Thursday, February 28, 2013

Patrol meets [my] Horse-world

Beautiful mountain farmland property
Snow lightly falling and glistening in the light 
An incredible home-built cabin
Gorgeous exposed beams throughout the house
Innovation in a wood box that can be loaded from the outside-in
Wine - lots of wine
A beautiful dinner table with place settings for many
Sushi, stir fry, egg rolls, and dessert - all homemade
Laughter and jokes
A small child that loves climbing stairs
Stories of falling in love
More laughter

This was my evening with patrol friends the other night. Such a wonderful time. The only person there that I hadn't met before (a former patrol member from years past) was the person I ended up talking to the most. He used to be the ride manager for the endurance ride that used to be held in Canaan Valley. (!!)

I've heard rumblings and stories of how incredible this ride used to be. How beautiful and fun it was. How it had a little bit of every kind of terrain (typical of the Valley) and how people came from near and far to ride it. It was so much fun to get to talk for so long with the guy that used to manage it. He told me stories about the ride and the people who attended. We talked about the quirkiness of endurance riders, and the fun to be had with managing so many of them at once.

He even knew the ladies I ride with now. He'd helped when they did a multi-week pack trip across West Virginia a few years back. He's even a member of our Back Country Horsemen of America chapter. 

The conversation ended with promise to take me riding in the Valley sometime this summer if we're both able. I hope this can work out...

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Woodland walks

Monday night I zipped out to see the horses for a bit as I knew it would be my last good chance to do anything with them until I return from my trip to CO. Weather Monday was nice and I wanted to take advantage of it as it was (and did) supposed to turn come Tuesday.

Because my legs were jelly from working Q the day before, I decided it would be in my (and her) best interest to not ride again that night because I would likely be frustrated at myself and transfer it to her. And really, giving her another work out before I let her hang out for another week plus really wasn't going to do a ton for her fitness level - I figured I would just wait for my return to start our 2013 conditioning.

And thus, I decided I would take Griffin on a walk. No plans to where, but just a walk to get him out to see things.

He showed up first at the gate per his norm and I let him into the barnyard while I fed the peacocks and chickens. As I finished the birds and walked toward the barn (Griffin following freely) I was surprised to see Q standing at the gate by the barn with eyes and ears focused on me. She NEVER does that. Surprising. I gave Griffin a little grain and offered for Q to come in, but by that point the other horses had come up to the gate and chased Q off because they thought I was going to feed them all. She didn't go too far, but still stood and watched my every move. With a little reluctance, I decided to let her stay in the field and stew and watch, Griffin is usually in that position after all, so it seemed only fair. (Having two horses is so difficult sometimes! I wish I had the time to devote to both of them every time I went out.)

Griffin and I set out from the barn with Kenai leading. He leads very well, giving me respectable space while still keeping up with me lagging ever-so-slightly off to the side and behind my right shoulder. We crossed the creek (which has really changed in character with the winter storms and large melting events) and headed across the field. I had decided to see how bad the fallen trees were on one of the short trails that looped to the horses' upper field. The entry to this trail has a short, steep-ish dip, crossed an intermittent stream, and then continues into the woods.

Griffin. Hates. This. Creek.

There is no reasoning, he just does. Okay, well, the reasoning is likely that he is uncertain of the footing and dislikes the contrasting color of grass/soil/leaf litter. But other than those reasons, I can't craft a reason why he shouldn't cross. He crosses the big creek with zero issues (and tries to always stop and play in it) and he crosses super mucky, muddy, the-kind-that-sucks-your-boot-off puddles with zero issues. But this little stream? NO WAY.

We did pressure and release for forward movement/head lowering to investigate. We did pressure plus annoying tapping from a stick and release. We did lunging work and then return to stream with pressure/release. I even made numerous attempts to back him into it, and I tried to get him to cross at different points within 10 feet of the "problem" area. All of this to no avail.

In fact, do you know what the little snot did? He ran me over! He was in a right mood about things and had been tossing and throwing his head (never had he done this before) and when I went to make him move his feet the second time he bowled past me, pushing me out of his way. He learned VERY quickly this was not the answer, as he had to move his feet double time for that. But despite this, minutes later, in his attempts to avoid placing his feet anywhere near the god-forsaken stream, he did it again. Le sigh.

The sky got dark in a hurry and visibility was getting dangerous for me, so I found a small positive point to end on and left it at that. We're going to go back and conquer this damn thing upon my return from CO. And I fully plan to tackle it at a time where I have hours of daylight. I am cautiously optimistic that Griffin will be in a less bratty mood and will be more willing to cross the evil little creek. We'll see.

