Sunday, August 7, 2016

Cody Roman's writing from 2011

This is a story that Cody Roman wrote back in 2011 after a Christmas and New Year's family trip to Borneo. 

By C. Roman Dial

This winter, my family went on vacation to Malaysian Borneo. My father, Roman, my mother Peggy, and my sister Jazz vacationed there in 1995 and 1996, and traveled separately there on trips afterward, but this would be the first time we all went back as a family in nearly 15 years.

The world’s third largest island, Borneo covers more than 287,000 square miles. Three nations comprise Borneo: the Indonesian province Kalimantan, the tiny, oil-wealthy sultanate Brunei, and the Malaysian states of Sabah and Sarawak.

This trip, the family would only visit Sabah, which occupies the northwest area of Borneo, just south of the Philippines.

A multiethnic nation, Malaysia embraces a rich cultural heritage. Malays, typically Muslim, comprise the ethnic majority. Chinese and Indians make up the predominant ethnic minorities, though there are significant numbers of Filipinos and Indonesians.

While Malaysia is a Muslim country, Christians are afforded specific protections under the law and tolerance of other religions is widely valued. Everyone celebrates Christmas and the Chinese New Year. In fact, we found a group of Malays practicing the dragon dance on the top floor of an office building for the Chinese New Year.

Over 15 years, I’ve seen Malaysia go from a third-world country to a nearly developed nation. Malaysia enjoys a newfound prosperity, in large part due to the value of oil palm. Fifteen acres of oil palm produce one ton of crude oil a month, worth an average of Ringgit Malaysian 4,000 ($1,333). The most obvious change are the new cars and new roads. The streets, once full of bicycles and motorbikes, with beggars on every corner, are now jammed with brand new Protons and Isuzus. The people now wear designer jeans and sneakers.

The cuisine remains unchanged. Malay barbecue stands still occupy every night market and transit center. The wood fires and blend of spices have a sweet, peculiar smell, reminiscent of burning plastic. The satay - chicken or beef on sticks - cooked over them cost about $.30, and are served in plastic bags with peanut sauce. Another traditional Malay dish is mee goreng - fried noodles. Fried in palm oil and a mixture of dark sauces, with egg and chicken or other meats mixed in. The dish is garnished with a small citrus fruit that looks like a lime on the outside and an orange on the inside, and skinny, sliced, spicy red peppers.

A popular dish at Indian restaurants is a greasy, flaky, unleavened bread, called roti, that is tossed like pizza dough and fried on a large metal pan. Young women in headscarves serve the roti with a dish of curry for dipping. Everyone serves kopi susu - coffee made from Nescafe with a healthy dollop of sweetened condensed milk.

Lying on the equator, tropical rainforests once covered most of Borneo. Centuries of development, logging, slash-and-burn agriculture, and most recently, conversion of forest into oil palm plantation, have fragmented the rainforests into a patchwork of mostly secondary forests.

Our first destination, Tawau Hills Park, was one such fragment. Nestled in low hills overlooking southcentral Sabah’s oil palm plantations, it is Malaysia’s oldest national park. Fifty years ago, after logging cleared out the most valuable trees, the government created Tawau Hills Park to protect what was left of the area’s watershed. Despite the recent logging, the park has the world’s tallest tropical trees.

We stayed at the Park for a few days in a chalet. Built in local Malay fashion, the wooden building stood on stilts, 4 feet above the ground, avoiding floods, rot, and legions of ants. An artificial pond formed above a dammed creek, surrounding the chalet with a louts-choked moat. The water rose high enough to partially flood the rainforest behind the building, attracting giant dragonflies and monitor lizards the size of small alligators. A beautiful stork-billed kingfisher, with shimmering blue plumage, dive-bombed the tropical aquarium fish in the moat with its giant, orange bill.

Popular depictions of rainforests err on two accounts: movies fail to convey the hostility of the flora and fauna, and you rarely need a machete to hack through the forest. A rainforest isn’t an impenetrable thicket of plants, but it’s not open either.

The dark, humid forest floor crawls with life. Virtually every stick, branch and trunk swarms with stinging ants. Centipedes, scorpions, wasps, bees, and spiders hide in crevices, in curled up leafs, under logs and bark. Unseen gnats and mosquitoes leave mysterious itchy welts on every bit of exposed flesh.

