Thursday, September 22, 2016

Shoulder Season. Can't write about skiing yet, so I'll write about love.

No longer in the singles line.
Although it's a quad chair and we do live in Utah?
No couple's tale of courtship is ho-hum or dull. The story of true love should always be cherished, even in its ridiculousness. But that doesn't mean we always want to hear those stories. When people ask, "How did you meet," they are being nice, they don't want chapter and verse. Much in the same way you ask, "How is your daughter enjoying learning the clarinet?" You are being nice, but you aren't going out of your way to attend a 6th grade musical recital. After a few beers with some friends last weekend, my wife and I became the parents convinced that everyone should enjoy little Molly's off-key rendition of Three Blind Mice. The simple conversation piece of our upcoming anniversary turned into droning on to our friends about our first few dates. We may be tone-deaf to the goose-like squawks coming out of our second-hand clarinets. Maybe it was the beer, but our friends appeared entertained. Much like dating itself, stories of romance are improved by alcohol.


But you don't have to go reaching for the bottle of George Dickel just yet. This blog won't detail our misty water colored memories, instead, I just wanted to share a thought I had about our relationship as we celebrate our 4-year anniversary today. Our union started with an apathetic cupid with a purple Y on his ass chucking a blunt lawn dart at each of us. Because the people we were really interested in sleeping with were busy one night, Lexi and I scheduled our first date as a post-work meeting at Fiddler's Elbow. Talk about low expectations. After that first date, Lexi and I had one major thing in common; a lack of interest in each other. Both of us walked away from that date never expecting to see each other again. As we tried to find better fish on Yahoo Personals, eHarmony, Match.com, Jailbabes.com, each of us endured dating disappointments. So with the enthusiasm of a kid trying to memorize the Apostles Creed, we trudged back to one another, hoping for some definitive reason to finally cross each other off our list. We never found that reason. She got past my unemployed hockey player hair and I learned excellent bladder control from her ability to talk without a pause long enough to excuse myself to use the bathroom. We never found the nail for our relationship coffin, and oddly, the lack of a romantic spark, the missing moment where the Carpenters started playing "Close to You" had a positive effect on our blossoming relationship-- we were ourselves. When dating, we all try to be an expectation of ourselves, not necessarily just be ourselves. With Lexi, my indifference to putting on airs was so great that I invited her on a date grocery shopping, I didn't bother hiding soft-core porn when she came over and I am pretty sure I used the sentence, "I'm not doing anything fun, but you can come over if you want," during a phone call that I was just trying to end. Testing the limits of what we could tolerate was taken care of long before we said, "I do" on this day 4 years ago. "Be yourself" is a cliché, but after knowing my wife for over 8 years, the value in our relationship isn't just that I can be myself, it's that she also has helped me know who I am.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Tunnels and Rivers

Well above the water.
My 2 ½ year old nephew is at the point where I can see his imagination developing. Presenting him with half a dozen toy dinosaurs on my recent visit illustrated just how much the mind can do with very little. And while most of his imagined activity between the creatures had to do with them fighting each other, I found two consistent elements in the landscape of his mind: tunnels and water. For him, normally the space underneath the couch was the most frequently a tunnel, but my out stretched legs or the area under the patio table could serve as a tunnel. And water, with the exception of when we had to remind him not to play in the dog dish, was any surface below his current level. If he was standing on the patio couch, then the surface of the deck was the water, and his frantic laps back and forth were often punctuated by excitement when he came perilously close to falling into the drink. I got so caught up in his imagined landmarks that I was a little disappointed when we drove into Baltimore and didn't need to drive through the harbor tunnel.

Seeing a developing mind glorify the monotonous was inspiring. My imaginative faculties are still with me, but it's difficult to keep the skill honed when I live in an age where phones double as virtual reality devices. While I still haven't gone to the extent of strapping my Samsung to my forehead, I find it simultaneously beneficial and detrimental that technology can "take us there". Could it be that we can really supplant reality and imagination with technology. Recently I saw the President take a virtual tour of the National Parks. With the devastation that hordes of tourists are inflicting on our parks, maybe I should embrace the applications of VR? We are constantly being given new ways to stimulate our senses. And that makes me wonder what is left? What will happen in a few years when my nephew's younger brother needs tunnels and water for his dinosaur landscape? Will he simply look into his phone?

