Eyecatchers: A VERY Different Kind of Mobile Home

Now THIS is incredibly cool!

Via Inhabitat, I’ve come across this amazing tiny house, built on a trailer bed, in which five skiers/snowboarders lived, as they traveled around the U.S. and Canada in search of the best fresh powder they could find.

And the kicker, a killer surprise, it turns out that I know one of the skiers, a guy who helped my wife and I build a rock climbing wall in our home.

Anyway, it’s one thing to dream up an idea like this, but it really comes down to implementation, and this structure is nothing short of tremendously rad!

With only 112 square feet of space, which breaks down to a mere 22.4 square feet per person, space-saving measures like a sleeping loft, minimalist spiral staircase, mini-kitchenette, and a tiny wood-burning stove, make the space surprisingly functional. But, what I think is special, is that this house was built with great attention to detail as well as aesthetics. This could have been simply, ugly shack, but the carpentry is exquisite, with elegant trim touches, and the tiny front porch is an incredibly cute touch.

Here are some more photos (click on the images to enlarge), along with the 20-minute video about the project:

Bellingham’s Early Spring Arrives

Well, it’s that time of year again. Time to celebrate the arrival of spring, which in Bellingham happens, as I wrote last year, surprisingly early.

Though it was only a week or so ago when we had subzero temperatures and snow, for the past few days we’ve had lovely sunshine and temperatures in the low to mid 50s.

I just took the photo you see here, of those oh so welcome crocus that prop up in our yard year after year, signaling that Mother Nature’s annual reset button has been pushed. It is something I revel in.

At the same time, I’m not a winter hater, and I am hoping to get up to Mt. Baker to ski a few more times before the end of the season.

It’s the best of both worlds, right now, in Bellingham. Hooray!

Adventures in Skiing with a Herniated Disc

My actual spine, with slipped L5 vertebra

The last time I even mentioned skiing – my favorite winter pastime – was back in mid-December, when I reported that I’d been diagnosed with what was later called a simple herniated disc (actual x-ray to the right).

At that time, I was told not to ski.

On the barely-bright side, Mother Nature was apparently looking out for me, because for much of the time since then, the snow conditions have not been particularly great.

In the meantime, I was able to get my pain under control with plenty of rest and a cortisone injection, and my physical therapist eventually gave me the green light to work out in the gym, focusing on strengthening my core in order to better support my lumbar.

For the past three weeks, I diligently made it to the gym on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays, started feeling stronger and stronger, and in the past two weeks, conditions started to improve at the ski areas.

Finally, as I mentioned in a recent post about beleaguered vacation plans, in a desperate attempt to hobble together a measly 3-night getaway,  I succumbed to the call of the slopes, and headed up to Hemlock Valley Resort with the family this past weekend.

Hemlock, while nowhere near as well-known and popular as other ski areas in the region, is very nice, small, family-oriented, situated in a beautiful location high above Harrison Lake, the snow was nicely groomed, and the crowds were non-existent. Thanks to a few lighted runs, we skied for a few hours Saturday night and then all day Sunday.

Here’s the Mrs. at the top of the Sasquatch lift. If you look closely, you can see a little bit of Harrison Lake behind her head.

So, how did my back take it all, you might ask?

The Good News

I’m not in a lot of pain. There’s been some aching in the area, but no more than in my quads and hamstrings, which haven’t been used like that in months.

The Not So Good, But Not Necessarily Terrible News

I have had a return of some of the symptoms that I had been having prior to the cortisone shot, namely the tingling running down my left leg and into my left foot. It’s nowhere near as bad as it had been, however, and I was actually able to workout at the gym yesterday, and felt quite strong.

So, what do I do now, you might ask?

Do I take the return of the sciatica symptoms as a sign that it’s too soon to be skiing, keep with my core-strengthening regimen, and maybe squeeze in one last trip at the very end of the season?

Or, do I succumb once again to the call of the slopes?

In an effort to answer those questions, I’ll simply respond with another question:

How the HELL could anyone NOT go skiing when they read something like this?

Spinal Update

As I mentioned on Monday, I’ve been diagnosed with a spinal condition called spondylolisthesis, and I’ve been waiting since Monday for the results of an MRI, which, once interpreted by a neurosurgeon, were to determine a course of treatment.

Along those lines, I finally heard from the doctor and have been given some good news and some not-so-good news.

Good News
No surgery! The surgeon feels that my condition isn’t emergent and therefore it’s best to start with a more conservative treatment:

  1. cortisone injection to reduce the inflammation impinging the spinal nerves at the base of the spinal cord, which will, hopefully, relieve the pain and other symptoms (tingling, weakness, and numbness)
  2. physical therapy to strengthen the core.

