Sunday, August 28, 2005

last post from NZ

Well, the guy at the internet cafe knows me by now, and the lifties at the Remarkables all know the drill when they see a monoskier coming (slow the chairlift) without us having to say anything. They've even set up a "US Ski Team only" liftline for us. But tomorrow after training we'll be leaving Queenstown for Christchurch, and then leaving New Zealand for good.

It's been a fantastic trip on more than one level. We've gotten in great training here despite low snow levels, we've had a lot of fun on our days off, we've eaten really well and seen a lot more of the region than we usually get to on these trips. I think two weeks was just about the perfect amount of time, too.

The coaches set up timing for today's slalom training, I think more out of their own curiosity than for our benefit, since they weren't telling us our times. But our ski tech Ben, who was recording the times, told me I was consistently the fastest mono-skier today, which is nice. Not that I don't still have a lot of work to do if I want to out-ski the Europeans and Japanese (not to mention Chris, Tyler and Bramble, who aren't here)... but hey, it's only August.

Friday, August 26, 2005

taking the plunge

Today I got to go bungee jumping. (Or "bungy jumping," as the Kiwis would have it, but to me that sounds like it should be pronounced like "bung" + y.)

In the mid-'80s a Kiwi named AJ Hackett pioneered the sport/activity (you decide) and launched the first commercial jump site at the Kawarau Bridge just outside Queenstown, NZ. That's where we went today. There are higher jump sites nearby, but it's hard to imagine a more beautiful setting.

I had been wanting to jump since we first drove past the bridge on our way into town. But surprisingly, given the nature of our sport, it was hard to find other people who wanted to go. Nick thought he might want to, and it sealed the deal when we met a Kiwi disabled skier at the race yesterday who said he had a voucher for a free jump sitting around that he could give us. We agreed we'd split the voucher so we each got to jump at half-price. (It is kind of expensive at NZ$140 a jump.) Nick made the arrangements for us to go around noon today, our second day off. I had no idea so many people would accompany us, but half the team ended up going up in a van driven by Ben, our ski tech -- and then four of them decided to jump as well: Monte, Allison, George, and Laurie. We made an afternoon out of watching & cheering on each other, and commenting on how scared each other looked.

You can watch a movie of some people (not me) jumping off the Kawarau Bridge here. As you can see, there's only a second or two of actual freefall, but man is that part crazy. It's weird to think that in 24 years of existance I had never experienced falling freely through space for more than a fraction of a second; now I have. Jumping off wasn't so terrifying for me, but those one or two seconds before the bungee started kicking in sure were. On the digital video that they took of me (and I decided not to pay $40 for), you can see me clawing at the air as I try to do... I'm not sure what. My mind was telling me that this was not what my body should be doing. Of course, as soon as I overrode that notion and the bungee began to slow my descent, exhilaration replaced terror as the dominant emotion, and goddamn it was fun.

I was the first of the wheelchair users to jump, but we had figured out a pretty good plan. In addition to the standard waist harness, I wore a chest harness instead of the standard ankle attachment, and I had them tie my legs together just so they didn't flop around too much. After the jump and subsequent bounces, they lowered me down to the crew members in an inflatable boat in the river, where they disconnected my harnesses. On shore, they helped me get up the stone stairs to the landing where my wheelchair was waiting for me. It worked out nicely.

In other news, yesterday was the slalom, the final day of racing at Cardrona. All I'm going to say is that if I was one of the best skiers on the hill in Tuesday's super G, I was definitely one of the worst yesterday! I love this sport; it keeps me humble.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

New Zealand national super G champion... oh yeah

So yesterday's news is that I won the super G race at the New Zealand Disabled Snowsports Championships in Cardrona. This is less of a big deal than it sounds, because the race basically consisted of our team plus a few aspiring racers from New Zealand, South Korea, and the UK. It is also less of a big deal because the weather conditions were so terrible and foggy, with really flat light and soft snow, that several people didn't even race. Basically, I had to beat about five people. However, the races were mentioned on CNN International (in the same breath as some cultural festival in Hong Kong) when I was watching the other day, and besides, it's the first race of any kind I've won since a really low-level Eastern race back in, like, 1996. So I'm milking it for all it's worth. Next time you see me, please address me as "Mr. New Zealand National Champion." ("Bro" will also suffice.)

In other news, when we were training slalom today at The Remarkables, they were blasting various aggressive music on some huge speakers at the top of the lift, when on came none other than Coolio's mid-nineties rap hit "Gangsta's Paradise." I was riding the chairlift with a Francophone couple who immediately started rapping along with him. When I commented on how long it had been since I'd heard that particular song, the Frenchman told me, "In my Eenglish class, we listen to zis song and lehrn ze words for practeece." It was all I could do to keep from laughing out loud at the thought of someone teaching a bunch of French people the meaning of lines like "You better watch how you're talkin' and where you're walkin' / Or you and your homies might be lined in chalk."

(An interesting side note to this story is that the Frenchman was currently living on the island of New Caledonia, in the South Pacific, and his girlfriend was from the island of Reunion, in the Indian Ocean. As he pointed out, the French have island possessions everywhere, and most of them are obscure as hell. I defy you to find these two on a map; I pride myself on my geographical knowledge and yet I probably couldn't do it.)

This afternoon I read the first chapter of an old paperback I took from my mom's bookshelf, Dylan Thomas' "Portrait of the Artist as a Young Dog," an autobiography. As a kid growing up in Wales in the early 20th century, he uses a lot of strange words, of which I couldn't help but take note. For example, talking about leading a horse:

"He led the hollow, shappy statue towards the stable; clop, clop to the mice-house."

