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Olympic Kayaker Scores Second PopSci Gold with RapidBlocs

Written by leehart on November 15th, 2012. Posted in Biz Buzz

S2o Design's RapidBlocs

S2o Design's RapidBlocs debuted to rave reviews at the London 2012 Olympic Games

LYONS, CO – US Olympic kayaker turned whitewater park builder Scott Shipley has been awarded his second Best of What’s New Award from the editors of Popular Science for innovations in whitewater park construction.

Shipley, and his company S2o Design and Engineering, in cooperation with EPDUK, were the designers of the London Olympic Park. Some 1,200 of Shipley’s RapidBlocs helped sculpt the concrete canoe slalom channel into the type of whitewater course worthy of the world’s pinnacle of competition. The water-shifting, global patent pending, Lego-like plastic blocks in London’s $48 million Lee Valley Whitewater Centre are lightweight and interchangeable, enabling endlessly evolving designs.

RapidBlocs garnered broad-based praise from athletes and coaches, as well as the editors of Popular Science. According to PopSci, only the most “revolutionary, not evolutionary” submissions from the thousands received each year win the coveted annual award. PopSci judging criteria asserts candidate products must transform their category, solve an unsolvable problem and incorporate entirely new ideas and functions.

RapidBlocs are huge for the evolution of Olympic kayaking, Shipley said. “For the first time ever, athletes and coaches get to choose the type of whitewater they want to race on since RapidBlocs are so easy to reposition to create different channel dynamics.”

It was his groundbreaking work on another whitewater course, the U.S. National Whitewater Center outside Charlotte, NC that earned Shipley his first PopSci Best of What’s New Award in 2006. When the $36 million dollar park opened in the spring of that

year, it became the world’s largest artificial whitewater park. In yet another testimony to the transformative power of RapidBlocs, they will next be deployed in a place once known as the “Dust Bowl State,” when Shipley builds a new $16 million whitewater park at the USA Canoe Kayak national headquarters at the Oklahoma City Boathouse District.

“I’m thrilled that the editors of Popular Science join the world’s elite kayak athletes and coaches in recognizing the game-changing nature of RapidBlocs,” Shipley said.

ABOUT S2o DESIGN AND ENGINEERING. Founded in 2003 by Olympian and Georgia Tech graduate engineering program alumn Scott Shipley, S2O Design prides itself on innovative and holistic approaches to whitewater park design that ensures clients get a park that meets all their economic, environmental and recreational objectives. Committed to reinventing whitewater, S2O is the only design-build firm that has developed patented solutions that make whitewater parks easier and more profitable to operate as well as more enjoyable for whitewater enthusiasts of all skill levels.



OR Show – the culinary odyssey

Written by leehart on August 9th, 2012. Posted in Travel

One of the best things about driving to and from Outdoor Retailer’s Summer Market is the food.

The following mouth-watering itinerary could even inspire you to take the trip just to get the goods.

salt lake city downtown farmer's market

So many temptations at Salt Lake City's Downtown Farmer's Markets

Salt Lake City. Every Saturday in the summer SLC’s Pioneer Park hosts one of the best Farmer’s Markets I’ve ever been to. I was hoping to score some cherries but this year’s weird winter and spring meant cherries came and went early. I scored some fresh figs instead reminding me of last summer’s Mediterreanean sojourn and making me miss the idyllic week I spent off the coast of Croatia on a magical island. Besides fresh produce, the market has delicious prepared foods and ethnic specialties (like a delicious tamales for just $2), breads and other yummy edibles, lots of fresh organic honey, and heaps of arts and crafts. I’ve been known to come to extend my stay in SLC just so I can shop this amazing farmer’s market.

vetere melons

Vetere's sets the gold standard for melons

Green River, UT. Home to the John Wesley Powell River History Museum, it’s a tough call to decide if Green River is better known for the soldier/geologist/explorer of the American West or for its melons. I’m a regular at Vetere’s as are legions of other loyal fans, some of whom have been customers for decades since the Vetere family opened its first roadside stand in 1958 . Sure they have delicious candy-sweet watermelon and cantaloup but do yourself a favor and expand your culinary horizons to some of the other varieties like Crenshaw, Winter Queen and Striped Clondike. Some folks call Green River the melon capital of the World. They may not win on quantity but in terms of flavor, they’ve got to be a the undisputed heavyweight champeen.

