I’ve been running around Ontario and Canada quite a bit this winter having some pretty intense adventures. I’ve skied in cool places, waxed a lot of bases, and drank more coffee than is probably healthy.
Over that time I have collected a ton of thoughts about coaching, writing, and skiing in general, but have yet to translate that into a worthwhile blog post. Believe me, I’ve tried. I’ve written a lot of uninspired drivel that after two paragraphs makes me want to hurl my computer through the window/hotel room/van/airplane/airport/ski chalet/coffee shop/wax room/condo/bunk bed/coaches meeting that I happen to be sitting in.
After watching plenty of Californication and deciding that Hank Moody’s strategy to get around writer’s block is neither possible nor socially acceptable for myself, I found myself scrolling through old word Documents on my computer.
And discovered this post I wrote last summer after having a pretty solid adventure – an adventure I haven’t forgotten, but the post slipped through the cracks.
So, here goes my From The Vault.
Spring, 2011 –
As a ski coach, I don’t often need vacation. Most of my life involves skiing, talking to people about skiing, going to cool places, and waxing skis, so what the hell would I need a vacation for?? My life IS what other people consider a vacation!
Yet somehow this past spring I came up with some misguided rational that I needed some time away from the 30+ teenagers I coach. My criteria:
– Escape Ottawa
– Driving (sorry, my idea of a vacation results in the death of penguins, although after the recent snow issues in Europe, I may have to reconsider)
– Somewhere I have never been before
– Good food and beer
– Something I can’t do in Ottawa
Pretty standard stuff for a vacation, in my mind. Enter Nat Herz, former FasterSkier heavyweight, story editor, friend of Lukas Bauer, and blogger extraordinaire.
Despite the fact that he’s American, enjoys Frisbee, and thinks road biking is a sport, he’s a decently rad dude. Also, he’s from Maine, an American state I’ve never been to, is a short drive away from Ottawa, well known for having some great food and beer, and to get there you have to drive through some cool countryside with a population of gun nuts. What’s not to love?
So in the spring, Nat arrived in Ottawa on a Thursday, chauffeured by his little sister, tried to hack some intervals with my athletes, and settled for eating a burger and some fries and gravy, something which is pretty much mandatory when you come to Canada. After a brief hiking excursion where I managed to get lost in my own city and we narrowly avoided getting mugged by a bear, we were primed to depart Ottawa. Nat also picked up his newest racing suit, and we were ready to rock and roll.
We had some issues departing the city (I blame construction, Nat blames Canadian sense of direction) but once we got out of Ottawa, things got much better. At least for about an hour and a half, until we hit Montreal.
Let’s make something clear – I have nothing against Montreal. I think it’s a nice city, there is some cool old stuff, cool people, the Montreal Canadians are a decent hockey team – you get the idea. But it is without a doubt the worst city in Canada to try and drive through.
I’m pretty sure they handed a three-year old kid a crayon and a piece of paper and said “whatever you draw, we’ll pave a bunch of roads in that design, with no regard for traffic flow, common sense, or whether it will result in drivers wanting to commit murder.”
Regardless, we managed to make our way through driving hell to find my friend Sean’s house, where we quickly decided that parking the car and exploring Montreal by bike was a way better option than trying to battle the ridiculous road network.
Montreal has this cool Bixi bike system, which you may be familiar with. Basically you use your credit card to rent a bike for 24 hours, with a couple of rules. You can only use it for 30 min at a time (so you can’t go all Andy Shleck or Cadel Evans, or whatever pro biker blows your skirt up) and then you have to return it for five minutes, and then you can snag another one. They have these stations all over the place, which makes it easy to ride anywhere, park your Bixi bike without having to worry about someone stealing it, or bringing a lock, which is pretty cool.
Side note – I’m pretty sure that 90% of them end up being used as bikes for people to ride home after a night at the bar, and therefore take a serious beating which probably explained why the gears were wonky on my first one, and that every second one had a flat, but at least they’re getting used.
After ripping around Montreal for a bit, we headed to a park for some light rallying, some Frisbee, and some food. At this point, I figured it would be a good idea to document our little ride.
As we were biking along, I reached into my pocket for my camera, and thought to myself ‘this really is not that good of an idea…ah well, I can hold on pretty tight.’
After snapping a few sub-par pictures with my camera perched precariously on the handlebars, my lack of biking skill (see 13 year-old Kieran falling face-first off his bike, eating pavement, kicking off a 10 year affair with the dentist Ed. Note – it continued this February) emerged.
While blasting along at the breakneck speed of about 5 km/hr, I hit a bump (crappy Montreal streets…) and the camera bounced out of my hand. While swearing, I watched it fall glass-screen side down on the pavement, hard. F- – k.
Then I ran it over with the back wheel of my Bixi bike at the same time I slammed on the brakes, scraping the camera along the road.
While the screen was being decimated, the rest of the camera wanted to get in the act of total destruction.
The back of the camera popped open, and the battery went skittering across the road in one direction, while the memory card smelled freedom in the other direction. Watching my camera vomit parts of itself all over the street, I slammed my Bixi bike into some of those large orange traffic cones, folding myself over the handle bars. Finally, while I watched helplessly from my new perch astride the traffic cone, some guy riding one of those ice-cream cart bikes (you know, the one with the dinging bell?) runs over the memory card.
After picking myself up off the pavement, I was convinced that my camera had taken its last pictures. But I collected all the bits, put it back together, brushed the dirt, pavement, and broken glass off the screen, and held my breath while hitting the ‘power’ button.
While I am in no way being paid to support them, and in fact have a low opinion of camera makers in general, if you want a camera that can hit the pavement glass-down, be run over by a bike, chuck its guts into a city street and be run over by an ice-cream wagon, I highly recommend the Canon Rebel.
With the “adventure” criteria of the trip checked off, Nat took it upon himself to do some sweet tricks on his bike. Turns out the video function still worked, so instead of pushing my luck I played James Cameron to his Matt Hoffman, before Sean showed us an awesome sandwich joint, fulfilling some of the food quota, and heading to bed.
Both Nat and I have had several encounters with the shit-tastic Montreal traffic, so our plan was to get out of Montreal around 7 AM on Saturday morning – a time we thought most people would choose to be somewhere other than littering the roads with their disastrous driving.
The first 15 minutes went smoothly, until we ran into about a million other people trying to cross the exact same bridge at the exact same time as us. Montreal Traffic 2, FasterSkier staff 0.
Anyways, after safely escaping Montreal, we turned south, and made a run for the border. We ended up at this tiny border crossing, the kind I imagine that human traffickers and cocaine smugglers look for, complete with the remote location, sleepy border guards, and stray dogs.
Despite the fact that neither of us have a particularly easily-explainable job, and that Nat departed his country with a sister and a Honda and was re-entering with a sketchy guy with a beard and a Mazda, it went fairly smoothly, and we entered the US of A, headed for the American Dream.
Or at least sailing, lobster, some guns, gigantic slabs of pizza. But that’s for next time…