Tree Teachings

Tree Teachings

When I look back through my catalog of images, most of my favorites have one theme in common; they were shot from up in the trees. The vantage from within the trees is something that I almost always envision when I set out to a location. It helps frame the trails, actions, and landscapes in ways that we might not always get to experience, and often times reveals features that may have otherwise gone unnoticed. From climbing (and subsequently falling out of) pine trees as a youth, to years spent as a carpenter working with wood, trees have played a very central and formative role in nearly every aspect of my life.

A lot can be learned from our forests and how they persevere through adversity, whether it be fire, snow, wind, or drought. The trees tend to be able to rebound, adapt, and cling on to life, even in the harshest of environments. They can grow on inhospitable rock faces, and even a few sustain life in desert environments. They tell the stories of the years hardship with the bows in their trunks, and crooks in their branches. They gift us with the ability to build shelter and to warm ourselves as they pass into their afterlife. When you take lumber and begin to work it into a home, or a piece of furniture, you become intimately familiar with the grain formed over the years of growth and adversity. It affects the blade as it cuts, binds the motor of the saw as wind loaded grain springs together after a cut. As the sandpaper cuts and wears down the rough and rugged exterior, beautiful patterns emerge in the grains that were hidden just out of sight.

Of all the things I’ve learned from trees over the years, a few stand out as a mantra for living a healthy and fulfilled life. These are the teachings of the trees, and are the things that I have taken away from a life of admiring forests in all of their states of being. Stand tall, drink lots of water, enjoy the view, and remember your roots.

Tim Koerber can be found buying one-way plane tickets to countries he didn’t know existed the day before. For more of his work, check out http://www.timkoerber.com/.

The Trail to Kazbegi

What happens when four like-minded adventurers head into one of the world’s wildest mountain ranges with nothing but their mountain bikes and enough food to survive for 10 days?

What doesn’t happen?

Terrifying lightning storms. Raging-river crossings. Snow-covered glacial pass traverses. Mind-melting descents. Constant fights with vicious dogs. Tense encounters with over-zealous border-patrol guards.

All of the above were just another day following “The Trail to Kazbegi,” a self-supported mountain-bike mission through the highest reaches of the Caucasus Mountains in the former Soviet Republic of Georgia. Our four-man team—adventure filmmaker Joey Schusler, Bike Magazine editor Brice Minnigh, photographer Ross Measures, and mountain man Sam Seward—spent half of June 2015 exploring the crown jewels of the Georgian High Caucasus on a feature assignment for Bike.

Along the way, our crew overcame countless obstacles and experienced some of the most spectacular scenery and trails they had ever encountered. They also were treated to the unparalleled hospitality of the Georgian people and the benign indifference of the elements on their quest to reach the magnificent Mount Kazbek. In the process, they cemented lasting friendships and proved, yet again, that life is simply better outdoors.

Joey Schusler is a Colorado-based photographer and filmmaker who splits his time between mountain biking and skiing when not in the editing booth. For an expanded, multimedia experience of this trip, check out the complete Bike Magazine feature and/or the accompanied short film, The Trail To Kazbegi.

Highlights

Everyone takes something different away from any experience. For me, the three best parts of Cuba are the people, architecture, and cars. Across the board, we experienced some of the most welcoming and charming people I have ever encountered. There is a warmth and happiness that I have not experienced elsewhere. We were embraced enthusiastically everywhere we went. They are proud of their country, and they want you to see and experience it. They are also the most resourceful people I have ever seen. The U.S. embargo has caused significant hardship in access to many day to day items, but they have developed a culture that knows how to reuse and maintain everything. This has created an ethos that values what they have and not what they want. The focus is on sharing what one has and seeing your brother as one you help. In turn, he is committed to helping you.

The entire island looks like it was frozen in time since Castro took over in 1959. This is not an overstatement. The buildings reflect the assortment of styles from the various colonial influences ranging from the Moorish and Baroque, to the Soviet influenced periods. These are beautiful buildings creating beautiful cities and towns. There is a sadness felt as a result of the crumbling and decay, but the increasing private ownership allowed is prompting more investment in the restoration and upkeep. The outside often belies amazing interiors that offer 14 foot tall hardwood doors, intricate tile work, and detailed ceilings. Everywhere we rode, the buildings and the infrastructure was simply breathtaking (think Charleston, SC, but thousands of times more extensive).