palisade peaches

Fuzzy orbs of deliciousness

Grand Junction/Palisade, CO. Peaches. Sweet juicy peaches. So outstanding are these beauties from Colorad’s Western Slope that Palisade hosts a Peach Festival each August, a veritable peach-a-palooza, with kids events, runs, a pedal-paddle-pedal race and of course peaches galore from pies to ice creams, preserves to salsas, booze and just plain peaches. This year’s event is Aug. 16 – 19. If you go, be sure to ask around for the local vinegar and olive oil maker; the fig balsamic vinegar is sinfully good. I have bought and steamed fresh greens just so I could have an excuse to pour this nectar of the gods on them. This part of Colorado is the produce and wine capital of the state and fall harvest time can turn unsuspecting tourists into farm-to-table foodies.

olathe sweet corn

Mmm, mmm good Olathe sweet corn

Olathe, CO. Growing up in the midwest, when my family first moved to Colorado we were stunned by the bland produce. The red round things looked and felt like tomatoes but tasted like . . . water?  And we were certain even pigs on the farm would’ve turned their snouts up at what stores passed off as corn on the cob. But Olathe is different. Olathe sweet corn is the closest thing to truly sweet corn that can hold a candle to the cobs of my youth.  It’s by far the best corn in Colorado. Even though I’m a household of one, I buy a dozen so I can share my bounty with friends back in Salida.



Optic Nerve unveils 15 new styles for 2013 at Outdoor Retailer

Written by leehart on July 23rd, 2012. Posted in Biz Buzz


Optic Nerve Pipeline

Optic Nerve's Pipeline is available in interchangeable and photomatic versions

DENVER, CO – Optic Nerve is adding 15 new styles to its 2013 line of performance-oriented, price conscious sunglasses for warm weather fun.

Ten of the 15 new styles will be part of Optic Nerve’s Polarized lens series delivering lightweight comfort, long-lasting durability and precision optics to outdoor enthusiasts.

Each style in the Polarized series uses technologies that are designed to work with myriad face sizes and shapes to reduce glare and shield eyes from harmful UV rays when enjoying time in the sun. Beneficial to all people recreating or just traveling on waterways and roads, polarized lenses are particularly favored by anglers, paddlers, runners and bicyclists.

The Polarized series also offers a spectrum of lens color for different light conditions. Brown and copper lenses sharpen contrast while the smoke and gray lenses help improve contrast while reducing glare. Grey and smoke lenses help increase visibility and depth perception as well as helping people see colors as they naturally appear:  blues are bluer, greens are brighter, reds more vibrant, yellows pops, and whites are truer.

A unique hybrid injection/wire frame style called the Haxtun is available in urban chic two-tone brown or two-tone black for $49.

Fulfilling the promise to pack as much tech for the price into each frame it produces, prices in the Polarized line are $49 – $59.

Also joining the Spring/Summer 2013 lineup are a few frames to bolster Optic Nerve’s hot-selling interchangeable lens lines. Headlining newcomers to the Deuce series is the Pipeline that delivers full-frame durability and substance in a lightweight high-performance sunglass. The Pipeline’s wraparound style offers a timeless look that feels good too thanks to Optic Nerve’s meticulous attention to fit. The Pipeline exceeds s tandards for impact resistance and sun protection. The Pipeline also comes in a light-adapting photochromic version for $79.

Joining the Pipeline in the Deuce series is the Rhyolite and the Dedisse. Nerve R & D guru Tom Fox believes the Rhyolite is destined to become a best seller with it’s durable and sleek frame with the kind of straight-forward classic styling that looks and feels good on many different face shapes and sizes. The Dedisse is a full-wrap style with a curved toric lens to provide better ergonomics and coverage. All Deuce series frames retail for $49.

