Joe’s Valley Utah


Josh on Angler (V2)

We finally made it out to the iconic Joe’s Valley in Utah. After years of being told this place was climbing at it’s finest, we were excited to see for ourselves. By the end of day one, we were already completely in love with it. The fresh smell of pine, the turquoise waters, and the stunning countryside drive where we saw more deer than people and a wide variety of nature’s colors, were awe inspiring. The first climbs we got on raised the psych levels even higher. The rock has that nice sandpaper texture that makes you feel like your feet will stick even when they are actually on nothing. This was helpful in pushing past my highest outdoor grade on slab walls. I’m pretty sure there really were no feet in some of those sections. It wasn’t just the way the rock felt and the ease of climbing though. It was also the way the routes moved. These climbs were interesting and exciting. Some had some really unique and fun features. One thing I particularly enjoyed was that many of the top outs were easy. Everyone has a different opinion, but I like my struggle to be on route cruxes and not finishing cruxes. If you disagree, there is enough variety to have your tastes covered too.


Joe’s Valley is filled with boulders, but we suspect the development will only increase as the years go forward. The spread of boulders is endless. It looks like you can pull over anywhere and jump on something. To some degree you already can. Many of the boulders are scattered close to the road. The furthest hike was nothing compared to the hikes for pretty much any local area for us. People said it was like 15 to 20 minutes of hiking. About half of this was flat and slow uphill. It was easy to fit in a whole lot of climbing in a few short days. Of course, you need the skin to keep up with it. Being in dry weather on sandpaper textured rock makes that aspect a bit of a challenge. We found our skin tearing up pretty fast. You’ll hear no complaints from me though since I sent a record amount of climbs for myself on a trip.

me at Joes

One thing I will recommend, particularly if you have fair skin such as I, bring or buy sunscreen. The temperature technically wasn’t hot and the air was dry, but due to the elevation the sun was strong. About an hour being in it, if you’re not used to it, you can feel like you are burning up. We were trying to keep on hoodies even when it was hot and seeking reprieve in the shadows and mini caves. It is strong sun and it feels amazing with the proper precautions. Also drink plenty of water and/or stop at Cup of Joes. Okay, Cup of Joes probably isn’t an actual dehydration prevention strategy, but it tastes amazing and the people who work there are very nice.

When I went, I was informed that they had some secret menu items. I was able to get Butter beer. I’ve never tried this before, but I have seen Harry Potter and have been intrigued. I read online that places either make it like cream soda or butterscotch. I was praying and hoping for butterscotch, and my dreams came true. It was a delicious frap style butterscotch beverage, and I completely loved every drop. They also have a board where people can mark where they come from around the world. It’s amazing to see how many people from everywhere have been there in the short time they’ve been open. The just opened this year and there are people pinned from Australia and parts of Asia on the map. I’m sure they will do really well. I will gladly support them as much as I can by buying these tasty drinks any time I’m there.


When staying at Joe’s Valley, you will find way more free camping that you know what to do with. Some of this camping is in absolutely stunning locations. However, if you are not the camping type or like us you’ve traveled far by plane and it’s just sort of complicated, you can also stay at the San Rafael Bed and Breakfast.  ( The man who owns and runs this is incredibly nice. They make a great free breakfast in the morning and are super helpful. One night we made our own dinner in the kitchen because it was Easter and everything was shut down. He let us borrow all the cooking supplies we needed.

It was also really fascinating because we were staying in the same place as some big journalists from CNN. I think this is safe to say by now because they are no longer there, so you cannot stalk them. We were able to have breakfast with them and hear all about this story they were doing. This area has the most people who deny climate change. CNN was trying to find out why and we are interested to follow when the story is published. The story will be written by John D. Sutter, who writes environment protection articles. It was incredible meeting them and hearing about their lives. They travel all over to so many interesting places. We heard about Patagonia, Norway, etc. It does seem like it would be a bit tough too. They are almost never home.

While on the topic of meeting interesting and famous people, we also had the pleasure of running into Nina Williams. She seems like an awesome person and it was really cool seeing her climb. However, we are sad we didn’t get to meet her hedgehog. Maybe another day.

Back to the Bed and Breakfast for one moment, because I have to say there were also two other residents that I really enjoyed the company of. That’s the two dogs who live there. They are incredible friendly and loving. I miss them.

me and dogs

On one of our rest days, we went up to see the reservoir. I highly recommend this for anyone who visits the area. It is like 10 minutes from the main bouldering areas. It is one of the most beautiful lakes I’ve ever seen. You can camp there and enjoy the water. People were out of on a boat when we were there, and I’m sure there will be more of this as the weather warms up. I don’t even think the pictures do justice to the coloring. It was a bright blue, green. It was just stunning. Words can’t even really describe, so I’ll show you.


lake 2

lake 3

lake 4

So you definitely want to check that out. It was breathtaking. We tried walking along the beach for as long as we could handle the intense, piercing winds. As we walked, we saw all these little bones. I’m not sure if it’s from the water level lowering or what, but a lot of little lobster? or similar creatures lives were lost on these shores.


Our other rest day was spent at Moab, but I feel like that deserves it’s own entry. Hopefully, I will be able to follow up with that soon.

Back to the climbing. I’m going to give a little shout out to Warm Me Up Scotty being my favorite V1 ever. I don’t necessarily recommend it being your first warm up climb. I got on it seizing the opportunity to use several pads because a group of people were already on it. They said they all thought it would be an easy warm up and ended up working it for a while. It’s not super easy in terms of warming up or actually being a V1 climber. I think it just somehow worked into my style and was easy for me. I really loved it. It was fun movement that flowed well and offered just enough challenge to feel rewarding. I do have this one bias though. I do not consider myself a very strong overhanging climber, so any time a cave route is doable to me I just get so psyched on it.

warm me up scotty

While on the topic of fun V1s, I also did this one that I believe is called One Mover. I will admit that first go I really hated this climb. It looks so easy and if you are tall, it is. I hate to play that card, but sometimes it’s true. I was just barely holding on to the lip and it’s just get a high foot and over. I say it’s easy if you are taller, because the lip is so good that you can just pull yourself up to the foot with ease….as long as you have enough hand on it to pull up. After a few minutes of hating it and wishing I was taller, I figured out beta. I managed to get both hands on decent holds and pull up to the high foot. Then I felt incredibly proud and happy because I was able to overcome and make it work for me. It’s an easy climb and I’m sure most people won’t find it all that spectacular, but sometimes the full experience you have with a climb is what makes it rewarding. I did two V4s on this trip. One I flashed and the other I put in a sufferfest session on little razor crimps. While there is a lot of fun and good times to be had for soaring your way up a flash, sometimes all that struggle and work makes for a more rewarding experience. A part of me felt more proud to fight my negativity on this V1 and find success than doing many of the harder grades. Everyone is different, but there is so much to learn from climbing.

All in all, I loved each boulder that I got on. All of them felt fun. All were rewarding in some way. I find myself really missing these boulders. I certainly feel like I could spend a long stretch of time at Joe’s. I hope to return soon. I have an ongoing project after all. I’m sure I will send it with skin and energy. It was the last one of the trip and I was just too spent.


I know that Josh will have a lot of projects to come back to as well. Specifically Resident Evil. He did this climb many times, but was punting at the top. This was incredibly frustrating for him because the top isn’t really hard. He was able to do that move individually. It was more about doing it after all these other difficult moves put together. It’s hard to know you are capable of something, but for different reasons can’t pull the whole thing together. I’ve been having this experience a lot lately because I will piece together moves of a project and then be too tired to send.

This trip also came together a little bit last minute and was following a recovery period after injury for Josh. While he felt like he wasn’t doing his best this trip, I thought he was doing really well. It can be hard to push through the come back of an injury where some of your previous high point performance is lost. It can also be hard to play the mental game and just have fun when you aren’t reaching your goals. It seemed like he had a great time working on this.


I would recommend Joe’s, not that it needs my recommendation by any means. I’d love to return to Utah. Everyone we met was friendly and the sights you see are unbeatable. When driving to Joe’s, we went through a stretch of country with vibrant green hills, a long river that ran parallel to the road and a railroad track that ran parallel to the road and river, and lots of sheep. The railroad went through the hills in those cool little tunnels. The sky was brilliant blue and the whole experience was like driving through a painting. It was so pretty it didn’t even feel real. How often can you say that driving is a vacation worthy experience all on it’s own, but that drive was perfect. Salt Lake City on the other hand….all those lanes and still traffic! Who does that mess every day?

We look forward to continuing our climbing adventures. I strive every day to be more like the epic climber this little guy is:


Climbing next to me, showing off how easy it is. Who could be mad looking at that smug little face though?






Kaaterskill Falls Winter Hiking

K falls

Winter is frequently used in literature as a metaphor for some pretty dark and dreary stuff, and a scroll through social media would show you there are plenty of people who can’t wait to get it done and over with. However, there is a great deal of beauty and wonder that can be found in the chilly season. As nature and outdoor adventure enthusiasts, that’s probably information you already know well. Winter has some exceptionally fun sports and activities associated with it; snowboarding, sledding, skiing, snowmobiling, ice skating, etc. One activity that might not get the credit it deserves though, is winter hiking.

This year I decided to bundle up, borrow and then later purchase my own microspikes and trekking poles, and venture out into the ice and snow covered landscapes. Once I started, with the glorious Kaaterskill Falls, I couldn’t stop.

Kaaterskill Falls is in the eastern Catskill Mountain of New York. This two stage waterfall is quite an awe inspiring sight to see. I have no doubt it is breathtaking in the spring, summer and fall when it’s flowing with gushing water, but in the winter when it’s all ice is something well worth seeing too.

k falls 2

K falls 4

I really enjoyed how the top layer was frozen, but in some parts the inner water was still running free. It created this cool effect where you could see the water rapidly moving through a layer of ice like watching it through a clear tube. Another neat thing was that since the pools of water below the falls were frozen over, you could walk almost completely up to falls. I was so close that I could feel the spraying mist. This felt incredible while in the moment and absolutely awful when I walked away and the cold air started to freeze my damp skin and clothes.

k falls 3

We heeded the warning about not going all the way to the top, since the hiking trail was really icy. The microspikes let us get close without a whole lot of exertion or slipping though. Some people got fairly far in sneakers, but they were slipping, sliding, and sledding all over. In any case, I think the views we got were probably better than what the top would offer anyway.

It wasn’t just the waterfalls that offered a captivating view. I left with a deep appreciation for how beautiful ice can be.


ice 2

ice 4
In fact, after a little hesitation, I climbed my way into a cave of ice. You can see a little in the picture, but the ground is all ice. That’s what caused a bit of hesitation.

ice cave
It was well worth it for views like this one:
ice 3

Whether you go in winter, summer, spring, or fall, I highly recommend the Kaaterskill Falls. They are beautiful! The hike is steep, but quick. The parking situation involves a little walk down the street, but the parking lot has a stunning view of it’s own. Every step I took was something gorgeous to see. I also recommend bundling up, getting the right gear, and not letting winter hold you back from getting in some hiking miles. Hiking in winter changes the landscape in a way. It offers the rewarding experience of seeing a place that you may have seen before in a new way.


Kaaterskill Falls

Katherine and I in front of the highest piece of the falls.



Van Life with Kyle Bishop


Photo by Kyle Bishop of his van

Van life is something that has been becoming increasingly more popular. It even has hash tag recognition on social media. Some see it as the ultimate adventure. It provides an opportunity to see the world and explore new places with a minimum of responsibility. The additional freedom is something many crave. To others the concept seems completely crazy. Quitting your job, living on the road, and being confined to such a small space can seem like a large, uncomfortable risk for some. Between all the stories of those who love it, those who merely use it as a means to do more of what they dream, and those who say it’s super hard, I decided to talk to my own source on the subject.

Kyle Bishop has been living in his van for about 4 years now, so he knows a thing or two about what this lifestyle is like and how to make it work. I’m happy I was able to meet him before his journey began and through pictures, blogs, and social media posts, it has been exciting to watch this inspiring adventure unfold. Kyle has one of those personalities that just draws people to him. He has a positive energy, friendly demeanor, and adventurous spirit. He is a charismatic person and a lot of fun to be around, which definitely makes him someone worth meeting. I’m sure that many of the people he has met on his adventure would consider themselves fortunate for the opportunity to get to know him and spend time with him. I’m grateful he was able to answer some questions for us about life in the van and his travels.

Climbing Together: What initiated this idea or made you want to start living the van life?

Kyle: The house I grew up in had a lot of unused space, hid in a blue collar town, and had no access to public transit. A safety bubble, as sterile as it was boring. By high school I was dying to escape.

In college I stumbled upon Tumbleweed houses, beautiful tiny-homes placed discreetly on trailers. A home with no wasted space? Free to escape a town you might outgrow? Sign me up!

After college I took a graduation trip to Yosemite. No wheels meant hitching to all the crags. Eventually I was picked up by a van. Looked around and realized it was a home. From there things just clicked. I’d already survived sharing a dorm barely twice as big, why go for a tiny house when you can get a van for 1/4 the price! (con: also 1/4 the room)


Photo credit to Kyle Bishop

Climbing Together:  Once the idea started to take hold, were there obstacles to getting starting? What tips would you recommend for someone who wanted to try switching to this kind of life? 

Kyle: The only real obstacle was overcoming initial fear. Nobody really van-lifes in New England, probably something about the mind-numbing winters. I was pretty apprehensive without knowing anyone showing it could be done. “Is this crazy? Is there something I haven’t anticipated?” Lots of doubt.

My advice to anyone interested is to head to Yosemite, Red Rock, or Indian Creek during peak season, this is when the wild van dweller performs his/her annual migration. Catch yourself a wild dirt-bag and ask ’em some questions.

Everything is pretty smooth sailing after the first week or two. You quickly realize you can always move back into an apartment.

