Wednesday, December 06, 2006
"I used to ski but haven't skied once since taking up snowboarding." That is a pretty powerful statement and one I hear a lot from those who snowboard. In some ways, snowboarding is a bit of an exclusive club: those who enter love the entertainment while those who don't, don't know what they are missing.
I find snowboarding to be a bit like inline skating, too. Those who inline skate regularly are fairly fanatic about the sport because it is fun and a good workout. Most importantly, I think, is that inline skating is a fluid, aesthetic motion that is pleasing to us humans. Snowboarding, with its wide arcing turns, is the same. It is a great sport and one I believe many people would enjoy, given the opportunity to learn.
That is one reason we at Zephyr Adventures have created Zephyr Camp Snowboard. Following in the footsteps of Camp Rollerblade, our snowboard camps are two-day weekends, designed for adults, and created for beginners.
We have joined forces with seven resorts across America in 2007 to offer these weekend camps in February and March. While kids are welcome if accompanied by a participating adult, the focus of Zephyr Camp Snowboard is on adults themselves. We want you to feel comfortable learning in a safe environment with other adult beginners.
The URL we chose for our snowboard camps is www.YouCanSnowboard.com. When I sent this to a friend the other day, this 40-something investment banker emailed back and said he would wait until we created www.NoICannot.com. While I found that humorous, I hope you don't think the same way. I believe we are only as old as we feel and, more importantly, would probably age more slowly if we just acted a little younger at times.
You can snowboard and we would like to help you learn.
(By the way, the top photo is not of me. It is provided by one of our participating resorts, Hunter Mountain near NYC. The bottom photo is of Erin, who participated in our Winter Camp a few years ago and learned to snowboard.)
Monday, October 09, 2006
Walking into the large prayer room, we saw a young nun who expressed some interest in our group. Talking through our guide and translator, we were able to ask her about her daily chores, when she had come to the nunnery, and even what she thought of her life as a nun. She took us back to her room for a private tour of a typical nun's quarters, offered us yak butter tea, and showed us forbidden photos of the Dalai Lama.
Our group of trekkers was so impressed with this young woman's dedication to her calling, some of them wanted to give some money to support her in her hard existence. Our guide said it was okay to do so, and several of them placed Chinese bank notes on her bed. Despite the poverty nuns know every day and the comparative wealth each of us had (just the cost of getting to Tibet is a year's salary for most Tibetans), the young woman tried to decline the money, saying "You have traveled a long way and must need this money more than I."
This is the true spirit of Tibet. The people are friendly, warm, and caring. The country is ruggedly beautiful and the culture, laced through with Buddhism, is intoxicating.
This was my fourth trip to Tibet and, to be honest, I was not looking forward to going. It has been a crazy summer of travel (just see my other blog postings), and I could have really used two weeks at home! However, as soon as I arrived in Beijing where we would meet the group, I had changed my mind. Once we all got off the plane in Tibet and I saw our Tibetan guide and now my good friend, I was filled with the same sense of wonder and peace as always. We spent the next three days learning about Tibet, visiting monasteries, wandering Lhasa's center, and acclimatizing to the altitude.
Of course, the peace and serenity that comes with Tibetan Buddhism is only half the story. Tibet is an occupied land and the occupiers, China, are forcing themselves on unwilling hosts. We heard stories about monasteries destroyed during the Culutural Revolution, people thrown into jail for peacefully protesting, and young men who had fled over the Himalaya to escape (as had the Dalai Lam) into India. While these stories made us sad, at the same time they added to our experience. Our tour was not just a vacation but an education and we were all grateful to be in school.
The highlight of our trip is our four-day yak-supported trek and the highlight of the trek, for many, is our visit to a small village not reached by any roads. Our groups have been visiting this village for years and we always join together to purchase a gift for the village. This year, we purchased a large tent for community festivals and our entire group mingled with the Tibetans as we spread out the tent, took photos, toured local houses, and drank chang (barley beer) in celebration of our arrival.
My personal highlight this year was a conversation I had with one of the three village elders and his wife, son, and granddaughter. The young girl had finished her four years of education in the village and, lacking money to attend the nearby school, had no future but threshing barley and tending sheep. While life in the village is primitive but good, not everyone wants to stay and when I asked the granddaughter what she wanted to do the reply was "study English in Lhasa". How much our groups had affected her thinking, I don't know.
