Spring Demo Flow

Spring is here! Flowers are blooming, the sun is shining, and the days are getting longer by the minute. The sweet, downward slide to Summer has officially begun! More time for the things we love to do outside; namely, more time on my new magic bike! I’ve had my Santa Cruz Hightower LT for a couple of weeks now, and am madly in love with it. She even had her inaugural race on Thursday at the Sea Otter Classic Enduro, where I shaved 50 seconds off of last year’s time on the old Camber. Here’s to the start of racing season, and all the future trails we’ll be charging!

I had a gorgeous ride today on Flow Trail at Soquel Demonstration Forest in the Santa Cruz Mountains. I love this trail, and it just gets more fun each time I ride it – especially with my new bike! It’s amazing what upgraded suspension can do for a ride. And a dropper post! It’s all so new and wonderful. I am definitely in the Honeymoon phase.

Enjoy the beautiful weather and Springtime!

 

H Is For Humility: On Falling Down

Every now and then, life smacks you upside the head, interrupting your flow and derailing your grace.  I’m talking about falling down: crashing, specifically. Mountain biking has one of the highest rates of injury from crashing of all outdoor sports.  If you ride regularly, and you push your limits, you are going to crash hard at some point. You just hope you don’t crash too hard.  All it takes is one wrong fall to possibly end it all – a humbling truth that most of us don’t like to think about.  

I, certainly, don’t tend to dwell on the risk of injury and possible death when I’m out for a ride, flying past trees and hopping over rocks.  But then comes the fall – always unexpected, always served up like a giant slice of Humble Pie. This is why H stands for Humility in my ABC’s of mountain biking.  A-G are Awareness, Balance, Confidence, Discipline, Endurance, Flow, and Grace. Flow and Grace are sometimes the last thing your ride is full of, though.

Ask any professional or elite-level mountain biker how many times they’ve crashed, and they’ll tell you more than they can remember; likely, they’ll add that they expect to fall again in the future.  With big risk comes big consequences. This is why you see most riders wearing varying levels of protection: full-face helmets, knee pads, elbow pads, anti-whiplash neckguards. The amount of gear depends on the level of risk you’re taking on your ride.  However, protection only provides so much actual protection in the case of a fall. If you’re going too fast and stop too quickly, there’s going to be some whiplash and possible concussion. It’s simple physics. The very thought of my brain crashing against my skull gives me the heebie-jeebies.  With every fall, whether you’re a pro-rider or a newbie, you are faced with your humility – your limitations, mistakes, and weaknesses.

I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve fallen over the years.  Going over the handlebars is a standard in mountain biking at some point or another.  Sometimes, I’ve managed a sort of gymnastics roll, letting my shoulder and hip take the brunt of the impact.  I did some gymnastics as a kid, and it helped me learn to fall; it’s all about keeping your momentum, and not coming to a sudden stop.  The only times I’ve been able to react with any sort of roll or grace have been low-speed falls.

The worst falls are those in which you have no time whatsoever to react.  Like a slap in the face, it happens in a millisecond. These are the higher-speed falls, often accompanied by a drop or jump and challenging terrain.  When you flow down these lines with grace, they’re the funnest rides in Santa Cruz; people come from all around to ride the trails we’re so lucky to call home.  As with anything, when you ride them enough, statistically speaking you’re bound to fall at some point.

I’ve seen several riders walking out of trails, supported by their friends, arms in a makeshift sling, blood on their faces after a bad fall. Their eyes are wide in bewilderment; adrenaline rushing through their veins keeps them moving along.  In the worst cases, they’re being carried out or helivaced; sadly, many riders have died over the years in awful falls. It’s the one aspect of riding that we all try to avoid, but know we’ll encounter personally should we push ourselves to ride just a little bit faster, a little bit riskier, and a little bit more confidently.

