Friday, December 30, 2011

Jennifer Caldwell

Jennifer Caldwell finished a long, courageous battle with cancer on December 27. A link to her obituary is here:

Her funeral is tomorrow at St. Katharine Drexel church in Alton. NH. It's hard to believe she's gone. It's also hard to decide what to wear. Traditional funeral garb is black, but if anyone was about being alive it was Jennifer. Bright colors would seem as apt a tribute to someone who lived fully every moment she could.

Jennifer married Wolfeboro native Howie Bean in 1988. They had a daughter, Anya, in 1989. I seem to recall that she and Howie paddled to a winning time in the Smith River Canoe Race in May that year and Anya was born in July.

I moved to the Wolfeboro area in May 1988. As I found a place in the biking and skiing community I started to hear about Howie and Jennifer. They could often be seen training on the trails, roads and lakes, skiing in winter and running, roller skiing, biking and canoeing in the other seasons. Their ferocious training exploits were legendary. Both were on the US Cross Country Ski team and had numerous victories and podium finishes. Jennifer was the daughter of the man credited with almost single-handedly launching the cross-country ski boom in this country. Even with such a strong competitive focus they could still respect the challenge of a long bike commute. I appreciate that.

 Jen brought the determination of a champion into her battle with cancer. We were all fortunate that her tenacity and a few medical advancements coincided to grant us more years with her than we thought we might get when she was first diagnosed. It still was too short.

While she was known as an athlete of the highest caliber, she was more than that and managed to be a nice person at the same time. I barely knew her and have that impression. Looking at the massive amount of love and support that surrounded her from people who knew her better you can tell that it was not superficial.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Another great XIMS product

The new apron from XIMS is made of stiff, coated fabric that would make a sturdy expedition pack or bomb-proof tent floor. Since most of us who have worked too long as shop drones have only homelessness to look forward to once we're too old to be of the slightest use in outdoor retail, the introduction of this product is quite timely. Baby Boomers are aging rapidly and many of us failed to score good pension benefits. Since Social Security and Medicare are unnecessary burdens on the taxpayers and it's too late for us to make huge gains in private investment, population reduction will at last be accomplished through hypothermia, malnutrition, violence and disease.

I suppose those of us with fond memories of camping trips and perhaps some leftover equipment might fare a little better in the fiscally conservative, Live and Let Die future. If we can poach some small game or arrange to scavenge in the trash cans of our financial superiors the life could provide a certain gritty comfort.

Along with the health insurance companies we wish ourselves a quick and relatively painless final illness when the time comes.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

When snow is bad

The October snowstorm clearly overloaded the forest before it was ready. The resulting damage disrupted human life for weeks afterward as many people waited for electric power to be restored.

The snow that falls now is just as useless, piling up on unfrozen ground to insulate it from freezing deeply to support the snow we hope to get when winter actually arrives.

When I came to New Hampshire in 1987,  the locals I met felt that winter arriving on Thanksgiving was normal. Since I had come to enjoy winter, I was ready to give all of December to snow season. But in 1987, the weather had been cold for at least a few weeks. The ground was frozen. The snow might as well fall, because everything certainly looked and felt like winter.

With the shift in climate, the ground sometimes does not freeze deeply all winter. If we get these early, heavy snowstorms they keep the earth warm enough to harbor flowing water and eat away the snow cover from beneath. What looks like an early ski season is just a treacherous plod. The snow sticks to everything. Later, when the sun arcs higher in March, the warmth from above meets the warmth from below to eat away the snow pack.

We make the best of it because we have no choice.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Really early season

Eight inches of snow fell here in Effingham on Saturday night, October 29. On Sunday morning the sun hit the wet, clumpy mess. It didn't look like it would be any fun at all. I tried to ignore it and hoped it would go away, except for the three-ton berm I shoveled out of the mouth of the driveway where the plow had blocked it. I knew I had to get rid of that before it set up during the cold night to come.

Monday's sun melted some more of the ground cover, but an amazing amount remained. We didn't get anything like the dumping some towns got, with more than 20 inches in some places. I'm just as glad, since the ground has not frozen and the leaves are still on about half the trees.

This morning the coverage was holding up too well to ignore any longer. I wasn't going to get a bike ride. I might as well seize the novelty and go out on skis. I used my trusty Trak Edge traditional-length skis with a partial edge. They were Trak's clone of the Karhu Kodiak from the early 1990s. For boots and bindings I have Asolo Snowpine 75 mm boots and Rottefella Super Tele bindings.

The surface was still slightly crunchy when I set out. In places it was actually almost fast. These were actually some of the better ungroomed conditions I've been on in the past couple of years. A lot of our snow storms have been warm and sticky even in the real season. The timing of freeze and thaw has not been very convenient for me even when the weather has gotten cold enough to freeze wet glop solid. So I had a surprisingly good time. It wasn't time to lay down a bunch of turns through the trees, but it was a sporty shuffle in places.

