Monday, November 6, 2017

Ain't Wastin' Time No More

How could anyone view
this as a waste of time?
"Skiing is the best way in the world to waste time." That quote is true if Glen Plake, the mohawked skier who set my young mouth agape in ski movies like the Maltese Flamingo, is to be believed, skiing is the best way in the world to waste time. I couldn't directly attribute that quote to him anywhere, but it sounds like something he would say. I read it on Instagram, a fun way to quickly share the things that make us thankful to be alive, all at the cost of increasing the average time spent on the toilet by 20%. (Seriously, if you are waiting for a stall in my office building, I bet jamming the 4G signal would be the best way to get one to open up faster.) The quote was posted by one of the many agents working for the winter rec hype machine, and even though I often question the journalism creds of those in social media, I feel like it should be linked to Plake, someone who I think of as the Hemingway Code Skier: wearing dayglow 90s threads, acting irreverent, sporting a hairdo occasionally under the performance enhancement of Elmer's wood glue and ripping nasty French couloirs on 210cm skis.

One Man's Wasted Time Is Another's Opportunity to Ridicule

The quote itself is pretty universal; it works for anything that gives you pleasure. We all end up as worm food, so aren't our lives really just one continuous search for the best way to "waste" time? For some, scrapbooking is how they burn the remaining minutes they have for themselves, others brew beer during the precious grains of hourglass sand that they call their own, a select and fortunate few of us get to play in the incredible landscape of Utah when we aren't telling people to, "clear their cache and try it again", and amazingly, an unfortunate group of people seem to while their time destroying that precious Utah landscape (for reasons I'll speculate on in future blogs). In all those cases, the common thread is that, for each person partaking in said activity, 10 more are wondering, "Why the hell would you want to do that?!"

With the last out of the World Series last Wednesday, I wrapped up another 6 months of my life "wasted" watching baseball. And before the end of the this month, I will start another 6 month interval of time "wasted" skiing. This blog is really the byproduct of that winter activity; a way for me to channel some of the passion stirred up by skiing into a creative outlet. But I'm talking about more than just face shots, first tracks and filtered photos. In a larger context, I'm talking about skiing as a means to access the wild, both internally and externally. As writer and environmentalist Jack Turner said:
...what has contributed most to our love of wild places, animals, plants -- and even, perhaps, to our love of wild nature, our sense of citizenship-- is the art, literature, myth and lore of nature.
--Jack Turner, from The Abstract Wild

Mountain Stoke is Not a New Thing

It was worth the extra 8 grams
in my pack for this picture.
I believe that quote was from Turner's book The Abstract Wild; although the quote first appeared to me in a another book, a translation and commentary of an ancient Zen sutra, written by monk and author, John Daido Loori. Earlier in this blog, I made a somewhat sneering comment about the "winter rec hype machine". As a perpetual skeptic, I tend to have a bit of distaste for anyone who is way too interested in getting me excited about something. Yes, my Instagram feed is dominated by skiing... and hot women... and hot women skiing, but I do get sick of reading how "stoked" I should be, that this winter will be "epic" and that I'll never grow old as a "child of winter." Cliche's aside, creating poetic and passionate art around skiing is not a new development that burst from the loins of Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. It existed back when I watched those ski movies by Warren Miller and Greg Stumpf. Stoke, for me, started with Miller's Steep and Deep. And, as I realized when reading Loori's The Way of Mountains and Rivers, it existed in the 13th century teachings of Zen Master Eihei Dogen.

Dogen used mountains, not as a metaphor for enlightenment, but part of enlightenment; actual actors in the process of our existence. And teaching that connection to nature, he raises some truly spiritual themes:
Although it is generally said that mountains belong to the countryside, actually, they belong to those who love them. When the mountains love their master, the wise and virtuous inevitably enter the mountains. When sages and wise ones live in the mountains, the mountains belong to them, trees and rocks flourish and abound, birds and beasts take on a mystical excellence. This is because the sages and wise ones have touched them with their virtue. We should realize that the mountains actually delight in the presence of wise ones and sages.
--Dogen, Rivers and Mountains Sutra
I sincerely hope I fall into the category of the "wise ones and sages".

