Friday, January 30, 2009

The sympathy fart

Editor's note: it's 6:33 a.m., and I've already been sitting at my desk for nearly half an hour. Why, you ask? Well that's because I learned an important lesson this morning: don't trade skiing today for the promise of skiing tomorrow.

On Wednesday evening, Dug and I talked about skiing on Thursday morning. My only hesitation was that I knew Mike had been out of town and really wanted to go Friday morning. Dug wasn't super-pumped about getting up early, and I wanted Mike to have someone to go with, so yesterday morning sort of fell apart in favor of a Friday tour. Thursday ended up a bluebird day, and UTRider laid first tracks inbounds. Then, one-by-one the potential participants for a Friday tour fell off until it was just Rob and me. Rob sent me a text at 5:20 telling me his brakes had gone out. I had nothing to do but come to work.

So instead of a writeup about skiing, you're stuck with this little nugget that I thought of some time ago but was saving for a slow news day. Today's post doesn't just border on crude, it jumps in with both feet. I previewed it with my wife, and she strongly disapproved. If you don't like scatological humor or find the corners of your mouth involuntarily turning upward when you hear the words "poo, butt, or fart," you may want to read something else.

You know how when you go to the bathroom, #1, I mean, and you're squeezing to make sure you get it all out and in the process release something from the other end? I'm not talking about debris, just gas. Of course you do. We've all done it.

Not such a big deal at home, but what about when you're in a public restroom and other people are there? If you're attending a sporting event or a movie and there are dozens of you, again, not such a big deal. But what about at work or at dinner, when it's just one, maybe two other guys?

Farting in the presence of others, unless the others are people with whom you have a comfortable farting relationship, is disconcerting. And comfortable farting relationships, or CFRs, are hard to come by. It's sort of like a first kiss, awkward and greeted with trepidation unless you absolutely KNOW that the other person won't mind. I don't know about you, but the people who I KNEW wouldn't mind have been few.

So anyway, back to the public restroom situation. When I'm standing there, addressing my business, and the guy next to me farts, I'm always inclined to fart back. You know, a sympathy fart. Just to let him know that even though we don't know each other (or even if we do) farting while peeing is perfectly natural and OK and no cause for embarrassment.

Problem is, farting is something that happens naturally. Few of us can do it at will. I'm pretty sure my younger brother can, but other than him, I don't know anyone. So is there something else you can do, besides the sympathy fart, to let the other guy know that what he's done is OK? Or is doing something unnecessary because it's understood to be OK in the bathroom?

Of course, were the sympathy fart to get carried away, it could quite literally become a pissing match. First you fart, then he farts back (trying of course to be bigger and louder--without expelling debris one hopes--just to let you know he can). Then you try to drain the liquid with more force, not wanting to be the one with the weak stream. But don't push too hard, 'cuz then you'll finish first and be known as the guy who can't hold it very long and risk a reputation as one not to be invited on road trips. I'm sure you see how this could quickly spiral out of control.

Maybe instead of the sympathy fart someone should write a book about public restroom etiquette, just to let people know that farting mid stream is perfectly natural and is just as proper as putting your napkin in your lap and selecting forks in order from the outside working in.

Thursday, January 29, 2009


I've complained before about my blog's position in the various nonexistent hierarchies that I make up and pretend are real and somehow important. But today my offense when no offense was intended reached a new level. I was reading Andrew McLean's blog, as I do every day, and even made a comment commending his good work and mentioning how I had recently purchased products from his sponsors, when I noticed the Wasatch Backcountry links section of his blog.

Guess who has a link in the Wasatch Backcountry section of Andrew's blog? No, not me, Dug. If you mouseover, it says "Specializing in the Southern Wasatch." Wanna know how many tours Dug's been on this year that I didn't go with him? Exactly 1, that's how many. And that's only because I had food poisoning. So instead of skiing, I was at home in the fetal position waiting for my innards to explode.

And you know who else has a link in the Wasatch Backcountry section? UTRider, that's who. UTRider just got a new pair of skis. You know who picked them out for him? Me. Except it wasn't just "you should get the Line Prophet 100 in a 186," it was more like he sent me at least 3,000 links to various pairs of skis for sale, and I kept telling him why the Lines were a better ski choice and why he should get the 186. Oh, and he doesn't ski in the backcountry, either (still working on that). Not that it matters, but I just thought I'd point that out since those links are in fact labeled "Wasatch Backcountry."

I'm really not sure how to deal with this. I mean, it could be that Andrew is just yet to discover my blog, and once he does, he'll be one of my most faithful readers, and I'll get a link and even invitations to ski with him. Or, it could be that my blog really does suck that bad and that my handful of readers are either reading and commenting because they're getting paid as part of some social experiment of which I'm unaware or because my mother asked them to so I'd feel more included or for some other reason along those lines.

I really shouldn't be offended that someone I don't know and have never met doesn't have a link to my blog. But here's the thing--blogger has this feature called "followers" where you can "follow" someone's blog. I used to have two followers, 331 Miles, and a friend whom I've known since the 6th grade. Except that the friend whom I've known since the 6th grade just dropped me as a follower, so I'm down to one again.

If you see me today, and my eyes are all red and misty, it's because of the allergies. Really it is. Even though nothing is in bloom and the smog is mostly cleared from the valley. It's just a reaction. I'm not hurt about any of this. At all.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Good artists borrow, great artists steal

These guys were in Days Fork yesterday at the same time as Dug and me. They shot some nice video, so thought I'd post it up here for another perspective on what we enjoyed yesterday. The first descent shown in the video is a line Dug and I forewent because we thought it might slide. Doh! Not that ours sucked at all, just not quite as aesthetic.

January 27, 2009. Alta, UT. from andrew on Vimeo.

