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You don't dry your skins in the shower?!

Temperatures fell to single digits, it dropped six inches of blower over night, the wind died, the sun came out, and I once again found myself laid out like a sorry little sea creature on the uphill route. Unlike yesterday, today there were other skiers skinning toward the summit, and from my snow level vantage point I had the perfect opportunity to watch them move across the 30 degree pitch of glare ice with only minor hesitation and baubles. What the heck?!

After a few minutes, I gave up, slid into some wind protected trees, stripped the skins, and amid bouts of wallowing like a pig in mud through two plus feet of wind blown and death gripping ice nubbins with my free hand, I kickstepped to the top. Then, because the turns were worth it, I did it again.

I think I have decent skinning technique. I stand up straight, try not to break at the waist, breathe, and attempt to keep my skis flat and my skin surface plastered to the ground. Starfish mode is not part of my regular skinning game plan. On the way off the hill, I stopped in at the local backcountry supply shop. I was thinking maybe taller climbing wires might help me focus my weight over the center of my skis, when the owner came over to chat. I explained my experience over the last two days, and in general. I said that I didn’t really think it was a gear issue, as I’d watched other folks maneuver across the death sections on similar set-ups. It must be something I’m doing wrong, I said. He looked me up and down.

You really want to know? he asked. Your “petiteness” is your problem*. Those other people were probably all quite a bit bigger than you.

So what, I need to start eating butter? He grinned, and suggested Deschutes Brewery Porter. Not funny. Not funny at all.

Frustration is a great motivator, as is pride. I’ll be spending the next bit trying to move from decent skinning technique to pretty near perfect. I’m going to stick just like the big kids.**

*While I admit I’m on the shrimpy side, there are a ton of other folks my size and smaller out there killing it.

**If that doesn’t work, I’ll be buying rounds, and asking for extra fat with my dairy products.

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A few inches over night. An early wake up. Strong winds. Coming down hard. Breaking trail. Putting in track. Meandering routes. Underfoot, cracking. Little whomps. Blue ice + steep slope + strong gust + poor planning  = Woops. A starfish imitation. Internal monologue: “Huh, still sliding.” “Too bad I’m a mammal.” “How the heck am I going to get out of this?” “Maybe if you’d stop laughing…” “Friction is your friend!” Dripping snot. Numb fingers. Shake ’em out. Front side option. Peeled skins. Big grins. Powder turns. Rhythm sections. Low hanging branches. Duck. Small ollies through snow shoe chunder. “Howdy” in the trees. New friends. More laps.

It snowed today. It was awesome!

In DC, I rode clipped in, wearing a mini skirt, in rush hour traffic. After knee surgery, 30, 40, 60 miles at a time on skinny tires across rolling hills and rural pavement. My brace left me with tan lines running like tiger strips down my left quad and calf. To school, to work, carrying bags, skis and other bikes. On loaned-too-big cruiser bikes, cross bikes and 14-pound carbon fiber frames, I can make it happen. But I can’t mountain bike to save my life. It scares the beejeezus out of me. Perhaps because of that, I can’t seem to let it go.

Last year, under the tree, Santa stuffed knee pads with a red ribbon tied around their mesh bag. This year, Mastering Mountain Bike Skills: 2nd Edition, came wrapped in snowmen and red Christmas paper. Neither of us are giving up. Stubborn.

Tonight, I spent 20 minutes riding laps around the front yard in the pouring rain by the glow of a headlamp and a 50 watt porch light. Maybe, if it would snow, I’d stop. I’d go back to doing things I’m good at rather than falling off my pedals and into my handlebars. But maybe not.

I’m aiming for basic mountain biking competency by spring, and I’m accepting that to get there I’m going to have to suck for a while. That’s hard for me. I think it’s probably hard for a lot of us. Harder, though, would be to stop dreaming of the lines I want to ride, but can’t yet handle. Harder still would be to stop trying, to come in from the dark and admit that this isn’t my sport, that I’ll never ride those lines. By comparison, in the rain, 20 minutes at a time, is a cakewalk.

I burned a loaf of bread this morning because I was writing. I checked the oven and thought, “Ten more minutes,” then I sat down and typed for 25.

It’s been a while since writing sucked me in like that. It feels good to type, smile, stare briefly out the window into the middle distance, then get back at it.

This little column has a ways to go, but the beginning (posted below) is reminding me that sometimes writing is just straight up fun.

In 2012, I hope your work makes you grin.

Running Into the New Year

The first mile and a half are the toughest. In those six or eight or 12 minutes, your hands seem to get progressively colder and wind whips at every bit of exposed skin turning it red like the coals glowing in the woodstove that you foolishly left behind at home. If you’re lucky, the sun is out and you can think about how great it is to live in Central Oregon in January because unlike those poor schleps in Salt Lake City, Ut., Missoula, Mont., or Bellingham, Wash., you can at least get some Vitamin D while you freeze. More than likely, though, it’s sleeting sideways and the dark is either being slow to retreat or closing in fast, and you’re thinking you should remember to buy batteries for your headlamp before this weekend’s 10-miler.

At 2,000 steps in your blood finally reaches your toes, and your feet go from cherry popsicles to something bordering on comfortable. You pick up your head, squint down your eyes against the grit the weather gods are throwing your way, and grin. In arctic temperatures and ugly weather you’re taking control. You’re getting stronger, healthier, happier. Big Bob selling treadmills on late night infomercials on channel 352 can kiss your ass. You’re filled with joy, and all you have to do for the next forty minutes is keep putting one foot in front of the other.

A trip to the hardware store. A trip to the grocery store. A trip to the fabric store.

