Friday, June 19, 2020

Make strides toward racial justice from where you are

Clock your walking, running or cycling miles to make a difference
 The diversity of backgrounds, colors and lifestyles is what defines the human race and when individuals are targeted, injured and killed because of the color of their skin, it really does feel like an apocalypse. It feels like something is deeply, horribly amiss. How can this be happening in 2020 in America? How can existence in what is supposed to be one of the world’s most progressive countries be so vastly different for some people than it is for others?
The appalling killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery dismantle not only the nation but the very essence of humanity. Racial injustices of some level strike every day in every community. In idyllic Colorado mountain towns, populated and visited mostly by white people, it’s easy to turn a blind eye. It’s easy to feel there is not much one can do to make a difference. If only running or pedaling up a mountain could help. Thanks to the Civil Rights Race Series, it can. 
The Civil Rights Race Series conducts running and cycling competitions in historic locations in Alabama and Tennessee with the goal of educating the public on events that took place there and how they were instrumental in driving change during the civil rights movement. In response to the recent turmoil and these senseless deaths, the Civil Rights Race Series is hosting 1 Million Miles for Justice, a virtual event in which anyone, anywhere can make strides toward racial equality. Wherever you are, your weekly jog, your daily walk around the block, your hike, your bike ride can play a positive part in providing equal opportunities and paving the road toward a better life for someone whose every day experience doesn’t consist of the qualities many of us take for granted, for someone whose every day experience feels far from equal and never feels safe. 
Registration for the event is $25 and you can choose to walk, run or ride however many miles you want. Nearly all proceeds benefit the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Here’s a chance to make that positive experience – those positive strides – go even farther.

Friday, October 11, 2019

5 Reasons Why More Women Should Mountain Bike

I recently attended a women’s Diamondback mountain bike press clinic in Breckenridge and realized that more women really do need to learn to ride. While there are way more females of all ages out on the trails now than there were 20 years ago when I initially fell head over heels with the sport (and consequently went heels over head a few times during the intensive learning process), mountain biking is unquestionably still a male-dominated sport.
However, with vastly improved bike technology, clothing and protective accessories, not to mention a dire need for a testosterone balance on the trails, there is no better time for women to experience the incomparable thrill that comes with saddling up on a set of fat tires.
Here’s why …
1. Mountain biking is not as scary as you think. For starters, it’s much safer than road biking. You’re moving at considerably slower speeds, there are no cars around you and there is at least some hope for a soft(er) landing if you crash.
2. New bike technology makes it much easier to learn and excel. Unlike 20 years ago when fat tires weren’t that fat, frames were heavy and loaded up with unnecessary chain rings and full suspension amounted to just a few millimeters of spring back, trail bikes these days feel like easy-to-maneuver armchairs. Take for example, the high-end ride we demoed at the clinic: Diamondback’s Release 5C carbon. With super burly tires, wide handlebars, an efficient 1x12-speed drive train, a surprisingly light frame (considering its burliness), precise and responsive brakes, well over 5 inches of adjustable travel and most importantly, a drop seat, even the most intimidating aspects of mountain biking (sharp switchbacks, steeps descents, rock drops, etc.) can be conquered seamlessly. 
Photo courtesy of Backbone Media.
3. Women’s clothing and accessories are more comfortable and functional than they used to be. Guess what? There is no need for tight Lycra out here (but if you prefer it, have at it. Mountain bikers are not a judgmental crowd … just don’t ride in jean shorts). While there is often a concern that baggy shorts might get caught on the saddle or somehow in the way, go-to cycling brands like Pearl Izumi offer extensive lines of cute but functional and comfortable “baggy” shorts made of stretch material, plus endless offerings of tops and jackets with gear-holding back pockets (order a size larger than you normally would as Pearl Izumi runs small) that allow for backpack-free riding. Long-standing Norwegian brand Norrøna specializes in longer, lightweight shorts with adjustable waist straps and cuts designed for optimal saddle compatibility and also sells an 18-liter pack that is so lightweight and comfortable even those of us who hate riding with backpacks can almost forget it’s there. Also, to literally pad the learning curve, POC makes stretchy neoprene knee and elbow protectors (VPD) that are comfortable and flexible but still stay in place even when you’re hammering.
4. The trails need you. We all need you. As mentioned above, mountain bikers are generally cool folks. But there are sometimes, occasionally, those token D-Bags that blow down the trail totally disregarding the prescribed etiquette (yield to uphill traffic, stay in control, say hello, etc.) or feel the need to increase their speed all of a sudden to ride on your ass or not let you by when you’re faster. And, let’s be honest … they’re almost always dudes. More women on the trails mean a more comfortable space for all of us. Get out there. Please.
5. It’s not only the most thrilling and rewarding outdoor pastime on the planet, but also truly meditative. Its techniques serve as all-encompassing adages for leading your best life. Techniques like …
Pace yourself.
Don’t fixate on the obstacles.
Keep your eyes up and focused on the path ahead.
Take one obstacle at a time.
Once you commit, you can hammer over almost anything.
Stay centered.
Don’t slam on the brakes.
Enjoy the view at the top.
The allegories go on and on …

