Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Return from the Heart of Darkness: Costa Rica 2014

The fisherman is home, home from the river
I just returned home from a week in Costa Rica hunting fish that eat flowers, riding on boats that go fast and eating seafood until my belly ached......

Once I dig through all these images I will give a truly extensive report on a truly wonderful week in Costa.

Pura Vida!


Monday, April 07, 2014

A salute to the Tour of Flanders...

While it was an amazing last hurrah for the backcountry skiing here in Minnesota, I have to admit my mind was on what was happening in Belgium.

Of course I am talking about the Tour of Flanders.  After spending a week there watching both the race and the Citizens ride I was really enthralled by the culture, the race and the drama within it.

You can see more of my pics from that week here.

Joe V of Trek helped my brother and I get a bit closer to the race with his direct connection to the Trek Team.  Because of him I was also able to stay in touch this season and I am sure that the folks at Trek are over the moon with the results!

Last seasons race a barn burner to watch.  This seasons was a nail biter.  Man, what an amazing event and what an amazing result for Trek.

Thursday, April 03, 2014

Deep thoughts on death and skiing.

Skiing on the way up the hill its all about loss.

Its reliving memories buried deep in the darkness, the past, in the ether.

Fleeting images and sound bites, sepia in tone, black and white, fuzzy yet comforting, love, tenderness, safety, sift through my inner vision.  They sting and they laugh all at the same time.

Questions about living, questions about dying, anger, fear and grief bubble to the surface with every pole plant, every stride, every kick turn and every steep spot.

I have been here before, yet it does not make it any easier, if anything the hill seems even bigger than the last lap.

I put my head down.

Standing up on the top of the hill its about letting go.

I gather all those thoughts, file through them and try to make sense of what it all means.  I look down the hill, I look at the future and I am apprehensive.

Its unknown, its undefined, its change, its a new run, a new way to travel, a new perspective if I want it or not.

I lift my head up.

I push off and I hurtle down through the glade.

All goes to silence.

All goes to inner calm, to the moment.

There is no past, there is no future, there is only now.  There is only making that turn, dodging that tree, hoping that log, banking off that wind scoop, dropping that knee into the turn and ahhhhhh.....

The bottom is a brief moment of celebration.  Glee.  Jubilation at life, at living, at having survived at throwing it all out there, at escaping.

Skiing is a lesson in living and I am thankful to have its wisdom close at hand in times of challenge and change like I am experiencing now.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Nordork Tour de Force: A spring 2014 Minnesota backcountry ski frolic.

There are pack rats and there are gear rats.  Be very careful how you define them.  Especially when you are talking to my wife Margaret.

She generally defines my sprawling ski pile in the southwest corner of our barn as the more negative connotation of the two.

I am not fully sure just how many pairs of skis are “stacked” in that pile.  It would be a fun contest to put the kids through though.  Kind of like the how many jelly beans in a glass jar…..

Long ago in the midst of what can only be described as my skiing addiction, I realized that I could go to thrift stores and buy used, old school skis for a pittance…. and then destroy them.  I would find all sorts of skis.  Nordic race skis, alpine skis, touring skis and in some cases, bona fide Tele skis.

March 23rd 2014

These are skis that herald from the era before plastic boots, before Fat skis and even before trustworthy cable bindings.  These are the boards I grew up on, the skis that , through blood, sweat and tears I learned to drop a knee on. 

Skis that most sane skiers would turn and run from in a frothing panic if they saw them. 

If you herald from that era, you know what I am talking about.  This was the era in Tele skiing of long, light skis made both for touring and for turning.

Casey rocking the GTS's
Some are double cambered, some are single cambered and versions of both lean willy nilly in my ski pile.   These skis are the EXACT opposite of what people are skiing on now.

They have a myriad of binding types on them.  Voile 3pins, Swix Tele plate bindings, Chili’s, Rainey Superloops, you name an extinct degenerate binding and there is most likely a ski laying in that pile with it on it. 

Most of these “priceless” gems came into my hands for less than a good IPA would cost you down at the local micro brew.

When I first moved back to Minnesota I overheard somebody saying that there was NO backcountry skiing in Minnesota. 

I bit my tongue and stifled a laugh. 

