Wednesday, 25 April 2007

Riding Shotgun

Season is over. The mountain is closed. And my short career as a snow bum has come to a premature end. But what a way to finish! The last two days of Heavenly say the snowboarding gods smile brightly in one final ironic snow dump over the mountain. Apparently these past two weeks has been some of the best riding conditions the guys here had seen in a while, I guess bringing that British weather with me was a good thing on this occassion.

I've loved every minute of snowboarding with Sam and his housemates Stan, Renick and Tim. All have helped improved my riding skills immeasurably over the last week to the point where I was following closely behind on the black diamond runs through the woods in fairly deep powder. What a rush. Sam heads back to New Zealand to chase the Southern Hemisphere's winter and I'm sorely tempted to follow him there. I always new I'd love snowboarding, I just had no idea how addictive I would find it to be.

Every night I'd go to bed with new injuries and general bodily exhaustion telling myself that I'd take the day off tomorrow. Of course the following morning I would drag my moaning, creaking body out of bed, stick the kettle on and start immediately thinking about what I wanted to achieve on the snowboard that day. Pretty much every day I've learned or done something new, whether that be new runs or pulling 50-50's on the boxes in the terain park - but it's not been nearly enough to quench the desire for more and to be better than the previous day. I know these kind of thoughts come from skateboarding. But this has allows be the attraction to me of these kind of creative sports. It's the challenges you set yourself, moment to moment, trick to trick, run to run and day to day.

But it's over for now, but not goodbye for good. I'll figure something out, but I plan to be riding again somewhere before the year is out. In the mean time I'm going to supplement my thirst by mountain biking over summer and learning some kayaking skills. Girls love guys with skills.

Speaking of which, mine and Sam's long standing apocalypse training continued the day after Heavenly closed after our day of firearms training with Stan. I've never handled a gun before. Not at all. I've never wanted to, although the curiosity was certainly there. But in the aftermath of the shootings in Virginia I must say I was more compelled to understand guns better than I was further entrenched in my dislike of them. To explain, I wanted to experience what it felt like to have a gun in your hands. I wanted to know more about why people feel the need to own guns. I don't think I'm explaining this as well as I thought about it before hand. For sure I had second thoughts about it after what had happened - an event so inevitable that while shocking all of us, probably surprised few of us - but somehow it also seemed like the timeliest of moments to learn more about this historical piece of American culture.

A big part of the reason for taking this opportunity was the fact that it was Stan who was willing to take myself, Sam and Jason (another new Australian friend) out into the Nevada desert to fire an array of weapons. Stan is a snowboarding instructor at Heavenly, one of the most interesting people I've met in the US, certainly one of the nicest, and also a former Captain in the US Army who served in Afghanistan. If I was going to learn how to handle a gun than I could think of no better person. So it was with that we drove to Stan's home town of Yerington (a tiny mid-west town), over the mountains from South Lake Tahoe sat down for tea and sandwichs with Stan's mum before loading up his jeep with a revolver, a 9mm pistol, a repeat action shotgun and a world famous Kalashnikov assault rifle - the AK-74 (not the 47, this is the modernised model). No doubt this was all very surreal.

Ready for action we swung by Junior's Gun Shop to pick up ammo, which is amazingly cheap. Junior and his buddy were leaning over the counter smoking cigerettes and taking to the local sheriff as we four snow bums ("snow bums eh? Well you guys are alright") entered the shop. As friends of Stan's we're welcomed, especially as he announces this is to be our first day shooting guns. Somewhat mesmerized and scared by the contents of the shop I couldn't bring myself to take any photos inside. Needless to say you could write an essay just on the contents of this local gun shop by itself. An array of rifles and shotguns adorn the wall behind the counter accompanied by a history of posters, news clippings and artifacts. Then there are pictures of local boys who are in the US armed forces dotted around the shop alongside messages of 'support for our troops'. Other posters are about gun ownership rights, one with a picture of Hitler, suggesting that taking this right away is akin to fascism (to be clear not a Nazi supporting poster). Talk during this time inevitably sways to Iraq, I-ran, Syria, A-rabs etc. This is returned with silent nodding on our parts while Stan looked for the ammo needed. I don't know what to tell you about Junior, I guess he's just a guy who wants 'the boys' to come home safe and on a basic level I can see his point of view cos it's these nations that are involved, one way or another in the deaths of American soldiers. The very fact of them being there is an altogether different political conversation that I wasn't about to get into.