The Wild
I contend that developments like this speak even louder to the need of wilderness. Wilderness is one thing we can't replicate because it is so much more than a place. Wilderness is often imagined before visited and when the imagination confronts reality, reality almost always wins. You can see pictures of wilderness, read books about the wilderness, but until you are in it, truly a part of it, you don't know what it means.


Wilderness seems to be a concept that requires a developed mind. Or maybe it counteracts the negative aspects of the developed mind. It fills the void of the lost imagination that accompanies our maturation process. Wilderness is a concept that seems to gain appreciation with age as the experience of life dulls our inner wilderness.  

There are more things in the mind, in the imagination, than "you" can keep track of – thoughts, memories, images, angers, delights, rise unbidden. The depths of mind, the unconscious, are our inner wilderness areas, and that is where the bobcat is right now. I do not mean personal bobcats in personal psyches, but the bobcat that roams from dream to dream. The conscious agenda-planning ego occupies a very tiny territory, a little cubicle somewhere near the gate, keeping track of some of what goes in and out (and sometimes making expansionist plots), and the rest takes care of itself. The body is, so to speak, in the mind. They both are wild.
            Gary Snyder, Practice of the Wild


For my nephew, it may not be an inner bobcat, but an inner dinosaur. Or more specifically, an inner T-Rex. I just hope that when he gets to the age where imagining tunnels and water isn't enough for him, I can take him to some of the rich wilderness areas of Utah where they are still discovering evidence of dinosaurs. I have so many places in this world that stimulate my sense with their wild nature, and I hope that we don't lose sight of their value, even if we can see them through a ridiculous pair of VR goggles.

Monday, July 18, 2016

It's All About What We Value or, "Fu*% the front yard, Fu*% the front yard, Fu*& em" (sung to Fu&* the Police)

A man way too happy with his lawn.
Listening: Ani DiFranco
Drinking: High West Double Rye

I was given an exercise once to help manage my anxiety. It involved drawing a circle on a piece of paper and putting the things I value most in that circle. Then, draw a concentric circle around those things and add in more things you value, but to a lesser degree than your original circle. This "circle" of values diagram is designed to get you thinking about your priorities, clarifying your focus when you feel overwhelmed.

In order to be healthy, my center circle of highly valued things should not be a large list. If it overflows, then I need to push some things out of that circle and into an outer circle. And consequently, I may need to push things out of that next circle. This continues until you have a distilled hierarchy of priorities.
Circle of Vales Summer of 2016

I wish this was something I had done throughout my life. It would be interesting to see the changes in my values over my lifetime. I can tell you that since moving into my new house in the spring of 2015, I pushed lawn care out in to the far reaches of those circles, somewhere between finding the perfect low calorie beer and playing Pokemon Go.

Keeping a lush, green lawn was never really in my center circle, but last summer it became a frequent excuse to not ride my bike. Now that I've decided to ride in the 25 Hours of Frog Hollow, I realize that so long as my front yard doesn't become mistaken for The Grapes of Wrath, I'm OK. As a friend of mine recently pointed out as we stared at the streak of pale yellow grass in my backyard which I affectionately call the Sahara Strip, it's pretty irresponsible to not have some yellow grass in the west. We do live in a desert after all.
 
That's the green lawn I seek. Courtesy Jared Hargrave and utahoutside.com

So that's the point of this return to blogging, to focus on the things in my center circle; cycling and writing being two of them. That may mean a bit of sacrifice in the arena of perfectionism that has held me back in the past, but when I see that most of this country is looking for bon mots from Donald Trump and Kim Kardashians' navel gazing for some reason, what harm is there in throwing out a few less than erudite rants a couple times per week?

