Oct 5, 2023

Dust Jacket Synopsis.

“This isn’t what I signed up for,” I thought, staring down the barrel of middle age at age 34. “Why oh why didn’t I adventure more when I had the chance?” I fantasized about quitting the rat race, living in a van, creating a life of travel … only to be reminded of my responsibilities, my children and my debts.

Unbeknownst to me, the life I'd thought I'd been building was about to be turned on its head. I wouldn't end up living in a van. But I discovered, to my bewildered surprise, middle age had not marked the end of my adventuring years. Middle age is when adventuring starts getting good!

This book is an inquiry into that most basic essence of adventuring: the profound human thrill of mere self-reliance. The empowerment of loading your trunk, and the joyous wash of freedom as you leave the driveway and enter a different world, alone in your unfolding experience, released from the tethers of support and security. The heightened significance of routine tasks — heating water, making a sandwich, putting on a jacket — when those tasks take place in the context of survival. Seeking out empty space on a map, beyond the reach of supervision and authority. Embracing risk, pushing up against the boundaries of our comfort zones and good judgment, and the comedy and satisfaction of dealing with the consequences when we push too far. And recognizing the call from deep within to seek out experiences that are truly our own.


My completed manuscript sits at 30 chapters. I've begun the slow process of pitching to agents, and inquiries are of course welcome. If you'd like to read and share feedback, I'm happy to mail you a printout. Contact me at tonypiff(at)gmail(dot)com.

May 7, 2022

Table of Contents.

Why a Camp Chair is a Time Machine: A Memoir of Gear, Adventuring, and Very Real Life

By Tony Piff

Prologue: Strangers in the Woods

Part I: A Theory of Gear

   Chapter 1: Sad Sack

   Chapter 2: Fresh Wheels

   Chapter 3: Killing Everything

   Chapter 4: The Power of Gear or Why a Camp Chair Is a Time Machine

   Chapter 5: Religion, Sex and BMX

   Chapter 6: The Rat Race of Upgrading

   Chapter 7: Irreplaceable at Any Price

Part II: A Theory of Adventure

   Chapter 8: The Freedom Lifestyle Fantasy

   Chapter 9: The Divorce Gets Real

   Chapter 10: Sacred Time

   Chapter 11: Fucking Context

   Chapter 12: From Zero Friends

   Chapter 13: Precipice of Bliss

   Chapter 14: Find Sky on a Map

   Chapter 15: Sleeps of a Lifetime

   Chapter 16: Career Change and Calamity

   Chapter 17: Ride the Petri Dish

   Chapter 18: The Joy of Pooping

   Chapter 19: Bonded Like Cavemen

   Chapter 20: Broke Up

   Chapter 21: No One Gives a Shit About Your Amazing Vacation

   Chapter 22: Roadtripping With the Homies

   Chapter 23: Navigating Without Nav

   Chapter 24: Pit Stops, Bald-Faced Trespassing and Escaping the Bubble

Part III: Adventure as Pilgrimage

   Chapter 25: Concrete Destinies

   Chapter 26: City of Gold

   Chapter 27: The Impossible

   Chapter 28: Dad’s Ditches

   Chapter 29: Rhythm of the Road

   Chapter 30: Confirming the Impossible

Fourteen Theses

Works Cited / Recommended Reading / Recommended Viewing

Appendix: What I Pack and Why I Pack It

   List 1: Loaded Pockets

   List 2: Living on the Trail

   List 3: Car-Camping Like a Boss

   List 4: The Ultimate Roadtripmobile?

   Packing Sheets

Jun 16, 2015

DBZ: 1973-2014.

On the Monday before Christmas, my best friend tied a rope to his bathroom doorknob, threw the line over the top, and hanged himself. Now six months have passed, and it feels weird that I haven't written anything here.

