Thursday, December 29, 2011

boxing day 2011

It's funny to go back and read last year's posts: Boxing Day 2010 had flat light, skiing on groomers since there hadn't been much new snow, a good parking spot because there weren't that many people out.  This year we had flat light, skiing on groomers because there hadn't been any new snow at all and a good parking spot ... and approximately 110 inches more snowfall.

The skiing is getting really bad.  It's not even so much that it's eastern-style hard-pack, but that the base is so thin (33") that rocks are popping through everywhere.  You can usually see the big ones in time but the teeny little ones that are easy to miss are just tearing the bejeezus out of the bottom of our skis.  We did manage to find some semi-soft bumps on 3 Bears and skied that a bunch, although the trail is short and runs contrary to the fall-line so it's a bit annoying.  Still, gotta get my bumps practice in so I'm ready when it finally snows.

I'm ready.  Please SNOW!!!

Monday, December 26, 2011

christmas day 2011

Christmas morning dawned like most of our winter weekend mornings: up; Henry's special fried potatoes with ham, egg and cheese; and out the door, headed to Alta.  Once again, there are very few skiers on the slopes before noon and we enjoyed the bright sunshine, clear skies and uncrowded slopes.  In fact, Christmas 2011 Ski Day was very similar to Christmas 2010 Ski Day: nice weather, no new snow, hardly any other folks around and skiing on groomers, although last year I did that because my back was still sore and this year we pretty much have to because of the lack of snow.

My eyes really were open - you
just can't tell from the power-squint

We still have to say, though, that although we still want snow - and lots of it - very badly, it is so dang wonderful to ski under bluebird skies.  We noticed a few newbie skiers struggling with the non-powder conditions but generally everyone had smiles on their faces, wishing each other happy holidays.

A peek at Catherine's Area through the trees

We skied until about 2:00 p.m., tired by then of the increasingly skied-off conditions, and headed home to call our families, drink some beers and bake a ham (first time trying that - will have to let you know how it goes).  We'll be back at it again tomorrow - when it will likely be quite a lot busier - but until then, Merry Christmas* to all and to all a good night.

* And by "Merry Christmas" I of course mean whatever non-sectarian winter holiday greetings to which you may subscribe!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

christmas eve 2011

Not surprisingly, the dearth of snow didn't keep us from heading up to Alta on Christmas Eve.  We didn't rush right up there - lingering a bit over our ham-and-egg-and-cheese sandwiches - but were still on the lift before 10:00 a.m.  We headed for the Sugarloaf lift first, seeking out trails in the sunshine as it was another gorgeous, bluebird day up in the mountains (even as the inversion has begun to slowly creep back into the valley).  But once there we glanced over at the Supreme lift and saw it turning - for the first time all season.  We hightailed it over there and were among the first people to get on the lift.

The Alta Ski Patrol had put up lots of signs with lots of exclamation points, asking people to use extreme caution whilst skiing off Supreme: thin cover and lots and lots of rocks on all the ungroomed trails.  Desperate to get off the groomers, we watched scores of people begin the hike into Catherine's Area before trying the ungroomed Upper Sleepy Hollow ourselves.  It wasn't that good: about five inches of soft snow atop a hard crust studded with hidden rocks.  Oh well.  We stayed over at the Supreme lift for a while even so, realizing that even if we were skiing groomers (to keep the bottoms of our skis on one piece) they were at least different groomers than we've been skiing all season.  

Bright sunshine on the top of Collins lift
(note my new Alta neck gaiter!)

Having the extra terrain open had the added benefit of spreading the people out a bit, so when we headed back to ski off Sugarloaf and Collins after lunch, the lift lines were negligible.  We kept making turns until 2:00 p.m., then headed home, following the line of cars off to their next Christmas Eve engagements.  For us, that means walking the dog, delivering cookies to the neighbors and supping on shepherd's pie and cheap champagne before falling asleep early while watching A Christmas Story.  Hope Santa doesn't wake us up when he gets here - got to get up and go skiing early tomorrow!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

sparse

Even though we desperately need snow (have I mentioned that? how badly we need snow? Alta is planning to physically move snow over to the groomed trails off the Cecret and Supreme lifts so that those lifts can be opened in time for Christmas - that's how much we need snow), H and I have still been skiing.  He's got ten days in and I've got six; some of those "days" are just a couple of hours but still, it counts.

Part of the reason we've been happy to go skiing despite the extreme lack of snow is that it gets us out of the inversion that has settled over the Salt Lake Valley.  Down in the valley, it's grey and cold and all socked in so that you can't see the sky, while up in the mountains it's been clear blue skies, bright sunshine and easily 20 degrees warmer.  It's been glorious up there and I'm totally conflicted because I so want it to snow, and yet I so enjoy skiing under bluebird skies.

It hasn't been very busy up at Alta either, although since everyone is skiing on the same few trails, it does seem a little crowded.  Because everyone is trapped on the same trails, you're bound to come across some doofuses.  On Saturday, a completely oblivious preteen kid skied into me, not hard enough to knock me over, but enough to knock into my skis and cause me to yell at him to watch where the hell he's going.  On Sunday, H and I had the misfortune to ride the Sugarloaf lift with a couple of total Joeys who, despite the balmy 35 F temperatures and hot sunshine, were both wearing face masks.  These grown men greeted us on the chair with "Bonjour!" (to which H muttered, "The next words out of their mouths better be in French") and then proceeded to talk in English very loudly (to compensate for the muffling of the face masks, I guess) about complete inanities all the way up.  Then, when we got off the chair, we noticed that one of them didn't have poles and neither of them were very good skiers. Sigh.  That's another reason to wish for a lot more snow and soon: so we can escape to the wilds off the Supreme chair where Joeys fear to tread.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

'tis the season

A couple of nights ago, after I'd gotten back from the gym, and taken out my contacts, and changed into my scruffy evening soft pants, and was finally getting around to scrounging something up for dinner, the doorbell rang.  B went crazy as she always does (except for the first two weeks in this house when she didn't know that the bell meant there was someone at the front door, since we didn't have a doorbell at our Maine house).  I turned on the porch lights, grabbed her collar and was just about to open the door when I heard the singing.  I called to H:  "Quick!  We've got carolers!" and he ran for the camera.  When I opened the door, there were our across-the-street neighbors with some of their extending family and friends, singing their hearts out.  After their carol, one of the grandchildren handed me a couple of candy canes and then all they wished us a Merry Christmas and wandered off down the street to their next performance.

It came upon a 7:45 p.m. clear ...

Sometimes I get a little antsy, being in a neighborhood with people always around.  But then there are moments like this that are so sweet and warm, and I'm grateful that we have such nice neighbors.  And we've never had carolers at our house - any house - before.  If it had only been snowing, it would have been perfect.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

family ties

There's still hardly any snow (we're at a historical low for the date, as H keeps reminding me) but that didn't stop my cousin E and 849 of her closest Northwestern University friends (and another 200+ from some Ohio school) from descending upon Park City Mountain Resort for the week.  Since skier traffic is always sparse before Christmas - even in good snow years - the students got a crazy-good deal for a 6-night stay/4-day lift ticket package.  They were housed in condos right up at the resort, which was ideal since they could go grocery shopping for breakfasts and lunches, making it an even better deal.  E reported that PCMR had about 17 trails open and the skiing was pretty good, if entirely Eastern (i.e., no powder).

