2022: Year in Review

Another year in a ski town.

Reflection · 2319 words · 12 min read · 1490 views

On a bike lap of the local Sunnyside trail in Revelstoke this summer, I brought along a dog I was looking after for a few days.

I had previously ridden with this particular canine and his owner and thus knew of his prowess as a trail companion—tireless, not prone to barking or running away, able to stay out of the way. He kept pace immediately behind me for the 320 vertical meter ascent, which usually takes just under thirty minutes, so I decided to test his pace on the descent. (I’m not sure of his breed, but he’s slightly larger than medium, lean, and the color of chocolate.)

Sunnyside is a machine-built flow trail, so you can carry your speed throughout the entire descent. A few switchbacks into the descent, in one of the steeper sections where you get some good speed, my usually taciturn four-legged partner vocalized his thoughts in a way I’d never heard before: by letting out a loud, yapping howl. He had been at full gallop, right behind me as usual, before unexpectedly yowling.

I put on the brakes and came to a stop. My first instinct was that the dog had seen a critter—bears are common sightings on the trail—but the lack of crashing sounds in the nearby bush ruled out the possibility of anything large, nor did the dog, now happily sniffing around nearby, seem in the least bit agitated.

My human riding partner arrived after a few moments. He’d heard the howl and wondered if something was up. With the lack of any obvious explanation, we shrugged and kept on riding.

Perhaps the utterance was more wolf-howling-at-night than dog-snarling-at-predator. Maybe the dog was simply delighted at running full tilt down the trail, at enjoying the thrill of the chase.

Mountain bikers, alas, may not be the only ones who can appreciate a good section of downhill singletrack.

It has been a little while since I have written a reflection, so here is one that coincides with the end of 2022, which marks about two and a half years since moving to Revelstoke, British Columbia. This is another vignette into what it means to live and work in an interior BC mountain town.

After two smoky summers, we finally enjoyed an almost smoke-free one, and my cardiovascular fitness flourished accordingly. My training consisted of mountain biking and trail running. I wore Chacos all summer when not wearing bike, climbing, or running shoes, so the limiting factor in my laundry regime became exercise shirts rather than the usual socks or non-exercise shirts.

I had an outstanding mountain biking season. Revelstoke, like many small mountain towns in the province, has terrific mountain biking, from high-alpine singletrack like Frisby Ridge, to newly cut, unpublicized project trails off forestry roads (no spoilers coming regarding these, I’m afraid).

Owing to the geography of living at the bottom of a valley with 2000-plus-meter relief to nearby mountain summits, the trend for trails in Revelstoke is to be anything but flat. Gradual uphills on switchbacking forestry roads are often followed by direct, steep descents.

Having never owned kneepads before, I finally bought a set this summer. They are essential for the bike park and gravity trails where a fall could hurt. Fortunately, I had no memorable wipeouts this season, but safety gear like kneepads can prevent or minimize nasty injuries, especially when it comes to riding technical features like rock slabs.

On longer, steeper rock slabs, you cannot stop in the middle due to lack of traction, only manage your speed and steer. While this sounds intimidatingly committing, it becomes manageable with practice. I have gotten much more comfortable riding such features, learning to control my speed and maintain balance.

This progression has come somewhat unexpectedly. When I upgraded bikes in 2021, I actually went down in travel, from 150mm/135mm (front/rear) on my Santa Cruz Tallboy LT to 140mm/125mm on my Norco Optic. My reasoning had been to intentionally limit my bike’s capabilities and thus not tempt myself too much with gravity riding, given how much carnage I have seen result from it. I still don’t love air time and didn’t actively practice it this season, but it has been refreshing to still have new experiences after two decades on knobby tires.

My favorite form of mountain biking is still eight-hour cross-country sufferfests (usually without kneepads since these happen on less technical terrain). To maintain fitness for such endeavors, I often skipped the drive to local trailheads from town and instead pedaled out and back. A ten-minute drive roughly translates into a half-hour pedal, providing additional training while also minimizing fuel costs, which are annoyingly elevated in Revelstoke.

