The Grand Canyon – 5 Days Below the Rim (Fall ’19)

What do you say when a friend calls and asks if you’d be interested in hiking the trails of the Grand Canyon? “Why, yes of course,” I said, forgetting to ask about details before agreeing. It didn’t occur to me to inquire about the particulars such as duration, miles per day, or even specific dates. None of that mattered. I am a hiker at heart and haven’t been to the Grand Canyon for more than a decade. My calendar was cleared and I was already mentally putting together an equipment list.

I’m not sure where the tradition came from. Trail hikers, in particular, Appalachian Trail hikers and Pacific Trail hikers all have trail names. Presumably trail names are given to a person by fellow hikers while out in the wild. One-Mile, who earned his trail name on day three, took on the role of guide due to his vast experience and genuine passion for anything and everything that can be learned about the Grand Canyon. He procured our permit, organized an itinerary, and headed up the logistics to ensure all 5 of us in the party were able to convene at the South Rim of Grand Canyon the evening before we set out. Paratus was the only member of the party I’d ever hiked with but knew right away that an outing with One-Mile, Big-Foot, and Chair was going to be epic.

The last hours of daylight warned that if we wanted to reconnoiter and view some of our route from the rim, we’d need to get a move on. My first look at the Grand Canyon was breath taking, awe inspiring, and all the other words one could come up with to cover the mix of emotions one experiences when facing the immensity and scale of so much nature in one view.

The Geologic Museum on the South Rim was the perfect place to gain some orientation. It was still open when we arrived, giving us a chance to trace our route on the enormous raised relief model, which sits in the center of the museum.

Our route had us departing from the Hermit Rest trailhead, down along a ridge to the Colorado Plateau (more of a long accordant terrace), where we would join the Tonto Trail and traverse and wind to the East before looping back up the Bright Angel trail. Our itinerary included a couple of side trips as well.

From the rim that first evening, we were able to see the section of the Bright Angle we’d be hiking on the last of our 5-day outing. The encampment at Indian Garden looked close enough, but the vertical distance was tremendous. Due to the immediate drop at the rim, I couldn’t see the trail leading up from Indian Garden. I couldn’t even imagine how it was possible for a trail to cling anywhere in the vicinity, to the steep walls of the canyon.

As we continued our reconnaissance along the rim, we stopped at a spot just above a place aptly named “the Abyss.” Though it was possible to see portions of the Tonto trail winding along the plateau thousands of feet below, there was no trail going up or down. The Abyss is a sheer wall of sandstone that terminates some 4,000 feet below the rim. Here we watched the sun set and toasted to a successful and enjoyable hike.

The next morning while waiting for the shuttle bus to take us to the Hermit Rest trailhead, I told One-Mile that my 60th summer 2020 was on the near horizon, and I was planning to thru-hike the John Muir Trail (JMT). One-Mile said he’d just come off a section of the JMT the month prior and that we should strategize about equipment, mileage and such. Paratus was standing next to me, his pack resting next to One-Mile’s on the bus stop bench. I’ve known him for almost 30 years. Paratus is a thinker and per his Latin trail name is always prepared. He does everything right and when he is unfamiliar, he defers to the experts. Paratus’s pack is a carbon copy of One-Miles, down to every detail including three one liter “Smart Water” bottles used for storage and filtering.

I bantered with Chair and Big-foot on the 20 minute bus ride to the trailhead. Bigfoot lives in Las Vegas not too far from One-Mile. Together, they’d done a few other trips, but this was Big-foot’s first in the canyon. Chair is Big-Foot’s cousin, his pack is bigger than everyone else’s. Having lead several Boy Scout trips, Chair is used to having to carry extra things and didn’t seem concerned about extra weight.

When we got off the bus, it felt like we were getting a late start at 9:30 am. The chill of the October air had already been replaced with arid warmth. One must stay hydrated when doing anything in an environment like this one. We topped off our water bottles at the top of Hermit’s Rest, hefted our packs, grabbed trekking poles and set off down the trail. Those first easy steps were quickly transformed by terrain that demanded ones attention.

At 59 years old, my joints don’t handle impact very well. I don’t think I could hike Hermit’s Rest trail or any like it without my trekking poles. Within the first mile, we were spread out along the trail, each at his own pace. I found myself comfortably stair stepping down the steep terrain at the back of the line and nearly stepped on what looked like a fake Halloween spider. Only it wasn’t. This one was big, black, fuzzy and moving ever so slightly on an exposed rock in the middle of the trail. I hailed everyone back so they could look at the spider. Not because I thought they’d find it interesting, rather for my own sake, “you should have seen the huge spider I nearly stepped on…!”

