Road Trips, Mt Adams, Pants, and Good Eats.
As a preface, I’m a God-fearing, family man, engineer, entrepreneur, and I love this country. I might see things uniquely…as we all should. Being different is rarely a bad thing. It just means you have the courage to be yourself. If there is one thing I don’t like, it’s the idea of constancy. I cringe at the phrase “don’t ever change.” In my house we have a saying, “Always change, never be the same” I believe we are all meant for greatness …and it’s a journey to get there. If we are always the same, then it likely means we are not growing. Don’t be surprised if you find these ideas sprinkled below.
If you find yourself on a solo multi day road trip, and you don’t have at least one hard cry, I think you might be doing it wrong. I had the opportunity to drive from south Denver to the base of Mt Rainier and back – that’s 40 hours or more to cover the 2,600+ miles round trip). I am grateful for an emotional ride.
I’m sure several cars passing me looked over and thought “Wow, that must have been a tough breakup” as they imagined I just lost the love of my life. I have found a long drive, or a long hike, gives perfect opportunity for self-introspection. These isolated moments provide time to reflect on life goals, family, the cosmos, and the Big Man upstairs. If you take a moment to be honest with yourself, tears of joy, depression, hope, and stress can come at the drop of a hat. There is revelation waiting to be dropped in our lap when we take the time to dial into the frequency of our own mind. I came home a better man, a better husband, better father, and better entrepreneur as I recommitted myself to my goals and passions.
The purpose of my solo road trip was to attend Vacation Race’s inaugural half marathon at the base of Mt. Rainier in the town of Ashford, WA. Back in 2015, my then 9 year daughter, Ashlynn, and I signed up for a half marathon just outside of Yellowstone. This was her first half (2 min YouTube vid). Our experience was amazing thanks to Vacation Races! Vacation Races puts on exceptional events, and I knew in that moment in 2015 that I had to be a part of the experience. Fast forward a few years and Outdoor Element is a race sponsor! We love being part of these great events all over the country. So, I mapped out a peculiar, windy route from my home in Denver to my destination stopping at both a few large and many small mom-and-pop outdoor outfitters. all got to see this mug and my unmistakable diastema. It was a full and successful schedule.
Making the Pitch
As with any small business, brand awareness is essential for growth. Sometimes you just have to put in the grind and pound on doors to let people know you exist. I typically walk in the door unannounced and ask if a buyer or owner can spare 42 seconds for a small vendor. Then I pull out a firebiner® or fire escape™ and make a couple of fires (with a camp stove and tinder tab). …I do it safely, so don’t freak out. I can honestly say that the journey often teaches you more than the actual destination. It’s completely okay to swallow up an extra hour or two days in the journey. The destination will still be waiting for you. Nine out of ten small business owners totally get it and respect the grind. They politely accept or reject the elevator pitch. There’s always that one guy. Don’t be THAT guy , and don’t let negativity absorb any of your positive energy. Just smile and move on. Knocking down doors I have met some of the most amazing and interesting people. They bring joy in my journey.
I made it to Portland, OR and met up with my buddy, Jack. It was there that Jack introduced me to Burgerville. I grew up in Texas, so Whataburger is my choice of cow in a bun. That day Whataburger met its match. And I’ll be honest…it was better. I ordered a Walla Walla Wonder Burger. How can you not, with a name like that? The lady at the window gave me extra napkins. Before I could ask, she said, “trust me, you will need them.” It’s a 1/3 lb grass-fed, Carman Ranch patty with a massive pile of caramelized Walla Walla Sweet Onions tossed with tangy BBQ sauce and topped with Face Rock Creamery cheddar cheese. I used to hate onions, then I met one that was sautéed. Something magical happens when a pan full of 310 Fahrenheit butter breaks down the starch wall of an onion…and the carbohydrate sugars are released. It was like there was a party in my mouth and everyone was invited. I suddenly grew an appreciation and love for pyrolysis. The menu indicated 760 calories for this beast. But when I consumed it, it was clearly 1865 calories and worth every one of them. And I did use every last napkin.
Jack and I headed to Ashford, WA by way of Highway 101. it’s completely out of the way and completely worth it. The highway curves with the seashore and hugs the dense forest line. I’m from Colorado and love my Rocky Mountains, but there’s nothing like this highway. I felt like every 10 minutes, I wanted to stop and go for a hike. I only experienced a small portion of the 101. We made several stops …one stop was purely to feel like a kid and balance on what looked like the edge of a cliff. Was it dangerous? My bride will be reading this blog so I cannot remember.
