Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Flagstaff Backcountry

I've finally landed back in the American Southwest! Recently I have been in Flagstaff, Arizona visiting some of my very good friends, Russ and Jana. It's been great hanging out and catching up! (Shameless plug for Russ's guided expeditions.)

Highlights of the week include deliriously rocking out to The Reverend Peyton's Big Damn Band Saturday night in Flagstaff. If you ever get the chance to see them, do it!

The best part has been making it into the backcountry in the Coconino forest outside of Flagstaff. Today Russ and I warded off the evil demons of whiskey and lack of sleep, got up early, and hiked up the slopes of Snowbowl, the ski area outside of town.

We started hiking around 7:30 in the morning and made the top of the highest chair around 9, this was the first leg of our nearly 3000 vertical ft. mission. From there we headed through the backcountry gate and proceeded to bootpack farther up the mountain.

We weren't exactly prepared for the conditions below the summit, ice axes and crampons were called for, instead we kicked steps as long as we could. But we got to one particularly steep, windblown, hard, and frozen section and decided we had been sketchy enough.

We strapped in and traversed over to a glade across the gulley. The snow was a bit slabby, and we were being overly cautious, so first one of us would go, get to a safe spot, wait, and then the other person would follow. 12,000 ft. up on the side of a potentially avalanche prone mountain is no place to be stupid.

After our traverse we cut down the fall line and laid some tracks. The snow wasn't as good as yesterday when we were in the same area. Yesterday it was spring like conditions with wet and heavy powder that was super fun to carve through. Today it was earlier and the snow hadn't softened up yet. Still, it was awesome to find those few fresh spots of powder in the shade of trees and to be surrounded by nothing but wilderness.

Except for the parking lot, we only pulled the camera out about halfway down, and shots definitely weren't stellar but here are some of the best.

10 after 7, lack of sleep and coffee equals whatever I'm doing here. Note my house in my truck.

Russ taking a break.

Full avy gear, apparently I don't throw caution to the wind anymore.

Russ ripping it.

Good example of the hardness of the snow. It's completely untracked and this is about as far as I can get my edge into it.

Super fun stuff! Wait, no, it was terrible, in fact, all backcountry is terrible. Everyone should probably stick to the lift served areas everywhere.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Back in the US(S)A

So I've been back in the states for about two weeks now, going through abysmally dull government application questionnaires in hopes that I might have a shot at a temporary job with the National Park Service. Why am I applying to work for the government you might ask? I don't have a good answer for that... if you can't beat 'em join 'em? Maybe...

Or maybe I just want to get a job close to my girlfriend that involves being outside and has good benefits. But it is somewhat of an anomaly given my socio-political ideals. And on that note... a quote for the day.

"Have you ever noticed that the only metaphor we have in our public discourse for solving problems... is to declare war on it... we have the war on crime... the war on cancer, the war on drugs... but did you ever notice that we have no war on homelessness. You know why? Because there is no money in that problem. No money to be made off of the homeless. If you can find a solution to homelessness where the corporations and politicians can make a few million dollars each, you will see the streets of America begin to clear up pretty damn quick."

--George Carlin

Ahh, it's great to be back in the good ol' USA!

I miss Bolivia, it was bittersweet leaving, and I hope someday I will have the opportunity to return. Below are a few shots from my last day on the road. I was literally on the verge of tears nearly all day long, especially at the animal refuge. La Senda Verde is one of the best places on earth. If you are in Bolivia be sure to check them out, stay for awhile, maybe even volunteer!

Last time I get to Superman on the road.

No major accidents, because of my awesome instruction of course.

I went out to say good-bye to the monkeys and Sambo climbed into my lap and would not leave for about 15 minutes. It was almost as if he knew I wasn't going to return.

Of course I miss the great mountain biking. However, most of all, I miss the people I met and friends I made. Cesar and myself, one last time with the WMDR in the background.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Utah Winter Recap Video

My friend Kyle shot a lot of POV video of us at Snowbird last year and just put together a bit of recap footage. I can't wait to get back to Utah!

Snow sliding with Jason from Kyle Walcott on Vimeo.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Thought for the day, or the rest of your life.

I've been a fan of the comedian and political satirist Bill Hicks since I was a kid and heard some of his material sampled by Tool (without really knowing who it was). The documentary Zeitgeist also uses a few of his live dialogues and through these I began to listen to more recordings of his live shows. Within the last year I've given his material a good listen and have come to the conclusion that he was really in touch with reality in many ways. Below is an excerpt I typed up from one of his shows in England. The man was simply brilliant and I wish I could have met him.


