Dorrington, California 2019 by William Bryan

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A week before graduation in 2018 a group of college friends and I sat on a rooftop in Boston looking out at the skyline in the distance. We were trying—and failing—to avoid talking about how little we’d be seeing each other just ten days from then. As everyone continued their bittersweet banter I realized that if we don’t plan something now, while we were still around one another every day, we likely would never be together as a big group ever again.

That very same day I talked to Katie (our resident planner) about the idea of planning a reunion for the following year. She was 100% on board and suggested the 4th of July; I volunteered my family’s cabin in the Sierra’s.

We went to the group with the idea the next day and everyone was soundly on board, at least at the moment. I’m not sure anyone was really very confident that the event would actually materialize.

Fast forward 14 months and after arduous planning and hounding friends for their flight info (@Orph) the time had actually arrived for us all to jet off to California. I arrived five days before the 4th and grabbed some groceries to bolster Katie’s awesome Fraction Foods menu and loaded up my dad’s truck for the drive into the mountains.

Surprisingly, with 23 people converging on a tiny mountain town 4 hours from San Francisco from all over the United States on a hectic holiday weekend we encountered zero travel issues. No cancelled flights, delays, flat tires, speeding tickets, or upset stomachs. Just happy friends seeing each other for the first time in 14 months (in some cases).

The only map we had…

The only map we had…

For the next 4 days we tried our hardest to relive our college days while simultaneously enjoying the best that the Sierra Nevada mountains have to offer.

On the second full day I had planned a hike to a high alpine lake called Bull Run. I’d hiked to it before—on a two night backpacking trip with my family when I was 12 or 13 years old. My only memory of the hike was that my Mom had said it was 7.5 miles round trip, and the hike in had felt much longer than 3.25 miles. Disregarding this little tidbit I decided it was the perfect hike for a massive group of hungover friends on 4th of July weekend.

When our caravan of four cars pulled into the graded meadow that served as the trailhead there were patches of snow scattered around behind the trail marker and in front of our cars. I clambered over a patch to take a photo of the rudimentary map on the trailhead sign and set off down the trail with 21 naive friends in tow. It took us no more than 10 minutes to get lost. As Goose and I consulted the map on my phone the others tried their best to catch up without falling on the snow.

“Guys just hang out here and don’t go anywhere, we lost the trail,” I said.

“So if this is the Stanislaus Meadow in front of us we need to stay to the right of it and in theory we’ll find the trail, right?” Goose asked.

“Sure,” I replied. Exactly as unsure as I sounded.

After a few minutes following our plan we found the trail again, or as close to a trail as we could find. We trudged over pillows of crunchy snow in Teva’s, Van’s, and hiking boots, broadcasting our unpreparedness to the silent wilderness.

We continued this cycle of losing the trail and finding it again for a couple of hours before half of our number decided that trudging through snow in July wasn’t something they wanted to do any longer than necessary. After deliberating about splitting up our group in the middle of nowhere we decided that half would press on to the lake and half would go home for beer and barbeque.

After losing half our tribe we lumbered along, continuing to find and lose the trail until we were well into the granite fields of the High Sierra’s. Using stray cairn’s as our only guidance we wandered for two more hours.

Then we ran out of water.

And we got dizzy from altitude sickness and dehydration.

We never found the lake.

Dejected and defeated, we gingerly climbed down from the granite fields one tired feet, and forded streams to make our way back to the cars. We relied on our footprints in the snow as our guide back, trying not to follow our lost prints from the very same morning. When we finally made it to the cars we stayed largely silent until we’d made it to the Bear Valley General Store where we stuffed our faces with chips and chugged Gatorade and water.

Thankfully the other half of the group had dinner waiting for us when we got back. After enjoying more Fraction Foods, Sachin checked his phone’s health app.

13.7 miles.

Alicante, Spain 2019 by William Bryan

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After the success of our last trip to Rome Paolo, Jonas and I didn’t waste much time in planning a second outing. This time around we opted to fly to Alicante, Spain for some warm weather on the tail end of a dark European winter.

I invited my coworkers and one of them had the good sense to take me up on the offer—she was especially happy when she learned that round trip flights from Berlin were €14.50. The rental car for the weekend was only €13.68 (plus a €31 fee for being under 25). Being a weekend warrior is a lot easier when travel is affordable.

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After arriving in Spain Olena and I learned that we’d have to wait two hours for a pair of Jonas’ friends to arrive. Rather than sit in the airport we picked up the rental car and explored a nearby town. We stumbled upon a hole-in-the-wall tapas restaurant and scarfed down some grilled octopus and fried cheese before rushing back to the airport to pick up the others.

During the hour drive up the coast we got to know each other before arriving in what can only be described as a villa. As I walked in the door Paolo handed me a Gin & Tonic and we got down to the serious business of celebrating Jonas’ birthday.

I woke up at 9 a.m. to an abandoned house. After making sure that the cars were still in the driveway and everyone hadn’t abandoned me I made myself some breakfast. Still no survivors. I figured I’d make the most of it and lay outside in the sun while I waited for the dead to rise.

One by one revelers made themselves known as they stared at me with squinty eyes in the bright Spanish sun. Two hours later everyone but Jonas was accounted for; we weren’t too worried because the only obligation that day was a reservation at a paella restaurant at 1:30 p.m.

Then another hour had passed still with no sight of Jonas.

