Friday, March 5, 2010

Scarpering for Skiing

Okay, code is running, I have an hour and a half to kill and nothing to do, so here is an update! Last week was fairly eventful (per usual). My friend finally submitted her thesis last Friday to much excitement and buzzing throughout the department. We all scarpered off to the pub with a few professors and staff to mark the occasion. We sat in the pub for a few hours chatting and drinking, but everyone was pretty knackered from a busy work week. We left at about half-9 and went to her flat for some tea and chat. She is leaving for the States in a few weeks now and I will really miss having her around as she is a great friend, but also because it has been nice to have a friend on the same street as me.

The next day was a big day. Not only was it because it was nine months to the day of moving to Glasgow, but I was getting my first tattoo here to commemorate the occasion and my flatmate and I were hosting our flat-warming party. The party was great fun though we are going to have to have another one soon because some of my favourite people were not in town and could not make it. I do not know when then hell I will get the chance to do it as my weekends are quickly filling up, even as I type this (Hooray! I am going to a show in Edinburgh in April!). Anyway, the flat-warming was a success with about 50-60 people showing up. Thankfully the living room is gigantic and was fully capable of holding everyone and it did not feel too crowded. My flatmate invited some of his friends from school who were super uncomfortable with that many scientists and over-compensated by either being obnoxious, drunk or rude, or all of the above. Thankfully, everyone handled it pretty well and overall the night was a success. Not only that, but flat-warmings are very different in this country. People bring tidings of wine, champagne, port and single-malt whisky (large quantities of the latter two, bizarrely). My share of the port is sadly gone but we are saving the single-malts for later. It was nice, too, because I realised how convenient my place is for hosting parties, so this will be utilised in the future. The street I live on apparently used to have a large hub of PhD students residing there so everyone is glad to see it occupied again.

The next day I got up (very slowly) and made my way down to the West End to meet up with a friend from Edinburgh. He used to be a student here and we met through various people and got on 'like a house on fire' (his words). His girlfriend is this crazy gothic victorian artist and he is crazy into metal music, so yeah, we get on pretty well. We caught up over lunch and strategised about future escapades and carnage, including a siege of Cardiff planned for May. We also chatted a bunch about how the department has changed and how sad it is that I was not there three years prior, in it's heyday. This friend who is leaving and I were talking about the same thing recently. The regular crowd is made up of instigators and followers. Back in the day, the majority instigated adventures and since they all have left or settled down, the amount of craziness has ceased. Once she leaves, I am going to be the only true instigator left, which makes me really sad. Ergo, I am spending much more time with the older people who have hence moved around the country or instead save up the craziness for meetings and conferences, which results in some pretty shocked livers. It is fantastic, too, because though I was not around for their PhDs, they adopted me straightaway as one of the 'regulars' and now include me in any planned escapades, further proving how fun it would have been to be around during that time.

On Monday, I got together with the Leaving Friend and went out with her and a few of her friends for £2 mojitos on Ashton Lane. It was basically soda with a shot of rum, but usually a coke would be £2 so why not throw some rum in that. We chatted for a while then got the standard chips on the walk back home, you know, to keep us warm. I am telling you though, I have got to change my eating habits. I think I am only going to purchase food from the local grocer as opposed to Waitrose and buy any meat from the local butcher. I think I will eat much healthier that way, plus, it is always surprising how cheap fresh food is, so I need to take advantage of that.

Tuesday was a mental day in the department, so much so, that I ran away for the afternoon. It started with all of the computer network systems down and the wireless consequently not responding because everyone was trying to use that on their laptops instead. The biggest stressor was the fact that registration for a conference our department is hosting closed the next day and they were not able to process the flood of registrations coming in. Definitely worth running away from. I went home, Leaving Friend called for me to pick up some stuff she was getting rid of and we walked down to Cotswolds to buy some ski gear for the next day.