We stopped at the Tillamook Creamery and bought some fresh ice cream and pepper-jack cheese. We were about to run a half marathon and climb up a mountain so counting calories was no longer a priority. I still have a love affair with Blue Bell (the best ice cream in the country) but Tillamook gave them a run for their money and that was hands down the best block of pepper-jack I’ve ever eaten. And that’s twice in one trip that my Texas standards were challenged.
Back on the Road
We also stopped at Cannon Beach because I grew up with the Goonies and it was fun to see Haystack Rock. Admittedly, I don’t like Baby Ruth’s, but I wanted one so bad. Hey you guys! To round out the 101, we made a pit stop in Astoria to see the Goonie’s home. You cannot drive to the actual home, but you can park about 100 yards down the hill and walk up. Currently, the home accepts donations. Goonies never say die and one way not to let this place die is to drop a little paper in the donation box 😊.
I merely scratched the surface of Highway 101. Here is a blog I found by Valerie that has some good deets if you are interested in exploring Highway 101.
At some point we found ourselves at a random RV park outside of Ashford, WA. I have a Sprinter van that needs an overhaul for van-life. I built a deck in the back and tossed a mattress on it. I also hung a hammock from the back seat to the front seat. Since I was hosting, I gave Jack the mattress. I sleep like a baby in either spot, so it was perfect. Friday, I hosted a booth for my business at the bib pick up station for the Vacation Races’ half marathon in Ashford City Park. The forest was so thick and full of wild blackberries. It was fantastic.
As people picked up their bib, they had the option to walk through a small expo and have a live demo of my product. It’s always fun to meet new people as I chase down this American Dream. There are so many supportive people out there. Note to the wise: be nice to them all since you never know who you will bump into 3-4 weeks later at the Outdoor Retailer Show (in Denver), and then get hooked up with 40% off gear to renovate your van! It’s always a small world in the outdoor space.
That night Jack and I slept in the van again in a grassy field. We woke around 5:30 am and got ready for our race. This was Jack’s first half marathon (I have no idea how many I have run. If I had to guess, I’d say 30 or so). At first, I thought I would run with Jack but I’m too competitive and had to run my race. I ended up throwing down a 1:42 which is not bad for an old guy (I got second in my age group).
After the race, we were pretty ripe and needed a shower. We heard there was a state park down the road where we could pay for a shower. Before we found the park, we found a lake and jumped in. We actually found some Californians from Palo Alto at the lake…who were equally as ripe from the race and gave us the idea. It was perfect. After the impromptu bath we made our way down to the Mt. Adams trailhead.
Mt. Adams vs Mt Rainier
Initially, we were going to summit Rainier. After all, we are from Colorado and have hiked a few 14ers – even one in the middle of winter (see blog for first winter 14er for more info). Then I discovered Mt. Rainier is a different animal. It’s 9,000 feet of vertical gain over 8 miles. It’s hiking/climbing tethered with other people who are crevasse rescue trained/certified. It’s glacier travel where a sunny afternoon can mean massive openings and loss of life. People hike this mountain then tackle Denali. I inquired about a guided tour. They start at $1,200 and takes 2-3 solid days. Jack had a flight to catch, and I was living in the van for this trip, so $1,200 was not in the budget. But if you’re in the market and in the area, I hear that Whittaker Mountaineering not only has the right gear but also gives epic guided tours. Jack and I, both being family men, opted for the less dangerous, less expensive option…7,000 feet of elevation gain over 6.6 miles (one way) for a 12,276 feet Mt. Adams summit.
By the time we got to the trailhead (South Climb route) it was getting later in the day and the soreness of the half marathon was starting to kick in. We spoke to a couple of hikers and realized that this glacier mountain was also a beast. We learned that most people conquer this in 2 days. They hike to the Lunch Counter (below the false summit) and set up camp. Then the next day, they get up early, summit, get back to camp, pack it up, and get back to the trailhead. We figured we could do it in one day just fine if we started out early. We ended up setting the alarm for 2:47am but didn’t start until 3:47 because nothing productive or efficient happens that early in the morning.