This cameraphone photo is the only shot I have of Dominic from the brief time he stayed with us during the summer of 2013. We were in the midst of our three-year home renovation, living out of a makeshift apartment in the basement. Dom is doing dishes in the slop sink between the washing machine and the stove.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but I love this picture: Dom is smiling, you can see his *B*M*X* tattoo, and — oh-so-poignantly — he's sporting the Pretty Heavy freestyle crucifix t-shirt. If there was ever a martyr for bmx, it was Dom.

It was an honor to be so closely involved in the logistics of his death — I wrote Dom's obituary, crowdfunded his cremation, organized a private memorial for his close friends and a public memorial for the Portland bmx community, and dispersed his ashes and belongings to far-off acquaintances, many of whom had never met him in person.

Each of those items felt like a critical, time-sensitive task because I knew people were grieving and needed closure.

What remains has more to do with Dom's legacy than his death. Empire is going to do a run of memorial T-shirts based on Dom's signature raccoon graphic. Eventually Goods will host the permanent archive of his bmx-related original artwork. His bike now hangs from the ceiling there.

Whenever things were going rough for Dom, I'd try to comfort him with the assurance that we would one day be old men sitting in rocking chairs on my front porch. But now he's gone forever, just another dead guy, like every other nameless human since the dawn of creation.

In the weeks following Dom's death, I was so consumed with the minutiae of organizing everything that it felt like I didn't have time to grieve. Now I know that this whole process is grieving. This is me screaming to the world, "Dominic isn't just some dead guy now! He was important, and he's still important! Don't you dare move on!" I want him to stay as alive in everyone else's memories as he is in mine.

Currently the DBZ Archive is a folder sitting on a shelf in my workshop. I also have the contents of his external hard drive backed up on my computer. I don't know when I'll get around to organizing it all in a way that seems sufficiently formal and permanent. Some time this summer, maybe.

Once the shirts and archive are done, Dom's life and death will be out of my hands. I anticipate that it will be a feeling of relief and emptiness. If it takes a while, it's probably because I'm not yet ready to let go.

Aug 22, 2014

Portland Summer Street Jam: Rails, Stairs, Prizes, and Photos.

Turnout for this summer's weekly nighttime street rides has been excellent beyond all expectations, and this week DBZ even got Cult to throw down for a sponsorship! We hit six iconic Portland spots and awarded prize packages at the end of the night.

1st: Thaddeus. He iced the Harriet Tubman rail, grinded all the way across the PepsiCo big ledge in the dark, and grinded up 90% of the 14-stepper at Benson Technical. He also hopped the big Benson rail and bushes into the hillside.
2nd: Nate. He no-handed the Rose Quarter nine-stair and pulled a clean ice-to-nose-to-bar at PepsiCo.
3rd: Zane. He rode non-stop all night, putting freecoaster and all four pegs to full use. He got the best line of the night at the PepsiCo ledges: feeble-180 into a straight 20-foot rollback down the sidewalk, to fakie double-peg. I didn't get a single pic of Zane, since everything he did was a line.
MVP went to Draven. He was riding with a bum hand and took the hardest slam of the evening right off the bat, going OTB on an icepick at Harriet Tubman. Draven also railhopped the Rose Quarter nine.

This was my first time shooting "action sports" with a DSLR. Here are the best pics.

Nate's suicide no-hander at the Rose Quarter nine

Draven, railhop 

 Jared, barspin at PepsiCo

Thaddeus grinding across the entire channel at PepsiCo in pitch black

 DFG, hard 180 to smith

Thaddeus grinding up most of the Benson Technical 14


A million thanks to Robbie at Cult and everyone who showed up. See you guys next Tuesday at 9pm.

Aug 4, 2014

Eastern Oregon Roadtripping With #NoBikes.

There's a great writeup of the 4th of July NoBikes roadtrip over on Embassy. Aaron Gates, the blogging force behind NoBikes (and now a Northern Embassy staffer), spearheaded the trip, as he does every summer. This year's route up the Columbia River Gorge meant that I was able to leave work Thursday evening (in Portland) and catch up with the crew in Hood River by sunset.