Not-so-good News
No skiing for the foreseeable future, including the Christmas weekend trip to Stevens Pass. 😦

Mt. Baker 2010-2011: Day 2

If you are a skier or snowboarder and fortunate enough, as I am, to be able to afford your rather expensive winter recreational activity of choice, and you see a snow report like this:

…it’s almost impossible to not go!

Ironically, my usual ski/board companions — the Mrs. and the son — are, as I type this, settling in for a week at Grandma’s timeshare condo in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. So, I’ve rallied a few friends to carpool to Mt. Baker and frolic with me in the snow this Sunday.


Paying it forward…ski-style

You couldn’t ask for a better first day of the season at Mt. Baker.

As we wound our way east on Route 542 this past Sunday, we had one eye on the rain and one on the thermometer. We’d had our share of early season wet conditions, it’s a considerable crap shoot to drive the long and winding hour not knowing whether or not we’ll find it soggy at the ski area, and it’s a real bummer to have to make the choice between skiing in the rain or giving up on skiing and driving all the way home disappointed.

To our delight, as we started to gain elevation a few miles past the tiny hamlet of Glacier, the rain turned to beautful, fat flakes of snow. Yippee!!!

Joining us on this trip was our 19-year old Japanese Homestay student, Shuichi, who hadn’t skied since his one and only time, when he was 5 years old in Japan. We got Shuichi set up with the beginner package — lift ticket, gear rental, and lesson for $48 — but we weren’t really sure how the day would go, since the beginner lift ticket is for Chair 2 only and we like to ski all over the mountain.

Shuichi’s lesson didn’t start until 11:30, so I agreed to stay with him until then and teach him a few things. We started with the wedge — toes and knees pointing inward, back straight, hands out in front, poles pointing backward — from the rental shop down to the bottom of the rope tow, and Shuichi, while looking incredibly uncertain and uncomfortable, was actually able to make turns without me even mentioning how to do so. And while the rope tow is challenging to get on and off of, Shuichi did pretty well. I encouraged him to allow himself to get used to a little speed on the practice hill, letting his skis go parallel, facing downhill, and then apply the wedge to slow down and turn. He fell a couple of times and was able to notice that the snow was soft, and this was good as doing so can often relieve some of the fear of injury.

At 11:30, I left Shuichi in the capable hands of his instructor, took off to join the Mrs. and the son at the top of Chair 3, and we got in a nice hour and half in on Chairs 4, 5, and 7. The only tricky part of the morning was the fog.

At the top of Chair 5 the visibility was incredibly bad, like 50 feet bad, making it hard to see other skiers and boarders and hard to read the contours of the slopes. It was the first time I’ve felt fear on Chair 5 since the first few times I skied it, and it was a thrill and felt like a great accomplishment to get down to the lift unscathed. (You can see some of the fog behind Julian in the photo above, but this was about halfway down.)

At lunchtime, we met up with Shuichi, who looked utterly exhausted. He reported that he’d gotten too hot and he was practically non-verbal until after he consumed a significant amount of water. But when I asked him how the lesson went, I found, much to my surprise, that his instructor hadn’t taught him any more than I had shown him in the morning, and Shuichi still had not made it onto the chairlift.

I had a very mixed reaction to this. On one hand, it seemed the lesson was a waste of money, on the other I felt rather proud that I’d been able to teach Shuichi the same thing that people paid money for. I’d benefited from lessons a few years ago from a friend of mine, and so it felt really good to pay it forward.

And so, after lunch, I was determined to help Shuichi get on Chair 2, which included going down the steepest hill he’d go on all day just to get to the lift. The Mrs. and the son once again took off, and as Shuichi and I made our way to the top of that steep hill I watched him closely to see if he seemed ready. Happily, he did look much more comfortable than before the lesson and, upon looking at the hill he had to go down, he agreed to go for it.

I took the lead and told Shuichi to follow me as I made wide s-turns until we were halfway down. Stopping briefly, I explained that we needed to pick up a lot more speed from that point onward, since the snow levels were still low and there was about a 30-degree grade from the bottom of the hill up to the chair. And though Shuichi wasn’t ready to point his tips straight down in order to get the speed he needed and had to sidestep it up to the lift, he’d made it down the hill and I could tell that he was pleased.

As he pushed through his fear of heights by riding the chairlift and made it down the green beginner runs a few times, I could tell that he was on his way and enjoying himself. After our third lap, with an hour left to ski, Shuichi reported that he was tired and done for the day, assuring me that he did not mind at all if I took off to join up with the Mrs. and the son.

That last hour was a blast! I met up with the family and we tore it up, cramming as much in as we could before the lifts shut down.

It’s an amazing feeling, gliding down the mountain with the Mrs. and the son, weaving in and out of each other’s paths, collectively feeling the joy of play that so often seems in terribly short supply in the day-to-day grind we get caught in.

The drowsy ride home was quiet, as we privately scanned through the day, and in my mind I was already planning my next trip to the mountain.

