Sunday, January 29, 2012


I could sit here and describe to you the rocks that I have been climbing. I could mock myself more by telling you about how scabby my hands are and how lofty my goals are for  these rocks. But in all honesty there is nothing more beautiful and inspiring than the people I have met. So that's what I'm going to talk about.

Traveling alone is an exceptional opportunity. It is as if you are always holding a standby ticket. You might end up anywhere, for any length of time, in a tight space with any and all kinds of peoples. The only situation in which I can imagine a solo traveler would fail, would be the situation whereby they impose rigid expectations on their time. As a solo traveler, you have to play the odds, be opportunistic and sometimes, you really have to trust strangers.

I really was  going to sit down in this Starbucks ( ahem.. my current office) and tell you how horrible I am at trusting new belayers, and how " T..T...TAAAKE!" has become the crutch of my rock climbing performance. I hang on ropes and work out moves and rarely commit to a fall on a new partner. But in reality that has nothing to do with my faith in strangers and that is the skill I am nurturing in many ways.

Walking back from the bathroom, once upon a 7am, a  old rusty hatch-back truck caught my eye. There was a mattress folded up in the back with the entrails of a duvet seeping onto the flatbed. A drip- coffee maker sat on a pot on a camping stove out the tailgate. In the shelter of an open back door was nestled a stool and a guitar and a  man. He was  sitting, gazing into the sunrise. There was steam rising from his coffee in the early desert air. All I could think about was making a photo of this. This was the essence of 'the dirt bag life'  I romanticize so freely. I didn't stand long enough to be able to describe it fully, but long enough to absorb it.

Later on, after a few more days in the driveway of D and R,  I was back on my own.  I cautiously approached this fellow traveler, whom I had since introduced myself to and spent a few nights enjoying his voice and guitar. "hey, are you interested in having a site mate?" I asked. Fully aware that many a strong silent type prefer to camp alone. But Tate welcomed me in.

He is a busker. He plays songs about the California gold rush and Mexican folk tunes with a voice that glides like silk over his chords. He travels south western America, living out of his truck and making enough money to keep smiling. This is the last time though, he claims. As his conscious weighs heavy with consequence of his exhaust fumes on the world he loves. We talked  well into the dark ( neither of us having the foresight to buy wood)  shooting the shit on hippys and politics, on the finer lessons we had each received from time spent out of doors. Sharing beers and life experiences. He has thirty years on me, but there is a common ground in our ideals and our interests.

We were both the youngest in our families, both holding the title of most unconventional, both living out of our cars. Tate's smile is genuine which is rare. He is settled in who he is and what he does. He loves his home in the Sierras, he loves the mountains. He lives simply and welcomes opportunity.

I feel like there is a lot to learn here. I talked long about my goals, telling him about my recently embraced, long standing skill of inviting strangers to talk. He listened, patiently as I told him story after story of my encounters on the streets of Toronto, and tried to justify why I think I will be able to use this skill in some of the more dangerous parts of the world.

The thing I now realize though is that I was the wanderer who came to talk to him.  - for some of his tunes!

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Climb on.

“I feel happy, then suddenly lonely. I somehow feel very isolated amoungst all this rugged beauty. The sun, now just dipping below the mountains to the west, sends out lines of gold threaded with orange and purple hues. God, This is beautiful- should have a camera. NO! This wouldn’t look any different from any other sunset on film. Even the memory will fade in time. We climb for the moment, and the special enjoyment gained from that moment. Looking back and remembering will never be the same as the original experience. If it were, we should just sit by the fire for the rest of our lives; sipping beer, smoking and just remembering. Instead we climb on and on, searching out those most precious moments wherever they may be found.” 

I didn't write that. I didn't even come close. As research for an article I am reading Chic Scott's Pushing the Limits. If you climb rocks or mountains and you have not read it then I have to recommend. It is so well written. There is a stellar and sunken history of our countries affinity for climbing and some of the struggles and mentalities of the individuals who have paved the way may resonate with your own mountains. This quote was from Billy Davision on the summit of the CMC wall. I could not say them better, so I will not. Instead I will just illuminate them here.

PLEASE DO NOT STEAL! - this is D, climbing Dark Shadows in Red Rocks, Nevada.
PLEASE DO NOT STEAL!! The city that never sleeps.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

The road to thicker skin.


No, wait, that hurts.

Fingers that protest each time I press the keys. they wimper and seep having endured a few days of being raked across sandpaper edges. They quiver, asking me " really? this again? I thought this was in the past"

Palm calluses that  soften and break off as shiny and crystallized tips sparkle in the fire light. 