The worst, though, are probably the land leeches. The largest, the tiger leech, may grow to three inches in length. Lurking on the underside of leaves in the understory, they wait for a passing mammal. Upon sensing movement and heat, they wave and stretch wildly, hoping to latch on. Once they climb aboard their prey, they inchworm their way to a tight fold of clothing to find a place to suck blood.

As worms, the leech can get into just about anything, climbing through zippers that may be partially down, up an untucked shirt, or wriggling down the waistline. The worst part, though, is their attraction to places where they feel snug, like waistbands, belly buttons, and armpits.

Using multiple rings of teeth, they attach to the flesh, drill a hole, and gorge on blood. An anesthetic in their saliva dulls the pain, and anti-coagulent keeps the wound bleeding freely. After their meal, they drop off to the forest floor. The wound they create bleeds for hours. After the bleeding stops, the inflamed wounds weep pus and itch terribly, sometimes itching for two weeks.

Besides the host of invertebrates ready to bite and sting, the constant wet, lack of sunlight, high humidity and heat causes everything to mold and mildew quickly, including skin and hair. Shoes and clothes go sour within a day or two of use if they are not washed and quickly dried. After only a couple days of being in the jungle, almost every surface of my body itches, from mold or bugs or both.

Little of an old growth rainforest grows so thick you can’t get through it. Old growth, climax forests have canopies a hundred feet above the ground, the tallest trees reaching upwards of 200 feet. Less than two percent of sunlight makes it to the forest floor, which means low primary production and little understory.

The thickest growth occurs in areas with the most sunlight - logged areas, fallen trees, forest edges. Despite the lack of thick vegetation, after a dozen steps off a trail, one quickly becomes enveloped in a forest of trees and shrubs, where every direction looks the same. Without a horizon or landmarks to navigate by, the jungle threatens to lose anyone wandering in it.

In the rainforest, the droning cacophony of cicadas and katydids comes from all directions, their song without cease. Strange whistles and chirps echo from the foliage above. Some we could recognize- the cackle of jungle crows, the honking, gooselike call of a rhino hornbill, the low whooping and maniacal laughter of gibbons. We could smell macaques before we saw them, a muddy, animal smell, slightly sweet, followed by a clicking, chattering call, not unlike the aliens from Signs or the cave monsters in The Descent.

A smaller, arboreal relative of baboons, macaques travel in troupes composed of an alpha male, adult females, subordinate males, immatures, and babies. They can number in the dozens, up to sixty animals, though the troupes we encountered had no more than thirty members. Like their larger, red-assed cousins, macaques are aggressive, vicious omnivores that live in a hierarchical society, dominated by a large, muscular male.

Later, when we traveled to Sepilok, we would see them chase off orangutans, apes many times their size. Here in Tawau Hills Park, though, they would challenge us, yawning to display their canines. The dominant male of the troupe went as far as to bluff charge at us from a low branch, purposefully knocking dead wood down on us before he scampered back into the trees.

Due to the level of tourist traffic on the paths in the park and the relatively recent logging, the level of diversity in the rainforest we observed was not high. We saw a couple species of lizards, giant tree squirrels, some frogs, and heard hornbills, but the forest seemed relatively empty of animals, and we did not see much.

Seeing vertebrates in the rainforest is rare and difficult, as foliage obscures most of the arboreal habitat and most animals fear humans. Even the invertebrate life in Tawau Hills Park, though, was lackluster.

In our original plan, we would head to the Danum Valley research station, a large protected area of virgin rainforest, after staying in Tawau Hills Park. In 2002, I traveled there with my dad to do canopy research, and I looked forward to returning. The diversity of animals I had seen last time was staggering. Unfortunately, a school group would be there for Christmas, so we lost our reservations. To the delight of Jazz and Peggy, we decided on the beach dive resort of Mataking, on Mataking Island.

A couple hours speedboat ride out of Semporna in southeast Sabah, Mataking is one of several islands in a small chain that includes the famous diving spot Sipidan. Due to Indonesian and Filipino pirates kidnapping tourists, no one can spend the night on Sipidan anymore, and military bases and naval police stations dot the islands.

We arrived in time for lunch, served buffet style in a large, elevated, Malay-style longhouse. Ceiling fans and a sea breeze kept us cool. As this was a dive resort, my dad and I planned on diving. We had not, however, dived in years, so we scheduled a refresher course for later that afternoon. We had a few hours to kill before that, so Jazz and I went to the beach on the other side of the island.