You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows

So, it’s being reported

Forecast: Plan now for bad Puget Sound winter
The Associated Press

SEATTLE – — Weather forecasters are warning Puget Sound residents to plan now for a colder, wetter and snowier winter.

A La Niña weather pattern is likely to bring nastier weather to the region, especially in late fall and early winter. The weather pattern occurs when the temperature of the ocean’s surface cools near the equator, sending storms to the Pacific Northwest.

And while the state of Washington is concerned about safety and liability…

A new program called “Take Winter by Storm” has been set up to help people get ready. It includes a website, http://www.govlink.org/storm, with advice on how to prepare. The $240,000 program is a collaboration by King County, the city of Seattle, Puget Sound Energy and State Farm insurance.

…the Mt. Baker Ski Area has created a special page on their website, giddy they are with anticipation of possible record snowfalls…and windfall profits.

Most notably, the World Record winter of 1998-99 was a La Niña winter. In just that winter, we received 1,140 inches of snowfall, which became the new World Record for the most snowfall ever recorded in a single winter anywhere on Earth.

Last year, Mt. Baker opened unusually early, thanks to plentiful snow a week into November. But then the season quickly turned rainy and slushy, until a surprise cooler and snowier early spring encore.

Personally, while I’m tempted to get my skis out and take them in for a tune-up, I’m not counting any snowflakes until they hatch!

Slush is just alright with me

me on skis
You know how it is when you’re driving on the freeway, perhaps a little, ahem, faster than you should be, like, say 75 MPH in a 70 MPH zone, and you’re a little nervous about being over the speed limit, but then, suddenly, some car comes zooming past you, really zooming, like they are there one moment and then they’re out of sight in seconds, and you realize that they must be driving like 90 MPH or more…and you were worried about getting a ticket?

According to a page on the internets:

Slush happens when snow that is starting to melt becomes even wetter. Wet snow is the stickiest snow in the world and slows you down. Not much fun at all.

While there was definitely some of what I’d call slush down at the chairlifts at Mt. Baker yesterday, I’m more inclined to describe the overall conditions the way they did at the Mt. Baker Snow Report: nice soft snow.

I like all three of those words. Nice. Soft. Snow.

The alternative – bad, hard, ice – was happily nowhere to be found. Neither was there rain nor relentless heavy winds. I considered it a stellar day: comfortable temps (wore a light jacket over an underlayer and light sweater), I made some good progress improving my carving skills, and I had a blast with my family and our new 21-year old Homestay student from Singapore.

Still, it was impossible to escape the complaining by those people whom, I assume, could very likely be the same people who zoom past me on the freeway when I myself am speeding. To those people, as the definition of slush I linked to points out, wet snow slows you down and is not much fun at all.

I’m pretty comfortable now calling myself an intermediate skier, as I spend most of my time on the intermediate, or Blue, runs, and if all I can do is become a great skier on Blue runs I’ll be very happy. I’m not an adrenaline junkie, Black Diamond kind of guy. If wet, soft snow slows me down and allows me to focus on the fundamentals that is just alright with me.


Baker Report: Day 1

Well, it didn’t look much like the photo here, with rain falling on us all day, but we managed to have a great time.

At first, when we realized that the weather forecast had lied to us for the millionth time, we were all a bit disappointed. There was plenty of snow, since 200 inches had fallen in November, but snow wear and rain wear are two very different things. Our poly underwear, jackets, pants and gloves keep us dry and toasty all day when it’s snowing or clear on the mountain, yet our gear is not waterproof and we were soaked through by lunchtime.

Still, it was our first ski/snowboard trip of the year, the slopes were wide open because of a low turnout, so with no long lines at the lifts we crammed in a lot of runs and had a lot of fun. I’m able to keep up with my wife and son a lot better, and so we had more together time.

A friend of ours likes to say, “It’s all skiing!” It’s kinda like the bumper sticker that says, “A bad day _________ is better than a good day at work.” Yet, our friend’s saying is broader than that. To him setting the alarm to get up early the night before is skiing. Packing the car in the morning is skiing. Driving that long, winding road to the ski area is skiing… well, you get the idea.

So the rain? It’s all skiing!

Mt. Baker, here we come!

I’m not a morning person, and I don’t like going to bed early. However, there is one thing that will highly motivate me to hit the sack several hours before my normal bedtime, and do so filled with excitement, like I’m a little kid the night before Christmas or something.

Tomorrow morning will be our first trip to Mt. Baker this season, and I’m already in bed and in my jammies as I write this.

The snow report looks great, the weather forecast appears to be highly favorable, and we’ll be driving up more relaxed than ever before, in the improved safety of our new-used 4-wheel drive Hyundai Santa Fe.

I have a goal to get up to Chair 8 this season, I’m pretty sure that it won’t be this first trip, but I’m determined to get there as soon as possible.

Wish me luck!