Rock climbing in Maple Canyon, UT

Cobble stone is pretty unique and people come from all over the world to climb at Maple Canyon.

Cobble stone is pretty unique and people come from all over the world to climb at Maple Canyon.

Signs of spring. Last time we were here, it was fall (the best time to visit Maple Canyon with all the maple trees changing colors).

Signs of spring. Last time we were here, it was fall (the best time to visit Maple Canyon with all the maple trees changing colors).

We found the perfect campsite minutes away from the crags.

We found the perfect campsite minutes away from the crags.

Sleeping with the sound of a river makes for such peaceful nights.

Sleeping with the sound of a river makes for such peaceful nights.

The Pipeline (Left Fork area)

The Pipeline (Left Fork area)

Aisha on Double the Beef for a Buck (Fast Food Joint). Poor Stout was so stressed to see us up the wall.

Aisha on Double the Beef for a Buck (Fast Food Joint). Poor Stout was so stressed to see us up the wall.

Exploring Box Canyon.

Exploring Box Canyon.

Inside Box Canyon.

Inside Box Canyon.

Reading time at Orangutan Wall.

Reading time at Orangutan Wall.

Climbing at the Road Kill wall just before it started hailing.

Climbing at the Road Kill wall just before it started hailing.

The stunning view from Early Bird crag.

The stunning view from Early Bird crag.

Heart rock features a 4 star 3 pitch climb called Tachycardia. On the right, you can see JF on the last pitch, in blue on the top left.

Heart rock features a 4 star 3 pitch climb called Tachycardia. On the right, you can see JF on the last pitch, in blue on the top left.

Can you spot JF?

Can you spot JF?

Climbing with friends is the best!

Climbing with friends is the best!

Look at this rock! It's begging to be climbed!

Look at this rock! It's begging to be climbed!

It was really fun to reconnect with our friends from Live Small Ride Free.

It was really fun to reconnect with our friends from Live Small Ride Free.

As we left the warm climate of Moab and Goblin Valley (literally too hot to bike most days for us now), we drove through Capitol Reef National Park and crossed many remote villages of Central Utah to finally get to our coveted destination: Maple Canyon, 3 miles from the little town of Freedom and about 2 hours south of Salt Lake City. Maple Canyon's unique cobble stone walls attract climbers from all over the world. It is located at 6,700 feet of elevation and we weren't even sure if the climbing season had started there since the campground was not officially open yet. 

If you decide to climb there, or if you just come to explore this beautiful area, please remember that canyon amplifies sound. A lot. And don't be jerks like the family climbing beside us with 12 children screaming their head off while climbers are trying to communicate with their belayers. This is basic rock climbing etiquette: keep your voice low, don't walk into a belayer's space - and step on his rope - and please, keep your dog on a leash if you can't control him.

Maple Canyon is the first place the girls climbed outside 5 years ago and we had been eager to come back ever since climbing this cool conglomerate type rock. We were very happy to find the perfect camping spot big enough for our rig and free, just outside the National Forest (I logged it here on Campendium if you want more info). 

Moutain biking at Goblin Valley State Park

Walking through Goblin Valley is a must! Go early or even better, at sunset, to beat the crowd.

Walking through Goblin Valley is a must! Go early or even better, at sunset, to beat the crowd.

Looking at agates and jasper on the Buffalo Head trail.

Looking at agates and jasper on the Buffalo Head trail.

Mathilde, JF and Aisha ran part of the trail system.

Mathilde, JF and Aisha ran part of the trail system.

Finding geodes.

Finding geodes.

View from the Landslide trail.

View from the Landslide trail.

Mara by the San Rafael Swell (Dark Side of the Moon trail).

Mara by the San Rafael Swell (Dark Side of the Moon trail).

Molly's Castle (on Desert View Trail).

Molly's Castle (on Desert View Trail).

Lizard Foot trail.

Lizard Foot trail.

Goblin Valley State Park is known for its Goblin Valley... most people drive in, walk around the Goblins and leave. First, you can plan for a longer hike since there are 3 valleys of Goblins, but I highly suggest you explore the other side of the park which is also totally spectacular and much less crowded. A beautiful bike trail system was developed a year and a half ago and seemed to be barely ridden or hiked. We were there on Good Friday and by 9:30, the Goblin parking lot was full, but the parking lot for this little gem of a trail system remained empty all day (we only saw two persons on the whole 12 km ride!).

If you don't want to bike the whole thing or if you'd rather hike it, I highly suggest you make a bee line to The Dark Side of the Moon trail that leads you along the San Rafael Swell. It'll be a 3-4 miles hike well worth it and you'll likely have the place to yourself (a good plan on busy weekends). 

I suggest you camp just outside Goblin Valley in a beautiful and free BLM called South Temple Wash. You could come see the Goblins at sunset when it's less crowded (the best light, since the morning sun is lighting them from the back, as in my pictures, not ideal). 

I've found out about these trails on the Trailfork app (I highly recommend you use it since the flower petal like trail system is a bit confusing even if there are signs at most intersections, there are lots of Do not enter sign that could keep you going in circles if you're not careful - we ended up doing some of the trails counterclockwise). I found this page to be the most informative about the trail system, even if it is a bit outdated, the info is still pretty accurate. Lots of sandy spots still (be careful of the sandy g-outs - sharp dips into washes - lots of them...). If you're planing to ride there, I suggest you start with the Buffalo Head trail clockwise - you'll be stopping all the time in the beginning to check out all the agates, jasper, geodes and quartz along the trail. If you're keep (and riding with kids), bring a small hammer to crack open some rocks and find geodes!

Then, skip the Landslide trail (the landscape is beautiful, but the trail is still pretty sandy). See this from the page mentioned above: While much of the trail is already firmly packed, there are long soft stretches which will tax even strong riders. The worst was a 0.4 mile stretch on the northwest side of the Landslide loop riding clockwise. Although it climbed only 100 vertical feet, the soft red dirt felt like grunting up Puke Hill. With the brakes rubbing. Into the wind. Towing a fat kid in a trailer.