The tide was out, exposing a mile and a half of gleaming white sand in ankle deep, bathtub water. At the far end of the sand we could see exposed reef. Marine plants grew sparsely but evenly on the sand, providing habitat for mantis shrimp that looked like blades of grass, armored crabs, thousands of sand dollars, sea cucumbers, star fish with blue spikes, and sea urchins bristling with spines like hypodermic needles.

Our instructor, Luke, an easy going, but professional, expatriate Brit, ran us through how to put our gear together. We then frog-walked walked into the water in front of the dive resort, virtually below the veranda where we had had lunch. After running through some exercises, we descended to 15 meters along a 110 meter sea wall, where a swift current pushed us along as a boat followed above us.

In spite of extensive coral damage from dynamite fishing ten years ago, the whole area flourished with colorful reef fish. We even saw a hawksbill turtle. Pleased enough with our buoyancy control, Luke didn’t bother with further exercises. After 45 minutes, we surfaced, got on the boat, and headed back. He said that we did well for not having dived in eight years, but he was also in a bit of a hurry, as he had to go bribe the local naval commander and chief of police with Christmas gifts of Chivas. We later discovered that Luke was also the resort manager.

Over the next two days we went on six more dives with a small group of tourists and a local divemaster. We were clumsy compared to the others, who had logged dozens and dozens of dives. I couldn’t wear my glasses underwater, so I didn’t see the blue ring octopus or the mandardin fish, but I did see giant mantis shrimp, spiny lobsters, turtles, anemone shrimp, anemone fish, and a hundred other fish that I had no idea what they were, except colorful.

On one dive, we came across a turtle resting on a coral garden, 18 meters underwater. It sat there, looking at all of us, growing more flustered as more stopped to look. Eventually it swam away.

We spent Christmas on the island, and ended up drinking and singing karaoke with the head cook, his assistant, several of the waiters, and some other staff. Despite being a predominantly Muslim country, Malaysia’s long history as a multiethnic nation has everyone celebrating everyone else’s holiday. Jazz would often comment that the Malaysians had more Christmas spirit than the Americans, where women in headscarves would wish you a genuine “Merry Christmas.”

The embarrassment of stumbling through Malaysian pop ballads paid off, as on our last day on the island, Rafi, the tour guide, broke a bunch of rules and brought a coconut crab to our bungalow. The thing looked like a giant hermit crab without the shell. This one had eggs on its abdomen, which it curled under its carapace. The world’s largest terrestrial invertebrates, coconut crabs inhabit isolated islands in the South Pacific. Omnivorous detritovours, they can climb trees and tear open coconuts with their claws. The largest ones grow to 7 kilograms (15 pounds), though this one was only around 2 kilograms (5 pounds).

After we left Mataking, we traveled to an orangutan wildlife rehabilitation clinic at Sepilok. There we watched the handlers feed bananas and sugar cane to one of the great apes as hundreds of tourists looked on, snapping photographs and shooting video. A horde of macaques, led by a large, muscular male, arrived, and successfully chased the mother orangutan out after the handlers had left the platform. She had a baby clinging to her, and did not want to confront the aggressive monkeys.

The dominant macaque, larger and more muscular than the others, ascended the platform with the food and chased everything else away. He sat in the middle of the food, gorging himself. Two wires led to the platform, and on one, macaques kept trying to grab food, which led the dominant male to move closer and closer as he chased the other monkeys away.

As he was doing this, the orangutan, baby attached, swung out to the platform and gingerly began grabbing food. She clung to the wire as if the floor was lava, but for good reason. As soon as the male macaque saw what she was up, to he charged, snarling, and she quickly swung away.

After the feeding, we walked around on raised boardwalks. The forest floor crawled with skinks and brightly colored jumping spiders prowled the handrail. I could not get good photos of the tiny spiders, as they would jump on the camera when I moved the lens close enough to focus. We also saw a couple of chirping, playful pygmy squirrels the size of mice. They scrambled up tree trunks and jumped from liana to liana, squeaking loudly.

We traveled to Sukao, on the Kinabatangan River, the next day, to go on wildlife river cruises. In a sliver of protected area along the Kinabatangan River, sandwiched between hundreds of square miles of oil palm plantation, one can regularly see the last of Borneo’s megafauna. Pygmy elephants, orangutans, gibbons, macaques, proboscis monkeys, hornbills, hundreds of species of birds, and jungle cats routinely visit the river, to the delight of thousands of tourists that flock to the region every year.

