I can’t imagine how it’ll be without you! Last moments @ Old Trafford.
…What’s up? It’s been a while!
A few weeks ago a colleague of mine mentioned that he tried out skeleton (the winter sliding sport, like Luge or Bobsleigh) which had become an Olympic event, from the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics. My friend was all excited about it. And knowing how I like to try new things, specially if they are right on the edge of… holding for your dear life, let’s say, he made sure I know about his experience. He described to me the whole experience, and I was sold. I tried to talk other colleagues into it; to go as a group. But, the slightly high price tag for the activity, and adding the fear factor has deterred them all. But I must try it I said.
So, today was the day. The Whistler sliding center is in Whistler, BC, where most of the 2010 Vancouver Winter events were held and that’s where the sliding tracks are. There are 17 sliding tracks in the world, four in North America. This sliding track here in Whistler is the fastest track in the world, were a record speed of 153.98km/h was reached on this track. Also, sadly, this is the same track where an olympic luger has lost his life during a training session during the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics. And yes, this is the same track I went on today.
So, the whole event takes about 2 hours, and you get 2 runs @ ~30 seconds each. We were a group of 23 people (excluding friends & families which can come along to watch and cheer). The first 30 minutes consists of having us signing wavers, and going through some slides describing the dos and don’ts, safety stuff, get a helmet fitted, how to mount the sled, how to position one’s body, shoulders, head, arms (someone will demo), etc… Basically, the point is as they say “just be like a sac of potatoes”. This activity is open for public because it’s safe. It’s quite the rush, but safe. You may get some bruises, or some abrasion on your elbows or even chin (which has happened to one of the guys today), as you may start bouncing between the walls! The bouncing (called “ping-pong”) may happen when non-trained people try to steer themselves away from walls, as a reaction of fear from hitting the walls. Or that some people get tense, which causes their shoulders to rise up (shoulders should be relaxed touching the sled, while lying down on your belly) which would offset the flow of the sled, and causes the sled to react to the person’s unintended body movements.
Once, the introductory stuff is out-of-the-way, we head to the starting point of the sliding track, were we get called one by one for our first run. At this point you get to see all sort of reactions from the people. Some had the look “Crap! what did i get myself into”. Others are excited, and some cocky! So, as the time passes waiting for your turn, people start to get more and more nervous. As you’d hear people bouncing off walls! Once a person finishes his or her first run, then they’d wait by the finish line, and watch the rest of the group members make their way down the track. I should add that for public we don’t actually run the complete track. We start from the 1/3 of the track, to slide only through the last two-thirds of the track. This is done so that we don’t pick too much a speed, since we don’t know what to do. Again, the point is to just lie down on the sled, relax (yeah right!) and let the track, gravity and physics do the rest.
So, here comes my turn, I put on the helmet, which has this chin guard (as it will rub against the ice!). The staff help me get into position (yeah, that joke was played on a lot today!) on my stomach on the sled, they explain to me to keep my legs straight and balanced just off the ice, to keep my shoulders pushed down into the sled, to keep my arms straight and close to my body, to NOT LET GO of the sled’s handles, to keep my chin up, and that if the chin guard starts rubbing against the ice, to move my chin a little forward, to fight off the g-forces (2-3 times one’s body mass acting down on the neck). Are you ready? Screw you Grant!
I start sliding, and all I can think of is keep legs straight, keep arms close to body, keep chin up! And then it hits you! I mean the speed just picks up very quickly! The problem is that you can’t see much in front of you. They tell us to keep our shoulders down, and to not lift the head as it will make the shoulders rise (this would also slow you down, if you are trying to get top speed). So by having your head down, all you can see is may be a foot ahead, and it’s one big icy blur. Suddenly, I started feeling my sled turning, and fighting forces acting on my body. The thing is you can’t tell what position your body/sled is in. As one goes trough the corners, the sled rises sideways on the icy wall. So the sled is going forward but sometimes we are sliding on the wall, which is perpendicular to the ground. I couldn’t tell if I’m going right, left or straight anymore! All I feel is that it’s getting faster and faster, and I’m trying to not screw things up! At some point the speed and forces peaked, I realized that I’m in the last and fastest corner. My chin guard starts to grind against the ice, so I push my chin forward and that solves it. The next thing I know I’m ping-ponging my way out of the last corner. I feel this pain in both my arms just above the elbows as I’m bouncing off the walls. I didn’t know how long that last corner was. I feared the worst, as it felt that the skin on my arms is getting scrapped as it’s rubbing against the ice walls (I was wearing clothes!). Then, I slowly come to a stop. I didn’t know whether I had finished or my run had come to a stop, due to me using my elbows as brake pads. It was the former, I had finished. The staff helped me get off my sled. I take a second to let my head process all of what I just went through. I start walking to the stands where everybody else was gathered.