So, skiing in the Highlands! The previous week at our usual afternoon coffee, a bunch of us decided to go skiing at Glencoe due to the massive snowfall and fantastic weather that followed. I, always having my 'Danger, Will Robinson' radar out, was afraid of the massive avalanches that were happening on the same or adjacent mountains. However, I decided to throw caution to the wind, as well as work-responsibility-guilt and skive off for a day. Seven of us in total went, including two Swiss sisters, an Indian guy who had only been skiing once and the rest all fairly incompetent, but gutsy physicists.

We met up at seven in the morning, loaded up the cars and headed up to Glencoe, about a 2 1/2 hour drive (in America, you could push it to an hour, but these are Scottish highways and therefore take some serious navigating). It is nice to have finally become intimately familiar with the A82 route to Glencoe: the winding around Loch Lomond, the Green Welly stop in Tyndrum, the herd of stags lingering in the glen and various other homey landmarks. The day was absolutely beautiful and we finally arrived at Glencoe as one of the first people there. I went off to hire a pair of skis and boots while everyone else suited up their hired snowboards. The resort was very much an anti-Colorado resort, in good and bad ways. It was very functional by the carpark, one room for hiring equipment, one window for buying passes and a pub area inside where booze and chips and sausages could be purchased. There was a 2-person chairlift at the start that took us up and over the first hill, leading to the base of the actual ski area. Then, the dreaded tow-pommels awaited us. You know, those things that are basically a steel pole suspended from some rope with a disk attached to the bottom. You put the pole between your legs, the disk behind you and you go. There was an eastern-European working it at the beginning saying (in a thick accent) "Right, between your legs, do not sit, look where you are going, do not fall, good luck." and clicks this little wire and you take off. And I mean take. off. This thing booked it. I was a little shady at the start, but really, if you just stand up, almost lazily, it just pulls you up. Easiest skiing ever. Plus, this was to get up the beginners slope, so the incline was almost non-existent. I was a bit shaky at first, but once it came back to me, it really was like riding a bike, it was almost instinctual.

As opposed to skiing in Colorado, people who want to go skiing did not actually grow up on slopes, so we were all a bit rough to start (aside from the Swiss girls, but they don't count). We did the baby slope/tow cable for a while, getting more and more comfortable with it. After that, at the top of the baby slope, you can ski off to the side and down another route to a chairlift. This is an old-school chairlift: one person, wooden seat and a single metal pole that you just swing in front of you to hold you in. This took us to the top of some green runs, very nice, very happy. A little more of an incline, but plenty of space to slow down if needed. These slopes were also not nearly as 'manufactured' as Colorado slopes. Even for being green, they were bumpy, hilly and there were definitely places that you could fall off, well, fall off if you're green, ski down if you are on a red slope. After all, all runs point to the tow cable! That one was quite fun, especially because you did have plenty of areas where you could get some pretty good speed. We did that happily for a few more times before lunch, three hours later. Two of the people (one Swiss and one guy who I am convinced needs more excitement in his life as he has two young kids) actually skied to the carpark whereas all of us who valued life decided to take the 2-man chairlift back down for lunch.

After lunch, the Swiss girl we knew talked us in to going to the top of the mountain where the only way down was blue slopes on one side and certain death slopes on the other. "Oh, you'll be fine, the blue doesn't have any more of an incline than the green one" LIES! ALL LIES! But before we get to that adventure, we had to actually make it to the top of the mountain. At the top of the one-person chairlift and the top of the green slopes, you could walk up a bit (where other's ski down) to a T-Bar. Oh god, the T-Bar. This is basically a T suspended upside down from a wire. You share the T with another person, hoping to god you do not die. None of us knew how to do it. The poor snowboarders had to face the side and put their half of the T in between their legs and hold on to the middle pole whereas the skiers (me) had to simply rest our butt on our half of the bar and try not to slip off the side. Leaving Friend and I shared it and looked like absolute fools. She was snowboarding and was clinging to the middle pole. We were both convinced that was it, not so much because of the position, but the tow was almost straight up and if you fell off, you could not get onto the slopes and would simply slide straight down, hitting every other person in your path. Right at the start she got her foot caught and held on to me for dear life as she got her balance back. We were laughing so hard and had to try to stop laughing in order to not fall off. It finally got us to the top, which truly was phenomenal. We ditched our skis/snowboards immediately and scrambled to the summit for pictures. It was such a beautiful day as well, you could see for miles and miles in all directions. It was also very disconcerting as two days prior, there had been an avalanche right on this mountain so you were not sure how much on the top was actually supported by rock. Remember, Scotland does not have the fear-of-suing infrastructure that America has so everyone is responsible for themselves and could wander anywhere. We were exhausted anyway and therefore just collapsed on the top, a safe distance from the edge and rested a bit. We took a ton of pictures and rested there, trying to put the thought that we actually had to get off that goddamn mountain out of our mind.

