Fourth of July Turns

Outside of setting my neighbor’s awning on fire with a bottle rocket launched by my grandfather, one of the most fun Fourth of July weekends was skiing at Tuckerman Ravine up in New Hampshire. That weekend was the second trip to the Ravine for the year with my pal Eric Durfee and we coupled great turns on corn snow with water skiing, golf, tennis, and jumping in his dad’s pond and swimming in Lake George. I came home exhausted but making ski turns in July was a real treat. I can recall the sunshine in the bowl, the beads of sweat forming on my forehead and climbing with my pack in a t-shirt and wind pants. July snow is dirty on the trail from all the freeze thaw events but the fragrance of pine trees, the rushing water in the streams, and the general communal feeling of extending the ski season was pretty cool.

A number of years later, I had a meeting in Fresno, California. I called my pal Jeff Rose from Philly who was also attending and I said, ” Hey man, how would you like to ski Mammoth Mountain on the weekend before and after the meeting? He was all in, being an avid skier, and as we came through our shirts in 108 degree temps in Fresno, the locals looked at us like we were nuts with all the ski equipment. Rose conked out on me as I drove through Yosemite in the pitch black night, but we made it to Mammoth at 3:00 AM. Bleary eyed, we awoke to blazing sunshine on July 19th. The latest I had ever skied in my life. Again- the feeling of getting over on something by extending yet another ski season was first and foremost on my mind. That year, Mammoth closed at noon but we were the first on the lift in the morning and made tons of turns on bullet proof ice which miraculously turned to amazing corn snow for just a short while until it turned to mush. Corn snow is fickle. It forms in the sunshine for a brief time and rewards the faithful with hero conditions. That brief moment when the corn snow is perfect has to be harvested as soon as possible. It was amazing to see how soon it turned to slop and we exited the mountain right at noon. The afternoons were spent sitting in the hot springs, drinking a beer and regaling the locals about our forward thinking to ski while on a business trip.

I have not had the opportunity to ski that late in a number of years. I know they are hiking up Mt. Rose now with good snow still in the Chutes. Nevada folks are dedicated and with the snow pack out there this year, they will most likely be skiing and hiking long into July. Mammoth will be open again and also Squaw Valley,California in Tahoe with a remarkable announcement, will have one chairlift open all summer into the next ski season. I will be there for a wedding in September and if they have that chair running as promised, I will definitely take a run or two to set a new personal record.

Why do I talk about skiing in the summer? My mountain bike friends set their watch to when I will start to talk about skiing on a ride. I look at my equipment in my garage and take the obligatory edge feel when I pass my shelf on the way to get my bike. I guess my enthusiasm for sliding on snow carries me through the year as it is the most fun outdoor activity in which I participate. Only 5 months to go. Plus, I love the winter. Not that I don’t like the change of seasons, but in those rare occurrences when I can ski outside the regular season, I thoroughly enjoyed it. My pal Bill Yalch out in Colorado will be camping in his van and getting the last turns of the season this year. He may have to do some climbing, but he will harvest that beautiful corn in that way too short window of time. Think snow? No- not yet? Thanks for reading.

The Tribe

I am reading an interesting book by Dr. David J. Rothman called,” Living the Life- Tales from America’s Mountains and Ski Towns”. I thought it was going to be some fun stories about the ski life but it has turned out to be so much more in the description of the lifestyle of the sports that we are all passionate about. Dr. Rothman suggests that there was a certain “cause and effect” that took place when we realize that something that we were attracted to as an outdoor activity became a passion. The resulting experiences and stories are shared by a group of people that are communities in effect and we understand the stories that we tell about ourselves.

I remember coming back from Tuckerman Ravine2013-02-05-the-bowl one year and telling my folks about the steepness of the skiing and the ice block avalanches and the weather and the total experience of being in the mountains in it’s most raw state, and my mother’s response was, ” That’s nice dear- would you like some more potatoes.” Not my mom’s fault but she just didn’t get it or appreciate it. But the Tribe does. That is what Dr. Rothman so eloquently describes in his book and what I am about to describe here to you.

There are groups of people who I call fans. They are football fans, baseball fans and many of them have played the sport but most of them are fans of a sport in which others perform. In sports like skiing,mountain biking and snowboarding, there are groups that are formed and friendships made that last a lifetime. IMG_0803 These groups also merge into what I call ” The Tribe” which is a gathering of many groups celebrating the passions of these activities. The gathering of the Tribe can take place at a mountain bike festival, a race, or at the bottom of the slopes in the springtime for instance at a ski area where folks are celebrating the weather, the friendships, and the stories around a beer and a burger on a sun splashed deck.

