Tuesday, December 19, 2017

A trudge in Clumpland

Yesterday, cold, dry snow fell steadily all day. It was one of those days where the snow falls constantly, but piles up to only a couple of inches.

Below the top dressing, the previous snowfall had not reached its maximum predicted depth, and had ended with misty rain here, so about 6 inches of powder is topped with a breakable crust. That's better than a hard glazed crust, but it's grabby when you're skiing ungroomed trails. I went out on my traditional-length exploring skis, with heavy leather boots. I have about a kilometer of trail folded onto my little patch of forest. Because of logging and changes of ownership of the land around me, I can no longer flit easily into open woods to bushwhack up the mountain. A wall of saplings blocks me from the exit I used to use. I've found a way to wiggle through, but I have to be in the mood for it.

Before skiing, I shoveled some snow left over from the 6-incher. After skiing I did a little stretching. Aches I'd been nursing since the end of bike commuting miraculously diminished. What hadn't felt like much exercise had been enough to regain mobility lost to seasonal depression and sloth.

Through the afternoon and overnight, the temperature remained in the 20s. This morning it remained down there for quite a while, even though the forecast called for a high above 40. But when it headed up it didn't waste any time. It had gone above freezing by the time I finished clearing the new snow and put on the skis.

I knew what I was getting into. I hadn't put on F4. By keeping the skis in contact with the snow as much as possible I was able to dislodge the clumps over and over. I didn't care if I got a huge glide. The extra resistance actually helped me get more out of the short trail. A fine drizzle joined the plops of snow falling from the trees. I didn't want to stay out too long anyway. I don't even know how long it was. More than 30 minutes, but well under an hour, I'd guess. And yet it was enough to add to the gains from yesterday. Four days ago I felt like a candidate for a hip replacement. Three days ago, after some aggressive stretching, I'd managed to get the hip pain to move to other muscles nearby, but still felt it going up or down stairs. After two days of really minor skiing, everything is moving much more freely. A hard-core workout would probably have done less good.

The advice of experts often comes from hard-core adherents who push themselves to the limit over and over. But then a lot of those people seem to end up hurting themselves in scary ways, like atrial fibrillation, not to mention joint damage and other musculoskeletal issues related to heavy use and repetitive motion. Cross-country skiing involves no routine repetitive impacts (provided you miss the trees), but the dry-land training can get pretty intense among the driven types who like to excel at very strenuous activities. If a little is good, more is not necessarily better, if you happen to find yourself living past age 50. A more gradual approach helps in the long haul.

A little is better than nothing, think of it that way. And a little more from time to time is helpful. If you start getting drawn into the neurosis of competition, be prepared to spend money on medical interventions. If that's your bag, and you have the budget, have fun! I like to go fast once in a while, but an instinct kicks in when I start to feel like it's ripping my lungs out. I'm just a tourist at heart. I climb mountains for the scenery, not the glory. I ride a bike to get from place to place and enjoy the countryside. If this area had a comprehensive trail network that connected practical destinations, I would ski from place to place, too. But the snow has always been somewhat unreliable, and nowadays it's really unreliable.

A little bit of cross-country skiing is worth it. More can be nice, but a reliable little bit will help you a lot.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Alone with snow

After that last post on January 23, we lost everything well before spring arrived. The snow that fell later didn't restore conditions. Spring snow is lousy for spring skiing.

Our first big storm of the 2017-'18 season is delivering 6-10 inches of cold, dry powder. This is on top of about four inches from a couple of days ago. Because this is one of my normal days off, I was able to go out while the snow is still falling. It won't finish until late tonight or early tomorrow morning. With a La Nina and a big volcanic eruption in the Pacific, we may be looking at a cold, snowy winter.

All my life I have loved snow. When I lived in Miami I dallied with tropical languor, but it was just a fling. At the end of college I moved north and asked everyone who had been there, "What'd I miss?" I missed the Blizzard of 1978, for one thing. I missed the communal bond of everyone who faces frozen precipitation. Some hate it and can't get away fast enough. Others love it and won't hear a word spoken against it. I've always been more realistic, loving what I love, but acknowledging the challenge.

Snow should be shared. The fun should be taken with a friend or friends. The burden should be borne with a partner or a coalition. A snowy day invites outdoor play and indoor snuggling and warm treats.  Even the chores can be sociable if companions are available. I don't have them, but I recommend them.

I'll probably be up on my roof at least once during the season, thigh deep in snow, knowing that once I hurl it to the ground I will still have to move a lot of the compacted mass from where it landed. Every year, that gets harder. Beyond the tedium of a long, arduous chore is also a bone-deep fear that I won't be up to the task. Aging is part preparation, part genetics. The woman I know around here who shoveled her own roof until she was about 91 years old is a rare specimen. Longevity runs in my family but I take nothing for granted. Just because you're alive doesn't mean you're strong enough to get everything done the way you once did. And with every storm I have to get my driveway and doorways passable, while still getting to work somewhere in the vicinity of opening time.

Whatever difficulties I have are not snow's fault. It's still the same innocent killer it always was. You can sled on it, ski on it, build forts and snowball fight. You can wreck your car in it or get buried in an avalanche. It's nothing personal. I like that.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Mediocre winter good for spring

In the winter of our dreams, the cold weather comes and stays, not brutally cold, but cold enough to keep our plentiful storms of powder snow firm on the groomed tails and fluffy in the back country. New England terrain and weather have trained us to want a little heavier, denser snow right at first, but if we have to settle for nothing but powder, we'll manage to live with it.