I mention confidence because I think it’s an essential trait for mountain biking.  It is not helpful to waver in your intention, hesitate in your action, or commit only halfway.  Believing you can ride it is part of it as well. But you don’t want to get too cocky, too confident.  You can’t “believe” yourself into riding above your ability, after all. It’s a fine line. Of all the times I’ve fallen hard, I could say I was feeling a little overconfident those days, riding a little too fast.  It’s so much fun to move quickly yet gracefully over the land, but the punishment of falling in doing so can be menacing. This is where humility comes in, reminding me of my boundaries, and highlighting my need to improve in certain areas.  Humility reminds us that our work is never done, that we are always growing, and that some things are simply out of our control.

Sometimes you’re surprised by an evil parallel root in the trail, slick as a salamander, sliding you out like a derailing train.  That happened to me, and I literally ate dirt as I fell on my face; fortunately, it was relatively soft duff I fell into. The first thing I did was check to make sure my teeth were still there.  Luckily, they were.

Flying over face-first over the bars (ENDO!) never leads to anything good.  I’ll never forget the first time this happened; I hit my head, and separated my left shoulder.  I was in my early twenties, young and dumb, and I went for a sunset ride without a helmet.  I cringe typing that! I typically rode with a helmet, but there were times, like this, when I completely ignored the biggest risk of riding: traumatic brain injury (TBI).  That was the last time I rode without one, which was, quite frankly, the stupidest thing I could have ever done when moving on two wheels.  I still have a small bald spot on my head from that scar to remind me of my mistake. I was lucky I wasn’t going too fast or I’d have split my head open – or worse.

The next time I took a bad fall, I had gone off a small jump with my weight too far forward and my seat a bit too high; then I front-braked.  Textbook rookie mistakes. I cracked my helmet, and I separated my shoulder again. I was on my face faster than I could blink.  That’s what most people don’t realize about falling from a bike at high speed. I was asked by a few people, “Didn’t you have time to react?  Like put your arms down or something?” No! There is no time to react. Unless you’ve experienced it yourself, it’s hard to fully understand how you can simply fall on your face, let alone how quickly it can happen.  Sometimes there is no, “Let me gracefully do a gymnastics-roll out of this one”. It sneaks up on me every time, reminding me there is a razor sharp edge to the envelope I am pushing. The goal is to not fall, of course, but the risk is always there.

Certainly, having an automatic dropperpost would have helped tremendously.  I typically rode with my seat all the way lowered, which was good for the downhill, but not so good for cross-country riding, when put my seat back up again. When racing, I just kept the seat down all the way for the timed stages, which proved exhausting on the flats and uphills. I can’t believe I am only just now getting one on my next bike: my Santa Cruz Hightower LT Carbon XX1, on order from the factory at the moment.  When I demo’d it awhile back, I couldn’t believe how good it felt to have a dropper!  Being able to adjust your seat height with the click of a lever seems so much more efficient, and ultimately, safer.   

I’ve been concussed a few times, shuffling around in a mental fog for days as my brain heals.   One concussion was so bad I just sat around staring at nothing for a week; I was too tired to watch TV, talk, think, or barely move.  My husband took me to the doctor for that one, but as most doctors will tell you, rest is the best remedy. The painful accompaniment of whiplash in your neck and shoulders, and behind the eye pressure don’t help.  When you whack your head into the ground going 20+ mph, all that kinetic energy warps through your body like a shockwave. The tension in my neck and shoulders took weeks to fully unwind.

About a year ago, I fell on my head – literally.  I was coming down the end of Magic Carpet, a trail I’ve done a thousand times, off a small log-drop.  The bottom of the drop has an uphill section like a V, and usually I land the drop and roll up the little hill with ease. On this ride, however, I had my front tire pressure way too low, noticing it minutes before on my prior landings on the way down when I was hearing the telltale sounds.  At the end of the drop, my front tire bit hard into the trail, deflating momentarily down to the rim (“burping”), and turned sharply to the right. I buckled and landed headfirst on the uphill section. I also ended up punching the ground with my left hand, which was still holding onto the handlebar.  As I lie face-first in the dirt with my bell rung, Ron approached on his bike.

