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Misadventures of Big Sur

For a person who treasures the outdoors and finds peace being surrounded by nature I have a real issue with Big Sur, maybe even a vendetta. Actually, I’m starting to think that Big Sur has a vendetta against me.

If you are unfamiliar, Big Sur is one of the most beautiful places in the US; it has a wide variety of wildlife, ecosystems, dedicated remote wilderness areas, scenic vistas overlooking the Pacific Ocean, and huge redwood trees.  I’ve spent the majority of my life in Pennsylvania and while I have many fond memories of the outdoors on the East Coast, nothing quite compares to a place where the mountains meet the ocean and the trees are thousands of years old.

McWay Falls just before sunset

McWay Falls just before sunset

1998 Gary Fisher Big Sur Acid yellow frame perfectly complementing the candy red RockShox fork. 

1998 Gary Fisher Big Sur

Acid yellow frame perfectly complementing the candy red RockShox fork. 

I first heard the words, “Big Sur” when I was around 16 years old. A popular mountain bike manufacturer, Gary Fisher, named one of their high-end bikes after this place. This bike became an obsession for me; it was my equivalent to a Red Ryder BB-Gun. I researched the bike, where to buy it, drooled over it at the local bike shop, saved and saved and saved for it. I even resorted to begging my parents to get if for me at every possible holiday. Most 16-year-old kids want a car. I didn’t want a car. I wanted a bike. At one point while researching this two-wheeled piece of art I realized that I had no idea what Big Sur actually meant, so I began looking into it. After reading one article and becoming a self proclaimed expert on this place I didn’t just want the Big Sur, I wanted to ride the Big Sur all through the wilderness of Big Sur. Like most 16 year old dreams, mine never came true. The bike was always too expensive and California was always too far away.

No caption necessary 

No caption necessary 

 

16 years later I happen to live in Southern California, which is a short 6-hour train ride away from the Central Coast, and I have a friend who lives nearby that has a car. The dream is still alive! My epic, almost 20-year-old, fantasy was about to come to fruition. I called my good friend James, who lives in San Luis Obispo, and we began planning our trip. James isn’t a mountain biker (yet) so we settled for a long weekend backpacking trip. The research started all over again. I spent hours pouring over maps and backpacking websites to find the perfect route. The epic Ventana Wilderness was calling us and I could not wait to get started. Our Plan was to head out early on Friday to the Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, check out McWay Cove and the scenic water falls, and then pick up a trail just south that would put us right into the wilderness. I estimated the 25-30 mile loop would have us back for dinner on Sunday.

Beards are a must for any wilderness excursion

Beards are a must for any wilderness excursion

Friday morning we hit a few minor snags with some of our gear and food preparations, so we didn’t leave San Luis Obispo until almost 2 in the afternoon. With a 2-hour drive ahead of us we accepted the fact that we may not be able to make it as far as we planned that day, but we could make up for it by hiking and setting up camp in the dark.  With our backpacks loaded and headlamps ready we set out for a night trek into the wild.

Immediately we ran into trouble. We couldn’t find the trailhead, which was oddly un-named on the map, but after looking around we decided that one of the trails near Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park “had to be” the trail we were looking for. At about mile 4 of our mountain accent we came across a sign that alerted us to where we actually were. Nowhere near where we needed to be! We were in a small day hike trail system in the State Park. We were pretty deflated, but I was determined to make my long sought after Big Sur trip happen. We turned around, came back out to the Pacific Coast Highway and began searching for the missing trail that was supposed to be leading us into the Ventana Wilderness. We walked up and down the highway, checked and rechecked the map, asked any random person we came across and finally by midnight we realized that our dream of Big Sur solitude was slowly dying.

This is what the wrong trail looks like

This is what the wrong trail looks like

We determined that this mysterious trailhead didn’t exist. After a few unsuccessful attempts at blazing a trail directly northeast through impassable mountains, and hiking to a beach campsite a mile down the road that was full. We had two options; a.) sleep in the car and wait until morning so we could actually see what we were doing and then find our way, or b.) bag the trip all together and reschedule it for another weekend. We weighed the pros and cons of each situation and decided that we shouldn’t try to force our adventure. We wouldn’t be able to cover nearly as much ground as we originally planned and we could find plenty of outdoor adventure back in San Luis Obispo.



Wine country outlaw

Wine country outlaw

Reluctantly we headed back down south and started brainstorming for the rest of our weekend. We ended up renting bikes and doing winery tour in the country and a short local day hike. We were down and out, but made the most of our weekend and vowed to come back with a full-proof plan to overcome our first bad experience with this beautiful place.

Fast-forward about 3 months. I’m fresh off my first MMA loss, feeling pretty low. I was in need of a break from the gym and a break from life in general.  What could be better than a trip to Big Sur and the Ventana Wilderness to regain some balance in my life? I could also clear my head and get some redemption from our last botched journey. We thought we were prepared last time – this time, we had a foolproof plan and route. There was definitive proof that the trails existed, we had our gear and food worked out days beforehand and we were determined to make things work.

I headed up to SLO early in the week to meet my friend James again. I also wanted to head up that way to personally thank one of my sponsors who stepped up with a week’s notice to help cover some of my training expenses for my first fight in the UFC. Hortau is a company that specializes in wireless and web-based irrigation systems. Basically, they find ways to save natural resources and maximize crop output. Pretty awesome stuff; anyone dedicated to helping the environment and the blue-collar community is a friend of mine. We got together and did a campaign to raise drought awareness in California. I’ve always considered myself a conservationist by doing my part to reduce my consumption and influencing those around me to do the same, but I think this makes my conservationist status official!