Yeah, we got confused and rode it and it's pretty bang on. 

Then, head to The Dark side of the Moon (ride it clockwise, even if there is a Do not Enter sign), the most beautiful trail that leads you along the San Rafael Swell (so close at times, that I walked my bike...). Then proceed to Desert View for more lookouts and if you feel comfortable with off-camber AND exposed trails, come down through Lizard foot (or do like me, and walk many sections!).

Moab, 2017 Edition

Intrepid Trail, Deadhorse State Park.

Intrepid Trail, Deadhorse State Park.

Big Chief Trail, Deadhorse State Park.

Big Chief Trail, Deadhorse State Park.

Cross Canyon trail, Klonzo North trail system.

Cross Canyon trail, Klonzo North trail system.

We went to the Outerbike Moab bike festival, tried some great bikes and scored some nice swag!

We went to the Outerbike Moab bike festival, tried some great bikes and scored some nice swag!

Demoing bikes at the Outerbike festival. Riding North 40 in the Moab Brand (Bar M) trail system.

Demoing bikes at the Outerbike festival. Riding North 40 in the Moab Brand (Bar M) trail system.

Circle-O trail, Moab Brand trail system.

Circle-O trail, Moab Brand trail system.

Bull run trail (Mag 7 trail system).

Bull run trail (Mag 7 trail system).

Bull run trail (Mag 7 trail system).

Bull run trail (Mag 7 trail system).

Gemini Bridges Rd.

Gemini Bridges Rd.

Beautiful campsite among the boulders (only accessible for short 4 X 4 high clearance rigs). I posted it here on Campendium if you'd like the coordinates.

Beautiful campsite among the boulders (only accessible for short 4 X 4 high clearance rigs). I posted it here on Campendium if you'd like the coordinates.

View from Gemini Bridges Rd.

View from Gemini Bridges Rd.

Driving on Gemini Bridges Rd.

Driving on Gemini Bridges Rd.

Rocky Tops trail (Navajo Rocks trail system).

Rocky Tops trail (Navajo Rocks trail system).

Rocky Tops trail (Navajo Rocks trail system).

Rocky Tops trail (Navajo Rocks trail system).

Ramblin trail (Navajo Rocks trail system).

Ramblin trail (Navajo Rocks trail system).

Chisholm trail (Horsethief trail system).

Chisholm trail (Horsethief trail system).

Big Mesa trail (Navajo Rocks trail system).

Big Mesa trail (Navajo Rocks trail system).

Big Mesa trail (Navajo Rocks trail system)

Big Mesa trail (Navajo Rocks trail system)

Big Mesa trail (Navajo Rocks trail system)

Big Mesa trail (Navajo Rocks trail system)

Trying to play the trumpet with Stéphane.

Trying to play the trumpet with Stéphane.

Our beautiful campsite on Dalton Wells Rd.

Our beautiful campsite on Dalton Wells Rd.

I've already written a lot about Moab since it is our 4th time here (I published a long post containing lots of practical info last year), but we still had a long list of trails to ride. We stayed in Moab 3 weeks this year and rode almost daily, so we checked pretty much our whole bucket list! The Navajo Rocks sector blew our mind (Big Mesa was a favorite) as well as Bull Run (Mag 7).

We went back to Milt's as is our tradition for the girls birthday now and discovered that the food is much better if you eat inside than outside (that was the Milt's we knew from 5 years ago - we had been disappointed in the quality of the food in the last few years). The space inside is very limited (a snack bar counter and two tables, but it's well worth waiting at the back door for a party to leave - it is still much faster than doing the line outside and waiting 45 min to be served).

We drove the whole Gemini Bridges Rd in the Westy. This year, we ended up staying on Dalton Wells Road since Willow Springs was very crowded. We found a great spot off the main road along some beautiful green cliffs. It gets pretty windy on those flats sometimes, but there's no avoiding it in that area. Just keep your awnings in check.

We also discovered a great place to get awesome espresso without having to wait in line at Moab Espresso and Gelato, it's a little bike shop café called Bike Fiend

We spent a lot of time at the Poison Spider bike shop since our bikes got damaged just before we got to Moab when a trucker backed up in our Westy while we were parked in a truck stop to cook dinner one night. Lucky for us, the trucker's insurance company was great and covered all the damages and bike rentals while the bikes were getting fixed (JF got a brand new bike). We had great service and if ever you need anything while in town, go see Russell, one of the managers, he's really an awesome person!


If you really knew me...

You would know that I sometimes feel like a fraud. I’ve been climbing on and off for 20 years and I still struggle on a 5.9. Granted, I’ve never committed to it seriously and never really trained (if it’s boring, I’m not doing it, I don’t train, I play). I can’t call myself a beginner in mountain biking, but I often make rookie mistakes. I walk most of the hills, I have a panic attack when I am too out of breath and I grunt like a woman in labor while trying to do power moves…

I have strong legs, but poor cardio (see higher: I don’t train). I’m a strange mix of adventurous daredevil and anxious wuss. I’m not a natural at sports, physical things don’t come easily to me. I learn and improve *very* slowly.

I was the kid that was often picked up last in the teams in Phys. Ed. I was the kid that hid at recess to not have to play dodge ball. I was the kid that was scared to bike to school. I was the kid who didn’t do any sports *for fun*. Oh, I danced and even went to semi-professional ballet school in Italy at 18, but at 5 feet tall, they didn’t even consider me for an audition…

I’m not the typical wiry, sinewy rugged looking woman you see on the trails that seem to be born with a bike under her and flows and flies with her every turn.

