pre-script: This is a long read - you can just look at the photos if that's more your speed
Sometime last year: mild insomnia lead me to the blog of that Emily Chapel; a British courier who is actively blogging her circumnavigation of the globe. After reading a few updates I decided I should backtrack and read her whole journey in order. It's amazing how contagious the spirit of adventure can be, before I knew what was happening I was starting to piece together my touring bike to start my own adventures. I had planned to do a few ambitious bike trips last year but, as they say, 'life happened' and it wasn't until this past weekend that I could actually do my first run of bike camping and I decided to up the ante by also bringing my DJ gear and pro photo equipment.
I've been to Douglas Creek / Slack Canyon a number of times before for this annual gathering. It's a small thing with attendance from 100-200 people and a pretty bumpin soundsystem. The location never ceases to amaze me, possibly because we visit during the very brief window of spring where everything is bustling and alive before it drys up and ends up looking like a scorched wasteland.
I have always wanted to see more of the area around I grabbed some USGS topo maps and started checking out the surrounding area and it's hard not to notice the 20 mile long valley on the other end of the canyon. This is the Moses Coulee which was formed as the Okanogan Ice Lobe melted and started the catastrophic Missoula Floods which cut a U shaped channel as it drained towards the Columbia River. It looks like someone just cut the hills in half on both sides because that's more or less what happened. I've been reading about this a bit and its fascinating - a little northeast of this region is Dry Falls which when it was running is considered the largest waterfall known to have existed, EVER. Scientists estimate that the flow of that waterfall was greater than all of the rivers of the world combined. They estimate the rivers flowed at about 65 miles per hour and moved house sized boulders (named erratics) to weird places. I needed to see this myself.
The trip began simple enough and I arrived outside Wenatchee around 3:30pm and started pedaling because I was a little behind schedule. Everything was gorgeous and I had a hard time not stopping constantly to snap pictures
Everything was smooth sailing, as expected, until after 40 miles or so I hit the end of the Coulee and it was time to enter Slack Canyon. The road gives away to a large stone gravel primitive road. When I saw the steep hill I had to climb I was not sure how well I would do considering I came on this trip with a freshly developing cold. After talking to a truck full of locals passing me to go to the 'rave in the canyon' I started my own journey up the hill in earnest. I don't get more than a few strenuous pedals in before the chain snaps and the back of the pedal spun around and tore up the back of my leg. I won't lie, I did have a moment of worry at one point that I was a big phony and was not at all prepared for this sort of trip. I decided to ignore that voice and took a peak into my emergency repair kit in which 'thoughtful think-ahead Kris' had kindly anticipated this moment and left me a chain tool and replacement link. Five minutes later the chain is repaired and I'm ready to continue.
At this point this is all new for me. This is only my second time with a fully loaded with gear which handles very differently and carries a ton of momentum, first time climbing a mountain and first time on really rough sharp stones. The grade was so steep that even in the lowest gear I could only go up 20 feet at a time until I was wheezing, coughing from the cold and out of breath. I got about halfway and then it started dumping rain. I was actually a little excited at this point because I wanted to test my Arcteryx Alpha FL shell and see how well it performed. After about an hour I finally made it into the canyon and I was greeted by a break in the rain and a rainbow. (Typing it makes it sound more profound than it really was but maybe that's just because my friend Dave has me jaded on Rainbows - 'if it ain't a double don't even waste my time')
Now I know where I am at and I'm so close to seeing my friends. There is a crazy patchwork of trails and I end up missing the upper trail. This is a mistake on my part because there were a few frighteningly long and steep descents I had to make which were essentially me holding onto both brakes and going on a controlled slide down the hill praying to whatever gods happened to be nearest. As anyone with a good sense of irony can suspect the upper path is completely flat the entire way. d0h!
There is one stream crossing between where everyone is camping and the canyon. It had always been sort of shallow in the past. Possibly due to exhaustion I didn't think too much about it when I started pedaling into the stream. About half way in, It's getting deep and I see my panniers halfway submerged in water, yes the same ones with my laptop, Maschine controller, camera and lenses. All in all about 8k worth of equipment. Fuk.
