The blog of the adventures (or mis-adventures) of an active mountain woman.
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Teaching Bike Rack 101 in Chugwater, Wyoming

Note the strap on the tray on the bottom left of photo.

It all started with an innocent phone call. On the other end was the boyfriend’s cousin with a “I’m driving cross-country after college graduation”. As we were driving east and she west, we made plans to meet up in about 30 minutes at a place famous for fantastic chili (and not much more) known as Chugwater, Wyoming.

When we pulled in, I noticed the cousin’s driving companion was adjusting the bike rack. And by “adjusting”, I mean he was grabbing various parts, shaking them and furrowing his brow. He was inexperienced with this particular system, so I casually glanced over the setup, which revealed the truth. He was a bike rack idiot. (B.R.I.)

The bike rack was an earlier version of the picture above and the most obvious problem concerned the ratcheting strap on the rear tire of the bike. The ratcheting strap on this particular model features a flat side with a “T” like molding that slides onto the underside of the rail. This allows one to firmly clamp the back tire to the rail. B.R.I. didn’t have the strap plugged into the rail, so it hung as a sort of loose bracelet with air on all sides. The reason B.R.I. even thought to look at the rack was an 8-year-old kid approached him at the gas station and said there bikes were falling off which led to the “grab and shake” repair method I was witnessing.

I diagnosed the problem and said the straps needed to slide into the rail, to which he said “I don’t really know what you mean”. At least he knew his limitations. I told him that I know it sounded like a big pain, but we had to take the bikes off the rack and take the rack partially apart. By this point the boyfriend stopped chatting with his cousin to see why I was tearing apart the top of their car. He glanced at it, found my eyes and gave an “oh shit, we’re going to be here for a while” look.

With the bikes and trays off the car, we slid the straps onto the rail and adjusted the positioning of the trays, at times giving B.R.I. instructions in an attempt to expedite the process. His typical response was, “I don’t know what you’re saying,” which prompted one of my witchier comments of all time.

“Not an engineering major, I take it.”

Really? Did I have to say that?

He was a drama major.

This prompted a lively gender-role discussion after we departed the college graduate. The boyfriend thought the cousin (female) would have “figured it out” if we hadn’t been there, to which I pointed out that she didn’t “figure it out” when they put the bikes on the car in the first place. He thought the the B.R.I. probably took care of it all and she didn’t give it a second glance as she trusted his male handy-man skills. I said that anytime a drama major is assembling something, I would have and will be examining it very, very closely. My apologies to any drama majors I may have offended and if you yourself happen to be a B.R.I., it’s okay; just ask for help to avoid injury to your bike, car and America’s driving public.

Garbage Scouting

Fishing a shoe out of the bramble

This Saturday, May 8 was community clean-up day in Jackson. Since the skiing is variable (yet, regrettably, still happening) and summer sports haven’t really hit, I coerced my kayaking buddy into picking up trash with me without too much difficulty. Given the company and the agenda for the day, I shouldn’t have been surprised when our garbage hunt bordered suspiciously near Flat Creek and the conversation turned to “enough water to run.”

There is an indicator rock near Meadowbrook Apartments; when the water is flowing up or over the rock, the creek is runnable. Or so he said. What we actually encountered man-influenced creek boating at its core. The series of drops on the creek had distinct right and wrong

Cutting through parking lots on the walk back with a storm rolling into the valley.

lines, which is debate ably easier than trying to read a high-volume river with a multitude of choices. I rate the drops at class II+ with one at class III due to the a) difficulty of the drop b) very real consequences if a move after the drop isn’t executed immediately.

Partly to ease my guilt from ditching out on the clean-up and partly because it was the right thing to do, we made the run last a little bit longer by collecting more garbage from bramble and eddies. Although the croc in the bramble was difficult to access, the biggest garbage score was a large styrofoam cooler stuck in an eddie underneath a bridge. Balancing it on the bow of my kayak while trying to paddle was a comical exercise in frustration, but I finally managed to put a rock in it (so it didn’t blow away) and toss it on shore to pick up on the walk back.

Responsible kayaker bagging the cooler for garbage pickup on Broadway.

Making the day infinitely more enjoyable was my new NRS toaster mitts. Cold hands have been a legitimate reason to turn down or hesitate on many a cold day, and these thick neoprene mittens work much better than any glove I’ve ever tried. However, as dexterity is limited, you have to be confident with either your roll or finding the grab loop to wet exit your kayak underwater through mittens. Kayaking is a gear-intense sport.

