Monday, January 8, 2018

Gunnar Sloggin'

We've come to expect this, haven't we, and even take a certain amount of pride in this.  After all, as DT so notably pointed out, "If it were easy to wax for, this race would be for [little kitty cats]."  As it was, we had rain and freezing rain and wintry mix in the days leading up to the Gunnar Hagen, and the temperature never got below freezing the night before.  But never mind that; there was a big festive pre-race crowd in the waxing shed and an army of waxing benches set up in the stadium area, all testing ... red klister?  Purple klister?  Zeroes?  Skins?  It was snowing hard just before race time, but that quickly changed to serious rain, and, as David Evans said, you needed a different wax for every lap!

Still, 61 racers lined up for the 30k, with 32 7.5k racers right behind them.  In the 30k, there were 13 women; the winner was Heleene Tambet in 2:01, originally from Estonia, then a cross country runner at the University of New Mexico, and now a member of Plain Valley Nordic Team.  Second was Sarah Widder from Seattle, and third was Marlene Farrell from Leavenworth Nordic.  The men's race was led from start to finish by powerhouse Michael Karas in 1:34, followed by Rune Harkestad, Pierre Niess from Plain Valley, and Jeff "I'm the race director; I don't have time to wax!" Hashimoto, who double poled the whole race and finished in 1:45.

As usual, the 7.5k race was dominated by juniors, which is so awesome -- these kids are our future! -- with Andreea Ghizila (Momentum Northwest) winning the women's race in 29:29, followed by Sadie Hansom (Momentum Northwest) and Ruthmabel Boytz, and Isak Larson (Ellensburg Ski Team) winning the men's race in 25:23, followed by Cooper Jackson and Blair Voorhees, both from Momentum Northwest.  But skiers with a few more trips around the sun under their belts put in an impressive showing, too.  In the women's race, the first finisher over 21 years old was Carey Gazis, in fourth place, and in the men's race, the first eight finishers were 16 years old, followed by ... 70-year-old Jeff Eustis!  I love this.

(The link to the full results list is on the Kongsberger website.)

The pre-awards ceremony featured a pull-up contest in the cabin among some of the men whose arms weren't tired enough yet from racing.  Rune led the pack with 18, and then someone said, hey, maybe the women should give it a try.  So Ruth Cordell, former gymnast, hoisted her tiny frame a number of times, and then Andreea stepped up and whipped out 20!  The men can be forgiven if they were surprised to be chicked in a pull-up contest, because Andreea is a ringer: a world-class sprint canoeist on the US Junior Sprint Canoe Team who won a bronze at the Olympic Hopes in Hungary last year and has her eye on the 2020 Olympics.  You go, girl!

And then on to the awards and prizes.  Jeff Hashimoto did his usual masterful job of keeping the crowded cabin full of hungry tired skiers engaged in the proceedings as he announced winners and handed out prizes.  The Master of the Ages award went, no surprises here, to Rune, with Ginny Price in second.  Many thanks to our sponsors Helly Hansen and Ascent Outdoors for the fun prizes!

Big big thanks to our fabulous groomer Nick, working with less than ideal conditions to make us some beautiful tracks!  Many thanks also to the legion of volunteers who make the race happen: race director Jeff Hashimoto, timing chief Augustina Harper, chief of course Jim Slyfield, kitchen czars Kare and Aase Gjolmesli, parking lot enforcers Jim Felty and Doug Holtan, feed station stalwarts Siobhan Knowles, TJ Owen, June Lindsey, and Andrew Gastineau, course monitors Max Limb, Keith Ritland, and Eber Teeter, stadium workers Jeff McGrew, Jim Repsher, Jim Lindsey, and Isaac Harkestad, and all of the many others who stepped in to help set up the stadium area and the course markers, to help with the parking, to help in the kitchen, to help at the feed station, to help with the timing, to pick up bibs and to cheer for the finishers and to clean up the cabin afterward (thanks, Momentum kids!) and to do the countless invisible jobs that need to be done.  You all are heroes!

And of course, thanks to all the racers who looked at the rainy forecast, shrugged their shoulders, and put on a race bib and did their best, whatever that was on that day.  You are heroes too, and we look forward to seeing you next month for the Stampede!

