You should still take it in for a tune-up. In this case, the “it” is my beloved Kona Manomano full suspension cross-country bike. While the components are far from original (some were busted, some upgraded), I still love it. And most of the time, it loves me back. But this is about the time it went rogue.
Saturday marked my first mountain bike ride in two years. I had decided that biking wasn’t worth the risk while pregnant and had been dreaming about a weekend of biking for weeks. I made sure that the trails were dry enough to ride before getting my hopes up and continued to plan my long weekend in Jackson around my adrenaline obsession. First up on the docket was my all-time favorite trail up the Cache Creek drainage, Putt Putt.
One trail change since my last pre-pregnancy ride was most welcome. The excellent trail building in the Jackson area has continued with the addition of “the sidewalk”, which serves as a single-track bypass to the busy Cache Creek road. I happily pedaled up with a few short, less technical downs to summit on the top of Putt Putt. Eagerly awaiting my first real down, I took off with gusto. When the gusto got fast, I hit the brakes for a quick speed check, but things didn’t feel quite right. In fact, things felt like a big pickup with a trailer bearing down. Instinctively grabbing more brake, I had a dramatic forward weight shift and realized I was going to have to ride this out with minimal brakes.
This is where occasional fast and reckless riding experience is invaluable. Extreme familiarity with the trail also helps. I focused on the single-track and enjoyed the ride (with a tad bit more trepidation than normal) until my speed petered out enough to steer into some sage for a full, partially controlled stop. A quick examination of the bike confirmed my suspicions – my back brake was out. I knew there was a small adjustment that could be made on the trail, but wasn’t sure how to complete it. The popularity of Putt-Putt soon paid off when I asked a trail runner if he could possibly help. He checked the small adjustment and confidently diagnosed my ride as dead, advising me to walk the down back to the road and coast to the nearest bike shop to have the brake lines bled. While disc brakes are totally ah-maz-ing, this is one drawback – there simply is no trail fix.
Cursing my luck (and lack of thought in regards to a tune-up), I walked my bike down to the road and made it back to the house in one piece. One of my close friends married a talented bike mechanic who bled the lines with new hydraulic fluid in a matter of hours and I had a much more successful ride the next day. Even on my oldest favorite trail, there is always something new to learn.
Awesome-stay-on-baby-shoes-of-the-day: Cade & Co – like those “other” wildly popular shoes but made in Park City, UT instead of China.
Two weekends ago, my old hometown and new hometown both sprouted wildfires – and they weren’t little. The Horsethief Canyon wildfire in Jackson is currently at 3,373 acres (82% contained) while Casper’s Sheep Herder Hill fire is at 15,556 acres (100% contained). Firefighters are still battling other blazes around the state. And while losing a home, pets, or worse in a fire is a tragic and life-altering circumstance, I can’t help but be reminded that a healthy forest is a forest that burns every now and again.
No place is this more obvious than Yellowstone National Park. In 1988, a number of smaller fires combined into one massive blaze to close the park for the first time in history. The end tally was 793,880 acres, or 36 percent of the park affected by the fire. On top of NPS staff, it took 4,000 military personal and $120 million to extinguish the flames. But what happened immediately after the fire (and is still happening!) is amazing nature in action.
To paraphrase from a surprisingly well annotated Wikipedia article on the Yellowstone fires of 1988: Just days after the fire plants such as fireweed began to appear. No replanting was attempted as “the vast majority of plants regrew from existing sprouts which survived the heat from the fires. There was a profusion of wildflowers in burned areas, especially between two and five years after the fires.”
And the lodgepole pine, which dominates the Yellowstone wilderness, actually needs fire. The pinecones it produces remain closed unless subjected to fire. The article notes that “the best seed dispersal occurred in areas which had experienced severe ground fires, and that seed dispersal was lowest in areas which had only minor surface burns.” Not coincidentally, the lodgepole pines in the park were at 200 – 250 years old and approaching the end of their 300 year life cycle.
A beautiful “weed” that magically appears in burn areas and a tree uniquely suited to the Yellowstone ecosystem depending on fire to perpetuate its life cycle? There’s a silver lining in every cloud.