I knew I could help her and decided to "sponsor" her education. Three days later I was at an English school in Lhasa with our guide. The girl had walked six kilometers with her grandfather to the nearest road, taken a tractor to the nearby paved road, and hopped on a bus to Lhasa. She was intent on changing her life and a day's journey to an unfamiliar city was no hurdle. We registered her for five hours of English per day (plus three hours of Chinese) and a year's worth of education cost me $250. She was estatic, her grandfather was thankful, my friend and guide was proud, and I was perhaps the most emotional of all, knowing I had helped change a young life.
We had originally planned to remove the trekking portion of our Tibet trip in 2007, giving those of you who don't want to sleep in a tent a chance to visit Tibet with us. However, after again experiencing the wonders of rural Tibet, we have decided to add it as an "optional four-day extension" to our standard trip. You can now choose the regular 10-day Tibet and China Hiking Adventure (including two days on the Great Wall and the rest of the time in Tibet) or a 14-day trip that also includes a trek. Both are amazing.
Sunday, September 10, 2006
Now, we often get great comments like this or, frankly, we wouldn't be in business. To receive them all at once as our participants were finishing up the day's skate was quite emotional. To think I had a hand in bringing 26 participants from all over the US, Canada, and the UK to the backcountry of northern Idaho and giving them such a praiseworthy experience makes what we do quite worthwhile.
The reason for the high praise, of course, had a lot to do with the 73-mile Trail of the Couer d'Alenes. This trail runs through some amazing country, along a river, next to several lakes, through farmland and forest, and across the panhandle of northern Idaho. There are stretches of 10 miles with no road crossings! Plus, the pavement is pristine and the terrain is flat. This is a skater's dream.
Our trip started in Spokane, Washington, where we picked up the group from the airport. We shuttled through wheat fields and past small towns to the start of the trail in Plummer, Idaho. Those who elected our Medium Route had the rush of starting the week with a six-mile downhill skate on a forested path that was steep enough to keep us rolling but not so steep as to require much braking. What a start! In Zephyr's traditional manner of providing options, those who elected the Short Route started at the bottom of the hill with a pedestrian-only bridge over the Coeur d'Alene Lake followed by a 10-mile stretch uninterrupted by even one road crossing. Long Route skaters chose to first skate UP the hill for a workout before heading back down.
That set the tone for the week and it was not difficult for this group of 29 people (including the three guides) to have a great time. We enjoyed a variety of fine meals, swam in the Spokane River, played a game of beach ball volleyball, and skated, skated, skated.
We were even in the local paper, the Spokane Spokesman Review. A business reporter and photographer came out to the trail one day to interview our participants and write a story about the economic impact of 52 people traveling to the area to skate on the trails. (We have two tours running back-to-back, both sold out at 26 participants.)
Perhaps the best aspect of the trip, however, was the bonding that occurred among the group. With 29 people, there will always be a variety of personalities, ages, and backgrounds. That such a diverse group of individuals can form into one family-for-a-week is really amazing. I noticed this time after time. Nancy told me she sat next to new people every night at dinner "because everyone here is so interesting". When Barb was swimming in the river, I saw people watching her to make sure she was okay. Individuals on both sides of the volleyball net became instant teams, even giving nicknames to players. When Patricia was still out on the trail one day when most had arrived back, several people came up to me and expressed concern.
However, it was when we had to take 20-tour veteran Ralph Clayton to the hospital for a potential heart problem that this bonding really hit home. It turns out Ralph was fine and the hospital visit was just precautionary. While he was there, we toasted Ralph at dinner, visited the hospital, and shared our concern for him. I think many in the group realized that life is finite and the opportunity to spend five days with a group of great people doing something we love is what life is all about.
Sunday, August 13, 2006
We only started running Family Adventures last year, with an initial Yellowstone trip done as a test. It was incredibly successful and we had all 14 participants from that trip sign up for the Lake Tahoe Family Adventure this year. In addition, my niece and nephew, Erica and Brian, brought with them their parents (my brother Dave and sister-in-law Sharon) and their grandparents (my parents Spencer and Beverly). So, this was indeed a family trip for me!
