This trip was a more emotional experience than I expected. I’ve had a sort of love affair with the west now for more than 3 decades. Being back in the mountains, and around some of my oldest and dearest friends, left me feeling very reflective. Grateful for the fortunate life I’ve had. And yearning to be able to continue to visit Idaho and Utah and Montana.
If time were convenient, I would get fully immersed in Stegner and McMurtry and Harrison and Doig and Bass and Abbey and Maclean and all those other great western writers that informed me so well over the years. But time is not on my side at this moment. So I will remember their words the best I can.
There’s a lot to set down here. I’m writing as I fly east towards Detroit and then on to Cleveland. These next weeks I will pack up and sell my house for the 9th or 10th time and migrate a little south to be closer to mom. Perhaps that’s always been part of the attraction to the west. I’m a deeply nomadic person and the west, even before whites arrived, was populated by mostly nomadic tribes. The space is so vast and the views so achingly expansive, that there seems no choice but to go see what is over that next horizon.
This story starts and ends in Salt Lake City. With my very fine nephew and his wife and son. Some of my best friends over the years. Saturday morning, Shane and I rode in the excellent trail system high in the hills overlooking the city. My lungs were burned after the first few climbs; not surprising given my lack of riding the past few years. But it was nice to be out. On Sunday morning, we were joined by Mark, Tekoa’s brother-in-law, and after loading the truck we drove the 4.5 hours to Gooseberry Mesa, just outside of Hurricane Utah and across the valley from Zion National Park.
The view from our yurt was so amazing that no words or photos can do it justice. This is why we come to the west. The space and expanse and the contrasts and colors. If you stayed 100 years, no view like that could ever get old.
I like to imagine the ghost of the natives were there all around us. In this picture, I even think I see the spirits as we enjoy the view by the fire.
I believe they are trying hard to guide us to the proper relationship with the land they cared for so lovingly for so long. It doesn’t come easy to white people of course. Our way is to blunder forward aggressively and let the consequences be what they are. We take what we want, no matter who is in the way. Or what environmental damage is done. The west is marred and scarred by our thoughtless mining exploits and our theft and manipulation of water to serve our insatiable desire for creating false wealth in the name of progress. We stubbornly and stupidly build cities and raise crops in deserts which diverts precious water from more important uses. We’ve damned and polluted the rivers and devastated the trout and salmon that thrived for hundreds of thousands of years. We’ve killed off the massive herds of buffalo and most of the bears and wolves. We are remarkably irresponsible stewards of these precious lands. If we were renters, we would have long ago been evicted.
But we haven’t destroyed it all yet. Mark, Shane and I had some terrific rides in the mornings and then just lounged and enjoyed the views and played bocci ball in the desert sands. We ate great meals and drank massive amounts of cold beer and later, whiskey around the campfire. We told stories and caught up on each others lives and families and talked about walking away from the rat race to live more simply in these beautiful lands. Knowing we would not do it.
The mountain biking in this part of the world is very technical. Lots of jumping the front tire up on a rock or ledge and then accelerating the rest of the bike up behind. It’s a physical grind, especially given my fitness level. But crazy fun all the same. In some cases, the trail ran hard up against the ledge—even within a couple of feet. So if one of us had stumbled there or had trouble getting unclipped and fallen over, which happens, the fall in this case would have been around 500 feet to a hard rock landing.
Truly world class mountain biking—in fact, several times a year some of the best riders in the world gather in this area to compete in ridiculously difficult stunt riding.
It was an epic trip. On the way back to Salt Lake on Wednesday, we stopped for a soak in a natural hot spring just outside of Meadow. We got lucky and had the little warm crystal-clear pool to ourselves.
Thursday morning, I borrowed Shane and Tekoa’s Volvo and drove north to Idaho. The first place I stopped was the College Market. It’s hard to believe that 29 years has passed since I rebuilt that abandoned little building and opened it up. A little more about that project can be found here.
