Corin Anderson (magellanic) wrote,
Corin Anderson
magellanic

Time warp: it's 2003 again

I stumbled across the following journal post recently. Unabridged and without editing, I bring you:


Google Ski Trip 2003


[ Thursday, January 30th, 2003 ]

[ 3:50am ]

I wake up when my alarm clock sounds. I remember dreaming
something about an auction, like someone was auctioning off
AdWords advertising space. The auction was happening in my
bedroom, and they kept going despite this beeping noise from
somewhere. The beeping noise was my alarm clock.

Mom and Dad call about 8 minutes later to make sure I woke up.
Dad happened to be up at 4am so he gave me a ring. I was just
getting out of bed then, so it was good timing.

I do my usual morning routine and call Wei-Hwa, who's giving me a
ride to the 'plex. He's basically already up, it sounds like. I
tell him to come over in about 15 minutes, so I have time to eat
breakfast. I continue to do my morning routine, I eat breakfast,
and Wei-Hwa calls about 4:30. He's outside my apartment
waiting for me, listening to the morning's news. I pack up the
last few of my things and head out the door about 5 minutes
later. Time to head to the 'plex.

[ 4:45am ]

There's a few handfuls of people milling about the Googleplex
front door and we pack nearby. The 'plex lobby is packed with
drinks and snacks for our consumption on the trip up and while at
the resort. The buses show up shortly and we start to pile in.
I share a seat with Abhay, my cubemate (with Wei-Hwa), and
Wei-Hwa sits a seat behind and across the isle. I stow my
overnight back beneath the bus and bring my backpack on board.
There's overhead storage bins above the seats and I stuff my bag
there. Abhay and I take the seats on the last row in the back.
Our seats don't recline, but, as I find out, few others' seats
do, either, so I feel less bad.

[ 5:15am ]

The bus pulls out a little behind the scheduled 5am departure,
but no great loss. I'm awake and ready to go, but most of the
other Googlers on board take this opportunity to nap for the next
few hours. So much for chatting with neighbors on the trip up.
I stare out the window and also rest my eyes on occasion. It's
dark until after 7am, so there's not much to see. By leaving
early, fortunately, we've missed most Bay Area traffic. Our
course: US 101 to CA 237; 237 to I-680; I-680 north to I-80;
I-80 east to Squaw Valley. Or, something remarkably similar (we
may have turned off I-80 shortly before Squaw Valley).

[ 8:30am ]

The buses (there are two that left from Mountain View) pull in to
a rest area along the interstate. Bathroom break and to stretch
our legs. The buses have a lavatory on-board, but I think
everyone was happier using a non-mobile lav. It was also good to
get out and say hi to others on the other buses. Oddly enough, a
third, smaller bus (perhaps a large van) pulls in behind and lets
out a few more Googlers. I think (now) that it was the 5am bus
from San Francisco. The route from the City cut straight across
the Bay on one of the bridges, so the timing was about the same,
apparently. We hang around at the rest area for about 15 minutes
and all pile back on. As we get on, we're told that we can board
any of the three buses, because they're all going to the same
place at the same speed. Abhay splits for the smaller bus (we
really were cramped onto our bus), so I have two seats to myself
for the last 75 minutes of the trip.

On the way up on our bus, we who are in the back have been
chilled by the cool air coming from the bus's HVAC system. As we
got back on, we noticed that the front of the bus was really
warm! So there was some significant temperature gradient going
on. As we pulled out from the rest area, someone in the front of
the bus who was too warm popped open the roof vent to let in some
cool air. Good idea, but, the hatch on the roof of the bus
wasn't a vent -- it was the emergency escape hatch. It served
the purpose of letting in air, but, about 5 minutes later, when
/everyone/ on the bus was now too cold, they couldn't easily
close it. Catalin, in fact, climbed up a foot or two through the
hole to try to reach the hatch lid but couldn't, perhaps because
of the 60 mph wind the bus was making as it drove along. So, our
bus, and the two behind us (we're leading the convoy) all stop
along the edge of the road, Catalin jumps up and grabs the hatch
and closes it. But, it turns out, you can't securely latch the
lid but from the outside. We suggest getting onto the roof
through the /other/ hatch in order to secure the first one, but
thankfully no one really was paying attention to us. The lid
stays shut, though, and we pull back onto the highway. The folks
in the buses behind us didn't find out what was going on until we
told them at the resort. With luck, someone has some good
pictures of Catalin trying to "escape the bus" as we drove
along. Heh.

[ 9:30am ]

Our 5am bus convoy pulls in to Squaw Creek Resort. The place is
the Big Deal in Squaw Valley. [You'll see this in the pictures.]
We get off the bus, grab our luggage, and pour into the lobby.
On the one side is the resort reception desk to sign in for
rooms. The other side has Google reception, where we all can
pick up our ticket packets for the day's activities. I first get
my activity pack; I'm looking forward to dog sledding.
Unfortunatley, dog sledding was cancelled -- not enough snow on
the ground. Bummer! Instead I switch my Google-sponsored
activity to cross-country skiing (which includes rental and a
lesson). I had called a few days ago and know that lessons go at
10:30 and 1:30, so I skip going to the registration desk until
later. I head out the door and down the stairs to the Spa where
they have changing rooms for resort guests to use. I trade my
driver's license for a locker key and switch into my cold weather
gear. It's actually not that cold outside -- perhaps 48F or 52F
-- but I put on my thermal pants, cold-weather top, fleece vest,
and head out. Oh -- when I picked up my Google activity bits, I
also got a Googlie stocking cap, one that has a long "tail" to
it. You'll see in the pictures. 8) It was a clever idea to
hand them out, too -- that way, all the Googlers could identify
other Googlers easily.

