Why I Fish

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First of all, there’s the water. Los Cabos is perfectly situated in an area where the Pacific Ocean meets the Sea of Cortez, a confluence that provides ideal habitat for the world’s great gamefish.  The union of these warm and cold currents is unique in the world, occurring over a terrain of deep marine canyons and an upwelling of currents that keeps a constant supply of food in circulation.

Water symbolically contains the mystery of the unknown, and, in Los Cabos, despite having some of the finest oceans views in the world and often spending evenings looking over a vast expanse of water at dinner, we really don’t have a lot of information about what’s going on out there. But we know the fish are there, a large population of striped marlin and the larger blues and blacks too, wahoo and tuna, roosterfish, dorado in abundance and sierra. Name a gamefish and there’s a good chance that Cabo has it.

This is a place that attracts serious anglers, including early enthusiasts like Bing Crosby and John Wayne. If you are lucky you can be part of that heritage. John Pentz is a local developer and a serious angler.  He’s created some of the iconic places on the landscape here, like the Shoppes at Palmilla, and is now working on a new luxury boutique hotel to open next year overlooking Monuments Beach.  John had the kind of upbringing that leads to becoming a serious angler, as a young boy hiking and riding with his father deep into California’s high Sierras in search of wild trout.  Those kinds of boyhood memories create a fascination with water, and when John came down to Cabo in 1980 it was a life changing event, staying at the Hotel Cabo San Lucas where he hooked his first marlin, a proverbial game changer.  That fish led to repeat visits and now John lives in the area, overlooking what he considers the finest fishing grounds in the world.  “There is a lot to love about this place,” John says. “I love the climate and the people, and I have to say that, after fishing other places in the world, there is no better place to fish for marlin than Los Cabos.”

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Local angler/chef Drew Deckman, of Deckman’s Restaurant in San Jose del Cabo, was looking for a place to combine his highly-evolved culinary skills with his passion for fishing. “Eight years ago I began looking for a place where I could cook at the level I was accustomed as well as have a shot at a billfish 365 days a year.  The fishing in Cabo, when it’s on, is as good as it gets.  We get all the species I want to catch most times of the year.”

And when he catches them, the most desirable eating species, he knows exactly what to do with them, creating plates so inventive, so precisely composed, that you look at the ingredients in a whole new light. “My life has been hook-to-fork for a long time and my kitchens only serve seafood from the Baja peninsula.  I’m not sure there is another place like this on the planet that is so varied and complete in terms of the resource.”

In Los Cabos, a single fish can change your life.  Ask the people over at Picante Sportfishing about that. In 1994 the Picante team entered the Bisbee Black and Blue Marlin Tournament, their first competitive fishing contest, and a 950-pound marlin spotted their lure and took it, something that came as a complete surprise. That fish resulted in a tournament purse in the hundreds of thousands of dollars and a Cabo sportfishing boat valued at about $250,000. Those awards led to the founding of Picante Sportfishing at the Marina in Cabo, now one of Cabo’s most recognizable fishing charters and a Cabo Yachts dealer.  All of that because a fish got hungry one morning during tournament season.

What would an article about fishing be without a fish story?  Michael Aviani, owner/broker of Los Cabos Vacation Rentals first fished the waters off San Jose del Cabo in August of 1985. Captivated by the area, he drove back down later in October of that year and went out with two friends and caught 7 wahoo, 10 dorado and 3 tuna in a panga rented through Victor’s Sportfishing for about $90, splitting it 3 ways.  That was when you could get a hotel room on the beach in San Jose for $18 a night. Michael became such an enthusiast that he was out fishing with a honeymooning couple and made a comment that the fishing was so good in Baja that the fish almost jump into the boat. Not long after that, as if on cue, a 25-pound dorado actually jumped into their boat.

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Sometimes people ask me why I fish and I simply tell them that it’s something that can’t be explained, offering only that I have been drawn to it since I was a young boy. It’s a complicated question and it’s too early in the morning here at the Baja Cantina at the Marina to try and explain. I might just as well try to explain why people enjoy watching baseball or don’t like horse racing.