Why do I keep doing it then? Some days, I have wondered that, but I do less and less. As long as the fun vs fear/frustration ratio is leaning on the right side, I’ll keep at it. I’m just happy to be out there with my family, heart pumping, learning alongside my girls. They are actually the ones teaching me now, calling the features ahead (big drop on the left mom! Tight sandy corner!), cheering for me and waiting for me. It’s awesome and humbling. But growing is pretty humbling.

All I want to say is that: you don’t need to be born with the athletic gene to enjoy yourself out there. This is not a select club, even if it might look like one from the outside.

After reading an inspiring article last year, I’ve stopped saying: “sorry to keep you waiting” every time I go on rides with people that have to stop for me to catch up with them at intersections, but rather: “thanks for waiting”! It’s not a small difference. It’s like saying: I’m proud to be out here even if I’ll probably never be the one who waits for others, but I’m doing it and having fun!

And to all the guys who wish their girlfriend would love mountain biking, don’t bring her on your favorite trail the first time, she probably won’t like it. Rent her a good full squish bike with big tires and ask the bike shop if they have a woman saddle (trust me, those cheap hard men saddles they put on rental bikes make the ride much less enjoyable). Take her on a fun green trail (I know green doesn’t rhyme with fun in your head, but try to remember what it feels like to be a beginner). Pack a lunch (with beer!) and take picture breaks on top of hills so she doesn’t feel like you’re stopping just for her to catch her breath. Tell her you’re happy to be out here with her and that you don’t care to do an easier ride if it means riding with her (go do a harder ride before, so you’re nice and relax and full of endorphins!). Remember that most of us don’t like feeling vulnerable in a situation like this (me, well, you’re reading that post, vulnerability is my second name), especially in a discipline in which you kick our butts. Be reassuring and understanding. And try to have fun! 

**The pictures are from our hike to the Fisher Towers in Moab. It was the most beautiful hike we did in that area. A real Dr. Seuss landscape. The first picture was taken on the morning of my birthday when we were woken up by a hot air balloon taking flight just outside our bedroom windows!

Sedona, Sedona!

Hike to Devil's Bridge.

One of the views on Devil's Bridge Trail.

Red rock scrambling on the Devil's Bridge hike.

Look carefully, the girls are standing on the bridge! A bit nerve wracking for a mom!

We spent a lot of time by the river near the Mezcal trailhead, building structures, cooling off and washing ourselves a bit.

Reading by the river during the hottest time of day.

Exploring ruins on the West Fork Trail.

The first of many river crossings on West Fork Trail.

Many beautiful evening by the fire with our friends.

Meeting people on the road and traveling with others is one of the most amazing parts of this lifestyle. Needless to say, it’s also one of the most challenging. Setting boundaries when sharing the same public space is not easy. Making plans as a group can be an exhausting task.

But karma is an interesting beast (bonus points if you use the word Karma while in Sedona, extra bonus points if you can combine it with the word Vortex in the same sentence). So it is that I get plenty of opportunities to practice... a vortex of opportunity ;)

I love meeting new people. I am also pretty active on social media, so I am in touch with great people living on the road. After 4 years of this life, we’ve had lots of amazing encounters... and a few harder ones. This week, we had a miscommunication with a family we were eager to meet and the whole thing turned sour. People got their feelings hurt and I felt like shit. So long for trying to be more assertive and honest in setting boundaries...

So back to Sedona. It’s a gorgeous place, but man it’s touristy... We had to go on bike rides and hikes early in the morning to beat the crowd (lots of retired people hiking the trails and young spring breakers, which makes for not-so-flowy bike rides)... It feels like Sedona’s infrastructure has not adapted to the amount of visitors (or maybe it’s all part of the business plan). The trailhead parking lots are almost always overflowing along the roads, the roundabouts in town are always jammed... We were lucky to find a great boondocking spot away from the craziness of the town in West Sedona, near Nolan Tank/Loy Canyon. We were a 12 minutes drive from one of the best trail networks in town and midway between Sedona and Cottonwood (doing laundry and grocery shopping is much cheaper there).

The Crystal crowd is real in Sedona. You can have an aura reading followed by a vortex tour or a UFO tour??... People make eye contact in that I-sense-your-beautiful-spirit kind of way at Safeway... and when I bought chicken necks for the dog at Whole Food, the cashier assumed I was making bone broth, the old lady at the coffee shop who laid hands on our friends’ dog hips saying she was sensing pain without first acknowledging them (because, you know, connexion with the animal kingdom)... The convergence of these different crowds (the old hippies, the mountain bikers, the retired RV community, the people that come here to do Pink Jeep or Hummer tours and on top of it this week, the Spring Break kids...) makes for quite the combo. But that’s what makes Sedona, Sedona and it’s all part of the experience.

We have explored only a fraction of the trails Sedona has to offer and saved many for next time. Sedona is known for its pretty advanced mountain bike trails and I had heard many times there was nothing except the Bell Rock Path (a wide green trail) that was not hard. We were happy to discover a loop that we really liked near our camp spot that was fun without being too technical (Park at Mezcal trailhead, do Long Canyon + Deadman Pass + Aerie, turn left on Cockscomb, turn left of Dawa, return on the road to trailhead). The Mezcal trail is beautiful (blue-black) if you are comfortable with some exposure (and maybe walking a few pretty rocky sections). For more intermediate/advanced riders, Slim Shady, Templeton and Llama are great. Hiline was JF’s and Antonio’s favorite (solid black). We didn’t get to ride Canyon of Fools, Chuckwagon and many more (JF and Antonio wanted to do the Hogs but ran out of time).

As for hiking, it’s the same network, plus some. We only did two hikes during our week: Devil’s Bridge (the hike itself is only 1 mile to the Bridge, but you have to walk down a rugged Jeep trail for a mile prior, so this part was not so great, but the Bridge hike is nice, but so very crowded). Same thing for the other hike we did on the other side of town (towards Flagstaff), another one of the most popular hikes in the area called West Fork, during which you have to cross the river 13 times. A super fun family hike on a warm day, but get there early since the parking lot is small and gets full before noon. You then have to wait in line for someone to leave to be allowed to enter. Also, even if it is a National Forest (Coconino) and you have a National Park Pass, this is a special fee zone ($10 per vehicle). Bring hiking poles and shoes that you don’t mind getting wet, walk straight through the creek to avoid the crossing line-ups (yeah, it’s that busy). Both hikes were dog-friendly.