If you are not involved in a group or a Tribe of people, chances are you will be lost in the conversations of the Tribe. ” Hey- did you see that endo that Joe did over the bars into the creek with all that splooge on his face?” ” Hey- did you see Mike ski down that couloir with rocks on every side?” ” I looked down that couloir and had to really think about that first turn.” ” How about that climb out of the canyon?” ” How about that rock strewn singletrack with the slimy root section- hairy wasn’t it?” These are the types of conversations that infuse the gathering of the Tribe at a festival, race, or ski area. IMG_0723

The disappointing thing about being with the Tribe of your peers, is that when you come back to work, or home and try to recreate the vibe of that weekend or time spent with the Tribe, you cannot adequately describe it. But the cause and effect and the passion that resulted in the decision to join a group and the several times a year gathering of the Tribe, is necessary because these are the people who are ” your people.” Nothing against your co-workers, family, friends who may not participate but there is nothing like the feeling of when the Tribe gathers and the stories begin at the end of the day around a campfire or an outdoor deck. IMG_0811

Recently the local mountain bike tribe gathered in the Laurel Highlands for a celebratory ride for a birthday of a friend. A whole cadre of folks came out representing many groups of riders all there to celebrate the big day of one of our own. Elaine Tierney, of Mountain Bike Hall of Fame and Dirt Rag Magazine notoriety, said it best when she was amazed at the gathering of different age groups represented. Elaine remarked,” We have people riding here in their 20s, 30s, 40s 50s and 60s. All age groups riding together and enjoying all that the mountains and the friendships have to offer. Age means nothing when you are passionately involved in a sport like mountain biking, skiing, or snowboarding. So, I always encourage older folks not to shy away from an activity because they think they are too old. There is a group for you and also a Tribe who will welcome you with a smile, a beer, and conversation that you can understand once you are a member. Thanks for reading. Be a follower of the blog

The Craziest Fourth of July Weekend Ever

photo The picture you see above is yours truly as a young lad at Tuckerman Ravine on July the 3rd. My friend Eric called me from Vermont and said that they still had snow at Tuckerman Ravine up in New Hampshire( see my earlier posts on this place). So being the adventurous, no obligations, do whatever I wanted guy( this was BJBJ-Before Janet Before Jack), I decided to make the trip and spend the Fourth of July in New England. I packed up my skis, boots, poles, spring skiing gear, pack, hiking boots, road bike, golf clubs, tennis racquet, bathing suit, and basically all the recreation equipment that I had at the time. My neighbors thought I was moving. They were shocked when I told them I would be using all of these items that weekend.

So, fast forward, I leave work at 5:00 and head north on 79 and East on I-90 for the familiar trek to Vermont. I could probably drive that in my sleep but nonetheless it is a hike and I arrived in Bethel, Vermont at 3:00 AM. I crashed at the Durfees and Eric woke me up three hours later. He laughed because he said I was saying something about not being able to go because the concrete was not yet dry. Now I have never poured concrete in my life but for some reason I was having a real nice dream about manual labor. We drove the three hours plus over to Pinkham Notch, New Hampshire where we loaded the skis and boots into the pack along with some food and beverages for the day and began the hike to the floor of the Ravine. It was pretty neat to hike up there and see folks skiing in their shorts and T-shirts and the party on the Lunch Rocks was going strong early in the morning with the hooting and hollering and heckling going full tilt when skiers bit it on the steep descents. Eric and I got a lot of runs that day and after a quick swig of a beverage,, we headed back down the mountain trail to the parking lot. The drive back to Vermont was filled with laughter about the great time and the fact that we got two visits to the hallowed Tuckerman Ravine in one season.

The next morning, we headed out on the road bikes for a “short” 60 mile ride. Eric, as I have told you before, is the master of the understatement and as we headed out of Bethel to Killington, I knew this would be a torturefest because my pal here was and is a very fit guy. On the descent into Woodstock, we hit 60 MPH because a truck driver hollered to us our speed as he passed us on the downhill. That was kind of crazy and the sidewinds were a little shaky for me. I was glad to hit the valley and head up the steep hill back to Bethel. I limped into the Durfee garage and we got out of the bike duds and into the golf gear. T- shorts and shorts were the apparel of the day as we hit The Montague golf course. I laughed when I saw a hat, sunglasses, and Hush Puppy shoes staring at me out of the ground with a tombsone at the head of the display. The tombstone said, ” this is what happens when you don’t replace your divots.” A classy place to say the least and we made our mark when Eric rocketed a drive under the bumper of a car in the parking lot. Needless to say, our skill level on the course is not what it is like on the slopes and we cheated and hacked our way around 18 holes and laughed the whole time. From there, we went to a swimming hole with Eric’s wife Helen and cooled off after the raucous round of golf at the famed Montague. The tennis racquets came out next with some doubles with Helen and Eric and after a great barbque, I crashed again dreaming of the infernal concrete job that had not been finished.

The final morning, Eric and I woke early, and I bid my goodbyes to Helen as we headed to the Adirondacks to meet our friend Mike Smith( Post- The Older We Get- The Better We Were.) Mike has the marina at Pilot Knob on Lake George and we were towed around all day on Mike’s rocket boat. We water skied a lot that day and the sunburn was memorable as we ended the day with a sandwich and a cold one before I packed all the stuff up once again for the trek back to the burg. Eric and I thanked Mike and he headed back to the Green Mountains and I headed west towards the land of taxes and potholes. As I arrived back at my place at 3:00 AM, I unloaded all the gear in the garage and once again crashed in my own sack. Funny how that wheelbarrow full of concrete appeared again just as the alarm went off for the start of a new work day. With all that we had done, my dad’s famous quote came to fruition,” Work- is the curse of the leisure class.” I am not sure I could keep that pace every weekend but for one Fourth of July Weekend a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, it is a great memory even to this day.

As we remember our Founding Fathers on the Fourth, think about what they did, read about what they did, appreciate all that they did. When I look at that flag on the Fourth, I certainly am thankful to them and the good Lord for living in a great country. Thanks for reading and have a happy holiday. Carpe Deium- seize the day. Thanks for reading.