Climbing Together: Good advice. You’ve also done some backpacking. Do you think switching to backpacking was easier because of your experience with van life first? Or is it something you would have been able to do without that initial experience?


Kyle: A lot of travel is all about your comfort zone. From sanitary… “issues” in India to altitude in Nepal, relatable past experiences help you cope. Van-life is somewhere along that spectrum; it pushes your comfort zone just a little bit further.

Climbing Together: Do you think a certain kind of mentality or way of thinking would make someone more or less capable of adapting to this kind of traveling life style?


Kyle: Having such a small space means you can only keep so many things. New purchases have to be weighed against what you already have, both in value and in volume. An anti-materialistic streak goes a long way in being ready for that change. Also, your will to withstand jokes about vans and rivers must be ironclad.


Climbing Together: Makes sense. You mention in your blog getting seasonal or short term jobs to help with income for the rest of the year. Is it hard finding and getting these opportunities?


Kyle: I mostly stick to freelance programming. I’ve found two to three months of half-time work can give me enough to last the rest of the year #noRentVanLife.

I’m very lucky to have found programming; I’m fairly confident I’d be some kind of poopsmith without it. Programming is one of the few fields where opportunities seem to come to you without you looking for them.


Dragontail Peak. Photo by: Kyle Bishop

Climbing Together: There have been quite a few articles lately promoting the idea of being in nature being good for mental and physical health, which is easy to understand. As someone who is able to spend more time in nature than the average person, have you noticed any kind of difference in regards to this?


Kyle: The city used to feel like a concrete prison. Working a 9-5 has you itching for the weekend, when you can finally run off to the mountains and reclaim some sanity.

The van brings a sense of calm through control. Don’t like the place you’re in? Drive somewhere new. Want to go cragging but short on sleep? Crash in the parking lot. Snowstorm coming? Time to head South. That control has always been much more calming to me than the forest itself.

Climbing Together: You’ve been to a lot of places in your travels, is there anywhere that sticks out as being a favorite? Is there anywhere you haven’t gone yet that you are hoping to? Is there anywhere that surprised you by being different from what you had thought it would be?


Kyle: Yosemite has always been number one; aptly deserves its title of “mecca”.

Top of my bucket list is The Great Arch in China and Rocklands South Africa.

The only place to surprise me has been Joshua Tree, I think the people of LA have Stockholm syndrome about that place. The rocks look like giant piles of horse manure strewn between weird trees, feel like tear-your-skin up sandpaper, and have the strength of kitty litter held up by Elmer’s glue on all but the most trafficked boulders.


The always stunning Yosemite. Photo by Kyle Bishop


Climbing Together: What areas have you found to be the best climbing? Have you seen improvements in your climbing from being able to do it so often?


Kyle: Bouldering: Little Rock City, Chattanooga. Not as big as Bishop, but damn is the gymnastic style fun.

Trad: Tuolumne. Alpine adventures everywhere!

Sport: The Red. Pizza. Beer. Miguel.

I’ve come to realize I don’t improve unless actively trying to do so. Having so many great destinations at your fingertips can put you in a rhythm where you just shoot for the problems in your comfort zone. There are so many classics in that comfort zone that you don’t really have to push yourself; just do the next classic you know you can conquer.

If anything, I’ve become incredibly consistent. Throw me any style of v7 and I’ll almost certainly plow through it.


Kyle bouldering in Hampi. Photo by Nick Blazey


Climbing Together: With traveling so much you’ve likely experienced a lot and have many stories. Is there something that stands out as an exceptional memory or something you could share?


Kyle: Went to Nepal and hiked the Annapurna Circuit. Near the end decided I would hike into the heart of the mountains to Annapurna Base Camp. Many days later, I reached the top around noon, 5 miles behind me and 4200m below. It’s about 40 miles back to Pokhara with a little over 3000m drop, roller coaster style with ups and downs in-between.

So I took off my shirt, put on some tunes, and blasted down the mountain. 24 hours later I hobbled into town, feet aching, body broken, spirit beaming.

Worth mentioning I did it all in 5mm sandals.


Annapurna. Photo credit to Kyle BIshop


Climbing Together: What are some challenges to living this type of life style?


Kyle: Many people won’t understand you, some may even try to change you. The doubters. The haters. All these people will come together to foster doubt in yourself. Nowhere is this more true than a place without others doing the same (I’m looking at you, New England).

Some nights will be cold, others sweltering hot. Sometimes you wish it weren’t raining so damn much so you could escape the van and stretch outside. Creature comforts don’t come as easily to a box on wheels.

Through it all there are those days where you wake up with mountains all around, a short ride to endless adventure. On days like these, you know, oh man is it worth it.

Climbing Together: Speaking of other people, on the one hand it seems like you would get to meet a lot of different and interesting people, which would be rewarding. On the other, it seems like constantly being on the move would make social relationships possibly difficult. What is your experience with the social side of your traveling?


Kyle: A shared bond like climbing makes for an easy icebreaker, but friendships often end when the next destination calls. This has easily been the hardest thing to come to terms with, and is why I plan to set roots in San Francisco.


Travelling is an amazing experience, and I still recommend long-term for all who have the opportunity. Seeing so much and meeting so many has a way of showing you what you truly want in life, through both example and experience. There’s a saying I’ve grown fond of, “some live to become an example for others, even if just to show what not to do.”



I’ve spent the last three months in Chiang Mai, Thailand, purposefully longer than I’d usually spend, fostering deeper connections while preparing for the last transient hurrah before the roots come down.


Khon- Kaen. Photo by: Kyle Bishop


Climbing Together: It seems you are thinking of going back to a more stationary type of life? Would it be hard to adjust to that?

Kyle: As you can tell from the last Q, very much yes. After having bounced between the occasional apartment in Asia, I can say the only thing that takes adjusting to is rent and utilities.

Van-life provides one hell of an adventure, but I’m looking for a long vacation from adventure. Shit, I must be getting old.

Climbing Together: You’ve mentioned a little about this, but what are your current goals or plans for what’s next?


Kyle: I’ve been holed up in Asia working on a top secret project, an anti-procrastination tool for programmers. A few more months and I’ll be ready to launch. After that it’s off to SF.

Enough time in ad-tech, the majority of my freelancing work, has me craving a company on the forefront of social change. I’ve spent enough time in the mountains to know they’re worth protecting. Time to put my money where my mouth is.


Red Rock Canyon: Solar Slab. Photo by and of Kyle Bishop


Thank you for all your awesome answers and the time you took to write them! It seems van life is a bit of a challenge, but well worth it to see all these breathtaking views, have the control to go where you want to and when, and experience all the incredible things that come along with traveling. It is something worth considering if you have the mind set for it and the capabilities, but like all things in life, it isn’t for everyone. Good luck as you continue and finish your amazing adventures Kyle. The mountains are worth protecting, and it will be great to have someone like you working for them. Hopefully I will see you again soon, perhaps in Yosemite.


If you’d like to keep up with Kyle, he recommends for the nerds.

Have any of you tried the van life? Feel free to comment below with your own experiences or goals.  

Ice Pond Bouldering


This weekend, we ventured slightly over the New York border to try out the Ice Pond bouldering. Ice Pond actually is on Mountain Project, so if you want to check out all the possible routes:

It was a beautiful location. There is a nice little space for parking. The large pond covered in a sheet of ice next to a railroad is stunning. It’s an active railroad too. I watched some trains go by while resting.The hike in is pretty easy going. The rock quality is excellent! The climbs we got on were fun, yet challenging. Since it’s winter, it is easy to see lots of boulders and find your way around. The trails are pretty good too, but it’s probably a good idea to go with someone who knows where they are going.

When you walk in, there are just tons of boulders everywhere. This always leads me to think there will probably be a lot more room for development as people get interested and try out different parts. The rock feels solid and the holds are friendly. I didn’t get on anything that felt sharp or gritty. It all felt pretty smooth. There was a wide variety of hold types on the climbs I tried out too.

When we first got there, we started with a couple of fun V2 ish climbs. One was a cool lie back rail, and the other was a fun arete. The top outs were a bit tricky and slopey, but the climbs were interesting. Both took a little bit of thinking, but once you got it, felt good.

Then we moved on to a cool v8 lip traverse, called Evolution. Alex was able to send this one pretty quick. Everyone had fun working on it.


While I didn’t try to climb it, I got a look at the v1 Warm up. It looks beautiful. It’s a long rail ledge that is known for being a bit sketchy at the top because it’s high up, not such a great looking landing (well because of the tree at least), and all that. The climb looks gorgeous though. It stands right out when you near the area. It has a bit over 3 stars, so people really seem to like it. We were told by one of the people that did climb it, that it was a bit sharp. However, it looks like cool holds from the bottom.

I got on some really interesting climbs, but I’m not sure what they are. The people I was with didn’t know, I don’t see anything on mountain project, and for all I know they might not have been officially climbs. They were fun though, and had chalk so I’m sure I’m not alone in at least trying them. I would say they are on the easier side. Maybe v0-v1, but definitely not higher than that. At least not the way I was climbing them.



I was drawn to them by how neat the rock looked. They both had fun movement. One starts with an undercling and pinch (at least this is what I did). You get a foot and press up to grab a nice jug. Then the rest is pretty easy jugs up, but with the bulge in the rock it can be a bit tricky to see feet. The other one was a fun arete climb that involved big moves to good holds. I think that one would be a good, easy warm up.

It was very cold out, and we tired out pretty quick on the first few climbs. We weren’t there all that long. It was worth the trip. Now that we’ve seen how good the rock quality is and how fun the movement is, we will surely be back.



Kentucky/Tennessee Bouldering


“Latin for Daggers” V5 Stone Fort Little Rock City, Chattanooga, TN.

Road trips certainly provoke a variety of feelings both positive and negative. Being crammed up in a tiny, somewhat uncomfortable spot for hours desperately searching the radio channels for anything that isn’t Christmas related can be aggravating. However, the sights you see along the way and the random assortment of conversations make it feel worth it. I will never forget that one stretch of highway that was just lined with packs of deer. We must have saw like thirty or more. Since I mentioned the road, I’ll be clear that they were all alive, healthy, and well. We think maybe they were just interested in the salt remnants of recent snow clearing.


Although Pennsylvania and West Virginia were just covered in thick blankets of fog, when we came across a clear spot, it was beautiful. Lots of farm land, hungry cows, and vibrant sunsets. There are lots of interesting things to see, like that “Endless Caverns” sign that looked like a little Hollywood sign on the mountain or the sad fact that New York now has “Text Stops.” There’s also lots of cool places to stop when you are driving. For the most part, we stayed to a tight schedule though. There was that looming holiday date and family that wanted to see us, so we tried to make it to all the spots we could fast.

Our first climbing stop was the Red River Gorge. We had plans to meet a friend who was kind enough to show us some Kentucky bouldering, but decided to get there a bit early and indulge in a little sport climbing first. I always love the Red River Gorge. It is an incredibly beautiful place. The rock has so many colors and such unique, fun features. Not to mention the large amounts of climbing available in a wide range of grades. We also, like many others, love Miguel’s. Unfortunately, Miguel’s isn’t open this time of year. This is a fact we didn’t look into beforehand and were disappointed. We still enjoyed some Ale 8’s, but Miguel’s is all around amazing. If you get a chance, always go there.


We went a bit easy on the route climbing, since we wanted to conserve energy and skin to last the duration of the trip. Muir Valley is a favorite of ours and place we know our way around a bit, so we went there to do some easy leads. It was super cold, which works well for bouldering, but not so great for a lengthy route. We handled the numbing toe and finger pain well and managed a few. Muir Valley is a very easy place to go. The trails are very well developed, they have put in lots of bridges, stairs, and things of that nature. Also below each climb is a tiny little plague that tells you the name and grade. If you went without a guide book, signs would point you to different cliffs and you’d know all the grades. It’s pretty awesome. Also, all the climbs we got on at least, had the quick clip anchors, which makes finishing nice and simple. Some were a bit frozen and took some more work than usual, but still easy overall. They do have a parking fee of $10 and ask for donations. I think this is well worth it and totally reasonable, but it’s good to have a heads up when planning a trip, so I’m letting you know if you didn’t.

The rock has that sandpaper grittiness that I love, because I feel more solid on it, but it can do a number on your skin. There are always neat things in the rock. Like a couple climbs we got on had these cool little knob like features that made excellent I’ll-never-fall-off-these feet and hand jugs. The movement flows well and is easy to figure out, but also interesting. Even on the easiest levels, it’s still a lot of fun to explore the route and enjoy a variety of hold types. Jugs, dishes, pockets, cracks, crimps, pinches, slopers, little pebbles; all favorites are present.

After doing some climbs, we spent the night in the coolest yurt through:





These photos were taken with the phone and not the best. Sorry. But the yurt was an amazing experience. It was super warm! The structure was so neat. We liked how a lot of things were made with trees, like the bathroom sink was a bowl on top of a tree stump, and as you can see a tree makes a central post in the first photo. It had two bedrooms, a giant sky window at the top so you can see the stars, and a hot tub! The fire place was cozy and it was filled with anything you might need. It’s really clean and just gorgeous. The cabin rental place is the best. The only down side to the experience is that you can hear a lot through those walls. At night we heard a bunch of howling, people yelling, and it was a little bit scary, but everything else was great. I could easily live in one of these. Plenty of room to be considered a full house, in my opinion.

Anyway, back to the climbing. The next day we met up with a friend for some bouldering. It was considerably warmer out, but not warm enough to compromise the friction. He showed us some boulders just south of Lexington. We have sport climbed in Kentucky before, but the boulders were a first. I was pleased to find they are similar to the sport routes in texture and the type of holds, aka Lots of amazing pockets!