Then 1 p.m. ticked by and Jonas finally showed himself, but there was no way he’d make it out to lunch. Jonas’ sister called the restaurant to cancel the reservation but they had a better idea: bring the paella to us. 30 minutes later Tara showed up with a meter wide paella dish filled with the traditional rice dish.

After picking at his paella for thirty minutes Jonas declared it was time for our hike.

As we drove to Moraira Tara got a call from her brother in the car ahead of us..

“Hey, so are we still doing the thing,” Tara asked.

Jonas said something on the other end of the phone.

“Ok, sweet, I’ll tell Will to follow you,” she replied.

I was just about as confused as you must be while reading this, so I asked Tara what was going on but all she would say was: you’ll see. And that’s when I saw it appear around the next turn: AV Karting.

“NIKI LAUDA,” I yelled in excitement.

We ripped a dozen laps around the go-kart track and fought for first place (shout out to Tara) before climbing back into the real cars and driving to our hike.

We stumbled our way up the mountain to a tower with a view of the Mediterranean before making our way down to the harbor and watching the sunset from Jonas and Tara’s sailboat.

The next morning we made sure to go back to Moraira for gelato before taking Paolo to the airport. Olena and I drove back to the coast one more time for a final Spanish meal before returning the rental car and flying back to Berlin ourselves.

Hinterglemm, Austria 2019 by William Bryan

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My sister, Ryan and I took the 6 o’clock bullet train from Berlin to Munich after work on Friday and darted south at 300 KPH on our way to our first Fasching family ski trip. After arriving at my aunt’s house later that night—and waking up early to try and beat the holiday traffic south—we made it to the rental shop by 9 a.m.

After getting our boots fitted we waited for skis. When Ryan got to the counter the shop owner asked him the super official skill-level question:

“Bist du sportlich?” he asked. (Are you sporty?)

“Ja,” Ryan replied, not knowing why he was asking.

The owner then grabbed next seasons demo skis off the rack and handed them to Ryan.

“Viel Spaß,” he said, with a smile on his face.

After collecting the rest of our gear and signing absolutely nothing we clopped outside and hit the slopes with my mom, cousins, and another ten family friends.

Later that afternoon we collected our skis outside an Alm and stepped inside for a drink.

“Next time we stop somewhere on the slopes we should all swap skis with each other so no one steals them,” my mom said.

But we didn’t think to go back outside and swap skis, we wanted a beer. Post après-ski, we hobbled back outside to collect our gear except Ryan’s demo skis were nowhere to be found.

He circled around the Alm, getting excited about any red pair of Head skis, to no avail. It was around this time that we started to question not having signed a contract of any kind for the skis.

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Without skis Ryan had no way to get down the mountain so my cousin Marius threw him on his back and lugged him down the hill. At the rental shop the owner seemed unsurprised by stolen skis and admitted that they don’t insure their skis—because then people steal them—but he handed over another pair for Ryan so the eight-day ski marathon could continue.

Five days later with tired backs and sore knees we woke up to a powder-coated landscape that couldn’t be ignored. We rushed to suit up and take advantage of the fresh snow before the masses tore it up.

We surfed on the clouds all morning until all of the snow was chopped and churned and our jackets were soaked from inside and out. With knees more beat up than when the day began, we trudged back into the hotel for warm showers, hot food, and a good night’s rest for one more bout of skiing the next day.

London, England 2019 by William Bryan

My cousin Jared was set to graduate from the National Film and Television School at the end of March; so my dad and I planned on meeting in London to celebrate his graduation as well as recent engagement.

But life had other plans.

Less than a week before my dad was scheduled to fly to the UK his partner slipped on a pesky patch of ice in the Sierra Nevada mountains and broke his back. Logically, this meant that my dad needed to stay home in California and ensure that a drugged and mostly bed-ridden Vince made a speedy recovery.

So I was forced to tough-out London on my own.

OK, maybe tough-out isn't the right phrase. My aunt and uncle wine-and-dined me to the moon and back and it felt more like a luxury cruise than a struggle of any sort. From sun-up to sun-down on Saturday the five of us (Aunt Sandi, Uncle Jack, Jared and his fiancée) hopped from beer to beer with champagne in between.

We started the day by taking the train from Kings Cross to Cambridge where our first stop was lunch, of course. I excitedly stuffed fish and chips down my gullet and washed it all down with a pint of local ale.

From there we meandered (slowly, remember the pint of ale) through the charming old town before snagging a bottle of champagne for our punt ride on the River Cam—we were celebrating a master's degree and an engagement after all. I may have snuck a couple of cans of pre-made Pimm's Cup aboard also. After the leisure cruise we made the logical next stop—more beer—before walking back to the train for London.

As if all of that wasn't enough we decided we needed to go out with a bang at Le Relais de Venise, a French restaurant with no menu and only one delicious option: steak and fries. After plenty of beef and potatoes and three bottles of wine we rolled ourselves out of the restaurant and made our way home.

The next morning I woke up with a headache (no idea why) and slowly made my way to the British Museum (to look at artifacts stolen from all around the world) and Hyde Park before taking the Heathrow Express to the airport.

And finally, as reconciliation for such a taxing weekend British Airways consoled me with a completely empty row of seats to spread out on for the short flight back to Berlin.

Costa Rica 2018 by William Bryan

The original inspiration for this trip was to get scuba certified. I’ve always wanted to explore beneath the waves that I’ve spent so much time in, and Costa Rica seemed like a great place to do it. Unfortunately, after arriving in Central America we started to drop like flies to an unknown sickness. A sickness that claimed five of the six of us, sparing only me.

