Friday, December 31, 2010

A little more skiing & snow

One last post for the year - Christmas was nice & quiet as I imagined it would be up at Sunshine.  It was calm & warm & clear (it got a little overcast in the afternoon) - I left my down jacket in the car & didn't even regret it.  Early(ish) morning the parking lot was relatively empty & all the lifties were in good spirits wishing people a Merry Christmas & some even were dancing as you came to the top of Strawberry.  There were a few costumes on the slopes as well - Santa, of course; a Yeti; and some guy that looked like he had a lynx skin on his head.  There still wasn't a lot of snow, but I had a good time & got a lot of runs in; Alex joined me briefly between some of his jobs.

It was still pretty warm on Sunday, but I was exhausted from all the skiing the previous day (I don't think I've ever had a Christmas that was so active, for once the Energy In to Energy Out ratio must have been above unity).  So a good day for lazing around ploughing (damn this continent - I don't know how to spell anymore; I thought it should be plough, but the spellchecker says plow & now I am confused) through my book - I've almost finished the epic.  It's been an interesting walk through England's (more particularly, Salisbury's) notable events from prehistory onwards - & it's always nice to finish a 1000+ page book, there's been a few this year.  I digress, we (Steve, Alex & I) did make it out to the Nordic Center that night for a quick lap around under the lights - once again it wasn't really cold.

We finally got some decent snow yesterday & the mercury has dropped a good twenty degrees Celsius - so hopefully the skiing will be better in the New Year.  Another good sign that it's a little nippy is when you go to unplug your car, you can't coil up the extension lead as it has lost all of its pliability - despite having had a standard current running through it all day.  Have a great 2011 - I hope you're as excited about it as I am (on that note, I'm trying to work out what to buy first for the roadtrip - a GPS for riding, a SPOT personal tracker or a GoPro helmet cam - the SPOT is the cheapest & available locally, so it might be that).

Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas!

Shortly after posting my last update I suddenly realised I hadn't wished that rare breed of people (those who read these musings) a great holiday season.  So, Merry Christmas and all the best for the New Year; I hope you get to spend it with loved family or friends or both. 

My first Christmas cards turned up yesterday (now that I have others, I'm not counting the one from the Plant Manager here).  Along with a very sweet one from my grandfather in Sydney mentioning how much he misses my grandmother (she has had dementia for a few years now & is in residential care), Mum had slipped in a DVD of home movies from our 1987 trip around England & Scotland in with her card.  Once I started watching it last night, I had to go all the way to the end, little realising that it was almost two hours long.  It's precious viewing - with many occurrences that have since entered Pheasant family legend.  The first half in particular is quite amusing as it has much of the family that I spent time with last year in England looking twenty-three years younger & thinner (& in some cases, alive).  [Megan, there is even some short footage of your grandparents.] 

Unfortunately, the episode of almost-rolling the rental car isn't quite on there, but you can see the narrow flooded, un-paved lanes we were traveling down.  Only once do you hear me launch in to my catch-cry of "P for Parking!".  Every time we are near a farm (we seemed to stay on quite a few while touring) there is a brief summary (usually from Dad) of stock levels, farm size, wintering arrangement & so on - that's to be expected really.  There are many shots of Dad leading Adele & I (we were 2 & 4 years old at the time, strangely I was still blond at this time) off in to the distance while Mum gets the shots she wanted.  I could go on, but while it may be compulsory Pheasant-family viewing it doesn't really fit in to the compulsory family viewing category that is so popular at this time of year.

Have a good one.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Twenty-ten summary

I've spent a lot of time this week sending out a rather brief attempt at a Christmas letter (about my only concession so far that Christmas is quite soon; actually, I did send some gifts home but they may be a bit late, oops).  It really is just my take on my year & trying to remind people back home I still exist & if I'm lucky I might get some NZ (or whereever) news back.  Without further ado & my being distracted by many classic Brit comedy moments, here it is.

