Tuesday, February 16, 2010

My Valentine

My Valentines Day started a few sun-ups before the actual day was set to dawn. Thursday I had set up some self-love by scheduling myself into a free yoga class at Mission Yoga to celebrate Pauline’s birthday. After accomplishing some success at work of which I was proud, Trevor and I took off for a brisk walk a few minutes after five to pick up a small something for Pauline. While I’d never met her before, it seemed like if she was willing to share her birthday with a bunch of yogis, she should get a little something special, too. I picked up a potted miniature daffodil with a little bit of bloom but with the promise of more (and some chocolate, of course).

The yoga class hit the spot. It provided a good mix of challenge and light-hearted fun. Refreshed and sweaty, attendees were invited to stick around for chai tea and cake. I hadn’t anticipated such a delicious end to the party, so I indulged and met some new people while I was at it.

I arrived home later than I’d anticipated. Trevor was making dinner, and I told him to expect me a few minutes after 8. It was quarter-til 9 when I walked through the door – and into a candlelit condo. Dinner and a glass of poured wine awaited me. What a brilliant surprise!

Now, this is kind of funny because at the conclusion of dinner Trevor hands me a coupon to “redeem” from a coupon booklet I handmade a Christmas as a gift for him. With “Romantic Candlelight Dinner” redeemed, it seems I both gave the gift and reaped it all at once.

Friday, I worked a half-day. We took off in the afternoon headed toward Big White. We left a bit later than we had originally planned and only had a potential of two hours of night skiing left available to us. We opted out of night skiing and into a night of television (which is odd for us) watching the opening ceremony for the Olympics.

Saturday we awoke early, ate breakfast, and hit the cross-country ski trails.

Having skied last year at Big White, using Trevor’s mom’s skis and finding the terrain challenging, I approached our outing on Saturday with wary excitement. While I looked forward to moving my body and breathing fresh air, I also knew that I’d have to maintain calm to maneuver down hills, up hills, and curves. I found the challenge exceptional last year and experienced a crying fit after one tumble down a relatively small hill – the outburst more ego-driven than pain-induced.

This year I got a pair of skis, boots, and poles for Christmas from Trevor. We picked out this generous gift several weeks ago at the Fresh Air Experience. We went to Telemark, a cross-country ski club on the West side of Kelowna, once already this year with John G. We ran the green (easiest) trails once through. I gained confidence with each run, then I ran all three trails again. Trevor and John took on a blue (intermediate) trail while I finished up the last two of my green trails, and then we all convened for a short portion of the trail they didn’t get to ski. The experience at Telemark helped me shape up some confidence on my skis. I fell a lot – sometimes intentionally to “brake” and sometimes unintentionally, like when I fell face first while climbing up a relatively mild incline. The falling doesn’t bother me too much generally. I just keep reminding myself that everyone falls when they are first learning. That’s okay.

I was so glad to have the Telemark notch on my belt as we started out our skiing on Saturday, because I know that to get to green trails in Big White, you have to go through blue trails first. Clearly, the designers of the Nordic system at Big White did not ace logic. Regardless, we stepped onto the trails – first near the village center on the multi-use trails (sidewalks) then turning left to connect with a wide road that overlaps a few downhill runs, before turning sharply right and down hill. THWACK! My first fall finds me in a heap of snow. It was easy to push up and start again though, and after all it was a tight turn.

A short way down the trail a road intersects the path. I pop off the skis, cross on foot, then put them back on. This starts the descent that found me a crumpled crying mess last year. I dug in my skis at an angle, utilizing my snow plow perfected on my Telemark training, and skied the length of the downhill with control and ease. I celebrated my victory over that hill and continued – confidence growing.

At the next trail junction, we head left on Lew’s Loop. It’s a blue trail, with the promise of taking us to a green run. It wasn’t all that bad, and between intersection 3 and intersection 6, I don’t think I fell at all.

I had so much positive time on my skis that I was even beginning to access my form. I discovered I could scissor my legs together for a better inner-leg work out and for a more seamless glide along the tracks. I had learned earlier at Telemark that when I’m going up hill in the tracks, if I engage my core and lean over the front of my skis a bit that I don’t stand as much of a chance of backsliding.