“I’m fine,” I said, as I always do after I fall; Ron jokes that if I say that, he knows I’m hurt. By the time we made it back to the car at the bottom of the trail, I had a big goose-egg right on top of my head, which felt hot and itchy. My right eye felt mounting pressure. I’ve hit my head before, but usually after first hitting my chin or face. The angle of this landing put the brunt of the impact directly on top of my head.  Overall, though, I was fine. Or so I thought.  My left middle finger still troubles me. I never had it looked at by a doctor, but Dr. Google indicates a tendon rupture from crashing into the ground.  For months, it was hard to ride because I couldn’t tightly grip the bar with my finger. It’s getting better slowly, but I have to be  careful not to jar it at just the right angle to make me wince in pain. I also stopped climbing at the gym. Hopefully, it will get stronger.

At Northstar in the Summer of 2016, I did my biggest jump at the bottom of Flameout (check out this  Flameout Video I found on YouTube of the trail and the jump; between 5:40 and 5:50 shows the center jump I went off).  I surprised myself – I launched with speed, and was way higher than I’d ever been. Having time to realize this mid-air was both exhilarating and terrifying.  On my landing, I ended up coming down with my bike frame pinning my left knee in a desperate, semi-controlled, slide-out of a “landing”. I was mostly fine, glad I’d managed to avoid a catastrophic fall, but my knee was killing me.  I’d basically crushed my knee under my bike frame. My inside left thigh was abraded by my bike seat slamming into it. I never went to the doctor about my injury, until six months later when I noticed the atrophy in my knee. I saw an orthopedic surgeon, who told me to keep on doing what I’m doing – exercising and yoga – in hopes of building my tendon and muscle strength back.  I basically bruised the hell out of my knee – bone, tendons, muscles and all. He said there’s no guarantee it’ll ever be as strong as it once was, but I’m working on it.

Whether it was having too low front tire pressure, my weight too far forward, seat up too high, or using my front brake at the wrong time, I’ve learned crucial lessons from each fall.  Each lesson sticks with you like muscle-memory.  No matter the circumstance, each fall is reminder that we aren’t totally in control all the time – even when we think we are.  The word Humility comes to mind again. It’s good to push your limits, but within the realm of your skillset for the trail you’re riding.  Only you can make that call for yourself.

At some point, we all fall down.  What really matters is getting back on the saddle.

 

Winter Wrap-Up, Spring Equinox

Today is the Vernal Equinox, the first day of Spring! In the temperate regions of Earth, we are defined by the cycles of four distinct seasons. As we say goodbye to Winter and welcome the Spring, I always feel bittersweet: I love Winter, and I love Spring. There is something so comforting and rejuvenating about Wintertime, however, that I don’t want to let it go. I relish long nights inside while it rains outside; I beam with excitement thinking about the snow that’s falling at Kirkwood, where Ron and I have season passes. Winter is restful, but there’s a lot of progress internally – writing, playing music, home improvements, you name it. Winter is the time to get your ducks in a row so you can go out and play all Summer long. It’s a time for taking care of all those “little” things that you’re too busy to get to when the days are longer and you’re out playing until dark. It’s also time for one of my favorite activities: snowboarding.

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Robins, a sign of Spring

Last weekend, Ron and I spent three days snowboarding amid a massive Winter storm that ultimately dropped five feet of powder! We rode Heavenly on the first day because Kirkwood wasn’t accessible with both Carson Spur and Pass both closed on Highway 88; with our season passes, we got half-off tickets. I hadn’t ridden Heavenly since I was a teenager, when my Dad and I had a magical afternoon in Mott Canyon. Ron killed it driving through the blizzard conditions on Highway 50 over Echo Summit as I slept most of the way, getting us to Heavenly, where it was dumping. We hit Gunbarrel, a notoriously moguled run, but with waist-deep powder and inches falling by the hour, it was bottomless pow – truly Heavenly! We had an amazing day exploring the mountain mostly by ourselves, as there were few people there on that Friday. Riding on a weekday is a real treat!

 

We stayed at one of our favorite places in South Lake Tahoe, the Lakeshore Lodge & Spa, for two nights. Looking out on the lake invokes serenity and gratitude. As the sunset through snow flurries, I couldn’t help feel that I never wanted to leave this place. Tahoe has a special place in my heart, through Winter and Summer seasons, and I dream of owning a cabin up there someday.

