Category Archives: Olympics

Cycling the Adirondacks

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I woke up in Old Forge not knowing exactly what to expect for the day.  I knew the generalities.  The Adirondacks are mountains.  There will definitely be some terrain, some climbs, and some fantastic scenery.  This would be my first day of riding through a truly mountainous area.  The first day of my bike trip had been flat, mostly following the Erie Canal through Western New York.  There were rolling hills on the second day, through Central New York, but no significant climbs.  A ride through the Adirondack Mountains from Old Forge to Lake Placid would definitely be more of a challenge than the previous two days.

I started the day wondering how challenging the ride would be.  I knew that the mountains here, or anywhere in the East, are not as tall as the mountains in Colorado.  But, I also knew that I had covered quite a bit of distance the past two days, over 100 miles each day, so I could be a bit exhausted.  I had read blogs and such about cycling through the Adirondacks, but it’s hard for anyone to deduce how their body will respond to a bike ride based on a blog entry.  The same more or less holds true for other activities like hiking and skiing.

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It barely took a mile or so of riding, northeast on highway 28 out of Old Forge before I began to encounter the splendid lakes surrounded by forests and hills that make the Adirondacks so appealing to so many people.

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It was about 30 miles into the ride, at a place called Blue Mountain Lake, where the terrain started to become more challenging.  The mountains were becoming taller, as I had entered the heart of the Adirondack Mountain Range.

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Leaving Blue Mountain Lake, heading north on highway 28-N, I encountered the first of a series of challenging climbs.  This one was likely the steepest, but throughout the entire ride, each time I passed through a town, I would have a climb after leaving town.

I was already a little tired from the first exhausting climb when I stopped in Long Lake, at a farmer’s market I randomly encountered.  One of the beautiful things about bike traveling is that, while traveling at slower speeds, it is harder to miss these kinds of random events.  Six years ago, while cycling the I & M Canal trail along the Illinois river, I randomly encountered the Grundy County Corn Festival in the town of Morris, IL.

At this farmer’s market I talked to the people manning the booth while eating an ice cream sandwich.  One thing I notice while bike traveling in general, is that people tend to be interested when they encounter people traveling long distances by bicycle.  One of the vendors even told me she had a friend that had graduated from the same high school, on Long Island, as my father (7 years earlier, so no mutual acquaintances or anything like that).

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The next part of my ride, along state highway 30 from Long Lake to Tupper Lake, was the most challenging for me.  Turning towards the Northwest, for the first time on this bike tour, I was facing a significant head wind.  And, there were a few segments with significant climbing, including the climb to get out of Long Lake.

This was also the part of the ride when negative thoughts started to creep into my head.  Anyone that has taken on a large scale physical challenge understands this phase.  The body starts to get overwhelmed.  It starts to resist.  That resistance creeps into the mind through some kind of combination of messages to oneself such as, “you should quit”, “you’re not gonna make it”, “it was a crazy idea anyways”.

How to respond to this is always a challenge.  From my experience, this occurs anytime anyone truly tries to stretch themselves, and do something that amounts to a serious challenge.  There are some that never overcome this phase, repeatedly giving in to that voice telling them to quit.  Overcoming this internal pressure, born out of fatigue, builds character.  It teaches us all how to endure fatigue and negative pressure in other areas of our lives.

I also learned a valuable lesson about understanding what my body needs.  I was cycling through this challenging segment at roughly 1:30 P.M., and had yet to eat lunch.  The previous day, I had also made a relatively late official lunch stop (around 2 P.M.), but I had eaten a hot dog at 11, something that kept me going.  The ice cream sandwich I had at Long Lake was far less substantial.  It is likely that by 1:30, my body did not have the nutrition it needed.  It’s important to keep in mind that, when traveling by bike your body is your engine, and that engine needs fuel to keep running!

After stopping for a full meal, at a place called the Skyline Drive in, which was recommended to me by the woman at the farmer’s market back in Long Lake, I felt refreshed, and realized I had just over 30 miles to go to my final destination for the day, Lake Placid.  My mindset did a complete 180!  I went from questioning myself at every pedal stroke, to knowing I was going to make it, and finish this beautiful ride.

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I knew I was getting closer to my destination, Lake Placid, where the Olympic Winter Games were held, twice, when my route diverged from the Adirondack Trail and started following the Olympic Trail.