Josh distance edited.jpg

The climbs are so enjoyable! They are still being discovered and worked by locals. There are lots of add ons (can’t recall the proper term). So you start at one point and it’s v4, further back and it’s v7, etc. Every climb we got on further added to my psych level. They were just incredible. They flowed well, had interesting movement, fun holds, and just solid climbing.


I really couldn’t get enough of this cave climb pictured above. The top out move was the hardest for me and I wasn’t able to get it in this trip, but the whole overhung part was amazing! Lots of giant pockets around to use as a hand or foot hold. It is so overhung that I looked at it and thought this isn’t going to happen with my weak core strength, but then I got on it and it just came together. With good positioning and technique it’s fairly easy. Further back and it gets a bit more challenging.


Josh isn’t dabbing, just the camera angle

There’s a series of move your body around in a circle moves and then forward. Above my personal level, but Josh sent it with ease and it looked like a lot of fun. They say like V6/7/8 maybe. Somewhere in that range. The texture makes smearing and little toes very easy to stick. There are bumps, cross overs, heel hooks, toe hooks, and drop knees galore. Although it is best in projecting to just work the move you’re struggling with, these climbs were so fun that it was hard to not keep going back to the beginning just to enjoy the experience all over.

Which brings up the question of if it’s best on trips to project or just gain quantity. I try my best to get a feel for different areas by trying out things, but when you find something good, why not just stick with it until you send? I’ve spent whole trips on pretty much one climb and not seen success, but no regrets. I make my plans to go back and try to commit to memory what to work on when the time to revisit gets closer. In fact, when we made it to Chattanooga, I sent a climb that was basically the only thing I worked on the first time we went. It felt amazing! Years between, but remembered quite a bit. Everyone is different and there’s really no right or wrong. Just have your kind of fun, I guess.


Tommy Wilson, our fantastic guide

Kentucky was incredible as always. I’d really like to go back to the bouldering again. I wish it was a local spot, honestly. The approach is steep and works you out, but it’s quick. The climbing is worth it. However, in the interest of time, we needed to move on. The next stop was a pampered night at the Gaylord Opryland in Nashville, TN. ( Josh loves it because it has the best steak and is just a great place. I love it because the cloud like beds and the fact that it’s a total experience all on its own. It has it’s own biospheres with waterfalls, plants, animals (well, fish) and lots of activities.

Apparently for Christmas they go all out. They had their own Grinch Musical, horse carriage rides, ice skating, snow tubing, Christmas tree decorating contests, and more. It was insane. Way too many people for us, but we enjoyed what we could before getting overwhelmed. It’s an expensive place, but if you can save up money, it is worth experiencing once in your life.





Image may contain: plant, outdoor, water and nature

After a luxurious stay there, we went to Stone Fort, Little Rock City in Chattanooga, TN. This is a bouldering area, that shares space with a golf course. It does cost money to climb there, I think it was like $8. The climb shop and pro shop for golfing are one in the same. The people that work there are very friendly, and they do really make you feel as important as the golfers. The boulders here are gorgeous! They look like little works of art.



These climbs are awesome. They are a blast to work, they look so pretty, but they are quite painful. You’ll probably rip apart your hands and look a little zombie, mangled, like by the end of it, but you’ll enjoy doing it so much you won’t notice. At least I don’t. Just tape it up and push through. These routes got us really excited about climbing, and it was hard to leave. This area is also known for slopery top outs, and well just a lot of sloper climbs in general.


I really loved the V3 pictured above, which I believe is Tire Knockers. The start feels hard until you figure out the right feet, then it goes pretty easy. You bump up the arete with your left hand, and have some fun crimp jugs to work with the right. The top is slopery, but good because you can rock over on to where the slab starts and pull up nicely. It might not read as really exciting, but it was a lot of fun.


Josh, who loves a good knee bar, really liked this climb. Red House V7. You can do the knee bar by doing the V4 too. They link into each other. This climb was interesting to watch. He did an awesome job sending it.

We were originally planning to travel on to a different place, but due to how much fun we were having and our time constraints, we spent another day here instead. It was a good decision because we had a lot more fun, but also tired out fast. There are projects still to be finished, and we look forward to a return one day. It probably won’t be for a little while though. We have our eyes set on Joe’s Valley for our next big trip.

Acorn to Arabella: An Incredible Adventure in the Making


Alix Kreder and Stephen Denette standing in the boat house they have constructed

Have you dreamt of seeing the world? Being able to explore every place you set your mind on? Have you longed to climb, hike, or be in nature each day of that year that met the weather requirements for said outdoor activity? Have you wished to be free from the constructs of every day societal living; work, eat, sleep, repeat?  A lot of people want a more adventurous, travel filled life, yet few people go after it. There are a hundred excuses you could use for why, such as family, money, careers, responsibility, lack of experience, etc. Using excuses is fine, but they are just that. Excuses. Going out and living your adventure dream is actually very doable, and these two enthusiastic, soon to be sailors, prove just that. They have an inspirational plan to set sail towards all their adventure goals.

When I first heard of Acorn to Arabella, it was through a post on Central Rock Gym Hadley’s Facebook page. It’s my favorite local climbing gym and a place Stephen Denette works as an incredible route setter. The post was encouraging people to check out a crowdfunding site they were using to gain some support for their goal. I was instantly infatuated with their idea to build a 38 ft sailboat from scratch and travel the world, because hearing of people having the guts to go for their dreams is compelling to me. Also when I was younger, it was a dream of mine to be a commercial fisher and live on the sea…until I learned that I get super sea sick and am absolutely awful at actually catching fish. In any case, I love hearing stories of the sea, crave adventure stories, and found all aspects of this to be worth further investigation. I figured out how to contact them, and was thankful they were very willing to do an interview and share more of their story. If this interview inspires or interests you, feel free to support them and learn more through their site:

Alix Kreder and Stephen Dennette have been friends for a long time. They met in a climbing class at Unity College in Maine. Through climbing, a strong friendship formed. They come from a community of people going out and living their adventure dreams, and they want to join in with their own dream and unique method. Alix already has quite a bit of experience in traveling, but can’t wait to gather more. Stephen has a plethora of experience in woodworking, but is looking to this large scale project to put his skills to the test. Both would like to live a life embracing the freedom of the outdoors and seeing as much of the world as they can. They want a different way to live, and they work well together with a balance of necessary skills to make it all possible.


Climbing Together: How did this plan come about?

Alix: (laughing) It’s this crazy guy’s idea.

Stephen: Building a wooden boat has always been on the bucket list, I guess. I always thought it would be cool to build a boat someday. I always thought I would get a wood shop put together and sometime in my retirement, cut down some trees, mill the lumber, and build a boat and go sailing. Then it was about six years ago, I was on vacation out at Cape Cod and I went to a used bookstore, and I picked up a boat called 50 Wooden Boats, and that really got the gears going. So I started digging more into boats, picking up different books, and haunting the online forums. Just kind of learning what I could. I’ve always been into wood working, so I’ve been collecting tools and building my wood shop for as long as I can remember. I’ve always had that end goal of building the boat some day, so I’ve acquired tools with that in mind. It was like two years ago, two and a half years ago, I kind of got to the point where I was like I could do this. I have most of the tools, I understand the process of building a boat, and so the vision started to come together at that point. Then I got this kid involved.

Climbing Together: How did he get you (Alix) involved?

Alix: At first I was like this is kind of crazy. Yeah, okay. Sure, we’ll do this some day. I sort of somewhat blew you off in the beginning. The more we kept talking, the more I was like okay he is serious so how can we do this? He ended up finding this site Patreon. That meant we could actually get this thing funded. By me doing videos and putting the whole thing online, we could get the whole thing funded. For me that made it real. I was like alright I’m in.

Also for me, I’m half French, half American. I’ve lived overseas for half my life. I’ve been traveling for half my life. Since I graduated college, I haven’t stayed in one place for more than 3 years. When he came to me with this, it was like this is the perfect way to travel. You’re traveling with your home, you can go where ever you want, you don’t need to be tied down to a job, per se. The way we’re doing it you don’t need to. It’s perfect.



One of many merchandise options your pledge can get you.

Climbing Together: Has raising money through Patreon been successful so far? 

Alix: So we haven’t really gotten into the videos. (The videos are what supporters pay for). We’ve done a couple videos, but we haven’t really done a good push. Especially without having too much to show for it right now. We are kind of waiting until we get a good amount and then push things out and do a real good marketing push. But we’re pretty confident and my video skills are getting better.

Stephen: Alix moved down here a little over a month ago; the beginning of August. Up till that point I was shooting footage on a go-pro and doing it by myself, and sending that to him up in Maine. He was trying to work with that and trying to make it down on weekends to help. It’s been a bit of a struggle, but now that he’s here we’ve been able to make a lot of progress and work on the videos. We’re hoping to make a big launch and push around the New Year. We think by that point we’ll have enough of a boat here that you can come and look at it and say “Ah, yes. That object that you’re building looks somewhat like a boat. I can see it.” Once we are at that point we can get the local media involved. We’ll have a bunch of videos backlogged that we can start releasing them and not stop. We’ll be in good shape.

Climbing Together: Do you have plans of where you want to travel to?

Stephen: Not really, no.

Alix: Where ever the wind takes us. We were talking about a circumnavigation anyways, but how we do it and where we go doesn’t really matter to us. It’s more the lifestyle that matters to us. Not where we go.

Climbing Together: What are some aspects of the lifestyle you’re drawn too? 

Stephen: One big thing from the research we’ve done and the books we’ve followed on sailing around the world and all that kind of stuff, if you are young and healthy and frugal and don’t have ties to land, don’t have a mortgage your paying for or anything, you can live on 4, 6, 8 thousand dollars a year. When you reduce your financial requirements down to that little amount of money, all the sudden you’re looking at; I’ll sail to the Bahamas or some other tourist destination for the tourist season and I’ll be a bar tender or bus tables or whatever. You work for two, three months and you have enough money to go cruise for the rest of the year. Working two, three months and cruising nine, ten, sounds pretty good.

Alix:  One thing a lot of people have confused from what we’ve been saying is we are not looking to just not work for the rest of the year. We’re excited to go do stuff too. That’s part of the lifestyle of being on the boat. Visiting, meeting people, do a job over here, stay for a couple months here. It just seems much more fluid instead of being stuck in one place for  a 40 hour work week and having your weekends to do what you want to do and take maybe your two weeks vacation.

Climbing Together: Do you think it will be hard to pick up little jobs along the way?

Alix: No, that’s what I’ve been doing.

Stephen: We’ll have a floating resume. The intent is to bring a decent kit of hand tools, so that we can work on the boat, repair the boat if we need to, and do our own maintenance. There are a lot of wooden boats out there and they all need work. To be able to pull into a boat yard or pull into a marina and put the word out there that we are looking for odd jobs and if anybody questions the quality of our work, they can come over and see our boat.


Stephen in his wood shop

Climbing Together: That’s a good idea.

Alix: I taught English overseas. That’s easy to pick up. Things like that. Along with keeping up with the videos for a travel blog, we can definitely make $8,000 a year.

Stephen: Find a way.

Alix: Easily.

Climbing Together: Do you plan to do your own fishing and stuff? 

Stephen: Absolutely

Alix: Living out at sea, you’ve got to fish.

Stephen: I’ve grown up fishing and hunting and I plan to continue all of that. Spear fishing for dinner looks like a lot of fun.

Alix: Lots of real fresh fish.

Stephen: Rumor has it French Polynesia there’s wild avocados the size of footballs.I want to go find some of those.

Climbing Together: That sounds like a lot of fun to see all the different places and cultures.

Stephen: That’s a huge part of it. Like Alix was saying, most people don’t have a ton of vacation time and flying places is expensive.

Alix: It takes time and when you do, you have what, like two weeks of vacation. You get a couple engagements you need to do and it whittles away a quarter or half your vacation. You’ve got a week left.

Stephen: To be able to sail to somewhere in South America and get a three month visa and say we’re going to live in Costa Rica for three months and then we’re going to head down to Brazil and live there for three months, and keep going and so on and so forth. Being able to not only travel but to immerse into a culture for that long and really explore a place, get to know people, make friends, and do things with the local community.

Climbing Together:  Yeah, a lot of people go places on vacation and don’t really get time to be a part of it.

Stephen: We’re really excited to visit a bit more rural and wild corners of the world. Places that you probably wouldn’t go on vacation or couldn’t go because you would need a plane and a then a ferry and then another plane to get to these little places. If you have a sailboat, just sail right up.

Climbing Together: Yeah, I like in taking climbing trips that its often places people don’t typically go to or see as beautiful, but there’s so much you get out of going there. Even though people would be like, really that’s where you went on vacation? 

Stephen: Totally. Yeah, and to go to places that aren’t set up for tourist. Where you’re meeting the locals and the actual community and it’s not just some all inclusive resort.

Climbing Together: Have you built any smaller boats leading up to this? 

Stephen: Nope, first boat. Don’t even know how to sail.

Climbing Together: Okay, so are you learning as you go? 

Stephen: I have a lot of friends who sail. Some of them who have done big blue water crossings and been out to sea for weeks at a whack. So once we get the boat in the water, the plan is to take a few months and do a shake down cruise up and down the eastern sea board. See what time of year it is and if we’ve got to dodge hurricane season or what not. Once Alix and I feel comfortable with the boat and have sailed through a few storms, then we’ll take off from there.

Alix: I wouldn’t mind taking a couple classes before we go to. I have a bunch of friends that just came down from Portland, Maine. So there’s a lot of sailing up there.

Stephen: I’m a little crazy. I want the first boat I sail on to be the one I built.

Alix: If one of us knows what we are doing, we’ll learn together. I’m not worried about.

Stephen: We’re not going to just get in it and take off.

Alix: That’s part of the whole project to is taking our time. There is no rush in sailing off to a certain destination. If we’re just going up and down the eastern sea board learning how to sail and taking our friends out, that’s ideal.

Stephen: I’d probably happily spend a few years doing that.

