Saturday, January 28, 2012

White Noise

The topic suggestion for this week was "shredding pow," so I tried to take an interesting approach towards a sport I've grown to love. A sport with some incredible sights and often overlooked sounds. This essay is about a few of those sounds, and how they end up falling into my daily life like so many proverbial drifts of snow. I give you...

White Noise

Once you hear it, it never stops. You hear it on the radio, in traffic, even in the rise and fall of voices at a party, and the longer you go without hearing the real thing, the louder it gets. Sometimes, it’s all you can make out.

The soft hiss of powder snow parting on the base of a snowboard or ski will enchant you if you let it. It sticks with you and calls you back to the winter woods.

That’s where the magic happens, where the symphony is unleashed. It starts with the breath; a soft huff of air that grows evermore apparent with each step. Then the crunch of snow beneath the snowshoes. It creaks and crunches as it compresses, creating a steady rhythm for the ascent. The thump and rush of blood to the head builds in tempo, reaching a rapid and deafening crescendo before winding down for a dramatic suspension.

The drum roll of bindings being tightened hints at a new beginning. The rhythmic pulse of breath slows and nearly silences. Replacing it is the rush of air through your ears; a rush bringing new meaning to wood-winds, rising and falling in a lilting melody that coincides with your speed. The staccato snap of tree branches under heavy loads of snow provides a drumbeat of percussion.

Some people never experience it, and experience is more apt a term than hear, for backcountry shredding is something to be felt, seen, smelled, and tasted. It establishes perspective, so that the finer melodies of day to day life are appreciated in new ways. The blustery walk to work feels warmer after dawn patrol on the wind-blasted peaks. The sandwich at lunch a little richer after the granola bar on the trail.

It’s easy to tell who hears the music; they seem adrift in its tonal shifts. In the hush that follows a heavy snowfall, you can sometimes catch them humming along. The white noise grows inside of them, shaping their facades: a slight tan starting just below the cheekbones and ending at the neck, a slight smile as forecasters call for feet of snow, perhaps a scruffy beard colonizing a usually clean shaven face. But the innocent tune whispering in the back of their mind shapes much more than their physical appearance.

The true maestros and aficionados start behaving differently the second the leaves begin to fall. They lose focus, drifting into endless gazes towards barely visible peaks. A sudden interest in exercise or willingness to walk the dog follows. People who couldn’t tell you when the last time it rained if their life depended on it begin reading technical weather reports, spouting off barometric pressure readings and following NOAA on Twitter.

No matter who you are, though, there’s an inaudible music to snow gently falling in the night. Those of us who ski and snowboard yearn to magnify and lengthen our exposure to that music.

To us, there’s nothing more beautiful than the sound of White Noise.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

A promise

Ausable Chasm, NY
I didn't make a resolution this year.
I'm not going to, either.

Rather, I've been focusing on living as I should, simply because I should.
As part of that focus, I've decided to write... and that's my promise to you.

From this Sunday until the end of the semester, I'm writing a 500 word (min.) essay every week. It will be for your eyes only (you faithful readers, you)...

And here's the best part:
You get to choose the topic!

Send me an email, post a comment on my most recent post, or message me on the big FB and I'll consider your choice. Topics that receive multiple nominations from different users receive higher priority, but please, nothing obscene.

My only caveat is that topic nominations are subject to my interpretations. Therefore, any topic might yield a piece of fiction or nonfiction, satirical or serious, dark or humorous, etc. For example, I offer you my first entry titled:

