Tuesday, June 29, 2010

I see dead people

I should not be able to see my breath inside my house. If I'm outside, that's fine. If I'm inside my van just getting it started, OK. I should never see my breath in my bed when I wake up in the morning. But this is the situation I'm starting to find myself in. I'd like to think I look as cool as Bruce Willis in the Sixth Sense.

It is a huge mystery to me why New Zealand contractors have built an entire country of residences without insulation and central heating. The only thing that I can speculate is that it saves the builders money during the development phase. But these savings are just translated into extra costs for homeowners whose power bills are absolutely outrageous due to the use of heat pumps and small (but inefficient) electric heaters. As I sit typing I'm running an electric heater in my closet in an attempt to get my clothes dry. I also continually toggle off and on a medium sized heater next to my desk to knock the chill out of my room. It's 28 degrees outside right now. During the day, it is colder inside of my house than it is outside. I've visited Chicago a few times and always really enjoyed my time in that city. I also got up to the Grand Junction area of Colorado two years ago and thoroughly enjoyed that trip as well. On both occasions I left those cold weather climates acknowledging that while I liked the locations I could never live in either one due to the brutal winters. I think if I make it through this winter I'll be completely open minded to trying a cold city in the states.

As it turns out, Voodoo, in all his glory, is not a good transport for getting me up to the ski slopes. I drove him up there a few times last week and made it to the parking lot just fine. But the first day that there was a hint of ice and grit on the roads he starting slipping and sliding all over the road well before I had reached the steepest sections. I had bought snow chains the week before, but I've never used them before and don't really have any desire too. They are not half as cool as they sound. Instead I opted to put the chains up for sale in the weekly bulletin and buy a season bus pass instead. This allows me to listen to music and sleep while being transported to the mountain instead of worrying about my icy road driving skills. It also gives me motivation to get up early and catch the first bus up the hill. And today I did just that. Being first on the mountain was quite an amazing experience. The cloud cover was low today and sun was coming up slowly. With hardly anyone around so early I rode the chairlift up alone. The peace and quiet really allowed me to take in the beautiful mountain views. Then I rode down freshly groomed snow without worry of colliding with 12 year old ski school students. It was great...while it lasted. By 11 a.m. I had been knocked down by two skiers and taken out a few of my own. By noon the place was a complete cluster and hardly worth dealing with anymore. On several runs I had to abandon whatever I was practicing and just focus on not hitting people. But I continue to make small improvements from day to day and continue to have a blast. I also continue to take some vicious falls but I think I have even started to fall better than I used to. All the traffic on the beginner slope has motivated me to progress to the next level where I can ride a little bit more freely. So over the next few days I'll be getting on a longer trail lift and heading up to a blue level run. Yikes!
Here's some pics I took on the lift and one of a snow covered Voodoo from last week. Don't be scared of the mustache. It's only temporary amusement.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Compare and Contrast

I haven't seen much of the world cup. I watched about 15 minutes total last Saturday night in a crowded bar in Dunedin. The sound was off and replaced by a three piece cover band who was actually not half bad. I'd probably be lying if I said I was giving the match 50% of my attention. I had every intention of trying to follow the world cup, until I realized the logistics of it. The matches that I would be interested in watching air at either 2:30 a.m. or 6:30 a.m. here. We don't have the cable service to watch them at home so it's not as simple as just watching them in bed, or on the dvr. I can't even get the highlights at home. This means I'd have to be fully dressed, functional and in a bar in town to watch these games, more than likely spending a lot of money in the process, not to mention losing a ton of sleep. I'm just not that big of a soccer fan to make all of that worth while. I find it very difficult to get excited about soccer. I definitely appreciate the athleticism, but it's not enough to hold my attention for any significant length of time.