Climbing Together: How long does a project like this take?

Stephen: From what I’ve read from the pros, they say anywhere from 4 to 8,000 man hours depending on your boat, how fast you work and all that kind of stuff. Our best guest is 3 or 4 years.

Climbing Together: How much work a day do you put into it?

Stephen: Depends on the day.

Alix: Depends on the day and what were doing.

Stephen: Lofting probably 8 hour days over the weekend but it’s so mentally taxing. You’re crawling around on your knees drawing all these lines down to a 16th of an inch or better. After 8 hours of it, you’re kind of cooked. When I was saw milling and doing all that, I took a week off work and probably worked 12 hour days for 7 or 8 days straight. It really depends. Our goal is to try to do like 30-40 hours a week between the two of us on the boat. If we can do that then we can have the boat in the water in 4 years or less.

Climbing Together: Is there anything you are worried about or think will be difficult?

Stephen: I mean, the whole thing is going to be difficult. In terms of woodworking, a wooden boat like this is kind of the holy grail. If you can build a curvy, wooden boat, you can build anything. There is going to be no real end to the challenges. Right now we are trying to wrap our brains around lofting.

Alix: Which is taking the both of us.

Stephen: It’s taking the both of us and some friends and a lot, a lot of head scratching. Once we get through the lofting, it should be more smooth sailing for a little while. Right now we are sitting on a pile of giant  keel timbers and we’ll have to start joining those together. That shouldn’t be too too bad. We need to pour the ballast keel at some point. We need to round up 11,500 more lbs of lead. We’ve got 500 so far.

Alix: That’s one of our biggest first hurdles; finding that much lead.

Stephen: Once we have the lead we need to build a smelter and melt the lead and pour it into a mold that we make for the keel. At some point once we get the lead, we’ll have a cauldron with 12,000 lbs of molten lead in it over a gigantic fire. I think that’s going to be a little scary.

Climbing Together: How are you going to make the mold? 

Stephen: There’s a few different ways. What I think we’re going to do is make a male plug out of foam. We’ll take some measurements off of the lofting floor after we loft out the keel. We’ll get a big block of foam and shape it down to the proper size. Then make a big wooden box that fits into and then fill it full of concrete and make the mold for the lead to go into. We’ll put that inside a steel reinforced box, so that when all that lead comes in and that pressure pushes out the concrete is supported by something. It should take a week to a week and a half for that to cool because it’s so big, heavy and dense. Then we can cut the metal frame off, take the plywood off, smash the concrete apart, and we’ll have our 9,500 lbs block. We’re going to cast it in here some where. We have to move it as short a distance as possible.

Alix: That needs to get bolted to the wooden keel. Depending when we get to that lead, depends on how much work it’s going to be.

Climbing Together: Can you do this on your own or will you need help?

Stephen: We could do it just the two of us. People have built boats by themselves. We’re really hoping, and so far it’s proven to be more of a community project. I’ve had a lot of friends come over and help put up the building the first time before the building inspector asked us to move it. I had a bunch of friends come over and we stood the walls up. People have come to help with the saw milling and whole bunch of other parts. A lot of people are waiting until we’re actually working on the boat. They think that part is a little bit cooler. I hope to have a lot of people come, help out and lend a hand, teach them what we can along the way. Work will go faster, it will be more enjoyable, and it’s always good to pass on some knowledge. I guarantee anyone who comes and hangs out for the day will learn something.

Climbing Together: Are you making your own sails too? 

Stephen: I don’t know. We’ll see what happens when we get to that point.

Alix: We got a ways until we need to figure that out. It would be cool to learn how to make it, so if we are out on our own we can patch anything up or make a new sail if we need to, or if one gets shredded.

Stephen: Sail making is an art. There’s a lot that goes into it.

Climbing Together: I can imagine. What other materials do you need?

Stephen: There’s a full pile of silicon bronze fasteners. The lead keel is held to the wood keel with 7 silicon bronze rods that are an inch and a quarter in diameter. The whole frame of the boat will get bolted together with bronze rods. The planking will go on with copper rivets and the decking will go on with copper rivets or silicon bronze screws. I haven’t decided yet. Those will be the principal fastenings for the boats. It will mostly be the lead keel, bronze fastenings, copper rivets, and wood.


Climbing Together: How will you transport it to the ocean when it’s finished?

Stephen: We’re saying he is going to grab the bow, I’m going to grab the stern and we’re going to walk to the ocean. We’ll have to take the building down, and more than likely we’ll have to get a crane to come in and scoop the boat up and put it on a low board trailer behind a big rig and truck it out to the ocean. It’s under the height limits and a little over the width, so it will be considered a wide load. We’ll have to get the permits and stuff, but it’s very doable.

Climbing Together: What are some things people might not realize would be involved? Like you mentioned permits?

Alix: Getting permits for the boathouse most of all.

Stephen: To us it’s a temporary structure. There’s no footings. As you can see the ridge line for the roof is held up by a steel cable between a mass that we erected out of a pine tree and a maple tree. It’s certainly not going to stand the test of time, but the building inspector didn’t like it being so close to the road where we had it before. We had to move it and spin it and get the permits. Other than that the only other permits we should need are putting it on the road and moving it.

Climbing Together: Do you need to get anything when it comes time to actually sail it?

Stephen: Not unless we’re going to charter it. At that point, we’d need to get a captain’s license and the boat would have to be inspected and stuff, but other than that, no. We’ll get it registered and if we want insurance on it, we’ll have to have someone come in and inspect it and assess it. Other than that no, as long as you have the coast guard approved safety equipment, and your toilet facilities and propane storage tanks are up to regulations. We’re pretty good. It sounds fairly simple.

Climbing Together: Yeah, it does sound simpler than you’d think.

Stephen: They care a lot more about the building than they do the boat. We could literally build an aircraft carrier in the hay field there and there’s no laws preventing us from doing it, but if we wanted to erect a 200 ft tent we’ve got to get a permit for that. Granby (MA) is not use to people building giant boats in the front yard.

Alix: Definitely an oddity

Stephen: A lot of people have been driving by real slow while we’ve been working on it. There’s been a lot of speculation about what’s going on.

Climbing Together: I guess people are probably wonder what it is.

Alix: Yeah

Stephen: We’ve put this plastic up this weekend because the lofting floor was starting to get wet. Now they can’t see in, which is going to be kind of fun. We’re going to start building the boat and then in the spring the walls will come down because I don’t want to work in a greenhouse all summer and at that point if things get wet it’s not as big of a deal. It will be kind of like a revealing in the spring. You’ll drive by and there’s just this and you don’t know what’s going on behind it and all the sudden the wall will come down and BAM! Boat.

Climbing Together: That sounds neat. So you can work on this all year round?

Stephen: Yeah it will be kind of rough in the heat of summer or dead of the winter, but as long as we can handle it we keep working on it.

Alix: We’re working on it all year though.

Stephen: We’ll finish closing it off before the winter comes and then we’ve got to talk to the building inspector and figure out what we need to do to put a wood stove in here. We’ll be able to warm it up a little bit. Then we have the wood shop and that’s got AC and a wood stove in there. It’s not that bad in New England most winters. January and February are going to be our roughest two months. We can go in the wood shop and there’s a lot of stuff we can build and work on in there if it’s really cold and nasty. Same thing in the summer when it’s brutally hot.

Climbing Together: What other type of wood working do you do?

Stephen: I’ve done all sorts of hodge podgey stuff. I grew up on the farm here, so there’s a barn over there we built when I was a kid. I grew up around that kind of stuff. I like to do usually gifts in the workshop. I often make stuff. I’ve made very few things for myself. Cutting boards, stools, I made a cider press, I have a lathe so I’ve turned a lot of bowls and plates and that kind of thing.

Alix: I’ve done a lot less wood working, but we used to work together. We’ve done carpentry work together and roofing together. I’m going to take up more of the back end of the project. The video work and stuff. I studied photography. I’ve never really done video, but I’m learning fast self-taught.

Stephen: As am I with woodworking and boat building.

Alix: That’s kind of the beauty of the project too. We’re teaching ourselves all of this. A lot of people have asked us “how do you know how to build a wooden boat?” I read about it. It’s kind of the same thing with these videos, kind of figuring it out. I want to show people you can do that too.


Climbing Together: What do you think will help keep you motivated since it seems like a longer project than what you’ve worked on in the past?

Stephen: The end result. Being able to get on a boat and go where ever the heck you want. To be able to go live that free and be able to explore and travel. For me, I don’t think I need any more motivation than that.

Climbing Together: That does sound motivating enough.

Stephen: Then accomplishing a life long goal. Building a sailboat that’s something I’ve always wanted to do. To be able to accomplish that and live a lot more of a free existence. To be able to go travel. We both are climbers, so to be able to do first ascents in Norway or climbing in Thailand and Indonesia. Go down to Terra Del Fuego. We could sail to Patagonia and go climbing. Go up to Baffin Island if we want to. The options are endless. There’s an incredible amount of motivation there.

Alix: The lifestyle is big for us. It’s huge. Working minimally but also being able to go and do the things we’ve always been wanting to do.

Stephen: Go see the places I’ve always wanted to see. I’d love to go swim with a whale shark and see the southern cross and the northern lights, and go up and sail around a glacier while Orcas follow around the boat. So many things to go see and do, and really the only way we’re ever going to be able to see and do them is if we build a boat and go sail around. Either that or win the lottery but even then I think we’d build a boat and go sail it. We’d probably just build the boat a lot faster.

Climbing Together: It seems like this would be great for photography too.

Alix: Oh, yeah. I’m thinking of taking all this and doing a documentary at the end. Starting photography as well this is going to be perfect. All these things put together. You’re asking are we going to be able to find odd jobs, oh yeah.

Climbing Together: It sounds like a good combination of all your interest. 

Alix: We’ve been saying we make a good team. I’ve got the carpenter on my side here, and I can provide the back end working all the computers which he hates doing.

Stephen: I could never make the videos. I would have hurdled the computer out the window two months ago.

Alix: We compliment each other pretty well for this.

Stephen: We don’t step on each others toes much either. Alix will show me stuff on the videos, but as far as I’m concerned that’s his department. If there’s something I don’t really like I’ll say I’m not fond of this, but at the end of the day it’s his call. If I don’t like it, but he says let’s go for it, great. We’re going for it.

Alix: That’s how it’s going to be with the boat too. I don’t much about carpentry, so if I’m like this doesn’t look right and he says no, it’s fine. Okay we’ll do it.

Climbing Together: That seems good for this adventure to work well together. How did you meet? 

Alix: We met when we were both going to the same school, Unity College. We both took a rock climbing class and started climbing together. That’s how we really met. We lived down the hall from each other, but I don’t think we’d really start hanging out with each other if we hadn’t started climbing together. Once we did that we were doing that every weekend.

Stephen: Then after that we just stayed in touch. Alix has traveled all around. I’ve bummed around here and there. I’m sure we’ve gone some good long times without talking.

Alix: That’s the coolest thing about our friendship. We’ll go a long time without talking and then reconnect and it’s like we saw each other yesterday.

Stephen: We kind of intend to do that with the sailboat too. If at some point we need a little space from each other we both backpack and hike and all that kind of stuff. We can go to Italy and be like you can walk across Italy, I’ll sail around and pick you up on the other side. We can take a month and go our separate ways. Which works really well with our vision of going somewhere and staying for a while. Alix can teach English, I can go to the boat yard and we can meet up at the end of the day and go climbing or what not. Living on that lofting floor together for months at a time is going to be cozy.


Picture taken by me in Hingham, MA

Climbing Together: What are some other interests that you plan to explore on this adventure?

Alix: I don’t know where to start. We want to learn how to scuba dive and get the gear on there so we can refill tanks and

Stephen: I want to put a dive compressor on the boat so no matter where we are in the world we can charge our own tanks. We can go do some scuba and we can also use that to make money. If someone’s anchors get fouled or the bottom of their boat needs scrubbing. We will do it for you.

Alix: Climbing, hiking.

Stephen: We want to make some stand up paddle boards. Some nice wooden ones to bring with us so we can paddle those, surf those. Spear fishing. There are a lot of books I’d like to read. I’d really like to learn how to play a musical instrument. I’ve been toying with the idea of when the boat’s done, taking a little bit of time and making myself a violin. Taking it on the boat and teaching myself to play. That’s the kind of stuff that you don’t have the time for. I think going and living on the boat we’ll have the time for that.

Alix: I’ve always wanted to learn the guitar too. Never got to.

Stephen: I’d love to learn some languages.

Alix: That’s going to be awesome for me. I love languages.

Climbing Together: What languages do you want to learn?

Stephen: All I know is English. He knows Spanish and French so that would be a good place to start.

Alix:  I’ve tried learning Arabic, more of less understand Portuguese, Italian. Brushing up on all of those. I think anywhere we go, I want to learn some of the language and be able to at least communicate with the locals. I think that will be part of my job is the translator. I enjoy it too.

Climbing Together: That’s good. It shows respect to them. What needs to be done in sailing the boat? Does someone always need to be doing something?

Stephen: It really depends. So when we are living somewhere for a while, we’ll drop a couple anchors or tie it to a mooring and the boat will take care of it’s self. We don’t really need to worry after that. When we are actually sailing, going from point A to point B, someone always has to be on watch.

Other than that, it really just kind of depends on the weather. If you’re in the middle of the ocean and you get into the doldrums where there is no wind, yeah if you don’t have enough diesel or electric depending on what your auxiliary is to motor, you could just sit there and float for a week or two waiting for the wind. On the same side, if we’re in some narrow strait or channel or bay and the weather is bad and there’s a ton of shipping we might need three people on the boat going all the time to keep where we’re going and not hit anyone or get hit by somebody.

