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Have You Ever Skied on a Volcano?

"All my blood turned to wine..."

After the Olympics, I drove down to California to visit some family and friends, and on the way down, I had the pleasure of stopping for a ski at the Mt. Shasta Nordic Center.

For real, this place is on the side of Mt. Shasta, which is (sadly), a dormant volcano, but still an amazing sight, because there is no surrounding mountain range. As John Muir says on Wikipedia: “When I first caught sight of it over the braided folds of the Sacramento Valley, I was

Crazy snow...

fifty miles away and afoot, alone and weary. Yet all my blood turned to wine, and I have not been weary since.” My feelings exactly, although since I was driving, I had to stop and wait to sober up.

I knew I’d be going by Mt. Shasta on my drive, so I’d sent an e-mail to Laurel Harkness, the Center’s executive director, inquiring about skiing and getting a trail pass. She told me that the passes are donation-only, due to the organization’s unique structure, and offered to meet me when I stopped to talk with me about it.

It’s a pretty cool model, and one that I’m not sure is replicated anywhere else. (Note: I’m going entirely off memory here from a conversation a few weeks ago, so some details may be off, but the gist is right.) Basically, a few years ago, the nordic center was owned by the nearby alpine area, and when the alpine area was sold, the new owners didn’t have any interest in operating the cross country area. So the xc skiers in the area got together and took over, forming a community-based non-profit that kept the area open.

They don’t have their own groomer, but the alpine area donates their machines and staff to groom the trails. This doesn’t always make for the most

Sweet trails

extensive grooming, so Harkness said that the organization is raising money and applying for grants to purchase their own groomer.

Executive Director Laurel Harkness

It’s a rural, relatively poor area, so it has been a struggle to get schools and kids to ski and join the center’s programs, but Harkness said that participation is growing, and that they hold a few races each year.

The trails are fun, with some sweet views, and at least for an east-coaster, there’s more snow than you can wrap your mind around. If you’re ever in the area (driving I-5 from Oregon to California or vice versa), stop in and check it out. Check out their Web site here.

I Can Take You in Boggle

As I have made abundantly clear over the last week to most of those who know me, I have been road tripping across the United States. And when I say across the United States, I literally mean across the United States. Like, from San Francisco to Fort Kent, Maine.

Do not try this at home.

I’m not going to take you through my road trip chronologically this time, because I didn’t have a whole lot of time to stop and go on moderately epic adventures, like I did last time. So I’m going to share with you a few highlights, observations, and lessons.

1. First of all, unlike last time, I had a companion. His name is Frank. He’s a flamingo.

Frank pines for his natural habitat, the Gulf of St. Lawrence

He’s not very good for talking with, but he is good for talking at. He doesn’t ask tough questions. He doesn’t eat PB+J. But he does engender amused looks from passersby. And he wears a seatbelt, of course.

Click it, or ticket.

Frank traveled just about everywhere I did this winter, except for Germany, making him fairly well-traveled for an inanimate object. Had I had the presence of mind to bring him with me to Germany, I totally would have, but instead, he spent a very lonely, hungry, and damp two weeks inside my car in Seattle. Fortunately, like lobsters, inflatable flamingos don’t have the ability to suffer, so he didn’t treat me any differently when I got back.

2. Radio programs, podcasts, and audiobooks are crucial when you’re spending 50+ hours in the car. Needless to say, I think I know wayyyyyy more about health care reform than most other cross country ski journalists, having listened to many hours of debate and discussion on NPR. Also, did you know that Andre Agassi didn’t wear any underwear when he won the French Open in 1999? (That’s thanks to his autobiography, which, by the way, is really good.) And finally, if you don’t listen to “Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me,” you should start. Now.

3. Food is extremely important. One thing that I have learned over the course of driving many miles this winter is that you can’t have really good food on a road trip. Instead, you have to have merely decent food, because if you have really yummy food, you just end up eating it all at once. And when I say you, I guess I mean me. And Topher. But in any case, things like potato chips are no good—instead, it’s stuff like pretzels, dried fruit, and, above all, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, which I have learned to make on the fly. Sandwich-making while driving is an obscure and often-maligned art, but I have become a master at it. Actually, that’s also not true—I still end up with peanut butter all over my pants every time I try it. But it does spice things up, and most importantly, keep me awake.

The Trader Joe's strawberry jam that I'm using for this sandwich is bar none the best jam I've ever had. Maybe not quite worth driving 3800 miles for, but word is they're opening one in Portland...