In the spirit of giving credit where credit's due, you can see more of his videos here.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The morning commute

I was in a traffic jam this morning. The number of people on the highway was unlike anything I've seen before. Crazy, too, because it was before 6:00 a.m., the temperature was somewhere between 0 and negative freezing-my-tootsies-off, and it was still dark outside. Really the kind of day you'd want to just stay in bed. And yet we were stacked up as far as the eye could see, identifiable by the blue-white glow of the headlights.

The reason for the congestion this morning was something approaching three feet of fresh snow, stable avalanche conditions, and clear skies. Everyone but not their dog wanted a piece of it--we were in a watershed area, after all.

The great thing about the backcountry is that even on a day when it's relatively congested, there's so much acreage that we still weren't skiing on top of each other. Or each other's tracks for that matter.

Since I brought my camera, I'll let the pictures tell the rest of the story.

Rick on top of Flagstaff ridge with the sun rising behind him, Rob in the foreground.

Morning alpenglow on Superior. This faced looked like a ski run by the time we left. There were skiers nearly at the summit before this photo was taken at dawn. I have no idea what time they must have started [Update: Superior was bumped out (!?!) by noon].


Rick dropping in:

Followed by Rob:

And Mike, who picked today of all days to try backcountry skiing for the first time. Think he'll be hooked?

Dug blowing cold smoke into Days Fork. Everyone else only had time for one lap. Dug and I risked our livelihood to make two laps into Days. Definitely worth it.

Yes, there were face shots. Here's Dug about to get one.

Yours truly slashing a turn in some Utah blower:

Two turns later.

Back at the parking lot with our ski track behind us. Love the beard, 'cuz it keeps the cold off my face. Snow kinda sticks to it, though. At least when you get lots of face shots.

Dug and I logged nearly 4k of vertical between 6 and 9:30 a.m. We very seriously considered adding one more lap and pushing it closer to 5k, but we have some sense of responsibility.

Yesterday while on my way to work, Rachel called me to tell me that she feels like she's on vacation at our new house, being up on the mountain and all. Reminded me of the tagline one of the guys on the Teton Gravity forum uses: "my life is better than your vacation." Anyone want to argue with that?

Monday, January 26, 2009

Rock-a-bye baby!

I'm a ski nerd. I subscribe to two ski magazines (Skiing and Powder, in case you're wondering) and read the entire buyer's guide of each cover-to-cover every year. I even read about all the skis that I would never, ever buy because they aren't for the kind of skiing I like to do.

The downside to being a ski nerd is that I know about all the other skis on the market and can therefore identify the relative shortcomings of my own. Which is why I have purchased at least one pair of skis per year for the past four years.

But that brings up one of the things I love about skis. Unlike bicycles, which can cost more than the annual income of 95% of the world's population, the difference between a pair of high-end skis and some entry-level skis is a few hundred dollars. And if you're a cheapskate dirtbag like me who refuses to buy skis unless they're used or priced well below retail, the difference is even less.

So after 10 or so days this year on the touring skis I have had for just over one season, I decided they weren't ideal for what I wanted them to do and had to get new ones. And since I was getting new skis, I decided I'd get new bindings as well and switch over to Dynafit.

The skis I got are the K2 Anti Piste. Last season, K2 came out with the Coomba, the signature model--released posthumously--for big mountain skiing pioneer Doug Coombs. When the Coomba came out, I wanted some. But being a dirtbag, I couldn't buy them in the first year because they wouldn't be cheap enough. In the interim (in the last two months, to be precise) I decided I no longer wanted the Coomba because it didn't have a rockered tip.

Enter the Anti Piste. Technically, it's a telemark ski, but it's the same shape and construction as a Coomba except with a rockered tip. just happens to have them for 45% off, so I couldn't resist.

What is a rockered tip, you ask? Most skis are constructed with camber, which means that if you set them unweighted on a hard, flat surface (a groomed ski run, or piste, for instance), the tips and tails would touch the surface, but not the center of the ski (the part under the boot). When the ski is weighted, this allows it to maintain edge contact throughout the length of the ski. A ski with rocker (or reverse camber) does just the opposite--the center will touch, but not the tips and tails. The reverse camber shape is more like a water ski or a wakeboard, which in soft snow has the effect of keeping the tips from diving and allowing the ski to plane out faster, which makes turning in soft snow a little easier, and arguably more fun.
I decided to go with Dynafit bindings because they're about half the weight of my current bindings, which I'm hoping will help me avoid being the last guy up the hill. More importantly, though, when in tour mode, the binding doesn't lift up with your heel, so you're only lifting the weight of your boot and not your boot and binding. I'm hoping this will help reduce fatigue on long tours like Lone Peak. Other benefits are that the Dynafit bindings flex less than the Fritschis, allowing a more solid connection with the ski, and they have a lower stack height, which is really just a matter of personal preference, but something I like with a wider ski.

The rocker on the Anti Piste is minimal--only about 3mm or so, and it's only in the first 30 cm or so of the tip (the tail has traditional camber). But it's enough. On Scottie's Bowl Saturday morning, I was surfing through the snow, able to ski from the center without worrying about my tips diving. I predict that in no more than five years, all skis that are 100mm or wider underfoot will have rocker at least in the tips. I'm yet to meet someone who's skied a reverse camber ski and wants to go back.

The only downside to the new setup is that my old climbing skins weren't long enough, so I had to buy new ones. Despite my best dirtbag efforts, I was unable to find a deal on any and had to settle for buying them at REI (where at least I'll get a dividend next year). While lamenting (via IM) the full-price purchase with Dug and suggesting subversive methods to circumvent the merchants' perfectly legitimate pricing tactics, we had the following exchange:

Dug: did you grow up in the depression? stop it!

mark: yeah, that approach is probably beneath me, but it's an option.