Hiking to Miller Peak and exploring the Coronado Cave, Sierra Vista, AZ

Beautiful boondocking spot at Miller Canyon

There was a beautiful creek running 300 yards from camp.

We loved that huge oak tree and sat under it during the warm hours of the day.

The snowy peak is Miller Peak. We hiked all the way to the top (9 700 feet). It was quite the hike (photos below).

We went to explore the Coronado Cave, one of the biggest unimproved cave in AZ. It's a half mile uphill hike to the cave. I highly recommend you check it out!

It was amazing! 

Then, we drove up to Montezuma Pass trailhead at 6,300 feet of elevation.

Can you see us on the mountain side?

Some parts of the trail were quite windy!

We made it to the top! Mexico on one side, USA on the other.

Cloud volcano

Right from Dr. Seuss!

Miller Peak is a landmark mountain located in far-south Arizona near the town of Sierra Vista and the Fort Huachuca Military Base. The summit reaches to 9,700 feet and is one of just five mountains in Arizona with over 5,000 feet of prominence (a so-called "ultra" peak). The summit is accessible via the Crest Trail, which runs along the main range crest (5,3 miles). It is also the first leg of the Arizona Trail, so it was fun to see thru-hikers on their first day heading towards Utah! 

It was a beautiful hike, but it was challenging given the length of it (and the fact that we had hiked to the Coronado Cave in the morning on top of it!). The trail is well-designed and is mostly of moderate grade thanks to the many switchbacks. The vegetation changed as we meandered along the ridge from the North Side to the South side. The kids and the dog were delighted to see snow.

Given the peak's proximity to Mexico, there are often border crossers who are entering into the United States via the Crest Trail. There is a border patrol on duty in the Montezuma Pass parking lot and the guy asked our friend Jason if he was carrying a weapon to hike the trail since we could possibly see some smugglers on the trail.

We don’t carry weapons... but it was still interesting to hear that AZ Trail thru-hikers have to pay close attention since the crossers trail are so used that they can be confused with the official trail! Here’s something I found on a hiking site: Attacks on hikers just do not happen. They (the smugglers) want nothing to do with you and will hide given the chance. If you should come across a group, use your best judgement.

This area is defined as a Sky Island since it is high enough to rise above the valley floors of desert scrub or desert grassland without being connected to woodlands. It ranks as the second most biologically diverse ecosystem on the planet because of the overlap and blending of several major biogeographic zones: it is the meeting place of two great deserts, the Chihuahuan and the Sonoran, and two large mountain chains, the Rocky Mountains and the Sierra Madre Occidental. The nearby San Pedro River serves as a migratory super highway for birds and other wildlife, while the Huachuca Mountains host another world of flora and fauna as they rise above 9,000 feet.

If you are planning to visit the Coronado Cave, make sure to bring a headlamp and gloves (as to not alter the rock formations) and I would have liked to have a buff or scarf because of the dust in some areas. The cave is one of the few open, undeveloped caves in southern Arizona. It is 600 feet long and in most places about 70 feet wide. It was super fun to explore!


Exploring the East Side of the Strongholds, Cochise, AZ

Our base camp.

Climbing at Vineyard Cove, a minute walk from camp.

Charlie coming down Jacob's Ladder.

Mara trying Di-vine Inspiration, 5.11, while we keep warm.

Trailhead to Zappa Dome. Once again, very happy to have a Westy Syncro to bring us there.

Down into a canyon we go. It doesn't feel like the desert at all anymore.

A stream! Water! It's been so long since we saw water on a trail.

And the stair-master from hell climb starts.

But the view is very rewarding.

Mountain goats.

Not a bad spot for sunset. We just had to make sure to be back to the Westy before it got dark. None of us wanted to do that trail back down by headlamp.

Here's a video I made with our friend's Jason's drone shots. It is such a beautiful place! I hope you'll enjoy the images and music (The Pursuit of Happiness by Beyries).

It was our first time on the East side of the Strongholds Mountains. You might remember that we camped and climbed on the West side twice in the last year. We found a great free campspot on this side too. The big plus of the West side is that the routes are right by the campsites and the approach are minimal (if any). We also found the routes more fun on the West Side. However, the view from Zappa Dome (the main sport climbing sector on the East side) is beautiful (you earn it though!). The is now a guidebook that has been published for the West side and on is supposedly underway for the East side... it is about time! The only sort-of-useful topo is handdrawn (in Mountain Project) and we ended up on the wrong route more than once... The first time we got there, we sent Mara to lead a 5.7... that turned out to be a 5.10a... Ahem.  As you can see from the video I posted, the routes are long and exposed. We found a little crag with 3 routes just by the campsites and had fun there too.

We love the Strongholds! What a rugged place it is! You can still feel the presence of the Apache and can easily imagine Cochise and his troop hiding in the heart of those mountains. It's a real maze.

Goodbye Tucson!

Oh Snyder Hill! I’m so ready to leave... I’ve been ready to leave for a while now, but great people kept coming and great events kept taking place... and well, we love our friends Antonio and Pascale and their boys who live here... but it’s more than time to get our wheels rolling towards new adventures now. I have itchy feet (I always do...), but I’m more ready than ever to discover new places, ride new trails, photograph new landscapes... and climb OUTSIDE!

As we sat down with a glass of wine one night JF and I, I told him (for the tenth time...) how ready I was to get back on the road. He told me what most of you would tell me, I’m sure : Cat, we’ve only been in the same place for two months! What would you do if we stopped traveling?

You see, that’s the assumption a lot of people have and that’s also why travellers hesitate to publicly say they are going through a tough time... 