The boat is a heavy displacement, so I’ve looked at plans for boats and this one is 30 ft on deck, that are 60 ft on deck and don’t weigh as much as this one. It’s a tank. My friend Jeff who sails describes it as a hippopotamus or sea turtle just plowing through the ocean. Atkin, the designer,  the boat’s plan is called Ingrid and he describes Ingrid as able-ness personified, equal to any situation, the kind of boat that will behave herself in rough weather and can be depended upon to sail herself. The design is pattered off the Norwegian lifeboats, which a designer from a long long time ago in Norway made popular these double ended heavy displacement boats, so they are kind of like a canoe where they are pointy at both ends. When other boats were sinking in the storms, these were the boats they sent out. This is kind of inspired by those designs. It’s a wide boat, a heavy boat, it’s double ended. So it’s not going to be fast. We are not going to go enter and win any races. She is going to more or less sail like it’s on rails. It’s got a big long heavy keel. Getting around Boston Harbor might be a bit of a nightmare, but taking off across the pacific is what this boat was made for and where this boat will really shine.

Climbing Together: So was this model picked for dependability? 

Stephen: Yeah, that and the ease of construction. The boat was designed in 1934, at the time it was designed for the amateur boat builder to be able to build it at home and be successful, and that’s kind of Atkin’s whole thing. Something about boats for unregimented yachtsmen is the kind of motto. When I was looking for boat designs the name Atkins kept popping up in different places, and once I started looking into the Atkin boat line and what they’re all about and the cult following they have, I decided alright we’ll build an Atkin boat. I started digging through all the Atkin plans.

It’s kind of like deciding what kind of house you want to build or car you want to buy. The options are daunting and everything is a compromise, everything is a trade off, especially with a boat. We started looking through their plans and reading through them. I knew I wanted a boat I could single hand, so you could sail it yourself, and I wanted a boat that was big enough to have two or three people on it pretty much all the time and for it to be relatively comfortable. It’s a boat, it’s going to be cozy no matter what, but not have it be too crowded. There’s five berths on it, five beds. I wouldn’t want to have five people living on it crossing an ocean, but if there were two or three of us and we were in port and two or three people wanted to come stay, that would be fine. Yeah, so between the relative ease of construction. No boat is easy to build, but it doesn’t have any crazy curves or anything that’s too wild about it. Between it being relatively easy to build, designed for a home boater, and designed to handle big waves and storms, I decided to build an Ingrid.

Alix: I just went along with it. I was like alright, sounds good.

Climbing Together: Do you know what the inside is going to be structured like?

Stephen: Yeah, on the plans they talk about their version of the lay out. Blue Water boats, I think it is, out of Washington state in the 70s, I believe, made a whole bunch of fiber glass versions of this boat.So there’s a whole bunch of interior configurations. Generally, standard is you have a cockpit in the stern of the boat and you enter it through the companion way and go down the stairs and then on your right hand side will be a chart table and your radio and all your navigation stuff, and on the left hand will be the galley, so it’s your kitchen, stove, sink, refrigerator, that kind of stuff, and then you go into the main saloon which is the living area. There’s a table that’s set up. On one side there’s a couch with a bed behind it, on the other side there’s just a couch, the two couches double as beds. Then you go through a bulkhead and there’s a little door and there’s your head and your toilet on one side, storage lockers on the other and then in the front of the boat is another cabinet with twin deep berths, so there’s two beds up there. But we can make the twin deep berths one big bed if we wanted. We can shuffle things around a little bit.

Climbing Together: Do you need to get all the stuff to communicate with other boats as well? 

Stephen: Yeah, well have to get radar and radar reflectors, and the radio and all that stuff. Absolutely.

Alix: Yeah, there’s going to be a lot of gear we need to get once the boat is actually built.

Stephen: That’s one instance where I’ll definitely take advantage of modern technology.

Climbing Together: It sounds like it’s going to be a lot of fun. I think it makes it even better to know you put all this together. 

Stephen: I like the fact that we are going to know every piece of wood, every bolt, every screw, every wire. I couldn’t imagine heading out across an ocean on a boat that somebody else built and not knowing if it was done as well as it could be, or if there’s an issue where exactly I need to look and what I’m going to encounter. So there’s a huge piece of mind to me sailing off on a boat that I know so intimately. We built it, if we break it, we fix it, as long as we don’t outright sink it.

Climbing Together: I think I remember seeing that you were planning to get all the wood from the local area? 

Stephen: Yeah, we cut all the trees down, milled all the lumber,  and it came from right back here on my family farm.

Alix: the only thing we don’t have is the cedar, right?

Stephen: Yep, for the planking, and the Spruce for the mast. We have all the White Oak for the frame and all the Pine for the decking and interior work. We’re going to put some Sugar Maple in there, some Cherry Burls, Black Walnut, some Butternut. We’ve got a bunch of fun stuff to work with.

Alix: It’s part of the cool thing about building it ourselves. We’ve got the time to do it. So we’ve got all this nice wood around to make the inside with really nice wood. Usually people build a boat and by that point they’re just sick of it.


Sample of Black Walnut borrowed from

Climbing Together: How many trees does it take to make this?

Stephen: I honestly didn’t count. I think we cut down 9 or 10 oaks, and like 4 pines. We still have to outsource for the cedar for the planking and spruce for the mast. I would say all said and done, the boat will come out of 20 trees or fewer. They are pretty big trees. Most of the trees we cut were at least 2ft in diameter at the base and somewhere in the ball park of 80 to 100 years old.

Climbing Together: Where can people keep up to date with this project?

Alix: We have a website. We have a Facebook page which will lead you back to the website as well: We have the videos up on a site called patreon ( That site was actually created for artist that are doing reoccurring work, so instead of doing something and raising one lump sum of money, people can put up work and you have followers who decide to donate a certain amount, and it’s their choice, for a piece of work that you put up. If people want to follow, the best way to help us is to subscribe to our Patreon page. Every time we put up a video, they will pay the amount they decided to pay. Depending on certain tiers of how much you donate, you get gifts or extra stuff. We’ll be putting those on as they come out and as the other videos start coming out, we’ll be putting them on YouTube and things like that.

Climbing Together: If people are really excited about this, is that the best way to help?

Alix: Yeah, that would be the best thing to do if they want to help us.

Climbing Together: Are there other ways to get involved? 

Stephen: We are on the hunt for lead. If anybody knows where we can find some lead, we will match what your local scrap yard will buy it for and we’ll come pick it up. Any and all things made of lead. The more the better. We need a lot.

Climbing Together: Any other things you’d like people to know?

Stephen: We really want people to be involved. If folks are super interested and want to send us an email, swing by, and lend a hand, and see what we’re doing, the more the merrier.

Alix: Don’t be shy. We love talking about it.

Stephen: A big goal of it is to hopefully inspire folks. A lot of people have said this is crazy or so ambitious, and I don’t think we really see it that way. Is it a big project? Yes. Is it a lot of work? Sure, but it’s been done before. It’s been done hundreds if not thousands of times over the course of history. I had so many people I’ve talked to about it say that’s so amazing or I wish I could do something like that, but I never could. If you want to do it, just go for it. Six years ago if you came to me and said I would be building a boat in my front yard with my best friend who quit his job and moved down here to help me do it, I would have laughed at you. I had that end goal and I kept plugging away at it, and when I pitched the idea to my friends and they blew me off and told me I was crazy, it only strengthened my resolve. I kept digging and did more research.

Alix: Sometimes the crazy stuff is the stuff that really can come together. I think people just get scared of that. It’s not as bad as it looks. Part of our wanting to do this is we feel like we don’t really fit into the kind of society we’re in right now. We want to get out that idea that you can do something different. You don’t have to work with what’s here. Think big and believe in yourself.

Stephen: When I was a kid my favorite books were My Side of the Mountain, Huckleberry Finn, Where the Red Ferns Grow. The premise in most of those books is being outside and being free. I think that’s an amazing way to live.

Alix: And it’s possible.


Photo I took in Maine

Thank you both for answering my questions. It really was fascinating learning all about this plan and how practical the idea of bringing it to life is. Yes, it will take work, motivation, and determination, but it’s clear this is something they are passionate about and capable of doing. Good luck with your endeavors and hopefully we can check back in soon to see how progress is going. For all the readers out there, feel free to post any questions and I can see about getting answers in the follow up. Or if you have a similar experience, your own unique dream, or advice, we’d love to hear it. 

Smuggler’s Notch, VT

Touch the Sky

“Touching The Sky” V12

This weekend we decided to escape the heat and humidity, as best as we could, by giving alpine bouldering a try. We drove up to Smuggler’s Notch in Vermont, which is about 3-4 hours from where we live. The early morning drive was, for the most part, nice and easy. When we were in Vermont and getting close to the climbing area, there were a bunch of beautiful little towns filled with things I love like farms, cheese, glass blowing, and wood working/carving shops. It had a cozy feel to it, despite how largely abandoned a lot of it felt due to being an off season ski/snowboard area. Along the road you could see sprawling vibrant green fields and meadows of bright yellow, blue, white, and purple flowers. It is a very picturesque area.

We knew there was an impending storm, and the dark clouds that loomed over the mountain tops had us worried. We prepared a back up plan for how to enjoy the day if the storm gave way, and went for it anyway. This ended up being a good idea, because the storm held off until we left and the strong wind gusts felt incredible after weeks of oppressive heat. It was like being out at sea with the consistently strong whips of wind in all directions.


The truck maneuvered it’s way through the winding, sometimes very narrow, road that led up to the boulders. If you are planning a trip to this spot, you want to be wary of possible road closures and what season it is. It is not always possible to drive up it, and Mountain Project warns of potential heavy fines. This was not a problem for us and we were able to park really close to the boulders, but it is something to be mindful of.

Once you are there, it is very obvious this would be a bouldering location. There are massive boulders everywhere! Some are right on the edge of the road, some jutting out and almost into the road. It is by far the easiest approach I’ve ever encountered. There is zero hiking required to get to some of these boulders. In the past, I have hesitated at the thought of alpine bouldering because I picture the very long hike I took to get to the boulders in Idaho Springs, Colorado. Lazy sounding I know, but some days you feel up to hike and some days you just don’t. Regardless, this is not the case for this area. The boulders are literally right there. If you do want more of a work out, there are some awesome looking hiking trails and bike paths. I don’t think I’ve ever wanted to ride my bike as much as being in this area. It looks behind incredible for it.

There is very easy access to nice restrooms too, since the visitor’s center is also right there. However, this means the area is filled with tourists who are there for a plethora of different reasons. There’s a lot of space and it didn’t feel like anyone was particularly in the way. It is just that we saw people all over doing a variety of things from picnics to taking fake climbing pictures to screaming in excitement over who know’s what. It’s maybe the closest you’ll get to feeling like you’re in the gym while outside. It is such a gorgeous area though, and still holds tight that glorious feeling of being out in nature. I was too stunned by the impressive nature to notice the tourist all that much.


Of course, the most important question would be if the climbs were worth the long drive. In short answer, after the day was done, yes! I look forward to going back and exploring more. I left feeling psyched to do much more, and wishing we didn’t have to leave yet. The day didn’t quite start out as love at first climb though.

We arrived, found a solid parking spot in the middle of the action and close to Josh’s goal boulders of the day, and warmed up with the no hangs. no hangs

Then we took the really short walk, like several feet, to the first boulders I wanted to try. These boulders were low to the ground, which is nice since the area has a bunch of intimidating highballs. These climbs seemed easy enough in appearance, but were deceptive. The schist rock of this area is high quality, with nice little quartz cracks and features. Some of it, however, is very slick and my initial attempts were complete shut downs. Such as this fine little climb here, which we believe to be about V4, but might need to look into more.


The rock here, at least, is so smooth and appealing to see, but hard to work. I give it some solid tries wanting to make progress but also feeling a bit worried nothing would feel climbable. The hand holds felt smooth, but easy enough to grip, and the feet just felt hard to find or stick. We took a walk around to the boulders close to it and behind it, and things were much different. The rock quality was still solid, but other routes felt more manageable and engaging. Soon we started having a lot of fun and finding projects quickly. Whether the slick rock are your thing or you’d prefer things more similar to the grittiness I gravitate towards, it is possible to find things you’ll love. There is a seemingly wide variety and some very exciting routes.

me climbing

“Easy Road” V0

A V0 around the corner proved to be a better warm up, for the obvious reason of being an easier start, but also this climb was just a lot of fun. It had amazing crimps, which I love. The movement was fun, though it was one of those ones you will probably climb a little different each time you get on it. There are a lot of options.

me climbing 2

Next to it was a slightly harder option, but equally as fun warm up climb. This climb had some challenging movement on incredible jug holds. Really the difficult part was adjusting the pad to cover the protruding rock you could hit, while also keeping it far enough away from your body that you can actually climb. It happens from time to time, but it was well worth the minimal efforts. I enjoyed this climb a lot. You start on a sloper hold, big move out and left, then bring your body into the biggest under-cling jug there is. You can bump right hand,reach up for a large, jug crimp, gain a big foot hold and summit to an easy top out. At least, this is how I saw it.


Josh quickly set eyes on this climb “The Impossible Problem.” He made quick work on it, but lost a lot of skin figuring out the beta and sending didn’t happen due to one hard move. He has figured it all out though, and I’m confident it will happen next time. This climb made for some excellent photos.

josh 2

josh 3

He then spent the rest of his efforts giving a few tries on “Touching the Sky.” That climb is gorgeous, but terrifying in the potential landings. From a lot of photos, it is hard to see how tall it is because people start on a boulder that is below it. However, with the wrong kind of fall, it could be possible to fall from both and tumble down quite a ways. To put in a little perspective, the warm up climbs I did and that were pictured above, are actually the lower boulder. People climb on top of that boulder to get to this one. The other side, where one would likely fall, is a bit lower than the side I climbed, but it is also right above a little hill. Next to “Touching the Sky.” is an iconic V2. I felt around the first few moves, but I’m a bit of a baby when it comes to huge falls so a send, honestly even a real go, was not in the works for me. I did capture a picture of a man I don’t know the name of doing a fine job with it.