"Did it hurt when you got punched in the face?" -The Otto Bros aka the toughest Honorary Hortau Employees

"Did it hurt when you got punched in the face?"

-The Otto Bros aka the toughest Honorary Hortau Employees

The Hortau team, as expected, was a great group of guys. They have big plans and everyone in the company had a genuine interest in improving the agricultural landscape as well as the environment. I’m proud to be an honorary member of their team.

After taking care of business for the week, James and I packed up the car and set out for Big Sur 2.0. This time, nothing could get in our way! Well, almost nothing could get in our way.  As we pulled out of San Luis Obispo we noticed a few clouds rolling in. I immediately checked the weather and there was 90% chance of rain that day but it seemed like it would be a short-lived passing shower. The report said the rain would end that evening so we made sure our rain gear was handy and kept right on driving.

By the time we made it to Big Sur, it was an all out torrential downpour. Reassuring ourselves at the trailhead that the showers would pass shortly, we secured our raincoats and rain flys and trudged on. We anticipated that the first 5 or 6 miles of the hike would be the most difficult. We were starting at sea-level and climbing over 3,000 vertical feet to reach our campsite at the top of the ridge. The rain didn’t let up and as we got closer to the top of the ridge, the visibility was down to about 20 feet and the winds began to pick up. Just before reaching the campsite, we encountered a massive redwood tree downed by the storm. As we passed it we both made a mental note not to camp anywhere near this type of danger. When we reached camp, we were both completely soaked, shivering and the campsite had absolutely no cover from the wind that nearly blew us off the mountain a few times on the way up.

Packed and ready for adventure minutes before the rain came

Packed and ready for adventure minutes before the rain came

Setting up camp proved to be a huge task. Our fingers were so cold we could barely unsnap our backpacks and when we finally got the tent out it was blowing all over the place. Eventually we made something that resembled camp and changed out of our wet clothes. We started to come back to life once we had some dinner and warmed up in our sleeping bags. By the time we finished eating we noticed that the low side of our tent was carrying about 3 inches of water. The foot-ends of our sleeping bags were sitting in the puddle and it was creeping closer and closer to the rest of our gear. At this point, things were pretty bad, but I kept trying to focus on the positive. “At least we’re safe in the tent and we’re somewhat dry and with any luck we’ll fall asleep and the rain will stop.”

By the time James and I fell asleep we had crammed ourselves into the driest corner of the tent and neither of us thought twice about the “survival spooning” we were doing. A few hours later I was startled awake when something kept hitting me over and over in the back. When I snapped out of it I realized that a bear wasn’t mauling me, the wind had just picked up and our tent wasn’t capable of withstanding 65 mph winds. The pole collapsed and was whacking me in the back, which meant our stakes were being pulled out of the ground by the wind. I pressed myself as far into the corner of the tent as I could to stop the tent from smacking me and I went back to sleep.

The next time I woke up the fix wasn’t as easy. The hood of my sleeping bag was drawn tight around my head and face so I could stay as warm as possible. When I woke up there was a puddle inside my bag that had made it’s way up to my nose. As soon as I moved the water ran straight down into my bag. This is by far the worst way to wake up in a tent. I threw the sleeping bag open and realized that it was morning and then I saw what the problem was. The rain fly had almost completely blown off the tent and rain was pouring in on us. I woke James and broke the news to him that everything in our tent was completely soaked and then I went out and tried to reattach the rain fly. I got back in the tent drenched, fingers barely working and at that point we decided that Big Sur hates us. And not only does Big Sur hate us, Big Sur has defeated us again.

James and I ate a quick breakfast and started packing. We broke down the tent and stuffed it in my bag and got moving back down the mountain to the car. Our packs weighed at least 15 pounds more on the way out since everything was completely saturated. When we neared the bottom of the mountain we decided to try to take something positive out of our experience this time around and the best we could come up with was, “At least we were able to make it through the night this time”. So pathetic!

Too wet and depressed for photos After everything that has happened here, I still can't wait to go back and find what I've been looking for the past 16 years *photo courtesy of The Ventana Wilderness Alliance 

Too wet and depressed for photos

After everything that has happened here, I still can't wait to go back and find what I've been looking for the past 16 years

*photo courtesy of The Ventana Wilderness Alliance 

We were almost to the car when we came across a ripped up bag of garbage scattered everywhere. Stinky old meat, produce and plastic wrappers were everywhere. As much as I hated Big Sur at that moment for crushing my childhood dream, there was no way we were going to leave without cleaning up that mess. One of the most beautiful places in the world should never be treated that way.

Our car was packed with wet backpacks, muddy boots and the worst smelling trash you could imagine and once again Big Sur was in the rearview mirror getting smaller by the minute. Yet all we could think about was how this place skunked us. We were 0-2 and the irony of our second defeat just rubbed it in our face even more. The guy who is concerned with the draught epidemic in California gets slammed with 4 inches of rain in 48 hours. I guess the third time is the charm…at least I hope it will be.

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Coffee & Croissants

My training camp for UFC 170 consisted of 2:30am wake up calls, headlamp guided bicycle commutes, afternoon naps, twitter, and coffee.

6am break time at the coffee shop

6am break time at the coffee shop

God I hate coffee.

