Kauai

About a year ago, as high school was coming to an end, I was told to accept one of my university offers. I didn’t like the way the next four years of my life was already being planned out for me, and to dishearteningly select one of these offers seemed impulsive. My reluctancy to attend more school, right after I had completed twelve years of it, was probably due to a combination of things. It was likely due to my inability to learn the overwhelming amount of abstract concepts being thrust into my brain by “teachers”. It was likely due to my growing obsession with skipping class to take part in things that I was actually interested in, whether it be; rock climbing, reading, skateboarding, painting, hiking, or even researching one of the thousands of subjects I wasn’t being exposed to in school, that I would never be exposed to in school. Whatever it was that pushed me away from a desire to attend university, I was beginning to think differently, more independently. So when I missed the deadline to accept one of my university offers, I was happy. I chose to take a gap year – a year between high school and university, in which I am free to do whatever I please, without the constraints of institutionalized, compulsory schooling. I didn’t know it yet, but, that was the best decision I have ever made in my life. The year ahead of me would be filled with pure, true education.

I never premeditated travelling during my gap year. However, my innate curiosity and desire to explore suddenly materialized into a few inspiring trips. Immediately after high school, I went on a rock-climbing road trip through America where I ascended cliff faces and mountains all throughout Kentucky, Utah, The High Sierra’s and The Rockies. I then flew to Panama and explored the rainforests and culture of this country. My eyes were opened during those couple of months. I developed an all-consuming appreciation for adventure, nature, and culture. I became intoxicated with the idea of travelling. When I returned home, I was already thinking about my next trip and working two jobs to afford it. Four painful, longing months later and I was preparing for a flight to Kauai, Hawaii to volunteer at an organic farm.

Since my arrival on Kauai seven months ago, I’ve remained fairly silent and disconnected from my life on the mainland. It is sort of a guilty pleasure; having little communication with friends and family. I’ve been so overwhelmed with the beauty and lifestyle of this place that sharing it in words or pictures would be absolutely futile (though for the sake of this post, I’ll try). Additionally, I’ve realized the amount of excess time I can have when I eliminate screen time and social media from my daily routine; more time to enjoy the “HI Life”. Secret Beach Organics could not be a more perfect farm; it exceeds any expectations I had. It is located on a serene, 140-acre property on Kauai’s North Shore. Our major crops are turmeric and ginger, but aside from that we have about 700 tropical fruit trees. I could go on for pages about the taste, smell, colour, texture, and beauty of every single rare fruit I’ve encountered, but that’s not really the point of this post. Most of my waking time is dedicated to this farm; pruning, harvesting, weeding, gardening, planting, and building farm structures. I’m nearing 600 volunteer hours, and I feel as though I could do this forever. Farm work is certainly character building and I can feel fulfilled about supporting the organic farming movement. During my time off, I’ve taught myself to surf, helped raise our farm pup Luna, snorkelled the most gorgeous coral reefs, backpacked the Kalalau Trail, made lifelong friends at farmers markets, met unimaginably captivating characters, and read way too many books. Most importantly though, I discovered interests I didn’t even know I had.

When thrust into unknown or uncomfortable situations, it becomes your responsibility to confront and achieve contentment with those circumstances. It is in that process where you truly develop individual character and learn about yourself. Coming to Kauai with a perfectly naive and unprepared attitude was pretty anomalous and intimidating. My travels really could’ve gone any way; being on an island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean – with no solid plan, and not a single familiar face for thousands of kilometres, felt like a pretty bold move. Though looking back on the past seven months, it seems like I’ve been in a beautifully weird psychedelic dream; a life-changing educational experience. I can also say with confidence that I’ve learned more during my time on this island than I did throughout high school. It is amazing what knowledge you can absorb when you have passion or curiosity for the information coming at you, in contrast to my schooling experience where I was forced to memorize concepts with no real-life context, in which I had little interest in. Regularly learning and working with plants still, to this day gives me an overwhelming sense of admiration and biophilia. This feeling alone has given me passion for organic farming, permaculture and health. The methods we implement into the growing of food on Secret Beach Organics, should be a model for other farms; no pesticides, no GMO’s, no chemical fertilizers. And using permaculture techniques just makes sense – creating an ecosystem of edible or soil enhancing plants that beneficially interact with each other in ways that are not only sustainable, but regenerative. How we’ve allowed agribusiness to legally put poison in our food is beyond me, but that is what our capitalistic system encourages; we’ll do anything for profit. Though eating certified organic foods isn’t flawless, it is certainly a vote against many of the worst aspects of the food industry, not to mention an investment towards your health.