Lastly, the cars. Oh the cars. You will get tendinitis if you try to point out every vintage vehicle you see. The minute we walked out of the airport in Santiago, we saw lines of old Chevys, Pontiacs, Plymouths , and every type of car made during Detroit’s glory years. There are Ladas from the USSR. There really are as many old classics as you are lead to believe. They have very few stock components, and most have bondo and bailing wire holding them together. The best part is everyone in Cuba knows how to fix their cars. They have to because they break down in the middle of the road all the time. In true Cuba spirit, everyone jumps out to help, and it is very common to see two or three people disappearing into the hood of a broken down classic in the middle of the road.

Jeff Wise is the Chief Executive Officer of the U.S. National Whitewater Center

An Evening’s Excursion

The process was not uncommon. In fact, it had happened in a very similar fashion in nearly every town we had spent the night. You would ride in around sunset and start asking around for a ‘casa particular’. (Casa peticulars are basically Cuba’s version of Airbnb, pre-internet.) The first person you’d talk to would typically either know someone who had a room that would fit the team, or would walk you around and through the entire village, town, or city until they found you a room you could stay in.

On this particular night, we had ventured down a side road into a town that was not on the map. Tall, jungle-clad limestone cliffs encircled the village in a wild mystique. Our helper walked us across the entire town until we ended up around the side of a modest, concrete-sided home. He began shouting into the bathroom window of the house and held a conversation with what we could only assume to be the homeowner for about five or ten minutes until a face appeared, fresh out of the shower.

Through extremely elementary Spanish, we understood there were caves nearby, and the owner of the home was a caving guide. When he asked if we were interested in going to check them out, there didn’t seem to be much of a question.

Now I’m no caving expert, nor is my Spanish strong enough to be able to ask the right questions before entering what he called the second largest cave in Latin America (highly debatable), but there was something about the process that simply threw up a few warning signs.

Maybe it was the man carrying only a draw string backpack leading us away from our newly found home for the night, or perhaps it was the baseball field we rode through to arrive at a house in the outfield they insisted we leave our bicycles at, or perhaps it was the thin log bridge and pastures we walked through to get to the cave entrance. It could have been the small, camping style, extremely dim headlamps (not the big, bright caving ones that are used in more professional caving settings) they pulled out as we entered the cave, or the cycling shoes, bibs, and jerseys we were now wearing as caving attire.

Our experiences with almost every Cuban stranger, community, or family told us that despite all the red flags, these guys could be trusted. It was yet another example of the most honest, authentic, and genuinely hospitable interaction you could imagine.

Cooper Lambla is the Brand Development Coordinator at the U.S. National Whitewater Center and curator of EXPLORE.

Uncomfortable Comfort

I’m a planner, an organizer, and admittedly, a control freak. I’ve developed my personal life and built my professional career out of knowing and understanding that attention to the sum of small details typically leads to positive outcomes. ”What can I do now that will make things more efficient and easier down the road?” is my daily thought process.

When the opportunity to ride bikes across the unknown of Cuba with a few co-workers presented itself, everything I’ve known and have been comfortable with for 33 years was thrown straight out of the window.

But wait, where are we going to stay? How are we going to communicate with the locals? What if all hell breaks loose and we find ourselves in a less than desirable situation? Can I even ride 800+ miles in a week? Thought after thought gave me anxiety. Not knowing if we would secure our visas within a week of the trip gave me anxiety. A first-time pregnant wife that I wouldn’t be able to communicate with gave me anxiety. What was I doing? “Stay in your comfort zone, you idiot!”

But deep down, that is fundamentally not what life is about. A true life experience had just presented itself, and I had to take advantage. It was an opportunity to get out of my comfort zone and simply let each and every moment dictate the next move. The initial discomfort of the unknown was quickly displaced with the fascination of new experiences, heightened emotions, increased appreciation for others, and a greater sense of the world around all of us.