For most of the morning, the switchback trail was sheltered from direct sun exposure by walls of the South rim. Half way down Hermit trail, there is a fresh water spring draining into a trough. There wouldn’t be another water source until we reached Monument Creek, so we filtered and topped off our water bottles.

After a long descent, we arrived at the junction of the Hermit and Tonto trails, where we found ourselves hiking beneath a blazing sun without any cover. Though temperature of the October air doesn’t come close to what it would be in July, all of us felt the additional toll it took on our energy reserves, slowing our pace for the later half of the first day’s hike. I carry an ultra-light hiking umbrella for such occasions, but we found ourselves hiking in a rather stiff fall wind, so the umbrella was of no use.

The Tonto trail snakes its way along the contours of the canyon. A couple hours on the Tonto and our party was stretched out, each of us meditatively solo hiking. We all reconstituted at the top of a short steep descent named the Cathedral Staircase, reminiscent of the kind of steep spiral staircase one might encounter in the bell tower of a medieval European cathedral. By the time we reached the bottom, we were at the base of the Abyss, the wall we’d looked down over the evening before.

The final miles lead us around the corner of a landform that shaded us from the early evening sun. I was surprised to see so many other groups of hikers at the designated camp area of Monument Creek. All of us had exhausted the contents of our water bottles, so once we located a passable camp spot (there were only a few left), we filtered water for rehydrating both ourselves, and our freeze-dried dinners.

I could tell Chair and Big-foot were happy to shed their packs. Chair got his name after we discovered that he’d carried a folding camp chair along with his essentials, which explained why his pack was heavier than everyone else’s. Chair places high value on camp comfort, so we teased him relentlessly over the knowledge that eventually he’ll be lugging it up the Bright Angle.

Each of us located flat sandy spots big enough for tents/shelters. The evening air was dry and warm, so I elected to cowboy camp atop a Gortex bivy bag. I had to admit I felt weary from the day’s exertion. I didn’t anticipate how difficult hiking in the Grand Canyon could be. My weariness was remedied once we’d pitched camp and One-Mile prepared guacamole and chips for all of us to share while boiling up water for dinners.

When you are deep in the Grand Canyon, down in a ravine with a semi-dry creek running through it, and the sun dips below the rim, darkness comes in stages. The final stage feels like a light switch is suddenly flipped off. Stars twinkle and within a quarter of an hour the sky is painted with astral dust. The only sources of light in camp are the glow from cooking stoves and the occasional red beam from someone’s headlamp.

With the exception of Chair, who sat in his chair, the rest of us sat on flat rocks in a circle around someone’s camp stove. I was so tired from the hike and my knees cried out for me to get up from the low rock and stretch out flat on my bivy. It felt heavenly to lay there looking up at the dark sky speckled with stars.

Moments later I heard voices and a rustling of critters followed shortly by Paratus and One-Mile shuffling their way toward my location. One-Mile was chuckling and said something to Paratus, I thought it might have had to do with my meager sleep system. Moments later I find out what they were talking about was the skunk they’d chased out of our camp area. One-Mile was torn between the humor of the situation and concern over what might happen if the thing had sprayed someone.

Paratus settled into his tent and before either of us fell asleep, we heard sounds of critters everywhere, including a rustling near our packs. We both got up, re-assessed what we had in our Ursaks and went through everything else, to include trash, Luna Bar wrappers, empty zip locks that held trail mix, etc. All of this we added to our Ursaks. With that chore complete, the sounds of nature settled into a rhythm permitting a restful sleep. That is until I awoke in the dim light of early dawn. When I looked up into the low tree branches above me I saw several little mice running through the branches the way squirrels usually do.

As the morning light flooded the camp, the mice disappeared. By the time we were all up and about finishing breakfast, the other hikers camped nearby had since left. We immediately relocated to the best site in Monument Creek. With everything in order, we stuffed water bottles and lunch snacks into our daypacks and headed down to Granite Rapids. The 3-mile hike out and back followed the creek bed down to the Colorado River.

We spent the day dowsing ourselves in the river and lounging on a beach by a calm stretch of water. This late in the season, there was very little river traffic. We saw one group of kayaker’s supported by a team of rafts. Big-Foot earned his trail name when we discovered he was keeping his blisters to himself. We heard no complaints from happy go lucky Big-Foot. One-Mile came to the rescue to assist Big-Foot with some preventative treatment.

We arrived back at camp in the shady light of early evening. Big-Foot provided each of us with two “minis” of our choice for a happy hour. We decided we’d do a happy hour with one of them at Monument Creek, and save the other for Indian Garden.

With a nice buzz going, by the time we were finished with our respective dinners, the sky was dark and the stars were popping with a brightness only found in the remotest places humans travel. We spent the next hour or so star gazing and spotting satellites before the cold of the night drove us into the warmth of our sleeping bags.

