That yellow band: does it stay or does it go?

It started about two years ago, during the aftermath of a sales meeting far far far away.   I was wearing a yellow rubber band, as I have for the most part of the last 6 years, and I got called on it.  "Livestrong, man ... Live STRONG."

It wasn't said in an encouraging way.   Not like it used to be.   Instead, it was accusative.   It was the way Newman talks to Jerry.   Or Archie to Meathead.    An extremely pointed comment, wet with sarcasm, implication and collusion.

As I live and work on the periphery of the cycling world, it's probably natural to assume that the yellow bracelet on my wrist is a rah-rah-Lance thing.   There are certainly plenty of folks who sport the Livestrong band for that reason, and I've had numerous conversations over the years with people who see mine and immediately jump into a bicycling conversation ("... so, you're a cyclist?"..."looking forward to the Tour?").   

But the band for me ... and for many, many others ... is a cancer thing.    It's a subtle, almost invisible reminder of the things you've been through, or the things other people have been through.   It's an everyday reminder to not sweat the small stuff.   A quiet encouragement to squeeze in that run after all.   A tiny cheerleader that says "go for it."

As quantifiable as Lance's impact has been on cycling (increased ratings, increased sponsorship dollars in cycling, road bike sales, etc), it's nearly impossible to measure his true impact in the cancer world.   Yes, the Livestrong Foundation has made -- and given away -- a lot of money.   But in the chemotherapy wards and the oncology waiting rooms,  there are a lot of people -- like myself -- who encounter a stack of his books on nearly every table and end up reading it with a different kind of filter.   A filter that honestly won't ever bother to watch him on Vs., or give a rat's ass whether he ever won one, two or twenty Tour titles.   A filter that sees the world as truly not being about the bike.   A filter that helps to make peace with the cancer process.

Don't get me wrong.   I'm not a Lance groupie.   The fact that he's being stripped of Tour titles and banned from cycling doesn't mean squat to me.    And while the allegations against the Livestrong organization have certainly gotten my attention, that part of things really seems like a witch hunt.

Selfishly, at this point, it's about me.   It's not about the bike, and it never has been.     But this somewhat private, just-noticeable-enough token has become much more conspicuous today.

At times I've tried other mental reminders ...  things around my neck, different types of wristlets ...  but they get lost, or they don't seem to work quite as well on my aging brain as a flash of yellow under that suit sleeve, or they just feel too heavy, too obvious, too wrong.     And the cycling conversations aren't horrible, it's just that any guy with shaved legs and a half a Michelob Ultra in his bloodstream seems really eager to cross a major freeway to lecture me about doping.

As of this morning, the yellow band is still on.  It feels more right than wrong, more personal than public, more me than him.

But the day after tomorrow?   It'd be cheating to say for sure.



E = PV(A-B)

As egg sandwiches go, so goeth the community.

A surge in construction or a an increase in tourism traffic?   Unbridled optimism or quantitatively eased pessimism?    Check that egg croissant.

While the current egg sandwich volume in Vermont's Mad River Valley is not currently available, we can effort to extrapolate the health of the egg sandwich marketplace (and the related health of the community) through evaluation of median egg sandwich quality as well as independent scoring of pinnacle performers.    

To determine valley-wide economic health ("E"), by this metric, consider:

E = PV(A-B), in that

E = Community economic health
P =  Best egg sandwich score
V =  Number of pre-made sandwiches available at 7 am on Friday at VG+IGS
A =  Average breakfast sandwich score
B =  Benchhmark score (50 , see below.)

To evaluate and determine the optimal egg sandwich in the Mad River Valley, we will conduct an unbiased ongoing rating effort, spread throughout the fall.    Several variables have been set, including:

Geography:  For the sake of this discussion, we are including Waitsfield, Warren, Fayston and Moretown.    Ski areas definitely count (otherwise Fayston would be a punchline here.  Again).    

Benchmark:   The standard upon which other sandwiches shall be measured is a home-made fried-egg served with a piece of bacon on a buttered Thomas english muffin.    In addition to flavor and content, the size of this sandwich is a relevant benchmark as well:   egg sandwiches considered in this evaluation should be as manageable/portable as the benchmark, otherwise deductions will occur.   The benchmark sandwich shall be considered to have a standard score of 50 (out of 100).    