I hear “that’s gotta hurt”. “It did!”, I reply. As when we finish our runs, we stand to the side, and watch the next person come out into the finish line. So, the people standing there had watched me “ping-pong” my way out of corner 16. I quickly look at my elbows, and there was no blood dripping! The injuries felt worst than they looked.
First of all, it’s not as scary as my colleague has made it to be. I’ve experienced bigger g-forces on some of the roller coaster @ Six Flags a few weeks ago. However, not knowing what’s going to happen in your first run ever, makes it very nerve-wracking to say the least! The whole time going down, I was so focused about keeping my body in the correct position, that the run seemed too short even if it lasted ~30 seconds. It felt more like 10 seconds! As my sled/body would turn I’d be worried about losing control, or sliding off the sled, or knocking my head or whatever. It’s this that keeps you on the very edge, and hoping for it to be over! So, when my first run was over, I was like, OK, it’s not as extreme as I thought it would be, but the fear of the unknown makes you expect the worst.
So, armed with some knowledge, bruises, and some blood, we all walk back to the starting line again; for our second and final run. This time I was feeling more relaxed. My first run was timed @ 29.75s for a top speed of 99.6km/h. Let me tell you, having your eyes a few inches from the icy track at that speed… is actually too fast for my brain to process!
As the people go through their second runs, we start hearing about some “difficulties” announced on the radio. I should add that at every run, they announce over the speakers (as they would in any sport event) your name. And after the run is complete, they would announce your track time and top speed. Anyways, as we wait for our turns, we start hearing stuff like, someone has some minor cut on their elbow, but nothing major. And I’m like been there, done that. At some point, they announced that someone has fallen off their sled, but managed to get back on! My confidence is starting to drop, and the fear of the known is starting to seep in! Then we hear that someone has done a 180 somwhere on the track, and is now sliding legs first!! Then we hear that he made another 180 and now is back to the normal position, head first. Now, I have no longer have any confidence left. Later on, the guy said he doesn’t know what happened. He was just spinning. I believe him! Things happen so fast, and we are not trained, so we have no control. And that’s actually a good thing. It’s when amateurs like us try to steer and control the sled that stuff goes wrong!
So, here am I, up for my second and final run of the day. This time, I make an effort to keep my arms straight, and close to my body. It’s when the arms get a little loose and make “little chicken wings” as they call them, that the elbows would stick out, and would hit the walls (as it happened in my first run), if the sled happens to hit and drag by the wall. So, here I go! Starting out slowly, keeping my arms straight, shoulders down into the sled, legs balanced just above the icy track, and chin forward enough to not have the chin guard rub against the ice. Speed picks up. I feel my body/sled going sideways, left, right, straight, and all over the place. But, I can’t tell how is my body/sled positioned relative to the track. Again, the speed picks up, I realize I’m in my last corner. I straighten my arms, and keep my elbows locked straight. My chin guard starts to grind against the ice. I push my chin forward, and that stops the grinding. It happens a couple more times. I anticipate the ping-pong again. This time it doesn’t happen. Progress!
My second run was much smoother than my first run. However, to my surprise it was slower than my first run. Run #1: 29.75s @ 99.6km/h. Run #2: 30.33 @ 96.6km/h. That’s still insane! ! Going ~100km/h where your chin is an inch or two off the track, and all you can see is a big fast white icy blur is insane! I would do it again!
While we were standing at the finish line, waiting for the rest of the group to complete their runs, I saw a man coming out to the finish line, with some blood on his chin. Turns out that as his chin guard (attached to the helmet) has slightly moved out place, when it hit the icy track in some corner, which then exposed his chin. So, in the following corner he hit his chin on the ice causing some abrasion to his chin. Nevertheless, this guy got top speed of the day @ 101.1km/h.
So, all in all, it’s awesome! It’s totally worth the price. For those who are into extreme sports, they must try this at least once. And for everyone else, don’t be intimidated by how scary it may or may not be, just go and try it. They wouldn’t open this sport for public if it was dangerous!
And here’s how the professionals do it, on the very same track.