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After arriving in San Jose late the night before on the tail end of a long travel day from Berlin, we woke up early for our bus ride to the mountains for white water rafting. Along the way our bus driver made sure to pull over and snag some fresh tamales from a woman standing at the kitchen window of her village home.

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After suiting up and getting on the water we got our asses kicked by a drill-sergeant of a raft guide on our way down the river. No matter how hard we paddled it was never hard enough in his eyes.

From the river, we made our way into the rainforest for a few days of hiking around volcano basins in search of birds, insects and monkeys.

As we chased monkeys through the trees by following the sounds of their screeches we were forced to dodge the water droplets falling from leaves above our heads. We couldn’t help but notice that the water always seemed to only drop where we were standing, as if the monkeys were waging war on us outsiders.

From the lush, wet forests we made our way to the coast for a few days of sun and sand before heading back to cold, dark Berlin. While at the coast the three of us that weren’t sick (yet) got our scuba certifications in murky water with hundreds of fish, eels and sharks. The two others that had just completed their certifications with me promptly fell ill the next day.

Surrounded by sickness on New Year’s Eve I walked to the beach alone and watched the sad fireworks show of the local sailing club by myself. The show—orchestrated by the sailing club owner with a barbecue lighter in his hand and 2019 glasses on his face—consisted of a few barrages and maybe two dozen roman candles bursting loudly over the bay.

After taking pictures I wandered back to the sleepy house we were staying at and promptly fell asleep, ten minutes after midnight.

Rome, Italy 2018 by William Bryan

Paolo shot me a message in early November asking when was a good weekend to visit Berlin.

"The weekend of December 7th should be good," I said.

Jonas shot me a message, also in early November, telling me (not asking) we were flying to either Amsterdam or hot springs outside of Rome on the weekend of December 7th.

I wasn't sure which direction to fly so I made a group chat with two people who had never met.

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Introducing two strangers…

"Paolo, meet Jonas. Jonas, meet Paolo," I typed.

"Where’s the location for this? Cuz if it’s near Rome, I have an apartment there we could stay in," Paolo messaged.

Rome it is, I thought. We booked our flights a week later along with a petite Fiat 500 for the two hour drive north of Rome to the hot springs.

I wasn't sure what to expect when I got off the plane to meet up with the other two who'd never met before—they both arrived a few hours before me and spent the afternoon together—but they bantered like old friends in the front seat while I squeezed into the cramped back seat of the Fiat. Apparently the trip was off to a good start.

I asked what we actually planned on doing over the next two days and this is what the fast-friends in the front seat responded with in a quick stream of ideas: pizza for dinner, hot springs in the morning, lunch in Tuscany on our way back, pasta dinner in Rome, and who knows for Sunday, maybe the Colosseum. There was a short silence in the car as we took it all in and then we laughed at how ridiculous it all sounded. But that didn't stop us from sticking to our imagined itinerary.

After stuffing our faces with local pizza that night (✓) we drove the Fiat 500 north to the hot springs the next morning (✓). After soaking in the warm waters for a couple of hours we headed back to Rome and ate lunch in a butcher shop in Manciano, Tuscany along the way (✓). Unplanned moments included accidentally passing some ancient Roman ruins and flying Jonas' drone over them while parked on the side of the freeway and joining in on Manciano's petite Christmas parade after lunch at the butcher shop.

Waking up the next morning the worse for wear from the evening's wine we slowly packed up our things and made our way into the city. Jonas and I explored the Colosseum and ate gelato outside it’s walls while Paolo met with family. Then the other two left for the airport, leaving me in the city with a few hours to kill before my own flight. In only three hours of solo wandering I saw the Altar de Patria, Trevi Fountain, Pantheon, and Vatican City (including stumbling into St. Peter's Basilica just as the Sunday Evening Mass began).

I made my way to the airport after it got dark and taking photos got tough. As I sat on the train I stared out the window and thought in amazement at how much I'd managed to do in two days in Rome.

Iceland 2018 - Part 2 by William Bryan

“These renowned, dramatic cliffs on the headland beside Bjargtangar Lighthouse, extend for 12km. Ranging from 40m to 400m they're mobbed by nesting seabirds in early summer,” my dad read from the Lonely Planet guide to Iceland.

“Yeah, that’s what I’m excited about, we get to take pictures of puffins! And not the nasty cereal,” I replied excitedly.

“No, you didn’t hear me. Nesting seabirds in the early summer,” my dad taunted.

And then it hit me. This 800-kilometer detour into Iceland’s west fjords was motivated, in large part, by a plethora of photogenic seabirds that nested on the westernmost part of the island. And they wouldn’t even be there.

We decided to press on and hope that, for some reason, there might be some stragglers in the puffin flock. As we drove further towards the cliffs my dad checked the weather and turned pale.

“You sure we want to make it all the way out to the cliffs? There’s a storm with 40 m.p.h. winds coming in tonight. Just after sundown,” my dad said.

I distractedly thought about how fast 40 miles per hour was as I slowly navigated the winding road that was carved out of a cliff’s edge.
“Oh we’ll be fine,” I mumbled as I eyed the front right tire, and the crumbled rock that ended just beyond it. I had other things on my mind than a little wind.

Both Lonely Planet and the weather app were spot on: no birds at the cliffs, and epic wind gusts and buckets of rain pelted the van and pop-top as we tried to sleep that night.

