Project Off Season - Hot to cold to warm

The 2012 mountain bike season opener is this weekend in Austin, Texas, so I figure it's the perfect time to share what happened in my off season. This winter was filled with a lot of fun. I went from the tropical climate in Kauai to winter in Vermont and then to perfect riding weather in Santa Cruz.

I spent a good portion of my time on Kauai on the Petterson family farm, and a highlight of the stay was the annual foraging dinner. This year marked the second annual foraging dinner where 40 people took on the local food challenge. Each guest had to make a dish and could only use ingredients from the islands, even better if the ingredients were found in the backyard.

Since we were the hosts, we had to abide to the strict rules laid down. When we actually started getting into recipes, we realized how much we relied on shipped ingredients. But, being on an island of bounty, we got creative to make some amazing dishes. Jojo and I were tasked to coconuts and this became the basis for the majority of the family's recipes. Through friends with coconut trees and "new age foraging" at the green waste dump, we got a whopping total of 90 coconuts in the back of the truck. We took about three-quarters of those coconuts through tedious processing. Jojo hacked the top off with a blade and poured out the coconut water. Then, she would cut the coconut in half and hand it over for the meat to be scraped out of the shell. Everyone had her own technique but it all boiled down to sticking a butter knife in the meat and popping it out. With three of us working, it would take about two hours to get a one-gallon Ziploc of coconut meat. I had blisters.

The coconut meat would go into a blender, mix with hot water, and then blended to a slurry. I would take that mixture and put it into a nut milk bag and squeeze with all my might. The result is pure, fresh Kauai coconut milk. It's delicious and better than what comes in a can at the grocery store. After the milking process, this coconut meat, devoid of most of the coconut flavor, was dehydrated. After it was dry, I blended it again to make coconut flour. Repeat the entire process several times over the course of two weeks.

The result of our coconut work went into the majority of the dishes in some form or another. I made two key lime pies using the coconut flour and flakes for the crust and the coconut milk for the filling. The Petterson family also made coconut-encrusted tilapia with tilapia straight from the ponds on the farm. There was Thai coconut soup with prawns caught from the ponds. Coconut Taro leaf also joined the menu as well as cassava chips and guacamole. This was all made from ingredients harvested straight from the property. Jojo created five gallons of delicious coconut water, passion fruit juice, and rum cocktail (the rum was made right down the road). We also recycled wine bottles and made glasses. All in all, it was quite the lesson in self-sufficiency and completely rewarding to taste all of the hard work.

After the foraging dinner on Kauai, Jojo and I had a friend, Sarah, one of the greatest Little Bellas mentors, come to visit us. The week was jam-packed and we checked off most of the activities in the "Adventures" section of the Kauai guidebook. The guidebook does not kid around when they place things under that section.

On the first day, we undertook one of the biggest adventures of my life. We embarked on the secret tunnel hike where we followed a faint (big emphasis on faint) hiking trail for a couple of miles to the secret tunnels. This hiking trail doubled as a pig path and there was about six inches of mud the entire way. It was a slow couple of miles to say the least. These secret tunnels were built in the 1920s to ferry water from Kauai's wetter north shore through the mountains to the West Coast to feed the sugarcane industry. They are impressive. The first one is about a mile long and we had headlamps and a dime size light at the end of the tunnel to guide us. The water was about ankle deep and mostly clear. The second tunnel was just a black abyss and we had to wade through silt about shin deep. The third tunnel was extra secret and very hard to find. After a half an hour jungle bushwhack, we finally discovered the most tenuous tunnel of the three. This one was also a mile long and was filled thigh high with water and silt. We had to practically run through this tunnel because we were racing daylight. The adventure was well worth is as we were rewarded with an amazing waterfall at the end of the journey.

One night, we went to the end of the road and camped out at Polihale State Park. It was the first time I've ever slept on a beach and the first time I've been camping in years. The day was one of the more perfect days I've ever seen on the island and the waves were great for surfing. We also decided that we hadn't had enough of the tunnels so we found some more to tube through. This is definitely my preferred method of travel through these things. It brought us to an incredible swimming hole complete with a rope swing. It was something straight out of Swiss Family Robinson.

For the holidays and the month of January, I traded in my surfboard for skis and went home to Vermont. I was thrilled to spend January skiing, get into a training rhythm, and see my friends and family. This winter training block included a handful of citizen Thursday night biathlon races. I get so excited for these Thursday night competitions that one would think it was the world championships. It's energizing to compete in something completely outside my comfort zone and under the lights. I'm really not good at shooting a gun and even more challenged when my heart rate is pegged. I capped off the winter foray with a 10km skate skiing race at the Trapp Family Lodge.

I've been in Santa Cruz for the month of February getting my legs used to spinning in circles. I spend long days in the saddle weaving together a string of endless 30-minute climbs through the big redwood forests. The mountain biking is equally spectacular. The soil is perfectly loamy and the trails are plentiful. Throw in the glassy waves, the bountiful farmers market, and the wooden roller coaster down the street, and Santa Cruz instantly becomes the best training spot ever.

With an off season like I've had, I feel enormously lucky to be doing what I do. Now, it's off to the races.

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