Villa Cortina, Vail Village, Colorado

Whenever I get to go snowboarding, I vow to ride the first lift and survive off of granola bars stuffed in my pockets until the last lift closes for the day.  By the last day, sure, I play the die-hard soaking up every gnarly second of woman vs. mogul.  Not today.  Never the first day.  Everyone cuts the first day short.  We retire to the instant dial-controlled fire, read books, play card games, and generally distract ourselves from the fact that we are beat.

These are the things we lounge around and complain about after hot showers and tacos.  The 10 absolutely most annoying things about going snowboarding:

  1. Waking up early:  I don’t mind waking up early.  Really.  But, when I am cozy like cream filling in toasty Twinkie covers watching snow flurries reluctantly obey gravity in a quaint, quiet, little mountain town…well, tip-toeing around a chilly lodge looking for spandex suddenly loses it’s appeal.
  2. Lousy wipe-outs:  I always eat a bit of snow my first day back on a snowboard.  Best scenario: tumbling into fresh powder while attempting a brave stunt.  Worst scenario: catching a front edge onto my face right off the lift and taking out a little kid in the process.  Great wipe-outs are gritty, extreme, and make a great story.  Bad wipe-outs just look dumb…and hurt.
  3. Snot bubbles:  Yes, they can be very funny on a loud, flashy boarder or a prissy skier.  Not so funny when it happens to you.  Only, you will probably never know because no one ever bothers to point it out.  You could bring tissues, but your hand will just get cold unzipping your pocket.
  4. Long flat places where you have to hold one edge the entire time:  Apparently, these little connector-trails are all the rage.  Need to get from one lift to another?  Want to cut over to a freshly groomed blue-diamond?  Hop on a long, flat trail until your calves or quads (toe or heel edge) are slowly detaching from your bones.  Stop to rest and you are guaranteed to become one of the waddling, hopping, hopeless snowboarders trying to cross the flat without any momentum or ski poles.
  5. Cell phones: Even when I do answer, we never find each other.  So, let me keep my gloves on and leave my cell in the lodge.
  6. Finding the board rental shop:  Board shops are always impossible to find–  even when they are in prominent locations and give clear directions.  We were two hours late to the lifts this morning after following iPhone’s GPS cursor through private property and snow drifts right to nowhere.  After backtracking, asking, and searching for stairs and a giant bear statue, we finally claimed our glorious boards, and received a two-cent refund because of a tax glitch.
  7. Going to the bathroom:  Potty breaks while snowboarding are problematic at best.  First, you must find a lodge, unlatch and stow your board, navigate through the damp masses, and fit your marshmallow-version self in a teeny, dim stall.  Then, the soggy layers are peeled off one-by-one.  The toilet seat will feel alarmingly warm against your icy cheeks.  Your pee will burn you.  Back on with the layers.  Make sure you have your gloves.  Hope your board has not gone up a lift without you.  Oh my, such work to empty a bladder!
  8. Helmet hair:  Between the cold, the dryness, the hats, and the helmets, my head becomes a mass of straw and static well on its way to forming a single, grotesque dread lock (and I usually find dreads so attractive).
  9. Skiers with pretty hair:  Skiers, man, skiers.  Skier chicks always have pretty hair.  They flounce about, bouncing their long pony-tail braids or twists from side-to-side, not a hair out of place.  If that wasn’t enough, they wear pearl earrings and coats that cinch in at the waist.  No one should wear pearls to play in the snow.  No one.
  10. The cold: Proudly donning Under Armour from ankles to wrists, neck guard, long-sleeve thermal, two pairs of Smart Wool socks, snow pants, North Face ski jacket, headband, helmet, goggles, and gloves, I still ended up with icy fingers, numb butt, and toes that alternately tingled or felt nothing at all.

Round one goes to the mountain.  I hung up my gear early today, but promise to catch the first lift tomorrow morning–only its supposed to be 15-degrees colder, and it’s already freezing.

What annoys you most about going snowboarding?


Looking up under The Bean; Millennium Park, Chicago, IL

I spent a week in Chicago.  A very chilly week.  Now, upon returning, I realize how very silly it was to forget my laptop computer.  Oh, I vowed to pack lightly (unlike last year’s unnecessary load for a New Year’s Eve trip to NYC).  I stuffed one little carry-on suitcase with thermals, leggings, and flannels enough to insulate myself against the 6-degree winds sweeping in from Lake Michigan, somberly leaving behind my new pocketknife (a Christmas gift from my little brother) so the grouchy uniforms wouldn’t abduct it at the security checkpoint.  I donned boots, hat, scarf, borrowed gloves (which I lost after stopping for a free sample in Ghiradelli), and carried reading material, phone charger, lighter, even sticky notes in my purse.  No computer.