4. Lawrence, Kansas is a surprisingly rad place to hang out.

5. I have the best friends on the face of the planet, who don’t seem to mind in the slightest when I show up at eight o’clock in the evening, expecting to be fed and given a warm place to sleep, and then disappear early in the morning. I have been thinking about this quite a bit, and asking myself how I would behave if someone showed up at my house in the same fashion, with these same expectations, a filthy car, unshowered, unshaven, and bragging how they’ve been in Alaska, Europe, and the Olympics this winter. Pretty sure that if I had been at home, or even at work at a sweet job, I would probably send someone like that back out on the street. Potentially with a kick in the ass. So I feel pretty lucky.

6. I played Boggle at my friend’s house in California. I honed my Boggle skill over an intensive two-year period at Bowdoin College, and it had been a little while since I’d played. I definitely still have it, and I totally kicked everyone’s a–. I am hereby issuing a challenge to any reader of this blog who thinks they can take me at Boggle during the biathlon championships and/or the SuperTour Finals, or even any other time, any place. Yes, I am the Petter Northug of Boggle, because I am talking smack. And just like Petter Northug, I will back it up. The only thing that falls as fast as the ink from my pen in a game of Boggle will be your spirits.

See if you can divine what that says...

If you made it this far, I have one more piece of wisdom to offer you, and this actually might be the only useful one from this entire diatribe:

IF YOU ARE DRIVING TO THE SUPERTOUR FINALS FROM THE SOUTH, STOP AT DYSARTS. YOU WILL NOT BE SORRY. Directions from Boston are here.

Dysarts is a rad truck stop just south of Bangor. They have very delicious homemade bread, pie, and other heinously delicious stuff. If you are hoping for exceptionally high performance in the actual races, you probably should bring a coach in with you to prevent yourself from eating too much.

Finally, as annoying as Quebec drivers are, the name of this town redeemed the whole province for me, irrevocably:

Even better than my favorite German town, Aha-Aule

Holy Cow.

The title of this post I think best sums up my experience over the past three weeks, since I last published a blog. I have an intimidating amount of ground to cover, so I’m going to cut straight to the chase. I think this post actually is kind of lame, and I hope to get some actual words up this evening too, but I wanted to get these photos off my chest….

Last time I wrote, I was chilling (literally [I know, I used that joke already]) in Fairbanks. Before I left, I encountered some huge baller journalism:

Woof

Woof

My original plan for the winter after Nationals was to hang out in Fairbanks, cruise back to Seattle after a couple of weeks, then drive with Topher up to Canmore for the World Cups. Then, I was skiing in Fairbanks, and I ran into a family member of one of the competitors at U-23′s. Basically, she offered to let me stay with them in Germany and report on the races. Turns out plane tickets from Seattle to Switzerland (closest airport) aren’t insurmountable expensive, and a whole crapload of logistics later, I was on my way (after first passing through Wasilla, home of Sarah Palin).

Wasilla is rad. Photo by Nick Crawford

Wasilla is rad. Photo by Nick Crawford

I had a night in Seattle on the way with some friends there, and we had a pleasant evening sampling some of the city’s famous breweries. We also paid a visit to a Mexican taco stand, which ended up being very fortuitous. Sadly, I did not order the passport meal because my passport wasn’t on me, but I am 100% sure that I would have forgotten to bring said passport to the airport had I not seen this menu at 11:00 the night before I left.

I had a vegetarian taco...

I had a vegetarian taco...

On the plane from Seattle to Washington D.C., I ran into one of my professors from college, Nat Wheelwright. How crazy is that? In addition to having an awesome first name, Nat is an excellent biology professor. He was on his way to Zurich to discuss song sparrow genetics with some Euro scientists…

I think he's taking a nap...

I think he's taking a nap...

In the United Airlines magazine, they had a pretty hilarious inane story on a Ghanian alpine skier who’s competing in Whistler. The author said that the skier’s story “may well be the definitive triumphal story of the Vancouver games.” Really? A Ghanian ex-pat who works in an office in Britain skiing to a mediocre finish in Whistler could be the “definitive triumphal story”? (I promise, there really wasn’t much more to the story than this–although he does train inside, which is pretty sweet.) This is why the mainstream media should stick to writing about football…

Kwame Nkrumah-Acheampong

Kwame Nkrumah-Acheampong

A shot from the Dulles airport that needs no explanation:

The fake grass is the best part

The fake grass is the best part

On the way up to cruising altitude on my flight to Copenhagen, I discovered that 20,000 feet is a similar climate to Fairbanks:

Fairbanks-esque weather

Fairbanks-esque weather

Then I made it to Zurich, Switzerland, which is the closest airport to Hinterzarten, where the races were taking place. They were having a sale on Jesus:

Not sure what exactly is going on here...