The Monument Creek campsite is situated about 400 vertical feet below a ledge with a set of steep switchbacks leading up to the Colorado Plateau and the Tonto trail. Anticipating the high temperatures of the day, we headed out at first light to cover as much distance on the Tonto as possible before the relentless sun could do its work.

The Tonto twists and turns its way in and out of the various landforms making up the intermediate depths of the Grand Canyon. There are no safe water sources between us, and Indian Garden, so each of us was weighed down with at least 3 liters. There is majesty to the canyon. The way natural light casts contrasting hues of color against the blue sky of an Arizona morning can only happen in such a place. I overheard Paratus and One-Mile conversing in a low tone. “Desperation,” said Paratus. That is what he told One-Mile he was feeling amidst the formidable terrain of the inner canyon.

There is enough lore regarding the unforgiving nature of the landscape in Grand Canyon to fill thick books. In fact there is a book titled, “Death in the Canyon,” that catalogues nearly all the canyon’s fatalities to date.

One-Mile related several of the stories of hikers and runners who’d over estimated their capabilities and underestimated the environment. Some fell, some simply lost their way and died of dehydration. The moment harkened back to the pre-departure safety briefing that One-Mile gave us before setting off on the Hermit trail. “There is no easy way to obtain assistance while in the canyon,” he said. Paraphrased, he told us there would be places we’ll be traveling where, even with rescue underway, an injured person may land in grave danger and become a danger to the entire party.

One-Mile is a self-reliant hiker. Having solo hiked the canyon on occasion, One-Mile is familiar with and manages risk with a cool head. Though I personally enjoy being completely unplugged while out in nature, I recognize the value of incorporating technology where it makes sense. One-Mile carries a Garmin In Reach and solar charger. It has a capability of sending status reports, lat/longs, and other data via satellite. It serves as a piece of mind, not just for the members of the party but for the loved ones back home to know that all is well at the end of each day’s hiking.

In the later hours of the morning, the inescapable sun began to do its work. I was very glad I had the portable shade of my umbrella. I tried strapping it to my pack so that I might be able to use my trekking poles, but the trail wound around and around resulting in changing sun angles while I hiked. The trail on the plateau was smooth enough that I stowed the trekking poles in favor of shade. It was a good decision. I was in my own world at my own pace hiking the remaining miles into Indian Garden.

Indian Garden sits in an oasis at the junction of the Tonto and Bright Angel trails. It is a busy place, overwhelmingly busy after hiking the Tonto. Even though our permit guaranteed us a site, I discovered there were only two left. Since I was the first to arrive, I staked out the better one for our group. The others arrived a little while later. All of us were exhausted from the trek in the sun. After pitching camp, One-Mile suggested a swimming/bathing spot nearby, “maybe a mile,” he said. Reflecting on the reconnoitering I did on the way into camp, I couldn’t imagine a spot on the creek big enough to immerse in, so I elected to clean up in the shallow stream near our camp and remain behind. The truth is, I was exhausted and had no desire to put my boots back on.

One-Mile got his trail name because after the hot dusty trek, the others lusted for the opportunity to immerse in the swimming hole that One-Mile spoke of. I didn’t see the four of them until the sun began to set and that wasn’t because everyone enjoyed bathing for an extended period. The short out and back one-mile hike wasn’t quite the case either.

This scenario reminded me of my surfing days. Surfers standing on the shore assessing a set of large waves peeling over a reef, will often state the wave height as follows: “looks like maybe 5-6 feet,” when in reality the wave heights are in the teens. So long as one doesn’t have to paddle out to experience their power, it is a way to sound cool. However, One-Mile isn’t that kind of guy. He just wanted to share with his friends, every aspect of the canyon that he loves.

The evening at Indian Garden began with a happy hour. Each of us consumed our second “mini,” which Big-Foot” so graciously provided (though we carried our own). Before turning in, One-Mile produced a miniature deck of cards and we let him slaughter us in a few hands of Hearts.

There is nothing quite as wonderful as a restful sleep after a day of exertion. I cowboy camped atop the picnic table beneath the open shelter and looked forward to waking refreshed the following morning. What I didn’t know was just how quiet mule deer can be. Our packs were hung well out of reach of critters and our Ursaks were stowed in the metal bear box provided by the park service. What could go wrong? It might have been the heavy breathing coming from deer nostrils that stirred my sleep. I woke startled by the face of a juvenile buck slurping its tongue inches from my face. Fearless and almost domesticated, we saw an entire family of these animals living in Indian Garden.

