A summer in the Scamp, without a plan

What can one say about a summer spent in a Scamp? A summer lived without a plan?

Was it a worthwhile summer? Was time spent outside? With friends and family? Adventures had?

Without a plan it could go either way. Nothing might happen, a summer wasted.

climbing steep trail with my dad in SLC

Even with a plan, that might happen too.

I’m not convinced that planning makes much a difference. As I look over a summer of photos I can’t resist making a frequent Scamp-life jest, “we never do anything fun.” The photos prove it. We didn’t go anywhere, see anything, spend any time adventuring with friends.

The summer was wasted, clearly.

I’m struck by how much we were able to pack in, without destroying ourselves, and by simply making ‘greedy’ decisions at every turn. In computer dork-o-nerd terms, a greedy algorithm makes the best decision available at the time — without solving sub-problems or looking very far into the future. One benefit of greedy algorithms is they are usually the quickest to code, meaning less (human) time wasted thinking about it, especially when good enough is good enough.

Often good enough is very good, and things just come together.

Variables that come into play when making Scamp decisions: weather, whereabouts of friends, availability of new terrain, cell coverage / work schedule, and up-to-the minute personal evaluations such as, “how sick of people are we?”

We are lucky to be both be pretty tolerant to ‘crowds’, and people are a fact of life when you hang out in desirable places. Though the Scamp brings us closer to those places, it also takes us away, since even the busiest national park has nearby public lands where no tour bus dares to venture. And even jammed viewpoints have nothing on freeways and urban centers as far as ‘crowding.’

But, we do reach tolerance points, depending on how it’s going.

sparkles! hurry up, she says

How it’s going is difficult to predict (in life, generally), so being able to adjust short term plans sure has its benefits.

I’m not pretending this always works out. Like when we head to the highest snow-free woods we can think of, the Kaibab Plateau, and discover that while it’s cool in the shade, our laptops are getting awfully thirsty, and our trailer battery is looking drier than the ‘lake’ of Jacob Lake (pretty damn dry, if you haven’t seen it). Oh, and Tour Divide starts tomorrow. Turns out roof-top solar power doesn’t work well in tall ponderosa pines. Didn’t plan for that.

Adapt, a night charging batteries and trying not to feel inadequate, dwarfed by giants.

One downside to living in a trailer is it can be a bit of a deterrent to multi-day trips. Houses can be difficult to leave too, but at least someone can’t drive off with your home, and a house is generally sitting in a place with other people around. Finding a ‘safe’ place to leave the trailer takes some effort.

So we’ve transitioned towards shorter but more frequent adventures. There has to be a good reason to ride more than 4-5 hours. I’d rather do three days of three hour rides than one nine hour adventure followed by two resting. I guess that’s a side effect of living in a small trailer. You really, really, can’t sit in it all day long. It’s cramped, sure, but you’re (usually) surrounded by beauty, the outside is so close. It pushes you to spend more time outside, and that’s a good thing.

I was happy to see a number of bikepacks in the summer, always with friends.

They were the closest to actual planning all summer.

And they were brilliant trips.

There is something to actual camping, and I do not considering Scamping to be camping. It’s a close relative, but isn’t the same as reaching places you can’t drive, relying only on what you can carry with your own power.

Not having actual plans lets you take advantage of crazy opportunities that may arise, like the time I accidentally got Eszter signed up to a 50 mile ultra race in Ouray, that Trackleaders was tracking.

And we spent some days exploring the place, even riding bikes at times.

The good Mr. Schillingsworth!

Then impromptu meetings with friends.

Who knows what would have happened had we ‘had other plans’? Surely we would have missed this rainbow, predicted by rainbow seer Rachel.

Craig Stappler, crushing it in the alpine

I am pretty sure something awesome would have happened, if not for this awesomeness. But I am grateful for all the particular awesomeness that does happen in my life, nonetheless.

A summer without a plan. Not bad for a couple of dirtbags living in a cheap little trailer, making it up as they go.

from the semi-rideable 14ers tour, wrapping up the summer

Living in Moab, Spring 2016


It’s always been a pilgrimage for me.

