Spring dream

Springdream
The forest is still buried under a canopy of a foot-plus of snow. It's lightly flurrying out, and if my body feels a little better today, I may try to embark on a very mellow ski, as the fever is gone (but the body still weak). The quest for 100 delayed, but not finished. The world is white, the sky is gray. But lately, I've been dreaming another dream. It's a world of green. Of budding aspens. Of soft, deep brown, tacky dirt. Of smells of spring, smells of mud, of pine, perhaps mixed in with a lingering wood stove, creating a cornocopia for the senses. Perhaps we wake up, and a light rain is falling outside the caboose. Brew up some matte, and watch as the rain subsides and the fog rolls in from the east. And then the sun, while not shining direct, sends the fog into a sparkling array of glimmers and sheens. Elaine and I head outside, smell the air, like two wolf mates, and decide it's time to ride. This season, the goal is not to race or go as fast as possible, but to teach my life partner as much as possible about this activity that has enriched my life greatly.  She has asked to learn, and there is nobody I would rather teach. Add another NIMBY to the fray, and someday we'll create a family of them – a shaggy haired tribe of free thinkers, taught mostly through experience in the outdoors and the forest and the mountains – to defend this land. Someday. On this day though, we toss on our bike clothes – baggy and understated of course because we're looking to blend with nature, not dominate it. Fill the bottles with water, go outside, and find our bikes. Our wolf dog is in tow. Hop on, head left up the hill, and dive into the local trail. We're quickly engulfed in a tunnel of wetness, as the trees, which were earlier moistened with rain, extend their branches to us, cleaning us, giving us the best bath in the world. And then, it's into the swoop. Following the path of dirt, winding, ever winding, through the sea of pine and aspen. Below, the tiny pasque flowers, popping through the dirt around the lingering snow drifts. We come around a bend and to the west there sits the divide, still white with snow (and this is good, for spring skis in the peaks are a delight). Down the gully, slowing now, because we are not in a rush, and we want to see the world. If we're lucky, we'll hear an elk herd rumble off through the forest, or perhaps even a lone moose wandering the willows. We come to the lake now, smooth, unfrozen. A raft of ducks paddles across the middle, their home unfrozen. Off to the side, the simmering sound of the frogs, crying across the spring air. There are a few muddy sections on the trail, and the soil clings to our skin, but we don't mind, because we are on a bike ride, and the forest, the earth, this trail is our home.

It's snowing out. And for this I am thankful. But in the head, these are the dreams that are creeping in.

Penned up

Bam! Got smacked by the flu bug the past few days. Watched the temperature ride to close to 104° yesterday, feeling dizzy and nauseaus. I'm going mentally crazy being penned up, but can't do much about it because the body doesn't want to move. Argh.

Elaine’s ski building class

So my wife is building her second set of skis. Pure birch, completely hand-built. That my friends, I think is pretty freaking cool. She decided to write it up. This is a four or five part installment. She's letting me post the details here…enjoy!

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Day 1 Wooden Ski Making Class (by Elaine)

So, as you all know, my husband works as a ski tech in a mountaineering shop, and his boss decided to teach a ski making class. It’s become a hobby of Gary’s, and I thought it sounded like a lot of fun, so Dan signed me up.

I show up in the morning, and help Gary unload the car. I’m happy and confidant at this point, figuring that Gary’s going to teach us how to do everything, yaddi yaddi yadda. After a bit, another person shows up for the class, and as we all get to talking, Gary asks us how much wood working we’ve done. I laugh a little nervously,  and say “none”. It’s true, unless you count wittling whistle-flutes that didn’t work out of branches when I was a kid.

But, the other man just so happens to be a carpenter! What? Great,  so here I am,  in a class that I know absolutely nothing about, with somebody who is already light years ahead of me. Gary thinks this is great,  and Woodworking Man and he start chatting about what they’ve done.

Another guy shows up from California, but to be honest I was too worried stressing about what on earth I was supposed to be doing, I didn’t really learn much about him.

When it’s time to start the class, Gary gives us each a box of tools, and pretty much tells us to have at it. Um…thinks my little non-woodworking brain. Have at…what? Well, it appeared that Woodworking Man and California Dude were sharpening their tools, so I figured I’d do that too. Well, shit. That means I gotta take these damn things apart? No problem! Taking them apart is a synch, sharpening is awkward (I’ve never sharpened anything in my life, I always just let my knife get super dull, and then hack away with it), and then comes the really great part – putting the damn things back together. I was pretty much with the group until this point. I could not get the blades in correctly. I could not get any of the pieces to fit together correctly. This, Elaine, is why you’re supposed to look at how something works before you take the damn thing apart, I think to myself. Stealing glances at Woodworking Man, who is working across from me, I
manage to get the planer put together correctly, albeit with the blade sticking out WAY more than it needed to be, but the spokeshave? Well, let’s just say, it was not right. And, for the record, I just looked up what it’s called. I’d been calling it the green and orange thing the whole day.