Writing about travel is one thing.  Writing while traveling is a rather different thing–a thing I fully intend to feign mastery of by the end 0f 2010.

See, finding the time and space (if, in fact, I had brought the equipment) to write in Chicago would have proved a rather crotchety task.  While my dear friend and I often snuck into cafe corners to sip coffee and wait on our noses to thaw, the long-legged window chairs would snatch us up and persuade me to swap journaling for spying on the trendy passers-by.

Now, by deferring all reflection until the end, I have found another irksome snag in my travel writing pantyhose.  What do I tell?  I board another plane tomorrow.  Do I synthesize and move on?  Do I postpone these stories further, trading urgency for completeness?  Organization.  Foresight.  Timelines.  This is my learning curve.

Right now I offer you transparency of process.  Soon, I hope to offer more consistent, focused content.  Until then, here is a whirlwind tour of my week in Chicago:

Plane delays, more plane delays.  I laid out my shawl and did crunches at an abandoned gate until my friend’s plane finally made it from Denver.  We giggled at baggage claim and dragged two benches together where I fell asleep and she went to the bathroom.  I woke up to my friend gone and a large, dark, dread-locked man sitting at the next bench.  She turned up, he limped away and we embarked on a sleepy, pre-dawn trek to an illusive coffeeshop in Evanston.

Oh, following a loose outline of free events and recommendations, we encountered Mission Impossible-type modern art, a new Latin style musical, the delightful eccentricity that is the Blue Man Group…

I had my first encounter with Cirque du Soleil, was chosen as the “medium-sized” participant in a magic show, froze on Navy Pier at midnight watching fireworks dancing to Michael Jackson, Rihanna, and Michael Franti.

We CouchSurfed a 19th-story apartment with panoramic views of downtown, woke up to homemade crepes, hash browns, eggs and coffee.  There was the little white girl who unloaded her gut right onto her cute little boots on the Red Line train.  We encountered her after crashing with two delightful theater students in a darling Wicker Park apartment where we stayed up late drinking tea and watching Sex & the City.

We slurped five-way chili at Ed Debevic’s where the waiters are encouraged to be nasty (though ours may have been the most pleasantly obnoxious man I’ve ever met). We discovered the wonders of Superdawg, the Chicagoans’ hostility towards ketchup, and (too late) the glorious heat lamps at subway stops (although all CTA trains are colloquially referred to as the “L”).

We frequented the finest theaters like high-rollers (thanks to student rush tickets), yet bummed meals, sofas and showers like a couple of dirty hippies–quite a successful week.

Home, though still on a sofa, I am left with a knapsack of warbled anecdotes and chagrin on my cheeks.  No time to fret; onward and forward to Colorado, to the Rockies, to the slopes!

Two winters ago, I spent a shivery night sleeping in the Los Angeles International Airport on my way to Honolulu to visit a dear friend.  When I became too cold or uncomfortable to sleep, I sipped on tea, kept my eye on a friendly Swede’s surfboard while he roamed the silent airport looking for vending machines, and had plenty of time to think about the holidays, the new year ahead, and more importantly the prospect of a lazy week laying under palm trees.

Starbucks, Los Angeles International Airport, California

Last winter, I rang in the new year with thousands of others in New York City.  We froze, we cheered, we waited.  We cherished what little warmth could be contained by the throngs, packed together, all bundled up behind the barricades.
Tonight, I am on my way to Chicago for musicals, art museums, cozy cafes promising books and coffee, and, of course, the famed bean in Millennium park.  I’m ready for another urban, snowy beginning, the beginning  of a new decade.
My New Year’s Eves always involve four things: travel, my friend Hollis, 5 extra unwelcome pounds, and a dutifully compiled list of resolutions.
  1. Lose 5 pounds.  My home is cruel to me.  Between my grandmother baking banana bread, butterscotch cookies, and Nana rolls at every dull moment and my dad grilling ribs and steaks (not to mention my mom buying tins of peppermint bark), retaining a svelte figure over the Christmas holiday would be a magnanimous feat of will power.
  2. Post to Travel Noodle every week.  I have utterly failed my blogging project for the last few weeks.  Once the word “vacation” arrests my mind, it seems to bring armloads of restless energy and to cut my attention span in half.  No more!  Having to write helps me want to write.  Travel Noodle is my personal reminder to keep having adventures.
  3. Do nice things for people for no reason.  The world could always use a few more hugs, smiles, compliments, Jell-O, snail mail, chocolate-covered espresso beans, and favors.  I want to take it upon myself in 2010 to remind people why I like them in random little ways.
  4. Take at least one ridiculous, crazy, awesome, thrilling trip abroad. It is high time I skipped the grid again and did something exciting…like learning Arabic, or riding another bull, or base jumping, or rehabilitating domestic baby lions before their release back into the wild of Africa.
2010 is the beginning of a fresh decade, the decade of my twenties.  And, you know what they say about your twenties…
Watch out!  I’m ready to break free.

