Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Musical Road Remix

In followup to our Musical Roadtrip post, here is the actual Honda commercial that the road was created for.

Originally built by Honda, the road got a lot of complaints from neighbors, so it was removed shortly after we visited. And then people complained because it was gone. So the city rebuilt it somewhere else. In other words, if you're up for a road trip for 30 seconds of amusement, dreams still come true in Lancaster, CA.

Thursday, November 20, 2008


I just exchanged emails with Nathan from the Tumlewagon family. Their web site explains:

Welcome to the website of our life on the road. We’re a family of three, living in an RV and making our way around the country for a year or so.

It looks like their taking a grand tour of the country, all while taking on freelance web development projects. Love it!

Friday, November 7, 2008

Dick Proenneke

A few years ago I read the account of Dick Proenneke with great fascination and admiration. At age 51, he built a cabin by hand in a remote part of Alaska, then spent the next 35 years meticulously documenting his solitude with photography, video footage and writings.

His narrated video is available on DVD, and this clip is well worth a look if you have 10 minutes.

Thursday, October 2, 2008


October is here, and it was 99°F yesterday in SoCal. I'm dreaming about those fall colors, and the crisp air of the northeast.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

K-Day + 1

One year ago today we summited Katahdin, completing our 2,174 mile hike of the Appalachian Trail.

This morning, after contacting Safari-26, She-Ra, He-Man and Turbo with congratulations, Lauren and I read a couple pages from our journals and reflected a bit on the decisions, growth and adventures we've experienced together.

Cruising up the Hill

Today it only seemed fitting to go for a hike, so I took four kids from the neighborhood for a morning climb in Griffith Park. I've been wanting to spend more time with kids with absent fathers, but today was the first time I actually put a plan together. Rewarding stuff.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Musical Road

On Saturday we took a quick road trip to Lancaster, CA to drive on the only musical road in North America. Just in time, too. It wont last more than another week, since the neighbors are getting riled up about the noise and traffic.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Fam Trip


Nice weekend trip with Dad and bros, showing them a sliver of the magnificent Sierra.


It was great they could make it all the way out here to visit in California; they were into it much more than I expected. Good times.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Simmering Sespe

Sespe River Dry

Spent the Labor day weekend in the Sespe Wilderness. We made a 42 mile loop despite the river mostly dry, temperatures above 100°, and the hot springs too hot to enjoy. And due to mixed communication, we left Lauren's shoes at home, so she hiked the whole thing in crocs. (Her idea, not mine!)

Johnston Ridge Trail

Two days, and two massive blisters later, we got back to the car early and headed down to a hotel in Ventura to relax. Lauren was a champ about it, though.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

NPR: Big Chill on the Appalachian Trail

Last weekend NPR had a 3 minute segment on the Half-Gallon Challenge at the halfway point on the A.T. To hear, follow this link and then click listen now.

I demolished a box of Hershey's Neopolitan at this spot in 2007 going head-to-head against Sunshine.

Monday, August 4, 2008


I'm not convinced that mice are the best pets to have running about in my kitchen. Luckily thru-hiker shelter tricks work at home too. An empty Doritos bag hung from the edge of a counter is all it takes. Tasty cheese crumbs at the bottom at bedtime, a fuzzy little mouse in the morning.

Friday, August 1, 2008


I only heard a handful of news headlines on the trail last year. There was a TV on in the laundromat in Kent, CT and I remember standing there in my rain gear watching the coverage of the Minneapolis bridge collapse.

Guess that was a year ago now.

We went to Minneapolis last weekend to visit family and I saw that very bridge without realizing it until someone told me afterwards.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Adrian's Tour Divide

My friend Adrian just finished the Tour Divide race, a bike ride along the Continental Divide from Canada to Mexico. That's a long time in the saddle. Congrats Adrian!

