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

Wednesday, August 26, 2009


To entertain myself and keep my brain from becoming a big blob of fetid gelatin I have recently actually started giving a shit about U.S. politics and policy again. I know, I know, my cynical side dies hard, and I still think we're mostly powerless over lobbyist and special interest groups. However, I am intrigued by the health care debate, and the seeming lack of actual real information available about what the hell is being proposed or fed to the general public.

One thing is certain; people continue to act like irrational windbags spewing ridiculous hyperbole all over the place, and here's an article to prove it!

+1 for sociology. If you're too busy to read the whole article this blurb about one of the studies sums up people's irrationality quite well.

Article by Jeanna Bryner
Senior Writer

"Just about everybody is vulnerable to the phenomenon of holding onto our beliefs even in the face of iron-clad evidence to the contrary, Hoffman said. Why? Because it's hard to do otherwise. "It's an amazing challenge to constantly break out the Nietzschean hammer and destroy your world view and belief system and evaluate others," Hoffman said.

Just the facts you need

Hoffman's idea is based on a study he and colleagues did of nearly 50 participants, who were all Republican and reported believing in the link between the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and Saddam Hussein. Participants were given the mounting evidence that no link existed and then asked to justify their belief.

(The findings should apply to any political bent. "We're not making the claim that Democratic or liberal partisans don't do the same thing. They do," Hoffman said.)

All but one held onto the belief, using a variety of so-called motivated reasoning strategies. "Motivated reasoning is essentially starting with a conclusion you hope to reach and then selectively evaluating evidence in order to reach that conclusion," explained Hoffman's colleague, sociologist Andrew Perrin of the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.

For instance, some participants used a backward chain of reasoning in which the individual supported the decision to go to war and so assumed any evidence necessary to support that decision, including the link between 9/11 and Hussein.

"For these voters, the sheer fact that we were engaged in war led to a post-hoc search for a justification for that war," Hoffman said. "People were basically making up justifications for the fact that we were at war."

Their research is published in the most recent issue of the journal Sociological Inquiry."

That is all, now go USE YOUR BRAIN and do some objective reasoning.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Film Crews, Races, and Flannel

Yet again I have been neglecting posting... so this is long overdue. However, in my defense I have been overworked and under-slept. Regardless, what follows is a bit of randomness mostly covering things that have happened over the last few months that I didn't get around to writing about.

Since I've been here I've seen a few film crews come through and take a ride with Gravity: several months ago Ben had a crew from the BBC, about 2 months ago I had a Brazilian TV crew, and shortly after that ESPN Brazil took a ride with Steve. While it is somewhat of a novelty being interviewed and having cameras on you all day, it can become a bit tedious. It is also quite weird when you have a camera hovering, literally, about 14 inches from your face and you're trying to ignore it and keep talking to the person interviewing you.

Me offering instruction with the camera at a more comfortable distance. I'm making sure the guy from the station (eventually he dons a helmet cam) understands how to get down the road without major incident.

Film crew at the point where the asphalt ends, unfortunately for them it was pretty cloudy for most of the day.

About two weeks ago I competed in a downhill race in La Paz. Not surprisingly, it was poorly organized, but still quite fun. I had never seen the course before, so it was definitely more challenging and a bit nerve-racking trying to memorize and get a feel for it just an hour before I raced. The course wasn't even marked out when I got there so I spent my practice runs only riding about 2/3 of what would eventually be the official course.

All geared up in full body armor. At 5' 9" (on a good day) I am not a big guy, but I look huge next to German!

I placed really bad on my qualifying run because there was a major section of the course I hadn't seen. Rolling up on a blind left-hand drop slowed me down considerably. I had to scope the drop and two jumps afterward, eating my time up and placing me 34th out of 37 racers. (Of course I can't be sure of the time because supposedly the fastest qualifier finished 35 seconds faster than is even possible, at least that's what some locals told me)!

I didn't get many photos on the practice runs because I was too busy trying to figure the course out. But I did get a shot of Osmar, who works in the office, about to come up WAY short on one of the gap jumps. I hit this first, told him it was easy, and that he just needed lots of speed... not enough speed. To be fair though, his bike was a rental and the shock wasn't set up for him. This was the first practice run, on the second Osmar crashed again, and that time he tore ligaments in his shoulder and couldn't continue on to the qualifier.

Since there were so few racers nobody was cut from the qualifier and we all raced in the final heat. I never received my official standing, but I think I finished somewhere near the middle of the pack. People were racing bikes ranging from hard tails to full on $8000 downhill rigs, and my little old all mountain Kona Coiler (with about 2.5" travel in the fork, apparently something didn't go back together right when I rebuilt it...) labored with some of the terrain. Even if I did have a better bike it would have been pretty tough cracking the top 10; first, because I didn't know the course well, and second, because the top 5 guys are literally the best racers in all of Bolivia, and 4 out of the 5 work for Gravity!

