This is Megan, a performer from Quixotic. She and her team were absolutely amazing. Awe-inspiring & delighting. I'm also really, really proud of this photo. http://quixoticfusion.com/
This is Megan, a performer from Quixotic. She and her team were absolutely amazing. Awe-inspiring & delighting.
I’m also really, really proud of this photo. http://quixoticfusion.com/

I’m coming down from the high of Wanderlust-Stratton. While I’ve worked every day since the 16th, supporting the festival was hardly labor. As my first festival experience, I spent the entire four-day period wrapped in wonder, exploring. I’m sad to say I didn’t suck the marrow from the festival, but I’m also not surprised. I didn’t know how much I would be needed in the office, so didn’t sign up for many classes or lectures. I popped in on a few, but found that my body was so out of yoga shape that I was nearly crippled by day four, conveniently when I decided I wanted to do a Chi Running workshop.

Suffice to say I did not make it to the workshop.

But, even without the Chi Running coaching, I still feel kicked out of a weird little funk. See, I was not built for sitting still or windowless rooms. To remind myself of this, I want to write down my Wanderesolutions.

  • Move every day.
  • Explore, with wonder.
  • Write where someone else can see.
  • Appreciate the wealth in simplicity.
I totally posed this photo.
I totally posed this photo.

The first two points need no explanation. They come from Wanderlust directly. To move one’s body and explore everything, inside and out.

Om shanti shanti shanti.

The second two merit, I think, some introduction. To write where someone else can see is to write bravely. Which means, mostly, writing here. But also, I’d like to write for publication. I’ve said this for years. Now that I’ve claimed my quiet places in both the woods and our house, it’s time to make time for that. To do it, perhaps with shyness, but to do it anyway.

As to simplicity. In middle school, I bought a copy of “Walden.” I started reading it, as evidenced by a few underlined passages. Past the pencil lines, I see a self-conscious un-understanding; knowing these things were personally significant while being uncomfortably aware that the words were not really significant yet. Like an premonition. It makes way more sense now.

In short, between now and next year, I have an awful lot of Wanderlusting to do. Let’s go.


Introducing “Delphi Project.” (Another Hackathon, Another App)

Remember how my last post was about getting a team together to build an app in 24 hours?

Well. One week later, we did it again.

This time the valiant members of Team Worksandwich came together to compete in the first ever StoryHackVT. The goal of this competition was to create a story in 24 hours using at least three different types of media. As the competition proved, multi-media (also called transmedia) narratives come in all shapes, sizes, and formats. Worksandwich harnessed each of our team members’ unique skills and talents to build a killer story.

And I do mean killer.

“Delphi Project” is a story played through an app, but more than just a story, it’s a fully interactive narrative. You are immediately made part of the plot, and it’s up to you to solve the mystery. The premise is this: by sheer chance, you download an app that is possessed by the spirit of a dead woman. She needs your help to find out who murdered her and why. Before you know it, you are in the midst of a conflict between the multi-national pharmaceutical company, Phoibe, and the shadowy, vigilante Aether Collective.

Check out the trailer, then follow this link to vote for our team, Worksandwich! Voting closes this midnight EST. We need your votes to win!

Justin lent his skills as an app developer, building a smooth interface from scratch. If there was an interaction we needed for the narrative that he didn’t already know, he taught it to himself. During the 24 hours. Without skipping a beat.

Brad designed the user interface – no easy task when we kept going back and forth debating which buttons and fonts went where. He made Delphi come to life.

Coby, an assistant professor at Champlain College, built the Phoibe, Corp website and brainstormed the coolest set of puzzles and riddles. Really, the man is a wizard when it comes to making meaningful, engaging mini-games.

Craig provided valuable design and plot advice, and even though he had to give a talk in the middle of our work time, also volunteered to film and edit “Delphi Project”‘s cinematic trailer. We couldn’t have showed off the app without him.

I provided the narrative and supporting text. For the past year, I’ve been mulling over the basic plot points and characters that became “Delphi Project.” The concept is mine, but I am so thankful for all the honest input my teammates had. Together, we talked our way through plot holes, dead ends, and tricky situations. I love what we’ve built so far.

