I didn’t get a lot of writing done this year. We moved, bought a house, changed jobs, traveled the world, traveled the west, got a dog, and celebrated family. A few photos just for the photo, a few photos just for the moment and the people. I’m just a damn lucky dude.
Occasionally, I am lucky enough to have readers say “wow, that was a great post/cool adventure/link/whatever, how can I support your blog?” I’ve never really wanted to raise money from this little writing project, but the adventures don’t happen for free. One thing that has made most of these stories possible are generous friends in far away places. Margaret has hosted me, fed me, and driven me around Alaska countless days and nights. Now, she’s looking for a loan for her business supporting the local food movement in Alaska. Join me in supporting her campaign thru Kiva.org, and consider making a donation to Kiva while you are there.
You can read about some of my time with Margaret here, here, and here. If you haven’t heard of kiva.org, they provide a platform for micro-finance loans all over the world. I’ve been a supporter since 2015 and generally have made a point of supporting small construction entrepreneurs in South America. I’ve also loved supporting a couple more local friends over the years. If voting with your dollars matters, this is the best way I’ve found to do it.
It’s easy to say we had a great time in Patagonia mostly due to tremendous luck with both weather and accommodations. While I don’t like to promote too much, it’s important to give credit and leave some breadcrumbs for other travelers.
In Punta Arenas
- We started and ended our trip staying with Evelyn at Hostel BuenaVista Patagonia– and would definitely stay there again. Just outside downtown, her place is modern and quiet, and she was a great host.
- We ate at Mesita Grande 3 different times. Great thin crust pizza, reasonable prices, and a fun vibe. Not to be missed.
- We booked a tour to see Magellenic penguins in the wild at the Monumento Natural Los Penguinos. Lots of places to book and the tour is well managed for the safety of the wildlife.
- Sometimes you find a dud: Fusiones has a weird vibe, oversized portions of unremarkable food, and was surprisingly expensive. The service was attentive, but probably because the place was dead quiet.
In Puerto Natales
- We stayed at Hostel Lili Patagonicus. I doubt it’s different from any of the other dozen hostels that all offer the same things. Tiny room, low price, good amenities for prepping to do the O Circuit (baggage hold, full kitchen, gear rental, etc). Not a standout, but if you just need a place that works…
- The Doite Himalaya 2 tent that seems to be the most popular rental tent in town did not perform. Very small for two tall Americans, not nearly enough ventilation, and only 1 door- clearly designed as an alpinists bivy tent, not a comfy backpacking tent. Search around for one of the places that rents MSR tents, we were wishing hard for our Hubba Hubba.
- The original Mesita Grande is in Puerto Natales, and just as good as the one in PA.
- We stumbled on a gem at La Forastera. The sign is small, but food, service, and selection were totally awesome. I wish we had time to eat here again.
In Torres del Paine
See separate forthcoming post.
In el Calafate
- We stayed at the Calafate Hostel & Hosteria. It was okay, rooms were simple and we didn’t ask much of the service, but it served the purpose.
- Pura Vida was probably the best single meal of the trip. Arrive early and prepare to wait, but it was totally worth it. Truly awesome.
- La Zorra brewing definitely holds up as the regions best beer. Wish we had gone more than once.
- Olivia Coffee has amazing breakfast sandwiches and proper espresso drinks. We were very grateful it was 2 blocks from the hostel because it was a way better option for breakfast.
In El Chalten
- It was our honeymoon, so we splurged and stayed at Hosteria Senderos. Amazing views of the mountains from our room, a great restaurant, and a wonderful concierge made our stay truly lux. They were a little surprised at how much we hiked every day…
- Great meals at Maffia (reservation recommended), Ruca Mahuida, La Vineria, and La Cerveceria. I’d recommend and return to any of these places, and it’s worth knowing none of these are low cost options.
- La Chocolateria is home for some of the local climbing culture and history. Great hot chocolate and sweet treats, but seating is limited and there is no internet.
- We stayed at our only AirBnB of the trip, a guy named Toni with a spacious, modern condo overlooking the Beagle channel. Very responsive, friendly, and genuinely happy to have us.
- The only food that really stood out here was Ølmo, a brewery just past the main drag that we literally stumbled into. Doesn’t look like much from the outside and wasn’t in either of our guidebooks. The food and beer options were awesome and it was surprisingly devoid of tourists. They didn’t seem to speak much english, which was great.
- We had a truly memorable “last big day” of riding horses with Centro Hipico Fin del Mundo. Laura handles the bookings and was great about a last minute request and arranged all the transportation from door to door. Our guide Niel, was Irish, and a total joy. He was responsive to our level of experience and gave us a full tour of the area, including loping along the beaches. A total trip highlight.
The weather may be bad and it’s definitely been “discovered” by tourists, but we’ll remember this one for the rest of our lives. The area clearly survives on tourism and requires those dollars to preserve it. All of these places more than delivered- thanks.