Thursday, September 26, 2019

Autumn mountain bike trail spotlight: Snowmass loop

Fall colors don’t last forever. At high elevations especially, an overnight snowstorm or a strong wind can wipe them instantly away. Thus, we mountain bikers are often on a frantic jag this time of year to forest bathe in yellows and oranges. There’s nothing quite like crunching over a cushy carpet of said-colored leaves in a tunnel of twinkling aspens.
A favorite fall ride hub where you can find such a thing … Aspen. Or Snowmass, rather. Home to a brand new bike park (which is lift-served on weekends through the end of September), Snowmass offers both uphill and downhill trails (for those of us who like to go against gravity before we earn our DH treat) that pretty much cover the mountain biking gold standard spectrum ... especially true when you’re surrounded by golden leaves.
Where: Snowmass Village
What: Village Bound/Cross Mountain/French Press loop
Length: 8 miles
Elevation: 1,668 climbing
Start at Elk Camp gondola base and ride the dirt service road about a quarter mile before taking a left on Village Bound.
Village Bound uphill: a smooth, wide and flow-y singletrack (also used for downhill) on which you can activate your G-Force superpowers by hammering into some of the switchbacks. Village Bound connects to Cross Mountain after about 3 miles of switch-backing up the slopes through pine forests and clusters of aspens.
Cross Mountain: This is a classic, rolling cross-country singletrack complete with techie sections of rocks, steep punches over thick roots and even a stream crossing. Take this up/across the slopes for about a mile before taking a left on French Press.
French Press descent: This is a swinging, super fast and fun downhill trail complete with huge bank turns, whoopties for small airs and wooden bridge and plank features to make you feel like you’re a DH badass (but nothing we uphill sloggers/careful descenders can’t handle). It’s new to the Snowmass bike park and in primo, buffed out condition.

Oh yes, another thing ... you pretty much have the place to yourself. Go hit it before the snow does!

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

The Ancient Sites of Puglia

Human beings have been making their marks in these places for hundreds if not thousands of years ... 

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

How about locking down gun sales rather than schools?