But if I were to try I would tell them about the amazing wild animals that you sometimes see when you are out on the water. The birds and the sea lions, and sometimes whales, but most of all the gamefish in their full iridescent glory, the dorado that flash a brilliant bluish-green and gold in the sun when alive then turn a dull yellow-gray when dead, and the large rays that shoot into the air and do somersaults, coming out of the water to surprise and delight you as you troll offshore near Pedregal. And if you let your eyes go out of focus you can think back in time and realize that you are out on the same waters that Spanish galleons may have sailed on, before there was anything here, save for a few hardy souls who survived by harvesting the waters surrounding the cape.

So you go out to try your luck, and some days the fish will not be there and you will just have an expensive boat ride. But in Cabo there is always a high probability that it will be a good day, fishing with friends and a cooler full of Pacificos, and your senses come up on full alert after you pass El Arco, as you know there may be an opportunity anywhere once you leave the Marina.

We put the trolling rigs out early, and start glassing the water looking for signs of fish. When you are fishing these waters, even though you have sophisticated electronic instruments, you don’t know what is down there until it comes up to investigate your trolled baits. A large fish may suddenly show up behind one of the lures that is darting and jumping at the end of the boat’s prop wash, so you keep your eye fixed there, occasionally looking around for signs of birds.

Just as you settle into the steady lull of the troll a fish comes up behind the boat, hungry and ready to eat.  The captain yells and points to the large dark shape following the boat and you see that it’s a marlin and the head is a deep purple as he rises, the pectoral fins spread wide as he comes to eat, almost like a bird’s wings, as if setting for a landing, the bill toying with a lure that is the size of a small tuna.

Then the action begins as you lurch towards the rod with the lure that the marlin is chasing, and you lower the rod and see his mouth open and your heart is pounding as you see the lure go into his mouth. And then he turns to run and you strike him and he feels the hook and goes airborne in a fantastic display of power or may go greyhounding across the surface, taking line at a furious clip.  And even though the sun is barely up, it is then that you think about your first beer.

You see the line disappear off your reel at an alarming rate and feel something of incredible power pulling it.  You are excited and a little intimidated as the same time, wondering what you have got yourself into now. They say a body in motion tends to stay in motion, and when a 300 pound marlin, a modest-sized blue, is on its first powerful run it can burn most of the line off your reel, and for the next 20 or 40 or 90 minutes you struggle to turn his head and reclaim your line and, in spite of all the expensive heavy gear, the outcome is never certain.

For those who love the pursuit of tackle busting game fish in southern Baja the excitement is a result of going into an unpredictable environment and being hooked to a wild animal, an apex predator with great heart and fighting spirit, being linked to something much stronger than you are, feeling the speed and power and seeing the way the fish light up when they are excited, a color that you could never capture in the finest photograph, and something you would never see if you weren’t able to bring them to the boat where, most likely, they will be admired and then released.

I have spent some time and money in pursuit of the great game fish of Los Cabos.  It’s been said a good fisherman can never starve, but if you really feel the excitement in pursuing the magnificent marlin and their companions off the coast in southern Baja, then you are likely to contribute a good part of your hard-earned wages to the fishing industry here.

But the experience is never really about that, as the profits of sportfishing can’t be measured in currency. You are on your way back to the Marina and a friend, who has also had a good day and who is one of the finest anglers you have ever known, lights a Cuban cigar and reaches into the cooler, pulls out a chilled Pacifico and hands it to you. There is spray coming off the sides of the boat, refracting the sunlight into a rainbow, and as you hold the can, feeling the coldness and weight, it somehow feels like real money.

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A Visit to Trinchero Napa Valley – St. Helena, CA

The Proud Facade of Trinchero Napa Valley

By Michael Koehn

Growing up in the Napa Valley, I went to school with a lot of kids whose families worked in the wine business. In those days, St. Helena was a quiet, unassuming town with an economy dominated by agriculture – prunes, some hay, walnuts and yes, grapes.

Most of the wineries in the area then were small family run operations selling good drinking wines at reasonable prices, before international recognition of the Napa Valley as a premier wine producing region and widespread corporate involvement in the industry.

