Sunday, December 14, 2008

Wish Granted

Like clockwork, as soon as I complained about lack of winter last week, it arrived. The storm moved in Sunday night, and snowed into the lunch hour Monday. About 6" in the valley, and a foot of much-needed white gold at Grand Targhee ski area. By Tuesday afternoon, this was the view from just north of Driggs. We enjoyed four consecutive bluebird days this week, and then another system moved in Friday evening. We are now hunkered down for what looks to be a week of frigid cold temperatures, with highs in the single digits and lows below zero. Did I really wish for this? :-)

Eyes slowly adjust to gray & white days, bodies scramble to find winter coats, and with Christmas just a week away, minds are racing to make final holiday plans. It's been an absolutely crazy year for most of us - economically, politically, emotionally. Because of that, I'm looking forward more than ever to some great family & friend get-togethers in the coming weeks. Ultimately, that's what it's all about.

Sunday, December 7, 2008


It's starting to feel like we may have used all of our allocated Teton Valley, Idaho snow last spring, when the white stuff kept falling well into June. I try not to wish for snow too often in Driggs, because next thing I know we're buried in it for months and I'm crying "uncle" and dreaming of tropical beaches. But, man, it's December 7 now and there's barely a skiff of snow in the valley. It's just wrong. Ski areas and snowmobile trails throughout the entire western U.S. need some big storms, soon.

On the positive side, we've had some absolutely incredible sunsets lately. With the sun so far to the south this time of year, and mid-level clouds in the evenings, the entire sky just lights up like an iridescent orb, framed by mountains in every direction. The beauty is heart-stopping...enveloping the whole valley like a final warm embrace, building brilliantly and then fading gracefully, leaving you humbled, happy and glowing.

Even Bridger pauses to take it all in, smiling. He'll smile even more when the snow starts piling up.

Here's a photo I took last year at this time. Let's hope Teton Valley has a similar white look by the time I make my next blog post.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Indian Summer, Go Utes!

We continue to enjoy an extended Indian Summer here in Driggs, and I took advantage with a bike ride around the valley last week. The low light angle this time of year makes the views completely unique, and the snow-capped Tetons are a reminder that winter is indeed at the doorstep. After a winter that lasted into June, we're all appreciating the extra sunny days this fall. And, what would fall be without football?

My brother Mark - who used to live & work with me at R.U. Outside here in Driggs - is now in Salt Lake with his awesome wife Annie. They have season tickets to University of Utah football games, and invited us down for the final home game against hated rival BYU. Joanne & I met at the U of U twenty years ago, and were thrilled to make the drive for the occasion. Utah is undefeated, and a win against BYU would almost guarantee a major BCS bowl game.

We warmed up by meeting Joanne's brother Mark (yes, same name) and several friends for tailgating, games and a little football of our own. Joanne throws a mean pass, watch out! Basecamp was just outside the good ole' Union Building, and we visited the student government room where Joanne & I met...and then randomly ran into my buddy Matt Z who scoped Joanne out for me back in the day. Later, at the game, we ran into Joanne's friend Melyssa who scoped me out for Joanne. It was a feel-good day, and whoever says life isn't a circle must be a BYU fan.

The Schilleman family stopped by as well. Joanne guided them on a horseback trip into the Teton Wilderness years ago, and they still talk about it. We knew they were cool, but seeing all the Utah shirts confirmed it.

As game time neared, I could feel that visceral competitive fire building. I love it, and my brother Mark was right there with me. We circled the troops for a final big "Go Utes" chant, then started the hike down to Rice-Eccles Stadium, Flo-Rida blasting. There's nothing like going to battle, and team sports/spectating/concerts seem to fill the void in today's computerized world. Bring it!

So, it had been 18 years since Joanne & I attended a Utah football game...and holy cow, it's way more big-time now. Stadium capacity is twice what is was, and of course the actual football team is twice as good as it was, too. The big breakthrough came back in 2004, when Urban Meyer coached us to an undefeated season and then promptly moved on to coach Florida. New coach Kyle Whittingham is proving to be just as good, and the program continues to roll.