[ 10:15am ]

Once changed into cold weather attire I head down to the Nordic
Center. The name is much more substantial than the actual
"center" is -- it's just a little tiny trailer about the size of
my living room that's filled with ski and snowshow equipment.
I'm down there in plenty of time before the lesson so I put on
the boots and walk around a bit. It's clear outside and sunny,
and there's anywhere from one to six inches of snow on most of
the ground. All the roads and walkways are bare and dry, though,
and there are patches of bare earth exposed on the golf course.

A few days before the trip I'd sent mail to the other people
who'd signed up to cross-country ski. One one person got back to
me -- Kingson -- and I met up with him at the Nordic center.
He's cross-country skied before but was rusty. He rented gear
and headed out on the snow but didn't get very far. He came back
in time for the lesson, which he needed.

The lesson was very small -- the instructor Eli, me, a couple Don
and Ken(? Jim?), and, later, Kingson. A very small group. We
have boots and skis and poles and head up to the start of one
trail, Oslo. A cross-country binding is a bin on a latch at the
toe of your boot, so you can lift your heel off the ski without
trouble. Unlike normal ski bindings, they're not designed to pop
off if you tumble. In general, you don't (or shouldn't) fall as
much cross-country skiing as you might downhill skiing. I've yet
to test that hypothesis. 8) Anyway, we head to the start of
Oslo and Eli explains to us that there's two styles of
cross-country skiing: classic and skating. In classic, you ski
along two grooves that have been pressed into the snow by a
tractor towing a grooming machine. It's neat because you don't
have to steer or anything -- just keep your skis in the grooves
and you go where you should. In skating, you don't have any
grooves or anything (but, the trail is usually groomed, ie,
flattened and smoothed), and you make the same motions as you
would if you were inline skating, ie, your skis are angled
outward and you push back and forth alternatively with each foot
to move forward. Classic style is easier to learn, but skating
is a bit more generally useful, because you can go on non-groomed
trails. I learned just classic style.

So, the first thing we do is just learn how to go forward. On
the bottom of cross country skis are scales that are angled just
slightly so they have very little resistance when you slide them
forward, but more resistance when you push yourself forward (ie,
when you "try" to make them go backward). So, by shifting your
weight and sliding the skis forward alternately, you move
forward. Pretty neat!

Eli started us off just with moving the skis and holding the
poles -- no poles in the snow just yet. You can actually get
going pretty well without poles. Oslo starts out pretty flat so
it's a good learning track. Slide and glide, slide and glide.
Not too bad. It's warm outside so I peel off some layers. I
take my gloves off because my hands are getting sweaty. This is
a good plan, but, when I fall over, my hands get wet and cold,
which isn't much fun. Luckily, my fleece is good at drying in
the sun so I can just dry my hands on it.

After a while Eli shows us how to use our poles. Basically, you
slide and glide like you're walking, but, when you're about to
move your arm backward, plant the pole in the snow. That way you
get a bit more forward thrust. Neat, it pretty much works. The
reason Eli didn't start us off with the poles earlier is because
it's easy to just let your poles and arms do all the work of
forward motion. That's fine far about 10 minutes but then you
get very tired. Much better to master the legwork and then learn
pole use second.

We switch from Oslo to Calgary, which is a slightly more
difficult trail (so says the map -- IMO they're about the same,
although Calgary does have two small hills that Oslo doesn't).
Here, we learn how to go up and down a hill. To go up, shorten
your stride and use your poles to help go up. Always make sure
the poles plant behind you bindings, else, you just push yourself
_down_ the hill, not up. To go down an incline, you can just "go
for it" down the track, or snow plow outside the track. I tried
snow plowing, which means crossing your skis to slow you down.
In the morning the snow was pretty icy, so the skis didn't bite
in to it very well. So, even with crossed skis, and esp. being
not too heavy, snow plowing didn't work very well. I ended up
going three-quarters of the way down the little hill (very
little) and then tipping over. D'oh! I climbed back to the top
and trying the Going For It strategy. _Much_ better. Just glide
along to the crest of the hill, bend your knees as you glide down
it, and then just keep going. Nothing hard about it. You don't
really go very fast at all, so there's nothing exciting. The
last lesson was going up a steep hill when you can't just slide
and glide up the track. Here, you need to walk up it making a
herring bone pattern with your skis. Point each outward, plant
your poles behind you, and start walking up. Move your poles
opposite your skis so you always have a pole or a ski in the snow
on each side. And, up you go! The truth is, though, this was
perhaps the hardest part to do, IMHO. I couldn't quite master
the timing of the pole and ski planting, so I would end up
sliding one way or the other. A fair bit harder to do than it
sounds.

