Wednesday, March 31, 2010


Today was a big day for us, as it was Roanne's surgery. We headed in to the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance for 7:30am, where a radiologist placed a wire in the tumour (or where the tumour was before chemotherapy). The wire is then used by the surgeon to show him where he should be removing tissue. The radiologists initially tried to place the wire using ultrasound, but after chemotherapy the tumour is too diffuse to be seen on the ultrasound, so they had to resort to using a mammogram and the metal marker that had been placed during the biopsy back in November.

We then headed over to the UW for the surgery, and after checking in at the reception we headed back to the presurgery area where Roanne changed into her gown and hopped onto the bed. Here is a shot of the newt as the nurse logs her vital signs on the computer:

We then met with the anesthesiologist who installed an IV, then some nurses, then the surgeon's resident, and a number of other doctorly people. The number of medical practitioners who you meet with at a research hospital like UW can be a bit overwhelming, since each attending physician also has a resident in tow, which immediately doubles the number of people involved, then add all the nurses, so it becomes quite a party pretty fast. Here is a shot of Roanne with some of her medical staff milling about:

Eventually everything was sorted out and Roanne was wheeled off into the OR, while I headed into the waiting room for the duration of the procedure, which was said to be about 1.5 hours. Here is a shot of Roanne getting ready to head into the OR:

At about 12:15pm the surgeon came out to let me know that the procedure had gone really smoothly, and Roanne was doing well. He had been able to remove the tumour without any problems, as well as a small benign fibro-adenoma, and the port-o-cath that had been used for injecting the chemo drugs. The tissue from the tumour will be sent to a pathologist, so by next week we will know if they managed to remove enough normal tissue around the cancer cells, or if she needs to go in for a second surgery (fingers crossed!). After another 30 minutes I was called back to see Roanne in the recovery area, who was surprisingly coherent already:

After another hour or so of recovery she took the requisite pee (they won't let you leave until you take a whizzer) and was then able to change into her street clothes and head out:

We then headed back home where Momm and Poppa Sones were waiting, having just flown in from Arizona to visit and deploy nursing skills. The newt is now up in bed reading books about vampires and werewolves, just what she likes best! She will take the next few days off work to continue reading vampire books, and by early next week she should be pretty mobile. So, phase II of the cancer treatment is all done (much easier than chemo!), and all that remains is some recovery and then radiation, huzzah!

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The Doors

Sunday in Seattle was pretty rainy, so after getting out on the neighbourhood group ride from 7:30am-9:30am I spent the rest of the day working on house projects. My new state of employment has had some impact on my time spent riding my bike, skiing, and climbing, but it has had an even greater impact on home improvement progress, so much that an outsider might even think that all home renovations have halted entirely. This is not far from the mark, so to curry favour with the spotted newt I have now decided that if a weekend day has extraordinarily bad weather then I will spend that day working on the house.

The project du jour for Sunday was installing trim around the new doors we put in, of which there are three. This is a bit time consuming since in order to match the new trim to the original trim I have been forced to make it myself using a router (or pay a ridiculous amount of money to get it custom made). The newt helped out and we made a lot of progress, getting most of the trim up on each door except for a box section that I didn't have the right wood for yet. Shown in the photo is the interior door that we installed in the new front hall closet where the chimney stack used to be.

I am also providing a photo update of my nascent garden, all of the plants are doing pretty well with the zucchinis being the standout performers, they are growing like crazy. The bell peppers took almost a month to poke their heads above ground (maybe I planted them too deep?) but they are finally making progress so that is good. I still have to make the actual garden outside, that will be another weekend project, maybe for the middle of April after the Spearhead Traverse weekend.

Finally, tomorrow is a big day as Roanne is having her surgery! I am taking the day off work to escort her to and from the appointment and keep a watchful eye on the doctors. I actually went cycling with her surgeon last weekend as he came out for our neighbourhood group ride (which for some reason seems to have a large number of doctors on it), so that was good to get to know him better. He told me that I needed to act as his domestique and protect him during the ride, since if he were to crash then he wouldn't be able to perform Roanne's surgery. He came through unscathed, so he should be on good form for the surgery tomorrow!

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Mad Pow Disease

Anyone who read the blog posts from my recent trip to Salt Lake City will recall that I was deeply affected during that trip with the realization that I had foolishly moved away from some really good skiing. At the time of my trip to SLC I had only been out skiing twice around Seattle, and neither day had been all that good. I am happy to report that this past weekend I learned that there is good powder and bluebird skies to be had in Snoqualmie pass (though maybe not as often as in Utah), and I am feeling more at ease with my present location in the PNW.

My friend Rok texted me on Friday to see if I wanted to get out on Saturday for a day of backcountry skiing near Alpental. Of course the answer was "Heck yes!!!", so on Saturday morning I loaded my skis and gear onto my bike and rolled over to Rok's place (he lives a few blocks from me) where Kevin picked us up at 7:45am. Kevin had a few lift ticket vouchers for Alpental that had to be used before the end of the season, so our plan was to ride the lifts up to the top of Alpental and then traverse out into the backcountry near Pineapple pass in search of untracked powder. We arrived at Alpental and suited up just as the lifts were starting to run, and we rode the Armstrong and Edelweiss chairs to gain the top of Denny Mountain. After a short drop down Upper International (I had skied down this during the Vertfest race at Alpental a few weeks prior, it was much easier to ski it having ridden lifts to the top instead of skinning there!), we traversed out into the back country. Here are Rok and Kevin surveying our playground:

We decided to head toward Pineapple Pass, so we continued traversing through Piss Pass and then dropped down a short section through some nice powder into a basin below the Tooth and Bryant Peak. Here is a shot of the slopes leading down into the basin, that powder sure looks inviting!