A set of lungs that are in a war against my back ribs, when I breath in they expand, ripping and irritating thier tender housing. I can feel the weight of my muscles, the transition has begun.

The simple act of turning a book's page causes me to consider closing my eyes and falling over. 

Showers, even when available seem unnecessary.

My mind is soft, my body is... getting harder.

Sexy, I know.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Let the Mayhem Begin.

It is Monday in Las Vegas.
It is raining.

It is funny to come to the desert, looking for perfect weather. I swear that it is because of those expectations that the first days of the whole trip that I can climb... I can't. Enter the Las Vegas Library. That is exactly where I am right now. It is okay though, I am sure it is just the Gods of writing that are telling me to buckle down, research hard and send! ( ...articles into editors).

Showing up at the Campground proved more successful than expected. I quickly befriended some nearby car campers finding out that they had just arrived from Joshua Tree National Park. We joined forces for a campfire and decided to split costs on the campsite to make it cheaper.

Diana is an outdoor educator out of Texas. She works seasonally, spending every extra penny and minute in the rocks. She works mostly in California right now, taking sixth graders into the wild and teaching them science.

Rick's accent gave him away immediately. A hard grit climber from the UK, he embarked on a bicycle roadtrip from Vancouver down the pacific coast earlier in the year. Sighting months without rock, he abandoned the trip to hitch around with Diana and climb as much as possible.

When I ran into them they had just finished a day of climbing frogland, a classic 5.8 multi-pitch traditional line. They were both stoked.

It is always good to run into seasoned Red Rocks climbers. As soon as the rain started we packed up and convoyed into town,  quickly finding the cheapest showers and internet access.

Before all this though, I drove into the park... parked at the second pull out. Stumbled down and up and around and sat right infront of this....

Last november, on the same night of my flight back to Toronto, I spent hours falling into the darkening sky trying desperately to link the moves of this climb. Boarding my flight I didn't write about the trip, or the people or the new chapter... I wrote out every single move, clip, rest stance and crux for the Yak Crack.

These are pages from my journal last November.
 It is time for this to come clean.

Sunday, January 22, 2012


All the words I have.

Please dont steal!

Please dont steal!

Please dont steal!

Please dont steal!

Please dont steal!

Please dont steal!

Please dont steal!

Please dont steal!

Please dont steal!

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Chapter's end.

The sun glints across the windshield and then dissolves behind a cloud. My dad reaches behind me and rustles around for my sunglasses. He throws them on my lap and makes a comment about how I always seem to be the one driving into the sun. Zion is behind us now and we are full steam to Las Vegas. My mother’s flight gets in around 11pm. We will pick her up, and then the next day they will continue onto Sedona while I wander off into the rocks. Wagon and I.

As the mountains of Utah smooth and sink, I start to fall into the moment. This is probably one of those times you want to remember, as you get older; That time, when you drove 3500 km to Las Vegas with your Dad. He asks to hear another one of those podcasts and we play one that talks about adventure and travel and danger and living on dimes and seeing family on holidays, maybe. He listens and chuckles when the voice mentions worried parents or anecdotal discomfort. I keep my hands on the wheel and squint into the silhouettes and the perspective lines I am following. The story ends with mentioning some glorious moment of perfection; sending a flaming car into the Indian ocean or getting success as a climbing photographer after years of shoestring living. “ I can see you doing that, Laur” he says after the music chimes in to end the episode.

I tell him about the times I hitch hiked across southern Ontario, the time that me and my friend, Camber went up our first multi-pitch trad climb with strangers in Colorado, I point out the Chrysler town and country that resembles the rental that my partner and I got last year after a bear tore the door off our car in Yosemite. He asks what those metal things are called again. “ Pro, they are nuts and cams.” “ Oh ya” He nods.  He asks me if I have named my car. I nod and smile. “Wagon” I say, allowing the corners of my mouth to twist up. “ WAGON?” he answers. “ That’s not a name…” “ Not when you say it like that dad! Its more like wah- gon.” I answer.

My dad tells me the stories of his dad, whom I never met. He tells me about his midnight snacks as a kid and how he almost went to teachers college, and but finally got into med school. He tells me about his own adventures. I ask him about his brothers, about his Dad.  “ You know… your mother and I have been married longer than we haven’t been” he mentions. “ Yea I know dad… you should be in a zoo, you’re a rare species.” I joke.

As the towers and lights of the strip appear on the horizon, traffic drifts out of no where, drafting us on both sides.  We float into a stream of exhaust and traffic lights and for the first time I realize that I might actually get lonely without him.

A brilliant red velvet hangs above us, falling backdrop to the lights of a black Egyptian pyramid on the strip. We are both tired, both short tempered and neither of us have any idea how to navigate Vegas. But I hold onto the moment as long as I can. That moment when you are just traveling, driving into the sunset with your father.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Galileo must be so disappointed with us.


