Sunday, September 19, 2021

Moto Life

“They may say, Those were the days...,
But in a way,
You know for us these are the days.
Yes, for us these are the days” -Perry Farrell


I missed the first few weeks of Seawolf ski practice. I spent those weeks zooming around the countryside on my motorcycle. Generally speaking, I prefer not to miss opportunities to hang out with the Seawolves. But if I need to skip practice, motorcycle-riding is as good a reason as any.


In the Black Rock Desert

About a month ago, I got the chance to go on a little road trip with my young friend Finnigan, who needed to get himself and his freshly broken arm from Seattle to Sun Valley, and was looking for someone to come along for the ride. So we took three days to make a one-day drive, and found a few adventures along the way.

Finnigan and me. Doing the Cascades.

On day one of our trip, Finnigan and I stopped to see my old college roommate, Jim, in the eastern Cascades. Jim’s got an old BMW motorcycle in his garage, but it’s in a thousand pieces so it was immediately obvious that we weren’t going to get to go out for a ride together. But he’s also got a couple of horses in his back yard, so maybe getting the motorcycle put back together isn’t that important. Jim’s son, who’s sixteen, just finished hiking the northern portion of the Pacific Crest Trail. All the other members of the family took their turns hiking various portions of the trail with him. Jim’s is a family of outdoor explorers!

Jim and Finnigan. And the biggest chainsaw I've ever seen.

Finnigan’s road trip was a great excuse to do some recon for this winter’s MSU Invitational ski races, which will happen in Sun Valley in January. I spent a few days there, scouting around and inhaling smoke from the forest fires that have been turning the western USA into a smoldering heap of ashes.

From there, I jetted south to Las Vegas.  For the past thirteen years, I’ve kept a motorcycle in a storage unit in Sin City. It’s a great place from which to start motorcycle trips, with beautiful country and great roads in every direction. It’s been a good run, but the economics of the arrangement gradually changed so that about two years ago I decided to end the bike's tenure there and ride it back to Alaska. I had plane ticket in hand in Spring 2020 when the pandemic suddenly hit, and it quickly became clear that I wasn’t going to be fetching the motorcycle out of the storage unit any time soon.

Along one of the California mountain roads that spelled doom for my front tire

Fast forward to August 2021, Canadia opened its border to Americans, and I figured I’d better get that bike back to Alaska quick, before the Canucks realize how many of us aren’t vaccinated and shut the border down again to keep us out of their beautiful country. I had some time available – about a month – and figured I’d make up for the lack of any motorcycle trips during the pandemic with a roundabout, meandering route back to Alaska. The main goal was to make it back before it started snowing.

Since the last time I was here, the forest has burnt to a crisp, but this road hasn't gotten any less fun!

A motorcycle rider on a long trip gets a unique feeling of freedom and the time and space to think about life’s mysteries and problems, without distractions or interruptions. Day after day on the bike, with no telephone, no radio, no podcasts, no visitors, no need to speak to anyone (especially with automated gas pumps) - it’s an increasingly rare opportunity to disconnect, in a world that’s more and more connected all the time. The isolation of the road makes the stops along the way to visit old friends even more special. Astrid said to me today at ski practice, “When you live in a place where it’s dark and rainy a lot, the occasional sunny days are all the more special. If it’s sunny all the time, another sunny day is no big deal.” The same principle applies to motorcycle trips. After a few days out in the weather, hearing only the hum of the bike and the wind in your helmet, an overnight stop at a friend’s house becomes a special treat.

It only took three days to wear the tread off my front tire in California.

New tires!

When I rolled out of Vegas, the bike was coming straight out of the shop, all tuned up and with a relatively new set of tires with plenty of rubber on them. But instead of immediately driving north to Alaska, I wanted to visit my friend Roy, who was moving back to Nicaragua, where he owns a house, from his native Canadia, where he’s been holed up since the pandemic started. Roy planned to be in Joshua Tree three days hence with his girlfriend Annie, which gave me the excuse to do three days’ riding on those twisty southern California mountain roads that I love so much – the best moto roads in the world, in my opinion. For three days, it was nonstop twisties – arcing the bike back and forth through hairpins, occasionally dragging a footpeg on the asphalt (and reminding myself to try not to make sparks due to the extreme fire danger). After three days of nonstop knee-dragging fun, I pulled in at Shangri-La in Joshua Tree and took my first good look at the bike. Apparently, I had left most of my front tire on those twisty mountain roads, because there wasn't hardly any rubber left on my bike. There was still some tread in the middle of the tire, but sides of the tire were toast. There was no way I’d make it back to Alaska on this tire now. But then again, why did I go to California, if not to ride some switchbacks?