Internet is a bit limited down here, which is great because we just spent 8 days completing the O circuit in the iconic Torres del Paine National Park and not staring at our phones. More narrative later, but mostly we are thankful for amazingly good weather and very accommodating park staff. Photos and video:
The wind grew stronger each successive day. Watch how it lifts the water straight off Lago Nordskogg.
There was a bit off a flood on our way out. The local rangers are *very* confident in their pickup trucks.
The very first thing we did in Patagonia had been on my bucket list for a long long time. Penguins in the wild.
Isla de Magadelena hosts the birthing grounds for a huge flock of Magallenic penguins, they burrow their nests into the hills to raise their chicks.
Cold, barren, windy- it’s relatively free from predators and allows the chicks to get strong enough to make a 2000mile migration up the Atlantic coast. Only downside, they are clearly quite accustomed to humans, but pretty dang cool regardless.
“But as he descended the hill, a sadness came upon him, and he thought in his heart: How shall I go in peace and without sorrow? Nay, not without a wound in the spirit shall I leave this city. Long were the days of pain I have spent within its walls, and long were the nights of aloneness; and who can depart from his pain and his aloneness without regret? Too many fragments of the spirit have I scattered in these streets, and too many are the children of my longing that walk naked among these hills, and I cannot withdraw from them without a burden and an ache. Nor is it a thought I leave behind me, but a heart made sweet with hunger and with thirst.”“The Prophet”, Kahlil Gibran
Sunday night we said goodbye to about 25 friends that have made Seattle feel so welcoming to us. Optimism Brewing was light and open, and large enough to avoid the national sporting event we accidentally scheduled over. In 2015, moving to Seattle felt like a sea-change in my life, in my career. Suddenly, I’ve lived here longer than anywhere else. My professional and social circles have reached a comfortable singularity. Driving around feels familiar. I came to the city to take and to learn, but instead found more ways to give than I expected.
I’m luckier still that McKinstry is willing to give me a long enough leash to keep my job. To work without the comfortable physical proximity of my team, and rely on my discipline to ensure my contributions retain their value. I refuse to disappoint.
It would have been easier if the friends we have made weren’t so wonderful, if the work weren’t so fulfilling, but we didn’t come here because it was easy. The time has moved too fast to fully appreciate the moments and people that have made it special. My sporadic additions to this journal indicate the unrelenting hurry that urban living has foisted upon us.
The city never felt like the place to invest, which feels painful to say in light on the friendships we’ve built. For a while I searched desperately for a sign I should stay, but it felt obviously disingenuous. Reading some Simon Sinek, he points out that it takes a lot more energy to live in a place that you don’t belong, even if you can manage to make it happen there.
Going back to Missoula wasn’t a forgone conclusion, but leaving Seattle was. The moment is more bitter than I expected, but I’m hungry for whatever sweetness is left in it.
Fall has burst onto the city like a trap, summer is suddenly overshadowed by color in the trees and the crisp air of an early sunset. After an amazing wedding and lovely honeymoon, the professional responsibilities we happily shirked have surged out of the closet with fervor.
I met Michael during my interview in 2015 and I hoped we would become friends regardless of what job I worked. I am grateful to be right, and our early friendship has since been nourished by miles of trail and late nights at the office. No surprise either that he also loves to suffer in the gym, and has been a reliable motivator to work on our weaknesses together. A few weeks ago, both of us were headed for a late night at the office but managed to shift towards a different plan, well honed over the past years. We dropped into the company gym around 630pm and got dinner at a local joint around 8pm. There is nothing like an old school ass-kicking to shed the weight of an overly full workday. Conversation, when possible, ranges from business to art to the delicate balance of living in the city.
I haven’t written as much as he deserves, but our friendship has been one of the distinct highlights of my experience in the city. Seriously intelligent, both deeply passionate and empathetic, and always a pleasure to spend time with. Michael has supported me (and Abigail) in many great ways since we arrived here. Tonight I stopped by his desk around 6pm and encouraged him to get out of the office- and to ride together for the short common section of our commute home. He obliged and insisted on riding far out of his way, just for the joy of picking our way through Seattle traffic and catching up on life a bit. For a commute that I have regularly begrudged, I appreciated every moment.
Thanks for jumping at the chance, buddy. To many more.
How do you say goodbye to a hunk of metal? Quickly, as it turns out. It marks the end of an era though- my beloved VW Jetta is no longer mine. Getting married demands releasing old, embracing new. My stepdad let go of his collection of custom guitars, my brother gave up his closet-full of random electronic parts. Weddings aside, it was time and when a good dude off Craigslist made a reasonable offer, I needed to rip the bandaid off. When you consider that she has been one of my most reliable adventure partners and an icon of my personal style- it hurts quite a bit to say goodbye to an old friend.