After a week of being employed as a barista in a drive-thru window at a local coffee shop, I distinctly remember seeing my apron-clad reflection in the window of a customer’s car and thinking, “What has my life become? I’m 33 years old, I’ve never tasted a cup of coffee in my life and ironically I’m working in a place that stinks of coffee just so I can keep chasing my goals. Or are my goals just dreams?” Looking back, this is the moment where I hit rock bottom, but somehow, something kept pushing me forward. 



Diamonds, Gold...same difference.

Diamonds, Gold...same difference.

I was recently reminded of a story about two miners who start at opposite sides of a mountain, both unbeknownst of each other start to dig for gold for years without success. Finally, just inches from hitting gold, one of the miners runs out of money, energy, patience, and the will to take one more swing of the pick. The other miner is also drained financially, physically and emotionally, but somehow perseveres and summons the strength through pure heart and determination to take one more swing and hits gold. 

 

Three weeks after hitting rock bottom, I got a call that will forever change my life and eventually allow me to look back on those hard times with a smile.

One man's misfortune is another man's opportunity.

One man's misfortune is another man's opportunity.

It all started with a text message, a screen shot from my manager of an article entitled “Evans out with leg injury, UFC 170 co-main vs. Daniel Cormier cancelled”. I knew Daniel Cormier very well and I also knew that I could beat him, so I immediately jumped on twitter and started making some noise, about as much noise as someone with less than 400 twitter followers can make.

Apparently my tweets found their way to the right people because at about 8:30 the next morning my manager burst through the front door of the coffee shop in his pajamas and shoved his phone in my face. All of the sudden I was having a conversation with Dana White. In a few minutes time I became unemployed as a baker/barista, and the UFC’s newest employee headlining a Pay-Per-View event that was 9 days away. Holy shit. 

Fighting Words Live on FOXSports1

Fighting Words Live on FOXSports1

Things seemed to go a thousand miles per hour from that point on. That day I signed a multi-fight deal with the UFC, did about 20 phone interviews while heading to and from training, had two photo shoots, and went up to FOX studios for my first live interview on FOXSports1. I got home around 10pm and couldn’t sleep a wink.

The rest of the week was a lot more of the same, interviews, UFC All-Access, last minute doctor appointments to complete medicals, making sure my weight was under control and oh yeah, preparing for the biggest fight of my career. 

The next thing I knew I was flying to Vegas. When I checked into my hotel room and sat down on the bed I remember things slowing down for the first time. I could finally take a breath. Fight week is pretty hectic; I don’t think I had another moment to myself like that until the day of the fight. Not exactly something I’m used to dealing with when getting ready for a fight, but I did my best to put it all aside and focus on the task at hand.

Throughout my career as an athlete, I’ve competed in front of some pretty big crowds and felt a lot of pressure to perform. Most of the time the few minutes before a competition are filled with nerves, but once the time on the clock starts running I can block out everything and go execute. This time around I felt oddly calm, I didn’t feel any pressure of the situation and when the round started I got right to work. I felt great! After about thirty seconds into the round I remember thinking that our game plan was working and I was winning.

In the moment     photo by Esther Lin

In the moment     photo by Esther Lin

After the moment slipped away   photo by Esther Lin

After the moment slipped away   photo by Esther Lin

As soon as I had that thought, I was no longer in the moment, I stepped out of the zone and started watching what was happening instead of living it. For the next thirty seconds I tried desperately to reset and get back to that place in the moment, but I couldn’t regain my focus. After that, things got ugly. 

A theater professor of mine once offered this to me, “When you’re on stage, be in character, be in the moment until the scene cuts. When the curtain closes you can be yourself, but until then you are someone else.” I used his advice once while performing the song “Teenage Dirtbag” by Weetus in class and again in a small play at the end of the year that no one attended, but I used it much more during athletic competition. I haven’t thought of him or his advice since I’ve been in college. Maybe I need to get back to my roots.

Photo by Esther Lin

Photo by Esther Lin

Fighting is very much about capitalizing on mistakes and when you’re fighting to be the best of the best sometimes all it takes is one small mistake to create an opening that will change the fight. I opened the door, and to Daniel’s credit, he walked right though it.

Looking back after letting a few tough weeks pass, I still believe I can win that fight. A few very small adjustments, a little experience, and a reasonable amount of time to prepare are all I need to take that next step. At first I was really hard on myself, but after a few friends forced me to talk and more importantly, listen to them, I started to look at the situation objectively. They helped me see what I trained my mind to overlook. I’m moving forward and looking ahead to the next opportunity to preform. Eventually I’ll have a chance to make a run for the title and when I do, I’ll be prepared because of this very experience.

Photo by Esther Lin

Photo by Esther Lin

Up until this point I couldn’t imagine myself losing a fight, but now, in a way I’m glad it happened, I’m glad it’s out of the way. There’s only one place to go from here and that’s up. I feel pretty good about that considering I know what it feels like to hit rock bottom and never give up.  

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A Scientific Competition

The Cal State Fullerton Sports Science Department recently chose an elite group of athletes to run a battery of tests ranging from mobility, strength and endurance to lung capacity, power, and explosion. I was lucky enough to be a part of this testing group and so were a few friends of mine. Naturally we turned this scientific testing into a competition. 

 

The field of competion included:

Tom "Kong" Watson

Tom "Kong" Watson

Dennis "The Menace" Bermudez

Dennis "The Menace" Bermudez

 

 

And yours truly. 