Fresh-made vs. Grab-and-go:    To ensure the fairest and most accurate rankings, we are dividing sandwiches into two primary categories.    "Fresh-made" refers to sandwiches that are assembled upon order.    "Grab-and-go" refers to sandwiches that have been pre-assembled, and may be grabbed and eaten immediately.

Required elements:   One egg.  Two pieces of bread.

Additional elements:     All will be considered, but only as part of a standard menu offering.   For example, a non-traditional substitution -- while tasty -- makes the entry invalid.

Cost:   Entries will not be limited based on price.   However the price-value relationship of the egg sandwich will certainly be factored into the final score.

More Shane, more Sarah ... Superheroes of Stoke

Superheroes of Stoke Trailer from MSP Films on Vimeo.


On independence

They say you’re not really trying unless you’re falling down.   So I must be trying really hard.

I’ve fallen out of canoes, over handlebars, off chairlifts.  I’ve crashed into lift poles, sailing masts and housefronts.  

I’ve tumbled a few feet, going ass over knobby tire into cactus-filled creek beds.  I’ve swam a few dozen yards in a thundering swirl of slabby snow.   And on one notable occasion, I’ve tomahawked several hundred meters down an icy northern face that sure looked a lot kinder and gentler before I dropped in.   Just ask around.   This is the short list.

I’m not proud of my outdoor mistakes.  But I’m not embarrassed either.   They’ve all been educational … or maybe “correctional” is a better word …  leaving marks both mild and occasionally quite deep.

It can be a sober thought to admit you’re on your own, that your actions are what got you here, and that whatever comes next is exactly what you deserve.

But that’s independence.

Some people figure it out early.   Some, like me, are definite latecomers.   And some, unfortunately, don’t even know that the party is going on at all.

With a home full of kids these days, the idea of teaching independence is a thought that’s come up quite a bit lately.   There’s zero doubt in my mind that my kids want it, crave it, and need it.   But is it teachable at all?  Isn’t cultivating independence the same as growing a weed in a flower garden, or raising a coyote with milk?

Increasingly, I’m convinced that the only real path to independence is on that actual trail into the woods outside the back door.   Take a few steps together, enjoy a few successes, endure a few challenges, and then let them take the first fork by themselves.  The rest is up to them.

Personally, I wasn’t raised in a household of transceivers and backcountry first-aid kits. The teaching mistakes I made as a kid were addressed with time outs and two-stroke penalties.   As much as I appreciate my upbringing and still enjoy those games today, I’ve never wondered how I’m going to make it home alive from the 18th green.

As a dad, I definitely don’t want my kids to make the same mistakes I’ve made.  

I want them to make their own. 

Hat tip:   Videos here were found on in Adventure Journal's "Moments of Regret"


Twenty years after MacGyver was cancelled ... his tradition lives on

Apparently, Kristin Hostetter has a fan club.  

I've never been invited to a meeting, but I have heard from her co-workers that the club definitely exists.   One part uber-devoted Backpacker subscriber and one part gear dork, the Hostetter Fan Clubbers are also 100% into whatever Kristin happens to be talking about at the moment.

And for the last 15 years, Kristin has talked a shit-ton about gear.   Since the Clinton era, she's been the gear editor for Backpacker magazine, putting thousands of camping and hiking products through their paces. She's written about gear, done YouTube videos about gear, gone on NBC Today, CBS’s The Early Show, and even shared a set with Martha Stewart.

And as much as the Hostetter Fan Club likes gear (and Kristin),  I bet they like saving money, too.   

To help spread the word about the new project, Wicked Outdoorsy sent Kristin some actual questions. And she actually answered.

So you asked your readers to send it their broken gear, and then you fixed it all and documented the process. How many submissions did you get ... and how many made it into the book?
Yeah, I’ve been writing about gear repair for so many years, but for this book I wanted to get my hands dirty and gut check all my advice. What better way to do it than go through the process of fixing real busted gear? It was massively time consuming, but well worth the effort. Close to 100 people responded to my call for submissions. I got everything from tears in fabrics to broken zippers to fireball stoves and mildewy tents. Lots of mildewy tents. I ended up using about 20 of them, and all of these people are featured in the book. They were very stoked to participate and get their gear fixed for free.

