Sunday, October 12, 2014

Gallivanting in New England

It’s hard to leave Salt Lake in the fall after the temps have finally dropped to merciful levels so both the Wasatch and the desert loom large for adventure potential, but as Ash likes to say “September and October are good everywhere”.  And few places are as unusually good in the fall as New England.  And with some good friends coming West this fall when we aren’t going to be available I decided to blast out to Vermont and New Hampshire for a qukck tripto connect with Teams Jamieson (Vermont) and Hanlon (NH) to get a nice blast of New England.  

One of the first indications that New England is different came when Amy Jamieson said “it’s been SO dry here; it hasn’t rained for almost a couple of weeks!”  I was in California a few weeks ago when it rained for the first time in 8 months!  Different climes for sure.  But the lack of rain was ok for me, since a good chunk of our weekend’s activities were to be mountain biking, and adding water to the slick leaves on top of slick rocks that make up most of the slow, technical mtb trails there (roots make up the other part!) makes the riding there that much more challenging (they actually hit the trails with super-charged leaf blowers during dry spells!). 

Jon and Amy were gracious enough to take the day off from work and show us their go-to trails around the ridiculously quaint and picturesque Waitsfield, Vermont. 
Amy in dappled light
John riding the leaf carpet
Given'er up one of the zillions of small, steep hills

Greg had seen this picture of Miley Cyrus discreetly covering her nipples in public.....
So he made sure to do the same with his bib shorts!  
This guy is a buddy of Jon's who was doing some trail work to make it more awesome; it's a lot of work there!
One needs to be aware of the lines put in to carry sap (syrup) from the maple trees down the hills to the Sugar Shacks.  The maple groves are called Sugarbushes
I thought this was a chocolate mint energy bar, but it was actually the scrumptious Chocolate Mold!  Jon was ready to mow it regardless.  
leaf "Peak" is a much-discussed topic each fall, but if this view from Casa Jamieson gets better I can't believe it!  
Greg and I blasted down to nearby New Hampshire for more shenanigans near their rambling place above the Connecticut river.  Adjacent to the venerable Dartmouth skiway is a fairly recently-developed sport climbing crag that Greg has been apparently going to daily, so my visit was no exception.  We knew that the forecast called for some rain, so we got an early start and were happy to get in a few routes before indeed it started to sprinkle.  Trying to gauge how much time we had was tricky, and at one point Greg looked down at me as I was blinking into the rain and asked "Have you done much rock climbing in the rain?!"   It pretty much turned to grease, but at least greasy bike riding was mildly more viable than greasy climbing: 

We had to stop by a creek that "goes" with good rain.  Greg on a handmade bridge over what he claims is an exciting rapid:
Just add water!
In New England you don't just hang out outside in the summer; you need porches/cabins/decks that are enclosed due to the bugs.  

The stone walls in New England were built sometime around the forming of the republic, and any trail that breaches the walls "must" be done through a natural breach; ie no dismantling of the walls for the trails.  So the trails are built accordingly.  
The next day dawned with improving weather, so after the weekly run to the dump:
The Lyme dump has lots of good stuff to dive for
We headed for this place:
I think this was East Podunk.  West Podunk the West. 
 For a psychocross ride, which New England seems to have plenty of.
No motorized stuff!  
Team Hanlon on their matching 'cross bikes in the leaves....
and on the roads
Then we headed for the airfield.  Greg took a yen to hang gliding long ago, and a few years ago got introduced to gliders, which is now his passion.  They are pretty rad little contraptions:
That's a super fast golf cart that speeds down the runway for liftoff!
Just kidding.  They actually get towed up to 2-4 thousand feet by a Cessna where the umbilical cord is pulled and that little winged kayak just soars about.  The airfield has a tandem, and while of course like all tandem crafts the thing handles like a pig relative to the solo rockets, it didn't matter to this joey:
And soon enough we were getting peak leafing viewing from high above:
We were using Porno Dan as our probe to find lift
At one point Dan came over the radio and said "I think I'm going to take one over the top" and I watched agape as he nosed down towards the ground in a steep dive, abruptly pulled up, up up....and then over, in a full loop.  No pics; I had to take that in en toto.  Pretty cool.  