Such a high volume of riding means more component wear and tear. After two seasons, I had to replace my drivetrain. Twelve-speed drivetrains only seem to last about two seasons of heavy riding. I replaced the chain once then rode the replacement for too long—the front chainring teeth wore from nice triangles into shapes resembling J-hooks, causing chain suck and unhappy metallic noises under heavy pedaling.

At an extortionate $330 for a twelve-speed aluminum SRAM cassette (excluding a new chainring and chain, about $130 total), my riding partners and I are always scheming up ways to minimize maintenance costs. Various theories include replacing chains at the first sign of wear (elongation), switching chains every five rides, or switching the XD freehub driver hardware to accept a Shimano steel cassette ($150). Unfortunately, you’ve got to pay to play.

While my emphasis was on biking this summer, I nonetheless maintained some running mileage, the culmination of this effort being a trail marathon of the Larch Hills traverse (see the Strava activity). This was a fun accomplishment for a non-runner, but—wow—I have never had such a headache as after finishing it despite adequate hydration and electrolytes. Hat and sun screen next time. My joints and IT bands all behaved flawlessly, despite this being by far the longest distance I have ever done on foot. Previous long-distance running attempts were not nearly as successful.

I climbed at most once a week all summer, always chill cragging. Mountain biking overshadowed my climbing ambition this season.

One of the most unexpectedly delightful, unforeseen benefits of moving to a small mountain town has been house sitting. It is a clear win-win scenario with the homeowners getting a trusted house- and pet-sitter while you get an entire house to yourself for a few days or weeks rather than the stuff-‘em-full pattern endemic to ski-town rentals. In a destination mountain town, such properties could command hundreds of dollars nightly on AirBNB—yours for free. I’ve gotten to look after various pets including, cats, dogs, and chickens—what unanticipated, marvelous, understated fun!

When you live in a destination town, many people come to visit. It has been great fun to meet various parents/siblings/relatives/friends of other locals and similarly introduce my old Calgary connections to local friends as well. Many of these people may not see each other regularly—if ever—again, but it’s still enjoyable to see our town through the eyes of others. While the town and surrounding mountains are undoubtedly beautiful, it is nevertheless the people that make the place.

Revelstoke does tend to attract the adventurous. A trend I have noticed among locals is outdoorsy types keen to see if they can stand on their own two feet, independent of family support. It’s analogous to outdoor pursuits: you train and test your abilities, joining forces with the similarly inclined. I have found my people.

Rental housing remains a challenge. My rental house has been sold, so I’ll be re-entering the rental lottery this spring, exact timing to be determined. If anyone reading this has any leads, I’m all ears. With the current climate of absurdly over-inflated real estate in town and high interest rates, I cannot get excited about home ownership.

Another curveball I’ve been pitched recently is an upcoming periodontal surgery to fix my receding gums. I have maintained my teeth immaculately and never had so much as a single incidence of decay. Alas, oral health consists of more than hard tissue, and the time has come to address my long-receding gums. Despite having none of the risk factors of periodontal disease (smoking, poor hygiene, braces, clenching [unless it happens unknowingly]), I have lost significant gum tissue. Unsurprisingly, insurance will cover very little of the cost, which continues this piece’s trend of distressingly high prices—think new-car territory. This is the news nobody wants to get—and a good reminder of why I live so well below my means (no $1859 annual resort pass for me). I’m not huge on baseball metaphors, but, as a friend said, straight or curveball, you’ve got to hit them all.

Work wise, we launched the new flexible forecast regions at avalanche.ca, a major milestone for public avalanche forecasting. As this is a personal website, work discussions here will be limited to high-level topics only. Snow science is changing rapidly and is still very nascent compared to, say, health science, which has centuries of legacy to contend with. It is an exciting time to be in the field.