Regardless, I was well rested and so was everyone else. I can’t quite remember how far One-Mile said our hike down to Phantom Ranch and back was going to be, but actual distance had to have added up to a bit more. We hiked down the “Devil’s Cork Screw.” At the bottom Paratus struck up a conversation with a man picking up trash off the trail. He was wearing a “Retired Air Force” hat. Generally, the trails and campsites in the Canyon are free of signs that people had been there. However the Bright Angel is the most traveled in the canyon. The final stretch at the bottom clung to a sheer rock wall on the southern bank of the Colorado. Soon there were two bridges leading across to the settlement at Phantom Ranch.

With a little luck and reasonable fee, you can make a reservation, ride a mule down, and stay at Phantom Ranch. There are several small cabins and a communal dinning room with a small convenience shop with postal service included. Unless you’re staying at the ranch, full meals aren’t available. We were, able to procure a beer, some snacks, a fresh apple, and postcards. I wrote/sent one to my wife which was stamped on the back, “Delivered by mule from the bottom of the Grand Canyon.” The label on the IPA beer that I drank had a map of the rim-to-rim trail drawn on it.

Rested and having consumed one beer, some salami and apple for sustenance, we filled our water bottles and headed back up to Indian Garden. Paratus and I hiked up the Devil’s Cork Screw together. Paratus peeled off at the one-mile swimming hole, which is more like two miles from Indian Garden, and waited for the others.

Hiker midnight comes at around 9 pm. Our little camp was asleep by mid-night. Our final day in the canyon consisted of 4.5 miles of elevation gain back up to the South Rim. Big-Foot and Chair hit the trail just prior to sunrise. Chair wanted some additional leeway to catch an early flight back to his working world. The rest of us followed about a half hour later. We all wanted to be at the top before the sun could do its work.

The stretch of trail between Indian Garden and the rim is divided into mile-and-a-half sections with rest shelters, vault toilets, and water at Three-mile House, Mile-and-a-half House, and Indian Garden at the bottom. On the way up, we blew by the first stop. Halfway up I was feeling every switchback. The trail itself was surprisingly smooth. Just before reaching Mile-and-a-half House, we ran into a pack train of people riding mules. On the way up, we also saw evidence of some trail maintenance.

One-Mile and I were feeling a bit smug about completing our adventure without returning with any uneaten food. Paratus chimed in and admitted he still had a couple sealed packs of tuna and a fresh zip lock full of trail mix. From the bushes below the shelter came a voice, “I’ll take it if you don’t need it,” he said. Within moments, a young guy with long hair and a quirky tick vaulted up the steep stairs leading to the stone hut. The young man was seasonally employed by Mercy Corps and headed a trail work party made up of at risk youth.

Less than an hour later we were standing on the top of the South Rim and within minutes were greeted by Chair and Big-Foot, who had enough time to retrieve their vehicle and stow their packs. Both of them already looked refreshed and ready for anything. One-Mile then offered to buy everyone a celebratory ice cream before we went our separate ways. In all, we had a successful and fulfilling adventure.

The author, (Professor), Scott H. (One-Mile), and Mike C. (Paratus), are former USAF colleagues. Chuck S. (Big-Foot), Scott and Mike are pilots for Southwest Airlines and John M. (Chair) is an Attorney from Ohio. The author still isn’t sure how he got his trail-name.

Posted in Backpacking, Blogging, Outdoor Adventure, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Backpacker’s Secret Spots: One night out in the North Cascades

As a recently retired person who loves hiking with my dog, I decided to take action on a day dream.  The day dream I used to enjoy involved a realization that with perfect weather on the perfect day, I would drop what I was doing, pack up and go.  Finally I said to myself, “why not.”

A couple of years ago, a friend shared with me his notes about a secluded lake with a trailhead about an hour and a half from my home.  I couldn’t locate the place on any map in my possession but with the notes I had, I was pretty sure I could find the trailhead.  Preparing and leaving was a simple matter, I keep nearly all my backpacking gear handy and packed.  I added a couple packets of freeze dried meal fixings from a large stash I keep around, measured out some kibble for the dog, added some herbal tea bags, packets of freeze dried coffee, filled a water bottle for the hike in (I usually filter the water I’d consume from a local source), and tossed everything in the back of the car.  I asked my furry little buddy to hop in and off we went.

Once we were off the main highway, we only saw one other vehicle, headed the opposite direction. Less than 2 hours after leaving Portland, we arrive at the trailhead.  It was a Wednesday afternoon in late summer and no other vehicles were parked at the trailhead.  Not a soul or sound in sight or within earshot either.  Only a few smudged footprints were visible in the pine dust when we started the short trek in.