What does shappy mean? A quick perusal of online dictionaries revealed nothing -- anyone have access to the OED, or prior knowledge of this word?

Friday, August 19, 2005

Zew Nealand 2

Third day skiing today; we went to a ski area called The Remarkables. Like Coronet Peak and Treble Cone (where we skied yesterday), it's a long, windy drive up a sketchy dirt road to get to the base area, which is situated right at the snow line. The valleys really don't seem to get any snow; I guess the elevation is too low. (The top of these peaks is only about 1500 m/4800 ft, and yet they are totally treeless.)

After the morning GS training session and a quick lunch, Joe, Roger, Tyler, Lacey and I went up a different lift that services a high traverse with lots of really steep, ungroomed terrain. We made a couple of fantastic runs down a narrow chutes and a wide snowfield. The snow cover isn't great right now, so we sort of had to pick our way down in places, but it was so worth it -- got my heart racing.

Tomorrow we have the day off, and I'm hoping a couple of us will get in some bungee jumping.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Zew Nealand

So much to talk about... we flew into Christchurch, NZ two days ago, spent a day and a night there, and then drove to Queenstown yesterday. Today we had our first day of skiing here, at a place called Coronet Peak. So far, New Zealand is pretty much just as I expected: beautiful scenery and very laid-back, cool people. And it's even pretty warm, for midwinter. The only big minus so far is money... everything here is super-expensive, even with the favorable US/NZ exchange rate.

Christchurch, where we spent Tuesday, is called the Garden City and it's built around an enormous park with vast botanical gardens inside. Because it's winter, nothing was in bloom, but the trees there were really impressive, like some fantasy illustration. Tall & skinny or 6 feet thick or gnarled and vine-covered -- I didn't know trees came in so many different shapes. It's also a surprisingly diverse city; there are immigrants from just about every Asian country as well as native New Zealanders both white and Maori. I would say more than half of the restaurants in both Christchurch and Queenstown serve Asian cuisines.

On Tuesday afternoon, Roger, Lacey and I took a shuttle ride to New Brighton Beach, a sort of faded-glory summer beach town like Old Orchard Beach or Coney Island. The purpose of our trip was to ride something called the Sling Shot, which is basically a vertical or upward bungee jump. Roger and I ponied up our $40NZ each, and Lacey decided to stay on the ground and watch. It was a pretty exhilarating ride: from the ground to 50 meters in the air in under 1 second, then we bounced up and down maybe 10 times, spinning all the while. The view was incredible; we could see the sun setting to the north of us (strange) and the beach stretching for dozens of miles in either direction. The craziest part was plummeting downward as our seats were tilted forward, so we were looking straight down at the ground as we descended. It was so worth it.

Queenstown is known as the adventure-sports capital of NZ, and with good reason. You could spend hundreds of bucks a day going on various excursions: jetboating down rapids, bungee jumping, paragliding, four-wheeling, kayaking and a million other things besides skiing. The snow line is hundreds or even thousands of meters above the town, so during the day it's pretty warm here -- maybe 50-60 degress F. There are big lakes and rivers everywhere in this region (Central Otago), although I bet the water's pretty cold for swimming. We should have no trouble keeping occupied in the afternoons here.

On the hill today, a bunch of the US (able-bodied) ski team guys were training: Erik Schlopy, Ted Ligety, TJ Lanning... no Bode sightings though. There was also a FIS slalom race today, a crazy icy course. Roger and I skied a bunch off piste in between the groomed runs (it's all above treeline), and at one point we ended up on a short cat track with no snow on it. We had to very carefully pick our way through and around rocks and mud to get back onto the snow... I don't think our ski tech will be too happy when he sees the results of that little adventure.

OK, time to push back up from this internet cafe in town to our hotel, which is inconveniently located at the top of a huge-ass hill. Blah.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Part one of Memories now online

I finally got around to posting the first chapter of my translation on my other blog. In case I haven't told you yet, one of my summer projects has been an English translation of Gabriel García Márquez's latest novella, Memoria de mis putas tristes (Memories of My Melacholy Whores), which came out in Spanish last year and has not been published in English yet. With any luck I'll get the whole thing done and posted up there before the "real" translation comes out. Be sure to read my first post over there (at the bottom of the page) for my background notes on the project.

Monday, August 08, 2005

bike race

I competed in my first handcycling race yesterday, the Elgin Cycling Classic in Elgin, IL. (I'm out here in the Chicago area for like a week visiting my friends Abby and Shifra.) There were only three people entered in the handcycling division and I finished third, but it wasn't really a disappointment. It was harder than I thought it would be, though.

The race was a criterium, which is a short course around several city blocks. You ride lots and lots of laps along the course (this one was about 1 km long), and the winner is the rider who is ahead after a certain period of time has elapsed (in this case, 40 minutes plus four additional laps). The course was a little hillier than I thought I expected for Illinois, and some of the curves were really sharp for a three-wheeled handcycle. (Regular two-wheeled bikes have a much easier time since they can bank into the turns.) I definitely got better at riding the right line through the curves as the race progressed, and I also got better at finding the right gearing for the hill. About twenty minutes in, I started hitting my knee with the hand crank because my foot was sitting at the wrong angle. To fix the problem I had to yank off my shoe and toss it to Abby on the sidelines. On one lap my water bottle skittered across the pavement as I went around a corner, but the next time around a police officer was holding it out for me to grab back. I got lapped a few times by the leader and once by the second-place guy, but I was OK with it. They were nice guys and gave me some tips on riding better. I'd do it again sometime.