We drove out to Park City Wednesday night to see E, picking her up at the condo and then heading into the Old Town for dinner at the Blue Iguana (not the Red Iguana: more Tex-Mex and less mole).  Old Town was packed and we had to park several streets over and walk back in 17 F temperatures, but the restaurant itself was pretty quiet so we were able to get caught up over dinner.  For the record: I had pork tamales with mole verde and enchilada sauce; E had chicken fajitas; and H had a chile verde burrito.  I decided against the $14 margarita - crazy Park City prices!

We only kept E out for a couple of hours before delivering her back to her friends (I'm 20+ years older than she is and didn't want to test her patience ... plus we old folks had to drive all the way back home).  It was really nice to see her and hear all about school; I didn't really like the first half of my freshman year but clearly she is not having that problem.  Hopefully next time she comes out this way we'll have better snow for her.

Monday, December 12, 2011

artsy

Not only do we go to the Porcupine for libations and conversation, we also go for cultural type stuff.  Case in point, we were there last Friday night, sitting at the bar for beers and dinner (chicken noodle soup for me; Szechuan veggie stir fry on noodles for H) and chatting with Edd and Josh, the on-duty bartenders.  Josh also works for Ski Utah and had been over at Deer Valley earlier that day.  When we asked him where he was going Saturday, he said he wasn't skiing because he had to set up for an art show.  He gave us a card for the Art Adoption Christmas Art Show and all of a sudden, we had something to do Saturday night.

The show was held at Signed & Numbered, a custom frame shop and art gallery located at 2320 So. West Temple.  The shop is owned by Leia Bell, an artist, and Phil Sherburne, a cabinetmaker.  The show had art in various media from twenty-two different artists - paintings, sculpture, photographs, prints, jewelry, pottery - and all of it was for sale, much of it at very reasonable prices.  They were accepting clothing donations for the Homeless Youth Resource Center and non-perishable food for the Utah Food Bank; there were snacks and free beer (Full Suspension!) and wine, and all bartending tips were going to be donated to the Christmas Box House.

We got there a little before 7:30 p.m. and there were already a bunch of young, hip people there.  We talked with Josh for a bit, drank a couple of beers and wandered the shop, looking at all the funky art.  There was one painting I really liked, a big abstract Southwestern landscape, but it was $300 so I bought some turquoise earrings instead (made by Jill Watanabe/earthworm).  By the time we left, the place was getting crowded and lots of people were buying things.  I hope they did really well, both for the artists and for the charities, and I'm super-glad that Josh let us know about the show.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

we need snow

It hasn't snowed for a week and what we got a week ago only added up to about an inch.  Alta has a 27" base, Park City has 18", and everyone else (who is open) is somewhere in between.  If we don't get a foot tomorrow - which we won't, because there's not even a chance of snow until Tuesday - we will have hit a new low: historically, the least amount of snowfall at this date has been 90 inches.  We've had 79 inches.

Still, we went up to Alta and took some runs this morning, skiing for 2.5 hours.  It was busier than it's been so far this season, with lots of ski lessons and actual lift lines. Well, not really lift lines but we weren't able to ski right onto the lifts like we've been doing.  The groomers were in pretty good condition at first but were starting to get scraped off in spots around noon; the off-piste stuff is completely tracked out, plus sparse - we weren't interested in risking the bottoms of our skis to try much of it.  It was very much like eastern conditions, except for the huge mountains all around us and the gorgeous bright blue western sky.  Almost any day on skis is a good one.  We just really need some snow to get us back to those great days.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

2011 vintages

As 2011 draws to a close, so too does the inaugural year of the WeWentWest Winery*, with two wines now resting in the cellar: the so-called Luna Bianca, renamed Cecret Chardonnay, a "rich, buttery bouquet with flavors of tropical fruit, vanilla and oak with a smooth, round mouth-feel," and a Chilean Carmenere, "deep crimson, with dark cherry aroma, red fruits and berry notes running to a smoky, spicy finish with notes of dark chocolate and tobacco, with medium full body and moderate tannins."  Cheers!

The labels are entirely H's design, production
and installation - nice work!


Monday, December 5, 2011

slow start

You may have noticed here on the blog that there haven't been as many early season ski posts this year.  That's because there hasn't been as much early season snow, and thus less early season skiing to blog about.  We're just getting these puny little storms that drop a couple inches here and there (except that down at Brian Head they just got pummeled with 15+ inches) and Alta's base depth is hovering at the 26" mark.

I've only gone twice while H has gone six times, and the skiing is very good eastern-style conditions right now: soft groomers with no ice.  He went this past Saturday (it was too cold for me, although if we'd gotten a big dump of snow I would have sucked it up) and had to wear his face mask to protect himself from the snow guns.  Good grief - the snow guns are on at Alta instead of the avi-control guns.  That's just not right. Please!  Snow, please!
This is looking up a chute from the Ballroom - 
it's actually very, very steep



Friday, December 2, 2011

'tis the season, i guess

I prefer to get the Christmas decorations out and up just a couple weeks before Christmas and then leaving them up through New Year's.  A lot of folks in our neighborhood are way gung-ho about the holiday, though, and had their trees and lights up by Thanksgiving.  (A whole month of Christmas is just too much, in my opinion).  There's one house down the street from us who is really making the power company happy right about now - H, B and I walked down to check it out tonight before dinner:

Where does one store it all in the off-season?

You can't tell from the photo, but there are a moving Ferris wheel, merry-go-round and teeter-totter in there too.  It was actually kind of pretty, in an over-the-top, gaudy kind of way.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

saturday explorations

The weather was sort of hit-or-miss while H's folks were here: first mild and sunny, then cold and blustery, then spitting snow and rain, then mild again ... challenging for making plans for outside activities.  On Saturday we were feeling a little cooped up after hanging out at home all day the day before (what with the rain and wind and spitting snow) and when it turned out to be a fairly nice day, we all jumped in the car to go places and do some stuff.

First we went up to Solitude so H and I could pick up our 5-pak ticket passes (good for five reduced rate tickets and reloadable at the same reduced price).  There were a good number of cars there and it was great to see folks skiing, but I couldn't imagine paying for a day ticket with how little snow we've got.  Then we stopped by REI so I could buy a new pair of boot covers, having shredded mine by the end of last ski season.

Hope that sucker's not loose

Our next stop was someplace new and a little bizarre: Gilgal Gardens, "an historic sculpture garden created by Thomas B. Child, Jr.," located at 749 East 500 South in SLC.  Child created twelve original stone scuptural arrangements and over seventy stones engraved with Bible scripture, poems and inspirational text, beginning in 1957.  After his death in 1963, the gardens got new private owners until 1997 when the Friends of Gilgal Gardens was founded to preserve and protect the site.  The plantings in the gardens are cared for by volunteers from the Salt Lake Co. Master Gardener Association; things were obviously end-of-season when we stopped by, but I bet it's really pretty in the summer.  "Gilgal" means "circle of sacred stones."  The garden is a weird little place, a quiet oasis in the middle of the city.  I found some of the sculptures a little unsettling (like the hands reaching out of the rock to the two sacred hearts) but I have admiration for people who are called to and able to make things with their hands.  Some of the explanatory material said that Child didn't care if people thought his garden was weird - it was important to him that people thought about it at all.

