Wednesday, May 25, 2016

A Clarification

In the past week, several of my friends have contacted me and expressed concern for my health because they saw my post on this blog about how I'd caught a slight case of cancer over the winter, and how I'm now stopping by the hospital each day for a little blast of radiation. While it's true that it's t-cell lymphoma - real cancer - it's also true that it was detected very early, so dealing with it should be a simple and safe matter.

Here's the full story:  I found a tumor during the winter. It was around the time Hanna had her bad headache in New Mexico. I thought it was a swollen lymph gland. When it didn't go away after a while, I saw a doctor and we decided to fire up the scalpel and cut it out. The doctor didn't think it was cancerous, but she recommended we get it tested just to make sure. Turns out, it is a rare type of t-cell lymphoma. That news was a bit of a shock and it had me kind of worried, as most people would be. For a few days there, I found myself having to focus pretty hard to keep my mind from wandering off down all sorts of doomsday paths.

I was referred to an oncologist. It just so happens that the year that I was at Wyoming and second place at the NCAA Championships in the skate race, my (current) oncologist was at Dartmouth, and second place in the classic race. We've known each other a long time. So I went to his hospital and we did all kinds of tests, and my old friend and new oncologist said to me, "First of all, don't worry about this.  You're going to be fine. You caught it early so it hasn't gotten into your bloodstream or your lymphatic system yet and we've already removed the tumor so it'll be a simple matter of going through some radiation for a while this summer and that will take care of it - for sure - you don't need to worry about this."

So I'm not just being optimistic when I say this will not be a big deal. It truly is not a big thing - because we caught it early. The radiation I'm getting is tightly focused on the area on my arm where the tumor was found, and it's very possible that the cancer was already 100% removed in the surgery. The radiation we're doing now is just insurance, to make sure we zap every last possible cancer cell in that area that may have escaped the scalpel. I was told I may get a little radiation burn, but that will be about it. The doctors dealing with me are not at all worried, and neither am I. And neither should you. Thank you for your concern. It really means a lot to me. But I'm probably in more danger of getting hit by a car while riding my bicycle to the hospital each day than I am of having this lymphoma turn into something big and serious.

This is the tanning bed where I've been spending my free time lately. Maybe after all this is over I'll pick one of these rigs up for myself, just to mess around with. Friends could come over and we could have "Make Your Own Photons and Electrons" parties. I'm sure I could find a used one cheap on Craigslist.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016


When I was in college, my roommate and I lived at 1112½ Flint Street, in a dark little hole under a house that cost us $60/month in rent, and we didn't even have to pay for heat or electricity.  It wasn't the most appealing place to live, but we were in college so it seemed pretty normal. This evening, I was invited to dinner with the UAA coaches at Mack, Pati and Hanna's house, so of course I figured we'd be hanging out in a dark grimy cellar in the back of an alley someplace because that's just college life. So you can imagine my surprise when we were all hanging out on the back deck, overlooking the expansive fenced yard in the evening sunshine.

What a lovely evening I had with my friends!  Dinnertime on this team is always the best part of the day; a time to stop and just hang out together and tell stories and share each other's company. And tonight was the best of all. Mario has been mountaineering on Denali for the past few weeks, and just got off the mountain today. He lost a lot a weight up there, and had lots of fun stories about pull-up contests at 14,000 feet, staying inside his tent for days waiting out storms, and watching the Euros wander around all over the mountain, unroped. He'll fly back to Italy soon for a short visit before coming back to New York City where he'll be starting a new job in the upper east side of Manhattan. Pati will be staying in Alaska for three more weeks before loading up her silver car and driving south to the desert with her sister before starting her graduate degree next fall in Switzerland. Hanna is leaving town this weekend, headed toward Sweden where she'll teach kids how to be successful business owners and entrepreneurs like herself. Mack has plenty more college ahead of her, so she'll be taking classes this summer and a full load next year to finish in the spring.  That's good for us - maybe we can talk her into coming out and training with the ski team! Sara and Zach just got back from Mexico, and they start coaching a biathlon training camp early tomorrow morning.  And we're fortunate to have Andrew with us because it sounds like he almost didn't make it back from an epic mountain bike saga in the Kenai Mountains last weekend.