The books are gone now, but it is still a going concern as a cute little neighborhood coffeeshop. Henry wandered in and I chatted with him and Stephen for a while. When Carla got off work, I talked her into driving me to Lava to look at some property. I am so desperate to get a toehold back in Idaho that I was immediately taken with the idea of getting another little plot of land and putting up a yurt. But the land situation in Lava has changed dramatically since I sold my 20 acres and cabin 5 years ago. I had that property for 20 years and the value never really changed. But in the past 5 years, land values have rocketed up and there is almost nothing for sale. Alas, we will see. My amazing and beautiful friend Kim Brown is going to keep an eye out for me.
Speaking of Kim, I had coffee with her at the same little coffee shop where we always meet. She’s as amazing and kind and gentle and thoughtful as she’s always been. We met a cute little dog there who has no feeling in his back legs and so uses a small rear carriage support to get around. She was a super sweet little 15.5 year old scruffy dog.
I stayed at Carla’s and of course it was great to get caught up. Thursday, we met Dwight, Henry and Kelly at Hooligan’s for drinks and cigars. Carla and I rode the scooters which is really the logical choice for a pub crawl. After a few hours there, we went to Buddy’s for pizza and salad and clams and garlic cheese bread and then to the First National Bar for our traditional shot of Old Crow. When I bartended there, Forney, Spunky, Claude and I always did multiple shots of Old Crow while we were working. This was back when Center Street Reggae was the house band, and the place just rocked every Friday and Saturday night. Claude and Spunky are both gone now. Just Forney and I left from those days.
Carla and I made one final stop at the Odyssey on the way home. But we had run out of steam. The days of closing down bars are mostly done now I think. But we still had us a good little 6-hour pub crawl (on scooters).
Friday, I met Dan and Dave for lunch. Dan has been the CFO at Sundance now for 11 years. He is the perfect guy for that role. I knew it the minute I met him, but September wanted to hire someone else. So I put Dan on an archaeology crew for a few weeks until the lady September wanted turned out to be crazy and quit and then we slotted Dan in and he’s been there ever since. The business would be lost without him. Me and Dan really made that business what it is. I am very proud of turning that from a single owner and zero employee business into 50+ by the time I left. Dave is the head archaeologist, and it was great to seem him and reminisce about some of our early jobs where we were learning the trade. Building a business from scratch is just hard work—and we formed strong bonds along the way. There’s a lot more to say about Sundance and my time there, but it’s best to keep it off the public forum.
It was great to see Dwight and Mark Smith and John Mackay—all great mates from 25 years of rugby. José came to dinner on Friday night and she is still the sweetest person on the planet. We remembered our time at ISU together. She was in geology and I was in Physics so we had some common classes. I drove the school bus for her two boys. Lucas was only 4 and going to the catholic pre-school. He would always fall asleep on the way home so I had him sit right behind me so I could catch him from falling forward and hitting his head when I had to brake. Lucas is 35 now. So time has passed. José is retired from a prestigious geology career and working all over the world.
A funny story about Lucas. On his 21st birthday, we were all drinking at The Office Bar and it was jam packed. Lucas waited in line for 20 minutes to buy his first legal drink. A rum and coke. He brought the drink over to our table and I asked him if I could just have a sip. Of course he handed over the glass which I then tipped up and drank the entire thing. Lucas was so shocked that he just stood there with his mouth wide open staring at the empty glass. I bought his drinks all night after that. Every time we meet now, he plots to turn the prank back on me, but I am always watching for it.
There’s another sub-story to be told here. It needs to be told gently. But it’s important. It’s a story of grace and love and patience. It’s the story of a beautiful bartender who night after night served beer to a guy who was in that bar 5 or 6 hours pretty much every night. A guy that I mostly looked past. Not in malice, but just sort of in disinterest. He seemed lost in a way. I never took the time to get to know him. But the bartender did. She was young and beautiful and sweet and she opened up her arms and took that man into her life. And she patiently cared for him over many years and I think saved his life. And gave him a life. He is sober now. And living in a way that I certainly never could have envisioned. So that’s what beautiful and caring people can do.