The hammock lounge at Shangri-La

Shangri-La in Joshua Tree is my friend Sanjay’s house. But Sanjay is a music man and he was away for the month, recording a new album somewhere in the midwest, where he was apparently working with Prince’s special one-of-a-kind equipment. With Sanjay away, our mutual friend Miguel was staying at Shangri-La. Miguel, like Roy, and like my motorcycle, was another person marooned by the Coronavirus. Miguel is Mexican, and a chef, and a theatre set designer, and had been working in the London theatre scene when he got an opportunity in the movie industry in Hollywood. His wife, who is from Singapore, works in film production and was on her way from London to Hollywood when the pandemic hit, and suddenly everything in show business shut down. Miguel ended up in Texas while his wife flew to Singapore, and they haven’t seen each other since! Now they’re both producing Sanjay’s new music video, and Miguel and his wife are planning to be reunited this month – after eighteen months living on opposite sides of the earth.

At Shangri-La

In the past, around this time of year, I’ve been in the habit of going out and visiting my friends in the Nevada desert, but Burning Man’s been cancelled the past two years for obvious reasons. Nevertheless, some of us thought it would be fun to go out on the playa anyway. My friend Slackjaw had let me know that if I showed up on the playa on my motorcycle, he’d have enough food and water to keep me alive for a few days. So I decided to take him up on his offer. As it turned out, there were a lot more people out there than I expected. While my 24 hours at Rogue Burning Man were a lot of fun, it also felt like a potential superspreader event to me. The whole purpose of this trip was to get my motorcycle across Canadia and back to Alaska. And they wouldn’t let me into Canadia without a negative Covid test. So I left the playa as quickly as I arrived (at about 70mph across the dry lake bed) and headed north into the thick smoke of the burning Sierras and Cascades.

Crossing the Black Rock Desert
 

By and by, I rolled into Winthrop, Washington to visit former Seawolves Marine and Erik Bjornsen, who now run the local ski shop, Winthrop Mountain Sports. They had a few days off when I arrived, which meant a “training block” for the three of us, including interval workouts and twice-a-day workouts.  Marine and Erik needed to get in shape for a trail running race over the weekend and I needed to get in shape for UAA practice. The three of us have been on so many fun adventures together over the years, mostly on UAA Ski Team trips; staying with them, going out for runs and mountain bike rides felt so natural and comfortable, like being at home. I enjoyed our visit so much I didn't want to leave.

Erik and Marine. On the Methow River.

But I still needed to get back to Alaska with the motorcycle before the first snowstorm hit the Yukon or central Alaska. So I headed north, with one more stop to see my friends Lucy and Alain, at their home in Whitehorse, Yukon Territory. Lucy and I first met in the late 1980’s at some races in Finland and Sweden. Over the following years, our paths crossed at ski races from time to time, and I'd always been drawn to the north, though I hadn't moved to Alaska yet. These days, I don’t pass through Whitehorse without stopping to visit Lucy and Alain. And I’m always treated like I’ve stumbled in from being lost the wilderness, the warmth of their greeting is such. We were talking about their children leaving home unexpectedly for opportunities that had arisen suddenly in sports, and about my good fortune, being allowed to hang out with the Seawolves year after year, and about the lasting friendships we’d all made through sports. 

Northern British Columbia

My month on the road was special for the isolation and “quiet time” that it afforded – time to slow down and unplug. But it was also special for the visits along the way with friends. The time spent visiting with Jim, Finnigan, Roy, Miguel, Slackjaw, Marine, Erik, Lucy and Alain turned out to be even more special than the riding itself (and the riding was really special). As Lucy said during our visit when we were talking about the Seawolves letting me come to their ski practices, “I can’t even remember what I had for breakfast, but I remember everything about all those friendships made through skiing like it was yesterday. Those times are so special, and those friendships last a lifetime.”