Adrian writes:

[These photos were] taken along the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route, from Banff, Canada to Antelope Wells, New Mexico (border of Mexico) from June 13 to July 7. This is the longest mountain bike route in the world at 2711 miles with 200,000 ft of climbing. But don't worry, half of it was downhill :-) My odometer clocked it at 2830 miles with the one detour I had in Grand Teton National Park to go to a bike shop for repairs, and the many times I made a wrong turn along the way. 15 riders lined up in Banff to race the route, 14 guys and one girl. 6 guys dropped out, 6 guys finished so far, and 3 riders are still riding in the monsoonal rains of July in New Mexico.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Mineral King

Lost Canyon with a view of Sawtooth Peak

Mineral King is one of the least visited parts of Sequoia/Kings Canyon National Park, tucked away east of Fresno at the end of a serpentine road. From Three Rivers CA, you drive 23 miles — and most of an hour — gaining 6,000 feet to a parking area in alpine meadows. (The parking lot looks like an auto-show. Everyone's hoods are propped up to keep marmots from getting trapped inside and wrecking the engine).

Peaceful Meadow

For the 4th of July weekend, our 30 mile loop took us over the Great Western Divide twice, over two high mountain passes, through meadows with braided streams, past remote lakes and nonstop views.

The meadow pictured above was so surreal, it looked like some kind of manicured golf course.

Our Camp by Columbine Lake

On the second day, we stopped by 2pm so we could set up camp and take it easy by an alpine lake. We took in the evening light show with some hot chocolate, and then directed our attention to the sky for the stars to emerge.

Climbing Sawtooth Pass

Our final climb was 11,630' Sawtooth Pass. The morning light was unusual and then we began to smell forest fires burning to the east.

Atop Sawtooth Pass

We only met a few other backpackers out there, and camped in areas out of reach of mosquitoes. A holiday weekend well spent.

Arriving at Columbine

In the 1960s, the area was going to be made into a 'Second Tahoe' ski resort developed by Disney. Fortunately it remains mostly inaccessible and pristine today. Here are some more details about the scrapped project and other vintage Sky Crown logo concepts.

And if you need a real-time vacation, here's a link to the Mineral King webcam.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Billy Goat

Billy Goat

Today Billy Goat was highlighted in the LA Times.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Virtual Offce

Since back from the trail I've been working on taking my design company, Studiofluid, to the next level. The most interesting aspect has been learning the non-creative side of running a creative business. So far, I've been quite pleased with the adventure.

I work from a few different places, but my favorite spot is the cafe, Sabor Y Cultura, down the street from where we live.

The atmosphere is relaxed, with nice people behind the bar and throughout the generous space. It's quiet enough to provide a great atmosphere for creativity, but it's also bustling enough that conversations among patrons are natural and taking a phone call is perfectly acceptable. And for a special treat, you can't beat their Mexican Mocha.

I try to head down here at least a couple times a week, for some focused creativity. I use the complimentary wifi, but disable my laptop for extended bursts to keep me on task, with a nifty little app called Freedom.

Sunday, June 8, 2008


I thought it was a small bout of food poisoning that had me feeling woozy for a couple days last week, but now that Lauren has come down with the same thing, it's clearly not.

Actually, it's quite similar to the stomach bug that we both respectively battled on the trail north of Pearisburg, exactly one year ago. We learned countless things about each other on the trip, and how to treat the other during hard times was definitely on the summer's syllabus.

I can't stand to be crowded or over-cared for, but certainly appreciate knowing someone is there when I yell "bucket!"

Lauren, on the other hand, will take all the TLC she can get.

So I'm sitting beside her with my head on her forehead, making sure she takes plenty of fluids, while I'm watching a streaming version of Frontline's Storm Over Everest.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Memorial Day 2008

Ben, Hays and Nate top out at Glen Pass

This Memorial Day a few friends and I had an unforgettable trip through the High Sierra playground. Normally by the end of May, the weather is warm and balmy with lingering snowpack. But this year, winter conditions were in full effect.

I cut the year's first tracks up and over Glen Pass (11,978') and through the Rae Lakes basin.

Ben Climbing Glen Pass

Using an ice axe we safely navigated through some treacherous conditions. I particularly enjoyed the way that these situations demanded my complete attention, putting me in a focused and fully present state of mind.