Our little lesson group ends back at the nordic center around
noon and Kingson and I depart for lunch. We just leave our skis
outside the trailer and walk off wearing our boots. It's
apparently not uncommon to do just that -- leave your skis
leaning somewhere and wander off. No one's going to steal your
kit, unless it's really fancy expensive stuff. So, you can just
leave it whereever. Weird.

[ 12:00pm ]

Kingson and I head toward the little row of shops at the resort
and make our way to Bullwhackers Pub. We meet up with another
Googler, Daniel, in legal. He works on IP issues and support for
contracts. Stuff that signs contracts to make the company
money. Good to hear. Bullwhackers is empty save two tables, one
with other Googlers. I have an applewood bacon cheeseburger,
well, and seasoned cross-cut fries. The fries are great but
perhaps more salty and seasoned that I need. But they tasted
good. 8) After lunch I head up to the lobby and register for my
room. #445, a mountain side fireplace suite (complimentary
upgrade, I guess) that I'm sharing with my comrade Alex Verstak.
I head up to the room and he's already been there. There's one
king bed in a separate room and a fold-out bed as the couch.
It's a nice little room with an unexciting view. To spoil the
surprise I'll say now: I take the fold-out bed and Alex the king
bed. This turns out to work out well, as Alex got to bed earlier
than I and slept in later.

A quick pit stop in #445 and I head back to the nordic center for
some more skiing. I meet up with Jay Ponte(?), a researcher
Google hired from Mitre about two months ago. He's been skiing
for some time (in his life) and has made a few laps around the
resort's trails already. He and I head out around the golf
course cross-country trails, which takes about 30 minutes. He's
faster than I, doesn't have the same beginner's balance problems
I do, and doesn't stop for pictures. So he pulls out ahead of
me. No problem. The track is actually bare earth in a few
places, so I have to be a bit careful as I go along. By this
time in the afternoon (1pm-ish) the snow's beginning to melt
some, and the ice from the morning is gone. So it's much easier
to glide along than earlier. That, and I have an hour or so of
experience under my belt. Heh.

I end back and the center and Jay's there. We head out on Oslo
to the end and back along Calgary. I do that loop pretty well.
To go cross-country skiing again I'd try to have less kit
dangling from my body. For instance, I wouldn't have my camera,
and I'd try to guess the right clothes to wear to start with. I
put on or took off my Google hat several times as I went along.
The Oslo track was sort of neat because it went directly away
from the resort and almost all the way to Squaw Valley (the
little city at the base of most of the ski runs). The resort is
only perhaps three-quarters or one mile from the city, but the
road from one to the other is about 3 miles long (you have to
drive away from the city, around the golf course, then finally
into the city). When Jay and I get back to the center I call it
a day. I'm tired and dehydrated and soon to be sore.
Cross-country skiing works out the same muscles you use to hammer
nails with, as you thrust yourself forward with your poles. I
haven't hammered much of anything lately, so those muscles were
especially tired now.

[ 3:30pm ]

It's now time for me to collect all my possessions. I've left
things scattered about as I've rented equipment and lockers at
the resort. I return my skis and pick up my backpack, which I
have a few cold-weather items in. I head back to the spa and
grab my back, leave the locker key, and reclaim my driver's
license. I head to my room and drop everything off, matching
things back where they belong (license in wallet, wallet in
pants, room key in wallet, etc). I've been working hard at
cross-country skiing (and a few tip-overs) so I take a nice warm
shower before dinner. Despite not having a real bed, I like how
the room is arranged. The washroom basins and mirrors are not
behind a door, but the toilet and shower are. It means that you
don't quite feel so tight when brushing your teeth and such. It
also means that you can stand on carpet instead of linoleum with
bare feet when you're brushing your teeth and about to go to
bed. 8) The room also has a mini-bar and sink, which makes it a
bit more friendly to take drinks of water from. I don't like to
fill a drinking glass in a bathroom if I can avoid it. It just
feels weird.

[ 4:20pm ]

After a shower and some rest in #445 I head back outside, dressed
for cool weather but not playing in snow. I head to the lobby
and check at Google reception about signing up for snow mobiling
for Friday (because, after all, dog sledding was cancelled).
They say they'll check on it and leave me a message at my room.
Cool. I wander around a bit more. Between the lobby and the
guest rooms at the resort is a string of shops and a deli pedalling art,
winter clothes, and Starbucks. In the lobby of the hotel I find
some Googlers and drop in with the Engineering/Quality group. I
convince Abhay that he needs a warm drink and we grab some coffee
at the deli. Lattes still taste awfully bitter to me. I need
something that's like a latte but has chocolate, perhaps in
addition to the latte. Mochas make me slightly nauseaous. Oh
well. Abhay and I return to the lobby with our warm drinks and
hang out until 5:30 when the dinner bus shows up.