Two trucks, two cars, one minivan, 20 people, and 19 bikes.

All credit to Tony Archibeque Jr. for the lenswork. Aaron is assembling the video. (I got one clip on the last day.)

Lineup: Matt Desson, Aaron Gates, Donald Delp, Cary Lorenz, Delia Millsap, Tony Archibeque Jr., Slade Scherer, Jack Nicholl, Colin Fried, Jordan Thaden, Andy McGrath, Dave Butler, Carl Arnett, Ty Scott, Tommy Joseph, Mat Ridgeway. Down in front: David Clay and me, Tony Piff

Jul 23, 2014


The "Summer Thursdays" of 2009 were an epic success. Hard to believe that was four years ago. DBZ and Ruecker are scouting spots for a midsummer night's street jam, happening this Tuesday.

Avoid disappointment by showing up at the right place at the right time. Any out-of-towners looking for floorspace can send me an email.

Feb 24, 2014

Video Vibes: The Two Secrets to Making Videos That Don't Suck.

What I'm about to discuss are two principles of editing that I figured out seven years ago while making bmx is cute. These ideas may not be obvious, but they're not complicated or counterintuitive, and I'm amazed that no one has ever pointed out how powerful and important they are.

More to the point, I'm amazed that so many professional videographers seem to overlook or disregard these principles, to the detriment of their work.

These two principles have nothing to do with tricks, style, creativity, spots, camerawork, art direction, or the nitty-gritty of editing and production. They have only to do with that critically important, seemingly intangible quality known as "vibe."

My theory is that, when we refer to a video's "good vibes," we're really talking about authenticity. "These feel like real people," we say unconsciously. "This feels like real life."

And these two principles, as far as I can tell, are the sole determining factors for a video's vibe. Here goes.

1. Audible bike sounds.

Yes, it really is that simple. Behind the soundtrack, you must be able to hear the riding. Turn the music levels down, turn the background noise up. Crank it so high that you can hear the white noise: traffic, wind, nature. Try it. Use software to "equalize" the overall range and dampen the harshness of pegs grinding on metal.

The single most important sound in a bmx video is the whizz of 20-inch tires over pavement, plywood and packed dirt. It's the sensation at the heart of why we all started riding bmx, and it's definitive proof that bmx is cooler than trials riding or fixie freestyle. If you can't hear the tires, then you're just watching a music video.

Check out Rich Forne's Dig edit from 2012. The riding sounds are everything.

2. Faces. 

You need to choose filming angles that show the riders faces — if not at the exact moment of the trick, then leading up to the trick or riding away from it. There should be some moment when the rider's face is visible, and it's the editor's responsibility to fit this into the video. It won't always be possible, but the more "face clips" you can get into a video, the better the vibe. 

The increasingly common second-angle camera makes it even easier to get a visible face for every trick. Even if the trick isn't some first-try-or-die banger, I think it's often worth considering a second angle just to show the rider rolling away with a smile.

Faces are private and personal. This is why family portraits are so awkward and why your favorite photos of yourself are probably candid shots.

Candid moments captured on film or in video are magical, and there is no candidness without a face.

And no authenticity without candidness.

And no vibes without authenticity.

This is why your video needs faces.

As unwieldy as the word "candidness" is, it's an easier concept to grapple with than "authenticity," so I'll probably be using it a few more times before we're done here. We still have a fair bit more ground to cover.

Now, this blog post is directed at the filmers and editors on the production side of the video process. But what about riders who just don't show their faces while riding? I don't have an answer, but I do have some thoughts. 

Starting around 2006, the bmx world was introduced to a tiny kid on a huge bike with an ungodly amount of bike control named Dakota Roche. I vividly remember being blown away by Dak's stylish, aggressive riding, but even more vivid is the memory of the complete lack of a vibe from any of his early footage. With his face completely hidden behind long hair and flatbrim pulled down to his nose, I just couldn't imagine that this incredibly talented rider had a personality. I remember screaming into my own brain, What does this guy's face look like??? And I basically wrote the guy off. For years.