Dug: do you eat bark?

I don't eat bark, but if it would make time move faster so I could get out on my new skis again, I would.

My absentmindedness, part 3

Forgetting to close the garage door at night is a bad thing. In this case, not so much because of the skis, tools, and bikes that any thief could have helped himself to, but because it snowed quite a bit last night with substantial wind. I've never run a snowblower inside the garage until this morning.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Middle age?

What constitutes middle age? I don't think of myself as middle aged, but unless I'm going to live to be over 100, I guess I'm in the middle third of my life. Middle age always struck me as a category for my parents. Even though my dad's retired and my mom nearly there, I don't think of them as old. For cryin' out loud, they go to spin class four days a week and either one could outride most 30 year olds.

But yesterday I read an article on about Lance Armstrong wherein the author made reference to Lance's middle aged body. It struck me that Lance and I were born in the same half of the same decade. If he's middle aged, what does that make me? Can I sue the author for libel for accusing us both of something that can't possibly be true?

As far as health goes, I'm fitter and healthier now than I was in my 20's. Can I possibly be middle aged if that's the case? I'm not bald, at least not completely. I have no gray hair. Aside from my left knee, my body is more or less fully functional. I get more exercise before 9:00 a.m. than most people do all week. So how can I possibly be aging or breaking down?

Wanting to explore this topic further, I asked my kids whether they thought I was old. I asked my nine-year-old if she thought I was old. "No." was here answer. What about middle aged? She didn't know what this was, so my wife explained it to her. The answer was again negative. But she's very diplomatic by nature and would never intentionally hurt anyone's feelings.

So I asked my son, who's four and therefore unencumbered by a need to mince words for the sake of politeness (wonder where he got that?). Do you think I'm old? His answer was emphatic and came without hesitation: "Yeah!" There you have it.

As an unrelated aside, I am calling out Sam a.k.a. VH1. I haven't seen you on skis all year. What's up with that? Some people, who shall remain nameless, are questioning your manhood. Better set that alarm for 4:30, 'cuz there's storms rolling in next week.

Calling in sick

Every Wednesday, my mom invites her grandkids over to her house to do something fun. Usually they do a craft project (my mom's an elementary school teacher, so she's got no shortage of ideas); sometimes they do an activity, such as sledding at Sugarhouse Park.

Rachel and I have decided that grandkids night for my mom is a good opportunity for a date night for us. So after Rachel dropped the kids off last night, she met me at a restaurant near my office for dinner. We had just finished our appetizer when my cell phone rang. It was our oldest daughter informing us that the youngest was screaming, and they didn't know why.

Our youngest has had the toughest adjustment to the move, so we weren't too surprised by this. She's been sensitive the last couple of weeks, to the point that she screams if I try to get her out of her carseat. She mostly just wants her mom.

We told my mom we'd be right there--Rachel left for my parents' while I had our server box up our entrees and paid the bill. By the time I got to my parents' house, everything was fine. So Rachel and I sat down at the kitchen table and ate our somewhat colder but still tasty dinner.

When we got home, my stomach was a bit upset, but I had taken some ibuprofen earlier, so I thought that might be the cause. But when my alarm went off at 4:30 to go skiing, I was feeling worse, not better. It's not uncommon for my stomach to bug me a little in the early morning, but it's usually fine by the time I'm ten minutes up the skin track. So I got dressed and went downstairs to try to eat some breakfast.

I couldn't bring myself to eat. Which is unusual for me. I thought maybe some diet coke and pepto would help. It didn't. In fact, I think it made it worse. I sat there for a few minutes hoping to get better before I realized there was no way I could climb anything this morning. Reluctantly, I sent dug a text telling him I wasn't coming. Then I went back to bed and laid there trying to decide whether it was better to deal with the gut-wrenching pain or to force myself to throw up. Even though the food tasted good, I don't think that restaurant will see repeat business from us.

Growing up, if I ever missed school because I was sick, I certainly wasn't going to be allowed out with friends later in the day. Too sick for school, too sick to play was the rule. What is it about being an adult that causes me to blow off skiing yet still be at my desk at 8:00?

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Kicking and screaming

I first heard about Microsoft Vista several years ago, back when it was code-named Longhorn. At the time I worked for a large computer hardware company, and since the resource requirements were so ridiculous, Microsoft gave us plenty of advanced notice. Because of the resource requirements, I swore I would never use it until I was forced to, and even then it would be on my company-issued machine, and I would be kicking and screaming about the transition.

Yesterday I made the transition. It's not that bad. Of course, it's helped by the fact that it's running on a new Dell, and since I work for a software company, they don't mess around when buying new workstations. I also have not one, but two 22 inch flat panel monitors to look at, so my days of using "alt-tab" to toggle between programs are over. The display is so nice that with my JBL headphones, I would seriously consider watching movies at my desk. In fact, if I didn't have commitments this evening, I would probably stay late and watch Claim one more time.

For personal use, I'm a mac guy all around. Vista falls short of Mac OS without question. Vista's got some cool, mac-like features, and perhaps even a greater number of features. But they're not as clean and intuitive as they are on the mac. Nevertheless, so long as you've got the hardware to run it, Vista works better than I expected.

Apparently I should also be using Windows Live Writer to write this blog. Haven't tried that yet, but if it's as good as everyone says, that would make Microsoft 2 for 2 in providing me with products that rate "not disappointing." And considering my already low expectations and Microsoft's ability to somehow still consistently fall below them, that's saying something.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Crisis of confidence

Most people who have skied with me would tell you I am a pretty good skier. I am not, however, a great skier. When I was 13 I thought I was, but I quickly learned otherwise when some of my older sister's friends took me with them and I simply couldn't keep up. Some 20 years of skiing later, I've learned a few things and feel comfortable skiing almost any run one would find inbounds at a ski area.