Thursday, December 31, 2015

I Open My Presents Christmas Morning


Freuliche Weinachten. Ist eine Powdah DAY!
Most people under the age of having a heating bill in their name likely equate winter to two things: Christmas and Winter Break, unless you grew up in Wisconsin. Then you had three things on your mind during the end of the year: Christmas, Winter Break and figuring out what recess activities could distract you from the fact that the two pairs of socks, Roman Meal bread bags and Sorels wrapped around your feet were no match for the arctic cold which turned every kickball game into  a reenactment of the 1967 NFL Championship game. When a national sportscasters describes the frosty conditions of the game (dubbed the Ice Bowl), I picture the entire state of Wisconsin saying, “Yeah, and…?” So with that in mind, it’s with great disappointment that I have to share this detail from my great Christmas break weekend of skiing at Alta. I was cold.

This probably isn’t the first time I’ve mentioned how spoiled Utahns are when it comes to winter… and I guarantee you it won’t be the last. Show me a Beehive state native that complains about winter and I’ll wager that a) they also complain about the heat in the summer  and b) they don’t ski. That is where I have been spoiled. Years of skiing in the harsh environs of the midwest and east coast bore an appreciation of the banana belt conditions in the Wasatch. I love winter here. Snow dumps in the mountains and I never go more than a week without seeing my lawn. However, when the temp drops like it did in the wake of this awesome storm we got for Christmas, even I get a little frosty.

Santa brought a rather unique gift for me. A powder day combined with a day off. When I got up Christmas morning, I shoveled at least 4” off my driveway. “Think what it’s like up on Alta,” I thought. “The skis were p-texed and ready to go and my father-in-law and I harvested soft laps off Wildcat most of the morning. When he left before noon to spend time with the family (yeah, I know, what’s that all about), I stayed and wore my legs out skiing until 2:30 when the winds picked up and the visibility dropped. I was so elated with the day that later that night when my friend texted me about skiing Saturday as well, I couldn’t say no. This was another rare conflagration of factors: day off, fresh snow and Jared, the newly minted father, had the day to ski as he wished, (yeah, I know that family thing again, notice a trend?) Unlike Christmas Day, the day after Christmas was clear and cold. Temps on top of Collins were starting the day below 0 and suddenly it occurred to me that the insulated jacket I often complain is too warm for skiing would have been perfect on this day.

Skiing after a storm cycle that hit the Wasatch with such velocity meant much of the resort was closed. All around us were pristine untracked slopes roped off like the VIP lounge. Because I knew Jared’s ski days are diminishing  due to non-ski obligations, my hope was that at least one set of velvet ropes would be lifted before we called it a day. A few early hikes up the ridge beyond Wildcat yielded some great floaty turns, but everything off the shoulder was still roped off. Ballroom, Backside and Catherines all closed as well… and with good reason. The volume of this storm was more than our shitty snowpack could take and patrol had to be cautious. When we shared a chair ride with a rather burnt out skier who kept interrogating the patroller sharing our chair, I had to hold back laughter when he asked if they might open up East Castle or Main Chute. Stupid questions like that from are probably why Alta patrol has a reputation for being gruff.
Jared makes the most of a short hike from Wildcat

The clock got closer to 2pm and there was little hope that Catherine’s would open by the end of the day, but while we rode up Sugarloaf, we saw skiers coming down Chartreuse Nose, the rocky spine that runs underneath the chair.  These were powder starved skiers devouring the terrain like locusts; and who could blame them. They were also, to a great majority, powder illiterate. Picking out tourists at Alta isn’t hard. If the clothing and difficulty appreciating the virtues of “quading up” don’t give them away, then their inability to ski powder certainly will. Due to their unfortunate geographically driven lack of experience and the valid need to protect against litigation, most rental shop bindings are set to release somewhere just above a sneeze. Bindings with that DIN didn’t stand a chance on conditions that existed on Extrovert and Amen that day. From our chair it seemed like a dozen people were digging for skis. Others were just sprawled out, searching for the best line through the still rocky and treacherous terrain that is almost never safely covered. From above it was kind of fun to see them unknowingly head straight for a land mine. Sure, I’m cruel, but keep in mind my skis have taken their share of damage over the last few weeks.

