So I don’t mean to toot my own horn, but I’m pretty good at most of the sports I do. I only fall over in yoga every now and then and haven’t hurt myself skiing in more than two seasons. I didn’t even hook my dog last time I went fly-fishing, so I was a little nervous when my latest gear came with a lesson from the sales person.
And exactly what gear comes with a lesson (or should, at any rate)? Skate skiing gear. For those of you that need a refresher, cross-country skiing has two types- classic and skate skiing. When doing the classic style, the skier appears to be on a Nordic track and their skis are indeed often in tracks. For skate skiing, imagine ice skating on really narrow skis and add in poles that come up to your nose. If that sounds incredibly awkward, then you have the correct mental picture.
I met my instructor at the Casper Nordic Center, which has 42 kilometers (26 miles) of groomed trails. This is exceptional. The alpine skiing in Casper is less than exceptional, hence the reason for my new sport. He first had me bumble around without any poles, practicing the basic skating motion, which is a great first step in all skiing disciplines. Shortly after, I added the poles in and learned the various V1 and V2 techniques. I won’t bore you with the details here, but suffice to say I felt like a torso barely held upright by four randomly flailing appendages.
After jaunting up and down a straight bit for a while, we went for a ski. The downhill sections didn’t worry me much since I’ve been flinging myself down steep slopes for too many years to remember. This was a gross oversight. I had one fantastic spill when I knocked my jaw with the handle of my pole, all because I tried to turn on the edges of my skis. Downhill skiers, Heed My Warning: skate skis do not have edges. You must step turn. Noted.
By the end two intense cardio hours, I was more or less gliding with gradual but significant weight shifts over the active ski. I even feel confident in several of the poling techniques. But the biggest lesson was how awkward my new gear felt and the ensuing trepidation which resulted from said awkwardness, which is a great reminder for any instructor. We get so comfortable in our chosen vocation that we can forget the sheer terror that is a perfectly normal response for most students, which is why I recommend that all instructors learn something new every now and then for a healthy dose of empathy.
Announcement! In a hopefully brilliant attempt to boost readership, MountainKidd will now post every Wednesday. Ideally sometime in the AM hours, but hey, I’m human. Feel free to forward this blog onto anyone and everyone who might marginally enjoy it (or just read it, even if they don’t enjoy it).
I’ve recently married, which pertains to this blog in that two incomes are now in one household. Naturally, this had led to increased economic comfort and confirmation of what I already suspected: more doesn’t equal better.
My quest for simplification is becoming a daily struggle instead of an occasional thought, fueled largely by the fact that it feels so good to have open, airy spaces and a place for everything (even if everything may not always be in its place).
Take my biggest demon: clothes. By donating a (large) handful ill-fitting or seldom worn items, my drawers went from stuffed full to comfortably closing. It’s easier to keep the bedroom tidy and I can find the clothing I want more easily, which leads to more time doing life’s more fulfilling activities. But once you get there with the clothes, how do you stay there? To this query, I have a radical proposition (and it’s not ‘one in, one out’), which was recently highlighted in a stunning email campaign by Patagonia: buy less.
Before your hackles get taller than a terrier meeting a mastiff, hear me out. I’m not suggesting you eschew any and all new purchases; just ones you don’t need. And that’s what Patagonia asked, too. Just think twice before purchasing those $15 sweaters at the Old Navy. In my experience, they will stretch and their color will fade before the season is out. Instead of having three sweaters in three colors, take that $45 and buy a sweater that will last for many winters to come.
I’ll admit that $45 doesn’t buy a Patagonia sweater (it’s more like $89+). But if you refrain from buying clothes of questionable quality at department stores, that initially expensive Patagonia sweater comes with a guarantee that you probably won’t need. I have ski jackets from them that routinely get trashed on lift-serviced skiing. Purple can turn to a dark, dirty grey at an alarming rate, but their gear washes amazingly well and can be washed and repaired to look like-new for 5+ years or more. And if you tear something, send it back to them. Chances are they will still have the same fabric (even it it’s 25 years old) and will repair it at a reasonable rate. But you probably won’t even need to find out. I have expedition-weight fleece long underwear that has seen me up the Grand Teton and though Class V whitewater in West Virginia. That was 8 years ago, and it’s still going strong.
So next time you see a deal, or think you ‘need’ something, consider the definition of ‘need’. And if you have to have it, can you buy it used? Can you repair what you’re replacing? Patagonia has partnered with eBay in an effort to facilitate getting little-used gear to new homes.