One of those family operated wineries, Sutter Home, was owned by the Trinchero family. Mario and his wife Mary had moved to northern California from New York in 1948, and purchased Sutter Home Winery with Mario’s brother John. Through long hours and hard work, the Trincheros made a go of it by producing hearty, everyday drinking wines and selling them to regional customers who sometimes refilled barrels and jugs at the winery’s back door. Mary Trinchero kept the books, younger children Vera and Roger helped on the bottling line, while older brother Bob assisted his father Mario and Uncle John, cleaning out tanks and barrels. It was a classic mom and pop operation.

As the industry began to mature, it was son Bob who came up with a product that was to vastly increase the fortunes of the winery. In 1972 he provided the American wine consumer with a new style of premium wine known as White Zinfandel, and during the 1975 harvest when some 1,000 gallons of bleed-off juice from a batch of red Zinfandel grapes didn’t completely ferment it resulted in a sweetish wine with a pink color and plenty of widespread appeal. Today Sutter Home White Zinfandel is available almost everywhere, and is one of the most popular consumer wines ever created, amounting to about 10% of all wine sales nationally and over 10 million cases sold a year. With its breakthrough success, Sutter Home has become the second largest independent family-run winery in the U.S.

On a visit to the Napa Valley I got an invitation to visit the Trinchero Napa Valley winery, a sprawling production complex and culinary center located a few miles north of St. Helena. It’s a remarkable new facility, a testimony to the family’s long term skills in the wine industry, and also a tribute to its roots in Napa Valley. With the opening of this operation, the Trinchero family is now poised to become one of the key players in the premium single vineyard varietal category.

“Trinchero Family Estates currently consists of thirty different labels,” says Bob Torres, Vera’s son and the winery’s Senior Vice President of Operations, “but this production complex is really the jewel in the crown for us. We started a winery under the Trinchero name in 1998 to commemorate our 50th anniversary, and this will be the new headquarters for that operation.”

We’re standing in the middle of the expansive winery on a perfect mid-seventies Napa Valley day. The entire facility sits on a knoll, elevated above the valley floor. In the background, Mt. St. Helena overlooks hundreds of acres of vineyards colored with fruit.

Our first stop is the Hospitality Center, which features a Tuscan-style culinary center with indoor and outdoor kitchens and dining, woodburning pizza ovens, and a reserve tasting room and cellar. It’s an appropriate introduction to the operation, as it contains family tributes from the early winemaking days. Just inside, a large inscription on the wall reads “In loving memory of Mario & Mary. May we continue in the same generous spirit.”

Entering the large tastefully appointed reception area there are framed black and white family photos and vintage artifacts displayed in glass coffee tables, including wine labels, boxes of cigars, logbooks, correspondence, and an old pocket-sized Sutter Home cookbook entitled “Mama’s Recipes for Keeping Papa Home.”

The food connection has always been strong with the Trincheros (The Sutter Home Napa Valley Cookbook was published by Chronicle Books in 2000), and we head into the center’s kitchen, a gleaming space full of industrial stainless steel appliances and striking graphic art. “This is where most of the activity takes place on the property,” Torres says. “We’ll be busy here almost every day of the week with industry events, lunches, dinners and tours.”

Next door is a small dining room that is decorated with the recipe for bagna cauda writ large all around the walls. This Piedmontese specialty calls for dipping bread and vegetables into large pots of warm olive oil flavored with garlic and anchovies. “It’s a traditional Italian dish served in the harvest season,” explains Torres. I can almost smell the aromas in this festive space, a perfect spot for dipping, eating and drinking wine with a view of the vineyards outside.

As impressive as the new facility design is, it’s the wine that is made and sold here that gives Trinchero Napa Valley its credentials. Specializing in red varietals, the winery produces vintages crafted under the care of winemaker Mario Monticelli, who provides a simple but painstaking approach to creating first class wine in very limited quantities, using a combination of state of the art technology and Old World sensibilities. “My goal is to put forth the finest expression of the fruit and the land from which it is grown,” says Monticelli. It’s an approach that takes the finest grapes harvested from over 200 acres of estate vineyards in some of the valley’s most prized appellations and extracts as much character from them as possible.