From the basin we then headed up a skin track towards Pineapple Pass, ascending the slopes that we would be skiing down. Two or three people had been down already, but there was plenty of fresh snow awaiting us. Here is a shot of Rok making his way up the skin track, with some mist in the background that would burn off by the time we reached the pass:

After reaching the pass I noticed a really cool looking peak nearby on the ridge, and asked Kevin what it was, thinking that I would love to climb it sometime. He informed me that it was the Tooth, which made me realize that I have already climbed it, but from how awesome it looks I better do it again! Here it is in the photo below:

At the pass we removed our skins and prepared ourselves for the fun that lay ahead. Here we are getting ready to head down (though I may look pregnant in this photo I am really not, I just have my skins stuffed in my jacket):

Without further ado we headed down, and OH MAN was it ever awesome! The slope was only just coming into the sun, and the snow was the best powder that I have skied in Washington (which may not be saying much since it was only my third time skiing here). Not super deep, but definitely deep enough to have some fun and the slope was a perfect steepness for me and nice and consistent. Here is a shot of me skiing down (thanks to Rok for taking this shot, he titled it "Cam likes powder"):

And here is a shot of Kevin ripping the mad pow on his creaky tele skis:

We stopped at the bottom of the steep part before the slope continued dropping down towards Source Lake, and put our skins on and headed back up for another run. And then another. And then another. Each run was about 700 feet of vertical (according to our GPS), so we did about 3000 feet of skiing in total with our four runs. The slope was wide enough so that we could spread out and hit untracked snow on each run, super fun. Backcountry skiing is so awesome, each run has about 10 times the fun factor as a groomer in a resort, so you actually get more skiing done when you are in the backcountry despite the extra time needed to skin up. At the top of one run while we were de-skinning on the pass before heading down again, Rok was saying something about "mad pow", when Kevin suddenly turned towards us looking very serious and stared silently for a few moments before saying "Mad Pow Disease." Funny! The basin we were skiing was an untracked virgin slope when we arrived, but it sure wasn't by the time we left:

We had to be back in Seattle by 4pm since Kevin needed to attend a meeting about ripping out blackberry plants along the Burke-Gilman trail (which I vociferously oppose since they are so delicious, invasive species or not), so at 2pm we skied down towards Source Lake and then traversed back out to the Alpental base where we had started our adventure. We made it there in good time so we decided to use our lift tickets to ski one groomer run to finish the day. Below is an annotated GPS track from our big adventure, thanks to Rok and Kevin for an awesome day of backcountry skiing!

Monday, March 22, 2010

A New Awakening

Yesterday was the first day of spring, and Seattle is in full bloom. Another significant event that was marked today, is that it has been two weeks since Roanne's last chemo treatment so today was the first day that she would have had to go in for a treatment but was able to skip it because she is finished! We are super excited about this, Roanne is sleeping well now and starting to feel better and better each day, just like the plants and flowers starting to bloom and looking forward to the sunny days of the summer. We celebrated the end of her chemo today by going on a long walk and having a delicious dinner at an Italian restaurant called Spinasse that we had never been to before. It was a great restaurant, small and busy with amazing food. Bene!
We are both looking forward to some good adventures in the weeks and months ahead to make up for all the time lost to chemo. I, for one, am trying to convince Roanne that we should go on a bike touring adventure to Port Townsend this weekend. She seems to be putting up some resistance (supported by half-baked claims of "no fitness due to 4 months of sitting on the couch full of chemo drugs"), so if you see her then tell her that she should definitely embrace this opportunity I am presenting her with. For all of those who don't live nearby and miss Roanne's sunny smile, her is a short video of her to remind you.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

La Prima Vera

Today was the day of the first Spring Classic (Milan San Remo) and since it also coincided with our nicest day of the year yet here in Seattle, I decided to dust off the bike and have a spring classic of my own. Actually, my first choice had been to do a ski tour up to Camp Muir on Rainier and then ski down, but despite trying really hard to find a partner no one was interested (ridiculous!) so that wasn't going to be possible. My spring classic wasn't actually a race, since I haven't been riding my bike at all I didn't think it was worthwhile to pay for a race entry fee (and the early spring races are usually crash fests for the Cat. 4s). Instead I just went for a long ride, as mapped out on the left. It was an amazing day (sunny and 68), and I clocked 115km with some new friends (Kurt and Fred) from my cycling team. I won't describe the entire ride, rather I will just relate one funny incident: I had been chatting with Fred early in the ride, and he told me that he had just moved to Seattle a month ago, and this was his first ride of the year. Later in the ride Kurt was trucking up a hill with me glued to his back wheel and we somehow lost Fred who was not on top form. When we came to a turn I informed Kurt that Fred was MIA, and we had the following interchange:
Kurt: No problem, I'm sure he knows the area from other rides he has been on.
Me: Well, he said it was his first ride of the year.
Kurt: No big deal, he must know the area from rides he has done last season.
Me: Actually, he just moved here a month ago.
At this we both had a good laugh, and then after waiting a few more moments for Freddy to materialize we decided it was best to cut him loose on a big adventure, and after both yelling "Good luck, Freddy!" at the top of our lungs we continued on our way. Somehow Fred managed to reconnect with us a bit later on, he had been lost in Kirkland but then had seen us ride by on a parallel street. Good times!
I'm definitely looking forward to building up some cycling fitness now that the ski season is winding down (at least for me, since I can't seem to find any partners!) and the good weather and long days are here.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Warmdown at Solitude