Adam Bratton is the Sponsorship & Events Manager at the U.S. National Whitewater Center

The Inception

I was born in 1963, only four years after Fidel Castro came to power in Cuba. I had grown up during a time when Castro and Cuba were portrayed in the United States as godless communists and our adversaries. When travel restrictions to Cuba began to ease about a year and half ago, the thought of visiting Cuba jumped up on the list of places to explore. It seemed important to see first-hand what had been kept off limits for so long. I was curious to meet and visit with the people of Cuba as well as see the land, architecture, and certainly the cars before changes came as a result of the certainly imminent lifting of the embargo.

In early December of 2015, facing several more months of cold weather bike riding, I started thinking about where I could go for a few days of warm weather riding and explore some place new. Cuba was the obvious choice. I figured I could take a week off without getting into too much trouble with the family and work, so the first thought was to bike around the island. That was my first under-estimation of Cuba. The island is almost 800 miles long which is almost double the length of Florida. I figured on averaging 120 miles per day, so clearly I was not going to circumnavigate the island in my limited time frame. So, plan B was to ride as far as possible for 8 days.

Needing a partner in crime, Cooper Lambla was also the obvious choice. A strong rider, Cooper is even better suited for this trip because he loves the unknown and his Spanish is impeccable (only half that statement is true). Cooper jumped in immediately, and we then talked another co-worker into the idea, and soon Adam Bratton was on board. Adam was also a strong rider with the best trait of a travel partner: the willingness to say yes to anything.

Our thought was to travel in as minimal of a fashion as possible. We settled on just bike packs to carry a pair of shorts and shirt, bike tools, spare parts, and money. We wore a bike kit and bike shoes with recessed cleats so we could walk in them as well. I was able to get by on a half size frame bag, but Cooper was carrying camera equipment, so he had a little larger set up with seat and handlebar bags. Adam had a seat bag.

The rest is history, and perma-grin is still lingering three months later.

Jeff Wise is the Chief Executive Officer of the U.S. National Whitewater Center

Master of the Instant

Henri Cartier-Bresson, the French photographer who has inspired many with his work and writings, was a master when it came to the candid moments, something inherent to outdoor imagery. “For me, the camera is a sketch book, an instrument of intuition and spontaneity. The master of the instant which, in visual terms, questions and decides simultaneously. In order to “give a meaning” to the world, one has to feel oneself involved in what one frames through the viewfinder. This attitude requires concentration, a discipline of the mind, sensitivity, and a sense of geometry.”

As a photographer working to promote outdoor recreation, I have spent countless hours capturing the uniqueness of many places on public lands with a goal to lure people outside. There’s a certain kind of electricity that pulses through me when I’ve captured the essence of what it’s like to ride at a particular location. I want others to look at these photographs and feel like they know what it’s like to be there or want to go there themselves. I want them to take that inspiration, look at a map, plan a trip, get in a car or hop on a plane, put their feet on the pedals, and make their own first-hand account of the place they saw in the photo.

I hope these images inspire future generations of outdoor-enthusiasts and conservationists. I have concerns about the possibility that younger and future generations aren’t being compelled to get outside. It’s for them that I hope my work is “giving meaning” to the world. I hope others feel the electricity of the outdoors – the pull to get out and pedal on singletrack, walk up mountains, climb to the sky, and paddle raging rivers. In the future, they will be asked to make decisions about outdoor opportunities on public lands. That connection will help them understand what they will be asked to protect and why it’s important.

Leslie Kehmeier is the former Mapping Manager for the International Mountain Biking Association. More of her outdoor adventure and travel photography can be found at http://thewideeyedworld.com/.

Undercity Freeride

When a friend of mine, Kat, first mentioned that she had heard that the new harbor town she’d moved to had some sort of ‘mine system’ underneath it, I pretty much ignored her. In my head, I pictured a narrow bore hole supported by decaying wooden beams keen on collapse with the slightest motivation. If a cave-in wouldn’t get us, I was sure that our lack of canaries would catch up to us somehow. The truth is, I’ve long had Huck-Finn style fantasies of exploring an abandoned mine; a real Goonies type of scenario, you know? I was first introduced to the surreal underworld that exists beneath our feet when I started caving a few years ago. Immediately, I had sprung the desire to bring other types of athletic pursuits underground and started gathering beta on cave systems that might perhaps have waterfalls runnable by kayak. This fascination of course transcended to my first love, the bicycle, but the sheer ecological impact a bike had the potential to dish out in a delicate cave environment kept me away from pursuing that idea much further than the incredible images I had conjured up in my head.

