Japan, A Cultural Story With Karma.

I am in love with this country.

As I write this, I sit up early on day 2 of our exploration of the Niseko resort area, it is 5:48 a.m. I just showered and love my morning quiet time to just be. I keep conking out around 9 p.m. and thus the early wake up.

We are staying at Moiwa Lodge at the base of the Moiwa ski/board resort.Yesterday we spent a day riding here as snow gently fell and there were zero lift lines. I took a photo of weaving in and out of the bamboo shoots and trees. 

The snow was good, not perfect powder for the pow chasers on the trip, but for a beginner freshie like me, I was happy. I put my phone in my pocket and mindlessly did not zip it back up. On the lift ride back up, I realized that I had lost it. Jess and I combed over the area but to no avail, Chad and I tried to set up finding the phone remontely, but to no avail. All the while, I just knew it would turn up.

The reason I knew my phone would turn up is that everything I have encountered in Japan is on time, has specific guidelines and runs smoothly. The people are filled with kindness and gentleness. I am a complete outsider and therefore may be off as to how an inner society is ran. However, it is quiet in restaurants, train stations, in people-filled subway stations and on crowded bus rides. They even ask you to not talk on your phone while on public transportation! I think, too, that if you did loudly someone would probably come and remind you to not. You take your shoes off at the door of many establishments and all homes and you bow and smile a lot. (I keep putting my hands up in namaste when I bow, which is not custom, but it feels natural to me as a yogi.)

After two trips down the mountain to see if I could find my phone, I realized that the lost phone ‘just is’ lost.

The concept of ‘just is’ came to me back in the spring, I even wrote about it earlier. Then, on the trip from Sapporo to Niseko, this concept was reintroduced to me through another yogi and writer, Baron Baptiste. In his book, “Perfectly Imperfect,” he talks about two views of a yoga class being full, so full that the mats are touching. He talks are out one view of the room, “it is too cramped” and another view, “spacious enough to hold many yogis.” He mentions that the room ‘just is.’ I thought about my lost phone as thus: ‘just is’ lost. As a result, I went on to enjoy my day, still believing it would show up, but knowing worrying about how much it would cost to replace it, how I was going to travel back to the states with it, and many other things would not increase my chances of finding it. Not to say, that I didn’t keep an eye out for it!wp-image-966439951jpg.jpg

This concept of ‘just is’ is something I have wrestled with throughout growing up. I have desperately wanted to feel in control. I have had tragedies happen in life that I almost could not accept because they were out of my control. Serious control issue there. I remember sharing a classroom with another teacher and he would always say “It is what it is” and I used to get so frustrated with that concept. Turns out, he was right.

As I continued to snowboard that second day at Moiwa, a sense of okay-ness, a sense of “Just is” set in to my soul. I went into Moiwa Lodge and talked with them about the situation and one of the workers said, your phone has been found! I went running over to the Ski Resort counter, and there it was, warming up and still charged. I could not believe my fortune. I talked about karma a lot that night, when I met up with friends for drinks at the Lodge 834. Chad and I kept saying that I do a lot of work to make sure that my personal karma is balanced out. As we left the lodge, I walked to the restroom. As I was leaving, I saw someone else’s phone on the back of the toilet seat.

FOR REAL.

I picked up the phone, told everyone and we were in complete awe of the day that the integrity of Japanese culture and apparently, my karma, were in perfect display.

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journey to snowboarding part 4

After the first minor victory in snowboarding, I naively assumed that the rest of my experiences snowboarding would be easy.

I was wrong.

The reason I am writing about snowboarding is because it has been one of the most difficult and challenging things I have done with my life. I think 90% of that is because I started so late in life (after turning 30) when my body doesn’t bounce back quite as quickly as it used to. Growing up mountain biking, when I fell, I would laugh all the way down and all the way after falling. Also, falling in the snow (ice) on the East Coast vs. snow on the West Coast is also quite differently as well!!

Over the next few years, I would attempt snowboarding once per year. Then, in 2012, I met my now husband. As we first started dating, we knew pretty quickly that we were each other’s ONE. (Again, being older, I think you know these things a lot quicker). Through a particular conversation over a long dinner where I was going on and on about how I wanted to surf more, the beach was my favorite, sunshine dwells in my soul, winter makes me squirm, my humble partner-to-be revealed to me that he had been a ski instructor at Killington Resort in Vermont. A SKI INSTRUCTOR?!

