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Friday, October 31, 2008


To make up for my sad post after our TT the other day, here's a feel-good post. I had a bunch of responses or comments, all of which made me smile. Every race we have teammates or friends who have a "bad race." Sometimes knowing what to say is tough. Especially when you have someone who says "spare me the 'just think positive' pep talk." So, for the next time you're cheering someone up after a bad race, TT, or bassoon solo here's some of my favorite responses. & you can vote on your favorite response.

(I'm 95% sure none of my friends are going to mind being quoted but, um, if you do mind send me an email.)

1. "Ski faster next time."

2. "my prescription: crank it, dance around your little apartment. Sure fire feel better cure."

3. "OK I won't give you a lecture on attitude although, as you know, I think attitude plays a major role in how a person approaches and succeeds at the various endeavors throughout life. Nope. Instead I'm attaching a power point presentation on "Hope" from --'s presentation." [lav: my mother is a tricky one.]

4. "Fight like your little squirrel life depends on it."

5. "I looked at your recommended site and decided the Optimist Creed would be much better for you than any of the posters on Despair.com. I hope you'll agree with me."

6. "Bummer it didn't go so hot...but...if it makes you feel any better...I'm sure you LOOKED hot!"

7. "In psychology we studied the concept of "regression towards the mean." Using an example of a test, it is nearly statistically impossible to continually score on the extreme low end. After an extreme score, there will always be some regression towards the mean.
Applied to skiing....the more you train the more you raise your mean speed and ability--therefore your regression towards the mean is continually improving. So after this one fluke TT you will be a statistical anomaly if you do not improve."


Thursday, October 30, 2008

Happy Halloween!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

"Who just Spit here?"

I almost missed this exchange at practice because we were still milling around about to receive our workout instructions. I think it was the little edge to Erik's voice that caught my attention. Usually Erik is 100% upbeat, friendly and laid back but when he asked this I could tell he wanted an answer. Bart obviously did too since he seemed a little uncomfortable when he admitted to being the guilty one. "Are you sick?" Erik demanded. (& you'll have to give me some creative license with my quoting here.) "Nope, I just drank gatorade," responded Bart. Erik, with the observational powers of a coach had noticed yellow mucus, freshly spat, and immediately was worried about our health.

There's so many clues that we use to understand what's going on with our bodies. There's all the things to which I pay attention about myself but I forget that Erik's monitoring us too and paying attention to our health even when we don't verbally tell him how we feel. I like the thought of being super observant and aware of how my body is doing. I also took note that if I am sick and I for some reason don't want Erik to know (not, um, that that would ever be the case...) I need to be extra sneaky, because he Notices things.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

10km Skate TT, Hatcher Pass

Kate Arduser- 40:45
Taz Mannix- 40:48
Kate Fitzegerald- 41:13
Becca Rorabaugh- 42:18
Laura Valaas- 46:12
Ky Eiben- 47:08

James Southam- 33:28
Jeff Ellis- 33:38
Bart Dengel- 34:23
Anders Haugen- 35:30
Peter Kling- 38:25
Bobby Miller- 39:05

I can't remember what everyone's times were this morning. I also can't remember in what order the guys finished after James and Jeff. If and when Erik sends out the results, I'll update the above.

You don't need to see exact times though to see that I raced horrendously. It was not an auspicious first time trial of the season. I felt fine, my skis were fine, it was a beautiful day, the course was great, the snow was firm, nothing broke, I wasn't sick. In short, there's no reason on earth that explains why I was so slow. Which is the worst way of being slow, honestly slow. Today was a day when I had to face the numbers and think, well, maybe I am slow, maybe this skiing thing isn't going to turn out so great for me after all. I would say I feel like I've plateaued. That cruel and despair-filled term. But no, it's more like a trough. Like I climbed up and then the next step forward dropped me into a trough. (I'm trying to avoid being overly dramatic and mentioning that the trough is full of pig slop. So I'm not going to describe it that way. I just want you to know that I exerted the effort to refrain.) Yes, a trough, and I'm sitting there looking up and thinking "oh [expletive deleted], how to I climb back out of this.

