Van Life

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Green Girl Gang

Van Life

Written by: Jaclyn LaDue

Jaclyn and her family

Writing is not my strongest ability – it is one I have steered clear of since college maybe longer.  Rob asked me to write something about myself; I have worked on this for weeks wondering if I’m heading in the right direction.  I finally gave in.  Here we go!

People ask, “Why are we doing this?”

Well…… I want time with my family: Rob (my fiancé), my son, and the dog.  I want the long days in the woods on a bike, a hiking trail, or on/in the river.  Rob and I have been wanting a simpler life for quite some time, to see what is out there, what are we missing, what can we learn from new experiences. I had been a single mom for 10 years prior to my engagement, as I look back on that time I…

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Mid-Winter Pressure Check

Am I really going to write in this mood that sits so obviously on the haunches of Christmas bliss?  Am I going to cap the year off this way, with so little said in the past few months? The Northern Winds are rolling across the map, and I’ll be staring at the dawn rising again soon enough.  With what’s happened lately I couldn’t keep my words from spilling out if I ate a hundred bran muffins….. (gross Rob).

It’s coming up on a year that I’ve been here.  I’ve tasted dirt, concrete, bliss, the anger of others, my own muscles breaking down to ammonia; sweat out through my pores as I learn that I CHOOSE when I’m going to stop.  I wear more new scars and have wrecked my meager frame more than I’m comfortable admitting. I’ve learned to speak up in new situations and to keep my thoughts to myself for the benefit of all involved.  I’ve chosen to abandon old patterns and also to prevent stagnation, reveling in the self destruction of society and rapine culture of wild lands for no purpose than stability and comfort.  I understand that this really isn’t what’s happening – it’s infinitely more complex than any predictive capacity we could envision or mathematically devise to excuse ourselves (we really do pay scientists to publish papers on how our world is doing just fine can we can continue on unabated in the glory we cast sidelong at ourselves).  

But here I am, still, shedding skin.  Same headspace, same brainwaves.  

Nope. It’s been so long since last December. 

I have closer friends. More often than not I can feel the pulse of the world as it ebbs and flows around me.  I’ve learned to bathe in this current and enjoy how life can reflect on YOU, instead of always feeling it’s supposed to be the other way around. I can, once again, hear music in the forest at dawn. I can accept the wisdom of people who are one step ahead of me. I’m not surrounded by walls, but instead people whose experience enriches me in ways I cannot fathom.  Even when I have to send my tendrils out to understand when they cannot. 

I’ve found the all elusive. I’ve been close enough to touch it. I’ve had reality explained to me.  Things I’ve known and been too shit scared to realize.  Seen tragedy averted for serenity, and then had that same serenity invite me in from the cold.  

Now I sitdumbfounded.  Sure, but open. I’m here. 

What’s next? Right?

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The Horizon Line

I’ve always been fascinated by the junction of land and sky, or water and sky.  Holding a beer and sitting on a porch, tracking my kayak, in the hammock, hiking, or biking or running – it’s just two worlds colliding, and it always makes me feel relaxed.

My words just won’t line up today.  They stand up on their own when I bleed them in black, and each has a meaning, but when jumbled together they don’t mean anything.  I pinched a nerve in my back and now parts of my brain are preyed upon by a constant wash of pain.   Bits of stories in my head clash and won’t come together – sort of like a bad dream.

I received acupuncture the other day, for the first time.  Halfway through I passed out, in a not-so-comfortable way.  I didn’t fall asleep, I passed out.  I felt light headed, and the people I was talking to seemed to fade out, far away.  I was out for about 5 seconds.  Somehow I have vivid memories of conversations with several people that lasted longer than minutes – each.  In my head, it seems. The cold sweat and several hours of a stumbling mind were real.

That’s how “pain days” feel.  Temporal and spatial mismatch, out of sync.  Goals and direction are blocked.  Time slows down.  It takes longer to build a decision-tree and execute responses.  People tend to watch me closer.  My answers come out of somewhere that isn’t familiar.  I can’t build my thoughts into anything coherent.

Light still falls on the floor, obeying a pattern of sun and glass, shadows of sycophantic clingers-on.  A flash-bulb goes off in an alley that you’ve never seen before.  Just for a minute – it’s familiar. The sun slides across the sky in the throes of an Alaskan summer, circling around you, never fully escaping the embrace of the day.  A child is born, grows old, and dies in the space of a single breath. There’s expansion going on, somewhere in my mind. But today it slips my grasp, all my words hide in the corner of the inkwell, hiding from the pen, shying from the light.