Our family adventures are designed with both the parents and kids in mind. The key concept is to structure the tour so some activities are enjoyed by everyone as a group while other activities are done separately. For example, on one day our entire group went rafting on the Truckee River, coming home with wet clothes and exciting stories of the "Jaws" rapid. The next day we split the group for a hiking day. Most of the parents and older kids did a long hiking route of six miles that went uphill to the top of Squaw Valley. The short route, attended by all the younger kids and some of the parents, took a gondola ride to the top where the group did a shorter hike. So, everyone enjoyed the rafting together but those parents who wanted a workout could do the tougher hike without worrying about their kids.
After three days, because of the activities I was leading, I found that I had spent most of my time with the adults and older kids. I hadn't yet bonded (on this trip at least) with the younger kids. One of my best experiences of the tour was to quickly change that! Getting done early from a biking day, I drove the kids back to the hotel and the outdoor pool. I jumped in with Erica, Brian, Wendy, Adam, Noah, and Rebecca and was the immediate center of the kids' attention. For the next two hours, I got a workout by throwing balls, playing Marco Polo, and carrying kids around on my back.
It was great fun and I think indicative of the family tours. The kids just want to have fun and that is what happens on the family tours. While the parents might love that they are not responsible for making decisions, don't have to drive a car, and can leave their kids in our hands for much of the tour, the kids simply want to have fun. And whether it is singing in the car, playing games in the park, or taking part in our scheduled activities, they definitely know how to do it!
Next year we will have two Family Adventures: Yellowstone and Colorado. I am sure glad we added the family trips!
Saturday, August 12, 2006
The trip was structured to have alternating activities: hiking in the Colorado mountains and either skating or biking on some of Colorado's best paved trails. 18 people joined guide Terry Lynch and myself on this tour.
The trip took place in Summit County, Leadville, Aspen, and Glenwood Springs. All are great areas with incredible mountain views and fantastic trails, both dirt and paved.
I won't go over the five-day trip in detail but wanted to write about one highlight. The best hiking day was near Breckenridge when we had two distinct options. The "easy" option was a six-mile round trip hike to Mohawk Lake. The group who did this hike came back with raving reviews about the trail, the scenery, and the bag lunch everyone enjoyed sitting at the base of an alpine waterfall.
I led the second group on the harder option, a climb up 14,265-foot Quandry Peak. While the hike itself is not long (6.75 miles and 3400 feet of elevation gain) and requires no technical skills, hiking at altitude is always much more taxing than hiking at sea level. We discussed this at length the night before the hike and the nine people who chose to attempt Quandry knew they all had the option to turn around part way up the trail.
The ten of us quickly spread out on the trail as we each found a comfortable walking pace. We soon rose above the treeline and could see the long, uphill trail in front of us. The secret to hiking at this type of altitude is to go slowly; at the same time, we were very aware that we needed to make progress before the afternoon thunderstorms arrived. Starting in the back and working my way forward, I tried to make sure each member of our group had a realistic understanding of his or her chances of reaching the summit. I was also constantly watching the thunderclouds on the horizon, checking to see if they were headed our direction.
I eventually made my way to the front of our group where two members (Kirk and Tina) looked very strong. Tina was even hiking in open-toed sandals! By the time we reached about 13,500 feet, however, Kirk and Tina were discussing whether they would continue. I asked to take the lead, slowed down the pace, and the three of us continued steadily to the summit. It felt great to be on top! Eventually, two other hikers (Rick and Tony) also summited and I celebrated with them as we took photos and signed the register on top.
While four made the summit, the rest turned around at one point or another. Neither they nor I saw this as a failure, however. Instead, I think each person who attempted Quandry Peak that day learned something about high altitude hiking - and perhaps about himself or herself individually. It was a great experience that I know others would love to have. We'll leave Quandry Peak or another 14,000-foot mountain on the itinerary.
Overall, I thought the trip went extremely well. The mix of activities was fun and Colorado is the perfect state to host an adventure tour, with its amazing scenery, towns, and recreation.
Sunday, June 18, 2006
We start our tour skating along the Canal du Centre in the town of
The activity continued in
However, it was during one of my driving days that I had my best day in
The menu? Freshly prepared salad with lettuce, tomatoes, cucumber, olives, and potato; French bread straight from the bakery; four kinds of cheeses and five kinds of sandwich meats; cashews, almonds, and pistachio nuts; fresh fruit including melon, oranges, and kiwi; cake, cookies, and French chocolates for dessert; water with a flavor of mint to wash it all down; and freshly picked wildflowers for the table.
