Thursday, March 31, 2011

The commute

One hour, 47 minutes. That's how long Google maps said my route to work would take by bike. Perhaps by tricycle. It was actually closer to 47 minutes door-to-door (once I finally got all my crap together and got out the door).

The new job has a little less flexibility during the day, which will make lunch ride and midweek race participation unpredictable. The distance is just right for two-a-days, though. Easy spin in the morning, hammer on the way home, finishing with the hill. We'll see where that leaves my fitness now that we seem to have rounded the corner for the bike to take primacy over the skis.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Oingo Boingo - Hallway - Lawnmower

A good rule of thumb if you're into backcountry skiing: if a friend offers to drop a car in one canyon and meet you in another, accept the offer. The likely result is a good day of skiing. Daren, Tanner, Aaron, Tim, and I started in Little Cottonwood by skiing Oingo Boingo chute into Days Fork. The wind was blowing, so some good sized cornices had formed.

After cutting one of them to check stability, Tanner dropped in.

We left some evidence that we had been there.

I heard that Superior was also pretty good.

From the top of Days, we entered the Hallway couloir, the first time I'd skied it. Aaron missed the entrance and ended up snaking through a narrow band of rocks I dubbed the crawlspace. The nice thing about having touring gear is if you start one direction and there's no way down, you can always go back up. Fortunately, he made it through.

From there we skied down Cardiff Fork (a.k.a. Mill D South) to the base of Kessler. Up Kessler and down God's Lawnmower. We were not the first to have that idea, so there were a few tracks, but I didn't hear any complaints.

Hero of the day was Tim. After we got done with the lawnmower, he decided to skin back up Cardiff and over the ridge to Little Cottonwood where his truck was parked. The rest of us gladly called it a day and drove home.

All the photos are courtesy of Daren, who often jokes that he has friends who blog so he doesn't have to. Since he got his new camera, though, he takes pictures so I don't have to.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

God bless the Mormons

In case my recent post on belief left you with questions about my attitude towards Mormonism, I thought I'd share a couple of experiences that have happened since, both of which were good reminders that my current status notwithstanding, my participation in the LDS church has fundamentally shaped who I am and in balance has doubtless been a net positive.

The first experience was a comment on the post that wasn't posted to the blog but emailed to me directly. The commenter mentioned how it was interesting that he and I went through periods of examining our belief at more or less the same time, came to different conclusions, and somehow ended up strengthening our friendship and enhancing our mutual respect.

This friend went on to say that my post prompted some discussions regarding belief with one of his adult children and another who's preparing to serve a full-time LDS mission. His comments only serve to strengthen my opinion that the conclusion one reaches after examining one's belief system is much less important than the examination process itself.

Belief is a personal thing, and all I can decide is what works for me. If another concludes that participating in a certain faith tradition leads to personal fulfillment, happiness, betterment, or any other positive outcome, I don't see how anyone could argue against that (which is not to say that dogma or fanaticism that lead to violence or infringing upon others' rights are beneficial to an individual or society in any way). I'll admit that at times I've been tempted to be bitter towards certain aspects of the LDS church as an organization, but never towards the people.

The second experience relates to our friends in Boise. I have nothing but positive things to say about the LDS community we were a part of in Boise. There have been good people other places we have lived, but Boise was unique in terms of the sheer quantity of truly outstanding people (which makes Troy's experience that much more horrifying considering he lives just a couple of miles from where we did).

We own a rental house in Boise, and one of the spigots outside was leaking. I sent out a few text messages looking for a plumber. Within minutes, I had three recommendations for plumbers and the contact information for the plumber I'd used before but whose name and contact information I had forgotten. One friend who develops commercial real estate in his spare time (when not working as an ER doc and serving as a bishop) responded and said he was in Moab for the weekend but offered to send one of his property managers out to look at it. I had three phone calls within an hour, two from the plumber, and one from another friend just making sure I had things taken care of. It was fixed that day, even though it was Sunday.

