A Collection of Short Stories
I finished up the final draft of the Iceland book last week. 10,000 words. My first book “finished.” I did a little fist pump at my desk then drank some Pacificos and watched the sunset with Haley and her parents. A normal little Friday. I’ve never been great at celebrating achievements. I force a smile and move on. Perhaps because I can never satisfy the appetite of that damn internal perfectionist, always chewing at the GOOD things I do. Or perhaps because praise, whether internal or external, has always made me uncomfortable. Both things I should probably unpack (what a funny modern buzzword) in a therapy session soon. Anyway, finishing felt like the deep belly PSFEEEWWWW a dog lets out right before a good sleep. Writing hard, day in and day out, eats at your brain the same way endurance sports eat at your fat and muscles. You just want a burrito and some beers and a long nap afterward. All this writerly honesty to say, I’m feeling really proud of the text and hope you end up reading it and learning something about this fascinating topic – Iceland’s glacial rivers. It’s going to be a truly beautiful book paired with @chrisburkard’s images. Aiming for a book release in fall/winter of ’19… I’ll let you know when I know more.
My first time swimming was in an indoor YMCA pool in central Indiana. I was scared. I stared down at the white tile pool deck in my water wings wondering what nasty foot funk was brewing in the puddles. All the older kids were screaming and bopping beach balls around. Swimming was never going to be that fun, I thought. Not if it was in a crowded, chlorine-filled pool where I had to shower with a bunch of naked old men. They looked so weird, so saggy, so worn out. Was I going to look like that someday? (Yep!) Anyway, the instructor tossed me in with those water-wings and something felt right. I became very happy… I clapped my fat hands together and smiled. Thankfully, my parents noticed their brown-haired butterball losing his mind at YMCA beginner swim lessons. After another decade or so of swimming in indoor Indiana pools, with the guidance of amazing coaches, the sport became my meal-ticket to Stanford. I had good grades and I’m intuitively smart, but not Stanford smart. Thankfully I had the 2nd fastest 100 butterfly in the country (hi @jaymecramer). Throughout the indescribable pain endured during the next four years, I always wore an internal smile about my surroundings – an immaculate outdoor pool in sunny California. I don’t know if my teammates appreciated it the same… most didn’t know what it was like to follow the black line of an indoor pool while not seeing the sun for 6 months... every winter of my life from ages 10 to 18. It’s crazy that something as simple as learning to swim got me out West, which eventually drew me further West to Hawai’i. In a way, I’ve just been following the water all these years, its quality continuously improving as I’ve gone along. But I’m still really glad I know what it’s like in a YMCA pool in central Indiana right now. I think I get more smiles (and claps) in the ocean than the kids that grew up in Hawai’i, the kids whose YMCA is this picture.
My modeling days. They’re probably over now because I get far too upset about getting paid to fake it at age 35. Which will either help me flame out or flame up. We’ll see. The company asked me to clean up my beard and put on a tight t-shirt and tight pants. And I said OK. As long as I can chop wood… something had to be real. The fire I made was it. Funny, I ended up liking this outfit after all (very chic don’t you think) and asked to keep it. But they said NO. I didn’t understand… they were paying a photographer 5 grand and me much less, and they wanted back a t-shirt that cost $1.19 in Vietnam. All chic brands have moved on from China. But I understood why they wanted their t-shirt back when they went out of business soon thereafter... perhaps because they were faking it and everyone smelled it. At least I got paid a grand to go on a road trip in SW Colorado. My friend Marc in Durango rolled his eyes when I told him that. I knew he was jealous but he played the tough guy card. He just sat there sipping his porter in ripped-up jeans that were ripped from doing actual work.
The plane speakers crackled to life, startling me away from my book… they always do. The speaker setup engineers must’ve walked out on the job right after installing the LOUD switch. Or they just have a great sense of humor. (Woman’s hurried voice) “Ladies and gentlemen, if you would like to be entertained on our flight to Maui today, please download the United app now. This plane is not equipped with seat back entertainment systems and the WiFi will not work over the ocean. I repeat, if you’d like to be entertained on today’s flight, please use your cellular service to download the United app now.” A frenzy ensued. Like flies swarming to a fresh shit. Everyone pulled out their devices, most people had two or three. Old people tried connecting to the plane’s WiFi, which was non-operational on the ground. Duh. Younger people, with rolled eyes, helped them connect to Verizon or AT&T and download the app. Are you not entertained? With books or sleep or playing cards or journaling or hoarding tiny bags of pretzels or conversations with strangers or contemplating the movement of an aluminum projectile capable of 587 miles per hour and pumping oxygen to your seat. Real oxygen. I suppose not. Not these days. There’s nothing to do but laugh at these moments, then write wordy social captions.