The Battle of the Boxes

They roll forward in waves of thousands, wending their way through the seemingly endless landscape of steel and concrete. For years we’ve fought off aimless bands of rogues, but somehow this is different. Never have I seen so many of these forces amassed in one place, gathered together for one purpose. The purpose to overwhelm us. Their onslaught begins just before daybreak, but our floodlights dispose of any element of surprise they might hope to gain.
From the start, they press in close enough that their tawny, thick hide rasps against mine, adding a subtle hiss to the clamor of the battle surrounding me. The rapid-fire clash of metal on metal plays a staccato beat against my skull through a haze, while the sound of my blade stabbing into my enemies presses into my consciousness .
            The glinting blade is short, but razor sharp; a weapon designed solely for the task of slashing through thick, dry skin, only to be sheathed seconds later. I take no prisoners, nor any unnecessary risks; only a battered and broken exoskeleton is left when I’m done, their treasured innards lay cold and still in the harsh light of the battlefield. I push them away rapidly, desiring only to rid my nostrils of their pungent, sickly odor.
            The periodic lulls in the overwhelming onslaught last just long enough for us to clear the spent figures from around us. At times, the inexorable forces knock me back to a seated position where I battle to regain my position. Our chief of command circles the battlefield, urging us onward. Though we feel doomed, we plunge onward, heeding his commands.
The Jamaican woman beside me breaks from her destructive task to mutter at the hopelessness of our fate. Though she never told me of her purpose on the battlefield, I can only assume she’s proficient with voodoo… It’s the only way to account for her presence here. Her dark skin bulges at her arms and waist, while thick beads of sweat sprout across her brow. She’s not accustomed to battle such as this, yet with her unintelligible grunts and curses she devastates as money or more of the opposing forces as I.
The great resounding alarm for retreat has pealed out twice already. We fall back into rank, have whatever repast we will, and attempt to bolster our morale for our next offense. The last one sounded ages ago, and my arms and heart grow heavy with hopelessness. As I stab and slash in a skirmish, my blade shatters against the dust covered exoskeleton, and I only receive salvation through a passing officer who throws me her own weapon.
As I stand over the last corpse of the latest wave, the slightest hint of a smile begins to spread across my sweat-drenched face. Between gasps of air, I realize none have come to replace the now collapsed wave. We are free from oppression. A bugler raises the victory cry as my heart soars with triumph.
We are victorious.

The topic for this piece was "Work" and is based on my recent stint as a temporary employee in a warehouse unwrapping goggle cases. I kept my sanity (questionable) by writing brief notes for this essay on my ipod during breaks. Facts were skewed and/or hyperbolized, but nothing could be considered blatantly untrue.

Hope you enjoyed, now what's my next topic?
Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The High Peaks and A Portrait of a Reminiscent Youth

Who's probing?
Lyon's Falls, NY
I drove to Burlington, VT yesterday to begin a semester of work, work, and more work. Hopefully there will be some fun in there too, but no promises.
I don't think I've seen so much brown in january...ever...
Not even while watching Demshitz videos
I left bare ground and flowing water in Lowville and took the scenic route through the High Peaks where I was greeted with snow and frozen lakes.
This is more appropriate. Not to mention gorgeous. 
I took the opportunity to check out what a few of the Empire stars consider "The Promised Land" and would have to agree. Hurricane Brook in Keen, and several further east along Rt. 73 all look incredible, and they're well within reach of a weekend trip from Burlington.

Sadly, this was one of the areas hit hard by Irene in the fall, and the damage to rivers and homes alike was an unpleasant surprise. 
Ladies and gentlemen, it is my misfortune to present to you John's Brook
Despite the damage, I was happy to finally get a glimpse of some of these runs that I've heard so much (or so little) about. The Keen Valley area has definitely captured my attention.

As I transition into my new living situation, I find myself mentally escaping to the adventures I've had, and the ones I wish I could do right now. On one such adventure, I was inspired by a reminiscent youth.

A Portrait of a Reminiscent Youth

The remains of my chocolate-strawberry pancakes dry and crust to my plate in the early-summer morning. We sit bare-chested on the porch, basking in the shriveled and spent fireworks containers that litter the streets.

“I miss my childhood, is what it boils down to. Those were the best days of my life,” he says.
There was the heat, the immovable blanket that kept him in bed until noon. There were long nights spent in galaxies very far from here, defending earth from alien invasions with friends. There were hiking trails lit by the green-tinged hue of sunlight cascading through a canopy of ancient douglas firs and prehistoric ferns. These are the things he tells me of summers past in the State of Jefferson. These are the things he tells me of the best days of his life.

His tone isn’t morose as mine would be, knowing the best years of my life had already been lived, but there was no gleeful recollection of some punch line to a joke either. Instead he continues reassembling his childhood before my eyes, tapping into memories like so many kegs he had tapped so many summers ago.  Dutifully.

A thousand-yard-stare sweeps over his visage as the Illinois River flows off of his tongue and he remembers the steep black gorge walls and crystal cold water. The bridge was seventy feet high, but that wasn’t enough. The rope would arc beneath before swinging up, up. Up he would fly before whirling through the air, dancing in gravity. And then the pumice of icy water would scrub the summer heat from his body. It couldn’t be colder at the source, and even now in the heat of the summer sun, goosebumps spring up on his arms from the thought.

Then there was the beer, the cold, crumpled cans of beer that piled up in basement corners and burnt out firepits. And the camping beneath the stars with the snow-capped peaks hanging in the distant darkness, and hours spent gazing into a dancing bonfire. The road trips too. Waking up at dawn and arriving at the coast, just in time to smell the salt in the air and see the great yellow orb of sunlight dip below the horizon. And then pack back into the car to retreat, like the tide. For him, it was never about the destination. All that mattered was the road, the people, and heat of the summer, driving him to explore.