 

 

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Kirkwood was amazing the next couple of days. Every run was soft, buttery goodness with no bumps or hardpack. We had fresh powder on every run, and got epic first runs on the backside of the mountain, Chair 4. Flowing over freshly fallen powder is indescribable. You have to experience it for yourself to know the feeling. It’s like floating while being gently pushed by wind. There’s an effortlessness to it, a real flow that just goes without force. There is nothing quite like the Sacred Silence of Snow

 

It doesn’t hurt that I’m riding an amazing new snowboard: a Burton Custom Flying V 158cm that I am in love with. I also have new Burton Ion boots and Malavita bindings. My setup is tight. The board is unsinkable – even in 4’+ of powder, its nose stays up like duckbill. Through untracked powderfields, it cut with authority. It’s quick and responsive, yet plows like a barge. Both sportscar and Cadillac, I’ve found my perfect board!

 

 

 

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Fresh Tracks at Kirkwood

 

These trips to Tahoe, Winter or Summer, are gems I treasure – each one faceted in its own way, its luster shiny or earthy. Experiences outdoors with our loved ones are what life’s all about. Doing what we love with whom we love is a true gift to be cherished. I’m grateful that we got to ride our bikes a lot more this Winter than last year when Él Niño brought record rainfall.

 

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Thunder Saddle & Eagle Bowl

Speaking of bikes? I’m getting a new bike! I just ordered it a few hours ago, and am beyond excited to get it in a couple of weeks! What is this new steed? A Santa Cruz Hightower LT! I demo’d it about a month ago, riding all my favorite trails in Santa Cruz, and absolutely fell in love with it. I’m happy to use my Grassroots discount with Santa Cruz bikes for this one! Even with it, I might be eating canned tuna and crackers for awhile until it’s paid off. But at least I’ll have a rad bike! I’ve got my priorities straight, alright.

With Spring approaching, our calendars start filling up with plans – parties, camping trips, and races. I’ll be racing the Sea Otter Classic in April for my fourth year, and have a full slate of races scheduled through Summer. I cannot wait to ride my new bike at the races! After almost five years on my Specialized Camber Comp, I was beyond ready for an upgrade.

I hope your first day of Spring is inspiring you for the longer, warmer days ahead. Whatever your passions, enjoy them whenever you can, as much as you can. Passion is a gift, and should be revered and celebrated where ever it’s directed. We are lucky to have people to love, and things we love to do. At the end of the day, having fun is one of the simplest yet most profound experiences in life. It gives both purpose and motivation. Having fun is living life the way you want to, allowing yourself the liberty to pursue your interests, while connecting with people in a loving, positive way. Each person’s definition of “having fun” is unique, and equally respectable (given that no one is hurting anyone intentionally, of course). To each their own. Doing what you love with whom you love is having fun.

Get after it and go have some fun! Celebrate this short life and make time to do what you love to do. We are lucky to live in a world where we can focus on such a concept. Enjoy the start of Spring as the Winter storms linger, blessed may it be so.

Follow your flow, and lead with Grace.

– Katrin Deetz

Riding Down a Flow Trail

Soquel Demonstration State Forest (“Demo”) is a gem within the Santa Cruz Mountains of California. Its name is what it is: a demonstration of how logging can be paired with recreation. In the case of Demo, it’s mountain biking mecca for the South Bay and Santa Cruz regions. Though a bit of a drive to get to, it’s always worth it in my opinion.

Where else can you find miles of uninterrupted, well-designed and maintained flow trail within Santa Cruz? Yes, we are spoiled with a plethora of awesome trails in Santa Cruz. But when all six stages of Demo’s Flow Trail were completed a few years ago, it opened up a new standard for how long and “flowy” a downhill could be. It is beautifully crafted and diligently kept up by the stewardship of many mountain bikers, like MBOSC, who lead “Dig Days” for trailwork. Conversely, Demo also sets the bar for how much climbing you have to inure for such a reward. A 3:1 ratio of climbing to downhill feels about right. These rides will keep your endurance and strength up, no doubt.