This Christmas finds me well away from any family (immediate or extended) for the first time - I'm still not sure exactly how I came to be living in Canada.  Never mind, it was a great rushed decision - I thoroughly enjoyed a summer chocked full of mountain-biking (& a little hiking).  Now winter is slowly rolling around - well, it's cold but there's not all that much snow yet; so the next few months of skiing promise to be almost as good.  For those that haven't been keeping up with my ramblings here are a few of the many highlights of 2010 for me.
  • Ten days in Madrid & further south exploring & conversing with Spaniards trying to overcome their Spanglish.
  • Many many days spent exploring London & spending time with friends & family.
Here in Canmore I supported myself for a few months with all manner of temporary jobs before starting at a cement plant (pretty much the only industry around here) - where I still am enjoying it & I hope to be there until my visa expires in May.  I'm trying to contain my excitement with respect to next summer's three-month mountain-bike oriented road-trip around the western USA & British Columbia.  I'll be back in London in August next year - after that, I don't know.

Still being distracted, damn it.

Winter sports variety

After a getting a couple of concerned emails worrying that I had dropped off the radar (thanks Mother), maybe I should update this.  Looking back, it seems that I've been busier than it feels like.  There was the weekly session at the local bouldering gym last Thursday - it would be nice if I was progressing.  Alas, as I have no technique & no "measurable upper-body strength" there are a few problems in the numerical progression that I'm finding fiendishly difficult to get past the second-to-last hold.

Joel, Kristy & I hiked off to Calgary last Friday evening to watch a hockey game (that's ice hockey for those down in the bottom of the world that don't realise that hockey here is played on ice & quite the big deal as far as sports go).  After searching too many grocery stores for corned silverside (I still maintain that all the Safeways around here must share the same supply chain) with no luck (who would have thought that would be so hard to find in this part of the world - I thought they loved beef in Alberta) we picked up Karin (a friend of Kristy & Joel) before heading to the Saddledome.  For my first hockey game attendance, it was the Calgary Hitmen against the Kelowna Rockets in the WHL (Western Hockey League - the highest level of junior competition around these parts).  Some of the hits & fights were pretty good, but the game as a sporting spectacle couldn't really hold my interest - but the skating ability was quite amazing.  I hope my disappointment was mainly due to the Hitmen getting spanked by five goals to one & not with the sport itself.  Apparently the Hitmen are defending champions, but you would have hard time trying to convince me of that on Friday night.  Nonetheless, it was good night out of the valley.

After quite the sleep in on Saturday for most of us, the four of us headed out for a short day of skiing at Sunshine.  We got to Banff before some muppet realised that he'd forgotten his pass & we wasted forty minutes going back to Canmore to get it.  Eventually we were skiing by one o'clock - I don't think any of us were too fussed with our lazy schedule (I tell myself that so I don't feel guilty about wasted skiing time) as all afternoon it stuck around -15ºC.  Pleasantly, there was no wind & that temperature wasn't quite as bad as I would have thought.  The good thing about it being pretty chilly was that the lift lines were really short & we could fit a lot of runs in to our short time (there was a little more snow than a fortnight ago, but it's still pretty bare in parts).  The last few runs of the day were off the Divide chair & these were the best - but also the coldest as it seemed to be the most exposed.  Getting home, it wasn't long before we all assembled again for a nice little dinner party with yet another Australian added to the group - there were quite a few very strong accents assaulting my ears!  Good food, good wine & great company - all in all an excellent day.  [Sunday was a write-off with a lazy morning sleeping in & then the afternoon on the couch attacking the thousand-page book & watching movies.]

Since the weekend I've been for my first skate & XC ski of the season - finally.  Perhaps inspired by the hockey, it was time to drag the skates out & have a go.  As it takes me ages to relearn how to skate every few years, I was pleased that I wasn't quite as bad as I remembered - but by no means was I any good.  I'm just home from a quick lap at the Nordic Center under lights - my waxing of the XC skis seems to have been adequate; perhaps a little more grip wax is in order for next time, but that could just be lack of skill.  I may be a lot fitter than January, but it was nowhere near as exhausting as I remember; being alone may have reduced the pace a bit.  Either way, it was hell boring (as I correctly remember) - but it serves the purpose of getting me out of the house after work exercising & will keep me semi-fit for the next riding season & it was a beautiful evening to be staring at the surrounding mountains.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Roadtrip Planning!

