Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Misadventures in California

The diversity of California continues to blow my mind.  We got a last-minute Cheapo ticket to Reno, Nevada for a spontaneous spring adventure and snuck away last week.   The plan was to head to California for a little trail running road trip.  We were well aware that it was still winter in the High Sierras and there would be lots of snow, but our idea was to drive up and over Donner Pass to visit some greener parts of California.  In particular the trails of Auburn, California area with its easy access to the American River trails and the Western States Trail system.

We arrived to a blue sky day and took a super-quick road trip to Lake Tahoe and up to Truckee.  Later in the week, I had plans to gather with running friends who live in both of these places, but we thought we would take advantage of the day and enjoy the views under a clear sky.  With storms in the forecast, it was a great idea.

Dancin' in Truckee

Drama Queen in Tahoe

We rolled in to Auburn, changed in to our running clothes and set off to find ourselves a trail.  Aaaah!  Sweet Springtime.  It's was glorious to run in our T-shirts, splash through puddles (and deep streams) and smell the growth.  There were signs of springtime everywhere and the outdoor world in the American River Valley was coming alive. 

No Cliff Poopin'!!

American River

Spring time on Quarry Road

We decided to head up Brown's Bar Trail - on part of the Western States Course and were surprised to find the creeks overflowing and water running down the middle of the trail.  Yiiipeee!  We splashed our way up the trail, getting wet and dirty and happy and joyous.  The creek crossings just kept getting deeper and deeper.  We debated turning around, but we were having too much fun.

And then we almost stepped on a newt.  Shortly after, we discovered another and another and another.  Orange Bellied Newts!  Surely a sign of spring. Or a sign that magical things do exist in this world.

The shady trail, cold water and dark ravine made us pretty cold, pretty quick so it was time to abandon our newt friends and return to the "dryer" trail.  Keith was practically skipping his way down the trail.

....and so was I.

Hooray for Spring!

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Reality Shift

I have a confession.

I needed to get away from winter for awhile.

But it's all good.

I still love you winter.

Last Weekend

This Weekend

Friday, March 25, 2011

Leysin, Switzerland - My Life Circa 1990

This past September, I took a trip to Europe to participate in the incredible Tor des Geants race in Courmayeur, Italy.  I haven't spent much time in recent years in Europe, so the race was a great excuse to enjoy a short European vacation. I was pretty excited to be back in the Alps and back in my old stomping grounds of France and Switzerland.

Mont-Blanc in the distance

I had spent a fair amount of time in this region, as a 21 year old Ski Bum working at ski resorts in France and Switzerland.  The village of Chamonix in particular, was a real blast from the past.  When I woke up in the morning and saw the Mont Blanc Massif from the window of my hotel, I nearly started weeping.  I had forgotten just how incredible and immense the Alps are.  I had also forgotten just how good the coffee and croissants taste when they are fresh from a French bakery.  I love the Alps.

After my race, I was extra motivated to return to the place that I had spent the most time:  Leysin, Switzerland.  After dropping out of the race, I got my broken-down-post-race self on a bus, a train and then a Cog Train to reach this place. In this beautiful Swiss village, located high on a green mountain side, I relaxed, recuperated and reminisced. 

Leysin, Switzerland

December 1990:  Leysin, Switzerland

It was a Happy, High Alpine Land of Sunshine and Swiss Chalets.  It was a pretty little village, perched high on a mountain slope, with a expansive view of the Mont Blanc and the Dents du Midi.  It was everything you think of, when you think of Switzerland. 

From the valley below, the Aigle-Leysin Cog Train climbs 1,047 metres to reach the village of Leysin. In winter, it's a vibrant ski town full of international students, visitors and ski bums.  A mountain place of rolling hills, jagged peaks, historic Swiss Chalets, churches, chocolate and cows.  Frequently, there would be a sea of clouds in the valley below and we would find ourselves skiing under a clear blue sky, surrounded by snow capped mountains.  We were the Happy People of Leysin.  When we descended from our mountain perch, to the town in the lower valley, people would know where we were from.  While their complexions were pale and grey and their demeanor grim - we were happy, smiley, tanned and white toothed.

 100% Pure Sunshine - It was exactly how I remembered it.

 It was paradise for this 21 year old ski bum.  I worked as a ski instructor, skied hard, survived on the red wine, chocolate and pasta diet.  I worked hard, partied harder and slept periodically.  I had so much fun, that I returned for another ski season and even for a summer visit.  The Swiss treated me well, my french language skills improved ten-fold, and I even managed to save some money.