[ 5:30pm ]

Dinner on Thursday is at High Camp, which is on a plateau up the
side of the mountain above Squaw Valley. We take a bus from the
resort to Squaw Valley, then take a cable car gondola up to High
Camp (I have some pictures of the gondola from Friday, when I
returned to High Camp for tubing). Google has all of High Camp
to ourselves this evening, I believe. We certainly have the
entire restaurant rented out, and we fill the place. There's
tables with place settings at them but no apparent food yet. I
catch up with Wei-Hwa on the cable car ride up and we sit at the
same table. Then, we ditch our things at the table and wander
around, as everyone else is doing the same. Servers come through
with hors d'oeurves and I try a few things. The chicken's okay
but I stay away from other bits. There's a bar that requires
tickets in exchange for drinks. I have two tickets but no plans
to use them. I found out that hot chocolate doesn't require any
tickets so I'm happy. 8)

I wander around the restaurant and strike up conversations with
Googlers I know and don't know. Larry Schwimmer introduces me to
a couple of UI engineers whom I didn't know before. Suzanne and
Nancy. Nancy has a really cute yellow lab named Amber. IIRC,
Nancy has Amber for one year and is training her to become an
assistance dog. At the one year mark Amber goes elsewhere for
more training; Nancy's just doing the puppy-years training. I
talk with Quality people, and bump in to a few others. I find
Darrell Anderson just as the dinner line is forming (dinner is
served cafe style and we bring our plates back to the table).
Darrell's working on a product that's in alpha testing now and
got a phone call or page about a customer problem. He plans to
have some quality time with a laptop later this evening. Perhaps
not surprisingly, Google set up a room at the resort for 'net
connectivity. Bring your own laptop, but Googlers can connect to
the local ethernet for free. Using it in your room would have
cost money. When I see Darrell on Friday he tells me that he got
the problem solved. Go, Darrell.

Dinner is nothing exciting: salad, veggies (actually cooked, not
threatened, like Charlie makes. that's my one gripe about Google
food...), and roast meat. I have some roast beef (tri-cut(?) beef,
actually) but I found it too rubbery. Maybe it was too rare?
*shrug* They have horseradish sauce but it's creamy, not
straight, so it's too weak for my tastes. 8) Not eating a lot
at dinner is probably okay, anyway, because we also had dessert:
ice cream and chocolate brownie. Mmmm.... tasty.

[ 8:45pm ]

Larry and Sergey gave a little speech near the end of dinner and
then folks started leaving soon thereafter. (Or, perhaps the
speech was before dessert; hm, I don't recall.) I was on the
first gondola down, because I'd heard there was some fun
activities planned for later in the evening, and I wanted in. 8)

I get back to the resort shortly before 9:00pm and scope out
activity #1: broomball. It's like hocky, but uses a ball
instead of a puck; you have little polo-style sticks instead of
hockey sticks, and you just wear shoes on the ice, not skates.
They were just getting things set up when I wander by but I
decide to not take part -- people are putting too much padding on
for my interest level. So I proceed to activity #2:
tobogonning. Google bought a half dozen toboggons and brought
them to the resort for the trip. I and Craig Silverstein
(Google's CTO) are both very interested in toboggoning so we try
to figure out what's going on. There's some confusion around the
lobby about what exactly is happenning, but eventually we find
out. The resort's assistant director takes me out to where we'll
be sledding: a little hill just a few hundred yards from the
resort. It's clear of trees and rocks and is thus safe for
sledding and such. It's exciting and fun, though, because it's
completely dark, save for some dim starlight (new moon this
weekend). I head back to the lobby to collect the other
toboggoners and we head back to the hill.

The hill's about 30 or 40 feet in height and about 80 yards
long. Not too much of a hill for sledding but enough for fun.
Besides, the taller it is, the more work to climb back to the
top. [Oh, I should say: in between dinner and now, I've run
back to my room to put on cold-weather gear. I now have my
overboots, which is very good for the snow on the hill.] We have
5 toboggons and about 18 people. We slide down one sled at a
time with 3 or 4 people each. Too few people and you don't have
enough mass to go far or fast. It's so dark it's hard to see
what's going on, but that was sort of fun -- you just jump on
whatever toboggon that's about to head down and away you go. It
was a blast. 8) You don't really steer the toboggons, but you
can influence them a bit by leaning. Especially fun was when the
sled would spin all the way around, or only half-way around, and
we'd be sliding down the hill backwards. No sled I was on ever
tipped, though, which was good. I had waterproof clothes on,
though, which was good.

Around about 10:30 or so our group heads back to the lobby. We
pause for a moment to take a few pictures, because we'd like to
know who all's been sledding with us -- we can't see anyone in
the dark, after all. I don't recall most of the names, but it
was mostly engineers and AdWords people. 'course, that could be
said of the entire company -- we're mostly engineers and AdWords
people. Hopefully, I'll find someone who took a picture of the
group.

