Friday, November 20, 2009


While the packing of my clothes before heading to Boulder was a process so hasty that it bordered on negligent, the decision of which of my two beloved bikes to bring was not an easy one. While a mountain bike makes more sense for winter in Boulder, my current athletic pursuits more frequently involve the skinny tires of my road bike. Back and forth I went, until I decided that leaving either bike back home would be a grave injustice both to the neglected bike and also my mother, who has been trying to get my stuff out of the garage/basement/living room for the better part of a decade. So it was that both bikes found their way to the roof of the car for the cross-country journey.

I had been out on the roadie a couple of times, but only in the past week did I head out onto a few modest dirt trails outside of town and rediscover my love for mountain biking. Last Friday I decided I had graduated from the trails skirting town itself, and took a drive into the mountains proper with my bike riding shotgun, looking for a little more excitement.

The ride at Betasso Preserve is a 3 mile (5 kilometer) loop carved into the mountains of the Front Range about a ten minute drive from town. It was near-freezing at an elevation of around 6200 feet (1,890 meters) when I parked the car, tightened my helmet's chin-strap and wondered whether wearing shorts had been the best idea. It was a bleak-yet-beautiful November afternoon. I was mostly alone on the trail and had stunning views of surrounding peaks, rocky and snow-capped set against the cold grey sky. I could see the city of Boulder six miles (ten kilometers) in the distance, neatly tucked onto the valley floor just beyond Boulder Canyon. Off I went.

I am riding my mountain bike on the side of a mountain in Colorado. Awesome.

I planned to do the loop two or three times and felt especially vigorous early on my first lap. I screamed through the downhills and thought "Hey, this isn't so hard," until it occurred to me that since this was a loop and I was enjoying so much help from gravity on the first half, I would be in for some serious climbing on the second half. The lungs burned shortly after passing the midway point and starting the climb, not used to either the elevation or having to grind my heavy mountain bike up hills. Round about the start of the second loop, a few errant flake fell from the clouds that were starting to sock me in. Not really a bona fide snowfall, but enough that I could say that it was, in fact, snowing.

I am riding my mountain bike on the side of a mountain in Colorado. And it is snowing. Awesome.

I entered the second loop and took it a little bit quicker, having scoped things out the first time around and feeling a little more comfortable in the saddle, even with some sudden drop-offs beside the single-track trail. I let myself bank a little higher in the turns and unlocked my bike's rear-suspension so that I could more comfortably bounce over rocks. As I did this, I noticed that my views of surrounding peaks were disappearing quickly as the snow fell heavier.

And heavier.

And heavier.

Wait a second, this has gone from novelty to gnarly pretty quickly. What had been a few errant flakes ten minutes before had turned into a real-deal, holy-shit-grab-your-skis-type of snow fall. It was coming down hard and I was right in the middle of it, with the dried browns of the elevated landscape turning to bright whites before I started climbing my way out of the second loop.

I am riding my mountain bike on the side of a mountain in Colorado. And it is snowing. Hard. Awesome.

With my smile growing as the snow accumulated the ride became a little trickier. Rocks became slick. The trail was tough to find in wide-open spaces where the snow was piling up the most. And in every turn my tires would spray a stinging batter of gravel, snow and mud, like someone had taken the egg beaters out of the mixing bowl. Snow was so thick on my watch that I couldn't see what time it was as I was riding, and the white stuff was piling up on my glasses as well. Thinking it to be somewhat unsafe to not be able to see, I paused for a second to clean off the ol' specs. The problem was, gear-head that I am I was wearing only non-absorbent technical fabrics at the time. So rather than sop up the snow and clean my glasses off the way a cotton t-shirt would, my wicking top simply served to spread the wealth, so to speak, smearing the snow and mud all over the lenses ensure only the soupiest of visibility.

I am riding my mountain bike on the side of a mountain in Colorado. And it is snowing. Hard. And my glasses look like the before picture in a windshield-wiper commercial. Awesome.

I spent the rest of the ride alternating between trying to see through my cataract-simulation lenses (dangerous because I couldn't see much of anything) and peering over the top of them, wincing like I had just taken a shot to the groin as my eyeballs were pelted with the icy snowflakes (dangerous because I couldn't see much of anything). The snow continued and I finished the final climb of the ride, my heart pumping and quads furious with me as I arrived back to the car, hoping that the snow caked to my bike would stay there so that I would look hard core as I drove down the mountain, through the canyon and back into town.

