Two Wheels Toward Squamish


I have clear memories of hitchhiking through the Balkans and watching solitary motorcyclists and small bands of riders cruise by on winding, open highways like nomadic creatures of the road. Packed light but fully self-contained, theirs seemed like the embodiment of a traveler’s freedom. With the ability to cover ground quickly, not only were they not reliant on others but every mile of road so visibly combined the enjoyment of riding a bike with a constant exposure and connection to the environment being traveled. Since then and before, when my dad and I would set out for rides on his chromed-out Harley-Davidson, I knew that someday the time would come when I’d find the opportunity to log some miles on a motorcycle myself.

Having spent ample time sharing the road with cars as a bicyclist, I know well the risks inherent in two-wheeled travel. Frustrating as it is, one can’t avoid the conclusion that automobile drivers, separated from the world by climate-controlled steel cages and their own prerogative for expedience, can’t be trusted to adequately avoid their two-wheeled counterparts should they happen to miss their turn, fail to check their blind spots or receive an ill-timed text message. For these reasons and others, heavily populated regions (and thereby much of the east coast) seemed like a bad idea for the riding of motorcycles. So when my good friend Vinny broke his wrist longboarding on our way out of southern Utah this spring, having traveled cross-country on a 1980’s Honda Magna 750 (who goes by Magnolia, or Maggie for short), my long-awaited opportunity seemed to be staring me down as it seemed only logical to trade Vinny my car for his bike for the summer.

When some good friends suggested that I make my way up to Squamish, BC for some summer climbing, a rough itinerary fell into place before me. From Northern California I would take the smallest roads on the map as I wound my way through Oregon and Washington, making stops to visit friends and some of the world class climbing areas that had made such an impression on me last summer.

Starting in the magical Redwood forests of the Northern Calfornia coast, another, more fictional childhood fantasy seemed to make its way as close as it could into reality. In the third original Star Wars movie, as our team of intrepid heroes attempts to sabotage the force-field station protecting the feared Imperial Death Star, a chase scene ensues between the rebels and storm troopers on flying ‘speeders’ among the towering trees of an alien planet, ‘the forest moon of Endor.’ I would later learn that these scenes were shot in the Redwood forests that surrounded friends I visit on the ‘Lost Coast’ in Northern California, and that only a little imagination separated that childhood fantasy from my new reality. On smooth, quiet backroads that wound their way below the towering canopies of giant-like trees, Maggie became my speeder as I zoomed through a forest so exotic in scale it felt alien.

From those fantastical rides on the moon of Endor, I would watch, feel and smell, as the climate and ecosystems around me would slowly change from woods to desert and back again as I wove my way back and forth across the raised spine of the Cascade mountain range that separates western rainforest from eastern desert, pimpled with snow covered volcanoes along the way.

Heavily laden with climbing and camping gear, with twin packs tied and slung as saddlebags and hundred miles of range with a spare gas tank, Maggie and I felt like free nomads, spending our days and nights under the open summer skies with hundreds of miles of open roads to cover, priority going to those smallest on the map lying closest to large geological features. Crater Lake, Smith Rock, Mount Adams and Mount Hood, the alpine playground of Leavenworth and of course the Magical land of Index populated my ride like old friends that I had long looked forward to visiting again. But like a light on the horizon, my first visit to Squamish promised to be the highlight of my roadtrip.

Nestled at the northern tip of Howe Sound, a teal blue fjord an hour north of Vancouver, Squamish is a destination for athletes of all types whether for world class mountain biking in Squamish or neighboring Whistler, paddling whitewater rivers or kiteboarding or windsurfing on the sound. Our prize was The Chief, the Squamish Chief, the 1500-foot granite monolith that overlooks both Howe Sound and the town of Squamish. With splitter granite cracks of all shapes and sizes, hundreds of feet of vertical playground and a thriving summer outdoors community, its easy to lose track of time in Squamish during long summer days—that is, until the rains get ready to move in again and it comes time to head south, or cross country to see those we leave behind with our travels.

Heavily laden, with climbing and camping gear in makeshift saddle bags along with extra fuel, food and cameras.

Reading materials happened by chance, a gift from a friend in Utah long before the idea for a motorcycle trip came along.

Open roads at the foot of Mount Adams as I headed north through Yakima County in southern Washington.

A long exposure of the Squamish Chief looking north.

From town, the Chief towers over the landscape giving ordinary scenes given a backdrop of beautiful, streaked granite.

An unknown climber follows 'the Skywalker Traverse' on Skywalker (5.8), a classic pitch for its exposure and mellow climbing.

Khash takes an inventory of his gear atop 'the Acrophobes', an exposed formation high on the 'Angel's Crest' route (5.10) which takes 14 pitches of varied climbing to the top of the Chief.

Pat leads up a low angle crack climb, typical of Squamish's varied terrain and clean splitter cracks.

Khash rappels back into the woods above of the Chief's lower climbs after introducing me to classics like 'Rainy Day Dream Away' (5.10c) and 'A Pitch in Time' (5.10b).

Unknown climbers lead the classic steep handcrack 'A Pitch in Time'.

My friend Sara Price took this shot of me leading the crux pitch of the 'Squamish Buttress' (5.10c), a classic route up the Chief and a tricky section of climbing for the grade!

Looking south toward Howe Sound with the Chief rising proudly on the left.

A short video edit I put together of a lead fall on the 'Perry's Layback' traverse (5.11a), pitch 7 of The Grand Wall (5.11a A0), about 700 feet off the ground.