I don’t think I’ve ever mentioned that I ski; in the winter season (duh!). First time I tried skiing was many many years ago, during a ski trip while in high school. I loved it so much. My friends and I had never tried skiing before the trip, and we had a blast at Saint-Sauveur, QC. We laughed our asses off! I never skied after it, until like ten years later (student = broke all the time. Also, the ski slopes are quite far in Montreal, with no access through public transportation, and we didn’t have a vehicle to make our way there). Again, I enjoyed it the second time. Then, years later, I decide to make skiing a regular activity. So, I started hitting the local mountains here in the Lower Mainland. I took a ski lesson; as a refresher, and to avoid bad skiing habits. By the end of my first season, I was alright. I bought myself a season pass for the following season, at Grouse Mountain, BC. Next Season comes, I buy myself some ski gear, and voila! And here we are to today, four years later, still enjoying and learning to be a better skier.
Today, with a colleague of mine, I went skiing on Mount Baker, WA. This time I actually went down the slopes! It’s quite a big mountain that’s about two hours away (into the US). I recommend giving this mountain a try, if you are ever in the area. It sure beats the local mountains. Although, the local mountains are good enough. And one can’t beat a thirty minute drive (to the local mountains). A note to first timers to Mount Baker, White Salmon base has mainly blue runs, with some green & black runs. While Heather Meadows base is mainly black runs, with some green & blue runs. Compared to Grouse Mountain, Mount Baker is much bigger, and with longer runs. However, I find that the green & blue runs at Mount Baker are slightly easier than the ones at Grouse.
End of day, I’m exhausted. I couldn’t fight off falling asleep on the way back (I wasn’t the one driving). Tomorrow is another fun day. I’m going to try Skeleton!
Home sweet home. We spent our last day in San Francisco chilling and shopping. I drove by Lombard street, I’ve been to this place on my previous trips, but never on a weekday! It was so empty, it’s amazing! I had also wished we had the time to take an Alcatraz tour, as I’ve been to it before, and I had enjoyed it, and I thought my friends would enjoy it too. However, due to time constraints we had to drop it.
Anyways, I drove by the Fisherman’s Wharf & Golden Gate Bridge again, (I’m being the tour guide) for my friends to see them again in daylight. After that we went shopping, and before you know, we had to make our way to SFO. We all checked-in, said our goodbyes, and went our separate ways, until the next encounter. Home sweet home!
Another fun, long day. So, we headed towards San Francisco early in the morning, taking the Pacific Coast Highway. Some very beautiful scenery. We made so many stops though, that is slowed our overall progress. We stopped by some beach for a late lunch. At this point, the group decided to switch to Highway 101, to make up for lost times. I disagreed as I reminded them the nice scenery ahead is worth the extra time. Nevertheless, we’ve been out on the road for a few days, and our days were always starting early and ending very late. I could see fatigue is starting to set in for the other guys. I’m sort of used to early/long days, as I often go on long motorcycle rides and look for nice roads to enjoy. Anyways, I didn’t want to insist on the more scenic but longer route, so I got on the 101, and North we drove.
We stopped by Gilroy, CA. The guys wanted to do some shopping. We only had about an hour left before the shops would close. Having been to San Francisco a few times before, I decided to take them across the Golden Gate Bridge, so they can see the San Francisco skyline at night.
Afterwards, we drove around downtown a bit, then we headed to the Fisherman’s Wharf, for another late dinner. I had me a lobster bisque, and some fried shrimps & squid. That bisque sure hit the spot, as it was cold outside.
Now, we are at the hotel, on our last night on this four-day trip. Tomorrow, I plan to drive by some tourist attractions again; for the guys to be able to see it in daylight, and perhaps snap some pictures. My friend also needed to get some shopping done, so that’ll be that. Afterwards, we’d head towards SFO, to catch our evening flights, where we all fly back to our separate homes. Not too bad for a long weekend.
Wow, that was a long, cold, exciting and exhausting day! We spent the day at Six Flags. But before that, we drove to see the famous Hollywood Sign. You cant’ come to LA and not make the effort to see the sign. After taking a few shots of The Hollywood Sign we headed to Hollywood Boulevard to see the Hollywood Walk of Fame. We took some more mandatory tourist photos, then we headed towards Six Flags.
