04 June 2011

Perigean Tides and Mashing Fresh

Blender of the CA side of Heavenly at Tahoe - March 22, 2011

"Fffffffffffffffffff ..." Hear that? It's just big snowflakes falling through the air. 
Look around: Covered in powder-snow, steep mountains seem less steep from the top. 

I just had a skiing dream, and in it I jumped farther 
and spun slower and landed softer and schralped 
more continuous blower gnarr than ever before. 

And then I went to sleep and had the same dream. 

* * *

SUNRISE on January 15, 2010.
Bangui, Central African Republic.
Image online
Preface. Sometimes, coincidences happen. Sometimes they're shocking, sometimes they're mundane. Perhaps they happen for a reason. Perhaps not. It's pretty easy to get caught up ascribing meaning to coincidental events. Maybe that's superstition. It's also pretty easy to walk around oblivious to the world turning beneath your feet. That's naivete. Simply put, it's easy to over-analyze what you experience, and it's also easy to under-analyze it. I'm looking for a harmonious middle ground, so let's just say that coincidences are interesting. Coincidences are sort of like rolling Yahtzee.

In fact, here's one coincidence I just discovered a few weeks ago, in retrospect: the experimental wormwood beer that Casey and I brewed back on January 16, 2010 coincided almost exactly to the hour with the longest annular solar eclipse of the milennium (which was also about one day off apogee), and it was very nearly directly opposite us on the earth. Hmmm. Interesting. What's with that? Why did that fermenting ale affect me so strongly and yet NOT affect anyone else, including Casey, or my roommate Andy? I'll let you decide that in a bit, at the end of a more recent tale ...

* * *

16 Hours. Winter quarter ended, and a couple lonely Tahoe season passes needed riders, so we loaded up the car Friday afternoon (March 18, 2011) with the ski/snowboard equipment, stopped at Whole Foods for supplies (turns out they have the best beer selection in greater Santa Barbara), and blasted off towards ski country. Three excellent dudes, and lots of snow in the forecast. It was bound to be epic.

Old Chub, from Oskar Blues
Brewery, Lyons, CO. Smoky, malty, 
roasty, 8% ABV, especially 
great for skiing, AND they 
carry it at Whole Foods. Sweet.
Image online here.
Well, likely to be epic, at least. We didn't know that each other person was excellent at the get-go, but when you spend continuous time with a person, you get to know them, for better or worse. You get to know what they think. You get to know what their middle name is. You get to know what they smell like. That's how you make good friends (or enemies), and whaddaya know: we're all fast friends.

Ryan took the first driving shift out of town. We were fired up, ready to ride, and ready for the adventure ahead. We talked about the ocean, and owl omens, and girls. Heavy snow forecast up North on I-5 pushed us East onto Hwy 395, which added a couple hours to the ETA. No big deal! It's more scenic, anyway, to drive past Mt. Whitney, through the jaw-dropping Owens Valley, through Bishop, CA (a warm-month climbing mecca), to Lake Tahoe. I took over driving as the sun began to set. Wind started to kick up. Lots of wind. Enough wind that cruising 65 mph on a two lane highway felt precarious. Enough to provoke a wildfire to jump the highway near Independence, CA and HALT northbound traffic on the 395. We flipped a U-dogger and grabbed some pizza 20 miles back at the Pizza Factory in Lone Pine. I recommend stopping there. It has the nostalgic air of a cafeteria--cheap wood paneling, vinyl-cushioned metal chairs, soda fountain, good toppings, reasonable prices, and no pretense. While we were housing some 'za, we heard that the highway was closed indefinitely and it might not open until the next evening. Five hours had elapsed. We were halfway there. "What are we gonna do, guys?" asked Ryan. "You wanna grab a room in Lone Pine and wait out the fire?"

It was definitely an option, but there was no guarantee that the highway would open, and "No Vacancy" signs were beginning to light up. It felt better to be moving, driving, chasing the powder. "No, let's drive. Let's take the 136 to the 90 and loop out through Nevada. It'll take twice as long, but we'll get there," Iggy and I replied. Instead of four hours more road time, we were looking at eight or nine, which is the standard total trip time. "It's all part of the adventure," we echoed.