In the Premium IC (three-for-$79) is the Gridlock a veritable kitchen sink of the best of Optic Nerve’s features complete with three lenses for just $79.

All Optic Nerve sunglasses are polarized, eliminate UVA and UVB rays, and sport hydrophobic and anti-reflective lens technology. Many of the styles have rubber on the temples and/or nose bridges for added adjustability and grip.

Debuting at the Outdoor Retailer Summer Market at Booth #32057 the new styles will hit stores next spring.

About Optic Nerve
Independently owned and firmly rooted in Colorado, Optic Nerve is committed to supporting its communities through making performance-driven, price-conscious sunglasses and goggles. All styles have the same 100 percent UVA and UVB protection; lightweight, durable construction, and fashion-conscious styling found in more expensive brands, at a fraction of the price with a lifetime guarantee. Visit Optic Nerve at the Open Air Demo or Booth #32057 in the Salt Palace Convention Center or click here to visit the website.




AK Ingenue: Best of both worlds

Written by leehart on May 1st, 2012. Posted in AK adventures

Sunny spring days inspire folks in Valdez to get out on the water – kayaking, sailing, fishing, and shrimping. Sailors love summer in Valdez when a west wind almost always arrives in the late afternoon.

Yesterday, my friend Josh McDonald invited me along on Bema, his 27-foot sloop, for a quick happy hour sail around Prince William Sound. It’s just a little shakedown before heading out for a weeklong sailing/skiing adventure. When summer kicks in, Josh leads folks on super cool, small group, custom kayak adventures as owner and lead guide of  Unbeaten Path.

Thanks and cheers Josh!


AK Ingenue: Tweener season

Written by leehart on May 1st, 2012. Posted in AK adventures

Spring has arrived here where the Chugach Mountains spill straight into an arm of Prince William Sound. During this Tweener Season Valdez takes a breather. The streets are deserted, parking lots have emptied, customers in stores and restaurants are few and far between. Hitching rides up and down the Pass will require longer waits and better luck as vehicle traffic, if you could have ever really even called it traffic, thins out to as little as one car or few truck every 20 minutes or more. The lull won’t last long. In about two weeks time the summer parade of RVs come to town. Fish, fishermen and fishing derbies take front and center stage. Summer is far busier here than winter so Tweener season allows time for the locals to recalibrate and recharge for the next wave of visitors.

Springtime in the Rockies has nothing on Springtime in Valdez when it comes to fickle weather which can change dramatically from day to day and even within a day. The morning can break under a thick blanket of clouds and fresh snow up high then get sunny and turn to perfect corn fields at night. The long days this far north mean you can work a full eight-hour day and still have another full day’s worth of light left to play. The other day, we didn’t even start our ski tour until 7:20 p.m. and, though we were cutting it right to the wire, the light lasted until we skied to the road 3 hours later.

Elsewhere there are plenty of other common markers of springtime in North America, the crocuses are poking up through the snow; a random robin flies by.

Arctic tern

Arctic Tern

Arctic terns have returned. A little more than a foot long with a wing span of 26 – 30 inches, these cool little birds are strongly migratory. These terns never deal with darkness as they migrate from their northern breeding grounds along a winding route to the oceans around Antarctica and back always in summer, a round trip of about 44,300 miles each year. According to Wikipedia, Arctic terns win the prize for, by far, the longest regular migration by any known animal.

At the Best Western Valdez Harbor Inn, H2o Guides is packing up its heliski season offices while Stan Stephens Cruises readies theirs for the annual influx of tourists. More than just a glacier cruise, the guides help guests spot a wide array of wildlife – whales, sea lions, puffins, seals, sea otters, eagles, goats, bears and more – and regale visitors with stories about the history of the area. Topics include Alaskan Natives indigenous to the Sound, gold & copper mining, commercial fishing, the 1964 Alaskan Earthquake, and the Trans-Alaska Pipeline, the 1989 Exxon oil spill, and it’s aftermath.

