Snow to Surf

Every year for the past nine, a group of friends and I have done the Snow To Surf relay race in Comox, BC. Our team, Frontrunners Foxxy, consists of nine members: one downhill skier (who also has to run UP the mountain in the race!), one cross-country skier, two runners, one mountain biker, one kayaker, one road cyclist (me), and two canoe paddlers. Plus two "team support" who drive us around and organize race-day logistics. We have had a pretty consistent group over the years, with a few sub-ins when someone hasn't been able to make it. I've actually missed two years, one for a work conference and last year due to an injury. I'm talking injury, not just one of those "boohoo, my hamstring is sore..."; and I won't go into too much detail suffice to say I still have a cane tucked in the back of the closet from when I couldn't walk without it, and a lot of metal in one elbow to make it fully functional. But I digress, back to this year.

I was grumbling about doing the race earlier in the week, as in my head I saw this weekend as doing my training then sitting on the couch. For some reason it seemed terribly inconvenient to do a race, especially since my coach wasn't letting me off the hook from some big workouts. Friday my legs were still smarting (what a funny term) from my long run the day before and I continued to grumble as I packed my bag. Saturday I woke up early and went to my swim workout, then came home and headed out for a 3-hour ride where I spent some serious energy trying to stay on Jason's wheel until he (mercifully) headed in a different direction. More packing, and then some more grumbling in the car as Catherine drove us up to Mt. Washington.

The grumbling was quickly forgotten, however, as soon as we arrived up the mountain and got together with this fabulous group of girls. Some I see all the time, but others I only really see during this race weekend. We are a diverse group, the common theme is we're all well-educated and love the outdoors, but other than that, you name it, there is someone who does it. We spent the evening laughing, eating, drinking, and laughing some more (did I mention laughing), and then when it was way too late to be up for a race the next day, we headed to bed.

Race day dawned, and although we all have a game face, we only wear it for our specific leg so the morning was still pretty low key. We all split up to go to our respective start areas, where really it means waiting for a long, long time, especially when your leg is one of the later ones. Mine is the second-last leg, so the bonus is a get a big cheering squad, but the bummer is I spend a lot of time sitting around in a parking lot. Leigh dropped me off for my check-in, then I went for a long warm-up riding around the town of Cumberland. Too bad the race started later than scheduled, and while I was waiting it poured rain, so my warm-up was worn off by the time my start rolled around.

When Janet jumped out of her kayak and handed off to me, I hammered the false flat into town and pretty much thought I was going to puke. My goal was to give a hard effort for the entire 30k (I figured since it was short I better make it tough), and while I was pedaling strong, I was gasping for air for about the first 20 minutes until I settled into a rhythm. I never eased off, passed a couple of guys, and soon enough I was passing off to Sarah in the canoe. We all got to watch Sarah and Kate paddle into the finish, and turns out we finished in 8th place. Not a PR (we've been as high as 2nd, and have several 3rd place finishes to our name), but a good day overall and good times with good friends.

The fun weekend left me tired, but excited for next year when I promise less grumbling during the lead up!


Workout wear has its own fashion category. I'm not talking about the ever-popular (but low quality) Lululemon yoga wear, I'm talking about how each sport seems to have its own fashion rules. Additionally, a new cute workout outfit can be a great motivator to get your butt out the door! And just how much time before a race do we spend thinking about just the right race kit for the event?

I have lots of snazzy cycling and running clothes. Mostly cycling. Team kits, fun kits, baggies for the mountain bike, skorts for commuting, you name it. One of my favourites is the now-retro first generation Team Frontrunners kit, back when they were still making female-specific kits. Pink, black, and white, and very flash. I don't wear it often but when I do, it takes me to a happy place. Another fave is a cycling skort, black with flowers, with matching cap-sleeve jersey. Va va voom! I have lots of run-of-the-mill pieces for cycling, running, workouts, hiking, etc, but every now and then I like to throw on something with a little more personality.