Owens Valley as I took over driving.
So we gassed up the Tacoma and jumped in. Ryan was at the helm again, so he abruptly chugged a 5-hour Energy, and we hit the pavement. The road out was intense. It had sudden dips and quick crests, and turned downward, darkly, steeply, into Death Valley--an appropriate name for the place. The headlights were a candle flicker in a huge chasm, every now and again illuminating a stark feature in the landscape. Or was that an animal? Or something else? We tossed in The Eagles Greatest Hits. As midnight passed, the perigean full moon (or "Supermoon") made its appearance over the mountains, igniting the desolate valley in its silvery light. This full moon was exceedingly bright, and big, because it coincided with the moon's perigee (closest orbital point to earth), a coincidence that happens every couple decades or so. Perigee is also interesting (even if it's not the full moon) because there are always stronger tides. Such "Perigean Tides" are the result of measurably larger gravitational forces that accompany the moon's closeness to earth at such a time. The result: at perigee, the earth's entire ocean rises a couple centimeters higher than usual at high tide. Maybe it was these "moon rays," but Ryan was clearly getting more and more agitated, and he suddenly half-laughed/half-shouted, "Guys, all of my faculties are in a hypersensitized state! Hahaha!" as he gave the truck a little too much gas around a bumpy curve. 

"That must be the five hour energy," Iggy replied. "Just take 'er easy dude!" Still we descended. 

Meanwhile, running on 3 hours of sleep, and sleepy on pizza, I was finally beginning to doze off as Witchy Woman came on. My dreams were wild, full of swirling mist and dark running figures and strobe lights, all choreographed to Don Henley's 400-grain voice. We were all on edge from the intense winds, recent earthquake in Japan, and eerie moonlight. It felt like something big was about to rend the earth or explode the sky. The road was getting steeper, and bumpier.

Supermoon from the car.
"WHOA!" yelled Ryan, tapping the brakes. "I just hallucinated a dark figure crossing the road!" 

I sprung awake in a tense, confused anxiety and quickly described the dark figures and swirling mist in my dream. "What did it look like, Ryan?" I asked. 

"I couldn't really tell, but it ran right in front of the car!" replied Ryan. I was suddenly extremely awake, and trembling. Iggy, compelled to roll some cigarettes, helped calm the energy by reminding us of the light within. Ryan continued to exhale pressurized breaths of energy through his teeth. The thermometer on the car read 70, but I was freezing--shivering cold at the base of my spine--like I had jumped in a frozen lake and couldn't get warm. It felt like a dementor had jumped in the car with us. It felt like a Native American burial ground. Still we drove on.

We felt exposed, so it felt like a good time to expose some deeper stories among new good friends. I told the story of the wormwood beer, and how all the while it has evoked myriad vivid visuals as well as alien emotions within me, and the slow mellowing (but not disappearance) of these effects for over a year. We're all agreed that wormwood is a strong psychoactive and potentially poisonous substance, and I recently learned that, in some circles, it is used to summon and banish the dead. A little pre-research would have been in order. We talked about our birthdays, and how Iggy and Ryan have the same spiritual teacher in India. As we dropped below sea level, we talked about the meaning of our names. Ryan's full name, Narayana: "God in Man." Iggy's middle name, Sathya: "Truth." My name, Nathan: "God has Given." Iggy later observed that "all [of our names] were referencing that energy we longed to be protected by at that moment." It's also interesting that our names echoed our roles in the situation: Narayana was driving, Iggy was calming us, and I was suddenly the one with the burdenIt was a veritable spiritual quorum, and we had a demon to exorcise. 

Swirling mist, for dramatic effect. Image online here.
We resurfaced above sea level and glimpsed the ascent out of Death Valley in the distance. Part way up, we pulled off the highway to get some fresh air, stretch our legs, and empty the tanks. Very few other cars were out, but a few hundred meters up, another (abandoned?) solitary car was visible on the side of the road. Iggy crossed the highway, gazing into the moonlight and the vast valley floor below. Narayana walked a few meters into the brush on the dark side of the car, facing the screaming wind, and meditated. I stood in the center of the highway, frigid, stuck in limbo, flanked by my companions, and connected to reality and society in a literally concrete way. There are entities that hide there, shadows darker than the moon-shadows cast by the shrubs, and I could see them, squirming on the side of the highway, in Death Valley. The road was safe, but this was a turning point. I was crawling out of my own skin, clawing out the base of my spine, shivering violently. As Iggy later wrote, "The energy was so intense that it felt like it was shattering old inner constructs, allowing for transformation.  There was nothing one could do except surrender and allow the transformation to occur." After some time, we got back in the truck, and began to drive. Strangely, the solitary car parked up the road was an identical copy of my truck, right down to the model year (I could tell by the paint design). That was truly the icing on the cake.

By now it was about 2:00 AM, and as we truly climbed out of Death Valley, the coldness and anxious wakefulness and squirming darkness quickly dissipated. I left that burden on the side of the road. In a very significant way, I felt like myself again--more myself than I had felt in the 426 days since January 16, 2010 (though it is only in retrospect, now, that I say this). The way Iggy put it, "[Our] descent into the dark valley and drive through and the ascent out was an exterior analogy to the inner landscape." True dat. This experience began under a solar eclipse new moon (near apogee, making it annular), and ended under a full moon at perigee in death valley. Perhaps I was meant to be there, to be diverted by fire, to be ushered through the valley of the shadow of death bearing a burden, to unload that burden, and to emerge cleansed of darkness, revitalized and grounded by Iggy and Narayana's strong spiritual purpose, feeling like myself once again. Or was it just a coincidence? Certainly.

