May 2-4 Unfrozen Ocean - observing the water cycle.

Last weekend was the Victoria Day long weekend in most of Canada; except for Quebec where it is observed as la journée nationale des partriotes. In either case, the end result was that most of the residents of the Great White North had the day off on Monday. Some of us, therefore, decided to take advantage of it and try to both surf and snowboard on the same weekend. So we packed up the necessary gear, made our way to Mount Washington in New Hampshire to snowboard on Saturday, then to York Beach in Maine to surf on Sunday.

Commercial for the 2009 Pontiac Vibe (plus some Elections Canada advertising as a bonus). For once, television was the inspiration for one of my wacky adventures.

The idea for this road trip actually came to me when I saw a commercial for a 2009 Pontiac Vibe in which a girl goes skiing and surfing in the same day. I thought to myself: what a good idea! However, snowboarding and surfing in the same day seemed a bit ambitious in the northeast, so I decided to limit the scope a little, and do both activities in a single weekend instead. Not only would this be a great way to spend the long weekend, but the nerdier hemisphere of my brain also realized that it would also be taking advantage of two extremes of the hydrologic cycle, which I think is pretty friggin' cool.

The crew for this adventure consisted of Mat, Winnie, Dana, Lindsay, Elodie, and myself. We piled into two cars (of the four cylinder variety) and made our way to New Hampshire early in the evening on Friday. The plan for the weekend was as follows:

  1. Wake up early on Saturday morning and head to Pinkham Notch to start our trek up Tuckerman Trail to do some snowboarding in the Ravine. Then spend the night in nearby Gorham.
  2. Leave Gorham early on Sunday to head to the York Beach location of the Liquid Dreams surf shop in Maine to secure gear to surf for the day.
  3. If the swell or weather didn't cooperate on Sunday, wake up early on Monday to surf. Otherwise go wherever the wind takes us.

Saturday: snow day

Mat, myself, and Winnie climbing up Right Gully.

Mat, Winnie, Elodie, and I made it to Pinkham Notch around mid-morning on Saturday (Dana and Lindsay decided to try and cycle around Mount Washington instead). For Mat and Winnie, this would be their initiation to snowboarding in the ravine. For Mat, this was also a big milestone considering that he only started snowboarding this season. As his teacher, I wasn't sure it was a great idea but I figured that if he made it back in one piece, he'd have no fear of any terrain within resort boundaries pretty much anywhere (and to think that CASI accused me of not pushing my students hard enough). Besides, since he is related to me, I knew there was no way that I would be talking him out of this (he did have his first ever surfing lesson near pipeline in Hawaii after all).

We made it up to the bowl in Tuckerman Ravine at around mid-day. Our options were somewhat limited due to the undermined snow and exposed rocks in the trail run outs. We decided that our best bet was to head up Right Gully which had the longest run out and fewest crevasses we could see. After choosing a suitable rock for setting up camp, Winnie, Mat, and I got geared up for the hike up the gully. (Elodie, having hurt herself during our previous Tuckerman Ravine outing, opted not to snowboard).

We did two runs in Right Gully before calling it a day. We made it back to Gorham shortly before 7PM and were all looking forward to getting cleaned up after having spent nearly 8 hours outdoors. A swim in the ocean would have been amazing, which made me wish we actually could go surfing that day. However, the coast is still several hours away from Gorham.

The hotel pool would have been an acceptable alternative to swimming in the ocean, unfortunately by the time we were expecting to be done eating, it would have been closed. We would have to wait to get to the coast before going for a swim.

The final, and most practical, option was the hotel room shower. Once we were cleaned and up and fed, we turned in for the night, ready for an early departure to Atlantic coast of Maine the following morning.

Sunday: Surf day

Following a late start out of Gorham and brief stop in Conway for supplies, it was already mid-day by the time we made it to the Liquid Dreams surf shop in York. The weather looked rather dreary with overcast skies and a mist which basically prevented us from seeing very far. However, the waves looked decent and, with the wind coming out of the west, were breaking close to shore so we bucked up and paddled out.

Although not very experienced, most of us have surfed before. In fact, Mat and Winnie recently got back from a surf camp in Brazil so they became the resident experts. Elodie, on the other hand, had never tried surfing before, so we did our best to teach her. I was impressed with her sense of adventure in coming all this way to try something new, but a little bit worried that she would not like it. As it turns out, my worries were misplaced as she seems to have enjoyed surfing quite a bit and even managed to catch a few waves on her own.

