Sunday, October 20, 2019

October: Trail Work and Mushrooms

With snow in the mountains (yay!), this might be the last weekend of ski trail prep.  Yesterday a very small crew waited out the pass closure, then headed up Amabilis for a last chance at some trail building, and found ... snow!  Frank reported six to nine inches above the Y and sent this photo, which makes my heart beat a little faster.

Then today, a slightly larger group hit the Erling Stordahl trails.  The drive up to the pass was just plain spectacular; the yellow and orange trees are at the peak of glowyness right this minute and the sight was breathtaking, even on such a dark and gloomy day.  There was plenty of slushy snow at pass level, and even at Trollhaugen, there was a welcome skiff on the ground.

At the trailhead, it was chilly and raining, and our small group headed out on the trails.  It was ostensibly a trail clearing day, and yes, we did some branch cutting and log removal, hoping to make Nick's life a little easier this winter ...

... but then we found MUSHROOMS!  Tons of them, all over the place, and trail clearing had to take a back seat as we went off-trail and tromped through the forest, hunched over, eyes on the forest floor.  Our group included two experienced mushroom identifiers, so that was fun, plus a couple of us who are newborn mushroom enthusiasts, blown away by the infinite array of colors and sizes and shapes.  Tiny pink Barbie mushrooms, wrinkly black scary mushrooms, coral-like mushrooms, cute little hobbit-hat mushrooms, fairy mushrooms growing on the sides of the trees, big fluffy white mushrooms, and one that looked exactly like a miniature deer's head ... who knew mushrooms were such fun guys!

Sunday, September 29, 2019

Lessons from the Life of Bert

What a special afternoon that was yesterday, saying goodbye to our good old friend Bert Larsson, 93 years strong when he died a couple of weeks ago.  For me, it was fun to see my fellow Kongsbergers all dressed up like grownups, instead of wearing ski clothes or trail work clothes, and it was fun to introduce myself to Olav Ulland, a former ski jumping champion and one of the original founders of the club (back in 1954!). (ed. note: Oops, that wasn't Olav -- he'd be about 105 years old right now!  It was his nephew Ragnar, still a cool old guy, also a former ski jumping champion.)

But the highlight, of course, had to be finding out that Bert Larsson has a million friends!  The event room was plenty spacious, but it was standing room only, with Bert's family (three daughters and associated spouses, partners, kids, and grandkids), his skiing friends, his bike-riding friends, his soccer-playing friends, his YMCA-workout friends, his Vasa friends, and his Sunday-morning-Swedish-pancake-making friends.  So cool.  Lots of stories were told, lots of laughs and tears were shared.  It was a special day.

Hearing the stories and seeing the pictures (some fun ones when he was a handsome young fellow in Sweden, some gorgeous black and white portraits taken recently, and everything in the years between) made me realize that there are valuable lessons to be learned from the Life of Bert if we want to end up like him in our 90s, still relatively strong and active and engaged, right up until almost literally the end.  These are things we already know -- research has proven them to be true -- but it doesn't hurt to be reminded by a real-life example in the form of sweet Bert.

1.  Have lots and lots of friends, preferably of a wide range of ages and interests.
2.  Keep moving, your arms and legs, your heart and lungs, your mind.  Don't. Ever. Stop.
3.  Stay strong (or get strong).  Work your muscles, and don't let up.

So in honor of my friend Bert, today I took myself to Tiger Mountain for four-plus hours on the trails, and then made plans to go hiking the next couple of weekends with two separate friends, neither of whom are Kongsbergers but both of whom are good friends.  Lucky me!

Saturday, September 21, 2019

Attitudinal Adjustment

So, it happened.  With one week left in her eternal seven-month maternity leave, my co-worker quit and took another job.  I was really angry for about a day, then decided she wasn't worth that space in my head, so I put it behind me.  I had been exploring some future-focused uncertainties/possibilities over the last year -- do this or do that?  stay here or go there? -- and this development built some new structure around my thinking.  I had a good long conversation with my boss, and then a good long conversation with myself, and I made a solid decision: for at least the foreseeable future, I'm not going to cut and run.  I'm going to stay and make the situation work, damnit.  And it's going to be fine.  My boss is bending over backwards to help me manage this double workload without my brain exploding, and just having that certainty of what I'm going to do is immeasurably beneficial and energizing.  So, we move on.