Now mind you, Ortleibs are amazing panniers and the RF welding on them should make them absolutely impenetrable to water, however at this point that's just stuff I've read and have never tested and now I'm inadvertantly gambling with high stakes field testing. My own stupidity shocks me sometimes. I just keep peddling, cross the stream and everything is peachy. Not a drop of moisture in those bags. Hats off to you Ortlieb.
I'm less than a mile from my homies. I can barely stand. My taint feels it spent an evening with Chris Brown. (this is from being repeatedly pummeled from all the really rough downhill rides). I say hello to friends, set up camp and I don't think I make it 10 minutes past our meal before I crash out and have literally the best night of sleep I've ever had. We're talkin' the shit poems are made of, son.
I have the whole day to chill and relax with my good friends Terry & Sam. Since our camp was womenless, they meant our meals eventually devolved into random skillets of TastyBites Indian food packets, Kale and eggs as we honed our Synchronized Troughing Skills. ... Oh, come on! don't tell me you don't know what Troughing is.
Troughing is the art of cooking and eating meals and generating as few dishes as possible; Ideally none. It is the polar opposite of Victorian English etiquette which for some reason dictated that you have a special utensil, dish and placement for every single food item. The females we know tend to frown upon Troughing in the same they look at your old ratty concert t-shirts and say "It's ugly, throw it out!" however you simply cannot argue with a one pan clean up. If you have trouble imagining it - picture three dudes hovering over a cast iron skillet shoveling food into their mouths.
Below is one of the Troughs we made. I noticed a bunch of fresh nettles near our camp and cut a bunch and boiled them. Terry sauteed them with some mystery "asian sauce" and Sam provided the rice crackers.
I spent most of the day running around taking pictures of things and there are a few I'm really proud of
The music started around 7pm and I was already "taking a nap" by that point but the reason I don't nap is because I don't ever see the point in getting up and naps very quickly become a full nights sleep. I sleep through a bunch of dance music and wake up around 5am to the sounds of what could only be my friend Terrys distinctive style of drum n bass. Turns out my camp mates all did the same thing.
We wake, have a few breakfast drinks and hang out until 10am when I play. <insert falsely modest self congratulatory bit here> Pffffffft. there will be recordings at some point. I decide I'm going to stay one more night and hang out with my friends until a freak windstorm came by and broke the joints on two of Sams 10'x20' structure and another structure. Even though it's 5 oclock I decide that this is one too many unknowns for me and I should bike back. I pack up in 20 minutes and prep for my way out.
As I leave I realize I'm going to catch most of the Coulee during sunset which is going to be amazing for photography so, I make my way down the rocky mountain which provided so much trouble on the way in.
I'm in a rare state of childlike happiness biking down the empty road absorbing the beauty, talking to cows with my voice that just about gone due to the toll of all this exertion and the cold. It wasn't until I get 5 miles down the road to a collapsed barn and decided I needed my wide angle that I notice the pannier. It's open. Panniers are not supposed to be open and there is a 17-35mm shaped empty space where the lens im looking for should be. Fuk. I would complain about having to be continually confronted with my own stupidity so many times, but I really can't because I bring it on myself. Meta-stupidity. The velcro must not have been fully firmly attached and busted.
So, that's a $1600 lens. Could be anywhere in the past five miles, though my advanced, seriously next-level detective skills lead me to the conclude it would most likely occur where it's bumpy. I high tail it back to that accursed hill and hide my bike under a huge pile of tumble weeds; laughing to myself on how this is the shittiest low rent version of Back to the Future ever. (you know... the part where he goes back to the 50s and hides the Dolorean?) Anyways, I walk up the hill and there it is. Exactly where I thought it would be, sitting in the middle of the road on a pile of rocks. Mostly OK. Outloud, I start talking down to myself as if I were my own little brother who did something stupid and I stupidly nod as I lecture myself on proper care for your/my tools. Being a schitzophrenic must be hard work, but at least it's character building. Ba Dum Dum Tish!
Once everything is PROPERLY secured, Picture Quest™ continues. ... I'm now twice as determined to get a few good pictures, because if I don't what does that make me? A taxi service whose only function to spill gear all over this great nation of ours?