Slowly, his eyes focus, rising up from the depths of the river of time. There’s new hope dancing in his voice.

“A full tank of gas, and all the time in the world…that’s all you need.”
Sunday, January 1, 2012

2011: Year of the Stout

Video of The Wrap Up here!
(I still expect you to read the post though)

Although it didn't yield my biggest drops to date, 2011 was indeed the year of the stout...
No, not that kind...
While some paddlers in more mild regions or with the means to travel abroad enjoy an endless kayaking "season," I yield to the grip of the harsh northeastern rivers, at least, for a time...
As great as hucking is, I'm better at it when the water's flowing
I made my paddling debut this year in the Delaware Water Gap, an area with a concentration of big, runnable drops that rivals anywhere else I've ever heard of. It was March 5th, and surprisingly warm, though the walls of Raymondskill Creek still held large icicles. And here lies highlights 1 & 2...

Highlight 1: I got a drysuit for Christmas the year before, and it was my first opportunity to use it...
for paddling.
Using the drysuit for... not paddling
Highlight 2: Paddling this as my first rapid of the year...
Hackers Falls, Raymondskill, PA (photo from AW)
After an evening spent harassing the Cobb family and eating their pizza, Dylan and I headed to Harveys Creek. The pouring rain through the night brought flood conditions and cold temperatures as we pulled up to the put-in to meet Elliot. Rain turned to snow as we dropped over the first rapid, and Dylan mentioned that the water was a bit high.

As we paddled down to the lower put in, Mark Zakutansky and his group confirmed that water was higher than most people had ever seen it. Check out DJ Scott's video here!

Highlight 3: Not swimming, and finishing Harvey's when only 3 of 8 did. Also the fact that my second day was spent on ridonkulously high water.

Rain turned to snow throughout the day, and nearly a foot of snow the next morning prevented further paddling excursions in the PA area, so I headed home to relax for a few days before we were struck by more rain. Enter Highlight 4...

 Running The Lowville Trifecta, 3 different waterfalls on 2 branches of Mill Creek.

All 3 had been on my list for a while, and I can only confirm that the last one featured in the film had been run before. With an auspicious start to the season, I returned to Vermont for several river trips on runs both familiar and unfamiliar.

Highlights 5 and 6: My first lap down Ridley Brook with renowned guidebook author and C1-er Alden Bird, later joined by several other VT mischief makers, and a trip down Devils Washboul, discovered by Dave Packie, and a true gem of a creek!
Dave Packie in the crux of Devil's Washboul (photo: Russ Kelly)
Less than a week later, I found myself paddling in NH. Pond Brook and S. Branch of the Baker filled the day, a worthy endeavor. After having my first strainer experience (mild, yet frightening) on Pond Brook, I nearly boat scouted myself into Cannibal Falls. Which is a shame, because without knowing there's a huge ledge at the bottom, the it would be one of the most fun rapids in the North East. 

Of course, knowing my limits and being more confident in my abilities would dissipate the importance of that ledge quite a bit. Proof I still have a reason to kayak...

Highlight 7: The Big Branch and the spectacular Clarendon Gorge (both in VT) in April both provided incredible memories that will take a long time to fade. The Big Branch also marked the steepest river to date at over 350 fpm, with no vertical drops over 10 feet. I'm proud to say I ran everything but Cave Drop...

Highlight 8: My now annual trip to The Forks in Maine resulted in consuming fresh rabbit meat, enjoying the freebie playboat I got days before (Thanks Dave!!!), and running the Kennebec gorge at just over 15,000 cfs.

Highlight 9: Rafting the Bottom Moose, leading UVMers down Mill Creek, and the week and a half of near nonstop paddling that followed including many descents of the Indy, a few of Otter Creek, and my personal first descent of the Oswegatchie. Check out Scott Martin's Blog for some more shots...
Kickflipping a raft is more difficult than it looks...
Photo: Angela Baldo
That week and a half in May yielded the highest concentration of class IV+ boating I have experienced... It was AWESOME! A few days later I had my wisdom teeth surgically removed. They dry socketed, causing some intense pain. The day before I drove across the country with my dad we had them packed to heal. I then performed "minor oral surgery" in various motel rooms across the country for the next week. Enter lowlight #1...

Lowlight 1: Dry sockets suck, but Ohio, Iowa and 3/4 of South Dakota suck a lot worse. Fortunately, a 28 hour push minimized the dull and the drab.

Fortunately, Highlight 10 negated Lowlight 1.

Highlight 10: An evening hosted by Doug and Robin Ammons, an evening hosted by the Jirasko family, and the slow realization that I was living in Portland, OR for the summer.