And don’t forget once of the best parts: saving money. For much of my life, my money goes towards travel, but now I would love to work on paying off the house ahead of schedule. Think of how great your few high-quality sweaters will feel in a house that is owned by you instead of the bank.
P.S. Patagonia has free shipping through 12/8 and quite a few web specials/sale pieces. Click here to see.
Want to win some GORE-TEX® gear? Then check out the awesome contest they are running on the GORE-TEX® Brand Facebook page from Nov 21-Dec 15.
The ‘Your Story – Our Gear’ contest invites you to share your story about how the GORE-TEX® gear delivered for you when it counted in a memorable outdoor experience.The most compelling story will win, so get going and upload it to the contest page along with a photo or video of yourself .
The Top 10 entries will be determined by People’s Choice voting, and then three expert judges — an AMGA guide, a Gore tri-athlete, and a GORETM MountainTechTM – will pick the grand prize winner, who gets a sweet head-to-toe GORE-TEX® gear package. Choose from among the hand-picked The North Face, Marmot, Patagonia, or Arc’Teryx product groups.
And now, for the blog:
I must humbly pat myself on the back for a few things I did in quest for dive certification. The very best and brightest thing was doing the pool work and homework at home (a.k.a. Casper, Wyoming – and chances are if Casper has a dive shop, your town does, too). This means that one windy weekend, I sat in a classroom on a Friday night and Saturday and Sunday afternoon. On Saturday on Sunday morning I wore a lot of dive gear (which seemed like slight overkill in the local high school swimming pool) and practiced dive skills as I became familiar with all the equipment. We flooded our masks, then cleared them. We practiced breathing from a friend’s regulator and a free-flowing regulator in preparation for numerous ‘hope it never happens’ scenarios. I stood on my head at the bottom of the deep end and watched the bubbles float up. So why was this so brilliant? Because in Belize, I did a few dives and sat by the pool.
To complete open water certification, you must do four dives in two consecutive days. When the dive days dawned in Belize, I happened to be completing them with one other student, Molly. Molly did not do the homework and pool work ahead of time. This meant while I embroidered by the pool (yes, I’m aware of how dorky that sounds) and sipped delicious rum drinks, Molly donned a mask and tanks and hung out at the bottom of the resort’s pool. Then, Molly read chapters from the PADI book and completed her quizzes. Poor Molly. And to make matters worse, I can’t help but feel that I received a more thorough education from Western Divers in Casper than Molly did in Belize. Yes, it cost a little bit more than it would have in Belize, but as they say “time is money” and my vacation time is worth about $60,000 an hour (give or take). And are dive skills really a place where you want to skimp, anyhow? I didn’t think so.
For more information on diving certification (and some rad sounding vacations!), check out PADI.
Movie-of-the-day: Fat Sick and Nearly Dead. Watch it. It will be featured later right here on MountainKidd.
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.
With Fall colors (finally!) at a peak, we decided to make good on our “we should do that someday” and headed over to the Mickelson Trail in South Dakota.
At only 3.5 hours from Casper, this weekend trip was a hop, skip and jump in Wyoming drive times and delivers a lot of bang for the buck. The wide trail is built on an old railbed and totals a huge 109 miles of packed gravel with only slight inclines over some sections. The user fee is a very approachable $3/day for everyone over 12 and the trail is open to bicyclists, hikers and horseback riders, although we didn’t see any horses on the trail. What we did see was lots of healthy forest, a river (a major plus for the dogs) and some awesome secnery from some of the 100 converted railroad bridges and four rock tunnels.
For a bike, I choose my Jake, a cyclocross bike from Kona that is basically a sturdy road bike with slightly knobby tires. It was definitely the right tool for the day although a mountain bike with the suspension locked out would work well, too. We rode about 20 miles on Saturday, which started slow as there was some intense dog training happening. What was the training, you ask? 20 miles is a lot for Lab like Wendell to run and Shasta is a 15-year-old border collie/blue heeler. Needless to say, there is no way she is running 20 miles. But since our dogs are our adventure partners, we improvised sometimes they ran, other times they rode- in a trailer (see photo at right).
Wendell was NOT impressed by the trailer. After being bribed in by treats, he nearly had a heart-attack when the bike started moving and gave new meaning to the phrase “sad puppy-dog eyes”. The trailer was specifically designed for dogs and featured a super helpful tie down in the middle which had to be extremely taut to prevent Wendell from jumping out and being ran over. However, an hour and half a bag of treats later, he sat up proudly, unrestrained (but with a watchful eye on me at every second) and learned to enjoy the scenery. A successful weekend for all involved and one that may be repeated on cross-country skis in the winter. Stay tuned for Colby pulling a trailer over now sans bike…
Parting tip: If you go and find yourself a little saddle-sore after the first day, take a day to visit Mount Rushmore. It’s right there and worth a visit once in your life. Also, eat dinner at Sylvan Lake Lodge and get a picnic lunch (or just get food in your tummy after a wine tasting) at Prairie Berry Winery. That’s all folks!