But being an athlete, and specifically a skier, and more specifically a ski racer, or at least a ski-race participant, at whatever level I am, is still really important to me, so the question becomes, how do I make that happen within the new, tighter confines of my work life?  It ain't gonna be easy, I can tell you that!  But I relish challenges, and I'm looking forward to figuring this one out, because it matters to me.  As Gordo Byrn says:
"The quest for excellence can be a very fulfilling occupation. So maybe the question is, 'How good can I be?'  How far, how fast, how high -- how happy, how joyful, how wise. There is neither an answer nor a limit but it's sure fun to live the question." 
So I read, in kind of a gosh-that-would-be-nice kind of way, about all the valuable structured focused training all the cool kids are doing, understanding that I have never been in their league and now I really will not be.  But that's fine; no one said I can't still have fun!  No one said I can't emulate Erin Berg, when she says:
"I always start in “just happy to be here” mode, like a lil’ golden retriever on skis, desperate for instruction, encouragement, and snacks. I expect nothing, I’m here to have fun!" 
So what is my reality; what have I got?  Well, I'm biking to work pretty much every day, for two hours a day of fresh air and movement and stress relief and sunsets and inner peace and, yes, gratitude.

Once a week, on my ride home, I ride up the Golden Gardens hill, which is STEEP, for a little extra heart-pounding strength work.  This week it was dark and raining when I rode up the hill, and when I got to the top, I felt like a total rock star, pumping my fist to the empty streets!

I'm making it to the gym on most Saturdays, in between all the errands that don't get done during the week, for a max strength workout.  I work a lot on flexibility, to counteract all the hours sitting at my desk, and I work on balance, standing on one leg while I'm on long conference calls -- lucky for me, my office is at the end of the hallway and no one can see my flamingo act!  I squeeze in squats and pushups in random moments, and I work on lightness and fluidity, both in my mind and in my body.

And I work on my inner contentment.  I find gorgeous wild mushrooms at the farmers market and make dinner for my friends, with hours of conversation and laughter and wine, hours that have nothing to do with training or work.  I meet a friend for coffee on my ride in to work, and we talk about her kids and her home remodeling project, nothing to do with training or work.  I stock up on fresh greens and fruit at the farmers market to feed myself all week.  I take a quick road trip to spend the weekend with family and get acquainted with my adorable baby grandniece.  I drink in the beauty of these late summer evenings as I bike home through the locks, and the mornings at Tiger Mountain on the weekends.  If I look, I find bits of happiness and joy just about everywhere.

Happy?  Oh yeah, I've totally got this -- if I can't be fast, I can still be happy and have so much fun, as I have proven in many (all) of my races in the past.  My new hero, 78-year-old Thomas Camero, the last-place rider in this year's TransAm bike across America, says about his experience:
"Every day is so filled with goodness, I can't stand it.  How could I think I'm not a winner?"
Coming at you, ski season ... and life!

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Respite, Briefly

This is so not the most fun summer I've ever had.  My co-worker's eternity of maternity leave drags on and on and leaves me buried in work, well into the evenings and on too many Saturdays.  Each individual project is interesting and challenging, sure, but there are just too many of them, piling on, one after another on top of another, and I never catch up, never feel in control.  An acquaintance of mine who knows about these things reminds me of the toxic dangers of living with a continuously elevated level of cortisol, the stress hormone. Not exactly how I want to live my life.

So ... the beginning of meteorological fall is almost here, and the meteorologists tell us the heat is behind us -- hooray!  The mornings are a little cooler, a little grayer, and I bike home from work in the darkening evenings as the streetlights blink on.  Ski season is on its way back, ready or not, and it totally doesn't care if I'm having a lousy summer of training.  I remind myself of the therapeutic soul-cleansing benefits of Tiger Mountain and on a gray and damp Saturday morning last weekend, after a heavy rain over night, I take myself there for some healing.  I take my quads and my glutes, my lungs and my heart and my jangly brain, into the forest and I come back out several hours later with tired legs, a quiet mind, and a big dopey smile all over my face.  I love that mountain so much, especially on an ethereal day like this, and it never disappoints!

So I went back again today, a sunnier day this time but just as lovely, filled with birdsong and whispery snakes and friendly hikers, and once again, I am smiling so hard all morning I think my cheeks will cramp.  Tomorrow it's back to the grindstone, but that won't last forever.  My soul is restored, my brain is calm, and best of all, Winter is Coming.