And if you're tempted to give me a lecture on attitude (ah-hem... mom) just go to Despair.com and sum it up in a motivational poster for me, okay?

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Monday, October 27, 2008


Thanks again to Ms. Price's class... for asking about the fourth dimension and reminding me about one of my favorite books Flatland by Edwin Abbott. (Which was introduced to me many years ago by my favorite entomologist/linguist/zoologist/voyager/writer/artist/musician/explorer/definition-defying friend.)

Flatland is the tale of a Square who lives, surprisingly enough, in Flatland, a two dimensional world. He has a dream about visiting Lineland, a one dimensional world, and trying to explain to the King of Lineland that there existed space outside of the single (although infinitely long) line on which he lived. The King of Lineland perceives the Square as a point. Later the Square is visited by a sphere from Spaceland, the land of three dimensions. Of course, when the Sphere visits the Square in Flatland, the Square can only see the Sphere as a Circle of varying diameter depending on which slice of himself the Sphere has in the plane of Flatland. Technically, the Square can only see the Sphere as a line but uses depth perception and touch to know he's a circle. The Sphere manages to show and explain three dimensions to the Square.

The Square then offends the Sphere by taking it one step further and asking to see the fourth dimension. The Sphere insists that there is only three dimensional space and that a fourth dimension is inconceivable. A reminder not to get so complacent with what we know that we think there's nothing left to learn.

Even written in 1884, this is still probably the best introduction to the concept of multiple dimensions. Although Flatland does have an extremely strict caste system based on someone's number of sides and angular regularity (everyone in this book is a geometric figure). And he uses ridiculous phrases to describe the inhabitants of Flatland such as,

"Thus, in the most brutal and formidable of the soldier class-- creatures almost on a level with women in their lack of intelligence..."

That's the book I just read and now, in addition to skiing, I've been trying to visualize the fourth dimension.


Sunday, October 26, 2008


During the cooldown after a hard L5 workout up at Hatcher Pass Ellis called me over to where he was standing. He'd come across an ermine and a squirrel fighting in the snow. Maybe it's more properly called a weasel, or a stoat, I'm not sure. The loop up there isn't too big so it only took a couple of minutes before the rest of our teammates stepped off alongside us as the straggled past on their cooldown. It didn't take us very long to asses the situation and determine that the ground squirrel was not in a good place. Carnivore vs herbivore is never good for the herbivore. We spent probably a good five minutes of our cooldown ski watching this fight. After all, I hardly ever see an ermine, much less one that's going after a supply of food for the winter. I decided that I wasn't as much of a fan of ermine as I thought I was. I no longer think of them as "cute." We watched until it was pretty clear there was no hope for the squirrel.

Erik and Jeff said they skied by later and the ground squirrel was STILL putting up a fight.

Did I fight that hard in my intervals that morning? Nope. Do I fight that hard in races? Nope. I'd like to think I do but I know I don't. I get in this zone of complacency thinking that I'm working really hard and striving to do my best and pushing my limits. I think I know what it means to fight. I don't think of myself as a quitter but I know there's been races where I've figured out the outcome and quit pushing. I'm not proud of that but I can't deny it either. This squirrel probably figured out the outcome but he did not stop fighting. Even when the weasel was ready to drag him away for a food stash he was fighting back. After watching the two rodents battle I had to ask myself if I knew what it meant to really fight for something. To struggle with every ounce of my being to some goal. I don't. I'm not sure if you can know it unless you actually have to fight for your life (or something equally important). What I will remember from this glimpse into the rest of the natural world is that there are many, many levels of fight above what I'm producing. As hard as I think I'm fighting... I can fight harder.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Skiing AK

There's a lot of things I like about being in Alaska. I wouldn't go so far as to call myself a "real Alaskan" yet-- I do still wait for the salesperson to tell me my total with tax when I buy something and I don't endlessly tell everyone else that Alaska is the best place in the world-- but I will say that the skiing community up here is amazing. I really enjoy going to practice and having other teams out skiing on the trails. And not just skiing, but skiing well! The UAA Ski Team and the Alaska Winter Stars are probably the two major groups we see frequently but once High School skiing starts we'll see the high schoolers out training too. I like having them out skiing, doing intervals, and working on their technique. It reminds me that skiers all around the world are out skiing, doing intervals, and working on their technique :)