Schools across Colorado, including my own high school – world-famous (all over again) Columbine –were shut down today. The reason? An 18-year-old woman from Florida who was reportedly obsessed with the 1999 Columbine High School shooting had made some threats, flown to Colorado, bought a gun and was on the loose. She’s dead now (shot herself), but I have so many questions …
Why, after 20 years (riddled with copycat incidents and countless school shootings), are people still obsessed with Columbine?
Why must we relive the nightmare we experienced here 20 years ago because America refuses to ramp up gun control?
And the most pressing question … HOW is it possible with all of this gun violence that disturbed teenagers  - or ANYONE for that matter – can STILL roll into a store and buy a shotgun as easily as buying a Slurpee?
I was attending Colorado State University when two student gunmen walked into Columbine High School and shot the place up, killing 12 students, one teacher and themselves.
My siblings and I had already graduated from Columbine. We were not there. Nobody close to me was injured or killed, but I knew many involved. One of the students killed was the younger sister of a quiet kid I’d known since elementary school. The teacher – Dave Sanders – one time ordered me to go outside and simmer down when I was bawling out another teacher for altering my goth poetry. The older brother of one of the gunmen - who I recall as sweet and polite - routinely carpooled to football practice with my brother.  I never met his brother, but of the many thoughts swimming through my head as I watched the CNN newsreel display a string of students walk across the school lawn with their hands on their heads after finally escaping from a choir room where they’d been hiding for hours during the shooting, was that I would have probably been friendly with guys like him and the other gunman when I was in high school.
I was a sad, angry teenager who wore black lipstick and a trench coat. I listened to dark music and was fascinated with violent movies (Pulp Fiction and Natural Born Killers were two of my favorites at the time). I relished time alone. It wouldn't be a stretch to have classified me as an outcast. 
On April 20, 1999, when I learned about the Columbine shooting, I was overwhelmed with horror. A heavy, sinking sensation that actually felt like a bag of rocks in my gut stayed with me for days. At the same time, a part of me was not incredibly surprised.
A few years earlier, when I was still at Columbine, there was – as I’m sure was the case in many suburban high schools and probably still is – palpable tension among social groups. While I frequently ditched class to go smoke clove cigarettes at Clement Park with a pack of other misfits, I also played lacrosse (although it was considered a renegade sport at the time and was not sanctioned by the school). I experienced misgivings from peers in each of these groups. “Why are you so goth?” my teammates would ask. “Why are you such a jock?” my goth/punk friends wanted to know.
I remember sitting in the park smoking cloves one day and talking to an acquaintance – not a friend, but a dude with whom I’d occasionally chat, who could easily have been one of the shooters had it been a couple of years later. On this particular day, this guy started telling me about how he spent the weekend killing a cat. As a life-long  animal lover who kept a photo of my own cat in a pendant I wore daily, I was disgusted. I told him how twisted and fucked up that was and asked what could possibly compel him to want to do something like that. He couldn’t really explain himself and I remember getting up and storming away, saying something like how I hoped someone would come after him with a baseball bat some day. It occurred to me that if this kid had a gun rather than a baseball bat, he would have really done some damage to innocent beings in his way. All he had to do was save up some money, walk into a store and buy one.
This kid and this conversation rushed through my mind amid the brutal cascade of emotion I experienced on April 20, 1999, and found myself experiencing again today, as so many schools were closed while a statewide manhunt took place. I still love dark music. I embrace my goth side. I’ve had a hard time watching violent movies for the last 20 years. I have trouble sleeping.
Immediately after Columbine, the nation came up with numerous scapegoats. Trench coats were to blame. Goth kids were to blame. Violent movies were to blame. Goth music was to blame. Marilyn Manson (clearly to blame) had an upcoming concert scheduled at Red Rocks. It was canceled.

Less than two weeks later, the NRA still hosted its annual meeting in Denver with thousands of firearms enthusiasts.
Instead of instilling all of this fear, closing down schools across Colorado, investing time and energy into a manhunt, how about, at the very least, making it harder for a kid to walk into a store and buy a gun?
Colorado’s "red flag" law, which seeks to temporarily take guns away from individuals deemed unfit to have them, is a step in the right direction. But how about not allowing them such easy access in the first place?

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Lindsey Vonn’s retirement marks the end of a great era for me, too