All in all, we got a great first taste of this location. I had a lot of fun and look forward to our return. We plan to do a lot more and make even more of a day out it by staying a weekend. It was cooler, the climbing was fun, and the rock quality was worthy of the trip. When leaving, we headed through Stowe and grabbed some food at Piecasso. It was a fun little spot. Bright colors, interesting decor, and decent pizza. We got some by the slice and tried out a few interesting mixes. I had buffalo chicken with banana peppers and a mozzarella, pesto, basil, and sundried tomato slice that was drizzled in balsamic. It was mighty tasty.

smugglers 2

Normally, an initial trip is a bit on the easy going side for us. It can be hard to find things and know where to go. Now that we’ve looked at it, got a feel for the area, and tried out a few things, I’m sure our next trip will be a bit more extensive. I look forward to picking out some projects and trying hard. Leave a comment if you’ve visited and tell us what you think.

No Hangs


Josh Villeneuve has created a system for training finger strength that I have really been enjoying. This “no hang” system is great because it focuses completely on the fingers. Doing hang boarding or campus board sessions can be helpful, but you are using other aspects of your body in those work outs. For instance, you are engaging your core. The no hang allows you to come really close to isolating fingers and getting a real feel for how strong they are. We are both much stronger at close crimps than open crimps, and this system makes strengthening half and open crimps much easier than some other training options. Like on a hang board it can be really hard to fight that natural inclination.

Another perk is that it is really easy to travel with. If you want to get in a good warm up before climbing outside, that can be hard to do. A lot of people consider the hike in their body warm up, but unless you’re fortunate enough to always climb with easier climbs near by, the fingers can be hard to warm up. A no hang system is easy to take with you. We used this in the parking lot before heading to the boulders, so all the weights were in the car and easy to access. It was really nice.


So what is this made of? What are you even looking at? Well there is a plank of wood with crimps, you can pick the size you want, screwed in. This one has two different sizes, one on each side. There is a hole drilled in a central spot at the bottom to run a sling though. The weight you see hanging is actually a boat anchor. Josh uses this as a way to keep the weights level when they are added on. We use circle weights like you’d put on bar bells. They are stacked on top of the boat anchor. Most people who see it think they’d never be able to do it, but you’d be surprised how strong you are. The first time I ever did this, I was hesitant to try to pick up 45 lbs and then did so effortlessly. My max weight first go was about 65 lbs.


It’s a nice work out because it’s easy to do at home, at the gym, outside or where ever you need it. It takes a very short amount of time. It can be an excellent training tool or warm up tool. Since I recently had a bit of an ankle injury, it is also a great way to keep strong while not being able to use your feet.

The first time you’ll probably need to just figure out your max. Start with a weight amount that you know you can handle, hold it for a few seconds and progressively add more weight. Take rests of a couple minutes between efforts, especially once it gets harder. Your max might be different on each hand. My right hand can handle about 5 more lbs than my left.

Once you know your max, you can start tracking progression by keeping a record and seeing if you can up it each time. So far, I really like this. It’s easy to do, it makes me feel strong, and it just makes sense to me. If it will improve my climbing, is still to be determined. What do you think? Would you try it? Have you tried something like this?

Rally Racing with Robert Werk

Stage 1 (By Dagger Slade Media)

Stage 1, Photo credit to Dagger Slade Media

Rally racing is an adventure packed motor sport that will fuel your adrenaline rush, while simultaneously requiring a mind clear enough to calculate risk and make quick decisions. It is similar to the lure of climbing in that regard; it pulls people to an edge.

The best place to start discovering any action sport, is to learn what exactly it is. To do this, I met with Robert Werk, who has been active in SCCA racing with his rally team Slow Roll RS, which you can follow at: They are a team that started in 2014. Rob has a lot of experience to offer, and he has a sometimes humorous, always interesting, and comprehensive way of sharing it.

Rob has always been someone who loves cars and driving. It was a passion that started as a baby being lulled to sleep by the soothing motion of a car ride, and has progressed over the years into his full commitment to racing. It is clear that this form of racing is something he really enjoys, and the community surrounding it feels like the accepting, welcoming kind that many people spend their lives searching for. In a time that can seem bogged down by negatives, this activity creates not only a useful outlet, but brings people together who want to support each other and help each other out. There is a strong sense of respect among people involved, and since it is an activity really anyone can participate in, it attracts a wide range of people.

If being the one in control of the wheel doesn’t appeal to you, there are other roles on the team that are crucial and require different types of skills that may be more suited to your interest. There’s a place for anyone who wants to be involved. It’s a great way to have fun year round.

Getting Ready for Stage 1 (L to R_ Andrew Benson, and Robert Werk) (By James Kancewick)

Getting Ready for Stage 1 (L to R: Andrew Benson and Robert Werk) Photo credit to James Kancewick.


Climbing Together: What is the type of racing you do? How would you describe it, and how is it different from other forms of racing? 


Robert Werk: I do Stage Rally and S.C.C.A rally cross. S.C.C.A rally cross is mainly autocross. Autocross is a race around a parking lot around cones. With rally cross they go around cones except it’s in a grass or dirt field. There are also rally sprints, but to understand rally sprints you have to understand what stage rally is, because rally sprints are abbreviated stage rallies.

Stage Rallies take place on public roads, many of them are dirt. They close off short sections of road, though they’re not always short, but sections of road that you go as fast as you can on. Between each of those you drive on just public roads with your race car to get to each stage. You have a set amount of time for these transits, as they’re called, and there are penalties for arriving early and there are penalties for arriving late. Actually the penalties for arriving early are larger than arriving late, which totally messes with my German upbringing where if you’re early you are on time, and if you’re late you are, as they would call Dummkopf.

It is an exercise in precision and teamwork in terms of the driver and the co-driver, and that can be what makes rally very different from let’s say another form of off road racing like desert racing. In the Baja 1000 you have 36 hours to go 1200 miles, whereas in rally you have maybe 100 special stage miles, and then in between each of those you have a set amount of time you have to get there in or you get penalized, and there’s penalties for speeding and so forth.

Below is a sample course map to give all the visual learners an idea of what the set up might be like. 

stage 1 and more sample

Sample from The New England Forest Rally Spectator Guide. Rally America National Championship Round #6 2016

Climbing Together: So it’s not really getting the fastest speed so much as getting the best time?

Robert Werk: Yes, because each special stage you are not going wheel to wheel with anyone, not usually anyway. They send you off one at a time. Usually at a minute or 30 second intervals. That should give the person ahead of you enough time if they’ve done their organizing correctly. You shouldn’t catch anyone but you shouldn’t be caught by anyone either. Usually the etiquette is that if you’ve seen you’ve been caught, you pull over as soon as you can, in a spot that’s safe, so that the people can pass. It’s not necessarily you vs everyone else, its you vs. the course. You’re running the course a lot differently than other people are going to run the course.

Climbing Together: What are some of the penalties?

Robert Werk: They mainly have to do with time. If you arrive to a time control early, you’ll get penalized. Let’s say you get there a minute early, they’ll add a minute to you time. If you arrive a minute late though, they’ll add 10 seconds to your time. Then you have services along the way that are scheduled services that have a scheduled amount of time, as well. Everything is timed and you have to meet those times. If you’re late getting out of service because you broke your car more than your crew can fix, you get a penalty. If you are early getting out of service because you didn’t break your car enough, damn it, you get penalized. A lot of times getting out of service early is pretty hard. You have to really be trying to get that penalty.

So all that time and keeping everything on schedule is really the co-drivers job. They are in charge of planning the routes, I mean the routes are already planned, but looking at the routes and saying okay, well we’ve got to get this far in this amount of time so how much time does that leave us to go to the bathroom? Change a tire? Fix a problem with the car? You know, before we’re late. What speeds do we have to go, and so on and so forth. Directing the drivers attention.

Climbing Together: Is it always two people in a car? 

Robert Werk: In stage rally, yeah. It’s always two people in the car. You have your driver and co-driver. The co-driver really gets all their work done before the rally even starts. They have that hardest job of planning it, knowing what the services times are, what people’s phone numbers are, making a sort of a movement plan of getting to the rally. The driver’s job is really just to drive. The co-driver even basically makes sure the service crew is doing the right things to the car, and helps prioritizes that. The service crews job is to get the car back out on stage on time and fixing any problems.

Climbing Together: Is there one you like doing better? Driver or co-driver? 

Robert Werk: I like being a driver. I like driving. I always have. Even when I was a little kid. When I couldn’t sleep, as a little baby, they would just plop me in the car, and take a trip around the block and (snaps) out like a light. I like driving, and I guess, I also like being in control. I don’t like having it out of my control. It feels strange sitting on the right side of the car rather than the left. I’ve never tried to co-drive, but I can tell that I’m not suited for it. It takes a very special kind of person to want to sit in a car going 80 mph over rocks and through streams and stuff, and past trees…sometimes into trees, without being in control of the car. Just reading “okay, you’ve got this turn coming up, remember!”

Climbing Together: How do you find a co-driver or someone who would want to do that?

Robert Werk: Well, there are actually a lot of people out there that co-drive. For New England Forest Rally, I found my co-driver, literally, I went on Facebook to the New England Region SCCA Rally Sprint and Rally Cross Facebook Page, and said I need a co-driver for New England Forest Rally, and I would like them to have a little bit of experience reading notes. It is a lot harder than it seems. A guy named Andrew Benson said alright I can do it. I have done a couple of rally sprints, and I was getting the hang of it, so I’d really like to do New England Forest Rally. I was like alright, let’s do this. I would have preferred someone with a little bit more experience, but on short notice you have to take what you can get and it just so happened to be that Andrew and I actually worked pretty well in the car together.

Climbing Together: Is it easy to find a co-driver? 

Robert Werk: It can be. It can be easy to find someone who would like to co-drive; who would like to sit in the rally car and go 100 mph through the woods. It can be hard to find people who are good at it, if you don’t have the right connections.

For instance, I did a rally sprint renting one of my friend’s cars. It was sort of on the spur of the moment. On a Wednesday I found out he wasn’t able to run in the rally sprint because he had another commitment. I think he had to go to a wedding or something. I was like okay, I’ll rent your car. Now I just need a co-driver. It so happened that Ryan Symancek, who also helps out with the drive series and does other online productions on Youtube, was like sure, I’ll be your co-driver. He was looking for someone to sit with. I was like okay, let’s do this.  On a Wednesday morning my weekend went from going and watching a rally sprint to competing in it, and it was a whirlwind. We didn’t have a service crew. It was just me and him and we got through it.

Getting the Car Through Tech (By Dan Colburn)

Getting The Car Through Tech (Photo by Dan Colburn)

Climbing Together: Do you provide your own service crew?

Robert Werk: Yeah, you usually have to provide your own service. For stage rally, Rally America says you need at least two. Then after that you have to start paying for your service crew, it’s like $10 a person, it’s not much. I’d say its important to have at least 3 people to work on the car, and another person that can run and be a messenger/errand boy for everyone to get food, water, parts, tires, whatever. That person to run and grab a tool if they have their hands full and can’t get away. That is the optimal number. The minimal number is 3.

Climbing Together: If you don’t have a crew, can you get one there?

Robert Werk: They have a pool of volunteers. People will volunteer to work in the service area. You can rely on those people. Rally is a lot like climbing in a way. Certain climbing communities, you can go to a crag and just walk in with a rope, draws, your harness, and shoes and be like “Can anyone give me a catch on a climb?” 3 or 4 people will be like oh, yeah, sure. Then they’ll be like “you wanna go catch me on this?” That’s sort of how rally works. You see someone has a problem or something, lots of times you go over and check, see if you can help. The guys on my service crew, on the second day they were helping out on everybody’s car. That’s the kind of environment rally is. Everyone wants everyone else to succeed.

_Repaired_ Car Ready for Day 2 (By Robert Werk)

Repaired Car Ready for Day 2 (Photo by: Robert Werk)

Climbing Together: Are there people who take advantage of that, because there are some with climbing?

Robert Werk: Oh, definitely with climbing. Climbing is a pretty large community because the entry level, yeah it’s expensive for the gear, but you think of the entry level to a motor sport that’s even higher, so your pool is a lot smaller. Really it’s a nationwide community, once you start doing stage rally, because it’s pretty expensive. It’s two days, that means you got to get a place to stay, you have to feed people, you got to get gas. That’s just the race, pre-race that’s another three days tacked on in front of that. It’s pretty expensive, but still it’s the cheapest motor sport. But that’s like saying a Ferrari 458 is the cheapest Ferrari. It’s still expensive.

Climbing Together: If someone wanted to try it out before fully investing are there ways to do that? 

Robert Werk: There are. With it being so expensive, the best way to do it is to find a cheap car on craigslist. If you are mechanically inclined awesome, if you’re not you’re going to spend a little bit more money to get something that’s running and not a ball of shit to begin with. Go to S.C.C.A rally crosses, look for what region you’re in, because S.C.C.A, I know the New England Region, they do a great job. They are always on time. Yeah they start early, but you get 10 runs in. Sometimes that’s the easiest thing to do.  Get a cheap car, if you don’t have a cheap car already. Get a helmet. S.C.C.A has loaner helmets, but if you don’t want to wear a loaner helmet, get your own helmet.

Go to rally crosses. That’s it. See if you want to drive around on dirt. If nothing else, if rally cross is good enough for you, you have a good social circle. If you decide, okay I want to keep going with this, you can take that car, put a cage in it. Fiddle with your brakes so you can fit 15″ wheels and gravel tires on it. Get the appropriate safety equipment, and look at the rules for Rally America, NASA Rally or the newly formed American Rally Association and see what sort of safety equipment you need. Get off to the stages or off to rally sprints. If you don’t know if you want to invest your time in a full rally build, they are places that will rent you rally cars. Team O’Neil will rent you rally cars. I don’t know if DirtFish will rent you cars, but a lot of the rally schools will let you rent a rally car.