One of the season's first fishing boats unloads at Peter Pan dock in Valdez AK

Commercial fishing gets under way in Prince William Sound.

The Robert Magnus showed up today, and while maybe not the very first, it’s the first commercial fishing boat I’ve seen unload at the Peter Pan Seafoods facility across the harbor. Just as the last of the skiers heads out of town, the season’s crop of a couple hundred cannery workers, is trickling into town. Peter Pan processes halibut and black cod in addition to the much prized Copper River Salmon. Next door, Silver Bay Seafoods will open tomorrow for onsite fish sales of the million pounds of mostly salmon and herring they harvest each season. During the five-month season from May through September, the cannery workers live in on-campus dorms steps from the unloading docks, freezing and processing facilities.

Elsewhere around the harbor it’s cool to see signs of life on the docks that rested dormant during the winter. Owners and captains, often one and the same, are returning to get their vessels ship shape for summer. Giant boat lifts keep busy all day long transporting boats from dry dock back into the water.

Geographically speaking Valdez enjoys two unique claims. It is the northernmost port in North America that is ice-free year-round, which is why it is the terminus of the Alaska pipeline.  It is also the northernmost point of the coastal Pacific temperate rain forest is in Valdez, at the border with the sub-polar rain forest. I wish I were staying here for at least a taste of summer. My friends tell me the various shades of green that break out here, too numerous to name or count, is when Valdez really shines. I want to venture up into Sawmill Bay State Marine Park where 4000 foot mountains jut straight up from the sea. I want to lose myself kayaking around the icebergs at the mouth of the Columbia Glacier, and I’d definitely like to kick back, maybe do a little yoga session and enjoy the scrumptuous food at the Prince William Sound Lodge in Ellimar.

I’ve only explored a fraction of Valdez which is an even smaller fraction of all that is Alaska but I do know this for sure: I’ll be back.






AK Ingenue: A change of perspective

Written by leehart on April 26th, 2012. Posted in AK adventures

In high school I went through a phase where it seemed the more openly I expressed my dislike for a boy the more inevitable it was to find myself on a date with him months later. Such is my latest love story from Alaska.

Like most backcountry ski enthusiasts, the noise and smell of snow machines – or dirt bikes in the summer – feels like an intrusion on the peace and tranquility earning your turns brings. I’ve chimed in with my ski partners in grumbling about the stench and cacophony of the machines and our self-righteous presumptions about the political leanings and world views of the riders.

So it is with no small measure of wry irony that I find myself saying this out loud: I want one. I really do. So much so that I’ve been asking opinions of horsepower and track sizes, brands and even model years. I am not the first nor do I expect to be the last backcountry greenie to be lured to the dark side that is mechanized access to the mountains. I have two girlfriends who want one too, making next year’s rookie class of snow machine riders estrogen dominant.

skidoo Valdez AK

While I consider myself an environmentally conscious outdoor enthusiast, I have always also been a very practical person. Snow machines are a very practical tool in Valdez.In the same time it takes to heroically skin in for one or two descents you can zoom deep into the range and score multiple steep completely pristine lines.

You can double a buddy or at least be a better ski partner if you own or at least know how to pilot a snow machine. You can come and go when and where you want, unrestricted by other people’s schedules and logistics.

You can free your back, strap the packs, skis and boards to the machine. Snow machines create other aches and pains that can be more intense than the fatigue that come from being your own porter.

From what I can tell, you don’t just buy a snow machine, you adopt a vocation. The machines have a tendency to be a bit hard on parts so the better you can get at repairing them yourself the lower the cost of operation. Crystal balls says one of my new friends next year will likely be a snow machine mechanic. Of course there are the other necessities of snow machine ownership like a trailer and car sturdy enough to tow it, or an old pickup truck.

Even though the leaning curve can be steep, expensive and painful, like the boys I once thought there’s no way I’d date, I find myself gearing up for first relationship with a snow machine.