Oh. And a surprise positive moment when I returned to the barn and let Griffin out? Q came galloping across the field to greet us as we walked up the drive. She met us at the gate when I let him out. She waited while I gave him his scratches and then she approached and let me scratch and love on her for a good 5 minutes or so. We both stood watching the light fade from the horizon and the windmills on the adjacent ridgeline. She slowly inched closer and closer to me while I scratched under her throatlatch until we were both standing like old friends watching a sunset side by side. Hell, if she'd been a boy we'd probably have been holding hands. That was how the moment was. I enjoyed getting to see that she can be a little loving and sweet with me. I love her work ethic and manners, but a little sweetness under all her fire is a nice discovery.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Most excellent

Days, hell, weeks of not having a real workout with the horses came to an end today. HUZZAH.

Because I was barn-sitting for the weekend, waking up and getting out to do stuff with the horses was incredibly easy. They've been frequenting the upper pasture for the past few days, so when they were down in the lower one last night I brought Griffin and Q into the barnyard for the night so they would be right there in the morning when I wanted them (Q even walked to me in the field for the first time...ever). They were pretty surprised seeming when all I did was put their halters on, lead them out of the fence and into the barnyard, and then take their halters off so they could eat the better grass for the night. They've come so accustomed to haltering = workout of some kind, even if its 5 minutes of simplicity, that they were rather curious about my walking away from them without a care in the world. They both trailed after me for a few steps - Griffin moreso - before they realized that they were indeed un-haltered and free to move on their own.

This morning I trimmed Griffin's front hooves and then did some work in the round pen with him. Ever the responsive young gent. He was borderline lazy today. I truly hope this kid finds his spunk in coming months. I see it in the field when he plays with Oliver, I'd like him to give me that when he's in work. His insatiable need to please is wonderful, certainly, but I'd like to see just a little more fire. As is, once he is solid under saddle in a couple years he's definitely more likely to be the horse that I put people on than Q - unless they're solid riders. Q can be an angel, but overall she's just so much more, well, horse-like than Griffin. Griffin trends on the "dog" side of horse with his personality and mannerisms.

Ever-so-slightly better.

Griffin worked well, as always. But more exciting to me than his work ethic and response today were his feet. I've got him on a 2-week schedule right now really trying to get his heels to drop and uncontract. This is the 3rd? maybe 4th trim on that schedule and I'm really starting to see a difference. Its subtle but at least its visible now. I can't wait to see where he is going to be in another two months' time.

For Q today my goal was to get 30 minutes of good flat work. Saiph had given me a series of dressage exercises to work on with her and I chose a few to work on today. All I wanted was a good 30 minutes of focus and work ethic from her. Both are things that have been very rare in our workouts in the barnyard the past few times we worked there [months ago].

I put my jumps up against the barn in preparation for our workout and took the ground poles out to help delineate my "work circle" within the barnyard. I measured it with my lunge line (great tip, Saiph) and it came to right around 30m in diameter. What I didn't do, but should do in the future, is place cones at the 20m and 10m points along the inside. All I did today was place a marker at the center so I would have it as a reference point for our exercises.

I let Q warm up for 5 minutes or so on a loose rein at the walk and trot.  She popped into a canter for 4 or 5 strides, but I brought her down and made it evident that we would not be cantering today. Her canter in the barnyard is an exercise in controlled chaos of late. The only time she has been focused with her canter was during skijoring, and I fully believe that she was only focused on it then because of the job that was a part of that canter which involved pulling something behind her. When presented with new challenges like that (or a parade or an endurance race or jumping or anything else I've thrown at her over our time together) she presents me with a whole new level of focus and work ethic. Beyond that new challenge though, any cantering in the barnyard is a heinous exercise.

We trotted a few circles in both directions and then we did a spiraling in exercise at the trot. Worked CCW first from the outside, spiraled to the inside to a 3m circle for two revolutions, then spiraled back out. I let her walk for a bit and then we went back into the trot, reversed into the CW direction and repeated the exercise.

After the spiraling exercise I improvised with a cloverleaf pattern at the trot. We would ride across the circle, make a left turn to the next "corner" of our circle, ride across the diagonal again, left turn to next "corner", left turn across the circle, and repeat until back where we began. Then reverse and repeat with right turns.

For the final exercise we tried the "big X" exercise where we would do 10m circles in the corners and then strike out across the circle to the far corner at an extended trot, trot to the next "corner" and repeat the exercise. It's confusing to explain because as Saiph explained to me you'd trot the short side of the arena to the second circling corner, but I'm not working in a rectangular area so much as a square. Thus, I apologize for my poor explanation so here is a drawing.

Grey lines are the poles I used to delineate my circle.

(Saiph, I hope I did this correctly? Haha.) Q was so responsive and focused for our 30 minute workout. By the time we got to the third exercise I could tell she was a little fatigued even, so crazy for the little go-go mare! She was challenged by the small circles at the end, too. It was nice to have a responsive horse without having to beg for her attention the whole time (damn her boyfriend!). Its nice to know that she CAN indeed ignore her friends (and lover) for a time and work, even when in close proximity. (She has zero issues away from home - or as soon as we reach the woods when we work from home.)