Natural-tip-of-the-day: Uses for Vinegar
To be clear: I’m not trying to avoid avalanches on a snowmobile, because taking a snowmobile out in dangerous snow conditions on avalanche terrain is just plain stupid. No, I’m trying to avoid the snowmobiles altogether, as well as avalanches.
Before you scream, “Hypocrite! You own your own personal snowmobiling helmet!”, let me clarify. I love the smell of 2-stroke in the morning. However, when your goal is a peaceful, quiet tour with great scenery, it helps to avoid the ‘whah-WHAH’ of snow machines. And if there’s one place sled necks like to go, it’s Togwotee Pass (pronounced toe-go-tee). Which also happens to be on my way home from Jackson.
As you can see in photo above, Pinnacle Butte (pronounced “be-YOOT”) is a gorgeous fortress of breccia cliffs, peaks, and spires in the far southern region of the Absorka Mountains. We parked at the Deception Creek Cross Country trail, but as we wanted to be in the trees, we headed across the highway from the official trails and up towards Pinnacle.
We had our backcountry ski setup with no intentions of making actual turns, which was a good thing. The snowpack was so unstable that the “whomp” of settling snow was a constant on near flat terrain. To a seasoned backcountry skier, this is a very spooky sound. It is not unlike the thump from an actual bass drum compressed into a terrifying second. To explain what causes the sound (and avalanches), I’ll launch into a horrifyingly simple overview of snow science.
Snow falls in many, many forms which is why 12″ of new snow can be slushy gloop on the Pacific coast and a dry, fine powder in Utah. And of course, the snow may fall in many different forms in the exact same place depending on the air temperature and humidity. So maybe you get a wet, heavy snow in November followed by fluff in December. This would be a good snowpack, since the heavy stuff is on the bottom. But what about when the scenario is reversed? This is what skiers mean when they say that the snow is “upside down”. The heavy stuff is on top of fluff, or worse yet on top of a rain-crusted icy layer. In this scenario, picture a few feet of fluff falling on the side of steep, ice-covered slope. The fluff is going to slide down, right? But maybe it doesn’t slide down right away; it may stick just a little bit until somebody or something weights a certain spot on that slope- and the fluff is released.
Anyone who has experienced an avalanche burial (thankfully, I know this second-hand) will tell you that fluffy snow ceases to feel like fluff in an avalanche. In fact, the process is very un-fluffy. Skis, packs, and even clothes are ripped from the skier as a concrete sludge tumbles the body in a hyper-active spin cycle. If conscious, the skier tries to swim up in attempt to be towards the top of the pile when everything stops moving. This assumes the skier knows which way is up. Skiers have reported been partially buried up to their chest and if their hands aren’t free when the pile stops moving, they feel as if they have been cemented in concrete and must depend on their friends to dig them out. This is why you don’t ski alone, and also why you MUST wear a transceiver, carry a shovel and probe (a big expandable stick to find the body) and know how to use them to travel in avalanche terrain. Going without any of these four items (the knowledge to use the tools and evaluate terrain being a crucial item) is Russian roulette.
And this is why we weren’t making turns. The snow pack was so unstable that it didn’t even need the gradient to settle onto itself. There is little question that had we ventured onto the prime avalanche angles, we would have caused an avalanche. And the prime angles are 25° to 45°, which is the same angle as blue and black slopes at a ski area – in other words, the fun stuff. If you absolutely have to get out in dangerous snow conditions, take a cue from us and go for a cross-country tour. It’s great for the dogs, too.
Find an avalanche class by clicking here.
Holiday-detox-of-the-day: 7-day Portion Control Challenge from Vegetarian Times. I would make some substitutes for additional protein of the meat variety but they make it easy with shopping lists and recipes.
Okay, so I acknowledge that the “feel it in my bones” sentiment is more due to barometric pressure changes than temperature fluctuations, but the greater point I’m trying to make is that I’m out of synch with mother nature. Let me explain.