It was a feast and when our group rolled up to the picnic area, situated alongside the trail in a wooded park, they were happy to see us! Naturally, on a normal basis I much prefer hiking, skating, or biking to driving the van. However, this day was special because I felt like I belonged in
After five days in
The next two days we toured the major sights of
I can relate the details but it is hard to relate how emotionally satisfying the last week has been for me. I absolutely love
Tuesday, June 06, 2006
This past weekend I had the pleasure of participating in Camp Rollerblade Denver. This two-day camp was part of the 13-city schedule of Camp Rollerblade Weekends in 2006.
We had a relatively small group of nine students at the
As the owner of Zephyr Adventures, the company that runs
The camp started at on Saturday and was held in a private rink in a city park with nearby benches, picnic tables, and a bathroom. We started with introductions and a discussion about skating, equipment, and safety gear. We then started out with the basics: how to stand without rolling, how to get up off the ground from a sitting position, and how to fall safely without hurting yourself.
Once in the rink, we learned Stride One (the beginner forward motion stride) and skated from one side of the rink to the other. At the beginning, as I am sure all the participants would agree, it was quite a sight! No one could stop so we just banged into the rink wall each time we came to the other side. Legs were wobbly and balance was precarious. However, we kept falls to a bare minimum (in fact, I don’t remember any on this first drill) and everyone had smiles on their faces by the time we took our first break.
The key to skating is to learn to stop and that was our next order of business. Using the heel brake is not a natural motion at all and generally requires instruction. We broke the motion down into parts and, by lunchtime, most people were stopping fairly efficiently. We ended the morning session with a game of “Red Light, Green Light” on skates.
The two days progressed in a similar manner. New drill, practice, fun game to reinforce the concept, and then a short break. Learning to skate comes in waves and periods of enlightenment, when everything we are saying seems to all of a sudden click in a student’s mind (and body). I remember Barbara, who struggled with braking until she watched her daughter Tessa demonstrate it properly. Boom – she had it down. Or Jed, who started out only wanting to stroke with one foot before all of a sudden learning to use both in his stride.
The final afternoon we headed out of the rink to a local trail to practice our skills in the real world. The trail was beautiful and the real-life conditions made it exciting! Everyone did great. We practiced going over rough terrain (including sewer grates), skating up small hills, braking down hills to control our speed, and even perfecting the grass stop (a rolling stop into the grass rather than a flailing of all limbs in a last-ditch effort).
My final memory of the trip was when Savita struggled to perfect the grass stop on a slight decline. Throwing all caution to the wind, she headed down a steeper hill, caromed into the grass, and executed a perfect grass stop. A fitting finale to the weekend.
Congratulations to our nine students and all veterans of
Saturday, May 27, 2006
Tuscany is perhaps the most famous province of Italy, having been popularized by the book and movie Under the Tuscan Sun. Winding roads, ancient hilltop towns, lush vineyards, and amazing sunsets are all part of Tuscany's charm and justify its fame. However, the area is also hilly and there is no getting around the hills when bicycling in Tuscany.
Umbria, on the other hand, features a large flat valley with hills on either side. Less famous than its neighbor, Umbria nevertheless has great wines, wide-open scenery, and fascinating towns. Plus, there is the advantage when on a bicycle of that flat plain. While most people who visit this region of Italy tend to see either Tuscany or Umbria, our seven-day tour features both areas. Our cyclists appreciate it.
Our tour started in Siena, a beautiful town in the heart of Tuscany famous for its wild horse races in the central "campo" of the historic district. Meeting in the morning, we shuttled to the wine-centered hilltop town of Montalcino where the group arrived to find 22 shiny bikes - our wheeled companions for the next seven days - nestled under the walls of the Montalcino castle. After introductions and an overview of both the trip and the bikes, we started on a ride through the Tuscan countryside. Our route took us on both paved and dirt roads, avoiding traffic when at all possible, and featured a stop 10 kilometers in at Casata Prime Donne winery, the only one in Italy owned and operated entirely by women. Most of the group left with one or more bottles of the delicious brunello wine, specialty of the Montalcino area.
Shortly after the winery, the route had a junction where those looking for a shorter ride headed to our hotel and others looking for a workout could elect a longer option. Our hotel, a converted farm (Agriturismo) situated on a ridge with incredible views of the area's rolling hills, also provided our dinner for the evening, an amazing Italian meal made with ingredients that came straight from the farm. The menu consisted of bread, salad, spelt soup (made from a grain common in Tuscany), artichoke risotto, veal with a spinach sidedish, dessert, and all the wine we cared to drink. Mama mia!
