Showing posts from January, 2010


On Saturday, Keith and Leslie surprised me with overnight reservations at the Skoki Lodge. Skoki is a National Park backcountry lodge with no running water and no electricity that can only be accessed by skiers and snowshoers. The trail starts at Lake Louise, heads up a canyon, crosses two passes and drops into a narrow valley surrounded by hanging glaciers and spectacular peaks. The lodge itself is a historic building built in the 1930s by the Banff ski club.

Five of us skied in for the night - Stuart and Anna - a couple of Brits now living in Banff - my friends Leslie and Keith, and me. I was nervous about going there as a "second-day skier," but my friends assured me that some guests went in on cross-country skis (crazy people, I tell you) so it was probably doable by me on heavy powder gear. The trail turned out to be a nicely packed, gently inclining snowmobile trail that would have been perfect for Pugsley. Thanks to its national park status, Pugsley wouldn't be al…

Big first day

Before I came to Banff, I'm not sure I was completely forthcoming about just how little experience I had on skis. That back when I was a snowboarding teenager, two or three times I traded gear with a skier friend for a single run, just for giggles (at each other's expense, of course.) That in 2006, I dabbled in cross-country skiing but had pretty much given it up because I spent more time on my butt and face than I did on my feet. No, when Keith asked me what my level of skiing was, I told him "beginner." I should have said "essentially a first-time beginner whose handful of ski outings only served to convince me that I was incapable of the activity."

Today, we hit Sunshine ski resort first thing in the morning. I was a complete stress case up the first lift of the day, trying to swallow an urge to hyperventilate as Keith calmly explained what we needed to do at the top of the hill. But as I coasted off the lift, much to my amazement, I didn't fall. An…

School is in session

I have been saying since July that this year, instead of training for a crazy difficult Iditarod cycling race, I wanted to spend the winter learning more about the ins and outs of winter backcountry travel - that is, beyond the established snowmobile and ski routes where I've ridden my bicycle and hiked in years past. It's not that I've all of the sudden become crazy about skiing - if anything, it's just the opposite. I'm starting to realize more and more that sliding down mountains (yes, even through sweet powder stashes) doesn't really thrill me all that much. I'm perfectly happy to put aside my mediocre snowboard skills to clomp into tougher, less accessible terrain with snowshoes and crampons, with which I have more control and maneuverability. Just like I am at my core as a cyclist, I am an unapologetic tourist. I am all about the traveling aspect of outdoor recreation. My turn-ons are exploration, distance, and mule-like physical labor. In other word…

Off to paradise

It's that time of year again, the late January lull. This is the time when most Alaskans have grown weary of several months of cold and darkness and book plane tickets to somewhere else, for a week or two of respite. We consider it our right as Alaskans. I think it might even be written into the state constitution.

I think the idea of the winter respite is to go to somewhere warm like Hawaii, and this is the track most Alaskans take. I did this last January - flew to Oahu, walked in my bare feet on the beach, rode a road bike, hiked a volcano. This year, I decided to travel to a place a little closer to my heart - albeit colder, more wintry and hopefully snowier than Juneau. I'm sitting in the Sea-Tac airport right now, waiting for a flight to Calgary. Then, it's on to Banff.

It's a completely frivolous trip. No, I'm not going there for a race. No, I'm not even going to be doing any biking (well, maybe a little). It's a ski trip (yeah, really wish I had prac…

I hurt

Do you ever have one of those days where you wake up in the morning and try to roll out of bed, only to be stopped by a tightly wound rope of pain? You know, those times when most of the muscles in your body contract like frightened turtles and bind you to the bed, and only a burst of willpower will release you from the sheets? Maybe you had a really hard workout the day before; or maybe you, I don't know, unintentionally did a cannonball off a small cliff, and instead of splashing down in a pool, you landed on a hard rock. That kind of pain.
But as you get up and stumble around your room, you notice that the dang addicting sun is still out. And you think that maybe what you're experiencing is just a little muscle soreness, the kind of thing you can push out with a few hard strokes on your bicycle. After all, it was just full-body contact with a rock from from five feet up. No need to be a baby about it.
And then, in a further stroke of brilliance, you decide to spin out the so…

Meek effort

This morning dawned partly cloudy with temps in the mid-20s — absolutely beautiful. I dragged myself out of bed at 8:15 a.m. (so early). I felt a bit downtrodden from going out for a long snow bike ride on Saturday, after a fairly brutal Thursday and Friday in the mountains, but I packed up my trekking gear anyway. Even though we've had a fair number of sunny days this year (for Juneau), I'm still essentially incapable of wasting even a single available second of good weather. I drag myself out of bed around sunrise even though I don't tend to go to sleep until 2 or sometimes even 3 a.m., then I drag myself outside until the very last minutes before I absolutely have to be at work. If the nice weather streak goes particularly long, I can find myself at the tail end of a 25-hour training week, sleep-deprived and sore. My house is an absolute wreck, my closet is empty, my boss is annoyed with me, my bills are stacked up on the table, my cat acts neglected and my fridge holds…