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Inside the production center we see the hi-tech part of the operation. Gleaming stainless steel tanks sit in a room devoted to the early part of the fermentation process. “These tanks are computer monitored for all the characteristics we care about,” Torres explains. “They’re even online so Mario can check on them from a home-based computer, if need be. But he’s very hands-on with every part of the process.”

Next door sit 1,400 oak barrels, the final resting place before the wine heads to the bottle. Smells of wood and wine mingle here, a hint of what’s to come in the finished product, and we decide to head over to the tasting room.
We’re greeted there by Lee Ann Vallerga, a winery representative who explains the wines to us by type and vintage year. We zero in on the Central Park West Cabernet, a dense, delicious, fully-fruited red with a lingering finish. “We get some strange looks about the appellation,” Torres says. “The New York reference is another tribute to the original family home back east.”

There is a generous selection of vintages here to taste, and Lee Ann explains the details of each of them while we savor the moment. Although these wines are meticulously made and highly rated, the prices have been kept within range of the average wine consumer, a big advantage in an economic climate where Napa Valley boutique wineries sometimes charging over $100 a bottle have seen drastically declining sales.

Opened in mid-summer 2009, the Trinchero facility is also a model of respect for the environment, with energy efficiency, recycled water, packaging and office supplies, and employee transportation programs that use the highest standards for green business operation. A culinary garden, while not fully planted on our visit, also promises to provide year round organic herbs and vegetables for the nearby kitchen.

There is also an outdoor seating area with a fireplace where visitors can sit and relax, maybe enjoy a good cigar with a glass of Cabernet or vintage port while overlooking the lush vineyards that surround the winery. It looks to be an ideal spot for a photo op too, or a wedding. Up on the hillside, two large driftwood sculptures of longhorn cattle keep watch, part of the extensive art collection decorating the grounds.

The view from Trinchero Napa Valley, with Mt. St. Helena in the background.

On the way out of town on our drive back to Los Angeles we pass the original Sutter Home Winery on Highway 29 just south of St. Helena. It’s still a busy spot, beautifully restored, with the original winery now serving as a visitor center. Thinking back to the early days of the winery and its modest beginnings, it’s easy to think that Mario and Mary, who passed away in 1981 and 1999 respectively, would be simply amazed at the business empire they had helped create and the impressive new facility on the north side of town that now proudly carries their name.

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Known for Its Scenic Beauty, Great Golf and Fishing, Los Cabos is Also a Mecca for Great Eating.

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By Michael Koehn

Los Cabos attracts people from all over the world because of all the wonderful things is has going for it – great weather, scenic beauty, the best fishing and golf and the warm hospitality of the people who live here.

What it also has is plenty of great food.  It turns out the climate and conditions throughout southern Baja are perfect for organic farming a large part of the year, and there’s also a rich marine environment from the Sea of Cortez up to Magdalena Bay that provides a wide variety of fresh seafood – lobster, shrimp, scallops, clams and fish – to the many creative restaurants in the area.

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When it comes to fresh organic products, it’s hard to beat the many farms around the Miraflores/Santiago area and places like Flora Farm and Huerta Los Tamarindos. Run by Patrick and Gloria Greene, Flora Farm near San Jose del Cabo is part of a culinary complex that includes manicured fields of organic produce, a restaurant and bar, a grocery and even culinary cottages for onsite stays.  In its variety of efforts, Flora Farm has been one of the key players in promoting the field-to-fork concept locally.  Huerta Los Tamarindos, just outside San Jose del Cabo, is a certified organic farm and restaurant started by Chef Enrique Silva of Tequila restaurant. While providing the freshest tomatoes, eggplant, chiles, zucchini, baby lettuces and herbs to local markets, Silva also runs a cooking school on the grounds so that guests can learn about the farming experience and then take those ingredients from the ground to the outdoor kitchen and create pre-Hispanic, traditional Mexican or Mediterranean dishes, like pumpkin soup, stuffed squid or vegetarian lasagna.

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For many of us, dining in Los Cabos means a table with a view of the Sea of Cortez. As you sit there taking in the scenery it just seems natural to want to enjoy a seafood dish with ingredients that were probably taken from the waters directly in front of you. It may be something simple, like the classic Baja fish or shrimp tacos, a more sophisticated dish like a smoked marlin tostada, or an exotic specialty like chocolate clams or pulpo (octopus). The delicious cuisine derived from the Sea of Cortez and Pacific Ocean is one of the great luxuries of the area, and the best chefs continue to create dishes using seafood in ways that surprise and delight.