This may have something to do with flying from Hopkins Village, Belize to Casper, Wyoming USA in one long afternoon. I’ve tested the tropics-to-mountains theory several times, and I can confidently say that our species has not evolved enough in the last 50 years of frequent air travel to make it a comfortable process. There is nothing natural in going from sand between your toes to 10° before windchill in a twelve-hour window. The next day dawned with a high of 10°, which I discovered by checking my phone. Oddly, this is exactly my issue.
Yes, technology like insulation and weather reports on my cell phone can be a wonderful thing. But I honestly had no clue that it was below 0° when I woke up. Why would I? I have a well-insulated house with central heating (and air-conditioning, I might add). We keep it at a conservative 65° in the winter, which lately seems both too cold and too warm.
Before moving in with my now-husband, I lived in a 1920’s log cabin in Wilson, Wyoming (7 miles outside of Jackson). It was about 700 sq. ft., had authentic paned windows and was generally a little slice of heaven. The main room was heated with a propane fireplace with an on/off switch in the back and there were a few rarely-used baseboard heaters in the siderooms (but only the bathroom had an actual door).
The on/off switch on the fireplace is significant. There was no thermostat. This means when the temperature dipped below zero, you could see your breath inside sometimes in the morning. Waking up involved a epic battle of wills that usually went something like this:
Alarm goes off. Oh god it’s cold. My nose is freezing. Better hit snooze. Alarm goes off. (potentially repeat up to 3-9 times). Grab long underwear in mad dash and dive back in bed with clothes under covers with me to preheat. Put on said clothes under the covers. Jump out of bed and turn on fireplace and teapot. Add more clothes, potentially a hat. Feed Wendell, let him outside (it takes a lot to make a Lab cold). Crazy dog.
So why on earth would I miss that? Because I was constantly aware of what was going on with the natural world. High winds whistled under the front door. When the paned glass started to glaze over on the inside, I knew I would be wearing expedition level mittens teaching ski school. And when my dog only went outside for two minutes at a time, I knew there would be no significant new snow until it warmed up*.
So are these nostalgic ramblings with the rose-colored glasses that the passage of times grants us optimistic humans? Maybe. Does this have something to do with copious amounts of time indoors due to lack of outdoor recreation options and lack of outdoor employment? Most likely. But I can’t help but think that some small primal part of me feels locked up from the natural world here in my insulated house with daily leashed dog walks.
Put-on-the-winter-fat-recipe-of-the-day: one pan dark chocolate chunk skillet cookie
* Subzero cold is almost always due to very high pressure and very dry air, making difficult conditions for snow.
Last fall I left my beloved Tetons in the name of love and moved to Casper, Wyoming. Just five hours from the valley of Jackson Hole, Casper seems a world apart. Of course, Jackson is a world apart from any town that doesn’t wear the ubiquitous title of ‘ski town’. But the part of Jackson I miss most are my recreation options.
Let’s say I worked on the computer for the morning and early afternoon and wanted to get out with my dog for some quick exercise before the evening (or another job) began. From my home in Wilson (7 miles down the road from the town of Jackson), I could jump in the car and in 5 minutes be at the trailhead to hike old pass road to Crater Lake. The road hasn’t been used since the new highway went in over Teton Pass in the 70’s. Paved on the ascent, the hike is a great loop with a calf-burning up and meandering single-track down. The top of the trail has a small blue lake perfect for thirsty or swimming dogs (mine would be thirsty type only). And if I was really ambitious, I could even ride up to the trailhead safely on a sweet bike path. If I was in the mood for a longer hike, I could opt for picturesque Ski Lake (which I have blogged about before here). Or maybe I was after great single-track biking. Just a few miles higher reside a number of trails like Blacks Canyon, Jimmy’s Mom or the Ridge Trail.
If I was more into a pavement-pounding mood, I could run on Wilson bike path with striking Teton views and horses braying in the neighboring fields. And there was always a chance to see some Wilson flair, like the resident I spotted walking her goat on a rope. What, you don’t have a goat on a rope?
But maybe I didn’t want to get all sweaty but spend some outside time with a girlfriend catching up while our dogs ran themselves silly – then I would go (again, in less than 5 minutes) and walk on the Snake River dyke. And I haven’t even gotten to town.
Seven miles down the road in the town of Jackson another world is waiting and in it another blog, but suffice to say Cache Creek along has a weeks worth of single track. But enough about Jackson – what are my options in Casper?