Lindsey Vonn’s retirement not only means the closing of what was unquestionably one of the most exciting chapters in the entire history of alpine skiing, but also the end of a significant cycle of my own career.
My first interview with Lindsey was 15 years ago when she, at 20 years old, landed her first World Cup victory at the Lake Louise downhill. Her description of the race is priceless (my Vail Daily story is here), particularly when she mentions how incredulous she was at the finish when Austrian champion Renate Goetschl crossed the line so far behind her. When she commented, “Gosh … what did I do?” little did she know at the time that she would go on to do a whole lot more … that she would handily usurp Goetschl’s record and become the world’s most successful female skier of all time or win so many races at Lake Louise that they'd start calling the place "Lake Lindsey."
She also had no idea of the profound test of resilience the universe would throw at her when she pummeled back-first into the ground in a horrific crash during a downhill training run at the 2006 Olympics in Torino, Italy. At 21 years old, Lindsey was the only U.S. woman competing in all five alpine events. I was there covering the Games for the Swift News network and was staying in San Sicario, site of the ghastly crash. My knees literally buckled when I saw her go down. As she was airlifted off-course, I was actually crying, struck by a profound sadness that here was this promising young athlete who would probably never race again. Little did I know at the time … that this was one of the most irrepressible human beings to ever walk the earth.
In spite of splintering her plastic back protector and being in the unfathomable pain that comes from hitting a rock solid surface backwards at 60 mph (which she went on to personally fathom countless times), she did not suffer any major injuries and managed, a few days later, to limp to the starting line of the downhill race. She ended up eighth (Story here) and then took seventh in the super G after yet another crash during the combined event. (My recap of her 2006 Olympic performance is here). I recall being utterly mystified at her toughness, thinking, holy shit, how is this girl even still standing?
Years later, as a FIS media correspondent covering the women’s World Cup tour, I was standing next to Lindsey after she’d won one of many races in Val d’Isere, France. We were watching the men’s race on TV while Lindsey was waiting for her press conference. When she bent down to loosen her boots, she suddenly jerked up with pain. She started laughing at how stiff her back was, calling herself an old lady and saying how if she stood in one place for a minute or two, she required several uncomfortable seconds before loosening up enough to so much as take a step. At the time I reflected back on that Olympic crash – and many others that followed (with the worst yet to come) – and again marveled at her bionic strength.
I was at almost every race throughout those colossal years. It was an electrifying time, documenting her unprecedented reign of dominance, one victory and/or comeback after another, made that much more rewarding by the compassionate side of Lindsey of which I was both first-hand witness and recipient. I got to see a side of America’s greatest skier that not everyone got to see. I’ve written stories about her kindness and big heart – how she’d drop everything to sign the bib of an adoring young racer or wait for an hour in the finish area to cheer on her teammates – but on a personal level, she’s always treated me with generosity and genuine warmth that I will never forget.
As cool as my job was traveling through beautiful European venues covering the World Cup tour, it got lonely at times. I spent hours and even days by myself. When I wasn’t eating alone, I’d often have dinner with a bunch of men holding conversations in German that I was not a part of. On more than one occasion, Lindsey was sitting at a nearby table and, upon witnessing my alienation, invited me to dine with her and her sister. Regardless of whatever record she’d just broken or internationally heralded feat she’d just accomplished, she was always down to earth and easy to talk to. At one point, I’d fractured a couple of ribs following an ill-fated January bike ride on my day off and when Lindsey found out I was back on skis a couple of days later, she launched into a motherly scolding about how I needed time to heal (yes, this came out of her mouth).