I often seek elements of the spiritual or sublime in my outdoor endeavours. Indeed, that search is what frequently calls me to the woods in the first place. And while there were flashes of the sacred in that high country bike ride, the best part of it was that it was, well, fun. I got dirty. I yelled "woo hoo". I went too fast and I loved the fact that it seemed like a bad idea to be out riding as the snow fell against my bare legs. If I can come away from every bike ride, run or hike with no greater insight than an appreciation of how much joy is to be found when traveling a dirt trail on a cool afternoon, then my debt to the mountains shall be endless.



Friday, November 13, 2009

Run Like the Water

You should run like the wind, they've told me, fierce and untamed.

Our east-facing bedroom window framed a piercing Colorado sunrise as I slipped out of bed at quarter after six. A few years ago there would have been no question that seeing the sunrise on a Saturday morning would have meant I was coming off a hell of a night and looking forward to a hell of a headache. While all-nighters still happen from time-to-time, it is my inner athlete - rather than outer drinker - who now more frequently sees a day's first light.

Having been in Boulder for a few weeks, and despite a couple of modest hikes, a one-off cross-country ski and a lung-burning climb of a bike ride, I had yet to feel that I was taking full advantage of the outdoor life that we had come here seeking. So last Friday afternoon I went online and looked for any upcoming races I could do in order to kick start my active life here as I train for some physical challenges I have lined up for next summer. Sure enough, there was a 3.5 mile cross-country race in a nearby community the very next morning. Despite never having entered a cross-country race and not being entirely sure what I was in for, I promptly biked to the local running shop and plunked down my fifteen bucks for registration in the Twin Peaks Rotary XC Challenge.

You should run like an antelope, they've told me, out of control.

Though the sun had now fully emerged for its daily pilgrimage to the west , our new neighbours remained largely dormant as we pointed the car north toward Longmont, Colorado under a cloudless sky (not the rarity in Boulder that it is in Victoria this time of year).

The starts of the men's and women's races were staggered, but I huddled close to the start line of the women's wave shortly after arriving and registering, listening for any race-specific instructions. Despite my lack of cross-country experience, I figured I was in for a simple trail run, which would have been nothing new to me. Imagine my surprise, then, when I heard the race director squawk over the megaphone, "Alright, make sure you jump over the hay bales and go into the ditch. That's over the hay bales and down through the ditch. This is a cross country race, people."

Excuse me? Sorry, I'm here for the race, not the journey to Grandmother's house.

Apparently obstacles are commonplace in cross-country races, with this one being no exception. This was all somewhat foreign to me, but given that I am built more for comfort than speed and enjoy the equalizing properties of a course that doesn't have straightaways where skinny bastards can sprint (and there were skinny bastards a plenty on the course that morning), I was prepared to hop, skip and jump as necessary.

You should run like a caveman, they've told me, chasing something like your life depends on it.

There was a forty-five minute gap between the starts for the women and the men, so Sarah and I took some time to walk around the course - a three-lap beauty on grass and trails, running alongside a stream then flanking a dam, weaving in and out of some light woods. As Sarah wandered around and took pictures, I headed over toward the stream and thought about the race ahead.

I crouched beside the water, appreciative of its soothing gurgle and mesmerized by its flow, something we've all experienced at one time or another. I watched bubbles gather in a slow-moving spot on the surface, only to dissipate when they tumbled over a short ledge and into faster water below. I chuckled as the scene reminded me of runners at a start line, collecting as one until critical mass is reached, then the gun goes off and we all disperse at our own pace. The longer I experienced the stream the more metaphorical it became, its flow striking me as possessing the very same qualities that I strive for every time I set out on a run.

I have never been one to run fierce and dominant like the wind, nor out of control like the antelope, nor possessed like the prehistoric hunter. Indeed, not being terribly blessed with either a runner's physique (like I said, comfort not speed) or an attitude that is conducive to being fired up and intense for sustained periods of endurance, I have often struggled when looking for an appropriate muse. But as I crouched beside that stream and watched its flow in the minutes before the race, the inspiration that has eluded me became as clear as the high country sky.

I will run like the water, I told myself. Smooth, yet unflinching. Placid, yet interminable. Effortless, yet powerful.