I spoke to people that have experienced the same thing I did when we arrived in Costa Rica: boredom, a sense of disconnexion, a lack of purpose... It’s a strange feeling... to which you add the fact that you don’t want to speak about it because well, you’re traveling and most people are envious of the life you have and would trade your boredom for their busyness.

The truth is, boredom is not the opposite of busyness. I can be bored even if I have a line up of contracts. For me, it’s a lack of drive, of spark...
a sense of disconnexion with the people and the world around me. I guess that’s what boredome can feel like to an extraverted person... or maybe it's just me... but the feeling is real.

"I am convinced that boredom is one of the greatest tortures. If I were to imagine Hell, it would be the place where you were continually bored."
– Erich Fromm


The 24 hour of Old Pueblo

Borat style!

Kids hiked up on samples of energy bars and hydration drinks, enjoying the free race swag they got "in town".

Tire toss contest!

Lance Armstrong coming down the rock drop on his first lap.

More swag. Pickle juice for muscle cramps. Yes, it's a thing. Not the real stuff, but natural enough, and pretty tasty too.

Jump Pikachu!

Finish or die!

Antonio on the rock drop.

Single-speed rigid bike with a 12 pack of beer. To each their race.

Antonio leaving camp for his second of five 17-mile laps.

The 24 hour town at night.

The town becomes even more alive at night with colorful lights and bonfire everywhere. It was so cool to see the course illuminated by all these headlamps and bike lamps, like a thousand crazy fireflies in the dark night.

For 24 hours per year, a little corner of the desert turns into a small village. Willow Spring Ranch is a remote state trust land that barely sees a soul for the rest of the year, but during the 24 hour of Old Pueblo, one of the biggest 24 hour race in North America (and part of the Epic Rides serie), it is aptly named the 24 hour town and even has its own street signs. The jack rabbits and other critters probably wonder what they did to offend the gods for such mayhem to take over their otherwise quiet home.

There are about 500 riders on the 17-mile course at all times. Teammates have to exchange the baton in the in-and-out tent, register their lap with the officials and the next rider can go. The event gets fully booked a few hours after the registration opens, with riders coming as far as Europe to participate in the event.

The race begins at noon on Saturday with a LeMans-style start (or stampede) in which the racers have to run 1/2 mile to where their bikes are parked (in their bike shoes... ouch!). It makes for a fun spectacular start and it spaces out the the 500 + riders hitting the singletrack course. 

The 24 HOP is the Burning man of bike races and can be anything to anybody... pro racers, party riders, soloists, corporate riders, single speeders... but it sure feels like there are two different races going on: the Spandex vs the Monkey suits.

Estrella Hedgehog - Her first podium

Antonio and Jason's start (Men Single Speed Experts).

JF's start (Rock crushers), in blue in the middle.

The Estrella course is the gnarliest of the MBAA race series. It's chunky, loose and steep.

Jason crushing it.

Antonio not far behind.

JF at the end of his first loop... just before he got a flat tire.

Riding among cacti.

That Finish face says it all. Pffeeww!

And she's started smiling and fast. She even took the lead on the third lap, and never looked back.

Only one of her 5 laps left! Papa is offering her some water, but she is still going strong... and still smiling.

Proud sisters cheering!

Ben at the end of his course. Both Liske brothers crashed, but Ben was able to continue. Charlie had a harder one (and further out on the course), so he did not finish.

Waiting for the medal ceremony.

Cat on a leash with gold medal.

The face of pride! Her first time on a podium and she got the gold! The lesson in racing is the same as in life... sometimes you win...

... and sometimes you lose.

The Estrella Hedgehog is known to be the toughest course of the MBAA race series. It was quite different from McDowell's mostly groomed and bermed course. This one was loose rocks with lots of climbing. Mara knew that this was at her advantage since she is technically strong and climbs like a mountain goat. When she realized she was second after the second lap (she still had 3 laps to go), she got even more pumped and kept riding with her big signature smile and legendary stamina. She pushed and passed a bunch of kids (mostly on the uphills!). Passing is something you don't really learn other than in a race situation and can be stressful and intimidating... There were faster boys and younger kids on the course at the same time as her, so the challenge was real. For instance, when she called "On your left" (which in race lingo means I'm passing you on your left) to a younger kid in front of her, the child moved left instead of right, thinking it meant the opposite... 

JF got a flat tire just at the beginning of his second loop, so he ran back to the Westy with his bike, quickly changed his tube and got back on the trail. Diedra wasn't as lucky... she sliced her tire open further out on the course and had to scratch. 

I didn't grow up doing competitive sports and this is a new experience for me to be part of this world through Mara and JF... I still struggle when I see kids in tears on the course, but I'm also seeing how competition can exist in a very positive environment and how, when a child is old enough for that, it can be invaluable in teaching him many life skills, like perseverance, planning, stress management, focus... and how to lose with grace. Diedra and JF were great examples for our kids today, they took the challenges that were presented to them in stride and both had great attitudes about it. As was the guy who walked through the Finish line with his chain in his hand! 


McDowell Meltdown - Their first Mountain Bike race

Bike prep.

JF's start (in blue in the middle at the back) in the Rock Crushers category.

Antonio was racing in the Single Speed Expert category. Smile through pain!

Jason was also racing in the Single Speed Expert category. One more sports' loop to go!

JF with his it's-finally-over-face!

There was a little jump park and pump track where the kids played all weekend.

Antonio at the finish line. 

Diedra had a great race too!

Yeah, Diedra!

Getting ready for her race.

Game face on.

And it's a start!

The Liske boys' start.

Brothers side by side.

Someone was happy to finish right behind his big brother (and to get a third position!).

This girl was all smiles for the 3 loops of her course!

Keep smiling!

Race to the finish line with a boy in the same age category!