We’re hoping to have the app polished and released to the App Store in 2014.

It’s going to be a busy winter.

I can’t wait.

Labor of Love: An App is Born

HackVT is a 24hr coding competition “where friends and complete strangers will work to build a killer app for the state of Vermont.” From Friday to Saturday, a whole bunch of programmers packed into the old mill, fired up their computers, and got to work. Most teams were stacked with coders working furiously through the night. Our team went about things a little differently. Actually, a lot differently. Only one of us, Justin, knows how to program. Brad and Craig are graphic designers. And then there’s me: a writer. Together, we swore off sleep and built a beautiful app.

I can’t say much about it yet, but I can share that it’s an app for people like you and me; people who love exploring the outdoors. This is the about page, which shows off a bit of the heritage-inspired design and the open, conversational brand voice.

When I finally got home, I pawed slowly through our swag bag, browsing through the brochures and the single copy of Ski Vermont Magazine. The first page I turned to was the letter from the editor, titled “Do What You Love.” Even in my delirious, sleep-deprived state this felt significant, as if the stars were aligning just to tell us we are doing exactly what we’re supposed to be doing.

For each one of us, this app is a labor of love. Justin is dedicated to building iOS apps that work as beautifully as they look and are as useful as they are intuitive. Brad and Craig live and breathe the kind of design that makes you fall in love at first sight. I believe strongly in the power of the humbly written word to inspire and support people I have never and will never meet.

Rome wasn't built in a day, but this was.
Rome wasn’t built in a day, but this was.

All of that love must have shined through, because even though our presentation went terribly wrong (the app worked, the presentation tech did not), our team walked away with an Honorable Mention.

I’m looking forward to seeing the official photo of our shocked, delirious, sleep-deprived faces grinning like fools.

While we have the skeleton in place, here’s still a lot of work to be done before the app goes live. Rest assured, I’ll be sharing more about the app as we continue to fix bugs, add content, and streamline features. We aim to have it available in the app store by Spring 2014. Until then, enjoy this teaser screen. Let’s go explore.

Finally: Photographic proof I attempted the Vermont Spartan Beast

It took three days to get the mud out of my hair.
It took three days to get the mud out of my hair.

It’s picture day! Only way better. Because it’s muddy.

I only got one good professional photograph this year, but this one shot brings back all the good from my attempt to take on the Beast. (You can read more about the experience here.)

It hurt. So much. There are still bruises on my legs. But I don’t regret a single moment. I pushed myself, then I knew when to back down. Since I didn’t make the whole Beast this year, I’ll just be one year older when I do.

And I am a-okay with that.


The real women of freeskiing



Shades of Winter poster – Ladies who rip.
Shades of Winter – Ladies who rip.

In my post about women in upcoming ski films, I call out Sandra Lahnsteiner by name. I loved Sandra’s last film, “Suhkran Morocco,” and expected good things from “Shades of Winter.”

Two weekends ago, I drove the two hours from Burlington to Montreal for the premier. “Shades” did not disappoint. In fact, it was my favorite of the three films screened that day, the others being “Eye of the Condor” and “Valhalla.”

“Shades of Winter” is a polished romp through some of the most spectacular terrain in the world – soft pillows in Japan, wide open peaks in the Alps, big air at Nine Queens, and big lines in Haines, Alaska. Many of the shots are the drool-worthy, classic crowd pleasers in the ski film industry, but it was the heart that set “Shades” apart. I can’t think of another film that so perfectly conveyed the sheer joy of skiing. Big smiles abounded. Laughter punctuated candid shots.

In short, “Shades of Winter” is happiness incarnate.

Can you imagine my excitement (and nervousness) when the Outdoor Women’s Alliance asked me to interview Sandra Lahnsteiner herself?

Yeah, I was pretty excited. And now I’m even more excited to say, the interview is live. You can read it here.

The coolest thing about talking with Sandra is the balance she strikes between genuine kindness and genuine passion for life. Her love of skiing and filmmaking really shine through, both in her films and in normal conversation.

I heartily recommend following along with Sandra and “Shades” on Facebook, and when you get the opportunity to watch the full-length video, take it. (And let me know what you think!)