Does Anyone Want to Read What I Have to Say?

Here's my pretentious writer shot.
Looking towards another season "wasted" skiing, I'm rebooting another waste of my time-- writing about skiing. Writing essays on anything in this age of 120 character aphorisms seems like pursuing a degree in Latin, but I'm going to proceed with my prose anyway. My last blog post was in March, and it was one of only a few that I wrote all of last season. Over the last 9 months, I've collected quite a few notes and photos from both adventurous and mundane experiences alike. Some of those experiences were documented on Instagram, but I want to do more with them. I want to tell a story, convey a spirit, relate a value and maybe (get ready to digest some hubris) make a difference. The irony here is that "wasting time" is something my wife will tell you is akin to my kryptonite. I calculate, plan, allocate and organize even the most impulsive and euphoric events. And finding time to "waste" can be hard when there is a lot on which I want to waste time. But I do truly believe the mountains, and all the wonders of nature belong to those of us who love them, and I want to continue writing about them.

I asked a good friend of mine, a talented and published author the very question posed in the header above this section. His answer was pretty prophetic, "You just can't care about that." So I'm going to not care and write. If you choose to follow me, I'll arc from the ephemeral to the concrete-- part sutra, part trail beta, part social activism. Yet, it's all done with the humility that I can't do justice to the real thing.
Clever talk--how can it compare
to the sounds of the river valley,
the form of the mountain?
--Loori, from The Way of Mountains and Rivers

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

An Inheritance that Can't be Taxed

I barely remember the hill. I think it was called Sunburst and it may have been out of business the next season. What I do remember though is, by the end of that awkward and probably frustrating first day, thanks to my dad, I became passionate about skiing. Through the years, I found that same ardor in almost everyone I met who also skied. Most skiers are "disciples", not fair weather fans. Religious parallels aside, one of those devotees I had the pleasure of meeting was an affable coworker that was the first friend I made upon moving to Idaho in 1999.  Rod was an Idaho native who worked at the TV station with me. While his skills weren't typical of my usual ski partners, his passion was, and I always enjoyed skiing with him.
Rod and I at Brighton in 2002

Rod left us too soon-- a year ago this month. But in addition putting a smile on the face of all those those lucky enough to call him a friend, he also passed on his passion for skiing to his daughter Maci. Lexi and I had the privilege of skiing with Maci last weekend at Bogus Basin and her love of skiing was no different than any other skier I've met.

Rod got into skiing relatively late in life, and by today's standards, so has Maci, but like most 13 year-olds, enthusiasm is a great tonic for inexperience. The night before we planned to ski, I texted her and said we would pick her up at 8:30. When she suggested that we might want an earlier start due to traffic, I realized her desire to get up to the mountain early was about more than beating the red snake like it is for me in the Wasatch, she was genuinely excited. While winding our way up Bogus Basin road, she shared a story about the last day on the mountain with her dad. Rod forgot to put in his contacts and when he realized he didn't have them, they had to turn around halfway up the road, delaying their day of skiing by a few hours. When Maci told me that, I could tell she wanted to make the most of our day skiing together. I had to smile after hearing the story too. I could just picture the look of "doh" on Rod's face when he had to turn his Blazer around. Probably in his haste to get up to them mountain, something as simple as putting in his contacts was easy to forget.

Maci's energy persisted as we walked through the parking lot. Her days skiing were low, and I woud have excused her for lagging behind as she walked in ski boots while carrying her skis, but she was outpacing Lexi. And before I could even get into my bindings, she was ready to go, asking to do a warmup lap on the bunny hill.
You can't teach fun.
 Unsure of her ability, I tried tempering her bravado, but from the moment we got off the Deer Point quad, she knew exactly where she wanted to go. In low visibility, I had to make sure I kept her in sight as she zipped down the long cat track that led to the backside of the mountain. Skiing didn't seem uncomfortable to her. Throughout the day, I tried to provide some instruction and guidance, but I have to admit, it felt a little unnatural doing so. I've never really felt comfortable instructing people on the finer points of skiing anyway. Plus, she was having fun. Why try to teach "fun"?