And so I ran like the water, and the race became a joy. I set my own pace early on, scarcely slowing from start to finish as I made my way over the roots, stumps and hills that made up the course. There were a few moments where I thought about walking, but told myself that if I couldn't keep a steady pace for 3.5 miles cross-country on this morning - even with my recent change in altitude and current lapse in training - then I had no business looking forward to a busy season of triathlons next summer. A few recitations of my new mantra - run like the water, run like the water - helped me regain focus during moments of doubt as I flowed over the dried leaves and burnt grass. With the Flatirons in full view, I fist-pumped across the finish line in thirty-six minutes, including fifteen hay-bale hurdles and three trips in-and-out of the ditch.

Athletically speaking it was an achievement of rather modest proportions (indeed, not really an achievement at all), yet I left with a strong sense of satisfaction and renewed focus and motivation as I move ahead. I could not have asked for a better introduction to this new chapter in my inner athlete's life, and am looking forward to embracing all of the challenges and exhilaration of of running like the water from here on out.



Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Harty Needs Your Votes

Hello there. I am interrupting your regularly scheduled blogging to ask a small favour.

The Globe and Mail is having a contest to add one writer and one photographer to its editorial team for the Vancouver/Whistler Olympics (here's a link to the contest's website). For an underemployed law school graduate with dreams of using writing to pay the bills (hey, that's me) this would be the opportunity of a lifetime.

This is where you come in.

My writing entry has been submitted, and is now open for public voting. I need to be in the top-50 vote-getters in order to proceed to the next round, where the decisions will be made by an editorial board. Your votes would mean a lot to me. So would your mother's vote, and your sister's, your dog's, etc. Here's where you can read my story and vote for it, should you so choose: LINK (regular readers will recognize this as an abridged version of a previous post).

Voting can be done daily, so please consider voting more than once (or, you know, daily). Make it part of your evening e-mail ritual, sandwiching it somewhere between writing your old landlord to threaten legal action if you don't get your damage deposit back and looking at pictures of your grade seven girlfriend on Facebook. Voting is open until November 22nd, which gives us plenty of time, although other entries were submitted weeks ago. There are certainly more noble things you can do with thirty seconds and a click of your mouse, but this really would mean the world to me. Part of why I have taken this year "off" is to work on my writing and try and do something with it, so this is an opportunity that I don't want to watch slip away.

Once again, here's the LINK (, and note that you are eligable to win some sweet prizes (a fancy camera and a tricked-out laptop) just for voting.

Thanks, as always, for reading, and thanks in advance for voting. Also, as an added bonus, every time you vote an angel gets its wings and global warming will be reversed by one year. So really, let's all do our part.




P.S. The site did not allow me to include paragraph breaks in my submission. Here's the story as it looks with proper formatting:

Hockey becomes infused with a unique sense of community and geography when taken up by free-spirited Northerners. This I learned one afternoon last February, shortly after moving to Yellowknife.

The Great Slave Invitational is a perennial tournament serious in name only. The setting is a natural rink, complete with boards and lights, in front of cozy houseboats on Yellowknife Bay. The year I was in town, six teams competed for the highly coveted, duct tape and toilet-paper roll “Houseboat Cup” (equal parts Lord Stanley and Red Green). I manned the blue line for Team Trailer Trash, proudly representing the trailer park where I was living. Our jerseys? Sleveless undershirts sporting numbers written in mustard. I took the trailer park theme one step further, sporting borrowed skates held together with packing tape.

Scores were kept and a schedule followed. Knowing when you played next allowed maximum resting time inside the tournament host’s houseboat, with skates warming by the fire and The Hip on the stereo. With a sub-minus forty windchill outside, time inside was cherished.

After an undefeated round-robin schedule, Trailer Trash lost a heartbreaking semi-final. The overtime winner was scored by a high-flying Frenchman from Fort Smith with waist-long dreadlocks and an anomalous competitive streak. It was a tough loss, but after three games and a potato-chips-and-water subsistence all day, I was content to head home. With the final game starting and the evening winds picking up, I trudged across the bay toward my trailer and contemplated the game in a national context.

But what is that national context? I’ve recently grown weary of the hockey myths perpetuated by our macro breweries, telling us that hockey is our great national unifier. More Canadian children play soccer than hockey, and yet we are supposed to be 33 million obsessed with men dressed in garters and stockings looking to score. And while I count myself among the masses riveted by my home team's annual playoff march and the ups and downs of our national program, I am often left feeling that our frozen loyalties contain elements of the contrived and predictable, that we’re all just buying into exactly what we’re told to buy into.