JF and Mara decided to register for the McDowell Meltdown a week before the race, just for the fun of it. They hadn't trained for a race, but had heard it was a fun course and wanted to give it a try. JF has done many trail running races, orienteering and adventure races, but never did an XC mountain bike race. 

When we saw all the teams set-up with matching race gear and the general seriousness of the event, we realized it was more than *just a friendly race*. There were over 850 participants and it ended up being the busiest event the Mountain Bike Association of Arizona (MBAA) had seen in a long time. 

Mara finished 5th in the 13-14 yo girls (over 14 girls), which was very good for a girl that was doing it just for fun! She actually was faster than almost half the boys in the same age category!

JF finished 10th in his category, which was also pretty remarkable given he didn't train for a race.

The MBAA organizes a series of 6 races every year and we might attend another one in a few weeks.

It was great to reconnect with friends we hadn't seen since last summer, share a few meals (and the race jitters!) and ride with them. The mountain bike trails at McDowell Mountain Regional Park are simply amazing and there are over 200 miles of trails that are accessible from there. Too bad the camping is so expensive ($30/night). There is no boondocking in the whole Phoenix area (except for Casino Parking Lots) that we know of (drop me a line in the comments if you do!), so it's a major bummer because we would have loved to spend more time there.

Our little Tucson routine

Our friends from Wisconsin came for a week during their Holidays! Of course, we went biking together!

Stout's first bike ride!

A very sweet gift from our little Ubach friends!

Mathilde New Year's cupcakes!

Eddy serenading us around the bonfire.

Life at the BLM.

Climbing on Mount Lemmon, Crags Against Humanity Sector.

Aïsha leading her first route.

Tucson is our winter trip half-way point and we tend to stop here longer and slow down. We just love how easy it is to be active here. Once again this year, we took a rock climbing gym membership at Rocks and Ropes (which includes the Bloc too, a bouldering gym), where we go about 3 times a week to climb and shower. We alternate a climbing day with a biking day since there are so many bike trails nearby. It's a pretty good routine. We try to go climb outside at Mount Lemmon on the weekends when possible (it's about an hour drive from the BLM where we camp). What's a BLM you might wonder? It's a public land where we can camp for free. In Tucson, the Snyder Hill BLM is located only 20 minutes from downtown Tucson (unlike most other BLMs in the US that are far from big cities and where the 14 day limit stay in enforced). The Snyder Hill BLM has a bit of a Slab City vibe. There are some semi-permanent residents, some big rigs that stay only a few days and pretty much everything in between. Let's just say it seems to attract what we call in the Yukon, the colorful 5 %...  You can often hear someone playing drum or strumming his guitar in the distance. If you're lucky like us, a circus couple sets up nearby with an aerial silk contraption and you can watch them practice this beautiful skill... Then, there's John, who's been our neighbor for a few weeks that pretend he worked on a set with Al Pacino and went to a party with Johnny Depp... There's Sid with his 16 years old dog who comes by when JF is working on a bike to chat... and chat some more (and his wife that keeps bringing us odd things for the girls). There's the man who sleeps in a tent and leaves every morning with a dress suit for work. And there was the crazy lady on the hill, who spent her days sitting cross-legged on top of Snyder Hill, watching over us and yelling ugly things to passerby's... until she lost it and started knocking on all the rigs' doors asking people to give her her dog back... too many Rainbows will do that to you...

Tucson feels like a second home (or maybe more like a fifth home...) and here are a few of our favorite digs and some practical info if you end up in this neck of the desert...

EAT : The best taco place in town is a little hole in the wall called Pico De Gallo; 3 incredible fish tacos (with homemade corn tortilla) for under $6. Yes, please. Only 8 minute from the rock gym!

Another place that should not be missed is Tucson Tamales (2 locations); 2 Santa Fe tamales (or Chipotle beef, our favorites!) with 2 sides of your choice (don't miss their mexican slaw) for under $8! You can also buy their tamales frozen to warm up at home!

For a unique experience (and a very cheap meal), go to Govinda Natural Food at the local Ashram. All you can eat vegetarian buffet (Tuesday is Indian Night, Wednesday and Thursday are vegan nights) with homemade papadum, delicious salad with sprouts and homecooked food ($11 for adults, $5 for kids (10-12 yo), $4 for 7-9 yo and $3 for 4-6 yo). And you can eat outside in their beautiful enclosed yard.

GROCERY : McGary's Discount Grocery (a few blocks from the Ashram) has awesome deals on expired/dented food items. Think 8 Luna Bars for $1, Kettle Chips bags for $1, Natural Krave Jerky bags for $1, cereal boxes at 3 for $5, Back to Nature nut mixes, cookies, crackers, etc for a fraction of the price, natural lotions and shampoos... even natural dog treats and recycled toilet paper at ridiculous prices. As long as you don't mind the loud Christian music blasting through the store and the near-paranoiac attitude of the store owner about having things stolen and children running down the aisles you'll love this place as much as we do.

Another great way to save money on food in Tucson is through The Club 3000 (Market on the Move). Every week you can get 60 lbs of fruits for $10 on Wednesday from 9 am to 1 pm (sometimes it's every day of the week). The content varies every week (citrus, peppers, tomatoes, squash, eggs, etc.). The best place to be kept informed is their Facebook page.

For a dirt cheap grocery store, we love Food City (a few locations in Tucson). Good ripe fruits for cheap directly from Mexico, dairies and eggs for very cheap, and great homemade nachos, taco shells and tortillas.

For good quality natural food at a decent price, we love Sprouts (a few locations in town). Great coffee and home brand products.

LAUNDRY : For the full hole-in-the-wall laudromat experience, go to Superior Cleaner (10 min from the BLM, just by Food City!). The cheapest in town (bonus soap operas in Spanish blasting on the TVs). They even provide free Wifi. 

If you rather pay more and have a clean brick-wall and lime green wall laudromat with the UofA hipsters, go to Wildcat Laudry

DUMP AND FILL : Free at the Giant gas station on the corner of Valencia and Kolb, but it's pretty far from the BLM. We go to Western Way RV Resort (10 min from BLM) for $10.