And yours truly. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dr. Andy Galpin and his Sports Science staff at Cal State Fullerton were nice enough to volunteer their time and expertise to pinpoint both our strengths and weaknesses and help us design our training around this information. As a professional athlete, it’s incredibly important to be constantly searching for an edge over the competition no matter how slight. The edge that Dr. Galpin has given us is enormous, and he is now a permanent fixture in my training.

Dr. Andy Galpin of The Cal State Fullerton Sports Science Deparment

Dr. Andy Galpin of The Cal State Fullerton Sports Science Deparment

In MMA, people often talk of trainers or skills needed to compete at the highest level such as wrestling, boxing, Muay Thai, kickboxing, or Jiu Jitsu. Occasionally people will include the mental side of training when speaking of these skills, which I believe to be very important, but you rarely hear anyone talk about science.  After completing a day of tests by Dr. Galpin and his staff and receiving a 51 page report based on the results, its hard to imagine a list of skills for any professional athlete that doesn’t include Sports Science somewhere near the top.

The data collected from this intense battery of tests is all “Top Secret” but I’ve decided to follow the example set by Edward Snowden and leak the most pertinent information. This may be embarrassing to the other test subjects involved in the study but my hope is that this motivates them to improve. Public humiliation is an effective form of motivation!

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I really thought Lance would put up a better fight...

I really thought Lance would put up a better fight...

In return for all of Dr. Galpin’s hard work we agreed to participate in a study he was conducting on a product called Radius Wraps. In any sport where the hand or fist is used to strike an opponent it is very important to protect yourself. The most common way to protect the small bones in the hand is to tightly wrap your knuckles and hands and then wear some type of padded glove. For years “hand wraps” have consisted of a long piece of fabric that is wrapped around the knuckles, hands and wrists.

Dr. Ryan Parsons of Radius Wraps

Dr. Ryan Parsons of Radius Wraps

Radius Wraps use this method, but add an extra layer of protection: a foam roll is inserted into a built-in pocket in the wrap and then placed over the knuckles. I was very interested to see how this new wrap would feel because I always have problems with my knuckles and hands from the amount of striking we do during training. Radius Wraps claimed to provide more protection than that of a normal hand wrap and it was our job to test this claim.

Using a few of Dr. Galpin’s scientific devices we set out to find if Radius Wraps were in fact safer than normal hand wraps. Since Dr. Galpin plans on publishing this study in a scientific journal I have to stop here. However, I will say that since I’ve started using Radius Wraps I haven’t had a single hand issue during training and I would never consider going back to the old way wrapping my hands. I’m pretty excited to see the final results of the study and it’s conclusions about how effective Radius Wraps really are.

One of the scientific devices we used to test the Radius Wraps was called a “Strikemate”. The Strikemate tested how much force we could produce in each punch we threw. This proved to be another way for us to compete against each other. 

As you can see, the results of this particular test weren’t quite so one-sided. As I mentioned before, public humiliation is the best form of motivation, but when you break a man down you must also build him up. I’m not saying I didn’t give 100% for these tests, I’m just saying sometimes winning a competition isn’t worth shattering your friends’ hopes and dreams and driving them into a downward-spiral of depression. The keyword there is “sometimes” (sorry Dennis).

Competition runs pretty heavily in our blood, but at the end of our day of scientific testing, the most important thing was the gathering information and eventually using it to take steps towards improvement. As Dr. Galpin says, “This 51 page report of information is great, but if you don’t use it to get better then you might as well use it for kindling. So the results of our friendly competition aren’t the results that really matter.”

That may be the case, but it still feels pretty good to take home the gold!

 

 

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Adventures of the East Coast (Part 2)

I headed back to the East Coast again to enjoy the end of the summer and the beginning of fall, my favorite time of year in Pennsylvania.

Part One of my East Coast Adventure featured a wedding, training, bike rides, friends and family. This time around was very different.

 

The Hall of Champions, Caruso Wrestling Complex

The Hall of Champions, Caruso Wrestling Complex

I kicked off my second east coast adventure by spending a week training at Lehigh with the upper weights just before their official season began. It’s always good to get back into the wrestling room especially since Lehigh had just finished building a brand new facility, The Caruso Wrestling Complex. For those who are unfamiliar with Lehigh University, it’s a small, very academically centered school in Bethlehem, PA that just happens to have an amazing Division I wrestling program coached by who I consider to be the best college coach in the nation, Pat Santoro. The wrestling team also has a great staff of assistants and a very passionate booster club.

 

2010 World-Team Trials

2010 World-Team Trials

In 2010 I was fortunate enough to compete for the Lehigh Valley Athletic Club, make the Freestyle National Team, and compete and represent the LVAC and the United States overseas. Since that time, they have welcomed me back to train anytime I’m in the area even though I am now competing in a slightly different arena. I owe a lot to this program and someday I hope to be in the position to be able to give back to them. I may not have a facility named after me but maybe a bathroom or a broom closet somewhere.

 

I spent my second week on the East Coast in Coconut Creek, Florida training with the guys at American Top Team. I was invited down to train with Carmelo Marrero and Steve Mocco, two guys I competed against in college. I never thought I would be friendly with either of these two since we had so many battles back in the day, but that’s water under the bridge and I’m happy to call them my friends now. They just so happen to be great training partners too.

After a training session at ATT

After a training session at ATT

 

I wasn’t able to wrestle any alligators while I was in Florida but I managed to have a strange animal encounter and tangle with a bunch of good guys that train down there. Training stories can get a little boring so I’ll stick to the good stuff!