July 1991

In summer,  I returned to my Happy Place while traveling across the continent on a bicycle.  I had been bicycling for a few months by myself and I was craving some familiar company.  I climbed the impossibly narrow road and a dozen hair pin bends, in the heat of the day with a big smile on my face. My bicycle was weighed down with camping gear and panniers, but cycling had turned me lean and strong. I blazed up the mountainside, full of joy, elated to be back in Leysin.

I followed up this epic ride with one of the biggest drunks of my young life.  On the same day as my arrival, I went for beers with a friend.  On the patio of the Club Vagabond, elated to be back in Leysin, I sat in the sunshine from 2:00 in the afternoon to 2:00 in the morning.  I had a moment of clarity at 2:00 in the morning, when I got back on my already laden bicycle and doubled my friend down the mountain.  He perched himself side-saddle on my back bike rack and we rolled off down the mountain road.  I somehow managed to navigate the 3 hair pin bends from the top of the village to the bottom of the village, without hurting myself.  I can still remember it, how my balance and vision came together for a perfect moment and we flew down the road, pure joy, giggling hysterically, perfectly balanced and aligned for a moment in time.

Tour D'Aie

I had come back to Leysin to enjoy a break from my cycling vacation, but specifically to enjoy 3 blissful summer days of camping and Rock and Roll at the Leysin Rock Fest.    The Rock Fest was a big deal - it was 3 days and 2 nights long, it drew some big name acts and it was a non-stop Party.  I pitched my tent quite accidentally, next to 2 Canadian boys who were also traveling on bicycle.  They were cute.  I immediately challenged my new neighbors to a little friendly competition:  Betcha' can't stay awake all festival! 

The festival was a comical exercise in drunkenness, sleep deprivation, dancing, music and the joys of youth and freedom.  I didn't kiss anyone, but I certainly would have liked to.  After a day and a half at the Festival, one of the boys succumbed to the disease of too much fun, too much sunshine and too much booze.  After the 2nd sleepless night, we were down to 2 people standing.  In the early hours of a brand new day, a new challenge was issued:  Betcha' can't climb that mountain!  

We got on our bikes, strapped a loaf of bread on the back rack and a bottle of red wine in the water bottle holder and proceeded to cycle, hike and push our bicycles to the top of a pass.  For the final assault up the green slope of the Tour D'Aie we pushed ourselves skyward, sobering and smiling, until we reached our destination on top of the world.  There, we collapsed to the ground and uncorked our bottle of red wine - for breakfast.  High above the clouds, perched upon the mountainside and overlooking the jagged peaks of the Alps, we took it all in.  The Lac Leman sparkled blue in the valley below, as we sipped our wine, ate our bread and enjoyed a clear-headed moment in our own mountain paradise.


It was my winter months in Leysin that were the most memorable.  The ski bum lifestyle was good and 100% Pure Fun.  Without a doubt, I had the time of my life in Leysin and surprisingly, it taught me a lot about how I wanted to live my life.  There's no doubt I left a few brain cells in Switzerland, but I think I learned a lot from my time spent there.

I matured, but I didn't realize until later.  I learned to speak French, I learned to ski well, I learned how to be independent and self sufficient.  I learned how to drink, I learned how to be flexible and I learned how to think on my feet.  Most of all, I learned how to enjoy just living in the moment.  It's a simple idea that I have carried with me into adulthood.

I remember screaming out loud when I para-glided for the first time.  I ran off the mountain kamikaze style, because I was terrified.  I was still "running" through the air, when my friend told me I didn't need to run any more. We weren't on the ground and I was flying!

I drank lots of cheap red wine, I ate chocolate for breakfast, bread and cheese for lunch and pasta with for dinner, with more cheap red wine.  I invented the chocolate sandwich:  a chocolate croissant, with Nutella stuffed with squares of Swiss chocolate.  I got fat.

Occasionally, when we were staggering home in the early hours of the morning, we would stop by the garbage bin out back of the bakery to look for Day-Olds.  We'd find bags of Pain de Chocolate and croissants and take them home for future meals.  Eventually, the baker stopped putting them in the garbage and just start leaving them out for us.  You're making too much noise!  He would shout at us en Francaise. Come in and have a coffee to go with your stale Croissant!  And please, be quiet.