No matter how awesome the vacation, I always enjoy the feeling I get coming back to Alaska.


Wednesday, August 11, 2021

Skippy!

As far as I'm concerned, any day without skiing is a wasted day.  Live to ski and ski to die - that's what I say!  With all this Corona virus going around and no snow on the ground, it's been pretty boring around here lately. And when things get boring I do just like any sane person would - I get on the internet and surf around for some skiing.  If I can't go skiing myself, at least I want to see someone else skiing.

Fortunately, there's this thing I heard about called The Equator and the word going around is that everywhere south of the equator is in winter's icy grip right now. It seems crazy but I checked it out and it's true. Upside-down places like Australia have snowstorms and ski races when the regular, normal part of the world is in the middle of summer. Turns out we all know someone who's holed up in Australia right now - our old friend Casey Wright! She likes to ski almost as much as me, so I googled her and I found her lickety-split, all over the internet, winning pretty much everything there is to win down there.  Australia's having their biggest, most important races this week, and Skippy's putting on a clinic.  (She's not really putting on a clinic; that's just a figure of speech that means she's winning all the races.)

Casey raced in the 2018 Olympics for Australia. And I bet she'd like to ski in the Olympics this coming winter, too. But Covid restrictions have been very stringent in Australia from the very start of this pandemic fiasco, and it's been a long time since Casey did any ski races at all. I'm sure it's a big relief for her to find that, in her first races back after... what... a year and a half(?) she's winning the sprints and winning the distance races too!

Check out this TV show:

If you can't understand the words in the video, let me know and I will send you a transcript or something. I hung out enough with Skippy while she was here at UAA that I eventually got so I could understand most of this jibber jabber and can translate it into normal english.

Sunday, August 1, 2021

Summertime Rolls - Part 3

The Skiwolves fled Anchorage months ago, scattered to the far ends of the earth for the summer. About half of them went to Norway and the other half to Canadia. One lone Skiwolf went home to Lake Tahoe in California, but it seems that's where all the action's been this summer, with his family's house serving as the UAA Ski Team's auxiliary training center and boarding house. First, Espen stopped in for a couple of weeks before flying to Oslo for the remainder of the summer. Next, it was Sigurd and Magnus who arrived, to spend the bulk of the summer in the Sierras with JC and the local training group. No sooner did Siggi fly back to Alaska last week when Astrid and the Tuvas arrived in Tahoe to find out what all the fuss was about. 

Despite all the personnel changes at Casa Schoonmaker, one thing has remained constant. Every Skiwolf who's spent any time in Tahoe this summer has had opportunities to go out training with Brandon Herhusky.  That's because Brandon, who's also from the Lake Tahoe area, has been hard at work preparing his mind and body for his new job as assistant nordic coach for the Harvard Ski Team! I hope we'll get to see Brandon at the NCAA Championships next March in Utah, even if he is wearing Harvard red instead of Seawolf green.

Meanwhile, here in Anchorage it's been just the coaches holding down the fort. Toom was generous enough to take me out for a hike this morning at Alyeska Resort. As I headed back to Anchorage afterward to rest and recuperate for the next few days, I saw Toom pulling his bike out to go for a long afternoon ride. And then another hike up Alyeska was on his schedule for the evening. 

We did have some excitement here in Anchorage a few days ago when word got out that former Seawolves Steffi and Karl Schauer were in town for a visit from Germany. So a bunch of Seawolves from around the 2008-2012 years got together for a little reunion at Trond's house on the Hillside. It was like nothing had changed!

Here, Laura and Steffi's children, who are younger than Trond's children, are learning from their elders how to play with fire.

Trond and Laura

The party got so crazy that we forgot all about taking any pictures until a lot of the group had already left. But here are a few who were still hanging around when the camera came out:  Trond Flagstad, Laura McKnown (Rombach), Steffi Schauer (Hiemer), Karl SchauerJaime Bronga, me, and Toomas Kollo. All except Toomas were on this team ten years ago. Toomas, was, of course, just a little baby back then.

Although they had left the premises the time we remembered to pull out the camera, we were also joined by Kelsey Boardman (Coolidge), Lex Treinen, Sadie Maubet Bjornsen, Max Treinen and Paul Schauer. It was so nice to see everyone again!