 

I flew in to Miami and hopped on a train to meet up with the guys. We immediately grabbed something to eat and hit the beach before the sun went down. It was pretty hot so we all jumped into the ocean at Deerfield Beach right next to the pier. The Florida beaches are different than the ones I’m used to. The water in California is usually pretty cold and you can’t see much, but the water in Florida is warm and you can see everything. As we were relaxing in the water we noticed a school of small fish changing direction and flickering in the sunlight. Some of the guys were making unsuccessful attempts at grabbing the fish and I kept going under the water and swimming with them, possibly pretending that I was one of them for a minute or two. A little later, as we were talking and hanging out in the chest-deep water I noticed that the fish looked a little bigger (about the length of my hand) and had a streak of yellow on them. I didn’t think much of it and we continued to talk and watch the sun move closer to the horizon.

 

I was in the middle of telling a story when suddenly one of the little fish swam right up to the surface and attached itself to my right nipple. This fish latched on with its tiny teeth and just started ripping and tearing like a maniac for what seemed like a minute. In reality, it was probably only 3 seconds. Of course, I stopped mid-story and started yelling and swatting at the fish. I basically freaked out.

 

Just before "the incident" on Deerfield Beach

Just before "the incident" on Deerfield Beach

Meanwhile no one else saw the viscous attack, so they all just figured I was faking a shark attack and told me to knock it off. Yep, these are my friends! I didn’t want to let this little fish totally defeat me so instead of getting out of the water completely, I decided to move from chest-deep water to waist deep water. As soon as I made the move I was plagued with one thought, “What if another, even more sensitive part of my body is attacked?”

 

As I stood there protecting myself and trying to think of something else one of the guys looked at me and said, “Hey bro, is that blood on you?” I looked down and sure enough blood was running down my chest and stomach. The other guys started to take notice just as another thought popped into my head, “I think I’ve heard somewhere that sharks can smell blood in the ocean from miles away!” I spent another 10 nervous minutes in the water before we finally decided to take off. That was definitely an interesting start to the week.

 

Background: Tim and Heather, newly married Foreground: My College Coaches heads, Eric Childs and Dave Hart

Background: Tim and Heather, newly married

Foreground: My College Coaches heads, Eric Childs and Dave Hart

When my week of training was finished it was time to move up the coast a few miles towards Jacksonville for my good friend Tim’s wedding. I thought for sure I’d have stitches or a black eye for this occasion, but I managed to make it there with only a minor nipple injury! The wedding turned out to be a blast. I was able to catch up with some friends I haven’t seen in a long time. I didn’t realize “catching up,” meant wrestling matches on the beach and skinny-dipping in the ocean, but who am I to reject new traditions! I found that this was the best way to get over my newly developed fear of fish, so it all worked out in the end.  It was great to see my old and very good friends and make some new ones in the process.

 

My last week on the East Coast was spent back at home in Lancaster, PA. I worked out with my Lehigh guys during the day and spent time with my family at night. The last weekend of my trip was devoted to mountain biking with my buddies at Lake Raystown. This is the second year in a row we’ve managed to make this trip happen so I think that makes it a tradition. Raystown is one of my favorite spots in Pennsylvania to ride: over 30 miles of singletrack trails, great conditions, beautiful fall scenery and spending time with some great friends had me smiling the entire time. We had some awesome rides and some great laughs by the fire.

At Lake Raystown with the boys

At Lake Raystown with the boys

 

Friends from all times and places in my life, family, and great experiences are key ingredients to an epic adventure. This was exactly what I needed to finish up my East Coast adventure and get me motivated to get back to training in Orange County. I’m constantly training and doing everything possible to get better but sometimes I have to step back and take a break to re-energize and refocus in order to take the next step forward. The trick is figuring out how to do it, and I’ve found that a trip back east is definitely one great way. 

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Adventures of the East Coast (Part 1)

 

This summer I had the pleasure to visit my family in Pennsylvania on two separate occasions. It had been about a year since I made back to good old Lancaster, PA so I had to take advantage of my time on the East Coast and do everything possible.

 

My good friends at Lehigh University and the Lehigh Valley Athletic Club made one of these trips possible. Thanks guys! When I wasn’t training at Lehigh, I was spending time with my family and also spending time outside hitting all of my favorite hotspots in the area.

I was fortunate to make it to my cousin Nicholas’ wedding in Doylestown. It was great to be there with the entire family to celebrate. Congrats Nick and Sheena! When I said, “the entire family,” you better believe Grandy was there in full force holding it down on the dance floor with me…she’s such a babe.

 

Grandy is always taking it to the next level

Grandy is always taking it to the next level

I also give haircuts.

I also give haircuts.

 

I left quite a few tread marks on my home trails at Camp Mack in Brickerville, PA. No matter what part of the country I’m in with my bike, I’m always really happy to come back to these trails that I know so well and tear it up! My first ride in Brickerville was a bloody one though. The trails were so overgrown with thorn bushes I came back looking like I got in a fight with a mountain lion, which would probably make for a much better blog post. The next day I came back with some giant scissor-looking hedge trimmers and exacted my revenge old school WWF style like Brutus “The Barber” Beefcake. After cleaning things up a bit out there I was actually able to persuade most of the boys to come my way for a big ride. They were pretty impressed, more so with the trail system than with my trail clearing skills, but I never told them it took me 5 hours in the rain: C’mon, that’s a lot of giant scissoring! Well worth it.

