Thursday, December 27, 2012

Assault weapons.

It's winter in Missoula, and as usual there's simmering debate in the letters to the editor page about city plowing -- or lack thereof. Back in Salt Lake City there seemed to be an army of plows and an endless supply of salt to throw down; I can only remember one time where the roads stayed snowpacked for more than a few hours. Not so Missoula. When it storms the main half-dozen or so roads get plowed, and a dozen or so more get scraped the next day, and that about wraps things up. The street in front of our house gets plowed about once a year, and I have not seen evidence of a plow on the side street in three years. The result is that most residential streets stay snowpacked for a few months.

Since I'm still biking about 12 miles a day, and since almost all of that is on unplowed streets, I've been looking for a bit more traction. Bike stores here actually sell factory-made studded tires for commuter and mountain bikes, but as you can see, they ain't cheap.

I've made my own pair, and while I don't have a ton of mileage on them yet, they are working very well. And they cost $2.85. Total.


A great Missoula resource is Free Cycles. Free Cycles has a nice, clean, well-stocked shop and people who know what they are doing. They collected discarded, scavenged, and donated gear, spruce it up, and offer it and the workspace for free or by donation. Using the advice of Bob, the shop chief, I got four mountain bike tires, two which were about 2 inches wide and with good tread, and two which were about 1.5 inches wide and with well-worn tread. I then went to Ace and bought a box of 185 tiny sharp screws. I then sat on the kitchen floor for about two hours last weekend and screwed the screws into the good tires, then shoved the older thinner tires inside the good tires, then mounted the double-tire set onto the rim and inserted the tube. The outer tire has good tread about about 80 sharp-as-hell screws sticking out; the inner tire acts as a buffer to protect the screw heads from the tubes.


I can report so far that he upside is that I have very good traction. The downside is that I have bike tires that weigh about 10 pounds each and a LOT of rolling resistance.

We'll see how long this works.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Fifty shades of white/Smelling snow.

Like all good employees I saved my personal days at work for the ski season, and so last weekend I made a run for the border. There are certain places where though even though I may have only been there for a few moments I will always assume that the weather present on that day was the weather that place always has. You will never convince me that the sun shines in Paris, that Santiago is ever anything other than the land of eternal spring, and that Flic-en-Flac ever budges off the thin autumnal line between too warm and too cool. I’ve driven, hiked, and skied across and around Kootenay Pass in British Columbia a handful of times and have experienced ice fog, sideways snow, and low clouds – but usually it’s just fat white flakes falling straight down.


(Contemplating a descent)

Kootenay Pass marks the high point of Canada’s transcontinental Highway 3, and is one of the snowiest places in North America. Simply putting a highway across the pass was audacious; keeping it open year-round for tourists, skiers, truckers, and commuters is an impressive feat. If you want to see big machinery pushing behemoth piles of snow around in a world of eternal twilight, this is the place to go.



These days are short up on Kootenay Pass; the sun sets before 3:40 p.m., but as I doubt the sun ever shines what you get is not so much a sunset as a two-hour-long subtle differentiation among degrees of white. The shades of white, and kinds of whiteness, and the transformation of every object on the mountain from its true color into that of white, is the definition of this place.


(Readying for another lap)


(Done for the day)

So the order of events was skiing. I made a headlamp lap on Lookout Pass, camped, skied the morning at Schweitzer on a $10 lift pass, then crossed the border and rallied up Kootenay Pass, where I made a lap in the last ounces of light and slept in the back of the truck. The next morning with a half-foot of new on the ground I pulled the old guy’s trick of waiting for excited locals to show up and break trail so I did not have to. I hiked up Lightning Ridge and found a group of Calgarians skiing into the Twin Lakes drainage. I followed them and we took turns breaking trail up and making 1,000-foot descents in loose glades, steep lines, and billowy faceshotting cold smoke. At the end of the day they handed me off to a local, who let me sleep in their garage at the base of the pass in Salmo, and on Sunday we were back at it, breaking trail and eating snow. New fallen snow has no color and no weight, but it does have a smell that you can only experience when you are under head in it: that of cold blue clean electricity, a rare and beautiful smell that I would gander few have experienced. Hopefully I will again – but I have to save up more personal days at work first.


(Headed home)