Highlight 11: Working for Sam Drevo of eNRG Kayaking, a great instructor and better friend! The entire crew at eNRG are some of the best friends I have made, and they did a great job showing me around some of the classic rivers of the Pacific Northwest. The Lower Wind, Wenatchee, Fall-In-The-Wall, and Skykomish were all incredible rivers with amazing scenery. Learning to surf, SUP, and all the incredible people I met along the way are subhighlights as well.
When I got back, I missed SUP so much I tried it on my sister's kayak...
Highlight 12: A no portage personal first descent of the Green Truss confirmed my belief that I'm a solid class IV boater that sometimes paddles class V, a fact I'm quite content with. For those with the skills, this river is without a doubt a must run.

Highlight 13: A trip to the Outdoor Retailer Summer Market, where I got to meet some of the top athletes in several sports and won/was given a TON of awesome gear (and stickers!!).

Unfortunately, my time answering phones and reciting the history of Willamette Falls had to come to an end. But not before a sweet bungee jumping excursion, made possible through Drevo's endless connections... definitely a mini highlight. Then followed another lowlight....

Lowlight 2: Driving across the country...again. After the necessary stop to visit the Jiraskos once again, we drove 33 hours from Montana to Ohio.

Lowlight 3: Attending community college. I backstepped from a university setting to what felt like the 13th grade. 'Nuff said.

Lowlight 4: While my pals from UVM were enjoying the Beaver River releases, especially the Moshier section, which release only 4 hours per year, I was left hobbling around the riverbank with a Staph infection. Despite multiple visits to the doctor, I still ended up hospitalized wondering if I'd get to keep my leg.
Danny doing it left
Did I mention I love when Taylor screws up

After a lengthy recovery process, I joined Scott Martin for a Gauleyfest trip. We kicked it off on the Upper Yough with Drevo at 2.7 feet and met up with with Will "C-money" Crimmins of Yakima fame.

Highlight 14: Not having to sleep outside the first night. It was freezing. Also picking up my first ever brand new boat, a Liquidlogic Stomper 90. On the Upper section the next day, I didn't want to even set it on the rocks, but boofing that thing was just too much fun. The Stomper is an incredible design for sure!

Highlight 15: Working with AW and several members of the VT paddling community on my birthday weekend to perform a Flow Study on the Green River. Check out the original writeup here!

Highwater Moosefest was bittersweet, and though very fun, just misses the standard for a highlight as I lost a borrowed GoPro mounted on my bow.

Lowlight 5: Losing a GoPro, and having to fight Danny about what constitutes a "swim." Personally, I like to think of it as a skirt implosion to aquatic boat retrieval. It also dented my Stomper :(

Finally hitting the regular section of Roaring Brook does count as a highlight though...
This drop isn't easy to get to, but it's pretty fun....
Mike Mainer Photo
Highlight 16: Roaring Brook is awesome. The UVM crew rallied to paddle since the Moose was scary high and Brokeback Gorge was also too high (plus very woody), so we made the day a double header. I led them down Roaring Brook, though it was also my first time down, and then we headed to Otter Creek. Mini-highlight: Running the Eagle's Talons in the topoduo with Ben Schott!

Highlight 17: The Blizzard of OS

Highlight 18: Taking my father on his first whitewater kayaking trip on the Middle Moose, and managing not to lose any gear in the process, despite a swim in the lead in to House Rock.

My next foray on the Moose resulted in a broken paddle, but fortunately Uncle Jim was prepared with a  breakdown. Fortunately, a replacement is in the works, and even better, it's an upgrade! A trip to PA to explore some steep creeks in the Rock Run area with Scott Martin followed, and then later a visit from Dylan Cobb that resulted in some fun exploring and another personal first descent near my home.

As the temperatures finally started dropping, boating became scarce. Despite this, I still made it out on Christmas day, resulting in highlight 19.

Highlight 19: Soloing the Independence on christmas. It was low flow, but still a great way to get out and celebrate.

And finally, Highlight 20: Producing and editing an online magazine, "The Dirtbag's Guide to Whitewater", and not doing a terrible job!

The wrap-up:

It was an incredible year, filled with great friends, new and old. I wrote a novel, produced a magazine, and paddled a lot. By paddling a lot, I mean more than ever before...
River sections and trips: 92
River miles: 230+ (not counting numerous lower clack trips)
Gradient loss: 12,500 + (incomplete records)
10 of 12 months paddled
31 Personal First Descents
2 Probable First Descents
2 flood runs
and a hell of a lot of fun!

Finally, I'd like to thank everyone that made this year great!
Especially you, dear reader, your comments and continued support is downright inspiring!

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I am a freelance writer and photographer, collector of experiences, adventure lover, and outdoor goer.