Well, my flight off the island is on Monday and I’m currently in an odd dazed feeling. I really cannot wrap my head around leaving Kauai. Choosing to leave was truly the hardest decision I’ve ever made, I was wholeheartedly ready to drop my life back home, become an American citizen and live in this Hawaiian paradise. Many of you may be surprised to read that I decided to go to university in the end; I’d like to give it a chance. Besides, if university is the best way to soak up knowledge, I’m all for it, hopefully it will satisfy my desire to be in the world of academia. So, in September I’ll be attending Lakehead University to study a double-degree of natural science and outdoor recreation. I think the hardest part about leaving Kauai, will be saying bye to the farm family. I would not be content with this post without mentioning them and their influence on my trip. I’ve only known KevinMiaEvan, and Adam for seven months, but the bond we share feels lifelong. Kev’s sheer activist mentality, his ability to defend himself when he’s being wronged is incredibly admirable. Mia’s humble, loving, environmentalist attitude has kept me focused on what’s important. The knowledge and conversation Evan and I have shared, is beyond words, he is genuinely the most scholarly resolute person I’ve ever met. Lastly, our farm manager; Adam, has this remarkably pure determination and devotion to see this farm thrive, the passion and fire in his eyes is something I can only hope to find later in life. I cannot thank you enough for this opportunity Big Dog, the skills and experience I’ve gained from you is more than I could’ve ever hoped for. You guys are bigger role models than you can possibly know, and I can only dream of meeting people as smart as you in university.

Aloha – Mowgli

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Pacific Coast

 

Leaving Yosemite was difficult for all of us. We met some incredible people there and felt a lasting connection with the unique environment, but as always we had something to look forward to. A relieving five hour drive and we found ourselves in San Francisco. We were welcomed by Dan’s cousins Sherry and John who opened their home and were more than gracious. I couldn’t tell you how luxurious it felt to, for the first time on our trip, be inside of a house, sleep in a bed, eat full meals and most notably; take hot showers! We certainly made the most of our two days in San Francisco. One day, John lent us his surfboards and we spent hours rocking on the water waiting for a decent wave to come by at which we would awkwardly dig into the ocean in hopes of it carrying us in its powerful wake. Though most of our attempts were unsuccessful, the euphoric feeling of riding a wave was enough motivation to slug ourselves back on the board; over and over again. The following day we explored the city and got a feel for the culture of San Francisco. My impressions of this city were different than most, it seemed very lively, gleeful, safe and even had natural beauty to admire by the water. I’m not one for the big city, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see myself back in San Francisco. Before we knew it we were back on the road continuing north, up the breathtaking Pacific Coast Highway-on route to Portland, Oregon. We split the drive up into two days which turned out to be one of our best decisions; pretty much the entire Pacific Coastline is one very long beach and is only put to use around cities. We took advantage of these uninhabited beaches and stealth camped beside the pacific for the night; admiring an iconic sunset west over the water while sea lions danced below in the sparkling water. California through Washington and alas, Portland…probably one of the kookiest places I’ve ever been. We met up with a close friend of Dan’s; Diane and her cousin Vincent, who took us to one of Portland’s many draft breweries. Unfortunately, my underaged self was not even allowed to enter this hip brewery. I spent the next couple of hours exploring the downtown area and it felt as though I had travelled back in time to the 60’s (or what I imagined it was like). I saw people dressed in all kinds of wacky getups riding anything from unicycles to fold-up backpack scooters. Though Portland was short lived it was unforgettable; a truly cultured, unconventional city.