Midwest Backcountry
Yeah, if your comparing it to high alpine touring and what most people and the ski industry typically define as “backcountry skiing”, it does not exist. 

However, if you are a good student of the ski, then you know that not only does it exist, but it exists in a huge amount and with the right tool in the right conditions, the lock can be picked…..

When Tele skiing really started to gain traction in the modern era, the well it sprung from was the Nordic ski and race community. 

Now those folks knew how to ski.  They could rip your face off with a blistering 10km, then rip tele turns and alpine turns on the same pair of skis, right to the bar.  These are people like Ned Gillette, Steve Barnett, Paul Parker and Vermont's own Dicky Hall.

Kickin and stickin
Their books are bibles (especially the first editions) and if you can find one they are to this day a great read on what is possible in skiing right now but only if you toss off the current convention of BC skiing and that applies to any region you ski in.

Those stewards created some interesting and enticing tools. 

Slender, and stiff,  these skis are speedy for touring and for overland travel and serviceable for turning.

They are the single speeds of backcountry touring.

The trade off was on the speed of touring.  While turning was most certainly the expected result during a long tour, these folks realized that energy saved on the climb could be energy used to rip turns on the descent providing you had the skills to tame the beasts that were strapped to your feet.  This was about getting deep fast and with freedom.

 Huck 3pin
With this concept guys were backcountry skiing, in Alaska, the Himalaya’s and other massive ranges, yet the same set up could tame even the nastiest of Midwest pucker brush as well.

For a lot of reasons these concepts are lost on the modern skier and most certainly the typical  modern Tele skier and that is also why we are seeing the rise of the AT skier.

High quality low leather 3 pin boots are nearly extinct, as are true touring skis, especially waxable touring skis (yeah they used to make those). 

For folks who experienced that era, or are inquisitive enough to want to learn about it though these skis, boots and bindings still exist floating around in the diaspora of what was once was free heel skiing.

A swinger of Birches
These old school touring skis are absolutely perfect for the backcountry in our area.  Long and sleek they rock for skiing a long distance to a good glade or powder stash.  These are the long guns of the ski world.  Like the long board of surfing, these planks are meant to use their dimensions to take advantage of smaller conditions and yet make them extremely fun.  That said however, the technician that wields them needs to accept a certain amount of skills building (or random beatings as it were).

This winter season has stacked up perfect for this type of skiing.   Three feet of snow on the ground, hard as a brick, with soft, light snow on top…..

I had a conversation about just that on the chair lift at Spirit Mountain with Casey Krueger earlier in the week.  Somehow we got onto the old school stuff in my barn and he was intrigued so we agreed to haul some out and ski it over the weekend.

Knee to board
Sunday we played pick up sticks and dug through the ski hoard. 

Touring skis of all shapes and sizes started lining up on the wall.  There were several choices.  Waxless, fat and waxless, skis with skins and ………

There were three pairs of really fun skis leaning deep in the corner.


2 pairs of Fischer GTS 80’s era tele skis with Voile 3 pin cables, and a NEVER mounted pair of Rossi TRS double cambered, metal edged touring skis.  I vaguely remember picking these skis up at a thrift shop in Burlington for five bucks nearly 10 years ago, still with storage wax on them.

Of all the skis out there, the GTS and the TRS are true “guns” and Casey, bless his soul opted to try that varietal.  Luckily Casey is the same foot size as myself and even more luckily, I have saved three pair of 3 pin leather tele boots from my decade in Vermont.  Casey selected a single buckle over the ankle pair of classic Garmonts.

Casey chose the GTS’s and I quickly got to work and smacked a pair of Merrell 3 pin bindings on the Rossi TRS’s and next thing you knew we were out the door.

Hipster sticks
In the parking lot we flipped the skis over and scribbled on a nice long layer of hardwax.  No skins, just kickwax and hope!

Conditions could not have been more perfect than they were on Sunday.  It was Blue bird sky, bomber crust with about 6- 8 inches of powder on top.   The lowest angle produced glide and even the most modest decline had you dropping a knee in some nice fluff.

The most fun thing I recall about Tele skiing in the late eighties and early nineties was the randomness of it. 

No matter how good a skier or hard or fast you ripped, many times you would just blow up and crash into the snow for no known reason anyway.