It’s always a been a good idea, too. It was the first truly good idea I remember having. And like all good ideas, it was stolen from someone else. My best friend in 3rd grade talked about taking mountain bikes to Moab, and how you could ride on sand and rock. I don’t think he had actually been. We didn’t know what a mountain bike was, what Moab meant, or even where it was. But I remember thinking it sounded cool, so I mentioned it to my Dad. “Hey Dad, we should bring mountain bikes to Moab.” He agreed it was a good idea, which surprised me. It’s the earliest memory I have of him thinking a plan of mine was worth something. Most of my plans consisted of ways to spend more money on computer games, or more time playing computer games, so it makes sense that he jumped at an idea that meant something other than couch potatoing.

It was some time before the family made it to Moab, and the first visit didn’t include mountain bikes. Dad tried dozens of ways to get me away from the computer and doing something physical. All team sports were dismal failures. Fitness for the sake of fitness just didn’t take, and my scrawny kid body made everything difficult. One shining day, I received a “Firenze” (K-mart brand) mountain bike for my birthday. It wouldn’t be considered a mountain bike by today’s standards, but you could ride dirt on it.

Dirt I did ride. I rode that bike into the ground, eventually getting an upgrade to a Costco bike called the “Trailhead Trailridge” (or was it “Trailridge Trailhead” — we were never quite sure). I started riding every day in the summer, keeping track of my stats in a logbook piece of software I wrote in Turbo Pascal.

And finally, we rode bikes in Moab. I was in love. I never wanted to leave. Surely, I was obsessed with mountain biking, and Moab is world famous for a reason. But it was more than that to me. It became a holy place. Each journey felt like a pilgrimage, like coming home.

Why? One could wax romantic until the cows come home about all the desirable qualities of the place (sandstone! sandstone!). But for me it represented, more than anything, an escape. More than a vacation, it was an escape from a lifestyle and world that I was becoming aware did not fit me. Growing up in the LDS church in Salt Lake City was not a bad way to be raised, but if it doesn’t fit, it doesn’t fit. Trying to make it stretch and fit is painful, more painful than sliding your knee down bare slickrock.

Sometimes a bovine or two don’t come home. I left that life, moved to the desert (Arizona) and didn’t need the pilgrimage any longer. I lived in the desert, and had much less uncertainty about who I was and where I was going.

Fast forward some number of years, and thanks to the dreams and wisdom of a girl with a ‘Z’ in her name, we moved into a small trailer and embraced a more nomadic life. It wasn’t until we’d been in Moab a while that I realized two things:

1) It was still a sacred place to me, as a worshiper of the earth and all its beauty
2) I didn’t have to leave

In so many ways, I was fulfilling dreams of old. Never having to leave Moab. Riding only limited by the fragility of my mortal frame (which can be quite fragile…).

We spent 6 weeks Scamping in Moab, approximately 5.5 weeks longer than I’d ever spent. Was it a vacation, an escape? No, not really. Surely we spent a lot of time outside, perhaps more than other times of the year. But emails came in, trackers needed to be set up, Tour Divide riders had burning questions, like how do they sign up for tracking, and how do I get one Matthew Lee to respond to my burning questions about how to sign up for tracking?

We got tired, and when tired, computer work sure is nice. We spent time at the library, at the cafe, pretending to work. It was nice to accomplish some things, have some money coming in, while also playing hard in the desert.

Moab trips of old were vacations — there was nothing to do but ride, eat, and ride. Or as Hans Rey puts it in TREAD, “there is no plan like there are no limits. We just ride, ride and ride some more.”

Clearly Moab is still that to many people. But that isn’t all it is to me.

Nostalgia is a strong positive influencer, and surely that plays into it. I have many deep memories here.

Deep memories were dug out, riding with my Dad and brother. I love that they came down to visit and to ride — a return to Moab riding after even more years than I had been absent. We also got Eszter’s Dad out for a bikepack around White Rim, which was a rewarding experience, for him and for us.

With plenty of time, we were able to revisit some classic rides, now relegated to “B” ride, “C” ride, or dust bin forgotten status.

Some of them are so, so, good. Though I cannot control for the nostalgia factor.

Yet, there remains something about the place that draws so many people, that makes it so special. I know many of the reasons, but it’s also more than the sum of its parts. It’s unique, it’s Moab.

Finally, it did get hot. We saw a forecast bleeding red with nineties. That introduced me to a new sensation — wanting to leave Moab.