I progressed to the point that when I lived in Boise, I felt like I was one of the better skiers on the mountain nearly every time I went up. Sure, there's always someone better, but in Boise that number was low.

It was the same way in the Idaho backcountry. There weren't any lines or exposures that made me nervous, and on the way up, I was typically as fast as anyone I skied with and could even take longer turns breaking trail than I probably needed to.

Living in Utah, I am facing a crisis of confidence with regards to my skiing. I'm in the back of the pack on the way up and have more than once nearly wet myself looking at the options for getting back down. Everything is so much bigger, and the other skiers seem to be so much better. Case in point, Andrew McLean mentioned climbing and skiing the Y-couloir last week with Kip Garre, Ingrid Backstrom, Derek Taylor, Rick Angell, Brad Barlage, Tommy Chandler, and Courtney Phillips. These are some seriously good skiers who all just "happened" to be available to ski together in Little Cottonwood one weekday morning. That's sort of like saying I went to the park one afternoon and played a pickup football game with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

After mentioning my feelings of inadequacy to dug, his response was that it's hard to feel manly about your skiing when you go out with Rick, Rob, and Ben all the time. Thanks for the pep talk.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

At long last

There's no doubt geography affects our interests and how we behave. At times to the point of obsession. John Krakauer risked his life to climb the Devils Thumb in Alaska. He'd only seen pictures of the rocky spire, and yet it drove him to a singular obsession that could only be satiated by climbing it.

Much of my life has been spent in the shadow of Lone Peak. I made a couple of attempts to climb it over the years, including a solo attempt wherein I spent the night in a meadow just below the cirque one June, buffeted by winds to the point that I burned out all my matches trying to get my stove to light, eating what I could of my freeze-dried dinner cold, then spending the rest of the night hoping the walls of my tent did not collapse. The next morning I made it up to the ridge approaching the summit, only to turn back just short of my goal because the rock was still covered in snow and ice.

Now that we're back in Utah, I live on a ridge that is part of the Lone Peak massif and have this view of the cirque from my front porch.

When the rest of the valley is trapped in inversion, it's nice to be up a little higher.

The inversion has set in because we're in the midst of a warm, dry spell. Since there's no fresh snow to be had in the canyons, and the risk of a slide is pretty much nill, dug suggested we make a run at the summit of Lone Peak.

Saturday at 4:55 a.m., dug; Kim; Kim's dad, John (Senior); Rick and Rob, the wonder twins; and I all met in Alpine to begin the 6,000+ foot climb. The group quickly fractured, with Rick, Rob, and me out front and dug, Kim, and Senior behind. The wonder twins had both promised their wives to be back early afternoon, so empowered as they are with unusual climbing speed, our group fractured again, leaving me alone to enjoy the morning Alpenglow on the Southeast aspect of the peak.

We made our way up a large glacial valley whose vertical relief is larger than most ski areas. If you look close at the photo about half way up and three fourths of the way to the right edge, you'll see Rick and Rob.

At the ridge atop the glacial valley, I stopped to rest for a moment and snapped a photo of Mt. Timpanogos, with Mt. Nebo off in the background.

Then I turned to look at the neighborhood from about 10,500 feet.

Looking East across the glacial valley at Bighorn Peak.

From the summit looking at the Southwest spires of the cirque, the opposite side of which was bathed in Alpenglow above. You can just make out the neighborhood in the distance. Crazy thing is that I could see for hundreds of miles, yet the people in the valley below couldn't even see the summit.

Box Elder and Mt. Timpanogos from the summit.

Looking East along Lightning Ridge at Chipman Peak and Pfeifferhorn (which is supposedly the mountain featured in the Paramount Pictures logo).

Looking North from the summit towards Salt Lake Twin Peaks and Superior.

Not much in the way of skiing photos worth showing, other than this one of Senior and Kim skiing down the glacial valley. As much as I wished the snow would have been corn, it was more like bulletproof with intermittent patches of shattered glass with rotten snow beneath. As we got lower and it got warmer, there were a few stretches where we could link turns, but it was mostly survival skiing all the way down. That being said, any skiing is better than not skiing, so it was still fun.

It was nice to finally summit Lone Peak, and in January no less.

Friday, January 16, 2009


Lone Peak. 5:00 a.m. Alpine start. Freak January corn cycle and stable conditions mean we're doing a spring trip mid-winter. Can't wait. I have this thing staring at me from my front window. It's hard not to climb and ski a mountain that does that.

Thursday, January 15, 2009


When I first bought alpine touring gear a couple of seasons ago, it was because I wanted to seek out fresh powder wherever it was to be found, inside or out of the ski area boundaries. At the time, however, I thought it would simply be a complement to my alpine skiing, and that I'd do it a handful of times a year only after the resort was all tracked out.

Little did I know.

So far this season, I have skied 11 days, 8 of them in the backcountry. The accessibility here in Salt Lake is so good that dawn patrols have replaced night skiing as my midweek recreation of choice.

Here's the thing, though. I am liking the backcountry so much that I don't really feel the need to do resort skiing. I kinda figured I'd do one or two backcountry days during the week and then hit the resorts on the weekends. But I'm feeling no compulsion to ride lifts and find myself fascinated and anxious to explore the multitude of peaks and ridges that aren't accessible by chairlift. So much so, in fact, that the constraints of having to go to work have me anxious for the weekend so I can get out on longer tours.

Of course it doesn't hurt that I'm married to the best wife in the world and she's fully supportive of my habits. Dug commented this morning that I'm never turning down an opportunity to get out to ski or ride bikes. (I think dug failed to realize, however, that he knows I've been there because he's been with me pretty much every time.) Part of it is my relatively low-key work environment, but a bigger piece is that my lovely wife is happy to let me spend from 5 to 9 a.m. doing as I please. Sometimes she even bakes cookies to take with me.