After a few laps through the carnage on Chartreuse, we thought the day was going to have to end with a lap down Rustler, but right around 2pm, the gate was opened into Ballroom and the line to ski it stretched all the way to the chair ramp. There is a tendency, at least for me, so see a lemming cue of such proportions and be so disgusted that I would rather ski a groomer and let things thin out, but that slope was about to take a beating and as painful as it was to traverse like you were in line at Golden Corral, I knew it would be worth it.
Mooooooooo
As you might expect at this time of year, there was an element of amature hour. I overheard someone congratulate himself on taking a parallel traverse that temporarily shunted people away from a stump… a STUMP?! If you can’t ski around a stump, then don’t ski at Alta. Imagine of this guy was on the High T? Dammit, I hope that the biggest obstacle in my way is a stump. When it comes to “vegetable or mineral” I’ll take vegetable every time. Once we got past the needless merge with the half-wits protecting their precious boards on the “upper” traverse, we crossed the rope line into the crux between Ballroom and the Baldy Shoulder. Jared picked out a pretty untrammeled line just before the main hike up to the Shoulder-proper that served up the  softest, hovercraft turns of the day. “For once, Ballroom wasn’t choked with avy deb--,” I thought way too soon. I crossed the lower boundary where the deposition zone debris built up and the fresh pow thinned. It interrupted my turn and I got thrown like a rag doll, cheering the whole way. Those are the falls I love taking and help me forget my feet were iced cinder blocks afterwards.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

"Save those skis for the good days"... Are we gonna get good days?

Those babies are just gettin' broken in.
Seasons were designed for some reason. I’m not sure how important that reason is. Ultimately they serve to divide up the year into four neat little segments and, as a person obsessed with taxonomy, I can dig that-- but like a lot of things we construct for the purpose of classification and identification, it’s pointless. Winter officially started today with the Winter Solstice. Our north pole is now tilted 23.5 degrees away from the sun and this day represents the least amount of daylight during the calendar. If you are a skier, the solstice really has no impact on what we call winter. I suppose if I had to pick a quarter of the year to call winter, I would start it exactly 45 days before the winter solstice on Nov. 7th or so, and end some time in early February. That boundary of winter seems to make more sense since it corresponds to what I feel is the true Winter ski season, but there is no scientifically quaint correlation to the celestial mechanics of our orbit, so I will settle for today being the start of winter. Also, by settling on today as the start of winter, it serves me with a benchmark I can use for the proclamation of a personal goal; to share my thoughts, not only as a skier, but as a resident of the planet, on this blog on a much more frequent basis. You’ve probably gathered from my prior paragraph that I value scientific explanations for things, but like farmers and baseball players, skiers have a healthy dose of superstition. I’m going to posit a new superstition relating to snow fall called “The Rock Ski” precipitant. Essentially, I’m theorizing that true commitment to skiing shitty, old rock skis in lousy early season conditions will result in a hastening of big storms. By proving to commit to protecting your prized boards, the snow gods will reward you.

Don't let the grass and exposed rocks fool you, this was a powder day.
If by "powder" you mean unconsolidated sugar.
Go back a few weeks, before the big storm on the 14th. I was out touring the Catherine’s Pass area with my friend Jared on our faceted and rotten early season snowpack. Not wanting to risk the tender bases of my “less-than-a-season” old Voile V6s, I opted to ski my now 10 year old Black Diamond Verdicts which were still rigged up for my ill-fitting Garmont boots. Things were fine until we skied our first lap and I felt no control over my skis. Then, on my 2nd lap, after transitioning from ski to walk mode, my feet started killing me. In my mind I thought I had to get these bindings adjusted to my better fitting boots I was fortunate enough to buy last year. Thinking that the thin snowpack could last for a few more weeks, I felt like parting with the essential parts of my AT rig for a while would be worth it. Then, while my rock skis and precious new AT boots were in the shop being wed, we got nailed with the biggest storm in a few seasons. Jared suggested a dawn patrol, which sounded great, until I remembered my Black Diamond skis and Dynafit boots were on their honeymoon in the back of a ski shop.