Peekaboo

After all that art/religion it was time for a beer.  To continue our trend of trying something new, we went to Red Rock Brewing Co. for a late lunch and some brews.  I had the oatmeal stout (which was good once it warmed up a little) and the tasty soup of the day, green chile with shredded chicken.  We swung by the Beer Nut on our way back home so H and I could purchase our very own wine bottle corker (now we're committed to making more wine at home).  The evening was spent companionably, watching football, drinking homebrew and playing games - good, homey, Thanksgiving weekend stuff.

Friday, November 25, 2011

thanksgiving 2011

Another Thanksgiving, another City Creek Cold Turkey 6K!  This year it was quite warm - about 50 F - and no issues with ice on the road, so our start was at the capital and the finish was down in Memory Grove; I was able to wear shorts, cotton socks and didn't even need gloves.  Another difference: personal spectators!  H's folks came out for the holiday and so I had a full four person cheering section.  The race went off right on time and the 650ish runners and walkers surged up the canyon.  I felt pretty good for the duration of the race but I didn't feel as though I was as strong on the uphill as I've been - didn't pass as many folks.  The downhill portion seemed to go fairly quickly and soon enough I was across the finish line.  I ended up finishing with a time of 35:41.33, twelve seconds faster than the first time I did the race (and I'm not factoring in last year's time since the course was different), 11th out of 27 in my age group and 249th out of 656 overall.

Nice shot of the port-o-johns!

Here's another difference from the last couple of years: we couldn't find a dive bar open early enough to host our post-race beers.  H expanded the to-call list to about thirty bars and found none of them open before noon this year.  Maggie McGee's, which had been open at 10 a.m. for the last two years, wasn't even unlocking its doors until 3 p.m. - far too late for our purposes!  So we shrugged off our disappointment and went straight home after the race, and popped open a bottle of cheap champagne the moment we set foot inside.  That seemed to work just fine.

Clear shot to the finish

The rest of the afternoon was spent watching football, cooking (roast chicken, stuffing, mashed potatoes, sweet potato casserole, green beans, salad, cranberry-orange relish and rolls), eating, drinking good Utah beers (Cutthroat (with their gorgeous new logo design), Full Suspension and the house-brewed Deep Pow Pale) and playing games (Quiddler and Rummikub).  We were amazingly too full for pie (craziness - I am never too full for pie) and I had to go to bed well before 10 p.m., tired, full and very happy with the day.  I hope all the rest of you enjoyed your Thanksgivings as much as we did ours!



Wednesday, November 23, 2011

impatient

What with Thanksgiving looming and lots to get done, I did not go back up to ski on Sunday.  But H did, and reported that it snowed (lightly) all day, there were about half the folks there that there were on Saturday, and that when he got bored with the groomers and went off piste, he did manage to gouge up his skis a little.  We really need some snow.  Last year at this time there was a lot of snow (117" cumulative) and frequent storms.  This year ... Alta's had 75 inches which settled to 30 inches, and the next storm is Friday but it isn't supposed to amount to much.  I know it's early yet but c'mon, let's do this! SNOW, please!!!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

my opening day

The storm we had Friday night didn't really amount to much - 9 inches up the canyon, a couple inches at our house - but it was enough to get me up and out and skiing on November 19th.  I'd been hemming and hawing over whether to go the night before and so Saturday morning was scurrying all over the house, trying to find my  helmet and mittens and base layers and socks and ski pants and ski pass and all of it.  I didn't have any hand warmers (had to buy some up at Alta to the 300% inflated price tag) and I had thrown my boot covers away at the end of last season because they were pretty much shredded, so I knew my toes would be cold.  But still, everything came together and we headed up the canyon by 8:30 a.m.

Bright enough to make me squint

There were more people waiting for the lifts to open than there were on the actual opening day, but once the initial crowd got up the mountain, it was clear there weren't many people there at all.  Only three lifts were open (Collins, Wildcat and Sunnyside) but we never ended up waiting in line and we did ride more than one chair with the same people.  The snow was much better than I expected it to be.  I stayed on the groomers off Collins but plenty of other skiers were whooping it up in the meager powder, tramping out traverses and claiming first tracks.  Of course, you could hear the rocks and stumps scraping across the bottom of their skis as they swooped down the hillsides - gotta bring your rock skis to early season skiing.  We stayed out for about three hours, enough for everything to get tracked out.  My legs are a little tired but I'm counting it as a good start to the 2011-2012 season.

Friday, November 18, 2011

opening day 2011

Alta opened today as planned.  H was up there by 8:30 a.m., first in the singles line, seventh chair overall.  The folks who got the first chair had gotten up to the resort at 4:30 a.m. (crazy people).  Everyone was stoked - "everyone" being retirees, 20-somethings and H - sharing beers on the lifts, frying up bacon and egg sandwiches on camp stoves in the lift line.

The view from the front of the singles line,
just before opening

We haven't had much snow (55 inches on the season; 21 inches settled snow depth - not enough to keep H from gouging his skis a bit) and the emails I got throughout the morning described the conditions as "dust on crust" and "good (by eastern standards)."  It was pretty cold due to the wind and he had to stick to the groomed trails, with only the Collins, Wildcat and Sunnyside lifts being open.  Still, he managed to put in three hours of non-stop runs, skiing right back onto the chair without standing in line.

Opening Day self-portrait

It's snowing now, with both Cottonwood Canyons and Parleys Canyon restricted to 4-wheel drive or chained tires.  They've backed off on the possible accumulation, saying 9-15" instead of 24-34", but there'll still be some fresh snow for us tomorrow.  Let the ski season begin!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

utah 31, ucla 6

As we were having a couple of beers at the Leprechaun Inn on Saturday, my phone rang: it was my work friend Jody.  She had been given two VIP tickets to the football game up at the U that afternoon but since it was currently snowing, and she gets cold very quickly, she and her husband wanted to know if H and I would be interested in going, since we spend a lot of time outdoors in the cold.  Of course we said yes! and since kick-off was going to happen in about two hours, we paid our tab, rushed over to Jody's house to pick up the tickets and then hurried home.  We quickly donned long-johns, wool socks and various fleeces and then drove off again to the Trax station.  Our timing was perfect and we jumped on a train without waiting for more than five minutes, changing to a different line a couple of stops up the track so we could go straight to the U.

Party in the Club room

It was snowing pretty steadily when we got to Rice-Eccles Stadium, about twenty minutes before kick-off.  It took us a little while to figure out where our seats were but once we did, we were thrilled: in through the VIP gate, up the elevator two floors to the Club level and then out to our seats that were completely covered so that  although it was cold (about 34 F) we were totally dry.  Back inside, there was a huge room filled with tables and people eating a complementary turkey dinner, a hot dog station, platters of brownies and gallons of soda and hot chocolate - all for free.  We missed out on the dinner since we didn't get there until right before the game started, but we absolutely availed ourselves of the hot dogs, hot chocolate and dessert.  I don't know if we can ever go back to sitting in the bleachers!

Pretty happy with our tickets

The snow kept coming down until well into the second period and we felt sorry for the hoi polloi down there in the uncovered seats.  In fact, we probably wouldn't have been dressed warmly enough if we'd been out there getting wet.  The play was pretty sloppy for the first half, both teams struggling with the wet field and wet ball but once the clouds lifted, the Utes figured things out and kept giving the ball to John "The Wolfman" White, who rushed for 167 yards and scored three touchdowns.