What a game! BYU's QB Max Hall is now my favorite player, as he just kept throwing the ball to Utah defenders. We dropped most of them in the first half, but started holding on and making plays in the second half. The crowd was wild the entire game, it was absolute greatness. Utah QB Brian Johnson was nearly perfect, and the Ute game plan flat-out worked. Final score: Utah 48 - BYU 24, making it a perfect 12-0 Utah season. Huge thanks to Mark & Annie for inviting us down.

Pandelirium (my own word) erupted, and the crowd stormed the field after, taking down the goalposts and chanting "BCS, BCS!!" Being a little, umm, older than most, we remained in our seats and simply took it all in. Not many scenes like that in Driggs, Idaho :-) Utah is now the highest-ranked undeated major college team in the country. They're ranked 6th in the polls, and will just wait to see which bowl they'll be playing in. I'm predicting the Fiesta Bowl, probably against Texas Tech. It would be a barn-burner.

Speaking of barns, we continue to wait for snow back home in rural Teton Valley. This photo shows Taylor Mountain in the background, a favorite backcountry skiing spot. We definitely need more white stuff before the boards and sleds come out.

In the meantime, while we wait: Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours...and Go Utes!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Sun Valley, Boise,

My Grandma Norma Harriman used to say "there's Gypsy blood in our family," and the deeper through life I go, the more I believe her. Last week found me in Sun Valley, Idaho, a magical place where our extended family has often gathered. I'm now fortunate enough to regularly visit Sun Valley/Ketchum for business...and of course always mix in a little recreation along with it. There's not a better recreation town on the planet. This photo (taken from a deck at the Sun Valley Inn) shows iconic Bald Mountain, which will soon be blanketed with skiers. With luck, you may even run into Arnold or Demi.

Joanne accompanied me, and we both pursued our separate work projects for a couple of days. With the short daylight hours of mid-November, we didn't have time for much other than work and dinner, but did manage a quick sunset-hour hike. We scurried up the new Gun Club trails above Saddle hill, and this photo shows the view from there looking up Trail Creek. Some of the best fishing memories of my life have been in that creek, dating back to the simple days before I could even ride a bike. It's also home to my brother Mark's infamous wolverine encounter...which I witnessed. But it's late, and that's another story.

From Sun Valley, we followed our Gypsy genes over to Boise and more business meetings. I found a new product supplier for R.U. Outside who actually makes items in the USA!! I'm all about supporting that, very excited, so stay tuned for the product introductions next fall. Joanne had some good real estate-related meetings, plus we connected with an old high school friend who now lives in Boise. Then, at last, we bolted for a mind-clearing trail run in the Boise foothills. Pretty cool to be at the state capitol building one minute, and galloping along sweet singletrack the next. Yet another reason why we love Idaho.

Our quick Tour-de-Idaho concluded with a pleasant drive back to Driggs. Driving on bare roads this late in the year is a bonus that I don't take for granted (too many trips in blizzards over the years). But, the drawback is no snow to play in yet. Grand Targhee always tries to open before Thanksgiving, but it's shaping up to be pretty lean pickings with only a 21" base as of today. They're scheduled to open this weekend, but bring your rock boards. Of course, we never miss a winter in these parts, so check back soon for a snow update.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Travel and Tradeshows

Fall is probably my favorite season here in Driggs, but it's also the time of year I travel far beyond the valley for R.U. Outside tradeshows. It's tough leaving the Teton Valley views behind, but I do enjoy seeing longtime friends, associates and customers at the shows. Everything is a tradeoff.

So, it's been a whirlwind month, but I'm finally back home for a while and looking forward to getting my bearings again. Here's a quick recap of the past few weeks.