And then, away we go! Wait! Wait for me! Go? Go where? I don’t know how! Well, shit, looks like everybody else is starting, I’d better too. Besides, I was getting sick of trying to fit those damn tools together, so I figured I’d come back to them. We pick up our planks, clamp them down to the table, and then clamp down a ski right next to it, and trace the contour of the ski onto our board, the same thing done with the bottom. Yay. Now, that was easy. But, dammit,  it appears that we have to go back to those damn tools.

I can quite safely say the only smart thing I did that morning was to put my other board aside. While the others started off trying to work with both of their boards on the table at the same time, I at least only had to deal with one. Like I said, that was the only smart thing I did all morning.

My tools were not working. Well, the tool-weilder was not working, would be a more accurate way of putting this statement. I was hacking away at my piece of beautiful birch, making it appear a mangled piece of wood pretty damn fast. Stealing a sideways glance at Woodworking Man, I see that he’s brought his own tools! He has a big…thing (I’m telling you, I know nothing about this craft), and sliding it easily down the ski – whooooooosh! Whooooooooosh! Whoooooooosh! Long, curling, perfect shavings of wood come off. I look down at what I’m doing. Chick. Chick. Chick.  Little hunks of wood are popping out. Something is not right.

And where the hell is Gary? Isn’t he supposed to be teaching this class? As in, you know, teaching? As you can probably tell, I was being a bit pissy. As time wore on, and I continued to chick, chick, chick at my skis, I was really fighting off the urge to chuck the damn tools across the room and storm out of there. But, I did have some dignity. Unfortunately, I also had pride, so I wasn’t asking for help. As my temper rose, so did my temperature (or maybe this was  because it’s actually kind of hard work? Or maybe a bit of both), and I desperately wanted to take off my shirt or something – I’d stupidly worn a long sleeved shirt. So, in all senses of the words, I was very hot and bothered.  I also distinctly remember thinking that if I had my way with this stupid fucking piece of wood, I could burn it up in just a few seconds in the fireplace. I’m a fantastic firebuilder…woodworker? Not so much.

Finally, Woodworking Man took pity on me and came round to my side of the bench and started helping me. Guess I had way too much blade sticking out on both tools, and that’s what was causing the chattery skipping, the blade of the spokeshave I’d actually put in upside down, and to top it all off, was using it in the wrong direction. Somebody sure knows nothing about this, no?

But, now things were looking up, as I adjusted to Woodworking Man’s instructions on how to use the tools (after he put them together for me), I slowly grew the capacity to vooosh! Shave off a curl of wood! Not a hunk! Now, it wasn’t even close to the perfect curls that Woodworking Man was getting off of his plank, but it was a step in the right direction!

My mood improved drastically at that point, and I set to work with a stoke I hadn’t had for this craft that day since I found out that Woodworking Man was a carpenter. Gradually, the ski began to emerge from the board. I was psyched. And starving!

I ran off to have a quick lunch with my husband, where I laughed at my stupidity of the morning. In retrospect, it seemed quite hilarious. After switching shirts with my hubby, as I was hot, and he was not, I was back at it with renewed vigor. Little by little, it all started shaping up.

Gary even began talking to me. I have a thought on this. I think he may have been testing my mettle. I was the only girl in the class, and I think he wasn’t quite sure how to deal with me,  and I think he actually wanted me to prove that I could do it, which was why he was kind of ignoring me in the morning. But in the afternoon, he started helping me out, giving me little tips and tricks of the trade while we all worked together.  (I actually like being in setting where girls don’t normally go…there’s no catty competition between girls that way, and as I’m a girl, nobody expects anything fantastic from me. If I fuck up, well, it’s all OK, and if I don’t, it’s incredible! The lack of pressure is really good, because then I can do a lot better. I know it’s sexist, but it works.) Things were going much smoother.

Except the hands. My god, did my hands hurt! They were OK as long as I kept them clenched tightly around whichever tool I was using, but as soon as I wanted to switch tools, it was agony as I released my death grip on it. They were, at one point, black and blue and red and purple and…white. With nice splinters all over and little abraisions. Sweet.

But, at the end of the day, the hard work, the sore hands, the sore back, all the frustration, were totally worth it. By no means were they finished, in fact, I’d only even worked on one, but man, did it feel good to look at it and say “yep, I did that!”.