I was doomed, and I knew it.

I commented casually to him, “Oh, well, if you love the snow that much, we might have a problem.” Ha. Ha.

Ha.

Thus began the strap in and learn to ride (quickly) steps to being a snowboarder.

We started by ordering my gear (as I was a renter only prior). I still ride this board and LOVE my first, small, beginner set of equipment. Several friends and I did research on a great website and Chad helped me size myself up, and my snowboard, bindings and boots arrived in no time. They were gorgeous, and I was stoked.

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Within the next year, we booked a trip for Spring Break to Vermont to revisit Chad’s base for skiing. We drove the nearly 16 hours up to the resort and Chad INSISTED that I take a lesson. Two lessons, in fact, out of the three days we were there. I was a bit annoyed, thinking that I had mastered snowboarding and how should he be the one to tell me what to do.

(He was a ski instructor, remember?)

Well, it was the best decision I ever made, to take lessons. Quickly on the very sunny, melting snow of March in Vermont, I learned that I had learned to snowboard all wrong. I was completely doing it like a frightened East Coaster. “Falling Leaf” was the term. So, all the bad habits I had taught myself, I now had to unlearn. While Chad was off doing double blacks with a Vermont buddy of his, I was slowly attempting to relearn how to snowboard. It was not easy. The edge of your board? Heel-side, toe-side? Connecting turns? Yeah, I was clueless. Luckily, my instructor, aptly named Forrest, was a hippy guy with a fun heart, and I progressed somewhat those two days. As the snow began to drip off the trees and grass started to appear on the runs at Killington, we decided to take a day off and hike beautiful Vermont.

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On the final day in Vermont after leaving our perfect accommodations at the Ski Chalet, the snow was melting at such a fast pace that really when we scaled the lift to the top of the mountain we were doing a combination of surfing and wake boarding down. I went to the top, yes, and did a bit of real, true snowboarding down it! I was thrilled. THIS is snowboarding (even if we were in t-shirts and the guys skiing past were in shorts and NO shirts). I was getting it.

Very, very slowly.

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journey to snowboarding, take 3.

After the revelation that I wanted to be a snowboarder, I took to the hill a few years later (it happens that I live in the East Coast-where snow is little and icy) and while everyone got their ski rentals on, I went straight to rent a snowboard and boots. We were at Sugar Mountain, and I was with my brother (a very good skiier) and two other friends of his-both decent skiers.

I strapped on my board after lacing up my boots, and headed down the bunny slope-1,000 times that day. My brother told me later that he heard my laughter halfway up the ski-lift. (I take that as a good sign.) I fell approximately as many times as I went down the bunny slope. However, it felt like ME. Snowboarding felt more me than skiing EVER did. It was a natural thing, I suppose, being drawn to yoga and surfing, that something that required more balance would right. At lunch, my brother asked me to go to the top of the runs with him. Again, this was my absolute FIRST TIME on a snowboard….circa 2007ish. I agreed, as I was feeling pretty stoked at this point.

Down we went, I cannot remember exactly how I got down the mountain, except I am pretty sure that I went STRAIGHT down the mountain…no edge whatsoever. I survived. I remember being concerned about the narrowness of the top of the mountain, and wondering why it was always so GRAY in the east during winter.

Post downward ascent, we drove into Johnson City to meet up with our cousins for a holiday gathering at a restaurant. I felt worn, bruised, but exhilarated. At lunch with my cousins, my brother told everyone that I was a natural.

I will be honest, when my brother pays me a compliment, I take it entirely to heart. I felt like an EXPERT SNOWBOARDER. I found a snowsport I knew I was going to embrace! This is how I felt:

In reality, although I had no idea, I was lightyears away from reaching TRUE snowboarding skills…

Females and Athletics

I can say at this point that I have moved a step beyond simply being an active person and started heading toward being a very, minimalistically speaking, tiny bit of an athlete. I train regularly at home (usually 5+ days a week) and am having to regulate my diet to get the proper nutrition it needs for 4+ mile runs, 4-5 mile mountain bike rides and as much time on a snowboard as my body can physically handle…and then way more.

Adding this new adjective to my collection, I have been noticing the difference between men athletes and female athletes. I play hard with my fiancé all the time, but have developed several female athletic friends who challenge me, at times with out even realizing they are and who challenge me oftentimes more than a male athlete.