Finally, we came to terms that we were going to have to make it down. We walked back down to the top of the T-bar lift and gathered our equipment. Off to the left and around the summit was a path leading to the top of the 'blue' runs down. This 'path' along which you were meant to ski was really narrow and just plummeted off the side. The two Swiss girls hopped on their boards and went right along it with the rest of us standing there, almost comedic-like, with our jaws open waiting for the first person to go. Without a word, one of the guys just takes off his snowboard again and starts walking. The other guy got onto his hands and knees on his board and scooted along like a skateboard. We followed suit and walked along to the top of the blue slope. When we reached it, panic set in; this was much steeper than the slopes we had been on previously and it was also super narrow, so you had to turn more often, meaning you gained a lot of speed. After some convincing we slowly started crawling down. I literally got on my skis and pushed myself horizontally, turned once, started gaining speed and did a controlled fall to stop myself so I could turn around and keep going. After a few grueling minutes, we all made it about halfway down where the path narrowed even more, but there was a giant rock off to the side that we all aimed for and fell down on to contemplate our existence and come to terms with our imminent death. Off to the left, you could see another blue arrow pointing to a side, with a longer route down. After the arrow however, the ground just fell away. We did not look over the edge, but we saw a lot of people ski over to it, look over, ponder for a few minutes then ski back down our way. Then it hit us, that was where the avalanche two days prior happened. Two novice skiers almost died on it. You could totally see how that would happen too, because there was so much snow and the mountain was so exposed to wind. Every time I tried to slow down, my skis would slide down a few feet before finally gripping the ground, sending a flurry of snow down in it's wake. However, I think after a few minutes of sitting on the rock (keep in mind too, we have been skiing for 4 hours that day already and our muscles were pretty exhausted) our brains finally came to terms with the fact that we had to get down the mountain and so we all started going for it. It is funny as well because your brain sees the whole way down the mountain and thinks that is what it has to do, when in reality you just have to make it to the end of the run. The path slid off to the right and there was the bottom of the lift. We made it! I think I could probably do it again now that I knew what to expect, but we were so tired by then, it was time to give up.

Skiing is a funny thing, because you do not feel as tired as you actually are. After we got to the bottom of the blue slope, we took the usual green way down and I fell about two times, nothing bad of course, but mostly just trying to take a turn and my legs not having the energy to push me around. The second time I fell, my legs could not even push me back up; that is how tired I was. We finally got to the top of the baby slope and just decided to do that a few more times before riding back down. We wanted to end on a good note after all and the baby slope was much better than ones in Colorado; it had some length to it and there were a few areas where you could actually get some speed, just very simply with plenty of space to gain control. Once we all met back at the bottom, we turned equipment in, changed into warm clothes and crawled into the car for the ride home. The ride home was really stunning because the Sun was setting and the highlands were all covered in snow. We stopped a few times to take pictures and got back to Glasgow by 6:30. Once we got back, we dropped the snowboards off in the department, trying to keep our head down so no one would see us and then ran off to Tennents for some steak pie and beer. I got back home at about eight o'clock, got into a steaming hot bath and listened to some Tom Waits. It was a brilliant end to a brilliant day.

Coming up this week, more work, some more work, some shopping for Victorian dresses, some drinking, more working and more drinking then packing to go to a meeting in California (hence all the work). So it will not be a terribly interesting blog, but always worth updating. Until next time!

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