The night ended off with some Advil and soaking my hands alternatively in hot and then cold water. I discovered the cold water trick while shaping the skis. At one point, my hands hurt so bad, I literally could not move them. So, I took a break and went into the bathroom, turned the tap on as cold as it would go, and stuck my hands under. It felt like heaven, and then when I was done with it, it didn’t feel like anything! Veeeeeeerrrry nice, I’m telling you.

Into the throws of winter

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I'm a little bit under the weather right now, but as I feel like the season is winding down, I'm trying to get on the two slats as much as possible. Today was up in the air for sure. Woke up with a wicked (Vermont coming out in me) cough and felt weak. Went back to sleep, took Stella for a walk with Elaine and felt worked. Slept for another two hours and then – well, just felt better. Felt like I needed to be out in it. Something mellow. So we headed up to "The Rock" for what I figured would be a few lazy runs on a warm spring day. A good lesson, never underestimate the mountains.

Eldora can seem pedestrian. It's close to metropolitan areas and it just kind of has that feel sometimes. But then…it's not. It sits at close to 11,000 feet above sea level, right smack dab on the Continental Divide. It's the second most northerly resort in Colorado. The wind howls. I had a ski patroller who worked in a research lab in Antarctica tell me once that the weather at Eldora was worse than that in Antarctica. In terms of being a true mountain environment, it's the real deal.

Run one was mellow enough. Sunny skies, mellow turns. Up for another. Suddenly the sky turns dark, the wind starts howling, and then it starts to snow. Snow out of nowhere, hard. Maybe as hard as I've ever seen it up there. Elaine and I are getting pelted. We took a run in absolute white-out conditions. The storm blew in as fast as anything I've ever seen. We took another, and by the time we were at the bottom the cheeks and nose were frozen, the fingers stinging, but we were grinning ear-to-ear. Feeling alive. Winter may be officially over, but don't tell that to the mountains. They are still delivering a punch.

Afterwards it was onto Kathmandu, a local Nepalese establishment that has been open since 1999. Tonight was their 12 year anniversary. Half-price on all food, plus some authentic Nepalese dancing and music. Elaine and I feasted on the meal, but even better was seeing a lot of the locals and getting acceptance. I think we are both a little gun shy about what people think, and it was just cool talking to people and feeling the positive vibe that only a small mountain town can have. I know there is a sentiment about my relationship with Elaine, I think a lot because of the age difference. But the truth of it is, we're just two people crazy in love, trying to live our life the right way. I think some folks hear that she's 20, and automatically put up the red flag. But the truth of the matter is – and I've told her this a bunch – she could be 30 or 50 or 70 and I'd still want to be married to her. The age thing, is to me, irrevelant. Much more important is the person inside.

Enough of that. Today was day 92 on skis. I think some people read this and think, shit, this guy is just bragging about how many days he's had on the boards. And man, I'm super aware of that, so I figure I'll explain something here. You have to understand, last year was shit for a winter. I had the whole episode in September, then leaving to California, and while I came back with good intentions, I just couldn't muster up the strength to get up there. Maybe got in 25 days total. The head was elsewhere, and I probably fell into the worst shape of my life. So this year, it was like…OK, I need a goal. I started riding my bike up to Caribou in August, and did that just about every day to get into shape. And then I said – I can't have another winter like last one. Keep moving, or start dying. So I made a goal, and I stuck to it. Look, I know 100 days is nothing big for a true ski bum. People living and working at the resort do that easily. But for me, it was just a marker to get back on it. Back on the skis, and back on life. Just like setting little goals, hitting them, and then going for bigger goals. It's like the DoJoe. I was scared shitless this year. I honestly thought I was going to get killed in it. But I surprised myself, and it just showed that things are back on the right path. I'm not better than anybody else – not by a long shot. I'm trying to live life and be happy. I wish the same for everybody else too. I saw a couple of my old pilot buddies headed up to Jackson this week and they absolutely SCORED with the snow. A record snowfall. A twinge of jealousy for sure, but damn, I'm so stoked for those guys. That's fucking living in my book, and that I think is what it's all about. So to those guys – I'm stoked for you and I respect what you are doing. Shred it up, don't forget the snorkel and remember – you are indeed living the dream.

Till the next adventure – over and freakin' out.

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Tour de France company

It looks like none other than seven-time Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong is getting into backcountry skiing. Pretty cool I think. Earn your turns Lance. Check out his March 14, 16 and 17th updates on his Twitter account.

For better or worse, I think our sport is on the brink of an explosion. The word on A.T. gear has gotten out to the masses, and the ski industry had one of it's best season in the past decade. Backcountry gear was a major player in that figure. It is, in someways I think, like mountain biking was back in 1989 or so. I think the next ten years or so will be the heyday for this sport – there will be entrepenuerial opportunities out there for those smart enough and hard working enough to take advantage.