The jeep now loaded up we headed off into the desert to a range that Stan and, judging but the spent cartridges everywhere, everyone else in town likes to use. Taking matters on weapon by weapon, Stan was careful to explain the workings of each gun and its safe handling. More generally than this, he discussed important basic safe handling techniques to consider at all times - muzzle control, firing-range protocol, safety buttons, checking and clearing the chamber. No doubt about it, Stan is a excellent teacher and each of us, though very nervous, felt totally comfortable and at ease with him. Having talked about the weapon before hand, its range, effectiveness (Stan is, like any good America, a veritable fountain of knowledge), we then took turns under Stan's watchful eye, at firing. As an added bonus Stan also took us through some soldier soldier turning and firing techniques. Seriously, I can't tell you how odd the experience was, and when you watch the video bellow and see me behaving extremely seriously, please remember this was something you could behave no other way in possession of.

First up was the AK, probably my favourite gun to fire both for ease, accuracy and utility. From here we then moved onto the handguns. Unfortunately Stan's CZ75 9mm semiautomatic handgun jammed, but we were able to each take several turns on the revolver, probably the scariest gun each of us handled. The sheer power and brute force was quite shocking, though nothing we couldn't manage. We used three different types of rounds in the revolver, 44 special, 44 magnum, and 44 magnum extra heavy load. The kick from the last type of ammo hurt like hell and really sent our hands recoiling from the force of the discharge. I would add here that I took the prize of the day, hitting a beer bottle from 50 yards using the regular magnum rounds. That said I don't honesty think I knew much about it, I took my aim, but once I was firing the gun all I could think about was squeezing the trigger, holding on as tight as possible and praying the gun didn't kick back and hit me in the face.

Last up was the shotgun, again which we used two different types on rounds, one of which kicked much more. It's got to be said, Sam was a demon with the shotgun (similarly Jason with the AK), pumping it and firing rounds like he'd done it a hundreds times before. I myself was much more of a scaredy cat, firing a round, spending what seemed like an eternity preparing myself for the next and praying it was the last.

What did I learn form the experience? It's hard to say. I certainly solidified my fearful (and healthy) respect for guns and I definitely now know a lot more about their capabilities. When myself and Sam got back to employee housing in Tahoe we were asked if we'd had fun. Neither of us knew quite how to answer the question, though we both agreed that while we had enjoyed learning how to use the guns we didn't consider it to have been a 'fun' experience. It was a jump in logic that was somewhat beyond Sam and I, but marked the difference between our two cultures. But perhaps the most important thing I gained from the day was the ability to defend myself in the event of a Zombie invasion. In all seriousness though, I remain unsure as to the point of owning such weapons. I understand the attraction to many people, and that for others they are simply a tool. However, I don't know if I can get myself around the fact that ultimately they are designed for one purpose, killing. And that is something I don't ever want to forget.

Next up a road trip with Sam down from South Lake Tahoe to Indio in South California for Coachella where I will meet up with Joel, Travis and Chris. I can't wait to see Joel, it's only been a couple of months, but I've missed my partner in carnage. Only one weekend to make up for the lost time...what will we do???

Sunday, 15 April 2007

Crossing the border

Today was my best day yet on the slopes. I was riding with Sam, Renick and Stan and more or less keeping pace with those boys. I can't begin to describe how good a day was today. It was truly amazing. We rode the lifts up to the top of Sky Line and took some new routes across the border into Nevada. It was total white-out conditions, with about 15-foot visibility in many places. Something about the ghostliness of such poor visibility was really exciting as blurred shapes in the distance slowly came into clarity as we approached them heading down the slopes. Anyways, I'll let the pictures do the talking and a little treat in the form of my lame attempt to record my decent...enjoy. Gonna try hitting some air tomorrow, cross your fingers I don't break anything.

Saturday, 14 April 2007

Heavenly creatures

My journey towards becoming a professional snowboarder has finally begun. I'm in Lake Tahoe, northern Callifornia where I've hooked up with my friend Sam who works at the Heavenly mountain resort. After just two days of riding my enitre body is in agony and covered in bruises but I am loving it.