Sunday, July 28, 2019

David Evans and RAMROD

Bike riding.  Great off-season training for skiing, right?  So a whole lotta bike riding has to be a whole lotta good training, right?  How about 153 miles, 10,000 vertical feet, Riding Around Mt Rainier in One Day?  Crazy, or really really good training?  David Evans has the full story below!


RAMROD.  Just the name sounds a bit intimidating.  Two summers ago I had the good fortune to climb Mt. Rainier for a second time, this time with legendary Kongsberger Scott Tucker and my two sons.  Today, July 25, 2019, I was circumnavigating the selfsame behemoth of a volcano, trading crampons and rope for bike and enough Gatorade and de-fizzed coke to match the route’s 153 miles and 10,000 ft of climbing.   I’ve been a Seattlite for a quarter century and known loads of folks who’d tested their mettle in this grueling one-day event, but somehow the road cyclist and triathlete in me had never ventured onto the ramparts of that mountain-with-no-peer -- whose mass is a mind-boggling eight times greater than the next biggest volcano in the Cascades -- and participated in an event with finishing times more familiar to full Ironman competitors.

Fortunately for this first-timer, within an hour or so the carbon-fiber-mounted, shaved-leg veterans of RAMROD were declaring the day’s temperature range (60s and 70s) and air quality (no smoke, all view) to be the finest they’d ever seen.  Which was fine with me, since RAMROD is really a sandwich of a bike challenge, with the bread slices at the beginning and end comprised of 40-in, 40-out miles of rolling but quite accessible riding surrounding the meat and cheese: two 4,000 ft. climbs, one of which took the riders up to Inspiration Point just beneath Paradise (since brain-dead cyclists who’ve just climbed for an hour straight don’t mix particularly well with unsuspecting tourists up for a short stroll among beckoning glaciers, as the National Park Service’s prohibition of the event there would seem to indicate ).  The other climb, fast on the heels of a blood-curdling descent on rock-fall pock-marked roads at speeds sometimes surpassing 50 mph, took us up to Cayuse Pass.  “Climbing to Paradise” is an oxymoron if there ever was one for a cyclist, but the climb to Cayuse, also topping out at nearly 5,000 ft but doing so in four fewer miles, left me about as tired as I’ve ever been on a bike.  Thank goodness we got to turn left at the pass rather than right, and extending our misery up to even higher Chinook Pass! 

RAMROD used to be a race, but the scuttlebutt has it that one too many jet-fueled, Type-A riders ran one too many stop signs and didn’t heed one too many state troopers and, well, the formal race was quickly consigned to the dustbin of history.

Be that as it may, whenever you get 500+ cyclists together, each of whom had the good fortune of getting into the over-subscribed event on a lottery, and no matter what event directors state publicly, at least some of those clipping in at the start line will want to spend a modicum of time at the rest stops and, every pedal stroke in between, ride as if in solidarity with, and comparable ability to, their top-of-the-bike-pyramid Tour de France brethren, who just happened to be beginning their own uber-challenging three-day assault of the Alps that very same July day, and in unprecedented, record-breaking European heat no less! 

And so there I was at 58, doing my best to hang on to the wheels of guys mostly old enough to be my sons, putting my best sweaty game face on, while sporting a 1986 steel-frame bike that was either a “wow, that’s a really cool bike!” or an unspoken embarrassment, depending.  My group had informally formed during RAMROD-sponsored Saturday training rides the months preceding, during which we’d had ample time to take stock of each other as we pedaled through Snoqualmie and Fall City and Issaquah and their likes, and so there we were on game day, making every effort to prove that we had prepared properly while knowing in our hearts that we’d be extending our longest shared ride by a nifty 50%, all the while hoping to contend with the day’s best. 

Along the way there were the usual moments that attend a guy who hadn’t raced a bike in eight years, and hadn’t raced over 112 miles on a bike since 1987.  The morning’s 5 am start time was misty and cold, even with a layer of polypro and a cycling jacket, but, as we all know, exercise has a way of stoking metabolism and raising body temperature.  So before too many miles I was disrobing and rolling up first one then the other and caching them away in my two layers of now-exposed cycling jerseys sporting a grand total of six pockets.  No matter, by about mile 35 my jacket unceremoniously had worked its way out of the pocket, falling to the road, whereupon a following rider, who fortunately had the good fortune of not wrapping it up in his front fork and wheel and doing an “endo,” alerted me to the jettison and, being too cheap to part with even an old, battle-worn jacket with a hole in its sleeve, I circled back, picked up the gravitationally-inclined garment and then had a five-minute, pulse- and endorphin-raising TT back to my group – which probably hadn’t even missed me during their focused pace-line rotations!  