On the bike
Summer is in full swing, and I found out tonight how wonderful it can be to ride across Spenard in the late evening sunshine, carrying an orchid. The girls sent me home with a backpack full of thoughtful gifts and an orchid to carry.  When you're biking with an orchid, it's important not to ride too fast so the petals don't all blow off the flower in the wind. Going so much slower than normal, though, you get to notice so much more detail. You get to meet so many new people. Tonight, I finally chatted with a couple of people who live in a thicket of brush in a neighborhood near where I work. Closer to home, I got a wave and a little grief about my purple flower from a working girl who I see often on my way to and from work, though we rarely acknowledge each other when I'm riding normal speed on my bike and we're both thinking about getting to work and making money.

In my beloved Spenard, with an orchid from Mack, Pati and Hanna
And I stopped to read the poster on my street corner about Tweak, the lost cat.  It felt good to be home again in Spenard where even the pets are called "Tweak". If you see Tweak kicking around, please help him find his way home.

I like to live pretty fast.  I don't like to sit around too much. I don't always notice everything around me, and I don't always soak up the good vibes from my friends. Spending this evening with my UAA Ski Team friends, and biking home with the gifts that they gave to me felt very special.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Like Visiting Grandma

I was browsing through the on-line Anchorage Daily News this evening from here on Kodiak Island and I came across this article which made me think of Mario. It made me think of Mario because he's on Denali now, making his way up the mountain. (Or, if he's not on the mountain he's in Talkeetna, camping out next to the airstrip, waiting for a weather window to allow him to fly in to the Kahiltna Glacier base camp.) 
There's been heaps of good skiing lately. All the APUers have been in the thick of it every damn day.
Mario dropped by my little brown house in Spenard last week, asking if he could borrow some mountaineering gear so he could go climb Denali. He had a specific list of things he needed. He brought Hanna along with him. Hanna tried on a bunch of my clothes, attempted unsuccessfully to read the Swedish tapestry on my living room wall and said "...this is so exciting - just like visiting Grandma's house!"  I wasn't sure if that was a good thing or a bad thing.

Last time I saw Mario was about a week or so ago. I was just arriving at Davis' hangar in Palmer for the big graduation hoe-down as Mario was leaving.  He was headed for Talkeetna early the next morning. The weather hasn't been that great. I hope he was able to fly in to base camp.

Etienne graduated from college last week.
So did Davis Dunlap.

And all of these people, too, I think.  Pati, Sean, Cedric, Mackenzie, Etienne, and Hanna.
The snow on Center Ridge wasn't as firm as we'd hoped on Sunday.
As for me, I seem to have come down with a slight case of cancer over the winter. I must have picked it up off a toilet seat in one of those truck stops on a UAA road trip.  Or maybe it was some undercooked chicken in one of those tacos Sparky made for me in Red River after I'd spent the day getting Alix to the Denver airport when she torqued her knee in training. I'm not sure - can you even get cancer from undercooked chicken? Anyway, the doctors are calling it a very rare type of T-cell Lymphoma or something like that, and after a surgery a few weeks ago to cut out the tumor, they now want me to spend the first half of the summer hanging out near the hospital in Anchorage, dropping in each day for a dose of radiation. I'd been planning a big motorcycle trip; the hospital option sounds a lot more boring. Of course it's always a bummer to come down with a case of cancer, but on the other hand it's pretty cool if your cancer is really rare like mine - something for the resume!  The doctors all tell me I'll be fine, so I'm not worried about it. But I'll admit I lost a little sleep over it earlier this spring.
Hatcher Pass. This past weekend. 
My advice from all this? Live in a country that's got universal health care. Or get yourself some health insurance. Getting doctors to draw lines all over your body and stick you inside machines costs a lot more than a new car - unless you're buying a car that costs several hundred thousand dollars... in which case it costs about the same as a new car.
The Talkeetna Mountains this week.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Duktige Killar

