Sunday, January 25, 2009


I'm on facebook.  Yes, it's true, and evidently I have 49 friends.  No matter that some of them I've had to look up in my 1977 MHS yearbook (I knew that there had to be a reason I've kept that thing all these years).  I will also admit that I open my Facebook page everyday.  It's kind of like a car wreck, I just can't seem to look away.

As I've mentioned, I have several nephews and nieces.  I first opened a Facebook account in order to have more contact with them, especially my nephew, Justin.  Some in my family think that Justin and I are very similar, and I think that we are, but not in the way that they think.  It took me many years to establish who I am and what I wanted, and a lot of my family think that Justin is going through that same thing, but I don't agree.  Justin wants to make a living as a singer/ songwriter, and is working hard to accomplish that goal (sidenote to Justin:  you can't do it if you aren't totally focused, and focus does not come from outside sources, if you know what I mean).  The problem is that being a singer/ songwriter is not seen as a practical way to make a living, and they are waiting for him to grow out of it, and to grow into something more practical, much as they see me as having grown into who I am.  No, the way that Justin and I are similar, is that we both have a need to live lives that are special.  I'm not saying that I think that we are special, or that we know things that other people don't know, but we both have a need to be that person that lives in our head.  Only time will tell whether Justin accomplishes his goal.  In my case, I finally did find a way to make a living, and I am living an "acceptable" life, but I was just riding along when this life happened.  Justin seems to be looking for something in particular.  We'll see.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

My Bicycle Saved My Life: Part II

So, I really didn't want to get out of bed this morning.  Yesterday was a tough day, and I didn't sleep that good last night.  Once I was up, I really didn't want to ride to work.  It has been cold the last few days, with lows in the upper teens, and it is humid, the perfect combination for misery.   I drank my coffee, read my devotional (Oswald Chambers; great stuff), and ate my cereal.  Then I did what I do so many mornings before a commute.  I went through the motions.  Go upstairs, brush my teeth, go into the bedroom and pull on riding shorts, a shirt, wool socks, wool tights and my nylon hiking shorts.  Then it's to the basement to put on my winter riding boots, vest, coat, hat, balaclava, gloves and helmet.  Then, into the garage, where I roll out my bike, attach the panniers to the rack, turn on the three tail-lights, make sure the headlight is switched on, and crawl onto the bike.  All of this is done without a lot of decision making.  I just do it.

Once I'm riding, things begin to look up.  It's cold, but not too bad.  Brian taught me a long time ago that if you start out a winter ride with enough clothes on to be warm, you will soon be too hot.  My legs feel the cold first. My wool tight are pretty old, and a little more threadbare than they used to be.  This time of year, I take the back way out of the neighborhood, which means my first couple of mile is predominately down hill.  By the time I hit the river, I am cold.  My face hurts (I know, it's killing you), my torso is cold, but the worst are my hands.  By mile two, they are frozen, and they hurt.

There is a comfort in pain.  I know, that sounds a bit odd, but it is true.  On a cold morning, after an emotionally draining day like yesterday, I welcome the cold.  I like how it feels biting my cheeks.  On mornings like this, I welcome the pain.  I am a bit OCD, and when things go bad, I play the events over and over in my head.  I cannot seem to get it to stop, until I crawl on that bike, and feel the frigid air.  Suddenly, all I think about is cold.  For thirty wonderful minutes, the events of yesterday are gone, replaced by one all consuming thought.  My hands friggin hurt!  

By the time I get to work, I have warmed up considerably.  In fact, I stopped at the Seltice Park and Ride to took my balaclava off.  I lock up my bike, go into work and begin another day.  Nothing has been solved, but I am able to clear my head a little.  And no matter what happens today at work, I will crawl on my bike this afternoon.  The good news?  It's supposed to be in the low twenties.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Commuting Again

Road to work today.  Not only was it my first commute of the year, it is also the earliest in the year that I have ever commuted by about 4 weeks.  It's the first time I've commuted to work in January.  It felt good to be riding to work again.  Looking at the weather, I'll probably ride 2 to 3 more times this week, then we'll see what the snow does.  

The roads are not too bad, but there is still quite a bit of ice, and I am glad I have studs.  I don't know if the studs really do a whole lot of good, but they give me a sense of security, and even a false sense of security is better than nothing.  Plus, the tires make my nerd-boy commuter bike look cool.

It will be interesting to see if anyone else has started commuting yet.  I would imagine that Gym Teacher is either already out there, or will be shortly.  I may not see him until the Post Falls side of the trail opens up, or unless I start leaving for work on time, and I don't see that happening.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Hanging Out

Went for the first ride of the year today.  It was awesome.  Sunny and 34 degrees, which for January in northern Idaho is absolutely balmy.   It felt great to be on a bicycle.  It has only been a month since my last ride, but time seems to stand still in the winter time.  

The roads are in pretty good shape, it hasn't snowed in a couple of weeks.  The Post Falls side of the bike trail has not been cleared, so I had to take the back way to Atlas, and then up onto the trail.  I rode down to the bike shop, not because I needed to buy anything, but I needed a destination, and a bike shop is always a good destination.  