We drove a bit farther, and caught some much-needed rest somewhere in Nevada. The moon fell behind the mountains to the west, arbiter of transformation. 

Waking again, it was my turn to drive. We caught a breathtaking sunrise over Walker Lake and saw just about every various lovely shade of brown cruising through the Nevada hills and mountains. Sixteen hours after we had started, we rolled into South Lake Tahoe at 8 AM.

* * *

Sharing a maté.
Snow. When we arrived that first morning, Sofi and Debi (the Argentinian gals at Priefer's house where we stayed) made us a breakfast of jam and cream cheese on toast while we shared a maté. A foot of fresh powder sat, poised, waiting for our turns, yet another (great) coincidence. In fact, the barometric pressure was so low, and so much snow was forecast over the following week that they were calling this storm "Snowicane 2011."

Off to Sierra at Tahoe. Excellent terrain, excellent turns, and it snowed all day. We rode with Priefer and Edrick, and mainly stuck to the steep, powdery, tree-filled slopes of Jack's Bowl. It was an epic start to the weekend. I got a chance to play around with a GoPro that day, so I took one of the videos, edited it up a little bit on my computer, and set it to some music. The song is Spare Me by Other Nature (Iggy is on vocals). Check it out:

After a day's hard riding, but mostly from lack of sleep and the crazy drive, we were beat. One delicious salmon-burrito-dinner later (at Sprouts), we went back to the house and practiced our Spanish with Sofi and Debi, and then passed the hell out. While we slept, the snow kept falling.

Benny boy.
(Edrick looking the other way).
Sunday dawned too soon, but temps stayed cold, so we rode the best, most blower powder of the whole trip this day at Heavenly. Grand View lift had some killer terrain. Sierra was closed all day. It was Sofi and Debi's last weekend in South Lake Tahoe, so that night, we made sure to check out Cabo Wabo beneath Harrah's Casino on the Nevada side of the state line. They wouldn't let Iggy in with his temporary ID, so instead, he went upstairs, won some money, and met a guy who was up $2000 (he bought us a few drinks). Thanks to social networking, I realized that my good buddy Ben Hambright had driven 18 hours from Colorado chasing the Snowicane. We met up at Cabo Wabo, and then rode together the rest of the time.

Monday. Sierra opened back up. 2 feet. Other than mentioning that we tried black bear sausage at lunch (awesome) and had amazing elk burgers to go with it, I'll let the pictures tell the story. They get bigger when you click on them:
Wow. I think Ben had something like 7 Gigs of footage on his GoPro this day. Rinse and repeat.

Lake View from Heavenly.
Tuesday, our final day of skiing, was sunny, and we skied Heavenly once again. That made for some great views of the lake, but heavier snow. Each day just seemed like it got better, and this was no exception. We all had a nearly-religious experience watching them take down the "Closed" sign at 10 AM at Killebrew Canyon. That's the first time I've ever had truly fresh turns in-bounds. Words don't do it justice. You had to be there. Oh, wait, Edrick took a video:

To finish off this fourth and final day of this epic skiing adventure, Narayana and Ben took some out-of-bounds terrain to the base, ending up 10 miles out of town by accident. Iggy and I were totally exhausted and kept it mellow, in-bounds, to the base. When we got there, an amiable, suprisingly-good, toothless guitar player named Hop gave us some beers and advice while we sat and listened to his tunes on the street. "Don't do anything that isn't fun for you," he said, moving straight into a great version of Big Rock Candy Mountain. "A little respect from both parties and everyone wins," he followed. No doubt, Hop, no doubt.
That's me.

We all reconvened at Priefer's house, ate Mexican food for dinner, and went gambling. That was my first time ever putting chips down on a table in a casino. I started with twenty bucks in my pocket, and went up $200 at one point, but lost it all in the end. I just wanted to gamble, and $20 is a cheap fare for a night of fun! I quickly learned that the worst bet in Blackjack is $21. Never bet $21. I did it three separate times with three separate dealers, and the house pulled blackjack all three times. That's not superstition, that's statistically significant.

Weatherworn, moneyless, snow-stoked, and smiling, we strolled home, packed up, and had a cream cheese fight over who got to sleep with the pillow. Next morning, it was still snowing, but we had to go. The drive home was an easy nine hours by the I-5 route--a welcomed difference from the trip there. When we arrived, this skiing dream continued at Hollister Brewing with dinner and beers. I'm still waiting to wake up.