Thursday, June 12, 2014

Larry

Who are these people?!

Here at the UAA Ski Team, this is one of the more frequently asked questions at our daily UAA Ski Coach Summit Meetings.  It's right up there with "Do you think Extra Blue will work?" and "What are the kids making us for dinner?"

Who are these people?  Why are they here?  How fast can they ski?  Where do they come from?

It is this last question - where do they come from - that has piqued my curiosity lately.  I am nothing if not a seeker of truth, a finder of facts.  When I want answers, I want them now.

As you may already know, some of our skiers at UAA did not grow up in Alaska.  Some of them are not even from the USA!  Some of the members of the UAA Ski Team have come from foreign countries - like Canadia!  Take, for example, Cara McCulloch.  Cara is no longer on our ski team or a student at our university.  But in 2012 and 2013 she was.  Cara grew up in the town of Smithers, British Columbia, not far from Alaska, but Canadia is a foreign country - as foreign as any other foreign country out there.  here's a link (who doesn't love links?)


How can we effectively coach our UAA skiers to greatness if we don't know their background?  If we don't know their history?  If we can't (as former president George W. Bush was known to do) "see into their soul"?

As part of my never-ending quest for knowledge, I needed to dig deeper. I needed to delve into the unexplored. To explain the inexplicable.  And I figured Smithers was as good as starting point as any.
File:Waylon Smithers, Jr..png
The other Smithers.

I arrived in Smithers by motorcycle, because I've found I meet a lot more people when I'm on two wheels than when I'm on three wheels, four wheels, eighteen wheels, or no wheels.  Besides, my arrival in Smithers by motorcycle jived with my other mission - to kill as many insects as possible in a fourteen-day period.

So you think you're pretty good on a mountain bike?  Go for a ride with Larry McCulloch in Smithers BC... and think again.
In Smithers, I met Larry, Cara McCulloch's dad.  I'd planned to just find a soft grassy place in Smithers to get off the motorcycle and camp for the night and move on down the road the next morning, but when I spoke with Larry on the telephone from Montana a couple days before my arrival in town, his tone on the phone indicated very clearly that I'd have to be some kind of moron not to stay in Smithers for at least a day and partake of some of the sporting opportunities afforded there.  So I called an audible right then and there in my Motel 6 room in Kalispell and got up early the next morning to blast to Smithers as fast as possible - two long days in the saddle - to find out what all the fuss was about.

For one day in Canadia, I traded out the lazy man's bike for the one with the pedals.
Larry had taken the day off so that he could show me around town.  We started on mountain bikes.  Lately, I've been kind of braggy about our new Single Track Advocates mountain bike trails here in Anchorage at Kincaid Park and Hillside.  But Smithers takes their mountain biking to a whole 'nother level. Actually, about three 'nother levels.  I saw some ramps and jumps in the forest above town that I would never consider taking on a bicycle.  A paraglider perhaps, but not a bike. I'm pretty sure I've seen mountain bike trails like those on TV, but not in person.  I was impressed!

One of the smaller jumps on Smithers' mountain bike trail system.  Dress me up me in a suit of armor and you still wouldn't catch me launching off this one.
Larry worked me over pretty good on that bike.  Somehow, I seem to have been living with the impression in recent years that I'm not in bad shape for a guy at my station in life.  I try to get some exercise now and then and not drink too many beers at one sitting.  But Larry has inexorably put this fantasy to rest.  I found out the cold hard truth on that yellow bicycle while trying to stay within a mile (sorry - 1.6 kilometers) of Larry climbing Hudson Bay Mountain.  In Smithers, I'm not fit to ride a bike down to the corner store for a pack of gum.

By mid-afternoon we were off the bikes so it was time for a quick sandwich before heading out to the other side of town for a little paragliding. I've never actually been paragliding, though it seemed easy enough.  You just hang onto some ropes attached to a giant piece of fabric and jump off a cliff, right?  And you don't even go very fast.  Seemed pretty innocuous.  That was, until Larry told me the story of the paragliding enthusiasts who got sucked into a thunder cloud in Australia.  Most of them died, but one German woman got sucked up to 30,000 feet (sorry - 10,000 meters) and lost consciousness, but woke up again before drifting back to earth; her GPS and altimeter had quite the story to tell.  I heard this story while eating a sandwich on the deck while Larry looked up a the cumulonimbus clouds forming above us. Finally, Larry said "We'd better get out there before these clouds form up any more."  Suddenly, paragliding didn't seem quite so benign.  Suddenly, I remembered how I'd ridden through a hailstorm the previous afternoon on the motorcycle just south of Smithers, and our weather pattern was looking eerily similar to the day before...

As it turns out, there was no tragedy in the afternoon.  Larry caught a couple rides with his brand new rig, and after a few words of instruction from Larry, I flew his old rig!  Okay, I didn't go higher than about six feet (sorry - two meters) but I can say that I flew three times (in my one trip down the hill) because every time I came back to earth I wanted to get back in the air so bad that I just ran like hell until I lifted off again. And I did manage to keep it out of the barbed wire fence on the edge of our slope. It might be a stretch to call what I did "flying", but I guess you could say the same thing about Orville and Wilbur Wright.  So lay off!

Don't believe I've become an expert paraglider?  Check the video below and find out just how wrong you are!


So what's my point in telling you all this?  Well, there really isn't a point to any of it.  But I did find out that while I love living here in Anchorage where there are always lots of great adventures to choose from, Alaska isn't the only place where you can have fun.  Smithers is a pretty fantastic place.  I also had lots of great conversations with Larry about environmental stewardship, biological diversity, ecological systems, and sports.  Thanks Larry, Jody, and Grace for taking me in and showing me a good time!


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Now on a completely different topic, do you think this dog looks kind of spooky?  I met him somewhere in Montana - he has the same eyes as one of my coworkers at a job I used to have.  Maybe you'd need to see him in person, but I'm telling you it was a little tough to focus on my sandwich with this guy staring at me  at me with those crazy eyes!

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