Lasse - not in Copenhagen
You remember Lasse Moelgaard-Nielsen, don't you?  He's the guy who, even as I write this sentence, is becoming an all-star attorney in the rough and tumble world of Copenhagen jurisprudence. It was only a few short years ago that Lasse was racing for UAA at the NCAA Championships in Vermont. Lasse was a damn fast skier, but that's not unusual. What is unusual is that such a fast skier comes from a place like Copenhagen - not exactly known as a winter sports mecca. So it's a proven fact that fast skiers can come from places without much snow or any significant topographical relief.  But Lasse wasn't afraid to travel great distances for his skiing. The pursuit of snow took him to the Alps, to northern Scandinavia, even to China.  And eventually to Alaska. Man, that guy was not afraid to put his traveling shoes on and go!

Lasse in a Green Mountain state of mind.
One of Lasse's favorite training partners was Viktor. Viktor is not from Copenhagen. He's from Norbotten. Now, I'm not really what you'd consider a man of consistency and routine, but I do have one unbreakable rule: Never -  NEVER! - begin the day without checking Viktor's blog to see what's going on in Norbotten.  And so it was that I checked Viktor's blog this morning (as always) and found out that he'd gone skiing with Zacke Toresson at Kanis the day before. I was pleased.

Ett skatepass förra veckan tillsammans med Zacke! Bilden är från toppen av Kanisbacken.
Zacke at Kanis
Zacke may not know it yet, but he's got a lot in common with our friend Lasse.  For one thing, they're pretty much neighbors, separated by only the thinnest sliver of Baltic Seawater. It's just a quick 15-minute wade from Zacke's house in Varberg, Sweden over to Lasse's place in Copenhagen to borrow some sugar and a couple eggs. I know you think that Sweden is north of Denmark. But you don't have to be a cartographer to know that a significant chunk of Denmark is north of Varberg (and I'm not talking about Greenland). 

If you're from Varberg and you want to be a fast skier, you'll have to do like Lasse and put on your traveling shoes. And a few years back, that's just what Zacke did. He climbed on his bike and rode north across the length of Sweden until he ended up in Älvsbyn, where there's plenty of snow and plenty of ski racers. He's been getting lots of exercise attending the ski academy in Älvsbyn - his home away from home - and the word on the street is all that ski training's made him pretty light on his feet. It's time for Zacke to really spread his wings. It's time for him to come to Alaska.  And we'll be glad to have him.

The journey across the globe next fall shouldn't be nothin' but a thing for Zacke. Like Lasse, you can't hang around the Copenhagen suburbs all your days and expect to magically turn into a champion ski racer. Zacke has been chasing this sport around for quite a number of years now, so I don't expect our frequent UAA Ski Team air travel schedule around the USA will cause him any heartburn. 

Viktor.  Bird Whisperer
I'm glad to see Zacke has been hanging out with Viktor. Anyone who can stay within sight of Viktor has to know his way around a pair of skis pretty well. All of the board of directors, management, staff and interns here at UAA Ski Team Blog World Headquarters here in Spenard are happy to announce that Zackarias Toresson will be a Seawolf next year. Welcome to your new home away from home, Zacke!

I assume this is Zacke. I grabbed it off the internet. Who knows...

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

A Little Of This. A Little Of That.

Springtime in a city that had the worst winter in its history means that there wasn't much skiing in town lately. In a normal year, the grooming crew would be making their last trips around the city ski trails with the Pisten Bully machine and warning people to get out skiing now because the snow will all be melted within the next few days.  But this year, the trails are completely dry and ready for mountain biking. There are already leaves on the trees, and everything is one month ahead of schedule.

Fortunately, there's still some good skiing to be had in the mountains near town.

Backcountry skiing in the Chugach.

Hatcher Pass still has great groomed ski trails thanks to Jeff Case and Ed Strabel.
It's still winter in Hatcher Pass
The crust skiing is coming together at Center Ridge.