First stop was Seattle, with Mt. Rainier standing watch. To me, it's even more of a landmark than the Space's just an incredibly huge mountain, and I was fortunate to view it briefly after the rain clouds lifted my last evening. Someday I will climb it.

The Washington State Snowmobile Show takes place at the Western Washington Fairgrounds, in Puyallup (just east of Tacoma). R.U. Outside has been attending the show since 1992, so we've got lots of longtime, dedicated, awesome customers there. Washington is also the home of our own wonderful Kay Lloyd (a.k.a. "K-Dog"), whose daughter Jana, grandson Anthony and granddaugher Jenelle now work that show for us as well. It's incredible to have three generations of a great family representing my business, I am honored. I also want to give a shout-out to Kyle and Natalie for driving the truck & trailer all the way from Logan & back, and selling like pros at the show.

We enjoyed a nice dinner at Anthony's on the water in Tacoma that Saturday evening, celebrating our friendship and a good show day. It was a nice upscale change from the P.O.S. motel we got stuck in for the weekend. Regardless, the "kids" kept me on my feet all night, and I even learned how to follow directions from a Tom-Tom (which is something we don't need much around Driggs). The Hyundai Sonata rental car wanted to go fast, plus the XM sound system we missed a few turns but had some great laughs. What is it with me and driving around Seattle? Must be the 3 million other drivers bringing out my running back instincts.

Next up was Salt Lake City, my old stomping grounds and just down the road from our Logan store & warehouse. Joanne accompanied me, and it was so warm we brought the mountain bikes along, too. It's nice having a couple of shows within driving distance for everyone, and also near family & friends. Speaking of which, my lifelong buddy Matt Z and his wife Kirsten stopped by the show to say hello, and pose for my one SLC show photo (hey Matt, your wife is beautiful, smile!). Thanks, guys.

Rachel was terrific as usual coordinating the show, plus working it along with her husband Drew and Stacey & Brent from Logan. It's so nice having good people around.

After a few days home, I was on a plane to Detroit for the Novi, MI show. It's probably the biggest show we do, and held steady in spite of the awful Michigan economy and the fact that it started on Halloween (Let me just say that Halloween in Detroit is a little different than Halloween in Driggs, Idaho. "We're not in Kansas anymore, Toto"). Overall, after doing these shows in the same cities for 15+ years, staying in the same hotels, eating at the same restaurants, seeing the same's almost like a part of me never leaves.

Jimmy drove over from Minnesota to help out, which was cool. Kay, Anthony & Jana rounded out the team, and we had a good time. I managed one fleeting photo, with Jimmy sporting his Halloween hairdo and Anthony showing why the Yamaha girls didn't want him to leave (ahh, to be 20 again). Kay held it all together for us.

I eventually made it home, flying into Jackson just ahead of a projected three days of snow. The Tetons will be covered in white the next time I photograph them. R.U. Ready?

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Making Sense of Chaotic Times

As a boy, my dad enouraged me to find a place outside I could go to think, whether it was the top of a mountain or the side of a creek. I did, often, and that was probably the genesis of later starting my R.U. Outside business. Funny how it often takes a few decades to really understand our parents' wisdom (dad is pictured here with Bridger, in my backyard a couple of weeks ago).

In the process of pedaling bikes and riding snowmobiles up and down mountains, and fishing many creeks, I learned that the natural world is much more stable than the human world. By going outside, we connect more directly to what's inside each of us. Maybe time in the woods should be mandatory for everyone on Wall Street and Washington, D.C. these days.

I majored in Economics (and English) nearly twenty years ago, and took several courses in International Economics. It was fascinating, and real to me because of time I had spent in Europe. I wrote papers on "Stagflation," "International Relations," "Inverse Supply-Demand Curves," and "International Monetary Policy." It all made sense on paper, and I never imagined I'd hear the words "Global Economic Meltdown" in my lifetime. Yet here we are, with those words ubiquitous in news stories this week.