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After a brief stop in Saranac Lake, and eight miles along state highway 86, which featured a surprisingly high traffic volume (but also a wide enough shoulder to accommodate bicycles), I arrived in Lake Placid, and gazed upon the mountain that had hosted some of the greatest athletes from around the world on two occations.

What a gorgeous town, and what a gorgeous ride, all the way through!  It was an exhausting ride, once again clocking in at 100 miles, but this ride through the Adirondacks is a ride I would recommend to anyone.

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After a nice meal at Lake Placid Pub and Brewery, across from the Hampton Inn where I would spend the night, I spent the rest of the evening soaking in the sunset over Mirror Lake, gazing at the reflection of the mountains in the water below them.

I thought about life.  I thought about how to live better.  How to be better to people around me.  How to overcome challenges.  I also thought about what I had experienced over the past three days.  The New York portion of this ride was nearly complete.  Through this ride, from Niagara Falls to Lake Placid, I saw a good portion of the state, much of it which I had never seen before.  Having been born on Long Island, and spent much of my childhood going into New York City for various events, museums, shows, etc., I am familiar with the phrase “I love New York”.  Having now seen the roaring falls of Niagara, the majestic lakes of the Adirondacks, and many points in between, I can now say “I love New York”, and know I mean ALL of New York.

When We Get Stuck

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Here we are, on the verge of something great!  It is right in front of us, in plain sight, a brand new endeavor, a great idea, something that’s going to either change the world, change our lives, or just be one heck of a great time!  The path in front of us is clear, exciting, invigorating.  Never have we felt so alive!  With excitement, enthusiasm, and passion, we enter this new endeavor without hesitation.  We do our due diligence, of course, but the excitement of what lies ahead by far overwhelms any concerns about what could possibly go wrong.

But then it happens.  Shortly into this new endeavor, due to something we either overlooked, poorly estimated, or never even considered in the first place, we find ourselves stuck, much like I was in Vail’s Orient Bowl.  That morning, I got off the ski lift, and saw the 15″ of fresh powder that Vail had recently received.  Instead of following tracks already made by those who skied in this area earlier in the day, I wanted to make my own tracks.  I expected a wild ride through this fresh powder!  On the contrary, I suddenly found myself slowing down, and sinking. The realization that I would find myself at a standstill, and need to work to dig my way back on track, is much akin to the realization many of us have when we realize that some aspect of our plan is not going to materialize the way we had anticipated.

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What is strange is that this experience, of suddenly finding myself stuck occurred at Vail Resort.  Vail Resort is not only home to one of the largest and highest rated ski resorts in the world, but it is also home to a ski museum, which has artifacts of the history of both skiing and the resort itself.

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Vail ski mountain was founded by a man named Pete Siebert, who fought in World War 2 as part of the U.S. Army’s 10th Mountain Division.  This group of soldiers trained in the mountains of Colorado, mainly on skis, and were subsequently deployed to Northern Italy to lead an attack, on skis, in the heart of one of the Nazi strongholds in the region.  Many of the soldiers from the 10th Mountain Division, despite being from many different places all over the country, found their way back to Colorado, and alongside Siebert, helped develop the skiing industry into what it is today.

The story of skiing, and the story of Vail is summarized quite nicely at the Colorado Ski Museum.  In fact, the museum has other exhibits, including one on snowboarding, a bunch of facts about the origin of downhill skiing, which pre-dates Vail and even the 10th Mountain Division’s World War II efforts, and one that shows the history of the U.S. participation in skiing and snowboarding events in the Olympic Games.

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Yes, I had to get my picture taken with one of my favorite athletes, even if it is only a cardboard cutout.  I was not sure if I would get kicked out for taking this photo, so I made it quick.

The abridged version of the story of Vail is that it opened on December 15, 1962, struggled for a couple of years (the second year they had a snow drought and brought in the Southern Ute Indian Tribe to perform a snow dance for them), and then the resort took off in the later half of the 1960s.  After that, the resort periodically expanded, eventually combined with Beaver Creek and became what it is today.  For more details, I would seriously recommend visiting the museum.  With only a $3 suggested donation, it is a great activity for kind of day where skiers and snowboarders need to take an hour or two off due to weather or exhaustion.