Overall an awesome day. My legs are jelly from the short workout, but my mind and body are so happy from the time spent with the horses. School and my busy schedule lately have begun to take a toll on me, so it was nice to be able to release all of that tension with quality horse time today. I'm really beginning to look forward to warmer temperatures in the near future...

Friday, February 22, 2013

Almost time to celebrate

In 1 week (probably a little less) I will be done with the majority of my school work. I will shedding another long-time burden, as well. In celebration (not planned, just coincidence) I will be headed to CO to ski and play. I will return to a life of a less stress. Hopefully one with a bit more horse time!

I have been remiss in my commenting of late on blogs due to the last push for the light at the end of the tunnel, but I want you all to know I've definitely been keeping up with your blogs best I can. They're actually my "reward" for working through so many minutes/pages/analyses/maps. Achieve X-amount of work, read blogs for X-number of minutes. So, thanks guys.

Seriously, y'all, I'm going to be DANCING when I finally complete this final project for school that has been consuming the majority of my time and nearly all of my thoughts for the past three weeks. Sure, I play on the weekends and don't think about it, but the rest of the week? Egads. Consumed. I cannot wait to lose this burden!

Today (*gasp* this is another scheduled post - its all I do) I am teaching veterans from the Wounded Warrior program how to ski. Tonight through Sunday I am barn-sitting (yay!). Saturday I'm headed to Morgantown for the WVU basketball game. Sunday I will hopefully find time to crank out school work and get in some horse time. Waking up at the barn should help with that. I'm thinking wake up, do horse things, take nap, do school things for the rest of the day. That nap is clutch. Must have.

So now, onward, forward, luck be with me. Gonna git 'er done. Then? Then I'm gonna play...HARD.

Thursday, February 21, 2013


I'm tired of school work consuming my time.
I'm tired of not having lots of time for the horses.
I'm tired of not getting to ride.
I'm tired of poor footing conditions.
I'm tired of the lack of sun.
I'm tired of nighttime creeping in so early.
But on the other hand...

I'm not tired of skiing.
I'm not tired of snow.
I'm not tired of ski patrol weekends.
I'm not tired of powder days.
I'm not tired of a second paycheck.
Inevitably though, the seasons will change.
School will end [soon].
The weather will warm.
The sun will return.
The days will lengthen.
The ground will dry out.
And I will have time again to ride and play with the horses.
Skiing, my friend, I'll see you when I see you.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Birthday 2013

4 days of skiing (3 work, 1 pleasure) 
 I worked Friday, Saturday, and Sunday on the mountain. Snow, snow, snow and more snow is how those days went. Powder, powder, and more powder is what I skied. Cold? VERY. Windy? VERY. Fun? VERY. I've seriously lost track of the powder days of skiing I've had this year. I've been keeping a tally of my ski days (18 so far), but powder days? Nope. I never dreamed we'd have so many. This season is so superior to last season I can't even describe... The entire mountain is open. Every trail. That never happened last year. Not officially anyway - we did have two big dumps that let us unofficially open everything for like - a day. As a result of so much skiing and such phenomenal conditions this season, my telemarking skill is really taking off. My comfort with it increases daily. Flowing through telemark turns is so much fun. I always end up making zoomy noises as I float through them. Beyond telemark, my ski skills overall are growing and becoming better daily, too. Best perk of ski patrol is the free lessons all the time.  
Conditions for the whole weekend were so, so awesome though. We were busy with many incidents due to the holiday weekend. I ran my fastest sled to-date off the mountain to the aid room. Its always a good feeling to know that the time and training I've been through can be applied so effortlessly when things get crucial and need to be done in a quick, effective way.

Day of pleasure skiing on my actual birthday was quite a good time. It was a blue-bird sky day with temps in the upper 30s-lower 40s. I enjoyed not having to wear my aid belt for patrol or my patrol jacket. Its fun to feel so light and flexible in non-GoreTex clothing. Robb and I did some backcountry skiing up Bald Knob - something I'd wanted to do forever. We only got halfway though as the snow was clumping up in a ridiculous way on my skis for some unknown reason, and the resulting effort I had to put into moving up the mountain was causing increasing pain in my hip flexor area. I made the decision to turn back a little over halfway. I'm glad I did as I'm tender today. We went across the road to the main resort and skied the rest of the day over there with patrol friends. Conditions were phenomenal.  

My resort is in the background

2 awesome evenings out
Two of the nights over there we all grouped together to go out post-work for drinks. Its always so much fun to sit around and goof off with that group. The second night we had the place privately rented. The barkeep kept me well hydrated (ha) as soon as midnight of my birthday tolled. It was enjoyable to share it with the folks that were there.