Was any of the busted gear totally hopeless?
Before I gave up on anything, I sought outside advice. I was constantly on the horn with warranty departments to learn about their techniques, and it proved invaluable. But some things were pretty hopeless. I’m all for fixing everything you can, but there comes a point where you have to decide whether it’s worth the effort and time. I had one guy send me a huge, decades-old, 4-person JanSport tent. The inner surface of the rainfly looked like a parched desert floor ((I have a photo of it I’ll send you)): the coating was peeling and flaking in a million tiny pieces. The first step was to remove the flaky coating (which entailed a few trips to the laundrymat—the only time you should put your tent in the wash—and then some laborious scrubbing with a stiff brush and steel wool). It took me a couple hours to do one small section. It was doable, but ultimately just not worth the effort. I completed that section for him (cleaning the fabric thoroughly and applying a new coating). Then I returned it to him with instructions and a couple of bottles of Aquaseal Poly Coat, so he could finish the job himself.

Is any gear truly unfixable?
Yeah, particularly fabrics that have been neglected (left wet and crammed inside a stuffsack), contaminated with chemicals like DEET, or degraded by serious UV rays. They’re pretty much shot and you’ll never be able to restore them to their former glory. The lesson is simple: take care of your gear and it will last. The book, by the way, is not just a repair manual. It’s filled with care and maintenance tips, too.

How important has the influence of MacGyver been in your life?
God, I love that guy. Such a stud, and not because of his feathered, golden-highlighted locks. Everybody loves a man—or a woman-- who can fix things. One thing MacGyver taught me is to never be without caught without a multitool (remember his Swiss Army knife?) One of my favorite MacGyver moments was when he, clad in an awesome red head-to-toe outfit, got buried in an avalanche, probed out a tunnel using his Scott ski pole, and shot a little red bandana parachute out to signal his rescuers. As a young skier, the lessons learned from that episode were priceless: Don’t try to race an avalanche and always make use of the tools you have at hand to get out of bind. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yG3Iapth75I&feature=related

What was the first piece of gear you ever repaired? 
I don’t recall my first repair, but I do recall a key one from about 12 years ago. I was on a 5-dayer in Isle Royal National Park with a bunch of other journalists. Our MSR stove went kaput and since I was 7 months pregnant at the time, continuing my intake of hot food was paramount. I remember sitting at a makeshift table with my buddy Michael Hodgson and completely dissecting, cleaning, and reassembling the stove. We fixed it, and instead of eating cold, crappy, freeze-dried meals for the next few days, we ate hot, crappy ones.

Did you take shop in high school? What grade did you get?
No, I didn’t take shop, but I dated a cute guy who did.

Is gear repair an art that is slipping away?
I hope not. The thing is, gear these days is so well made. If you’re buying top-quality stuff to begin with, it should last you a good long time. And from an environmental perspective, it’s so much more responsible (and gratifying) to keep your old stuff in use rather than run out and replace it because of a little glitch. Don’t get me wrong, I love shiny new gear and my job ensures that I have a steady flow of it. Sometimes there’s an advance in technology that makes old stuff obsolete. But still, good gear repair skills are key, because problems typically happen when you’re out in the field, far from REI. A gash in your rain jacket can really suck if you’re on a 5-day hike on the Olympic Coast and it’s pouring.

How do you feel Bobby Valentine is doing with the Red Sox? Can he be fixed?
Well, he’s not off to a very good start. His big problem—a lackluster, and seemingly nonchalant group of starting pitchers (yeah, I’m talking to you Beckett)—is not something you can fix with Seam Grip.

LINK:  Backpacker magazine's Complete Guide to Outdoor Gear Maintenance and Repair: Step-by-Step Techniques to Maximize Performance and Save Money


You had me at 'foolhardy'

Ten thousand dollars isn't a lot of money for the 1%.

But it's definitely a lot of cash for a ski bum with the a crappy summer job.

Or a kayaker living on the floor of his "girlfriend's" rental.  Or a climber with a 1992 Subaru Legacy (blue book value: $1850).

Seeking a "smart, creative, and (perhaps) slightly foolhardy project" that's worth putting in the pages of the magazine, Outside is looking for submissions to their first annual Adventure Grant.   