I’m now over three years into my dev career, which is about as far as I got in my previous career of civil engineering (excluding school). I can see myself doing software dev for a while yet. There are many ways you can take dev if you want new challenges: front- and back-end web dev, hardware integration, and machine learning. Having learned the fundamentals in one area, you can branch into other specialties easily enough. I’m looking forward to continuing to master my trade and seeing what kinds of apps and tools I can create.

A minor win this year came in starting to learn touch typing. Despite having always been a computer guy, I never learned how to type without looking at the keyboard, using a janky mix of hunt-and-peck combined with incorrect muscle memory. It turns out that you’re not supposed to type “T” with your left middle finger.

Seeing improvements in skill over time has been a theme from this year, in areas such as mountain biking, trail running, and touch typing. This is one of the takeaways of this piece: a half hour of practice every couple of days can dramatically multiply a skill. The book to read on this topic is Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones by James Clear.

I don’t often make New Year’s resolutions as I believe they are nonsense for two reasons: the first is that they usually don’t last, and the second is that if you need to start better habits, don’t arbitrarily wait until the start of a new year. Start immediately, start small, and incrementally make progress toward your goals.

Next up is a quick automotive update. Blackford, my 2013 Ford Escape, has turned out to be an excellent Revy vehicle: able to navigate the occasional rugged forestry road thanks to his ground clearance while also being fairly economical to drive. Before a cross-province road trip over the Christmas holidays, I bought new winter tires in Alberta (the land of no PST): studded Nokian Nordman 7s. If these are any less performant than their more expensive sibling, the Hakkapeliittas (what Ruby had), I have yet to notice.

On a recent drive through Rogers Pass in terrible winter conditions, I started to fishtail around a corner. My instinct was to correct the skid by counter-steering in the direction opposite the slide (Blackford tends to understeer like Ruby). Before I could move the steering wheel, though, the traction control activated (something Ruby lacked), selectively braking the opposite rear wheel, and straightening out my fishtail—terrific engineering! Blackford has some serious winter chops.

Between high gas prices and living in a destination town, I have had less desire to travel. We’ve got trails, a bike park, sandy beaches, climbing crags, cross-country skiing, and ski touring all close to town. It is now novel to visit big cities such as Kelowna, Calgary, and Vancouver, knowing I can escape to my mountain getaway when the concrete jungle gets too claustrophobic.

It’s funny how so often our expectations of something don’t quite correspond to the reality.

I moved to a ski town with the intention of doing gratuitous amounts of exactly that: skiing. While I do still ski multiple times weekly—on both the fat and skinny skis—I haven’t quite maintained the volume of ski touring as some previous seasons. (See my more long-winded musings on this topic in Equilibrium.)

Perhaps there can be more to life than just spending time outside. Beyond such pursuits, I have been enjoying my work and have become involved in my local church.

My four-legged riding companion seemed to understand that delight need not be limited to high-alpine adventures: it can also be found in quotidian training laps of a nearby trail. Now say it with me in your best baby-talk voice: Whooo’s a good boy?

As I write this, I am sitting in a waterfront cabin near Tofino—another small BC destination town—rounding out the last few days of the year. My wetsuit is drying from an earlier surfing session, and heavy rain patters against the roof. The cozy interior provides a strong juxtaposition to the storm raging outside, in which gusts of wind turn the rain sideways.

In quiet moments such as these, my thoughts turn to a quotation I read years ago from Philip Yancey, a Christian author who moved to the foothills of Colorado after twenty years in Chicago (a relocation that resonates): “I sense in beauty and in nature marks of a genius creator for which the natural response is worship. … In short, I believe not so much because the invisible world impinges on this one but because the visible world hints, in the ways that move me most, at a lack of completion.”

Revelstoke, with your rugged, natural beauty; close-knit, pragmatic community; and lack of urban bustle; you have moved me in ways that are impossible to adequately articulate in a short reflection.

Each and every day—even the tougher ones—has been a gift.

Happy New Year.

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