January 29, 2011

Holy Grail Day

Just a few quick pics of today's mission at an undisclosed Vermont ski area.

No one was riding the woods.  Just us.  It was good. 
Andy shredding it.

Catching a breath.

Throw your hands in the air if you're a true playa!

Cruising to drop the next glade.

Cliff bands were everywhere...some were good to drop (like this one)...others required some "creative" navigation.


January 28, 2011

Favorite Outdoor Places

Outdoor Blogger Network currently has a photo prompt to encourage bloggers to post pics of their favorite outdoor places.  Here are a few of mine throughout the years...

Mt. Hope Bay, Bristol, RI.
Calves Island, Connecticut River, Old Saybrook, CT.
Mt. Madison, Presidential Range, NH.
Vermont/Massachusetts border, somewhere on a gravel road. 
Lihue, Kauai.
Yellowstone National Park, WY.
Porcupine Rim Trail, Moab, UT.

Mt. Marcy, NY.

Martha's Vineyard, MA.
Thanks to Gut Feeling Charters

Somewhere in the High Peaks Region, Adirondacks, NY.
This blog brought to you by...Black Diamond!
Bolton, VT

Somewhere high on the Ammonoosuc Ravine, NH.

Colorado prairie east of Walsenberg.

Hanging garden near Corona Arch, Moab, UT.

Jenny Lake, Grand Teton National Park, WY.

Cold and wet in Yellowstone.

Missouri River, somewhere.

Mt. Frissell, MA.

Mt. Hope Bay again.  I like the lighthouse.

Na Pali coast of Kauai in a Hughes 500.

January 27, 2011

Midwinter Wanderings

The Woods Hippie and his rental steed, Beau.
As I mentioned in the last post, I have been in southern California on vacation for the last week, and I got home just in time for New England's latest snowstorm!  Winter is in full swing, folks, and now is the time to get out and enjoy it.  If you're reading this blog, chances are you might have some inclination towards outdoor activities and hopefully don't count yourself among those special people who emphatically proclaim, "Ugghh, I just hate winter" all season long and take up residence on a couch, getting fat in front of the television while complaining of Seasonal Affective Disorder.  Not surprisingly, these are the same people who lament the spring rains, the summer heat, and even find a way to bitch about autumn ("well you know, winter is right around the corner").  Truth be told, let them have their couches, designer anti-depressants, and ineffective gym memberships because the woods stay quieter in their absence.  That sounds harsh, I know, and realistically, I wish more people would get outside because it would benefit humanity in general; healthier people, elevated respect for nature, and diminished advertising revenue for network television.  Overall, a good pair of running shoes, a fly rod, or even a motorcycle is cheaper and more effective therapy than most of what modern medicine has to offer.  You just need the motivation to use them.

Cheap fares and friendly staff. Can't beat Southwest.
[Steps off soapbox] Okay, let's get back on track here.  Well, though I consider Connecticut a good place for the multi-sport enthusiast, I have to say that California really stepped up to the plate with an offering of multi-season opportunities...in mid-January.  In the course of less than a week, I was able to snowboard, ride a horse, and take a pleasant hike, all within a ten minute drive in the San Bernardino National Forest surrounding Big Bear Lake.  60+ degrees during the day and around 25 degrees at night-nice!

The goods.
The first order of business was to procure a rental snowboard and hit up the local slope, Snow Summit.  The mountain was relatively small but offered decent manmade snow coverage and meticulous grooming.  Despite the base elevation of around 7,000 feet, the mountain is still in SoCal only a short drive from LA and the Mojave Desert, so I wasn't expecting ball-deep freshies or anything like that.  Plus, with a 2-fer-1 coupon that resulted in a $28 dollar lift pass, who's complaining?  Next, I convinced some family members with whom I was vacationing to partake in a guided horseback ride through the National Forest.  What a riot!  None of us would even qualify as mediocre horse riders, but our guide was patient nonetheless and we had a great ride through a quiet, "locals only" neighborhood of Big Bear before setting off into the forest.  This was real cowboy and Indian country complete with dry washes, sparse conifers, prickly pear cactus, sagebrush, and crumbling granite boulders.    This was unlike any other outdoor experience I've had because, in addition to route finding and the usual wilderness stuff, you have to consider the psychology of the animal.  Apparently it takes years to develop a close relationship with a horse, but the payoff is immense.  The horse and rider know each others' style and the communication between species becomes effortless and, to the untrained eye, silent.