Today’s weather forecast had snow in it for the Santa Cruz Mountains! Last night a freak cold front passed through, and snow fell above 1,500′ in the region. I didn’t see any today, but it sure felt like snowy weather at 40°F. I think the cold kept some away as I didn’t see that many people. I love the peace, quiet, and solitude of a long ride. It always sets me right.

Here’s some footage from today’s ride. Ride on!

Riding Sweet Lines

Here’s some footie from today’s gorgeous mountain bike ride in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Its name remains a topic of contention: Sweetness Or Magic Carpet Ride, depending upon whom you ask. Some OG’s insist this trail is called Sweetness; trail maps online indicate Magic. Whatever it’s called, Ron and I are lucky it’s only a few miles from our house. Sweet!

It’s a four-day weekend for President’s Day, and normally we’d be in the mountains snowboarding. This year? It’s basically Summer, and we’re home in Santa Cruz. We can’t control the weather, so might as well enjoy it, right? I think we’re all thirsty for some more Winter, though.

In the meantime, ride on everyone! May you flow with grace where ever you roam.

 

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Don’t Be Too Cool

Cool. California Cool. Just chillin’. I’m cool, thanks.  

Maybe we’re trying just a little too hard to be cool. Perhaps we need to warm up a bit, for that is where real human kindness lives. I invite you to consider what you think is “cool” as you read along, and what you consider “dorky”. Simultaneously, I invite you to consider how bias, upbringing, and circumstances can set the stage for what we learn to be “cool” or not.

I grew up with the classic West Coast “California Cool” vibe. Others may describe it differently, but I see California Cool is that laid back, relaxed, can’t be bothered to put on nice clothes attitude that is synonymous with the Left Coast. It’s the dude you see in your local coffee shop in the morning: hair half combed into a man-bun, worn corduroy pants frayed at the heel, Patagonia puffy down jacket from 1999 with duct tape patches (I love my own Patagonia puffies, thank you very much). It’s the #VanLife crew, traveling around from beach to beach chasing bliss in a $100,000 Sprinter van. It’s the beautiful sun-kissed girl lying on the beach with her friends. It’s a relaxed, fun-centered, carefree approach to life. California Cool is actually pretty cool for the most part, but you can hit a wall when you try to go any deeper than its perfectly messy, laid-back image.

Growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area suburb of Lafayette, California, was where I first learned what was “cool”, and what would make you look just the opposite. In this tony suburb, material wealth and looks were what were esteemed. There were truly kind, down-to-Earth people (like my family and friends, of course), but in general, having a nice car or fancy house earned one bona fide bragging rights. While my family wasn’t the wealthiest on our block, we had a solid upbringing and never lacked for anything, thanks to the tireless efforts of our loving parents. Though I grew up in a somewhat privileged bubble, I was far enough removed from being “rich” to see that all the fancy possessions and name brands were a facade. They didn’t make the person, nor equate humility or kindness. I think most people have this realization at some point in their lives: money doesn’t guarantee happiness, strong moral character, or being cool.

More than the pervasive materialism of the East Bay, “cool” meant detached, aloof, and unimpressed. Laughing too loudly, getting overly excited, or doing anything “weird” could make you a “dork” or a “spaz”. The more stoic you were, the cooler. Acting with self-righteous aplomb was what was cool. But that wasn’t everyone I knew, for sure.

There’s a reserved nature, an aloofness, that underscores some of our cities and towns, where everyone is quintessentially “too cool”. Too cool to be impressed by anything or anyone. Too cool to even notice. Post a YouTube video of yourself surfing, mountain biking, or snowboarding? No one will care unless you wipe out, or do something insanely gnarly (that’s some California Cool lingo for ‘ya). A roomful of Yerba Matte-drinking outdoor athletes will yawn with condescension, silently and quizzically communicating an irritated “Seriously?”

We’ve become so desensitized to outdoor adventures of all kinds. It is nearly impossible to catch the attention of anyone unless you’re someone like Shaun White or Danny MacAskill. Positive recognition is lost under the guise of being cool. We all won’t be impressed by everything, but would it hurt to acknowledge each other every now and then? It seems we are persistently unimpressed. Just watch a group of surfers commentating on other surfers in the water from West Cliff Drive. Or go to one of my mountain bike races.

