Hey Utah. I love you.
A couple weeks ago Story of the Year headlined a festival in Salt Lake City, Utah, because we’re kind of a big deal. I flew in 2 days early to have myself a good ol’ micro-adventure, and decided that instead of doing the hotel or tent & rental car thing, I would do something a bit different. I found a company based in SLC called BaseCamper Vans that convert vans into campers and rented one. My van wasn’t a fancy ordeal, (which suits me just fine, thank you), but came equipped with a bed, stove, solar power, a kitchen set-up, and most importantly didn’t cost a bunch of money. Pretty rad! My plan was to fly in, hop in my van and spend 2 days climbing / hiking and getting some me-time. Clear my head. Then meet up with the band for the festival.
My trip started by stocking my sweet adventure van. It’s also worth noting that I named the van Gary, because I happen to find the name Gary to be legendary. Gary is one of those names that I can’t image a person naming a baby. Same with Harold, Joan, or Todd. “Hey everyone, check out my baby! This is Todd.”…. Anyway, I knew I needed at least 3-4 liters of water for the night and following day’s climbing / hiking itinerary, in addition to a bunch of calories. I typically eat pretty clean & healthy—the majority of my diet is veggies & fruits, with fish or grilled chicken thrown in—so my plan was to load up on avocados, bananas, trail mix and the like, but instead I attacked a 7-11 and walked out with jelly beans, a muffin, cookies, cherry coke, peanut butter cups, sour cream and onion pringles, and big league chew, and diabetes.
Went to a liquor store and bought a mix of IPA’s and 2 bohemias. Party!
Went to Trader Joes because I felt guilty about all of the bullshit I bought at 7-11. (Plus, I needed to wash off the melted peanut butter cup residue covering my hands and face, as I made it exactly 0.3 miles before mauling 2 cookies and all 8 peanut butter cups. I’m fairly certain I’m supposed to be fat). I strolled into Trader Joes aiming for the produce isle, and instead walked out with Coconut Macaroon cookies, bbq chips, and more beer. I did however score some Sunscreen and I got hit on by a mom. Not a soccer mom. She was more of pro wrestling mom.
I planned on sleeping at the Lone Peak trailhead, but the dude from Basecamper Vans assured me that I would either be harassed by cops or the van would be vandalized. Apparently there’s a problem with cars getting broken into at trailheads around SLC. He suggested I sleep at Point of the Mountain, where I wouldn’t be raped or arrested or robbed of my beer & sugar supplies. Sweet. Im in.
I finally did get food that wouldn’t melt paint off a car. Scored a box of Clif Bars and found a funky, local sandwich shop and got an incredible sandwich jammed with avocados, grilled veggies, and some insanely delectable shredded meat. It was like high-fiving Jesus.
Drove 20 or so miles outside of SLC, followed the mostly dirt road to the top of Point of the Mountain, and discovered that it’s a “flight park”. (People go here to paraglide & hang-glide off the mountain.) I arrived late in the afternoon, parked Gary the Noble Van, and sat in a field, sun setting on my face, and ate my stellar sandwich & drank a 9% IPA while watching a small group of people paraglide. Excellent. No place I’d rather be.
Now, granted, this doesn’t sound very awesome or extreme, but when you are traveling alone, flying by the seat of your pants, sometimes even the most tame or banal activity is charged with emotion and significance. Things sort of take on an amplified nature; that song you’re jamming with the windows down seems just a little more impactful, that picture you took seems a little bit more meaningful, that beer sitting in the grass between your legs tastes just a little bit better. You know that scene in Jerry Maguire where creepy Tom Cruise is singing along to Tom Petty’s “Free-falling”? That’s how it was.
Things are always safer with other humans, and when you have these feelings by yourself, it’s a rad & special thing.
This was my view as I ate dinner: (iPhone)
My view from the opposite side of the mountain. Para-gliders packing shoots:
Finished dinner, had some camera time, and then moved Gary the Van to an empty spot on the mountain so I can be naked. Just kidding. Kind of.
I sat outside until midnight or so, thinking Ryan thoughts, journaling a bit, drinking a lot, and forcing myself to just “be”. (I have difficulty sitting still. Even in bed I play the drums on my wife’s leg). And I did it. Totally nailed it! I sat for hours, started at the lights of SLC in the distance, only pulled out my phone to take a mandatory sunset pic & to text my wife that I missed her boobs, and then phone was turned off.
Phones. Email. Commitments. Promises. Work. Kids. Family. Life has been busy lately! Between the kids, writing 2 new records, finally wrapping a film project, and running a photography business, you could say that I’ve been burning the candle at both ends, mentally, and physically. As much as I love my life, I would be lying if I didn’t say that I was stoked to get away from it all for a minute. That’s part of loving life as well.
So I sat.
If you’re like me, these quiet moments in strange places evoke all sorts of thoughts and emotions. You might be fortunate enough to experience something approaching clarity. In these moments you often realize how much of your time & energy is completely wasted on trivial bullshit. You make resolutions. You start to welcome change. You ponder. Weigh relationships. Evaluate where you are in life. Goals. Promise yourself to stop stressing. You might be gobsmacked by the sudden awareness that time is immeasurably more precious than material wealth, and wonder where so much of your time went. You sit, alone, high on life and the infinite possibilities you feel are waiting for you, all you have to do is take action. You feel like you are starring in your very own Zack Braff movie. Or maybe it’s just me. Dunno. Time to smash those cookies and pee off of this mountain.