Mormonism is a demanding religion--it expects a lot of its adherents. I don't know if those expectations lead people to be more committed and responsible in what they do or if the people who aren't committed and responsible just don't make it as Mormons (if so, what does this say about me?). Either way, if I were to decide that I wanted nothing more to do with Mormons ever again, not only would I be pretty lonely, but I would miss out on associating with some of the finest people I know. Besides, the truly crazy ones like Chris Buttars and Gayle Ruzicka thankfully keep Utah just weird enough that it doesn't become Boulder.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011


There is a certain craft, elegance even, to putting in a good skin track. It should be steep enough to make uphill progress, but not so steep that you can’t keep a steady pace. Kick turns should be as infrequent as possible while still keeping you on the ideal path up the mountain and should use the natural contours so the turn itself is almost effortless. Tree wells should be given a wide berth, and wind-scoured or wind-exposed terrain should be avoided.

Similarly, there is a certain grace in a well-executed turn. All the crap I’ve given Dustin notwithstanding, even tele turns can be beautiful (though calling them “soulful” is still pushing it). Good turns are not derived from shoulders twisted across bodies in hopes that the skis will follow. Shoulders should be square to the fall line, center of gravity balanced, and knees and hips should all work together to follow the lead of the big toe on your outside foot.

When it all comes together, especially when you’re skiing 5% density, light, white powder, the result is an exquisite high. Fitting, then, that this morning the song that shuffled on my iPod as I exited was “Cocaine.”

Friday, March 18, 2011


The nice thing about daylight savings time is it stays light enough that you can ski after work. The downside to skiing after work rather than before is that you might actually have to cross over someone else's tracks.

The indignities we suffer.

Monday, March 14, 2011


It takes me about 10 minutes to shave my legs, and I do it once a week. My little sister offered to wax them on the grounds that I wouldn't have to shave for three or four weeks. I think she offered mostly because she wanted to see me in pain. Last night I took her up on the offer.

It wasn't that painful.

But it took about two hours. I think I'll stick to shaving. Except for maybe the backs of my knees.

Friday, March 11, 2011

At capacity

When the biggest problem is fitting both bike and ski gear in the car because on any given day you could do either, I'd say that's a good problem to have. Which is why I will never drive a car that's not a wagon. Wednesday I skied thigh-deep powder. Thursday it was 71 when I finished my ride. What will today bring?

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Scheduled programming

Thanks for the response to my last post. It set high water marks in terms of traffic to this blog, and the dialogue in the comments was of course interesting. I was particularly moved by Troy & Gina's comment. Troy is a good friend of mine from Boise who went through the same thing about the same time I did. Unfortunately, many of his loved ones have reacted poorly.

We'll now get back to our regularly scheduled programming, which this time of year means skiing.

Jon finished the feature film from the yurt trip. He does fine work, don't you think?

On a more sober note, I (intentionally) triggered a slide in Scotties this morning. And while it's nice to know that you can recognize the circumstances in which a slide is likely and take appropriate measures to trigger it safely (ski cut to island of safety), it's still unnerving to watch the slope you just skied across collapse and run down the mountain.

It was about 20 meters wide, just over 100 cm deep at the deepest part of the crown (see photo with ski pole below for perspective) and ran maybe 60 meters down slope. Interestingly, the stauchwall was our skin track. Hmm.

March is a great time of year because when it snows, it really snows, and when it doesn't, it's usually warm enough to ride a bike outside. Just remember to be safe.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Apologia pro vita sua

Today's post is about skepticism. Or rather how I extended my inherent skepticism to all aspects of my life rather than exempting the one aspect of my life perhaps most deserving of it. It's lengthy. And I don't recommend it to anyone who is comfortable with their worldview and prefers not to rock the boat. Which is not to say I'm irrefutably right or that anyone else is wrong. Much of what I discuss is verifiable (most of my links are to Wikipedia, precisely because it's crowd-sourced and by definition has to be the consensus view of those familiar with the facts), but much more of the bigger, cosmological questions are not. All you really need to know about today's post can be summed up in the following two minute song. So if you'd prefer not to buckle in for a long read, just watch this and call it good.