Hays and Nate Descend from Glen Pass

In lower elevations the trip began with a chilly rain.

Manzanita Bllom

Dramatic Weather

Junction Meadow

But as we climbed higher, the temperature dropped and the precipitation changed to thick piles of accumulating snow.

Accumulating Snowfall

Snow Begins to Accumulate

Cutting Treacherous Tracks

Friends, adventure, challenge, scenery… easily one of best adventures ever.

Ben and Nate Descend Glen Pass

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Pemmican Bars Revisited

Pemmican Bar

When we hiked the trail, we ate a lot of Bear Valley Pemmican Bars. Lauren's parents helped us find a bunch of them by buying cases at REI and Whole Foods in the greater Philadelphia/NJ area.

Somehow when we finished, we had scores of these things still laying around. After eating one or two per each day of the summer, I figured I would want to give them away.

But nearly seven months later, I guess I still eat about four or five a week. In fact, I'm getting down to the bottom of my Pemmican Bar stash, and am actually surprised that I still enjoy them. I can't believe they've lasted this long.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

May/June ATJ

The latest Appalachian Trail Journeys magazine just came out which had the list of 2007 hikers who completed the trail. Seeing the 'regular' names of hikers we knew only by trail names was entertaining.

Strange but not unexpected was seeing number who claimed to have hiked the entire trail yet certainly didn't. I respect people hiking on their own terms, but to skip around and then posture as a thru-hiker is still remarkably lame.

Tucked away is also a spread with a few of my wildflower photos, followed by a page with a few taken by our friend He-Man.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Summit Photos

Kincora Ceiling of Champions

All along the trail, hostels and establishments that cater to hikers usually have a photo wall of past hikers on the summit of Katahdin. Places like the Kincora, Haven's Budget Inn and The Inn at the Long Trail have quite a collection going.

Earlier this year we made postcards of our summit photo and send a bunch to family and friends that we met along the way. Maybe we're hanging up on the ceiling of the Kincora by now too.

Monday, April 28, 2008


PCT Class of 2008

We've never been down to the PCT Kickoff (Annual Day Zero PCT KickOff), but this year we had a great excuse. To see our friend Clearwater off for the start of his 2600 mile thru-hike of the Pacific Crest Trail.

Pictured here are some of the 150+ hikers attempting to hike the trail from end to end in 2008. It was a mellow festival with about 500 people gathered at Lake Morena, some who we'd met on the A.T. last summer... Matt, Honey & Bear from the cabin in Maine, Chuck Snorris & Tigger.

My highlight was hearing Eric Ryback give a slide presentations from his 1970 thrhu-hike, complete with his original Kodachromes. I was also impressed with the general mellow and friendly atmosphere, and the organization of the food, activities and speaker panels. And listening to Squatch with his improv humor made for some great times.

Clearwater at the Mexican Border

On Sunday, we drove the rest of the way to the Mexican border and dropped off Clearwater to start his journey.

Clearwater Heading North

After a few great days together and some goodbyes, and loaded with five liters of water, Clearwater headed north, unaware of the 6 pound watermelon we had stashed into his pack. I keep laughing out loud imagining him finding it after lugging it for 20 miles.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Sunshine Expedition

I got an email this week from our friend Redwood.

Joined by his girlfriend Jodi, they will paddle 1500 miles from the Florida Panhandle to the keys, and then walk the 1300 Florida Trail back to where they started. They'll be keeping a web journal called the Sunshine Expedition. Sounds fun.

They don't have much content up yet, but it looks like they're sewing lightweight gear like we use, to lighten up on this adventure.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

VA Plates

If you live in Virginia, you can now get your very own Appalachian Trail license plate. Two of them have McAfee Knob and you can vote for your favorite version.

The don't have my favorite version though.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Lauren's Hiking Song

Lauren had a few songs bouncing in her head this summer too.

She made up this one in Virginia as we approached a weekend stop with her sister in Leesburg. It wasn't as much of a song as it was a rallying-chant that she used to encourage herself up steep hills, with plenty of pauses between words to catch her breath.