 

The Boys (left to right) Ryan "Ol' Roy" Cummins, AJ "The Iceman" Akerman, and with his best weigh-in pose - Justin "Just In Case" Kast

The Boys (left to right)

Ryan "Ol' Roy" Cummins, AJ "The Iceman" Akerman, and with his best weigh-in pose - Justin "Just In Case" Kast

 

Unfortunately, my last ride at Camp Mack was really upsetting; actually it was the worst ride I think I’ve ever had. Imagine riding on your favorite trails with your headphones blasting a “bike party” playlist while wearing a huge stupid grin on your face and all of the sudden you turn a corner and see complete devastation. The entire backside of the trail system completely wiped out. The trails I knew like the back of my hand were leveled. It looked like a huge dirty parking lot. I was completely shocked, and to rub salt in the wound, a fully loaded logging truck sped by throwing dust all over me. I stood tarred and feathered – not quite, sweat and dusted is more like it – and I thought back to all of the great times I had riding those trails and it hit me, I will never be able to do that again. At that moment I began sweating profusely from my eyes (not really sure what that was all about, probably just a reaction from the dust).

I couldn't bring myself to take a picture of the destruction. 

I couldn't bring myself to take a picture of the destruction. 

After talking to a few people and doing some detective work I found out that Camp Mack was having some financial trouble and had to sell some timber to stay afloat. On many sites it said, “Some trails may be closed due to clearing ‘dead trees’ in the area.” Clearly that was not the case.

 

RIP North Valley and Lost Valley Trail. Thanks for the great memories. You will be sincerely missed.

 

Happy Birthday Bro!

Happy Birthday Bro!

On a brighter note, I was able to celebrate my brother A.J.’s 30th birthday with him. He just moved back to Pennsylvania and is getting back into the mountain biking scene too so I took him to all the best trails in the area. We also shared the “Love Boat” at the local sushi spot for dinner. As you might expect, it was magical.

 

While we’re on the subject of my brother I might as well introduce you to Beck, his giant best friend. Beck is just the right mixture of Labrador Retriever and Husky thus creating a talking 120-pound bully. Blinded by the thought of whipping this dog into shape I decided to take him for a quick 10-mile mountain bike ride. This proved to be a big mistake. It happened to be 90 degrees, sunny and about 90% humidity, but I thought to myself, “There are plenty of places to get water on the trails and its always cooler in the shade of the woods.”

 

The Beast.

The Beast.

Just as anyone with a functioning brain would have guessed, about three quarters of the way through our ride Beck decided that laying down was a much better idea than running. I stopped and gave him some water, expecting it to revitalize him a little but I could see that he was finished and wouldn’t budge. At this point I decided that he wasn’t going anywhere so I made the call to leave him where he was and ride back to the car, load my bike up, get some water, run back to him and figure out how to get him home.

 

When I made it to the car I realized that the only shoes I had were sandals and that I only had half a bottle of water left. Things seemed to spiral downward pretty quickly, but I stayed calm and took off running back to find Beck. Just as I thought, I found him in the exact same place where I left him. He was excited to see me and wagged his tail a little, which was a good sign.

 

I gave him all of the water he could drink and then poured the rest of the bottle on him to try to cool him off. I had to move fast, so I forced him to get up and get moving and when he rolled over I noticed that there were ants all over him. At that moment I tried to think of a time when I was so tired that I didn’t care if ants were crawling all over me and then I realized just how bad of a situation this was. I frantically brushed the ants off of him and I pulled him a little further by his collar forcing him (in the nicest way possible) to walk. After a little while instead of lying down to rest he collapsed with stiff-legged grace into a patch of ferns. Now the panic really set in, and I knew I didn’t have much time to get him out of the heat.

 

120 pounds doesn’t sound like a lot of weight but when it’s dead, unwilling to be carried, dog weight I assure you it’s heavy as hell. My first method, which I’ll refer to as the “bridal carry” only lasted for about 100 yards before my arms gave out and I had to stop. I needed to find a new method so in a rage I picked him up and threw him over my shoulder. This time it wasn’t just dead dog weight, it was angry resisting dog weight. All of the sudden this big bully had enough energy to try to fight me off from picking him up. “Don’t you know I’m trying to save your life!?”

 

 Despite the kicking and howling I kept him on my shoulder and started to get moving. He finally settled down and got into a comfortable position. Looking back, the comfortable position must have looked hilarious. I had him thrown over my shoulder with both of my arms clutching his butt and tail while his front feet stretched down my back and he rested his long, sharp dog toes uncomfortably in my waistband so he could prop his giant chest and shoulders up to see what was going on behind me. I ran, stubbing my toes on rocks with a hot, half dead dog on my back all the way until we hit the stream at the trailhead. I grunted and talked or sang to him the whole way to make sure he wasn’t going to pass out.

 

Back to normal after a few days of recovery. He loved the pampering. Note the fine landscaping in the background!

Back to normal after a few days of recovery. He loved the pampering.

Note the fine landscaping in the background!