Slept for a couple of hours. Woke up, went to the Mount Olympus trail head. Actually, that’s a lie. I stopped at Starbucks and took a glorious #2 & loaded up on caffeine.
My initial plans were to hike Lone Peak, but apparently I spent more time googling motorcycles than doing research, as there was still 13 feet of snow blanketing the upper portions of the mountain and without any technical gear (Crampons, ice axe, etc) I would most likely die, according to the kind, bearded gentleman who rented me Gary the Van. I told him that I can’t die yet, as I still haven’t ridden a camel.
Side Note: Hippies should at least consider deodorant.
I consulted a guide book of all hikes within 200 miles of SLC, complete with a rating system: The hikes were rated “easy” all the way up to “Butt-Kicker”. Mount Olympus was one of but 3 or 4 to receive a “Butt-Kicker” rating. Perfect. Game back on!
I overpacked. Dammit. That happens when you’re climbing / hiking mountains solo, because if you’re like me, you’ve read all the books about people stuck in the wilderness, cutting their arms off with pocket knives to free themselves, people who survived plane crashes by eating each other. (Side note: If anyone ever eats me, eat my butt first. I feel like I have a pretty good butt). Every hiking blog, every episode of Survivorman preaches the importance of adequate preparation for the unexpected, so that’s sort of what I do, but I do it as ultra-light as possible. (Side note #3 : I’ve had email conversations with Les Stroud aka Survivorman.) In addition to my Canon 5d & 2 lenses, I carried 3 liters of water, as I expected to be on the mountain all day, clif bars, journal, way too many clothes—like, waaaaay too many clothes—and a puny swiss army knife that I carry in the event of bears or angry hill-billies. There are no bears here, nor hillbillies, but the nine year old me thinks knives are boss. I also had my iPhone, but when doing anything remotely cool outdoors, I have it powered off or in airplane mode. This is a mandatory condition.
I started up the mountain early enough to see only 2 people all morning. This is a completely nontechnical climb, more of a strenuous hike, but it does climb 4,152 feet in 3.5 miles to reach the summit at 9,026’.
People are everything. Family and friends are everything, but I truly love doing this stuff solo. Love it. I find that the inner adventures I have are just as rewarding as the outer. Out here, the unpaid bills, the unfinished work, the personal stress I have in a handful of areas in my life all melt away and I become absorbed in the simple joy of moving my body in nature. This subject is always difficult to talk about without sounding like I snort granola or have a Subaru tattoo, but the sense of connection I experience can leave me high for days. It’s tough to explain, but my brain just shuts off and I tap into some sort of primal, euphoric state that is difficult to hold onto, because once I realize I am having this ultra-blissful experience, I ruin it by the sudden awareness of it. If that makes any damn sense. But still, that moment of pure connection to the universe leaves me with a complete mind-body-spirit high, and is something I spend as much of my life as possible chasing. That’s some hippie shit, right?! Jeez.
During the final 500 vertical feet to the summit the trail proper becomes almost invisible, at least to me it was. There are huge boulders, some the size of cars, everywhere you look and it’s crazy steep, technical, and approaching scary if you are on the incorrect route and just kind of winging it like an asshole.
Hi, my name is Ryan, and I am an asshole.
So what was supposed to be an easy scramble to the summit wound up being a handful of technical pitches. There are definitely a couple of spots where I might have gotten dead had I fallen. I hope my mom never reads this. She just learned how to text this year, so I doubt she will.
Some of the tech. Hard to tell from pic, but it’s a very long way down:
On the final pitch to the summit another climber appeared, so I asked him to take my photo while I did the Stanky Leg on the summit:
Hung out on the summit, hoping to just “be”, but instead I ran around like a crazy person photographing everything, including my backpack, my feet, and some yellow snow I made. Ate lunch. Smiled a bunch at my temporary freedom. It’s not Everest or K2, It’s not Half Dome, It’s not an ultra-marathon in the desert, but it beats the ever-loving fuck out of sitting on a couch watching TV or staring at an Instagram feed.
And the band paid for it!
Found a much better route down, returned Gary the Van, met the rest of the band dudes at the hotel, and was on a total life-high for the remainder of the trip. Instead of sleeping, I washed 7 pounds of dirt and sunscreen off of my body and then Dan (Singer of Story of the Year), Bon (Guitar tech and first class human), and I went to a liquor store, bought beer, and drank it around a fire until we met up with the promoter and went to a party at a photography studio of all places.
Here is the most majestic photo you’ll see this month. You’re welcome.
The next day I took a couple of quick snaps of Josh (Drummer, SOTY) at sound check:
Our long-time friend Brandon Steineckert (Drummer of Rancid, former drummer of The USED) came to hang out! Brandon is one of the most genuine and wonderful human beings you will ever meet. Right before the show I took some quick, natural-light portraits of Brandon and Josh Head, (Keyboardist & vocalist of Emery), because that’s just what I do:
Josh in action. He looks cooler than everyone.
Backstage with Brandon!
Dan (Singer, SOTY) & Josh Head backstage discussing the new Story of the Year album we’re getting ready to record. I like these moments:
Had an awesome concert. Danced crazy hard. I still love playing my guitar as much as ever, love my friends, and I am eternally grateful that I still get to do this. Grateful for a rad weekend. Grateful for my health. Grateful for my family. Grateful for quick escapes, for love, for music, for our fans. Grateful for it all. Everything.
Good night, y’all. Keep Dreaming!