It's been a while since I last posted, was a strange couple of weeks where I was mainly concentrating on getting over my homesickness. Had some great nights out for 1st Thursday on South Congress and seeing a band called the White Ghost Shivers. I also made some new friends who helped make Austin feel more like home. They know who they are (assuming they're reading). More on all this stuff another time. For now I'm want to tell you about what's been going on here in Tahoe.

So I flew up to Reno International airport on Tuesday and strolled off the play to find the place covered from wall-to-wall slot machines, shinning with their gaudy reds and golds promising fortunes to anyone stupid enough to plant their ass down long enough. Reno I guess is like the mini-Vegas, or maybe Blackpool, of Nevada, it has all the big neon light casinos, strip clubs and tacky shows you could hope for. Thank God I'm not hanging around there. Sam, who I've known since university comes to pick me up and it's brilliant to see him. Sam started snowboarding when we were going to Utah State University together and has pretty much been traveling round the world season to season ever since (with the exception of the broken leg years). I promised Sam years back that I'd come snowboarding with him, and I'm almost more excited to be keeping that promise than I am just to be going snowboarding at all.

In many ways I guess Lake Tahoe is exactly what you expect from a ski resort town in the North West of America. Surrounded by Pine woodland, mountains, very touristy (you can tell many of the homes are holiday homes) and with the added bonus of a huge lake. The vistas are immaculate. We are literally just across the border from Nevada, so immediately across the state line there's a collection of casinos to entertain the holiday crowds at night. Sam lives in employee housing with an interesting group of characters (Renick, Stan and Tim). They're all nice guys and don't seem to mind me hanging around their place at all.

Sam hooked me up with kit for riding and snuck me onto the mountain the first day, dodging pass scanners with all the deftness of a budget traveler. I gotta be honest, it was painful. I spent a lot of time slamming into my butt cheeks, seems I favour the right-hand cheek. I do start to get the hang of what I'm doing slowly but surely, toes and heels guys, toes and heels. It doesn't take long before I've had a couple of face plants. One of which seems to have badly bruised a rib (I hoping it's not worse) and has made it difficult to do anything - including laughing (which I do a lot as most of you know) and breathing. Being at altitude too is exascerbating this as I am constanting short of breathe. Nevertheless, I enjoyed the first day, but as anyone who knows me will testify, I'm a pretty competitive chap. I don't like failing AT ALL. And so I was getting really frustrated at my inability to quick up riding faster. That said, Sam tells me I'm doing really well for my first day. If I'm 100 per honest, I'd say I didn't enjoy the first day as much I had hoped. But this was for no reason other than the fact that after I slammed my ribs I just wanted off the mountain and it took forever. I felt somewhat defeated and vaguely ego-deflated.

Second day comes round and I start pushing really hard under Sam's excellent tutilage (oh, I also bought myself some snowboarding boots, which is very exciting and feels like a longer term commitment). See, it pays to have friends who are also snowboarding instructors, or journalists, or nurses, or restaurant managers, or sparkies. The learning curve has really started to kick in finally and I start linking turns in between wiping out. That said, every time I end up on my arse is a perfect opportunity to take in the amazing view fromt he top of Heavenly's slopes. It's stunning. From the top on a clear day you can see right across Lake Tahoe which is entirely surrounded by snow covered mountains. It's not the highlands like, but it's a fair compromise I think.

Next day I decide to take off and let my body recover as much as possible - God knows it needs it. Off I head on a meander around Tahoe with the mission of finding some new board shorts and flip flops for Coachella. This is a big step for me. I've never been a flip flop kinda guy, but I've decided that 2007 is the flip flop year for me. Already I feel like I've grown up and grown even further into my hippy personna. I am a little preoccupied by the fact that I think the pair I bought are a size too big, but so be it. Moan Moan Moan.

Tahoe is an interesting former American West frontier town and I'm keen to explore it further. I don't know too much about it's history as yet, but I shall investigate and report back. I suspect that there's a history of trading here, I think there is a big Native American past to investigate too. To be honest though, I've been way too tired since I got here to do home work. Riding all day is totally exhausting so my stories of evening debauchery is limited to, er, Sierra Nevada beer and a night at Lakeside Casino, which for anyone who knows 'Swingers' is what you could call 'old school'. Two dollars beers though - nice.