As the skies cleared in the afternoon, Maci started eyeing more advanced terrain from the lift. I would relate. At her age, I wanted to challenge myself too. I might see an awesome looking glade from above and feel like I had to ski it. Never mind the sharp, off camber fall line leading into the glade, or the narrow gully at the bottom of it. For Michelle, Maci's mother's sake, I suggest alternatives, but we did make one rather challenging run off the top of the Pine Creek chair. In order to get to the long, ridge top track, we traversed across a slope where Maci learned the value of side slipping. Lexi and I talked her through it, and she did great. Then, when the remaining part of the run was more at her skill, she asked if she could ski straight for the rest of it. I think was most fun, seeing her work hard to get herself through a difficult part of the slop and then, when she realized that the worst was behind her, open it back up and get back into her comfort zone.

A great day to be above Boise
It was a long day with all sorts of snow conditions, visibility and challenges. When she started turning with her upper body more and more, I got the idea she was getting tired and I  knew we needed to call it a day soon. That was pretty tough, but I think she would have skied until they turned on the lights for night skiing if I let her. Unlike the original trip through the parking lot, now those ski boots seemed like they weighed 50 lbs on her feet. Maybe because she was tired, maybe because leaving the mountain is always tough.

I thought back to my days skiing at age 13. So many things I remember. Some clear, some unclear. But while many of us may struggle with the hazy memories of those early days on the slopes, one memory is crystal clear in both my mind, and I'm assuming Maci's mind, and that is, how grateful we were that our fathers' introduced us to skiing.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Slackwater Time in Ski Season

The hasty flow chart below best plots my weekend routine since December. 

That simple, three letter word in the middle rectangle is all that matters in this diagram. It represents an activity so euphoric that all the connected objects, and their associated anxiety, disappear as quickly as I can link a turn down Gunsight. This loop, however, comes with collateral damage: weekend exhaustion. "Hectic" should not be an adjective tied to "skiing", but when the Wasatch is less than an hour's reach from a million plus people, I find that by 9pm on a Saturday night, I'm barely able finish my whiskey let alone partake in another euphoric, three letter word activity. The last month at work resulted in some major PPTSD (PowerPoint Traumatic Stress Disorder) and I needed to escape to nature without everyone else in the Salt Lake Valley. So, before Moab fell prey to their own incursion of tourists, I decided to go down there with Lexi and introduce her to mountain biking.
Lexi pedals along the Moab Brand trails.


As soon as we left Friday night, I was already seeing incredible images on Instagram of skiers pitted on one of the deepest days of the season. It was tough to stomach, but sometimes you just need to pedal. And in retrospect, the fact that I still had an incredible weekend proves how important it was to escape the Wasatch.

As a little background, back in September, I bid on an off-peak Moab condo stay to benefit the Utah Avy Center. When we won the auction, I capitalized on Lexi's growing curiosity about mountain biking and planned the stay for her birthday. Moab was the first trip we made together and we hadn't been there in a while. Plus, I knew they had a much better selection of beginner trails in than when I had ridden there last. 

Still, as if it wasn't bad enough knowing there was incredible skiing happening in the Wasatch, I woke up Saturday morning and had to deal with the snow covered LaSals taunting me from Moab's eastern horizon. Like a summer flame at camp, skiing is that girl you know will be gone all too soon, but I also knew that with the girl, there was also clogged canyons, overloaded lift lines and lemmings lined up and waiting for patrol to drop the gates on Ballroom. I needed a break from that, a little slackwater amidst the whitewater rapids of the ski season, if you will. I've had some good ski days this year, so while all that blower was being tracked in the Wasatch, I was enjoying a birthday weekend with my wife. Instead of rousting her at 6:30 so we could get up the canyon before the horde, she had the privilege of sleeping in while I made her breakfast. I never felt flake of regret for giving up skiing, because ultimately, I was getting to mountain bike.
Pay no attention to that snow in the background!