Percy Priest Lake, Nashville, Tennessee

I do not like to sit still.  I do not like to stare at walls.  I do not like having nothing to do.

Recently, I’ve been talking a lot about action: getting up and actually doing something, warding off wanderlust, going zorbing, skydiving, or just experiencing something new in the USA…  Today, though, I am reminded of balance–that third fuel, besides cash and caffeine, I need for travel.  Today, I will be still.

Rereading the Tao Te Ching (a sacred Taoist text handed down from Lao-Tzu in ancient China), persuaded me to try my hand at meditating, or yoga, or at least taking an hour or so to do absolutely nothing.  I mean nothing.  No television, no book, no computer–nothing.  Here are a few proverbs from the Tao that mulled around in my mind during the dreadful stillness:

“Who can make the muddy water clear? Let it be still, and it
will gradually become clear.”

I spent an hour alone.  Just me and a gazillion peevish thoughts zipping about from neuron to neuron competing for attention.  It takes time for thoughts to settle.  It takes a little stillness for the brainwaves to relax, take a seat, and become clear.  And, until we establish this clarity, our perceptions will remain obscured, obscuring in turn the significance behind every wondrous or disastrous little adventure our cloudy souls might happen upon.  Be still.  Then go.

“All things alike go through their processes of activity, and then we see them return to their original state. When things (in the vegetable world) have displayed their luxuriant growth, we see each of them return to its root. This returning to their root is what we call the state of stillness; and that stillness may be called a reporting that they have fulfilled their appointed end.”

Usually, my eagerness for a trip builds and builds and builds; I get on the airplane and then, about an hour before landing, my brain starts cursing itself like a Turrets patient chugging Red Bull.  Knowing  your own mental and emotional state before embarking on a solo adventure (or at least before landing) is important.  Taking time to reflect, evaluate, and meditate after the journey is even more important.

Even now, I am sometimes captured in sleeping or waking dreams by flashbacks to the first summer I spent abroad, almost three years ago.  I do not like to be still.  So, I tend to skip the stillness, and jump right into the next leg of life as soon as the landing gear reaches the runway.  Useful, but not smart.  Travel tends to increase rate of change; if you’re not careful, you will go right on evolving without knowing or consenting, until you wake up one morning faced with serious incongruities among your identity, behavior, and  beliefs.  As silly as it may sound, you have to keep tabs on yourself.  You are responsible for guiding your own evolution.  Celebrate each completed feat with an hour of stillness.  Return to your root before you reach up and out again.

“Gravity is the root of lightness; stillness, the ruler of

So, instead of blabbing about this third quote (my favorite)…I’d rather hear from you.  Do you agree with it?  What might it mean?

After my last fervent entreaty to the Web 2.0 abyss (imploring the masses to stop just staring out the window and do something exciting), I began thinking about some of my favorite American experiences, the planned and unplanned.  Here is my list of 5 necessary exploits for anyone traveling through the USA (oddballs that probably are not on your short list).

1. NASCAR Race

Lowe's Motor Speedway, Charlotte, North Carolina

While more Americans follow NASCAR racing than any other sport, it is not one typically advertised to tourists and travelers.  On entering college, I had never been to a race, let alone seen one on television (making me an American minority).  So, during a trip to Charlotte, North Carolina, I jumped at a last-minute offer to go observe the race and the masses at Lowe’s Motor Speedway.  Collectively, the noise, faded blue jeans, trucker hats, beer bellies, cheap cigarettes, and occasional torching cars proved to be an intercultural experience within my own country.  The speedway, lined with massive advertisements, threatens to dull your ears forever when the cars rev their engines and whip about the track.  The stands reek of booze, transfatty snacks and giant syrupy sodas.  Though it may sound unpleasant, uncomfortable and unsanitary, the whole experience is rather enlightening.  Around lap two-hundred, the novelty of listening through special headphones to the team-driver communication frequencies wears off; and, people watching becomes the entertainment of choice.