In the course of three days of river cruises, we saw six species of primate and five species of hornbill, a bearded pig, mangrove snakes, giant monitor lizards, a pygmy elephant, and dozens of species of birds. Despite the near constant river traffic, the development, the villages, and the oil palms, this once logged area flourished with life.

We saw multiple troupes of macaques and proboscis monkeys, each with upwards of 30 individuals, many born within the past two years. Several of the nest-building orangutans we saw had babies clutching to them as they slowly brachiated through the trees. We watched rhinoceros hornbills teaching their offspring how to forage for food.

Habitat destruction can cause temporary increases in the observed number and diversity of animals, as the remaining habitat becomes filled with refugees. I wondered if this was the case for the Kinabatangan, but the abundance of young animals, only a year or two old, makes me think otherwise. Somehow, the most charismatic of Borneo’s animals can survive, and apparently thrive, on this tiny slice of river habitat.

While there, we also visited a giant limestone cave complex, full of swifts and bats. The swifts nest there at night while the bats roost there in the day. Millennia of occupation by these insectivorous filled the cave with guano, on which million and millions of cockroaches feed. The cockroaches in turn feed giant cave centipedes. Before entering the cave, we were immediately assaulted by the godawful stench of a thousand years of feces, festering in the bowels of a jungle cave.

Following boardwalks slippery with guano and crawling with roaches, we carefully walked through the cave. Bats squeaked and swirled high above us, cave centipedes skittered up the walls, colonies of roaches filling every nook.

The first major cave openened up to the sky, a pile of rubble where the cave roof caved in eons ago. In the rubble, on a moss covered boulder, the skull of a sacrificial goat and a playing card, the king of hearts, were perched. A much smaller cave lay beyond the opening to the sky.

This smaller cave looked to be choked with guano, as if a giant truckload of it were pouring out of it. On that steep wall of guano there appeared to be a million glittering pennies. The coppery sheen on the dirt colored guano, however, was the sheen of cockroach wings. Millions of cockroaches constantly swarming up the hill and tumbling down.

The swifts that live in the cave make nests out of saliva. Prized by the Chinese as a soup ingredient for their traditional medicine, a kilogram of these nests fetch $1000 on the market. Regardless of the horrors and smell, climbers, usually Indonesian or Filipino immigrants, regularly brave the bats and centipedes, shimming up rope ladders, anchored to bundles of sticks, to scrape the nests from the cave. Due to the risk of poachers taking the nests, every entrance of the cave has a small shack where someone lives for months, guarding the nests.

After the Kinabatangan, Jazz and Peggy headed back to the states. My dad and I had plans to travel to Danum and packraft their rivers and creeks. Unfortunately, a bridge washed out and no traffic could get through.

Our next plan, traveling to Maliau Basin for a week of hiking through old growth forest, fell through when we couldn’t get the park proof of insurance covering helicopter rescues. We ended spending our last week in Malaysia in the town of Tawau, before flying to Tasmania for three weeks of packrafting.
           


Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Thank You Costa Rica

The people of the Osa Peninsula in Costa Rica were extraordinarily helpful in the many months I have been there. Especially the miners, the Park Rangers of Corcovado National Park and others who make their living in the forest, as well as the OIJ and local police.

Traveling the trails with them I learned about the animals, the plants, the trees, and the geography. I made more than twenty trips into the forest over the course of two years, spending several weeks camping there. We saw many terciopelo, otherwise known as the fer-de-lance, and eyelash palm pit-vipers.

Rarely did any of these people travel off-trail and when they did, they used their machete to clear a path, both to uncover possible snakes and to leave a path to follow back as it is easy to get lost, especially in Corcovado's mountainous "Las Quebraditas".

I travelled with one local Tico man whose father had died in two hours from the bite of a terciopelo; another  Tico whose brother died from the bite of a bushmaster.

Others told me of men killed by falling trees. In fact, I myself witnessed two huge tree falls -- trees over 150 feet tall that crashed in the forest. Falling tropical hardwood crowns can be lethal if they strike the unwary, and knowing when and where they fall is impossible to predict.

Tree falls are like the avalanches of the rainforest, only worse. There is no equivalent to digging a pit to test for stability, no courses to take or books to read to predict what leads to their likelihood of toppling, other than wind and rainstorms

I was always especially fearful during rainstorms when wet dead wood fell with heavy epiphyte burdens.