After the sleepless night, we were ecstatic at the site of our first geothermal hot spring on the side of the road. We gingerly inspected it, half expecting it to not be real, or warm. But when we found that it was both entirely real and hot enough for soaking—we rushed back to the car to change.

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After enjoying ourselves in the warm waters with some Dutch travelers for a while we noticed some ominous clouds sweeping towards us quickly.

“That’s my cue to leave, nice to meet you,” I yelled behind me as I sprinted up the stone steps.

As I slammed the sliding door to the van shut behind me I heard the rain bounce off the roof above me. I looked out the windshield for my dad and as he rounded the corner the rain turned to hail.

He yelped as he clambered into the van and said, “man, you’ve got great timing. I definitely don’t.”

We laughed at what we were certain would be the last misfortune on the trip.

Two hours later we meandered along more bumpy dirt roads, nearly out of the west fjords, when I felt like the car was sliding around on the mud more than before.

“Something feels off,” I told my dad.

“Yeah,” he said. “This whole Junker that we’ve been in for two weeks is off.”

“No, more than before,” I said as I pulled over. “Will you hop out and give everything a look?”

As soon as he hopped out of the passenger door he deflated.

“You’ve got to be kidding me,” he grumbled.

A flat.

A flat tire in the middle of nowhere on a dirt road in Iceland, only two days before the end of the trip. After assessing the damage, we climbed into the back of the van, donned our most wind-proof gear (thank god it wasn’t raining, also) and got to work. Soon after we started an Italian couple stopped and insisted on helping, and if not for them we wouldn’t have gotten any of the nuts loose from the bolts, our tools just weren’t good enough. They offered a helping hand and a rental car with a better tire-iron.

As we heaved, pulled, pushed and kicked we snapped two rusted bolts in half as we tried to loosen them. Unfortunately, a better tire-iron doesn’t mean good bolts. After an hour of struggling we had the spare tire on the car, with four out of six bolts left to hold it on.

We realized that we weren’t in any position to push the clunky van any further than we absolutely had to so we pushed on towards Reykjavík, passing by some of the most photographed parts of Iceland on the Snæfellsjökull peninsula. After stopping at three mechanics we finally found one who would repair our old tire and thought they could replace the broken bolts (they couldn’t), before we limped on towards the van rental office and the end of our trip in Iceland.

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Iceland 2018 - Part 1 by William Bryan

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The battery was dead. I had left the lights on.

Our hunky, (not so trusty), 10-year-old 4x4 camper van with 250 thousand kilometers on the odometer, wouldn’t start. It was only our second day on the road but we were already hours away from any gas station or mechanic that we might expect to have jumper cables.

“Someone around here has to have some jumper cables, right?” I asked my dad as we sat in the cab of the van with the pouring rain clanging on the roof.

“I’d hope so, but maybe the battery will have some juice left if we just give it some time. Let’s get a cup of coffee in that restaurant while we wait,” he replied.

We clambered out of the van and back into the rain that had soaked us to the bone as we had explored the Skógafoss Waterfall. As we walked through the busy parking lot packed full of cars and tour busses we hoped for the best with the van. But after 30 minutes of coffee, turning the key in the ignition still only granted us a few sad purrs from the starter motor before it fell silent. Exasperated, we were resolved to starting the search for jumper cables.

We asked the restaurant, no luck. We asked the drivers of the tour busses, the monster truck Jeep tours, and the other tourists in campers around us, still no luck. But when I walked into a tiny tourist shop hidden behind the restaurant the man at the counter was happy to go in the back and grab some jumper cables.

Before we knew it, the van’s engine was rumbling thanks to the help of some Swedes, and we were back on the road to the next waterfall.

After killing the battery, we decided to not use the van’s headlights during the day to avoid another mishap. But soon after we pulled out of the parking lot for Skógafoss a car flashed us with their headlights. We rumbled on, clueless as to why it had happened, assuming it was a coincidence. Not more than five minutes later it happened again.

After getting flashed half a dozen times we decided it wasn’t a coincidence, and a quick Google revealed that it was Icelandic law to have your headlights on, day and night. Naturally we decided that we’d have to turn the headlights on and just be extra careful about turning them off when we got out to explore.

So, we were extra surprised when a week later as we rumbled down a pock-marked dirt road on our way back from another waterfall—this time the largest in Iceland, Dettifoss—lights flashed in my face yet again.

“Dad, why are we getting flashed, now?” I asked.

And that’s when I noticed the driver of the car in question was frantically pointing his finger up, towards the roof. I glanced in the side mirror and noticed that the pop-up tent on the roof of our van had popped up because of the bumpy dirt road and a gale force wind blowing from behind us. I slammed on the breaks and we skidded to a stop as my dad looked at me in shock.

“What the hell is wrong,” he asked, surprised.

“The pop-up top popped up,” I yelled as I threw my door open and jumped into the rain and wind.

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My dad was quick to follow and we struggled to pull the top, which was acting like a sail in the wind, back down and lock it into place. After wiping the rain out of our faces, we sat in the warmth of the van and laughed about the struggle, before we continued (more slowly) down the dirt road and on with our adventure.

Reykjavík in a day

23 Phone Backgrounds by William Bryan

For the third year in a row I’m uploading phone backgrounds on my birthday (I’m turning 23, so 23 backgrounds!) for anyone to download. I hope you enjoy the photos and love seeing them every five minutes when you check your phone (even though you don’t have any notifications).

Browse the photos below and feel free to download one for your smartphone background by tapping on it and downloading the image from the new window that opens.