Last weekend reminded me that mountain biking is a gateway drug for cycling-- because it's fun. It's ultimately why I got into cycling as a whole. I mean, I love road biking, but it's not fun. And with empty trails and a full-suspension 27.5" mountain bike, Lex probably felt the difference between mountain biking and road biking. She rode at her own pace without worrying about traffic. She struggled a bit, but in the good way. 

We started with the Moab Brand trails which were perfect for a beginner. The initial mile on the EZ trail had some novice "mountain bike" elements (embedded rocks and mild trail twists) where Lex got a taste of terrain without having to do a lot of climbing. The EZ trail runs below a low, rocky ridge that can be seen from highway 191 and I couldn't have picked a better primer for her first day of real riding. After nearly two miles on EZ, we got a break on some double-track heading south on Rusty Spur. Our 5 mile loop eventually ended on Lazy. The return route followed the low rocky ridge above EZ and provided additional single track punctuated with some sharper turns and little climbs before hitting some cruiser sections on the back of the ridge. 

Seeing Lexi struggle without excessive frustration was pretty rewarding and the next day she got challenged a little bit more at Klonzo. The weather was perfect late winter Moab: sunny with no wind. Even though our route up Borderline to Zoltar was shorter than Saturday's ride, the compression of climbing all within the first mile added a cardio element to her learning curve. But once we hit Zoltar, Lexi discovered the fun of riding slickrock. The short, mile plus stretch gained a little elevation while rolling over grey sandstone. A few quick drop and climbs required some ratcheting, but all in all, I was amazed at how determined Lexi was to improve. 

I was also kind of surprised with my instructional advice for her. Unlike skiing, I found myself actually trying to teach. With skiing, I've never really tried to help teach Lexi, mainly because  I don't know if I could really "teach" skiing. I started skiing around the same time I learned to ride a bike, and for some reason, the old, second nature adage about something being like "riding a bike" always seemed more applicable to skiing in my life. I just sort of feel what it takes to ski, unlike mountain biking, which is something I've scrutinized. And even though a lot of what I do on a bike is somatic, I found myself more able to translate my techniques to Lexi. With few people on the trail, we were able to stop, walk back, and have her work on tools like keeping the wheels moving while rocking your weight back and forth. I also realized that, much like skiing, movement and speed, are your friends.

By the time we closed our insouciant weekend with a short, Monday ride, she was already planning a bike fund. She was convinced that when the time came to buy a bike, she had to get the same one she rented from Chile Pepper. The rash idea of falling in love with the first bike you ride resonated with how I felt the first time I tried a full-suspension bike nearly 20 years ago. It made me made me happy, not just because I'm aroused by buying bikes, even bikes for someone else, but because she had ridden just three days and experienced the euphoria of mountain biking. 

So in a few weeks, Moab mountain bikers can swap many of the objects in the above flowchart with Moab specific entanglements: crowded trailheads, limited campsites, packed restaurants, but for one mellow weekend in February, Lex and I were able to focus on a single 4 letter word in the middle, RIDE. 

Monday, February 20, 2017

Finally, the Last Holiday of Winter

The rain/snow line seemed low on Sunday morning. As the UTA passed the soggy dark embankments around Tanner's Flat, it's windshield flattening big drops of rain, I remembered how spring skiing, from a Wasatch perspective, is already here. Just above that however, the precip began flecking the windshield. That dendrit-ic transformation is what I wanted to seed. Once the Birds were dropped off at the compound, the bus emptied out and its temperature dropped considerably. I was back in winter.