You'll find no better crust than the crust we found at Center Ridge last weekend.
Sara and Andrew invited me along on a little Turnagain Arm recon mission this morning with Zach and Calisa.

Everyone looks pretty relaxed except for me, trying to stay focused and keep up so I don't get left for dead out on the trail.

Saturday, April 23, 2016


I thought I'd seen all the giant beasts.  In '92 I went to visit my college roommate in Hayward Wisconsin and saw the giant muskie.

I've seen the giant walleye in Garrison, Minnesota.

A couple years ago, I rode my motorcycle through Bemidji, Minnesota and came face to face with Paul Bunyan.

I've never seen the giant mosquito in Canada. And I'm not going to. It's too freaky.
mosquito statue

But last week I got a report from Sara. She's been spending some time in Ambler and Shungnak, teaching kids how to ski.  She came across the biggest wolf sculpture I've ever seen.
That wolf dwarfs the hills of western Alaska.
It's 25 miles from Ambler to Shungnak as the crow flies.  It's longer via sno-go trail.
Trust me, I know how this kid feels.  I feel the same way every time we're on a UAA racing trip and Sara and Andrew tell me, "We're going to wax all these skis for tomorrow's race."
Sara with seven friends

Friday, April 22, 2016

Almost Local

I'll get right down to brass tacks.  Today, Natalie Hynes signed a "National Letter Of Intent" to ski for UAA next year. We're pretty excited about it. 

Natalie's from Whitehorse in the Yukon Territory. Some people think the Yukon Territory is in Alaska, but it's not. It's in Canada.  Many people think Alaska is in northern Canada. It's not. It's in America. Nevertheless, Yukon and Alaska are pretty tight.  The gold rushes of a century ago linked these regions together. Some our best mountains (the St Elias Range) span the border between Yukon and Alaska, and Alaska's best ski race actually takes place in Canada. Most guidebooks about Alaska include a Yukon section, and and I assume it's the same on the other side of the border but I don't know for sure because I don't read Canadian.

At this point in this race, Natalie was in second place.  But in the end, she won it.
When Natalie shows up in Anchorage at the end of the summer, it won't be the first time I've met her. Natalie and I spent a week last month bunking in the same elementary school in Nuuk, Greenland when I was coaching and Natalie was winning races at the Arctic Winter Games.  But I didn't get a chance to say much more than "Hello". 

Everyone who knows anything about the NCAA knows that the NCAA recruiting rules are super strict, and nobody wants to run afoul of them. I knew that Natalie and UAA Head Coach Andrew had been discussing the possibility of Natalie coming to UAA next year, and I knew that Natalie and I would cross paths in Greenland. So before traveling to Greenland I asked Andrew for a little advice about how not to get crosswise with the NCAA's strict recruiting rules. Andrew told me it would probably be best if I just kept my distance from Natalie. "Hello" would probably be OK, but we'd probably better not have any conversations longer than a couple words, and definitely no talk about UAA under any circumstances. So that was that.  I witnessed Natalie winning races on the Ravnedalen ski trails and standing on the podium in Nuuk, but I followed Andrew's instructions and kept my trap shut. 

Congratulations on becoming a Seawolf, Natalie!  I'll look forward to getting to know you.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

She Just Goes Crazy On Her Skis

Something happened at my house last month that I haven't really talked about.  I guess it wasn't really a big deal, but it was pretty creepy all the same.  It's not really something I like to discuss. My house got broken into while I was off in Greenland. (ed. note: this part of the blog is actually true, unlike most everything else written on this blog, which is exaggeration and outright fiction.) I was gone for a whole week, so I guess whoever broke in had time to make off with everything in the house. But that's not what happened. They pretty much just ransacked the place, dumping everything out of every drawer onto the floor.  It took a solid weekend to clean the place up. But as far as I can tell, they only took a credit card (they made a visit to Walmart with it). They took my keys - every key I had - my house keys, my car keys, my motorcycle keys...  And they took my GoPro camera.  

I've been known to do a little GoPro technique filming from time to time during UAA interval workouts.  It's a pretty good way to film technique when our athletes are skiing their hardest and sloppiest. The videos make good technique analysis tools. When I got robbed, I figured the GoPro filming thing had come to an end.