Eagle Pass, California 2018 by William Bryan

“Most people do the John Muir Trail in 30 days, but I think we can do it in 15.”

My cousin Mark had texted me offering a backpacking trip as a graduation present.

“Uhhh, I don’t have 15 days for a trip Cuz. I’m not even going to be in California that long,” I replied.

I figured that was easier than trying to convince him that the JMT in 15 days wasn’t exactly reasonable. After some more texting back and forth that included a few date changes and some gear talk we decided on a three-day trip in California’s Emigrant Wilderness just north of Yosemite. We were both familiar with the area and realized we didn’t have that much time for a wilderness trek after all.

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After running into road closures that added another hour to our drive we got on the trail around noon as we looked at nearby snowy peaks and talked about how lucky we were to be able to find any way into the backcountry this early in the season.

While we hiked my cousin told me about hunting in the region and how he met a Mi Wuk couple who owned a 100-year lease on cattle land that we’d be hiking through. He hoped that they’d already be living in their Cooper Valley homestead at 8,000 feet so he could see them again.

We made quick work of Eagle Pass but still only arrived at the homestead around 5 p.m. because of our late start on the day. The Mi Wuk couple wasn’t there but the little cabins and outhouse made for a picturesque place to make camp so we decided our hike was done for the day.

As we started a fire and cooked dinner we broke into a fifth of Crown Royal that we’d carried in (with its felt sack) to pass the time. A few hours later when we reached the bottom of the bottle and the end of our wood pile we scattered the coals and hit the sack.

Suffer Fest

We woke up the next morning to everything in the valley covered in frost. We made our way over to our camp kitchen to start on coffee and breakfast when we noticed the bottle of Crown Royal sitting in the dirt, empty. Suddenly our headaches made more sense. After the coffee kicked in we got to work planning our day over some hearty homemade granola.

“There’s this peak, Granite Mound, that I’ve seen in the distance when I hunt this area. I’ve always wanted to climb it but never had the chance, you up for it?” Mark asked.

“Sure. We’ve just got to hike through this valley, and this valley, and this valley, and then make this part of the climb to 10,000 feet without a trail,” I said as I pointed at the map that was laid out between us.

“Yup,” he replied, as if it would be as easy as skipping a rock.

We hiked in and out of mosquito infested valleys all morning, crossed a half-dozen streams, and lost the trail in huge swaths of snow along the way, until we finally got a glimpse of Granite Mound two miles in the distance, according to Mark’s GPS. We haphazardly planned our summit route from afar and then embarked on the portion of the hike that was off-trail.

An hour and two false summits later—which dashed my hopes more than I’d like to admit—we stood in the middle of a field of snow with soaked boots and looked up at the summit. It still felt impossibly far away, but there was no way we’d turn back now. We scarfed down some salami sandwiches and gummy bears before we slogged our way to the top as we huffed and puffed from the altitude.

When we finally made it to the top we looked off in the distance at Yosemite Valley and turned in amazement at the 360-degree view that surrounded us. We saw the valley that our camp was in and plumes from forest fires in the distance. I had barely caught my breath when I looked at my watch and thought we should head back home if we didn’t want to be hiking the last mile in the dark.

As we hiked back all of the fields of snow that we’d traversed on the way up became sledding hills on the way back down, and with our tired legs we didn’t care about wet butts.

We were still a valley away from camp when I asked Mark how far he thought we’d walked.

“Today wasn’t that far, I’d guess seven or eight miles.”

“Total? Or one way,” I asked incredulously. There was no way we’d only hiked eight miles, I thought.

“Total,” Mark responded coolly. Don’t forget, this is the same person who thought we could hike the John Muir Trail in half the time that most people do.

I didn’t have the energy to argue so I focused on the trail ahead and the freeze-dried backpacking meal that waited for me at camp.

Our home valley didn’t end up being the warm welcome we were looking for. The three minutes it took the water to boil for dinner felt like an eternity as we were swarmed by what felt like all of the world’s mosquitos. Despite the heat we bundled ourselves in every bit of clothing we had to try and keep them at bay while we ate our food in silence, too exhausted to talk. I was the first to admit defeat in the battle against the bugs and trudged to our tent to lay down and rest. Mark wasn’t far behind.

In a daze, we pulled out the map to sort out how far we’d actually hiked that day. After some quick math, we realized Mark was way off. I wasn’t shy in rubbing it in that his estimate was so far off.

“16 MILES. Ha! Man were you off, Mark. 16 miles to a 10,000-foot peak,” I remarked.

He wasn’t embarrassed to admit how wrong he was as he folded up the map.

We didn’t need Crown Royal or an hour of reading to help us sleep that night as we curled up at 8 p.m. trying to find a position, any position, that didn’t hurt.

Homeward

Compared to the day before the hike home was uneventful. We meandered our way up and out of Cooper Valley and back down to the car, an easy 5-mile stroll. We rinsed off in a stream and cooled off our blister covered feet before getting back on the road. The first place that sold burgers was our first stop on our way back to civilization and crazy times in the world. (Trump and Kim Jong Un met while we were gone.)

Green Mountains, Vermont 2018 by William Bryan

I’ve always wanted to be a weekend-warrior, but let’s face it, packing up and exploring the wilderness for a long weekend isn’t that feasible for most people. It takes a fair amount of gear, knowledge of the wild places near where you live, and the foresight to reserve a campground weeks or months in advance. Some people might be able to check all of those boxes, but then when they think about how unorganized and packed-away all of their camping gear is, it suddenly becomes easier to stay at home and tell yourself you’ll clean up the garage.