The trail itself isn’t very long or difficult.  In my experience, these types of hikes usually lead to places filled with remnants of young people’s outdoor parties and all that goes with them – trail trash, beer cans, fire pits with partially burnt refuse etc. But…this was different, totally and unexpectedly peaceful, clean, and pleasant.  I suspect only a few people have even heard of this place and those who know of it, respect it and “leave no trace” of their visits.  With my dog Matisse leading the way, we contoured around to a shallow ravine where we could hear the sound of Green Lake Creek cascading down the draw to the White River 5 miles below.  I carefully stepped across some large stones in the creek, keeping my feet dry while Matisse slogged across slurping while rehydrating himself.  Most of the trail wound along the contour with a couple of detours around recently fallen timber from the previous winter (lots of fallen trees everywhere – this past winter provided the north cascades with a particularly heavy snow).

To my great surprise, we arrived on the lake’s shore at about 3:00pm.  The only sounds came from a raptor hiding in the high branches of one of the many pines lining the lake.  Between the large bird’s infrequent squawks was the rhythmic sound of wavelets lapping the deadfall along the shore accompanied by the buzz of aquatic insects dancing over the lake’s surface.  I thought that maybe since it was still early there might be some late arrivals – maybe even a large group.  With that possibility, we decided to pitch camp and take in the peace and quiet for as long as possible.

I used to have different gear for back packing.  Most of my stuff was ’70s vintage and reliable, but also bulky and heavy.  I’ve also discovered that at a certain human vintage (mid-’50s) one can hike faster and farther with less weight.  I’ve since ditched my old gear and acquired some pretty nice lightweight and durable equipment that makes my outdoor adventures even more rewarding.  In all, my entire outfit weighs in at less than 25 lbs.  That includes hiking poles (double as shelter frame), hammock (I use it as a lounge chair mostly), and ukulele (my 22 lb banjo would blow my entire pack light strategy).  With my current arrangement it takes about 10 minutes to set up or strike camp.

Catalpa Lake

By 6:30 pm, the sun cast a long shadow over the lake and as it sank below the west ridge, caused the water to go still.  I prepped some kibble in a collapsable bowl for my dog, then set about making dinner for myself.  The Jetboil stove had 2 cups of water boiling inside of 45 seconds.  This I poured into a pouch of Beef Stroganoff, which I stirred and resealed in order for it to rehydrate for about 20 min.  I then filtered some more water and boiled it up for tea.  It wasn’t a gourmet meal, but in the out of doors, everything tastes good.

With sunset, I determined we’d be the sole residents of this wonderful secret spot in the North Cascades.  I thought this kind of solitude could only be achieved in the off-season, but I was rewarded with the unexpected.  Morning unfolded in reverse order with peaceful solitude prevailing throughout the entire experience.  I’ll be heading up to Catalpa Lake again in a couple of weeks – on a Wednesday afternoon for sure.

Posted in Backpacking, Outdoor Adventure | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Book Review – Hound of the Sea: Wild Man. Wild Waves. Wild Wisdom by Garrett McNamara

Deserves to Be Read (4 out of 5 Stars)

McNamara’s surf memoir is a worthy read if only for the fact that he was the first to conquer surfing a 100 ft wave.  This work chronicles McNamara’s life from childhood through the present.

With respect to non-fiction memoirs written by prominent personalities from the surfing world, I make it a point to read them all.  Unlike other athletic pursuits, surfers rarely take time to write about their sport.  Hound of the Sea is a story written by a surfer for surfers.  The title is a reference to the author’s Celtic surname meaning “hound of the sea”.

Unlike Finnegan’s Barbarian Days and Duane’s Caught Inside, McNamara’s story doesn’t come across as a literary, colorful, masterpiece of prose.  Nearly all the chapters are 5-6 pages long that address specific milestones or memorable moments in the author’s life.  The first 77 pages seemed pretty unremarkable at first, but later it was clear how the early non-surfing years of the author’s life gave shape to his life goal “To Keep Surfing”.

What I really enjoyed about reading this book was the honesty and mater of fact transparency the author so humbly offers to anyone interested in really knowing what it is to walk in his shoes (or more appropriately his flip flops).  Among the elite few who’ve ever surfed “Jaws,” “Teahupo’o,” “Mavericks,” or “Cortes Bank” to name a handful of monster big wave spots, at one point or another, these surfers all discover that what they do in the water is like living in a fish bowl.  The chapter titled “Incident at Cortes Bank” is one example of how the opinions of non-witnesses and media could really crush a person’s spirit.  This was a really important passage and I’m glad McNamara chose to include it.

What I didn’t enjoy reading about was the cavalier attitude toward including marijuana and other drugs in the surfing lifestyle. True as it may have been for McNamara, it is sad and disappointing to be reminded that not every surfer (even those who are tremendously accomplished) is a clean living, serious athlete.