 

When it was all said and done I ran just a little over a mile in the woods with a gigantic white dog over my shoulder while wearing flip-flops in 90-degree weather. What a dumbass! We both collapsed in the stream exhausted for about 15 minutes and then made our way home. When we arrived home my mom and I filled up a plastic baby pool with ice water. He sprawled out in the pool completely content for the next 4 hours and watched me mulch my parent’s yard, which I completely forgot about. Hauling 10 yards of mulch with a wheelbarrow and spreading it through out my parents property was the last possible thing I wanted to do after that experience. However, there are worse things, and when I gave it some thought, getting dirty and being in the sun are a few of my favorite things. I was just relieved that I didn’t have to tell my brother that I killed his dog. That might be the worst thing you can get for someone as a birthday gift.

 

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The Dominator

Deep-sea offshore fishing…sounds like an adventure to me. Let’s do this!

Well, maybe I should start with the guy that made this adventure possible. A new friend of mine Anthony Bauer. I met Anthony through some friends and pretty quickly we figured out that we both have the adventure bug. His version of adventure is slightly different than mine. Anthony is an outdoorsman in the classical sense. He loves to hunt and fish more than anything, so much so, that he devotes most of his time to the outdoors and also provides opportunities for others to enjoy the outdoors that may not be as privileged. Anthony’s company is called Live2Die and his goal is to get kids away from the TV and videogames and get them outside. Now that is certainly something I can get behind. Check out his site at www.Live2DieGear.com

My Good Friend Anthony Bauer of www.Live2DieGear.com

My Good Friend Anthony Bauer of www.Live2DieGear.com

Much like a lot of the kids Anthony mentors, I have never been out on a fishing boat in the ocean. I have plenty of experience fishing in lakes, ponds and streams, but that experience doesn’t really help at all when it comes to fishing in the ocean. Everything is different.

The first difference I experienced was the feeling of being on boat in the middle of the ocean. To me rocking around on the boat in the open water was pretty fun, but meanwhile my brain and inner ear were getting confused and they started to rebel against my body. For those of you who have never been sea sick, consider yourself lucky because it sucks! Our trip was definitely for advanced anglers, which I felt confident I was, so it wasn’t just a few hours on the water. We set sail (har har) Friday night around 9pm and we were scheduled to come back Sunday morning at 9am. I wasn’t exactly sure how everything worked, but that was part of the adventure. It turned out that we drove all night for about 12 hours, going out around 130 miles, and fished all day and that night we drove back another 12 hours. For someone that hasn’t been on a boat very often, that’s a long time, especially if you can’t hold any food down!

My first Yellowtail, good reward after a rough morning.

My first Yellowtail, good reward after a rough morning.

My seasickness started when I woke up in the morning after a long night of heading out into the middle of the ocean. The first few times a got sick I tried to hide it from the others on the boat by sneaking off to the bathroom, but after awhile I didn’t really care what anyone else thought of me and I just starting chucking off the side of the boat. About two minutes after my last bout of throwing up the captain got on the PA system and announced that we had reached our first fishing spot. So, it was time to man-up, I wiped my mouth, grabbed my pole and a sardine and got to it. Within minutes I pulled in my very first Yellowtail. The excitement and adrenaline of catching my first fish seemed to settle my stomach even after eating the heart of my first kill. I was told it was an ocean fishing tradition, but I’m not so sure about that. Either way, I managed to hold it down and went on to catch two more Yellowtail throughout the day. I stopped barfing and I started to get my “sea legs”. 

Eating the heart of my first kill. A  Dominator Tradition, or so I was told... 

Eating the heart of my first kill. A  Dominator Tradition, or so I was told... 

Anthony and I caught fish side by side at one point. Pretty awesome. I think mine is a little bigger!

Anthony and I caught fish side by side at one point. Pretty awesome. I think mine is a little bigger!

Anthony went on to catch three Yellowtail and the season’s first Dorado, which is a big deal, and he did it while teaching and helping me all day, pretty impressive.

As the sun started to set on our day of fishing we saw a group of porpoise surface and swim next to the boat in the last few rays of sunshine. What a perfect ending to the day. At that point all I could think about was doing this trip again, pretty funny considering 12 hours before I convinced myself that I’m a land dweller and I would never fish in the open ocean again. It’s funny how things change when a little adrenaline is thrown into the mix.

The season's first Dorado. What a beautiful fish, congrats Anthony!

The season's first Dorado. What a beautiful fish, congrats Anthony!

Our day of fishing was over and we began our long journey back to shore. We were all beat from fighting fish and being in the sun all day, but the deck hands weren’t quite finished yet. These guys were the all-stars of the boat. They ran the bait all day, glassed the ocean searching for fish, untangled everyone’s lines when things got out of hand and tied knots for those of us who had no idea what was going on. So, the deck hands final job of the day was to fillet everyone’s fish. This doesn’t sound that difficult but it was dark, the boat was rocking and we were going 10 knots in the open ocean. I would have cut my hand off for sure, but these guys flew through all the fish in about an hour even with me peeking over their shoulders asking questions the entire time. 

The boat's haul for the day. 7 of those belonged to us, not bad for a land dweller and his teacher.

The boat's haul for the day. 7 of those belonged to us, not bad for a land dweller and his teacher.

The Dominator. Best fishing boat on the west coast.

The Dominator. Best fishing boat on the west coast.

Our captain, Frank D’Anna of “The Dominator” drove us all through the night and we arrived back at the harbor with our fish, a few stories of the sea and most importantly, a lot of new friendships. If you’re interested in doing a trip like this “The Dominator” is the only boat to charter as far as I’m concerned. These guys busted their asses all day and night to make sure that we caught fish and had a blast. Check them out at www.dominatorsportfishing.com and book your trip out of Point Loma, CA you definitely won’t regret it. 