After the game, we got back on Trax and cruised on home.  We hadn't thought that we would get to a Ute game this year since tickets are all but impossible to come by now that Utah is in the PAC 12.  But we got lucky - thanks to my very nice friend who thought of us - and had a great, if unexpected, evening cheering on the boys in crimson.  Go Utes!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

more city stuff

H and I were just talking Friday night, at the Porcupine over a pitcher of Full Suspension and some dinner, that the frequency of posts has really died down here.  When we first got out to SLC, everything was So New and Exciting and we were always out doing stuff, even on the grey and rainy weekends.  Now, two years in, we've slowed down a bit, not frantic to go out and find something new to do.  Part of it is because we've settled into a life routine, going places we know and enjoy, like the Porcupine, where the bartenders know us and save empty wine bottles for us to use to bottle our homemade wines; part because we like our house and don't mind hanging out there, working on hobbies and reading; partly because we've become such total Utah weather-snobs.  There's still plenty unexplored stuff to go out and do and see - the brand new Natural History Museum building, the Salt Lake City roller derby, Aristo's Greek restaurant, winter elk herds up near Logan - we just don't feel compelled to be out doing it and seeing it every weekend now.  (Of course, ski season starts soon and we'll be doing that every weekend.)

So this past Saturday, it was stormy again and we opted to not be adventurous again.  (For the record, we would much rather it be storming during the week and sunny on the weekends so we can then tromp around in the week's storms' leavings.)  We went up to Alta in the late morning to pick up our season ski passes: there wasn't a ton of snow up there but there were plenty of people, hiking up the ski trails and skiing down, building kickers and little jumps next to the Wildcat lift, hiking around on snowshoes among the trees.  People are ready for winter sports to begin in earnest and now that we've got our passes, so are we.

Our next stop was the Beer Nut where we picked up the ingredients for another batch of IPA and some corks since we should be able to bottle the batch of red wine in a couple of weeks, provided it's clear enough.  We then stopped by a couple of furniture stores (the loveseat in the t.v. room is starting to show its age).  The first place we went to was Civilizzation (2900 South 300 West, SLC).  We didn't like the furniture at all - it was all enormous and mostly ugly, looking made for McMansions, and even though they're claiming big sales because they're closing, nothing was marked down very much - but the old building the store is in was incredible.  It's an old meat packing plant, "Joe Doctorman & Sons Meat Packing Company," built in the 1920s, and they've left most of the interiors intact, with huge wooden beams, metal tracks along the ceilings where the carcasses would hang, and thick freezer doors - very cool space.

Even tho' H was getting antsy, I made him go into another store (Eldredge Furniture, 4750 South 900 East, Holladay) where we liked the furniture much better: more classic and less overstuffed, with beautiful fabrics. I think the only reason H agreed to go in there was because it was just around the corner from a pub and grill we hadn't yet tried, the Leprechaun Inn, and after we cruised through the showrooms, we stopped in for a beer.  The Leprechaun Inn is a rather local establishment, sports bar-ish with comfy new booths, at least twelve televisions (all showing various college football games) and reasonable prices.  We got a pitcher of Full Suspension ($9.50) and a couple of grilled bratwursts (the Saturday special at $2.50 each, served with potato chips).  We were just finishing the brats when my phone rang.  But that's the next post.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

citified

On Sunday we tried to come up with a good way to say goodbye to daylight savings.  The forecast looked to be mixed - sun early, then clouds, with possible snow in the mountains.  We grabbed the dog and drove up to downtown SLC for breakfast at The Other Place (scrambled eggs with tomato, onion and feta for me; a Denver omelet for H).  After that, we took B on a walk up City Creek Canyon, one of the few area canyons that is not a Salt Lake City watershed and thus one of the few that allows dogs.

About three miles up City Creek Canyon

City Creek Canyon is sneaky.  At first it feels as though you're just walking in a gully back behind a swanky neighborhood.  Then, once you get a couple of miles in, cliffs loom overhead and you realize that yes, this is an actual canyon.  If we'd kept going, we would have connected with the Bonneville Shoreline Trail and the multitude of hiking/MTBing trails that crisscross the foothills.  We only went out about three miles though, at which point B started dragging her feet.  She perked up on the downhill return, but we knew the six mile roundtrip would be enough to wear her out for the rest of the day.

We two-legged people weren't too tired after the walk, however, and stopped by Squatters for a couple of Full Suspensions.  These were cask-conditioned and were much smoother than the regular brew - tasty!  After that it was home for laundry, watching the New York Marathon on the DVR and racking the current batch of homemade red wine before the sun went down early.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

winter's here

It started snowing last night, the temperature falling swiftly from 60 on the commute home to cold enough that the snow was sticking on the lawn by the time we went to bed.  And Saturday morning?  Still snowing - not a ton here in the valley but socked in enough that you couldn't see the Wasatches at all.  So we spent the morning cleaning the house, doing laundry, putting things away, until the sun came out right around noon.  B and I went for a walk in Dimple Dell, where there were a few other folks out enjoying the new snow (cross-country skiers, dog-walkers, runners).  I hadn't been anxiously awaiting the start of winter but it was really nice to be out there, tromping around in the snow, dressed in the right layers and the air cold on my face.

Snow over my boots - it's a start!


Wednesday, November 2, 2011

mormon pioneer trail

H was a man with a plan last glorious Sunday morning: he found us a new point-to-point hike to do.  We each drove a car to Ruth's Diner first - and since we got seated outside on the patio, we ate very quickly, not wanting to linger in the chill despite having a heater right next to our table (note: corned beef hash is not the best pre-hiking breakfast but it was certainly tasty) - and then kept going up Emigration Canyon to leave his truck at the Little Dell Reservoir parking area.  As we continued to drive my car up to the Jeremy Ranch Road (outskirts of Park City), we noticed something that gave us pause: lots and lots of hunters garbed in blaze orange, parked and/or milling about on the sides of the road.  Dang: we'd totally forgotten about deer season!

Lots of history right here

Unlike in Maine, where deer season lasts the entire month of November but there's no hunting on Sundays, in Utah deer season is only for one week/two weekends including Sundays ... in a state where hardly anything is open on Sundays.  But we'd come too far to turn back now, so when we got to the trailhead at Mormon Flat (where there was a small, quickly-drying puddle of deer blood in the dirt), we tied our red and not-blaze orange fleeces to the outside of our packs and decided to talk for the duration of the hike.  We saw some folks coming off the trail with their dogs who told us that while they'd seen a couple of hunters, everyone seemed to be coming out for the day, so that was reassuring.

Nice path for descending

This section of the Mormon Pioneer Trail from Mormon Flat to Little Dell Reservoir is  9.1 miles long, following the creek up Little Emigration Canyon to the pass at Big Mountain, then continuing down the other side into Mountain Dell Canyon (total trip elevation gain: 1,364 ft.).  The trail is quite pleasant, hardly taxing in the bright sunshine.  It's a pretty fateful stretch of trail, however as it was right here in 1846 where the Donner party took more than a week to get through what H and I did in about three hours.  It was because it took them so long here that they were caught in that winter storm in the Sierra Nevada a couple months later - and that, of course, ended badly.

Free apples!