Just as we return to the lobby, another group of people wants to
head out. So I turn around and head out with them, to show them
where the hill is, etc. I don't plan to sled, because I'm
actually getting tired. But I go to the top to show them
everything. The group that wants to go isn't all assembled yet,
so I showed just one person the top. An AdWords coordinator,
Emily, I think. She joined Google about a year ago, shortly
before the ski trip in 2002, but couldn't go because they'd
launched AdWords Select only a few days earlier, and she was busy
with that product. A few more people showed up with another
toboggon or two, and then we all saw a dog-like quadraped walk
by. It was just a coyote, but it was as close to one as I'd
gotten before "in the wild." I figured it'd just wander by, but,
it stopped and looked at us a little longer than I really wanted
it to. There were four of us at the top of the hill, and it was
dark, so I was a little worried. But, with four, and with
toboggons, I figured we had a good chance even if it did come our
way. Fortunately, it just kept on going. More AdWords sledders
showed up, and the three gals on the top with me told them all of
the coyote we'd seen. The sledding started and I joined them on
one of the first runs down. I headed out from the bottom back to
the resort. I'm done playing in the cold weather for the
evening.

[ 11:00pm ]

I head back to my room to ditch some clothes (ie, my overboots).
I wander about and assess the parties going on. In the lobby
there are 30somethings playing 60s and 70s music and folk tunes.
That looks fun but just a little too mellow for me just now. In
room 433 (6 doors down from my place) there's a party going on,
but it gets kicked out because of noise. Instead, it heads down
to a couple of rooms near the shops that Google's rented out. In
one restaurant there's a DJ and dancing going on. Another has
mostly drinking and some music (that was the party from 433 that
moved). Still another restaurant has blues music, but that place
was pretty much empty. Broomball has about 30 people on the ice
and is a busy place. I found Tyler Anderson and he tells me he
brought his N64, Mario Kart, and the data projector from the
Google TGIF area. So I head up to #714 for some Mario Kart
action. He has a double room (a real double room, not a suite
like mine) and is projecting the game on the wall. I head up
around 11:30 and am joined by Mike from Ops. Shortly after
midnight John Bauer (who's rooming with Tyler) is our fourth.

[ 1:00pm ]

I announce that "this is my last round" but Tyler protests. So I
play a few more. Around 1:30 a resort person and a Googler knock
on the door and ask us to keep it down. I suppose all the
howling when our Battle balloons are popped would wake up the
neighbors. Although, Google did have 60% of the rooms in the
resort booked. We finish that round and then call it a night.
Two hours straight of Mario Kart was fun. We were all pretty
evenly matched, so it went well.

I bid the Karters good night and head back to my room. The party
in 433 has long since moved but the hall still smells like
booze (that was the gist of that particular party, as I'm led to
believe). The small doesn't quite reach my room, so that's
good. When I duck into my room (at about 1:45) the door to the
king bed room is closed. Evidently Alex has already turned in.
He did downhill skiing all day and was pretty tired at the end.
I brush my teeth and head to bed. Alex has dragged the comforter
off the bed and left it, and a few extra pillows, on the couch
for me. That was nice of him to do. I try using them by laying
on the couch as a couch, but the arms are awfully hard. So I put
the extra effort in to pull the hide-a-bed out and use it as a
real bed. Turns out, the bed also has linens on it, which is
great. The room is already pretty warm, and I didn't think I'd
need the thick comforter. I slide into the bed, with my donated
pillow, and I'm off to sleep within minutes. It's been a long
day, and I need to wake up tomorrow in time for breakfast, before
a 9:30am group photo. Fortunately, I do just that. 8)


[ Friday, January 31st, 2003 ]

[ 8:00am ]

I woke up once sometime during the night, but, because I saw it
was still dark outside, I didn't even bother to check the time.
The second time I woke up, it was light, so I found my watch:
8:00am. Wow, what great timing -- that's when I wanted to wake
up. 8) I roll out of bed, rattle around the bathroom for my
morning routine, and put the fold-out bed away. There, no one
would ever know I've slept here. Getting up takes about 30
minutes, so I'm about to head out the door at 8:30. There's a
Google group photo shoot at 9:30 and my roommate is sound
asleep. I knock on the door, no answer. I knock again, still no
answer. I wait another minute, and knock a third time. Rustling
behind the door. Alex opens the door a crack and peeks out. He
looks pretty bleary eyed. I say good morning, point out the
photo shoot time and the current time. He "thanks" me for the
information and closes the door. Hey, I've done my part. 8)

[ 8:35am ]

Lunch yesterday and today is on us, but breakfast is on Google.
I head to one of two main restaurants at the resort and figure
I'll just find someone to eat with. I pass by the Google
reception desk and find out what's new with them. I asked them
yesterday if I could be squeezed on the snowmobiling group but
they never left me a message as promised. This morning they
check and there's still room in the afternoon group. Sure, I
sign up. I need to be in the hotel lobby at 12:15 for departure
(they drive about an hour to where the snowmobiles are). No
problem. I head in to breakfast and find a group of other
Googlers. Let's see: Martin, Jeremy, Karl, and one other
person. The table seats only four people, but I hang out at the
restaurant for some time just to see Googlers. So the other
seats at the table change once or twice. The breakfast is a
buffet with scrambled eggs, sausage, bacon, french fries (but,
cooked like hashbrows, not deep fried), etc. etc. It was a good
spread. And free. 8)

[ 9:15am ]