Here is the long promised Summer 2011 West USA Roadtrip outline.  Ever since I realised that I would be ending a year in Canada with a car (probably), my long held pipe-dream of a classic USA roadtrip with my mountain-bike in the trunk (or on the back or on the roof - you get the idea) took many steps closer to reality.  My visa here expires mid-May, so the plan is to leave sometime just before that & travel down from the Alberta-Montana border to San Diego (with much time spent in Utah & Colorado) trying to do as much riding as possible.  As I'm also a bit of a sucker for famous sites & sights, plenty of National Parks & other such things will also be included - maybe even some hiking &, dare I say it climbing, could be in order too.  After spending time with good friends again in San Diego it'll be up the west coast to British Columbia & then back across to Canmore to sell the car & leave for London again.

I've done a bit of research on the forums & other useful websites, but I'm keen to hear the ideas of others.  Here is a loose plan (in vague chronological order & which I haven't really looked at for a while) of the places I intend to visit so far.  I fully realise that by the time I get to ride in some places, it will be stinking hot - but that's just the way the visa timing works out; I think I'll be doing quite a lot of early morning riding.  If anyone has any suggestions of great places to visit or ride that I might be able to work in to such a plan - please, please let me know.  Perhaps more importantly, if riding in such places appeals & you're keen & possibly able to join me (for whatever part) - let me know, it'd be fantastic to share some sublime riding with friends.

Now I know why I was putting this off - there's still six months to go & just writing about it makes that seem so far away.  If the taste of riding I had in the South West last year is anything to go by - it's going to be a ripper.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010


No, I didn't see a big avalanche, fortunately (or even a small one, unfortunately).  I did however spend all weekend on an Avalanche Skills Training Level One course.  Saturday was a classroom day (nicely a short walk from home) where Felix, our guide/teacher, took us through all the theory.  Not really being at all familiar with avalanche country there was an awful lot to take in.  We had a good class of eight & there was enough discussion & questions to keep things interesting.  I'm sure I soaked in quite a bit of the theory; even so, I'm still confident that I know enough now to know that I really don't know much & picking slopes is going to be tricky.  Still, that's why one goes back-country with more experienced companions.

Felix also had a lot of great avalanche stories & videos to show us why it's not really a good idea to trigger one.  This one from back home has been floating around the interwebs for a while, but it was definitely the most impressive (despite the music).

There were also plenty of human (skier or sled/snowmobile) triggered slides, rescue & failed-rescue stories to sober us up.  Felix was a great tutor & I particularly enjoyed swapping (off-topic) mountain-biking & trekking stories of Nepal - of course, mine weren't nearly as impressive.

The practical day was up at Bow Summit (a little way up the Icefield Parkway towards Jasper); leaving town at about seven o'clock the snow started (finally) just before Lake Louise.  The Parkway is not all that high on the roads-that-must-be-plowed-immediately list, so in a car that doesn't have suspension on steroids it was a little interesting hitting various drifts.  Definitely a little different to driving in NZ.

The day was pretty warm (-5ºC) & it snowed on us all day as we traipsed around locating hidden beacons, learning how to use our probes & shovels the most effective way & listened to as many tips as possible.  Eventually we skinned a bit further up the hill out of the trees to take a look at a few slopes & try to tie in what we had learnt the previous day with real life.  Of course, the wind was blowing in an unusual direction to confuse us a bit - but we were able to make some sense of it all.  Taking our skins off, the descent wasn't much fun as there wasn't really all that much snow & all the little Christmas trees-tops were a little hard for me to avoid.  We finished the day by simulating a couple of rescue scenarios - pretty simple, but a good way to learn a few extra things.

The weekend didn't end all that well as I was often topping the car with oil - & the drive back to Lake Louise wasn't a cakewalk either.  By Monday afternoon I'd put over eight litres of oil in over a few days & most of that didn't last all that long.  Sunday night was relatively sleepless as I thought of all the damage that had probably been done (I'm just glad I had oil in the trunk when I was up the Parkway, which is slightly remote)) & recoiled at the cost of the repairs or replacing the engine or car & the subsequent obliteration of my roadtrip savings.  I got it in the garage after work on Monday & as I was making the forty-five minute walk home, I was pleased to get the call that the leak was from the oil sensor (& not my last oil & filter change).  So that repair turned out a lot cheaper than I expected & now I just have to hope that my topping up on that trip back from Bow Summit was enough to get the  (what is supposed to be a durable & hardy) engine through.