Riding the bus to Alta changes something in me. Driving my car up the canyon has become like spending the night with a beautiful woman that happens to have hairy armpits. Regardless of how great she is, there is no way possible I am looking forward to that part of her. So even though riding UTA burns an extra 30 minutes in stops and the ski rack seemed to be designed by someone under the impression that Little Cottonwood is straight-- with zero incline-- and that skis possess a physics-defying quality of inertia, I love it. I realized it adds a little bit of anticipatory euphoria. If you've ever been to Disney World as a child, you have likely ridden the monorail from the parking lot or your lodging, into the park. Is there any greater build up in a young mind? Knowing at the end of that monorail will be a life-size Goofy, idiot proof cars you can kind-of drive and the philosophical realization that it is a small world after all.

I still couldn't seem to
stay high enough.

Somehow, the Wildcat gods smiled on me this past Sunday morning. Because about 5 minutes after I got into line, the rubes began to figure out the line at Collins was exponentially longer than what as building up at Alta's quaint little fixed double. And in fact, a rather saintly local identified a single near the top of the cue for me and I jumped all the way up to 3rd position, easily the highest I have ever been at a lift at Alta. The snow was falling, everything looked pretty well covered in cream and after the two chairs in front of me unloaded and took the path of least resistance down the runs directly under the top of the chair, I had the rare pleasure of being the first one down Punch Bowl and into the western perimeters of Wildcat. The initial turns were a little rough; the heavily trafficked areas had some lumps, but as I cut my route into Wildcat Bowl I realized that more snow fell overnight than I expected. I was worried I was going to regret not skiing Saturday, and since I can only tolerate so much of a holiday crowd, I chose to ski Sunday, and that choice seemed just fine.

I began to feel the effects of Saturday's bike ride, my first of 2017, in my legs after I incredibly had to be the first one to put in a high traverse across Punch Bowl to get to the ridge that follows the resort boundary. There were some covered tracks that looked like they were set down by patrol in the AM, but they must have come down from the ammo shack on the knob above. So I trudged through, raised my heart rate and was rewarded with the pleasure of swooping in like a hawk on the skiers taking the low route.

The new skis should not get used to this much
snow on this stretch.
After two laps like that where I felt like I was in my own little tree house, I took a break and then took a lap up Collins. Gunsight sounded good, and since the diminishing visibility and new snow might make it hard for me to approach the notch from the High T, I decided I would take the Backside traverse which instead requires an immediate side-step right from the lift ramp, but the ability to ski down to the Gunsight climb instead of trying to step up to the climb. I've been doing this more lately, even though it requires using a rope to circumnavigate a small cliff band that has a two ski width passage along the rock. Once again, no one seemed interested in doing this, so I was shocked by two things. One, that in the section on the cliff band where I had to hold on to the rope for balance, I could actually ski instead of gently tiptoe along with my skis-- there was enough snow. And the second surprise is that no one had been up Gunsight in a while. There were some tracks on the uptrack, but they looked like they had been covered for most of the day. Once again, I was sitting on top of the world while rats raced below me. Once I got the top of Gunsight, the winds kicked up. Alone.



The day before, my father-in-law was skiing at Alta and sent me this picture of the rubes lined up for Devil's Castle. Glad that I can still find my way to a few spots that need to be earned.


Thursday, January 5, 2017

An Act of Faith

The Bear's Ears Monument. A testimony to Utah's
unique place as a home for us in the past, present and future.
The quote in the header of this blog was chosen based on my deep belief that nature and wilderness are more than hobbies for me, they are existential elements of my being. In light of recent events surrounding southeastern Utah, the quote also holds some topical relevance. Another treasured corner of my state has been designated as a National Monument and an examination of why this is so important to me and many others seems necessary as many on the opposing side, some local, some national, question whether anyone in Utah wants this. My answer is an emphatic, "YES!"

When I arrived in the west nearly 18 years ago, my scope of wilderness was defined by very contrived experiences in confined spaces. I may feel some kinship with nature in a state park carved out of the Door County Peninsula, or I might feel a measure of vulnerability spending a few days skiing in the savage winters along the shores of Lake Superior. That was my experience with "wild" and "untamed".