Our session lasted only a bit more than one hour. One thing about surfing this early in the season is that the Atlantic Ocean is pretty cold. Even though we all had wetsuits (a must this time of year), that didn't prevent our un-bootied feet from getting cold. The cold, rather than fatigue, was the determining factor in the decision to run for the shore. That and the fact that Dana cut his foot open on a seashell and required some first aid. Once we were dried off, warmed up, patched up, we went into town to check into our hotel with designs on spending the afternoon in the hot tub.

Monday: Chill day

Mat, Winnie, and Elodie at York Beach in Maine
Mat, Winnie, and Elodie are taking full advantage of the great beach weather.

In the plan, Monday was supposed to be the weather day in case we couldn't surf on Sunday. Since the weather was warm and the skies were clear, we had considered hitting the beach for a second surf session. However, we decided to be lazy and just chill on the beach instead. Besides, the wind was coming from the east, so the small waves were breaking far out.

I was initially surprised that the beach wasn't busier than it was considering the weather. But then I remembered that it wasn't a long weekend in the US, therefore the usual beach goers were probably at their day jobs. Of course the down side to the non-existent crowds is the unmistakable noise of worklife, including construction. But that noise was easily tuned out by the sounds of the crashing waves.

We hung out on the beach until around mid-day before we decided to make the long voyage home. I realized at that moment that we had about 800km of commuting yet to do. At which point I began feeling slightly guilty for having driven all that distance just to be able to snowboard and surf on the same weekend. Having seen the two extremes of the hyrdologic cycle, I couldn't help but feel slightly responsible for the oil leak in the Gulf Coast which poses a threat to that very cycle which makes surfing and snowboarding possible. The only consolation that I have is that we did carpool, and use fuel efficient vehicles; something that should be taken into consideration if ever you decide to undertake a road trip of this kind.

Trip Planning Tips

If undertaking a similar road trip, check out these links to make the process a bit easier.

In New Hampshire

  • The Royalty Inn provides comfortable accommodations at reasonable prices. Plus there's a pool for some after shred shenanigans. Only about 10 minutes drive from Pinkham Notch
  • Joe Dodge Lodge in Pinkham Notch is a good alternative if you don't want to drive to the mountain in the morning. No pool though.

In Maine

  • Liquid Dreams surf shop will set you up with your surfing needs. The York Beach location is right across the street from the beach.
  • The Microtel Inn provides good value and is close to restaurants although far from the beach
  • The Sunrise Motel is a little pricier, but is right across the street from the beach. Good if you don't like paying for parking.

Environmental considerations aside, this trip was a great success. There were a few casualties — Dana sliced open his foot, and I wrenched my shoulder when the undermined snow I was standing on collapsed beneath me — but that didn't prevent us from enjoying ourselves. Some of us even got to experience a few new things — Mat and Winnie have developed a taste for backcountry snowboarding, and Elodie expressed interest in doing more surfing this summer — Some of us got to check another item of their bucket list — surf and snowboard in one weekend — and best of all, I learned a new appreciation for the water cycle and how it affects the activities that I enjoy doing.

I find it truly amazing that a road trip inspired by a television commercial could prove to be such an enriching experience. When you consider that I don't get broadcast television in my house (no cable or aerials), it's amazing I got the inspiration at all. Perhaps the powers of reason were trying to tell me that inspiration can come from the most unexpected places.

If you're feeling adventurous enough, I highly recommend doing a similar road trip. One thing to keep in mind, however, is that there is no free parking near the beach in York between May 15th and October 15th. If your not staying close to the beach, make sure you bring plenty of change for parking meters. The good news is that there's no apparent limit to how long you can park so you can continue feeding the meter and 25 cents gets you about 15 minutes. If you want to be sneaky, the meters also accepts Canadian quarters, believing they are US quarters, which can save you money in times when the Loonie is less valuable than the Greenback.

Also, bring water shoes. We found a lot of open clam shells on the beach which can result in pretty nasty cuts to the bottom of your feet (just ask Dana). This can quickly put an end to your surf day so the reduced feel of the board is more than made up for by the reduced risk of bleeding wounds. Besides, the extra layer of insulation will keep your feet from going numb in the cold springtime Atlantic waters.

Most importantly, don't forget to consider how you're impacting the water cycle that gives us a reason to want to do such road trips. If you want to find someone to blame for the environmental disaster that was caused by the sinking of the Deepwater Horizon drilling platform, we have but to look into the mirror. So make sure you use energy efficient driving practices and have properly maintained your car before taking off. Even though that oil slick is nowhere near the northeast right now, it still affects the greater hydrologic cycle which brings us blower pow in the winter.

Lastly, don't forget to have fun. After all, what other reason would you choose to do a road trip? Now get out there and ride.

Winter Matters Bubble

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