When Mike and I left Brighton Ski Resort on Saturday after the Wasatch Powder Keg it had started snowing pretty hard, and the snow continued throughout the rest of the day. I was feeling pretty sore from the race, but since there was fresh snow coming down I knew that I had no choice but to ski the next day. I called Ondrej and he was up for another ski day, so we arranged for him to come by and pick me up at 8:30am the next morning. I set the alarm on my cell phone for 7:30am and climbed into bed at around 10:30pm.
The next morning I came to feeling pretty tired, and rolled over to check the time: 8:29am! For some reason my alarm had not gone off, and one minute later Ondrej rolled up outside the house. I rushed to get my gear together, and with the help of Laura making me some coffee and delicious PB&Js for breakfast I was able to head out the door about 10 minutes later and we were off. We decided to ski at Solitude, and headed up Big Cottonwood Canyon. It had stopped snowing but there were some low clouds, and the canyon looked amazing with snow clinging to all of the tree branches.
There was about 8 inches of fresh snow up at Solitude, and we had a great day of skiing, spending most of our time in the bumps and the trees. Below are a couple of action shots of us that we managed to capture.

We skied right up until the lifts closed at 4pm, and then contemplated heading up the road for some night skiing at Brighton but then decided against it. It was a great conclusion to an amazing ski weekend in Salt Lake City, with the Wasatch Powder Keg bookended by two great days of resort skiing. Here is a photo of Ondrej and myself back at the car, celebrating a!

Monday, March 15, 2010

Wasatch Powder Keg

Ondrej dropped me off at Mike and Laura's place around 5:30pm on Friday after our ski day up at Alta, and after a quick shower Mike and I headed out to attend the pre-race meeting which started at 6:30pm. We arrived in time to pick up our race numbers and goody bags, and found our way to some empty seats. The meeting consisted mainly of the organizers going over the course in a power point presentation, and then answering some questions afterward.

The race seemed really well organized, and they had some sensible rules like requiring everyone to wear helmets (imagine that, mandatory helmets in Utah!) for the duration of the event. The other mandatory pieces of equipment were a shovel, probe, transceiver, and jacket. That last item seemed like a strange one to have to enforce, I couldn't imagine people wanting to head out into the backcountry with no jacket. On the note of personal responsibility, the the organizers also mentioned that in past years people had been caught ditching the batteries from their transceivers out on course in an effort to save weight (!?!). As in the Vertfest race that I had done the week before, there were two divisions, Race and Recreational, and Mike and I had obviously registered for the Race division. The race course was about 15 km in length, with 5 separate climbs totaling 5000 feet of elevation gain and loss. There was one booter which gained 600 vertical feet, considerably longer than the ones last week in Vertfest. Below is the course profile.

This course was longer than the one from Vertfest, but a bigger difference was that there were more transitions, so you could gain time by being fast and efficient with skin removal and installation. The meeting finished around 7:30pm, and Mike and I hightailed it home where Laura and her sister Heather had been cooking a delicious dinner. We spent some time laying out our gear for the next day, then watched the movie “Julie and Julia” while eating dinner. I ducked out a bit early to go to bed, as I had a bit of a headache which may have resulted from my overenthusiastic acclimatization efforts up at Alta earlier in the day.

Another difference between this race and Vertfest was that unlike Vertfest with its civilized 10:00am start, this one was started at the ridiculously early time of 7:00am. I guess this was because we could be skinning up a bunch of the groomed ski runs, but it made for a pretty early morning. The alarm went off at 5:00am, and Mike and I dragged ourselves out of bed and grabbed some breakfast and cowboy juice before rolling out the door at 5:30am.

We made it up to Brighton Ski Resort (at the head of Big Cottonwood Canyon) where the race was taking place by 6:15am, and after sorting our gear at the car we managed to hop on a shuttle from our parking lot to the Lodge where the race was starting.

We went through the transceiver and equipment checks, and then relaxed in the lodge as competitors milled about making last minute gear checks and clothing adjustments. At around 6:45am I headed outside and did a half-hearted warm-up while the organizers made a few last minute announcements. By this time it was pretty bright out, and it looked like a nice day with blue skies and a few wispy clouds. There was a winter storm warning for later in the day, so the organizers (and the participants!) were hoping that it would hold off until after the racers were off the course.

We lined up in the first group with the other Race division participants, and at exactly 7:00am the gun fired and we were off! Having done Vertfest the week before, this time I wasn't surprised as people sprinted like mad off of the starting line, I went as fast as I could but didn't go too crazy since I remembered how I felt at the end of Vertfest and I knew that this race was longer and taking place at 10,000 feet.
The course stayed flat for a while as we traversed the base of Brighton to the east side of the resort, and we then began trucking up a groomer towards the top of the Western Express lift. The climbing was technically way easier than at Vertfest, as there was no ice and the terrain we were climbing was not as steep. Eventually we went off the groomer into some deeper snow, but the organizers had gone so far as to set double tracks on the parts of the course that were off piste, which was very kind of them. After reaching the top of this first climb we removed our skins to prepare for the first descent, and by observing the people around me I clued in to the fact that it was faster to just stuff your skins into your jacket, that way you could keep both your backpack and skis on and save some time. After doing this I started the descent which headed out of bounds into the backcountry. It was really steep and on really nice snow, and would have been a lot of fun if I hadn't been tired from the ascent. I made it down in one piece, then donned my skins for the next ascent.
The next climb switchbacked up through some trees, with steeper terrain than the first climb but not nearly as long so I didn't feel too bad upon reaching the top. At both Vertfest and this race the second climb felt way better than the first, maybe because I wasn't starting it in such a frantic mindset with people sprinting by me on both sides and I was able to settle into a better rhythm. After removing my skins at the top of this climb I headed down the second descent, which was a pretty easy groomed cat track that allowed my legs to recover a bit. After re-applying my skins I began the third ascent, which was a rising traverse along the top of the resort, and not as steep as the previous climb. This ascent was also on the shorter side, and after reaching the top I ripped off my skins and headed down along the ridge.
The course was well marked with bamboo poles and red tape for the descents, and green tape for the ascents. After dropping along the ridge for a few hundred feet I was still following a lot of tracks, but I knew something was wrong as I was no longer seeing any bamboo poles with red tape. I came to a notch in the ridge where I saw some green tape markers, and at this point I realized that I had missed a turn on the descent and cut off part of the course. There were check points at the top and bottom of each ascent, so I knew I had to ski back to the correct descent in order to be recorded at the check point. Luckily I was able to follow the green tape down in the reverse direction of the ascent and connect back into the descent that I should have taken. The slope on this part of the course had a southern aspect, so there was a thick icy crust on top of the snow that made the skiing a little sketchy, but luckily I made it down in one piece and passed the check point before installing my skins and heading back up the fourth ascent that I had just come down in reverse. Here is a shot of me skiing a descent, it is actually from Vertfest the week before (I found it on the internet, thanks to the anonymous photographer) but it is valid since I was earing the same clothes and it hadn't started snowing by this point.