I have a friend, I'll call her Dodie (because that's her name), who is a true fashionista. Now I think I'm pretty pulled-together on a daily basis, but Dodie is New York City. Five star. Really knows her haute couture. However, when she started mountain biking she would show up in the most unusual (and fashion faux-pas to the cycling crowd) outfits, and it was the one time Catherine and I felt more "stylish" than Dode. I'll never forget the three of us, on the eve of an adventure race we were competing in, planning our look for race day. We were concerned that it would be chilly in the morning, and Dode exclaimed that wouldn't be a problem as she had armwarmers. Catherine and I threw each other an impressed glance, as we certainly didn't have cycling armwarmers when we were neophytes to the sport. But when Dode pulled them out, we collapsed with laughter as they were pink, yellow and white striped woolen things that didn't fit with the image of a cycling kit armwarmer. Of course, Dodie has not only become a skilled mountain biker, but has also eclipsed Catherine and I in mountain bike fashion.

Yesterday I was guilty of committing a cycling fashion crime. I was riding the trainer, which meant a solo effort in the basement, and since I wasn't leaving the house I created quite the clashing ensemble. Charcoal tank top, orange and red striped sports bra, but the clincher was bibshorts which you just can't do with a tank overtop. It was an interesting look to say the least.

Scene of the crime: riding in the basement.
At least I didn't leave the house in this getup.

I am doing Ironman Arizona in the fall, and that means spending a lot of time swimming, biking and running in preparation. It also means time spent testing a variety of nutritional strategies to get me through the single-day event of a 4k swim, 180k bike, and 42k run. And of course it means searching for the perfect outfit, one that will be comfortable but also look great over a long day. An excuse to spend internet shopping time as "race prep". Hooray!

My dog is a weirdo

Now, this is not going to come as a surprise to those of you who know Humu, but my dog is a weirdo. She has been afraid of barbeques for her entire life. I have no idea where she may have picked up this fear, as Jason and I don't even own a barbeque. It's not like she had a near-death experience with one as a puppy. Perhaps in an earlier life?

You can play a fun game with her. Put a barbeque in her path, and she'll make a huge loop to detour around it. She takes the long way off the deck at Norm & Wendy's to avoid the scary grill monster, and at Tim's she sprints out the door as that same monster is right next to the back entrance.

Whenever someone is barbequeing in the neighbourhood, she runs laps around the back yard sniffing and barking like crazy. Someone not in the know may believe she's trying to communicate with invisible aliens, but the truth is she's letting everyone know the grill monster is active.

Funny thing though, she'll eat anything cooked off a barbeque. With serious gusto.

What a Difference a Week Makes

It was a mere week ago that I complained about the weather while out riding. What a difference a week makes. I went for a ride yesterday with my good buddy Tim, and we both reveled in a spectacular spring day. It also turned into a micro-wildlife spotting day, as Tim is a parasitologist and knows more about "herps" (lizards, snakes, amphibians...) than, oh, pretty much anyone.

I was taking Tim along an old railway grade from along a river, and then another back to town. Remembering last week's ride, I had my winter riding jacket, booties over my cycling shoes, thermal gloves... needless to say soon into the ride I was peeling layers off as I began to steam up. We passed people walking their dogs, crossed some trestle bridges over creeks, and headed further from town and into the forest. The trees were green with mosses and lichens, and tiny creeks were rushing with the snowmelt in the mountains. It was an altogether beautiful ride.

Sure sign of spring - skunk cabbage everywhere.
A particular favourite of bears, and although we
saw scat, we didn't see any lumbering bears on our path.

I discovered that Tim has a particular talent for identifying snakes on the fly. I guess I already knew that from a ride we did ten years ago in the Okanagan valley, as we spent a lot of time ID'ing squished rattlesnakes and other species on the side of the road. Twice we were clipping along at a pretty good pace when he hit the brakes and turned around. The first was a regular old, garden-variety garter snake (the Northwest garter snake), but the second was a rarer species of garter snake I didn't know about, the Western Terrestrial garter snake. This one was coiled up like a venomous snake, ready to strike! They are not venomous, but are aggressive and will bite. Cute little thing, really. Was it planning on gumming me to death? They do eat small fish and even small mammals, which is pretty cool!