After dinner on Friday night we built a fire in Carla’s back yard and had a nightcap. Mark Smith came over and José and Brian, Carla’s man. It was a clear night and we spotted Elon Musk’s satellites tripping across the night sky in low orbit.
Mark was probably the most gifted rugby player I ever played with. But I only got to play one game with him. My first game playing for Portneuf Valley was his last. We were playing Snake River and Mark took a pretty good shot to the head while tackling that big center the Snakes had back then. He finished the game, but afterwards, he got a little dizzy and a doc had a look at him and said he needed to be at hospital right fucking now. He had an aneurism and very nearly died. He had emergency brain surgery. It took him perhaps 2 years to fully regain all his cognition. Even though he no longer played after that he was always around to help with practice and give feedback to us on the games. Mark and Jane and I also did a lot of mountain biking together over the years. They are lovely smart people who also raised two superbly talented and beautiful daughters. Sage is a doctor and Makenna is an engineer at Google.
Somehow, amazingly, Carla still had a sweatshirt with the College Market logo. Which she gifted me before I left. We planned a 30-year College Market reunion next year which will be great fun if it happens. We had so many great times at that place back in the day. Once, even streaking nude through the neighborhood on a snowy winter night about 2:00 am or so. It was a coffeeshop, but after we closed, out came the Jameson and we would sit there and drink and chat in just the light of the neon sign. And sometimes, if you drink enough Jameson, running nude through a quiet college neighborhood as the snow is coming down just makes sense. I think there was 5 or 6 of us. Me, Supi, Deanna I think, and Johnny? It’s a little blurry now, all these years later.
I also drove by my other two business ventures in Pocatello. I swung by Sundance Consulting offices, but with COVID there is just a few people there. Everyone is working at home. We did work all over the country. Interesting and important work for the Forest Service and DoD and DOE and BLM and many others. I wrote about one of our very cool long term contracts in Alaska here.
I took a drive by the Kinport Junction. This was the big 13,000 foot warehouse that I re-habbed with a few partners. Kim was one partner, and she was great, but the others mostly turned out to be crazy. Kim and I had controlling equity but it was still a battle of egos and ignorance all the time. Shame because the building was beautiful and the restaurant the best in town for a couple of years. But alas, these things don’t always work out, even when you get 90% of the things right. I put down some words about that project here.
On Saturday I drove back to SLC for a great dinner with Shane and Tekoa and Alex and Danielle and Cody. Danielle is as beautiful as ever and Cody and her seem well suited. Danielle asked me a few questions about her mom and dad that eventually had us both crying a little in spite of my efforts to not let that happen. I’m just too emotional. I did my best to memorialize Lowell in this piece, which I published in Rugby news and on Medium.
The last stop I made before going to Shane and T’s was the Salt Lake Roasting Company. The first person I saw when I opened the door was Jon. Jon Bolton is on my list of top 10 absolutely coolest people I’ve ever known. 30 years ago, Jon took the time to teach me the coffee business. He taught me so much about beans, roasting, serving, and espresso and espresso based drinks. I spent perhaps 50 hours with him over several weeks. Watching him roast beans in his massive French roaster and peppering him with questions. I bought our first big Marzocco espresso machine from Jon. He is truly a master of his craft and I think has had his shop there now for at least 45 years. We chatted a few minutes. I could have stayed for a few hours to talk, but he was busy so I did not keep him for long. He immediately recognized and commented on my College Market sweatshirt.
It was a blessed trip. I am not giving the detail this post deserves, but I just wanted to get the words down while it is fresh in my mind because I know I will be smoking busy this week at work.
There will be more trips to Idaho and Utah including probably a trip around Labor Day for the ISU rugby teams 25-year reunion. Perhaps to look at some land in Lava if I get lucky.