Saturday, October 26, 2013

A Bit Late ...

J was in KS last weekend, which gives me a good reason to blog about ... my backpacking trip to Utah Idaho more than a year ago. (It's a long story.) Which reminds me: thank you very much Tom and Maria and Sean and Gillian and Sam and Dad for giving to the National Nordic Foundation's Drive for 25. I'm halfway to my quota, which means that the Little Lebowski Urban Achievers still need your help. Here is the link to give, and here is my longer description of why this is a worthy cause. It's an Olympic year people!

Here's an artsy shot on the way driving in -- the location is too great to mention.

Let's get started with a few establishing shots of the pure awesomeness of the place. (I love that awesomeness satisfies the spellcheck, but Missoula does not.) Here's our first night's campsite.

It may have seemed like a guys' trip from this shot

But thankfully Gillian came along.

BTW, any time is the right time to rock the vintage (real) 80s xc hat.

Some larger awesomeness.

Sam stayed hydrated.

The second night we found an amazing campsite right under a mountain that was basically our own private island complete with a fishing hole and some small waterfalls. It provided the best white noise for sleeping I've ever had (give or take one spot in Lassen National Park ...).

The spot called for an epic whiskey.

The forest fires nearby were the only downside to a cushy trip. Ash literaly rained down on us and blocked the sun.

We fished a bit, too. Sean wrestled with one mighty beast and won. (Look closely.)

The next day brought a new and drier terrain -- still with plenty of lakes and mountains though.

Here we are deliberating (near a beautiful lake) whether to cut the trip short one night and put in an epic hike back to the trailhead. Well, it wasn't so much a deliberation ... we always make this decision once we start talking about beer ... and Sean always leads the march.

The last shot on the trail. No sunglasses ... as in, it was getting late.

Then we made a beeline for town.

Ok maybe not a beeline. The road was indescribably bad, much worse than it looks here.

And here was the pure elkyawesomeness payoff.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Something we can all agree on (think Rocky IV ...)

In honor of the president's renewed calls for bipartisanship (he just will never give up!), today I write about something that all of us can get excited about: supporting our present and future Olympic athletes.

It often surprises Americans (and almost always surprises people from other wealthy nations) to learn that our Olympic athletes receive very little state support -- at most a small stipend and travel money if they make the "A" team for their sport. (Most athletes in the developmental pipeline receive zero.) And most Olympians still have to fund-raise. Jesse Diggins is the rising star of the U.S. cross-country ski team and a World Championships gold medalist -- and, frankly, given her appearance, if she played just about any other sport, she'd be a millionaire by now -- and yet here she is raising money to fill in the gaps in her travel budget by offering a slide show and dinner at a cafe in Stillwater, MN. Meanwhile, Kris Freeman, the anchor of the men's national team for more than a decade, was unceremoniously booted off the team last year because, in an era of budget cuts, he was deemed unlikely to medal. Even the Wall Street Journal has chimed in here, writing in an editorial a couple days ago entitled "The Skier who got the Cold Shoulder" that "The USSA leadership has made some great decisions of late. But they made a bad call earlier this year when they cut former national champion Kris Freeman from the U.S. cross-country team."(That's right Katie and Brian: Kris Freeman made the WSJ! And if you guys want to read an extended interview with Freeman, you can find it here on

So I'm hoping you'll give $10 -- or maybe even the suggested $25 -- to support the National Nordic Foundation's Drive for 25, which supports nordic skiers throughout the pipeline. Please consider giving through my page here:

Now, let me address some potential objections you might have.

Objection 1): are you kidding me? You want me to help rich a bunch of rich white people on skis when children are dying in Syria?

Answer 1): Ok, fair enough to a point. Cross-county skiers are not generally hungry and homeless. But as I write on the fund-raising page,, I hope you will donate to Syrian refugees, too (and I provide a link). And yes, all of us would like to see a wider variety of people take up cross-country skiing. If you are serious about this issue, then I encourage you to give to the Loppet Foundation, which is working to diversify the sport.

Objection 2) sorry, but after I give to Syrian refugees and to the Loppet Foundation, I don't have anything left for the NNF.

Answer 2) Well, if you can truly state that your charitable giving is a zero-sum game -- that you have a fixed budget for how much you give, and that's that -- then fair enough. But if you don't give $25 here, would you really give that money to other causes, or would you in fact spend it on Epics or espressos or Whole Foods kids snacks or DVD copies of Tucker and Dale vs. Evil?

Objection 3): I know you: you must be getting something out of this, too.

Answer 3) Well, it is true that for setting up a fundraising page, I am entered in the raffle for a U.S. Ski Team down puffy jacket. And yeah, I'd like one of those. But my odds of winning it are very slim. Mostly I'm doing this because I love the sport and I love that our skiers are starting to surprise the world.

Objection 4): You shouldn't use your blog to fund-raise. It's annoying.

Answer 4): You got me there. 

So, patriotic Republicans and Democrats alike, I know the Cold War is supposedly over, but do you really want to lose the medal count to the Russians this year in Sochi? Thanks a lot. Please click here to get started.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Fight Epic Inflation!