AK Ingenue: All You Need

Written by leehart on April 21st, 2012. Posted in AK adventures

Tucked in the woods beyond the end of the road in quiet little neighborhood at the base of Thompson Pass, my friend built a little house that is a model of harmonizing with your surroundings. Built of seemingly equal parts wood and so much glass it feels more like a fishbowl, the log two-story house both melds with and celebrates its surroundings. Walk up the snow machine track that is the driveway to the north side of the house and step aboard the short gangplank for the final few steps to the front door.

Stomp the snow off your shoes, open the door and you are instantly enveloped in the living area. Light and airy, the blond logs are as as structural as they are artistic, supporting the giant picture windows on all four sides of the house that don’t so much frame the mountains just beyond his little slice of forest as make you feel at one with the viewscape. To the right, cushion-covered and bookended with pillows the cozy practical bench seat is hinged to provide storage underneath, the lone log table topped with locally quarried and smoothed stone. Sit up to eat or put your back to the wall and stretch out your legs to lounge and gaze out the windows and let your mind unwind. A couple bar stools accommodate a few more friends for dinner or can be shoved out of the way for space efficiency.  A small electric heater backs up the wood stove that keeps the house toasty. Just enough strategically placed lights are handy for cooking, reading, computer time while also creating a soft, welcoming glow for visitors approaching at night.

In the kitchen, tapestry reminders of travels afar conceal kitchenwares, cleaning supplies and dry goods. Pots and the tea kettle on top the stove are kept topped off with water. There’s running water, though not in the traditional sense. Though you can drink straight from it, for cooking and cleaning purposes, my friend hauls buckets of water from the pristine creek at the base of a small waterfall he can see out his kitchen window. A compact under-the-counter refrigerator keeps a couple days worth of produce fresh, with room for other perishables and condiments; beer can stay outside the front door naturally refrigerated.

Heat rises eliminating the need for a second heating unit in the sleeping/yoga room at the top of a short climb up a wood ladder with handhold cutouts on the stringers. Built-in floor to ceiling wood shelves make it easy to quickly see, grab, dress and go. More windows and a glass door invite you to step out onto the small deck to inhale the pine-scented forest and, depending on the day, lets the sun caress your face, wind comb your hair, snowflakes kiss your cheeks, raindrops freshen your face.

Perched on pilings, underneath the house itself keeps chopped wood dry, snow off the hot tub and weather off the chef as he grills the catch of the day on the small travel size Weber. Copper Valley Wireless and an air card keep him connected to friends, family, news and business near and far.

Minimalist, efficient, easy on resources, and positively humming with good energy, though it may seem a bit too rustic for most folks, in so many ways, I think it’s just perfect.

Best little outhouse in Valdez AK

Giant picture windows and space heaters make for a pimpy reading room



AK Ingenue: Graybird Day Option

Written by leehart on April 13th, 2012. Posted in AK adventures

Chugach, Prince William Sound, sea kayaking, ValdezPrince William Sound, Valdez, ChugachSea Kayaking, Prince William Sound, Valdez, ChugachPrince William Sound, Chugach, Valdez, Unbeaten Path Adventures in Prince William Sound

In Valdez, there are mostly two genres of weather: jaw dropping beautiful Bluebird Days and the complete opposite – Graybird Days. I have been spared the Hellacious Wind Days when the winds crest upwards of 160 mph for days on end. So one of the best things to do in rainy weather has always been kayaking so I called my friend Josh McDonald to see if he was game to go for a paddle. Josh runs a multi-day kayak tour company called Unbeathen Path Adventures. He’s a wicked good snowboarder and snowboard instructor and an avid paddler, sailor and like so many people here, entrepreneur. Mereidi, nursing a pre-surgical injured ACL, joined us. We girls paddled tandem. Word on the street was that there’d been a whale fiesta in the sound. That word started with Josh actually, who had taken some heliski clients out for a casual tour around the Sound (Prince William Sound) on a recent Graybird Day and came across a herd of whales loitering around. My friend Scott Hocking with Chugach Coastal Cruising had seen a fin whale a couple days previously so I was hopeful we’d see some giant sea mammals. Alas, like my luck with snow, northern lights and wildlife viewing, the whales, along with virtually every other kind of wildlife that frequents these parts, took the day off. No porpoises either, just a lone sea otter.