Perhaps, given the circumstances, I was weight conscious, since losing the jacket was preceded by losing, after a few too many ruts and bumps and jostles, the lid to one of my two bike bottles. Finding my bottle lidless miles later, when I reached down to suck from a bottle but found myself instead drinking from a putative plastic cup, was an especially curious event given that I’ve probably ridden and raced 100,000 miles with bike bottles of various sorts and had never lost a lid. By extension over the next 100+ miles, I also discovered that if the bottle is less than ¾ full, a lid doesn’t particularly matter, and it’s even easier to take a quick sip.  Who knew?

Yet the most hair-raising event occurred in the day’s final miles, as RAMROD’s chief of course, in a weak moment of choosing which route to use, had us descend quickly back toward the event’s start and finish in Enumclaw via a serpentine road that from all appearances had been last maintained when some of my riding compatriots had been in diapers, each twist and turn alternating from blazing sunlight to dark shadow, which as a cruel joke seemed to be land-mined with a huge pothole or divot or some such thing our schizophrenic pupils couldn’t pick out in time.  As luck would have it, I was following the wheel of the leader of our then pack of nine when he unsuspectingly hit one of these holes, lost control of his bike, jerked off to the side of the road, somehow managed to not go off into the abyss adjacent, did manage to avoid the sundry rocks and irregular edge of the pavement for about 100m at 25 mph on what appeared to be a mere ribbon of gravel, and eventually coaxed his steed back onto the road, eliciting a whoop and roar from each of us.  I’ve seen or been in a lot of amazing near misses and direct hits in bike crashes over the years, but we all agreed at the finish that this would have been one for You-Tube Near-Miss Highlights.  Suffice it to say the poor guy didn’t have the stomach to lead after that and limped into the finish, lucky to be alive, knees still knocking! 

By the way, RAMROD is now my new favorite endurance event because five feet from the finish line they have an all-you-can-eat ice cream truck parked – which, naturally, is where I spent the first fifteen minutes post-ride, going from a barely conscious and coherent state to a decidedly more convivial and capable one.  Amazing the power of glucose!  And then followed perhaps the most satisfying hot shower of my life, taken in a classic junior high school boys locker room, with an equally classic communal shower stall, fortunately fitted with a forgotten shampoo and soap, the shower heads about a foot lower than you might like but still spraying wonderfully warm streams on our battered and aching and grateful bodies. 

Endurance was arguably the theme of the day, and so it remained as I planted my bag and bike at the exit to the large parking lot, hoping to snag a quicker ride home than my early morning carpool from a gentleman who expected to finish three to four hours after me could provide.  Only I couldn’t seem to find even a single person from Seattle leaving from the lot with an empty spot on their bike rack and a space in his/her car.  With each hopeful “Excuse me, are you headed toward Seattle?” I instead discovered what a huge geographic area filters into RAMROD. Folks were from Camus and Hood River and Eugene and Portland and Spokane, and of course from Kirkland and Auburn and Redmond and Monroe, but not a one was from Seattle, though at least they’d heard of the place! And then, after a humbling hour and a half, I found someone who smiled and actually talked to me when I queried about destination Seattle, and soon enough I was persuading Greg from Squamish, who had been caught up in mind-numbing traffic on 405 the previous day heading down, to spurn the undeserving, sclerotic eastside and try his luck along possibly faster I-5, now a speedier carpool with two, and drop me off at I-5 and 45th, where my bike and I could hop on the Metro bus home. 

And so a day that started at 2:37 am with coffee and oatmeal and the letting outside of our very confused dog Mocha, ended just after 9:30 at night, after one of the more delectable barbecue dinners of recent memory, complete with seconds, thirds and fourths for my RAMROD-assaulted body.  It had been a truly amazing day, I reminded myself as I fell quickly asleep, dreaming of how not to lose jackets and lids but win another lottery entry into the Mother of all Mountain Merry Go Rounds!  

