Friday, July 4, 2014

11. Climb Outdoors in Colorado

So, like a fair number of other New Things on various lists, this one didn't go exactly to plan.  The plan was for Jon and I to do some outdoor climbing with our outstanding friend Leah, veteran and co-inventor of the original Year of 52. We did go climbing with Leah, and we did go outside with Leah and we did go climbing outside, but we didn't actually do all three of those things in combination at the same time.  Life is like that sometimes.
Since participating heavily in the first Year of 52 Leah left her New Bedford home and relocated to Boulder, Colorado, where she can and does rock climb and snow board to her heart's content. When I put together this year's list, Leah suggested I come out to her new adopted home and try my first trad climb. 
Our gracious host, Leah.
So for this year's spring break, we headed west for some exploration of the city of Boulder, and the canyons and mountains surrounding it. And though bad weather and Leah's work schedule cruelly conspired to prevent us from doing the trad climb outside together, they could not keep us from having a fabulous time.  For, nimble adjusters that we are, we substituted new plans for old ones.  The only full days Leah had were on the weekend, so during the week at night we went climbing in Leah's palatial local climbing gym (and working on lead climbing, something I had only done once and Jon had never done).  One night Leah took us up a local canyon and showed us a very easy place to set some anchors on our own so that the next day we did our first ever-climbing with just the two of us. 
First time Jon and I set a route all by ourselves -- Jon at the top...

...and then my turn.  I think this one was called Dirty Dave's Dumpster Dive.

And while Leah was at work during the week we explored some of the local attractions and hiking spots.
Nederland is a funky town -- half hippie, half Western, all fun.

Visiting the grand hotel that was the inspiration for The Shining (note creepy light in mirror behind us)

When the weekend came, we got stymied once again.  After a week of clear outdoor weather, it snowed and our outdoor climb was sadly cancelled yet again.  But we made the most of it and did a hike through the snow instead.
Brunch at a Persian teahouse while waiting out a very wet storm

Jon, Leah and Pumpkin on the way up Mount Sanitas
When the end of the trip came, my aspirations to try trad climbing had been deferred for a future climbing adventure, but it didn't matter.  We had hiked and explored and rock climbed and met many of Leahy's equally adventurous friends. It was a most excellent reminder of why a week with Leah cannot ever be dull, but just might be different than the original plan.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

10. Try Acro Yoga

I've found that one of the best things about trying new things is that it's an infectious habit.  Once I start listing the new things I want to try, I've found those near and dear to me start doing the same. A case in point is acro yoga, which got put on the list not by me, but by Jon, who decided it was something he really must try, and invited a number of us to try with him.  Unfortunately, currently the only weekly acro yoga class in the state of Vermont is in Montpelier, which is very convenient for Jon, but not so much for me.  So, Jon embarked on his acro journey with our friend Lynn, who found that she loved it as much as he does.  Most Wednesdays they are regular fixtures of at Lori's class at Yoga Mountain Center, and have been steadily increasing their skills and balance in all kinds of challenging poses.
A winter practice session at Lynn (upside down) and husband Ed's (spotting to ensure no traumatic falls) home in Montpelier, with Jon serving as base.

A recent picture of Lynn "flying" with our friend Kate (on the right) acting as spotter during an acro jam session on the lawn of the state capital building in Montpelier.
Anyone who wants to add some challenge to their planking can try copying Jon on this one, and base two other people planking at the same time.
Although the Burlington scene does not have a regular acro yoga class, there are regular acro "jams" at Sangha Studio on Friday nights, and as Jon and Lynn enthused about the wonderful qualities of acro, the temptation to try it got stronger.

So one night my good friend and rock climbing partner, Amanda, and I decided to forego our regular rock climbing evening and try an "acrojam" instead.  This could have been very daunting, since we were walking in as total beginners on a whole community of people who already know all kinds of poses.  But some of the veterans very kindly interrupted their regular practices to spend most of the session tutoring Amanda and I on the basics and giving us our first opportunities to try out "basing" and "flying".  We learned two things.  First, acro is hard!  It takes a combination of strength and flexibility and balance, and the work of "basing" on the bottom is very different than what it takes to "fly" above. Luckily, second, it's also fun! 
After we learned two other basic "flyer" positions, Amanda had her first chance to fly upside down...