Two tidbits from the wrecking crew's current exercise in scorched-earthism stand out above all. The first is the revelation that a few elder Republicans, namely Former Attorney General Edwin Meese III, devised the current brinkmanship strategy of shutting down the government in an effort to destroy Obamacare a long time ago, as in just after last fall's elections. You can read all about the "blueprint to defunding Obamacare" here. So much for the grassroots efforts of Tea Party regulars.

The second thing that stands out is rhetorical. Speaker Boehner’s comment that Republicans are locked in an “Epic Battle” (matched by a senator's comment that Republicans, unlike the French, do not surrender) said it all. Ever since the counter-attack against the Great Society in the 1960s (much more so than during the initial counter-attack against the New Deal), a siege mentality has been building and building on the Right until it has reached the point of paranoia. Every social program rests precariously on the slippery slope to socialism, every vote in Congress is a life and death moment for the movement, and the president is a foreign-born Muslim -- not simply a moderate who adheres to another historically dominant intellectual tradition in the U.S. (and, who, er, wanted fewer Americans to die from a lack of health insurance enough that he used a Republican-originated and market-oriented plan to get more of them coverage). This bunker mentality was and is a good strategy. The Right is so good at “working the ref” (bitching and moaning to the referee so much that you eventually get some friendly calls) that it gets a lot of what it wants; for example, after the Right demonized the “liberal media” for a generation with no end in sight (well past the point when this characterization even approached reality ... and this report is good too), CNN's webpage now feels the need to have a conservative columnist (and a well-known one at that in Newt Gingrich) but Fox News's webpage ... well, can you name the progressive columnist there?

But somewhere along the way, the clever theorists of the working the ref strategy starting believing their own BS. And as a historian, what I find additionally distasteful about this Epic Battle mindset, beyond its nastiness and the fact that it's currently being manifested in economic terrorism, is that it is so out of line with the views of the founders — you know, those wigged and powdered but supposedly populist folks whom the Tea Party normally fetishizes (and who rather inconveniently believed that a stronger state would grow the economy).

"Long live the little guy!"
The founders designed the Constitution to produce institutional conflicts, but they assumed that consensus could still be achieved through 1) a unity of public-interested elites; 2) rational and informed debate predicated on the assumption that these debates were in fact real, meaning that some lawmakers would change their mind during them (!); and 3) the willingness of average citizens to defer to elites. Obviously we've arrived at zero for three ... and while we're at it, don’t get me started on how the Tea Party actually subscribes to the views of the anti-Federalists, making its worship of the Constitution all the more ironic.

When he was locked in a budget or tax battle with Reagan, it never would have crossed Tip O’Neil’s mind to speak of an “Epic Battle.” It may be ok for The Dude in the Big Lebowski to draw a line in the sand, but this kind of thinking is less funny in the real world, where it's hurting the economy and real people's lives. And anyway, why would Tip O’Neil resort to such bloated rhetoric and ruin his night out drinking with Republicans at the end of the work day? (I’m sorry to romanticize the mid-century Congress, but I do think there’s something to the argument that disappearing fraternization across party lines there is a big part of why our politics have become so poisonously stuck.) There's a lot of talk out there that Speaker Boehner is a drunk (why has the blog "Drunk Boehner" fizzled?), so what's the problem? Even if Boehner doesn't know that the term “Epic” should be reserved for twenty-mile trail runs and fresh powder, shouldn't he therefore at least know that it's also reserved for fantastic beer? Someone book this sad man a weekend in Jackson Hole, please. 

Knowing that language matters, and determined to take back the word “Epic,” I traveled to Salt Lake this past weekend. Our now-lives-in-Milwaukee-formerly-at-KSU friend Aaron was in town for a conference and stayed with us. Powder was not an option, but we were in fact snowed out of our planned hike because the mountains got several inches of snow — this being the first week in October. So we retreated to lower elevations and enjoyed sweet and longish if not truly Epic hikes in Mill Creek and on Antelope Island in the Great Salt Lake (I managed to forget the camera on Antelope). The fall weather was certainly Epic. We spent most of the first hike debating the relative merits of foliage in Vermont and Utah. I staked out the position that the reds out East are more spectacular (though I fully concede that, in the yellow category, nothing beats the blazing aspens of the West). By the end of the day, the snow had retreated from the trail to the tops ...

But meanwhile, just up the road ... anyone getting excited?

Aaron spent most of the Antelope hike dealing with the tree that he and Tara were on the cusp of removing from their new lot ... or was it the neighbor's tree? Hard to tell now.

The pinnacle of a fun-packed weekend was an excellent dinner at the new, well, Epic Annex with J and Aaron and John and Sarah and the boys. Plus, about half of our other friends showed up mid-meal on a fundraising pub crawl for the Madeline Choir School. Ah the bonhomie of the gentiles here … I managed to forget the camera once again, but I hope my fellow Salt Lake blogger won’t mind if I borrow some photos with full recognition. A perfect fall day spent hiking in the Wasatch followed by sumac-dusted fries, cauliflower dip, Korean chicken wings, and a lamb burger with pickled vegetables — capped off with a whiskey-barrel-aged Smoked and Oaked and a Brainless on Cherries? First tracks in early October, even if they weren't ours? These, my friends, correctly qualify as Epic.

Photo credits: Urban Spoon, Kelli Nakagama and

Photo credits: Urban Spoon, Kelli Nakagama and