It did not matter, sudden crashes and sudden yard sales were the norm for all of us.  Equal impact opportunity for us all….

On this gear our small hills and valleys suddenly take on a whole new meaning. 

You start to think differently about pitches when you have skinny assed 215 cm rockets strapped on with bailing wire and steered with a couple of ballet slippers!

Controlled chaos 
Casey quickly took to ripping these sticks.  My learning process took a bit longer with the double cambered ski, it was like squishing a water balloon, everytime I stomped on it, the ski would want to squirt out.  Eventually however I started to remember my roots and started linking turns. 

Watching Casey was a joy though and I think even my crusty old Vermont buddies would have appreciated the show he put on.

Turn and burn
We did an all day tour.  It had it all.  Birch glades, open mud slide paths from the Flood, and then we finished it up with an ice tour on the St. Louis River.  All of these places were in mind-blowing shape and the scenery was stunning, we carried 16 ounce Nordeast beers and after a few laps we would toast the day and then move onto the next experience.

Thanks to the Gods
Perhaps the most impressive part of the tour however was the fact that we were able to both glide and descend on our hard wax but also kick like mules on the climbs even with soft snow under our skis.  START Flour Hard wax was all we had on and yet it was like a magic potion!  It did it all and because of that we had an ethereal experience.

I have skied all over the world and have had many, many amazing ski adventures and I can honestly say that the fun I had last weekend in Duluth, MN was as epic as anything I have experienced anywhere else.  

A true tour in the tradition of light weight BC, something that Chip Chase would have been proud of and something that my long lost tribe in VT would have been grinning ear to ear over.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Adam Dailey goes into a total "Relapse" in West Duluth.

"Relapse" M11
A classic Duluth moment.

There I was pulling my gear on for an after work Fat Bike ride.  The phone rings and I hesitate.  Work is officially over.  Do I pick it up or do I run like hell.

The caller ID flashed on and it said "Prince of Darkness".

Holy Shit!

The Prince of Darkness is the alias some of us gave Superior Kettle Bell Gym owner Adam Dailey because he puts you in the hurt locker anytime you darken the door of the gym.

I grabbed the phone, and my afternoon completely changed......

This is a classic Duluth moment because Adam Dailey is one of the best Ice Climbers in the country right now.  I have been watching from afar as he has slowly but surely trained himself in his gym (Along with a full cadre of others) to the point of being a ice tool wielding machine.

"Dude I need you to come and take some pictures of the climb I am trying to do today"  Where?

"The old Train Tunnel....."

The old train tunnel is a legendary place in Duluth for a lot of reasons.  Some of them cool, some of them nefarious.  Some of them recreational.  This one was recreational.

Adam is getting so strong and climbing so hard that he had actually bolted a route on the roof of the tunnel that creeps slowly along to mouth then up and out on the face of the cliff.

I tossed the bike in the office and grabbed my camera bag.  This was going to be a legendary push and it would be worth skipping a ride for.

Thus the classic Duluth moment.  When a guy calls off the cuff, saying he is going to climb M11 in a living stone tunnel within the city limits....that does not happen everywhere I am convinced.

I humped it through the waist deep soft snow the mile or so to the tunnel. The warm spring sun was transforming our arctic scape into a tolerable sludge.

Adam attempted the route three times.  All of them making it to the penultimate moves to finish it off only to come off the climb.  Keep in mind that he was pretty much inverted the whole time.  Hanging from his tools.  Each attempt took around 10-15 minutes and you could tell that even for the prince of darkness this was heavy shit.

Finally it came down to the fourth and final try.

It was really interesting shooting climbing.  It is so slow compared to MTB.  While Adam was up there toiling away, I was down below scrambling, switching lenses, directing flash gaining new angles and shooting tons of files

Not without drama, Adam was finally successful in the full route.  It was amazing to watch.  Basically he was doing 15 minutes of inverted climbing, hundreds of pull ups in some of the craziest contortions you can imagine.

He rated it M11 and named it "Relapse".  Because it was harder than M10 and not as hard as M12...

Some props should also be extended to his loyal belay agent Jake as well.  Jake helped bolt the route and also opted to stand guard in the cold dark tunnel as Adam attempted it.

I wonder who will be the next to repeat it?