Sometimes, a place really can change your life.  I fell in love with the Mountains in Leysin.  I discovered the pleasures of a life spent living outside.  I realized that there are good people in mountain towns, making a life and a place for themselves in the outdoor world. I discovered that this was something that I wanted for myself and that all of these things are what makes living in the mountains, a unique, wonderful lifestyle.

Thanks, Leysin!  Through the haze of youth and some amazingly good times, I  took home some incredible life lessons. I also learned that life is better when it's lived joyfully, spontaneously and with glee.  Sometimes, we all need a reminder of this - and my trip back to Leysin was exactly that.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Skiing Through Life

I learned how to downhill ski in Elementary school in Calgary.  In those days, our school had a "learn to ski" program for those in Grade 5 and Grade 6.  If you were interested in skiing, you could take the program.  I took the program and immediately was smitten.  I was so smitten, that I went and got myself my first job - a newspaper route - so I could purchase some skis and a ski pass at the local ski hill..  This was also inspired by my parents, because when I told them that I loved skiing and wanted to buy some skis they said, "Well, you'd better get a Job".  They split the cost with my 50/50 or at least, that's how I remember it.  The next  year after I learned how to ski, I did just that. I purchased my first pair of skis - a pair of yellow K2 Stingers and a Season Pass to the Paskapoo ski hill.  My parents would drop me off at the ski hill and leave me for the day where I would ski from when the lift opened to when the lift closed.

In Junior High, our school was part of some experimental programming called "Life Time Activities".  This was a "one-of-a-kind" activity program that offered up a huge selection of different activity choices for students to try.  There were also some indoor activity choices, like bowling, but I gravitated towards all of the outdoor activities.  Essentially, every Friday afternoon, there were no classes and we got to go outside and do something really cool.  Naturally, I picked "downhill skiing" as my winter activity selection.  I also remember taking Canoeing, Hiking and Biking as some of my warmer season options.  Of interest - there was also a Computer Course available.  It was the early '80's and this was considered a "leisure activity" - and was not part of any curriculum.  To me, going skiing on Friday afternoons, was a BIG deal. The big yellow school bus would pull up in front of the school and take us all away - to the paradise of our little ski hill.  I was in heaven.  I was skiing instead of going to school!  Yeah! 

My parents eventually got in to skiing, because both my brother and I had taken to it.  Fortress Mountain was my first "real mountain ski experience" and I was captivated by this wonderful sport and the scope, size and beauty of the mountains.  I have no memories of being cold - but lots of memories of eating "french fries" in the day lodge.  Fries were a treat, not something I ever ate at home and a "integral" part of my ski experience.  Soon, we were taking ski holidays and making trips to Montana to ski at The Big Mountain.  I had never seen so much snow in my life - Montana was a Wonderland of Powder and snow banks that were much, much larger than me.

After High School, when we were away from the Cliques of Teenager-dom - my brother and I decided we were cool enough to hang out together.  As soon as he got a car, he was taking trips to the ski hill and eventually, thought it took a few years, I was included in the plans.  It was an exciting time to be skiing, ski culture was taking off - and I met a lot of great people on the slopes.  In 1988, after being excluded from a ride to the ski hill - I hitch hiked to the slopes for the first time.  I had to be extra sneaky to do it, but NOTHING was going to stop me from getting to the ski hill for one of the last days of Spring Skiing.  I HAD to ski, it had become the Most Important Thing of All-est.  So, I took a public bus and then I hiked out to the city limits and I put out my sign:  Sunshine.  I looked like I was 13.  I've been skiing at Sunshine Village every since.

Skiing has taught me many things and changed my life - too many things to mention in this simple post.  Eventually, I met my husband on the slopes, moved to a ski town and thus began a Great Adventure. The fun and joy of skiing, skiing with friends and making fresh turns in powder, is still is a big part of my life.  As the adventure continues, I'm so glad that skiing is still a part of my world.  True, it's a smaller part of my world than it's ever been - but this doesn't mean I love it any less.  I'm thankful for this silly sport and all of the good things it's brought me and hopefully, I'll be skiing through life for a long time.