That is, until I got word today that Hannah Rudd has agreed to come to UAA and ski for the Seawolves. Since I didn't know where Armstrong High School is, I had to ask some of the UAA Ski Team Blog interns to look it up and report back to me. I found out that it's only about a block and a half from the stomping grounds of today's other new UAA recruit, Michaela Keller-Miller. As I pored over the film footage that my interns had gathered for me, I found out that Hannah's pretty handy with the GoPro herself. This is great - it means I won't have to try to keep up with the UAA womens' interval sessions just so I can get video for technique analysis any more. I can just stand beside the trail drinking lattes while Hannah does the filming while training.

You know the drill.  Click on the photo to see the video.
Did you know that Armstrong High School is ranked one of America's most challenging high schools by The Washington Post, and number seventeen in Minnesota?  I didn't know it either until my interns started digging around to see what we could find out about Hannah. (I can't get anything out of the UAA coaches lately since I've been off in Greenland and Skagway while they've been off in Ambler and Brevig Mission. I haven't crossed paths with the coaches since the Denver Airport a month and a half ago.)  Anyway, after spending four years at one of the most challenging high schools in the USA, I'm sure Hanna will is well-prepared for the challenges that lie ahead as a UAA student-athlete.

Congratulations on becoming a Seawolf, Hannah. Welcome to Alaska!

Friday, April 15, 2016

Sports Jam

I don't watch television very often.  But when I do, I only watch three things: NASCAR racing, WWF Wrestling, and the Channel 12 Sports Jam.  Yesterday, the news trickled down to me from Assistant Coach Sara that we'd succeeded in signing Michaela Keller-Miller from Wayzata, Minnesota. I have a history with Wayzata that goes way back to 1986, the first time I laid eyes on Lake Minnetonka. When I heard the news that Michaela will be joining our team in the fall, I immediately recognized her name and went down to the basement to see what kind of footage I could find in my old Sports Jam film archives. Thanks to my meticulous filing system, it wasn't long before I found what I was looking for.

(Click on the Trojan on MKM's forehead for a link to the Sport Jam Interview)
(Michaela may or may not know that one of the most influential role models in my life, Muffy Ritz, also grew up along the verdant shores of Lake Minnetonka. I hope Michaela is prepared to hear a bunch of Muffy stories when she arrives in Alaska in September.)

We look forward to having Michaela join our team as a Seawolf!

Monday, April 11, 2016

She Didn't Drop Her Poles

It's getting to be an annual tradition. This sort of event was made for people like Hanna.  For as long as Hanna remains in Alaska, she's going to put on her skis and jump into cold water every April. It's in her nature.  I dare you to try to stop her.  You can't.  Hanna's not going to use fat skis (training wheels for aspiring skiers). She's not going to use alpine bindings either. Hanna will break all the rules.  Hanna uses skate skis - the skinniest ones she can get her hands on. And she jumps with ski poles. You can hear announcer Bob Lester, screaming at Hanna that she's got to DROP HER POLES! But does Bob Lester know how to ski? Does he know Hanna? Does he know how much those Swix Triacs cost? No, of course he doesn't.  Hanna's doesn't need advice from Bob Lester. Hanna has her own style. Hanna was born for Slush Cup days. And Slush Cup days were made for Hanna.

I'm not usually one for overstatement, but Hanna got VERY good height and distance on this jump!
Here's NCAA All-American Sean Alexander rounding off a back flip.
Sean was the faster man in the gates this winter, but Tony Naciuk's backflip looks downright beautiful.
Tony from another angle. No less graceful.
Okay... somewhat less graceful.
One of these years, she's going to stick the landing and skim all the way across the pond. Just wait and see...

ps. In case you were wondering, those triacs survived the day just fine. To dredge up an old theme (again), imagine if it was Skiwolf Alum Lukas Ebner in that red swimsuit. Those triacs wouldn't have even made it into the car for the drive to Girdwood without snapping.