Friday, October 24, 2008


We skied at Hatcher Pass again this morning. I thought it was cold. It was cold enough that I looked down at my legs a couple times to make sure that I was in fact actually wearing pants. My legs were numb enough that I couldn't feel the fabric and I certainly felt cold enough to believe that maybe I was missing a few layers of clothing. And I had to touch my face after spitting to make sure that I had spit successfully and didn't have a bunch of slobber down my chin because I couldn't really feel my face for part of the ski and it's hard to spit when you only think you know what your lips are doing. I've never been so eager to do L4 intervals because at least during the interval set I stayed warm.

It was about 20°F, maybe slightly colder. My body's going to have to do some adapting if I'm going to survive the winter. For now, though, I'm going to wear another layer to Hatcher tomorrow.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

6.022 × 1023

I was teaching Pre-Algebra Wednesday morning and the section was over scientific notation. One of the problems in the book was to write out Avogadro's constant in long hand (NA = 602,214,100,000,000,000,000,000 in case you wanted the answer) which reminded me it was about time to celebrate Mole Day! See, there's a lot of benefits from volunteering, I totally would have missed Mole Day this year if I hadn't been hanging out with Ms. Price's class. (Katie gets to celebrate Mole Day every year since it's also her birthday, Happy Golden Birthday Katie!)

6.022 × 1023 is the number of atoms in 12 grams of Carbon-12. It's really just a useful number for writing chemical equations and figuring out how many grams of each molecule you need when you're doing chemistry experiments.

So here are two videos I found for Ms. Price's class (yep, all 15 of you) to give you a little introduction to moles. When you get into chemistry you'll get to spend a lot more time working with Avogadro's number (and calculating and expressing numbers in scientific notation!).

Happy Mole Day!

(and if anyone knows of better mole songs, let me know.)


Tuesday, October 21, 2008


I could hear the snow melting as I was falling asleep last night... drip, drip, drip. Maybe that contributed to my nightmare. We were out for a team ski in a a nice lake valley when a bull moose decided we were evil. It was a scarier version of the game sharks and minnows. And we were the minnows. I didn't get trampled, but Don did (sorry, Don, I don't know why the moose singled you out). I'm not really okay with it when I start having dreams about getting chased by moose when I'm skiing. It probably means that I'm thinking about skiing too much. Or maybe I'm finally truly a Skier. Like how when you're learning a language you know you've got a handle on it once you start dreaming in it.


Monday, October 20, 2008


Double pole intervals at Kincaid this morning. I started out a little sluggishly. After the first set Erik paused me for a technique review. Angles. Impulses. Tempo. Forces. It was all thoughtful, concise, and explained with the clarity of someone who knows the mechanics of skiing forwards, backwards, or sideways at any speed. Not to mention dead-on. I am aware that having Erik is like skiing with a mirror and the cliff notes of ski technique (and if you want the unabridged version it's an option) so you know what you're doing poorly and how to make it better. The content is great but I wasn't doing a very good job absorbing this morning. So I asked Erik, "could you maybe just compress all of that into a sound effect for me?" He paused. I took advantage from the break from his usual loquaciousness to refine my request, "I'm talking one syllable here." Erik is pretty good about catering to us so he gave me "bam!" and even demonstrated where "bam!" belonged in the double pole movement. I skied off to the start of the next interval contentedly. Maybe I'm falling into the category of dumb jock but "bam!" was something that I could wrap my mind around and focus on during our L5 intervals. Someday, maybe, I'll have the capacity for the more academic technique theories but this morning I was only up for one syllable. Hey, I did ski each interval after that faster than the one before.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

The Last Bike

I took what will probably be my last bike ride of the season today-- just down to the grocery store and back so it was only 20 minutes. I seem to have made the switch this summer from being a cyclist to a bike commuter. The sun was out and the roads were dry and I had to go to the store anyway so I pulled the bike out of the shed and enjoyed the fresh air. It's not like it really takes that much longer via bike than by car. At some point I really need to downgrade from a road bike to a cross bike so I can get away with this for more of the year. Farewell, dear bike, hello skis.