AK Ingenue: One Step Further Away

Written by leehart on April 5th, 2012. Posted in AK adventures

As I gaze out the window at snow-capped mountain-ringed Prince William Sound, the impending debut of Google’s sci-fi glasses gives rise to conflicting reactions: James Bond cool vs. obnoxious, handy vs. intrusive, useful vs. detrimental. The “glasses” set to debut later this year stream a steady flow of info – inputs and your responses to them – in front of your eyes essentially acting like a nosy personal assistant on your shoulder or, quite literally, in your face in this case. Check out the Mashable post and watch the short video to better and quickly understand this new sci-fi technology.

The glasses have a certain Jetsons vibe to them but I worry that as all the little pop-ups and messages flash in front of my face I may bump into more things – people good, light poles bad. Will I love them so much I never want to take them off – cool if they could record dreams, though that’s undoubtedly a long way off.  Will all the input just turn into annoying foreground noise? People are already abusive enough with cell phones, answering calls and texting at restaurants or other face-to-face meetings, how much more distracted will they become with glasses that turn up the volume on our already always-on multitasking society? Will such glasses improve my life or just distance me even further from real life connections to people, surroundings, happy coincidences and chance encounters. Undoubtedly more useful in urban settings, would they be of any use or would I even want them if I was in the middle of nowhere or the end of the road in an outpost like Valdez.

Can they smell the roses?

Whether in some far flung corner of the world, here in Valdez, or deep in a national park closer to home in the Lower 48, any place where the raw environment demands undivided attention, the senses become re-connected and recharged. It is liberating and humbling to re-focus on the rhythms, mysteries and instincts that most of we residents of First World nations have long since forgotten yet peoples of Third World countries are often so much more intimately knowledgable. Living in harsh or extremely fragile environments, as well as more privileged pursuits like blue water sailing, climbing unnamed peaks, or backpacking deep into the wilderness, heightens awareness of the signals around you and can profoundly change your priorities.

Here in southeast Alaska, if the storm is coming from the Bering Sea it will be an entirely different experience than if it’s coming up the Pineapple Express from Hawaii or any other directions. The clouds, wind direction and temperature changes all offer clues to what’s in store. Internet technology and color-coded satellite imagery grant access to dozens of weather cams to help estimate the expected arrival and intensity of the approaching storm.

People in more remote places as well as folks like farmers who are more rooted to the earth are more keenly attune to whether the harbingers of seasonal change are earlier or later than usual – the annual fall rut, the return of the robins, the sprouting of crocuses, changing of the leaves – and other hints on what’s in store for the coming season.

The courses and livelihoods of sailors and fishermen are intrinsically tied too other ocean factor like tides, currents and the life cycles and migration habits of various species of fish and sea mammals. Though modern telemetry and GPS takes a lot of the guesswork out of navigation at sea, the best mariners as well as airmen can, when the electronics fritz out or fail as electronics invariably do, rely on good old-fashioned celestial navigation like their predecessors from long ago times.

Here at the intersection of small town America and impossibly vast stretches of wilderness I have become keenly aware that I and my fellow humans are decidedly not at the top of, but rather part of, the food chain, a Scooby snack for needs-driven predators with no conscience or discrimination between the different options for fresh meat on the hoof. On the way back from our ski tour above the Shoup Glacier the other day, we spotted fresh bear tracks following the skin track we’d put in a couple short hours earlier. We scanned the terrain around us. Maybe the bear was waiting for us at the cabin or perhaps licking its lips while watching from a lair we couldn’t see.

A few short days after arriving, the Aurora Borealis, aka Northern Lights, put on a spectacular display though sadly, I’m pretty sure I was the only person in the vicinity who missed it. The next day, a friend turned me onto the Aurora Forecast app that helps predict the arrival of the ethereal light show and while the forecast was good I still missed it, though not for lack of getting up every few hours and stepping outside to try to catch it. Technology has never been an antidote to bad timing or luck.