What happened? Well, a lot, and much of it was borderline criminal. As for "how did it happen," here's my take: beginning in the 90's and accelerating with each passing year, the U.S. has transitioned from a Production Economy to a Consumption Economy. We don't make things here anymore. I didn't realize the extent of this until 1993, when I went to Taiwan to meet with a potential product manufacturer for my business. They told me "Rick, this is good arrangement. Here, we like to make things; there, you like to buy things." I'll never forget that line. As a result, the slippery profit-seekers in this country had to invent new ways to grow GDP and line their twisted loans that fueled the housing boom, all made easier by the instantaneous worldwide communication of the Internet.

To compensate for the exponentially expanding trade deficit, our government has been borrowing increasingly large sums of money from other countries. I mean, a trillion-plus dollars of debt takes time to accumulate, doesn't go away easily, and inevitably drags others into the pit. I'd say it's time for America to start some new habits, and re-awaken good old habits. Let's make things here again.

I would gladly...nay, gleefully...purchase as many R.U. Outside products as possible from U.S. factories, if the manufacturing facilities existed. I'd pay a little more for the honor of made-in-U.S.A. products, and I think other company owners would, too. But, the production capacity needs to be rebuilt.

Currently, we're able to make R.U. Outside socks and a few neoprene support products domestically, but that's about it. Tooling and materials for boots, gloves, headwear, gadgets and even fleecewear has slowly and steadily migrated overseas since I started the business in 1992. Let's bring it back, folks, and watch the economy improve sustainably.

What does all this mean for Driggs, Idaho? First, it has become obvious that the local economy was riding much too heavily on the real estate and housing boom. Nearly half the population of Teton County was working in Title Companies, Construction, Development, Banking, or Real Estate (we have four resort golf courses underway, and this in a valley with only a sixty-day growing season). Those numbers will decline, which will be a good thing in the long run. Maybe some family Potato and Barley farms will survive, now that land prices have declined somewhat. And, most likely, Driggs will emerge as a recreation-based economy, with the continued expansion of Grand Targhee ski resort and the enduring beauty of the mountains.

In the end, having someplace to go and think is priceless.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Driggs & Boise, Work & Play

This past week brought to mind one of my favorite literary quotes (yes, I do still remember a few things from college), by 18th Century British writer Mary Woolstencraft: "The ideal human existence is a continual back and forth between civilization and solitude." Amen. We get plenty of wilderness solitude around Driggs, and if you mix in occasional travel to the city you've got it covered.

We've enjoyed nearly unprecedented fall warmth and sunshine around here recently. After such a late start to summer (we had snow every week through the middle of June, remember!), this Indian Summer finish has been savored by all. Hikes and bike rides, fishing on the Teton River, and even late season golf have all been stellar.

I couldn't pass up this colorful photo, love the contrast with the evergreens.

Joanne, Bridger and I did a great hike up to the Big Hole Crest Trail last week, just as colors were really kicking in. We typically access that trail via Corral Creek on our mountain bikes, but decided to go up via Grove Creek on foot for a change. This photo shows Red Mountain in the background, aptly named for the unusual red dirt found on its slopes (this isn't Moab after all, it's Driggs...but we do have a little red dirt around here).

Eventually, work called and we headed west across the state to Boise (which is a 5-plus hour drive...Driggs is actually closer to Salt Lake City than it is to Boise). R.U. Outside was displaying at the Idaho Snowmobile Show, so it was a couple days of work before the playing could commence. It was great to hang out with my guys Andrew and Kyle who drove the trailer up from Logan ("the boyz"), plus nice to see lots of longtime industry friends. Hanging out with y'all Friday night at The Reef in downtown Boise was epic. Who knew the Violent Femmes would be back in so soon? College kids today share some of the same music tastes we had just a few, umm, years ago.