It’s in the way we speak to each other, as well. California Cool sounds to me like “California Flat”: a flat tone that tends downward with mild snobbery. It’s a combination of voice-fry (think of how Paris Hilton used to say ‘That’s hot’) and Sean Penn as surfer-dude ‘Spicoli’ in the classic movie ‘Fast Times at Ridgemont High’. Growing up in the eighties, a “Valley Girl” accent was common, but eventually faded flat when people started illogically equating uptone with stupidity. Today, there’s a bit more of an uptone, as if ending each sentence with a question. I suppose it’s a bit more “Valley Girl” than the standard California Flat. But it can register as a flatline on the heart monitor.

Where is the emotion in people’s voices? Where is the inflection, excitement, and enthusiasm? I find it in some people I know and meet, but many sound as if they are on the verge of falling asleep. It’s as if we just rolled out of bed and don’t want to be bothered.

From buzzwords like “Bro”, “Bra”, and “Sick”, you can spot a Californian anywhere by the way that they speak. I was in Italy about fifteen years ago when a local asked me not only was I from California, but was I from Santa Cruz?! He could tell by the way my boyfriend and I spoke. It made me a little bit embarrassed, to be honest. Were we so overtly flat? So nasally, surfer-dude-esque? Apparently so.

It’s not just our tone of speaking. More importantly, it’s the topics we talk, and don’t talk, about. Our close friends and family typically pepper in more emotion when speaking with us, and reciprocate deeper interest in our lives. But casual acquaintances and chance encounters with strangers? Sometimes the experience falls flat. Try going deeper and broaching a big topic like politics, mortality, or the latest natural disaster? Want to tell someone how your week really went? Many people don’t want to talk about that kind of stuff, not that I do all the time either. But it’s part of life, and I think it’s important to accept it. I don’t think everyone is shallow, but I think we’ve become so uncomfortable talking about our emotions, especially about things we care about, that we just avoid talking about them altogether.

You can tell a lot about how happy someone is by their ability to be truly happy for someone else. Some of it is simply a “cool” response to someone else’s warm excitement. Like temperature gradients, a cool response and a hot response are two ends of the spectrum. Intentional or not, think of a time that you shared something you were excited about (“hot”) with someone, and they simply shrugged and said something banal like, “Cool”, or “Um hum…” without further inquiry. It can take the wind out of your sails, if only momentarily. But when someone responds back with equal temperature? With authentic happiness and excitement for you? Fireworks! Relationships are built. Ideas are born. And it sets forth a positive momentum to the rest of both your days.

Sometimes I want to tell tell everyone to wake up! Life is so short, passing by way too fast, and we should be excited about it. There are days when I have to tell myself to wake up, surely. We ought to keep that same childlike curiosity, appreciation, and zest for life as adults. Children and elders seem to have it down, but we “adults”? We aren’t always so consistent, though I’m inspired by those who are. By the time you’re an elder, most people have figured out that you can miss out on human connection, experience, and learning new things by trying to be “too cool”. Many elders I know live with a passion for life; they don’t waste time on small-talk or petty issues. They do the things they want to do without apology or excuse. They love those they love with warm gratitude, recognition, and regular displays of affection; they don’t care so much about what others think of them, or if they look cool or not. I wish we weren’t so held back by our fears of looking “foolish” because no one’s scrutinizing us anyway.

We can be too caught up in how we appear to others, but most of the time no one is noticing us. People are too concerned about how they themselves look that they don’t notice your own flaws. When I worked as a server in a restaurant years ago, my future husband, and then coworker Ron, had a cigarette tucked behind his ear that he’d forgotten about (he no longer smokes, by the way). For the first hour of the night he had to have interacted with at least 50 different people with how busy we were, yet no one had noticed nor even given him a wayward glance. When he asked all of us in the backroom whether we’d noticed, we all couldn’t believe we hadn’t seem something that was so obvious if you just paid some attention. From that day on, that proved how little people were paying attention to the details of each other. So who cared how I looked? I felt liberated. I wish people wouldn’t care so much about what others thought. 

