2011 Expedition March Madness
Round 4 - The Championship
The second round had some really tough matchups. This was the round where it seemed that "epic" beat out "memorable" or "fun."
Round 3 - The Final Four
The second round had some really tough matchups. This was the round where it seemed that "epic" beat out "memorable" or "fun."
Mexico Mountaineering had Izta to thank for its advancethe Great Eight. This was the first time in any trip were I actually thought about dying after stepping a few feet away from a cliff with no protection in the pitch black of night. And then getting lost and trying to wait out the sunrise in the freezing cold. UGGGGHHHHHH how that sucked! But sucked in a good way now that it's over! Three great mountains didn't hurt either. But... I saw a lion carrying its cub. I saw a cheetah chasing it's prey. I saw a glacier that won't be there in 30 years at 19,000 feet. 1 Word. Africa.
Rio Oyacache and Illiniza Norte was just too tough for Prince William Sound. How do you compete against getting lost in a rainforest after losing the trail late in the day, and having to bushwack yourself back to the river where at dark you run into an insect hatching and have to pitch your tent without turning on your head lamp lest you have 50 flies torpedoing into your nose, eyes and mouth! And I took a bath in rushing white water at dusk.
Madawaska just barely took out the Grand Canyon. Seven days on the water tied it up, but that outdoor shower is what probably put Kayaking in Ontario over the top. Getting my first roll put it over the top.
The Canadian Rockies was pristine and pretty. But it was just trekking after all. Something I had done before. Skydiving was life changing. Yes. Point Break was what made me want to jump out of a plane, I admit it. But even bad movies from the 90's inspiring the jump couldn't beat this trip down. I will never forget jumping out of that plane, so it gets the nod.
Round 2 - The Elite Eight
The first round was a doozy! Some upsets, some blow outs, but all in all just good clean fun.
Skiing at Keystone Resort in Colorado got hammered by Africa. It really didn't have a shot. There is really no way to compete with chasing down fleeing ostriches in a range rover across the savannah. Or topping 19,000 feet after hiking through every vegetation zone the planet has in 5 days. Great skiing and really good elk just wasn't enough to overcome the juggernaut.
The Mediterranean had a really good shot at a win here. There were some really great moments; Rome, Barcelona and Palma de Mallorca! But it just couldn't hold up against Mexico Mountaineering. Malinche was awesome. Izta was epic. And Orizaba was good enough to go back and get a chance to summit.
Cascade Mountains was my pick for an upset. Some great times on those mountains with some great friends. And the views are spectacular. But in the end, they just couldn't hold up against my first international trip, my first mountain and my first backpacking trip all in a two week period. Rio Oyacache and Illiniza Norte.
Costa Rica was a strong contender and gave Prince William Sound all it could handle in this first round. In the end though, Alaska was just too mighty to be overcome. Biking across the entire country is one thing. Sea kayaking for an entire week, navigating through icebergs and chasing playful and curious sea otters, is entirely another.
Winter Mount Marcy almost pulled this one off if only for the number of firsts it provided. But in the end, a week long trip where I really bettered my kayaking skills and got a chance to run a really big river eked out the win. Madawaska notches the Win.
This was a close one. Red Rocks climbing was my very first trip and I have fond memories of that trip. I made some great friends on that trip including Mike Gage and Roy Smith. These two yahoos were almost enough to get past round one. Unfortunately the Grand Canyon was just too big to lose. It would be one thing if it was just one big trip. The Grand Canyon was two trips in a row, and both had some serious things going on there. Year one was epic after we hiked out early because there was no water to be found at our camp 2. Year two was epic in itself in it was my first time dipping my toe into the freezing cold Colorado River.
El Potrero Chico is an awesome climbing area. Oh my those meals were some of the best I've had while "camping." Unfortunately, Petrero ran up against a buzz saw in jumping out or a plane. Potrero didn't have a chance when going up against the amount of adrenaline that Skydiving brought to the table.
Every year, my friend Michael and I head out to his folks place in Oregon and we hit Mt Hood and Mt Bachelor to ski and snowboard. Some of the best conditions I've ever seen on slopes and always consistent. But the Canadian Rockies is the prettiest place I've been so far I think. And that view of those turquoise lakes and hiking to the tea house is just enough to get the Rockies past Oregon.
Whenever I meet someone for the first time, we inevitably get to talking about my website. I don’t think it is because I look to bring it up. At least I hope it’s not because I do, because I would hate to be that person who constantly steers every conversation to their comfort zone. No, most often we start talking about traveling and since I’ve done some interesting trips, they usually ask me about it and either want to see pictures or want to find out more information about how they can do it. This is the reason I started the site in the first place – to make it easier to answer those inevitable questions.
This year, while out in Vermont alternating between breaking my physical therapists advice not to snowboard one day, and lying around the cabin wishing I was the next, I found myself square in the middle of two simultaneous conversations. Interestingly enough, the question of “who’s going to final four?” was asked of me within seconds of the question “what’s the best trip you’ve ever done?”
I answered the same way I always do, since it’s hard to say unequivocally which expedition is ‘the best.’ I have 2 or 3 that certainly stand out, but usually my favorite depends on what you mean by best. Most memorable, most exciting, most challenging.
It was at that point I realized that expeditions are like teams during March Madness. The answer to the question of which is the best expedition really depends on the seeding. Any expedition can knock of the favorite depending on which criteria you consider the most important on that particular day. So since I had nothing to do but sit around and think about silly things like this anyway, I decided to go ahead and put together my own bracket and see which shakes out as the champ.