It went much better for us.  H kept up a running commentary for the duration (I'm not sure he's ever talked so much in his life); the trail was mostly hardpacked dirt and easy footing; and just before we reached the terminus, we spotted a beautiful feral apple tree.  Deer had gotten all the fruit on the lower branches (and the drops) but there were plenty up higher so I gave the tree a shake and then snacked on a tart, blemish-free apple as we strolled into the Little Dell recreation area.

This is a great hike, pretty, not too challenging aside from the length.  You do need two cars since it's a point-to-point, and it'll be easier on the nerves if you go when it is not deer season, but it was cool to walk right where all those pioneers walked 150+ years ago.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

domesticity

Sometimes you just have to have some downtime.  Saturday was mostly cloudy in the morning, so our get-up-and-go got up and went, and we just did some home stuff: laundry, cleaning, etc.  B and I headed out to run some errands midday (one of the reasons B likes late fall and winter so much more than summer is because it's cool enough that she can go along in the car - never knew a dog who liked to just sit in the car as much as this one) and by the time we got back, the skies had cleared.  H went out for a road ride and I put on my running shoes and did my 3.5 mile loop from the house, the one that is all up for the first half and all down for the return half.  It was a lovely fall afternoon (high 50s and sunny) and the run actually ended up being fun.  After that, our evening consisted of me trying out a new chicken pot pie recipe: it turned out pretty well but (1) adding some parboiled cubed potatoes will give it some additional heft, (2) need to thicken the tasty sauce somewhat so it sticks to the filling better and (3) need to keep an eye on the puff pastry crust so as not to burn it.  No, seriously, it did taste good.

Anyway, that was it for our Saturday.  Sunday we did go on a hike, but that's a post of a different color.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

bike with mike

On Sunday we loaded our MTBs into the truck and drove out to Captain Mike's house in Park City.  He lives in a great spot, in the foothills on the far side of the valley, so he's got a great view of the three (Park City Mountain Resort, Deer Valley and Canyons) ski resorts.  He's also got access right out his front door to Park City's fantastic network of trails, accessible to MTBers, runners, hikers, snowshoers, nordic skiers and horseback riders.

Mike and me - action shot!

We took some nice singletrack through the fields and around the foothills, gently climbing up until we connected with the Glenwild Loop above Kimball Junction.  At this point, I recognized the trail that H and I had ridden earlier this summer - correction: the trail that H had ridden and I had walked my bike up and up and up.  For some reason, I did much better this time, especially when Mike was riding in front of me so I could pace myself off him.  He and I were about the same speed, but he is much stronger on the bike than I am, and looked like he could calmly pedal uphill forever.

Another nice day in greater Park City

Instead of going to the top of the hill and picking our way down the difficult switchbacks (as H and I had done), Mike led us up a jeep road and then down a less technical route.  At the intersection at the bottom of the hill, we continued on the Flying Dog trail, following a creek bed a little ways and then climbing up and over another ridge.  I really like those trails out there.  There are hills, sure, but they're not so discouragingly steep and long, and this time I actually pedaled my way up most of them.

We looped back around, ending up back at the house after about twelve miles, and then enjoyed a beer on the porch.  You always should end a MTB ride with a beer.  Captain Mike thinks so too and that's yet another reason why we like Mike.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

faint trails

On Saturday, we joined a group from the Wasatch Mountain Club for a "Faint Trails" hike, led by club historian, Charles Keller.  Captain Mike had told us about the hike, which was going up Grizzly Gulch at Alta, and would talk about some of the extensive mining history in the area.  When we met the group - which ended up being nearly twenty people - at the Little Cottonwood Canyon park-n-ride lot, we were pleased to recognize a bunch of folks: my friend Susan from work and her husband, Bob, Captain Mike and three of Captain Mike's friends whom we had met last weekend on the Park City hike, Skip, Sandy and Hope.

The group, heading down an old mining road

The Faint Trails hikes are just what their name implies, covering old and little used trails.  Charles took us along the Alta-Brighton horse path, the Prince of Wales pipeline trail, mining roads that were laid out in the late 1870s, and several other of the myriad trails crisscrossing the upper Little Cottonwood Canyon.  Charles is a historian, author (The Lady in the Ore Bucket, a history of the Little Cottonwood, Big Cottonwood and Millcreek Canyons) and avid hiker.  His knowledge of the area is seemingly limitless and he showed us old stone walls, foundations, tunnel entrances, ruins of trestles, a suspension bridge, pump houses and water towers.  Charles is also 82 and is a prime example of how good an active outdoor life can be for a person.

Our guide, Charles Keller

The day was gorgeous - bright blue sky and sunshine over the golden aspens - the company convivial and the scenery spectacular.  We were out tramping around for about four hours (which was plenty, given the size of the group), covering 3.9 miles and doing about 1,400 feet of climbing.  It wasn't our most ambitious day of hiking but it was very interesting to learn so much about the miners who populated our beloved canyon from the 1860s until about the 1960s.  And it was just so nice to be out hiking around - the snow is coming soon and we won't get too many more days like that this fall.

Blue and gold - can't get enough of it

Thursday, October 20, 2011

fall colors

Although we don't get the brilliant reds and oranges that New England gets with autumn foliage, northern Utah does still get some nice color: the golden aspen, obviously, but also soft reds, pinks and pale oranges.  People are saying that this year is one of the best foliage-wise in recent years.


We didn't do much the Sunday after our Park City hike with Captain Mike and friends - out for breakfast, a road ride for H, pulling up most of the back garden, mowing and edging the front yard.  But after our chores were done we drove up Little Cottonwood Canyon and took a bunch of pictures of the leaves.  I wish it hadn't been so overcast as I think the hues would have popped more, but it was still wicked pretty.


Sunday, October 16, 2011

park city hike with mike

After far, far too long, we finally synced up with Captain Mike again for a Park City hike.  We met up with him and five of his friends in the Old Town part of Park City, ascending the stairs on Woodside Avenue to some of the myriad hiking/MTB trails that crisscross the area.  Those Park City trails are so amazing: well-marked and in great shape.  We went up Sweeney's Switchbacks for a while, crossing the Flat Cable trail and then meandering back and forth under the Town Lift (Park City Mountain Resort's chairlift that takes folks from downtown PC up to the mountain).

The gang, heading up the trail

The trail we followed went in and out of the woods and crossed several ski trails, following the old tram line, the rusted metal towers straining to be seen amongst the aspens.  We followed some sunny, south-slope facing switchbacks above the old Silver Queen mine, ending up at the yurt above PCMR's Bonanza Lift for lunch, looking out over the trails and glades of the adjacent Deer Valley Resort.

Park City Mountain Resort, shining in the autumn sun

We backtracked a little on our return, but the prettiest part was a new bit of trail, following the serpentine John's Trail through a gorgeous grove of aspens.  The descent was gentle, the packed dirt path cushioned with fallen leaves, and the afternoon light filtering through the gold of the aspens - just beautiful.

Everything's golden

After the hike (9.3 miles RT, 1700 ft. elevation gain), we stopped in at Hope and Sandy's Old Town home (lot originally sold in 1887 for $150; worth considerably more now) for a beer on the deck.  This was a congenial group of Utah transplants Captain Mike had put together: everyone was interesting, fit and excited about living here and being outdoors as much as possible.  Hopefully we'll get together again for another outing soon, before the snow flies (again).