When you stand on flat ground you can see about 3 miles to the Horizon (assuming you’re 6 foot tall).  Today I feel much shorter and, as a logical consequence, I can’t see as far out. I’m glad it won’t last, but, strangely, I’m also glad my mind now operates as such where the stimuli and its results are interesting.  Maybe even entertaining.

I’ll make more better good thinking words later.  Shot of whiskey and off to bed.


As an aside, the acupuncture did wonders for several days afterwards.  The slightly traumatic experience opened up into a very real sense of calm and completely remedied the pain in my wrist.  These things take time, however, and I’ll be going back for further sessions – this time not sitting on a barstool.

Secondarily, I’ve noticed that my aches and pains come back with vengeance if I go more than 2 days without strenuous physical activity.  I’ve also noticed my mind wanders in funny ways, generally not useful and definitely lackadaisical. My work environment is extremely relaxed, though focus and progress are rewarded.  I’ve also been exploring different activities away from just biking lately to determine the whats and whys, but in the end, I am certain that I have to stay active to stay focused – to stay mobile to keep from fading out.

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When it stops what I did will actually be Obsolete.

My eyes open, slowly.  Light filters through sheer curtains; they drift gently in a foggy morning breeze. It gets light here much earlier than I’ve grown used to.  It’s barely 630.  Should I move?  What’s going to hurt this morning?

I’m reminded of my mortality by the day, the hour, the minute.  Rarely by the prospect of death – we’ve got to retain a large enough measure of levity to offset the scary shit going on out there (have you watched the news lately?).

Lots of things have gone wrong in my shell.  Back surgeries (x3), shoulder surgeries (x2), plated-together hand, kevlar in my crotch (hernia repair x3).  Good reminders.  Each one, soft as a soap bubble that you can hold just gently enough to turn around in your hand and inspect in the light.  Sharp enough to take a chunk of flesh out before you realize you gone done got stupid, again (again).

There’s a cold hand reaching out from behind, the rush of air flowing over my shoulder when it makes a feint in my direction.  But not today.  Today we keep moving. Keep moving.  After a few minutes the aches and pains fade to the background, get on the gear, get out to the trail.  Photo day today with Koerber.

Sun’s out, legs feel good.  Carve the sand, the dirt ribbons.  Spend a few moments here and there airborne. Another ride, another bunch of smiles.  I’m stronger today than I was yesterday, and the brevity of life seems less pertinent for a short while.

Another race this weekend.  Another sorting of gear.  Run, Bike, Paddle, Rappel.  I did this race six years ago, and dropped out when my mother called to tell me my Grandfather had just passed.  This race bites at the back of my mind for this reason.  Plus the new aches and pains from the past few months.

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SOAR 2010.  6 Years ago with this Fool.  We go again Saturday.  More grey hair.

There’s no time to laugh at death, no time to hide in fear of power wielded over mortality.  It’s easier to dance with death, twirl around and laugh – sometimes in measured steps, precise and ordered – sometimes loose and free, drunk on life.  It’s the only constant companion you’ll ever have.

“Adrenaline allows me to ignore the feeling of pain and front like I’m winning the game.”


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Tomorrow we live on, in….

It’s been a long time.  The night before…. before what?  Something you may do without thinking, just to pass the time, or to keep the high.  For me this marks a significant departure from the latticework of life that I’ve been growing into and, by all outward appearances, failing to grow out of, for a long time.  I have built this last year into a prescient model of assistance.  I’m where I am because I wanted to free myself from dependence and help someone besides myself for a change.  On the face of it, it appears I’m just going to race tomorrow.

Am I?

Why does it feel like more? I’m going to participate, I’m sure I’m not going to place.  I’m entering a world I’ve been long apart from.  I work on your bike.  I fix your shit.  I make sure you get to go.  To ride, to race, whatever.  I’m background noise on your vacation, your adventure.  You’re going to take your girl (or your guy, or your friends, or yourself) on a leisurely ride in a place you love, or maybe have never visited.  You broke that dangly bit on your bike, and you’re afraid that your precious time, your special time might be over – I can fix that.  Hooray for me (for you).

But I haven’t slipped into this scene in a great many years. Maybe it’s still my scene too.  I can’t tell if I’m actually nervous, or drunk on the notion that I’m finally, actually, teething to go back at it.  A 55.5K length of Pisgah brutality that I’m going to bite my nail at on a 160mm enduro bike.

But you know what?  Fuck it.  Here’s to all those years I let bullshit keep me from doing my best, keep me from doing these things.  Here’s to the people that say I’m doing it on the wrong bike, and it’s going to hurt, or I’m going to drop.  Here’s to this day, my way, and all the stupid little clichés I can insert into this ridiculous collection of barely formed sentences.