Not sure what exactly is going on here...

On the drive, someone in Germany got pretty psyched that they figured out where the village of Aule is:

Rad Swiss signs

Rad Swiss signs

In Germany, it turns out that the championships were sponsored by this crazy euro-disneyland type place called Europa Park. Midway through the week, they had this crazy gala banquet for the volunteers, some of the coaches, and the media, if they wanted. Normally accepting free meals would not mesh with my journalistic standards, especially ones that included amazing German beer, quail, steak, white chocolate mousse, and contortionists (yes, there is a woman inside that ball):

Really, she's inside it. Later it opened in half and she dangled by her feet...

Really, she's inside it. Later it opened in half and she dangled by her feet...

But I figured that the likelihood I would ever be on assignment at Europa Park was pretty low. And I’m young and a ski journalist. So I went, and it was awesome. And totally insane. It was like dinner theater kind of, but basically a variety show instead of anything with a narrative. It included a beauty pageant, a ventriloquist who took me from my spot at the dinner table up on stage in front of 500 people and made me look like a total jackass (Abi Holt has video, and I am hoping that it never sees the light of day), some really crazy strong dudes, singers, an out-of-shape older guy guy who all of a sudden started jumping on a trampoline and doing ridiculous stunts that seemed like they should have given him a heart attack, and plenty of other stuff.

It also included a rendition of the horribly obnoxious and persistently catchy official song of the championships. My hunch is that this guy is an actor/employee of Europa Park. He was around all week with those wooden skis, signing autographs, singing the dumb song, and gyrating his hips in a manner that I would not have approved of if my small children were watching.

[kml_flashembed movie="http://www.youtube.com/v/7MM61u9cgCQ" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]

Also, it snowed all the f—— time in Germany. This made for some pretty epic drives up to the venue, which have been well documented by the members of the U.S. team there. One thing that I will add is that even though the drive to the venue entails going up a very steep pass that seems to be subjected to constant blizzard-like conditions, nobody in this area appeared to realize that it might be a good idea to get some snow tires or chains for their cars, leading to situations like this one:

Hm....

Hm....

On the other hand, all the snow led to one of the most awesome skis I’ve ever gotten to go on. First tracks for like 15k, got to go down into a whole different valley, great views of the countryside, villages, etc.

You can't see the extremely sweet corduroy

You can't see the extremely sweet corduroy

On my last night in Germany, I tagged along on a trip to the city of Freiburg with some of the Americans, whereupon we found an interesting beverage. I am curious to find out how the American Birkebeiner got its official drink into a German bar menu:

Wodka and Red Bull...yum.

Wodka and Red Bull...yum.

On the airplane back, there were a couple of interesting things in the newspaper. First, I don’t know exactly what this advertisement is going for, but I really like it:

Violins+Guinness

Violins+Guinness

Also, Petter Northug on the cover of one of the Norwegian newspapers (I think it’s Norwegian; I don’t honestly know).

XC is a big deal in Norway

XC is a big deal in Norway

I also got a chance to buzz into Zurich on the train on the way back, which was pretty rad:

Zurich is nice

Zurich is nice

Then, we drove from Seattle to Canmore. This was a two-day process, which also entailed a stop in Winthrop, Washington for some huge baller skiing in the Methow Valley.

Since we are such important ski journalists, Topher has some serious equipment that we used to enhance productivity on our drive. You can see here the computer charger and cellular modem that gives us rad internet access on the road.

A normal day in the office

A normal day in the office

One other interesting aspect of our drive is the car that I am driving. As I mentioned in my post about the cross country drive, there is a minor problem with the ABS in my car, which leads to a pretty rad warning light:

Imagine seeing that every two miles...

Imagine seeing that every two miles...

This problem has worsened over the last week. Pretty much every time we go around a righthand turn, we get a really annoying high-pitched whine that for some reason seems to be disconcerting to any passengers that we have along. I can’t really tell why…

This is all for this post–I think I am going to put up another one with some observations in writing from the last few weeks. Unfortunately I just don’t feel like photos and writing mix very well, so this will be separate…

Road Trippin’

So the last time I checked in on this blog, I was in the middle of a three-month intensity block of journalism training in Manhattan at The Nation magazine.

NYC from the 68th floor of the Empire State Building. Thanks to Britt Harwood, who smuggled me up here as allegedly a participant in an LSAT prep class...

NYC from the 68th floor of the Empire State Building.