We left Portland and had finally reentered Canada with an even fuller car, our first stop was Squamish. I immediately felt a sense of home in Squamish. We were welcomed into the climbing community and campgrounds surrounding the monolithic rock known as “The Stawamus Chief”. The climbing circus and highline festival was in full swing when we arrived and it was a special time to be there. Much of the camp would get up really early and spread out to either go climbing at one of the many crags or highlining up on The Chief. We would then return back to camp to share stories, beer, and brag about our days accomplishments. My friend Tyson had flown out to Vancouver to visit me before he took off on his 9 month journey to New Zealand, so it was really nice to get him on some rock as well. Michael flew home a bit early and had left Dan and I alone, naturally we climbed harder then we had in any other location. Everyday a new adventure up extremely tall multi-pitch climbs that blew me away, though I regrettably broke my camera lens on one of our hikes and was unable to capture most of our escapades. I cannot express the transcendental feelings and pure focus I would achieve while climbing on these impressive rocks, feeling the weight of the heavy granite against my hands and the nothingness below my feet. Though every couple of days we would go back to Vancouver, I was always longing to get back to Squamish, right up until my flight home.

Even now; sitting in a Coffee Shop back home I crave the high crag and the adventurous spirit of Squamish. Looking back on my pictures and memories of this entire trip seems unreal…Was I really on top of Half Dome? Did I really get to explore the desserts and canyons of Utah? I am more than grateful to have experienced such an incredible trip. I’m so thankful for my brother Dan who constantly shared his climbing knowledge and for being my mentor. And of course, Michael for always having a positive attitude and keeping us entertained during the dull moments. This is the final blog post of my trip, but I promise it will be not be the last post – as I’m already looking into new places of travel; another country, continent and adventure…The chronicles continue!

Yosemite Valley

Yosemite National Park is the gem of the United States; it’s incredible beauty cannot be compared to anywhere I’ve been before. Driving into the valley you get a spacey feeling of being microscopic as you desperately attempt to see the top of Yosemite’s granite cliffs from your small window perspective. The park caters to many people, however two very prominent, different groups stood out immediately to us. Yosemite offers mediocre drives to and from metropolises like Las Angeles or San Francisco; that, along with the worldwide popularity of the place has made it into a a small town of itself where tourists can enjoy natural beauty without sacrificing the luxury of their faraway homes. The other group more aligned themselves with our travels: backpackers, adventurers, dirtbags, hikers, nomads and innumerable rock climbers seeking adventure and tranquility in this sensational place. Most of these characters stayed at the historically acclaimed climber campground known as ‘Camp 4’. Camp 4 is a little scruffier then the rest of the park and has surprisingly maintained much of the climbing culture that existed thirty years ago (permanent slacklines, crash pad mattresses, long hair, taped-up body parts, sound of clinking gear, and the everlasting; faint smell of pot). The walls of Yosemite have been climbed by just about every great godfather of rock climbing, all of which stayed at Camp 4 – from Royal Robbins to Alex Honnold. The monolithic rocks that are exposed by the valley’s openness birthed and progressed the sport of rock climbing throughout the late nineteen hundreds, which made it all the more fascinating for me to experience. Though our climbing was limited to bolted sport routes due to absent and broken cams, (protective gear placed into the rock)(sorry Dan!) we were able to enjoy some of the classics. However, what pulls climbers to Yosemite is not the middling 30 metre routes that we were playing on, but the big wall climbs, like El Capitan, Half Dome or Mt. Watkins. Though I haven’t yet had the chance to clasp onto one of these giants, I have already made it one of my goals to return and conquer the thousand-metre El Cap.