Semi-rideable 14ers Story

Eszter and I are back in the Scamp after spending 9 weeks living off our bikes in New Zealand. It was such an experience, and we are already missing many things about those cool little islands at the bottom of the world.

More on that, hopefully soon, though Ez has done a fantastic and tireless job of keeping up on the photos and words over at zenondirt.wordpress.com.

Kurt and his 14er fan club

This is just a quick post about a story from the summer that normally would have appeared here, but since we were riding Salsa Redpoints, and Kurt Refsnider was along, I thought it would fit well on the Salsa Cycles Culture Blog:


Redpoints in the Gila

Salsa was launching a new bike, the Redpoint. The plan was to find some aggressive terrain for a 3 day bikepack. Tucson wasn’t the first choice, so Eszter and I were enlisted somewhat late in the game.

The challenge was to come up with a route that would showcase what Arizona has to offer, push some limits, but not kill anyone, either. Easier said than done.

The obvious choice was “the Gila.” While I’m not a huge fan of ‘guiding’ people, this little corner of the world is pretty near and dear to me. It’s still relatively unknown, so I really enjoy seeing people’s reaction to it, on first brush. With Scamp-depature from AZ imminent, I couldn’t pass up a chance to spend more time out there.

It’s a bit of a project to get seven people locked and loaded. We left the Scamp in a yard in Tucson, hoping everything would be undisturbed when we returned.

As they always do, once on the bike, cares melt away.

We moved deeper into the inner canyon. The place.

Had to check in on our buddy, Thumbs Up Cactus. I’m afraid he’s going to lose his arms, but, so far so good.

Eszter riding, boys walking, part 1.

Down into the box.

Go Koski!

team bright colors!

For whatever reason, the crew was overly impressed by our ability to find water in the desert. It was part knowledge of the area, part experience in sniffing out sources that change over time.

Heron on a Saguaro. Not a common sight.

A gaggle of new bikes, getting properly broken in. I love it that Salsa is marketing the Redpoint as a capable bikepacking machine. With 5 or 6 inches of travel, it would normally be considered an ‘all mountain’ or a ‘trail’ bike. To most people a bike well suited to bikepacking is either something with fat (slow) tires or, at least, a hardtail with room to strap on 80 pounds of stuff.

My take, since the beginning, is that if you’re going to bikepack in aggressive terrain (i.e. the mountains) then you should ride a capable and aggressive bike. I think some were scratching their heads as to how the Redpoint could be a bikepacking bike, but I was not one of them.

Since the Gila is our local bikepack, we usually pick and choose our weather windows out there. Put differently, if it’s raining, we just don’t go.

This trip was an exception, of course, planned in advance. We waited out a big storm and watched lightning from a small cave just below 52.

Once the skies cleared, there was still daylight left. I rallied troops for an unloaded Area 52 excursion. Some were tired, myself included, but I had 3 takers.

Anthony nails the keyhole

Area 52 is magic, in my book, but this evening was a little beyond that.

The vultures had the same idea as us, dry out up on Area 52, air it out.

Gilas and rainbows, oh my.

Bighorn sheep, also exploring the sherbet rock mesa.

The waterfall. Time to flip it and find new lines back down to camp.

Exit 52, in the morning.

Eszter riding, boys walking, part 2.

No tour of the Gilas would be complete without climbing Ripsey.

I think everyone’s eyes were opened a little as to what Arizona has to offer, in terms of scenery, solitude and enjoyable MTB terrain. The launch went off without a hitch. Luckily everyone in the crew was a solid rider, even though a couple had not bikepacked before. So really, our job was easy. The terrain, the canyons of the Gila, the chunk, all spoke for itself.

Everyone seemed to enjoy the new bike, and agreed that it was well suited to the terrain. Within a few months, Eszter and I would both own one. And it would become the one and only bike we started carrying with us on the road.

Scamping in AZ

We moved ‘full time’ into our little Scamp trailer at the end of February, 2016. All our belongings fit in the van/trailer, and we were officially rent-free and on the road. Wahoo!

How would it go? What would we learn? What unexpected challenges would there be? What places would we visit, what trails would we explore? Which sites would be good scamping vs bad scamping?