RECYCLING : There is a big recycling station at the entrance of John F. Kennedy Park, right behind the Mission Public Library (free wifi) at the corner of Ajo Way and Mission.


Rock climbing on Mt Lemmon, Tucson, AZ

Heading down to the crag from Windy Point.

These little Arizona boys haven't seen snow many times in their lives. It was a real treat to see their enthousiasm! 

Snow ball fights with the girls!

What an incredible view we had from our climbing spot!

Look at the scales on that rock! So fun to climb!

That view!!!

Antonio, Mara and JF cleaning the route from the top.

I love seeing my girls develop a relationship with these sweet boys!

Mount Lemmon towers over Tucson at an elevation of 9,150 feet. That means that when it rains in town, it snows on top of the mountain. That also means that many Mexicans pack their family in the car, cross the border and drive all the way up to Mount Lemmon to go play in snow. It is quite the sight to see all these cars driving down with snowmen built on their hoods (it seems like that's what you do...). Mount Lemmon is a prized destination for road bikers (think climbing all the way to the top and riding down!) and rock climbers alike (there are over a thousand routes on the mountain!). 

When we arrived at Windy Point (a little over 6,000 feet), the parking lot was packed with people, but Antonio knew of the perfect crag, just inches away from selfie sticks and the rowdy crowd. We spent a memorable afternoon there and left just in time to witness another amazing Tucson sunset on our drive down the mountain.

Another Christmas in Tucson

The boys made tourtières and meat pies for Christmas!

I made blueberry and cherry pies!

The girls offered us a gastronomic 3-course meal for Christmas. We were completely blown away!

Aïsha prepared us a mango-avocado-shrimp tartare that could not have been better at an high end restaurant.

Mara made a Garlic Basil Chicken with Tomato Butter Sauce. It was delicious.

Mathilde made us a Layered Chocolate Cookie Sundae. Yum! I think that a tradition is born!

Mathilde made us a Layered Chocolate Cookie Sundae. Yum! I think that a tradition is born!

And on Christmas day, we went for a geocache hike on Brown Mountain. 

We love spending Christmas with this sweet family year after year!

It's the fourth Christmas that we spend in Tucson and it has become a tradition that we all look forward to. Pascale and Antonio always welcome us with open arms. It is such a treat to see their boys grow every year and to be enjoying the outdoors with them a bit more every year. 

Rock climbing at Cochise Stronghold, AZ

Can you spot Mathilde on the image on the right? These routes are long (and so fun!).

Wild kids.

The girls made a swing.

Playing Lego at sunset.

Guitar and drums, great evenings by the fire.

JF, on top of Naiche's nest. Naiche was Cochise's son (an Apache Chef, see story below) and it is in this nook that Naiche played while his dad held councils.

The kids scrambled on rocks while we set the routes. We were pretty much alone the whole time!

We search out the most perfect pieces of rock. It’s so amazing that these formations are so perfect for climbing on. It’s almost as if they were created for climbing. You’re taking these random rock formations and you’re bringing to it this interaction. It transforms it from being this random rock into almost this piece of art. It’s almost like a sculpture or something. Just by finding the handholds, finding that line up the rock. Every climb is different, has its own unique set of movements and body positions. Climbing and my appreciation for nature are totally intertwined. -Chris Sharma

You might remember that we climbed here last February for Jen's birthday. It was an epic weekend and we wanted to explore the area a little more. Our friends Les 4 Farfelus joined us for a few days and we climbed together, played music by the fire and simply enjoyed this incredibly wild place. Cochise Stronghold is located at an elevation of 5000 feet. Needless to say, we had some very cold nights and mornings (below freezing!).

The Cochise Stronghold is part of the Coronado National Forest in the beautiful Dragoon Mountains and was once the refuge of the great Chiricahua Apache Chief, Cochise.  This rugged area was home for 250 warriors and up to a total of 1000 in the  tribe for up to 15 years. Upon his death, Cochise was secretly buried somewhere in or near his impregnable fortress.  The exact location has never been revealed or determined.

Bouldering at Hueco Tanks, TX

Walking up the Chain Trail to the Small Potatoes area.

The Small Potatoes area is a popular warm-up spot. To the right, the water-filled hole is what a Hueco is and the reason why this place was so special for Natives (lots of water holding tanks in the desert!).

On top of a problem in the Small Potatoes area. Right: so many boulders to climb and explore!

At The Grenade area. What a view!

Getting beta from Betty who has been climbing here since she was Mara's age!

Working on the best V2 problem in the world (according to Mountain Project!). What a beauty!

Watching Alex Puccio work on a V9 problem (one of the top professional rock climbers in the world) after she warmed up on a V6! Look at the muscles on that woman!! It was interesting to see that even pros have moments where they freak out a bit too!

Mara working on a tough V5 problem (and she got it!!).

The famous V2 is called Nobody Gets Out Of Here Alive because the ground used to be covered in little cacti like it still is on the right...

We all left some skin on that rock.

Heading to The New Meadow area.

We drove by the road that leads to Hueco Tanks State Park and simply waved it off as being surely full... Then, since it was only an 8 mile drive, we turned around and decided to check it out, just in case. It was Sunday 4 pm. Maybe we would be lucky. We had tried to go there 3 years ago in January, but we got turned around, the north mountain being at full capacity despite the melting snow and freezing temperatures. The climbers, mostly visitors from outside on climbing trips for the Holidays, were trying to make the best of the bone-freezing drizzle. We turned around, knowing we would have our turn. And this year we got it!