Intergalactic Backcountry Skiing Championships

We came, we saw, we conquered (in a matter of sorts). The moon was bright. the fire was warm, the skin up was chaotic, the run down was magical. IGBSC #1 was a raging success. 15 pilots from the planet Neptune showed, skiing till the stroke of midnight. Twas a perfect way to celebrate the last day of winter. Plans are already in the works for IGBSC #2…less than a year to prepare. Photographic proof below…

P1000712The timing for this event was ordained from the heavens. You see, March 19 was the last full day of winter, and it was also the full moon…a celestial cornocopia that happens…well nevermind!

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"V" stands for victory over the evil empirial forces. Rebel pilot Mrs. Vardamis prepares for battle.

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Neptune employee "Toto" shows no fear despite having his torso anihilated by nuclear reactor energy.

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We skinned up under a blood red sky, topped out as the moon rose over the Sea of Tranquility, and skied down in a ghostly moonlight of scrumptiousness.

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Pilot Vardamis prepares to destroy the Death Star.

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We loaded into a plethora of beater vehicles and bushwacked our way past empirial forces to the site of the EVENT where we launched a full assault on the evil empire. Wind, nor dirt, nor snow, nor frozen dead men could stop us – this was an all conditions event.

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Tele skiers, AT skiers, split boarders, uphill bigfooters, wood ski retro grouches, french mono-skier paraponters…they were all welcome at the IGBSC!

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Pilot McDermitt contemplates new ways to destroy the evil empire of lift-serviced skiing.

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On the attack! Yes, it is true, this event is bigger, bolder and rawer than any other intergalactic championships in the universe!

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Forget the silly "World Skiing Championships," the "X-Games" and other such nonsense.  And while were at it forget such tame locations as "Jackson Hole," "Chamonix" or "Le Grave." Do they have the mecca of two slat sliding, known around the universe and only spoken outloud with a fearful shudder as C-A-R-I-B-O-U? That's right…Caribou! Do those other events have a mandatory remove your skis downhill start unless you want to base grind them with gravel? Do they have death defying descents down extreme 20 degree slopes while being chased by 100 mile per hour winds? No they don't, but we do!

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It took four hours of heavy fighting, skinning, bonfires and two slat skiing, but in the end the backcountry skiing rebel forces prevailed. Unfortunately, we were unable to destroy the leader of the evil "ski resort" empire, ensuring further battles in the future.

The winner of this years event was none other than Banjo Ryan. Young Ryan constantly veered from the main attack, risking life and limb, to secure the fringes. He also made the first and only ascent up the treacherous north peak of Bald Mountain, afterwards claiming, "that was pure hell." Finally, this was Ryan's first ski back after popping his knee two months ago, at the same location as his previous injury, and he represented with the valor of a true intergalactic pilot. As such – he will be rewarded – with a mandatory tattoo, courtesy of Neptune warrior Drey, letting the world know forever that he is indeed the Intergalactic champion. As a wise man once said – if you don't want a tattoo, don't win!

Buddy

Mornings are Stella time. We have a routine now. She knows that when my alarm goes off at 6:30 am, it's time for an adventure. She comes onto the bed, stretches, and extends her paw in a handshake gesture. I dress for the morning ski, and then it's off to the slope of the day. We arrive, she takes care of morning business, and then falls into immediate tow behind me as I skin up. She doesn't go ahead and rarely even goes to the side – absolutely right behind. We get to the top, I rip skins, give her a hug to celebrate life and the summit and then it's off! Downhill. Today was cool. We had some new powder on top of hard pack, her absolute favorite. You could literally see her smiling as she took off in front of me, blasting through the new powder. Through the chute and there she was, smiling at me. We continued down, through the forest, until we came out at the truck. She sniffed around, while I change into street shoes, and then she gets a long rub behind the ears. We get home, and it's breakfast. On days like today I have to go to work, and on those days we do whatever it takes to make her as comfy as possible in the absence. She sleeps most of the day. In the evening, it's time for the pack to come back together. She howls and jumps on us (we're fine with that) and is just a happy puppy. On days off, it's always an adventure with her. I stopped nordic skiing this year mainly because Elaine and I wanted to spend our free adventure time with her. I'm well aware that these are the magic years – dogs live short lives and every day is precious – especially those where she can do things like skin up and ski down with me. Investing time in family – including pets – is something that is very important to me. I let one relationship in my life slip because I did not prioritize that enough. If we don't learn from our mistakes we are bound to repeat them.

It was a good morning ski today. I'm a little run-down, but it's not bad. Day 90. Here is Stella, looking snowy and ready to shred the powder.

Buddy