We waited till 9: 30pm before we drove back out into the park. Bryce Canyon was quiet now, not that it was loud today but now, and there was no one else. We drove carefully, worrying that a mule deer might be on the road, passing the park entrance, the visitor center and making our way to sunrise point.

When we turned off the headlights we were left in complete darkness, it took my eyes the time of walking to the cliff to adjust; even then the headllamp stunted my sight. I set the camera up on a rocky edge, angled with the help of a smaller stone and stepped back. Click.

I painted the canyon with the light of my headlamp, tracing the contours of the hoodoos and the snowy slopes. I illumined the tree branches one by one, then, at last I stood back and turned off the lights. Dad got tired and cold and went back down the trail to the car.

It took another minute before I could see the definition of the canyon for myself. Above me the sky was riddled with pinholes, delicately lighting my landscape. I looked for the big Dipper, couldn’t find it. I did see Orion though… and for the first time in my life I saw more than his belt. Clearly connected were his legs, his bow and his head. I have looked for this so many times, on so many rooftops and so many campfires… but never saw it like this. I looked again for the big dipper, still couldn’t see it. There were too many distractions. Connecting the dots was memorizing.

Eye glued to his telescope, I can only imagine how the father of astronomy would feel to know that this was my first time seeing Orion, or that many people never have. I wonder what the sky would have looked like in his backyard, or 5 minutes out of town. It took me 3300km to see the stars like this. I doubt that is what it took him.

Lying on my back, i can see more stars than sky. I look out over the canyon again and can make out multiple layers of hoodoos and desert formations on the horizon. My camera must be getting this by now. I check the time, it should have been about 20 minutes by now… Click.

To see the sky and not the stars must seem sacrilegious to those who have that opportunity daily. To have access to such an unworldly depth and possibility would change a lot of people’s minds about a lot of things we do. But I suppose even Galileo was criticized for thinking outside the box.

Buenos Noches.

After 2360 seconds, this is what the camera saw.
Galileo's originality as a scientist lay in his method of inquiry. First he reduced problems to a simple set of terms on the basis of everyday experience and common-sense logic. Then he analyzed and resolved them according to simple mathematical descriptions.”(

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

i-70 with photos of rocks.

The last three days have consisted of another long drive sandwiched by two wonderful hikes.

If someone asked me what my favorite highway in the world was, I would probably consider the longest, or the scariest or the coastal highways... But right now I can think of none more beautiful than the Interstate 70. This  highway starts in the rock mountains, taking you over snowy mountain passes and winding through deep canyons that parallel a young Colorado river. Then, slowly, the mercury rises as your altitude drops and a high desert presents itself almost like Butch Cassidy in an old western film. Imagination swirls and dissipates like smoke rings telling stories of cowboys and Indians as the red mountains emerge through patches in snow and gradually sink into the vast landscape of the Utah  plains.

Sigh. So pretty.

Here are some sights from Colorado to Utah so far:

Eldorado Canyon! Rocks! mm. Rocks! (CO)

Just a nice little morning stroll up the the flat Irons, no big deal ( CO)

More Eldo, oh, famous Eldo... (CO)

Papa Watson on the move.

Abert's Squirrel!

Classic Colorado

Long road

Bryce Canyon

More Bryce... no enhancements in colour...

Big walls of Bryce. This tree is looking for light. Good luck buddy!

More photos here!

Monday, January 16, 2012


We forgot about Nebraska. Reveling in our progress on our first day we woke up and pushed hard again. We were expecting a few hours of driving, being in Boulder before sundown. Instead we were faced with an endless golden expanse, moving ever slowly towards the end of the grey blanket  that hung above us. On the horizon remained that stretch of blue sky always so far away. We have almost heard every Dirtbag Diary now, sometimes I will switch it over to music but big bad Bill soon asks to hear ' another one of those podcast stories'. I like to think its not because he dislikes my music but moreover because he wants to know more about this lifestyle. The one which he is now tasting with me. The one he tasted on the west coast trail. It baffles him that some people don't grow out of it. It baffles him that some people trust thier love of art and the outdoors and try to make a humble living from it.  I think with the help of the Diaries it worries him less that I don't like finance and medicine. Conversations about goals and dreams are no longer met with a brick wall, they are met with curiosity.

We have had some funny times with the cops so far. Having a speedometer that only shows kilometers is forcing us to work on our math. We were pulled over in one small town and the officer approached ready to give us a ticket for speeding, but when he saw the speedometer and heard our "canadian accents" and noted that it was a father and a daughter, he let us off with a warning. This is definitely working in our favor.