Speaking of psychology, anti-depressants, and the theme of East meets West, I just finished reading a fascinating book entitled Destruction Emotions: A Scientific Dialogue with the Dalai Lama, by Daniel Goleman.  The subject is a conference between Western philosophers, psychologists and neuroscientists, and the Dalai Lama and other practicioners of Buddhism.  As one trained in the tradition of Western science (biology, to be specific), I always believed that modern medicine and research held all the answers to the various afflictions of mankind.  Unbeknownst to me, Buddhists have been quietly studying the human mind for over 2,500 years and have long ago established methods of controlling the very destruction emotions  that are the cause of depression.  One such method is focusing the mind on positive thoughts through meditation (rather than medication).  Interestingly, the findings of Western research, particularly neuroscience, supported the Buddhist theories.  Through the use of MRI and other techniques, researchers have mapped which areas of the brain are active during the cultivation of positive and negative thoughts.  Tests performed on Buddhist monks  trained in meditation revealed that by producing thoughts of compassion (a centerpiece of Buddhist practice), the "happy" centers of the brain were activated.  I found descriptions of Buddhism intriguing, the say the least.  Not to pull this post in the direction of religion, but here is a practice that advocates compassion for all beings, respect for the natural environment, and freedom from destruction emotions without  worshipping  a divine being that would be inevitably divisive.  Interesting.

22 ounces of 8.5% goodness.  Take that, Utah.
So, with all that in mind, I ambled up a local hiking trail on Day 3 of by Big Bear adventure.  The hike was mellow and pleasant, and the easy grade allowed my mind to relax.  Sometimes a vacation must progress a while before we can relieve ourselves (don't be gross!) of the grip of our workaday lives.  The summit greeted me with views of the San Gorgonio mountains, the Mojave Desert, and the Big Bear valley.  Inspired, I tried a bit of meditation myself.  I really had no idea what I was doing but it worked, because I was in one hell of a good mood for the rest of the day!  

Inevitably, the rest of the vacation flew by in a blur of good memories, good company, and good food.  Mrs. Hippie and I stepped aboard our east-bound Boeing 737-700 with a familiar reluctance that surfaces each time we say goodbye to her family.  So, here we are, back home in Connecticut, basking in the recent snowfall, and looking forward to the rest of the best winter in a very long time...

January 24, 2011

Greetings from Sunny SoCal!

The Woods Hippie has been relaxing in the easy southern California climate while, so I hear, the East has been locked in an Arctic ice chest.  Reports of western wanderings to follow...

January 18, 2011

Equipment Review: Rossignol BC65 Nordic Skis

The latest addition to my ski quiver is a pair of Rossignol BC65 POSITRACK 195cm backcountry Nordic skis.  I chose these to replace my aging Madshus Voss MG, which have seen me through thick and thin (snow cover, that is) for over five years.  The Rossis are designed to be a backcountry nordic ski and feature a full-length metal edge with Rossignol's Positrack waxless pattern.  The ski measures 65mm at the tip, 53mm at the waist, and 60mm at the tail, which Rossignol claims to aid in flotation and turning.  I chose Voile's HD Mountaineer 3-pin (75mm) binding since these are lightweight, durable, and are compatible with my nordic and telemark boots.  I ski the BC65s with Alpina BC 1575 boots, which are comparable to a medium-stiffness hiking boot.  Just like running SPD pedals on my road and mountain bikes, having one binding system makes everything easier.  My experience with system bindings, specifically the Salomon SNS BC, is that they are prone to failure and do not offer sufficient lateral stability for attempting turns...but that's a topic for another day. 

I got the skis and bindings online from Onion River Sports out of Montpelier, VT.  This is the second ski rig I've purchased from this outfit, and their customer service and pricing is spot on.  Check their website.  ORS will mount bindings free of charge upon request.

Float.  Since Christmas, New England has been blessed with at least three good snow wallops so I've had ample opportunity to test the Rossis.  The first outings found me breaking trail in up to 18 inches of powder over minimal base.  Did they "float" as advertised?  Well, not really.  Most of the time, the tips were submerged beneath the powder and occasionally porpoised above the surface.  I attribute this to the shape of the tips, which don't curve up very far in comparison to my previous skis (picture the tip of an elf's shoe).  Plus, any Nordic ski is going to punch through light powder.  Once I had broken trail, the goings were obviously much easier but the ski didn't track very well and kept wandering out of the trail.  To be honest, was more the result of my unfamiliarity with the ski rather than the side cut, but this ski, by design, won't track as well as traditional Nordic ski meant for a groomed trail.  But, I bought them to be BC skis, so no big deal.

The quiver.  The BC65s are 2nd from right.