After breakfast I head down to the skating rink at the resort
where the photo will be taken. So far there's only a few
Googlers there, but more show up very soon. Eventually, we get
enough folks to fill the rink with only about two feet of
"personal space" around each person. Not bad. Plenty of people
didn't make it to the photo, though, either because they were
still sleeping, or because they wanted to hit the slopes early.
Too bad. Our top dog Yoshka was there, and he was a very happy
Leonberger (German giant breed dog -- probably ways 185lbs or
so). Yoshka has a lot of fur but was very happy on the ice rink
and in the alpine climate. No surprise there. 8)

[ 9:45am ]

The photo shoot took only about 10 minutes in all, and it was
just everyone looking up at the man with the medium-format
camera. After the shoot I headed up to my room. Checkout is at
11 so I need to pack, but I have plenty of time. When I get
there I find Alex getting ready to hit the slopes. He's just
gotten out of bed, I think, so I don't know if he'll be in the
photo. Oh, well. I let him finish getting ready and I read the
USA Today on the couch. About 10:15 I start packing my things to
check out. I don't have much stuff so I'm out by 10:30.

[ 10:30am ]

I check out of the room at the front desk and leave my bags in
the Google baggage room. Google rented a ballroom at the resort
to let us stash our bags, so that worked out great. When I went
in the room to drop my things off, on the opposite side I see
Tyler and crew playing Mario Kart, projected on the wall of the
room. Yes, Tyler owns only one N64 game. 8) I join in that fun
for about 45 minutes. Several other Googlers wander through to
drop off their bags and look at the Mario Karters strangely.
Sure, there's lots of good snow outside, but, when else can I
play Mario Kart for hours and hours without remorse? Besides, my
activity doesn't depart until 12:15, so this seems like a fine
thing to do.

[ 11:15am ]

I wish Tyler and others farewell and head to the deli for lunch.
I figure that, if I don't eat before snowmobiling, I won't have
anything until 4:00pm or so, which would be a long time from
breakfast. I drop in to Sweet Potatoes Deli and order up a club
sandwich. Oscar S. (another engineer) is there so I join him.
He'd been up too late drinking yesterday so he's sort of
struggling through a hang-over. I'm glad I don't drink. 8) The
sandwich is remarkable devoid of flavor, but I ply ahead through
most of it. Oscar heads off around noon and I head for the lobby
a few minutes afterward.

[ 12:10pm ]

I pass through the lobby and don't see anyone gathering for
snowmobiling. I duck into the washroom for 2 minutes and back
out. Still nothing. I check at the Google reception desk and
the lady says that the snowmobiling group will announce when
they're ready to go. Super. I find a seat and strike up a
conversation with Neal Cardwell, someone from the UW who join
Google (with a Master's) a few months before I joined. He told
me about his project and how it relates to what Eric Anderson
(another UW person, who joined with a Ph.D. a few weeks before I
did) was doing. Neat stuff.

[ 12:40pm ]

The snowmobiling group seems to be 25 minutes late so I check at
the Google reception desk again. "Oh, they left at 12:15."
WHAT!? I thought you said they'd make an announcement. Didn't
they have a list of who was going -- why didn't they check that?
Didn't they know how many people should be there -- why didn't
they count heads? That's all pretty poor.

In fact, as it turns out, three other people also got left behind
the snowmobiling group and well (three people from AdWords).
They switched instead to go snow tubing over at High Camp, and I
decided to follow along. At first I thought I'd just head over
to High Camp and wander around, but then I thought, sure, I'll
try tubing, I'll have plenty of time to get back, change, warm
up, etc. before the bus home leaves. So that's the plan. I pick
up my baggage from the resort/Google storage room, head down to
the lockeroom at the spa, exchange my driver's license for a
locker key again, and change into something that'll keep me warm
and dry. I trot out to the shuttle bus that's waiting to take me
and the other three people to Squaw Valley. I suddenly realize
that I left my wallet in the locker, but I'd need money to buy a
lift ticket to go tubing, so I run back and get it, but am back
for the shuttle still with plenty of time.

[ 1:15pm ]

Squaw Valley is only about three-quarters of a mile from the
resort, but the road between the two goes off in the other
direction for a mile or so before coming back around the golf
course. So it's a 5 or 8 minutes shuttle ride to get to the
little village. There, we head to the Cable Car building and I
purchase a gonola + tubing ticket combo. $26: $17 for the lift
and $9 for tubing. It's expensive to play in the snow. We'd
just missed the 1:15pm gondola so we kick around in the waiting
area for the 1:30 car.

[ 1:30pm ]

The car shows up on time, we head on to it, and up we go. The
ride takes about 8 minutes or so, give or take, and is a great
view of the hillside. The ride last night was all in the dark,
as we headed up after sunset. The view is much better in the
daytime. I don't think Casey would like the ride, though -- the
bottom third of the trip is at a severe angle to head up the
hillside. It looks like you're perilously suspended above the
village with little to keep you in the sky. Fortunately, you're
either done with the trip, or on the way up the hill, within just
a few minutes.

[ 1:50pm ]

We're on the top and we head out for the tubing place. It's
really windy at High Camp and I'm glad I have all my gear on:
cold-weather pants, T-shirt, fleece vest, water- and wind-proof
jacket, gloves, and Google stocking cap. It's also really sunny,
and I'm glad I'd brought along my sun glasses. To keep my feet
dry and happy I was wearing the N.E.O.S. over my shoes. That
worked great.