Rubber side down, enter the pain cave, breathe the burning muscle, and hit the bar when it’s all over.

“Cause we drown.
We drown in it,
Still hopeful
A little bit.
Between kinda living
And really gone
Right off the deep end.”


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That First Concussion

Been wondering when this would be my own issue.  My hourglass emptied this morning.  Riding in the mountains of North Carolina is an entirely different beast than riding in northern California.  There’s wet, for one thing.  Slimy roots, greasy mud, sloggy sand, constant creek crossings, moss and algae on the rock faces.  This last one took me out today – in a big way.  Garmin Connect says 22.4 mph at point of impact (near as I can estimate from their half-assed metrics).  I’m not entirely sure the details.  Must have been glorious though.  I was out for at least 45 seconds, I guess……

Humping through the woods picking up speed on fleet feet, for me, feels like being an ensign on the Enterprise when you punch the console for warp speed.  The periphery blurs a bit but, back to my reality, my eyes search frantically for the right line through the chaos of rocks, drops, roots.  Most of these trails are first or second runs for me, so it’s a lot of chance and trusting my instinct.  I drop off a root ball and crest a corner too fast and run into a staggered mud pit.  You can’t brake into the mud holes (I’d heard about Butter Gap….).  So I pump up onto the high side of a rock face, hoping to ride the high line and drop back on to the trail.  Instead I find myself buried in the crease created by the bottom of said rock and the low (smart) line, twisted up in the bars and top tube of my bike.

“My God, It’s Full of Stars”

Part of my brain knew what happened.  This part is screaming at me and mad as hell.  Kicking the bike off me I slide further down the trail, covered in mud.  Fuck!  Fuck this. Damn it! Shorts ripped, blood dripping, vision blurry.

It took me a minute to realize I had a gap in my time.  Took even longer for my calm mind to overtake and tell me it’s ok.  Mud and blood, tomorrow will be bruised.  Helmet is probably screwed (it is).  But I’m ok, the bike needs a new hanger, but seems otherwise ok.  What begins to worry me are the tendrils of something from the back of my brain shooting into my conscious mind.  Grasping, yelling, cursing.  Small instances, fragments, pulsing with the blood in my temple.  I had to sit down, put my head in my hands between my knees.  Felt sick.  Been a long time since that part of my brain was allowed purchase behind my eyes – must’ve been shook loose.  I could see myself watching myself from a distance, but could hear that other self yelling.  Incoherent, static.


Instinct took over I guess.  Shut off the higher brain functions and walk 1.5 miles back up to the top, coast back home.  Control my breathing but every few breaths is this damn demon boiling my blood without my permission, poking me in the side with a needle.  I’m sweating buckets by the time I get to pavement, despite minimal peddling and a heavy head wind.  I keep shaking my head, as a reflex – trying to gain some traction for my frontal lobe.

My helmet is for sure worthless.  Nice dent in the side.  I straight up KO’ed myself on the trail.  But at 34 it’s my first concussion, despite the 9 surgeries I’ve had, and countless poor choices I’ve survived while mobbing through the trails that I will be forever in love with.

Will I have crazy dreams tonight?  Will that demon be chained back up in the darkest recess when I greet the day tomorrow?

“Every bastard to pass through the grinder, can just laugh at the mania of his own nerves.”

Monday will be the day.  I’ll take the smart line.  With a shiny new helmet.  Tonight is Rye and a face that says “This Means War”.  Anything less would be shit.

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Friends, Dirt, Home.

This word, “home” – it leaves a bitter, foreign taste in my mouth.  It is at the same time familiar and strange.  Holidays are coming, and that leaves me with a choice – to go home or not to go home.  Am I leaving Home, or going Home?  Was home that last place I paid rent, or this next place I’m hunting for a paycheck and 4 white walls?

My father was in the Armed Forces.  We traveled a lot.  A Lot.  For K-12 education I went to 7 different schools.  I spent a lot of my youth doing bad things for worse, or at least nominally impotent reasons.  At some point it’s not enough.  School?  Yeah I did well.  Friends?  Yeah, but here’s the rub – you meet people, you try to connect, but in the back of your head you know that you shouldn’t, you can’t.  You’re gonna leave, eventually.

I’ve been fortunate.  I’ve met a lot of great people.  They just don’t always stick.  This isn’t going to be a popular notion, coming from me.  There’s one of this guy and that girl in every town.  Varying degrees but essentially the same.  Don’t mistake – there are diamonds in the rough out there too.  I’ve got great friends that I’ll always make the effort to stay in touch with.  Across this great nation.  In other countries too.  We’ll come back to this, but I want this downside to sink in first.