Western Terrestrial garter snake acting tough.

We saw several red-legged frogs, which is exciting as there are population concerns due to habitat loss, agriculture, urbanization and forestry. Those are all definitely factors here in the valley, so it was good to see these frogs, even though it was only a quick glimpse, as they dove into ponds and buried themselves in the mud to avoid us.

On the mammal front, we saw lots of gnawed trees by swamps, several dams, and a big beaver lodge. The area we rode through is frequented by Roosevelt elk, and although we didn't see any, we did see quite a few tracks.

The tilted tree has a beaver lodge in front of it.

Elk tracks.

Even though we rode for three and a half hours, it passed quickly and soon we popped out onto the pavement back in town. I love afternoons in the outdoors, with good friends and fresh air.


I am going to admit something that bothers me a bit. I have been driving for, oh, 25 years now, and I haven't mastered backing up. This bothers me because I consider myself a capable driver, and let's face it, an all-around capable person. But I just can't seem to back up without the odd incident.

Tonight I was leaving my friend Diana's and ended up in the ditch. In my defense, her driveway is dark and a bit sketchy (sorry Di), and she did say I wasn't the first to end up there. I drive a VW camper van, which is long and not the easiest thing to see out the back of. I couldn't really see the gravel/lawn edge I was trying to follow (where are my glasses anyway...), and was fixating on a bush at the end of her driveway. Problem was, I ended up on the wrong side of the bush.

I was starting to feel like something was going horribly wrong, and when I saw Kim, who was leaving at the same time, stop and get out of her car and run over to me, I stopped. Lucky for that, as I was a couple of centimeters from backing off a small embankment at that point which would have done some damage! As it was, instead I was just embarrassingly stuck and had to call a tow truck.

Cowichan Towing to the rescue! The picture is blurry
as I was laughing at the ridiculousness of the situation.

This isn't the first time this has happened. A couple of incidents come to mind; perhaps there's more but I've blocked them out. Almost 20 years ago I was backing out of a boyfriend's driveway and somehow managed to back through the rose garden. Let's just say his mom didn't really take much of a shine to me after that. And about a decade ago, my friend Norm had just moved to Nanaimo into a house nicknamed the "Hammond Bay Hilton", with a driveway that had a steep ditch on either side. Yep, I ended up in that ditch too. At least I didn't need a tow truck that day as my car was small enough for us to push out. There was the time I was towing a trailer full of bark mulch and got stuck at the end of a dead end road. I was rescued by a kid who didn't even have a driver's license but got me turned around.

I've kept this inability well hidden, in fact most people wouldn't even know that this is a problem for me. Last month Jason and I drove my mom's minivan to California. Jason couldn't figure out why I was gushing over the back-up camera! Now he may understand.

April Fools?

Ha ha, that was a good one. Very funny. But, Mother Nature, April Fool's Day is over, so enough with the joke. Can we please go back to spring weather now?

I'll admit I didn't dress perfectly for the weather. I checked the forecast, and looked carefully at the sky in the direction we were planning to ride. I did wear my winter cycling jacket. Yes, I went with lightweight tights, and didn't wear wool socks. But I did wear booties, and both Jason and I carried extra gloves. So I think we made the appropriate nod to the temperature.

I figured we'd get a little wet. What I didn't count on, however, was being hit with snow. Then a torrential downpour. Then gale-force winds. All of this within the first 40 minutes of a planned 3 hours... just to ensure we were soaked and frozen early on. I mean, come ON. There was blue sky when we left home. Oh, the irony, considering my previous post.

We turned around early because my feet and arms were frozen. I waived the white flag; we surrendered. I even let Jason go home ahead of me so he could pick up his pace and warm up a bit. Mother Nature 1, Alison 0.