At least five times I have witnessed enormous but otherwise healthy trees fall.

In the late 1990s a famous California tree climber and I made a traverse between two redwood trees each 300 feet tall. The following year I returned to find that one of the 300 foot tall trees had toppled, leaving its six foot top speared into the forest floor.

In Borneo's Imbak Canyon we climbed to the top of a 75 m Dipterocarp tree, returning the next day to find it toppled.

Another time along Sabah's Kinabatangan River I watched a large mango tree split in two and slowly peel away next to a river house, but was able to warn the inhabitants only minutes before the tree split and ripped the wall off their house exposing the room inside.

In 2015 near Dos Brazos we watched during a storm as the winds toppled over twenty trees, some up to two feet across.

The steep mountains of Corcovado also are very active with landslides, particularly in the wet season. These range from small sloughs to entire hillsides.

I am very grateful to the rangers and miners and others I walked through the forest with. I was very impressed with their willingness to expose themselves to these dangers as well as the discomfort of the 100% humidity in the forest, the high heat, the strong, surprisingly cold downpours, the chiggers and biting insects, especially when camping at night.

Many from the OIJ and another Tico from the American Embassy were particularly impressive to me, as these were men and one woman who generally spend time behind a desk, but came out and struggled with us in and out of canyons, up and down waterfalls, off trail and on, sometimes trapped by darkness and walking down the middle of creeks to stay protected from snakes.

While many Osa locals accused certain other local Osa Ticos of being involved with our son's disappearance, I did not at first believe them.

The details of the Gringo seen with these locals -- with only a few possibly bad people involved -- simply did not fit what I knew of our son or his plans.

However, ultimately the local Ticos themselves convinced me that local Tico troublemakers were involved.

I had thought for the first six weeks that Cody Roman was injured, lost, or  dead in the jungle. Local people tried to convince me otherwise, local people said he was the victim of foul play. And when my wife suggested that also, then I was ready to accept it.

But it looks like all of us, Ticos and Gringos alike, were wrong.

It's easy looking back to see things clearly. Much harder when looking forward.

I thank the Costa Rican people of the Osa for their empathy.

I consider them family.

And I thank them for their sacrifices and diligence, particularly in January, March and May of 2016 when the National Geographic sponsored investigation was finished, and the real generosity and helpfulness of Costa Ricans emerged.

Similarly in the early days, when two dozen Red Cross volunteers, local police, and Park Rangers risked the snakes, the falling trees, the landslides and flooding rivers to look for a foreigner.

Costa Rica is indeed a beautiful place, and nearly all of its people are both beautiful inside and out, with big, beautiful hearts.

Thank you Costa Rica.






Sunday, May 29, 2016

Prayer Flags



The words in the previous post are close to a story I told on May 11 at Arctic Entries.

I'd gone to Costa Rica's Osa Peninsula first to find him alive, maybe lost and injured. Later to find out what happened. Then I wanted justice as I'd been convinced foul play had been perpetrated.

But now it looks like maybe the stories of Roman walking with a thieving drug dealer may be just that, after all: stories.

Amazingly on May 17,  a miner found Roman's things, including his passport and money, deep in the jungle, within one kilometer of where I'd spent many nights camped while looking hard. Looking hard near the place where the only persons I believed had really seen him had described seeing him eating breakfast. They talked to him on a remote miner's trail where they'd never seen a gringo around the time of the World Cup final in 2014.

It was hours from the nearest tourist route, off-trail above a deep canyon and below a narrow arete.

In a month or so the Costa Rican authorities will tell Peggy and me whether our blood's DNA matches that of the DNA in the skeleton found next to his backpack, his shoes, his headlamp, foam-pad, his compass and other things I recognized.

Remarkably,  that day a miner had found these things I'd hung Tibetan Buddhist prayer flags Roman and I brought back from Bhutan between the two tallest trees in our yard over our house.






Sunday, May 15, 2016

There’re a lot of stories I’d rather tell than this one, but this one’s the only one that really matters.

Our son, Cody Roman Dial, disappeared on Costa Rica’s Osa Peninsula in 2014.

Cody Roman was conceived in a tent in the Brooks Range and born in February in Fairbanks. When he was six we walked across Umnak, a remote Aleutian Island, just the two of us, sixty miles in a week.

After that trip he went by his middle name, Roman.