The other day a friend mentioned a spot up north in Vermont that he used to camp at for free when he was younger so three of us decided on a whim that we’d do a 3-day trip in the middle of the week and earn our ‘weekend-warrior’ stripes.

The morning we planned on leaving we woke up to a forecast dominated by rain. The sky was expected to clear up around 5 p.m. so we timed our 3-hour drive around that and kept our fingers crossed for fair weather when we arrived.

A couple of Dunkin stops and plenty of rain later we pulled into our campground just as the drizzle started to give way to purple skies over Grout Pond. We set up camp as the only other campers around meandered across the water in a canoe in search of fish.

The next morning we summited Mount Equinox—which still had snow on the trail—to earn our dinner and a cold dip in the water by our campsite before we drove back to the hustle and bustle of the city.

Seattle, Washington 2017 by William Bryan

Olympic National Forest is only 26 miles from Seattle as the crow flies, but driving there involves navigating Puget Sound, a dozen other beautiful little bays, and more than 2 hours on the road. But I still had my parks pass and I’d be damned if I didn’t get my money’s worth so of course I insisted on dragging Sach and Kev to Olympic National Forest. We had no idea where to go once we got there but we thought we’d just ask some rangers at the visitor center for some hike recommendations.

The southern fork of the Skokomish River.

After an early wake-up and two-and-a-half hours on the road our phones told us we were in the national forest but there was no visitor center to be seen. We turned back to the nearest town and noticed a small community center that looked almost like a visitor center and hoped they might have some info for us. Inside we found an elderly volunteer that was short on hiking guidance but full of kindness. She had two hiking recommendations: a flat 4-mile river trail or a 2.5-mile, 3,000-foot climb to the summit of Mount Elinor. We wanted expansive view’s more than a meandering water-way so we decided to concede our distance goals and tackle the summit of Mount Elinor instead.

It turned out that 3,000 feet in only 2.5 miles isn’t much of a hike, it’s more like climbing a ladder—straight up. After a couple hours of huffing and puffing our way up the steep barren slopes of Mount Elinor we arrived at the top to expansive views of Olympic National Park and Oregon’s Mount Hood in the distance to the south. After scarfing down our lunches, we hung out with a mountain goat friend and took in the views before sliding our way back down the steep shale mountainside to the car.

After our hike, we drove north into Olympic National Park (just to say we'd been there) and spotted some teenagers enjoying an end-of-summer lake trip with plenty of beer and boulder jumping for those that had the courage.

Lake Cushman boulder-jumpers.

Lake Cushman boulder-jumpers.

Acadia, Maine 2017 by William Bryan

I bought a National Parks Pass for my cross-country road trip last summer and really wanted to get my money’s worth, but Massachusetts doesn’t have much in the way of National Parks. The closest park to Boston is Acadia, way up north in Maine along the water 5 hours away, so our decision was made for us: if there’s only one park around, where else could we go? We looked into going in August when the weather was still balmy in New England but all of the camp sites were reserved through Labor Day so we settled on a weekend in mid-September, keeping our fingers crossed that the weather would stay warm enough for sleeping under the stars.

As we got closer to the park, driving curvy roads in rural Maine, we realized that crossing our fingers hadn’t been enough. Fog as thick as a San Francisco day in June dominated the landscape and forced us to slow down to see the road ahead. The fog was so thick when we got to the park that we couldn’t see more than 100 feet into the ocean. It did mean, however, that our campsite was almost empty, giving us a nice break from the hustle and bustle (and people) of the city.

Over the next two days we hiked the precarious Precipice Trail, explored Bar Harbor, and made sure to scarf down a humongous lobster roll on our way out of town. I’ve never been to Acadia without all the fog but by the end of the weekend getaway I was grateful for the moody fog that enveloped the landscape and added an heir of mystery to the beautiful coastline of Maine.

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Roadtrip 2017 - Part 3 by William Bryan

Old Faithful

We did hardly any research before leaving on the trip. We knew where we were starting (Santa Cruz) and where and when we needed to end up (Boston, July), but that was about it. We didn’t know anything about what hidden gems each National Park holds or even which parks we’d be visiting. The trip really only worked because each park has a helpful pamphlet that lists its top sites. Without it we would’ve driven in circles and seen hardly anything.

And that idea, stumbling into amazing attractions, couldn’t be more true than in Yellowstone. The park is massive and to see everything you’d need at least a week (which I don’t recommend). So the park’s pamphlet became our savior. We spent two days driving from geyser to geyser and hot spring to hot spring before finally making it to Old Faithful.

Old Faithful is a geyser that, true to its name, is the largest and most consistent stream of boiling water in Yellowstone. It blasts water up to 165 feet every 60 to 110 minutes, like clockwork. People come from far and wide to see this thing, and they look up it’s predicted eruption time before they come (rangers can predict its eruption to within 10 minutes, usually).

These are all factoids that every Yellowstone visitor knows. Except us.

We drove into the parking lot, pulled into the last space available, meandered over to the geyser’s viewing stands (yes, like a stadium) and squeezed between some of the other thousands of people. After about five minutes and no spectacular show we started to wonder what all the fuss was about.

"Stadium" seating

"Stadium" seating

What kind of world-famous geyser doesn’t shoot any water?