This first day was typical of our subsequent days and I won't go over each day in detail. The biking was excellent, always with multiple distance options and detours to ancient towns, abbeys, and fortresses. We also had a variety of non-biking fun, including an olive oil tasting, a wine & cheese pairing, a culture talk on the differences between US and Italian culture, and an historical walk featuring everything from a Renaissance church to a Roman aqueduct. Each evening we would have an amazing Italian dinner, featuring local pastas, bruschetta, pizza, meats, salads, and always the fantastic Italian wine to wash it down.
And the biking? With three routes available on most days and van support there when needed, this tour is designed for all ability levels. Many of our participants on this trip laughed on the first day when describing how they had not been on a bike for years, while a few others were frequent riders and brought their own specialized pedals. The goal is to accommodate everyone and I think that was definitely achieved.
Tours like this tend to end all too quickly. Seven days came and went with unbelievable speed and I find it hard to grasp that just two weeks ago I was arriving at Rome's airport for the start of my Italy stay. While the trip is finite, the memories last a lifetime and I am sure all 22 participants and guides will long remember this past week.
For me, my best memories are always of small things. While I like touring Rome or seeing the sights of Tuscany and Umbria, I most enjoy feeling that I have become involved in the local life in some little way. Getting up in the morning for a run in the fields surrounding the hilltop town of Pienza ... having a glass of wine with our Italian guide Giovanni upon our arrival in Sansepolcro, still exhausted from plane travel ... sitting at a table in the out-of-the-way town of Lucignano watching the two 70-year old proprietors shuffle back and forth bringing fresh meats and produce to their guests ... or stopping for water in the center of Bevagna, watching as the local policewoman casually eyes our bicycles before telling a resident driver to move her car from the auto-free zone.
Italy is an amazing country and everyone should go there at least once in his or lifetime. Italy 2007, here we come!
Sunday, April 30, 2006
I returned home a few days ago from the California Wine Country and our first ever Biking Adventure in the area. I must say, I was very pleased with the tour!
14 participants joined my co-guide Gary Passon and me on the five-day trip. We started in Sonoma, biked across the county line into Napa Valley, and spent a few days in that beautiful area. We then crossed back over into upper Sonoma County and the Alexander Valley.
The key to the trip - and what everyone I tell about it wants to know - is how the biking part mixed with the wine tasting part. I must say I was pleasantly surprised! Most participants were there for both the biking and the wine tasting and we tried to accommodate. We had three biking routes each day (Short, Medium, and Long) and tried to place the bulk of the riding in the morning hours. That left the afternoons for the wine tasting.
So, as a sample day, the group might have ridden 20 miles in the morning to a good lunch spot without any winery stops on the way. In the afternoon, we might travel another 10 miles but stop at four or five wineries to taste the delicious local wines. Each person chose whether to drink or spit and how many wineries to visit. However, we found that with a mile of riding in between each winery, we had a great time and never felt as if we were jeapordizing our safety.
Personally, I had two favorite experiences on the tour - one related to biking and one to wine tasting. The first was when I was able to ride the Long Route on the third trip day with tour participant (and friend) Greg Johnson. The route was 50 miles long and only four of us total elected to bike it that day. Greg and I pushed each other and had a great time. In fact, we were so beat by the end of the day that neither of us wanted to stop at a winery!
The other memorable experience I had was on the fourth day. I drove the support van that morning, shuttling a few of the Short Route bikers part way, dropping off the luggage at our next hotel, and then shopping for a picnic lunch we set up at the Alexander Valley Winery. After lunch at the winery, I swapped with Gary (who rode in the morning) and was able to ride the last 10 miles to the hotel. Of course, that meant I was able to visit the wineries!
By the time Gary and I were done cleaning up the picnic, most of the group had already started out. I rode with Cathy, Chad, and Theresa and the four of us stopped at four wineries that afternoon. We had a great time sipping the different wines, chatting with the winery staff, and enjoying moving through the incredible scenery on our bikes. What a day to remember!
The California Wine Country is truly an incredible locale and biking is really a great way to see the area. I am pretty excited about the prospects of this tour becoming quite popular for us as more people learn how fun it can be!