1 happy girl
Lots of skiing. Lots of laughter. Lots of time spent outside combined with exercise and good friends. All of this was the recipe for one happy girl. I don't need some huge party on my birthday to be happy. Birthday 2013 was a really good one. I'm optimistic for a pretty kickass 24th year of life.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Flaws & Acceptance

So often we talk about our horses and talk about what we want them to be or how we're going to make them better. I know I'm guilty of it. And within reason, improving our horses' skill sets and working with them will make them better temperament-wise, but it won't fix everything. Your horse is who s/he is through all of that. Nothing will change it. Our horses aren't going to be that absolute perfect citizens we so desire 100% of the time.

Re-reading pursuits with Q and Griffin lately I've really noticed things about them. They're so good so much of the time. Really, truly. And really, truly I don't write about their frustrating moments often because those moments are so few and so trivial in the big picture.

Things like:

Griffin is going to randomly paw to China because he is an impatient kid still. I hope he will grow out of some of this, but I doubt all of it. Its bound to happen at times and those times are so seldom that I accept it. He's so willing and generally focused every other time. In fact, willing doesn't even graze the surface of explanation for how big of a desire he has to please. He's such a truly wonderful little guy. I think of him as that "first kid" parents wish they had. Easy-going and willing in all aspects. Couldn't ask for a better personality in this guy. (And as a result, I don't talk about him as much on here. He's so good about everything. And being good about everything isn't as exciting to write about as Q who, while very good, possesses other quirks Griffin doesn't. *coughcoughcough* MARE.)

When kept away from the other horses in "solitary" for a night because I need her first thing the next day without a field expedition, Q is going to be wound up like all hell and toss her head in frustration because she has been alone all night. She inevitably will calm down. Her nature tells her friends are good and safe, thus she wants to be with them. The few times I keep her separate from her friends for extended period then come to "rescue her" she is INSTANTLY calm and happy when I am standing with her, beyond eager to please, but if I disappear out of sight for more than a few seconds she tosses her head and paws intermittently stomping the ground. I call out or step into view, it ceases. She has never done this except during extended absences from friends. I accept that she is this way at the barn because she has never ever performed such an antic away from home at rides or events.

They're both going to have moments when they don't want to be lady and gentleman for trimming. But this is surmounted by the fact that on most occasions they will stand happily with one foot up while I work away on it as long as I need. They even allow me to take breaks leaning against their 3-legged frame. Griffin will nuzzle me while I work but never bite. Both horses will preemptively lift the foot I'm about to trim next as I move toward it. Can't beat that.

And Q is just alert. Its who she is. She pays an excessive amount of attention to detail and will always be somewhat spazzy about random nonsensical things. Its who she is and I accept it. Its frustrating at times, certainly, but it is who she is. She doesn't mean anything wrong by it. I would rather her pay attention to things - even butterflies. She's saved my ass a couple times with it (slowing before we encounter bears), and she's dumped (or nearly dumped) my ass several times because of it (seeing contrasting light dark and spin-spooking, hearing/seeing the bear fall out of the tree and pirouetting suddenly). Sure, this aspect of her means that she's not the perfect horse for a beginner to ride outside of a ring/barnyard setting, but I'm 110% okay with that. (Cue Griffin's awesomeness as hopeful carrier of future beginners on the trail with me.) I like Q's fire and zest, while sometimes spazzy due to it, she is not mean or dangerous, and that is so important. I'm quick-witted, observant, and a good, balanced rider -  her fire meshes with me at this point in my life very, very well.

The big picture? Trivial. All of those not-perfect-100%-of-the-time behaviors. Little quirks that are going to occur despite how much we (I) work through things. My horses are gonna "have a day" just as often as people "have a day". And they're gonna "have a moment" (or two, or three), too. I accept these little outbursts. Its just the personality and nature of my horses. Their willingness, manners, and effort in all big moments and nearly every training situation speak so much louder than little frustrating quirks. And so, I accept my horses as they are, quirks and all. Wouldn't change them. Can you say the same about your horses (animals)?

Friday, February 15, 2013


I leave Griffin's feet alone for 3 weeks (winter months) and this is what happens:

Higher heels, contracted heel (really working to get this remedied this summer), frog not touching ground at all.

I leave Q's feet alone for 3 weeks (winter months) and this is what happens:
Higher heels and her frog beefed up majorly to the point where it is still in contact with the ground despite the higher heels.

My horses' feet are so different right now. I need to get Griffin's more where Q's are with time.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

San Diego & Joshua Tree

Thursday I went to my job for a few hours in the morning and then rushed off to grab lunch with a friend in Morgantown and then catch my flight. I arrived at the airport Thursday evening in San Diego to be greeted (complete with slow-mo run and hug) by Mandy at the terminal. We went to her house and spent a lazy evening drinking wine and chatting with her roommate. Good way to end a day of travel.