All in all it was a great day, and hopefully more races get organized while I'm still here!

I found another photo from our last Sorata trip of me riding in a flannel shirt I inherited from my Dad. I'm pretty sure he bought it when I was about 2 years old, I bet he never thought it would be riding singletrack in Bolivia!

It's really old and beginning to wear through, so after this trip I officially retired it. In my closet it will stay until I leave Bolivia. Who needs high tech synthetics when you can rip in flannel?!

Last but not least. I have been amassing quite a few photos and I'm still toying with the idea of trying to be/make extra money as a photographer. So I am looking for feedback from anyone reading this site. Is anyone interested in purchasing photos that may look something like this one...

comments or an email to the wanderwideawake(at)gmail account would be greatly appreciated.

That's all for now. Get off the computer and go outside!

Thursday, July 30, 2009


Last Sunday, the 26th, seemed to be a typical day out on the road. My group was somewhat slow, but everyone arrived at the bottom safe and sound. We were a bit late leaving La Senda Verde, still, no big deal.

I had some Irish lads in my group and they proceeded to buy a bag of 20 beers. Between them and everyone else the bus kicked off one of the better parties I’ve seen in awhile. I anticipated quite an enjoyable evening drinking beer and talking to Mike, one of my clients, about philosophy, music, psychology, and life in general.

And then something unexpected happened. About an hour and a half after leaving we began to encounter snowflakes. Fifteen minutes later and we were in a full on snowstorm. And in another ten minutes we were stuck. As in the bus won’t go any more kind of stuck.

With no daylight left we had to make a choice. Steve and his group were in the bus behind us, and collectively we decided to give our clients the only two options we had; stay in the bus overnight, or get out and hike. The upcoming trek possibly could be a total trip of about 14 km in the storm. Yet, both our groups quickly decided that hiking, even if it took 4 or more hours, was preferable to remaining in the bus.

We handed out jackets, pants, and orange safety vests from our stash of riding gear. Then Steve and I got out one of our ropes from my rescue kit, doubled it back on itself, and we had everyone grab hold of the rope.

Geared up and ready to go.

I led out, hiking at first with my headlamp on and then eventually turning it off as we left the 30 odd buses and cars stuck all within the same half km of road. We moved slowly, stopping semi-frequently because one of Steve’s clients had altitude sickness and was throwing up. After about 2 km one of the random tour buses became unstuck, turned around, and headed back up the road toward us. A few clients managed to get on the bus, including the guy who was sick.

I'm pretty tired here. If you look close you can see that I have a huge wad of coca in my right cheek.

We continued on and at La Cumbre, to my surprise, German, Battle Cruiser driver extraordinaire, came on the radio. He was almost to us and he brought backup in the form of a Policia Nacional pickup truck! They had let him through the road blockade about 10 km below, where I thought our original destination was going to be.

We quickly filled the Battle Cruiser and about 7 clients got on another tour bus coming by that had gotten out of the snow. I climbed in the bed of the pickup with Mike, by far the coolest guy I’ve ever had in my group. We continued talking politics and philosophy as the snow and wind swirled around us; my wet feet and hands finally feeling the cold with the absence of physical activity.

After about 20 minutes we arrived at the blockade and the police would go no farther. It was sleeting and we were having trouble getting through to a taxi company. Finally we came across a guy who was willing to brave the trip down through the sleet; so Mike, a couple of the Irish guys who rode in the cab of the pickup, and myself all piled into the poor guy’s car. Only the driver’s side wiper worked, and not very well. We spent most of the trip down on the left side of the road with the guy hanging his head out trying to see the left edge.

10 minutes later we came to a halt. Flat tire. Luckily we were down in the upper reaches of La Paz and the sleet had turned to rain. We gave the guy 50 bolivianos and apologized for overloading his car, and in all likelihood, giving him the flat. Then we hailed a cab and continued on our journey.

Finally, after burning CD’s and dropping off what little gear I managed to collect from clients, I collapsed into bed at 1 AM. But it was a good day, hell, it was a great day! We had adventure, and snow, and we managed to work together and get out of it. One of the more memorable experiences I’ve had since coming to Bolivia.

The next day Ben, Phil, and Alistair tried to go out with groups but they had to turn around, the snow was still too deep and the road was effectively blocked. It's only the second time in almost twelve years that a trip has been canceled. (The first was for protests involving dynamite).

Yesterday I worked again and the road was clear and dry. There was still snow covering the mountains and it was beautiful riding at the top.

Gliding down asphalt in a surreal world.

There’s nothing better than a little adventure to break up some of the more monotonous moments of life!

I. Love. Mountains. And snow!

So does Phil!