The aspect of Vail’s history that is largely not covered by the Museum is the one that pertained to my own experience earlier that day- getting stuck.  The museum has an exhibit, and a video describing the 10th Mountain Division, how they trained, and what they accomplished.  They also describe the history of Vail as a ski resort in detail.  But, the 10th Mountain Division disbanded at the end of 1945, when the war ended.  Vail resort opened in 1962.  The only discussion of this roughly 17 year time period between these two events, was that Mr. Siebert was looking for the perfect place to open a ski resort.

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In detail, what did Pete Siebert do from 1946 through roughly 1960 (when he started laying the groundwork for Vail)?  Nobody knows, but it is definitely possible that he got stuck, much in the same way I was earlier that day.  Maybe, like many who returned from World War II, he came back and did not know what to do during Peacetime.  Or maybe, he looked at places for years and could not find the right one.  It is possible that he could have had a few “false starts”.

Those of us that have ever been, or currently are, stuck, can take solace in the fact that Mr. Siebert eventually, despite what is likely close to a decade of being stuck, put together a world class ski resort.  Additionally, many of his fellow 10th Mountain Division soldiers contributed to what Vail eventually became (the shops, restaurants, and even clubs that popped up in Vail Village).

After being stuck in the snow, I eventually made it down the mountain.  In fact, after only a short delay, I was able to climb my way out of the deep snow into a set of tracks just to my left.  Despite the fact that I did not get what I wanted out of that particular experience, I had a great experience with the remainder of that particular run, finding areas of deep powder farther down, where the terrain is a bit steeper, and then shooting through some glades.

In this particular case, I had no choice but to try to climb my way out of this section of deep powder.  In may other situations in life, we do have the option to give up.  Unfortunately, we often do prematurely, sometimes simply knowing that there is an easier path.  But, the easier path is rarely the more rewarding one.  The experience of getting stuck in the snow only to eventually have a great remainder of the run, followed by seeing a parallel experience with the founding of the very resort I was skiing at reminded me that it is often worthwhile to get “unstuck”, but also that it is less of a catastrophe to be stuck in the first place than we often imagine.

We live in a culture that reprimands people for being stuck only for a couple of months.  Two months with nothing to show for it- you’re on thin ice …. or out of a job!  Sometimes I even reprimand myself for “wasting” a single day!  Pete Siebert may have been stuck for over a decade!  Yet, he eventually founded Vail, and the experience of living in, or visiting, Colorado would not be the same if it weren’t for this important contribution.  So, maybe we need to be less hard on each other, and be less hard on ourselves.

Touring Innsbruck, Austria

The weather was not quite as nice in the mountains this morning, so we took a day off from skiing.  Hopefully we’ll be rested for tomorrow- we plan to ski the Stubai Glacier, a place where it is possible to ski year round (although I don’t think many ski in the summer).

After sleeping in a bit, we hit up the Alpenverein Museum, which is a museum of mountain climbing I saw in an Innsbruck information packet.  This museum was great, and only 4 euro each.  We saw the complete history of mountaineering, including the tools people use to scale a mountain, how people map out mountain passes/routes/terrain, pictures people drew of mountains, stuff about mountain sickness (from high altitude), and stories and thoughts from mountain climbers themselves.

The thoughts got deep, as one mountaineer saw mountain climbing as a metaphor for overcoming our self-induced inhibitions in life, and others saw mountaineering to be associated with freedom in some other way.  However, the thing that stuck in my mind was the story of rope.  Specifically, the quality of rope was improved greatly in 1865, in response to four mountaineers falling to their death due to poor rope quality.  From a 21st Century point of view, it seem as though we should have been using much better rope all along, recognizing that human lives are at stake.  It brings up thoughts about the insurance industry charging inadequate rates in Florida prior to Hurricane Andrew, or the fact that the financial markets had to explode before they stopped leveraging 40:1.  Why are we so often collectively unable to recognize these risks until a disaster of some kind happens?