California morning
Friday we woke early, me on my EST schedule and Mandy on her bird-watch schedule. We showered and had a lovely little breakfast. I reveled in the fact that "omg I'm in California" for awhile as I doted on the [uncovered] pool in the backyard and the palms and green grass and [mostly] blue skies and [realtive] warmth.

We rendezvous'd with her boyfriend Derrick (finally, we met!) and headed to the San Diego zoo for the morning. I'd been when I was 8, but this was my first return trip to San Diego (and Cali in general). Cruising a zoo as a kid is loads of fun, but I think cruising it as a young adult was just as much fun. Two biologists and a botanist made for quite the fun time walking around. We all are so well-versed in various animal and plant knowledge that we were able to point out specific things to one another and learn from that just as much as we could have from reading the signs. (Pff, who does that? No, kidding, we did...a little.) It was a long morning of walking (in the rain at times), and we really carved out some crazy hunger.

We left the zoo around noon and headed to get some Mexican food at Baja Betty's in the gay part of town. I loved it. The food and the people. Our waiter was awesome. Our margaritas were insanely strong. I swear he just put food coloring in with the alcohol to make it look like he'd added flavor. And he gave us free shots post-meal. No real idea why, but he did. Definitely one of the happiest people (and best waiters) I've met in a long time.

Post-alcohol...I mean, post-lunch...we went to Whole Foods. These don't exist it my neck of the woods and I love them. I was ecstatic about being there. If I move to an area that has one one day I will have a hard time not blowing all my money buying kickass food and beer. Love, love, love.

We went home to put our groceries away then swung by Derrick's place to snag his roomie Zoe and we all headed to Tiger Tiger - a bar for hipsters. I've never been surrounded by so many hipsters...ever. It was...interesting. Food was excellent, beer, too. We had a really good time and I totally didn't almost fall asleep at the table due to jet lag...
: : : : :

Saturday dawned and we prepped and left for Joshua Tree for two days of climbing. The drive was relatively uneventful. I reveled at the difference in the landscape from San Diego to Joshua tree. California is so extreme. I loved seeing so many changes in such a sort span.

We stopped in the town of Joshua Tree to gas up one more time, get firewood, a hatchet and some this-n-that postcards/stickers/patches/books. A small mob of us trucked back and forth across the street between shops multiple times trying to gather what we needed. It was rather comical.

As we drove into the town, there were some J Trees around, but upon entry to the park their density increased 10 fold. It was incredible. Sparsely scattered in comparison to a typical forest, but it was a forest all the same. And the fact that it takes those trees hundreds of years to reach the size they were was even more impressive and added to the impact of seeing them for the first time.

We tried to find a campsite at Hidden Valley because we wanted to hit up the climbing in that area, but they were all taken so we headed to Jumbo Rocks instead where we were quickly able to score two adjacent sites.

We set up camp in short order, nommed some [more] food and found a crag within walking distance.

Photo by Mandy Weston
Photo by Mandy Weston
Climbing guidebook directions have improved, but in my experience they're all notoriously tricky. These directions (walk 250 ft down said trail, turn right into boulder garden, follow to brush-choked valley, turn left into slot canyon to reach crag) were so much more simply stated than they turned out to be. We failed epically.

We got the first three parts of the directions right, but we totally missed the slot canyon and got semi-lost. We could see the road a short distance from where we were so we knew we weren't lost-lost, but we joked about it. And then folks walked by us on an established trail no more than 20 ft from us. -_- We fail.

We found the crag with a little more effort, though the approach we chose was heinous and a little dangerous. I ended up with Zoe holding my back and Derrick holding my foot as I slid-climb-jumped between two rock formations. Once that was conquered we had to down-climb a chimney formation. Lovely. But. FINALLY. We were at the crag.

A lot of the J Tree roped climbing I witnessed/read/and experienced while there had walk-offs from the top-out. Henry walked to the top of this climb (okay, so walk makes it sound a lot easier than it really is), a 5.10b (which was right beside this B-E-A-Utiful 5.9 trad crack the guidebook gave 4 stars called Boulderado that left me wishing we had trad gear), and dropped the rope and then rapped down. No leading today. We were losing sunlight and a lot of the group were first-timers outside of the gym.

I was first up after Henry rapped down. Climbing granite is a lot different from climbing sandstone. And climbing slopey slab and cracks is different from our vertical New River Gorge and Seneca climbing in WV. (I apologize for all of my climber jargon. For those curious folks unfamiliar with it, go here.)