Of course we made sure to not limit ourselves to the vertical world by including some popular hikes; like Yosemite Falls. We trekked along steadily for several kilometres to the top of the falls where we were met with a pretty view of valley, and the small pools of water that form just before plunging 750 metres to the valley floor. We “swam” a little, collected rocks and carried on to the final lookout a couple more kilometres uphill. From there we were just about taller than everything in sight, except for the monstrous rock known as Half Dome, sitting peacefully across the valley. The viewpoint forced us to marvel at the magnitude of Half Dome, which was both beautiful and slightly terrifying at the same time – knowing we had to hike it the following day. Our desired and required back country permit locked us into this venture and there wasn’t much wussing out we could do once we had it, so we woke up mega early in hopes of getting through the hard parts before the Sun hit full swing. The absolutely gruelling, very steep 26 kilometre hike to the summit took a lot out of the four of us, (Sean, Emma, Dan and I) but step-by-step we made it to the cables. Now, as you will notice in the pictures, Half Dome is pretty much vertical the whole way around and to get to the top you either have to climb the North-West face or hike up the side clamping onto steel cables to practically pull yourself to the summit. We chose the latter and finally thrust ourselves atop Half Dome and were relieved to be back on the horizontal; as the previous days hike, the incline, the heat, and the elevation gain was breaking us down slowly. We were quickly and happily rewarded with beautiful, panoramic landscapes dotted with green pines on white granite faces, incredibly sore legs, and finally being above the entire valley. We ate lunch on top, took some pictures on the diving board (large chunk of rock lurching over Half Dome commonly used for base jumping), and then began the wobbly, painful hike down. Though by far the toughest hike we’ve done, we made excellent time, completing the ten to twelve hour hike in just seven and a half, with enough time to get back to camp and make “gourmet” campfire pizza’s and s’mores; which regrettably lead me to a trip to the park hospital with a gash on my finger; damn ceramic knives! We spent the next day checking out the gigantic redwoods, then parted ways with our Canadian friends (Sean and Emma) and headed west to San Francisco to finally breathe in the salty, cleansing ocean air.

Southern Utah

We spent a short week in Southern Utah exploring the uniquely carved out red deserts. We travelled straight from Boulder to Moab and stayed at a nice campsite along the green Colorado River, enjoying the refreshing water and mud fights. It’s the second time I’ve been to Moab, but the sandstone towers and winding canyons still succeeded in making me feel small and pulling my attention to the feeling of climbing them; which we unfortunately didn’t get to do. After two nights in Moab we drove to Zion National Park, slept just outside the park, then woke up unnecessarily early to try and get a campsite inside the park. Zion is a massive canyon with enormous cliffs in all directions that are layered with all kinds of different coloured sandstone and rock formations. There are so many different mountain peaks that when you drive through the park they paralax the sky making it incredibly scenic. We took part in two major must-do hikes, the first being Angels Landing – one of the most deadly hikes in North America. Angels Landing is an adventurous hike up to a thin walkway with nothing but thousands of feet of air beneath you on either side which could be very frightening if you aren’t accustomed to heights. Though the hike itself wasn’t too difficult, the heat was beating down on us making it slightly tougher than it had to be. The second major hike we strolled through was called The Narrows – basically the opposite of Angels Landing; instead of being above the cliffs we were below them. We walked and waded through the fast moving Virgin River that had carved a canyon which towered over us throughout the entire hike. The tricky foot placements, rushing water, and rocky ground took some time to get adjusted to and made for a very unique hiking experience. Just before our hike we went climbing with some fellow Canadians named Sean and Emma. We found out that they were taking virtually same road trip route as Dan, Mike and I, so we became pretty close and will be sticking together until at least the end of our next stop, the heavily anticipated – Yosemite Valley.

The Rocky Mountains

The twenty-four hour drive from Kentucky to Boulder was more than exhausting, but we were quickly awaken by the snowcapped mountains peaking out behind Denver like a backdrop in a movie – a total juxtaposition compared to the horizontal prairie states. We travelled up to Boulder, then west to a free campsite hidden in the foothills of The Rockies. By the time we arrived it was dark and we had a bit of an eery feeling about the place. Many of the sites were occupied only by beaten up tents, scattered clothes, and concerning sounds. It wasn’t until the morning after that our original impression of the place turned out to be true, when a man dressed with knives and machetes on his belt approached us and introduced himself as “Squirrel”. Squirrel told some unconventional tales of his hitchhiking travels, casually pausing every so often to chuck rocks at chipmunks and spit chewing tobacco. We also met his friend “The Butcher” and soon realized there was an entire commune of similar characters. Naturally, we got out of that place and went in search for a more secure campground, which unfortunately took two days of having no idea of where we will sleep during those cold nights. We finally settled into a friendly site and met some Quebecois who were slightly more familiar with the area and helped provide some insight to our first campground – “Ah! You stayed with the homeless people!”.

