Days Draw To Remember

I held out a long time, but the temptation (in the form of years of blog posts, photos and videos) was too much. Today I lost my back country skiing virginity.

dug's last ski post was the last straw and he graciously offered to take me up and let me use his gear. The location was Days Draw in Big Cottonwood Canyon.

I took my best stab at clothing but overdressed and it was warmer than I expected. Didn't take long up the skin track before I was sweating. And that was the flat part. When we hit the steep part of the climb I had sweat running down my face.

I was surprised how much work it is to climb in big boy skis. My heart rate was way up, breathing heavy. My quads seemed to be OK, but the hip flexors were complaining from sliding the skis up. dug summed it up: you're climbing a mountain.

dug showed me the kick turn. The idea is simple, my execution needs some work. I think I was getting better toward the end.

Seeing my labored progress, dug offered me three choices to start down. I went one more traverse past the first option. The view was grand.

dug talked me through taking off the skins and getting set to ski down. It felt weird to go from grippy to slippery skis.

Off the ridge was pretty steep. I get tentative on the steeps. I survival skied my way down, tipping over a few times. dug, on the other hand, made effortless turns. The snow was deep and amazingly fluffy.

(these photos are from dug, thanks man.)

The next pitch was less steep and more open. I did OK here and loved the feel of skiing such soft powder. And here's where I found my quads had not escaped the climb unscathed. I would go few hundred feet and have to stop to catch my breath and let the legs rest. The powder may be light but it still takes work to ski.

After three or four stops I was back down to the skin track. It's like skiing down a ditch. I did OK but stopped a few more times to rest the legs. Most of it was easy going, a few ups and a few spots negotiating terrain.

The boots fit pretty good but they squeezed the sides of my feet a bit. I was glad to take them off, that's a good feeling.

My sincere thanks to dug for supplying the gear and showing me the ropes. He had to wait for me many times and I appreciate his patience.

I can see why people love skiing the back country. It's all wide open, so many places to ski, and the snow quality is exceptional. And the mountains are gorgeous in Winter. But it comes with a price, a high one - it's no little jaunt. Those turns are truly earned, I realize that now. My hat's off to all of you back country skiers, you work hard for that snow.

What now? I'm not sure. I'm confident my fitness and skiing would improve if I BC skied with some regularity. As a side effect, I now more appreciate the convenience of the resorts. But you don't get powder like I experienced today at the resorts, only rarely. I'll probably keep my eyes out for good deals and used gear and put together an alpine touring setup. I'll also take an avalanche safety class - that's good info regardless. That's what I'm thinking right now.

Bicycle Bills

There are a few bills being considered by the Utah legislature that affect cyclists.

First, House Bill 155 would allow cyclists to treat stop signs as yields - if the way is clear just roll through. Sounds good to me. Idaho has this law and accidents haven't increased.

(photo came from here)

Second, some cyclists are up in arms about House Bill 114 which would do away with Daylight Saving Time (DST). The concern is we'll lose that extra evening hour of daylight in the Summer. Rubbish. When the DST date comes we'll all go to work an hour earlier instead of changing the clocks. I've already outlined my dislike of DST so I'll say no more.

I sent e-mails to my representatives giving my opinions on these and a few other bills. I even received a reply from my senator (I was surprised he reads his own e-mail, I assumed he had a staffer for that). You can find contact info for your House and Senate representatives.

I found it interesting that Utah legislature website has won awards. It's a bit spartan but it's easy to find bills, read them and see the current status. Anything that makes our political process more accessible is a good thing in my book.

More Violent Art

The artist known as K.A.D.E. is prolific. Here are more of his creations.

Can you spot which cupcake was decorated by Kade?

It's the dead bug bottom right with it's eyes and spots X'ed out.

Then the renaissance boy turned to poetry.

The cute border notwithstanding, here's what Kade wrote:

One, two Cindy Loo

Three, four kick the boar

Five, six eat my Twix

Seven, eight gain more weight

Nine, ten kill Ben

And like people finding masterpiece paintings on the back of amateur works, we find these on the back of Kade's homework:

Death, destruction, violence, bombs, swords - we've got nothing to worry about, right?

Violent Art

I think we've established that our boy Kade isn't an academic overachiever. Perhaps his talents lie in other pursuits. How about art?

Jolene found this in his backpack:

Note the blood-dripping K and the exploding, on fire D.

Should we be worried?

Antelope Island Ride

Tuesday I took the day off work to mountain bike at Antelope Island with Rick. Price was our first choice but they don't have enough dry trails right now to fill a day.

The day would be a wildlife bonanza, and it started right where the causeway joins the island with two Bald Eagles.

We took the Eastside trail which follows the eastern shore and ends at the old ranch house 13 miles away. It's a nice trail with only a few wet spots. Nothing technical but it was good to get in a rhythm and roll. It was a beautiful sunny day in the mid 50s.

At the ranch house the ranger told us two Great Horned Owls were roosting in a Cottonwood just 30 yards away so we checked them out.

We got a permit to go up over the saddle west of the ranch house. Lots of goatheads south of the ranch house so were warned to stay on the one of the double-tracks to avoid punctures. It was a good climb, steep in spots. Here's Rick reaching the top.