The next climb wasn't too bad, though I was definitely starting to feel it in my legs by this point, and upon reaching the top I headed down the fourth descent which followed a black mogul run before emptying out onto a green groomer that took us right back to the base of the resort. The moguls were pretty difficult and my legs would start burning after every few “turns”, but after making it onto the groomer I was able to recover a bit before reaching the eighth checkpoint at the bottom. As I began re-applying my skins I noticed that it was 9:00am, exactly two hours after I had started. I had been drinking pretty regularly (in part to prevent the hose on my camelbak from freezing as it was below freezing and pretty windy) but hadn't eaten anything yet so I opened up a Luna bar to eat as I began the ascent. By this time the storm had started to move in, and it was overcast and snowing lightly. As I headed out from the checkpoint, the news crackled over a volunteer's radio that the first-placed racer was just finishing (!?!). Man that is fast! I still had 1800 feet of climbing staring me in the face (including the 600 foot booter) and some little monkey was getting ready to kick his feet up in the lodge and start downing frosty pints!
I resigned myself to the fact that I would not, afterall, be catching the leaders and winning the race, and I began heading up the climb. This fifth and final climb was a long ascent to the top of the Milly chair (so named because it was on Mount Millicent), and had the most technical skinning terrain yet as we headed up some steep moguls that had a few icy sections. It was still nothing close to what we had gone up in Vertfest, so I made steady progress and finally arrived at the top of the Milly chair. This was where the booter started, so I removed my skis and put them on my pack (they had a rule making it mandatory to do this, so I finally got to use my new pack for it's intended purpose!) and started chugging up the boot track. Despite being super tired and having my legs almost cramp on each step, this was the most fun part of the race for me as it was pretty cool to be ascending through the mist to the top of a real peak (Mount Millicent tops out at 10,452 feet with a nice distinct summit, shown in the photo below).

The whole way up the booter I was hot on the tail of a woman in a hot pink skin suit, she and I had been trading places throughout the race as she would typically pass me on the descents and I would pass her back on the ascents. Miss Piggy and I both removed our skins at the summit of Mount Millicent, and then she quickly disappeared ahead on the descent. After a short dropping traverse I came to what was the hardest part of the course for me: there was a short rise that we had to surmount, and the organizers had made a rule that you could either skin up it or side step with your skis on, but not boot pack up it. It was too short to make putting skins on worthwhile, so I (like everyone else that I saw) elected to side step. This was so stinkin' hard, as even when I am fresh I find side stepping difficult and awkward, and now I was feeling as tired as I ever have been in my life. The organizers had specifically said that you were not allowed to boot up it, which I think is a bit goofy since you should be able to cover the terrain in the fastest way possible, and it seems a bit artificial to force people into awkward side stepping then it would be faster to just run (or in my case, trudge) up it.
It took everything I had left to shuffle up sideways, and the entire time I felt like I just wanted to collapse onto the ground. After reaching the top I was faced with the descent of my first ever chute, a steep (at least to me) shot with rocks on both sides that forced you to make frequent turns to avoid ramming into the rocks. Shown below is a photo looking down the chute that I found on the internet.