After 15 minutes of waiting Camille was ready to leave but I was willing to give it five more minutes. Not a minute later the hole in the ground started to bubble and the hole crowd cheered. Yes, cheered. Like a football game. After a few minutes of gurgling on the surface the real show began.

Old Faithful errupting right on time.

Old Faithful errupting right on time.

The next morning we woke up early to drive to our next stop, Badlands. On our way out of Yellowstone we were stopped by white-butted deer and porcupines who weren't expecting any tourists so early.

Roadtrip 2017 - Part 2 by William Bryan

Rain in Grand Teton

We were blessed with sunny, cloud-free skies from Santa Cruz to Salt Lake City, but when we pulled up to our campsite in Grand Teton it started to rain. Hard. As we unloaded gear into the bear box at the campsite we realized that if it kept raining this hard through the night the rain-fly on our tent wouldn’t be enough. We’d be sleeping in a puddle if we didn’t figure something else out.

In current #vanlife fashion we started putting everything, not just food, into the bear box to make room in the car for a sleeping set up. Our road trip SUV wasn’t a small car, but being 6’3” means you need all the room you can get. So after some time spent puzzling containers into the bear box and rigging a tarp to cover the things that didn’t fit we had just enough room in the car for me to sleep.

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Despite the humidity and the cramped sleeping set up it felt perfectly cozy after a long day of driving and hiking in Grand Teton.

When we woke up I went to check on the gear that was left outside and found a few subtle clues that we’d had a visitor in the night: a fallen backpack, scratches on my duffle bag, and little pieces of fur clinging to a strap. Bear boxes really were necessary, after all.

Roadtrip 2017 - Part 1 by William Bryan

I’ve always wanted to go on a proper road trip (without your parents, no hotels, pounding coffee to stay awake on horribly long drives, you know the type) and this summer I finally had the opportunity because I needed to get my car from Santa Cruz to Boston for work. Cam and I spent a month driving through 14 states, two countries, 8 national parks and a national monument (the very underwhelming Mt. Rushmore). We camped outside for 20 nights, experienced some of the most amazing views, and only had a few things go wrong. Below are my favorite photos from the trip and a couple of stories of things not going according to plan.

Horseshoe Bend

It goes without saying, but the Grand Canyon is huge. It takes more than an hour to drive between one end of the southern wall and the other, and that drive is dotted with dozens of amazing overlooks and exhausting hikes. While at the visitor center when we first arrived we noticed that one of the “expert” level trails, titled Horseshoe Trail, led hikers 6 miles and thousands of feet down into the canyon to the Colorado River. I’ve seen countless photos of Horseshoe Bend and without a second thought decided that this was the hike we would do.

The next morning we woke up early (by our standards) and got to the trailhead at 8 am. As we laced up our hiking boots a ranger wandered past and made small talk.

“Are you two doing the Horseshoe Trail,” he asked.

“Yup!”

“Getting a late start I see, good luck down there, it’s gonna be hot today!”

We looked at each other and swallowed anxiously, a late start?

I was committed to seeing Horseshoe Bend, though, so I insisted that we weren’t turning back now.

It was already in the high 80s an hour into the hike and suddenly a water bladder and two 40oz water bottles didn’t feel like a lot. It didn’t take long for us to question if we’d started the hike too late. Why weren’t we seeing more people on the trail? Do we have enough water? Should we turn back? We trudged on, though, my stubbornness getting the better of us. I had to see Horseshoe Bend.

It wasn't until we made it to the bottom of the canyon several hours later that I noticed nothing looked like the pictures of Horseshoe Bend that I'd seen before. I realized I’d forgotten to ask a crucial question: what if there’s more than one horseshoe shaped bend?

As we hiked the final mile towards the cliff’s edge in the bottom of the canyon I asked myself if this looked like any of the iconic photos I’d seen on Instagram. I hated to admit it to myself, let alone Cam, but it was completely different. The rock was the wrong color, there were too many plants, and not nearly enough tourists.

We spent five pissed-off minutes at the canyon edge thinking about our mistakes before turning around to hike the 6 miles back up to the car.

As we drove from the Grand Canyon to Antelope Canyon the next day Cam teased me about the mistake for the third time. I asked her to look up where the REAL Horseshoe Bend was and much to our surprise it was 30 minutes away on our way to Antelope Canyon.

A half-hour later we pulled into a large dirt parking lot at 7 am and hiked the ½ mile path to the real Horseshoe Bend. It was comically easy compared to our hike the day before. We joked about our mistakes as we watched the sunrise before we jumped back into the car and continued our drive.

White Mountains, New Hampshire 2017 by William Bryan

Jay is a varsity athlete on the track and field team. I’m not.

Jay runs ~70 miles a week to train. I don’t run. Ever.

Jay likes suffering, it’s why he likes running. I can’t say no.

That’s how we ended up hiking 23 miles and 5,000 feet in elevation in two days.

I woke up that Monday morning craving the outdoors so I walked across the hall and asked my roommate if he wanted to go backpacking over weekend.

Jay before coffee

Jay before coffee

As soon as Jay (plus the late addition of an old coworker) got off of work on Friday night we loaded into my car and hit the road. We crashed at a campsite a few miles from our trailhead Friday night and got up early Saturday to hike. When we made it to the parking lot Jay looked at the map and suggested we scrap the hikes I’d looked up and go for one he noticed on the sign.

The trail he proposed was an 8-mile hike to our campsite with the option to make it a loop by taking a different route on our way back the next day. It seemed to offer better views than any of the ones I’d found online so we went for it.