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Making Amabilis Great Again

That sweet new baby trail we built this fall got its first on-snow spa treatment last weekend!  David Evans was there and wrote us this awesome report, to go with the fun pictures from Rob Corkran.  PS. Rob's picture above came from the next day, when the sun was out and the glorious view from the trail was visible.  Don designed the trail and he gets to name it, and giving a shout-out to this view, he is calling it the Lower Picketts View Trail.  Can't you just hardly wait to get up there and check it out?

Now, David's report, Rob's photos.

Okay, I admit it.  I love trail maintenance.  Happy as a clam maintaining trails with school groups, ski teams, my sons, or alone, there is something deeply rewarding about using good ole physical labor to improve a ski trail system.  Particularly when you want Nick to stay in his groomer and, well, groom, rather than interrupt his crucial work with the sort of mindless yet essential branch cutting and hauling mere Neanderthals like me can take care of. 
   KSC trail maintenance has usually meant walking through the Viking loop on a late October day and enjoying the fall colors while lopping the occasional delinquent branch or stubborn shrub.  Not so on Sunday, December 9, when a bunch of KSCers, plus sundry other good Samaritans [ed.  note: many thanks to the WTA and Snoqualmie Nordic folks who joined in!], met up at the saddle point past the Y on Amabilis and did what KSC has legally been unable to do for as long as I can remember: actually establish a new trail. 
   Okay, the trail is only about a 1K loop, and it takes even a reasonably good skate skier the better part of an hour to actually climb up to the Amabilis saddle point and its erstwhile overgrown forest service road-now reborn as a ski trail.  This means, of course, that the vast majority of Cabin Creek skiers will never rejoice in the new trail's splendors.  No matter, its exclusivity will only add to its allure, and the fact that it will probably have skiable snow nearly six months of the year may lend it a certain caché, particularly for those wanting to ski on the very best snow at Exit 63.  Plus, Jeff and Uhuru Hashimoto loved skiing on it so much during its informal Sunday inauguration that Uhuru was overheard saying "It's so much fun, I'm just going to keep skiing this loop until someone kicks me off," which, coming from a Hashimoto, is about as good a product endorsement as you can hope for in the world of incipient ski trails.   
   Did I say I walked up there?  Let me explain.  Don and Frank and those of earlier morning starts and greater senses of imperative had already delivered their trail tools and backpacks to Bill, Nick's buddy who helps out with grooming, who had already hauled everything up by sled/snowmobile and come down again by the time I sauntered in from the parking lot at 9.  So, having missed the convoy, and not having ever practiced skiing with a saw in one hand, a long lopper in the other, and toting a reasonably heavy backpack with at least some of the 10 Essentials, I decided to hoof it in boots, particularly after Bill suggested that the snow was crap below the Y.   
   Oddly, I had also not asked precisely where the new trail was, and so, once at the Y, had a brief moment of panic when I fully realized I had no idea where this putative work party was congregating.  Fortunately, following others' tracks in snow is pretty easy, a task made even easier when a skier went by downhill and confirmed a work party was ahead, albeit not for another mile and 500 more feet of vertical. 
   Clearly no stranger to the internal combustion engine and the world of dangerous toys, Don Brooks worked the chainsaw, bringing down the sundry tree that prevented the desired 18' trail width.  Of course, each tree was cut about four feet from the actual ground, at which point snow had to be cratered out from around the stump before another cut, this one as close to possible to ground level, was administered.  The rest of us worker bees lopped branches, hauled logs, and otherwise tuned the nascent ski loop to Nick's specifications.   
   One huge advantage of performing trail work in the winter when snow is on the ground is that you're twice as close to any problematic branches - higher up because of the snowpack underneath (about three feet currently at 4,000 ft.), the branches lower down because of the weight of the snow.  Because of this, a winter trail maintainer has a big advantage over those mere warmer month pedestrians - so long as he can keep his puny hands warm enough in the 15 F air to work the tools, that is! 
   And now you may be wondering, after all of that, how long it took my now tired, feeble body to get down the mountain?  Well, I happened to overhear when Bill would be snowmobiling back up to fetch the sled with all the gear and so, never one to pass up an opportunity, I was immediately grateful when he, seeing me trudging back down the mountain, kindly offered to give me a ride back to our cozy cabin.  The warm apple crisp awaiting us in the cabin, courtesy of Rob and Suzanne Corcran, melted in our mouths, a perfect ending to a magical day.