I somehow survived the chute, and then at the bottom I was faced with some pretty deep powder as the descent continued. I found it hard make turns in the deep snow in my incapacitated state, and after building up too much speed I stacked it head first into the powder while trying to force a turn. After digging myself out I realized that one ski had released during my crash, and it was buried somewhere uphill in the soft snow. I had my first real “Oh stinker!” moment of the race, as I thought about how much it would suck if I couldn't find my ski, but luckily after swimming uphill for about 15 feet I managed to reconnect with my wayward ski and after some more awkward thrashing I was finally locked back in and ready to continue my downhill odyssey. I was more cautious after this incident, as I realized that the time I would lose in searching for my ski again in the deep powder would greatly outweigh the time I would lose by taking short breaks after every few turns.
I finally emerged from that section and skied through the last checkpoint and down a short slope onto the surface of Lost Lake (which was frozen, luckily enough!). We had to ski across the lake and then again up a short rise at the end and back into the in-bounds terrain at Brighton for a final downhill run to the finish. Most people elected to forgo skins for this section also, either double-poling or skating across the lake and then side stepping up the final rise. I was so completely exhausted from the last side-step section (and the 5000 feet of ascent/descent that had preceded it) that I decided it would be better to use my skins to get across the lake, because even if I lost a bit of time putting them on and off, I would use way less energy and in my current depraved state it didn't even feel possible to do it without skins. I stopped to apply my skins and then continued across, and I don't think I lost much time since on the ascent after the lake I repassed the side-steppers who had passed me on the lake while I was installing my skins.
I then headed down the final descent which unfortunately was a mogul run, and I had to take a short break after every few turns just in order to stay upright. I finally breathed a huge sigh of relief as I recognized the end of the run (I have skied at Brighton a few times before and vaguely remembered the run that I was on), and skied down final slope to the finish line. OH MAN! I was so happy to be done, I think that this was the most physically exhausted I have ever been in my life, I felt like the cross country skiers at the Olympics who collapse in a heap after they cross the finish line. I gratefully collected my meal ticket, and lined up to redeem it for a burger, beer and chips before heading into the lodge. My finishing time was 3:26 which I was pretty happy with, that put me in 25th place out of 32 participants in the Men's Alpine Touring Race Division. I might have been a little faster without the wrong turn and losing my ski, but hey, that's racin'! I don't think Black Diamond is going to sign me on for a sponsorship deal anytime soon, but it wasn't too bad for a first effort from a sea-level dwelling Seattleite who can't ski downhill.
I happily enjoyed my burger in the lodge while chatting with some ladies from Colorado who had flown out for the race, and before long Mike came rolling in with a time of 4:17, pretty respectable for the 185cm Tele skis that he had been lugging up and down on the race course. I felt so completely shattered on the descents that I couldn't have even imagined trying to make tele turns on those moguls. We hung around for the awards presentation, where the victor (who had indeed finished in under 2 hours!!!) was presented with a new set of powder skis. Though they did have a split board category, the participants were predominately skiers, and when it came time to give the prize for the winner of the splitboard category, someone in the audience yelled “Give him a set of skis!”, funny!

Mike won a new pair of googles in the raffle following the awards, and after collecting his prize we walked back to the car and took a victory photo before heading down the canyon to Salt Lake City where we would spend the afternoon sleeping before heading out for a delicious dinner of yam fries at the Bayou. All in all it was great race, very well run, and I am definitely planning on doing it again next year. I also have a commitment from the rare spotted newt that she will race the Rec division next year, so stay tuned!

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Acclimatization at Alta

I landed in SLC on Thursday, and my friend Chris picked me up at the airport. It was fun to see him again, we went back to his place and chatted for a while then made a run to the Black Diamond Store where I picked up some ski crampons (just in case, based on my experience last weekend at Vertfest). We ate dinner at a really good Thai place, and then he dropped me off at Mike and Laura's place where I would be staying.

I was fully aware that I had just flown in from Seattle, which has an elevation of 0 feet above sea level, and that the Wasatch Powder Keg backcountry ski race was taking place at Brighton ski resort, at elevations ranging from 8800 feet above sea level (Brighton base) to 10,452 feet above sea level (peak of Mount Millicent, which is the top of the booter and the highest point on the course). So, naturally I decided to spend Friday acclimatizing to adapt to the altitude change. After much consideration, I decided to carry out my acclimatization in Little Cottonwood Canyon, while skiing at Alta (which has a similar elevation to Brighton). I got in touch with Ondrej, one of my former grad students at the University of Utah, and he agreed to join me for my day of acclimatization. Some might say that it isn't physiologically possible to acclimatize from sea level to 10,000 feet in one day, and others might even say that choosing the day before a backcountry ski race as my first day of resort skiing for the year is not a wise idea. However, my theory was that I would do better in the race if I had a lot of fun the day before, no matter what physical state it left me in.

Ondrej picked me up on Friday morning at 8:30am, and we were off to Alta. We arrived at the base just after it opened at 9am, and headed up the Sunnyside lift. It was a perfect bluebird day (aaargh, why did I move to Seattle!), and while there hadn't been new snow in the past few days it was still really nice conditions since they hadn't been experiencing the freeze thaw cycles that make things crusty and icy. Below is a shot of Ondrej skiing off the lift, ready for a day of fun!

We spent the morning moving throughout the resort, managing to ride all of the lifts (except the kiddie lifts) and sampling a wide variety of terrain. We started mostly on groomers, but then branched out into some mogul runs. I'm a terrible mogul skier, but I find that no matter how badly I suck on a mogul run, when I come out onto the groomers I feel like I can turn way better since moguls force you to be aggressive and decisive when making your turns. So, my plan of action for becoming a passable skier is to ski a lot of moguls. Luckily Ondrej likes skiing moguls also and is a way better skier than I will ever be, so he was able to give me some pointers. They didn't always work, as seen in the photo on the left where I am demonstrating my flawless moguls technique (at least the "crash and burn" part of it). At first glance this photo looks like those ones they have in powder magazines where someone is skiing deep powder and almost totally obscured by the snow, but upon closer inspection you realize that the terrain in question is a tracked-out mogul field and the skier is obscured because he is sliding through the moguls on his face.

Just so that there is a photo here of me skiing while not crashing, see below for a close-up of my patented "flying pole" turning technique. This is a very flamboyant way to turn, and only comes back to bite me when my arms end up behind me, forcing me into the back seat and then subsequently into the trees that line the edge of the run.

After a good morning we headed in for lunch around 1:00pm, and ate while sitting in the sun. It was really warm out, I think the high at Alta was between 45 F and 50 F and it was almost too hot in the direct sun. We managed to procure some delicious donuts to finish off our healthy lunch, below I am feeling baffled while trying to comprehend the good fortune that placed me at Alta with a double chocolate donut in front of me and a full afternoon of skiing still awaiting me.

After lunch was more of the same, and we were pretty diligent at alternating mogul runs with groomer "recovery runs" since we were flagging a bit by this point. Here is a shot of us riding the lift, headed up for another run on the best snow on earth.