Cleaning "Relapse"
Cleaning the route might have been harder than climbing it!  As I cleaned up my gear I watched Jake and Adam working together to basically climb the route backwards while cleaning Adam's gear.  It was no easy effort that was for sure, especially after four attempts at climbing it!

Light on the face of the prince of darkness.

The whole event finished in a classic Duluth moment.

I looked at the time and realized I had to pick up the kid in about 15 minutes.  I did the snow post hole back to the car in record time, hit the road and still managed to not be "that dad" at Tae's school.  Again, classic Duluth, shooting a dude throwing down M11, in town and still being able to pick the kid up at his after school session!

Monday, March 10, 2014

Going to Grandmas house.....

I am not one for public emotions but I have realized that this needs to get off my chest and out of my heart.

So here goes.

I was one of the lucky ones.  One of the lucky folks to grow up with an amazing family in an amazing place.  Too often I read about artists and their struggles in childhood.  How they were defined by challenging and often negative situations and how that angst and strife were channeled into art and expression.

I was the opposite of that.  I often think in awe of the bucolic childhood I had.  Almost Norman Rockwell like.

I grew up in a small village outside of a small southern Minnesota town.  The majority of my mothers extended family resided there, she grew up there.   I knew most of my neighbors and if I did not know them I knew somebody that did.

I routinely bumped into aunts and uncles and cousins about town.

I would wake up at dawn, ride my bike the half mile or so to the blue ribbon trout stream that gurgled through the pastures, cows mooing in the distance, crows cawing overhead and catch German Brown Trout and bring them home to my mother who would cook them with eggs and Morel mushrooms for breakfast.

My grandmother was a pillar of my life and she pretty much hit every Leave it to Beaver grandma stereotype, except she was real and she was better.

The cookie jar actually existed and it was always filled with fresh creations.

Sun tea would be brewing in the vibrant, lush and shady backyard and on hot summer days we would lull there drinking tea and eating cookies before I would dash off with my brother to hook up with my best friends and generally reek havoc on all sorts of things.

I loved it and I did not take it for granted, but now I miss it like I have never missed anything before.

Helen, my grandmother is now 97.

Just last month she was moved into an assisted living apartment in Winona.

Now I realize we all brag about our families and our parents and our grandparents, so there is some of that here.  But that said, anybody who came into Helen's orbit realized that she was a very special person.

That was evident if you stopped by her house down by Lake Winona.  People of all sorts, stripes, shapes and sizes would stop by frequently to visit, to drop off gifts and chat.  Handymen would work on her house pro-bono and friends would help my parents and aunts and uncles work on her yard.  The family cared for her hugely in her older years and so did her community.

It has been really inspiring to see.

She is perhaps even more special to me.  I had a connection with my grandmother that I have not had with any other human being.  Helen is so non-judgemental.  Good or bad, right or wrong, she was always open, always there for me regardless if I screwed up or was the hero.  She is the same for everybody, wether it was a homeless person on the street or a super successful muckity muck, did not matter.

Helen has been in assisted living for a few weeks.

My initial reaction was to just run right down there.  To be with her.  However my own immediate family, work and photography got in the way.  I dragged my feet, I lingered up here in Duluth.

I did not know why? I had buried the reason deeply.

Then Friday it all came home to me.  I took the morning to get out for one last "winter conditions" nordic ski on the Jay Cooke Trails.

The trails were perfect.  Icy and fast but still hard wax conditions.  My skis were so fast that many times I would have to re-orient myself as to where I was on the trail system.  Hills that I would usually stagger up, I was double poling up effortlessly.  It was that one day where you can almost understand what a world cup skier actually feels......without the pain and training it takes to feel it.

My mind wandered. I began to relax. I began to think.  I got past the work stuff, the family stuff.  I thought creatively then I thought about Helen.  I thought deeply and I thought honestly and I asked myself why I was not there RIGHT now.

Then it hit me.  I realized I was not going because I was afraid.  That I was afraid that she was waiting for me to come, that if I went it would be goodbye and that once she said one last farewell to all the special people in her life that she would move on.

I did not want her to move on and because of that I had been stalling.

I cried for another 10km after that thought.  It just all came out, came out in big huge waves.  I was the only skier out there, but I can only imagine what people would have thought about this big norwegian guy ripping on the trails, sobbing incoherently on one of the most gorgeous days of the winter.

