Friday, 10 March 2017

Beards and Back-country Snowboarding.

Around Christmas, I realised that I had not just forgotten to shave for a few week. Stubble had evolved to something much more exciting. It was becoming beard-like. More beard-like than it had ever been before. A blanket for my face.

At this pivotal moment, I had a choice. On one side stood professional respect, approachablity, and sexual appeal. When I'm clean shaven, I look less homeless and more like I have my shit together. My students don't shrink back in horror and fear as I walk in a room.  People tell me how young I still am. The school nutritionist asks me whether I enjoyed lunch, and giggles when I reply with "Er.. yea... oishii.. thanks." Shaven is clearly the "right" choice. The choice a sensible person would make.*

On the other side of this monumental crossroads loomed a great big bushy beard that would keep my face warm while freezing to death huddled on ski lifts.

"To shave or not to shave" is just one iteration of the hundred-odd choices we make daily, each spanning the same spectrum. Do I go for a run or play video games? Try to eat healthy or succumb to beer and Mac-Donald's? Act or leave things be. The eternal choice between what we should do and laziness.

Sometimes its just far too difficult. In my typical procrastinatory fashion, I put off choosing. Except "putting off choosing" is often a choice in itself. This is definitely true in regards to growing beards.

Cowboy-Kun and the Gnar-Gnar Pow-Pow

After another month of putting off, I had started to look like a bird was building a nest on my face. However it was mid-way through snowboard season, and the extra layer of insulation came in useful the day when I got lost on the slopes.

It was a Saturday. The night before it had been chucking it down with snow. By morning, the sun had started to peer around the mountain tops at the fresh blanket sprinkled over the rice fields. Beautiful powder and clear skies. A bluebird day. Every snowboarder's dream.

We start the day riding on the official courses, but I'm with Cowboy-kun. I call him Cowboy-kun because he's from Texas, and every time we go out together he herds me along, like a runty longhorn staggering across the Rocky Mountain Front. Cowboy-kun doesn't stick to the courses. He's on a constant search for the freshest gnar-gnar pow-pow** out there. And that means going off piste.

Every run we are on the hunt for untouched snow, slipping under the "do not enter" sign to the pristine back-country in the trees. Cowboy-kun thinks we can go out just a little bit further, and sneak back on to the course further down. Snow clouds are starting to roll in, but he figures it's worth the risk.
The river

We get there and its perfect. Waves and waves of fluffy powder curve and arch around the tree trunks. Its more like surfing than snowboarding. I'm carried away, floating on top of the white cloud below me.

Suddenly I remember myself. And I remember where I am. I pull up, but Cowboy-kun is no where in sight. I've clearly missed the point where we had to turn back. To the right, a terrifyingly steep valley no one as yet has ridden on. To the left are a group of tracks, leading in the exact opposite direction of where the course is. There I am, a lost cow, all alone in the middle of nowhere. The sun goes behind the clouds. More snow starts to fall. All I can hear is the muted patter of snowfall, and my increasingly heavy breathing. I have no choice but to follow the tracks. This is gonna be quite the adventure. At least I have my beard to keep me warm.

The quest to rejoin civilization starts well, but ends with walking for more than 15 minutes in a never-ending sea of white. The top of the mountain is steep, so I can glide along comfortably, and even start to enjoy being lost. Then I hit the flat riverside between the mountains.

Do not follow this route unless you enjoy hiking
When people talk about how great back-country boarding is, the bit they never seem to mention is when you're carrying your board through thigh-deep powder. Its a sensation much like trying to drag a log through quicksand. I mean Ive never done that, but I'm certain its the same.

An hour later the sound of Japanese pop music echoes through the empty hills.*** I stumble out of the wilderness and onto a road near a ski lift. Except Ive never seen this place before. Somehow I've managed to traverse two valleys and a river, ending up in the ski resort over. Bloodied and bruised, I head to the bus stop and catch a 15 minute ride back to my car.

Shaving For Graduation

March rolls around, and my face blanket is getting out of hand. Now if I wanted to give you some fancy-smansy Hollywood ending, Id tell you I shaved because my 3rd years were graduating. Because I wanted to be at my best the final time they saw me. Because I cared so deeply about them and their future.

The truth is far more self serving. First of all, its not all its cracked up to be. Beards are itchy, sometimes you get food stuck in them, and whenever you see anyone the first thing they say is "wow, your beard's getting big." I know. I grew it myself.

I also imagined that Id look glorious and handsome, like Pirlo, or Hemingway. The problem is, my sideburns grow exponentially faster than any of the other hair on my face. This gives my beard a decidedly Amish flavour. The result was not glorious. Instead think Tom Hanks in castaway, or one of those weird dwarfs from the god-awful Hobbit movies.****

Then my kids got involved. The boys from first grade would berate me daily with:

"Big face. You hair cutto. I am sorry, hige sori."

Which is the worst japanese gag going. "hige sori" is the Japanese phrase for shaving. And it rhymes with "I'm sorry". Hilarious. Gets even better when you hear it 10 times a day.

The final straw though was a kid who got a little too into my beard. During lessons, he would try to stroke my face. Apparently I looked just like a "super cute lion with soft soft fur." Very fuwa-fuwa. Which would have been fine if he was a 5 year old from my elementary school. He wasn't. He was a 15 year old teenager soon to graduate into High School.

Safe to say it was time for it to go. I shaved my beard, and with it went my 3rd grade students. I doubt you'll ever read this, but good luck. And don't pet the teachers in high school.


*oishii (delicious) is probably the most commonly used Japanese word and as such is very important to master. Japanese people are incredible hype-men. Everything is delicious. No matter if it isn't. If there is food present, so is this word. If you wanna go a little casual you can say umai (good) instead. Here in Joetsu everyone has the awesome habit of adding baka (crazy) to everything, so those of us who are down with the kids say baka umai (crazy good). Don't use it in Tokyo though unless you want people looking at you weird.

**Australian for snow

***Japanese ski places like to blast out-of-date pop tunes at you from the chairlifts while you snowboard. Just in case you didn't have enough stimulation throwing yourself down a mountain at break neck speeds.

****Not the dwarf they made look like a small attractive human to wedge in a contrived love story. The ugly one there purely for comedic effect.

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