As I waited for Greg I nosed around the airfield's wacky "museum" where the caretaker has a crazy array of weird stuff:
a ski tree

a collection of old barber chairs and sewing machines
some wacky cars

the most ridiculous beer bottle collection ever
Balloon cockpits
and what museum is complete without a collection of typewriters and ancient computers?  
The next adventure was the mighty Pemi loop:  a 31 mile loop hike over pretty technical terrain with about 9500 feet of vertical and 8-10 summits in the White Mountains.  We hit the trail at dawn marching fairly hard on the initial flat bit:

And after a bit got up out of the green tunnel to get a look at our route.
  We were heading for that far ridge, which seemed like a longgg ways away!  
But we chugged along, over peaks and ridges:

and the ridge got a little closer  
The trail was really technical, rooty, and rocky.  Pretty slow going.  
The fastest known time on this loop is somewhere around 6.5 hours, and I must say I'm quite impressed by that.  It seems so rocky and slow to me that it's hard to imagine running much of it very fast, and if so there's a high likelihood of going down.  I realized that navigating eastern technical trail is a learned skill for sure.
Some super cool mountain guys who can't be bothered to smile.   
Greg pointing out yet again some far ridge that apparently we are going to traverse
More ridge running, starting the final, long descent
Back down in the green tunnel we finally were able to do a bit of running along the old rail bed (where Greg actually crashed shortly after I took this!)
The gratuitous photo of the Big Scenic Overlook of the Pemi Loop
Overall a super cool weekend with great friends in a fun part of the world.  The only shortcoming was that I didn't bring home any syrup (telling the TSA that it's NOT a gallon of syrup in my carry on!) but I was able to tote home a few points of Vermont Cheddar. 

Thanks again to Teams Jamieson and Hanlon for being such stellar hosts.   

Sunday, October 5, 2014

The Art of Conversation

 Recently I have been able to experience a good handful of socially-dynamic situations:  the Outdoor Retailer trade show, a family reunion, weeklong adventures with both new folks and old friends, and lots of meetings about the Wasatch Mountains as part of the Mountain Accord process.  Each of these has involved a lot of pretty intensive conversations, and in total they have reminded me of the value of quality interactions and how few people understand the art of conversation. 

Some years ago I bumped into a guy whom we’ll call “Seth” (because that’s his name) in Steamboat, CO whom I had met kayaking in Ecuador a couple of years prior, and it turned out that we were both heading west to paddle the Cross Mountain gorge section of the Yampa, so I hopped in with him for the 3 hour drive.  As we rolled through the desert, I asked Seth what had happened in his life since we were together:  was he still with his girlfriend, how was his job (traveling around in a van to various kayaking events promoting an outdoor brand), what other kayak adventures he’d been on and what were the details, what he had cooking for the future, etc.  This “conversation” of me asking him questions and him answering went on for a good hour or so, and I finally decided to give him an opportunity to find out what I was up to, to see if this (fellow!) narcissistic phunhog would take advantage of that. So after he finished answering a question I didn’t say anything more, and a pregnant pause ensued.  After a coupla minutes he glanced over at me and asked “Do you smoke weed?”  huh?  Uh, no not really.  To which he reached down, grabbed his ipod, and plugged in his earbuds.  I guess our “conversation” was over. 

As we continued down the road I was tempted to say something to the effect of “Hey Seth, I have a concept for you to ponder:  when two people have a conversation, it usually consists of one person asking some questions, the other person answering, and then the second asks questions which the first person answers, and so on.  It’s kind of how two human beings interact.”  But I didn’t.  But I should have.  Because since that time I have realized that the ability to ask questions – and at least act interested in the answers – is an all-too-rare characteristic of conversations.  Too many people seem to take a question as a license to simply talk… nauseum.  And that fact combined with a perceived lack of interest in their audience quickly leads to the “audience” fully checking out. 