As night fell the blanket pulled back revealing the a radiant red sunset that bounced off the roads. The mountains dotted the horizon and we ambled our way into Boulder setting up camp at the Campus Inn.

Its morning now.
Time for a hike.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Insta-write. The beauty of free wifi.

Driving is easy, but only when you are going somewhere.

It brings out the best in me. Really. I know it might sound strange, but the confinement of a vehicle and the endless days on the road (or trail) calm me, and focus me more than I ever remember. It is the conversations that come around, the simplicity of your surroundings and your distractions. You are pretty much left alone with your mind, your co pilot and your music. A pod wizzing past a grey and white washed landscape. All I can think is... this will only get better.

The plan was to push off at 9am. This adventure is something I have been planning and waiting 6 months for. I came back from a spring rock climbing course in BC, with a strong conviction that I would return. I bought a car and started saving money. I have been glued to Toronto, loving the scene and my job immensely but at the same time feeling unsettled ( this doesn't come as a surprise to many who know me). After months of delays, monetary set backs and adopted projects here I am.

The plan is to drive down to Las Vegas. Climb for as long as I can survive on 10 dollars a day, and slowly make my way up the coast to Squamish, BC. Somewhere in the planning and re-planning stages, my father jumped on board, asking to drive down to Vegas with me where he will meet my mother and they will have their own adventure leaving me to make my way north on the solo trip I had been dreaming of. I laughed it off, assuming it a joke. I continued to look for nomadic driving partners to share the costs with, but the next day ( one week ago) i came home to find maps covering the kitchen table. This was going to happen.

I woke up at 8am this morning to the sounds of doors and shuffling bags. Try as I might to fall back asleep, the excitement got the best of me. I groggily opened my eyes and accepted my 5 hours sleep.  The night prior had been a late one, I was trying to cap off 6 months of loose ends.  With the help of my best friend Sam, we spent the evening packing up my life and throwing out old momentos from my no-longer- room in my parents house. This is something that should have happened a long time ago.

In the first 5 minutes on the Allen express way we started hearing a strange noise. It sounded like the roof of the car was about to rip off. Sighting weeks of car repairs and thousands of dollars donated to the cause of this road trip, I really couldn't believe my ears. We pulled over and found the rubber gasket around the windshield had come loose, the extreme cold must have done it. We made a quick stop at the Canadian tire THEN we were on our way...

Most of the day was spent listening to the Dirtbag Diaries. Stories inspired by first times, empathy and a sense of adventure. We talked about politics and history, religion and philosophy.  I found myself writing out my own stories when my dad took his turn at the wheel.

Through the grey blanket above us, the sun still managed to pierce through the in evening light, leaving a smeared red on the horizon. I fell back into a usual routine of doing laps around gas stations and singing off key to any song I knew.

Before bed, we both did push ups and sit ups in the short hall of our motel room. We were  trying to rid ourselves of all excess energies and stiffness that long hours of intensive bum grooves can cause. 

So here we are, almost 15 road hours deep  in Des Moines, Iowa. Tomorrow night we should be in Boulder Colorado.

Its 1:30 am.

Then onward little wagon. Onward.

The innards.

Leaving the snow behind.

The activity which will consume many days to come.

Papa Watson, taking the wheel!!

Not quite soccer mom material...

Friday, January 13, 2012

Turning wind to Gravel Roads.

I figured this would be the perfect place to start.
I want to explain the new title of this blog. It is a travel blog, meant to mark and recount my travels soon after they happen but it is also meant to mark the significance in each experience. The lyric “ Turn the wind to gravel roads”” comes from the song Idaho Josh Ritter.
The quiet guitar lick and the strong conviction in josh’s voice always gets me when he talks about what it means to ‘come home’ or ‘go home’ or whatever. Turning wind to gravel roads can mean returning to a way of life in which you feel most comfortable. To me though, it means taking all that hot air that is wafted about wishes and travels that could be had and lifestyles that maybe you romantically envision for yourself and turning them into something tangible, testing it out. Wind to gravel roads. I especially like how in this statement it not a paved path, it is not a highway… no, instead, it is a chance taken on a bumpy, uneven, sometimes winding and potentially fruitless route.

But it makes all the difference when you find out for yourself.

Packed my bags now I wanna go.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Ducks in a Row.

A friend of mine once described the task of achieving a state of mental preparedness and clarity, getting his ducks in a row. So here I am quoting him.

My ducks are nearly there. They are still scattered but I'm rounding them up. There are 4 more days till I leave and its 2 am. All I can do is share photos and hope you are telepathic.

chris seto original:
More soon.