You need a permit to park and hike this trial. I read a couple of websites that stated we could purchase them at the trailhead. A sign at the trailhead had a QR code that allowed me to pay online. I literally had 1 bar with my Sprint/T-Mobile phone and had to stand on a larger rock for 15 minutes for the payment to go through. We wrote down the confirmation numbers and placed that in my windshield. It worked but it would have been easier to pay and print before we ever got there.
It was mid-July for this hike. This area recently suffered a crazy heatwave so half of the snow was melted. In the vein of hiking gear, I brought some carbon trekking poles, no ice axe. This was very appropriate for the given conditions. I wish I brought a pair of trail running shoes for half climb up (and down). I had on my trusted Columbia boots (mentioned in my winter 14er blog) and carried some micro spikes for the ice and snow patches. I experienced a new kind of pain with these boots. For some reason, on the assent each footstep hurt my heel. By mile 3 it was fully painful for each step. It seemed like I had to stop every 5 minutes. I had no pain on the way down. It was weird. Regardless, it’s time for some new boots. Do you have any recommendations?
I wore a new pair of pants for this trip. I got hold of some Kuhl Radikl pants. They say patent pending on the inside, so I was curious what type of innovation was involved. The pants are made from “exclusive ENDUROTM” fabric, meaning they are tough and abrasion resistant. I faced several miles of scree and enjoyed some glissading in these pants and they came back with no holes. They are a blend of cotton (68%), nylon (29%), and spandex (3%). They also have knit panels, made from nylon (88%) and spandex (12%) in various places of the pant for excellent flexibility. These sound like an ideal hiking pant. Mind you, I have some high standards. I have a degree in mechanical engineering and a minor in textile design…I tend to pay attention to a thoughtful design. However, my first test for any hiking pant: can I sleep in them? A few years ago, I bought a pair of North Face pants with 4-way stretch. I fell asleep in them. They were so comfortable I went back and bought two more pairs. Don’t worry, I live near a North Face outlet, so I got a smokin’ deal. This has been my new standard ever since. When I put these Kuhl pants on, I could tell they were durable, but was unsure if I could sleep in them comfortably. I was wrong. They are awesome. They also have that extra button in the zipper/fly area. You know when you bought your first pair of dress pants? They have that extra inner button. Yup, it’s that button. It’s called a “French Fly” and helps your pants stay flat and prevent wrinkles while you wear them. They also support your pants if the main closure hardware breaks. The French fly is commonly seen on high-end dress pants and trousers. So, when I put these pants on…I was like, “oh…I’m stepping up my hiking pant game!” The actual main button on top of the fly is a unique snap button. It’s easy to operate and completely secure.
I modified a sled for the decent which kicked up a ton of snow on the way down. These pants do not claim to be waterproof, and I can testify they are not. But I can also testify they are durable and comfortable which are the two key features for any hiking pants. The day was so hot on the decent, so I enjoyed the cooled pants for part of my hike down. They’re durable where they need to be, and they move with me without issue.
I do have a few beefs with these pants. They are minor but I would love if they would tweak them for the next generation (if any Kuhl designers are taking notes). An inner French Fly button! I do think it’s awesome, but when it's 4:30 in the morning and your hands are freezing, it’s hard to undo that button. When you are over hydrated, and you really have to “go” that extra 8 seconds to undo your pants can be a game changer. Maybe I need to get used to French upper-class, but cold fingers work slowly. The second issue are belt loops. I believe if your front pocket opens up (not along the sides) then the belt loops need to be over the pocket. These loops are almost there. I like to hang my keys from my firebiner or fire escape carabiner directly down to my pocket. I find it very irritating when the keys have to take a hard turn to land in the pocket. You don’t need loops so close to the belt buckle anyway! Kuhl’s pants are almost right. They just need a slight tweak …one that I will gladly make. The third is twofold. The pocket watch pocket (small pocket on the front right side) is too small and I do not care for the metal branding Kuhl placed here. I understand that most of us don’t carry pocket watches any more, but let’s make this pocket useful. I carry my edc pocketknife here. The metal branding plate makes it extremely hard for the clip of the knife to slide over plus the pocket is too shallow. I have 4 daughters and a bride. They are always complaining about shallow pockets. Now I can relate. If you’re charging me around $100 for a pair of pants lets provide true utility with each stitch. If I had to redo it, I would love to see a Kevlar tag here. This would allow for branding and make the pocket edge incredibly durable (for a pocketknife clip). My North Face pants have a “small” pocket big enough for my cell phone! I have also destroyed the stitching on the North Face pants from my knife clip. The last item is not really a design flaw. It’s a design omission. I would add one zipper pocket to this pant. These pants were meant for travel, traversing over mountain passes, and epic discovery. Give me a spot for a passport. Make it water resistant. Many of us are going up glacier fields and want to protect and don’t want to lose particular items. At the end of the day, I give these pants an 8.5 out of 10. I love them. They have slanted the pockets in the right ways, they are extremely durable, and move with me in all the right ways. They just need a couple of tweaks to be spot on. For reference, I have tried Eddie Bauer, Columbia, The North Face, and Kuhl pants for hiking. The Kuhl and The North Face are currently sitting on top of the stack.