Photo by Mandy Weston
Photo by Mandy Weston
Photo by Mandy Weston
Don't ask.
Photo by Mandy Weston
I struggled at the beginning of the climb, gave up on a small section and jugged up in the interest of daylight and others climbing, but climbed the large majority of it. I'm out of shape, and it was tricky figuring out slopers, slab, and a hand crack, but my mind and body slowly remembered days past in the gym and outside. I put it all together and sent it. Not a textbook or a very pretty send, but a send all the same. And, believe it or not (for those reading this that know my past whining about cracks and slopers) I really got into a groove with that crack and kicked its ass, and the slopers and I sort of became better friends. Sort of.

Others from our party took turns on the climb. With the waning sunlight and eventual sunset though the already cool (50s + wind) desert became downright chilly and people headed back to camp. It ended up being Henry and I as I'd volunteered to give him a ride up so he could take the rope down and then walk down instead of walking all of it.

He ended up climbing (and I ended up belaying) in the dark by the light of our headlamps. Pretty sweet experience. Once he was at the top and off-belay I waited while he pulled up the rope and then headed out the slot canyon in the dark to meet him somewhere on the other side.

While this little slot canyon was tiny (100-200 ft. long) in comparison to those one may find in Utah or other western areas, it was my first experience traversing through one - and it was memorable since it was at night. I went right and scrambled up some boulders when I emerged. I looked up for Henry where I suspected he'd maybe be coming down and there he was. Perfect timing. 

Together, we retraced our former path and wandered back into camp. 

We all made various dinners, got the fire going, indulged in some excellent beer (okay, I indulged in some good beer at least because I brought a Ranger IPA with me), and sat around the fire joking for a few hours. The fire played off the rock formation beside/behind us creating a really unique atmosphere. Very memorable.

Photo by Mandy Weston
The night ended up being very, very cold - 20s I'd say, but I didn't have a thermometer. I'd brought my 45 degree bag in place of a sleeping bag liner and doubled it up inside Mandy's extra 20 degree bag. I. Was. Toasty. It was glorious.
: : : : :

I was the first person up the next morning. I could tell the sun wasn't quite up, so I snagged my camera and set out to try to capture some morning color dancing off the rocks. The sunrise wasn't spectacular, but it wasn't too shabby either.

Not long after I returned to camp the others were starting to awake. We alternated between putting up our tents and making/eating breakfast with standing in the sun which was hitting the road beside our campsite. Oh, the glorious sun. Lizards we were, basking away as much as we could in it. 

Eventually tents were put away and we were all basking. I sat down on a rock by Henry and grabbed up one guide book while he had another and we schemed out our day. Our ideal location was more of a hike than we were willing to do that day (to Outer Mongolia in the Wonderland area, I believe), and we somehow ended up looking at the exact same location in our different books - Solarium, Echo Rock area. It had a concentration of sport climbs (we had no trad gear) and a short, seemingly [once again] simple approach. 

The drive was short and the approach was truly simple. We were at the crack in a few short minutes. Those climbing hucked ourselves up on the rock and began basking and prepping ropes and gear while Mandy and Zoe set off to find a basking lounge on an adjacent rock to get photos from.

Henry put up a 5.7 and 5.10a in short order.

I climbed the 10a first as I knew my hands (sore and busted from hand jamming the crack the previous day) wouldn't handle too much and I wanted to do the harder climb while I was fresh (I'm so not in awesome climbing shape, blah!).

I'm second on the left sitting.
Photo by Mandy Weston
Photo by Mandy Weston
Climbing the 10a
Photo by Mandy Weston
Photo by Mandy Weston
Photo by Mandy Weston
Photo by Mandy Weston
The climb was tricky in a few places, but definitely doable. I had to work with the slopers and slab more than I wanted, but I figured it out. Fancy footwork for the win. Yay being short.

The 7 was much simpler. The slabbiness for the first half confused me, but I got up the climb without much difficulty - I'm not even sure I took a hang on that one. There was a great stemming move 3/4 of the way up the climb that was fun. I haven't gotten to apply stemming outside the gym very much. 

My hands were whooped and I decided to call it quits before I really tore them up. I was pleased with my climbing despite not doing much of it the past two years, and really thrilled with my overall J Tree climbing experience. 

I belayed Henry on a 10d he wanted to try though. Tricky move above the third bolt had his calling card that day though. Crimp and a high foot. While I am a lover of all things crimpy because my east coast climbing has a lot of it, he was very unaccustomed to it. His strengths were slab and slopers where mine were crimps and vertical. Fun to experience the difference though. I definitely enjoyed it.

Post-climbing we headed back to the city where we gorged on both In-n-Out Burger and sushi for dinner (and I finally indulged in Ruthless Rye - my favorite of all Sierra Nevada beers) while watching reruns of Dexter Season 4. Pretty awesome end to a great day.
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Monday dawned and I packed my stuff. Mandy and I picked up Derrick and Zoe and headed to the beach for breakfast. 