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Drew Deckman of Deckman’s restaurant near San Jose has earned a reputation as a wildly creative chef, using exotic and locally-available ingredients like geoduck, gooseneck barnacles and sea urchin. “It’s all about honoring the wonderful array of ingredients available here in Baja,” he says. Deckman also offers cooking classes at his restaurant, which use fresh seafood and sometimes wild boar and venison, and makes wine pairing an essential part of the experience.

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Many of the most famous resorts have also been quick to take advantage of the thriving local markets, including Jean-George Vongerichten at One & Only Palmilla and Fabrice Guisset at Los Ventanas al Paraiso, who also have their own organic gardens on the hotel grounds, and Angel Carbajal of Nik San who adds savory Mexican accents to his wonderfully fresh sushi. Up in Todos Santos, Chef Dany Lamote of Hotel California, has produced several tantalizing cookbooks (including The Hotel California Tequila Cookbook) and, in partnership with Todo Santos Eco Adventures, also offers cooking classes designed to expose visitors to the delicious regional cuisine. Attendees get information on local products, flora and seafood (including things like wild honey gathered from nearby caves) and then spend an evening preparing authentic regional dishes. And, yes, an essential part of that education includes a sampling of the best Mexican wine, beer and tequila.

With its variety of culinary experiences from quick and casual to more sophisticated dining, southern Baja’s award-winning chefs continue to offer uniquely creative dishes based on the fresh products that local organic farmers and fisherman provide.  Whether it’s fish tacos at a street stand, dining under umbrellas on the beach or a visit to one of the 5-star restaurants in the area, it’s good to know that eating well is always going to be one of the key attractions in southern Baja.

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Exploring Ranchos in Southern Baja’s Sierra La Laguna Mountains

By Michael Koehn

Southern Baja has a riches of adventure opportunities and the most popular ones are very well known.  But there are other adventures to be discovered, up the less traveled roads where the old Baja lifestyle remains intact and people live unchanged from the way they have for hundreds of years.

Recently, the Mexican government has been promoting what they call “alternative tourism” in southern Baja, encouraging adventure enthusiasts to explore places like the rugged Sierra La Laguna Mountains, an ecological preserve and home to collection of small ranchos with rustic accommodations where tourists can explore the auténtico lifestyle of old Baja. This mountainous area is home to a unique and vibrant ecosystem and is protected by the Sierra la Laguna Biosphere Reserve which was created in 1994.

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With friends Axel and Felipe Valdez of Hotel Buena Vista Beach Resort, we recently drove high into the mountains above Santiago. It wasn’t long before the signs for the first ranchos appeared. At Rancho La Acacia we were greeted by Don Victor Castro.  His property offers small guest casitas traditionally constructed with thatched roofs and walls woven from the indigenous palo de arco. Inside, there was a spacious kitchen and dining area, sleeping rooms and enough space to settle in while exploring the area.  The rustic accommodations are typical of what is offered to hikers and explorers in the area.

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To promote the community of ranchos, Mexico’s federal government has constructed a trail that connects the properties so that hikers can visit them in a circuit, and, as we worked along the rancho route, we stopped to visit with people like Catalina Manriguez, one of several local women who work together to create their own local products to sell, like homemade candy, cactus plants, goat cheese (Rancho El Chinal), and who also run the small community restaurant. At Rancho Aserradero they make beautiful handcrafted wood furniture, while at Rancho El Refugio we meet Rojelio Rosa, a local legend who is an expert in the flora and fauna of the area.  His guestbook includes entries from all over the U.S. and Europe. Other ranchers specialize in leatherwork (Rancho El Guayparian) and farming, creating products they can sell or exchange with other ranchers or visitors. 

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The most popular rancho in the Reserva de la Biosfera Sierra La Laguna is Rancho Ecológico Sol de Mayo, a center for learning about local flora and fauna, and the gateway to the area’s most famous attraction, Cascadas Sol de Mayo, the 40-foot waterfall that pours through a collection of massive boulders into a deep, clear swimming hole.