I... can not wait... to see... My sister,
My sister... and Jason... My sister and Jason.
I... can not wait... to see... My sister,
Amanda and Jason... Amanda and Jason,
*A *and *J!

*Fist pumping in the air

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Soundtrack of the Summer

We intentionally did not bring headphones or music on the trail, so we could be present and immersed in the experience of the trail.

Sometimes when hiking, a song would pop into my head anyway. Early on in the journey it might be "Georgia on my Mind" by Ray Charles among other songs that I just don't remember.

But Johnny Cash seemed to make his way into a high percentage of my mental playlist. I think there is something about the cadence of his music, and the way he vividly describes the American landscape that links his music to the trail for me.

"Tennessee Stud," came into mind often, but after meeting Winton Porter at the Walasi-Yi, the song that I couldn't shake was:

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Drifting Thoughts

I been thinking about the A.T. lately. It's not triggered by anything in particular. It's just where my mind goes when I want to rest.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Grand Canyon 2008


We went to the Grand Canyon over the weekend, which was a first for me.


On Saturday, we hiked down the South Kaibab Trail to the bottom to the Colorado River, soaking in some amazing panoramas. I was blown away by how many banded layers of rock you pass, and how long they must have taken to accumulate.


At the bottom we took an hour break and ended up hanging out for lunch at Phantom Ranch.


In the afternoon we climbed up the Bright Angel Trail. I think the trip was about 5,000' elevation loss and gain over about 17 or 18 miles. It all took a little over 8 hours including breaks.

Great way to spend a 'work' day.

Monday, March 17, 2008

(Jott from Ben Thompson) Hi, today I am calling fr...

Well it's a free service afterall, but the signature line when posting to a blog is obscenely long...

Sent via Jott:

Hi, today I am calling from a new service that I found out about called jott.com, it's just a [the] kind of service I would have been looking for when I had(?) [hiked] the trial(?) [trail] last year, you can call and leave a 30 second voice mail which is transcribed and it can be e-mailed to you, or you can tell it to post to a blog such as Blogger like I have done here. I am just trying it out, but so far I am pretty impressed.

[revisions made by me online afterwards]

My Pic
Ben Thompson

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Thursday, February 28, 2008

Appalachian Adaptation

Looks like Robert Redford is going ahead with the Walk in the Woods adaptation, afterall.

I can think of plenty of reasons why this could have a negative impact on the trail. The only upside I can think of would be a heightened awareness of our natural treasures in the public consciousness. And and maybe additional funding if Redford chooses to give a little back to the A.T., unlike the book's author.

I remain skeptical.

Here's a link to my previously posted comments about the book.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Will Work for Beer

Lumber Yard in Bland, VA

On one sweltering June afternoon we emerged from the trail at a road crossing in southwest Virginia, and took a short roadwalk to a nearby convenience store.

Over a few cold drinks and junk food, we exchanged pleasant conversation with the proprietor. Then, the sawmill across the street emptied for the day and we witnessed a fascinatingly disturbing cultural phenomenon; the 4pm beer run.

The scene goes something like this. Two guys hop out of the pickup and leave the ignition running. They make a beeline for the back cooler, plunk down their hard earned cash at the register and each walk out with a six or twelve-pack in hand, presumably to finish on a Thursday evening before returning to work the next day. One car after the next.

Sounds like a tired stereotype, but unfortunately, we witnessed it first hand.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Gear Review: Patagonia Nine Trails Shorts

Patagonia nailed it with their nine trails shorts.

The blend of 86% polyester/14% spandex is what I would consider to be an ideal material for hiking shorts.

They're extremely soft and have a generous stretch, which perform amazingly under thru-hiking conditions. They wring out well, dry unbelievably quickly and breathe nicely in warm weather. I wore them nearly every waking hour and never got tired of them, and had absolutely zero chaffing problems.

After 5 million steps, mine are still going strong. I am considering buying another pair just to have on hand, since the best products are inevitably discontinued.