Alright, there are three theme parks in the LA region: Disneyland, Universal Studios & Six Flags. Disneyland is mostly for kids, families with kids, or cute couples; of which we are none of the above. We had planned to go to Six Flags, during this trip. Some of the guys had gone to Universal Studios during the week prior to my arrival. I had also asked a few people that have been to both Universal Studios and Six Flags (and Disneyland), and they had recommended Six Flags. Though they did say Universal Studios is fun too, but different than Six Flags. Let me tell you Six Flags is awesome! They have some extreme rides there. Unintentionally, the best 3 rides of the day were our last 3 rides. The park is huge, and in no way you can go through all the rides in one day. You probably need two days or maybe even three. Unless you purchase the Flash Pass, which ranges between $45 & $105 (in addition to the $65 entry fee). The Flash Pass comes in different types, depending how much you pay. The benefits range from holding your spot in the line, without having to stand there, and you get paged when your turn is up. Or, the more expensive type, which lets you cut in line right away. I guess if one purchases the Flash Pass, then one could do all the rides in one day, instead of coming multiple days. But then again, the year pass is cheaper than paying twice for daily tickets. But, I digress and who cares!
Anyways, the rides are loads of fun. The roller coasters come in all sorts of flavor: sitting down, standing up, upside down, leaning forward (picture below), leaning back wards, etc… By early afternoon, we realized that we can’t go through all the rides, so we started picking rides from the “maximum thrills“.
Anyways, the best rides we did were LEX LUTHOR: Drop of Doom, X2 & Goliath! If you’re ever there make sure you do these. Obviously, there are a few other “extreme” rides that we didn’t do, but I doubt they’d top those three!
It was night fall, we were getting cold, and we had a dinner to attend to. So, we called it a day. We headed back to the hotel, freshened up, then off to dinner. The people we were over at; for dinner were rather very hospitable (Only one of us in the group knew them, and the rest of us were collateral damage by association!). The day finished with pleasant company and a very delicious meatloaf and ratatouille. I’m glad we went over.
And here I am, back at the hotel. Tomorrow we’re driving North to San Francisco. I plan to take the Pacific Coast Highway; to enjoy the scenery.
Here am I in LA. It was rather a short flight. It was good seeing my friend again. We didn’t do much this evening. Just grabbed a quick and late dinner, drove around downtown LA, then we headed to our hotel. A bunch of the guys wanted to check out Six Flags, so that’s what we’ll do tomorrow. It’s already 1AM. I gotta get some shut-eye.
An old and dear friend of mine happens to be in San Diego this week; on a business trip. So, naturally we must spend some time together. It’s simpler for me to fly down there, and so I will. I’ve been wanting to visit LA for a while. So, the plan is for us to meet in LA on Friday evening, spend a couple of nights there, drive to San Francisco, and spend a night there. Then everyone flies back home. I hope the weather is good over there. It seems that it’s cold everywhere nowadays!
I Just got my Advanced Open Water certification done this weekend. Unofficially, I’ve been diving below 60′ with my dives buddies in the past. However, it doesn’t hurt to get the certification for it, as I’d need it to dive while away on vacation or something.
A few of the other divers who were also there for their AOW certification were having some buoyancy issues and/or leaking gloves (we were in our dry suits, I mean it was like 5C out there!). Most of the other divers have had only a few dives, and in warm waters. So, this was perhaps their first time diving in cold waters, and their first time in a dry suit. So, I totally understand the challenges they were facing. I was trying to be as helpful to them as I could, as I’ve been there, and it’s not pretty! Anyways, due to all sort of annoying issues, we’ve spent a lot of time in the water on surface. Let me tell you, my hands and feet got really cold. I toughed it up, only to not add any more drama to the class! And I also knew that once we get underwater, my mind will be occupied with other things, and I’d forget about the cold, which is what happened.
On the second day, we had a boat dive. Much more enjoyable. We went through the regular procedures for AOW certification. Also, today things went much smoother for everyone relative to yesterday. Well, almost. As we were getting ready for our second dive of the day, I noticed that the instructor (and owner of the dive charter boat ) had some miss-communication with the dive shop, and he ended up two tanks short. Luckily, for the rest of the students (I had my own tanks), the instructor and his assistant don’t breathe much! I mean these two guys could use one tank (each) for two dives, when everyone else would need two tanks, one per dive. Often, when I’d dive with these guys, by the time I’m almost done with my tank in a given dive, these guys are just half way through or not even!
Also, I did the biggest square ever! With visibility being so poor, the dive-master thought I got lost, and was about to surface! Good times LOL! I can’t wait to do a night dive.