But to make a long story short, the internship ended on December 18th, and since winter is for skiing, not sitting around in an office, it was time to get in gear. I left New York the day after my job finished, on the 19th, got home, went to bed, got up, packed up all my stuff, and drove off in my sister’s car. No sooner than 2 miles into a 3100 mile journey (for the record, that’s less than one tenth of one percent), the dashboard starting flashing a big, red, all-caps light that said STOP! BRAKE FAULT! YOU’RE F—ED! (Okay, maybe not the last part). I pulled over and used the brakes to stop. They worked. I kept going and tried the brakes again. They still worked. The light turned off. I performed a quick cost-benefit analysis of continuing to Williamstown, Massachusetts, which resulted in me continuing to Williamstown, Massachusetts.

After a night at FasterSkier world headquarters (editor Topher Sabot’s house), I continued on to Ithaca, then Chicago and Minneapolis. Minneapolis was sweet–good skiing and really good food, courtesy of my friend and former teammate Jeff Bush and his family. When the fourth-largest snowstorm in North Dakota history decided to block my path for a few days, they graciously allowed me to celebrate Christmas with them, too (somewhat of a novelty for the EISA’s fastest Jewish skier [although--and I hope no Jewish Olympic Committee officials are reading this {something tells me there aren't}--I have celebrated Christmas before with my dad's Episcopalian wife]).

From Minneapolis, I spent my one night in a very cheap, only moderately dingy Motel Six in Fargo, North Dakota (no wood/body-part chipping, fortunately), then moved on to beautiful Glendive, Montana, where I spent the night at a friend’s house. Oh, wait, I raced in Minneapolis. And lost six minutes to Matt Liebsch in a 10k. Fortunately, there are no fitness requirements for being an xc ski journalists, and also fortunately, I have some room for improvement with my training, given the two hours per week that I got in New York.

Also before reaching Glendive, I got a chance to visit the Theodore Roosevelt National Park, in Western North Dakota. For those of you who think there isn’t anything cool in North Dakota, you’re wrong. There are actually 16 cool things in North Dakota: Theodore Roosevelt National Park and the 15 elk inside it.

Unfortunately, I didn't have my biathlon rifle ready for the elk, but fortunately, my friend's dad shot one (in a different location), and I got to have elk lasagna in Missoula.

Unfortunately, I didn't have my biathlon rifle ready for the elk, but fortunately, my friend's dad shot one (in a different location), and I got to have elk lasagna in Missoula.

In the park, I drove about 10 miles down the plowed scenic road to where it became unplowed. Then I strapped on a pair of my classic rock skis, and headed out for a quick tour. There was one other person within a 10 mile radius, and he was about 250 yards down the trail. Once I passed him, there was absolutely nobody around, and the scenery was spectacular.  The road was unplowed, but most of the powder had blown off, leaving a 3-inch deep layer of packed snow on the road that was perfect for extra-blue classic skiing. I skied out for about an hour, climbed a hill, took some pictures, and skied back.

Some baller skiing. Theodore Roosevelt=the man.

Some baller skiing. Theodore Roosevelt=the man.

After the park and eastern Montana, I drove to Missoula, and then to Seattle. This is a spectacular stretch of driving, and I highly recommend it to anyone with a lot of time on their hands and a fuel-efficient vehicle (there are a lot of uphills).

No, I do not endorse taking pictures while driving.

No, I do not condone shooting pictures while driving.

The only bad part about this section was that I’d finished my book on tape (John Krakauer’s “Where Men Win Glory”, about Pat Tillman–I really recommend it, except for the parts where he tries to tell the history of the Cold War) and there were no radio stations, except for one that had these really dumb, obnoxious DJ’s talking about the club that they were building (?) inside the radio station, and they would NOT shut up. I was very frustrated. In other places across the country, radio was actually very good–the public radio network across North Dakota and eastern Montana was great. Especially entertaining was the “Thomas Jefferson Radio Hour” in North Dakota, which features scholar Clay Jenkinson in character as the third president, talking about things like his relationship with his wife, and how it compared to John Adams’ relationship with his wife…for a whole hour. Okay, so actually, in this particular case, maybe the concept was better than the execution, but who cares? Two other choice (and/or shocking) quotes that I heard on the radio west of Minneapolis (and by repeating them, I certainly am not endorsing them):

1. “Those funbags of hers are really quite remarkable.” –Some DJ referring to the anatomy of Dog the Bounty Hunter’s partner.

2. “100 percent of the Islamic terrorists coming at us are Muslim.” –Some conservative commentator. Profound, and needing no further analysis.

In any case, I made it to Alaska, and I’m now chilling (literally) there, waiting for things to start happening. Hopefully the stories that come out of here in the next two weeks will be decidedly more professional and less inane than this blog post.