Cooking-site-of-the-day: Gojee.com – put in what’s in your fridge and pantry, and it gives you a recipe. Brilliant.
My poor lovable pup has two strikes against him in the weight-management category: 1) His background as a Mexican street dog means he eats whenever and wherever he can get food. 2) He is primarily a Labrador and thus has no portion control. This also means he Hoovers rather than chews.
But now, I’ve added a third: 3) I, his owner and primary playmate, work out in a gym more often than outside.
These three factors add up to one thing: Wendell is chunky.
I didn’t want to believe it. Sure, he seemed a little bigger but it wasn’t until a friend visited last week and commented that I really accepted his growing waistline. So with summer quickly fading, I’ve been neglecting my gym membership in favor hiking around the woods while my dog unknowingly gets his heart rate up with me. However, these woods are new to me and on Saturday our hike became an interesting introspection on regulation.
I parked at the top of Casper mountain at the Beartrap Meadow trail head, and the first thing that struck me is how odd it is to drive up the entire mountain. Nevertheless, I started out on the Nordic trails eager to spend some time in tall trees. But then I got sick of going in circles.
Don’t get me wrong- I love loop hikes. But the 26 miles of Nordic Trails present themselves in a variety of small loops, and I wanted to hike in one direction for at least an hour. Roughly picking my way though various trails, I found myself confronted with “PRIVATE PROPERTY” signs just under an hour into the hike. While Wendell merrily trotted past the signs, I recognized my gun-loving county for what it is and turned towards technology for an explanation. The Google satellite with my GPS location pinpointed showed that I had l hiked to the far end of the park had nowhere to go but back. Sigh. And which way was back, exactly? Luckily, the magical arrow on my phone pointed in the right direction and I started choosing random, unsigned single track trails that would hopefully lead me towards the car.
I know someone who is ‘building trails’ for biking on Casper mountain. I’m not sure if this is entirely legal (my guess is not), but the county doesn’t exactly swarm this park with enforcement agents. Add in a healthy red-neck population who will squeeze a 4-wheel-drive vehicle any place said vehicle can fit, and the trails in this park have more variations than a Mexican climbing route. While I enjoy being able to bring my dog with me (something not allowed in National Parks), I resented the lack of clear trails and complete lack of signage. In Jackson, the National Parks in my backyard offered hiking for eight hours plus in one direction without encountering a road (dirt or paved) and only a few well-signed junctions. I loved that I couldn’t get too lost inside my head before a stunning vista or bear would jolt me back to the now. Now, my ‘now’ has too many marks of civilization, which is what happens when a place doesn’t have the supreme protection status of “National Park”. But having a National Park in your backyard is the exception, not the rule. And I’m no longer an exception. With ‘wild’ places such as this, it’s no wonder that life spans are shortening and obesity is on the rise.
Sewing how-to of the day: Make your own Pin Tucked Duvet Cover
In what appears to be an annual attempt at fishing, I stacked the odds in my favor by going to the holy grail of fly-fishing: Grey Reef.
Located only about 30 minutes from my home in Casper, Wyoming and four hours from Denver, Grey Reef is renowned for lots and lots of fish. In researching this blog, I came across a blog posting from Grey Reef Anglers and Wingshooting reporting that on 9/8/2011, “one of our guides Tyler broke in his brand new boat today in style, 45 fish to the net and 4 fish over 20inches.”. American Angler Magazine also named the Grey Reef section of the North Platte River the #1 big fish destination in the world. Let’s just say Tyler and American Angler all have distinctly different experiences than Michelle.
I should start by explaining that we didn’t start our day at Grey Reef- we started in much faster water with this incredible sticky mud bottom. Since a large part of my fly fishing experience is looking at the pretty rocks in the river, this was not ideal. We loaded up the wet, happy dogs and headed upstream. After some very nice help from a guy at The Reef Fly Shop, we waded into the river again with a new and improved nymphing setup. Apparently, I shouldn’t have been dry fly fishing at all. The reason I resisted nymphing initially is a simple math equation: with one (dry) fly, there is less to get tangled than with nymphing, where there are two flies (although one of mine was a ‘purple worm’- what?) PLUS weights PLUS an indicator (small plastic ball thingy). Part of this setup is supposed to be underwater and part above. That’s a lot to get tangled. And it did.