In ancient Rome, where few sweeteners beyond honey were available, grape juice, or must, was boiled in lead pots to produce a reduced sugar syrup called defrutum, which was concentrated again into sapa. Most lead salts are sweet to the taste, and this syrup, likewise, was used to sweeten wine and to sweeten and preserve fruit. Unfortunately, it's likely that lead compounds leached into the syrup, causing lead poisoning in anyone who consumed it.

In 1878, Constantin Fahlberg, a chemist working on coal tar derivatives at Johns Hopkins University, noticed a sweet taste on his hand and connected it to the substance he had been working on that day. Fahlberg was awarded a patent for the substance, named it saccharin, and became wealthy from this sweetener with almost zero calories. In the 1970's, saccharin was linked to bladder cancer in rodents, leading to the United States government requiring a warning label be placed on all products containing it. However, as of 14 December 2010, the EPA stated that Saccharin is no longer considered a potential hazard to human health.

Aspartame was first synthesized in 1965 and is now commonplace as a non-nutritive sweetener. Though it has been the subject of various internet hoaxes and is dangerous to people with phenylketinouria, it is approved for sale by the FDA and the European Food Safety Authority. Nevertheless recent research suggests that people who drink diet soda sweetened with Aspartame are at greater risk of heart attack and stroke than people who don't drink soda.

Coffee was first discovered in Ethiopia, and from there its cultivation and use spread to the Arab world, to Italy, to the rest of Europe, and eventually to the rest of the world. Coffee is rich in antioxidants and has been shown to reduce the risk of being affected by Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, heart disease, diabetes mellitus type 2, cirrhosis of the liver, and gout. Researchers involved in an ongoing 22-year study by the Harvard School of Public Health state that "the overall balance of risks and benefits [of coffee consumption] are on the side of benefits."

So why, then, according to what I had been taught was God's law of health, would coffee be forbidden while consuming by the bucket full drinks sweetened with Aspartame, such as Diet Coke, was not? I don't have the healthiest diet in the world, but I am conscious of what I put in my body, and, as an athlete, try to put the best fuel I can into my system while avoiding those things that are most harmful. In the fall of 2009 this incongruity between what I had been taught was a divinely-inspired code of health and the best available medical research resulted in significant intellectual conflict.

Before I go further, let me state that I am well aware that one solution would be to not consume Diet Coke or any other artificially-sweetened foodstuff and to forgo coffee as well and that indeed, the LDS scriptures as well as modern teachings offer nothing in the way of exhortations to consume Diet Coke and that many of the members choose not to consume it or similar because it's not in the spirit of the canon. I commend anyone whose convictions lead to the espousal of this approach. Nevertheless, the conflict for me extended from the culturally-accepted attitudes towards consumption of these various substances. In practice, faithful church members, myself included, consume huge quantities of Diet Coke or similar, to say nothing of the rampant disregard for maintaining a healthy weight for which church leadership's only response was installing double-wide seats at the temple. Regardless of what an individual determines is in his or her own best interest, I found it odd that men who claim a conduit to the divine remained more or less silent rather than offering clarification, especially when the health of their adherents was at stake.

Let me go on a further tangent and state that the only reason I bring this up is so that anyone who cares to know can hear my story from the only appropriate source. Indeed, I would see no point in bringing this up except that it has come to my attention that certain individuals have been misinformed regarding my motivation to stop attending the LDS church. Worse, in some situations, those with no first-hand knowledge of the situation have spoken as if they had such and have offered explanations to others that were patently false. Therefore, in order that anyone interested might have a true account of events, I am offering an explanation here. If you are a believer in the LDS faith and happy as such, allow me to offer forewarning that the things I am about to describe were enough to completely destroy the faith of previously orthodox believers, and as Daryl said to Dwight when Dwight suggested going to a strip club at noon on a Monday, "you can't un-see that."