Improvisation, creativity and resourcefulness are valued traits and even key to survival for anything from car and home repairs to cooking, clothing and even those times, more prevalent than in the Lower 48, when even the most innocuous outing turns suddenly and unexpectedly desperate.

In places like this, ignoring your gut instinct can cost you your life.

So where do Google goggles and other such tech in the pipeline fit into the big picture? Though not their intended target market, would or could Google goggles be of any use to less technologically conjoined communities like indigenous tribes in the Amazon, a drought-stricken family on the brink of existence in sub-Sahara Africa or a nomadic herder on the Mongolian steppe? As mom and solo traveler Darcey wrote:  “My time on the steppe gave me a feeling of freedom that was unusual and healing. The girl in me who still lives with the upturned cardboard box as an end table doubly appreciated that freedom . . . In Mongolia, I found everything I sought for myself: peace, quiet, stunning beauty, and a way of life that persists doggedly in the modern world, despite an increasingly vulnerable environment.”

I’m sure the goggles will sell well and be embraced by urban hipsters and high rollers. Such products will likely increasingly become an intrinsic part of daily life, especially once future iterations make them smaller and less obtrusive. Wistfully, I would argue that Google goggles are yet another gadget taking us yet another step further from primal connections to people, animals, and all the natural drama, force and beauty of nature that are already available to us if we just make space to tune into them by filtering out some of the modern noise we’ve collectively come to accept as essential to our lives but really isn’t. For that, I guess we still will have to have the self-discipline to unplug, turn off the electronics from time to time and get out there and, in a manner of speaking, run naked and connect with the wild again. Even less poetically, how many happy coincidences and chance encounters will we miss out on by being guided by our goggles.

Ultimately, as Forbes noted in their tongue and cheek pro/con review about how Google goggles will and won’t revolutionize life, love or hate them, there’s no turning back; the future is only a matter of time.



AK Ingenue: Twas the Night Before Tailgate

Written by leehart on April 4th, 2012. Posted in AK adventures

Cody Freitag, Tailgate Alaska, Thompson Pass, Valdez AK

"Cowboy" Cody Freitag

Tailgate Alaska started Sunday up on Thompson Pass. The 12-day festival features snow-science and survival education, sled-riding and sled-maintenance clinics, side events, live concerts, vendors, beer garden and parties – official and heaps of unofficial camp parties – throughout the duration. I looked through the list of sponsors and can’t tell who the beer sponsor is but if the parking lots are any indicator, it should be a tossup between Pabst Blue Ribbon and Rainier.

The day before Tailgate started my friend Kate and I got a leisurely start on the day and headed up to the Pass in uncertain weather. It was gloomy in town and the collection of webcams from around the area were not painting an encouraging picture but frequently, as was the case Saturday, weather in Valdez is entirely different than on the Pass. Just as we arrived under party sunny skies, Cowboy Cody, who’d stood us up a week earlier, called to say he was at the Pass and offering us a sled bump. Cody Freitag is a Valdez local and one talented snow machine rider. His rig is fast and powerful and Cody is young and fearless and knows how to make his machine carve and charge. Which all combine for a scare-you-shitless maiden voyage for two virgin sled bumpers.

We went out to the base of Nick’s together. Kate and her board rode on the saddle in front of Cody while I towed behind. This was good. It slowed Cody down but heated up his snow machine. So he dropped me and Kate’s board and then took my unsuspecting friend on a cool-down ride which involved cutting doughnuts in the snow at an alarmingly fast rate. While her voice was muffled it was clear enough Kate was a little unnerved . And then, perhaps not used to donoughting while doubling, the sled tipped over and slid to a rather abrupt stop on its side. If Cody was trying to impress Kate, this was not the way to do it.