In the end, what worked for me as an admirer of Garrett McNamara was the “blue print” he developed to become the kind of serious big wave rider who is worthy of historical recognition.  In the realm where McNamara operates (riding enormous killer waves), one cannot imagine how these surfers are able to keep fear in check.  In his words, brief and concise, on page 219, McNamara says, “Fear is something we create, because we’re stuck in the past or envisioning the future.  If we stay in the present there is no fear.”  Coming from a man who’d endured the physical trauma of having his body tortured from the thousands of pounds per square inch and being pounded on reefs countless times, there is no question that Mr. McNamara has the credibility to speak to fear.

McNamara’s work is a testimony that even a crooked path can lead to greatness if one remains humble and sticks to their “blue print.”

 

 

Posted in Book Reviews, Memoir, Reviews, Surfing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Book Review – Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life by William Finnegan

Exquisitely written – thoughtful, honest, credible, and adventurous

51kz1xP+sDL._AC_US160_When I heard about Mr. Finnegan’s memoir, chronicling his lifetime of surfing adventures intertwined with his journey as a writer, I knew it would be one of the best books I’ve read. Readers who have never surfed a wave or had any interest in the surfing lifestyle will still find this work well worth reading.  Finnegan has a knack for smooth beautiful writing that will evoke emotions both familiar and otherwise.

This memoir is more than a story of one man’s life’s journeys and adventures.  It is an exploration of what it means to be devoted, almost entirely to a way of life.  With Barbarian Days, Finnegan created an avenue for the non-surfer to become immersed in what a relationship with the ocean is all about.  As a surfer, William Finnegan could likely be counted among the very few who have surfed many of the best, challenging waves that the world’s most exotic locales have to offer.

One of the later chapters that I found captivating was the author’s experiences with San Francisco’s “Ocean Beach”.  Having grown up surfing on that stretch of coast, the winter swells at VFWs, Noriega, Sloat, and Fleishackers, is still considered something a surfer must work up to. These aren’t places a casual surfer can handle, even in perfect conditions. Finnegan offers an honest, unblemished portrait of the Ocean Beach experience without any need for embellishment.  Conquering the winter waves at Ocean Beach is an extremely difficult endeavor that only an author with Finnegan’s experience and credibility can illustrate with integrity.

As a reputable writer, William Finnegan is proof positive that it is indeed within the art of the possible that a great surfer can at the same time be a great writer.

Posted in Book Reviews, Memoir, Surfing | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Re-Read/Review: “Dove” by Robin Lee Graham

I rarely read anything twice – If I am interested in a piece of fiction or a non-fiction work, I’ll take my time while reading so I can deeply digest and reflect on every aspect of content.  While engaging in a writing project with the theme “Wind and Water”, a spark of nostalgia hit me and inspired me to re-read Dove, by Robin Lee Graham.  I didn’t remember that it was a particularly well written account of his exploits as a boy sailor who circumnavigated the globe solo in his 24 foot sloop, returning as a man 5 years later, but still his story remained in the back of my mind.  

When I re-read Dove, I discovered that indeed it was surprisingly well written, given the age of the author.  Clearly Graham’s work with Derek Gill had something to do with the outcome, but the real work was accomplished by an extra-ordinary young man who challenged the elements.  

As one who’s read nearly everything on the topic of solo sailing adventures, I questioned why this one was so different than the others. For me, the answer was that Dove did not include extensive passages detailing the work and procedures involved in maneuvering and navigating a small boat across oceans.  Graham’s account was more about the personal journey and the love he found while experiencing humanity in all its diversity.  

51Z7TSycylL._AC_UL115_My review follows:

Still Extraordinary Years later – the Second Time Around (5 Star Review)

I read “Dove” shortly after it’s initial publication arrived in our local library. I was thirteen years old and entranced by what I’d read. This unique “coming of age” non-fiction account, inspired me along with hordes of others to pursue the kind of adventure that Robin Lee Graham wrote of in “Dove”. For both blue water sailors and those dreaming of such experiences, this story and the movie that followed, is to sailing, what “A River Runs Through It” and its movie, is to fly fishing.

I have no doubt that global blue water cruising had increased in popularity as a result of Graham’s voyage and his subsequent book that reads like a classic coming of age novel. After all these years, and having read nearly all the other books written by globe trotting sailors, a spark of nostalgia for those days in the early ’70s inspired me to read it again. I’m really glad I did, because this one stands out among all the others. Not because it was one of the first of its kind, but because Graham made it personal. His account was of a boy coming of age during an extraordinary adventure in both idyllic and life threatening situations – all before the age of GPS and real time communications.