Before the family moved to Utah, getting out was less of an issue. I was by myself anyway, so the only impact of getting up at 4:30 to ski was the need to consume more diet coke to get me through the afternoon. Now that we're all together, there's a bit more to it, as the alarm wakes Rachel up too, and I'm not around to take our daughter to the bus stop.

My grandfather loved to golf and fish but was not at all religious. My grandmother was quite religious but didn't care much for fishing and golf. When they got married, they agreed that Saturdays were his and Sundays were hers. He went golfing or fishing on Saturday and they all went to church together on Sunday. Rachel and I don't have any explicit agreement, there's just an implicit understanding that a happy me 2/3 of the time is preferable to a grumpy me all the time. It's an arrangement that works for us. Your mileage may vary.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Breaking the monotony

I'm a big fan of breakfast. Health professionals and moms will tell you it's the most important meal of the day because it jump starts your metabolism and replaces glycogen stores depleted during the night. I like breakfast simply because I'm really hungry when I wake up.

Most days my breakfast consists of a bowl of oatmeal (NOT the steel cut variety) with blueberries and soy milk. This works well for me because it's low in sugar and fat (I don't add any sweetener other than the blueberries), high in fiber, and quite filling. It ensures that I'm getting a couple servings of fruit and provides me with enough energy for a dawn patrol or a lunch ride.

Usually the oatmeal is complemented with a glass of orange juice (no pulp, not from concentrate, in case you're wondering) or a mug of hot cocoa. Sometimes both.

My hot cocoa is my own recipe: 1 1/4 cups 1% milk, 2 T baking cocoa, 2 T Guittard Hot Chocolate mix. It's mostly bitter and just a little sweet--just like me, according to my wife. It's not hot cocoa for the faint-hearted or those who like mild flavors. And with all the cocoa, it's loaded with antioxidants and all the other good stuff you get in cocoa, without the fat and sugar of eating chocolate.

But once in a while I get sick of the oatmeal routine and have to do something else. If it's just that I need a day off, a bowl of cereal will often break the monotony just enough. Sometimes I need a long-term solution, in which case, I ask Rachel to make a batch of honey granola. The granola still has lots of good stuff, but a lot of bad comes with it.

Every so often, though, I need something that's a complete and utter departure from the routine. Something that's intended to satisfy my hunger and just provide pleasure to my palate. Enter the buttercream maple bars from Harmon's.

I'll admit that I like pastries, but I'm in no way unable to resist them. Once, after getting an upset stomach from eating a donut, I swore off of donuts and didn't have one for several years. Even today, I can walk by the donut counter and most days not be tempted. On Monday, someone brought donuts to work. I resisted until I was so hungry at 4:00 that I could hold out no longer. After two disappointing bites of a chocolate twist that looked better than it tasted, I threw the rest away.

But the buttercream maple bars hold an allure all their own. Which is why this morning I rushed out of the house with a mug of hot cocoa and no other solid food. Going into Harmon's is more of a hassle than grabbing a donut from the Chevron, but to me it's worth it. The maple bar was gone by the time I got on the freeway. And it was delicious.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Three rules

Warning: my wife is shocked and appalled that I am willing to write this. If you are easily offended, please go read something else.

A couple of years ago, my wife and I led a multi-day camping trip for the youth of our local church congregation. My friend Tom, one of the other adult leaders on the trip and an E.R. doc, indicated that he had three rules for the trip: no smoking weed; no starting fires; and no sex. He went on to say that especially after years spent in the E.R., the first two were easy to identify from smell alone. I responded that the third was also identifiable by smell, just not quite so easily. We had a good laugh but chose not to share that tidbit with the kids.

Last week I was listening to NPR on my way home, and they were reporting on CES. In addition to covering the cool new stuff, they also mentioned some of the duds. To illustrate, they mentioned the archetypal dud product from CES past, a product called the iSmell, which shockingly never made it to market. The concept is pretty simple: the iSmell sits next to your computer and has the ability to emit smells relevant to the website you happen to be browsing at the time. Which prompted me to question what the device smells like, according to this study at least, 18.8% of the time?

Monday, January 12, 2009

Ski Waxing, Part 1: Why?

Psycho Rider asked me to do a little writeup on waxing skis. As I thought about what to write, I realized it would best be divided into two posts: one explaining why we wax skis and what each step of the process is intended to accomplish; and another showing how skis should properly be waxed I go about waxing skis.

Notice I'm not going to talk about tuning skis. Waxing is part of the tuning process, but waxing is not tuning. Make sense? If it did, skip ahead. Otherwise, tuning is essentially the complete process of resurfacing the edges and bases of skis, including sharpening and beveling the edges, repairing damage to the bases and/or edges, stonegrinding the bases in order to give them structure, and finally waxing and finishing the bases.

I used to try to do edges and bases myself, but I decided that other than knocking burrs off with a diamond file, I'd just as soon pay a shop $30 or so to do it since stonegrinding is an important part of that process and I don't have a wintersteiger machine in my garage. I usually get this done once a year, and that seems to be adequate.

Stonegrinding ski bases provides the base with structure, which is just a fancy way of saying it makes it so the bases aren't perfectly smooth. Base structure is the slight but consistent pattern of irregularity that enhances a ski's ability to slide across the snow. If skis were perfectly flat, they would probably still slide, but not as well. Think of applying a suction cup to glass versus a piece of ceramic. The surface irregularities keep the skis from sticking to the snow the same way they keep a suction cup from sticking to ceramic.