I just got through my third day on the slopes and it was by far and away my best day - add to this my new riding partner for the day, Renick, who proved to be really good mountain company with plenty of helpful tips. In fact today was awesome. I was carving out S-turns the entire way down various runs on the mountain, cruising the whole way down without falling (until the end, which seems to have added whiplash to my growing list of ailments). I managed to just about overcome most of my fears and started to get a real buzz out of what I was doing. The snow started to fall pretty heavy towards the end of the day too, which was so cool. My adrenline was pumping and my euphoria at the experience hitting a new high. I now know for sure this will not be the last time I go snowboarding. In fact I have a strong suspicion that this could become a big part of my life.

Back on the slopes tomorrow, it's snowed a lot the past day, so with a little luck we might have a bit of powder to ride tomorrow. Sweeeeet!

Oh, and finally, I booked my flights to San Francisco for the 25th July through to 31st July. Which meansI'm spending my birthday In San Fran and seeing Daft Punk in Berkeley on the night before, which is clearly awesome. Now all I need to do is find someone to come with me... Any takers?

Monday, 2 April 2007

The parrot is coughing

Ok, time for a confession. I'm missing London and my friends so much right now I actually feel sick, which I do believe is what they refer to as homesickness. But it got me to thinking. Yep, the old cogs starting turning slowly and going no where in particular, which is he best kind of thinking, er, I think. I don't honestly know what I'm missing, but I think part of it is the past - memories of times long since past linger in my mind and tantalise my soul.

It leaves me wondering what I'm doing sat up at 8am having not slept and typing randomly into the keyboard hoping for something coherent to come out of my fingertips. What am I trying to say? Maybe that I'm scared of tomorrow, wishing for a yesterday that I'm never getting back, and completely losing sight of today. Could be, but it won't last. I have strong suspicion that it has something to do with everyone booking Glastonbury tkts and me not being there. Also I know I've not been busy enough this past week. Though I have been doing stuff, my get up and go is a little on the deflated side.

That said I did go to the St Idiots Collective fundraising party on Saturday night and met some cool people that I hope to see again. St Idiots is Chris Shea's theatre group who I am yet to see perform, but have no doubt I will before the summer is out. I've offered up my services in case they required a baddy with an British accent.

In other news I got my first night game of disc golf in yesterday too. Night Disc golf + full moon + good people = awesome time. Seriously. That said I did spend a good deal of the round in the trees, which became something of a loaded experience after playing partner Matt (Trav was there too) told me to watch out for snakes. I've never seen a proper snake in my life, and that's something I'm in no rush to change. Matt's advice? Shuffle and stamp your feet if in doubt...queue shuffling, stamping and shouting at everything single bush and shadow for the next 17 holes.

Random aside: Have you been listening to Amy Winehouse? Back to Black is streaking up my most played songs on iTunes. It's so fucking good and I'm so much in love with the soul that oozes from Back to Black that I needed to express it somewhere. I can't get enough of it.

Oh, and I went to a fast food joint today (Sonics), drive-in style where the food gets brought out to you by a girl on roller skates! That's right, meals on wheels, styling like. So Happy Days it's brilliant.

I'm mostly posting cos I can't sleep, though my eyes are about to give up the good fight, and cos I wanted to keeping getting stuff up regularly. One of my other recent discovers is that Mosquito's really really like me a lot, and that my body hates them. They are slowly but surely making an attempt to turn me into the elephant man. Every single bite swells to the size of golf ball. Ok, so that's a slight exaggeration (who, moi? as if), but they are pretty big. Honestly.

And finally, I'm still thinking about the whole tattoo issue. May go for something on the back of my shoulder, but I'm not quite there yet. Everyone in Austin has ink, it's crazy. I have no interest in getting one cos everyone else has. In fact to me that's a BIG reason not to get one at all. But I have an ongoing and nagging curiosity about it. What it feels like. Not just because of the needle and all that, rather the sensation of being marked permanently in that way. Just a thought anyways...anyone with an opinion on the matter is welcome to call me on it on myspace. I guess at least it would give me something real to blog about instead of inanely wittering away.