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Having a crew to play with outdoors that are female is empowering my game more than I imagined.

I grew up forever trudging through forests with my brother, his friends and my make friends. Mountain biking and hiking was just what we did. Every guy I dated I taught how to mountain bike, which usually ended in disaster ( as I had ridden longer…you get my drift). I forever was training, in essence, with the boys because there just were not girls doing what I was doing.

A few years ago, I started working with a friend who has remained the ever outdoor sports enthusiast and still challenges me in her toughness. Together we have snowboarded, mountain biked, kayaked, hiked, ran, paddleboarded and the list continues.

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On my current trip in Salt Lake City snowboarding, I read a Backcountry magazine devoted to women skiiers. It solidified what my outdoor athletic girls and I were already thinking. Beauty is defined by strength of character and sense of humor – which extreme sports teach you through its reminders of humility through testing every fiber of your being. Also, there is a camaraderie that is solidly formed on a slope or trail that cannot be gained from anywhere else.

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The articles in Backcountry worked to help others see that women are ever a minority in outdoors sports, but that those who truly love and embrace these sports are just as passionate and athletic as their male counterparts. The magazine worked to figure out the whys of the incredible lack of hardcore athletic attire necessary for many terrains and worked to understand how to change these things…not simply by making it softer and pink with swirls (shrink it and pink it was the phrase they used of how a lot of good sports clothiers had ‘solved’ the women athlete). My friends and I have discovered this for quite some time and in some way want to be a voice of awareness.

I have seen also is that the women I meet in the out of doors are by far the most beautiful. These women and girls are fearless-often riding by themselves-as I did many times, they fight the elements easily, they are megahappy and have amazing stories to share, they are super knowledgeable a n out the backcountry and they are f***ing tough. This is true beauty. Not skinny jeans fitted and lipstick clad…as the article mentioned…but windburnt, sweaty, helmet haired gals with gigantic smiles and a sense of more adventures oozing through their pores. (And I do wear lipstick and skinny jeans at times….but always feel exposed in these items…) The authors are saying what my soul has been dying to hear: women who play hard outdoors are the essence of beauty. I love it. For me, I agree.

It is interesting that as I write this article, I am vacillating between feeling a need to apologize for being so vocal about this (never want to offend, you know) and the desire to plead with you that this is not some hard core feminism streak I have just hit. How funny that this again echoes the article in saying that women always feel the need to apologize and be the sweetest version of themselves at all times.

On that note,  I raise my coffee mug (as it is 6 a.m. here) to all the women out there playing, adventuring, and living life hard and fast- filled with joy and oftentimes dirt. May we continue to grow our respective passions for our sports, strengthen our friendships and go out and kick ass.

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my journey to becoming a snowboarder, part 2.

I did pretty good avoiding skiing for a long time, somehow managing to gracefully escape trips with the youth group and I didn’t touch it through college. Then, I found myself in Nevada one year for Christmas, and the family I was staying with decided to go ski. YAY!

(Oh no.)

I found myself panting with stress at the mountain that day, falling at the bottom of the lift line, pulling others with me. (I am not joking, this really happened.)

Two monumental things happened that day. The first happened riding up the lift. I was recounting the result of the last time I exited a lift in the mountains of North Carolina, and the pile of bodies that lay beneath me, so instead of exiting the lift with my group, I stayed on the lift as it went around.

Yes, I did that. And when I saw the looks on the faces of those below me, waiting for me, I realized, uh oh. I was going to have to ride all the way down the hill!? They were there, waiting for me quizzically. So, I did what came instantly to my head and scooted forward, both poles in one hand and prepared to jump off the lift.

Thankfully, I was yelled at by everyone on the mountain, “DON’T JUMP!” I slid back onto the chair and waited as they reversed the lift just for me. I was mortified. My group laughed, I wanted to die. The entire mountain reverberated with the words, “DON’T JUMP!” for the rest of the afternoon. I hated it. I hated the mountain. I hated skiing.

However, this is when the second monumental thing happened. I was riding up the lift later, why I kept trying to do this sport I have no idea but, as I rode I looked down and there smattered about the mountain were girls aplenty on snowboards.
As I watched them, I realized, They have only ONE piece of equipment to worry about…a board. No two skis no two poles for impaling others or self with…just a board.