I’m just a jaded man approaching middle age, still missing a lot things I thought would just come along with living life.  But this isn’t the purpose of what I’m writing here. I started us here with a simple word: Home.  Turns out it’s not such a loaded word, not so elusive.  I’ve found home on two wheels.  In the dirt.  It doesn’t matter where I go, what the conditions are, the trail is familiar.  This state or the next, here or across one of the big ponds.  The sound of the bike, gears turning, dirt giving way to the tire’s bite.  Mobbing through rock gardens.  That feeling, it’s home.  Duff or lava cap, full suspension, hardtail, rigid.  It’s just you and the trail.  I can feel at home anywhere I can put my two wheels in the dirt.

Home as far as the eye can see.

Home as far as the eye can see.

I’ve met the best people on the trails and in the culture surrounding mountain bikes, and I have the kind of relationship with these people that dovetails nicely with my view of the world.  If I find myself gone from where I am now, when I come back to visit, those same great people, defying the categorization of paragraphs past, will just want to get out on the trail with me and hang out “back home”.  The same exists for those places I’ve already left, and will visit again soon.



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Click, Click, Click…..

… I’ve been aware of this noise for a while now.  I know what it is.  Pivots creak.  Something is not quite right down there, and I muse to myself just what it might be as I watch the trail turn to fist-sized marbles out beyond my front wheel. The world falls away, away, away to my right, 8000ft down into verdant beauty punctuated with dusty scrubland.  The wind picks up, 55 degrees and I keep climbing.  I’m up here rising a mile and half or so above the sea, trying to fix things in my head that I don’t understand, through revolutions of my pedals, tachycardia, and a crust of salt on my clothes.

When something’s not quite right with my bike, it tells me.  Noises, grinding, parts wear out with regularity and everything must be kept meshed, oiled, attended to – you want to ride again tomorrow, don’t you? People, not so much.  Not a sound, a peep, just a catastrophic failure without recourse or recrimination.  This is what happens when we are silent and complacent.  I start thinking about this, and I watch my heart rate spike to 183bpm.  Redlined, lost my focus, not watching the wheel, slip, dab, curse.  The world spins off-kilter for a moment before I shake it off and see the staircase battened to the rock and offering a chance to touch the sky – I’ve reached my destination.  Sierra Buttes Fire Lookout.

IMG_0125               IMG_0126

I gather my sanity and look down from whence I came.  Time to release my demons to carry me down, down, down.  Dust chokes me, rocks and trees blur past, the almost steady rhythm of my bike squishing and releasing it’s hold on the Earth, over and over.  I push for more speed, and all sound stops for brief moments when I’m free of the ground.  Silent moments I weave into the chaos.

Miles later, 6000ft down it’s all over.  In town, on pavement and I’m spent. I can’t quite remember what had hold of me during my climb to the top.   The sweat is still crusted to my clothes, but the crazy pounding in my chest has settled.  The world is right, peaceful, and open again to me.  I’ll do it all again tomorrow.  After I give my bike the attention she has asked for.

“What it means to be fully human is to strive to live by ideas and ideals, and not to measure your life by what you’ve obtained in terms of your desires, but those small moments of integrity, compassion, rationality.  Because in the end, the only way we can measure the significance of our own lives, is by valuing the lives of others.” – The Life of David Gale

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Goodbye, Titan – A band of my Friend

Go here, Buy this – you have been warned.

Post-rock from the best couch-offerer I’ve had the pleasure to share air with.  He is called Johnny Good-Times (on the bass), and may it always be so.

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Thursday Night MTB Gatherings 2015 – Short Track Dash

Tim Olson has started his Thursday Night Gatherings in Chico!  This past Thursday was a short track dash at Easter Cross in Upper Park – 18 people participated.  The route wrapped around North Rim to the Bench at Fenceline from the Cross and was 0.6 miles, climbing 96 feet per lap.  20 minutes to get as many laps then one lap to dash to the end.  Lowell Moural dashed the fastest with Hyland Fisher and Chris Devine in 2nd and 3rd.  Stay tuned for more Thursday get-togethers. The format will change with the next expected to be North Rim – B-Trail – Middle Trail XC loop on the 28th of May!

Riders take off at 6:15 (or as soon as everyone we know is showing up gets there and ready) – weather and trails permitting, of course.


Lowell Killing it and showing off with a one-footer!

Lowell Killing it and showing off with a one-footer!

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