I took Tae that afternoon and made the trek to Winona.

Helen was able to recognize me but she is greatly diminished.  It was really hard for her to concentrate and hold a conversation.

Yet she was in there.  The spark was there and if you were able to get her alone, in the quiet she was able to have a simple conversation.

I sat with her alone for hours.  We also visited with other family members and friends as well.  I held her hand a lot.

Eventually Sunday came and folks started to return to their daily lives.  Most of my family still lives there and I realized they would see Helen a lot more in the next days.

I was leaving and I was realizing that possibly I was leaving with perhaps the actual last goodbye.

So it was Helen and I and we were alone in her room.  I wanted to leave by 5 but I could not.

I could not do it.  Finally at 8pm she needed to go to bed.  She was tired and I had four hours for home.

I envisioned me saying something so meaningful, so deep.  But the more I thought, the more I felt the more I dealt with the idea that I might not see her again and the more I came unglued.

Leaving that room was perhaps the single hardest thing I have done in my life.

 It meant letting go, it meant leaving my grandmother, possibly to the rest of her life, yet not being there for it, like she had been so often for me.  Skinned knee, broken heart or grief and despair, she had always been there.

My standard farewell to Helen over the years has been "I will see you in two weeks".  This time though I could not say it, because we both knew it was not true.

Finally Helen, like she always has, reached out to me with her hand and simply said, it was "OK".

It was ok for me to leave and she knew why.

I wish I could say I just walked out, but the truth is I fell apart, I cried and hugged her and kissed her and told her all I could about how proud I was to her grandson and how I was such a better person because of her and we had a very good back and forth, tearful but meaningful.

Then we both relaxed and she started to get sleepy.

So I kissed her one last time on the forehead, told her I loved her and then walked out of the room and I turned out the light...........

Monday, March 03, 2014

Polar Acclimatization, -10 is now T-shirt weather in Duluth!

Lester love

Gitch Ice

How far do you want to ride on the big lake?

Gaddo getting rad

Since this is the second coldest winter ever recorded in Duluth (yes there was a colder one) the standing joke is how warm sane temps like anything above zero are going to feel.  The old adage is that once your used to -20, you can do -10 in your T-shirt.

Well after months of this, I have to say its true.

The Lester River was the go to playground for Fat Biking this week.  8 days past a blizzard the adventurous citizens of Duluth had already stomped, snowshoed, skied, dog walked and otherwise crushed in a trail the length of the Lester River and the new single track along it.

Its a stunning place and worth your time if you have it...

City riding

A hung over morning after the COGGS Gala, John Gaddo, Casey Krueger and I took a lap on the loop and found it in great form.  I had been up the River a few times during the week, once with Matt Andrews and another time with Casey.

However Sunday was by far the best conditions we had seen.

Getting ready to roll John had mentioned his concern about how long he would be able to ride in -12 degree weather.  I shrugged it off as the norm.

Once we started pedaling up the Lester, the lack of wind the amazing amount of solar gain kicked in.  So despite the registered air temp of -12, I was down to a single layer of poly pew in no time, literally bare handing it and sweating like a pig as I wheeled up the trail.

After our ride we joined the legions to check out Lake Superior.  The ice is safe and hundreds of people have taken to it to fish and to experience what has not happened in over a decade.  It was awe inspiring to ride out past all the ice houses.  The vast open space, the heaving ice and the groan of the pack itself was humbling.  The temptation to ride to Bayfield was palpable......

This is going to be the best spring ever, for a lot of reasons, not just because its going to be warm again either!!!

The Fat Bike Flop.....it happens!  Often.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Visions of Summer to get me through a solid Duluth Winter.....

Its coming for sure.  I can feel it (sort of).  Hang in there.  Visualize that warm water, those fins, the snap of the line the tug of the fish.  I can feel it for sure.  Every shovel full of snow I throw I imagine a cast or setting the hook......

Friday, February 21, 2014

Crazy week: Winter 2014

Super One West Duluth
Sorry folks for the lack of blog posts this week.

Due to weather, chaos and work and a photo assignment I have been "buried".  Came home last night to waist high snow drifts and 15 inches of powder.  Now its blisters and back pain as I head to Frostibike 2014!

More when I return!