Climbing Together: What do you need to get specifically for the car?

Robert Werk: To start off, honestly, what I’ve learned is stay away from cheap upgrades to your suspension. They are cheap and aren’t going to stand up to the abuse. You’re better of going with stock suspension, the suspension that comes on your car. Depending on the car you get, you might have to fiddle around with the brakes so you can fit the appropriate size wheel. I know I had to do that, it took a lot of headaches but I did it. The internet is a wonderful thing. I would tell you the best cars to get are Hondas, Toyotas, Subarus, and to be honest, I think that would be it for ease of maintenance and just the plethora of spare parts out there. Those are the best ones. Hondas, you could go to a junk yard and get an engine for like maybe $100.

Climbing Together: Are there people who try to race anything or are there restrictions on what kinds of cars they can use?

Robert Werk: A lot of people on the grassroots size, that are a private tier or just starting off, really have older cars. A lot of them are Subarus. Some people with BMWs, older ones from the early 90s and late 80s. They are a little cheaper, there’s lots of parts out there, and they’re not super powerful. In rally you don’t necessarily want the most powerful car, you want a car that you can control, that’s not going to send you into the trees. I know Rally America doesn’t let you start off with a turbo. Same with any front wheel drive type things. You really want to go for something that you can go to a junk yard and take parts off of any Honda. Same with Subarus and Toyotas, to a certain extent.

Climbing Together: Is that because you go through parts fast?

Robert Werk: Yes. Rally is not a question of if you are going to crash, it is when and how bad. One of the rules of rally, for your first rally, is that you need to take a spare of everything in the wheel well; brakes, brake pads, control arms, brake lines, things like that. There’s going to be different things you are going to have to do to certain cars to make them stage worthy, or make them more stage worthy, I should say. That’s dependent upon each car.

I know with my car the wiring harness goes between the engine compartment and the fender. The plastic in the wheel well just isn’t very beefy, so I had to put heavier duty plastic into the wheel well. Make sure the wires were up out of the way, just in case you shred a tire, you aren’t taking out your wiring harness and then your car just doesn’t want to move. It’s amazing how that happens. In terms of just getting your car ready, there’s always the internet. If you think you’re the first person to rally it, you’re probably not. People rally anything from the Honda Fit to the Subaru STIs. You can rally pretty much anything.

Climbing Together: What is going through the crashes like?

Robert Werk: I shouldn’t say this out loud, but I’ve been in a fair number of accidents that have been single vehicle accidents. They’re honestly not that bad. Like this past one, I kind of knew it was going to happen, and it was just like I looked over at the trees as we were sliding into them. “What’s the worst that could happen? Where’s it going to hit? It’s going to hit the back. Okay, there’s not much in the back. Oh, well. This is the best we could hope for.” And if it wasn’t going to happen like that, that’s why you have a roll cage. I didn’t have enough time to try and make it not happen.

I think I was more frustrated than anything else when I got into the crash. It was one of those things that I knew shouldn’t have happened, but it happened, and I didn’t know why at the time. It wasn’t til later my co-driver actually had a go-pro and had filmed it. I watched the film and was like Oh! Okay, now I know what happened. It’s really not that bad with all the safety gear on. You get spun around and you’re just like “son of a bitch, come on.” I think those weren’t my exact words.

Stage 2 Crash (By Nathan Sockalexis)

Stage 2 Crash (Photo by: Nathan Sockalexis)

Climbing Together: The crashes look really intense. Is there a high rate of getting injuries?

Robert Werk: If you look at the videos of rally crashes on YouTube, they look really intense, but those types of accidents don’t happen super often. Most of the accidents that you’re going to see or get into are relatively low speed and not very dramatic. If you look at the accidents on YouTube, that’s not representative at all of what most of the accidents are. Most of the accidents are someone goes around a turn and they hit mud or something they didn’t expect, and they slide and hit a tree. That can mean the end of your rally or it could mean you just got to get pulled out of the woods.

Mine I was fortunate enough that I just needed to be pulled out of the woods. Very rarely do you see roll overs and stuff like that with body panels flying everywhere. While those are interesting to watch, that’s why you have the roll cage. Injuries can happen. Thankfully from every injury or any death, they learn something new. They always update the roll cages after incidents like that and do a very thorough investigation. Safety really is the most important thing when you’re doing something like that because there are going to be accidents. I wasn’t even the first person to go off that day. We’re well prepared for them, as well prepared as we could be. As long as you pay attention to the safety measures, things should be fine. Should be. They can go very bad.

You can get a concussion, which is why they recommend getting seats with the side head braces. When you get into an accident, your head goes pretty much everywhere. That’s why you were a Hans device, which basically holds the helmet down on your head, so your neck doesn’t snap forward and you separate your skull from your spinal chord. That’s never a fun thing. Apparently if your skull gets separated from your spinal chord you die. It’s not a personal experience I’ve had.

They take safety very seriously.

Climbing Together: What do the events normally look like? Do they have spectators or different things going on? 

Robert Werk: It depends on where you go. Europe loves rally. That’s pretty much how a lot of drivers start over in Europe. They are in high populated areas because people want to watch. There can be lots of spectators and the crowd control over in Europe isn’t always the greatest. Spectators can get injured. A lot of people will go out to a rally, have a few adult beverages and maybe not be as mindful of their surroundings. In the United States, between Rally America and NASA rally sport, NASA rally sport is a much smaller scale event. There’s not as many spectators. Whereas, Rally America is a little bit larger scale and there are a fair amount of spectators. Nothing like over in Europe, but there are pretty big crowds. Some stages they allow them out, and some stages they don’t allow any spectators on. Usually the stages where they do allow them out, they have controlled areas for them that are far enough back from the road and taped off so people know where they are.

It’s hard to spectate a rally because you can only be in one spot.It’s down a road from one point to another. I think that’s part of the reason why it’s not as big here. With the advances in technology and remote controlled drones and cameras and things like that and how many people have go-pros, it really has become a lot easier to make those sorts of things happen. If you look at how the World Rally Championship markets, and uses those media devices to let their fans watch rallies. You have to pay $5.99 a month, but you can access the on board cameras of just about every single driver, you can access cameras around on stages to watch a single driver go through a stage or watch everyone go through a single point. It’s really become a lot more accessible, in a way. That’s what the American Rally Association is trying to do.

Climbing Together: Are there a lot of events? Is there a certain season?

Robert Werk: The nice part about rally is that it takes place on any surface, so our season is January to December. There is snow drift, which takes place on snow. Then you have a bunch of other rallies all the way through the years. Right now there’s 6 rallies each year in Rally America, and NASA has 13 or 14 in different locations. All year round. We’re one of the few sports where weather rarely has us cancelled. If there’s lightning and stuff and it’s dangerous for spectators on stage, sometimes they’ll call it. Lots of times it’s spectate at your own risk.

A tornado or hurricane might hamper it. A blizzard depending how bad it is, but rally cars are meant to go all terrain.

Climbing Together: Is it more challenging in the snow?

Robert Werk: Yeah, it is because you really can’t go as fast. Any power advantage that you might have doesn’t amount to much. It can be more difficult because you have to stay focused and you don’t necessarily know what’s under a snow path. It could be ice or it could be dirt and the grip is going to be very different depending what it is.

It all depends on if you’re prepared for it.

Some drivers enjoy it because it’s a lot easier to slide the car, especially at slow speeds. It’s enjoyable to do something with less risk, especially when you get to slide around. It depends on the driver.

Climbing Together: Is there a hierarchy of professionalism?

Robert Werk: You have Rally America, which is down here. Then there’s the Canadian Rally Championship and the European Rally Championship, and a few recognized championships. The World Rally Championship is way at the top. There’s a hierarchy of drivers within each those championships. You have the grassroots guys who are just starting out, who nobody knows about. Then you have the guys who have a manufacturer backing, which is kind of nice but at the same time, then it’s very much a job.

Climbing Together: What types of things do people get for being a winner? How do you win?

Robert Werk: You win by having the lowest accumulative time. That you get on the special stages, because technically everyone should have the same amount of transit time. It boils down to what did you do on the special stages. In the United States, you get a plaque, a little trophy. That’s about it. You might get 50% off or your next entry fee free to the next rally or something like that.

It all depends upon the class of car that you are driving. There’s the open class where anything goes.You basically make a 4 wheel drive car and you can do whatever the hell you want to it. If you do forced induction on it, you have to have a restrictor on it, which is just a restriction on the inlet to lower the power. Or you can do what they call super production, which is take a factory four wheel car and rally that. Usually those are your STIs, Mitsubishi Evos, and stuff like that.Subaru has a contingency program within super production. They give you on the national side, like $2,000 if you win and $500 if you come in like 3rd, on the regional side it’s like $500 if you win the region and like $200 if you come in 3rd.

There’s a little bit of money but that’s not really going to get you a great car or anything like that. It’s going to pay for your gas to get there or your next entry fee. There’s not much money in it, until you get to some of the World Championship type things. Then you have sponsorship deals and stuff like that.It’s all over. It may not be the sky’s the limit like Formula 1, but most of the professional drivers in that are pretty well paid.

End of Rally (By Robert Werk)

End of Rally (Photo by: Robert Werk)

Climbing Together: Are there people that put together their own rally races?

Robert Werk: There might be, but they would be non-sanctioned rally events. I don’t know about any of those. They might exist. I don’t know. But I know,there’s a lot to organizing a rally in terms of getting closures on roads, when you can do that, posting three months ahead to the people who live on that road. “Hey the road is going to be closed at this time.”Even then people will claim “oh, you never told us.”It’s like you’ve known for 3 months. You were at the town meeting, we’ve been going door to door handing out flyers, we’ve been posting them everywhere, we put up big signs, we sent you things in the mail and your e-mail. They’re like “nope, never got them.”

It takes a lot of organization to plan that. Sometimes it’s on private land where some of the special stages are. I know New England Forest Rally takes place on a lot of logging roads, so talking to the logging company and seeing if we can use this. Sometimes they say “yeah, sure you can do that” and sometimes they say “No, not this one, but you can go on this one” because that’s their business and they need to use those roads.

Climbing Together: How do you practice or get better?

Robert Werk: Go to rally crosses and rally sprints. It’s really what you need to do to get better. As a driver, practice listening. There are several rally games out there. The dirt series is out there and the WRC series of games which is out there. The lesser known one that’s probably one of the better to practice driving cars, Richard Burns rally. Which is an old game, but the physics in it are pretty brutal. Finding actual time to practice is difficult. That you would have to know someone who has a gravel pit or know someone who has a bunch of dirt roads on their property. There are places that do, but those are few and far between. You don’t want to go out onto a public dirt road.

Climbing Together: How fast do the cars usually go?

Robert Werk: It depends on what car you’re driving, but typically your average speeds are right around 65 to maybe 70 mph, because you are going down a dirt road, your car isn’t super light weight. Yeah okay you take out the interior and you add a roll cage, but you’ve got a spare tire, extra tools, fire extinguishers. Whatever you’ve taken out, you’ve at least put as much back in. You’re not a super light car, so you’re not going to go stupid fast. If you’re going literally 100 mph on some roads your car might tear in half and you would never be able to make some of the turns because you’re on a loose surface and it’s just not going to happen.

Climbing Together: What got you started?

Robert Werk: Every since I started driving, I had seen little bits and pieces of rally races and thought that it looked cool. During high school I had other commitments, like school and track and cross country. College about the same. It moved into the back of my mind. It wasn’t till after grad school when I started looking at different kinds of motor racing again. I had gotten into trophy trucks and the Baja. I was like what would it take to do the Baja 1000 in class 11. I couldn’t really find any good 1970s or 60s Beetles around that I felt comfortable tearing apart. They were too nice or just so rusted out that it wasn’t worth trying.

Then I saw a video of an interview with a guy who took a $500 BMW, threw a cage in it, and went rallying. With that same $500 car came in 3rd place at a World Rally Championship event down in Mexico. I was like “$500! I’ve got $5oo. I can do this.”So my adventure began. I brought a car, learned how to drive stick, and learned how to work on a car too. I had really no mechanical knowledge before I started doing this. I knew how to change oil and put windshield wiper fluid in. The first modification I did to my car was brakes, and I got this Wilwood kit. You had to take out part of the factory mounting position so the Wilwood caliper would sit correctly. I had to use an angle grinder, which I had to go buy an angle grinder and file part of this bracket down. The whole time I’m doing this, I’m like “Don’t screw it up. Don’t screw it up…I don’t know what I’m going to do if I screw this up.” I didn’t screw it up, but also I found those brakes were far too big to fit under 15″ wheels.

It’s an interesting sport and if you’re into learning new things, then rally is a great sport. You have to be creative sometimes. You break an engine mount, but you don’t have an engine mount with you out on stage, figure okay, well I guess I can use this ratchet strap because my engine probably doesn’t weight 1500 lbs. You use that instead. That’s actually what Bill Caswell did in rally Mexico and he still came in third cause he’s a freak. Talking about the Bill Caswell story, you should probably always mention you probably are not going to get those same results. Bill Caswell had been racing in other forms before he did that. You’re probably not going to find some $500 beater and end up taking it to the WRC. That’s a very rare thing to happen. Expect more of the results to just have a really damn good time.

Climbing Together: Is it common that people usually do different types of racing too?

Robert Werk: A lot of people do more than just rally. A lot of people go to the track nights that race tracks will have. They’ll do auto cross. Some people will do the American Endurance Racing series, which largely take place on tracks, I think. A lot of drivers look at rally as a starting point, and a lot of drivers who look at rally like something that looks like it might be fun to do. I always thought that rally drivers were some of the best drivers in terms of controlling a car, and keeping it on the road and being damn ballsy on tiny little back roads that you would probably want to go 20 mph on, like “yeah, I’m going to go 80. Oh, it’s snowing? Whatever. I’ll just slide the car under this bridge where my car just barely fits through, sideways.”