In Casper, I can hike Rotary Park with Garden Falls and the 4.5 mile Bridle Trail. There are also a number of hiking and biking trails on top of the 8,130 tall Casper Mountain. None of the trails have posted signs for directions or mileage. I’ve heard there are a number of bike trails on Muddy Mountain, but by that point we’re into an hour drive from home and that’s tipping the scale towards more car time than recreating time, which is definitely not MountainKidd style. So what do I do? I’ve been hitting the gym.
Less than 10 minutes from my new Casper home is a great fitness studio called Prana Fitness. I’ve been enjoying classes like Bootcamp, Pylo-Kick, Kettlebells and Yoga Sculpt with some pleasant surprises. In just 45 minutes, I can get my heart-rate up in a major way and work on enough muscles that my reduced mountain-biking schedule doesn’t mean reduced strength. I’ve been pleasantly surprised to find that even though I’m not riding often, I can ride as hard as I did when I rode four+ days a week. And another advantage? At the gym, you can go HARD. There is no slowing down to listen for bear or moose or terrain evaluation to avoid avalanches. It’s just you and your body – and the guy running the class who missed an illustrious career as a drill Sargent. And while I will always miss my breathtaking Teton views, I suspect this adaptation is the key to lifelong fitness and the happiness that comes with it.
Interesting list of the day: Money Magazine’s 100 Best Places to Live.
A long January weekend in Jackson has a relatively narrow list of outdoor activities and most involve skis of one sort or another. Fully prepared for this reality, I armed myself with the full backcountry arsenal of an avalanche transceiver, probe, shovel, AT gear and snacks and headed out to Teton Pass.
But Teton Pass was a junkshow. I was punished for the none-too-early nine a.m. start with a ridiculous parking lot scene. The already limited parking on the pass has recently been reduced, resulting in a number of cars lingering in the lot waiting like vultures for earlier skiers to vacate a spot. On this particular day there was an extra bright spot- a large RV parked sideways across the middle of the lot. Staring at the RV with disgust, I was rewarded with the gratifying scene of a state trooper knocking on the RV door and a rag-tag ski kid poking his head out with a quickly evaporating smile as he eyed the man in uniform.
Eventually the troopers (there were two at this point) got the RV parked properly and four of the five circling cars were rewarded with spots. I was in car number five.
With a cursing companion, we backtracked to a midway parking lot with milder terrain and thus, less people. The small drop in elevation got us out of the cloud cover and into full, beautiful sunshine. The mild terrain was exponentially safer and while I had no regrets, I couldn’t help but wonder if I had played into “their” plan.
“They”, meaning the Wyoming Department of Transportation (WYDOT), “considered not plowing the parking lots during storm cycles to decrease the number of skiers and snowboarders heading into the backcountry on days when the avalanche danger is high.” (according to Jackson Hole News & Guide on Dec. 3, 2010) While this obviously didn’t happened, the discussion did result in a reduction of the number of total spaces plowed. But how do they make sure only the smart kids park in the remaining spots?
When I took an avalanche safety course with the epically qualified American Avalanche Institute, there was some blame placed on the extreme sport film company TGR for exciting the uneducated (in terms of backcountry safety) masses to head out on Teton Pass and start hucking themselves off cornices and snowy cliffs. This is where I depart from the US government court rulings over the last 50 years and become a bit more Darwinistic in my thinking.
If people want to throw all logic to the wind and chug that just-poured cup of coffee or ski that dangerous slope, is it our job to stop them? I like the modern interpretation of Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. quote, “Your rights end where mine begin” (his exact words were “The right to swing my fist ends where the other man’s nose begins.”). I had heard the above WYDOT quote in casual conversation around the valley but realized that many failed to consider the rest of the story – which was that “WYDOT has become concerned with motorist safety on Highway 22 over the pass due to the potential of human-triggered avalanches reaching the road.”
Your rights to be stupid skiing in avalanche terrain end when your avalanche buries my car. The pass remains plowed, but if catastrophe strikes, access could be compromised. Be smart- check the avalanche report before you go out, dig snow pits and make wise terrain decisions.