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Exploring the local ranchos is a rewarding experience, a visit to an older, simpler world and a vibrant cultural lifestyle in southern Baja that is not represented in the glossy tour brochures of Baja’s more famous attractions.

For more information:

Rancho Ecológico Sol de Mayo

PH: 624-130-2055

www.ranchoecologicosoldemayo.com

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The Muir Project: Capturing the Magic of the John Muir Trail

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The Muir Project:  

There’s Some Inspiring Scenery Up in the Sierras, and a Trail Runs Through It.

For Mammoth Sierra magazine

by Michael Koehn

Photos by Jen Serena

 

“Wander a whole summer if you can. If you are business-tangled and so burdened by duty that only weeks can be got out of the heavy laden year, give a month at least. The time will not be taken from the sum of life. Instead of shortening, it will indefinitely lengthen it and make you truly immortal.”

- John Muir

It’s no secret that the John Muir Trail, a hiking destination that runs that for over 200 miles from Yosemite’s valley floor through the Ansel Adams Wilderness, Sequoia National Park, Kings Canyon National Park and ends at the top of Mt. Whitney, wends through some of the most spectacular wilderness in the world. The trail covers much of the scenic splendor of the high Sierras, and is well-documented by outdoor enthusiasts who travel from around the world to hike the JMT.

In the summer of 2011, a group of southern California-based multimedia artists decided to take the documentation to a whole new level, venturing through Muir’s Sierras, which he called “The Range of Light,” and capturing the experience in a variety of creative formats, including still photography, HD video, digital audio, music and painting, all part of a concept they call The Muir Project.

“It was an idea I had been kicking around for about ten years,” says Jason Fitzpatrick, who was one of the team’s co-directors and serves as a director of photography for the project.  “I had worked with everyone in the group on some creative level, and they were also avid outdoor enthusiasts, so we kept talking about the JMT as a creative project, trying to come up with an idea that would combine our artistic talents and love of the outdoors.”

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Eventually Jason teamed up for some backpacking with Ric and Jen Serena, creative artists who also shared Jason’s love of wilderness, and they discussed the idea of doing something on the JMT.  “Every winter for the past five years, Jason had reminded us ‘we should really try and do Muir this year,’ and we finally decided it would be great to use some of the latest HD technology and just get out there and get some really amazing shots of the area,” Ric Serena says.

Over time, the idea began to take on a life of its own and more people got involved, expanding the scope of the project into something that would be far more encompassing and ambitious than just taking high definition nature shots. Soon Jason, Ric and Jen had been joined by location sound recordist Durand Trench, musician Paul Bessenbacher, and cameraman Zee Hatley. Over the course of their hike, covering 230 miles from July 10 to August 3, 2011, they met up with and were joined by musicians, painters and other adventure-seekers, who all became part of the story, including musician Bernard Chadwick and David and Kelly Finlay, teachers out of Colorado.

“We wanted to create an experience that would encompass a lot more than just pretty images,” photographer Jen Serena says. “One of the goals was to get out there and try to capture not only the beauty of hiking the trail, but also to capture something of the human experience, the enjoyment of being surrounded by like-minded people who valued the experience as much as you did.”

What was to become The Muir Project was originally conceived as an exhibition that would use a variety of multi-media displays, re-creating moments along the trail and allowing people to actually experience a little of what hiking the JMT is like, without the blisters.

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Although the multi-media exhibition was the first idea that came to mind, the idea of a documentary film quickly became the project that everyone gravitated to.  “We had no idea how to curate an art exhibit, but knew we had the resources and the abilities to make a video documentary happen,” Jen Serena says. “So we decided to tackle that project first, create a fan base and then follow it up with an exhibition.”

So the core group, laden with backpacks bulging with audio/video gear, including a Nikon D3S, Nikon D7000, Canon Vixia HF10, GoPro HD, Jason’s Canon 5D Mark II, Durand’s portable digital audio recorder and Sennheiser mics and a Goal Zero Elite solar panel, began the journey up into the topography above 10,000 feet where Muir found his bliss.