The skis I used have served me well for this sort of skiing, whether I go for a half-hour or most of a day. The industry has promoted a different approach, but I've seen glimmers that the simple, durable touring ski is not dead. Madshus has one or two models. I haven't poked around to see what else might be out there. And 75 mm staged a bit of a comeback a few years ago after almost drowning in the tide of system bindings pushed by Rottefella and its allies, and by Salomon. In its thick-soled back country version it provides the best control of a heavier ski with the simplest, most durable binding. It would feel like trudging toil on a good groomed trail, but the ski setup for a good groomed trail would feel like a flimsy toy in rough, ungroomed conditions.

That being said, there's no guarantee that 75 mm will be around next year or the year after that. If someone figures out how to get people to dump money into Nordic the way they do into Alpine, the race will be on to get all the cheap-ass bark-eaters to update all their gear. But I guess that's true of any industrialized activity.

In the past decade I have seen a lot of furrowed brows out on the trails as people try to work with the mutating winter conditions in the northeast United States. Even in the mythic old days winter could take some odd twists in this region. Now it's downright wacky. It makes a mess of any regular training system. Now it's even reaching out to cramp the end of bike commuting more than the typical heavy flurries or sleet might have done. It pays to be creative and versatile. Unfortunately not everyone can bend their routines to accommodate the whims of weather. That's what keeps various kinds of indoor fitness center in business. I just don't have that kind of discipline or sociability.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Wendy doesn't work here

I don't get the instawax thing. I asked for an instawax the very first day I owned skis because I'd read in a book that a skier should ask the shop for a free base wax.. It was the last time, too. What did I know? Only what I read in a book.

Instawax customers need Wendy:

Thursday, January 27, 2011

A Poke in the Weeds

Sticking to my schedule of exercising once every two weeks, I went out on the new snow to see if conditions had gotten sportier up on the back mountain.

Extensive logging over several recent years has destroyed the mature hardwood glades. At first the skidder roads and patch cuts offered open terrain when the snow was deep enough to cover the slash and boulders. New growth sprang up quickly, so that golden age of open skiing ended after a couple of seasons.

While it isn't quite sapling and bramble hell entirely, the nearest clearings offer more challenge than reward with the type and depth of snow we have now. Really cold temperatures brought a dry snow that doesn't compact. A couple of moist phases created easily breakable crust layers that inhibit turning. There is no base of dense snow, so surface obstacles are concealed but not blunted.

Because the snow does not pack down to provide a solid kicking surface, I had to climb at a very low angle. It took me half an hour to trudge up to the hemlock glades next to the oldest logged area. The turning wasn't great on the way down, but the afternoon was sunny. It's always nice to get out.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Verbal Skiing

The needs of the shop in Wolfe City are so complex that I don't get to ski.

The owners of the shop, whose back yards abut the trails, haughtily suggest I get up earlier. I've done that a few times, but many factors can combine to reduce my ski time to a 20-minute insult. Likewise have I tried night skiing over the years, but the weather can easily turn that into an invitation to a broken femur. The warm winters that have cursed us of late create a treacherous, icy surface when the temperature drops below freezing again at sundown.

The trails get groomed once a day. Then the groomer often hops out for first tracks on the fresh corduroy. The leisure class shreds it up all day. If the shop grunts get thrown a bone we go forth with a feeling of pressure and guilt, a sense of haste,as if we were undeserving. That's on the days we get a green light at all. Lately the shop has been manned by one or two of us, even if three or four people are there, because of the deteriorated faculties of one or two who might be tormenting themselves and us by continuing to try to put in a day or half-day of work.

Because I studied ski technique and collected descriptions of it from many teachers, I can remember and explain what it feels like. I can stand and engage the muscles I remember using. For a moment I can take the trip mentally.

No one in Wolfe City needs me to be any more than a washed-up has been. Even in Jackson, the aristocracy would have preferred that the shop staff be deferential and attentive servants, not fellow skiers. As long as we could, the shop staff instead took full advantage of the convenient trails. We all took serious pleasure in blowing past our "betters" at every opportunity.

The shop in Jackson was simpler to run. We looked out for each other. Whatever else happened that day, whoever wanted to ski would get to. No one would be relegated to a dash in the dusk on rapidly freezing remnants if it could be avoided.

Mind you, I can't think of anything that would make me miss Jackson or ever want to return there. The treachery, the ill winds, the whining patricians may not have outnumbered the really cool people, but their stench and influence permeated the place. They created a climate of distrust that sours my stomach when I think of it even now.

It's a curious contrast, this nauseating distaste and the memories of good lessons from great people. I would feel awkward around anyone I knew from those years, because I can't be sure what deals any of them have made to function in the world of snobbery and double dealing that is the management's standard operating procedure. Even so, I highly value insights from people like Peter the Great, and even tips I picked up from the Human Hand Grenade. HHG was a volatile little bastard, but he cared about technique.

I pass the time until bike commuting season returns, eating lightly and talking about skiing when the job requires it. Other than that I try not to think about it at all. Otherwise I would want what I can't have, and that's just stupid.