We went to a little surfer joint along the coast called New Break. Fancy (modestly-priced) entrees, fancy coffee and coffee-like drinks, surfer crowd, free-form jazz, and some abstract art. You might be a hipster when... But seriously. Great place. Totally recommend it and would totally go back.

We wandered out to the beach post-breakfast so I could touch the water. At 3 months, this is the shortest amount of time I've gone between seeing both the Atlantic and Pacific (Cape May in Novemeber and San Diego now).

We wandered along the beach and out onto the pier to watch the surfers for awhile. The day was the warmest one since I'd been in town. We soaked up the sun for a good while on that pier. I wasn't ready to leave, but sadly I had to.

My first flight arrived over an hour early to DC (score!) and I caught my other flight with ease. 

The plane landing in Morgantown was, as Mandy would say, crayball. It was windy and the approach to the airfield was ROUGH. I have never felt nauseous in a plane before, but I was beginning to have a hard time. Had to force myself to breathe deep and focus on it. I wasn't nervous because I figured these pilots do 4-5 flights in and out of Morgantown/day, so no big deal.

The actual landing though? Egads. Plane (smaller prop plane) had been pitching and rolling all over the place during the approach. It settled out for the last part of the landing, but the actual touchdown got my adrenaline pumping a bit. Left rear wheel hit then the right rear wheel - probably about a full second between the two touching down. Within another 3 seconds the front wheel finally slammed into the ground and then the plane went left-right-left-right subtly, but with enough force that I wondered if we would spin out on the runway. The reverse thrusters (or whatever) kicked on and stabilized us, but damn. Rough.

Drive home was quick and despite being 75 miles I only passed 4 cars going the opposite direction. Made it from airport to home in 1h 28m. Record time. 

Slept a couple hours and was back to the grind trying to juggle my many tasks by 7a the next morning. Jet-lag schmet-lag. No, honestly, I had little issue with the transition, fortunately. 

It was a short jam-packed trip, but boy was it awesome.

Photo by Mandy Weston

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Where the hell have I been?

Its not super often that I take an extended absence from the blogosphere. So, where the hell have I been the past 5 days?

California, baby! San Diego and Joshua Tree Nat'l Park. A more detailed update in the near future (because I just got home and have hit the ground running to get lots of shit done - but really, would you expect any less from me, The Blur?), but for now, let these photo previews suffice! Having a semi-personal photographer who doubles as one of your best friends is basically the best thing ever!

I am the blue dot climbing

Friday, February 8, 2013


Discomfort. Its something we try to avoid on a daily basis. From minor instances of hunger pangs or exercise regimens to bigger occasions of a confrontation with a person we dread. One of my biggest goals for myself this year is to confront discomfort head on. I may not do it all the time. But I’m certainly going to make an effort to do it as often as I can. 

Confronting discomfort is what really helps us to improve ourselves and grow. All the rough times I’ve gone through, the discomfort of those moments - I refer to it as character building. At least that’s what I tell myself to help push through it. Because believe it or not, but I’m pretty aware of when times are shitty. And I know I’m going to get through them and come out on the other side A-okay. But I recognize that it’ll just suck getting there. But each time I find myself on the other side, I’m a little stronger and wiser for it.

So, this year I’m going to confront discomfort and take what I can from each experience. We’ll see how much wiser I am in a year’s time; I have a feeling I’ll come out wiser and better for it.

Accomplishing this trip caused me to confront a lot of discomfort physically and mentally.
I grew SO much from the experience.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

2013 Ride Season Plans

Ah, the east-coast riding season is upon us. You west-coasters have the joys of having a lot of deserts to provide ample terrain at all times of year, we on the other hand, have snow, mud, and muck that prevent us from having too many rides during the wet, cold, winter months. However, spring is fast-approaching and I will begin a regimen with Q in short order to start prepping for rides this season. (As soon as ski season is over. And as soon as I return from my plethora of spring of which is a riding trip though...more on that later!)

I have three rides planned so far for the season, with the potential for two or three more depending on work etc.

April 26 - Old Dominion No Frills ride (plan to do 30 miles)
June 8 - Old Dominion (hope to do 50 miles)
August 3 - Ride Between the Rivers (hope to do 50 miles)

I know I can get Q in shape right quick to be able to complete a 25 or 30. My big goal for us for the season is to complete a 50. Speed for that completion? Psh, as long as we finish before time is up, I will be happy, happy. I'm not out there to break any records, I'm out there to have some fun and test my horse's and my own abilities. I just want to have a happy, healthy horse and rider team making it through these things.