Their examples include sailing a homemade raft down the Hudson River, walking a perfectly straight line across Canada's Prince Edward Island, and paddling a canoe from Portland, Oregon, to Portland, Maine.  

Our examples include:

* Skiing all the 14ers in leather chaps and lingerie.

* Take Mark Cuban on an expedition to the South Pole.   Leave him there.

* Circumnavigate Boulder County on a unicycle without passing a dispensary, a white guy with dreadlocks, or any former members of the Subdudes or Samples.

* Steal a lock of Laird Hamilton's chest hair, and use it to stop the war in Afghanistan.

* Singlehandedly bring back Rollerblading.


We're all East Coast skiers now

Other than the poles and the clothing and the pickup trucks, the thing on skis in the West and the thing on skis in the East really shouldn't be called the same thing.

Example: going "skiing" to somebody at the foot of Little Cottonwood Canyon can frequently mean a totally, entirely different thing than the same word uttered by a weekend passholder living in Waterville, Maine.

If we could just hold a meeting and pass a motion or two, a tidy little name change would help us all avoid any misunderstandings as well as the inevitable comparison between the two, which on certain days can be as fruitless as debating bicycles vs tuna fish, or as pointless as comparing breasts (...I mean, you could, but why bother?).

I was raised in Colorado, but I grew up in Wyoming. Deep Rocky Mountain snow is a very good friend of mine, and my couch is always open for an extended stay if he wants to crash the place.

The Eastern experience, on the other hand, has an allure that's simultaneously ridiculous and incredibly potent. The season starts the moment the first flake hits the ground and ends when the final patch of white is gone.  All conditions are skiable conditions, from harder-than-God's-forehead boilerplate, to wet sandpaper granular, to short-radius extreme variable -- in which every turn contains every conceivable condition (powder, windslab, ice) and emotion (Ecstacy, fear, sadness, grief, elation, pride.  Repeat).

An Eastern powder day is any day when snow has fallen overnight. Rain is actually pretty fun. And if it gets a little green and brown out there, just remember to turn on the grass, and point it over rocks. 

The crucible of Eastern conditions doesn't just build a different skiing skill set, it also builds a different set of brain chemicals.  Living through the emotional rollercoaster of a New England winter can be exhausting. The Eastern Snow Gods are some seriously moody bastards.  But those who've lived under their yoke for more than a few cycles have a different type of appreciation for skiing. I'm not saying that they're better or more passionate or more appreciative than any Western-bred skier ... just that their stoke is unarguably, irrefutably, undeniably encased and protected in bulletproof, blue ice.

And unfortunately, that's what it's going to take to be a skier in the next few decades.   Midwinter rain events are increasingly common west of the Mississippi and above treeline.    Late season starts and early spring arrivals are just another thing that skiers will need to deal on.

Skiing the slush, skiing the rain, skiing the dirt.   It's all just skiing after all.

Time to cue the country music.


Country roads, not covered with snow

We're not quite to a suicide watch in ski country, but we have begun to listen to an awful lot of country music.

Just ask around. Seriously.

From Squaw Valley to Sugarloaf, Pandoras are set on Toby Keith and ITunes libraries are spewing out Jerry Jeff.

My insurance guy, my graphic designer, my co-workers, the breakfast deli this morning ... Everybody is on the country-western train.

The more I think about it, the more it makes perfect sense. For 90% of the lower 48, winter storms are playing hard to get. Frisky little cold fronts brush up against our legs, then run for the door. The man on the radio keeps telling us that big snows are just around the corner, and then he moves the corner.

It's a winter of 'just missed' opportunities, barstool therapy and shared melancholy. And even though it isn't necessarily cured by a big dose of twang and pedal steel, it definitely feels like the right soundtrack.

I've even started poking around regional ski blogs, reading them out loud with a Toby Keith twist, just to see if I can find a little more proof of this year's country western close encounter.

If you’ve been hanging on
and hoping that the season turns around
and we end up having an average
snowfall year, it may be time to start letting go…

If you find a better one, definitely let me know.


Endless November, skiing, and the new normal

** January conditions in Squaw Valley, CA.

The phone is blinking, right now, with that reporter from the City. Yeah, that one. The very same reporter you’ve been trying to ply and squeeze and caress and gestate into some positive ink for more than a year.