I first started hanging out at bike shops 25 years ago.  After a couple of years, I guess the guy at the shop finally got tired of me loitering, and gave me a job.  I spent the next 7 years in a shop.  Life changes prompted me to go back to school in the early nineties, and my days as a full time shop employee came to an end.  

When we first came to Idaho, one of the first things I did was to find a bike shop that I could hang out at.  It took awhile to find just the right one, but when I walked into Vertical Earth for the first time, I knew I was home.  I mean that in a literal way.  It is through that shop that I met my community.  I can think of very few friends that I did not meet either directly, or indirectly, through the shop.  Mark, the ex-owner of Vertical Earth, has become my closest friend.  

Mark sold the shop about seven years ago.  The shop has changed quite a bit, but it is still the shop that I go to.  And on cold January days, it is nice to have a place to ride to, hang out for awhile, talk to the mechanic about how Shimano is ruining the world, and dream about my next, next bike.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Who I Am

 I spent the day yesterday digging bags full of snow out from under six feet of snow.  Rick, our spiritual leader, had devised yet another exercise to scare us all enough to never ski in the backcountry again.  Upon his urging, eight of us spent yesterday on Mt. Spokane locating buried beacons, and then using the newest research in victim excavation, we dug pits big enough to not only locate the victim, but to give the rescuer enough room to perform any necessary first aid.  It was cold, backbreaking, frustrating work.  In other words, it was a blast.

Over the last few years, technological advances in rescue beacons has reduced the time to locate the burial spot of avalanche victims dramatically.  Unfortunately, the time it takes to dig the victims out is the most time consuming part of a rescue, and also the part that is probably the least discussed and the least practiced.  The group that was at Mt Spokane yesterday is a great example of the typical backcountry skier.  We are all proficient in the use of a rescue beacon, and can locate multiple victims fairly quickly, but, with the exception of two or three, we had given very little thought to the actual rescue.  As is his style, Rick put together a training day that was educational, fun, practical, and eye opening into the dangers of our sport.

Now, the point of my ramblings.  Backcountry skiing is inherently a dangerous sport.  The risk of death by avalanche is always there.  I am by no means an expert, and am in fact not that experienced.  I only go into the backcountry with a few people that I trust, and I have worked hard to gain enough knowledge not to have to trust anyone blindly, but the risk is always there.  I am a responsible man, and I take my responsibilities toward my family very seriously.  So, why do I go into the backcountry?

The only reason that I can come up with, is that this is who I am.  I have a need to be in the middle of those places that most people are content to see from a distance, or in a photograph.  I am a skier, a cyclist, an athlete.  I am not a PTA, or a Rehab Director, those are merely what I do.  The great schism is that I am a husband, and I struggle with what I risk.

When I went out yesterday, it was at the tail end of a three day fight with a cold.  By the time I got home yesterday afternoon, I was running a fever, and quite miserable.  Some people might question my judgement of spending the day outdoors in January, being cold and wet, when I was already sick.  But I needed that training.  It is important stuff for the backcountry enthusiast, no matter what your mode of travel is.  Education of all aspects of backcountry sking is my priority.  After all, it is who I am.  

Friday, January 2, 2009

Ski Shape

Yesterday, after spending the day skiing hard, I had planned on writing a post about skiing oneself into shape.  Unfortunately, I fell asleep, so I'll try it again tonight.

One of the many benefits of commuting to work by bicycle, is that it keeps me in pretty good shape.  This year was especially good, because I was able to stay on the bike so late into the season, and even though the snow was a little later in coming this year, I am still going into the season in pretty good shape.  The lungs are there, the cardio is there, and the quads are still pretty strong.  But, bike riding is bike riding, and skiing is skiing.  In other words, even though the bike keeps me in shape, those first few days of hard skiing kick my ass.

The skiing yesterday was incredible.  Deep powder that was firm enough to make it easy to control, but soft enough to forgive any mistakes.  In other words, hero snow.  It made us all look like great powder skiers.  In the steep, tight trees, it was sluffing underfoot as we picked out turns, able to only see 4 to 5 turns ahead before the trees closed in and we ducked out looking for that next line.  Later in the season, we will ski like this all day, but in early season you have to pay attention to your legs.  Once they start to really fatigue, you have to get out into the open.  Tight trees are not the place to be when you can no longer pick your turn.

Every summer I teach at a mountain bike clinic.  I love doing it, and I am a much better rider since I have started teaching.  Breaking down riding into individual skills and then practicing those skills is very beneficial.  Yet, when I am asked how to become a better rider, my answer is always the same:  ride your bike.  The same can be said for skiing.  To get into ski shape, you can do all the offseason work that there is, you can clinic, you can even read about skiing, but the only way to become a better skier is to ski.

Oh well.  Tomorrow I'll be back out on the hill.  I'm a little sore tonight, but after a few warm-up runs I'll be fine.  I don't know how long the legs will last,  but each day they'll last a little longer, until I am in prime ski shape.  Of course, by then the snow will be melting, and it will be time to get into riding shape.