Round 1 - The Sweet 16
Size Matters: While I am on track to be able to field a full 64 team bracket someday, I have yet to gather the requisite miles to do so today. Instead, I put together a Sweet 16 list, which after gathering the teams, was just the right number given how many notches I’ve carved in my travel belt. It gave me enough to fill the bracket completely with good quality expeditions and several left over so that I actually had to work to pare the field down to 16 teams.
Your bracket is only as good as the ones that don’t make it in: My bracket does not include those one day trips - no matter how epic. In my opinion, they don’t count as expeditions. That is unless they turn into multi day escapes! In that case they are certainly worthy of consideration based I would say on “strength of schedule” so to speak. In my opinion, it is important to have those snubs out there, as we all know that March Madness doesn’t start until you hear the pundits and analysts debating over who should have been allowed in this year.
This year’s heartbreakers: My list of snubs includes a few surprises that prior to the Selection Committee meeting I thought they were a shoe in. First up is Acadia National Park. Trekking through this place in fall while the leaves are changing colors is breathtaking. The amount of yellow and red in the canopy is dreamlike. And if you like lobster, you’re going to love this place. Just on the way up you can stop at 20 places roadside and get lobster rolls. And as far as the epic nature of the trip, the trek we did on the side of the cliff during winds so high they reminded me of Mt Washington in torrential rain was certainly in the top 20% of my list. But when it all came down, Acadia just didn’t make the cut for top 16. Maybe next year Acadia can slip on that glass slipper.
Next up is the Appalachian Trail. This is certainly one of the most epic expeditions there is to do. However, it just didn’t have the strength of schedule on my list because I’ve not done more than 3 consecutive days on trail, aka ‘longest win streak’. Yes, Joe and I made some memorable treks, including the one where it started out sleeting and snowing at 8 in the morning (while we were in shorts) and we literally looked at each hoping the other would say ‘screw it lest go get some waffles’. And the view from Bear Mountain shelter looking 40 miles south and seeing the NYC skyline is hard to forget. But again, overall it just doesn’t make the cut. Maybe if the AT can get it’s days on trail up, we can talk, but for this year they’re not putting on that ball gown.
Finally, there is Park City Utah. Snowboarding here was pretty memorable. It was the first time my boarding partner Britt was out west for boarding and the conditions were damn good. The selection committee thought long and hard about this one. In fact, it actually got placed on the board only to get removed at the end. Park City just isn’t a well rounded selection. Sure the snow is great and the resorts are fantastic. But the nightlife is pretty much nonexistent, so unless you bring your entire student section with you the dance, you’re stuck on your own…and the city closes down early!
The Cinderella Seeds and the Favorites: Just making it to the big dance is an honor. But while the bottom 4 seeds are happy to be in the tourney, they are going to sit back and take a whipping. They are going to fight to get to that next round any way they can. This year there are some notable Cinderella expeditions fighting their way through the brackets.
First is Mt Marcy Winter. Just in a tough position getting paired with Madawaska White Water Kayaking in the first round. Marcy was an awesome trip. Epic. Memorable. Difficult. I mean, I got frost nip on my cheek that didn’t go away for 3 months. And let’s not talk about how many #1’s this expedition has taken down. It was my first time on snowshoes. It was my first time winter camping. It was my first time in the Adirondacks. But they are going up against a dangerous competitor in Madawaska. 7 days straight of white water kayaking in the Canadian wild! Not just on the Madawaska… but on the Ottawa as well! Epic water levels. And the food was awesome. This is going to be a tough first round match up.
Costa Rica biking is taking on Prince William Sound, a tough competitor who many expect to take the trophy home this year. Prince William Sound is the rawest wilderness I’ve ever been to. The combination of icebergs, glaciers, water, big animals, and thousands of fish is something you just can’t duplicate anywhere else.
Let’s not forget Keystone Snowboarding, my first time out west to board. This was my first time hearing the way that west coast powder sounds like Styrofoam because it’s so fine and dry. And the Elk- oh the elk is so tasty. Tough match up to say the least, going up against the perennial all time favorite, African Safari and Mount Kilimanjaro. Very few years will this expedition be anything but a #1 seed. A summit picture above 19,000 feet and pictures of lions and elephants less than 50 feet away guarantees you a high seeding. If you add to that chasing down ostriches at speeds of up to 60 miles per hour and meeting Masai warriors, you are hard pressed to top what this powerhouse has to offer.
Finally, there’s the Canadian Rockies squaring off against Oregon snowboarding. Yes, Oregon is a year in and year trip for multiple days where I have never had a bad day of snow conditions. But that expedition is going up against the Canadian Rockies, arguably the most beautiful place I’ve ever been in all my trips. This is a tough break for Oregon drawing this match up in the first round. Let’s see if they can fight the good fight.
Other Notable Contenders: The story doesn’t just stop there for this year’s tournament. Skydiving, a low seed given it’s only an expedition if you count it as multi day because you are working towards your certification. It was almost excluded based on that, but given the rush of adrenaline you get when you do this, they had to get in. The Grand Canyon, a relatively high seed has a great shot. Ecuador Trekking, the first real epic adventure I did. I have fond memories of this one. And all the other contenders are in the running.
I guess there’s nothing more to say than, let’s let the games begin!