In grade school with his mom Peggy and sister Jazz we traveled to rain forests and coral reefs and deserts all over the world. In high school he helped me with my research. He, Jazz, and I skied around the Harding Icefield for a week counting ice worms. The next year Roman took two months off school while we studied the rain forest canopy in Borneo.

While he was in high-school and college we packrafted rivers and creeks all over Alaska, in Australia, Malaysia, even the Grand Canyon.                                

The last time I saw him was in Veracruz, Mexico, January 2014 where we packrafted waterfalls.

Roman had just started a seven month tour of Latin America. After Veracruz he wrote us emails about monarch butterflies in the Sierra Madre, nesting sea turtles on the Pacific, swimming with whale sharks in the Caribbean.

He wrote me about his plans to walk solo 200 km in ten days across the Peten, the wilderness border of Guatemala and Mexico to see remote Mayan ruins.

I wrote him back:  “Don’t do it, It’s too dangerous,” offering up what looked like a safer route from Google Earth.

But I deleted that email. Instead I wrote him back to be careful with his machete and watch out for snakes.

After that he wrote a six-thousand word story of his adventure that I sent to friends who’d watched him grow up.

We’d hear from him every couple weeks.                                     

He’d write and say, Here’s where I am going. Then come back and write, I’m out and then another, longer, And here’s what happened.

Seven months into his trip he wrote from Costa Rica. He asked about topo maps.

I went on my own trip in early July to the Talkeetnas, came back and went straight to the Kenai to dipnet.

I didn’t check my emails.

Peggy and I worried about how long it’d been since we’d heard from Roman. It was strange not to hear from him for so long. One day we were shopping and she got nauseous for no reason.                

We went home and I opened the email thread “Topo Maps” to find plans for his next trip -- five days across Corcovado National Park. Off-trail and alone, a traverse of the wild Osa Peninsula. His route was specific.

He closed with “I’ll be bound by a trail to the west and coast everywhere else It. should be difficult to get lost forever.”

The email was two weeks old. He was ten days overdue.

I immediately called the American Embassy, emailed Corocvado Park, asked my friend Thai Verzone to drop everything and come with me.

I planned to be back in ten days.

I stayed forty. 

Our first night there we found the hostel where Roman stayed, the gear he’d left behind. A few days later we found a group of miners who’d met Roman in the jungle cooking breakfast over a Jet Boil.                                                        

The authorities wouldn’t let me into the Park, so we snuck in to search for him on our own.

It was hot and wet and dangerous. Thai stepped over a log waist high with a coiled green viper on top. He didn’t even see it.

Thai went back to his family. Other friends came down to help.

More snakes. More dangers.

Flash floods in green slot canyons filled with waterfalls that we rapelled looking for Roman -- maybe he’d slipped in and couldn’t get out. One night a 150 foot tree fell and landed a dozen feet from one of our tents with three people inside.

The mountains of the Osa look smooth but they’re not. They’re like a folded maze.

As I climbed the narrow ridges and stumbled down steep creeks I called out “ROMAN!”, “ROMAN!!”

But nothing.   No sign.          

Peggy came down and we retraced the route Roman laid out in his last email.

Walking the beach in the dark, Peggy said, He’s not in the jungle. Someone took him.

There’d been this persistent rumor. Roman had crossed the Osa with a known thief and drug dealer. The details didn’t quite add up but we needed a real investigator, an American who spoke Spanish and could push people’s buttons to get answers.

I picked out this guy, Carson, who’d retired from the DEA agent after 25 years in Latin America. He was like eight feet tall, muscled and tattooed-up, bald and intimidating, the kind of guy who sniffs out criminals, and gets them to talk.

I spent seven weeks in Costa Rica with Carson last year, getting close to violent men. Sitting down with suspects. Drinking beer with them. Offering them reward money. It was surreal and sickening.

This past January deep in the jungle with cadaver dogs and Costa Rican investigators, I found the only real piece of physical evidence.

It was a piece of sleeping pad I’d given Roman in Mexico after we’d been packrafting. It was under a miner’s black plastic tarp.

The miner had lived with the mother of the primary suspect. The Costa Rican authorities said it’d be months before forensics confirms the pad as evidence.

It took a year to get our son’s case elevated from missing person to homicide. It’ll be another year, if ever, before an arrest.

In Costa Rica there’s no crime without a body.

I’ve spent six months of the last year and a half searching the Osa Peninsula. 

I’m tired, exhausted.  I don’t want to go down there again, but I will. Because without our presence, nothing seems to happen.


Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Twenty Best Modern Alaska Wilderness Trips?

My candidates listed below.

What are yours?

1) SE – Yakutat to Gustavus (Lost Coast South)
2) SC – All around Anchorage *** 
This goes from Anchorage to Valdez (which I have notyet done)
then to Eureka Roadhouse, then to Talkeetna River and down to Anchorage
(or Valdez to Anchorage via Talkeetna River)
3) SW – Pt. Heiden to Chigniks via Aniakchak
4) Aleutians – Umnak: Ft Glenn to Nikolski (Geysers!)
5) NW – Utukok to Noatak
6) Gates of the Arctic – AAA
7) ANWR – Kaktovik to Arctic Village
8) Interior – Charlie River
9) Alaska Range – Wonder Lake to Iliamna (longish)
10) Nabesna to Cordova (not really as long as it sounds)
11) Kotzebue to Nome*** (been trying to do this since 1985)
12) Iceworm Traverse: Seward to Homer
13) Gerstle to McKinley Village
14) Girdwood to Knik
15) Limestone Jags Loop
16) Arctic Circle
17) Ribdon to Kaktovik (I skied the reverse, but think packrafting like Becky, Tony, and others would be better)
18) Susitna River bridge to Talkeetna
19) 3 day loop in Arrgetch over Ariel

20) Granite Tors loop

*** indicates I have not yet completed!

I have long been advocating, albeit weakly and to a rather deaf audience, that
1) Kaktovik to Kotzebue is the Alaskan Appalachian Trail
2) Canada to Iliamna is an AK PCT
3) Nabesna to Gustavus ("Copper and Gold") has no Lower 48 equal (and is the best FatBike trip on the Continent),
nor does
4) "Once around Anchorage" (Anchorage -> Whittier -> Valdez -> Eureka Rdhse -> Talkeetna -> Anchorage) which is SC AK's best multisport adventure

Friday, June 12, 2015

Mountain Meister Podcast

A few weeks ago I was interviewed by Ben Schensk who has interviewed over  125 incredibly accomplished outdoor adventurers.

As part of the interview you suggest three pieces of gear and somebody else to be interviewed by Ben. Casey Greene, a next-gen Hellbiker and mapmaker from Montana apparently nominated Luc and me, and wanting to say something to someone, I accepted.


Here's the link with what I wanted to say, nicely edited, as well as who I think he should also interview, and my three favorite pieces of gear currently.

As for hedonic adaptation, Bono sings it well, too:

"It's no secret that a conscience can sometimes be a pest.
It's no secret ambition bites the nails of success.
Every artist is a cannibal, every poet is a thief;
All kill their inspiration and sing about the grief."

From "The Fly" on Achtung Baby, 1991

Sunday, December 7, 2014

37 years, 100 trips, 14,500 miles, and 850 days (or so)

It's been most of my life and I may have missed some but these are the big lines (over a week or 55 miles), the important ones, and the little ones that matter.

By foot, ski, skate, paddle, and pedal.

With my wife, our kids, my friends, and on the multi-day/multisport races my rivals, and sometimes just myself.

From 1977, as a 16 year old solo hiking from Eielson Visitor Center to the Igloo over Anderson Pass, to a couple weeks ago, when Luc and I nordic skated from Selawik to Kotzebue.

From Kaktovik to the Kigluaiks, from Umnak to Yakutat.

Sure, they're not all connected (yet), but I have a few miles left in me to see the wonders of Western Alaska, float the Yukon, pedal and paddle from Cordova to Yakutat, cross from Cordova to Seward with a packraft, link Aniakchak with lake Clark. Plenty to do!

One thing to know is that many routes I did more than once, especially the Wilderness Classics. Another is that these are just quick sketches with the path tool in Google Earth. Don't use them for navigation, please!

You can also see my favorite places: Kenai's Harding Icefield, Hayes Range, Arrigetch Peaks and South-central's whitewater.

It's impossible to ever be satisfied with these "lines-on-the-map". While satisfying to draw the last trip in, like Bono says, "It's no secret that ambition bites the nails of success", and planning for the next link-up of old lines or fill-in of blanks spots (can you spell K-O-B-U-K?) is the grist of life: hope for what the future brings.







Thanks to Hig for asking for the lines on Google Earth for Erin's story in Alaska Dispatch -- otherwise they'd just hide on the Raven Map of Alaska that leans against a wall in my office....


 
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