Idaho's Sawtooth Wilderness.
Then I arrived in Idaho. I witnessed a wilderness gospel that transcended anything preached in the confines of Wisconsin's Nicolet National Forest or the backroads of New York's Finger Lake Region. I absorbed the testament of the Sawtooth Mountains and Frank Church River of No Return Wildernesses, the latter of which, when viewed in terms of area, encompasses the most remote territory in the U.S. outside of Alaska. To travel the 80 some river miles on the Salmon through the heart of this wilderness, you would have to circumnavigate about 370 miles by car. My proximity to these cathedrals of nature made me a true wilderness acolyte.

Enjoying happy hour in the legacy left
by Frank Church.
With my move to Utah just over 10 years ago, I joined a new parish with different, but equally powerful examples of nature's glory. While Idaho's vast central region was a blockade of mountains and rivers that had been interrupting passage to the Pacific since Lewis and Clark, Utah presented an inverse, but no less difficult geography. Deep meandering canyons divide the Colorado Plateau's desert into large isolated chunks of desert. Crossing to the other side of the Colorado River south of Moab requires long pilgrimages to the remote missions in Hite or Bullfrog. And witnessing the filigreed intricacy of The Wave just south of the border in Arizona demands patience and dedication, not just in the procession through an unforgiving desert on foot, but also in the faith that a permit to see this wonder would be granted.

With President Obama's executive action to create the Bear's Ears National Monument, another corner of our state has been sanctified. In the eyes of us wilderness disciples, this decision validates our faith. Many opponents question the designation. They feel it ignored the rights of those who call the region containing Bear's Ears home. Certainly I can't pretend to call Bear's Ears home, but do the residents of nearby Bluff and Blanding have any more right to call it home?

I'll return to the quote at the top of this page. Yes, nature is home-- our home. Snyder didn't envision nature as parceled off plots for our personal refuge. There is no boundary on nature where one person's opinion ceases to matter and another's begins. Nature belongs to us all and it provides a home that stretches beyond the Wasatch Front, Colorado Plateau, Intermountain West, Continental US and on and on.

The Wave exemplifies just how amazing a seemingly
mundane desert can be.
Xenophobia is not exclusive to the right. On both sides of our polarized spectrum, we often see outsiders and visitors as threatening our home. I feel this anxiety every time I go to Alta. Out-of-staters clog the canyon, greenhorns stop in the middle of a traverse, and I once nearly lost it when I overheard a stranger wish that Alta would grade out the High Traverse for easier access and protection of his skis. As someone who routinely hits the Lift House for extensive base welds, I can say, with great conviction, I have never wished for the High T to be manicured.

Many of us Altaholics get possessive of our "home", so I can appreciate what some anti-monument activists feel. But what matters most to me is that special places like Alta, Bear's Ears, or the Jumbo Valley in British Columbia [watch Jumbo Wild on Netflix if you haven't] are viewed not as local treasures, or regional treasures, or even national treasures, but world treasures. That sentiment understandably upsets those who see President Obama's choice as a threat to their livelihood. Not only that, but I will recognize the action as a stinging contradiction of their ideas of how nature should be managed, but using your proximity to an area as an entitlement for environmental molestation seems self-centered.

Introspectively, I have tried to find a point of understanding, a parallel in my own life, that matches the anger fomenting from the other side of the debate. I don't have to look very far. It's on the calendar as January 20th.

That may seem drastic, but I have thought long and hard about the compromises I might make for the preservation of the wild. For example, would I trade Alta's snowboard ban for the preservation of Grizzly Gulch and Flagstaff Mountain? Would I trade mountain biking in Fisher Creek to ensure wilderness protections in the Sawtooth and White Cloud ranges of Idaho?