After months of putting Kat off, the stars finally aligned. I gave in and we agreed to meet up and take a peek around the area she had heard where the mine entrance might be. About five minutes after we finally found a solid entrance, we came right back out of it. We were going directly to the store. This place was huge, much larger than the 5 foot wide passage that I had imagined and lazily prepared for. If we wanted to see anything past our outstretched hands, we would need some fresh batteries in our headlamps.

I came back to the mine every weekend for the next month or so after that. Bringing new people and getting them psyched on the creative potential down there. Huge sunken rooms begged to be wake-skated, over hanging columns of rock with continuous jug lines begged to be bolted for sport climbing, ledge after ledge that just wanted to be hucked… best of all, because the mine was man made, it was free to shred without the ethical concerns associated with natural caves.

Adam Nawrot is a filmmaker & photographer with a background in music and graphic design. For more on his work, check out http://adamnawrot.net/.

Riding Across America on Dirt

Riding Across America on Dirt

In August 2015, my husband Tom and I left on the biggest adventure of our lives. We closed our bicycle shop of 5 years, moved out of our house in Southwest Ohio, and packed up our bicycles to ride the Trans-America Trail. The name may sound familiar to most as the popular paved bicycle route designed by the founders of Adventure Cycling for their Bikecentenial in 1976, following Route 76. The route I am referring to was originally designed by and for dual-sport motorcyclists to travel off pavement, East to West across the United States. These days, the route includes over 5,000 miles of dirt roads, gravel roads, forest roads, jeep trails, and paved back roads.

Tom and I had been riding on dirt roads for quite some time, but had only ventured on a handful of three to seven day tours. We knew the benefit of traveling by dirt roads: the more remote the setting, the less stress from high speed traffic, and the more relaxed and enjoyable atmosphere of riding and stopping along the route. We knew the TAT would be the ideal route for us to experience our country, and that it would be the biggest challenge of our lives.

From Morehead City, North Carolina to the Great Smoky Mountains, across Southern Tennessee, we dropped into Northwest Mississippi, pedaled across Arkansas, over the Ozark Mountains, and dead straight across Northern Oklahoma and the states Panhandle of No Man’s Land. We rode into the gulches of Northeast New Mexico, climbed up into Colorado, up and over the Rocky Mountains, before we dropped down to ride across Utah, and from basin to range of the Great Basin of northwest Nevada. We tapped California before riding northwest, across Oregon, where we came to the end of our western route in Port Orford, Oregon on Sunday, October 26, 2015. The final tally came in right around 5,000 miles, which we completed in 87 days (81 days pedaling with 6 days off).

For more on Sarah and Tom Swallow’s cycling adventures, check out http://www.swallowbicycleworks.com/.

Winter Solstice

December 21, 2016. It is the Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year. There are only nine hours and forty six minutes from sunrise to sunset. Regardless of daylight or time of the year, it’s another opportunity to get out and enjoy life.

An impromptu relay adventure began with bundled and layered cyclists leaving the U.S. National Whitewater Center at precisely 7:28am. The hustle and bustle of Uptown Charlotte’s workday commute quickly faded as the team ventured east. The country roads of rural Piedmont NC winded towards the tree-line confines of Uwharrie National Forrest.

At a small boat launch at the intersection of NC Highway 109 and the Uwharrie River, an exchange of personnel, human powered craft occurred.

The river was chilly and since the water level was low, the rocky sections required heightened attention in order to navigate the Standup Paddleboards.  Appreciating the moment required slowing down.  Both undisturbed and picturesque landscapes surrounded river bend after river bend. Crossing the Pee Dee River to Morrow Mountain State Park would lead to the third and final leg of our journey.

Understanding that we were losing the race against the sun, the team reconvened and mapped out the fastest route to the summit of Morrow Mountain. Part road running, part trail running, and inclusive of an unexpected and steep final push, the team was greeted with an expansive and spectacular summit view at 5:13pm. Just 2 minutes shy of the day’s official sunset.

What began as an idea to over-utilize the shortest day of the year, turned into a full day of dreaming about what other adventures lay beneath our noses, so close to home.

Adam Bratton is the Marketing Director at the U.S. National Whitewater Center.