You can tell a lot about a surfer by their posture in the line-up. Some sit lazily on the back of their boards, content, talking shop to everyone about a barrel they got six months ago in Bali… just glad to be out there, to say they were out there. Some sit forward, like a cheetah preparing its 75mph burst… also glad to be out there, but damned if they don’t get a wave, damned if it isn’t a set wave. There were only two of us out. Me and the other guy. It was big enough and bad enough to be a waste of energy for everyone else. I love wasting energy. The other guy was wetsuit-less, bareback, in the cold windy Hawaiian January, water temperature 74 degrees. Which sounds warm, until a 15 knot wind kicks your skin. I wondered if this bareback guy thought he was tough… I used to surf bareback just to show the lineup what a bunch of sissies they were. His heavily tattooed body seemed to further prove his toughness. Maybe I should let him catch the next set wave, give him the right of way? But his face stopped that thinking. Smeared zinc oxide, white as a ghost. At worst, a tough guy who gives a shit. The guys who have nothing to lose, including their skin... those are the ones I watch out for. Those are the ones waiting in the parking lot, still with nothing to lose. I decided I would stay in position and fight for every wave with ghosty McGhosterson.
In those days, it seemed like every idea I had came true. That’s living on the road, but only if you can let up enough control to let it in. Strangers are different when you’re just passing through. They know they won’t have to deal with the real you next month, so they’re kinder and more interested, like a one-night-stand… easy to ignore the incompatibilities to get the quick high. Anyway, a new friend knew a friend and here I was sitting shotgun next to a bonafide Alaskan bush pilot. On our way to land in a glacial lake with pontoons hanging from the plane’s bowels. How fucking cool. Too bad I’ve been a nervous flyer since my childhood. My mom got so scared once on a flight to Florida, that from there on out I thought I should be scared too. So I was enjoying this bush flight more than almost anything and wanting it to be over at the same time. Jack, the pilot, was anything but nervous. He had two kids and an Argentinian wife and a strong new engine – he was very proud of that engine – so all he was thinking about was getting home for dinner. Just an ordinary Tuesday. He said his wife would kill him if he wasn’t home for dinner, which I found funny, because he’d probably be dead already if he wasn’t home in time. Jack landed us next to an iceberg, idled over to the land, and tied the plane to a tree. He was armed with a 12-gauge-pump shotgun for shooting rogue bears and I was armed with a tripod for the same reason. We didn’t see any bears on our walk, but when we got back airborne we saw plenty of moose. Probably a hundred of them. Just moos’ing around down in the marshy muck. Jack brought the plane down to 200 feet and banked left and then right, left and then right, following the river’s wanderings. I had never done that in a plane and it felt good. Like freedom. I put Crosby, Stills & Nash “Southern Cross” on our headsets, which put out great sound despite the growl of that great engine. The first chords started playing. I looked over at Jack and he nodded. For the next few minutes we were no longer strangers.
First I learned that you only need one to find your way Home. Learning to be alone is an essential part of a sound mind. Then I found out it was only with two that Home had meaning in my heart and not just my mind. Learning to be with two, entangled for eternity, might just be the most impossibly worthwhile feast of the heart. Then I found out it was only with three that Home was filling, like cornbread, chili, and a spooky novel on a rainy night. Learning to be with three is sacrificing ice cream for month then finding 30 pints stacked in your refrigerator one unsuspecting night. — For those wondering about the truck. Funny thing. It took me buying a 20-year-old Japanese truck to feel like I fit in around here. I think that says a lot about a place. Shakas started flying, people waved me into traffic, I stopped getting dirty looks at local surf spots. On the mainland in affluent, white communities my ol’ VW van creates smiles. It is a symbol of freedom, of trading stuff for the wonder of nothing. In Hawai’i my ol’ VW van creates some scowls and second looks. It seems to be a symbol of whiteness, of conquest, of hippies and tourists (who rent them here). It’s finally time for me do some real restoration on the van, so we have a shot at keeping him in the family forever. I wanted Donnie’s companion to be everything he wasn’t – locally respected, good on gas mileage, easy to haul stuff, and off-road capable. But still with a strong spirit, of course. So welcome Pippin (or Pip for short) to the family. A ’98 single-cab 4WD Tacoma with just the right amount of island-cruiser to blend in around here. I now, officially, have an old vehicle addiction.