Wax also aids the ski's ability to slide across the snow. Skis slide on snow because the pressure the skis apply melts the uppermost surface of the snow, providing a thin film of liquid water on which the skis slide. Wax is hydrophobic, so this thin film of water doesn't stick to it, and the ski will slide more easily than it otherwise would. If you've ever stepped on a wet and recently waxed floor, you probably know firsthand what I'm talking about.

If skis are not waxed, they will typically still slide downhill, but a ski's base material is somewhat porous (which is why the wax sticks to the base), and I've seen instances where a ski base that hasn't been waxed will have snow freeze and stick to it. Unwaxed skis will be slower in general and much slower on a traverse or low angle slope.

Aside from enhancing the ski's ability to slide down the hill, wax also enhances the durability of the base, thus extending the life of the ski. Waxed skis are less prone to damage when you hit a rock or a root, so time spent waxing generally means less time or money getting bases repaired.

One would think that waxing a ski would negate the benefits of stonegrinding and having base structure. And if waxing and scraping are all that are done, that is indeed the case. Which is why most ski technicians will wax the ski, scrape the cooled wax, and then brush the ski either by hand or with a machine in order to expose the base structure. I'll get into how I do all this stuff in a subsequent post, which will not happen until I get my garage organized enough to allow access to my bench.

Of course the explanation I've provided is still pretty rudimentary, and it gets much more complex than this, with different wax compounds and materials designed for different snow conditions and temperatures. Cross country skiers and in particular racers, unaided as they are by gravity, take their waxing much more seriously than your typical alpine skier. Alpine racers, for whom races are won and lost by hundredths of seconds are similarly fanatical about their wax.

Though I know some recreational alpine skiers who wax with a temperature-specific wax every time they go out, most skiers don't even wax their skis themselves, and shops almost always apply a general purpose or all-temperature wax like I do. Other (typically but not always Nordic) skiers will put their skis in a hot box in order to get better wax penetration or will apply layers of different waxes in order to take advantage of different properties. Indeed, like anything else, waxing can be quite complex, and I don't pretend to be an expert. So if you know something I don't or I've provided gross misinformation somewhere, leave a comment and let me know. Since my skis are about due for wax, maybe I'll get to organizing the garage sooner rather than later and get on with part 2.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

New year, new layout

I'd gotten pretty tired of my old blog layout. For one thing, it kind of rubbed me the wrong way to have dark brown text on light brown background--too hard to read. Black on white is boring, but it's easy to read. If you're reading this via RSS reader, you don't care. The new layout met my requirement for black on white and was not otherwise too annoying. Incidentally, I'm sure there's some way to change the colors and so forth of the layout I had, but it would likely require more effort than clicking a radio button and then clicking save.

Everyone else seems to be listing goals for 2009. While I hate to tell mine to anyone for fear of actually being held accountable, whether I want to admit it or not, I have thought about some things I'd like to do this year.

But here's the caveat: these are not goals in the sense that I am committing to them. They are simply things that I wouldn't mind seeing happen and will likely put forth some effort to accomplish.

Years ago, I ran a marathon with a goal of finishing under four hours. For a guy who meets Elden's definition of a clydesdale (subtract 5 pounds from 200 for every inch you are below 6 feet), I thought this was a good time. I made the halfway split in 1:58 and knew I'd need to dig deep to make it. About mile 20, my quads started cramping. Eventually it got to the point where I could no longer run and had to walk until the cramps went away. I continued alternating, running until the cramps became unbearable and walking until they went away, for the last six miles and finished in 4:12.

I beat myself up about that time for months until finally I realized that it was a respectable time and the physical condition I was in when I got it was an achievement in and of itself. Since then I have hesitated to set hard and fast goals for results, knowing that external factors or just having a bad day can make more of a difference than preparation ever will. Not to mention, I have way more fun when I'm doing something first and foremost just to do it and only secondarily to see how well I do it.

With that in mind, here is a list of things I've thought of that if they happened in 2009, it would not suck:
  1. More ski days than the 2007-8 season. Last year was a personal best for me, with over 30 days on snow. I'd like to ski even more this year. And I'd like a lot of those days to be with my wife and kids.
  2. Finish Lotoja under 10 hours. I was tantalizingly close last time. My goal was 11 hours, and I blew it out of the water. Of course, conditions were good, but this time we could have another Snotoja. Or I could crash. Or my dad could ride it, and I decide to ride with him at his pace, because finishing a double century at 63 years of age kicks way more ass than finishing it under 10 in your 30's.
  3. Ride Leadville. I'll send in the lottery form and hope I make it. I'd like to do it on the single, but we'll see. Have to get in first. Definitely will not do it on the single unless I have a suspension fork--my wrist can't take it.
  4. Focus more on my career. Having spent a much larger chunk of last year than I'd like without work, I'd like not to see that happen again. I realize that downsizings are things that just happen and don't necessarily reflect on performance. But I can't get it out of my head that had I done things differently, I could have avoided that pain.
  5. Explore the Wasatch. Being back near a place I love so much, I am shocked at how little exploration I did before I left. I'd like to do more hiking, particularly with my wife and kids. As much as I love being on the bike or the skis, I love seeing my kids stain their clothes with trail dirt even more.
I realize that items two and three could be in conflict with items one, four, and five, along with various other possible permutations on that theme. But that's the nice thing about making a list of things that if they happened, it wouldn't suck. Because if they don't happen, it probably still won't suck. At least not too bad.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

On the inside looking out

Last year I had a great ski season. It snowed a lot by Boise standards, and I made it to Utah for some epic days. But I still felt like I was on the outside looking in when I read dug's and Rick's and Dustin's posts about dawn patrols in the Wasatch.

