Saturday, February 28, 2009


Today was one of those perfect ski days. We got new snow this week, the temps stayed cold, and we had sunshine. Got a bit of a late start, but hooked up with my friends as planned. We skied (and boarded) hard, finding some pretty nice powder stashes in the Sweet Cedar's and managing to get the last run on every lift. All in all, a great day.

One of the joys of sport, is camaraderie. I skied today with my regular ski partner, and four other people; one that I have know for about 2 weeks, one that I talked to one evening in a bar several years ago with mutual friends, and two that I met for the first time today. By the end of the day, we were acting as if we had known each other for years, and I guess in a way, we have. We are part of a group. We share the common bond of love for the outdoors, love of physical activity, love of the rush you feel when you survive a steep and deep run through the tight trees, and the feeling of an artist when you put together a series of perfect carves on a canvas of snow. For a day, we are brothers and sisters on the hill, sharing those common genes that have drawn each of us to a small, mom and pop ski hill on the Idaho Montana border, on the last day of February, to act like a bunch of kids. We are family, we are a community.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

My Future

I'll just come right out and say it. I'm a pretty darn good mountain biker. I may not be the fastest, but I can stay toward the front with most of the groups I ride with, and I have pretty good technical skills. At the Spokane Mountaineers mountain bike school, I usually teach the more advanced group. Yep, not a bad rider.

I'm a pretty decent skier, too. I don't have the prettiest form, but I can ski all of the local terrain, and I do pretty good, in even the worst conditions. I'm still working to master breakable crust, and I realize that thinking you can ski a double black diamond in Alaska, because you can in Idaho, will get you killed. But still, all in all, I'm a good skier.

I suck as a swimmer. I started swimming last summer, because my back hurt if I ran too much, and my prostate didn't want to ride too much. In other words, I started swimming because I'm getting old. It's a nice low impact sport (if you consider drowning low impact). I started out in the river, by myself. The first time out, I swam about 10 minutes, and thought I was going to die.
I kept going back, even bought a wet suit, and got to the point that I could swim for 20 to 30 minutes at a time. Still by myself, though. Then this winter, I joined the gym, and started swimming in a pool. With other people. And I suck. People I have never talked to come up and give me tips. I'm sure they stand there, trying to decide if they should say something, and then they just can't stand it anymore. With the words, you suck, screaming in their heads, they tell me to keep my head down, try to keep my butt up, rotate my torso, and stop whatever the hell it is I'm doing with my legs. I nod, thank them, and then flounder down my lane, head up, butt sinking, torso flat, and legs doing whatever the hell it is that my legs do.

I know that in 10 or 20 years, I probably won't be mountain biking much, and my back will have deteriorated so much that I won't be able to run at all. All that I will have left is swimming. Great.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Winter in Florida

It's 6:20 am EST, 3:20 PST, and I'm sitting in the Tampa International Airport waiting for my flight home. I flew down here 2 days ago for a 4 hour meeting. The weather has been nice, cool for Florida, but 40 degrees warmer than home. I went for a run yesterday afternoon wearing shorts and a t-shirt. In 2 months maybe I can do that at home.

It is always amusing to tell Floridians that you are from Idaho. Some give you a blank stare, knowing only that Idaho is a long way from their world. Others give you a look that I can only imagine is the same look that they would give if you told them that you were an escapee from the local mental institute. They cannot imagine why anyone would live somewhere that is cold for two thirds of the year.

As I ran yesterday, I thought about why I choose to live somewhere that is cold and dark. I do miss the sun in winter, and getting outside to exercise this time of year is a challenge and not always very pleasant. Of course, there is skiing, but that is only a couple of days a week. Most of my winter is frigid bike rides, icy, death defying walks with the mongrels, or eating (I know, eating is not technically exercise, but it is a great winter activity). My conclusion is that winter is like a long run. Like a run, it always takes a little while to get into it. Then as you warm-up, so to speak, it starts to feel pretty good. The snow begins, the skiing starts, life is good. Then, towards the middle of the run, the pain starts. You've not seen the sun in days, weeks, and it's starting to wear on your psyche. Now it's time to just put your head down, lose yourself in your thoughts, and bear it. You know the pain will end, it always does, and at some point the endorphins will kick in and you will be enjoying yourself again. You just have to slog through. Toward the end, if it's been a good run, you'll not want it to end. On the other hand, some runs can't end soon enough, and you think, if I can get through this run, I'm done. I will never run again. But you know you will. It's in your blood, part of your soul.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Fat Boy Versus Blood Mountain

Spent the day yesterday backcountry skiing in the Boulder Creek Basin. It was an incredible day; lots of sunshine (as you can see in this photo by John Latta ), a good group of people, and about 5 inches of new snow. It is also one of my favorite places to ski, with beautiful scenery, and mountains that make you think that you are in some of the big terrain north of here in Canada. All of this less than an hour drive from my house.