My favorite feature was the three zippered pockets, which securely handled snacks, flashlight, money and other small items that I did not want to lose.

The only complaint would be the liner they come with, but a pair of scissors easily took care of that.

7.1 oz (Men L) 3.8 oz (Women S) with undie-liner removed.

At $52, they are pricey, but I felt a worthwhile investment for a thru-hike.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Drips vs. Drops

Misty Morning in Georgia

On our first rainy night of the trip, Lauren and I chose a protected site, climbed into our tarp, and watched and listened in awe as a thunderstorm blasted through.

By the morning, the ferocity of the storm had passed, and we were engulfed in a thick fog that reduced visibility to about 50 feet. The pitter-patter on our tarp lulled us back to sleep and made a nice excuse for a late start.

Finally by 8am we decided it was time to face a day in the rain. We spent a little extra time putting on our rain gear and breaking camp.

Once on the trail, we realized that we had made a rookie mistake. It wasn't actually raining; instead the leaves had been collecting condensation, releasing heavy drips every so often. We quickly overheated in out unnecessary rain gear.

After a mistake like this we quickly learned to tell the difference between drops and drips.

Sunday, February 10, 2008


On the trail, Lauren and I each kept a daily journal, that we wrote in before going to bed. At the time we were unaware what the other was writing about, and now post-tail we've been taking our time going through and sharing them with each other. It's quite an enlightening experience to relive the same events through the memoirs of another.

Today we went to a coffee shop and continued our journal recap, making it to mile 430 in northern Tennessee.

It is rewarding to reflect on our early trail experiences and to so clearly see our character development... to see our trail rhythm and teamwork establish, to see how Lauren's mile-driven mentality eased over time, and to remember those physical hurdles I encountered early on.

I feel so blessed to have been able to make this incredible journey in 2007. It was an investment in ourselves, our marriage, and our future. I also am so grateful that we made the commitment to document our highs and lows so faithfully.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Andy's Great Western Loop

Lauren, Andy and Ben

While we were hiking our 2,174 miles this summer, Andrew Skurka was tackling a 6,875 mile journey of his own, the so-called Great Western Loop. Lauren and I took the LA Metro Rail to Long Beach yesterday to hear Andy give an overview of his trip.

As a thru-hiker, it is fascinating for me to hear fellow hikers tackle the all encompasing question, "So, how was your trip?" I mean, how do you begin to sum up a trip of such magnitude, with all of the intense highs and lows?

Andy is an organized presenter, and his photography is quite good, which meant the 50 minutes went by too quickly for me. I think Andy did a good job of conveying the exuberance of great moments, and what it feels like to push through intense adversity. I think I would have enjoyed hearing more about the connection he felt to the landscape.

In 2006, when Andy was giving a recap in SoCal about his Sea-to-Sea hike, I took the opportunity to go for a day hike with him in the San Gabriels. Andy is a focused and driven person with an approachable demeanor, and I very much enjoyed my time with him.

Congratulations on accomplishing your goal, Andy.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Back into the Hills

This morning Lauren and I went out for our first real* hike since finishing the trail. We went out for 6 mile loop, on a fire road that looks over Glendale and the San Gabriel mountains. We easily handled the climb, and were encouraged that our trail footwork was still sharp for the dicey descent.

*morning walks in Griffith Park, and the woods in New Jersey, notwithstanding.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

I'm Feelin It

I realized today that my left big toe is mostly not-numb anymore. That's about four months of recoup time for a common trail side-effect.

Monday, January 28, 2008


Before - After

After several weeks on the trail, Lauren was probably right around her ideal weight, but by the end, she had gained around 30 pounds. Somewhere around the halfway point of our hike, Lauren began losing muscle tone, gaining weight and feeling bloated.

Clearly some of that gain would be expected with muscle growth, but that still didn't explain everything, and became an increasingly frustrating aspect of our summer for Lauren. While most other hikers were jumping in at the AYCE buffets, and losing significant weight, she was eating modestly and becoming increasingly concerned about her own physique.