The one that really got to me was last April, when skiing was pretty much done for the year in Boise, but the Wasatch was still going off. A large group convened at Little Cottonwood, and Rick and the first half of the group made it up before the canyon closed, while dug and the rest of the crew got turned around by UDOT because somebody forgot to bring socks. Poor dug and crew were stuck skiing Big Cottonwood instead of Little.

At RAWROD, I gave Dug a pair of Smartwool ski socks to keep in his glove box, you know, so nobody would have that excuse again. And I told him I didn't ever want to hear him complain about having to ski Big Cottonwood instead of Little. Because some of us didn't have regular access to either.

Yesterday morning, seven of us convened at the mouth of Little Cottonwood, hungry to get out for the first time in weeks because avalanche conditions have been so bad throughout the West. At 6:15 on the nose, we got to the gate where they close the canyon for avalanche control. We were under the impression they would close at 6:30 and thought we had plenty of time. But the truck was there, lights were flashing, and even though the gate was still open, he wouldn't let us pass.

Somewhat annoyed, we turned around and headed towards Big Cottonwood. Let me make it clear, however, that we were annoyed that we got that far and had to turn around and NOT that we had to ski Big instead of Little. On the way up BCC, dug mentioned how nice it is that when one option gets shut down, we still have the other (and American Fork canyon and Millcreek, for that matter). I couldn't agree more.

I don't even know the name of the place we ended up skiing. Butler Fork maybe? All I know is that the skiing was sublime. Face shot after face shot all the way down. I regretted not zipping my jacket all the way because I was getting so much snow down my collar. Then back up and down the other side where even on the South-facing aspect we found light, fluffy goodness all the way to the road.

I didn't stop smiling all day. Sorry, Paul (and Brad and Bob and Chago). Wish you were here.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Stand close together and lift where you stand

A man whom I admire recently told the story of a group of inexperienced movers tasked with moving a grand piano. They tried many approaches but none seemed to work until one of the group offered the simple suggestion to "stand close together and lift where you stand." Using this technique, they were able to move the piano.

Kris made a comment on yesterday's post about the amateur help I had moving into my house, including moving a piano up the front steps and into the house. I intentionally limited yesterday's post to a review of the professionals who facilitated the move, because I wanted to dedicate a post to thank the "amateurs" who have graciously offered so much assistance.

My mother maintains that the difference between a professional and an amateur is not in the level of performance, but simply that one gets paid and the other doesn't. As I mentioned yesterday, not all the professionals performed at a level commensurate with their pay, while others went above and beyond. The "amateurs" in every case along the way have gone well beyond what would reasonably be expected of them, and for that we are truly grateful.

I'm fearful of naming names because I risk leaving someone out, so if you're not mentioned here, please know that it's not because your contribution was not recognized or appreciated. But I did want to mention a few knowing full well that the list is not complete.

First and foremost, thanks to Kathy and Kirk (and Julia and Jon) who have graciously allowed me to stay at their house during the workweek for the lest two and half months. I was treated like royalty and never asked for anything in return. As nice as it is to be in my house with my wife and kids, I'll miss spending time with you and am glad you're just down the hill from us. Kathy is my oldest sibling, and I realized while I was there that at one point or another four of Kathy's six siblings have stayed in their home on an extended basis and a fifth is currently storing much of his stuff at their house. I'm sure all were treated as wonderfully as I was. It says a lot about their generosity to have welcomed so many of us over the years.

A huge thank you also goes to my parents and in-laws who have helped in countless ways and have helped keep us anchored during a pretty stressful period. Rachel's family has been a great support network for her as she simultaneously dealt with being a single parent and getting a house ready to sell and then move. My family has been equally supportive, and I can't thank my parents enough for driving to Boise, loading all our stuff and cleaning the house, and then driving the moving truck back, all in one day and with two days notice.

To our many friends, we are so grateful. My job and our home are direct results of friends reaching out and offering assistance. As much as we hated leaving our good friends in Boise, we have been made to feel so welcome in Draper. Last night when I got home in a nasty snowstorm, I caught Jon J snowblowing my driveway. And it wasn't the first time. So many people have been so kind to us, we don't know where to begin thanking you. And to Mark N, Kris, Curtis, Sam, Charlie, Steve, Ryan, Josh, Seth, Davis, Paul, Brad, Mark P, Byron, Jim, Scott, Henry, Devan, and Jacob, thanks for the help loading and unloading our stuff. We're yet to find a scratch or dent. Which is more than can be said for professional movers, some of whose motto is "it ain't our crap."

Our experience over the last few months has been one of many friends and family members standing close together and lifting where they stood. It seems as if everyone we know has contributed in some way or another. I hope we'll be able to repay the kindness, but I also know that's not why you did it. Thank you.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Review of the service providers who facilitated my move to Utah

I was trying to figure out a way to make this post as cliche as possible by incorporating a good, bad, and ugly theme, but I'm too lazy to look for pictures or youtube clips, and there are more than three things to review, which don't all fit neatly into one of those categories anyway. Some of the experiences I had were too good to not give props, plus they present a nice contrast to some of the "other" experiences I had.

My real estate agent: Adam from Highbury Real Estate Group made the home selection and buying process as smooth as I can imagine it could have been. We thought we had good agents in Boise, but Adam is easily the best. He does what he says he'll do when he says he'll do it and thinks of the things I either didn't know about or forgot to ask about. In the spirit of full disclosure, I'll also make it clear that he's my brother, but be it known that I would be more harsh on him for that reason had I any grounds to do so. I didn't get special treatment--he's this way with all his clients.