There’s a saying: A Formula One driver sees 10 corners a 1,000 times, a rally driver sees 10,000 corners once. It’s a more interesting sport than just going around in a circle. And wildlife playing a huge part. Like I had to dodge a moose. That was an interesting experience. I came around a corner on the third stage of the second day, and I see this moose head peeking out of the brush. I was like “Did someone bring a moose head out here? Trying to freak people out?” All the sudden it starts moving and I was like “nope, that’s a moose!” It runs out onto the road and I had to swerve more than I wanted to to avoid it. I was like “Moose!” and my co-driver was like “whaaat?” Cause he is just looking down at the stage notes.That was impressive. There was a photographer there too and I still haven’t seen pictures of that. It came up off the road and ran along side us for a little bit and then turned back into the woods.

My ultimatum with myself is if the car is totaled I’m done. I can’t afford to get another car. I just brought a house. I’ve got a needy dog. If the car is totaled I’m out.If the car is fine, I’m in it. Occasionally I’m flirting with this very thin line between disaster and just barely making it. I think that’s also what makes it fun for me. In a way it’s like climbing in that you flirt with this edge. If you free solo anything you flirt with it more, but even lead climbing you flirt with an edge between disaster and it being something really awesome. You have to weigh those risk. People look at climbing the same as rally in that it looks really dangerous. It can be, but you take a calculated risk. Think what the risk and reward are. I can take this corner at 80 and it can be really awesome, or I can take it at 60 and it will still be kind of awesome, but I’ll make it through. What’s it worth?

Leaving for Stage 1 (By James Kancewick)

Leaving for Stage 1 (Photo by: James Kancewick)

Climbing Together: Is there a certain age or type of person it appeals to?

Robert Werk: It goes across a lot of different people. The people who are competing in it are all different types of people, young, old. The guy who won New England Forest Rally was in his late 60s. It’s one of the few sports where women are in the same playing field as men.

Climbing Together: Who wouldn’t like rally?

Robert Werk: I guess, if you’re worried a lot about getting into an accident, then maybe rally is not for you. If you are a driver and you have a really nice car you are afraid of wrecking, rally is not for you.I’m sure there are plenty of people it wouldn’t appeal to. People who, I don’t know, don’t like loud noises.There are people who just don’t like climbing. There are people who just don’t like anything, but then there are also people who work actively to not like anything.

Climbing Together: Any physical hold backs that would stop a person?

Robert Werk: If you have a heart condition or something like that you’d want to be pretty careful what you do and how much you do.I guess each person has to weigh that. Do I care if my neck hurts? Some people might really care. Some conditions might stop a person.

Climbing Together: Who would be well suited for it?

Robert Werk: If you like driving, rally is a great sport because even if you don’t like driving fast, there are time/speed distance rallies. Literally, all just transit. You are going to be going quick-ish on less than ideal surfaces, but you’re not going to be going all out. You don’t need a roll cage.

People who like planning, like my mom could have been a really good co-driver. She likes adrenaline, and she also likes to plan. If you enjoy that, you might make a good co-driver. Especially if you can keep calm in high pressure situations and just read notes. Like you’re sliding around a turn at 60 mph and you don’t have the wheel and you can calmly read through. It’s hard to find those kinds of people, and you can make a good living being a professional co-driver and you don’t have to be in the lime light.

Climbing Together: Is there anything you know now that you wished you had known at the start?

Robert Werk: I guess some of the etiquette. What your responsibility is as the driver in getting a car prepared and starting off. I guess, that’s different agreements between different people, but if you own the car you are responsible for getting the car ready. There were times when I was frustrated with how much it was costing me and not getting any help with it. I asked people if they could help out, but it’s like no, it’s really your responsibility. I wish someone had sat down and said it’s your responsibility, if you want to start a team, you’re preparing the car. Because I looked like an asshole a little bit, which that is what it is.

Climbing Together: Are these things unwritten rules? Or could they be found?

Robert Werk: They’re sort of unwritten rules, because different people reach different agreements. It’s one of those things. You don’t want to dick people over in a community that is as small as rally is. If you dick someone over, which thankfully I’ve never done, the rally community will make it very hard on you. Like if you rent someone’s car and crash it and you don’t pay them for the car, for their loss, word will get around. It will effect how easy it is for you to continue in the sport. It’s the golden rule. That’s probably the easiest way to do it. If somebody crashed your car, would you want them to pay you for it? Yeah, I probably would. It’s a lot of common sense. If you’re one of those people who will try to weasel out of certain things just because legally it’s okay, rally will bite you in the ass. It might be legal, but good luck getting into rallies.

Climbing Together: Is there anything else you’d want to add that I didn’t ask you?

Robert Werk: I think anybody who gets into rally, you’ve got to have a few screws loose and you have to be willing to not care too much about how your car looks. If you’re worried about having a really nice car, rally is not the sport for you. If you want to wash and have a shiny car, no.

If you think you have to have a multi million dollar team, you don’t. You can do rally on a pretty extreme budget, but also don’t keep track of a budget, in like a spread sheet, because you will go insane. If I actually tracked how much money I put into my car and am going to put into it to get it rebuilt, I’d probably go nuts and not eat forever. I’d just be like I can’t afford to eat now. Know that it’s going to cost you money, and be prepared to spend that money. If you really think it’s worth it, then you won’t care.

When I crashed, I looked at it as a positive. Now I get to rebuild it and make it better. Now I have an excuse to do that. Try to turn it into a positive. That will help hugely in rally because rally will beat you up. We lost the back glass in that crash and we were just dirty and smelly and had to be up all night fixing the car. It was an adventure, but it was great to see people helping each other. When we had to repair the car and do an all night service, it wasn’t just my service guys. Other people showed up to pound out dents and contribute wires, or tape, or tools, or wielding, or parts. When they are down and out, we’ll do the same for them. That builds confidence and good friendships.

Day 1 (From L to R_ James Annis-Cockfield, Joey Levesque, Dan Colburn, Robert Werk) (By James Kancewick) (1)

Day 1 (From L to R: James Annis-Cockfield, Joey Levesque, Dan Colburn, Robert Werk) Photo by: James Kancewick

Thank you Rob for your great answers and wealth of knowledge. This sounds like a fun adventure to get involved in for people who are creative, adventurous, and love driving. I appreciate your time and thoughtful words. For anyone who is reading, please feel free to share comments of your own experiences, or ask any questions that weren’t asked. I’m sure I can get the answers to you. Thanks for reading. I hope you had fun doing so! 


Adventure Activity of the Month: Scuba Diving with Danny Gunn

Danny Gunn

Photo by Danny Gunn

Scuba diving has always seemed to me like a fascinating activity to try. The ocean and it’s whole ecosystem are gorgeous and unique. There seems like endless opportunities to explore and discover new sights. Since it is an activity that I’m not very knowledgeable about, I reached out to a friend from Australia, which I imagine to be a glorious place to pursue the hobby. In the interview below, Danny Gunn shares some of his experience and knowledge about scuba diving. I have included photos he has taken underwater. Danny Gunn’s photography is stunning, and I would highly recommend following some of his other work as well by going to this website: He has a fine eye for capturing nice lighting, movement, and nature.

Climbing Together: What led to your start in scuba diving? 


Danny Gunn: It’s kind of a strange situation because growing up I was terrified of water. We had a swimming pool in the house I live in and I would either stay in the shallow end or have a rubber (inflatable ring) that would keep me afloat if I went into the deeper end. I eventually got over it when I was about 10 or 11 years old but I was never a good swimmer. However the idea of exploring places appealed to me and it was something to try so we (my now-wife) decided to give it a shot when we were in Thailand and did our PADI Open Water course and then immediately after did the Advanced Open Water course. It just went on from there.


Climbing Together: What kept you going? What do you love above it? 


Danny Gunn: The answer to both of those questions would be one and the same. That being – the thrill of exploring new places, or even the same dive site but seeing different marine life, or exploring different areas. The ocean is huge so there is a lot you can see on one dive that you don’t see on the next because you might be 5 or 10 meters left to where you were and there is a whole new area to explore. The second being that it is peaceful. It’s you and the ocean and nothing else. There are no phones, no talking and really no noise aside from your breathing. You can pretty much shut off your mind of all the external happenings in your life and just enjoy the 45 minutes or of being alone beneath the ocean seeing wonderful marine


Danny Gunn 3

Photo by Danny Gunn

C.T: What places have you gone to dive? 


D.G: I’ve been very lucky in this regards as I have dived in many different places all over the world, this includes Melbourne, Australia – where I live as well as New South Wales and the Great Barrier Reef within Australia, and outside of Australia; Vanuatu, Bali (Indonesia), Thailand, Borneo (Malaysia), Jordan, Malawi, Zanzibar, Mexico, Honduras, Belize.


Mexico has been my favourite place to dive, specifically Cozumel. There was so much to see there, including Turtles, Eagle Rays, Moray Eels, and there were apparently Hammerhead Sharks however I did not see them which was disappointing.
C.T: What are your favorite things to see or discover? 


D.G: New marine life I’ve never seen before is exciting. I remember diving in Malaysia and I saw a Cuttlefish for the first time. It was swimming and it’s camouflage was working which was really awesome to see, but when I first saw it I had no idea what it was and thought it was an octopus.


C.T: Are there any lessons you learned through it that would be valuable to share with someone interested or just starting out? 


D.G: Don’t be deterred or overwhelmed by it all. Especially by people with more experience than you. You’re not going to be good at it from the first lesson, no one is. Like all things in life, it takes practise to get good and thankfully, with scuba diving, the best way to practise is to go and do it and you’ll see improvements each and every time.


C.T: What would make you recommend this activity to someone else? 


D.G: think the freedom you get from diving. Being away from it all and seeing a different part of nature that very few people get to see. It’s also a nice challenge to yourself to your mind and your body without having to push the limits of yourself. There are very little risks and the rewards are worthwhile.


C.T: Are there goals you have for diving in the future? 


D.G: I would love to be involved in Marine Research and conservation but it is unlikely that will happen and I have reached where I want to be in terms of certification as a Scuba Instructor (non-teaching though). Now I just want to see different parts of the world and the marine life it contains.
I still have a bucket list I want to check off in terms of animals I want to see – including Whales, Hammerheads, Whale Sharks, and places I want to visit.


C.T: Is it expensive to get into? What would someone need to start? 


D.G: It’s not cheap, unfortunately. At least to begin with. You need to be certified – although you can do a try-dive with PADI (not sure with other agencies) which is basically a ‘try before you buy’ where you go through the basics and do a shallow dive at the end of it. But your Open Water Certification isn’t cheap, and that is what you need at a minimum to go proper diving. However once you get passed your certification you’re set to go and I would recommend having your own mask and flippers and subsequently diving after that isn’t too bad, though it depends on location but I would say it is roughly $80 – 100 for a double dive on a boat, and cheaper for shore dives.


If you do invest in your own equipment, diving is cheaper as you don’t have to do equipment hire so long-term it works out but it really depends on how often you want to dive.


C.T: What are some things to be careful of when diving? 


D.G:There are some key points all divers should really remember:


The first, and most important, one being is you never ever hold your breath while diving. Prolonged breath holding can cause embolisms.


The second being know your limits. There are a multitude of factors that come into play the deeper you get (eg; you go through air quicker). Don’t be a hero and don’t do something you are not comfortable with, or not trained for. Diving is mostly safe, but like everything else, accidents happen and a lot of it is due to stupidity.


And the final thing is to not touch the marine life/corals. This will be something told you to from the very beginning but it is imperative you leave everything alone. There are a lot of health risk to both animals and humans by touching them, and the ecosystem is fragile. People may feel like they are not doing anything wrong but it is best to simply leave it be and look with your eyes.


C.T: Do you have a particular experience you could describe and how it felt, or what you saw? 


D.G: Possibly the first time I saw a Shark, which also happened to be the first time I saw a turtle. I was diving at Coffs Harbor which is located in New South Wales. Almost between Sydney and Brisbane. This was one of the first times I had been diving since I got my certification and we knew there was the possibility of seeing a Grey Nurse Shark (they are harmless Sharks, incapable of biting humans). I’m not sure how long we had been under the water for but I was facing one way and about 10 meters away my wife was looking at me and then she pointed behind me. I turned around and there was this great big Nurse Shark which was absolutely awesome to see. Apparently it had challenged me when I was facing the other way (challenging is they will swim at you and then veer off at the last second, they usually do this if you are higher or at the same level as they are in the water, being below them establishes them as the dominant animal). I can’t describe how it felt, it was just remarkable to see a shark in it’s natural habitat for the first time. It really did not care we were there and just went about it’s business and I felt at the time that people who feared sharks were really missing out on seeing such a graceful creature.


C.T: A lot of people love outdoor activities for mental benefits such as relaxation, problem solving, a natural high, etc. Does diving provide any of that for you? What are some benefits to it? 


D.G: Diving provides a lot of time to yourself in some respects. Underwater you get a chance to get away from your phone, people talking, work and just in your own mind exploring or searching.


There are also some nice health benefits as it does provide good exercise which is low impact. Most of the time you don’t even feel like you are doing much but you feel like you’ve had a bit of a workout afterwards.
Also, who doesn’t like going for a dip?


C.T: Is there anything that would make diving not a good idea for a person? 


D.G: Not really. If you have any medical conditions you will need a doctor to sign off before you can do anything diving related, which is standard. Otherwise it is really more to do with the person and if they really want to give it a go.


C.T: Thank you Danny for all your insight and excellent answers! It sounds like scuba diving is a great adventure to try. Have fun in your future explorations! 
Danny Gunn 2

Photo by Danny Gunn