As scary as the world is, and it is, it is merely a ride. In the amusement park of the universe, it is merely a ride. It has its thrills, it has its chills, it has its ups, it has its downs...

The world is just a ride, and some people have known it; we think it's real because that's how powerful our minds are, but it's not, it's a ride. And some people have known it and have come here and told us "it's just a ride", and we have killed those people, because we love the fucking ride. You ever notice that, we always kill the good guys and leave these demons just running amok on the planet, you ever notice that; Jesus murdered, Martin Luther King murdered, Ghandi murdered, Malcolm X murdered, Reagan, wounded. But it's just a ride, and since you know it, (and some people are tired of the ups and downs, and the thrills and chills and prefer instead the quiet), they have to be told it's just a ride...

Is it all hopeless, no...Here is my point folks, in the blink of an eye we can have heaven on earth, it's a choice, that's all it is, there's no evolution, no need to go any farther, we know it now, it's all here, it's all clear, it's all right now. It's a choice, you can look through the eyes of fear, you can look through the eyes of love, that's the only two ways to look, the eyes of fear is insanity, it's not really there, the eyes of love are the only real eyes. Heaven on earth right now if you want.

It's a choice, to look through the eyes of love instead of the eyes of fear, just once. For instance, that money we spend on weapons and defense each year, that money we spend on buying bigger locks and more fucking cops, instead if we spent that money feeding, clothing, and educating the poor of the world, which it would pay for many times over, not one human being excluded, we could as one race explore outer space together in peace, forever. That is my dream.

Bill Hicks (1961-1994) at the Oxford Playhouse November 11, 1992.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Song for Sara

I wrote and recorded this for Sara during the first few months I was in Bolivia. I did the best I could with the equipment I have; a $50 guitar from a street market, the mic built into my Macbook Pro, and Logic Pro 8.

I hope ya'll enjoy. Feel free to download and share; I do have many other songs in a pre-production stage but it'll be awhile before they get to a point where I'm willing to release. Oh, and I need Isaac Brock and Glacial Pace to latch on so when I get an EP together they can work with me.

On second thought, this was a pain to get posted up and I'm not sure you can download, but, email me if you want a copy of it and I'll shoot you an mp3.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Salar with Sara

About 3 weeks ago my girlfriend came down from the States to visit. We chilled in La Paz, rode the WMDR (by the way she kills it on a mountain bike), stayed at La Senda Verde, and... went to the Salar de Uyuni, the largest salt flat in the world. The Salar is one of the most surreal places I've ever been. Enjoy the photos!

Sara, mid photo pose, right before we got on the train for a 7 hour ride. Trains are the most relaxing way to travel!

Thousands of flamingoes flock to this shallow wetland right outside of Orruro. And you thought flamingoes were tropical creatures...!

Sara, oh so Vogue!

Workers loading up raw salt from the flat.

This guy showed us how he makes salt from the raw excavation of the salt flat. He operates one of two facilities that supply ALL of Bolivia's edible salt. And by facility I mean a shack that is about 15' x 30'.

Classic Salar perspective photo. It might be derivative but it's still cool!

Uhh, enter your own caption...

The "island" in the middle of the flat that has a unique ecology, including these cacti.

Sara with a hawk overhead. If you're into totem animals, Sara and hawks = eerily spooky and always around one another.

Two buses in the middle of the Salar.

Sunset on the Salar. Absolutely the best sunset I've ever seen. It didn't quit! It went on and on for over 45 minutes. Epic!

We stayed near a dormant volcano the first night. I got up and hiked near the caldera the next morning. Inadvertently, I left the salt hostel (hostel made of salt, go figure) and my guide and just started hiking on my own. Eventually I met up with another group and joined them for about 30 minutes right when they were venturing into this cave to catch a glimpse of about 10 mummies. It's a bit weird walking into a cave and seeing a bunch of dead people, but it was amazing at the same time.

Last, a classic view of the Salar de Uyuni at sunset.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Takesi Trail

Last week Ben, a client, and myself rode the Takesi trail outside of La Paz. Takesi follows an old Incan / pre-Incan highway, winding down from an altitude of 4,600 meters to roughly 2,100 meters into the Southern Yungas valley. It was one of the most physically and technically demanding rides I've done in my entire life.

