a year’s worth of stuff.

Anyway, we wanted to remind/invite you all to the barbecue that our great friend Maria is hosting for us on Friday, Aug. 17 at 7:00 PM.  We are very excited to see as many of you as possible that night!  I would really like to get a giant bullet-shaped metal bucket of hops from the Lucky Lab for the occasion, but I am not quite sure how much to get.  If you would like to join us but have not already RSVP’d, please email me or check your invitations on Facebook by this Monday (I can give you her address).  You are still welcome to join us if you don’t RSVP, of course, but there might not be enough of the good stuff!

Thanks to everyone for following us this year; you all mean a great deal to us, and we often wondered how you were doing as the year went on (these conversations often replaced, “how was your day, honey,” which would only be met with an incredulous look from said honey).  We will have two more blogs–one for the road trip home, and one with some FAQ’s that we have received during the last month. 

Cheers!

PS If you were hesitant to come to our party because you were afraid my Dad would be there, he has assured me that he doesn’t want to drink with any of us young punks anyway!

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The Last Hurrah: Ecuador: June 22 – June 30

Ecuador was not in our original game plan, but we had a week left of our around-the-world tour, and spending it at the beach sounded perfect. Plus, if we made it to Ecuador, we would have 20 countries in 12 months.

It was a perfect plan, but it would take us 46 hours of traveling from Huaraz, Peru, to our final destination of Puerto Lopez, Ecuador. We took an overnight bus on June 21st from Huaraz to Trujillo, arriving at 4:30 AM. Our next bus didn’t leave until 11:45 PM. So what does one do with a 19 hour layover? We tried to sleep in the bus station then started the long day of wandering around from café to café. Luckily, the main square was beautiful and clean, so we spent several hours people watching from the bench. The security is tight in this park, and I got in trouble for laying down for a nap! Shoe shining and sales pitches are also not allowed. However, the crazy guy in an oversized suit screaming about the government and lecturing about the banks was allowed!

The surprise of the day was the friendly locals. Everybody said, “Buenos Dias,” and smiled at us, which was quite the change from the reserved mountain people. At one café, the waiter sat down with us to practice his English as there were no other customers. Thirty minutes into our conversation, he poured us his fruit moonshine that he keeps behind the counter; it was potent but delicious!

Finally, it was time to catch our bus to Guayaquil, Ecuador’s largest city. The bus ride was 19 hours but felt faster by good movies and comfortable seats as we had upgraded to first class. In Guayaquil, we transferred to the local bus to travel the final three hours to Puerto Lopez, our final destination.

According to our guide book, Puerto Lopez is a small fishing village with a few good restaurants and access to Ecuador’s only coastal national park. When we arrived on Saturday night, the town was partying exactly what I was not expecting! The town was thumping as we wandered around trying to find a place to sleep. We got the last bungalow at the last hostel in town, and we quickly fell asleep even with the loud music.

I felt like a human being again after a good night of sleep and was only slightly disappointed that it was overcast and drizzly outside. The day was spent exploring the tiny town, eating, and resting in our bungalow. Ecuador’s currency is US dollars, so it was a nice change not to have to do math in my head today. It was weird, though, because all those Sacajawea dollars that the US citizens rejected have made their way down to Ecuador! This town would be a great place to rest and get ready to head home where we would reintroduce ourselves into normal life, our families, and US culture.

On June 25th, we took a tour to Isla de la Plata, an island off the coast and part of the national park. The island is called “Silver Island” because all the bird poop looks like silver plating. When the light is shined on it, it glimmers. No lighthouse is needed on this island! The island is famous for its bird colonies of blue-footed boobies and fragates. It was mating season, so we got to see the male birds at their finest. The male blue-footed boobies do a little dance and squawk to get the female’s attention. The male fragates puff out their brilliant red chests and wait on the branches for the females.

 

A Single Male Fragate

A Paired-Off Male Fragate

On the way back from the island, we observed a pod of humpback whales. We never saw them breech, but we saw lots of spouts, backs, and a few tails here and there. The whales were within 15 feet of our boat and I felt like I could almost touch them. It was incredible and a definite wildlife highlight of the trip!

The next two days were overcast and dreary, so we just hung out at the little café and went swimming between rain showers. We did have a pleasant surprise of running into our friends Jens and Doris from our Bolivian Salt Flat tour. It was so great to catch up with them and find out how their trip has been since we last saw them.

It was time to move on to Los Tunas, a little beach 20 km south of Puerto Lopez, on June 28th. We took the little local bus and got off at the eco-lodge, recommended by our guidebook, outside of town which ended up being closed. So we walked the 2km into town to find another place to stay. We found a great little B&B right on the beach with lots of hammocks. The B&B was owned by a Peruvian woman who got her masters in marine biology at University of Washington! It was sunny here, so we spent the day at the beach reading and swimming. The water felt like bath water, but there was a very strong undertow, so the swimming was limited.

Los Tunas only has two restaurants and one is in the hull of an old wooden ship. The wood was gorgeous, and the place had a fun atmosphere plus the food was yummy! We continued our rummy tournament over a box of white wine. We only had a few days left to finish the tournament, and we were neck and neck!

The next two days, we were blessed with sunny, warm weather so we spent most of our day on the beach or in a hammock in the shade. We also worked on a little yoga on the beach and played with our hostel’s dogs. The dogs were playful and loved to be chased around the beach. They also liked to chase the sand crabs and kept us entertained just watching them!

Our time on Ecuador’s coast was relaxing and restful. I wouldn’t say that we got to really see Ecuador, but we were both okay with that as we were feeling the exhaustion of traveling for 12 months in a row. Now, it was time to make our way back to Lima and end our round-the-world trip. It is a weird contrast… part of me is ready to go home, and the other part wants to keep on going and see more of the world. I guess we will just need to take another trip in the futureJ

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