I kind of felt the same way during a rugby match I attended last Saturday night. About a month or two ago, I learned from friends that the New Zealand All Blacks rugby team would be playing an exhibition match against Wales in Dunedin. This was thrilling news as Dunedin is about three and half hours from Queenstown and by far the closest city to me that the All Blacks would ever be travelling to. Attending an All Blacks match is generally on every traveller's "NZ to do list", including mine, so I immediately bought tickets and tagged onto my friends trip plans. The match was to be of special importance as it was to be the last rugby competition held in Carisbrook Stadium. The stadium is set to be demolished (or closed I really can't remember) in favor of a new modern indoor stadium.

The drive to Dunedin was not as scenic as my previous excursions through the south island. Upon arriving I quickly found that 4 lane highways, billboards, traffic lights, and buildings over three stories tall had become completely foreign to me. Dunedin is a true city and I realized that it was the first one I've visited in over six months. My appreciation for Queenstown's small size grew. After rounding up the crew, having dinner and pre-game drinks we made our way to the stadium. While locating the correct gates, I noticed that not many fans were sporting their teams' paraphanelia. It was difficult to distinguish between NZ fans, Wales fans, and casual spectators. This is usually not the case back in the US. Merchandising allows every article of clothing we adorn to bear the logo of our favorite team and most avid sports fans take advantage of this. (I still think LSU crocs on full grown men looks pretty ridiculous) We hurried to our seats in time to catch both the Welsh national anthem, the New Zealand national anthem and the Haka. In one of my first posts to this blog I posted a youtube link showing a Haka. It was exhilirating to see live. It really sucks for the other team to have to just stand there and stare as the All Blacks do a taunting dance right in front of them. They don't really get a chance to answer the battle cry.

With all the pre-game festivities in the books, the match began. I watched intently. I've picked up some basic rugby knowledge and terminology and I can follow what is going on. I quickly realized that I was having trouble paying attention to the action on the field. I was talking to my dutch friend Roos on my right. I was talking to a stranger on my left. I was watching the strange looking ginger security volunteer who stared eerily into the crowd with his back to the field, oblivious to the athletic competition going on only a few feet behind him. I watched the wave circle the stadium. I found myself focusing on everything but the game. This frustrated me as I truly wanted to enjoy the experience and get excited about what was happening. I began to compare what I was watching to an american football game, specifically a Saturday night game in Tiger Stadium. Here's what I came up with in no particular order:
  • Music and Huge Screens- Obviously these teams were not travelling with full marching bands, but the stadium also did not play any kind of music. I realized that the music played in a stadium sets up a rhythym for the game. Certain songs and tunes are synonymous with results from play on the field. Also, jumbo screens give instant replays for effect and also can be used to energize the stadium with "Get Loud" and "On your feet" messages. This element of stadium interaction was completely lost at the rugby match.
  • Cheers - No organized cheering!!! This is the best part of being a football fan. I know I've been to a great game when I leave with my throat starting to get a little sore and my voice getting raspy from all the yelling I've done. There was nothing of the sort going on at this match. Probably because there was no cheer leaders to get the crowd going.
  • The Clock - The clock counts up......To 90 MINUTES!!! I couldn't really get a sense of urgency with 85 minutes left to play. No play clock, no quarters, no timeouts. There was never an intense moment in the match where somthing needed to happen quickly. Clock management in football really contributes to the excitement I feel when watching the game. Once again, this doesn't translate into rugby and for me, it made the game seem extremely long.
These were just a few of the obvious differences between rugby and football that I committed to memory. I don't want to downplay the athleticism I witnessed on the field. The rugby players are extreme physical specimens and definitely in tip top shapes. They are superior athletes who showed great speed, agility and physical strength. I think rubgy is more like a moving wrestling match than an American football game. A guy at work once implied to me that rugby players were tougher than American football players because they don't wear pads. This could not be further from the truth. The rugby players generally don't hit each other from more than 6-8 yards away. They follow a ball and have an open view of most anyone who is going to make contact with them. There is no equivalent in rugby for a 230 pound linebacker plowing into standing quarterback with the momentum of a 20 yard sprint. Basically, i believe there are a lot more football players out there who could cut it at the professional rugby level. But I seriously doubt there are many pro rugby stars out there that could transfer into the NFL.