Saturday, December 9, 2017


"Have these guys figured out that, when you and your fellow competitors have given it all you've got and the finish line nears, it feels better to celebrate the effort than to digitize the outcome?"
One of the coolest things, for my money, about belonging to a club centered around a particular activity -- say, cross country skiing -- is discovering that fellow club members have other sides to their lives that I don't know anything about.  Take Ian Whyte, for example.  You've seen him on the ski trails and at the races, Ian with the flowing silver mane.  But I bet you didn't know that, in a parallel universe, he's actually a distance skateboard racer.  I didn't even know there was such a thing, but there is, and he's damn good at it: first in his age group in the International Distance Skateboarding Association rankings last year, fourth this year but aiming for first again next year with some improvements in equipment and technique.  Finding out about this is so much fun!

Turns out the biggest distance skateboarding race of the year is called Adrenalina, held in San Diego. Ian was there racing and sends us this awesome report: a peek at a piece of the world of sports that we're probably not familiar with, a chance to broaden our view and taste something new.  Thanks, Ian, for the report!

Adrenalina, the First Time
Ian Whyte

Photo: Kevin Kennedy

Adrenalina. The last couple of years, my friend Smooth Phil starts asking me if I’m going to do it almost as soon as the season’s last Pacific Northwest Long Distance Push (LDP) skateboarding race is over. What’s an Adrenalina? This year, I’m going to find out.

One thing I do know is that Adrenalina is a marathon, which means that if I’m going to do it I’ve got to figure out how to do this pumping thing that has enabled Sandbagger James to thrash me all season. So I call the guy from the board company-which-will-remain-nameless and ask him if the company can get behind getting me set up with a hybrid push-pump board in time for me to train on it a couple weeks before riding it at Adrenalina. He checks with the board-maker and they say right-on; yet, somehowever, my departure for San Diego comes and I go without said board ever materializing. Fortunately for me, Pablo, the organizer of Adrenalina, turns out to be both the owner of Adrenalina Skate Shop in La Jolla and one of the warmest, friendliest, most accommodating and empathetic dudes ever. On Thursday before the Saturday race, he sets me up with a board and bushings that will work with the trucks I bought for the board that never arrived from the unnamed company. After a poke (the Hawaiian tuna and avocado poke, I mean) from the restaurant down La Jolla Boulevard, I am on my way to Fiesta Island, home of Adrenalina, the Skateboard Marathon.

The Marathon is six laps around the island. I push off on my new board and it’s cool, and it pumps, but, man, I’m so much higher off the ground than I’m used to being. I cruise a couple of laid-back laps, but I wonder about the effect on my back of the added height during higher-speed pushing over six laps.

(Here I pay homage to my 11-year old rider son, who is not here because he will keep goal for his soccer team back in Seattle later the next day, and share with you, likely against your will, that my fear, with respect to the additional height of the new deck, is that the other shoe might drop. Drop. Get it? Sorry. And, actually, I was making Dad jokes long before I became a Dad.)

Friday, I roll back out to the shop. It’s packed today, riders from all over the world are rolling in to pick up their race stuff. Somehow, Pablo and his colleagues Henry and Ben find a way to get me on a deck that will get me a little lower, a Gravity deck with cool wave graphics. Not that the graphics matter a little. They matter a lot!

Angela is in the parking lot when I get to the island. Angela is a saint, married to an angel. Okay, they’re human, she and Chris, but the races they put on every year in Arlington, Washington, are heavenly. Actually, every LDP race I’ve ever ridden is like that in its own way, and for each race you can draw a direct line from the organizer’s soul to the heavenliness of the race. Kelly McGuirk and Conan Gay (Oregon’s Push in the Woods and Bend Beatdown, respectively), I’m talking about you! Angela and I push and pump a lap around the course. The board abides!

Meanwhile, SP,  SJ, and the rest of the PacNW team (the ‘squatches) are rolling in. They are too funny, usually. But sometimes they’re just right. Okay, most of the time. Collectively, we drive waiters crazy, especially crusty old controlling Cro-Magnon cuisine-slingers in Little Italy on Friday night.