Yesterday's turns at Sunshine Meadows

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Life Running Beautifully

I took this past weekend off skiing to enjoy some long runs with the ladies - Angela and Iris.  It's always good to spend some quality time with people who like the same things as you do.  In our case:  spending time outside and running long silly distances in the mountains.  It makes you feel less weird for what others sometimes perceive as a "strange" recreational hobby.  Quality time with the ladies involves lots of time running around in the woods, eating and relaxing and of equal importance:  lots of time to talk about things like upcoming running races, dreams and future running adventures.  I need and enjoy talking about this stuff and really - who else wants to hear about your running habit? Fortunately, these ladies do.  Isn't that what friendship is all about?  A honest sharing of feelings without the fear of being judged, trust in one another, mutual understanding and positive reciprocity.  Friends are Good.  And Running Friends are real good!  It's always good to have a little support in this world.

On the running front, we hit the trails of Banff on Saturday and managed to connect up 4 hours of running on packed snow trails.  We hit the Bow River trails to Bow Falls, the Fenland Trail, the March Loop and the Tunnel Mountain Trail amongst others.  Despite the cold temperatures, it was a beautiful day.  We were slow but we had a good time and we got some quality time on our feet.  It's running season again - the girls and myself all have races on the horizon, so it's time to train.  Giddy Up!

On Sunday, we headed for Sulphur Mountain for a little vertical challenge.  We decided to connect up a big loop with a power hike up the Banff Gondola Trail and a big fun snowshoe descent down the backside of Sulphur starting and finishing at my house in Banff. Again, the temperatures were freezing but the sunshine cooperated and it turned into an outstanding day - and tons o' fun. 

This is what the trail conditions looked like on the backside of Sulphur:

Sometimes, the backside of Sulphur is a miserable place to be.  It's a old grade road that is seriously exposed to the elements and the wind, in particular. Fortunately for us it was a calm and clear day and we were in Snowshoe Heaven!!  Seriously, this perfect snow was as good as it gets for snowshoeing. 

Giddy Up, indeed.  Life Running Beautifully.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Keeping Warm: Images From a Cold Weather Run

Can you tell?  It's Winter in Banff.  Clearly, it can be a bit of a struggle to be a runner here in the winter months.  This winter in particular has seen a LOT of snowfall in and around town.  And thus, you need to have a few other sports to add to your bag of tricks!  Fortunately, I love to ski.  Generally, I'd rather "suck it up" and head outside for a run in the fresh air:  it's a good way to avoid Cabin Fever and it's always better than the treadmill.

So, the cold weather continues and so do I.  When the scenery is this good, it makes it easier to stay motivated and get out for a run.  Still, the mind turns to other places at this time of year.  Historically, I've managed to take "running" holidays in March and April.  As much as I love winter and embrace it, a little break from winter may be in order.

Enjoy a few images from yesterday's run....

 Our History

 Banff Trail Trash

 Tunnel Mountain

 Making my own Trail

 Quoth the Raven:  Let's Stay Warm

Sometimes, you can't run.  You trudge.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

How to have Fun When It's -30 below

People get Cabin Fever when the weather turns cold.  When the Ice Man Cometh, people tend to hibernate and hide indoors.  We, however, are not regular folks.  With the blustery forecast, we decided to modify our plans and do something quite civilized.

We went skiing. 

Regular downhill resort skiing is downright cold.  With the lifts, the speed and the wind chill, downhill skiing at this temperature is not fun.  But ski touring?!?  Awesome.  We started with a sheltered ski up the old ski out, and headed to the Sunshine Mountain Lodge for lunch.  It was so cold, we hammered up and set a blistering speed - arriving at the lodge in a speedy 1h and 15 minutes!  By the time we got there, we were generating some serious heat!  I was a sweaty, hot steaming girl, despite the cold.  Not good when it's -30c.  Fortunately, we headed for the our favorite fire place at the Chimney Corner Lounge for a long lunch, which was enough to dry our base layers.  It was also long enough to have a drink, have a laugh with Monica, Nicki and Keith and ponder dessert and a nap, amongst other things.

By the time we were done lounging, the temperatures had warmed to a almost tropical -25c!!  The consensus in the group was, "Hell yeah, Let's go for a ski tour!" so off we went.

I'm so glad we did. Everyone was buzzing with good energy, big smiles and awe. It was just so gorgeous we were giddy.  Sometimes, you just never know when you're going to get such a perfect, beautiful mountain day. 


My Shadow

My Keith

My Backyard

Sunshine Meadows

Mount Assiniboine

Wind Drift

More Magic Snow

It's All About F-U-N!!

D-oh.  A deer.