Since I mentioned my awesome female family, I must mention She Fly pants. I remember hiking in Rocky Mountain National Park with a couple of my older daughters. All three of us had to pee at the same time and it started to rain. We all ran to a cluster of bushes and trees and faced opposing directions. My kids both commented that it wasn’t fair that I didn’t have to fully expose myself to pee. In a loving parent way, I probably laughed at them and told them that I was sorry. She Fly has fixed this problem! My oldest had an opportunity to beta test a pair of their pants. Ashlynn is a teenager and is not easily impressed. She put them on and by the end of the day she said these are her favorite pants. They check all the boxes: quality, durable, comfortable, deep pockets, (belt loops in the right spot), and have a zipper that allows my ladies to pee without exposing themselves. We found our new peeing superpower, and it comes with maximum privacy. It turns out women’s anatomy was not wrong for the great outdoors; it was just the pants the whole time. Thanks and big shoutout to She Fly for being today’s pant pioneers. My kids and bride thank you for being awesome.
Back to Mt Adams! We got up crazy early and my footwear fumble made for a slow hike. Many of the ice fields turned into shallow rivers on the way down (due to the heat). On the way up, once we got to the false summit, Piker’s Peak, we traversed down a valley of slosh and hit the last switchbacks which consisted of loose scree and 1,000 feet of gain. It’s evil and so worth it. On a clear day you will have perfect views of St. Helens to the west and Mt Rainier to the north. The views are epic.
On the way down, I just got comfortable taking a step and siding 2-6 feet between scree and the glacier fields, I loved it. It was here I tried my modified sled. Before I left, my dad was visiting and cut out sections of a cheap orange saucer sled. I grabbed the front edge, put my legs through the hourglass cutout, and leaned back for a good time. The walls of the carved-out sections used for glissading (which looked like a luge) were too tight for my sled. In the open field, it was too much fun. I was soaked and happy. I need to tweak this sled a little more and it will be perfect.
I watched many people pack up camp on the lunch counter and take their 25–30-pound packs down the mountain. I didn’t enjoy waking up so early, but looking back, I like being light and nimble. If I had to do it again, I would do it the same way. I would not camp on the windy mountain. Trekking poles are a must. I talk about that at length in my winter 14er blog.
From trailhead to summit and back to the car, it was supposed to be a 13.2-mile round trip. I bet our hike was 14.7 miles. It took about 15 hours to complete the journey. Jack has one of those awesome Garmin Fenix watches. It literally shows you the trail you are on, along with elevation and distance. When we left the trailhead, he claimed it had “6 days” of battery life left. On the way down it died. Within 10 minutes of the dead battery, we found ourselves off the trial and lost. Luckily, I still had one bar of battery life on my phone and I opened my AllTrails app. We are decent at reading a topo map and saw where we could reconnect to the trail. It added an extra 1.5 miles and at least an extra hour of hiking. Fully charge your watch people. And for the record, 6 days of charge means 6 days if you are using it like a watch and not a GPS device. Life lesson learned. We smelled so bad at the bottom I required showers before I drove the van. We had 1-gallon bottles of water and shampoo. It wasn’t perfect, but it did the job. I will be buying one of those solar showers next. I’m thinking about SOL’s 20L Solar Shower. Does anyone have any insight on this? Or do you recommend another brand?
At the end of the day, we were brim full of adventure, 100% spent, and did not stink. On a side note, on our way back to Portland I picked up a hitchhiker and was reminded why we took showers. He happened to be a hiker doing sections of the PNT and there wasn’t a bear within 5 miles that didn’t know he was there. I gave him a spare Mountain House Meal and sent him on his way. I hope he finds a river or lake soon. Now find yourself a long hike or road, get a good cry on and come back a better person. Get outdoors and explore with confidence.