Baby steps

I had a rather unsuccessful weekend of beginner mountaineering - mainly unsuccessful in that I didn't meet my objectives, didn't really push myself too hard, and don't feel like I learned much of anything. Such is the drawback of being your own teacher. But life circumstances have left me without a viable partner who has similar hours to mine. I was just going to give it up, but I better liked a friend's recommendation to "Slay peaks anyway."

So on Thursday I got a fairly early start (cough, cough, 9 a.m.) on the Grandchild approach. I was hoping to summit the first Grandchild peak. I think her name is Jennifer. I forget who is who. Anyway, in the summer, this hike involves a 1.5 mile approach along Montana Creek followed by a ~4,000-foot climb in about three miles up the ridge. It's strenuous, but it can easily be done in an afternoon. I thought the seven-odd hours of daylight I had would be plenty.

But the weather was not conducive to fast movement. The t…

Road biking in January

The only bike shop in all of Juneau, Glacier Cycles, shuttered its doors on Christmas Eve. Before I left town for my Christmas trip to Whitehorse, I stopped in one last time to clean them out of all of their lube and 29” tubes, and say goodbye to the great guys at my soon-to-be-former LBS. I felt a mixture of guilt — for all of the bike parts and gear I had purchased on the Internet — and low-level panic, because without access to a commercial bike mechanic in town, mechanically incompetent cyclists such as myself are pretty much screwed.

I knew the time would come, sooner or later, when one of my bikes would be rendered inoperable by a mechanical I could not fix. I was hoping that time would come later rather than sooner, but sure enough, yesterday I discovered a broken spoke in the rear wheel of my mountain bike (on the cassette side.) In addition to this broken spoke are several loose spokes, and a severe wobble that tells me this wheel is not far from total collapse. I’m a bit frus…

Fun with cameras

I am a big advocate of cyclists, runners and hikers carrying cameras during their outdoor activities. In my opinion, anytime one doesn't bring a camera along, it's just an opportunity lost. Yeah, yeah, I know, fitness, health, fresh air - these are all perfectly good reasons for outdoor activities that don't require photographic documentation. But the main reason I go outside is to experience the world, and being the natural-born journalist that I am, images only serve to enhance these experiences.

People are always asking me what kind of camera I carry. I use only one camera, a little point-and-shoot called the Olympus Stylus Tough. (Full disclosure. I received this camera as part of an Olympus sponsorship ahead of the 2009 Iditarod Trail Invitational. The only thing they really got out of that failed race from me is this Web page.) I love this little waterproof and shockproof camera, and it goes everywhere with me. It doesn't matter what the world doles out - rain, s…

It's easy

For the past two weeks, we have been mired in what my more settled friends call "A Real Juneau Winter." The three winters I'd experienced here before, with their relentless powder dumps, hundreds of inches of seasonal snow accumulation and occasional below-zero days — all of those were apparently fake Juneau winters. This one is the real deal. And it is not pretty.

Actually, that's not entirely true. December, with its long stretches of clear and cold weather, was exceptionally pretty, even though my skier friends whined about the lack of snow. But January thus far has lacked both sun and snow, plunging us into almost unlivable conditions with temperatures in the mid-30s and wintry mixtures of sleet, ice and heavy rain. I was almost lucky to be stuck inside with the flu for more than a week; that alone may have spared me a deep case of Seasonal Affective Disorder. As it's been, I've been riding my bicycle a lot since I came out of my flu haze. (I mean, relativ…

In defense of passion lost

I still remember the date of my first time snowboarding: Oct. 28, 1996. It was the first day of the first season in which Park City Mountain Resort allowed snowboarders onto its slopes. After a long history as a ski-only resort, Park City landed the privilege to host the 2002 Olympic snowboarding events, probably in no small part because it finally relented to letting non-Olympic snowboarders on its lifts.

The season opened early that year, and my knuckle-dragging friends wanted to be among the first to defile Park City’s pristine slopes with their boards. And even though I had no board-riding abilities of any sort, I loved the idea of horrifying rich ski snobs and witnessing Utah snow sports history in the process, and I wanted to be part of it.

I wanted it so badly that I took $300 I had amassed slowly and painfully while working for $4.25 an hour as an Albertson’s grocery bagger and cart dragger, and purchased an Airwalk snowboard and bindings. I stashed the set-up in the bushes in f…