Another time, races were canceled in Sestriere, Italy, after snow began falling in blinding, fluffy sheets (I took this foggy video while everyone was waiting out the storm). All the teams and tour officials were staying at the same lodging facility, where the front desk held onto your passport when you checked in, and everyone left in a mass exodus when the event was canceled. I didn’t have anywhere to go, however, and was out in the blizzard making glorious powder turns, when my phone started ringing. I didn’t recognize the number and tried to let it go to voicemail, but it kept ringing, so finally I answered. It was Lindsey. As part of the mass exodus, she’d believed she was the last to leave the resort and upon learning that my passport was still at the front desk, she thought I’d left without it and earnestly began tracking down my number (calling a former coach to get it). When I told her I was still there, sticking around to ski powder, she said she’d see me at the next stop and to be careful where I skied because Sestriere (like so many European ski areas), was speckled with unmarked obstacles (or, in some cases, unmarked cliffs with 2,000-foot drops) that were especially hard to see during whiteouts. I appreciated her advice but stupidly did not heed it, proceeding to plummet unwittingly over an 8-foot retaining wall (but luckily landing softly in the powder) in the middle of the slope. I was afraid to fill her in on that incident.
On another occasion, I was sitting alone having a late breakfast – somewhere in Austria, I think – and Lindsey walked into the otherwise empty dining hall. She was taking the day off from training in order to nurse a concussion. A staff member asked if she wanted a private table and she told him no, she’d sit with me. We both drank lots of coffee and chatted for a long while. Somehow we got on the topic of fathers. I knew that her relationship with her dad was quite tenuous at the time. While I told her about my own estranged relationship with my dad and how grateful I was that he and I had begun reconnecting before his unexpected death, she listened intently (and she, too, ended up reconnecting with her father). At the end of this conversation, she asked me what I planned to do that day. I told her I wanted to ski but didn’t have a lift ticket yet, so was planning on skinning up the mountain. She pulled a lift ticket out of her pocket and handed it to me, telling me to have at it.
As her global fame grew exponentially over the years, Lindsey has, like any public figure, also dealt with a certain degree of meanness and hatred. I don’t need to dredge up any examples of this, but along with her immutable fearlessness on the race track, Lindsey’s never been afraid to say exactly what she feels or to stand up for what she believes in regardless of the emotional blows she’s been dealt. I’ve always admired her for this. Her mental fortitude has always been at least as stalwart as her physical resilience.
The night after her hard-earned Olympic gold medal in 2010, after numerous glasses of gold flake-infused champagne, I sat with Lindsey and the late, great Hank McKee of Ski Racing in a far corner of her victory party in Vancouver. Although my memory is hazy, I recall countless strangers accosting Lindsey for selfies and mindless banter and sensed that the Olympic champion, while overjoyed, might have been a bit overwhelmed. I couldn’t help but feeling privileged that she was hiding out in the back with me and Hank.
Sadly, my online written coverage of her 2010 Olympic success has disappeared from the FIS and Ski Racing Websites, but there is some janky footage out there in cyberspace – this silly video I made during a car ride in Cortina d’Ampezzo just before the Games and this video with her mom the night before she landed gold.
It was thrilling to be in the thick of it when Lindsey overtook Goetchl’s record in 2011, landing her 47th victory (that would become 82 before it was all said and done), also for the first World Cup giant slalom victory of her career that same year, after which I got to interview her on live TV (captured here at Universal Sports).
My FIS World Cup job ended after 2012, but I continued to document Lindsey’s struggles and triumphs. Every time we’ve crossed paths, even when months or years had passed and I’d wondered if she’d remember me, Lindsey’s started off the conversation with a big hug. I was there for her bittersweet comeback on home snow at the 2015 World Championships in Beaver Creek after missing the previous Olympic season, her return at the 2017 World Championships and the charitable foundation she launched to help young girls fulfill their own personal dreams. We met up last November as she outlined her (yet to be foiled) plans for her final season and I provided an instructional guide to the last race of her career, in which she, impossibly, on the heels of yet another devastating crash, managed once again to triumph, winning one final medal.
While it felt truly amiss to not be on site to witness this final performance, it was heartwarming to see her end things on such a joyful note. She seems genuinely happy … and I can’t think of anyone who deserves it more.
It’s been a true honor covering the career of this great champion. Lindsey’s talent, work ethic and heart are truly unparalleled. I hope I get to stand next to her again sometime, somewhere. There is no doubt in my mind that her next step, painful as it may be, will be extraordinary. Because that’s how she rolls.