March was surprisingly warm in AZ, with temperatures in the upper 80’s common in Tucson. One unexpected challenge should have been obvious, but it wasn’t to me. The Scamp, with a total volume smaller than many cars, can heat up quickly.

I knew that if it sat in the AZ sun all day, it’d get hot. But it hadn’t really occurred to me that even in the shade, if the ambient temperature is 85 degrees, the best you’re going to do, by the end of the day, is, well, 85 degrees.

Luckily you can sit outside and in the shade, or even better, go ride or run when it’s hot.

But working in the Scamp, at 85+ degrees can be a little challenging. The Scamp does act as a barrier against the wilds of the outdoors, but it’s perhaps only a step above a tent, meaning you’re still subjected to elements like heat/sun, wind, and maybe even rain, in that it wakes you up and there isn’t all that much space to bring things out of the rain.

So one of our first moves was away from Tucson proper, which has very little shade, heading for higher country and hopefully some shade.

my nephew’s favorite bird, which he calls a “Lasagna Bunting”

We found plenty in the birders paradise of Patagonia. The giant oak (first pic) kept us nicely cool, and we were excited to explore our newfound interest in birding.

Beginner’s luck. We got photos of the much-sought-after elegant trogon!

Of course, the Arizona Trail rolls through Patagonia, not far from where we camped. The Canelos aren’t necessarily everyone’s favorite section, but I do enjoy riding them.

Eszter opted to avoid the uncertainty of hike-a-biking in the Canelos, instead going for 100% chance of hiking (well, running).

Since we ‘lived’ in the woods outside Patagonia, we had the time to go deeper and explore things that wouldn’t necessarily call for a visit if we just made a ‘trip’ there.

On one minor trail, we saw a pair of trogons and… a group of the elusive montezuma’s quail!

Forest lookout climb, from camp, and littered with perfectly ‘scott-sized’ (i.e. baby-sized) tabletop erosion jumps on the way down. Yes!

The giant oaks of Patagonia were wonderful for keeping us cool, but bad for generating solar power.

A question we sometimes get is about the “W” word — WORK. No, we didn’t save up a bunch of money in order to live out of the trailer. We’re not vacationing all the time. We need to bring money in, just like everyone else. So, how do we do that?

We’re fortunate to both be able to generate funds as long as we have a little cell service and can keep our laptops charged. Eszter writes articles, mostly website content. I play with SPOT dots on maps over at trackleaders.com. I also maintain and sell TopoFusion software. Actually it feels like I spend most of my ‘working hours’ answering emails, these days…

So far we’ve been pretty successful at living cheaply, which is even better than earning a lot of money. Yet, moving into the Scamp to live on the road wasn’t a scheme to save money. We did it because we wanted to travel, stay in places we love, and explore deeper. We loved the simplicity of it. It’s just a nice side bonus that it happens to be cheaper than living in a house (even factoring in the initial cost of the Scamp/setup). Even if it had been more expensive, we still would have done it.

An after-work ride on Brown Mtn, from camp.

Trackleaders forces many deadlines on me, given that races rarely get delayed — they start when they start. So I can’t put off things, especially on weekends. I need my laptop to stay somewhat charged, and that wasn’t completely happening in Patagonia.

We tend to operate on a mix of working in the Scamp and working at libraries/coffee shops. There are positives and negatives to both, so a mix seems to work best. We really like having the option to work comfortably at camp, so we can have car free days. But in Patagonia the coffee shop is fantastic, and we’d always walk away with fully charged laptops.

We knew we’d eventually need to figure out a way to generate more solar power, and a way to do that with the Scamp in the shade (and consequently, its rooftop solar panel also in the shade). But I think we were a little reluctant to figure that out so that we could justify a few nights out at Gilbert Ray in Tucson Mountain Park. It’s so nice out there, trail access is superb (Brown Mtn!) and we’d plug the Scamp in to charge the battery and everything else we could think of.

Starr Pass build day, from the east side? Sweet, short commute to work with Lee, Joan and some Ordinary Bikes riders.

this looks like I caused a lot of hike-a-bike, but it’s a mere fraction of the havoc I’ve wreaked on people’s cycling shoes over the years

We ‘planned’ Camp Tucson (meaning, keeping it more the less the same as previous years) without really thinking what that meant for Scamp life. The after-ride food part of it really lends itself to being situated in Tucson proper, not camping on the outskirts of town. Luckily the Scamp is small enough to fit in some yards, and Lee was amenable to some scamping in his.