Really nice views all around of the Great Salt Lake, Wasatch Range, the Oquirrh Mountains, etc. This photo is looking northeast.

I spotted a trail marker and it turned out to be a nice little single-track that went south along a shoulder. Even had a bit of technical stuff. It ended at a dirt road we could have used to go back down, but we decided to return on the trail since it's more fun.

On our way back we spotted a Coyote and a small herd of Antelope. But the best surprise was these two buffalo right near the trail. They were laying down and when I was a ways out they looked like rocks. I whistled and they still didn't move so I assumed they were rocks. But when I got about 30 feet away they spooked and stood up and I hit the brakes. The buffalo stayed by the trail so we skirted around them. They are huge and look the size of a car up close.

It was a very enjoyable 32 mile ride. Antelope Island is only 20-30 miles from the urban Wasatch Front and yet it felt really serene and isolated out there. An excellent Winter getaway ride that's close by.

Watson Is Jeopardy

The game show Jeopardy is doing a special three-show series pitting the top two champions against a Watson, a computer developed by IBM. The first two shows were Monday and Tuesday, the last will be tonight.

Last week I watched a NOVA documentary about how the research team at IBM developed Watson. The hardest part was not the answers, but programming a computer to understand the answers. The team worked for over 3 years. Watson failed an earlier audition for Jeopardy but finally got good enough to compete.

I didn't think much of watching this contest, seemed like a novelty - man vs machine. But as Watson continually plowed through the board answering question after question correctly, it got a little spooky. Computers aren't supposed to be able to do this, but there it was for all to see.

I didn't get a sense that Watson is an artificial intelligence. While playing Jeopardy requires certain skills, it's a niche and nothing like the breadth of experiences human being deal with every day. Still, it was eerie watching Watson answer even fairly convoluted questions and come up with the correct answer most of the time.

That said, Watson has a huge advantage because he gets the entire text of the question (yes, it's technically the answer in the Jeopardy format) when it is revealed and a machine can easily time the button press more accurately than a human with reaction delays. The human players (Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter) were able to beat Watson to the buzzer only a few times. Getting first crack at almost every question is a huge advantage that Watson exploited.

Also, the questions seemed a little easy. They were typical for Jeopardy, but I expected tougher questions given Watson is playing two Jeopardy champions. The questions seemed to have plenty of clues and very few of them involved puns or other linguistic quirks that Watson may have had a hard time with.

Still, Watson's performance was impressive.

The IBM research team has already targeted medical research as a field where Watson's technology could help doctors pull the information they need from the vast pool of medical research.

I can't yet shake that creepy feeling I had. Probably because I've read too many SciFi books and watched too many movies where the machines become intelligent and bad things happen. This image is funny (or is it prophetic?):

I found the image here.

Ski, Ski, Bike

Tuesday I took the day off work to ski Sundance. I couldn't pass up the $20 Facebook lift pass deal with a fresh snow kicker. I went solo, seems everyone had stuff to do.

I was on the second chair and went straight to Bishops Bowl. Made a run where I only crosses other tracks once or twice. Only 4" of fresh powder but it was just enough to get that powder feel. I don't get many powder days so I was grinning from ear to ear.

Here's Bishops as I came up for my forth run.

It's mine, all mine! I made that track to the right on my previous run.

Sundance wasn't crowded so I just kept lapping Bishops. I made 2-3 runs elsewhere.

Several times I'd get into that cool powder turns rhythm where your turn slides the snow then it builds up and suddenly goes solid causing you to bounce into the next turn. Love that feeling.

About 3 pm my legs were turning to jelly and I was getting sloppy so I called it good and went home. Man, that was a good ski day.

Saturday Steve and went up to Aspen Grove to cross country ski up the Alpine Loop road. Neither of us had skied this side before. It's a bit more windy but still fun and the snow conditions were excellent.

Snack break at the summit.

Near Aspen Grove the peaks seem to jump up they're so close.

Steve coming down the road.

Steve and I have been having fun trying new routes this year. We've got a few more ideas we hope to get to if the snow holds out.

After the skiing I puttered around the house until I went out side and was surprised by how warm it was. I couldn't resist and hopped on the road bike for little ride down to Provo and back. I was so happy to be back on the bike I was out of the saddle romping on the pedals. Then I got into a long-ish climb in Provo and faded bad. But it sure felt good to be on the bike.

It was a good week.

Winter Shock Repair

There's always something on the bikes that needs to be fixed or maintained. But below freezing temperatures repel me from the garage. However, if I can do the repair inside then it's not so bad.

My shock has been leaking air (it lost 50 psi during the St. George trip) so I swung by Bike Peddler and bought a seal kit (and scored a few tips from Parish). The shock came off the bike pretty quick and the rest was comfortable indoor work at the kitchen table.

The Fox instructions were pretty good and the guide on ih8bikes had a few useful tips. The seals inside the air sleeve were tricky to get out and even worse to get in (thankfully I'd bought some dental picks on one of my trips to Harbor Freight). Overall it was a pretty easy job.

When I put the air sleeve back on it was noticeably more air-tight so I hope this solves the pressure loss problem.