When my internal conflict about the incongruity of the Word of Wisdom came to a head, I was already aware that in Joseph Smith's time, it was counsel rather than commandment and that moderation was emphasized over abstinence. I knew that Joseph Smith, his brother Hyrum, along with Willard Richards and future church president John Taylor consumed a bottle of wine in Carthage Jail on the day the Smiths were assassinated. And it was not sacramental wine but intended to improve their spirits. I also knew that when Brigham Young led the pioneers across the plains, he encouraged them to bring coffee and tea to help keep their energy up for the long journey.

Somewhere between then and now, however, the emphasis of the Word of Wisdom changed from moderation of potentially harmful substances and eating healthful substances to a more black and white approach wherein coffee, tea, alcohol, and tobacco were forbidden, but everything else was more or less fair game. This, even when the text states that "barley [is] for all useful animals, and for mild drinks," which certainly suggests that beer is encouraged rather than forbidden. Through a complicated series of political and organizational events, this somehow led to where we are today, where amongst so many church members, Diet Coke consumption begins first thing in the morning, overweight men with type 2 diabetes who require supplemental oxygen just to make it through church feel as if they are living God's law of health, yet someone who sips a cup of coffee or a bottle of beer is excluded from full participation and fellowship.

Alcohol is considered evil but the most Mormon state in the country also leads the nation in anti-depressant use. One of my friends told me about a particularly stressful situation when her mother suggested she "just take a Xanax" when a glass of wine would have been adequate. Is this really what the Almighty intended, especially considering Jesus's first miracle was to turn water into wine? I didn't think so, so I began to research church history to find out who clarified the revelation found in Section 89 and when this clarification occurred.

What I found was this:
"There is, however, no known contemporary evidence...that a separate new revelation changed the Word of Wisdom from a 'principle with promise' to a 'commandment' necessary for full participation in all the blessings of church membership. One author on the subject has argued that the vote in 1880 sustaining the Doctrine and Covenants as binding on church membership was equivalent to a vote making the Word of Wisdom a commandment. If, however, the members were voting on the words contained in the book, what they did was to agree that the Word of Wisdom was a 'principle with promise' and not a 'commandment.'"

Unfortunately--for my faith at least--finding this information, which would have led me to the simple conclusion that the interpretation of the Word of Wisdom was flawed even if other doctrinal claims may have remained sound, was not a direct course of action, and along the way I encountered other facts that Boyd K. Packer described as "true" but "not very useful." I guess that depends on how you define useful.

Not very useful truth #1: the "official" account of the first vision is just one of many somewhat inconsistent tellings of the most important foundational story in Mormonism. As former church president Gordon B. Hinckley stated, "All that we have, all that we do hinges on the truth of that account of the boy Joseph Smith. If it is true, then everything that we have in this Church is true and is more precious and worth more than anything else on earth. If it is false, we are engaged in the greatest fraud that was ever perpetrated on earth."

The question, though, is on which version of the story does "all that we do" hinge? The one where it was a single angel, a light, or both God and Jesus? Was it the version where Joseph was told not to join any churches (even though he subsequently attempted to join the Methodists), or the one in which he was simply told his sins were forgiven? It seemed to me that if someone experienced something so miraculous and profound that the telling of it would be significant (it wasn't emphasized for the first half century of the church's existence) and consistent and wouldn't become more spectacular with each subsequent credibility crisis.

Not very useful truth #2: polygamy in the early church was not a means of providing single frontier women who otherwise wouldn't have one with a husband. Were it so, Joseph Smith would have had no need to tell married women that God had commanded they become Smith's polygamous wives. I have read a great deal about polygamy/polyandry, and the only conclusion I can reach is that its purpose was to gratify the lustful desires of a leader with sufficient charisma to pull off the ruse.