I pin my number on my race shirt and watch “The Accountant” on the Best Western cable feed, allowing the omnipotence of Ben Affleck’s character to permeate my soul and fill me with delusions of skateboard marathon grandeur, until I see my board out of the corner of my eye and remember that, its profound copaseticity notwithstanding, I still haven’t really figured out the pumping thing.

RaceDay. My eyes and nose trip over each other coming to terms with the fact that there is a legit java purveyor, Café Moto, blessing us with coffee forty feet from the start line. I am overcome with gratitude. I’m not kidding. It’s one such Adrenalina moment among many.

Pablo counts down from fifteen, and we’re off. I push and push and push and push and pump and push and push and push and pump and push. A lot of pushing, really. SJ catches up with me on Lap 2, and we leapfrog and draft and so on through the middle of Lap 4, when I am overcome with balance issues. I never go down really hard, but I come off my board like five times on the lap. By the end of it, I’ve lost contact with SJ and the wolfpack of four or five with whom he’s rolling. I think I’ll make it back, but, really, when you lose contact like that, unless wolves within the pack totally lose it, it’s over.
Photo: Lance Curry
I keep pushing on and pumping too, though, and I do catch a few people in the last two laps, and enjoy a pitched game of leapfrogging and drafting with a bushy red-bearded thirty-something who later turns out to be a teenager.  At some point the lead pack passes me, and I amp up my cadence to lose ground less slowly to them as they fly by than I would have had I not begun to amp. Soon they will pass under the big red glorious International Distance Skating Association banner that arches over the finish line, the four of them, holding hands, confounding traditional concepts of competition, something they have done in several races recently. It’s revolutionary, really, when you think about it. The competition thing comes from caveman days, when losing meant death, hunger, like that. Have these guys figured out that, when you and your fellow competitors have given it all you’ve got and the finish line nears, it feels better to celebrate the effort than to digitize the outcome?

Photo: Mike Frank
Apres-LDP racing is festive. For me, it’s euphoric, even, independent of how I stack up against the competition that day. Endorphin levels are high, but it’s more than that; something about what a unique place in the endurance sport landscape we’re carving out for ourselves.

Apres-Adrenalina: Massage therapists from San Diego Sports Medicine, burritos, Gatorade, all kinds of skateboard industry tents (including Gravity Skateboards, who made the deck I rode and many more). Then Pablo takes the sandy stage. For three hours he has implored the faltering and the charging as they crossed the line to begin another lap, yet he seems to have saved the highest gear of his infectious enthusiasm for last, celebrating the speediest of the day up to the podium: Schwag time.

SP and SJ organize a PNW ‘squatches photo shoot. We are proud. We are friendly. We are awesome. We are purple. We are funny. We are family.

Photo: Brad T. Miller
A couple hours later, I’m sitting on the beach, scarfing Ceviche before I head to the airport. I love Ceviche. Any trip that ends with Ceviche becomes a good trip. This one becomes a great trip, one of the greatest 60-hour push-in pump-outs ever. My eyes slip from the Pacific horizon to Alyssa-from-Chicago, LDP royalty, engulfing herself in the crashing waves with her friend. Next time I’ll bring the longboard that gets wet, stay longer; that will be a different Adrenalina. This one, this one is number one.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Isbjørn is My Spirit Animal

Ah, a full week of heaven at Silver Star over Thanksgiving!  Seven days to ski/eat/sleep/chat with friends/repeat.  The first part of the week was the best: gray and cold and snowing hard every day, my favorite kind of weather!  Skiing by myself every day deep into the storm, not another soul in sight, reminded me of how much I love polar bears, and that reminded me of these words by one of my favorite authors, Tim Cahill:

"I wondered, then, why I saw something of my own inner life in the polar bear. Indeed, there was something of everyone's life, some universal identity. It was about three in the morning, a rather hopeless time, when you think about the loved one who died, the broken relationship that was supposed to last forever. We've all been there: wounded; weak. We retreat into isolation, perhaps self-pity. If we survive -- and we will -- the broken parts heal over. We are, perhaps, stronger than we were. Whatever hurt us, whatever nearly broke us -- it's still gone. We're lone travelers across a barren landscape, but in time, we begin to move through it with assurance -- powerful, completely wild, and independent. Like the ice bear."