Don’t get me wrong, I myself can talk as incessantly as anybody; just ask Tom MacFarland, a pretty taciturn guy whom I did a packraft trip with last summer and had never heard any of my stories (but was kind enough to laugh every once in a while), or Chris Adams whom I’ve paced at Wasatch 100 and pretty much asks me to yap at him to make the miles pass quickly, or for that matter Ashley, who still seems to tolerate me despite my infernal chewing away at her about pretty much anything and everything (and is happy that I have this blawg as an alternative outlet!)  But Ash has taught me that pretty much everybody has at least something interesting to say – she’s a champion question-asker – and if nothing else, asking questions makes people feel like you are interested in them.   And knowing this, I have to sometimes tell myself mid-yap to try to keep it in check.  If nothing else, invoking a simple line that I mostly attribute to Greg Hanlon:  “What do you think?”  I think it’s a testament to some of our poor conversation habits that this question often takes people by surprise!  But it’s a great way to say “I value your opinion”, which will make anyone feel good.  I

I’ve long thought that the very first stages of a relationship are the most interesting.  A very typical icebeaker is “where are you from?”  The truth is that nobody really cares where you are from, but it typically leads to more conversation, if that’s desired.  If someone says “I’m from Portland” I might say “I grew up there”; not because I want to tell them all about my many fun years there, but because I am familiar with it and there’s an opportunity for some commonality for future conversation.  However, if I say to someone “I’m from Salt Lake” and the person I met says “Oh, my son-in-law went to school there!”  Really?  “Yes, but now he’s an attorney in Dallas and specializes in ambulance chasing and has a couple of darling boys who are great lacrosse players and boy do they love to come back to Utah to ski and and and”.   Yikes!  The best example of this I can remember is when a few of us were gearing up for a jaunt down a river in Oregon and a couple pulled up and asked where we were from, and when we told them we were from Salt Lake they said “Really!  We had a two hour layover there just last week on our way home from Cancun!”  No shit!  Really?  That is so scintillating!  How was your experience?!”  That was most definitely not finding commonality…..

And then there are the topics of conversation.  Not long ago This American Life did a great segment on the most boring conversation topics ever (only they took it a bit further by attempting to actually make something interesting out of a decidedly uninteresting topic).  The mother in the story was a very proper Englishwoman and the taboo topics I remember were:
·      How I slept
·      My dreams
·      The route I took to get here
·      Traffic
·      My period
She had a hilarious story about having Robert Redford over for dinner many years ago, and he pretty much spent the entire evening talking about his route, the traffic thereupon, and his return route/traffic strategy.  To this list I would also add one of my pet unmentionable topics:  gasoline prices.  But the truth is that any topic can be ferociously uninteresting if your fellow conversationalist is not “in”.   And if there are multiple people involved, keep in mind that the fascinating conversation that two of you are having may be making the others in the group  - at best - strategizing about to gracefully exit the “conversation”, so it’s good to try to bring it around to everyone. 

Meetings always provide an interesting venue for conversations, and it’s such a different dynamic than friends talking or an introduction.  In actual meetings the attendants almost always have an agenda, and beyond the actual subject of the meeting it’s fascinating to watch people attempt to execute their agenda.  Many folks unfortunately employ the “more is more” and figure they can prove their point by dominating the conversation, but I have noticed that the most effective meeting attendees are those who sit and listen a lot, then finally opine in a direct, articulate manner.  Whether or not they are conveying the impression that they’ve heard and respected everyone else or they are simply engaging strategic timing is hard to say, but they typically have the most effect on the outcome.  It seems that there are two critical periods in a meeting – or a conversation, for that matter – the beginning and the end. If it’s really important to set the stage/tone/direction of a meeting, then speak up early, but if it’s important to come away with your opinion as the main takeaway, then pay attention to the flow and go in hard in at the dire end.   And resist the desire to interject with potentially extraneous thoughts; something that comes hard to us ADD types! 

And interruptions…..are far too common, unfortunately.  There seem to be two types:  1) I can’t resist bursting in with MY perspective!, and 2) I hear you, I acknowledge your point, I understand.  The latter is better, but it’s still sometimes best to simply let the talker finish (again, I can interrupt with the best of them, but I’m trying…..).  

Of course, if the best question you can come up with is “Do you smoke weed?” then perhaps the conversation is really not worth investing too much in, but generally there’s probably “a lot to be said”  - as it were - for strategizing your conversations.  Ask a lot of questions and you’ll get a lot of answers, and you might be laying the groundwork for creating fine art.