Cool house of the day: It really is a Stone House (in Portugal!)
While gear testing wasn’t a stated goal when I started this blog, a cool thing happened. Columbia Sportswear Company stumbled across little ole’ MountainKidd.com and decided that I’m the kind of person that could test their new techy gear. After a three-second contemplation, I decided they were absolutely right and received a pretty sweet jacket system in the mail last week. In exchange, they wanted my honest feedback. While they didn’t stipulate that I blog about it, I actually had a great time putting it through the rigors with some pleasant surprises.
In my book, Columbia didn’t rate as anything approaching ‘technical’. Would it do the job? Kinda. Are there much better options? Absolutely. However, it would appear that they are sinking some serious dollars into R&D these days. The $270 Black Diamond Dash Parka™ I received was actually comprised of two pieces: a black, insulated layer and a waterproof/breathable shell. On first inspection, I was impressed. Actually, I thought, “THAT’S a Columbia??”. It has taped waterproof zippers, a beefy and functional powder skirt, and a ridiculously soft and cozy high collar with a functional freestyle fit. I had no idea that Columbia was so with it. But I still had to take it outside.
Sacrificing hugely, I concluded that a true test would involve driving over to Jackson to do some backcountry skiing. In the backcountry, the skier huffs and puffs up a mountain, sweating all the way, then virtually flies down all that hard-earned terrain in no time at all. Reasoning that this would be fairly rigorous conditions for a gear test, I set off to experience Jackson’s record-breaking early season snow in the name of work. Right.
On the drive over, the snow on Togwotee Pass was too good to pass up. Temps were in the teens with a breeze but the insulated layer with their much-touted omni-heat technology seemed to do its job. You’ve probably seen the advertisements for the “tiny silver dots that keep you 20% warmer”. I personally don’t think 20% sounds like a huge number to brag about, but whatever the silver dots were doing, I stayed plenty warm and appreciated the full pit zips in an insulated under layer (not that common).
The great thing about skiing on Togwotee is that not many people ski there. The horrible thing about skiing on Togwotee is that not many people ski there, which means you’re pretty much always breaking your own skin trail. With little pride in my early season ski fitness, I let the fiancee set the skin trail. I had no idea that he would set it so steep. Really, really stupid steep (see picture at above left).
The trail was so steep that the dogs actually spun-out and buried their hind legs. Twice. Like a rear-wheel drive pickup in soft snow, they tried to run faster and faster to get up past the steep corner of the skin trail. This only succeeded in digging their hole deeper and deeper. The 40-pound dog could be easily assisted, but my 60-pound Lab was another story. After the second time I made him ‘stay’ (demonstrating the value of a well-trained dog) to pass him and pack down the snow so he could leap onto an area that wouldn’t give way, I offered some helpful tips to the man setting the skin trail. They may not have been said in a helpful tone.
Soon, all was forgiven as we reaped the rewards of our labors- the sweet, sweet down. The snow could be lighter and fluffier, but it wasn’t bad. I zipped my shell over the insulated layer and had a happy ski down. See the snow piling up around my downhill knee? That’s a beautiful thing- no ‘cheese’ for the camera required. And I’ve concluded that Columbia makes some pretty cool gear- sure, the insulated piece could use a few improvements (like a zipper garage and a zippered pocket on the inside where a velcro one now lives) but the shell is pretty close to perfect and I didn’t freeze or get too hot and sweaty (quite a feat). Overall, the system passed my test with flying colors. And flying downhill is quite the place to be tested.
Life-Saving Avalanche Shoveling Technique: Make your friends watch it too… because it’s hard to shovel yourself out.
For me, Winter 09-10 was like a bad boyfriend. Like every fall, there was an excitement when the first snowflakes came. Everything seemed so fresh and exciting. But the newness quickly wore off as the rocks stayed visible and the total snowfall stayed well below average. Just as I accepted that our shoddy relationship was indeed over and Jackson Hole Mountain Resort shut down the lifts, that bastard came back with 4 1/2 feet of snow in seven days. But it was too late. In my mind, we were as over as ‘N Sync. Yet, not all of my friends let go as quickly.