We trudge around looking for the tubing place and the ski patrol
people point us to a tiny little shack 50 yards away. We head
there and pick up tubes. The tubes are just big tire tubes like
I've gone snow tubing on before, but they have an elastic fabric
cover that has handles and a nylon cord attached so it's easy to
drag the tube around. Pretty neat. With tubes sliding behind us
we head to the sliding hill.

The setup for tubing is pretty neat. Along most of the hill
there's a cable lift system that's just a long cable run around
pulleys powered by a big electric motor. At the end of the nylon
strap on our tubes is a clip that fits over the cable and the
line winches the tube up the hill. We each sit in our tubes and
up we go. Whee! A lot easier that walking up the hill after
each slide. The ride doesn't quite make it to the very top, but
close enough. It's just another 10 yards or so.

There are four people running the tubing hill. #1 is the guy who
handed out tubes and took our tickets. #2 snaps you on to the
cable lift system. #3 makes sure you automatically unsnap at the
top. #4 stands at the top of the run and makes sure everyone is
spaced out okay on the hill. #4 also pushes people for extra
momentum and spins you if you'd like. Spinning is fun.

The first time I head down I go down in the traditional seated
position. The hill is really smooth from weeks of snow tubers
sliding down it. It's not a straight run -- it curves to the
right, then the left, then straight toward the bottom, then left
some more. The curves have high banks, which is good, and
there's some large moguls near the bottom. I never caught air
going over the moguls but I nearly did. 8)

After about the third run, one of the other there people called
it quits. I headed up to the top again with the other two, who
were in front of me. They went down, but, before I went, the guy
at the top said, "Hey, do you work at Google?" He loves our site
(yay!) and had some questions for me. He wanted to know if he
should learn C++ or Java, or perhaps Delphi (a database-only
programming language). I said either C++ or Java would be fine,
as it's pretty easy to learn the other once you know one. We
talked for a while at the top, and, as we do, I notice that the
others don't come back to the top. I figure they've split for
some other fun task, as the one gal wasn't having as much fun as
the other two people or I was. No biggie. [I found out, later,
that they went ice skating on the Olympic rink at High Camp.
Fun!]

The guy at the top and I chat for some time. He's from Peru and
is spending his summer break from college working at Squaw. He
can ski all he wants for free, he gets paid, and he gets to hang
out in the US for a few months (until March, I think). A few
more people head up the hill so he pushes me down the course. I
try spinning rapidly, bringing my legs in or out to adjust my
spin. That was fun! Back on the cable run, back to the top.
This time, a quick few words with #4 guy, and I try going down
face down, with a running start. That worked pretty well,
actually, although I wasn't brave enough to get a _really_ good
running start. I sort of wanted to see how fast I could get
going, but maxed out to not quite catch air over the bigger
mogul. If it were earlier in the day, when the course was still
icy, maybe I would have.

At the bottom again, the #1 guy is just standing there watching
the (now) three tubers (myself included) slide down the hill. I
ask him if he could do me a big favor and snap a picture of me on
my next run. He says sure and I leave my camera with him. Back
on the cable run, back to the top. The top guy has a new
question for me: he wants to buy a laptop computer and wants to
know if Toshiba was a good name. I say it is, as is IBM. But
IBM is more expensive. Dell, HP, etc. aren't quite as neat, I
say. He says that Sony has some neat laptops but the keyboards
are too small. I suggest he just go to a computer store and try
whatever he's thinking of getting out, to make sure that the
keyboard is an okay size. He also wanted to know if it'd be
cheaper to buy in Reno or San Francisco. I said Reno, because
Nevada's sales tax isn't as bad as California's (or, at least, is
no worse, I thought). He definitely wants a PC laptop, though,
because in his country, he can get a disk with, like, 10,000
software titles on it, for only $3. Hrm.....

As we talk about laptop computers and such, he also mentioned
that his mother started using a computer and getting online a few
years ago. Now, he says it's hard to keep her away. She'll be
looking at something on the computer in the evenings, or right
before or after dinner, or whenever. I told him that my
grandmother and aunt had gotten into using eBay the same way.
Heh.

When the next couple of people head up the hill again, I head
down before them. After all, the guy at the bottom's been
waiting to take a picture of me as I head down. 8) So down I
go, with some bit of spin. Whee! At the bottom I check out the
picture the guy's taken. Unfortunately, his finger was half-way
over the camera lens. You can see me, but you can also see his
gloved finger. Okay, let's try that again. Goodness knows I
don't mind sliding down the mountain more. 8) At the top, I
mention to #4 that he should also check out cnet.com, as they
have some good product reviews and such, especially for laptop
computers. A few more words and I head down again, with a good
spin. The #1 guy gets a good picture of me this time, or so it
looks. We can't see it, though, because the batteries are about
out on the camera. I decide to go on one more ride, so back to
the top. I say farewell to #4 at the top, then head down. At
the bottom, I finally turn in my snow tube. What a blast! I
think I had more fun snow tubing that I could have had snow
mobiling. A lot less noise and 2-cycle engine smell, and a lot
more uncontrolled downhill sliding. Fun!