Also, check out the Outdoor Women’s Alliance. It’s a non-profit media organization that exists to support women and girls as they embark on their own outdoor adventures. I’m the Editorial Intern, and it’s already been an inspiring learning experience. See you there!

Tales from the Spartan Beast

Seven miles of the Spartan Beast, and I am content. I am proud of this. Proud of how far I ran, hiked, crawled, climbed, pulled, and burpee’d. I took each challenge with a touch of a smile – until I began to shiver too hard and felt the warm disappearing from my fingers. At mile seven, I looked at the next obstacle and shook my head. Beyond it lay water features, 55ºF, misting rain, blowing wind, and seven more miles.

“No. This is enough.”

One bath and two showers later and I still feel like there’s grit in my hair.

I am fascinated by how pain moves through the body. Yesterday morning, the soreness existed on my peripheries. The sides of my legs, the edges of my arms. It was as if the Spartan’s main result was clarifying the edges of me, the boundaries of my being.

By the afternoon, the aches had moved to my centers. The front of my thighs, the muscles that follow the lowest reaches of my ribcage. Deep in my biceps. Reminding me of where my center lives.

I want to come back to take on the Spartan Beast next year. Why?

Why go through the pain of it? The shaking, shuddering fear? The moments of pure pain? Why..?

Because of the laughter shared between strangers on a long slog straight uphill. Because it defines the edges of my body. Because it highlights the center of my soul.

Oh – for those in the know… the code I had to memorize was Romeo 653-6120.

What keeps you pushing yourself to the next level, the next challenge?

Such Great Heights

Saturday morning I took to the trails again, this time up Mt Abraham. It was a really lovely hike on a pleasant, lonely trail…. but I don’t want to talk about how nice it was. How it was centering and invigorating. No.

I want to talk about fear.

The summit of Mt Abe is a balding dome. It’s a bit of a steep scramble, and fairly exposed. It’s not a big deal. It’s really not. But during the final push, using my hiking boots to smear up the rocks, I turned around to take in the view. And immediately regretted it. My stomach tried to hide behind my large intestines and my knees said Nope, nope, nope.

Heights didn’t use to frighten me so much. I never liked sitting on the edges of cliffs or climbing in the rafters of my parents’ garage, but this uneasiness seemed entirely reasonable. The Grand Canyon is, after all, a very tall cliff, and my dad would not have appreciated my falling on his favorite car.

I was also afraid of a lot of things when I was a little one. The dark. The alligator under my bed. Spiders. Clowns. Again, all reasonable things. Most importantly, these are fears I’ve gotten over. I stopped believing in the alligator under my bed. I watched spiders spin their webs until my breathing regulated. I sat in dark rooms until my eyes adjusted, and I could see for myself that no monsters waited for me.

Not so with my fear of heights. In fact, I think it’s getting worse.

I used to be a religious rock climber, hitting the wall several times a week! I scrambled up trees when I was bored! Yet, I feel light headed on an exposed slab of otherwise completely stable rock. (To be honest, even chairlifts have started to freak me out. If I ever ride with the safety bar down, you’ll notice I will keep one arm over the chair to keep myself in place.)

I’m not sure how to work on this, either. Picking up rock climbing again would surely help, but indoor gyms don’t trigger the same panic reaction that outdoor heights illicit.

As with any fear, beating this one will take time and practice. Have you dealt with something like this before? How did you keep it from getting in the way of enjoying the view, so to speak? Let me know in the comments. Maybe it’ll give me an idea as to how to face this fear of mine!

Perceptions are altitude dependent

There is a point on every trail when I ask myself why on earth I keep going out on hikes. Usually, it happens when sweat beads into my eyes and along my jaw line.  It’s when my knee and/or ankles hurt, and I’m looking uphill thinking, “This totally sucks.”

Hiking is hard.

But it’s also awesome.

Yesterday, at the summit of Mt Hunger, I ate a half-mooshed banana and set about orienting my compass and myself. See, I have a terrible sense of direction. I have only a rudimentary sense of where points are in relationship to one another, and I navigate best by associating locations with landmarks. Mountains make awfully good landmarks.