Friday, October 17, 2008

More Hatcher

Hatcher has been fantastic. It's high enough that we're above the fog that's been smothering the area and can enjoy the sunrise over the mountains. UAA joined us up there this morning... I'm guessing Saturday will be much more crowded although there's still pretty good skiing to be had around Anchorage. Ed Strabel has been grooming which has been immaculate. Except for the first 200m because someone decided that they wanted to drive up the access road (luckily they decided to backtrack after 200m). I'm not sure why anyone would drive up a pristine ski trail. Seriously, untouched corduroy is for skis not trucks!


Thursday, October 16, 2008

Hatcher Pass

Wednesday, October 15, 2008


I got super excited when a fox bounded across the trail ahead of me at Kincaid. Initially simply because I really like foxes and then after a moment I was even more excited because I realized, "hey, I can finally figure out what fox prints look like!" Usually I say if it looks like dog prints but doesn't appear to be following a set of human prints it's a fox. When I got up to where the fox had crossed I saw the walking prints and the bounding prints.

My conclusion: if the tracks look like they belong to a small dog but don't appear to be following a set of human prints it's probably a fox. So much for gleaning wisdom.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

some things i thought were funny today

The spilled fountain drink in the Glenn Alps parking lot. There was your standard squashed cup with the straw still poking through the lid and lying off to the side but instead of a nice splatter the orange soda had retained its cylindrical form.

The fact that I took smack from my team (ahem... ELLIS) for parking by myself in the third row of the parking lot because it meant that my car would sit in the sun longer. When I got back over 2.5 hours later the sun still wasn't up.

The fact that I'm supposed to go do bounding intervals this afternoon and there's 6" of snow on the ground and it looks like it'll be even deeper by the time I finish.

The ridiculous amount of my ski bases that I sacrificed to the snow gods out on my ski this morning.

Monday, October 13, 2008


Today was one of those priceless sunny and calm days at Glenn Alps. There was fresh snow covering everything; it looked like an artist's nightmare (although maybe real artists are more optimistic about depicting snowscapes). Being aware that it could be my last ski up to Powerline Pass of the year without fighting a monstrous headwind I was loath to turn around. So I didn't. I kept skiing.

I skied past the point where my girls team turned around, past the point where my boys team turned around, past where Dylan's tracks turned back, along a faded track from before last night's snowfall, until those tracks too stopped to make an asterisk in the snow and disappeared into themselves for their return path. I skied through the sparkling and untouched snow, past chortling ptarmigans, a few of whom the winter white seemed to have caught by surprise. I skied over snow dunes and among plebeian shrubs looking regal in their ermine fur coats. Although enjoying the sun rise over the mountains I skied before the dawn into the shadows at the very base of Powerline Pass. I skied into five runs of (admittedly very bad) tele turns and through seven layers of kick wax. I prayed to stay ahead of the cloud of snow dust licking up the legs of my shadow as I descended the upper valley. I skied into the whispered, hissing conversation between my skis as they returned to smoother tracks without interrupting them. It was a day to rekindle my passion for skiing.

The Glenn Alps parking lot.
Ky Eiben waiting for a calf to follow mother moose across the trail.

The train of APU skiers headed home in the lower left corner.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

September Snow

There's snow all over. I have been remiss in my reporting. Luckily TK is more up on his video taking than I am so I'm stealing his video. He also puts together better videos than I would anyway. (Thanks, Tim)

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Burwash Landing

I don't know if I'm exceptionally cursed or talented, but I do seem to manage to get myself to unusual places. Scratch that, I'm just going to take the credit for being talented! I did, for some random reason, end up in the lovely town of Burwash Landing last week. Burwash is a town of about 100 people on the shore of Kluane Lake in the Yukon. This was my first time in the Yukon and I was pretty pleased with my experience. After the first day I said that Burwash was my favorite town in the Yukon but by the end of the trip I declared it my favorite town in all of Canada.