From Venti Lattes to breast implants, America truly is the land of excess.  Attend a NASCAR race to overload your senses, and to interact with a slice of the American population (a rather large slice…almost the whole pie, actually, with upwards of 200 million TV viewers each year) you might never otherwise encounter.  Just wear your favorite Budweiser T and don’t forget your ear plugs.

2. New York City Toy Stores

FAO Schwarz, New York City, New York

People always talk about shopping in New York City–the fashion boutiques of Fifth Avenue, the Diamond District, Macy’s… Yes, between the glass staircase that descends into an underground Apple store, the luxurious chocolate truffles at Lindt and Godiva, and the lavish window displays along the way, New York is a shoppers paradise.  For me, though, the most captivating of all Manhattan shops are the toy stores.  Toys ‘R Us boasts an entire ferris wheel inside the store.  Ride it (if you are not too embarrassed), then walk a few blocks to the world’s largest wall of m&ms.  After browsing the three floors of fabulous Disney, head to my personal favorite, FAO Schwarz– a magical playland of youth and fun.  Stuffed animals twice the size of an average person guard the aisles.  Shelves are filled with all sorts of offbeat games, puzzles, costumes and figurines.  The uppermost floor houses a genuine nursery of eerily realistic baby dolls, big bins of the popular Ugly Dolls, and a large Barbie display including the motorized Barbie Fashion Show pictured above.

The prices are high, but a stroll through these rooms of fanciful play things can be enjoyed absolutely free.

3. A Historical Bath House

Buckstaff Bath House, Hot Springs, Arkansas

Hot Springs, Arkansas, is a little town south of Little Rock known for its historical bath houses.  After riding a shaky elevator up to the main lobby, you will be asked to strip down (behind a curtain), stow your belongings in a small locker, and wrap yourself in the crisp white sheet provided.  Then, you shuffle your way into the main room teeming with other toga-wearing ladies.  Over the next hour, you proceed through a number of stations including a personal jacuzzi bath tub, a slightly silly “sits” tub, and this frightening metal box that latches closed around your body while your head sticks out the top.  The most soothing part is a little nap on the massage table, some hot towel wraps for your arms, legs, back and neck, and a cold compress for your face.

When embarking on a bath house adventure, leave modesty in the locker room.  The damp sheets quickly become transparent, toga malfunctions are inevitable, and you will probably feel both completely relaxed and completely foolish at some point during the whole debacle.  But, if on the off chance you find public bathing completely dreadful, you can always redeem the morning with pancakes and coffee across the street.

4. A Political Campaign Meet-up

War Memorial Auditorium, Nashville, Tennessee

Everyone who lives, visits or travels within the United States should interact with the political system in some way.  Especially exciting are the presidential campaigns, although the primaries and congressional elections are interesting, too.  Meet-ups (at their best–like the the one I attended for the outlandish Ron Paul in 2008’s Republican primary), bring patriotism, intellect, and rhetoric together in a single event, usually with free bumper stickers.  Not only are campaigns exciting to participate in, they attract opinionated, energetic people from across the nation.

Basically, politics are too big a part of society to ignore.  Expose yourself to different viewpoints.  Take time to listen to political agendas; or, at the very least, go out and enjoy the hoopla.

4. A Lacrosse Game

Club Lacrosse, Notre Dame, Indiana

Alright, so I may be a little biased about this one, seeing as I played lacrosse for seven years and coached for two.  But, my own adoration for the sport aside, lacrosse is an all-american sport, originally played by Native American peoples in eastern North America.  Anyone can attend a Division 1 University lacrosse game for a modest admission fee.  Watch fierce female athletes battle, armed with sticks and kilts, to dominate 110 yards of precious green.  In the mood for a little more contact?  Try a men’s lacrosse game.  Keep in mind, there are significant differences in equipment, set-up, and game play between men’s and women’s lacrosse (though both are fabulous).

Lacrosse combines footwork, stickwork, teamwork, and athleticism.  Plus, its a historical heirloom playing itself out before you eyes.  Definitely worth your time.  (Hint: If you are in or around Maryland during the springtime, you will see people carrying lacrosse sticks.  Follow them.)

What American experiences would you recommend?