By 3:30pm they started sequentially closing the lifts to force everyone back to the base area with the parking, so we adopting the approach of "closing out" each lift, making as many runs as we could on one lift until it closed and then moving on to the next one that was still open. By 4:15pm I was feeling pretty shattered, as seen in the photo below that Ondrej took after I inadvertently lost my balance and collapsed at the top of our next mogul mission.

After the subsequent run I decided that my acclimatization was complete, and we made one more groomer run off of the Sunnyside lift before calling it a day at 4:30pm (actually we were forced to stop skiing, since the resort was now closed). What an awesome day! It was super fun to catch up with Ondrej, with lots of good jokes, University of Utah gossip, and general hilarity. We made it back to Mike and Laura's place in time for Mike and I to attend the pre-race meeting for the Wasatch Powder Keg at 6:30pm, but I will save that for my next post which will be a race report. The race has actually already occurred as I write this, but I am tired of writing/blogging now so I will have to file the update tomorrow.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Off to SLC...

Home of the best powder on earth! I'm looking forward to skiing in some real snow this weekend, as I am off to the outdoor paradise of Salt Lake City. I can't believe I used to live there, sometimes I think I made a real blunder in moving away. Seattle and the PNW has some good stuff too, but Utah is pretty tough to match for outdoor opportunities. My dream is to at some point have a summer home in Seattle or Vancouver and a winter home in Salt Lake City. Oh man that would be awesome! Anyways, this weekend I will be taking part in the Wasatch Powder Keg with my friend Mike, as well as catching up with other friends from Salt Lake City and hopefully doing a bit of additional skiing and/or climbing.

Today I asked my manager if it was okay if I was out of the office for the latter part of the week, he said that he thought it would be okay, but just so that I was aware the official policy is that employees only get 3 weeks of vacation per year. He must think it is strange that I have been there over a month now and have yet to work a full 5-day week. I assured him that I was aware of the company vacation policy, and that this was another trip that had been "grandfathered in" since I had booked it before I had the job. I feel a bit bad about taking so much time off during my first few weeks of work, but not bad enough to cancel these exciting trips! Just so this post isn't devoid of visual content, I posted a photo of my nascent garden to the left. The plants are coming along well, so far everything has shown signs of coming alive except for the peppers, but I am still holding out hope for them. I'll try to post an update from Salt Lake City, but if I don't then you'll know I'm too busy making turns in cold smoke!

Tuesday, March 9, 2010


Yesterday was Roanne's 8th and final chemo treatment! I woke up feeling pretty hard hit by the cold Roanne had last week, so I decided not to join in for the trip to the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance and just lay on the couch all day. Luckily Holly is visiting right now, so she accompanied Roanne to the appointment. It sounds like the treatment went well, and Roanne is pretty excited to start feeling better from here on out. On the way home they stopped off at Top Pot Donuts for some celebratory treats, and I did manage to muster the strength to eat a donut and toast to the success of the chemotherapy.

Sunday, March 7, 2010


As I mentioned previously, I was planning on doing the VertFest randonnee race this weekend, mostly because I wanted to get out backcountry skiing and this seemed like the easiest and surest way to have people to ski with. On Friday night I decided to take a look at the course profile, and I was a little disturbed to find that it had two booters (step sections that you ascend by carrying your skis and kicking steps in the snow) and a double black diamond descent. I had never done a booter in my ski boots, or done a double black diamond run (nor done a backcountry ski race, for that matter), so Saturday would be a day of firsts. I didn't have a pack that I could mount my skis on for the booter sections, so Roanne and I made a late night run to REI to rectify that situation, and were able to take advantage of some end-of-winter sales and pick up a nice Black Diamond backcountry ski pack. With all the details sorted out, I laid out my things for the next day and retired to bed.

Saturday morning dawned bright and sunny, and at 7:15am when I awoke it looked like things were on track for the forecasted high in the 60s. I loaded up and drove to Alpental, arriving just in time to register and attend the pre-race meeting at 9:15am. Here is a shot of the view from the lodge just after I arrived at Alpental, look at those blue skies! Outdoor Research is based in Seattle, and was one of the sponsors of the race.

The organizer started the pre-race meeting by jubilantly announcing that they had cracked the 100 participant mark for the first time, making this the largest randonnee race in the Northwest. Boy, and I thought nordic ski racing was a fringe sport! I guess most people aren't that keen on going up ski hills with heavy alpine touring gear.

After the race meeting I walked back to the car and suited up in my gear. It was going to be warm so I dressed about the same as I would have for a day of nordic skiing, with the only difference being my backpack full of avy gear and my skis, boots, and bindings weighing about 20 times as much as my nordic setup. I arrived at the start line about 15 minutes ahead of the 10:15am start time, here I am getting ready to put my skins on.

With about 5 minutes to go I took my place on the starting line. I would have normally chosen to start further back, having never done a race like this and not being uber confident in my skiing abilities, but apparently others had similar inclinations as the back row was full and there were lots of vacancies on the front row. I hadn't wanted to force my way onto the front row, but if a good starting position was on offer I figured I might as well take it so I took a place at the head of affairs. As I gazed up and down the row of my competition, I noticed that there was a complete dearth of people on the heavier Fritschi Freeride bindings that I have, almost everyone was on super light Dynafit setups and many people had really small and light skis that seemed to be a hybrid between backcountry skis and nordic skis. I began to think that some people take this sort of thing quite seriously, and that feeling was compounded by the fact that people on both sides of me were wearing downhill ski racing skin suits. Oh boy, what I have gotten myself into!