I had just about everybody warn me about the grizzly bear that was hanging out in the area and was like, "yeah, yeah, I'm from Alaska, I know about bears, I'll leave the ipod off and keep my eyes open." Then on one of my runs I found the bear's prints and seriously thought about going back to the Burwash and just doing lunges outside the hotel. My entire hand fit inside the hind foot pad. And it took the width of my other hand to reach to the top of the claw marks. And I don't have small hands either. In fact, let me get a tape measure...

Laura Valaas on the shore of Kluane Lake with Burwash Landing in the background.

...okay, that's 7 1/4" long for the foot pad and just under 11" from heel to the end of the claw marks. Not that I go around measuring bear tracks, but that seemed like it must have come from a large bear.

I never actually saw the griz, and on one of my other runs I found a random dog who was eager to come with me.

There's a gorilla face in this mountain that was pointed out to me by one of the friendly Burwash residents. Maybe you can find it?

It was interesting to experience a different mode of life... when we walked into the hotel's cafe everyone would say hi and by the end of the stay we knew tons of people by their first name as well as parts of their life story. I haven't been in a place for awhile that's so small that you acknowledge everyone else as a matter of course. It's a nice change from being in the city where it's normal to avoid making eye contact with strangers.

Mode of transportation for Kluane Lake

The km marker just down the road from Burwash. That AlCan highway covers some serious distance.

I'd probably go back to Burwash at some point... I have to try and catch one of their giant lake trout!

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

I finally get it

"And what are you studying/did you study in school?"
"Oh," [pause & blank stare] "so do you want to teach?"

After getting this question so frequently I was probably more anti-teaching than if I wasn't forced to say, "no, I'm really not interested in being a teacher" over and over again. I really appreciated my teachers and professors but I was certain that I didn't have the patience to coax the painfully ignorant students (as I often was) into enlightenment in one subject after another. Teaching seemed to me near the bottom of the list of desirable professions. Even after volunteering all last school year at Sand Lake I still thought that teaching seemed way too arduous for the benefits and I was completely satisfied with my 1-2 hours in the afternoons.

Then, sometime this fall I finally got it. I finally got a teacher's high. I remember coming away from class one day feeling like I'd improved the world. (Just a little tiny bit, but still...) I realized that teaching could be totally fulfilling and uplifting and a worthwhile use of my time. Don't get me wrong, I still doubt I'd cut it as a teacher and it's not in the career plan, but now at least I understand why people love teaching. Why one of my brilliant friends would struggle through two years of teaching math in inner city Las Vegas instead of getting a PhD and earning fame and money (although she did pick up a Masters degree, I was serious about the brilliant descriptor). I am so glad that I'm getting this exposure to teaching through In The Arena... I think the perspective's been good for me and it's been good to realize that the value of having a challenging and fulfilling career matters way more than the paycheck.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Laura Valaas, Becca Rorabaugh, Kate Arduser & Taz Mannix on the way back down from L4 bounding intervals

Laura Valaas

Thanks to Katie for the photos as I officially failed as a blogger by forgetting to bring my camera to the first day of playing in the snow.



Woke up to about 3 inches of snow outside! Didn't ski today but soon.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Project Implicit

Harvard has a pretty interesting little ongoing study. I first heard about this in one of my gender studies classes at Whitman because of course the topic came up about how strongly people held certain stereotypes even when they said the wouldn't judge people based on race/gender/whatever. The study uses a timed word/picture matching test to determine your automatic preferences and can be pretty informative about the stereotypes you may hold without even being aware of it.

They developed a test which you can take HERE to see which presidential candidate you implicitly prefer.

You can find out more about the psychology behind the tests and the idea behind implicit attitudes HERE.

Sunday, October 05, 2008


Don't worry, I'm not dead, I've just been stranded in a place with no internet. I'm back now though, and this was the sight through the windshield on the way back into Anchorage.

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