Climbing.  Frankly I'm a little disappointed with the Rossi's ability to straight-climb even moderate slopes, by Nordic standards.  Keep in mind though; I have been skiing in cold, fresh, untracked powder, which is typically a challenging condition to get grip on any waxless ski.  Kick-waxable skis will outperform waxless skis any day of the week in fresh snow.  Once the fresh pow was packed down by skiers and snowshoers at my favorite haunt, the climbing became easier on the low-grade slopes but I still had to herringbone on the "steeps".  The metal edges gripped nicely on the climbs.  I have not had the chance to ski the BC65s on wet spring snow but I'm confident that the waxless pattern will prove its worth.

Turning.  Hey, it's a skinny ski.  It likes to go straight.  Just like any Nordic ski, don't expect to do any grand slalom carving; the best you can hope for is some awkward stem turns if the conditions permit, or maybe some kicked-out telemark turns if your boots are up to the challenge and the snow is light and fluffy.  Making shuffled-Alpine turns will be easier in the early spring when there is a light layer of corn over a solid base.  That said, I have a penchant for dropping stupid lines on Nordic skis (Mt. Moosilauke carriage road, Teardrop on Mt. Mansfield, and  Sherburne on Mt. Washington), and I fully intend to keep that trend going with these skis, regardless of how poorly they may turn in comparison to telemark gear.  Descents in anything but icy conditions will be slow because of the waxless pattern, and don't be surprised if you find yourself double-poling on moderate downhills just to keep moving.

Gabby dog prefers 3-pin, too.

Overall Impression.  I think the BC65 is a good ski for its intended purpose, which is exploring fire roads, hiking trails, and golf courses.  The ski manufacturers and retailers love to blow smoke about the multi-disciplinary abilities of backcountry nordic skis.  Be realistic.  It is a waxless ski so it will not climb particularly well and does not have the effortless glide of a waxable ski.  It will not turn like a telemark ski.  Therefore, do not expect to take these skis out alongside your buddies who are skinning and dropping slopes on tele or AT gear.  You will suffer and die.  However, the ski is well suited for day adventures on moderate terrain and can even be used on groomed Nordic tracks.  Aside from some occasional glide wax, there is no maintenance.  The construction of the ski seems rugged yet relatively lightweight, and I am anticipating years of trouble-free skiing. 


Welcome to the Wanderings of the Woods Hippie!  This is a blog about my outdoor experiences in New England, Connecticut in particular.  New England never gets credit for being an outdoor sports destination, but, as the natives well know, this corner of the country is rife with opportunity if you're willing to search it out.  The Connecticut outdoorsman has his pick of passions to pursue; our hillside roadways are well suited for cycling and motorcycling, there are ample state forests and conservation lands on which to mountain bike, hike, and hunt, there are miles of coastline and plenty of lakes and rivers to fish and paddle, and, if Ullr is so inclined, good nordic skiing is available almost everywhere.  The key is mindset...Connecticut doesn't have the biggest and best but it has variety.  The Connecticut adventurer quickly learns that the most fun can be had in those obscure places that often go unmentioned...

That said, my intent for this blog is to share my experiences in the Connecticut outdoors and wherever else my travels may bring me.  As you may have already surmised, my interests are varied and the heavy hitters include motorcycling, hiking, hunting, fishing, skiing, cycling, paddling, and camping.  So, let me jump right in to and shed some light on a pre-dawn ski mission...

As a 40hr a week cubicle farmer, my outdoor opportunities can be limited during the dark winter months, so I begrudgingly drag myself out of bed early on workdays to sneak in an hour's skiing at a state-owned conservation land near my house.  This morning greeted me with 3 inches of fresh fluff on top of the 24 inches that fell in last week's Nor'easter.  This is the first winter in MANY years in which CT is actually developing a snowpack...and many backwoods trails are fully accessible to those with nordic skis or snowshoes.

The drive in was hairy but manageable.

Conditions were just about perfect for nordic skis - the snowshoers had broken a nice trail over the last week and the fresh snow was silky, cold, and fast.  My headlamp illuminated the falling snow and limited my visibility to a few feet in front of my skis. 

Annoyed, I switched off the lamp and the whole forest became visible, like a scene from a waking dream.  The ambient light from the city was enough to outline the trees and frame the trail.  Unable to discern much detail at first, I navigated by feel by keeping the skis in the defined track.  The airborn snow diffused the light like a soft blanket as the dawn strengthened.  I paused in the cold and dark and listened to the increasing hiss as the snow turned to sleet.

This morning's jaunt was not about getting exercise; it was about enjoying winter in a context that most people chose to ignore.  The dawn twilight is a solitary hour, one shared exclusively with the landscape and a few hungry owls.  Most mornings I am greeted by an electric blue and magenta sunrise that ignites the bare tree branches from the east, but today I was content with a quiet grey backdrop.  After an hour's effort, I returned to the car and began my descent off the mountaintop and into the workday...with fierce beardsicles as the only evidence...