If you’re a fan of coming of age literature or have an itch for armchair travel, this story will do more for you than satisfy the itch. It will inspire you to get out there and test yourself and perhaps discover true happiness.

 

 

Posted in Book Reviews, Memoir, Reviews | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Book Review: “Caught Inside – A Surfer’s Year on the California Coast” by Daniel Duane

Five Stars – Nostalgic – Exquisitely written expose’ on Surfing

The book’s description on Amazon was more than enough to convince me to order a copy.  I read the preface as soon as it arrived and wasn’t able to put it down until reading the final, evocative pages of the epilogue. Having grown up in the S.F. Bay Area, and traveled/surfed the same stretch of coast in the ‘70s that Duane writes about, I can attest to the honesty and authenticity of this wonderfully crafted piece of non-fiction that answers so many questions about the lure of the world’s greatest sporting adventure.

51k19KOj6gL._SX332_BO1,204,203,200_This book is everything it should be and more.  Duane’s style and delivery has a poetic touch that deviates from the stodgy conventions of other work I’ve read in the memoir genre.  Every passage is written with purpose and with words that stimulate all of the senses.  From the descriptions of the Santa Cruz cliffs overlooking Steamer Lane up toward Natural Bridges, 4 Mile, Scott and Waddell Creek and on up through Davenport and Pescadero, Duane took me on a ride that reminded me of everything I love about that stretch of coast.

The smell and taste of thick salty early morning Pacific fog and the muffled sound emanating from the lip of a heavy glassy wave smacking into the flat water came to mind. Reading along in the warmth of my living room, the cold and camaraderie of surfing with friends in a secluded spot, away from the crowd, also conjured emotions of nostalgia.  Duane’s relationship with the people in the community of Santa Cruz and those he surfs with ring true and offer insights recognizable by anyone who’s ever surfed California’s Central Coast. Though local surfers probably might not appreciate it, Duane’s story might just be the lure for others to come and experience the region.

Additionally, interspersed in each chapter are snippets of well researched history about the people who’ve brought surfing to the forefront over the preceding century.  Along with references to the testimonies of the observations about surfing from explorers, missionaries and likes of prominent figures like Mark Twain and Jack London.  Tales of some of surfing’s greatest personalities are also included (e.g. Greg Null and the legendary 50’ wave ridden at Makaha). Duane also provides easily digestible explanations of the technical details of wave physics, influences of weather and tide, and surfboard design, all of it contributing to the subtle complexity of what it is to be a surfer.

For anyone who’s ever roughed the wax on their board with a handful of sand before paddling out, or anyone who’s ever been held down in dark cold Central California water by a second wave in a set, Caught Inside is a must read. Others should read it for the pure beauty of place and Duenes’ exquisite writing.

Posted in Book Reviews, Memoir, Surfing | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Indie Author Journey 2016 #2

Last month I posted a short piece introducing the collaborative project I’m involved with as one of the Interesting Authors This month, we’ve expanded our reach by establishing the Interesting Authors Blog.  Since each of us already has a personal blog (for me it is this one), we thought we’d try something different.  Each of us posts something on different days each week.  It can be anything, but we aren’t selling a service, we aren’t marketing our novels, and we don’t have any links on the blog for purchasing books and novels.  What we do have are some interesting posts. 

Screen Shot 2016-02-09 at 5.09.16 PM

Does having a blog serve as part of the Interesting Authors marketing strategy?  Maybe, but we think it could become something more – a place to interact with people who aren’t shy about about expressing their opinions about interesting topics.  For some of us it serves as another opportunity to write on topics appealing to a different audience of readers.

One of my objectives is to develop a monthly theme so that each of my posts conform to a loose structure.  Other contributing authors are taking a different approach. In fact one of them is challenging the broader audience to participate and do some writing of their own.  If you’re reading this you’ll definitely want to drop by the i.a. blog.

Posted in Blogging, Novels | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Indie Author Journey – 2016 #1

Previously I’ve dedicated this blog to writing reviews and occasionally praising other artists to include those from the performing arts. This year I’ve decided to include a monthly highlight on my personal journey as an Independent Author.

iaLogo

Along with a group of authors I’ve been collaborating with, I’ve stepped up the energy for marketing the novels I’ve written.  Together, we built a website to serve as a hub to showcase what we’ve been up to.  We’ve also expanded our social media channels to include an i.a. Facebook page and a Twitter Feed.  A click of the mouse for a “like” and “follow” translates to a surprising amount of support. This year should be exciting for the five of us collaborating as a team of Interesting Authors.