I'm really excited about the prospect of these rides. I have access to a trailer I can use - all I need is a truck capable of pulling a small two-horse bumper pull (though it might be a 1-horse, I haven't seen it yet and Steve was uncertain the last we discussed it). I have one truck-possessing friend show interest in hauling and camping already, so hopefully I can find enough people interested that I can network around them and guarantee myself a way to get to each of those rides. (I will pull locally with my 4Runner, but only on the flatter areas within 10-15 miles of the barn, no mountains! I don't want to kill my vehicle!) The two in VA are about 2 hours away, and that's nothing! The other is local. So, all options I've presented myself with are very feasible to reach as far as travel goes.

Promising outlook. Lets see about makin' it happen!

Monday, February 4, 2013

Ski weekend reflections

The weekend began with a harrowing drive that took twice the normal amount of time due to some of the worst roads I've seen in awhile, but bad roads mean good snow conditions. A late start on the mountain at no fault of our own rewarded us with above average conditions. It was hard to tell that the mountain had been nearly bare days before due to warm temps and rain days prior. Snow everywhere. Whales from the snow guns on nearly every slope. West side of the mountain even had a fair amount of powder that afforded runs without scraping the ground below. Always a thrill.

Friday night dinner club for the night shifters was good yet again. Always enjoyable to sit around with everyone eating good grub potluck-style and joking about everything. A friend joined me this weekend for Friday and Saturday and remarked on how close-knit our patrol is. We really are. They're like a second family to me.

An enthusiastic group, despite the cold, jumped at the chance to practice lift evac after dinner in -2.2°F weather. I had only practiced this in the summer months and incorporating snow, skis, and cold to the equation made for quite a difference. Concepts made far more sense with these added parts to the equation though. Different leadership from summer helped concepts to make more sense and everything clicked. I feel confident in my abilities in the event that we have to apply our training to real life.

Post-work led to some drinks at a local joint and more joking and laughing. A little shop-talk because we can never really get away from our patrol duties, but mostly joking and relaxing after a long day on the mountain. An awesome end to a great day.

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Saturday morning dawned early with little new snow, but the promise of more by afternoon. The majority of the mountain was open, though the groomers were crusty from the cold. My shift started with the first chair ride up the mountain and 0°F temps; sweeping the mountain from east to west to get it set up for customers.

A fellow telemark patroller who wasn't on duty came by the mountain and made some runs with me. The best part of patrol is free lessons all the time. While its only my second season on tele gear, I'm really starting to get the hang of it and my fluidity with my movement is getting much better. They assure me I'm a natural and have beautiful body position, but as my own worst critic, I'm still pushing to be better all the time.


Miss Ella and myself
The day passed without major incident and the snow started coming down good around 2p. Unexpected events led to me taking on night shift and working another double-shift day. But I didn't mind.

Night shift was a blast. A rousing game of cards that led to tears of laughter, a search that was fortunately called off due to good news, and then skiing in the darkness with only the ambient light from other places seeping in to illuminate the snow.

Nothing beats skiing at night. Snow was still falling, lights from other parts of the resort lent light to the far areas with no lights to illuminate them. The whiteness of the snow with the ambient light provided just enough visibility to see safely. Kenai pulled Robb along in front of me as I practiced my tele turns. An entire run of fresh powder on top of a groomed slope. Guiding my way were Robb's ski tracks and Kenai's bounding paw prints in the snow. A sure sign of a happy dog.

We (Kenai, Robb and I) took last chair for Saturday and stood at the top until others had safely reached the bottom. We were the last ones off the mountain that night. Kenai got to run free down the slope for 300 yards or so chasing Robb. Seeing my snow dog bound happily through freshly drifted snow was a fun sight. Happy, happy dog.

This night, like the former, ended with drinks and food with the night shift folks at the same local place. Stories from times as a raft guide from other patrol friends led to absolute gut-wrenching laughter. Its always great to laugh like that. Another awesome end to a great day on the mountain.

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We woke Sunday to snow STILL falling. The entire day was a powder day and nearly the whole mountain was open. The only closed slopes were due to snow guns sitting idly on them that presented a not-favorable obstacle that customers didn't need to encounter.

Robb above Gravity
I was on the first chair up the mountain again, and got to make first tracks down Gravity. Epic start to an awesome day.

I skied with my two patrol friends that also ski tele gear all morning. I've finally found my rhythm in powder and was able to make some very nice turns. Dropping knees in powder is a far greater experience in my mind than alpine turns. More than that though, the challenge of learning a new skiing discipline is very rewarding. Nearly 20 years on alpine gear lent me many skills, but its been really fun switching it up with telemark skiing.

After three full days on the mountain skiing a lot of powder, my legs were whooped. The drive home and sleeping in my own bed was a welcome experience....but 5-9" are expected in the Valley tonight. Tomorrow might just be another phenomenal powder day.

Saturday morning view of Canaan resort; cloud is man-made snow blowing into the next county (sigh)
Sunday morning view of Canaan resort - lack of visibility is due to falling natural snow (booya)


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