We experienced some incredible hiking during our time in Colorado, starting with the iconic Flatirons looming over the City of Boulder. It looked as though a massive spaceship had crashed into the Earth and was sticking 800 meters out of the ground…however that thought could’ve just been the 100% legal edible pot candies we ate before our hike. We also made the trip out to Rocky Mountain National Park, which could have been one of the most stunning sights I have seen in my entire life. We hiked up to a place called “Sky Pond” and the name describes it perfectly. A glacier fed lake 3400 meters above sea level that can only be reached by hiking 9 kilometres one-way.

Boulder and the surrounding area is also a world-class climbing destination and provided some major granite adventures. The climbing conditions compared to the overhanging climbs at The Red River Gorge were very different, as it was mostly slabby (less than vertical) and a totally different, more technical style of climbing. Dan took me up my first multi-pitch sport climb (a style of ascending climbing routes with multiple belay stations) which introduced me to another realm of rock climbing. Normally I had done hard sport climbs no taller than 30 meters, whereas when multi-pitching you are climbing up a cliffside with a vertical drop of three times that below you. You can see how this style could be slightly more terrifying, but pales in comparison to the feeling we got when we saw the dark clouds and lightning of a storm brewing behind us. Being one of the closest points to the sky is not ideal when a storm is above you, but we luckily survived and only got hit by the tail end of the squall. Colorado was incredible fun, and the forests reminded me a bit more like home, we are off to the deserts of Utah next to try to find some shade.

Red River Gorge

Arriving in Kentucky was a beautiful surprise. After the ten hour drive I really didn’t know what to expect aside from the massive sandstone cliffs I had seen in pictures. The minute we stepped out of the car we were immediately hit by the humid rainforest temperatures of 35 degrees celsius. I expected Kentucky to be similar to the midwestern states – relatively flat and filled with farms, however, I couldn’t have been more wrong. The Red River Gorge and the surrounding area is sub-tropical and plentiful with wildlife and vegetation. Though unexpected, I really do love the climate here, and the infinite amount living noises coming from the jungle behind my tent is growing on me. We are staying at a renown campground in the heart of the valley, and a perfect distance away from several crags. Miguel’s Pizza is where all travelling rock climbers stay; 2$ camping, permanent slacklines, great food, great culture, and great people. Although it is located in a dry county (prohibits alcohol sales), a very smart southerner opened a rustic beer shack just outside the county line to cater to the desperate climbers.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with The Red, it is North America’s sport climbing Mecca, with a lifetime worth of unique routes for beginner and expert climbers. This is my first real outdoor climbing outside of Ontario’s limestone – or as we call it; slimestone because of its tendency to be slick and chalky, so the grippy sandstone seems as though from another planet. Our routine for the passed couple of days has been relatively consistent; get woken up by my brother, sloppily organize my gear, drive to one of the many climbing locations, hike several kilometres until we find a challenging shaded crag, climb, beer, sleep, repeat. The climbing here is phenomenal and a great place to push my limits, however on Wednesday we are off on another very long drive to Boulder, Colorado to get rocky mountain high and escape the heat. These are some pictures of our time here so far.

The Road Trip

Leaving on July 15th, I will be off on a cross continent road trip along with my brother Daniel and cousin Michael. The main purpose of this trip is to do as much rock climbing as possible while spending extremely sparingly – no hotels, no restaurants, no souvenirs, and only the necessary amount of beer. Our final destination will be Squamish, British Columbia where Dan will be living following this trip. Though driving through Canada would lead us to some beautiful locations along with solid rock, we decided to by-pass the mundane prairies and head southwest across The United States. Along the way we will have a couple stops at world class rock climbing locations including; Red River Gorge, Kentucky; Boulder, Colorado; Moab, Utah; and Yosemite Valley, California. “Planning” for this trip began about two months ago, and i’ve been getting increasingly anxious to finally hit the road. In five days we will begin our adventure through the U.S. and the following picture might give you a better sense of our route.Screen Shot 2015-07-08 at 11.52.11 PM

Before a Trip

There comes a time leading up to every trip where your mind cannot escape thinking about it. For me it comes about a week before I leave, I am unable to go about my day without feeling unprepared, excited or anxious.