But they’re not calling about fluff and white stuff … they want to talk about the rocks and the brown. In fact, they want to film the brown.

They want to bring a camera crew up to your mountain and get some footage of your record-setting craptastic conditions. They want to know how the depressing conditions have depressed skier visitation. And they want someone to go on camera to explain it all … how your ski hill snugly fits into the national story of the weirdest, worst start to a ski season since monoskis and moustaches were normal.

Ignoring that blinking light is not an option, unfortunately.

Editorially speaking, weather is popular. Weather is personal. Weather is relatable, reliable, high-quality water-cooler conversation fodder.

And that reporter is going to keep calling. Not because this story is going to be an award winner, nor because they went to J-school with fantasies of doing standups in empty parking lots, but because their editors are riding them, hard. Get a camera up there, get a quote, and get it done.

The story won’t pin anything to climate change, of course, as there’s no actual proof (just “science”) that the earth is warmed by the sun and not by a giant furnace stoked by evil gremlins at the earth’s core. But they will keep your number on speed dial for when winter goes haywire again in 2014, 2016, 2019 and 2020.

So even if you manage a Jedi mind trick this January, you’re going to be staring down at this very same blinking light, very soon in your very annoyed future.

There is an upside, of course. And not just because there’s a microphone on. This moment could be the opportunity you’ve been waiting for. This could be the chance to reframe the whole damn thing as step one of the transition to a new normal. And that new normal is a place where "ski" and "outdoor" join forces.

"Ski" is great of course. It’s about snow and wind and cold, and transporting souls from the warmth of purring fireplaces to a Martian landscape where they can speed around fueled by gravity and nothing else. “Ski” is exhilarating, transformative, and makes my heart rate jump just typing about it. The downside of “ski,” of course, is the stupid weather.

“Outdoor," on the other hand, is a portal. “Outdoor” is climbing and kayaking and hiking, but it’s also biking and flying and fishing and zorbing and … yeah … skiing. “Outdoor” isn’t limited by weather, it’s enabled by it. Because when January gives you October, you still go outside. And once you get outside, you realize that it's the place you've wanted to be all along.

A lot of American destinations have already begun this transition, of course, with subtle branding tweaks to drop “ski” from their name altogether, replacing it with euphemisms like “mountain resort.” They’ve made some token operational changes as well, allowing things like snowshoeing in the winter, and lift-accessed mountain biking in the summer. But they’re still firmly rooted in the “ski” mindset, looking for ways to draw bodies and to contain those bodies in a few clearly labeled boxes.

An “outdoor” resort would also lure people in, of course, but it would tempt them with the allure of access instead of an implicit guarantee of situationally perfect conditions. Opening a portion of a mountain to uphill traffic only, year-round, for example, would be a simple way to kick things off. Let these “outdoor” people come, give them access, and let them figure out how to use it.

The easiest place to look for proof of the “outdoor” appeal is right in front of you. Your crusty locals are a remarkable resource. These are the people who are so passionate about mountain access that they live across the street from fill-in-the-blank resort’s Dumpsters. Many of them don’t hold a season pass of any kind, and some of them barely ride a chairlift at all anymore. But I guarantee you that they're heading outdoors, every second that they can.

In a down winter, the creativity of local adventuring is all the marketing research you’ll ever need to do. These people are professional fun hogs, and are the driving force of opportunity-driven outdoor adventuring. LINK.

The truth, of course, is that "ski" is already pretty far down the path of transitioning to "outdoor." More initiatives are being put in place. More summer work opportunities are emerging. And a few more bodies are coming on a regular basis. The biggest challenge isn’t getting ski areas to think like outdoor areas … it’s getting the people to recognize it.

Consider for a moment the tradition of America's biggest mountain-driven “outdoor” season … New England's fall foliage blowout. Each autumn, swarms of people flood the region with the obsessive calendar-driven regularity of an OCD salmon run. People eyeball the weather. And then they decide what to do, be it camp or fish or paddle or bike.

That, in a maple-covered nutshell, is the fundamental difference between "ski" and "outdoors," and between the constraints of the current moment and the opportunities of the next.

In yesterday’s world, we were waiting for the weather. In tomorrow’s, the weather is waiting for us.