Luckily I didn't have much time to ponder this question because soon after a transceiver check the gun went off promptly at 10:15am and everyone started running up the hill. Yes, that's right, running! I thought to myself: "Are these guys nuts? I can't run uphill with these 50lb skis strapped to my feet!". I did the most reasonable approximation to a run that I could muster, and luckily people calmed down after a few hundred meters and the pace settled down to brisk striding. The conditions were hard packed and icy since it had frozen over night, and the going was quite difficult as we started by ascending a steep mogul field. There were some bottlenecks as people became stuck or slid backwards on the ice, but luckily my start from the front row had positioned me well heading into these obstacles so I didn't have to wait too much. A number of people had ski crampons on, which looked really helpful in these conditions. We had to go through a number of control gates on the way up, and one of the volunteers at the third gate encouraged me with the utterance "Nice job, heavy set-up!". I thanked him for reminding me about how much my skis weighed, and continued on my way.

About halfway up we came to the first booter. I had planned on removing my skis and putting them on my pack (hence the trip to REI the night before), but others were just carrying their skis one hand and their poles in the other, so I followed suit. The steps had been kicked in pretty well by the time I got there, so the biggest challenge was doing a one arm lift with my skis every two steps to get them in a stable position for the next two steps. After topping out the booter we then continued the skin ascent, and after one more booter I found myself at the top. Everyone around me was using the skis-on skin removal technique, so I followed suit and after donning my helmet and gloves I was ready to go. I dropped in, and quickly realized that icy conditions and fried legs from ascending 2300 feet are not a good starting point for skiing your first double black diamond mogul field. After a lot of side slipping, kamikaze snow-plowing, and the odd turn, I finally made it through and arrived at the first downhill checkpoint gate with my legs burning with lactic acid and screaming at me in pain.

I had to assure that volunteers manning the checkpoint that, yes, despite my unconventional downhill technique, I was in fact one of the race participants, and after doing so I continued on my way. After the gate the downhill route left the in-bounds area and did some traversing through trees and some steep narrow sections, but luckily the snow was softer here so I could do something that was a closer approximation to skiing. The course eventually spit us back out onto the resort groomers, and after bee-lining it to the bottom I took a deep breath and got ready to go up again. There were two categories that participants could have signed up for at VertFest, and if I had registered for the "Rec" division that only did one lap, I would have been finished at this point. However, registering for something called "Rec" runs counter to all of my guiding philosophies, so I had registered for the "Race" division that did two laps of the ski hill. The fact that I was headed up again wasn't as hard to accept as you might think, the downhill had been way more painful than the uphill so the pending ascent seemed like a break compared to the harrowing descent I had just completed.

The second ascent was considerably easier than the first, as the snow had softened up more and there didn't seem to be anything quite as steep. After passing a few people I settled into a good rhythm on the back of a group of about 5 skiers. I probably could have passed a few of them as I felt pretty comfortable; however, I knew there was no point since they would blow by me on the downhill, so I contented myself with ascending at this more moderate pace and snapping a few photos along the way.

Upon reaching the top I de-skinned and began the ascent, feeling much more in control due to having taken it a bit easier on the way up. This feeling of being in control quickly dissipated as the descent progressed and my legs became tired, but I finally reached the bottom in one piece with an overall time of 2 hours and 36 minutes. I'm not sure how that placed me as I didn't see the official results, but I definitely wasn't dead last. I summoned my last ounce of energy to walk back to my car, where I removed my ski boots and lay in the sun while eating a delicious sandwich that I had brought along.

As part of our race registration we had received lift passes for the resort, so even though I was completely gassed and my legs felt like rocks, after finishing my sandwich I felt obligated to go ride the lifts and do some more skiing. My legs started cramping as I tried to put my ski boots back on, but after three attempts I finally got them on and headed back to the lift. On the way down I found myself getting tired and needed a break after every 3 turns, so after one run I decided to call it quits and drive back to Seattle to hang out with the newt for the rest of the afternoon. I still haven't seen the results, but I will post the details here once I find out along with any other photos I can rustle up from the event photographers.

Thursday, March 4, 2010


Our house in Seattle has a good-sized backyard that is sunny and open, so I am pretty excited to make a good garden this summer. I took the first steps towards that objective last week, by planting some seeds inside so they will be ready for planting outside by the time it warms up. Come to think of it, it already is warm enough for outdoor gardening and has been all winter long, which is why we have no stinkin' snow in the mountains. Darn! Shown at the left is my modest grow operation, the plants sprouting in the foreground are cabbage. Most of the other things haven't come up yet, but I planted tomatoes, pepper, basil, thyme, oregano, zucchini, cucumbers, and some other things that I can't remember. I'll post periodic updates of my plants as they thrive indoors for the next six weeks until they are ready to move into the great outdoors.

As for what I have been up to this week, Monday I did nothing (other than work), Tuesday I was brought to my knees by some disgusting pizza that I ate at work and made me feel like a sack of poop for the rest of the day (I am never eating pizza again, at least not the fast food variety) but I somehow managed to revive myself for a rollers workout in the evening, last night I hit the climbing gym which was good as my elbow felt pretty good (even though I didn't do anything harder than V3), and tonight I tried to go for an outdoor bike ride which was cut short by a succession of demoralizing flat tires. As for weekend plans, in a week and a half from now I am flying to Salt Lake City to do a backcountry ski race called the Wasatch Powder Keg so I really wanted to get out for a backcountry ski this weekend. I don't know that many people in Seattle that ski, so I was pondering who I could head out with when all of a sudden I had a brain wave: why not participate in Vertfest, a backcountry ski race being held this Saturday at Alpental?! This will be perfect preparation for the Powder Keg (except for not being at altitude), and I will automatically have tons of ski partners who I will be racing against! I was delighted to have this flash of inspiration, what a great idea! So hopefully I can bring you another exciting race report after Saturday.