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

The best of Copenhagen and Stockholm

(Highlights of our two-week trip in Denmark and Sweden) 
During the longest ride day of our self-guided bike tour, we were sitting down to an afternoon “reward” beer in the Swedish harbor town of Hoganas, chatting with the young server, who was a native of the area. She said, “which do you like better, Denmark or Sweden?” 
At this early point in the trip, neither of us had to ruminate much before answering, “Sweden.” She said she preferred Copenhagen to Stockholm because it was “more cultural” and Stockholm was “more uptight.” Both Danes and Swedes have an amazing grasp of English. They seamlessly use words like “uptight” in native speaking fashion. The only Swedish or Danish words I now know are the easy greeting of "hey" or "hi," as well as "tak" (thanks) and "ol" (beer). 
I stand by my assessment from the whirlwind trip to Sweden in March that Swedes are by far the friendliest Europeans I’ve come across. Also, Sweden, though expensive, has nothing on Denmark. Perhaps the worst surprise of the trip was how insanely pricey things were in Copenhagen and surrounding towns (we went to Helsingor, Hillerod and Roskilde). From $22 cocktails to $30 basic dinners (per person), Copenhagen in particular is on par with Zurich, which is often ranked as the priciest city in Europe (we spent a couple of hours there on the return – took a quick train to the city center to stroll by the lake). 
Besides that, the food was a little better in Sweden, though the standard Danish lunch item – smorresbrod, a pile of small shrimp and fried fish on a piece of rye bread drowning in mayonnaise (they love to drown things in mayonnaise) – was pretty tasty. 
All told, it was a fantastic trip, and by the time we had more time in Copenhagen, we absorbed its many charms. The service in restaurants and in the hotel was generally a little brusque, but Danes overall were extremely helpful, as there were at least three instances in which we were accosted by strangers on the street asking if they could help find the way when we were obviously struggling. They also have fantastic beer, as we discovered by taste testing about 300 varieties. 
Compared to other European bike tours we’ve been on, Ruby Rejser was definitely lacking – particularly in the way there was no initial orientation before the start or any human contact whatsoever to welcome us. On the outset, the entire group of about 40 strangers had to find our individual bikes in the pile of rentals left outside of the hotel in free-for-all fashion. We were given a basic list of instructions. The turn-by-turn tour directions were also more than a little off, dead wrong on some turns/features. Our bikes, though decent, were in pretty bad shape, with gears that wouldn’t shift well, seats that fell continuously, brakes that squeaked and lights that didn’t work. But it took only one second of observing the free spirited, don’t-give-a-fuck, tutto bene! attitude among the pack of Italians on the trip to keep our attitudes in check. 
This mindset also aligns with the national MO in Denmark, which is, of course, “hygge.” It essentially advises that one be present, have fun and soak up the good. We clung to this motto by drinking a lot, eating a lot, swimming in the Danish Riviera, the Roskilde Fjord and in the Islands Brygge harbor in Copenhagen with a ton of locals also soaking up the sun.
Best meal: Saffron fish soup at 22 Matgatan in Stockholm. I discovered this place during my half-day whirlwind tour of the city in freezing March and returned twice on this trip. The soup is steaming hot, piled with fish, carrots and fresh basil on top. Maybe the best soup ever.
Best drink: That reward beer in Hoganas was pretty amazing (we had two each, as it turned out, pedaling the final 22 km back to the ferry to return to Denmark with a pretty good buzz). It was long-awaited, because it being our longest day of pedaling (about 95 km), we didn’t realize the climax (left out of the tour details) took us literally to the top of the land – about 1,200 feet up to the lighthouse at the high point of the cliffs (Kullenberg) on the southern tip of Sweden. It was spectacular. We’d planned to celebrate upon descending back to the nearest town – Molle – but ended up continuing to the picturesque harbor in Hoganas, where we’d had lunch, and ended up discovering a delicious local IPA – Four Strokes. A close second (or tied for first), was the generous Aperol Spritz I got in a to-go cup to sip while watching the passers by in Nyhaven and listening to a talented accordionist play swoony Frank Sinatra.
Most memorable encounter: The guy who worked at the bike shop in Copenhagen’s Norrebro neighborhood, where we stopped to purchase a bell. Upon leaving, we were plotting our bike route to the next stop and he asked if he could help. As we chatted, he told us about how he bikes 3,000 km a year just to commute to work and is so proud to be from a place where bicycling is so accessible and embraced. Dude embodied hygge. 
Friendliest person: The manager at Cafe Vitus in the small harbor town Snekkersten. After chatting with him for a while and our tasty meal of smorresbrod, we went to get ice cream from him (dude did everything – poured beer, plated meals, ran the register and scooped ice cream) and he gave it to us on the house.
Most memorable night: The night that there was no night. Mid Summer’s Eve in Stockholm – aka, summer solstice. The sky only darkened for a couple of hours –between about midnight and 2 a.m. It's a huge national holiday celebrated by hordes of people dancing around a maypole, singing songs every single Swede knows by heart along with communal dance moves (as witnessed at the urban version of the tradition in Stockholm’s Skansen). We joined in for a cheesy (but endearing) number about frogs jumping.
Most impressive structure: Frederiksborg Castle in Hillerod, Denmark. Truly fairytale, situated in a massive green expanse with tube-shaped trees on the ridge, surrounded by a moat with stone bridges leading into vast courtyards and the town located across a lake. 
Frederiksborg Castle
Best scene: Reffen Street Food market – a bunch of food booths housed in shipping containers by the navy shipyard in Copenhagen.
Coolest cultural stop: The Vassa museum in Stockholm. The closest you’ll ever get to feeling what it must have been like to be a Viking 400 years ago.
Most scenic spot: our swim in the warm and crystal clear “Danish Riviera” in Holbaek.
Best hygge:  jumping off the docks into the harbor water while sunning and drinking like all the locals ... with our tiny towels and grocery store mimosas.