This magical thing happened.

I was done skiing. I would snowboard. It looked simple enough, it looked bada**, too. Girls had their hair flowing and they were so very chill as they gracefully hung out on the mountain. (Now, I realize I never saw a girl actually RIDING a snowboard, they were just hanging out on the mountain, sitting on the ground with their boards blocking the way of oncoming ski/ride traffic.)


(This is kind of the look the girls had snowboarding that day, sorta kumbayah on the trail and all.)

It was a good day. I couldn’t wait. I was rejuvenated after my ski day. Well, my ski survival day.

my journey to becoming a snowboarder, part one.

I started to snowboard 4 years ago at age 31. This past Christmas, I carved down my first black diamond. The journey to this accomplishment is one I felt needed scribing.

The story that follows will be written in several parts, as there is so much that I learned during my journey to becoming a snowboarder. Ironically, this adventure also parallels a lot of lessons I’ve learned in life.

I first started out on skis, age 17. I had grown up in a pretty adventurous family. We hiked and traveled the world, tackling many adventures along the way. But, one thing we did not do growing up was ski. Or snowboard. Mom had a bad experience once on skis in college, and never looked back. Being tall, my dad mostly barreled down the hill, usually in jeans, yelling at people to move.

When I put skis on at an icy mountain in North Carolina, I was clueless. A somewhat experienced skier (he had been maybe 5-10 times) friend and I had driven up from Tennessee to experience the mountain. Growing up on the East coast and in Tennessee, we really don’t see much snow. We get ice and the slopes are mostly manmade snow. We’ve had a few blizzards for sure but nothing like the west. Powder is unheard of.

Upon arrival at the mountain, we rented all of the gear and tramped outside for a night ski. Walking in ski boots, if you’ve never done it before, is ridiculous. Everyone walking ski boots looks silly. You could easily participate in the Smooth Criminal video scene where Michael Jackson almost leans into the floor. After putting the boots that were not made for walking on, I spent 10 minutes attempting to slam my awkward boot into a ski on the side of a literal slippery slope. It took one try. Two tries. Three tries, four! I was in. I stood there for approximately 3 seconds thrilled with my accomplishment, until my companion promptly shoved me over.

“The first think you need to know about skiing is how to get up,” he said laughing.

I was not laughing.

I proceeded to get up and mostly block out what he said next due to my frustration initially. It was crowded on the hill, so we spent most of our time practicing right at the entrance to a ski lift. I am pretty sure he taught me how to snow plow but I cannot remember as what happened next was one oft he most traumatic events of my entire life. So traumatic that anything immediately proceeding this event is pretty much blocked out.

After a period of time, he declared I was ready for a beginner slope. I wasn’t. However, I remember sitting on the lift headed upwards, to what felt like was my final and last trip of my lifetime. The lift must have been 8 miles long, and my heart stopped somewhere along the way, as I watched the angle of the trails increase dramatically. This is one of those moments when you realize something stupid is about to happen, but you are so dumfounded by it, that you cannot vocalize this aloud.

At the midpoint of the lift, I was informed we were going to get off. Lift exits in the East are built by lift watchers who like a laugh. On the beginner slope, for example, of this particular mountain, the exit to the lift goes immediately down hill, has two wooden panels on the side waist high, and is always a solid sheet of ice. At the bottom right as we were about to get off, lay two sprawled out girls, arms and legs bent in varying positions. There was no way to avoid the hazard these girls were, the only option was through them. When I saw the destiny that laid ahead of me, I gripped the poles, pointed my feet into a snowplow position, sat up off the lift, and skied straight down the ice hitting both girls. The muscles in my knees pulled one way, while my legs went another. I popped out of both skis and almost stabbed a girl with my pole.

I lay there thinking, I hate this. Am I alive? And then realizing with panic that ANYONE trying to get off the lift would plow all four of us over, so I military crawled to the left hand side of the lift of death.

I’m not sure how we got down the hill, but after 45 minutes, I was done with skiing. DONE.

It took two weeks and many angry words later before my knees stopped hurting.

Skiing sucked. I hated it. I would never do it again.

(Life has a funny way of reminding me that whenever I say ‘never,’ I am usually wrong.)

First life lesson: Sometimes when people are doing something that seems fun, it isn’t going to be fun for you, only pain.