It’s a place essentially unchanged from the way it has been for hundreds of thousands of years, with a few exceptions. “Even in the most remote areas of the Sierras you cannot escape noise pollution from air traffic,” Durand explains. “Keeping that in mind I try to catch moments along the trail, such as frogs having a conversation with each other or resting in a grove of aspens with a light breeze rolling through. These are the sort of moments I truly enjoy reliving when I’m sitting at home and trying to escape the incessant drone of leaf blowers.”

In 2011, snowpack for the year was the heaviest in recent memory, and for while it looked like the venture might be ill-fated.  “It was touch and go there for a while as to whether we would be able to do the trip at all due to the heavy snowpack,” Jen says. “We were just 2-3 days into the trip and were meeting hikers on the trail coming back who had turned around and were quitting. We were hearing things from other hikers and rangers about dangerous creek crossing at many points on the trail.”

It says something about the camaraderie of the group that, despite the physical challenges and the burden of twenty extra pounds of tech gear, everybody got through without a mishap, except the temporary loss of a pair of sandals. Finding it admittedly difficult at times, the Muir team plunged into the experience of the trail and the sweeping landscape that surrounds it, stopped to film and paint, carrying gear and artwork over passes, across rivers, through clouds, down sun-cupped snow fields and finally up to the highest peak in the continental U.S. at 14,456 feet, Mt. Whitney.

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“Before the JMT, I tried to hit the trails as much as possible to get prepped,” Jen explains.  Another big goal of mine was to memorize the different yoga positions I practiced with my instructor every week so I could duplicate them on the trail. Before and after every hike, I did a few poses. Balancing on smooth angled rocks, gravel floor and wobbly legs was just an added part of the adventure. Without a single doubt that kept me feeling good the entire time on the trail. Even carrying almost 50 pounds on my back up those passes, it never hurt.”

The team’s creative philosophy was based on thoroughly immersing themselves in the overall experience, and then documenting their feelings in as many ways as possible.  “We weren’t a fast group,” says co-director and director of photography Ric Serena.  “Let’s just get that out of the way.  We’d made it our mission to capture the essence of the trail and its surroundings, and that required a substantial amount of time and energy each day.  On top of that, we’d all arranged to be gone for 25 days and there was very little need to shorten that by even an hour. If I could do it all over again, I’d allow myself more time to shoot and not be so worried about making it to camp before dark every night.”

Indulgences along the trail had to be taken where they could be found.  Bathing usually consisted of brief plunges into 45-degree lakes, and that happened consistently with each new body of water encountered. Snow covered passes were an opportunity for some impromptu tobogganing, and bears, potato-eating marmots, blisters and borderline insane creek crossings were constant occurrences along the way.

“I’m not going to lie, there were a few crossings that were a little higher and swifter than I would have liked,” Jason says.  “Often you would see the rocky edge of a trail one or two feet underwater. “That said, the snow and the water made this an extraordinary year to hike the JMT. You might get one year like that out of every twenty to thirty.”

The group’s running joke on the trail was that the next destination was only a mile, mile and a half away, which became the working title for the documentary. Most days they covered at least 10 miles and elevation changes of around 2,000 feet.  One of the true pleasures for the group was the evening meal and campfire, an atmosphere brightened by the ukulele skills of musician Paul Bessenbacher of Opus Orange.  His upbeat music serves as the signature sound for the video trailer.

“It’s hard to choose a single special moment in what was really a special trip all around,” explains Jason, “but when I think of what we called ‘Starbucks Pass’ I remember a humorous moment among the many we had on the hike. There isn’t a pass named for the ubiquitous coffee chain, that’s just what we named a pass near Garnet Lake. Once we finally reached the top of the ridge and could see the trail ahead, it was snow free and we unexpectedly had great cell phone reception. Everyone took the opportunity to call friends and family, and Ric and Jen got to talk to their daughter. As I looked at the group all chatting away on our phones, it reminded me of a Starbucks back home in LA, so it will live forever in my mind as ‘Starbucks Pass’.”