...and then I did as well.

 Although we've only been back once, for a special once-a-month class run by Jon and Lynn's Montpelier teacher Lori, there are rumors that a regular class may be coming our way later this summer.  If that happens, we'll be there.  Until then, it's fun to dabble a teeny bit, and to appreciate the pictures that flow out from Montpelier and contemplate all the fun new things that are out there to try!

Monday, June 23, 2014

9. Take a Hike ON Lake Champlain

This is the very late last of the posts commemorating the good and the bad of the Winter That Went On and On and On, as the winter of 2014 will always be remembered in my heart.  As I'm writing it, I'm thinking of another upcoming New Thing in the same place.  This post is about walking on the lake to Knight Island; with any luck in the next few weeks I'll have another that's about canoeing on the lake, also to Knight Island.

The original hope had been to walk all the way across Lake Champlain from one state (Vermont) to another (New York).  It was the perfect winter for it: the coldest we'd had in years.  But the weekend we'd slated for our walkover we were peppered with warnings that the ice was beginning to crack. So, we adjusted accordingly. Even in warmer years when the Lake doesn't freeze over as it did in 2014 it almost always freezes in the area of the Champlain Islands, so we headed north to the venerable Hero's Welcome, a Vermont institution that is part deli, part general store, part sports equipment rental and one hundred percent local landmark.  It stands directly across the road from Lake Champlain and Knight Island.
Looking back at Hero's Welcome and the town of North Hero from the skating oval

We parked our car there, and got ready to try out the newest addition to our winter sport collection: Microspikes.  In case anyone has been on the fence on buying these guys, I'd say do it.  They are fantastic!  Walking on ice-- whether it's flat as it was that day, or alarmingly steep as it was when we put them to use on some rock climbing approaches a few weeks later in Boulder, Colorado -- is a million times easier when wearing Microspikes.
Trusty Microspikes!  Throw these babies on and your feet will stick to the iciest surface you can imagine. They may look strange but they sure do work.
The town of North Hero maintains an outdoor oval skating track across the street from Hero's Welcome, and we started our two-mile trek over the island there. Once we were past the cleared ice of the track, things got a little rougher, though we were by no means the only people out to get their last fix of the ice.  We passed people ice fishing as well as a few other walkers (with the usual dogs that accompany most Vermonters on ventures of an outdoor nature).
Jon, ready to embark on our two mile walk on (frozen) water.  Note both walking poles (which were not used) and yoga mat (which was).

People who've known me for a long time know that I have a tendency to pack light (for many years I had a personal rule of limiting myself to a single carry-on bag as luggage for any trip -- international or otherwise -- of three weeks or less).  But I have to admit that Jon has had an influence on me in that regard, and now I do see the value of preparing for more eventualities.

Me. looking rather rotund and happy in the lean-to, after eating some soup that Jon had just cooked on our campstove.
Balancing postures are appropriate for all occasions, right?
Starting the two mile trek back

On this particular jaunt across the lake, we weren't sure what mood might hit us, so we brought cooking equipment, frozen food (that part was easy!) and yoga mats, all of which got pressed into use when we set up in one of the lean-tos on Knight Island for lunch, some stretching and one last chance to appreciate the glorious cold sunshine that was one of the better aspects of the harsh winter that was 2014.   I am going predict (and hope) that the winter of 2015 won't be as cold, nor as long as the winter of 2014 was.  But even if it's not, the odds are good that the lake between North Hero and Knight Island will freeze. When it does, you could do worse than spending an afternoon walking on water between the two.  I might even lend you my Microspikes.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

8. Give Up Diet Coke

One of the best things about the original year of 52 was the momentum I had -- in doing new things and in writing about them.  For a combination of reasons, it's been much harder this time around on both fronts.  But today I resolved to redouble my efforts.  There are a bunch of New Things I've done since March that I want to record, and then I want to really embark on a major push to catch up to where I'll need to be in order to hit 52 by the end of 2014.