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

preseason

It's that time of year again, that giddy time when all the ski resorts start hinting that Opening Day is just around the corner!  Here is a list of anticipated, condition-dependent openings (you can find further details and much much more over at Ski Utah too):

Snowbasin, Beaver Mountain and Wolf Mountain are all currently hedging their bets as "TBA."

Also, Ski magazine has published its readers' survey results for the country's top ski resorts and Utah makes out pretty well:  Deer Valley #1, Park City #6, Canyons #16 and The Bird #20.  More interestingly, I think, is the ranking for the resorts with the best snow, frou-frou amenities aside: Alta #1, Powder Mountain #3, Snowbird #4, Brighton #6, Solitude #7 and Deer Valley #10.  You know where my heart lies: you can have your haute cuisine, exciting apres ski and solicitous staff - give me snow, snow and more snow.  Alta, we're counting the days.



Monday, October 10, 2011

little cottonwood canyon hill climb #2

It's that time of year again: that time when H jumps on his road bike and rides from our house to the top of Little Cottonwood Canyon.  Once again, I met him up at the top with a PBR and the camera to commemorate the event.  One difference this year?  All the snow up there, whereas as last year there was none.  There were tons of ski tracks all over Alta and we could watch three snowboarders hiking up and jumping off an old ski jump on the North Rustler trail.

Happy to have gotten that over with

After we toasted to his not having to do that again for another year, we drove back down the canyon and then over to and up Big Cottonwood Canyon for a celebratory lunch at the Silver Fork Lodge.  The place was packed, surprisingly - I would have thought breakfast was their biggest draw.  Although it was chilly (low 50s) with high, thin clouds, plenty of folks were sitting outside on the deck, snuggled up to the propane heaters.  We opted for an inside table instead, and dined on meatloaf and mashed potatoes (me) and a Cubano sandwich (H).  I thought lunch was okay, not great, but I had been hoping that they served breakfast all day and was thus slightly disappointed when I couldn't get my favorite sourdough pancakes.  Still, the service was good and a nice fire was crackling in the fireplace - it's really hard to complain.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

deep pow pale ale

Right after we bottled our Cecret Chardonnay and freed up the equipment, H started a batch of homebrew, using the kit I'd gotten him for his birthday.  He's made beer before but not for years, and not out here in the west, so we had stopped by the Beer Nut to see if there were any tips or tricks to high altitude brewing.  The folks at the Beer Nut are friendly and more than happy to talk at length about home brewing.  We learned that the only thing that would be different out here is the water: it's really hard in SLC and full of minerals, so you either have to boil all the water and let the minerals settle out if you're using tap water, or buy spring (not distilled) water and use that instead.  Other than that, brew away!

1200 So. State St., SLC

A basic difference between making beer and making wine at home is that wine (from a kit) is easy - basically mix juice and water and a few additives, and then wait for 6-8 weeks - whereas beer is labor-intensive at the start but you get the end product pretty quickly.  The pale ale kit H had used whole grains which had to be steeped in hot water for 45 minutes, then discarded (we tried a spoonful of the warm grains afterwards: would have been tasty with milk and sugar), then the malt added and boiled for 45 minutes; then the hops added and the wort cooled.  The recipe had four different hops: Amarillo, Glacier, Warrior and Columbus.  We like hoppy beers.

After the yeast was added and everything cooled enough, the beer went into the primary fermenter for four days, and then the secondary fermenter for another ten until the final specific gravity was reached, and then bottled.

Good-lookin' and good-tastin'

After bottling, you're supposed to let the beer age for a month or so.  We could only wait for a couple of weeks, however, and opened some last night: nice carbonation, very little sediment, gorgeous color, fairly strong hoppy flavor with no bitter aftertaste ... we deemed H's Deep Pow Pale Ale a rousing success!  We do have to exercise restraint, however, and ration out this new beer - two cases won't last long otherwise, not with a home brew this tasty.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

first snow of the season

It's gone now, but it snowed a couple of inches down in the valley today and it stuck around for several hours.  That means we've had a grand total of 4 1/2 months without snow - the last snow was May 24th, I think - that's a heckuva long winter.  The mountains got a fair amount: Alta's current forecast is for a winter storm warning, temperatures hovering in the high 20s, with accumulations possible between 8-16 inches.  The ski resorts are getting psyched and Solitude has already announced its opening day for November 11, weather permitting.  That seems early!  It's going to warm up again next week, back up into the high 70s, but in the meantime, as I look out into the back garden, I think this early snowfall may have put an end to my tomatoes for this season.  That's okay.  They weren't producing much anyhow.  I can't believe ski season is just around the corner!
I think this is the end of the 2011 garden


Tuesday, October 4, 2011

happy second utahniversary

Yesterday marked our second year in Utah (we were travelling home from a weekend wedding in Minnesota) and we just cannot believe that we've been here for two years.  It goes so quickly!  Here are some of the last year's highlights:

October.  We did some hiking; I tried cooking with tomatillos for the first time; we watched the U crush Colorado State 59-6 in the rain; we tried a couple of new places to eat; H had a birthday and rode his bike up Little Cottonwood Canyon.

November.  We went out to breakfast and raked a lot of leaves; we checked out the Park City ski swap; we picked up our Alta season passes; opening day was 11/20 with a "settled snow depth" of around 40 inches and on 11/21, we skied in another 12" of brand new powder, an auspicious start to the season; I ran the Thanksgiving morning Turkey Trot in 12F temperatures and then we went out for 10:00 a.m. beers, as we do.

December.  We mostly skied, although I hurt my back and had to take a couple weekends off, and by 12/18 we had a base depth of over 6 feet; it took me three hours to drive home from work one day in a snowstorm because Utah drivers are terrible; and we skied some more.

January.  Skiing, skiing, skiing, including H taking up telemark and me going by myself for the first time ever; we ate at a Lebanese restaurant (good) and a BBQ place (mediocre); I had a birthday.

February.  We went to a neighborhood preparedness meeting; we watched World Cup speed skating at the Oval in Kearns, Utah; it didn't snow that much early in the month but we still had some amazing days at Alta.

March.  We tried another BBQ place (no good) and also a downtown dive bar (former dive bar); we had Eastern ski guests and ridiculous amounts of snow in the mountains.

April.  I finally got powder skis; we tried yet another new BBQ place (okay), a pizza place (okay) and an Indian restaurant (good); Alta was looking at a 206" base and 724" snowfall season-to-date and we skied and skied and skied.

May.  Alta closed (snif!); we tried new BBQ (mediocre) and Thai (quite good); we fixed up the backyard, smothering the weeds with two tons of crushed rock, carried by hand; H's parents came to visit and we all went to St. George to explore for a weekend; we bought mountain bikes.

June.  We mountain-biked and started hiking, despite the wet spring; we saw Big Bad Voodoo Daddy in concert; we found a BBQ festival and also went to a Vietnamese noodle house in SLC; we had a friend visit from back East and did some hiking and moose-viewing; I ran 8K all downhill (ouch).

July.  We did a bunch more MTBing and hiking; a California friend came to visit us; H did the Porcupine Hill Climb on his road bike; I discovered a fantastic Asian supermarket.