Eszter was in Colorado, dog sitting Sparkles and nursing her parents’ older dog back to health, so she missed the Camp rides, but I think it’s safe to say a good time was had by all.

March is perhaps the busiest month for trackleaders, with multiple week+ events going on throughout Alaska and the Yukon. My brain usually fries at some point, and a break is needed. At the same time, Lee and I were realizing that the fleeting beauty that is spring in the Gila Country was slipping us by.

We weren’t going to be able to experience it unless an emergency was called. Emergency Gila Bikepack!

I got lucky with all things server and Scott’s code related, as I dipped in and out of service out there, races still going on.

bikepacking some new Grand Enchantment Trail, with many opportunities to get our feet wet

I always assumed that we’d be able to take bikepack trips based out of the Scamp. Why not, it’s the perfect base camp, right?

Well, though our total possessions may be meager yet, they are still our possessions and would be a pain to replace. Once you have all your belongings in one mobile space, it can be a little disconcerting to leave it all, sitting there unattended.

I’ve tried to not let that be a factor, not let it prevent trips, but it is an issue.

For both the Emergency Trip and the subsequent, brilliant, GET trip with Lee, the Scamp simply sat in his yard in Tucson. No problem, this go-round.

Eszter was back after a couple weeks, and the Scamp rolled out again.

Hey look, it’s the elusive Cjell Mone’, rolling right near camp on his AZT ITT.

red racer snake, quick everyone draw their cameras!

A valid question for a wandering couple is, “what about community, friends?” If you’re not in one place all the time, does that make it hard to form lasting friendships and have a sense of community?

I suppose a case could be made for it being more challenging, but then I think it’s a challenge even if you live in one place, too. The truth is, it takes effort to be a part of a community, to feel like a part of one. It’s not something that just happens.

We’re lucky to be alive in the days of the internet and mobile data, not only because we can make a living while being mobile, but it is also easier to keep up with friends and arrange rides/camping through the wonders of, yes, “social media.” It isn’t perfect and I don’t think we have the community part of Scamp life nailed, either, but sometimes friends and rides do come together beautifully.

As March turned into April, we began to make preparations for the next phase of Scamp life — leaving Arizona! Scamping around AZ was a bit of an easier, trial run. Once we left, we wouldn’t have access to Lee’s array of tools and his know how, or his yard to Scamp in. We’d be without the benefit of the familiarity we have for so many places in Southern AZ. And though the minivan was towing the Scamp and all our junk around without too much issue, we hadn’t faced any big hills or mountain passes. Familiarity with places meant we hadn’t yet gotten ourselves into trouble trying to pull the scamp down a road we had no business on, forcing miles of trailer backing up or worse.

There was much to be excited about as the mercury climbed higher and the impetus to leave AZ was building.

April was lined up with a few big events, then we would hit the road.

First was a bikepacking trip with the Salsa crew, where we would guide them and they would launch a new bike (next post here on the diary, hopefully).

Then I was looking forward to getting the 2016 edition of the Arizona Trail Race off.

After the racers were rolling (err, hike-a-biking), our first order of business was to head to the Grand Canyon so Eszter could do a ‘little’ run across and back. Seen here, I’m picking her up from her Tucson Mountains Traverse. Half excuse to do a big adventure on foot, half ‘training’ for the canyon, it was a very nice linkup of trails.

So far so good. We were loving all the outdoor time, the ability to spend more time in places we love. And I loved sleeping ‘indoors’ while camping, with the window above our heads open, a cool breeze on the face to lull us to sleep. Ah, Scamp life.

Into the Scamp

We’ve been nomads for a while now. We seem to follow good weather and good adventures around the west, working on the computer in most places as we go.

In 2014, we lived off our bikes, traveling north on the Continental Divide Trail. We shipped our laptops to post offices along the way. Even they …. [Continue reading]

Grand Enchantment on the Safford Morenci Trail+

photo by Lee Blackwell

It started innocuously enough. Lee and I pedaled a graded dirt road into the Black Hills east of Safford.

