Sunday, March 25, 2007

(Trying to be) 25 again

"Alice in Chains Tribute". That was all that was on the pub's listing, and all I needed to see to get me to go out and stay out beyond my bedtime on a night I knew I'd be going snowboarding the next morning. They didn't get into the Alice in Chains songs until well past 11pm, and by then I'd made some acquaintances who were in their 20s by joining them on the dance floor (we were "it") while the first band played Just One Kiss. One was a hair dresser and the other a dog groomer, cute as button girly girls. Oh to be 25.

Something about the music of that band.. reaches me.... and this cover band did it very, very well.. although I never saw Alice in Chains for real, from what I've heard of their music they were spot on. The Jar of Flies band was very appreciative of their audience and noted how helpful everyone had been to them in Bellingham.

Fast forward to Sunday morning, my friend Abby calls me back at 7:40 and decides not to join me on the mountain. I'd had about 6 hours of sleep at this point and decided to turn off my 8am alarm and try to sleep off my hangover. It almost worked, and I was at the mountain by 12:30. Unfortunately I had to rent poles, because I forgot mine. I was determined to bring out my Split board for the first time, and I had picked a marvelous day: breaking clouds with periods of intense sun, followed by little snow flurries on top of about a foot of solid, soft powder. By solid I mean the avalanche conditions were optimal; everything that was going to slide slid the day before when it was raining all day. So I didn't feel too nervous about going it alone. It was near 1pm by the time I got the poles and drove to Heather Meadows and put my gear together.

Just out of the parking lot a couple gals asked if they could film me. They were working on a promo for Mt. Baker showing how people use the resort. They had tried to get footage at the lower base area, but the weather was really bad down there. When they were done, I had to go back to the car and swap out my snow hat for a sun visor. And put the jacket in the backpack.

Climbing up was the easy part. The skins on the bottoms of the "skis" prevented backwards motion in all but the steepest terrain. I felt like a champion, able to pull off the established track at any moment and not sink. I was an elf, gliding on white marshmallows. Although the old pain in my groin that I get hiking eventually surfaced, it beat the heck out of boot-packing it. The only hard part was a steep switchback; wasn't sure where to put the skis to make the turn. I ended up sliding backwards and falling, taking off the skis, crawling back to the trail, pointing them in the direction I wanted to go and locking into the bindings. Let me be clear - I am very glad I have Flow bindings, which allow quick in and out of those things.

When I reached my destination for descent, I had a problem that was more difficult to overcome than I'd imagined: Instead of a clear floor of carpeting below me to put my board together, I was on a 30 degree slope filled with very light powder that liked to move on top of my board or wherever I was trying to work. There are small nooks and crannies on the board that needed to be free of ice to get the thing together. I took awhile to figure out how to put the snowboard together with all the metal parts in their proper place in this environment. The lack of sleep and dehydration symptoms exacerbated my frustrations, but eventually I got it.

I called Abby and chewed her out for not being with me in these epic conditions, then called another friend in Cali who hates the cold. The reception up there is really good, although it seems miles from nowhere. (I was at a point between Blueberry ridge and Table Mountain, not far from Artist's Point.) I loaded myself into the snowboard bindings and started down, very, very fast, feeling awkward on this 159 cm board. My regular board is 154. Plus it makes funny noises and doesn't feel as stable as a regular snowboard. Because it isn't.

The run should have been a very simple one, although a little steep, there were no tracks and all the avalanche debri was off to one side. But I got going so fast I think I freaked out and tried, after a couple turns, to control it too much and did a somersault... somehow the ski poles stayed locked into the side of my backpack and didn't impale me. I sat a while and cleared the snow out of my sunglasses (yes.. sunglasses, not goggles!) and tried again.. only to end up sliding on my belly a few yards... Okay c'mon pull it together! I managed to ride out the rest where there were tracks to cross and avalanche death cookies to avoid, but for some reason I think the challenge of those things made me have to concentrate harder, and I made it to the bottom without any further mishaps. I apologized to the guys down below that I was probably painful to watch. They were just glad I hadn't hurt myself. Yeah, that.

Then came the gear issue again.. I had to convert my snowboard back into skis, and at first I just did that, and realized it was too steep uphill, even at a 10% grade, to not have the skins on. So I put the skins on and started up. Then I got to the trail in bounds and realized the skins made me go to slow to glide down hill, and I was running out of time because I had to return the poles by 4:15. So I got off the skis again and took off the skins.

Now is the really embarassing part: I cannot ski. I mean it. The greenest green hill was freaking me out. All these edges, wanting to go every which way! It took what felt like forever to get to the car and I was sure I was going to crash. I even walked the last little steep part just before the parking lot. If I didn't have to return the poles, I would have converted it back into a snowboard again. At least there wouldn't have been fresh powder to interfere with the locking mechanisms.

The guy at the rental shop found me in the parking lot and did his best to make me feel like crap for returning the gear late. It was less than 10 minutes late, but he made sure I knew he wasn't happy about it. Phooey. I even drove from the upper lot to the lower one in my snowboard boots, passing some tourists in an area not set up for passing.

So here I sit, exhausted, smelly, with a fat cat in my lap, wondering if I'll be too tired to go to work tomorrow. Sure feels like it. I mean, I'm not 25 any more...

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