An American holiday island escape on my 27th Birthday. Extreme adventures alongside the cliffs and ocean, diving, biking, even an airport in the sky! All to be captured by my newly-acquired weapon of choice, the GoPro Hero 4 Black (<<< my unboxing video). Holding a camera for the first time in years, hoisted at the end of a brilliantly designed wrist-strapping mini-tripod, I wield a staff that conjures the light of the stories I yearn to tell. The ultimate reach of a narrative at my fingertips. I’ve had the thing for a few months and am now really starting to get the hang of it, so there seemed to be no better a spot to take it than SoCal’s own famed island getaway. And like every great adventure, we’ve got a priceless treasure to find! After narrowly catching the early morning ferry out as they readied to cast away, the 26-mile trek to Catalina was a chilly, invigorating ride into what would surely be the single greatest day of all time.
I arrived on the island to surprisingly empty streets and a fairly quiet breakfast. Avalon (the island’s sole town, hardly a mile across) is known for para-sailing, miles of mountain biking, world-class snorkeling & scuba diving, with one of the greatest zipline courses on the planet. There was no better a place to finally test my skills, to cast off on a grand scale the inaugural episode of Going Pro, my first web-series, which is essentially Jackass Mythbusters on Red Bull. So without further adieu, Episode 1:
Okay, so maybe not a priceless treasure… but it wasn’t cheap. And it’s most definitely out there, lost somewhere beneath their longest zipline. Over the deepest canyon. Turning to face the ocean upon my descent, the whiplash of my leg at the accelerating speed flung the camera body from my ankle strap. It was held on by snap-in alone, not the screw-thru, as are most accessories, and therein lies the error of my ways. As I felt the body flinging from mine, I snapped down to see it’s shiny clear plastic housing, glistening in the setting sun, taking in its final shot while plummeting below as my triumphant birthday and dazzling tale-in-the-making came to such an ironic ending. I now know how Tom Brady and everyone in New England felt when David Tyree caught that ball on his head. Now matter how high you’ve gone, it can all come crashing down in a single breath.
Maybe I’m being a little dramatic, but it really was an AWESOME day. Almost surreal. First off, para-sailing is was easily the coolest thing I’ve ever done. Ascending 800 feet in a few seconds was elation enough, but then to hover there… almost total silence. Absolutely nothing around you. Hardly even a breeze, just perfect tranquility. And to think… birds get to do this ALL THE TIME! We were hardly up there five minutes, but it felt like an hour. I still have yet to go sky-diving, which I’m sure is quite the rush, but this free-floating sensation most definitely deserves a spot on your Bucket List, if not your immediate Summer Agenda.
Then came the bikes. As an avid city cyclist, with roots in the Adirondack Mountains, this was actually the first real mountain biking experience I’d had since high school. A few of us hopped into the one of the island’s large cargo vans (also a narrow escape, thanks to our delayed & extended para-sailing session) and slowly drove up the island’s windy roads, our protective barrier at times only a few thin trees.
An hour later we arrived at the aptly-named Airport in the Sky, a small landing and takeoff plateau surrounded by clouds at the highest point in Catalina. After stocking up on a few pouches of the lodge’s finest bison jerky (which was strangely from Montana, even though Catalina actually HAS bison), I mounted my bike and hit the trail. The clock was ticking once again, as the rental shop was closing at 5pm, giving me just under three hours to make it down to the beach, then loop back and across the island. Fifteen of so miles. Psht, that’s nothing… on the road 😉 Having wildly underestimated the sheer difficulty of the ride, the occasional park ranger would pass by and ask if the bike were working fine (had to walk it up a few big hills). I’ll admit, I was in no way above the idea of cashing out early and hitching a ride back, mostly in fear of having to babysit this bike all night long. “Keep going, you got it!” I heard from them, over and over… until the trucks stopped coming. Having finally figured out how to actually read the map, I realized that I would be lucky to reach Avalon by nightfall, let alone closing time… but then they came! An old pick-up truck full of local Mexicans, who seemed to be having the most fun of an Independence Day out of anyone I’d met, pulled up alongside and offered me a ride.
By this point I was drained of all energy, my legs were nearly throbbing, plus I was out of water and food. The vultures weren’t exactly circling, but it was by no means a good situation to be in. After tossing my bike into the truck bed and hopping up alongside, the driver opened up his cooler and freely offered: a full case of ice-cold Modelo’s and water bottles! It was too good to be true. Riding back in the truck bed as we weaved down the side of the mountain, overlooking the harbor, waving the flag, Modelo in hand; I was living in a Mexican beer commercial. All was right in the world. I didn’t make it back by 5, but it wasn’t much later, so the bike was still in safe hands. There was no time to rest, though, as my scheduled zipline group was getting ready to take-off!
I sprinted across town, barely making it to the instruction session. After the quick How-To, I was once again in another cargo van, on my way back up to the top! And that’s about when it happened… now, most GoPro accessories have a screw-in mount to keep the camera body in place. Others have a clip-in, which are presumably used for much less intense activity (or with a safety string). The handheld accessory I generally use quickly grew annoying to hold onto, so I opted for the ankle-strap on the next line. Less than five seconds in, I heard the snap. Looking down, I caught a faint glimpse as to where the camera might have landed, conveniently between the 2nd and 4th towers on the same hill… but it was long gone. A GoPro is about 2x5x1 inches in size, gray, and the battery was almost dead. Virtually no hope. The last few lines were kind of fun, but ziplining never resonated quite like the para-sailing or anything else I’d enjoyed that day. BUT… since I sort of knew where the camera might have landed, my next mission was clear: skip the last ferry out that night and scale the hill tomorrow!
Unfortunately, as you can tell by my lack of a second video, the GoPro was never found. I spent almost 3 hours on that hill, bushwhacking in shorts and a tanktop, conveniently avoiding any trace of Poison Oak along the way. The entire zipline department has heard my story, so everyone’s well aware of the missing GoPro, so who knows… someday, it may be found. Or I may yet embark on one last hunt upon my next visit, if only for the sheer thrill of hiking the hill.
Some memories are best left at that. As much as I’d hoped my first episode’s sheer variety of extreme sports awesomeness and holiday cheer could somehow ignite this show’s virality online, there is always a silver lining to be found: In every significant project I’ve undertaken, there has always been a major production setback in the very early stages. My college thesis was a football movie produced at a school that didn’t have a football team, but we made it happen… then all the footage came back in slow-motion after our biggest night of shooting. On my first feature, the epic climax location fell-thru on our way to the set, the very day we were heading out to shoot it… two weeks later, we had an even better spot lined up. Lost cards… talent walk offs… and now, the lost GoPro on Catalina. I’m a huge adventure fan, so I’ll leave this as my own contribution to the lore of the island and consider my duties of treasure-providing fulfilled. Best of luck to whomever seeks the Lost Treasure of Catalina Island.
All that being said, there are already a few episodes completed and scheduled to launch, with another GoPro on it’s way… so the series is most definitely still happening, with a new episode coming at ya each week! I’ve got some more big news and a few different series coming up late in the summer, so be sure to SUBSCRIBE and catch it all!
I don’t know how… yet… but somehow this will end up being the greatest thing that could have happened to the project. Going Pro is coming at ya!