Since that feels like a very tall order, I thought I'd start my "catch-up" exercise by writing about something was very definitely not on my original list, but was added by my students -- Give Up Diet Coke. I think only a fellow Diet Coke addict can know what a big deal this one is.  I've had a 1-2 liter a day habit since high school. That's about 30 years of daily diet soda drinking, beginning with one as my breakfast beverage instead of coffee.  I drank it with meals, and while I was working in my office. I always had a supply of coins so that anywhere I went I knew I could get one from a vending machine if I wanted to. I used to make sure I had some for road trips, and during my grad school days, it was the first thing I'd have in the morning when I got up and the last thing I drank at night before I went to bed  And then on February 26, 2014, I just quit, and haven't had one since.  Simple as that.

I had "given up" Diet Coke a few times before.  It is hard to get in sub-Saharan Africa (though regular Coke is literally more accessible than water in many places there), and there have been a few trips to Tanzania where I had to go without for a week or two, until I got back to an urban area or the airport. I also made a major switch back in 2002 when we founded the Saint Michael's College of the Student Global AIDS Campaign, and the inaugural campaign of the group was called "kick Coke off campus" (part of a successful effort to force Coca Cola to make good on a hitherto empty promise to provide HIV treatment for all the sub-Saharan employees of the "Coke family"). In that case, "giving up" Diet Coke simply meant switching the same level of consumption to Diet Pepsi, and when the campaign was over, I was equally addicted to both, and not interested in giving up either.

I think I had pretty much decided that I was okay with this as my Big Vice, and might have stayed with that decision indefinitely, until some of the students of SGAC inadvertently made an intervention.  We were having a brainstorm about future campaigns, and began discussing the reasons we still found Coke's presence on campus (and its products globally) highly problematic for a group that supports global health and human rights,  As we began discussing the possibility of another Coke Campaign, the students turned to me and pointed out that this time I would have to really give up Diet Coke. Something clicked, and I agreed.  Lent was a week away, so I decided to think of it as something I was giving up for Lent, but starting a week early. I decided to start right then and there, and I haven't had one since.

The first couple weeks were tough, but actually I had thought they'd be much harder. I applied a few of the lessons I'd learned elsewhere including the original year of the 52.  They were:
1. accountability:  telling everyone you know you're going to do something may be a little self-involved, but it sure does work.
2. support: soliciting advice works, too.  I wasn't the first person to ever try to give up this habit, and lots of people had great advice, and support.  My friend Lilly even sent me a tea set and teas to substitute for my DC habit in my office.
3. one day at a time.  The cliché is true.  It's much easier to do things for a day than to imagine doing them for an entire lifetime. To my amazement, the one time I attempted to cheat, during Finals Week when I was sitting in my office grading and feeling sorry for myself, I went down to the vending machine and bought a diet soda (Diet Dr. Pepper, I think).  It tasted like a bunch of chemicals and after drinking about half if it I poured the rest down the sink.
4. if you think you can or you think you can't, you're right.  For 30 years, I thought I needed Diet Coke. It was a huge part of my daily habits and rituals.  Turns out I was wrong.  All I needed to do was figure that out.  Before that it seemed impossible.  After that it seemed straightforward.  It really is all in our heads. Really.

So, that's the report on New Thing #9.  Now to catch up on the other 43! 

Thursday, April 10, 2014

7. Go Cross Country Skiing under a Full Moon

One of my favorite things about the original year of 52 New Things was taking the opportunity to do things I'd done before in new ways.  The quintessential Vermont hike -- Camel's Hump -- became a New Thing when I did it, with various friends and family, in all four seasons.  A place I'd been to before, New York City, looked very different when it became the setting for 24 hours without sleeping there. So I was excited when Jon suggested the idea of doing something that had been on my original list - cross country skiing -- and add a new twist of doing it under a full moon.  Then friend and former student Michelle suggested that her current home would be a great spot.  It took a while for it to happen, but some things are so very worth the wait.

Jon and I on our first night-time cross country ski outing in Montpelier.

 The first chance to take advantage of some night-time cross country skiing (albeit not by the full moon) happened, ironically, because another New Thing we'd been planning got cancelled.  Jon and I and four friends -- Lynn, Ed, Sharon and Mark-- were signed up to learn how to cook with bugs.  Shockingly, though the six of us thought this would be a great way to spend an evening, our enthusiasm was not shared by the rest of Central Vermont and the bug cookout did not happen.  (We did manage to get a bug dinner in a few weeks later, though, and it is described here).