I know, it's blurry, but this pic shows Joanne hard at work selling R.U. Outside boots. This is the glamorous stuff that allows us to live in Driggs. We've been schlepping product and doing mail order/internet sales for seventeen years now, and our feet & backs can feel it :-) On a serious note, the show was good and the people were great. Nearly everyone in Boise seems to have a smile on their face. Maybe it's the Boise State football team (perfect record so far), or the perfect weather, or the fact that they live in a perfect-sized city that offers all the amenities without overwhelming crowds. Regardless, we loved it.

The show ended, and we joined our Boise buddy Aaron for a big mtn. bike ride in the foothills. Boise is a metro area that truly "gets it," and boasts what is arguably the best urban-area trail system in the country. It started with their Greenbelt along the Boise River decades ago, and then spread to a plethora of candy-sweet trails in the foothills. All together, it's called the Ridge to Rivers trail system, and it rocks. The soil is like beach sand, so it drains water efficiently and is ridable nearly year-round. Yes, mountain biking in Idaho in December and January is a reality! Sign me up.

Here's a shout-out to Aaron for the expert guiding, and photography. Thanks, man...Joanne and I went home with big ole' grins. I've said it before, and I'll say it again: if I ever return to city living, Boise is at the top of the list.

We made it home to Driggs just in time for mom and dad's last day in the area. They always hang out in Jackson in late September, taking in the colors and the elk bugling in Teton Park. They're doing great, and it was awesome having them at the house for an evening of catching up. We gave them specific instructions to return again next year, and bring this perfect fall weather with them. I think it's a deal.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Fall Outings, and My Sarah Palin Connection

A week ago there was barely a hint of color in the hills around Driggs, but now Fall is in full swing. This photo was taken last Sunday on the singletrack trails of Rick's Basin, by Grand Targhee. It was an epic day, and there are more on the way. It feels like this could be one of those fast and furious seasons...similar to the summer we just had. Or, was that just a dream?

Fall has it all, and what's not to like. Perfect temperatures, colorful scenery, that lingering glow of summer, anticipation of winter fun, and of course football. If that's not enough, this year we have the added excitement of local and national elections.

Here in Teton County, Idaho, we'll be getting two new commissioners to go with one incumbent. Regardless of your preferences, here's hoping this election remains a little more polite than the last one. We continue to experience a lot of changes around Driggs, but with the development slowdown maybe people on both sides won't be quite as riled up this year as they were two years ago. At least we have the right to voice our opinions and vote.

Speaking of which, I became very personally interested in the Presidential election the morning of August 29, when McCain announced Sarah Palin as his V.P. running mate. I have been friends with Sarah and Todd Palin since 1995, when R.U. Outside began sponsoring Todd with winter clothing for his Iron Dog snowmobile racing. I've spent time at their home in Wasilla, AK, enjoyed phone calls, lunch, and laughs. Todd even built the booth that R.U. Outside used at the Alaska State Fair for several years.

It's been crazy to suddenly see Todd and Sarah on the national scene like this, but they're handling it great. Just two weeks ago, two days after the Republican National Convention, Todd stopped by our booth to say "hello" during our Hay Days trade show in cool is that? They are the real deal, and a refreshing change from the good-old-boy network. Whatever your political leanings may be, I just have to say this: Todd and Sarah Palin are two of the finest people I have ever known.

In the end, watching everything Sarah is going through makes me realize why more good people don't run for public office. It's a grind, to say the least, and my hat goes off to all candidates, everywhere. You people are heroic.

Finishing on a lighter note, here's a post-Logan to Jackson bike race photo of me with my cousins Brent (center) and Wade (right). Brent has done the whole 206 miles solo three times now, and Wade was my teammate in the two-person relay this year. Our finishing time of 10 hrs. and 8 min. was good for 6th place out of 54 in our division, and about 200th out of 1,500 overall. It was a huge event, great experience, and maybe the best day I've ever had on a bike. Climbing big mountain passes, riding in a high-speed paceline, and emptying the tank (er, legs) was a complete blast. More details to come once Wade forwards me all the pics.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Summer to Fall

The long, hot, dusty days of mid-summer have given way to cool nights, crisp days and the approach of that universally beloved season: Fall. We had our first snow in the highcountry over Labor Day weekend, and now (thankfully) we're back to sunshine.