Just a few weeks ago I was done with this place. I don’t ever get out of bed and think, “I just can’t wait to hop on social media and post THAT!” It just feels like I SHOULD be posting, you know, to stay relevant. Publish or perish. People have told me I'm selfish not to share my work more often, but isn't that just something over-sharers say? Growing up in the Midwest I learned to keep quiet unless I knew, and knowing takes a lot more listening than talking. So becoming a blabbermouth is one of my greatest fears (and just look at me now). Every day I scroll down this page with an uneasy feeling... for how our brains are being re-wired by chatter-slinging algorithms, content-happy influencers curating their lives into big ass billboards we can’t look away from, and fake news – of the personal variety. I have a great life, but I have the same struggles with money, fights with my partner and family, and self-doubt that you do. You know, the grit. The real news. The stuff we all hide here but cozy up next to in bestsellers. I’ve decided the only way to keep this little app fun is to see how real I can write inside virtual reality. And I’ll probably embarrass some people since that's a pre-requisite of good writing. Anyway, I appreciate you being here; without you this would all just sit in some mildewed journal my maybe-someday kids would find in a box. But now these words live forever, on a hard drive in a small town in Oregon being cooled by massive air conditioners powered by a dam somewhere grand.
Watching a book come to life feels like all the intangibles of the creative process – passion, crazy ideas, doubt, and small daily successes – slowly hardening into permanence. I couldn’t help but smile most of yesterday as I huddled up fireside with @chrisburkard and @archive.art in a beachside shack, and we began bringing the Iceland book to life. So rarely do I allow myself to think about the end when I start something, whether it be a relationship, a goal, a job, a hobby. But being able to look back on something in totality, with some kind of gained perspective, be it good or bad or in-between, well that is special. Our hope is to have the book out by the fall, and we should know more soon.
Leaving on a jet plane. Always leaving on a jet plane. Not a matter of if, only when. On a day of historic proportions in Hawai’i… waves as tall as 6-story buildings unload their precious blue fury on the north shore. Snow as low as 7,000 feet graces Haleakalā. Southwest winds howl their disapproval at the weakest trees. Power is out. A don’t fuck with mother nature kind of day on Maui. Every time I leave this place, I wanna leave it less. It’s so easy to feel a tiny bit sour about a place or routine… but once it’s 587 miles-per-hour to your backside, things come into great clarity. And I start feeling like a true schmuck for ever being grumpy about a chore, or project, or a lack of spontaneity. I suppose that’s the great purpose of travel… to get some distance form the box we each walk into every day. My box is a good box, it contains it ALL. But it’s still a box, and it’s easy to get stuck in the corners sometimes. But then I arrive at the airport and stare at my plane in disbelief about what it’s about to do, and I feel it all over again... the airport has all the answers. I’ll soon be up above 35,000 feet with a great push from the jet stream, on my way to the Golden State to realize that I’ve already got it all here.
I’m not gonna say I saved a guy’s life the other day, but that may not be a lie either. I was walking in the jungle trying to clear my mind of some wicked hangover blues. The line between fun and hangover has become remarkably thin at 35, it only takes 3 IPAs these days. Pathetic, I know. Anyway I arrived at one of my favorite ponds, a place remote enough only a few locals probably know it. Yet atop the waterfall pouring into the pond, a man immediately came into view. Damn. My solitude broken by a 38ish year-old guy with flowing brown hair, trimmed chest hair, and a tank top tan. Just enough belly fat to announce that 9 hours of his days were handed over to a desk. But with reluctance. His evenings were clearly spent at the gym but the desk was winning the battle, by a nose. The archetype male who needs to prove something to himself after years of proving to the Man he can’t say NO. So he looks for off-trail adventure on Maui and discovers its ability to be everything but paradise. Screaming at each other over the raging falls, I gathered he had been lost for 2 hours and wondered whether he could jump safely. I knew he could, but it’d have to be an exact landing not to get hurt. The poop brown water from the previous night’s rain made that promise unlikely, so I pointed him in the direction I thought he could escape through the bush. I hiked to intersect his trail and heard bushes and branches cracking in my direction. Relief. I wasn’t going to have to get further involved in this guy’s adventure. Or call a helicopter. I really hated that idea. I learned he was a Spaniard via way of Los Angeles. He hadn’t panicked but was preparing to sleep the night out in the jungle, a decidedly shitty headspace. Then I showed up... or he showed up to me. He said an angel had been watching over him and pointed to the sky like professional athletes do after a strike-out or touchdown or 3-pointer. I wasn’t sure if he was truly religious or if the angel he was referring to was me. That’d be pretty vain to think that. Either way, I pointed him in the direction of the road and hiked deeper into the jungle, hoping every new step would convince my hangover to release its death grip.