The day at Boulder started with three hour ski-in, climbing around 3000 feet. We then got about 1100 vertical feet of good turns in decent, albeit variable, snow. After a little lunch, we climbed back up to the ridge, and then skied a nice steep route into Loon Lake, climbed the ridge again, another nice ski into Boulder Creek Basin, and the long, painful ski/snowplow back to the cars, made worse by doing the descent out in the dark. Damn, I wish I had not forgot my headlamp.

As is typical of a backcountry ski trip, the vast majority of the day was spent climbing. I am not a great climber, but I enjoy it. Since I am not the fastest climber, I have learned that if I keep a nice steady pace, without a lot of stopping to "fiddle" with my gear, take pictures, dig through my pack, ect., I am able to stay with most groups. I just keep a nice, steady, slow pace, being more the turtle than the hare.

When I'm climbing, in an effort to take my mind off the pain, I let my thoughts wander, and when I am hurting the most, when the trail has become steep, I almost always think of my Dad, and my first backpacking trip. I was an eleven year, overweight, insecure kid. I had joined Boy Scout troop 144 as soon as I was too old for Cub Scouts. My only memory of my time with that troop was an overnight backpacking trip up Blood Mountain, a beautiful, but fairly difficult hike on the Appalachian Trail in northern Georgia. My Dad drove me to the trailhead in Neel's Gap, and then followed us up the trail. I'm pretty sure that he didn't think that I could make it, with my homemade wooden pack frame and gallon jug of water on my back. He was right. I fell behind early, and never saw the rest of the boys until they stopped on the trail and waited for me. As we reached them, they began to ride me as only a group of 14, 15 and 16 year old boys can. I was broken. The scout master suggested to my Dad that maybe I wasn't going to make it to the top, and my Dad agreed. He helped me back to the car, and drove me home. Now, my Dad was not exactly an athlete. I never knew him to go for a run, a hike, a bike ride, a swim, or anything else that might be considered exercise. But, he got me up the next morning, drove me back to Neel's Gap, and hiked with me to where the Troop was camping on top of Blood Mountain.

I often think of those other boys on that trip. I wander where they are now, men in their mid-fifties. Are they still hiking, are they still in shape, could they keep up with me on a 1500 vertical foot climb? Maybe some of them could, but my guess is that most of them could't. Mostly, I think of my Dad. He was not a very communicative man. He didn't give me an inspirational talk about never giving up, always keep working to fulfill your goals. No, he just went for a walk with his fat son. I don't remember it as life changing at the time, but when I am working hard, climbing a long trail on a mountain bike, or ski up the same uptrack for the 4th time in a day, Blood Mountain with my Dad is always there.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

We Could Sure Use Some Powder

Yesterday was groundhog day. I don't know if there are any groundhogs in northern Idaho, but if there are, they sure as hell didn't see their shadow. I'm not exactly sure what that means, but since its the first week of February, I'm pretty certain that winter is going to be around for awhile.

Skiing has been interesting lately. After several weeks without any new snow, we skied into Copper Lake last week for some backcountry turns, and I guess the best description for the conditions would be challenging. We hiked the ridge up on a suncrusted ice layer, hoping with every step that our skins would hold. You pretty much knew that if you fell you might not stop for awhile, so none of us had any interest in skiing back down that route. I had performed a 300 foot death slide down whiplash the day before, and was still a little gun-shy. Once we reached the top of the ridge, we dug a pit on a northern slope and decided that it looked pretty good. However, the trees were too tight for the conditions, so we kept searching. Things finally opened up off to the east, so we dug another pit, and skied breakable crust back down to the lake. It was not pretty, but it was skiable. The ski back down the approach was typically fast and quad-burning.

We got eleven (ski hill rules) inches of new snow last Tuesday night, so Banana and I went up to Lookout Pass and skied fast and hard in the first fresh powder in a while. It was nice snow on top of some pretty hard crust, making for some fast runs. Banana pretty much handed me my ass, but it was fun. I did manage to bend one of my new poles with my rib cage, so my poor luck with having a nice pair of ski poles that match continues. Such is life.

I'm heading back for Lookout tomorrow. They got a few inches of new stuff on Sunday night, so there should be some good turns. I'm hoping for snow before the weekend. We are planning on skiing into the Boulder Creek Basin, which is one of my favorite areas, so I'm thinking it might be time for a naked snow dance. Like my skiing lately, it ain't gonna be pretty.