In video games, there’s an effect called the Fog of War. The effect prevents you from seeing places on the playable map that you haven’t yet explored. Assassin’s Creed does a particularly good job of dealing with the Fog; the best way to reveal sections of the map is to climb a tall building and have a look around.

View of Stowe from Mt Hunger
That’s Stowe in the distance.

Mt Mansfield to the northwest. The Presidentials to the east. Camel’s Hump, southwest. Somewhere to the hazy, foggy west, Lake Champlain.

One of my favorite quotes is from Sally Shivan’s essay “Airborne.”

Once again, perceptions can be altitude dependent.

It’s true. From the top of a mountain, faced with the panoramic view of humanity nestled in the folds of nature, it’s impossible to not experience a subtle shift in point of view. From up there, I placed the roads and towns and mountains in my life in context. There is home. There is Stowe. I am here. This is about when I forget that hiking sucks and remember that it’s awesome.

Then, I hopped, skipped, and jogged my way back down the mountain. At one point I tripped and fell. A few minutes later, I rinsed my bleeding knee in the mountain spring. It seems I’ll never learn to not run down mountains, just as I’ll never learn to not hike up them.

How do your perceptions shift when you’re in your sport? Tell me in the comments!

Permission to slack

While I was off cycling the midwest, I spent some quality time thinking about this blog. Now that I have a handle on what I want to write about and how I want to write it, I feel comfortable creating a kind of mission statement.

Like any mission statement, this is both a statement of purpose and a statement of intent reflecting the values that I bring to the words I write here… You’ll find the most updated text through the About link to zee left (as well as a brief auto-bio of yours truly), but I want to place it here, too. Front and center.

Slackcountry Living is a ski blog that isn’t about the biggest cliff, the deepest pow, or spinning dinner rolls like Jonny Mo. (Although, fingers crossed that these topics come up. But trust me; I won’t be the one doing the dinner-rolling.)

It’s about getting out and enjoying what you got, be it tight trees or breakaway gates, fluffy white or hard ice. When it’s too warm for riding, it’s about the joy of getting outside and living where there are no doors.

No matter the season, this blog is about slacking off – but not in the sense of shirking responsibility or looking for the easy way out. Instead, slacking off means not taking everything so seriously. You don’t need the latest gear or gnarliest terrain to love what you do. All you need is you.

Relax. It’s just skiing.

Why this mission statement?

Because I want to support the athletes riding with crooked poles, ski boots with duct tape on the toes, and hand-me-down clothes. I want to shout out to the kids heading outdoors even though their friends would rather go to the mall or play video games or whatever it is kids do these days. Because that’s who I am, too.

We have better things to do than be snooty to someone who can’t afford the latest, lightest binding.

“We are here to drink beer. We are here to kill war. We are here to laugh at the odds and live our lives so well that Death will tremble to take us.”

(Charles Bukowski)

Slap me if I start getting pretentious, okay? Otherwise – enjoy. Love your wilderness.

Double chair Stowe

For the Searchers –

My cousin shared this passage at her father’s 65th birthday. The poet’s name is James Kavanaugh, and while I don’t think his written words aged well, a ring of truth remains.

I share the passage here as a hello to all the other searchers out there.

I am one of the searchers. There are, I believe, millions of us. We are not unhappy, but neither are we really content. We continue to explore life, hoping to uncover its ultimate secret. We continue to explore ourselves, hoping to understand. We like to walk along the beach, we are drawn by the ocean, taken by its power, its unceasing motion, its mystery and unspeakable beauty. We like forests and mountains, deserts and hidden rivers, and the lonely cities as well. Our sadness is as much a part of our lives as is our laughter. To share our sadness with one we love is perhaps as great a joy as we can know – unless it be to share our laughter.
We searchers are ambitious only for life itself, for everything beautiful it can provide. Most of all we love and want to be loved. We want to live in a relationship that will not impede our wandering, nor prevent our search, nor lock us in prison walls; that will take us for what little we have to give. We do not want to prove ourselves to another or compete for love.

For wanderers, dreamers, and lovers, for lonely men and women who dare to ask of life everything good and beautiful. It is for those who are too gentle to live among wolves.

Abel Tasman Coast Track
Abel Tasman Coast Track