August.  My two girlfriends came to visit for a weekend; our California friend came back and he and H went camping; we had a blast watching the Tour of Utah (yay, Levi!); we hiked a lot and MTBed; we went back to Log Haven for our tenth wedding anniversary and then went pseudo-camping in a Forest Service cabin in Ashley National Forest.

September.  We filled our MTB tires full of thorns at Antelope Island; we made thirty bottles of homemade white wine; we checked out the big SLC farmer's market; we had a wonderful long weekend of MTBing, hiking and road-riding down in Moab; we saw the XTERRA National Championships, and Lance Armstrong, up at Snowbasin; we hiked, of course; and we saw a terrible Real Salt Lake game.

And now we're starting our third year.  The weather this week isn't supposed to be that good - after over a month of gorgeous weather, it's finally cloudy and raining ... but it's also supposed to snow up in the mountains and that means ski season is just around the corner.  We're still loving it here, and enjoying exploring Utah.  Stay tuned for more adventures!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

bad beer, worse officiating

H and I finally got to a Real Salt Lake soccer game tonight.  Someone at his work had vouchers for free tickets and, as I always say, you should never underestimate the power of free - we ended up with seats about eight rows up from the field near the north goal.  RSL was playing the Chicago Fire and although RSL is currently third in the Western Conference and the Fire is seventh in the Eastern Conference, Chicago blanked RSL 0-3.

This was actually one of the worst games of soccer we've ever seen.  The refereeing was absolutely appalling: nearly every single call was against Salt Lake, including a red card to a key midfielder in the 11th minute.  Chicago is an amazing bunch of actors and dove more than Jacques Cousteau.  RSL did manage to score in the second half, when it was already 0-3, but the ref called it back, we think for offsides although what with the scrum of players wrestling in front of the goal, I'm not sure how you could have been sure.

The best part of the game were the fans.  One corner of the stadium stood up and played music - drums, horns - constantly throughout the entire game.  Our section was not the family section due to the hilarious and obscene cheers and taunts emanating around us.  I don't think I've heard that much swearing since we moved to Utah (and I did feel back for the LDS family next to us, but their kids were savvy enough to plug their ears for the "Oooooooooooooooooo - you suck, @$$%!%#" on every goal kick).

That linesman right there? Awful.

Rio Tinto Stadium, Real Salt Lake's home field in Sandy, Utah, is a gorgeous little (20,000+ capacity) stadium, with a natural grass field and swooping roof sections that glow at night from the interior lights.  Their beer options, however, leave quite a bit to be desired: Budweiser, Bud Light, Shock Top and Michelob Amber-Bock (all Anheuser-Busch products).  We went with the "amber-bock" as it was the darkest option ($5.50 for a tiny; $9.00 for a large) and after the first couple of sips, H looked at me and asked, "Does this beer have any taste?"  No, no, it does not, for the record.

On the plus side, since parking at the stadium is quite limited, we learned that if you go to the Sandy Crown Burger (9604 South State St.) and purchase at least $14.00 worth of food, you can park for free in their lot for the duration of the soccer game, stadium located just about a block north between 9000 and 9400 South.  We had a Crown Burger combo and a Junior Crown Burger combo and were very happy about all of it.  Except the soccer game.  May RSL have better luck, and better referees, next time.

Monday, September 26, 2011

unrelenting

We got a late start for our hike last Sunday, sleeping in, walking the dog and then going out to breakfast (Cottonwood Cafe: french toast for me; Denver omelet with home fries and sourdough toast for H), but since we're in the end of September, the heat wasn't an issue.  Sunday was just gorgeous with cloudless, Utah bluebird skies; the temperature at noon at the trailhead in Millcreek Canyon was around the low 60s and even in the sun, later in the afternoon, it didn't get above 80 F - perfect.

Alexander Basin

The trail we did is one we've been talking about ever since we started hiking out here, but we'd never done it because it was described as being so steep: Alexander Basin to Gobbler's Knob, described in our guidebook as "[n]o one lost any time cutting switchbacks when making this trail."  No kidding.  We hiked 4.9 miles round trip with a 3,083 elevation gain.  Let me repeat that: almost 3,100 feet of elevation gain in just under 2.5 miles.  The trail (hard packed dirt, some loose gravel, rocky) goes straight up the center of Alexander Basin and the up starts right from the trailhead.  It's really, really steep.  Really steep.

Looking east down towards Mt. Reynolds/Butler Fork

Alexander Basin itself is a tiered bowl, full of the remnants of the summer's wildflowers.  At the top of the basin, the terrain falls away to the south, opening up into another gorgeous bowl that drains into Big Cottonwood Canyon above Butler Fork.  We walked along the ridgeline first to an overlook a little to the south of the peak, floored by the expansive views in all directions.  To the south and east, we could see the top of the tram at Snowbird and Devil's Castle at Alta over in Little Cottonwood Canyon, the Silver Fork Lodge and Solitude's entry in Big Cottonwood Canyon; to the northeast we were able to pick out Parleys and Emigration Canyons and the backsides of the Park City area ski mountains.  It's really fun now as we're getting more familiar with the area to know what we're looking at.  And from up on that ridge, we were looking at a lot.

We figured out the self-timer!

We retraced our steps along the ridge to summit Gobbler's Knob - just a few feet higher but if you're going to climb a mountain, you might as well reach the top.  Our descent was slow at first, what with the loose rock underfoot and the steepness of the trail, but once we reached the middle of Alexander Basin we were able to make pretty good time (just under three hours hiking time, with just over an hour spent soaking in the views at the top).

Once down we changed into dry clothes and drove back down Millcreek Canyon until we found a spot by the stream (we had to go quite a ways down since all the picnic spots were full of families enjoying their late September dinners al fresco).  There, we cracked open a couple of PBRs (naturally), watched a couple of funny little American dippers* ducking and diving into the creek for their own meals, and just enjoyed being outdoors again on a glorious Utah afternoon.

* Thanks to Paul for the ID!

Saturday, September 24, 2011

xterra national championships

The XTERRA National Championships are up at Snowbasin Resort this weekend, with the triathlon USA finals Saturday and the trail run national finals on Sunday.  We often watch the XTERRA tri series on television and decided to head north to see the race in person today.  (Because Lance Armstrong recently decided that he wanted to do this race, a lot of other people went too, who might not normally have gone to the event.)  Snowbasin is, as always, a gorgeous venue and today was no exception, with a mix of sun and thin clouds and red foliage dotting the mountainside.  The temperatures were pleasant: low 60s in the morning and warming up to high 70s in the afternoon - pretty good conditions for a race.

The swim portion of the triathlon was down in Pineview Reservoir: a 1.5 km swim broken up into two 750-m laps with no running in between.  After the swim, the racers jumped on their mountain bikes - because, unlike the Ironman series, for example, XTERRA is not on pavement and both the bike and the run are on trails - for the 28 km climb from the reservoir to Snowbasin, a 3,400 foot elevation change.  After the bike, the athletes switch to their running shoes and head out on the 9.8 km trail run, across the ski trails and through the woods, with another 700 feet of climbing.

Lance heading out on the run

We opted to skip the swim portion and drove straight to Snowbasin,  We snagged a spot on the fence at the bike-to-run transition area, right by the run exit, and were able to easily see all the pro leaders, including Dan Hugo and Conrad Stoltz (So. Africa), Nico Lebrun (France) and Josiah Middaugh and Lance (USA) for the men, and Melanie McQuaid (Canada) for the women.  Lance's transition was a little slower than the other guys (understandably, since they do this regularly throughout the year) and Josiah had to walk the last mile of the bike segment because of a shredded rear tire.