We went to lunch after the museum at a placed called Maria Van Bergund.  The food was great, but we had a strange encounter.  This woman sitting at the table next to next to ours was wasted (noon Sunday, and we were not sure what she was wasted on).  Abby noticed this first, but I thought it was no big deal, as I continued to share thoughts on mountaineering.  Then, she started asking me questions.  She spoke little to no English.  At first here somewhat less intoxicated friend helped her out (he knew English better).  Eventually, he left and she came over and sat at our table (to be in the sun).  Random people do talk to me a lot.  I feel like I am typically a welcoming person, and when I’m in a decent mood, I give off a fun and approachable vibe.  So, I try to have a conversation with her but I know very little German, so it’s hard.  I think Abby was nervous.  Eventually, she moved to another table, as she desired to sit in the sun and the sun/shade pattern advanced.  When she sat with a random old man, she got asked to leave the restaurant.  This did, however, spark up a pleasant conversation with a nice family from the UK.  Some of these events were strange, and I may have been uncomfortable, but I’d still rather stuff like this happen periodically and deal with the stress it causes than never have anything interesting happen.  Simply put, monotony would suck more than occasional stress, or drama.  I did not expect many encounters with random people in countries where I don’t speak the language, but the way I am, I don’t think I can avoid it, even here.

In the afternoon, we walked about 3 km, partially uphill to the Bergisel ski jump arena, where the 1964 and 1976 Olympic ski jump took place.  I was curious about how people watched this particular event.  It did not seem possible to me, but I think I was overestimating the spatial scale of the jump in my head.  I imagined what it was like for a ski jumper.  According to the info, once you start you accelerate to 90 km/hr in only 4 seconds!  Then, you take off.  You have a view of the whole city while in the air, as well as the entire crowd, and multiple mountain ranges.  Then, you have to land- how mind bottling!

Skiing Aximer Lizum

Today we skied an Olympic ski run, at a resort called Axamer Lizum.  Both the 1964 and 1976 Olympics were held here.  Oddly enough, the 1976 Olympics were moved here from Denver because Colorado voted down a State bond issue referendum, making the financing of the games uncertain.

Skiing here is HARD!  The trails we did were all blue, which is the easiest here (red= medium and black= hard).  However, I was rust form having not skied much lately, and the conditions were kind of bad.  It’s almost April, what do you expect.  The snow is very wet, and got very clumpy, especially on the steeper parts of the hill.  Oh, and I had a screw up with the ski rentals.  They did not fit my boots to my bindings properly, and my right ski fell out every time I turned (left).  We had to trudge up a hill and take the ski lift down to the rental shop to get it fixed.  This wore me out, and wasted the good part of the ski day, morning, before the trails get clumpy from use.

It is hard to imagine, though, that skiing an Olympic course is 29,50 Euro, slightly less than the $45 it costs to ski Devil’s Head in Wisconsin.  They also gave us a free wiener schnitzel!  This was at a restaurant at the top of the mountain, with an amazing view of the town.  So, overall, the ski mountain was a great deal.  The rental company was not.  They did not even give us a discount for the mess up with the rentals.  But, I learned something.  This was the first time I ever saw a ski resort have multiple rental companies.  Usually, in the US, the ski resort just sells the rentals.  Here, there were multiple companies competing for our business.  In this case, we should not have gone to the first rental company we saw.  They have the least need to be good, as they can count on business from tourists that just go to the first place they see.  The others need to have a good reputation to get business, so they are a better bet.

For some reason I feel a bit closer to home here, which feels odd to me given that I am half Italian.  But, it’s just some little things.  Innsbruck has sushi, thai, and other food options that I don’t remember seeing in Italy.  The restaurants are open a bit earlier for dinner (around 6 PM), and it is less out of the ordinary to eat dinner at 7 or 7:30.  I also see pool, bowling, darts, and other activities I am used to seeing around.  I saw young people being rowdy both Friday night and Saturday night.

Tonight we stumbled upon a crazy acrobatics show outside the Golden Roof.  People were on stage in colored body suits, singing, banging on the drums, etc.  And then someone, head to toe in orange, tried to walk a tightrope across the street, from one building top to another.  I still have no idea why this show was happening, but it made the town feel a bit like the town in Hot Tub Time Machine, where people ski and party!

Also, everything is cheaper here.  We got gelato for 1,10 each.  It was never under 2 in Italy.  Beer is 2,10 and most other things are noticeably cheaper.  Most likely this is because Innsbruck is not much of a destination for people from other parts of the world.  But, sometimes I wonder if a cultural difference, or Italy’s current economic standing/ dire need for cash has anything to do with it.  Maybe this helps me explain the US a bit.  Could it be that Italians, in love with the extravagant, made New York expensive and extravagant as an image of their culture, while the Germans and Polish made Chicago and the Midwest cheaper and more practical in their image?