Who are any of us to say that responsibility towards natures starts and stops on a property line. It surrounds us all. Gary Snyder didn't want us to see nature as our home in the possessive sense. The environment is not a plot in which we establish our dominion. He wants us to see the entire system of nature as a gift that surrounds us every moment of our life. We have all been given a home.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Winter Demands Acceptance

Seeing Supreme with Snow from "Kitty".
Makes everything seem all right.
Winter buries ambition. It forces hibernation. Winter leads to introspection. Victims of the seasonal shift complain about light's brevity while shivering and relenting to the grips of winter's harsh and icy fingers. It's not hard to view ourselves as victims to this tilt of the axis. Without the comforts of warmth and light, many fail to overcome the cold and bleakness of these long months. People begin to fool themselves about the spring when the blanket is ripped from their curled and fetus like bodies and they can feel the warmth dance across their naked skin and open their bodies to the sky.

Spring never comes like that. The snatching of the covers from your body doesn't feel pleasant. It's severe and stark. Which is why I don't cling to any misconceptions on the joy of spring. To me, spring is just the decent neighborhood in a strange city that in a few blocks transforms into the "put your wallet in your front pocket" skid row of triple digit summer. Winter is my time.

My goals come into sharp focus. Against the greyscale existence, my desires stand out. Instead of misplacing hope on an oncoming summer where ample margins around the workday allow for pleasant evening and morning recreation, I have to commit to making the most of the day.

No season demands acceptance of things outside of your control more than winter. And more so than cycling, skiing requires acceptance of things outside your control: conditions, time of day, shortness of the day, cost of a pass, weather and the limits of the body. To perform on skis, you should be on a level that matches the terrain and the equipment. At least that is how I feel skiing. I can't tolerate backing off and stemming a turn when I know that a lifetime on skis has given me the tools to do it. My standards are higher. Cycling forgives and meets me halfway. It works with me; allowing the alteration of my performance to meet the challenges in front of me. On my bike, I can find a gear, alter the pace, or take a rest. However, the mountain doesn't change for a skier. I always try to meet on its terms.
Jared Hargrave of utahoutside.com gets his
first Wildcat laps of the season.

Last weekend as I started my winter, I could feel the threshold to injury diminishing as the clock approached 3pm. Day two on the boards and I had been searching for places to cram turns all day. Alta's snow, some of the best we've seen in an opening weekend, was slashed powder and starchy grooves. Good snow, but not something I was ready for; most opening weekends are a few hours on corduroy just to get my ski legs back. But the 2016-17 season rewarded me with a better than normal preamble. Thanks to skiing two straight days right off the bat, I was crossing tips and throwing my weight back and forth like a roller coaster starting its departure. The turns strayed further across the slope as I looked for any mogul to leverage. With each pole plant, I'd shift and feel my uphill ski struggle to fall in line. Knowing how this scenario ended on Christmas Eve a few years ago—ACL torn and a season lost, I surrendered to winter. All this in spite of the physical progress I have made in the last few months: more cycling miles than I have had in a few years, riding a 24-hour mountain bike race, building more muscle. Those things didn't matter to the mountain.

Jared felt it as well and on his penultimate run, he got sucked into the very trees he was trying to avoid lower down on Collins face. He bit it and called it a day after a run through Race Course.

While Jared made his final run, I went to the season pass office to see about my bus privileges and then finish the last half of my turkey sandwich. A self-supported Sunday in which I rode the bus up in my ski boots and essentially skied non-stop. The rewards of a winter day like that are hard to verbalize and innumerable.

We are all entering a winter. A season where the things we feel comfortable with will be torn from us. Left shivering and shriveled, naked and unprotected, we will see exactly what is of value. We'll face the reality that those values could be taken from us. Winter holds no contempt for us. This isn't personal. Winter has been doing this all along. Winter's forces of nature will demand more of us than summer's glow ever will. But winter will also reward us with riches far greater than anything summer has ever offered.