Hueco Tanks is described by Mountain Project as *the best bouldering spot in the world*. There are 70 permits delivered each day for North Mountain and 60 are reserved at least 6 months in advance. You have to show up at the gate of the park early to try your luck at the other 10. Unless you are staying at the campground in the park, then you have first dibs at these permits. If you get there and the park is full, your name is added on a waiting list and if reserved permits are not claimed by 10:30 or so, then they start giving them to the climbers waiting. Quite the process... The other 3 areas of the park are accessible with a guide only and do not count in the 70 daily permits. There are volunteer guides and professional guides that can take you in these areas.

Hueco is also an historic site that is *very* well protected. You have to be ready to jump through a few hoops to climb here (watch a video before entering the park and listen to a litany of rules - repeated to you twice, once by the ranger at the entrance and then by the one at the interpretation center). But then, you’re in Hueco. And if you’re a climber, you have a big silly grin on your face. Because you made it to Hueco! You’ve seen videos of your favorite climbers tackling crazy hard problems here. And here you are. We actually got to watch Alex Puccio climb while we were here! What a treat!

We were lucky enough to hit it off with a local that had climbed here since she was a kid. She came to Mara and I when she saw her climbing and told her she started climbing right here when she was her age since her mom was an environmental scientist who spent big chunks of time here. She guided Mara and I through some amazing problems (some that she had created herself!). It made the experience even greater.

Huecos are these big round holes where water collects and one of the reason why this site was a sacred site for native people (the main reason why it is so well protected). There are many petroglyphs to be seen in the park and people still find artefacts.

Carlsbad Caverns, New Mexico

We found a great BLM campsite (free) 20 minutes from the Caverns (more infos and GPS coordinates here).

This place is just out of this world magical... we had visited a good chunk of it 3 years ago, but hadn't done the back part. The entrance is free with a National Parks pass. As amazing as it is to enter the caverns through the natural entrance (walk down into the caverns), it is quite the hike to do the whole thing (adults can do it, but it's long for younger children). Here's our advice: arrive early and take the elevator down to the big room and walk all the back part of the caverns. You will have the place pretty much to yourself since most people are entering through the natural entrance at that time of day. Then, either walk out through the natural entrance or take the elevator back up. Walking into the caverns is a unique experience that is most enjoyed when you are not stuck in a crowd. 

Rock climbing in Texas, at Reimer's Ranch, near Austin

To get to the routes, you have to go down into a canyon...

There is warm water (presumably from the neighboring Hamilton Pool) running in the canyon and little pools nearby. It was *almost* warm enough to sit into. I'm sure it's a pretty popular spot to hang out after climbing in warmer weather.

Pretty cool rock formations and caves on the way to the crag.

Woof! Happy crag dog!

Look at that rock! It's so fun to climb!

Someone was cold and wore a Patagonia jacket while we climbed.

Mara led a 5.7 all the way to the top!

And she belayed me!

The girls are all really enjoying climbing and they are getting pretty strong!

We had climbed for a few days at Reimer's 3 years ago (scroll down on that post and look how small the girls were only 3 years ago!) and really liked it, so we waited almost a week in Austin for the weather to be decent for climbing (there is also some great mountain biking in the areas, but the trails were all closed because of the 5 days of rain we had...). We were glad we waited because this place is pretty amazing. The limestone has been washed by the water over many years and the result is like a huge swiss cheese!  

We wished we would have had time to give Enchanted Rock another chance (our first experience there 3 years ago was NOT good... but a bit funny in retrospect...), but we ran out of time in the area. Next time!

Sleeping by the Gulf of Mexico on Rutherford Beach, near Creole, LA

Stout meets a crab...

The first night, there was a crazy thunderstorm with a lightning show that lasted for hours... it felt like a giant stroboscope in the bus.

The sun came back the next day. And we had the perfect set up, right on the beach.

Stout was so happy to be allowed to run free on the beach. It was puppy heaven...

A bonfire on the beach. It doesn't get any better.

Stout has a light that attaches to his collar to see where he is at night. So fun and practical! And it makes for cool pictures too!

When we found out about that beach through another traveling family, I wanted to check it out. It's not often that you come across boondocking sites right on the beach! And it didn't disappoint!

This part of Louisiana has been severely affected by the passage of Katrina in 2005 and everywhere you look, you see concrete pads where houses used to stand, rusty metal structures, old restaurant signs... it's a sad sight... Many people could not afford to rebuild their houses and they now live in fifth wheels on these concrete pads.

A local told us that there were 35 to 40 houses along Rutherford Beach before Hurricane Katrina... and now, only a few houses remain... It was the perfect place to watch the IMAX documentary Hurricane on the Bayou.

The drive to get down to the beach is beautiful though, as you cross bayous and a wildlife preserve. There were lots of different birds and I was jumping up and down when we saw some Roseate Spoonbill (Spatule rosée)! So cool! The whole time we were driving through the bayous, the lyrics of Stephen Faulkner's song Cajuns de l'an 2000 that my dad used to play in the Westfalia when I was a kid kept popping through my mind. And to top it off, a local we met on the beach kept using the expression Son of a Gun! Oh and JF is cooking a typical Creole Jambalaya tonight with authentic bayou spices!

New Orleans, Louisiana

Eating beignets at Café du Monde. Maybe going there at 10:30 am on a Sunday morning was not our best decision... Oh well! They were worth it!

Tasting Po-Boys, a local specialty.

We had been to Louisiana 3 years ago for Mardi Gras. The French Quarter was obviously very rowdy and I was glad the girls were still young enough to not be aware of what was going on. They simply asked why the *princesses* throwing necklaces from balconies were wearing only underwears... Ahem.

But NOLA is called the Big Easy for a reason... It's not hard to look past the glimmer and sparkles... You see tired people trying to make a living in this crazy scene... You see their hard stories behind the fake smiles and make-up, behind their quirky street art... just a bunch of people going through the motion. Just another day at work. It reminded me of walking the back streets of Vegas during the day... The streets are dirty and stinky. The T-shirt and masks shops staff are scrolling on their phones... The musicians seem like the only truly happy ones there... What a weird eclectic place.