The original idea was to recreate a memorable bikepack we did on a rather iconic section of the Grand Enchantment Trail some years back. We hiked our bikes a lot …. [Continue reading]

Emergency Gila Bikepack

It wasn’t going to happen otherwise. We had to do it, we had to declare an ’emergency’ and drop everything. We can’t let a beautiful spring season go by without a visit to the Gila Canyons and the Arizona Trail. We just can’t.

What was the emergency? The emergency was many fold:

We …. [Continue reading]

Return to Tucson

The first photo on this blog has been, for the last month, a photo of my green Lenzsport Mammoth. The bike was leaning against a ledge of that beautiful white rock on Gooseberry Mesa. Sadly that bike was stolen soon after we returned to Southern Arizona for the winter. It had seen many a mile, …. [Continue reading]

Adrenal fatigue in Southern Utah

Moab’s wind and rain brought us to Salt Lake. It was a good time to visit with my family — overcast and cold for several days. Very little temptation to go outside and play. We played inside, with nieces and nephews, instead. It was fun.

The skies began to clear over the west, and the …. [Continue reading]

To the desert!

At last the snows did come to the mountains. It piled up in a slushy mess, up high and on the roads down low. We were lucky to get out safely when we could.

The destination? Fruita / Grand Junction – the desert.

Eszter and two Bec(k)s were bikepacking the Kokopelli Trail …. [Continue reading]

Closing out the alpine season — with a binge and a bang.

The view from my ‘office’ was superb. Gold aspens, blue sky. Trails from the door. Easy access to the alpine. A cozy place to stay.

Why leave such paradise? Why jump back in the van and sleep in a tent for two weeks, working from campsites and libraries, constantly on the lookout for …. [Continue reading]

Feeding the addiction

bird nerd!

Our addiction to high places and to places where trees cannot grow, continues.

run! the storms are building!

Sometimes that just means getting in the car, driving up high, and walking for a few hours. (We were also hoping to catch a couple of CDT hikers and ‘perform’ some …. [Continue reading]

6 Million Trackleaders

I’ve been meaning to write this code for a while. It would dig through the trackleaders archive, and do a little counting. The results are a little staggering, at least to me.

That’s a lot of tracking, a lot of adventure covered. 6 million miles!

It started back in 2008 or 2009. …. [Continue reading]

A fleeting fall

We set up camp in the shadow of Mt. Shavano, and just outside of Salida. We needed a tiny bit of recovery after the 14ers and such, and Salida is the perfect place. We have friends to visit, there’s a friendly bike shop, a hot spring / rec center, and even my favorite …. [Continue reading]

Huron Peak and Mt. Sherman – mountain biking 14ers

descending off Huron — dream riding

I didn’t think it was going to happen. If you’d asked me a week ago whether I’d be riding down Huron Peak, after having summitted, I would have put the likelihood somewhere close to zero. Yet there I was, late on a Saturday afternoon, sun shining bright …. [Continue reading]

Alpine Season in Winter Park

I feel so lucky to be able to experience prime alpine season here in Colorado. The monsoonal flow has settled down, days are still warm, and snow is a non-issue. It’s time to get high!

With this comes an appreciation for the freedom and opportunity we have, being mobile and able to live …. [Continue reading]

Ride to the hike – Byers and Vasquez Peaks

Look! Proof that we occasionally hit the trail early.

I was overly excited and awoke at an uncivilized hour. It’s not every day you have a new peak to climb, accessible by bike/foot right from ‘home.’ Alpine(ish) starts are a good idea when heading above treeline in Colorado, too.

did you know …. [Continue reading]

Hot Sisters Hot Springs Route Photo Roll [2 of 2]

Let’s continue on with the second half of the photo reel. Part one left us at Oakridge, roughly halfway through the loop.

big tree went boom

The route hits some deep wooded singletrack, a very pleasant 98 degree ‘warm’ spring, and some roads, leaving town.

Paved roads aren’t the first choice …. [Continue reading]

Hot Sisters Hot Springs Route Photo Roll [1 of 2]

The Hot Sisters Route came together we’re putting the route on the fast track to being published. There will much more info to come, but for now we have a page coming together over at bikepacking.net:

Hot Sisters Hot Spring Route

The route is ready to go — email me if you’d like GPX …. [Continue reading]