Posted in Author Interviews, Blogging, Novels, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Best Books of 2015: Top 5 plus honorable mention

As we approach the close of 2015 and with the holiday season well underway, I thought now would be a good time to shout out about the top five books I read this year. Since I didn’t plug a “top 5” for 2014, I’m going to stretch and add a few to a separate list.

My followers probably already know that my passion for reading and writing comes from fictional stories of tragedy and triumph and I love “the quiet novel.”  This year I couldn’t help but include some non-fiction that molds so well into this theme:

The list of honorable mention works follow (alphabetically):

Bound for Distant Seas – by James Balwin.  Read my review and author interview here on this blog.

Levant Mirage – by Oliver Chase.  See my review.

Relic II – by Jonathan Brookes.  See my review.

The Opposite of Hollywood – by Margo Perin. See my review.

The best of 2014 – Though I read a lot of fiction in 2014, non-fiction and poetry stood out the most.  These are the titles:

The Boys in the Boat – by Daniel James Brown.  This was a work of what I’d consider the best in the non-fiction genre.  See my review.

I thought these two collections of poetry were among the most enjoyable I’ve read:  The Hundred Year House – by Michael McDowell.  I reviewed this collection and posted an author interview.  Another collection equally enjoyable was, We Walk Alone – by Mariah E. Wilson.  The author graciously granted this interview.

The Top 5 2015 Count-Down:

#5 The Former Hero – by Jeffrey Allen Mays

TFHI hadn’t read anything as good in the genre of experimental literature since the early ’70s when Ishmael Reed wow’ed me with The Last Days of Louisiana Red. My appetite for edgy writing is once again fulfilled.

 

 

 

 

 

#4  The Hunters – by James Salter174621

This excellent story about “when jets were young” is a must read for anyone who’s ever flown a combat jet.  See my review.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

K99_smallcover#3 Kilometer 99 – by Tyler McMahon

There are so many reasons I enjoyed this story.  The best advice I can offer perspective readers is to take the leap, read it and see for yourself.  Tyler granted me an author interview and provides some personal insights on “point of view.”

 

 

 

 

 

#2 The Light Between Oceans – by M.L. Stedman51zES0qTvqL._SX320_BO1,204,203,200_

By far this is the best debut novel I’ve read in decades.  I found it emotionally gripping with a strong theme.  The author also has a rare talent for presenting vivid place descriptions.  My review may encourage further investigation.

 

 

 

 

 

51GMimrJSpL._SX320_BO1,204,203,200_

 

#1 My top read for 2015 might just be among the very best for this decade!

When Women Were Birds by Terry Tempest Williams.  I discovered this short piece of non-fiction  while listening to a public radio interview about the author.  It is a work unique among those in the memoir genre.  I was deeply moved by the words.  See my recent review to get a bigger feel for what you’ll miss if you don’t read this lovely work.

Posted in Author Interviews, Blogging, Book Reviews, Memoir, Novels, Poetry, Reviews, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Book Review: The Boys in the Boat – by Daniel James Brown

Daniel James Brown knew what he was doing before he set out to write this highly entertaining and interesting piece of non-fiction. In fact, for me it will likely go down as the best I’ve read in this decade. In past decades, among the best that gripped my attention and tugged my emotions, I’d say that “The Perfect Storm” was the story of the ’90s, and for me, “Zeitoun” ranks near the top for those written at the turn of the century. “Boys in the Boat” rivals anything I’ve read this decade and suspect it will be a top contender for the best in the ten years of non-fiction I’ll be reading between now and 2020. 16158542

As a fiction writer, I rarely read non-fiction, but when I do, I’m reminded of where a truly good story comes from. With “Boys in the Boat”, I found myself riding along with the crew of “Husky Clipper” as they stroked or, in the terms the author more accurately describes as a crew of 9 swinging to “Gold” in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. As a voracious reader, I’ll offer a few things prospective readers should consider in their decision to invest their precious reading time in this fabulous work:

– The historical period was instrumental in the makings of a good story with plenty of drama (depression era, the rise of the Nazis, persecution of Jewish people, and the emerging age of media)

– The characters, all real people with a history of their own. From the coaches, the boat builder, and the entire crew, not just the 9 that represented USA in “Eights” at the ’36 Olympiad, but their families, the coach and crew of their rivals at Cal, and the political opponents in Germany during that era.

Brown delivers a well researched and meticulously crafted narrative that takes the reader on a blow-by-blow ride into the world of the common oarsman who achieved the uncommon during a period in history that shaped the world we live in. As I read, I found myself riding the roller coaster ride between laughing, riveted at the edge of my arm chair, and wiping the tears from my eyes as a result of the emotion the author managed to evoke by presenting readers with authentic stories that would resonate with anyone with a heart.

Posted in Book Reviews, Reviews | Tagged , , | 1 Comment