Why was it, though, by the time I got home, the roads were dry and the skies were clearing up? Knowingly this time, I didn't take the bait. Rather than turn around and head back out, I finished the last 20 minutes on the trainer downstairs. Sure enough, along came the rain again. Mother Nature 1, Alison 1.

We're even now, so let's be friends again. I know you're mad that we're adding to much CO2, methane, and other greenhouse gases to the atmosphere, and making it even worse through deforestation, industrialization, and urbanization. I know climate change means more unpredictability and more severe weather. I know all that. But I also know I'm tired of winter, and March 20 was a couple of weeks ago, so I've been more than patient. Yes, we did have a really warm winter, but let's face it, it was still winter. My cherry trees have exploded with blossoms, and the frogs in the pond down the way are so loud it's practically defeaning. Jason's out mowing the lawn. Nature is crying out for spring, so let's see some action. Please. Great April Fool's joke, but let's move on.

Stormy Weather

I woke up this morning to a dark house, and no alarm, as the power was off. Luckily it's a holiday so I didn't have to be up at any particular time. I heard the wind and the rain in that half-asleep-half-awake state, but ignored it and drifted back into dreamtime. The dog crawled into bed with us, knowing that a storm outside means take refuge inside. She'll take any excuse to take refuge under the covers.

I love storms. Maybe it's something primeval inside of me, or maybe it's the sheer satisfaction in knowing that no matter how much humans screw with our Earth, nature can come kick our asses anytime. I like to pay attention to the sky and what it's telling us, as weather dictates a lot of what I do. My homepage is set to the Environment Canada weather, and I've been known to hide a weather radio under my pillow, and quietly listen to the forecast before Jason is even awake.

I think, for the most part, people now ignore the sky, treating it almost like visual muzak in the background of their day. There would have been a time, before TV, before radio, before electricity, that the sky would provide entertainment, news and information. Weather provides us with drama, it can be extreme and powerful, or it can be peaceful and idyllic. I mourn the lost connection between this last vestige of untouched nature and people: the sky.

My husband, in his infinite wisdom, decided that today - on this very day of the biggest storm of 2010 so far - we'd build a shed in the backyard. Power outages, road closures, debris blowing through the yard... none of these were signs to him that perhaps indoor activities were a better idea. However, some of the most fun things we've done in the past were made more entertaining because of the weather. A couple of years ago we climbed Lassen Peak, a 10,000 foot volcano in California, in the middle of a windstorm. Without the wind it still would have been memorable, but toughing it out and having to stay low in spots to literally avoid being blown off the side of the mountain made it a more salient experience. I remember keeping one eye on the sky and its burgeoning clouds the whole time, looking out for any sign of lighting in the distance which would have meant a sprint down to the base.

I spent six months sailing in the Pacific almost two decades ago, and the days that stand out the most were the days spent heeling over, tied to the deck rails and fighting with the sails and rudder to keep the boat on course in the gales. We had plenty of calm, sunny days with puffy, fluffy clouds, but it was the grey, howling skies and frothing seas that still bring a smile to my face.

An otherwise ordinary mountain bike ride with my friend Catherine became filled with excitement and adrenalin as a storm closed in on us. Branches broke off and rained down around us, as we sped down the mountain as fast as we could ride, trying to get back to our cars before being crushed by a falling tree.

I see art in the sky as I look out and up. I was born in Saskatchewan, and there the sky is a masterpiece every day, and the vista stretches out endlessly beyond my view. I've lived in coastal BC for over 20 years, and still miss the skies of the prairies. I try to look for the subtleties here instead of being smacked in the face by the sheer drama of the flatland sky. Today the sky is a flat grey, but the green fir trees blowing at crazy angles and the rain being blown sideways by gusts provides some relief to the monochrome canvas backdrop.

Jason finally decided the shed could wait until tomorrow. Instead, we're going to sit in the hot tub and let the weather swirl around us. My only hope is that it doesn't blow my drink over. Cheers.