But first, I lost my shoe. Even though Grey Reef did have my required quota of pretty rocks, there was one sticky section as I waded upstream. The velcro on my fly fishing sandals (yes, I have special sandals as they need to be extra-big to fit the neoprene booties of my waders) got seaweed in it and wasn’t functioning at 100%. I tried to slap the strap down under the water but eventually, the sandal was barely hanging on and in immediate danger of floating downstream. I reached down and picked up my sandal with my right hand while I began to wade towards shore with my rod in my left hand and my sandal in my right. And that’s when I saw him.
He was a monster fish. Definitely over 20 inches. And he was 3′ in front of me and swimming slowly upstream as I bumbled towards shore. Frantically, I looked for a place to set my sandal. But I was still in the middle of a river and there was none. Egad! I finally shoved the shoe in the top of my waders and hurriedly readied my rod for a cast. It was a terrible cast and I think I saw bubbles from the now out-of-sight monster fish laughing, “Hey lady the jig is up. Do you think I got this big by being dumb?”. I fished for another 20 minutes before tangling my setup beyond all recognition and having some (more) delicious snacks back at the truck. Maybe next year, but for now I have the consolation of being part of the age-old story about “the one that got away”.
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.
Welcome to the not-so-epic conclusion of Tough Mudder! I last left off berating the Chernobyl jacuzzi for drying out my skin, but I have not yet addressed the obstacle that gave me the most anxiety before the race: the 12 foot high walls.
Aptly named the “Berlin Walls,” the wooden planks were distinctly void of ropes, ladders or handholds. While I had trouble finding pictures of the walls, I bet even the least imaginative can image a 12 foot tall wall. My anxiety was due to the fact that I cannot solo get myself over a 12 foot wall, but luckily this was a team-oriented event. While our method for getting over the wall varied, the easiest for me was when two people clasped their hands together and I put one foot in each hand. Once I got my hands on the top of the wall with my body weight moving in that direction, I could push all the way up. On the top, I straddled the wall then fully extended my body down the other side before dropping to my feet. However, I saw more than a few women yelling for help down the other side. Since I was down, I went over to one such woman and provided a spot used in rock climbing when someone is bouldering (climbing low elevation technical rock). The spot isn’t designed to ‘catch’ someone and doesn’t actually touch them until they are dropping, which is when the spotter ‘guides’ their descent so they don’t land flat on their back. But in this scenario, my spotting skills were grossly overlooked by someone judging me for my rather insubstantial size, which is a long way of saying this: a man on top of the wall who was apparently on the same team of the screaming woman took one look at me with my ‘boulder spot’ and started yelling “could I get some DUDES over here to help her?” Whatever man.
But the walls weren’t my only concern – I was a little worried about this whole ‘electric shock’ thing. The site showed live wires and touted 10,000 volts, which seemed like an awfully high number to me. Someone more electrically minded than myself said, “it’s not the volts you have to worry about – the amperage is what kills you.” Reasoning that it was unlikely that they would be ‘killing people’, my plan was to watch others go through it – if someone outweighing me by 100+ pounds was knocked down, I might just skip it.
However, by the time I actually reached the obstacle I formed a new plan; pick the biggest guy on the team, let him get a head start and run right behind him. It worked brilliantly and I may have been the only one on the team that didn’t get shocked.
My final pre-race anxiety was what to wear and I’m hoping this helps out future Tough Mudders. Beaver Creek, the ski resort where the race was held, has a base elevation of 8,100 feet and a summit elevation of 11,400 feet. At the end of June, those elevations are maybe starting to think about summer and the numerous water features had me more than a little concerned about hypothermia. I finally decided on my long REI cycling tights with neoprene shorts on top and my thinnest (hence quickest drying) synthetic Patagonia top. In hindsight, I would have ditched the shorts (they fell down when wet and running) and an even tighter shirt. I would recommend only skin-tight, synthetic clothing. Wet fabric flopping around is just annoying and clothing that has any extra room will shift when swimming. As for hypothermia, I did finish the race cold but not cold enough to lose motor function.
When all was said and done, I’m super glad I did the race and while it’s not all that ‘tough’, it has raised over $1.75 million dollars for the Wounded Warriors Project, which helps out severely injured service members and is the best reason to run I’ve heard in a long time.
Music-site-of-the-day: Songs to lie on your bed and stare at the ceiling to