A few thoughts and images from our years together:
That hunk of metal became much more to a young man searching for his way in the world. A bunk, a traveling companion, a resource, and a welcome relief at the end of a long walk in the woods. A social gathering and medium to experience so many good things. A dashboard confessional, confidant, jury, and judge. I am deeply grateful for our adventures together Josie. Drive safe.
“Are we in the flow state?”
“Then we must be doing fine.”
Last Saturday I took a long walk with my friend Webster and climbed the Bergner-Stanley route on Prusik Peak. We discovered that the hyperbole often used to describe that mountain and route was in fact true. Considering my last car-to-car (mis)adventure and with the chill air of autumn settling in, this trip was the perfect cap to a summer full of adventures.
Webster wanted to push himself, and while I wasn’t sure I had another big summer adventure in the tank, his stoke goaded me to the trailhead- from there, I was all in. We left the car at 4:25am, made it to the base of the climb by 9am, and started climbing at 9:30. We got to the base of the route just as another party was leaving the ground, and caught them again at the top of pitch 2.
I quickly made the acquaintance of Mr. Ben Boldt, and didn’t complain when he started taking photos of us as we followed them up the route. Ben and his partner had tried the route before, but gotten stymied by the challenging squeeze chimney on pitch 5 (or 6 depending how you do it). We waited for a bit while they fought their way thru, and Ben hung out to shoot my own battle. Webster was relieved to follow this one. Check out more of Ben’s photos here, and only use with permission. Thanks again man.
The last pitch is the money pitch, and I was happy for Webster to fire it. Despite some melting snow on the final crux section, he sent with aplomb. Following the pitch, I was surprised to find it steeper and more technical than it appears. Strong work Webster!
We summited at 3pm, made 5 rappels and walked around a snowy north face to collect our packs at 515pm, and started the walk home at 530pm. We stayed focused and positive despite the many miles, and moved well, tagging the car at 9:15pm. We stayed in the flow state for almost the entire day, feeding off each others energy and enjoying every aspect of the experience. Not much time for photos, but we did hike past an amazing hydrologic feature- this drain pipe throws water between lakes:
As usual, the full effort in the mountains cleared my head in a way that nothing else does. It cemented another friendship that has been growing for a long time, and for which I am deeply grateful. It bolstered my self-confidence and increases the gratitude I feel for so many things in life, including my lovely lady (even though she doesn’t necessarily want to do these things with me). This piece by Hayden Kennedy says it better than I can. I love this stuff.
Copyright Skander Spies, 2017
Working hard up Headwaters Ridge, the wind pushed through my T-shirt and I thought to myself “enjoy this, it will be the last time today that you are cold.” Being right is over-rated.The 2016 Rut 50km race got cut short due to snow. The 2017 race was about performing in the heat. I am in no way a hot weather animal, and September 3rd was a warm one. With some experience though, I picked an appropriate motto for the race and shared it eagerly with spectators and other racers- “today is still the best day.” After a long summer of training, race day was both a joy and a relief.
I was lucky to have a deep bench of support this year. Devon ran the 28km on Saturday, his wife Katie ran the 11km on Sunday, and both Michael and Abigail lined up for the 50km with me. Our little crew shared a house just down the valley from the mountain, and the stoke was high all weekend. Bonus stoke from seeing Missoula peeps like Evan, Brink, Nick, and Damian.
I had a clear training plan throughout the summer, and a detailed spreadsheet that paced me to my goal of breaking 7 hours, but once it got hot, that just didn’t seem as important as running smart and strong. I did a good job eating and drinking early, and made the wise decision to put a hydration pack in my drop bag at mile 18, before the big push over Lone Peak and Andesite Mtn. I felt great and stayed on pace out to approximately mile 22, but after a pounding descent and a little route finding, the heat caught me off-guard. I fought desperate cramping in my quads and hamstrings for the rest of the race- many others faced the same demons.I’m not sure I would have done anything differently. I never ran out of water, my head was clear for the whole race, and my heartrate average was below 150bpm. I started taking salt tabs early in the race (and ended up taking 12 in total), and stayed on a disciplined slow pace early on. Other than the cramping, my legs felt strong all the way through, but the warm temperatures and full sun exposure on many parts of the course simply took it out of me. I finished as the 51st male- 15 places and 22 minutes better than my previous bests, and I feel pretty good about that.
I also absolutely must call out Abigail. It was her first 50km race, and her goals were simply to have finish and have fun. She was the 13th woman and probably ran the best race of all of us. She even had enough left in the tank to play with a puppy as soon as she crossed the finish line. Holy smokes. The photos just after the finish line tell all:
Once again, The Rut delivers a superb racing experience, community, and sense of accomplishment in the face of adversity. Doubly cool to work with Devon and Michael, people you want to run something hard with.I love this stuff.