Saturday, July 27, 2019


Two guys said they wanted to roller ski up to the pass with me last weekend; both guys bailed out.  No worries; it's better with two cars, of course -- added flexibility -- but it was a perfect day for training and I love that workout and I've got the solo system nailed, so off I went!  Rack on top of the car, bike on the rack, drive up to the pass and park at the gas station.  Put on my brightest pink t-shirt, offload bike, fill pack with roller skis and boots and water belt and locks and keys and snacks and ... am I missing anything?  Poles!  Strap them to the top tube of the bike, make sure I have my car key with me, and ride on down the mountain, face to the sunshine, breathing in that amazing fresh mountain air, checking out the flowers, singing along with the chirpy little mountain birds.

At the bottom, unload my pack, change into ski boots, hide my bike and pack in the bushes, and start rolling back up from whence I just came.  I was early enough in the morning that the lower part, near the campground and the trailheads, was not overly congested and the traffic treated me respectfully.  The road is so lovely, winding steadily up through the forest, and once it breaks out of the trees, the traffic disappears and the views pop out.

In less than an hour I was back up at the top, sweaty and hot but supremely satisfied with the day.  I had a big cold thermos of recovery drink waiting for me, which tasted like the nectar of the gods.  Lunch at the food truck would have been a bonus, but the patio was packed, so I got back in my car, picked up my bike on the way down, and headed for home, another workout in the books, another day closer to ski season.

Saturday, June 29, 2019

Bringing Firewood to the People

There aren't many places I'd rather be on a Saturday morning in late June than up on Amabilis with some of my favorite people, messing around with trees and planning for next winter.  We were a pretty small crew today, gathering firewood like chipmunks storing nuts for the winter, but we were mighty and we were strong and we were focused, and we brought a trailer full of firewood down to the cabin.

And we did it the old school way.  Frank had gone up earlier and cut down some trees (fir? pine? I can't remember the details, but people, the fragrance in the sunshine was completely intoxicating).  Then we gathered up there this morning to pull those big trees up the mountainside by wrapping chains around them and hooking the chains to Anthony's truck and slowly carefully pulling them up to the flat area on top, where we could chainsaw them into appropriate lengths and lopper off the branches and stack them in the trailer.  The truck-and-chain thing worked fine, but it would have been so much better if Anthony's truck had a winch!  Oh, well ...

Luckily, Frank brought his pink Barbie chalk so he could mark the lengths for the chainsaws, to make sure the logs will fit into the wood stove.

When we had finally pulled all the logs up the hillside and cut them and trimmed them and loaded them, we had a little lunch break -- and many thanks to Rob and Suzanne for the smoked salmon and cream cheese sammidges and brownies and watermelon!  (Although if Anthony's truck had a winch, it probably could have poured us a beer, too, and that would have been pretty fine.)

Joan is an artist at stacking logs just so!

Paul loved this special log so much, I think he won't want to burn it!

Then we headed back down to the cabin.  I rode down with Anthony in his truck and when we heard more chainsawing, we pulled over and found Victor.  Victor hadn't heard where we were going to be working this morning, but that didn't matter; he had his chainsaw and wanted to work, and he knew where there were trees to be cut.  (By the way, he also brought his wife and son, and they mountain biked back down to the cabin while he worked -- family fun day!)  By the time Anthony and I found him, he had a big pile of fat logs ready to load.  Anthony couldn't get the trailer very close to the pile, but that was no problem; Victor just picked up those logs one by one and just threw them, as easily as I would throw a softball, over to the truck!

Of course, if Anthony's truck had a winch, he could have just winched those logs over to the truck, but oh, well ...

Meanwhile, Miranda and Jim N and Jim S were in another part of the forest nearby, doing some more chopping and cutting.  They joined forces with Frank and Victor to fill Jim's truck with yet another load of future firewood.  As Frank said later, "All those diverse KSC folks got a lot accomplished.  We needed the two trucks, five chain saws, and all the wood handlers, and the good spirits."  Mission accomplished!

So that was that.  Another big pile of logs at the cabin, waiting for the splitters and stackers.  On my way home, I stopped at the pass for refreshments and sighed happily as I gazed upon the summertime beauty of the mountainside.  Winter is coming, and when it does, we are going to be so warm and contented in the cabin!  Many thanks to our small but mighty crew for giving up a precious Saturday to bring in the firewood so all may be warm.

And did I mention the winch?  I don't even know what that is, but I know Anthony really really wants one.  Just sayin'.