A fishing adventure wouldn’t be complete for me without making a trip to the kitchen to experiment with a few yellowtail recipes. You can’t get fish any fresher than right off the boat, and it tastes just a little better when you catch it yourself! Sashimi and ceviche were on the menu as soon as I got home. I invited a few friends over and we collaborated on some other dishes including, seared yellowtail salad, fish tacos, and my favorite cioppino. It was definitely worth starving for a day out on the water to be rewarded with a fresh feast like that when I returned.

Yellowtail Jalapeño Sashimi about 3 hours from the boat. So fresh.  

Yellowtail Jalapeño Sashimi about 3 hours from the boat. So fresh.

 

Fisherman's stew or Ciopinno. The Yellowtail put all the other seafood to shame, but it was delicious.

Fisherman's stew or Ciopinno. The Yellowtail put all the other seafood to shame, but it was delicious.

Thanks to Anthony, Frank and the crew my first open ocean fishing trip was a memorable adventure. I can’t wait until next time. We’ll be going for the big ones, Bluefin. Until then, in the words of Anthony Bauer and his Live2Die motto: “Get busy living, or get busy dying!”

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Welcome to the Official Durkin Adventure Blog!

In the spirit of true adventure, I won’t linger on adventures of the past, although newsworthy, adventure to me means looking forward to the next bigger and better thing, always progressing.

"If we open a quarrel between past and present, we shall find that we have lost the future."  –Winston Churchill

Ryan Parsons, Tom Watson and I before the fight. Yep, the venue is called "The Grizzly Rose" easily mistaken for "Bob's Country Bunker".

Fight! There is no better way to kick things off. After all, fighting is my occupation and I don’t think anyone would dispute the fact that fighting is an adventurous activity. This fight week was particularly important because I had a contract and an opponent. That might not sound ground breaking, but when the months prior consist of 40 opponents refusing to fight or backing out of verbal agreements, it’s reason enough to be excited. On top of that, this particular opponent was undefeated with the same 3-0 record that I held.

Damn right I want to hand an opponent his first loss. Sounds great doesn’t it? Well, it sounded great up until a week and a half before the fight when my opponent had second thoughts. I’ve been in this scenario before, but it always amazes me when “fighters” won’t fight. C’mon, it’s your job!

Flights and hotel rooms were booked to Denver, Colorado for my coaches and I and to make matters worse the same is true for about 10 members of my family and friends from the East Coast. Luckily Willy Smalls, a local fighter from Denver, stepped up to the challenge. Not the opponent we were hoping for but Willy Smalls proved to be a tough opponent. The fight ended with a submission about three and a half minutes into the 1st round, but I had to work for it. I managed to get my fourth 1st round finish. Reason enough to celebrate, yes, but this wasn’t the guy I really wanted to choke. A fight is a fight, and the thing I need most is experience, so I’ll take what I can get.

After the fight I made sure to thank Willy for taking the fight on such short notice and we ended up talking for about 10 minutes. What a great guy he turned out to be. I had my suspicions that he was cool when I caught a glimpse of him dancing to my entrance music. It’s a safe bet that any fan of Prince is a friend of mine! The fights were finished relatively early so I was able to spend some time with my friends and family before they took off Sunday morning. The fact that my family came to show their support was definitely the best part of the weekend for me. I don’t get back to the East Coast very often, so it’s pretty rare that the whole family can be together. I’ve learned to cherish those times and it’s hilarious that fighting is what brought us together! My family in attendance for the fight didn’t just include my parents and brothers, my grandmother, “Grandy” as she’s most well known also made the trip. Not many Grandmothers would be interested in watching a cage fight, but there are absolutely no Grandmothers like my Grandy! 

 

Weigh-ins were at a bar (there is a theme here) called the "Ugly Dog".

All My friends and family after the fight. Check out Grandy, all smiles, up front!

I was able to extend my trip a few days to explore Denver and the surrounding areas. It wouldn’t be very adventurous of me to ignore the Rocky Mountains! Especially when my brothers organized a plot to conquer Quandary Peak and it’s 14,265 feet of elevation while I was cutting weight for my fight. Jerks. So, my great friend Max Wessell and his family made sure to show me all the hot spots. We were busy training (Max will be a sophomore at Lehigh University in the fall and will be making a splash at heavyweight – keep an eye out for him. He’s a monster!) so a 14,000 foot mountain wasn’t in the cards for us but we managed to put together a day hike at Mount Sinitas in Boulder, CO. It was amazing. We also made it to a Rockies game and believe it or not, it was a great time. I don’t want to admit it, but I may have high-fived some people in the crowd when the Rockies pulled out a win in extra innings.

Rockies 5  Dimondbacks 4

While hiking Mount Sinitas with my buddy Max, we received a compliment that is pretty tough to forget... "I'm just saying, your quads are pretty admirable man."
She was definitely talking to Max!

Leaving Colorado to head back to California, believe it or not, was pretty difficult. I got to spend time with some old friends from all different places and times in my life. College friends, teammates, students, friends that I’ve camped, backpacked or mountain biked with and of course my family. And on top of that Colorado is a magical place. I’ll be back, but in the meantime, Colorado will remain a magical place and all of my friends and I will be off on adventures of our own. The next time we meet we’ll have that much more to share with each other.

You never know where or when adventure will find you, but you have to be out experiencing everything for it to come calling. Until next time… 

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