The selling agent: If this were high school English class, the teacher would now be at the point in the lecture where character foils are discussed. Because everything that Adam was, the selling agent was not. For instance, when we made the offer, which had a deadline of 5:00 p.m. the following day, the offer sat on her fax machine until 3:00 the day of the deadline at which point it was finally looked at because Vallee answered her phone for the first time in the five attempts my agent had made to reach her. There were a few other instances where she left us scratching our heads, but the one that takes the cake was the closing. We scheduled the closing for Dec. 30 several weeks in advance. We actually had until Jan. 9 but didn't want to wait that long. My agent called Vallee at least twice, once to schedule the close and another time to confirm. And yet when the time came last week, she had forgotten (?!) and had failed to tell her client (!?!), so the deed wasn't ready.

My mortgage broker: I don't know if you know this, but mortgage rates are pretty low right now. So mortgage processors and underwriters are buried at the moment even while many banks have laid off so much staff that they'd be shorthanded for normal volume. Matt managed to get everything pushed through by the deadlines we set (only to have the train come off the tracks when the deed was not available). I told him I was going to give him a special ringtone on my phone so I'd know it was him, because he called me regularly to keep me informed of what was going on. My only gripe about the mortgage process was that we locked when rates first started dropping and should have waited because they dropped even further. Also in the spirit of full disclosure, another of my brothers works at Key Bank with Matt (in case you're wondering, I only have one other brother, who works here and handled my homeowner's insurance. So yes, they were all involved with the transaction in some way).

My moving truck: Rachel and I have moved eight times in eleven years of marriage. Actually, we've moved more than that since we met, but anytime everything fits in a suitcase or the back seat of a car, it doesn't count. I had sworn that I would hire movers next time, but four months of unemployment and a lousy economy managed to change that. Anyway, we've used Penske truck rentals on a couple of occasions and never had a bad experience. This time the truck pickup process took about ten minutes and was done in a clean, new building that had won an award for environmentally friendly design. The truck was new and ran well (though my dad was the only one who ever drove it), and the staff was courteous. No complaints, which is about the best one can hope for.

Unfortunately, not everything fit in the truck, so I also had to rent a trailer. With all my moves, I'd never rented anything from Uhaul before. I'd purchased packing supplies there, but never rented equipment. I never will again. When I picked up the trailer, the office was an old RV that smelled like cat pee and looked like cousin Eddy's tenement on wheels from Christmas Vacation. The agent was inept, and even though I had never used his software before, I still could have got myself through the process at least four times faster. He had to call for help several times only to be told to do the thing I had already suggested. I had to constrain myself from yelling at him and was ready to strangle him by the time I was done.

But that's not all: when I returned the trailer, the person I called to get the return location told me to go to American Fork because the Draper location was full and wouldn't accept trailers. When I got to AF, the agent there (who was working in the office of a dark, grimy shop that would have been scary had I not already spent an hour in the cat pee trailer) didn't want to let me return it to American Fork because "Utah County is on a different fee schedule than Salt Lake County." Not that it makes any difference on a one-way rental. Eventually after more phone calls she agreed to let me leave it there and acted like she was being all magnanimous for waiving the fee I apparently should have been charged for dropping it in the wrong county even though that's where I was told to take it. You can bet I was happy to fill out the online customer survey Uhaul sent me.

I'm hoping this will be the last move, if not forever, at least for a very long time during which I can reach a level of financial security that ensures I never have to set foot in a Uhaul location again.

Friday, January 2, 2009

I finally figured it out

Rachel and I both come from families of seven kids. In fact, we’re both the third of seven and both families have four boys and three girls. But that’s not the point. The point is that we have three kids and often feel as if they’re going to drive us over the edge. We have no idea how our parents managed to do it with seven.

Actually, we used to have no idea. I recently figured it out.

On Wednesday morning, I picked my parents up at 6:00 a.m., and we drove to Boise to load up our stuff and move it to Utah. (Incidentally, my original plan was to fly to Boise by myself and then drive the truck back towing a trailer. As I considered it, I thought it would be nice to have help, so on Monday morning, I emailed my dad and asked if he wanted to come too. He said “yes, but only if your mother can come.” How cool is that?)

I had a bit of running around to do, first picking up a trailer from U-haul, then getting a truck from Penske (I wish Penske rented trailers--more on that later). This took me a couple of hours, during which time, I left my parents to pack up the last few things in the house, disassemble the beds, and start cleaning.

When I returned, I was absolutely floored at the amount of work had been done. My mom is an absolute machine. If she went to work as a packer and got paid by the job and not the hour, she would make way more than she does teaching school, even though she’s been doing that for 20 years.

My dad was no slouch either. In the hour or so before I picked him up to get the truck he had done two hours worth of work.

And then it hit me that that’s how they did it. Seven kids are manageable if you’re capable of working twice as fast as a normal adult. I suddenly feel like such a slacker.

Rachel’s parents have similar superpowers. Several years ago, my father-in-law and I were at his house in Indiana splitting wood. He had cut down several large trees on his property and was splitting them for firewood. We had worked our way down a tree and were left with a thick, misshapen stump so big I could barely get my arms around it.

I’m a pretty strong guy. To make my point, allow me to brag for a bit: when I was in high school, I was the Utah state champion at Olympic style weightlifting. Sure, it’s a fringe sport, and there weren’t a lot of competitors, but you get my point. I’m not as capable as I was then, but I can still pick up and move heavy things fairly well.

But I couldn’t move this stump. Couldn’t get it to budge, let alone pick it up. Rachel’s dad, who’s never lifted weights or done any formal strength training in his life, looks at me as I’m straining under this thing and says “what’s wrong, can’t you lift it?”

I looked at him and said “I’ll give you $500 if you can pick up this stump and put it on the splitter by yourself.”

He walked over to the stump, bent over, and put his arms around it. Then, for dramatic effect, he paused, looked at me, and said “I won’t make you pay me.” Then he picked it up—all back, no legs—and put it on the splitter.