At the end of every afternoon I skied out of the dark and reconnected with the human world, with chai and soup and conversation at Bugaboo's, my home away from home, then headed to the rooftop hot tub at my condo.  With the bubbles turned off, I let the snowflakes fall silently on my head and soaked away the day.  Then I was starving for dinner, either by myself in my condo with a good book or catching up with various friends at the Bulldog, people I only see once a year at Silver Star.

Later in the week, the alpine slopes opened, more of my friends showed up, and the temperature warmed then dropped again, leaving the trails a little chunkier and slidier.  I found a manageable hill and added some solid hill repeats, 4x10" one day, and then a little steeper 15x2" another day.  Happy muscles, happy skier, happy day.  The week was just the break I needed from all the cares of the real world, and the perfect length -- by the end, I was happy to ride home with Peter and Lisa, snug in the back seat while blizzards raged outside the warm car, and happy to go back to work the next day, knowing that the snow and the wind and the deep, dark forest, the weasels and deer and moose, and farther north the hunting polar bear, are all still out there somewhere.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Hooray for Trail Work!

On how many trail work days have you found yourself so energized and excited by the project you're working on that you rush through lunch so you can hurry back to the trails and keep working?  Yeah, in my experience, never.   But that's what happened today, and the reason, as several people said to me over the course of the long day, is that it's a hell of a lot more fun to build new trails than it is to maintain them.

Build new trails?  Yes!  A small handful of KSC members put in some very focused, committed, and creative work recently to forge a partnership with the Nature Conservancy that allows us to build new trails on Amabilis -- seriously!  Here is Suzanne's synopsis of what's been happening:
"... the proposal I pulled together [is] a rather thin preliminary proposal in anticipation of a more robust plan and grant application in March and sent to TNC Sept 1. Frank, Don and I collaborated on this throughout the summer. The red trails on the map are the ones we wanted to finish up this year. You will see that is a bit ambitious given our time frame. We have not yet finished mapping out the final plan (the five-year goal) and that will include additional trails radiating out from the saddle and also trails on Forest Service land. Don is the genius behind the trail plan; Frank is the genius behind the viewpoints and culvert reparation needs, and the networker extraordinaire (he set me up with the TNC people); and I am the writer and the make-happener (holding the whip on due dates, and keeping our eyes on the main goals.) Rune and Keith are both very quick on legalistic turnarounds. We are a good team."

So the paperwork was signed on Thursday, two days ago, and today we met at the cabin bright and early on a breathtakingly gorgeous October day, carpooled up to the saddle on Amabilis, and built a new trail from scratch!  Don and Frank led the way with their chainsaws, cutting down the trees in the way of the new trail, and the rest of us followed behind with loppers and clippers, trimming the branches off the down trees and throwing the debris into the forest so the new trail doesn't look so raw.  We moved the logs we could off the trail and left the others for tomorrow's chainsaw gang, and lightly trimmed the huckleberry bushes so they won't gunk up Nick's groomer (yes, this new baby trail will be groomed!).

It's not pretty yet; pretty trails aren't built in a day.  But tomorrow Jim and some others (maybe you?) are going to head up there to chop up the big logs and trim down the stumps we left behind, and the Wednesday crew will do some more magic then.  It's possible we'll get snow by the end of the week and this year's trail work season may be over, but we've made a solid start on the new trails.  The one we built today is only a kilometer (we can only do so much in one day!), but it's going to be a lovely addition to the existing trail system on Amabilis (and it has a surprise peek-a-boo view that you will love).  Best of all, it demonstrates a new and valuable partnership with the Nature Conservancy that is going to have a long-lasting effect, especially as the trail systems along the I-90 corridor get more and more crowded and climate change has us climbing higher and higher looking for snow.

It was an immensely satisfying day; many many thanks to everyone who showed up, either to work on the new trail, or to spruce up the old trail, or to get the snowmobiles and other machinery in tip-top condition, ready for winter.

Pulling a cut tree ...

... and flipping a cut tree

Don, the human bulldozer


Jeff, looking a little like a male model!

Ryder (smarter and better behaved than many humans!), Linnea, and Sharon

Uber trail designers!

No one is too young for trail work!

Rudy shows us how dogs do trail work

Glenn, dancing with the trees


Part of the gang

Trees down, new trail coming into view

More new trail

Frank says the branches we threw into the woods will look like this in 10 or 20 years, or 100

One more picture of happy-dog Rudy