On another note, I'm in from the yard this week at work & working at a desk.  I never expected to be spending part of my working-holiday working on PMs (Preventative Maintenance) plans - but here I am with another chance to impress people with my Excel & Pivot Table (those ones are thanks to you, Neil) proficiency.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Trying out the new foot appendages

After the eating, working & driving too much of the previous week it has been nice to be at home & a lot more active over the last few days.  Especially as the weekend was free to go skiing finally.  Thursday I got to try out my rock shoes for the first time at the bouldering gym ("gime, what's a gime?").  At least after a couple hours of that I didn't have any really sore muscles over the next few days.

The weather forecast over the weekend was for (relative) warmth & clear skies, so I was keen to finally see if I could remember how to ski.  After a reasonable sleep in Saturday morning (much needed after [perhaps too-] generously babysitting Finn on Friday night so Megan & Alex could go see Harry Potter - Finn screamed most of the three & a half hours) & Megan being unable to join me I headed up to Sunshine alone.  I must never get to Sunshine so late on a weekend - it's not fun having to walk even half the length of the parking lot.

The early season snow wasn't great but it was nice to try out my skis & have a little refresher on what was a stunning day.  There was no wind & I think the mercury sat around -10 to -5ºC, so it wasn't unpleasant on the chairlifts.  I hit the new Strawberry lift first (sucker for little traditions like that) - it's a huge improvement on the old one, much faster & now a quad-chair.  I got quite a few runs in there, off Wawa & down from Jack Rabbit to the mid-gondola station before meeting another Aussie (a friend of Alex & Megan's whom I'd been for one G8 ride with some months ago), Joel, his girlfriend, Kristy & their colleague, Anya/Anja/???? for lunch .

After a leisurely lunch (the poutine was average, as was the service) & getting to know everyone a bit (not to mention many Fort Mac stories - always one of the hazards of sitting with a group of people that all work together) we were off up for quite a few runs down from Standish.  It was nice to be skiing with a group, as although it's nice to ski at your own pace & not have to wait around when you are alone, it gets a bit boring after a while & skiing with others better than you helps improve your own skiing - much like biking & many other things I suspect.   The views from the top of the Angel chair across the meadows to Mt Assiniboine were spectacular & rather a lot whiter than last time I was out this way.

After a rather rocky ski-out, what better way to treat bodies that have forgotten the aches of a day's skiing than a good soak in the Banff hot springs?  We couldn't think of one, so that was where we headed & it was great.  The day finished with a few beers & snacks at the Drake (somehow I've managed to avoid it over the previous seven months) - good yam fries (yams in this country are what we call kumara or sweet potatoes back home, not those tiny little red twisted vegetables).

Sunday dawned an even better day.  James (a workmate from LeFarge) & I were heading up the Spray Valley for an easy ski-tour to Chester Lake to start off the touring season.  The -20ºC at the parking lot didn't really seem that bad & with the skins on & climbing up the trail it wasn't long before the jacket was off.  We climbed for about 75 minutes before I was hungry (surprised I lasted that long) so we had lunch in the sun.  Getting past the annoying flats parts on the way back, the skins were off & we had a pretty cruisy run down to truck passing many others on their way up to enjoy the glorious day.  Thankfully not much of note happened this time - last time I was up here was the second & last of my shoulder dislocations.   There was snow, could do with more, & the views were good.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Damn you Air Canada & referrals

In the end I wasn't successful in convincing Air Canada to shift my return flight back a few months.  So now I'm going back to London for a massive three-day visit, at not inconsiderable expense, at the end of February.  About the only good part of this is that I'll get to see good friends & family - some of whom I probably wouldn't see for some years otherwise.

Now that I actually have the odd visitor, the Stats Tracker (that's what that funny little symbol is down  under the Twitter feed) has some little things of interest.  Apparently someone in Houston is using Netscape 4 - I don't think I've seen Netscape since I was in Bangkok in 1996.  The best one so far is that someone stumbled on this post by googling "piranha fire dept saw".  I'm not sure what I'm more surprised by - that that search term got to my blog or that someone actually searched for that.  But my little blog & its related search terms don't really compare to what this occurrence reminded me of.