Co-workers and even my own dear sister reported “best day of the season” as the day after the mountain closed, also known as employee ski day on April 5th. But I refuse to be cajoled into a tortureous here-today gone-tomorrow relationship. He had his chance. I’ve moved on.
My fly rod is out and ready to get wet this weekend providing the weather accommodates. And if it doesn’t, I have a new love interest. His name is Mossberg. My first shotgun. You see, I tried trap shooting with the boyfriend’s gun but it wasn’t a good match. Too much kick and generally just too big. But yesterday I started looking around and found a 20-gauge pump action. It just fits. And if winter tries coming back again, I’ll just introduce him to Mossberg.
Realizing that it has been an embarrassing two weeks since I last posted, I mentally back-tracked over what ‘adventures’ I had over the said time period. Sure, I had a beautiful bluebird cruiser day at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort just two days ago, but is that anything exceptional? The answer is yes, and it would do me and others well to remember that every day in a resort town is fairly exceptional to the general population.
We started the day in typical not-so-alpine fashion with an arrival time just shy of 11am. With 0 inches of new snow in way too many days, we had wisely chosen the go-fast (narrow) skis and were ready to cruise some serious vertical. The snow on the first run was just a hair hard to set a super secure edge but by the second run, the sun had eased it into prime fast and furious skiing conditions. With an open window on Amphitheater Bowl, I set off with the goal of very few turns and was disappointed when the speed didn’t get my heart pumping quite like I remembered. Luckily, Jackson is the perfect place to dial up the steepness and Thunder chairlift provided some stellar steep runs to excite most mortals.
So was it an ‘epic’ ski day? Not even close. But I made a few runs with great friends new and old in a beautiful destination that most feel privileged to visit a week or two a year. Note to self.
Lust of the Day: Cookbooks on the NPR list of “The 10 Best Cookbooks of 2009“
I don’t think he knew what he was getting into. When the morning broke into a warm (meaning upper 20’s) bluebird day, he casually said, “This would be a great day to rent a snowmobile for Granite Hotsprings.” Five minutes later I had a $99 sled and trailer secured from Jackson Hole Snowmobile Tours and was stepping out to search for my helmet when he questioned “you have your own helmet?”.
Of course I have my own helmet. I happen to own six helmets for my various sports. However, this helmet required a bit of an explanation of boyfriends past. There was the break-up boyfriend. He was in a vicious cycle of “oh-my-god-it’s-getting-too-serious-let’s-break-up” and “please-oh-please-take-me-back-you-are-the-best-thing-ever”. One time, to woo me back, he offered me a choice: a ‘promise’ ring (as in ‘I promise not to break up with you anymore’) or a dirt bike (because I wanted to do more things together). If you don’t know what I chose, you haven’t been reading my blog very long.
A dirt bike helmet does require a modification piece to make it comfortable for snowmobiles, which is where the snowmobile guide boyfriend came in. He also taught me how to ride a snowmobile, and not just sitting on your butt bumping down the trail, which is how I came to impress this boyfriend (who doesn’t have a moniker yet).
A two-person rental sled is probably the worst machine one can choose for really riding, but as we were driving the ten miles to the hot springs I suggested he let me off near a meadow so he could tear around and have a little fun. Sitting comfortably on his posterior, he dutifully did a few circles, came back and offered me a turn. “Sure, I’ll try for a minute” I replied on one knee as I goosed the throttle and leaned off the high side to bank the sled up to the meadow. I knew the heavy machine would be unwieldy and that if I really went for it I would potentially have to dig the machine out all on my lonesome, but I couldn’t resist. The throttle revved satisfyingly as I turned the skis to the right and hung off the left side to tip the sled onto its left ski. I only held it for a few moments, but it was enough to get my adrenaline going and remind me why snowmobiling can be pretty damn fun. I rode back to put the boy’s eyeballs back in his head as he babbled something about ‘sexy’.
Disclaimer: Granite Hot Springs is in the Hoback Canyon, ten miles up the parking lot trailhead. This is a three-hour Nordic ski each way so yes, I rented a snowmobile. Next time I’ll probably ski it, but give me this one lazy pass.