Sunday, April 25, 2021

More of the Same

 The weather hasn't changed for the past week, so we haven't changed what we're doing. Getting out in it, day after day.

This bridge doesn't look very sketchy in this picture. But I thought it was kinda sketchy in real life.


Toomas. Charging. As usual.


Toom, Ale, Siggi and JC. Ale is a UNH Wildcat, but it's cool.

Sigurd comes from the town where Stefan Kraft set the world record in ski jumping: 253.5 meters. When you grow up around this kind of thing, it's in your blood. Jumpers gonna jump:

Today was the day for the annual Norpine Challenge. It's the day when we all get together and close out the year with a little friendly competition, the giving of team awards, the making of speeches, and the jerking of tears. Last year's Norpine Challenge had to be cancelled due to Covid-19. I think this year's Norpine Challenge made up for it.

Here's Toomas rocking a little panel slalom.

The timing crew.

A little nordic action on the slopes.

Speeches were made, and stories were told.

Here we are. All of us. (almost)

Sunday, April 18, 2021

Spring Has Sprung

What a difference a week makes. Last weekend felt like mid-winter. This weekend feels like mid-summer. 

Yesterday was the last race of the year. At Alyeska Resort. Short and sweet. Only 3.7 kilometers. But the finish line was 619 meters higher than the start line.  It was a day for the climbers.  I had other obligations that morning, but fortunately Blog Intern Kevin Donley was on scene to memorialize the day in pictures:

Magnum. At around the halfway point.

Derek.  Also at around the halfway point.

Karly

The reason I couldn't be at the uphill race was because Tour Guide Toomas invited Toby Schwoerer  and me out skiing at one of his favorite spots, and that was something I didn't want to miss.

In the Placer River Valley

Toomas is buying this house.

Spencer Glacier

Toby (notice the bear spray in his pack). Toby's no novice. 

There's plenty of snow.

Skookum Valley rated 10 out of a possible 10

Toomas. Leading the way.

Planning future routes.

It was as good as it gets.



A bunch of Skiwolves had been out to Spencer Glacier the day prior. That's Astrid in the foreground.

Friends invited me back for more the next day.  It's not every day of the year that you can go crust skiing. So you have to go when the going's good.


Springtime in Alaska

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Sanctioned!

Espen's racing bib had a mind of its own on Sunday.


(photo: Laarni Power)


Monday, April 12, 2021

It's Historic!

 Just like you, I like to know what's going on in the world around me.  I like to keep abreast of the latest news and the events of our time. And that's why, each and every morning, over a cup of coffee, I review all of the major news outlets from around the world. 

And so it was that I came across this little tidbit about our very own Tuva Bygrave as I was perusing Norway's national news roundup on the NRK website this morning. Seems Tuva "made history" by getting fully Covid-vaccinated earlier this month. Alaska is leading the world in its vaccination rate, and our entire Seawolf Ski Team is now fully vaccinated. In Norway, as in most of the rest of the world, availability of the vaccine lags far behind Alaska. So Tuva's feeling pretty fortunate to have such early access to the vaccine

To paraphrase Tuva in the article, "It seems a little strange, as a nineteen-year-old, to be vaccinated before my parents."

You can read the rest or the article at the NRK website, or by clicking on the picture of Tuva GranΓΈien flexing her pipes below.  (If you don't read Norwegian yet, this is your excuse to learn!)




Sunday, April 11, 2021

April Fools

 April is traditionally the month of warm sunshine and relaxing in the mountains with a light layer of clothing and a heavy layer of sunblock.  But the past year has been anything but traditional. So it is fitting that our little Alaska FIS Tour de Skimeister was held this weekend in conditions more typical of December than of mid-April. So we bundled up in our warmest down parkas and mittens and spent the weekend freezing our asses off at Kincaid Park.  The quality of the courses and the quality of the competition was good, and we had a productive weekend.

Espen and Tuva were there.

World Cup Schoon was there.

Magnum and Trond were there.

Gus Schumacher and this APU guy were there.

Scott Patterson was there.

David Norris was there.

Hunter Wonders was there.

Siggi was there.

Former Seawolf Hailey Swirbul was there.

Seth Downs was there.

Astrid and Pascale were there.

Karly was there.

And Astrid won the race today.