This became a point of tension for us, both on the trail, and in the months following. Then, about two weeks ago, Lauren remembered a friend from the past who was diagnosed with Candida and that was the breakthrough that she needed.

Candida is a yeast that each of us have in our systems, typically in balance, but if it grows out of control, it can cause problems.

The more Lauren researched Candida, the more things began to make sense. Below is a list from Dr. John Dommisse of things to avoid for treating Candida, and description of how Lauren's regimen was essentially the opposite.

  1. Avoid sugars - With a name like Figgy, and her half pound of figs each day, this sounds like the perfect food for the Candida to multiply out of control
  2. Avoid starches - Hiking 20+ mile per day without starches? Not likely.
  3. Increase saturated fats - Flax oil and sardines didn't make it into our trail diet.
  4. Avoid Antibiotics - After the tick incident in New York, a two week round of antibiotics probably polished of any of the remaining 'good bacteria' that may have been keeping her intestines in check.

For two weeks now, Lauren has been eating no fruit and absolutely no sugar, wine, vinegar, yeast, coffee, or black tea. She is also taking oil of oregano and probiotics to reestablish the internal balance. After the first week we didn't notice any results, but after the second week Lauren has lost 6 pounds.

It feels good to be finally making progress.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

2008 Companion

2008 Thru-Hikers' Companion

If you're thinking about hiking the trail in 2008, you'll probably carry a data book to help calculate mileage and find services in town.

Most people carry the A.T.C. companion or the Thru-hiker's Handbook (formerly by Wingfoot, now published by Bob McCaw). I also heard a rumor that Whiteblaze is publishing a guide book, but was unable to verify that.

One very important factor to consider when purchasing your guidebook is what the cover looks like. I personally think that the 2008 cover of the A.T.C. companion looks the best, but maybe that's just me.

We carried the Wingfoot guide in 2007 and were happy with the data for the southern half of the trail, but it is common knowledge that Wingfoot has not set foot on the trail in over 10 years, and the northern half of the handbook was strewn with misinformation.

- - - -

"A.T. Thru-Hikers' Companion" is published by the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, however it is compiled, written, and edited by volunteers of the Appalchian Long Distance Hikers Association (ALDHA).

Sunday, January 20, 2008

April Plans and ADZPCTKO

It was nice to hear from our friend, Clearwater, who contacted us last week. He will be hiking the PCT in 2008 ("at least California," he says), and wanted to know if we can take him to the trailhead in Campo, CA.

He booked his flight for mid-April, and will stay with us in Los Angeles for a couple days for final preparations. Then we'll drive a couple hours to the PCT monument at the Mexican border.

If it all works out, we may be able to attend ADZPCTKO (Annual Day Zero, PCT Kick Off). And if the planets are in alignment, we may actually be able to walk the 20 miles into Day Zero with Clearwater.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Wheels in L.A.

We gave away our car before leaving for our thru-hike and have been fortunate to not to have needed our own since arriving back to Los Angeles. For the last two months, we've had an unbelievable streak of car-sitting for generous traveling friends, so Lauren has been using their cars to get to work.

I've been doing quite well on my new bike, although riding a fixed gear is like learning to ride a bicycle all over again.

Tonight my friend Austin reminded me about Flexcar. Here in Los Angeles, an annual membership of $35 gets you access to car rentals on a micro level, just $5 per hour. Their locations map shows that I live just one block from two available flexcars ( a "sports car" and a "wagon").

All this convenience, and I don't even have to worry about gas, insurance, maintenance or parking. Pretty sweet deal. I'm going to have to check this out.

- - - -

UPDATE: When I checked the cars in person, the "sports car" was a Mini Cooper, and the "wagon" was a Scion Xb.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

ATJ Profile

ATJ Profile

Our friends Sally and Ellen at from the AT Boundary submitted our names to be profiled in an upcoming Appalachian Trail Journey Magazine. The brief article about our two days on the trail corridor in the Mahoosucs will run this month.

If you'd like a sneak peek, you can check out this downloadable PDF file.