In other news, time for an update on the rare spotted newt (Roanne's baldness has earned her the title of "the newt", and she has a pair of spotted PJ's that Hayley gave her which turns her into the rare spotted newt). We met with the surgeon last week as I reported previously, and we have now scheduled the surgery for March 31, just over 3 weeks from the last chemo treatment on March 8 (this Monday!). One bummer is that Roanne has been sick with a cold this week, I think our Olympic weekend might have been a bit much for her in her chemo-afflicted state. This was the first time she has been sick since starting chemo so we were a little concerned, but she has taken a couple of days off from work and seems to be on the mend now.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Olympic festivities

Saturday morning dawned wet and rainy, and Fras and I went for a soggy trail run in Lynn Valley. After just over an hour of puddle hopping we headed back into Vancouver and reconvened with the ladies at Mer and Ben's place, stopping to pick up some delicious treats at a Jewish Bakery along the way. We spent the afternoon watching some Olympic coverage on TV, and then Mer, Ben, Roanne and myself headed downtown to attend the bronze medal hockey game with the Fins versus the Slovaks.

We took a cab downtown and arrived with plenty of time, finding our way to our seats by just after 6pm, with the game starting at 7pm. We watched the players take the ice for their warm up, and then promptly at 7pm the whistle blew, the puck dropped, and it was game on!

It was a great game, with the teams being really evenly matched. I had expected the Slovaks to dominate since they had played so well against the Canadians on Friday night, but the Fins took an early 1-0 lead in the first period before falling behind 3-1. Beno and I used the second intermission to go track down some of the mini donuts that we had passed on the way in, and after two laps of the stadium we finally returned to our seats with our delicious treats in hand.

Even though you are supposed to root for the team that was knocked out by your real favorite, I was hoping that the Fins would win since I liked their uniforms better and they looked friendlier. My wish came true in the third period, as the Fins scored a succession of goals to move ahead 4-3, and then finally win 5-3 after scoring an additional goal when the Slovaks pulled their goalie. Here is a shot of the Finnish team celebrating their bronze medal victory.

After the game we headed out and hailed a cab for a ride back to Kitsilano. We lucked out with a super funny cabbie who was wearing a Team Canada hockey jersey and swearing a blue streak as he offered his firm opinion on anything related to the Olympics, most of it focused on who had f*#$ed things up for Canada by not winning a gold medal in their sport (the women's curling team being one example). After an entertaining cab ride we were dropped off at Mer and Ben's local watering hole, a little bar called "Corduroy" where we enjoyed the most delicious pizza I have ever had and some equally delicious root vegetable fries. We then headed back to Mer and Ben's place and made it into bed by around 12:30pm.

The plan for the next day was for Fras and myself to head up to Whistler to witness the Men's 50km nordic ski race. I woke to my alarm at 4:55am, picked up Fras at 5:15am, and we made it to the bus depot in Burnaby by the departure time of 5:50am. Most people slept on the bus, but Fras and I had a whole range of topics to discuss so we enjoyed good conversation and laughs that hopefully wasn't too disturbing for the late risers sleeping around us. The day became brighter as we neared Callahagn Valley where the nordic races were being held, and we were dropped off around 8am. After walking the 1.5km to the venue, we changed into our rubber boots and Team Canada Super Fan outfits and headed out into the slush.

We walked around the course waiting for the race to start, and it was interesting to see all of the preparations going on, mostly by the wax technicians. Waxing is of utmost importance in nordic skiing, so the morning of the race the wax technicians try out a number of waxes and test their glide by sliding down a hill in the track and marking how far they travel. Another interesting thing was that there was a fleet of "track packers" who had the job of pre-skiing the course to pack in the tracksets and make the snow faster. Finally the skiers assembled and at 9:30am the gun went off!

Those guys can double pole like rockets! A pack of 55 skiers started the race, and initially things stayed together but skiers began slowly dropping out of the pack as the race progressed. The viewing area was pretty good, with plenty of options to scramble up and down hills and see the skiers multiple times per lap.

A few times a skier broke away from the main pack and established a small gap, but each time they were pulled back by the diminishing pack as the pace continued to "hot up". The Canadians were skiing really well, with 2 of them in the lead group. Heading into the last lap a Russian drilled it up the hill after the stadium, here is a shot of him stringing out the pack:

Exciting! Finally they came around for the finish, with a German turning the heat up on the last climb before they turned into the stadium for the finish. The German continued to lead until the last 100m, when he was passed by a young Norwegian named Peter Northug who apparently has won a lot of medals at these games. This was fun to watch as the crowd was going wild and it was a great finish. For a taste of what you missed, check out the video that I took and posted on youtube:

After witnessing the exciting finish we bee-lined it back to the buses, as we had importance business to take care of back in Vancouver: watching the final period of the Canada-USA gold medal hockey game! Luckily we caught the first bus and had good luck with traffic, and we rolled into the pub where Mer, Ben, Carla, Kyle, and other had staked out a table with a view of the action. I'm sure you all know how the game turned out so I won't go into that, but it was so awesome to watch it while downing a frosty pint in the midst of plenty of rowdy Canadian hockey fans.

We were all very pleased with the outcome, and afterwards we emptied out onto the street with lots of other Canadian fans amidst honking cars, and cheering people. It was pretty fun to see everyone with a huge smile on their face, I think the happiness quotient in Canada was off the charts that afternoon. The others headed downtown while Roanne and I relaxed at Mer and Ben's before getting some Swiss Chalet for dinner and making our way back to Seattle.