All the gear and the short distance we boated made for an interesting walk back to the apartments along Jackson’s main road, Broadway. With kayaks on our shoulders and the snow flakes just starting to fall as we took out, I’m sure more than one car had thoughts on those desperate people running cold, low-volume water. But we had fun, and that’s ultimately all that matters.

Michelle link of the day: I’m doing a little sailboat race in Houston this weekend – to watch our progress, click here.

(Not) Thinking it Through

Somehow, I forgot the massive snow slabs on the south side of the cabin would be the last to melt. The scene of the battle in the throes of winter.

I had a brilliant idea last fall. When I swapped my car’s summer tires for the burly studded winter tires, I stored them against my kayak on the side of the house. Chuckling at my brilliance, I imagined the cushioned protection the tires would provide to my kayak as the snow piled higher and deeper. No dented-in kayak bottom for me this year! Yes, I thought, I am one smart cookie. Out-of-sight AND functional. Well done. Until this spring, that is.

I had stored the tires on north side of the house. The side that doesn’t see any sun. The side where the snow doesn’t melt until June. Oops. Facing yet another 5 hour drive to Casper in 60 degree weather with loud, inefficient studded snow tires, I decided to take action. I considered using an ice ax but wisely reconsidered when I realized that I could potentially hack the tires into a million little playground-size rubber chips. After a brief phone conversation with someone more… pragmatic than me, I finally settled on the garden hose as my tool of choice and began watering the massive snow pile.

About 10 minutes in my cotton yoga pants were soaked and my hands were red and numb. It was 65 degrees and sunny out and I was making myself miserable playing in the only snow pile in sight. I headed inside for more appropriate clothing including waterproof winter pants topped off with burly winter gloves which contrasted nicely against my pale bare arms and summery tank top. It was an altogether stunning ensemble.

Ready for action, I strategically infiltrated the snow wall at key points, sometimes setting the hose so flush with the ice that the water would wildly spray in all directions, including my face. Real progress was made when I removed the kayak, safe and sound and got a good look at the tires firmly embedded in the snowy ice wall. “Now we are getting somewhere,” I thought, and hacked away with a snow shovel at a particularly stubborn ice point. It wasn’t budging. Undaunted, I set a full tea kettle on the stove and became empowered when I kicked one tire out from the opposite side of the snow wall. It was a key moment in the battle of the snow tires vs. Michelle, and I quickly (if another 20 minutes is quickly) freed the rest with the help of the tea kettle for a peaceful, fuel-efficient drive to Casper. Maybe next year I’ll review my photo collection when storing critical spring gear. Then again, probably not.

Hilarious TV Series of the Day: Modern Family (watch it online for free on Hulu)

How-To of the Day: How to Make a Cardboard Rubber Band Gun. What are you really accomplishing at work, anyways?

Leave Me Alone – It’s Over & Hello Mossberg

Wildlife is on the move, but winter is back. My backyard, two days ago.

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.

The Snow is Always Deeper

It's Melting, It's Melting

Around these parts, “the grass is always greener” translates to a very literal “the snow is always deeper”.  On April 4th, Jackson Hole Mountain Resort will close for the season. Combined with a season snowfall total that pales in comparison to years past, the town has become divided. While some hardened individuals (myself included) say, “good riddance, bring on the spring,” other junkies frantically discuss how to get one more powder day before the snow disappears entirely. They toss about entirely believable rumors of those cleaver marketing people including snowfall from October in the 332″ inch total (the October storm melted completely before the season began). But mostly, they talk about where to get more snow. It goes something like this:

Bro-bra 1: “Utah just got pounded with 16 inches!”
Bro-bra 2: “Oh man, I’m so going. I need some more powder soon.”
Bro-bra 1: “Yeah, but it’s on top of like a 20 inch base. They’ve only gotten 200 inches all season.”
Bro-bra 2: Dejected and despondent looking, slinks away from conversation.

As for me, I’ve decided the key to staying sane is having gear for every season (surprise). This spring, my gear won’t include a plane ticket to a foreign destination, but I may attempt to embrace a bit more of a cardio life and invest in a road bike. But don’t worry- a not-so-little little part of me will always be an adrenaline-seeking deep snow junkie.

Tidbit of the Day: Tomorrow is the National Day of Unplugging. If you need motivation, check out the Marmot US Ski Mountaineering National Championship and commit to doing something half as ambitious!

Fun with Guns – A Wyoming Adventure

Throwing Trap (Clay Discs)

One sunny Sunday in Casper, two Wyomingites took a new rifle (a Beretta M90, to be exact) up a dirt road and started shooting. What were we shooting, you ask? We were shooting trap. Translated for the non-gun savvy, this would be shotgun shooting at clay targets.