After the group finally crested Mt. Whitney the real work began.  They had accumulated over 30 hours of video footage (about 2TB once everything has been converted to ProRes) and thousands of still photos, and it would take months to sift through the wealth of imagery they had captured. The goal now is to take that extraordinary footage and edit it into a documentary of about 90 minutes that creatively expresses a month-long wilderness adventure, both visually and aurally.

“Now that we’ve put away the heavy gear we’re continually working on a blog updating the progress of the full length documentary and eventually an interactive exhibit.  We have a lot of things to share from this trip,” Jason says.

The plan is to take the completed film out to key independent film festivals and find wider distribution.  “Mile…Mile & a Half” recently had its premiere at the Dances with Film festival in Hollywood on June 1st  2013 (appropriately coinciding with National Trails Day), and the team is currently in the process of scheduling screenings across the country, building the DVD & Blu-rays for online sale and exploring their distribution options for digital, domestic and international markets.

The Muir Project is an example of what can happen when creative, like-minded people decide to collectively share something that is rooted in a common human experience, in this case something that is directly connected to the reverence John Muir had for the Sierras. The team made it through with just a few cuts, scrapes and blisters, and our reward is that they are now in the process of sharing something very special about a place revered by so many.

Dances with FilmsPoster043013

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For more information on The Muir Project:

Videos: http://themuirproject.com/mmah/videos/

Trail head: http://www.themuirproject.com

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New Sammy Hagar Book: Red, My Uncensored Life in Rock

This is my first blog post, and hope to stay with it.  I recently interviewed Sammy Hagar for Cabo Living magazine, and am posting the following review.  This tome should be hitting e-readers everywhere soon.

Red

My Uncensored Life in Rock

By Sammy Hagar, with Joel Selvin

itbooks/HarperCollins

This book has a lot going for it, some of which is exactly what you would expect – stories of the excitement and excesses of the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle – and some of which may catch you by surprise. If you’re looking for the adventure and inside dish on what life has been like for one of rock ‘n’ roll’s most flamboyant front men, you’ll find it all here against a colorful backdrop of the music business, fast cars and, of course, Cabo. But on another level, the more surprising part of the book is the highly personal story Hagar tells.  In addition to the Van Halen tales and Hagar’s high flying career as the Red Rocker, this is also an amazingly candid story of some very tough times growing up and his struggles balancing family and career.

The son of migrant field hands, Hagar endured an abusive and largely absentee father and a dirt poor childhood, but developed a love for music and recognized it as his ticket to bigger and better things.  Developing his chops through a series of pickup bands in Fontana in southern California, Hagar drew from as many influences as he could and attended the watershed Monterey Pop Festival in 1967. That first wave of a new musical culture, the burgeoning San Francisco ballroom scene with its colorful lifestyle and roots-influenced music, was something he wanted to be a part of.

And he became a part of it in a very big way. With handsewn costuming inspired by David Bowie, he hit the stage in the San Francisco Bay Area at any venue that would have him, and, when the opportunity arose, became a founding member of Montrose.  That led to his first record contract, his first real money as a musician and the experience became a stepping stone to his enormous success as a rock ‘n’ roll star.

It’s all here, from the significance of Ed Matteson, the predictions of Miss Kellerman, the Mobile Home Blues Band and the Justice Brothers to the Van Halen years, the exotic cars, the early days of Cabo Wabo and his recent business ventures and work in a variety of charitable efforts.  And it’s told in a very candid, anecdotal tone, as if you were sitting across the table from him as he shared these colorful stories of rock’s golden era.  The book also includes two 16-page color photo inserts covering Hagar’s career and personal life.

Looking back over his years in the music business, Hagar finds really nothing to regret: “I can’t call anything a mistake,” he says. “I’ve had nothing but great success, and really in a nice chronological pacing that brought me to where I am today. If I’d experienced huge success with Montrose I wouldn’t be here today, doing this.”

When it comes to the big picture, Sammy Hagar also realizes the ultimate importance of family, friends and helping the less fortunate. He may be one of the most successful musicians of the last fifty years, with a fanatically loyal fan base to prove it, but in the final analysis, he’s very much a regular guy, as down to earth and solid as his Mother and he likes it that way. With a realistic sense of perspective and his feet planted firmly on the ground, the story told by Sammy Hagar in Red is a prime example of good things happening to a very good guy.