Avoiding the Atmospheric River

Winter isn’t the recommended season to work on one’s tan. That is, unless you’re a dermatologist and believe that all sun exposure is bad. Alternatively, you could go to the Southern Hemisphere at which point it’s not winter anymore. So accepting that things ebb and flow with the seasons, recognizing that there are highs and lows — whether it’s one’s fitness or laser sharp tan lines — that’s the most gracious way to take on pasty white skin tones.

Plus there’s skiing.

Thanks to my loving and foresightful parents, I grew up on snow and ice from the time I became vertical. In my mind, hockey and skiing are my real sports; this cycling thing is just a hobby. My ten year contractual absence from the ski slopes didn’t seem to slow me down any. I skied twice last year when driving the width of the United States to move to California and according to my rough calculation I hit 68mph on my second run in a decade. Yet as gung-ho as I was about skiing one year ago upon landing on this island of California, the weather from that point forth was meant for riding bikes and that’s what I did.

This winter, though, is the stuff of legend if you’re a meteorologist. The “Atmospheric River” is most certainly a thing as we’re getting hammered day in and day out, week in and week out, with record setting rain. I’m a believer in the inch of rain being equivalent to a foot of snow. That makes last week’s seven inches of rain in one day enough to make the grass green… if not slip away in a lush emerald mudslide.

So when Timmy Duggan asked if I wanted to join him and his family skiing at Deer Valley, I did some quick consideration — which went something like, “Yes please and when are we going?” — then headed to Utah. I’ve spent a lot of time in the Beehive State, but it’s entirely occurred during the swelteringly hot summer. Utah is said to have champagne snow, which is a slightly odd characterization. I get that it’s light, dry, and airy like champagne, but being that this is skiing, it would be more appropriate if they called it Miller High Life snow. Skiing and beer go hand in hand.

The rain in California drifts east across the prevailing trade winds and dumps snow in the Wasatch.

Which is magnificent because I went 68mph again equally my two wheeled bicycle land speed record, also set in Park City. Furthermore, I took four days off the bike which was refreshing like a deep swig of Miller High Life.

I next went about 450mph to Hawaii. On an airplane, just to clear up any confusion had you thought I was on a high speed boat. The beautiful Laura and I visited our friends there on the Big Island. I’ve been to Kauai and Maui before and that was glorious. Because my previous thinking is that the Big Island is rife with triathletes and wide open fields of lava, I just assume that everyone else has that same assumption. And while that is most certainly correct, I pity the fool who exclusively rides the west side of the island north from Kona (the Ironman course), because there’s a rich variety of terrain elsewhere and in overflowing amounts.

Lava fields:

Two stylish donkeys getting ready for inGamba Donkey Week.

Laura and I excitedly celebrating the discover of another lava field.

Meanwhile, the following are definitely not lava fields. These hills could be Ireland or northwestern Sonoma or more accurately, just south of Hawi, Hawaii.

They’re lush and teeming with grass. Look closely and you’ll see two cyclists. Hint, they’re smack in the middle of the pic.

This picture below came from a scene from Jurassic Park 1, where bicycles are part of the storyline. They cut that scene out and inserted a pair of Jeeps instead.

Plus there’s a mega climb to be had on that route south from Hawi towards Waimea (which, if you’re testing your memory, is the same as the first lush green hill above).

On the topic of mega climbs, there’s this little thing called Mauna Kea. It has some ambitious title like world’s longest climb, or world’s highest climb, or world’s longest climb from sea level, or world’s highest paved climb with gravel sections that goes to an astronomy research facility. I forget. In any event, it stretches from zero feet above sea level to just shy of 14,000 feet over the course of about 50-some-odd miles. With an average gradient of 4.5%, it doesn’t sound all that ferocious, but factor in something wacky like a ten mile section with an average grade above 10%, all above 9,000 feet, yeah that’s fierce. See that little knoll in the photo below? That’s high. Very high.

Equally fierce is the wind gusting away at the top. Phil Gaimon has the KOM on this climb, which I had every intention of pillaging and taking the rightful crown. However, you can’t mess with Park Rangers who declare the road is closed. Law dog strikes again, as does the 90+mph winds and blowing snow.

Mahalo indeed.

More pictures of the week. Captain Cook Cove…

The eponymous Painted Church.

Lava that’s somehow made its way onto the beach. Yes, we went swimming. No, I’m not dipping my toe into triathlonhood.

More of that. Less beach, more lava.

We took a tourist day and visited Volcano National Park. That small ball of fire in the middle is precisely that. Liquid hot magma(!) turning into flowing lava. Cooler yet, the park ranger can put your phone up to the telescope and you have instant zoomed picture.

We ate poke prolifically all week. My goal was to eat poke for every meal, which wasn’t quite successful although we put in a good dig. This is the world famous Poke Shack. Delicious, yes, but our unequivocal favorite was Poke to Your Taste in Hilo.


A day long rip around Annadel in Santa Rosa upon our return was just the jet-lag buster needed to welcome me back to the continental US. If you haven’t been, The Trail House is your new favorite watering hole. Check it out.

And now back to reality.


  1. Ron

    Law Dog don’t go aroun’ here!


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