We all learn at some age how relative beauty, popularity, and wealth are. It doesn’t matter where we rank on the scope of those attributes. What matters is how we approach life: our gratitude, love for one another, and positive intent. As I get older, I care less and less about how I compare to others. Everything is fleeting, and at the end of the day, it’s the intangibles that mean the most; that is, the people, animals, and experiences that shape our hearts and souls. We are blessed by every moment we get to share with our loved ones.

I wish we would be happier for each other more often, and appreciate each other’s strengths and unique gifts; that we could all feel genuinely seen for who we are. At the end of the day, when we’re old and gray, we’ll think it was pretty cool that we flowed down mountains, traveled the world, and had a family with love stronger than granite. We’ll think it was pretty cool that we had a friend who could knit a sweater like no other; that we knew a guy who could fix any kind of motorcycle left to right; that we challenged ourselves to try and do new things while we could. No matter the story, we’ll think it was pretty cool that we lived at all! So can’t we be that excited now?

A good friend of mine, Peter Miller, passed away recently, and he was always someone to live for the moment. And he definitely didn’t care what people thought about him. We first met at Berkeley Iron Works Climbing Gym in 1999. I’ll never forget driving up to go snowboarding at SugarBowl with him back in 2003. As we were driving in his Jeep along I-80, I noticed he kept looking at the other drivers alongside us in their cars. Not just looking, but actively engaging with eye contact. 

“People drive along in their cars like zombies – looking straight ahead, blinders on, like they’re the only one on the road.” He straightened his arms and looked on like an uptight, average Bay Area driver. “Everyone drives around in their own little bubble, ignoring each other. We’re just people in steel boxes flying down the freeway. I like to acknowledge and engage with people in their cars. I bet there’s some really cool people on the road with us.”

And he used that logic to justify driving fast and making his way in front of laggers without hesitation. “Except this guy. Get the fuck out of the fast lane, Idiot!” as he weaved in front of him to pass. He always drove like it was Nascar. He wasn’t afraid to drive like he meant it.

“It’s okay to cut someone off just as long as you don’t slow them down. I just left him in the dust. Valley.” Peter had a healthy balance of wit, skepticism, compassion, and ironic sense of humor. For all his love of people, he wasn’t blind to their faults, nor was he reticent to point them out. We enjoyed a glorious powder day at SugarBowl, and when I had sung “I’m Walking On Sunshine” at least a dozen times (by Katrina and the Waves, to my surprise), he didn’t hesitate to ask, “Know any other songs?!” He hated that kind of music, but put up with me singing it while we glided over dry, fluffy snow.

Peter lived without excuses, with an all or nothing approach to life. He did what he loved to do, and it was that simple. He didn’t have patience for those who weren’t doing the same. Why would people waste time? There was no messing about with the common litany of excuses many of us make; no “I have to work”, or “I’m too tired” came out of his mouth.

We remained good friends over the years, sharing rock-climbing, snowboarding, and motorcycle rides over the years. Whether riding his KTM dirtbike offroad or sailing his boat on the San Francisco Bay, where he spent his last day on 2/4/2018, Peter lived for adventure and with passion. He was fiercely dedicated to his two daughters and beautiful partner Jenny. He showed me how I wanted to live in many ways. He was proof that I, too, could live my life pursuing my passions without apology; that I could be a badass bitch and still be a nice person. He embodied the true definition of cool, and inspired so many others with his adventures over land and sea. 

I think he’d agree with me on some of my points here, especially when I say “Don’t be too cool”. He was never afraid to talk about anything – deep, shallow, in between. He was comfortable talking about the dark and the light. He was totally cool, but not in the “California Cool”, aloof sort of way; not with friends, family, loved ones, or strangers. Being from Portland, Maine, he probably would be offended if I told him he spoke that way. He engaged presently with everyone he encountered. He showed up for the moment and gave it his full attention. He was honest and straightforward, a quality I learned to appreciate from him. He lived with love and compassion, and inspired others to do the same. That was one of the many things that made him so cool.  