These clay targets do not throw themselves and there wasn’t a machine in sight. Just me. Since I was less than captivated with the gun (and quite frankly, not very accurate), I ponied up and started chucking the discs out into the valley below. Aiding me was a plastic stick that functions much like a Chuck-It thrower for dogs with tennis balls. The main difference is that this one is to keep boyfriends happy and they don’t bring the clay discs back. Instead, they shout, “pull”, after which you throw the disc only for it to get shot to smithereens in the air. For those concerned, these particular discs are biodegradable.

All this does have a purpose beyond blowing things up, and that purpose is turkey/quail/duck hunting, which I am all for assuming PC things like healthy populations and whatnot. I try to eat meat from happy (free-ranging) animals and this is one more step in the right direction. Next up: training the Mexican street dog, who is mostly a black lab, to help flush the birds out and retrieve them. He doesn’t like water. This should be interesting.

Book of the Day: A Food Eater’s Manual, the latest by Michael Pollen. It’s a small, short book of reminders on how and what to eat and only $5 on Amazon.

Living in Vacation Land

Blue Skies. Skiing. Not Me. You get the idea, anyhow.

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

RIP Chivalry

As I was shoved to the back of a crowded bus on the way to work at Teton Village, I couldn’t help but notice several seats unoccupied by butts. The seats were instead utilized by skis, backcountry ski packs and other inanimate objects. While 20-something males enjoyed their coffee with newspapers spread across their wide laps, I stood in the aisle with a pair of boots over my shoulder, one hand on the bar and the other holding a pair of skis. I couldn’t help but think, “chivalry is dead.” A lacrosse logo (a sport I invariably associate with money) on the 20-something’s pants triggered the secondary response of “money can’t buy class.”

Yes, I could have asked them to get a clue and move their stuff, but it was too early for confrontation and I think I work with these people. Still, I fixated on the absurdness of it all. I wasn’t asking these boys/men to give me their seat, I just wanted them to sit a little less comfortably with their skis between their legs and their newspapers folded over so I too could enjoy the luxury of sitting before I performed a very physically demanding job. I wondered if it was their age or maybe, just maybe, our location.

I’ve recently been spending sometime outside my bubble of Jackson in a more “real world” place, and am surprised to discover that a large number of doors are held open as a matter of course. These observations lead me to wonder: is chivalry only dead in Jackson?

Impressing the Boy

Snowmobile in full powder turn.

SO not me. But I'm working on it. Photo by Jason Williams

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.

Funny video of the day: HILARIOUS video in line with The Sicky Sick Gnar Gnar Vocab of J-Hole

In Appreciation of Proximity

Stark black and white contrast with powerline and snow

Hoar frosted trees and dark metal throw sharp contrast on a bluebird day.

At 3:30 I sent an email. By 4:00, I was skinning up the south side of Teton Pass in complete awe of the bluebird sky and 1/4″ hoar frost (hoar frost is a beautiful but dangerous snow crystal). While the conditions warranted prudence, I couldn’t help but lose my mind in the ease of transitioning from work to outside with my favorite outdoor partner. With both of us possessing all the necessary gear, knowledge and desire to use it, it was almost as simple as jumping in the car to head to the grocery store. But as wonderful as all this is, I still find myself asking: can I afford to stay here?

There was a day when I was happy with three roommates in some crappy basement ‘apartment’ in Vail. At the tender age of nineteen, I watched in awe as twenty-somethings who seemingly had it all, chose to leave town to take ‘real’ jobs where they could vacation in the mountains a few times a year. Was it an age-related illness? Was it something in the water? After years accumulating kayaking, climbing, skiing and biking gear along with the ability to use it, why would they throw in the towel and head back to nowhere?

With a few more years under my belt, I’ve come to realize that nowhere is a matter of perception and anywhere outside a resort/tourist town is infinitely more affordable than my chosen haunts. In fact, my current choice is so severe that a quick Google search revealed my county as the highest personal per capita income in the U.S. at $132,728, surpassing Manhattan with $120,790. (article here) Standards of living change, too. These people weren’t bailing out on their dreams; their dreams changed and/or realism set in.

All of the above weighs in as I begin to question my ability to afford this lifestyle and this town in general. When a seemingly average afternoon like this proves to be so extraordinary, the idea that I must find a way to persevere in the land of expensive become prominent. So maybe home ownership and student loan payoffs will have to wait for a while. The raw fact of desk-to-skis in under thirty minutes is a pretty incredible reality.

Crazy French Athlete Video of the Day: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JtL9FQFBqiE

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