Not very useful truth #3: the Book of Abraham is a "translation" of Egyptian papyri that were acquired by the church after Joseph Smith claimed that the scrolls in a traveling antiquities display were the Book of Abraham, "written by his own hand." The scrolls were donated after Joseph's death to a museum in Chicago and were believed to have been destroyed in the Chicago fire. In 1966, however, several fragments of the papyri were found in New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Their discovery was a source of excitement for church members anxious to see their scripture validated with verifiable evidence. The scrolls turned out to be nothing more than common funerary texts known as the Book of Breathings, a guide for the deceased in the afterlife, and had nothing whatever to do with the contents of the Book of Abraham. Apologists are quick to claim that Joseph may have been inspired by the scrolls to receive a revelation that became the Book of Abraham rather than making a direct translation, but if that were the case, why make the claim "written by his own hand"?

At this point, I was done. Nevermind the Kinderhook Plates, Book of Mormon anachronisms, or the Kirtland Safety Society. For me, if these three issues gave the church's foundational claims such a credibility problem, I simply could no longer bring myself to believe many of the other claims, either. The spiritual experiences I had had in church had heretofore been enough to sustain me through the inconsistencies, but I also realized that many people outside the LDS church have had spiritual experiences, I had had them in a non-church context, and just because one has a spiritual experience at church, that doesn't have any bearing on the truthfulness of an organization--it simply means they felt good because they were doing good. Its claims to the contrary notwithstanding, the LDS church does not have a monopoly on spiritual feelings (which may, physiologically, be nothing more than an emotionally-driven release of endorphins).

I was left wondering what to do with what I had learned. Let me pause here and state that my wife and I were orthodox, believing members of the LDS church. Ours was not a particularly complex testimony--for better or for worse, we took the church leaders at their word, we trusted them, and were diligent in trying to follow their counsel. We were not cultural participants who didn't really believe but participated due to social expectations or family pressure. I was unsure how my wife would respond to my loss of belief and chose, initially at least, to keep it to myself.

This caused tremendous internal conflict, to the point that I had difficulty sleeping and was visibly stressed. Finally, one night in December 2009, my wife asked me what was eating at me. I unloaded on her. She was shocked, but the next day she began researching, hoping to prove me wrong, but ultimately concluded that I wasn't.

For the next several weeks, we persisted, attempting to find a "middle way" wherein we could participate in the church as active members even if we didn't believe the doctrine. (Incidentally, we have been shocked since to find out just how many people in the church don't believe some or even any of the doctrine but participate nonetheless.) Perhaps had this process been more gradual, we could have eased into this approach to church participation, but for us there were just too many situations where we didn't feel like we could do what was asked of us while keeping our integrity intact.

About the same time, certain experiences led us to the point where we were less convinced that exposure to the church's teachings was in our family's best interest. We asked to be released from our callings, a process that was effected after a meeting with our bishop one Sunday a year ago February. We did not return, a decision each of us reached on our own but agreed upon at essentially the same time.

Since leaving the church, I have not been struck by lightning, lost my job, nor afflicted with a horrible disease. My children have not been ostracized, and our friends who were our friends before are still our friends. Indeed, it's been among the best things that have ever happened to our social lives. We've found other families who have gone through the same thing (we are legion), felt isolated, wondered what life would be like on the other side, and discovered that especially after finding other like-minded people that life is pretty damned good.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Hand soap

So the new job is good, but it keeps me busy. Which, until I come up to speed at least, means the blog isn't getting much attention.

One thing about the new job is worth mentioning: the hand soap in the restrooms. Now in general, I'm not complaining about the restrooms. The light isn't on a timer, so if your business takes longer than anticipated, you won't get caught in the dark. Or at least if the light is on a timer, there is enough traffic that the risk of it going out isn't high. There is also a locker room with a shower, so I don't have to ride dirty the rest of the day if I ski or ride my bike. But the hand soap is another matter.

Liquid hand soap is of just the right viscosity and opacity that coloring it white should be an obviously bad decision to anyone who has ever been a teenage boy that has ever taken a shower. But really, is yellow an improvement? Every time I wash my hands, I struggle to believe that it is.