In the end I had a great night at Carisbrook Stadium and New Zealand really stomped Wales. I think the final score was 42-9. I'll keep trying to find ways to be a more enthusiastic rugby fan, but I don't think it will ever hold my attention the way the pig skin does......

Friday, June 25, 2010

My invitation to the cult

There's never any shortage of irony in my life. This makes reflecting on my past quite an amusing activity. On Tuesday I got up early and put on a layer of thermals followed by pants and jacket, both heavy duty and waterproof. I drove up to the Coronet Peak Ski field and laced up the most ridiculous pair of footwear I've ever owned. A pair of completely white Burton Snowboarding boots, US sized 14. They are massive and look like something Missy Elliot might have worn in one of her late 90's music videos. I strapped these monstrosities into bindings on a snowboard and awkwardly boarded a chair lift. To my astonishment I successfully exited this chair lift without falling down and began making my way down the beginner's run, also known as "the big easy". I wouldn't say that what I was doing was actually snowboarding, but there was definitely snow, and a board involved. I haven't had as many bruises as I do now since I played football in middle school. After my tailbone and knees could take no more torture I headed back home to squeeze in a quick 3 mile run before going to work.

It was on my to work that I smiled a little bit about the irony of morning. 5 years ago if I would have viewed my recently completed activities with a fair amount of disdain. For as long as I can remember I've been an uncomfortably cold person. I might find it chilly in a well air conditioned room where most other people were indifferent to the temperature. On a breezy day where most of my friends wore a long sleeve t-shirt, I'd be sporting a mid-weight jacket. Naturally, I've never thought to highly of snow. Other than a few freak appearances of snow in Baton Rouge in the last 25 years, I have absolutely no relationship with snow. It's fairly obvious what I thought about snowboarding back then. An activity that is generally considered dangerous that I would have to travel to a cold snowy place to participate in was about as appealing to me as flying to the moon. The idea of me snowboarding was ridiculous. I thought even less of running. Back then, I thought running was incredibly boring and painful. How could people enjoy running? The concept was beyond the scope of my imagination. I think my imagination has grown exponentially in the last five years.

So why not include snowboarding on my list of new activities? Well there's tons of reasons why not to snowboard, but I couldn't resist accepting my invitation to the cult. Snowboarding, or skiing, in Queenstown, has a following like I have never witnessed before. I think I might know roughly 40 to 50 people in Queenstown if I include loose acquaintances. Of those people I know 3 people who aren't snowboarding or skiing this season. Everybody is doing this. And they aren't just doing it, they are absolutely strung out high on it. The mountain talk dominates all conversations I partake in. My buddies at work are pretty much certified meteorologists. They can tell you the weather predictions to a T for up to a week in advance. People plan their entire days and weeks around getting "up the hill". A once coveted opening shift at work is now absolutely dreaded by most who much rather be riding all day and working at night. The energy that people exhibit when talking about snowboarding is undeniably strong....and it's infectious. After a couple of extremely rough days and a change in board and bindings I was jumping on the bandwagon with the rest of the cult. I don't know all the terminology yet and I definitely don't think I'm on my way to being a sick boarder, but I'm having a blast playing along. My first day was brutal. I can say with a heap of certainty that snowboarding is absolutely nothing like wake boarding. Have both immobilized is extremely scary and I spent most of my first couple of days building up a little speed, getting scared, and promptly falling on my butt. Some snow is soft, but most snow is pretty unforgiving to fall in. However, I've continued to make improvements, however small they might be, from day to day. And most importantly, I'm laughing and having fun. I'm sure that I'm pretty funny to watch, so I'm also entertaining others.

Tomorrow is supposed to be a great weather day on the mountain and I can't wait to see what kind of bruises and I can get after in the morning......