Home for the night. Looks comfy, eh? Beans for dinner, snow for dessert, no tent for the night cap. Light n’ fast. It’s a great ethos. Only they forgot a word. Light n’ fast n’ miserable. Our college swim coach used to hand us the workout and say “misery loves company.” That’s when you knew you were really fucked. Usually a 10,000 yard workout, 7 miles of lactic-acid-burning-all-out swimming. But he was right, sure was better knowing your friends swimming silently next to you were miserable too. So people like us in this picture, we still chase that feeling from time-to-time. Life dealt us an easy card, so we do things for fun to make it harder. Like camping in the rocks on the shoulder of Mount Hood to climb up and ski down in the morning. If sleep comes, it’ll be filled with nightmares of the mangy snowpack and a 2AM alarm. I’ve always found it hard to sleep with a 2AM alarm counting down. But it’s friends like these that get you into moments like these. Sure makes for great photos to post on the internet.
No number of tourists in fuzzy-hooded-bought-for-Iceland-jackets flying drones haphazardly above my head could keep me from enjoying sunrise seen through this piece of glacial ice on this black sand beach.
When things feel a little too heavy, go up the mountain. When the news makes you choke on your eggs, go up the mountain. When you find yourself scrolling and don’t know why, go up the mountain. When you can’t remember the last good thing you heard about the planet, go up the mountain. When you’re tired as a dog a noon and there’s no good reason, go up the mountain. It doesn’t matter how you go… foot, car, ski, bike, gondola, hitchhike, helicopter… just get on up there. And sit and wait. And watch the clouds wash it clean.
I have a complicated relationship with this bay. It’s one of my favorite places on Maui. And it’s one of my least favorite places on Maui. It’s certainly one of the most beautiful places on Maui. If it weren’t for the waves that break here, I probably would avoid it. My first time here in the van, I got screamed at for being there, maybe because I’m a white boy in a “tourist” van. Or maybe because the guy was hopped up on drugs. Who knows. A few weeks back, my buddies and I had the whole place to ourselves. We surfed and drank beers on the back of a pickup truck as the sun sank pink. Certain places in Hawai’i will always keep me on my toes. Sometimes I complain. But then again, it’s always been the grit of a place that keeps me interested.
I pulled off the pavement an hour before sunrise. Not early, 7AM. How sweet is the fall’s sunrise for a good night’s sleep? My map told me this was the place. No signs, just a pullout and a single parked car. Someone sleeping reclined in the front of their sedan. I didn’t see them, but the water drops inside the windows were a dead give away. Good thing I hadn’t seen a cop in Iceland yet, though they probably wouldn’t care about a roadside sleeper, unlike the tight-ass American version. The trail down to the glacial lagoon was hardpack, a bunch of pebbles cemented together by frozen soil. The kind of aesthetic people pay tens of thousands for in SoCal sidewalks. I set up my tripod and faced the rising sun for my first image ever of ice on a black rock beach. I heard a splash next to me. A black head poked from the water, two dark eyeballs focused on me. A seal. Brrrr, such hearty creatures. This one told me to stop disturbing its 9-minute morning snooze.
Just waking up from a social media winter’s nap. It was glorious. It always is... submerging oneself in the real world. Queue the @instagram algorithm’s punishment for not posting for a week. I hope you all had some nice lazy days and are feeling as brain dead and fat ‘n sassy as I am today.
One of the most common questions @haleygracef asks me: so do you like surfing better than skiing now? It always makes me laugh. She’s rooting so hard for surfing – her childhood and adult love – to become my favorite. Hoping to convert a mountainman into an oceanman in four years flat. Though that conversion definitely seems to be happening (and gladly so), it feels right on the solstice to post a tribute to my first love – bluebird backcountry skiing deeeeep in the Sierra.
I’m fascinated by the paths people take in life, and the factors that got them there. I wonder what this guy’s first wave was like? Did he love it, or did he get pounded? Did he love the pounding? Somewhere along the line, I imagine he had mentors with decades-deep knowledge about the ocean. Similar to how I had mentors with decades-deep knowledge about how to swim the butterfly. I ended up in a pool training with a clock. He ended up in the ocean training with the fiercest mother nature can deliver.
Old and new. City and country. Aloneness and togetherness. Routine and adventure. Known and unknown. Too much of any one of these and our senses dull. I’ve always found it’s the contrasts in life where things grow sharper.