I think I can be less cool, too. When I speak about people in their tendencies, I know I can fall into that category at times. People are mirrors, right? I would love to be warmer with new people I meet, to not be so inadvertently guarded at times. There is always room for growth within our relationships with loved ones.

Where in your life can you be less cool? How much do you fall into the “California Cool” culture? For how cool California actually is, and for how many truly cool people live here, our stereotype has some catching up to do. Help redefine California Cool in your daily interactions with others. Give directions to a lost tourist instead of barking at them for causing a jam. Give a compliment to a stranger you see doing something cool. Pick up trash while you’re at the beach. Smile when you see an approaching stranger and say “hi”. Laugh loudly with your loved ones no matter who’s around. Life is meant to be celebrated and enjoyed.

Cultivate flow and grace. Express yourself; tell others how you feel. Don’t wait until some future moment without guarantee. Live your passion, and hold onto your love. Don’t be too cool. Live like you’ve got a fire lit under you. Because that, my friends, is hot.  

Fresh Powder, Fresh Perspective

Snow, glorious Snow!

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I wanted to shout it from the mountaintops, proclaiming my deep appreciation for the return of my long lost friend Winter. Though not yet in full force, She has blessed us with some more heaven dust to play upon, with forecasts predicting more soon. After last year’s epic El Niño, when we were blessed with 17 good days on mountain, this Winter pales in comparison so far. But it’s relatively early in the season, and I’ll be grateful for whatever falls from the sky!

The Sierra Nevada mountains of California hold a piece of my soul in their weathered but stoic granite crags. In Summer they’re a playground for two wheels and two feet, and in the Winter, a snowboarding heaven. Kirkwood has long been my steady refuge for finding bliss, riding over snow like butter. Snowboarding with my husband Ron is one of my favorite all-time things to do together. It’s not only hella fun, but spiritual. The Sacred Silence of Snow is something I savor. Escaping to the mountains provides a fresh perspective on life, easing concerns about what’s going on down valley.

 

A bonus this trip was getting to break in my new board, boots, and bindings. I love them!  After riding a dinosaur set-up of a 14-year old Salomon 156cm board, with equally old boots and bindings, I was beyond ready for an upgrade. And so I did, to an all-Burton set up: a Burton Custom Flying V 158 board, with Malavita bindings, and Ion boots. As with any new gear, there is always some time spent adjusting before and while riding the mountain. With only a few changes on the first day riding with my new gear, I found my sweetspot and was confidently riding without a second thought by the end of the day. It is such an upgrade indeed! The pop and responsiveness are so much better than I’ve ever known, and my feet felt good. I’ve still got some breaking in to do, but overall – Success!

 

With only a couple of days in this season so far, I am really looking forward to some more good days on the mountain this season. Ron and I buy season passes every year at Kirkwood, and since it was bought by Vail a few years ago, the prices have steadily risen, along with the inefficiencies and big corporate attitude that are a stark contrast to the old Kirkwood I knew as a kid. It’s always been sort of funky in its own right; minimalist in amenities and services, with maximum terrain and snow to far make up for it. It’s the best place for snow in California as far as I’m concerned.

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Team KatRon
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Top of Cornice Express

 

More concerning are the real and imminent ramifications of climate change, particularly in this holy place I and so many others love and cherish so dearly. It’s not just the recreation that the Sierras provide year-round, of course. The dire issue is the freshwater supply that long established ecosystems, and we 39 million Californians, are existentially dependent upon from that snowfall.  With the hottest years on record occurring within my adult lifetime, I’ve pretty much grown up hearing we may not have our Sierra snowpack by the time I’m old and grown. Though each Winter brings its own anomalies, complexly driven by warming and cooling oscillations in ocean temperatures and other factors, the overall trend is warmer and drier. Check out Protect Our Winters for some more interesting information about snow and climate change.

 

In the meantime, I try to enjoy what’s here now. Winter is already a third of the way complete. The days are getting longer, and before we know it, Spring blossoms will color the hillsides like fireworks. Enjoy the Winter while it’s here, however you like to. Whether you’re moving over land or water, whether frozen or liquid, have fun. It’s so important to do what you love and makes you happy, whatever it is. Keep on flowing with grace!