But since no bugs were in the offing, Lynn suggested we go to Plan B, a ski that took off from their backyard and went through nearby Hubbard Park.  Sharon and Mark bowed out, and our friend Kate joined in, but the real stars of the show were the two canine participants, Willow and Frank.  In fact, Frank was quite the hero, kindly swapping his awesome headlamp attached to his collar with the one with weak batteries I was wearing.  The swap occurred about 10 minutes into the ski, and suddenly things got a lot easier when I could actually see where I was going.
Kate, trying in vain to make Frank look at the camera for his spotlight moment.  Willow is rocking my all-time favorite dog fashion accessory -- her orange winter boots.

The family McNamara -- Willow, Ed and Lynn -- pause for a photo op.

A few weeks later, we got the chance to do the full-fledged full moon ski when Jon and I visited my friend and former student, Michelle, who now lives near the Sleepy Hollow Inn, Ski and Bike Center.  She had originally invited us out for the full moon on February 14, and when that hadn't worked out, I'd been worried whether there'd be good snow for the next one in March.  Of course, had I but realized that this was to be The (Almost) Neverending Winter, I'd have had no worries.  As it turned out, there was still plenty of snow when the next full moon came around on March 16.

Michelle had us over for a great chicken soup dinner, and an opportunity to ski straight out to a beautifully-groomed trail through the woods.  We skied the first half of it with our head lamps on, but then turned them off and navigated by the light of the moon.
Michelle and Jon about to hit the trail again, this time minus head lamp light.

Michelle and I first became friends when she was participated in a class trip to Tanzania that I co-led.  I am happy to see that the enthusiasm that endeared her to our Tanzanian hosts has only grown in the years since she graduated from Saint Mike's.

It was a pretty cold night, so we wore lots of layers, but it was amazing how fast you can warm up when skiing. I don't anticipate ever being a multimillionaire, but I definitely came to the conclusion that night that a personal, private cross country ski trail through the woods of Vermont wouldn't be such a bad thing.  Assuming that never happens, Michelle's invitation is probably as close as I'll get.  But it was awesome, and highlighted everything I love about my adopted state: the people who live here (and were skating beside me); the spectacular mountains and forests around us; the sparse population that allows for such unique experiences; and even the winter (though I don't often feel that in March and April), which blankets the state in a layer of snow that is both beautiful and fun to play in.  I think this year I've come to appreciate cross country skiing a lot more than I used to.  Compared to downhill it's much cheaper, can be done in many more places, and is more environmentally friendly.  But if you've never tried it under a full moon, do yourself a favor and put it on next winter's to-do list.  I promise, you won't regret it.

Friday, April 4, 2014

6. Try Nordic Skating

It seems like this winter has stretched on forever, which is my new official excuse for why it has taken me so long to write about the New Things I tackled during the winter of 2014.  But as the snow is rapidly disintegrating, so are my excuses, so here, with no further procrastination, is a report on something everyone needs to try -- Nordic skating.  I've spent most of the winter forcing all those who are close to me to hear, in minute detail, about my ever-so-incremental progress as a figure skater and ice dancer.  Lots of people have humored me, but they've been less enthusiastic about joining me, with a key issue being that it feels artificial: they want to skate outside. So my new answer to that one is Nordic skating.  Next year when I head up to Lake Morey everyone is coming with me. 

Next year, everyone's going.  This year it was Lynn, me, Jon and Liz.  My sweetie Jon and friend Lynn have been extraordinary good sports in this round of 52 thus far. My friend Liz is one of my figure skating role models, though on our day at Lake Morey she wore hockey skates.

So what's the deal with Nordic skating?  It's kind of a cross between ice skating and cross country skiing.  The skater wears a cross country ski boot and attaches a Nordic skating blade to the top binding, where a cross country ski would attach.  The skating blade is longer than a regular skating one, and is free on the heel end.
In case anyone was wondering, this is what a Nordic skate looks like, up close and personal.

 It just so happens that the longest outdoor track for ice skating sits on Lake Morey in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont. And the only shop selling Nordic skates in the US rents equipment there.  And the horrible cold that dragged on and on in Vermont this year froze Lake Morey good and solid so that there was no danger in using all of the track around the lake. So on the first Saturday in March all the stars aligned and it was time to try it out. 
Jon, Lynn and Liz getting ready to head out onto the ice.