This unholy matrimony of Dynafit and Fritschi has
been condemned by the Westboro Baptist Church.
Let’s jump ahead a week to this last Saturday. I was inbounds this time, skiing my resort skis at Alta. They were already in bad shape thanks to an especially abusive day the week before. Once again, before our big storm, I took two inch long core shots right along the edge. When I checked them out at the end of the day, it was a sick joke. I expected the worst and when I turned over the first ski I thought, “Oh, not so bad.” Then I turned over the second ski. Uggh! I was reminded once again how skis, unfortunately, are a disposable item. Unlike bikes which, with maintenance, can withstand the nature of their purpose, skis take the brunt and eventually wear out, like tires. I should have brought them in immediately for some PTex, but I knew the craptastic early season condtions would persist and they weren’t done taking a beating. I was right, even after our big storm, the High T at Alta extracted it’s toll. It’s somewhat validating when you hold off a tune-up and take a few nicks in the plank, kind of like using the toilet before you clean it. After my day on Saturday however, I decided it was time for a tune. What should happen the day after I get my skis in for some long overdue TLC? Another storm. I pick them up tomorrow. I’ll have my meager quiver back at my disposal. My only hope is that this cycle we are in keeps up through the week so that with the upcoming 3 day weekend, I can spend time on the mountain.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

"Don't Believe The Hype" or "The "Stages of Ski Season Has Started" Realization

Oh, yeah, this is why I ski.
I try to understand enthusiasm, but if one more skier talks to me about El Nino and how it’s going to make every day of the 2015-16 season a never-ending face shot that fills my cranial orifices with High West whiskey flavored snow, I’m going facey them with the business end of a monoboard. Actually, in all fairness no skier has really tried to prop up my expectations for the season with pseudo-meteorology. No, the real culprits have been the marketing departments and media outlets; my favorite people in the world. These are the same people that sent me a Mountain Accord propaganda mag with no less than 7 photos predominantly featuring corduroy. That gets me about as revved up for ski season as a Utah County hot cocoa run.


All criticism of hype aside, it should probably be clear by now that I’ve become somewhat ambivalent about ski season expectations. It’s like the Superbowl, after 2 weeks of promotion, you really just want it to start already. Well, today the season started for me. I got up this morning and decided today would be my first trip up to Alta.


The first moment of ski season awareness was when I opened up my bin of ski gear and was reminded that I wear a knee brace. Even three seasons after tearing my ACL, I guess I just forgot that strapping on the Donjoy was part of the routine. It felt like a buzzkill, and I don’t know why, kind of like when you’re a kid and  you have a kick ass Halloween costume that your mom makes you cover up with a winter jacket because in Wisconsin where I grew up,  30 degrees on October 31st wasn’t uncommon.
Hellooooooo KNEE BRACE!
The second moment of ski season awareness was pulling up to Alta over an hour before the lifts open and realizing that most Altoids won’t charge the canyon that early unless it’s the pursuit of freshies. I don’t think I’ve ever parked as close as I did today. But I wasn’t alone, there were other die hards there in the lot, but what I realized is that there are some strange people in the Alta lot at 8am. One guy could not stop the German soccer chants as he tried to stoke up his ski team. “Zicke Zacke, Zicke Zacke, HOI HOI HOI” and other tired euro-trash garbage. Where the hell was that monoboard? Then there was a guy grabbing a nap in his vehicle while he waited, which really wasn’t that weird, but the fact that his friend kept pounding on his window to try and wake him up seemed like I was in a freshman dorm as opposed to a Wasatch ski resort.


The third moment of ski season awareness was remembering how much a pain in the ass putting my boots on can be. Well fitted boots are well worth it, but you’ll burn more calories putting them on than skiing, especially on that first day of the season. Guess the early start was necessary.

Up until now, these moments of clarity have all been fairly negative I realize, but that all changed with the 4th moment of ski season awareness, the view of Mt. Superior on a clear fall day. Sure, the coverage of Little Cottonwood was still pretty bare, but that doesn’t change the inspiring view. I was now really happy I came up and although I spent my abbreviated ski day lapping Collins, it was worth it. Perhaps the corduroy stoke got to me.