Measuring cups. Skill saw. Exacto knife. Knitting needles. Wire cutters. Staple gun. Sewing machine. Kitchen Aid. Hex head drill bit.

Cookies packed in emptied oatmeal containers. Paper shopping bags cut apart and retaped around boxes. Does throwing a tarp over something count as wrapping? What if I put a bow on top?

Hello Christmas. Where ya been?

Right about the time contest organizer and Patagonia snowboard ambassador Josh Dirksen yelled go, professional snowboarder Scotty Whitlake fell over laughing, legend Terje Haakosen cracked a smile and 28 shreds of all ages and genders grabbed splitboards and took off running uphill in shitty snow and poor visibility for no prize money and nothing but bragging rights was when I fell back in love with snowboarding. The best part? I wasn’t alone.

For the rest of this post, visit Patagonia’s weblog, The Cleanest Line.

Terje Haakonsen joined 300 participants to race the Dirksen Derby at Mt. Bachelor this weekend. For those of us who grew up watching the Sprocking Cat make a playground out of lines that were once thought unrideable, it was a little like seeing Gerry Lopez in the line-up (he was there, too).

The winter issue of National Parks Magazine is out, and it looks great. Check it out here: National Parks. For this issue I was fortunate to work with the scientists at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore in Michigan to tell the story of the endangered Piping Plover, a small migratory shorebird that makes its nest among the cobbles of the Great Lakes.

Here’s the beginning:

A Shoreline Rescue: The National Park Service fights to bring Great Lakes’ piping plovers back from the brink.

In the morning hours, when the lake and the sky are the same soft gray, Alice Van Zoeren steps among the small stones marking the high waterline at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore in Michigan. Van Zoeren walks this route almost every day from late April to June, scanning the beach for signs of newly arrived piping plovers—but this time, the scene looks different: A late-spring storm has repositioned the lakeshore’s cobbles. To most visitors, the disturbance would go unnoticed. But to Van Zoeren, who has been monitoring piping plovers here for the last eight years, it’s as if someone came by and rearranged the furniture without asking permission. Once the plovers build their nests and lay their eggs amid the stones, such a seemingly innocuous event can have disastrous consequences for the small, pale shorebird with bright orange legs. … continued here …

I’m trying an experiment. Starting this Saturday I’m going to spend one day a week not plugged in. Barring emergencies, I’ll be leaving the phone turned off, the laptop closed. I won’t be checking email at five in the morning and 11 at night, or problem solving photography issues for a story that’s due on Monday. One day a week I’m going to cut the figurative wires. I’m going to stop Z*, and it’s going to be awesome.

*See the essay below written by Anthony Doerr for Orion Magazine in 2009.

Am I Still Here?: Looking for validation in a wired world

I HARBOR A DARK TWIN INSIDE. He’s a sun-starved, ropy bastard and he lives somewhere north of my heart. Every day he gets a little stronger. He’s a weed, he’s a creeper; he’s a series of thickening wires inside my skull.

Call him Z. I like weather; Z survives in spite of it. I like skiing; Z likes surfing the web. I like looking at trees; Z likes reading news feeds. I pull weeds in the garden; Z whispers in my ear about climate change, nuclear proliferation, ballooning health-insurance premiums.

Last week I flew into central Idaho on a ten-seat Britten-Norman Islander to spend five days in the wilderness. The plane’s engines throbbed exactly like a heartbeat. The sky was a depthless blue. Little white clouds were reefed on the horizon. Slowly, steadily, the airplane pulled us farther and farther from the gravel airstrip where we started, over the Tangled Mountains and the Tangled Lakes, big aquamarine lozenges gleaming in basins, flanked by huge, shattered faces of granite, a hundred miles from anything, and the ridgelines scrolling beneath my window were steadily lulling me into an intoxication, a daze—the splendor of all this!—and then Z tapped me (metaphorically) on the (metaphorical) shoulder.

Hey, he said. You haven’t checked your e-mail today.

“I THINK,” Thoreau wrote in his essay “Walking,” “that I cannot preserve my health and spirits unless I spend four hours a day at least—and it is commonly more than that—sauntering through the woods and over the hills and fields absolutely free from all worldly engagements.”

Ha! Four hours! Clearly Thoreau did not own a BlackBerry.

Yesterday—and this is embarrassing—I checked my e-mail before leaving for work and after I got to work, and I checked it every now and then during the day at work, and, after bicycling home from work, a total distance of two miles, I checked my e-mail again. Just in case a few e-mails flew over my head through the rain while I pedaled home.

It’s disconcerting, it’s shameful. I tell myself: e-mail is work-related. E-mail is work-related and anything work-related is family-related, right? Because work makes money and money feeds the family. Money justifies all. Doesn’t it?

What my evil twin Z knows, and what I am loath to articulate, to even contemplate, is that checking e-mail or tinkering around on Facebook or reading snippets about Politician A on Blog B is not about making money at all but about asking the world a very urgent question.

That question is this: Am I still here?

For the full essay, click here: Am I Still Here

Forecasts call for a bit of snow tonight and tomorrow. Hopefully it will come. In the mean time, this week’s outdoor column for The Source Weekly checks out the winter climbing scene at Smith. The first bit is below. For the whole piece, go here: Less Crowds, More Routes.

Puffy coats and wool beanies at belay stations. Handwarmers tucked into chalkbags. Thin socks in shoes a half size larger than normal. Sun on south facing rock. Thermoses filled with hot tea. Classic lines with no crowds, and temperatures perfect for sending. Welcome to central Oregon winter rock climbing.

While many locals have been busy deriding the weather for a lack of snow, a few have taken to celebrating the recent high pressure for its resulting extension of the fall climbing season at Smith Rock and local bouldering areas. … continued…