And yet, an organic sense of territorial pride had grown inside me during the afternoon. The scene of the natural rink set among houseboats on a mammoth lake is not one easily duplicated elsewhere in the world, nor was it scripted by a potato chip commercial. While following the NHL's fake cold war can feel routine and formulaic, that afternoon felt spontaneous, authentic and lacking a forced sense of Canadian-ness. Indeed, the climatic and social circumstances that underscored the tournament were legitimate, inescapable byproducts of life in the far North strong and free.

Author Winona LaDuke writes of patriotism to a land but not a flag. I walked away that day feeling patriotic toward a land and a game, rather than a flag and a beer commercial.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

And We're Back

Word. It's been a while since I've posted 'round here. Cyberspace custom is to apologize for such a lapse, however I think that perhaps the only online activity more self-indulgent than keeping a blog like this is to apologize when it falls by the wayside, as if narcissistically keeping the masses updated somehow constitutes doing them a favour.

Anyway, it would be a little too daunting a task to give each of my adventures since Vegas the proper Harty Meal treatment, but here's a shotgun account of the past few months. For further details on any of this, please enquire within.

From Las Vegas, it was on to Zion and Bryce Canyons. Zion had us coincidentally camping next to the college friends I ran into in Vegas as we hiked for a few days, and Bryce's topography is like that of another planet and highly recommended.

From Zion we moved to another hole in the ground known as Grand Canyon. To best explore this monster we embarked on a four-day, three-night backpacking trip down to the bottom and back up. Hiking had to start before dawn each morning so as to avoid the deadly midday sun, and I don't know that I've ever been so uncomfortable due to the temperature in my life as I was on the afternoon of our third day, when it was still over a hundred degrees in the shade at five in the afternoon. Check out the picture below, taken on the canyon floor.

From Grand Canyon we headed to Colorado. First stop was visiting an aunt of Sarah's in the ski town of Aspen. Aspen may be a ski town, and elements of it were quite charming, but it's hard for a community to maintain its high country charm when the streets are lined with the same boutiques one sees on Rodéo Drive. What's more, a shop called "Two Old Hippies" featured a rack of jeans, the cheapest pair of which cost $850 (not a typo - cheapest jeans in "Two Old Hippies" were over eight hundred bucks, with most costing over a thousand). We enjoyed afternoon beers in town's only dive bar as we watched the colours on the mountain, but given that they say "the billionaires are pushing the millionaires out of Aspen," I don't know that we'll be putting down roots there anytime soon.

From Aspen it was on to Rocky Mountain National Park, near Estes Park, Colorado. The mountain-top drive through the park at sunset on the day we arrived is not something I think I'll ever forget. Mountain goat were grazing by the herd in meadows that we passed, and we saw literally hundreds of elk, some just a few feet away from us (check out our picture, below). All of this was set against the iconic, jagged, snow-capped peaks of the Rockies while the sunset was of an intensity that a man is lucky to see once every few years. We spent the next three days in the park and fell in love with Colorado. Hard. The mountains, animals and people all continually showed us why so many folks find it so hard to leave this state, and we left headed east, knowing that we would be back.

From Rocky Mountain National Park it was on to the Rothbury Music Festival in Rothbury, Michigan. Four days of camping, music (heavy on the bluegrass and jammy stuff) and an enchanted forest. (Andrew Teehan, given your hate/hate relationship with hippies, you can probably skip this one).

From Rothbury, Michigan it was on to Moncton New Brunswick (getting harder and harder to call this a "Western" road trip), with a brief stop in Ottawa. Moncton was where one of my closest friends was getting married, and featured a similar cast of characters to a wedding the previous summer on PEI. Predictably, things got a little bit nuts in the best kind of way, and I say without hyperbole that it was among the five best parties I've ever been to, with quite the overabundance of "I love you, man" and Fireball. (The picture below was heavy on both of those things, and not staged. That's the groom, second from right).

From Moncton it was back to the Ottawa/Lake Placid/Malone (NY) area for the next couple of months. It was great to catch up with family and friends from home, most of whom I hadn't spent much time around since departing for Victoria three years prior. There were weekend road trips, a couple of concerts and the odd shift at family businesses thrown in before we packed up the car again in early October and headed back west.

From Ottawa/Lake Placid/Malone, it was back to Colorado, and specifically Boulder, where I sit on this bright Sunday morning blogging from the edge of downtown. Boulder is renowned as a hotbed of bluegrass music, free spirits and outdoor recreation, so it seemed like the perfect fit for us over the next little while. It's only been a few weeks, but Boulder feels like a pretty good fit so far, and I'm pumped to see what the next few months will bring my way.

So here we are. Blogging will be regular once again, and as always it is a pleasure to have you along.