Women's event podium

After the leaders and a good portion of the amateur sports came through the transition, we moved up the hill under the gondola to watch them finish the run.  The final fifty meters to the finish was lined with cheering spectators and the racers slapped high fives as they came down the last stretch, except for Lance who seemed to be struggling slightly.  For the event, Nico Lebrun came in first for the men, with Dan Hugo, Josiah Middaugh, Conrad Stoltz and Lance rounding out the top five; Melanie McQuaid took first for the women, and Lesley Paterson (Scotland) took second, then Danelle Kabush (Canada), Kelley Cullen (USA) and Emma Garrard (USA).

Men's season podium: Stoltz took the season;
Lebrun (to his right) won the event

Snowbasin put on a great event with burgers, BBQ and beer, vendors, gondola rides and live bluegrass music to keep everyone entertained and involved.  It's apparently a tough course - in a post-race interview, when asked if he had fun today, Lance deadpanned "No" - but the athletes seem to like it and XTERRA will be back again next year, having chosen Utah for its finals home.


Friday, September 23, 2011

moab long weekend (day 3)

Our last day in Moab dawned sunny, clear, dry and warm.  We packed up our gear and meandered over to Main Street for breakfast on the patio of the Peace Tree Cafe.  We were the first people sitting out there but by the time I'd finished my homemade granola with watermelon, apple, dried cranberries and yogurt, the patio was hoppin'.  We checked out of the Kokopelli Lodge and drove straightaway up to Dead Horse Point State Park.  On Saturday, when H rode his bike up there, he couldn't see a thing it was so socked in with clouds.  On Sunday, however, we could see for miles.  DHPSP is perched on the edge of a mesa, looking down over incredibly high red cliffs to the Colorado River wandering through its canyon below; the state park stood in for the Grand Canyon in the last scene of Thelma and Louise, by the way - it's just that impressive.

Looking at the Colorado River from DHPSP

After wandering around the scenic overlooks (the whole frickin' thing is a scenic overlook, really), we saddled up on our mountain bikes and hit the new Intrepid Trail System (as recommended by the Chile Pepper Bike Shop MTB chick on our second inquiry), which "offers slickrock for beginners."  There are three loops of increasing length and difficulty: the 1.1 mile Intrepid, the 4.2 mile Great Pyramid and the 9.0 mile Big Chief.  H decided that we would do all three of them in order, starting at the parking lot for maximum trail time.  It was so much fun!  The trails are fantastic - hard pack, slickrock and a little sand - with rolling hills, rocky step-ups and views absolutely everywhere.

H tearing it up on the trails (so focused!)

I did get a little dehydrated (not fun and not recommended) so after our ride, when we cleaned up and drove into the neighboring Canyonlands National Park/Island in the Sky district, I had to sit in the truck, drinking Gatorade for a little while before I felt well enough to walk about.  Canyonlands is just incredible (I seem to say that a lot about the Utah scenery, don't I?): wild-wild-wild, rough, desolate and gorgeous.  The Island in the Sky district is the easiest one to get around in, with its scenic drives and short, user-friendly hikes; the Needles district to the southeast and the Maze district to the southwest are pretty much only accessible by backcountry permit, and out in the Maze was where Aron Ralston lost his arm and nearly his life (see 127 Hours for slightly moviefied details).  We did walk out 1.4 miles to the Upheaval Dome, a possible meteor crater or burst salt bubble, marveling at the colors and swirls of the rocks around us.  We agreed that we'd like to go back to Canyonlands and do some more exploring, especially down on the White Rim road, a 4x4 road that follows the rim of a sandstone bench 1,200 feet below the Island mesa and still 1,000 above the canyon floor (explorable by 4-wheel drive vehicle and/or mountain bikes).

Why do they call it the White Rim?

It was starting to get late - we wouldn't end up getting home until after 10 p.m., making poor B stay another night at the kennel - but it was difficult to tear ourselves away from the sun-scorched beauty of southern Utah.  It's so very different from where each of us grew up, and we like it so much; there's just so much to see and do out there, we'll have to go back again soon.

Shafer Trail heading down to the White Rim

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

moab long weekend (day 2)

The rain was just letting up Saturday morning as H headed off for the Moab Century Tour at 6:45 a.m.; the two-mile ride in the drizzle to the start guaranteed that he'd be wet for the entire ride.  I lingered in the motel room until about 7:30 a.m., then got in the truck and drove the short distance to Arches National Park.  Having a national park pass meant that it was feasible for me to drive in early, do the 3 mi. round-trip hike to Delicate Arch and get back out of the park before it got busy.  There were a few other people out and about but by the time I got to the arch, perched precariously on the slickrock, there was just one other hiker up there.  We'd seen Delicate Arch from a distance when we were in Arches in 2008; up close it's much more fragile-seeming.  The canyons surrounding it are just gorgeous: curved and swirling red rock.

Delicate Arch, Arches National Park

After that little hike, I headed back towards town and drove ten miles down the Potash Road, Scenic Byway 279, to the trail head for Corona Arch.  This was another 3 mi. round-trip hike, fairly gentle, which first followed an old road up to a gap, and then meandered up a cairn-marked wash to the red rock cliffs.  The canyon is just stunning, with the railroad tracks just barely visible below, and there are two arches up there: Bowtie Arch and the impressive Corona Arch (140 x 150 foot opening).  I hung out under the arch for a little while as the skies cleared and the sun came out, wondering how many more amazing natural features might be hiding in the neighboring canyons.

Corona Arch (there's tiny people in there, for scale)

I got back to the truck at 11:45 a.m. and started driving back to town, keeping an eye on all the cyclists as Potash Road was the second leg of the century, as well as the sum total of the 40 mile ride, when I realized that I recognized the jersey up ahead.  It was H, well ahead of schedule and almost done with his ride!  He flagged me down and asked me to bring shoes and dry clothes to him at the finish, so I hurried to the motel and then back meet him to get the full story.

The first leg of his 100 mile ride was to Dead Horse Point State Park and back (60 miles) and was completely fogged in the whole way - he couldn't see a thing.  He did learn, however, at the turnaround, that only three guys were ahead of him, so he went charging back down the hill and to the second leg, the out-and-back on Potash Road along the Colorado River (40 miles).  He ended up being the fourth finisher overall (out of 928 riders), with a blistering time of 5:18:56 - absolutely fantastic since he hasn't done any long rides all summer.  I was so proud of him!

100 miles later, still smiling

He was a little worn out, understandably, so after we had some tacos and beer as provided by the race organizers, we went back to the motel.  H vegged out for a little bit while I walked up and down Moab's Main Street, stopping in at Lin Ottinger's Rock Shop and Moab Coffee Roasters, and generally window shopping.  When I got back, he was starving and ready to go, so we strolled back down to the Moab Brewery for beer, fish tacos (me) and a big plate of pasta (H) and the Chile Pepper Bike Shop for MTB trail recommendations for Sunday and a new helmet for me.

It was an early evening, as you might imagine.  Back at the Kokopelli Lodge we watched the Utah Utes crush the BYU Cougars into smithereens before calling it a night.  On the schedule for Sunday: more mountain biking!