Afterward

When life is full of shit, put on a
corduroy hat and grill some brats. 
I've been pretty silent since 25 Hours in Frog Hollow. "Ride, rest, repeat," was my mantra and riding without the luxury of light illuminated some philosophical thoughts in a sort of nocturnal satori. I planned to draw on that experience with some blog posts but, the withdrawal from that crank-arm induced high and the national events that shortly followed left me overwhelmed. I didn't know what I should write about, nor was I certain if my writing would reflect a rational and objective response to the reality I was facing. Never in my life have I seen a better example of how emotions can retard critical thought. I didn't feel safe writing under the duress of those emotions. Now, with some distance from those fateful fall days, I draw the line of seasonal demarcation with my first days of skiing last weekend. Winter begins.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Early to Rise, Early to Post Ride Beers

The rewards of an early start. Sunrise over Zion.
"Anytime now," I kept saying in an agitated voice, looking to the east waiting for a glow to halo the Wasatch. Now that the brutality of Utah's summer had subsided, I flipped the weather-hypocrisy switch and now eagerly awaited the sun warming up my pre-work ride. That was last Tuesday morning, when I shimmed a 25-mile, pre-work, road ride in for the first time in nearly a month. In the span of that month, the oncoming winter solstice transformed my glorious sunrise ritual into a defiant battle against the chill and darkness. Normally on these rides, I'm done with my headlight by Wasatch Blvd and I'm basking in the sunrise. But on this morning, I needed the light well into Draper and was reminded of summer's fleeting life expectancy.

It really didn't seem that long ago that I teamed up with my friends to start our summer training rides for the 25 Hours in Frog Hollow Race. I got more mountain biking in this summer than years past, but with less than three weeks to the race, I have a hard time feeling prepared. Adjusting to the darkness was a major part of our preparation. Sunset rides at Corner Canyon, pitch black excursions at Snowbird and pre-dawn starts at Deer Valley constituted a majority of my miles on the mountain bike. But conditioning for laps sans light wasn't all these nocturnal rides are about. There is a subconscious element in my desire to ride before sunrise. I'm looking for an "early start".

My bike is mumbling, "Just 10 more minutes
of sleep, then we can ride."
My wife reminds me that not having a plan is sometimes necessary for our personal sanity, yet those views are not intrinsic to my being. Instead, I find comfort in plans and staying on top of things as an overriding philosophy, and nowhere is that more evident than my belief that everything is better with an "early start".

The seeds of this devotion to an early start began with skiing in the midwest. It seems like chairs at some resorts would start loading at 8am and my dad would wake my brother and me up before dawn to get up to Ski Brule for an early start. It seems crazy when I think of how eager we were to get on that frozen anthill. But the snow was never going to soften anyway, so you might as well make the most of your lift ticket.

Making the most of our limited time motivates a lot of us to make an early start, but I think there is another factor. It's solitude and silence. Once again, I go back to my dad, up before dawn, working on estimates, without the interruption of appointments or phone calls. That lack of distraction is appreciated in cycling. I'm pretty clumsy on a mountain bike to begin with, and navigating a trail in the dark without an audience can be calming despite the limited visibility. Although navigating switchbacks in the dark has the same effect as light saber training with the blast shield down. I have asked myself, "Why again am I on this trail?" Thankfully, no switchbacks have blasted me in the ass yet.

The mental fatigue of riding in the dark is something I hadn't quite considered. Yes, physical fatigue will be the bigger hurdle in this race, but I'm noticing that the brain works so much harder in the dark. In the daylight, you take for granted how unencumbered vision helps us make split-second decisions. In the dark, when you vision is tunneled by a headlamp, you don't get the luxury of peripheral vision. So when your front wheel careens off a rock and aims your light into a moose's living room, your adrenaline spikes as you try to remember the obstacles your light illuminated 2 seconds prior.


If you are patient, the sun will eventually illuminate the Wasatch.
Courtesy Jared Hargrave
Fatigue and chill aside, there is a self-satisfying feeling I get when I'm done with a ride and drinking a beer on the tailgate while people are just starting out for their rides. What's that old army saying, "We do more before 9am than most people do in a whole day". Early starters are a pretty smug bunch. Probably why I enjoy an early start.