My big recent adventure was the Logan-to-Jackson (LoToJa) bike race. It was a fantastic event, but I'm still awaiting digital pictures (c'mon Wade!). So, in the meantime, here's a recap of other recent outings around the home base of Driggs and Teton Valley, Idaho.

Our Aunt Cecile, Uncle John and a couple of never-before-met second cousins from Pennsylvania paid us a quick visit two weeks ago. We took them up to Grand Targhee for dinner, and enjoyed a balmy evening sunset overlooking the ski hill. They continued on to Yellowstone the next day, but it was great getting to know them. John keeps me laughing, they're great people.

I oversaw a huge work project here in Teton Valley a few weeks ago. The main part was repairing and sealcoating the Victor-to-Driggs bike path, which went very well. Many thanks to my man Garth for coming up from Salt Lake with the equipment, and the hard work. That pathway is a priceless asset for this community, and hopefully it'll hold together for a few more years now until we seal it again. Winters around here are not easy on pavements.

Before we got so into mountain biking, Joanne and I hiked a lot. The hiking outings have decreased over the years, but the Darby Canyon Wind Cave hike is still something we try to do every summer. It offers great scenic variety, enough of a climb to be a workout (about 2,000 feet), a perfect distance (about 4 miles in), and of course the unique Wind Cave payoff at the end. The only drawback with this hike anymore is that it has become more popular each year, particularly on Saturdays...which, of course, is when we happened to go.

Nonetheless, it was a beautiful day and very worthwhile. We continued up beyond the cave for another mile or so, taking in the high country views.

It's harvest time around here, and we are now officially farmers. With Hay prices going through the roof, we went ahead and cut and baled our pasture ground for the first time. It's 20+ tons of hay we don't have to buy this it validates the moving of sprinkler pipe we did all summer. Bridger can't figure out where all the nice tall grass went.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Horseback Riding to Alaska Basin

Alaska Basin is one of the most beautiful destinations in the Teton mountain range, or anywhere else for that matter. It's a nice half-day trip from the Teton Canyon trailhead, and we made the journey via horseback this week.

It happened to be my birthday week (let's just say I'm well past 21, so it wasn't real exciting), and I had promised Joanne I'd join her and a couple of good Driggs cowboy friends for the big horseback ride. It ended up being the one cloudy day we've had in the past three weeks, but it was still epic.

I made things interesting by trail running about half the distance, and really liked that mix. I would've had a tough time running or riding a horse the entire 18 miles round-trip, but half of each was perfect. Flowers were peaking around the 9,000 foot elevation mark, which is amazing considering it's the end of August.

Alaska Basin sits at nearly 10,000 feet, and has only been snow-free for a little over two weeks. Snow is predicted for this coming Monday (Labor Day), which means the summer season up there will be a grand total of three weeks. Brutal!

Joanne, Bridger and I all love the high country. Bridger couldn't decide which lake or stream to swim in, while Joanne and I couldn't decide which mountain peak was most dramatic. We eventually determined that from our particular vantage point, it had to be Buck Mountain.

I love spending days in the backcountry with Weston. He knows every mountain, stream, hill and tree surrounding Teton Valley, and has a story associated with most of them. He was exploring this area long before they created the Jedediah Smith Wilderness Area, and in his words it was more "wild" before (statistically, he's right: once an area is named "Wilderness," visitation increases significantly). Go figure.

On our return trip, Weston guided us on a little-known trail that presented the most majestic views of the day. It's an honor to be out there on a horse with the man, and he's way better than a GPS. They're not making 'em like him anymore.