If you have no idea what I'm talking about, check out the Seattle scene videos Getting Loose and Second GrenadeLotek Vancouver, and FitLife. Perhaps I'm the only person who ever felt this way.

But when Dakota finally did start to reveal his face in videos, my feelings changed completely.

Not only was it a relief to know what the guy looked like — His smiling eyes revealed a depth of character that blew me away every bit as profoundly as his riding ability once had, so many years ago.

Watch this now:

The thing I love about Dakota's riding is you can feel how hard he is working for every single clip. It doesn't simply look effortless. Rather than applying a new trick to the same old setup or hucking the same trick down more stairs, he continues to push the technical side on terrain that just gets bigger and burlier. He really is riding at the limit of his ability with complete commitment. There is something deeply personal and profoundly authentic about Dakota's riding.

I've never met Dakota, but if I ever get the chance, I know I'm going to be a complete, fawning dork. I can think of no one more deserving of a Monster energy drink sponsorship.

At the risk of putting way too fine a point on it, I'll highlight three features of the above video: visorless winter hats instead of baseball caps, the tasteful inclusion of candid non-riding "lifestyle" clips, and lots of expertly exposed footage that shows Dak's face even in the shadows. Credit for item #1 goes to Dakota, item #2 to the editor, and item #3 to the filmer (and possibly new camera technology).

(Also note the audible-yet-unintrusive bike sounds. Perfectly done.)

If you get the bike sounds and faces into your riding clips, you're well on your way to good vibes.

But there is one very important caveat to the faces principle:

2.1. Don't be an idiot.

This is the part where I talk about "lifestyle footy." If you're going to include non-riding clips in your videos (and I think you should), it needs to be done right. It needs to be candid.

It's easy to capture candidness in riding clips, because the riders are focused on pulling their tricks. These are fundamentally candid moments.

Filming those same schmucks off their bikes is a whole different equation.

High fives, fist-bumps, party footage, tour bus hijinks, vandalism, scenery, local characters, whatever — I'm not going to tell you what's appropriate to include. I am going to call your attention to what is potentially the most vibe-killing moment in a video. I call it "mugging for the camera."

Presumably, these dudes you're filming are your friends, they understand where this footage is going, and they're down with the camera. But that doesn't mean that it's easy to act natural with a fisheye jammed in your face.

If you stick a guy in front of a wall and film him doing nothing — a premise as ridiculous as it sounds, but a strangely common element in way too many bike videos — he may briefly maintain his cool. But the moment soon comes when he breaks character, shakes his head, and laughs to nobody in particular. You know the shot I'm talking about, right?

Same thing happens when the guy doesn't know you're filming him. There's a brief window of candidness, and then he realizes what you're doing, and he flips off the camera, jokingly.

Or he's carrying his bike up the stairs for another attempt at whatever it is, and you're sitting there with the camera running, and as he passes by, he sticks his face in the lens and makes some goofy expression.

All of those moments, which might seem "funny," are really not funny at all. What you're witnessing is just humans alleviating the discomfort of not knowing what to do while being filmed. It is in fact pure awkwardness — the opposite of candidness — and watching it makes us, the viewers, feel uncomfortable, whether we realize it or not.

(On the shooter's side, this is why Tumblr is overflowing with "street photography" of the backs of strangers heads and why the best street photographers and photojournalists are so amazing.)

That's my theory, anyway. It's up to you to decide whether any of what I'm claiming resonates as true.

For editors, the solution to this awkwardness is simple. Leave those awkward moments on the cutting room floor. While you're at it, you might as well tell your homeys not to make those stupid faces.

In fact, I'll say it for you: Hey riders, quit making stupid faces.