Day 1 was mild for the most part: seemingly flat for the first half and only a slight incline until close to the very end when we climbed up a dry waterfall. We got to our campsite mid-afternoon and hung out until just after sunset before passing out.

When we woke up the next morning we decided that we didn’t want to hike back the same way we’d come. Jay guestimated that we were 45% done with the loop so we said “why not?” and went for it.

Day 2 was the hardest, most grueling 8 hours of hiking I’ve ever done.

We were most definitely NOT almost halfway done after the first day. We were maybe a third of the way around the loop.

Hiking along the Franconia Ridge Trail we went up and down peak after peak. It didn’t take long before I completely zoned out and focused on putting one foot in front of the other.

Chiang Mai, Thailand 2017 by William Bryan

This is the fifth and final post in a five-part series from a trip to Southeast Asia in May, 2017 with Sach and Goose. Check out the first four from Hong KongHanoi, Hạ Long Bay, and Bangkok if you haven't already and hang tight, more travel stories are on the way!


We had already ridden motor scooters in Hanoi but we wanted to explore the countryside outside of Chiang Mai with the same freedom. So rather than booking a tour bus we opted for cheap scooters and a loose plan of how to get to a nearby national park. With Sachin in the lead we headed towards a national park outside of the city. After riding scooters in Vietnam we all felt more comfortable on the road so Sach wasn’t shy about passing semi’s and tour busses alike on the narrow two lane roads. Goose and I had no choice but to keep up so we pulled back on the throttle and weaved dangerously around traffic.

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As we neared the national park the roads got empty. Fields of crops became more common than houses and the road went from two lanes to one. I was in the lead now and with less traffic and windy roads I decided to have some fun with it and push my riding skills more than before.

No more than five minutes after we left the highway for small back roads we came across a tight bend in the road. I put my motorcycle training to the test and took the turn in textbook fashion (outside, inside, outside). The problem with pushing my riding skills, though, was that I failed to impart the same knowledge on the other two.

I slowed as much as possible before leaning into the turn and pulling on the throttle as I rounded out of the curve, grinning at having used my little bit of motorcycle riding know-how successfully. That’s when I heard it: the telltale scraping of a motorcycle on asphalt. I looked over my shoulder just in time to see Goose skidding along the pavement behind his yellow scooter.

A slammed on the brakes and gunned it back towards the crash where I helped Goose stand up while Sach picked up the fallen scooter. After a moment of shock, I pulled out my travel first aid kit and tried my best to help. As we poured water on his five patches of road rash we realized just how deep the scrapes were.

The turn in question.

The turn in question.

I was on my last disinfecting swab when a truck drove past us on the side of the road and came to a stop as the driver asked us in Thai if everything was ok (I think). We mimed out a scooter crash to the best of our ability and the man pulled his truck over and got out. It was then that we noticed he was a fireman. He looked Goose over and I tried to ask if he had a first aid kit, mine was used up. He didn’t have any kit in his truck but he got busy on his walkie-talkie as we looked at him in confusion.

After some more miming we figured out that he had called the station and a paramedic crew was on it’s way. Goose, Sach, and I looked at each other and finally let out all of the pent up stress with a sigh. It was a bad turn of events but we couldn’t have been luckier than having a fireman drive past.

Goose’s shock dissipated and the pain started to kick in as we waited 15 minutes for the paramedics.

After what felt like an eternity of Goose pacing back and forth anxiously a red pickup truck with two guys pulled up and dropped the tailgate. Goose sat down on the back and the medics got to work. He let out groans and screams of pain as they poured disinfectant on his bloody scrapes. Thai and Americans alike looked at each other and started to chuckle at his funny pained noises.

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No one spoke the other’s language and all we could do was laugh at how ridiculous the moment felt.

After a few minutes of expert care from the Thai fire crew their work was done: tons of disinfectant and a handful of taped on gauze strips. We tried to pay them but they refused any money. Instead, they agreed to take a picture with Goose all patched up.

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After the photo the guys piled into their trucks and pulled back onto the road, no doubt laughing at the dumb American tourists who don’t know how to ride. We gave Goose a few more minutes to calm his nerves before we climbed on the scooters and continued on our way to the national park.

The real reason we were set on going to Chiang Mai wasn’t more scooters, but elephants. The city is nestled amongst the mountains in northwestern Thailand, in the heart of elephant territory. We’d heard of the inhumane conditions of many of Thailand’s elephant parks so after finding one that was known for it’s fair treatment of the animals we booked a tour.

It’s hard to imagine the unique fear associated with standing next to an animal that could kill you by sitting down. But when we first stepped up to the elephants that thought was definitely in the back of my mind. We watched as our guide roughhoused with little babies and within minutes we were hugging their trunks and getting surprise hickeys; most of the fear of the animals replaced by joy.

We spent the rest of the day helping out with the caretaker’s daily tasks. We fed them sugar cane snacks and helped them walk off the food after. Then we watched as they played in the mud and then jumped into the pond with them to scrub the dirt off of their backs.

It was surprisingly tiring work, especially when you have to wrestle one of the beasts in the right direction on the trail. After a thorough shower we climbed back on the bus and passed out after both a long day at the elephant park and an exhausting 17-day adventure around Southeast Asia.

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22 Phone Backgrounds by William Bryan

Browse the photos below and feel free to download one for your iPhone or Android background.

Tap and hold on any photo and open it in a new web browser page, then tap and hold again to download it to your photos app.