A short rundown of the day: Hike a bike over an hour up to 4,600 meters (15,100 ft.); ride for 2 hours on an Incan highway (rock garden with rocks ranging from softballs to coffee tables) interspersed with a touch of smooth trail, and more short hike a bike sections; one last short but steep bike on your back hike before descending for over another hour on rocky (but not rock garden) singletrack, followed by a river crossing, another hike, and yet another descent. All told nearly 6 hours including lunch and two flat tires. Usually this trail takes hikers 2-3 days!

I was exhausted by the end of it, over 3 hours (just riding) of steep, rocky, and extremely technical downhill. I could barely pull my brake levers by the time the last hour came around.

But it was amazing, and for so many reasons...!

The first hike, you can clearly see the Incan highway. Sometimes it was wide like this, other times it was merely a narrow trail.

I'm pretty sure this is a Southern Viscacha; a larger cousin of the Chinchilla that is native to the rocky portions of the Andes. We saw a few of these on the first long hike up, they seemed to be relatively unafraid.

Resting at 4,600 meters before the first descent.

First descent, not too rocky here, but that changed about 2 minutes later.

Extremely rocky sections gave way to more "highway". Note the square edge 4" - 10" high water bars every so often. These things can be pinch flat nightmares if you aren't careful.

Then the highway becomes rock garden again.

But it doesn't mean Ben can't get a little air now and then.

Road toll. Seriously.

After the toll we entered a small village (more like a handful of stone huts). The trail was grassy and we could actually sit and pedal for a minute or two!

Yes, people actually live here. And it's awesome!

This was my first time on Takesi. Ben had guided it before and he heard last time from one of the Aymara women that her husband had been killed by an Andean bear. In the village two young guys asked us if we wanted to see the bear that killed the ladies husband and 50 cattle. He led us over a stone wall, across a creek, and to the front of a squat stone structure that resembled a cellar. Then he pulled this hide out! Supposedly this is the offending bear... who knows, but damn it was an impressive experience. They shot it with a revolver!

After the village we rode a short ways and stopped for lunch near this bridge.

We continued on and the trail turned into a steep and off camber path, finally we had our first pinch flat. And yes, this is smooth compared to the first half of the trail.

However, there still are some short rock gardens.

The last really terrible hike a bike.

Resting after the hike.

And then finally we had something a bit less technical. Not smooth, but still slightly more flowing.

But there's still rocks!

And again.

We stopped again for a short snack, then crossed this river. The bridge below this spot was completely useless, so someone put a few trees down all in one spot as a makeshift bridge.

After the bridge we had one last hike that was long, but wasn't too bad. At the top was a single house, and this sign.

We had another 30 minutes or so of riding after the lone house on the mountain. However, I didn't get my camera out again. It was hard enough to interrupt my flow up top as many times as I did, and by this point I was exhausted, so I focused on riding and tried to find enough strength in my hands and forearms to actually use my brakes.

All told, one of the best riding days of my life, maybe the best. If you get a chance, do this ride!

Parting shot near La Cumbre on our way back home.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Another Broken Fork

So I broke my fork again, for the second time in less than four months. Granted, I punish my bike and make it do things it wasn't initially designed for, but this is getting ridiculous. So, to remedy the problem, I'm not going to rebuild my fork with new lowers yet again, I'm going to get a new fork... and punish it.

Below is a short video of the last time I made it up to La Cumbre to go riding... this line probably contributed to a crack near the axle on my fork. It was one of the more technical (and to be honest, scary) lines that I've ridden recently. It's MUCH steeper than it actually looks. I wasn't extremely satisfied with my flow but I just couldn't ride it any faster with the bike I have (again that problem fork makes bombing gnarly downhill nearly impossible).

And I had to dab twice... arghh! However, it was so steep that on the first section the initial line I laid out I couldn't do because I literally couldn't turn, so I just pointed it and hoped that my nearly 3.5" of travel (oh my!) up front could take it. The top worked out, but I could have ridden the second band of rock cleaner.

Anyway, enjoy, and as usual forgive the low quality video, we're still using the Pentax point and shoot!

Bolivian Mountain Biking from Jason Topa on Vimeo.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Cordillera Real

The other day Phil, Ben, and myself headed up to La Cumbre with a group that Steve was leading down the WMDR.  And, as usual, we went and hiked and rode some pretty awesome lines in the mountains.  I compiled a short video from the photos and (really shitty quality) video, but what do you expect when you film with a Pentax Optio point and shoot?   

Hope everyone enjoys, the names we have are pretty tongue and cheek.  Steve found a "what riding name should you have" generator online, which explains the cheesy names.  All in good fun though!

Friday, August 28, 2009