The cool thing about Nordic skates is that they can handle imperfect ice.  I wouldn't say they glide right over everything, but they definitely handle some cracks and bumps pretty well, and it's not hard to work up a bit of speed, especially when you're on a 4.5 mile loop.  Of course, one thing about being on a lake that is very frozen in winter in Vermont is that there are others who want to take advantage of that as well, mainly people ice fishing.  So what is considering a skating track by Nordic skaters in considered a road by ice fishers in pickup trucks, and it's not too hard to figure out who common sense dictates has the right of way.
Lynn demonstrating the share-the-crowded-road concept with one of the friendly neighborhood trucks that were also using the lengthy loop we were skating.

Everyone we talked to said that this was the perfect year for outdoor ice skating -- lots of consistent cold weather meant that the ice on Lake Morey, and Lake Champlain for that matter, was more solidly frozen than it had been in years.  It may not be as strong next year, but if it's frozen again enough for the ice fishermen, I definitely want to go again, and everyone else should come along too!
Contrary to the dire predictions of many, there were no dramatic spills on the ice, so Jon thoughtfully volunteered to do a dramatic interpretation for the record.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

5. Try Curling

Although this entry is frightfully late - we actually did this one right before the Winter Olympics began -- it still feels vaguely appropriate to post about it now because we seem to be in the Winter Without End.  It's late March and still the snow and ice and sub-zero temps just keep coming.  So, if that's the way it's gonna be, then good.  Because I have a whole bunch of winter activities to write about, beginning with this one. 
Curling!  Here's Jon, showing off the all-important (and expensive $800+) curling stones under the watchful eye of our coach for the day.
So, curling.  That much-maligned, "is-it-REALLY-a-sport?" sport.  On the basis of my one brush with the skills and strategy of this game, I do not feel qualified to answer that burning question.  But I will say that, as with almost every new thing I've tried this year or in the 2010 New Things year, it's certainly harder than it looks.

First lesson of curling: ice is slippery.  Before you can do anything else, you have to learn to keep your balance doing sliding lunges, as Matthew and Christi are doing.
 And all my friends who yawned and politely declined cheated themselves out of an afternoon of humbling realizations about their own limitations with running, scrubbing and sliding on ice. And also, some great poutine. But luckily there were three takers, my perennially good-sport sweetie, Jon, and friends Matthew and Christi, who agreed to journey down from Montreal to meet us at the rink just over the border in Bedford, Quebec.
The four of us signed up for a learn to curl workshop put on by the Green Mountain Curling Club, and were paired with another newbie from Jericho, Vermont to form our four person+1 rotating team. The positions all have great names: lead, second, vice and skip (who, rather than the lead, is actually calling the shots).
 But of course, before we could play we had to learn the moves and the all-important vocabulary. Like bowlers, real curlers wouldn't be caught dead without their own curling shoes and stones, but since they're pricey we newbies got to borrow stones and use curling foot pads that we stepped on with our regular shoes as we learned to throw the stone.  Which, I repeat, was not as easy as it looked -- since it ends with the person throwing the stone lunging and sliding down the ice. And the stone has to make it to the hog line to even be considered in play.
The agony of the defeated stone thrower. All that effort and it didn't make it to the hog line.  But at least I didn't fall over.  Bonus on that one.

Once the stone is thrown, it's up to the scrubbers to help it down the ice and guide its path by running in front of it while scrubbing the ice in its path. 
Christi and Jon spring into action as scrubbers.

And there's the skip calling down from the opposite end of the rink telling everyone what to do (and if a skip doesn't realize that she just got promoted from vice skip to skip and it's her turn to pay attention and yell "scrub" down the ice really loudly it's possible she will get yelled at by her frustrated curling coach).
The skipper must also strategize about where the stone should be thrown to knock the opponent's stones out of position -- another task that in which I was less than stellar.

Despite offering several hours of our lives putting our best efforts in (and taking some embarrassing slides) to learn the fine art of curling, we lost our match, but we didn't care.  Our consolation prize was the best possible one a person travelling through rural Quebec can get -- poutine, of course.  Curling is definitely not going to replace ice skating in my book, but when it comes to junk food, it's Quebec for the win.
The all-important apres-curl.  Featuring Christi, Matthew, Jon and a couple of big plates of fries, cheese curds, and gravy -- junk food of the Gods.