This has not been the winter of our dreams. After a little 6-inch tuneup and a solid 14-plus inches in a storm of moderately powdery snow, we've had repeated thaws, some rain, and only wet snow when we got snow at all.

Density is the key. The warm cold, just below freezing, and the high moisture content of the snow, have put down a dense layer that has consolidated a lot under the cycles of freezing and thawing. When powder melts, it vanishes like cotton candy. You need a ton of it to give you any spring skiing at all. But this stuff we're getting this winter handles thawing beautifully.

I've only been out on the groomed trails about three times, but I've done a lot of skiing around my own woods, just checking out the scenery and wildlife, or gathering dead pine limbs for kindling. When the temperature has been just above freezing, the top layer of the dense base has softened up perfectly for maneuverability.

The National Weather Service tells us that the storm that is moving in this afternoon will bring mostly snow and sleet in a temperature range from the mid 20s to the low 30s. An accumulation of 4-7 inches total, largely made up of high-moisture snow and sleet, will fill in the ungroomed areas with a very durable surface to enjoy when winter fades. Things being as they are these days, winter could start to fade in a couple of weeks, or hang on to the verge of April. Unless we get a disastrous thaw and deluges of rain, the ground cover should provide hours of fun in the longer daylight and milder temperatures of late winter and early spring.

A blockbuster storm would only push the closing date farther. Even without that, with a couple or a few additions of several inches here and there, a lot of terrain at low to moderate angles will be a fun house. In suitably open woods, it might be a great year to take the skating skis off the reservation and go wild.

New England teaches us to let go of our hopes and expectations. I'm just pointing out technical observations, not making a rock-solid prediction. If this then that. If we keep this high-density frozen product, which is actually not great for skiing among trees when it is frozen hard, our reward will be some quick and challenging skiing in the warmth of lengthening days.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

On and Off Winter

Here in central New Hampshire, the winter seemed to get a good start with a 14-inch snowfall on December 29. But the temperature has lurched between the warmth of early spring and appropriately bitter January cold, as if April and January had been broken into chunks, shaken up in a box and dumped out to make this jumble of a winter.

Recognizing the power of exercise to help maintain health as well as fitness, I have explored the possibilities for a person with a low income to pursue a healthy lifestyle by using muscle power for practical purposes. It started with bike commuting, which led to non-motorized outdoor recreation. That was a bit of a cheat, because I could work in the field and take advantage of opportunities the average retail drone would have more trouble pursuing.

Start with this idea: Wherever you live, find the natural environments in which you can explore. I happened to end up here in New England, in the bike and ski business. But when I lived in Maryland, I biked more, hiked where I could, used the bike and my feet for transportation, and went boating with a borrowed kayak in the disregarded margins of the nearby tributaries of Chesapeake Bay.

An ex-wife once said of me that she thought I didn't want money. I answered that I would not mind money, but I care where it comes from. Most of the quick money, the big money, is in destructive activities. The wealth is seductive. It has blinded many people to the underlying demolition of the very supports of life itself. Future generations are going to have to sort that one out, starting with figuring out what to breathe and what to drink.

For myself, I continue to be reminded of how restorative exercise is. Even tedious sweating indoors with weights or machines can administer a tonic, while a nice fast blast on cross country skis is the ultimate one-stop-shop for an afterglow of gratifying well-being.

At slower tempos, cross-country skiing offers perhaps a slightly lower level of metabolic turbo charging, but in return becomes a meditative glide through a winter landscape. It still activates every system in the body. It's good to go slow sometimes, as well as fast. Indeed, if you want to go really fast, you have to go slowly some of the time, and make sure you rest, so the body can build from the destructive phase of training. And if you just want to enjoy a broad spectrum of the ski experience, and benefit from a lower intensity version of the training wave, mix it up as much as you can between sporty outings on prepared surfaces and mellower sessions to enjoy the scenery.

Coming off of a respiratory virus that dogged me coming out of the Christmas Week tourist onslaught, I did a few chore skis in my woods, gathering kindling, and made one slushy plod on the groomed trails on a warm Wednesday. On Friday night of that week, I spent the night in wall-pounding agony, passing a kidney stone that came from who knows where. I was back at work on Saturday and Sunday, because wage slaves gotta keep that paycheck coming. That was going into the Martin Luther King Day holiday, so I went in on Monday morning, too, in case the rental shop was busy. As it worked out, I was able to punch out after a couple of hours. I took advantage of the surviving machine groomed granular snow on the hillier half of our trail network. It was great for skate skiing. The aftermath, as always, was a deep feeling of warmth and energy.

Wherever you live, keep moving if you are moving, and start moving if you aren't. We have to prove that there's a demand for infrastructure to encourage people to move themselves. It's not a chore or a penalty. It's a gift. It makes you sleep better and be more awake when you're awake. It reminds your body that there's a reason to be ready. You don't even have to know what to be ready for. You just know you're ready.

We've rapidly evolved a social system and civilization that shoves us into motorized cans and sedentary environments. That feeds itself, making us feel more tired, more pressed for time. It was easy to decide not to join it in the late 1970s, when I was becoming legally an adult. It's harder and harder to escape from when you've accepted it as normal from early in life. But escape is vital not only to your own survival, but the survival of our species.

Cross country skiing may live or die in many parts of the world, as climate change destroys the conditions that support it. The activity itself is great, but the mindset that you bring to any self-propelled activity is what really matters. Refuse to be stopped. By sheer numbers, we become something the bean counters can't ignore. When destruction no longer has customers, the market will shift. But it takes informed consumers to demand it.