Properly dusted off and righted, Cody and Kate returned to where he’d left me and Kate’s board, picked up the board then whisked away toward Berlin Wall, popping wheelies and arcing high speed carves. It looked scary. Then it was my turn and I got to discover what riding a snow machine on the edge of control felt like. Holding my skis and poles across my lap with one hand while holding onto the steering column with my free hand. I wished desperately that I had both hands on the machine and wondered if Cody understood how close those skis could be to catching and being wrenched from my hands if he leaned the machine over far enough that they could grab a bite into the snow. Going fast and steeply up made me slide toward the rear of the saddle, Kate was sure she was inches from falling off entirely. By the time I arrived, Kate had been able to shake off most of the after-effect of sheer terror. Knowingly, she gave me time to do the same before we started our descent. We had been scared shitless. We were both certain we had just flirted with and miraculously cheated Death.

Once we dropped off the wind packed ice at the top of the knoll, we had some nice turns down the face before the gray set in and created vertigo-inducing flat light. Flat light on a wide open snow slope tricks the brain into wondering whether you’re skiing up ordown, left or right, off a cliff into oblivion or about to slam onto a flat road, there was just no telling. You can’t see a thing. The usual resort trick of skiing near trees doesn’t work on the wide open snow slopes of the Chugach. There are no trees. The best I could do was pick up the tracks of the folks before us and parallel those. Thankfully I had skied this slope once before and was relatively certain there weren’t any unavoidable death-defying obstacles.

Cody was waiting for us at the bottom and gave us a ride back to camp, saving us a long slog. Once back, Kate and I decided the best way to prep for a possible second sled bump with Cody was to fully embrace the moment and our surroundings. We also had a decision to make. head down to town to change and come back up or just stay up at the Pass and ask Kate’s friends to bring us some jeans.

Tailgate AK, Thompson Pass, Valdez AK

They don't call it Tailgate Alaska for nothing

We made the eco-decision to stay and not burn more gas driving up and down the pass (about 30 miles each way). We made the eco-choice and rather than burn all that expensive gas (4.35/gal) opened up the rear hatch of Kate’s car, popped a couple tall boys and got into the spirit of Tailgate.

Emboldened by PBR, we went to visit our neighbors down the road where we’d seen some kiters. We didn’t find kiters but we did find a crew homesteading a deluxe encampment using shovels to carve deluxe built-in snow couches and a high-rise igloo alongside another buddy’s homey car/utility trailer home the entire back end of with was consumed by a king-size wood frame bed.

Mark shows us the grand entryway

We left the not-kiters before fully wearing out our welcome and wandered back toward Tailgate

Tailgate AK, Valdez AK, Chugach Range, Thompson Pass

Kicking back in the deluxe ice couch with Jay & Blake

base to say hi to a couple girlfriends who introduced us to more friends at Alaska Backcountry Adventures (ABA). Flitting about this way, comparing notes on the cute boys we were

Tailgate AK, Valdez Ak, Chugach

Taking the tour of the deluxe trailer digs

meeting, laughing and staying on the move, we were able to whittle away at the hours until the music started at the Tsaina Lodge at 9. But as the sun set in the Chugach, like any other mountain range,

the temperatures drop precipitously so we headed to the Tsaina about an hour before the band started mostly because it was warm there. We pulled into the lot at just about the same time as some friends had driven up from town with two pairs of jeans, one for Kate and one for me so we didn’t have to geek out in ski pants all night long.

We went to the Tsaina’s spacious and clean women’s bathroom to change and freshen up. The heat was sublime. We then went back outside to where some friends gathered around a raging pit fireplaces. The heat was sublime there too. We ate reindeer sausage sandwiches, a novelty, not to mention an absolute at only $4 each. Definitely the best food deal in Valdez. After more mingling around the fire we adjourned to the inside bar and quickly staked out space at the fireplace in the Tsaina’s Great Room where our friends gathered round us.

Tsaina Lodge, live music, 33 degrees

Ric Nielsen, left, is joined by cool stepdad Bruce Good

On stage, Ric Nielsen and his stepdad Bruce Good laid down some fine acoustic tracks as it started to snow outside. The snow created a beautiful backdrop. Lots of folks drove up from Valdez for the party. Some were friends I’d already met since moving here, Kate introduced me to some more, we had drinks, made even more friends, had more drinks and generally having a big time.