Monday, October 19, 2015

The Greatest Good, for the Greatest Number, for the Greatest Amount of Time

One Christmas, I think when I was 3, my parents somehow managed to get a Blue Spruce, root ball and all, to survive the holidays to be transplanted in our front yard. Because it was my little brother’s first Christmas, it was dubbed “Kasey’s tree” and through the years, we watched it grow along with him. For a while my parents were concerned about an asymmetry in the branches, perhaps a sign that it had some sort of coniferous blight that was affecting its shape, but it turns out that blight was just the 4 year old version of my brother discovering how much fun it was to whack his tree with a stick. Despite being treated like like a pinata, that tree became a landmark of my boyhood front yard. One of the great things about my yard was how many trees we had, especially in the back where two big birches stood as sentinels into my own mini-forest. Funny how rose colored the memory is of all my, primarily broadleaf, trees when raking is not stored next to it in the grey matter RAM. So before this devolves into a Robert Frost poem, what I’m trying to say is that in my first year at our own house, I really wanted to plant a tree in our rather sparse frontyard.

We moved in in May, but the planting didn’t happen until a few weeks ago. Adjusting to a lawn maintenance routine contributed to the delay, but I also realized picking a tree requires more forethought than I originally thought. I assumed the process started with getting the tree in the ground and taking care of it, but instead, deciding what to get and where to put it seemed to be the painstaking part. Lexi and I were at the local nursery looking for more stuff for our flower bed. Being the end of the season, much of their inventory was marked down and we were looking at a healthier plant to lift the spirits of our dogged looking yucca’s. We picked out a plucky looking specimen as well as a cactus, because if you are going to garden in the desert, you might as well have the rewards of making your front yard look like a Roadrunner cartoon.

While browsing the cacti in the back of the nursery, we were eventually drawn to the trees and I asked Lexi, “Do you think we’re ready for a tree?” as if we had just kept a goldfish alive for 6 weeks and we felt ready to have a child. Once we agreed that it was time for the stork to make an arbor related delivery, we had to pick a tree. There were some logistical limitations to consider , such as the fact that Oskar, my Subaru Outback, is not really designed to carry tall trees, so small was key. After I saw the price of more mature pines, small was even more OK with me. Who knew a 4 foot tree could cost over $200? I guess, like wine, in the tree business your price tag goes up as your inventory ages. A small pine (less raking and  emblematic of the west) was what we sought and we just sort came upon the Bristlecones. At first, I didn’t connect the name on the tag to the 4000 year old stalwarts that are often the main reason people visit Great Basin National Park. Because of their extreme longevity and rugged setting, you just don’t think of them when you are walking along trees lined up in little black pots like cans of creamed corn in the supermarket. Once I connected the little green sapling in front of me with the crotchety old man of the western botanical world, my mind was pretty made up. Lexi liked the choice as well, so we walked out with our new bundles of joy, a yucca, a cactus and a little pine. [I’m already planning a lame rear window sticker set in the same vein as the vomit inducing stick figure family.]

Figuring where to put it became the dilemma of the afternoon. After we got the yucca and cactus in the ground and did a little upkeep on our existing yuccas, we realized two things, 1) our newly found pine was VERY small and was going to look weird in the middle of our yard and 2) according to the tag, we could expect the pine to grow 15 feet and require 20’ in width! That surprised me, this wasn’t a Ponderosa after all. So here was this dwarf in front of me, and I had to pick a spot where it will have room and look good! We had to worry about how it would look, fully grown, at the front of our house? Is it eventually going to block the view of our flowerbed? Will it give us any shade into our house? In 10 years, what will this tree look like? The irony of worrying about how one of the oldest living organisms on the planet will affect me soon caught up to me however. Here is this tree, which could live long enough to see humanity crash and burn twice in the common era, and it’s probably wondering, “Man, how long do I have to look at this house? Hopefully that spray tan guy in the “Make America Great Again” hat wins the election so these idiots burn themselves up and we get the planet back.” [OK, I suppose pines don’t get political. And since they are trees, they have no place in conversations about scientific matters.]

Just thinking about the possible lifespan of my tree got me thinking about how inconsequential the placement of said tree really was. Who’s really in the driver’s seat here, the long living entity that could still be standing well after I’m gone, or the moron in Sandy trying to keep 3 yucca’s alive? What does it matter where I put him?... or her. Once he/her gets the roots in the soil and I get it through the transition phase, “Bristlecone gonna do its thing.” Until Kasey’s 4 year old son comes to visit.