[ 3:00pm ]

I've been going up and down the hill for about an hour and I'm
tired. As the cable run dragged my tube up, I would try to keep
my feet from dragging along in the snow, although plenty of other
people didn't have the same thought. So, after an hour, my quads
are actually pretty tired. I head to the top of the gondola lift
and watch as the car is just departing. The next will be in 15
minutes, so I find a drink of water in the deli below and wait.
Around 3:10 the next car shows up and I hop on.

[ 3:20pm ]

The car is delayed for several minutes because of some "door
malfunction" at the bottom end of the run. We all in the car at
the top don't really know what's going no [we will soon], but
we're just waiting for our car to move. The gondola can hold 110
pasengers and the one attendant. Oddly enough, the sign says:
max occupancy: 110+1 (as opposed to 111).

[ 3:30pm ]

Our gondola makes its way safely down the hill and pulls in to
the station at the bottom. As the gondola passes over the two
support towers on the mountain, the whole car rocks to and fro a
bit. Very exciting. At the ground station, we all get out of
the car and pile in to the elevator (the gondola pulls in to the
cable car building at about the 3rd floor level, with the street
entrance on the first floor). The doors close, we head down to
the first floor, but the doors don't open. The attendant tries
again, still no door action. He radios for advice, gets some,
but it still fails. The elevator is the same size as the
gondola, and there's only about 30 people in it, so we have lots
of room. There's also some glass windows on the back side, so we
can see out and such. (Ie, no one will get claustrophobic.)
But, when the advice doesn't work, the radio crackles "open the
door manually." Er, hrm. So, we now learn why there's a ladder
mounted on the inside of the elevator. The attendant takes the
ladder off the wall, crawls up and out the (already open) ceiling
hatch, and, about three minutes later, the doors on the elevator
open. Out we all go (I've long since lost the AdWords people)
through the cable car building lobby and onto the main street.
*ah*

[ 3:42pm ]

I'm pretty much done with recreation for the day. The shuttle
heads back to the resort at 3:45 and I catch it without
incident. A friend from work (Seth Golub) grabs it, too, and we
chat. He's been snowboarding today, which was apparently a good
afternoon for it. The shuttle pulls in to the resort lot a few
minutes later, and I head to the spa lockerroom to track back
through the steps I made a few hours ago.

[ 4:00pm ]

My bags are once again packed, I'm wearing normal clothes, and I
head up to the resort lobby. Folks are gathering to head home
(buses already left at noon and 2:30, and I'm planning to take
the 5:00pm bus). The bus driver is trying to collect people
ready to head out early to fill up a bus and depart before 5pm.
I want to take the same bus as my friend Wei-Hwa, because he's
driving me home. So I just sit tight and let that one go buy.
The 5:00-early bus ends up leaving at 4:40pm, not too much before
schedule. Also, I'm happy to hang out in the lobby, as there are
box dinners (sandwiches) waiting for us to eat. I have my
sandwich in the lobby, before getting on the bus, so I have
plenty of room on a table to eat. Much more relaxed that way. I
keep the brownie for later on the bus.

[ 4:55pm ]

The buses are about ready, Wei-Hwa's shown up, so we hop on
board. This time, we get seats that are just ahead of the middle
rows -- no super cold back of the bus for us. The buses have TV
displays along each aisle, about three on each side, but we don't
use them. Next year, we'll have to bring a video or something to
watch. The bus doesn't leave until 5:20 or so, because we want
to be extra sure that everyone who's supposed to catch a bus
does, in fact, catch the bus. [Although, plenty of Googlers are
sticking around for the rest of the weekend, or just drove
themselves, so anyone left behind wouldn't be stranded.] We
finally pull out shortly before 5:30.

[ 8:45pm ]

The bus ride is uneventful. I stare outside for a while, and
close my eyes for a while. I sit next to Mark Goodman, who works
on the Google Enterprise product. Behind me is my friend Alex
and someone from finance named Judy. I brought along a small
desk of playing cards but there's not quite enough room on the
little trays on the seatbacks to play solitaire on, even using
the small cards. Oh, well. I'm sleepy for most of the trip home
but am more awake in the last hour. I chat with Judy and Alex,
and occasionally with Mark. We pull in to the Googleplex around
8:45 and I'm glad to be (almost home). The bus actually
bypassed the exit I expected it would take, because the driver
was busy trying to pass someone who was driving a bit slow (the
bus driver was very aggressive in driving, which easily shaved 20
- 30 minutes from our drive time). Wei-Hwa's car was right were
we left it, so we hopped in and he dropped me off at my place.
Everything was just as I'd left it here, so I quickly washed up
before bed and went to sleep. It was a great weekend and a lot
more fun than I thought it would be. I mean, I figured it'd be
neat to learn how to cross-country ski, and dog sledding sounded
fun. But, chatting with Googlers I don't regularly see, and
going toboggoning and tubing, was a _lot_ of fun. I hope we'll
be able to do a ski trip again next year. We may have to find a
bigger resort, though. 8)


P.S. here are the photos from the trip.
Tags: travel
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