As we approached intersection 6, I heard some whining motorization that I thought might be a chainsaw. Just as we got to the trail junction, two snowmobiles whizzed by us and up the Cougar Cut-Off Trail in the direction we were to be heading. That must have been what I heard earlier. After a brief break, we continued up the formerly groomed trail that was now marred into hunks and chunks of snow by the machines that ripped up the path. They also left a lingering odor of fuel in the air. I don’t think snowmobile and cross-country ski paths should be co-aligned. Besides the auditory impact and the shredded snow, it’s hazardous to have such fast-moving vehicles with such a slow human-powered activity.

At the top of the cut-off trail and the end of shared use trail, we were to turn right onto the blue Copper Kettle Trail. The maps indicate it as blue. The sign at the junction indicated it as black (advanced!). The trail was not groomed. I am not advanced. The map at the last intersection already forewarned me that there would be a steep hill on this portion of the trail. Panic began to set in. Instead of seeing an adventure ahead of me, I got afraid. Trevor, having been here before, assured me it would be fine. I acquiesced but still felt unsure about the path forward. We shuffled through the fresh snow. No tracks here. We would make them. In about a tenth of a mile the trail started to go downhill. Not wanting my skis to take off with me toward the precipice denoted as “steep hill” on the map, I started side-stepping my way down – getting more fearful and more angry with each step.

My head got hotter. My movements became less controlled. My focus became on everything external to me – this trail – this snow – the mis-labeling of this black trail as a blue on the map – Trevor, along with the question – “does he respect my limitations, my fear?” It all boiled up inside, and with my fall (which was inevitable) near the end of the hill, burst a litany of curses. I stood and fell again which brought more hurt and anger. I released myself from my skis and stormed up the hill. I spoke unkindly to Trevor before settling the rage back down and regaining a shaken un-ease that was somewhat closer to calm. We discussed the merits of returning to the shredded trail above or continuing on the path ahead – toward our goal of reaching the Porcupine Cut-Off Trail, a green run nestled between blue ones.

Feeling heard but still not yet feeling well, I traipsed down the descent I had just charged up in anger and walked my way to a place I felt safe again to put on my skis. I should have done that in the first place. Of course, fear and anger sometimes have a way of smashing logic on the rocks, and so it was in this instance.

“My attitude got in a bad way which didn’t help me out at all. In fact, it made things much worse. I got angrier and things got harder. Isn’t that the way of life…” from my journal.

I kept the lead through the first part of the Copper Kettle Trail, breaking tracks that Trevor used to follow behind. I was starting to get tired, so we switched places so that he broke through the snow and made tracks that I could follow. It was a bit further than either of us expected before we reached the Porcupine Cut-Off trail.

It was groomed and in good shape. It made easy work of the downhill trip toward the warming hut. I continued to handle myself with ease on the skis, maneuvering around curves and down hills with control. I even let myself pick up some speed – evidence in my confidence to control my actions.

We took a short break at the warming hut before concluding our 11km (6.8 mi) ski for the day. We took the lift up to the condo and a well-deserved late lunch.

Skiing may have been easier on Saturday because of the conditions. It was a warm day and the top crust of snow was a little soft. It made digging in and getting purchase with my skis easier.

The hot tub was out of commission on Saturday night, so we opted to watch a bit more Olympics. I did some reading, too.

Sunday we awoke to falling snow. We had discussed going to McCullough Nordic ski club on Sunday, but decided that the lower elevation and recent temperatures likely wouldn’t bode well for the snow levels and trails. The new plan took shape: take a quick run on the trails at Big White, return to the condo to pack, then go to McCullough on the way home and ski again. If conditions aren’t favorable there then at least we did some skiing.

We skied a short loop at Big White – taking the Trapping Meadows Trail back up to the gondola. It was snowing still while we went, and the trail conditions weren’t as favorable as Saturday. The snow on the ground was “sticky”. I fell a few times in places I wouldn’t have expected as a result. My attire was less than desirable. I wore my hiking rain shell over top of my clothes as a barrier against the snow. It was like wearing a wet sack - I felt clammy and gross. For the snow it repelled, it trapped as much moisture close to my skin. I also couldn’t wear my glasses without them fogging up, so I skied without them, which isn’t easy because snow flies in your eyes.

Sunday’s trip was less successful, and we opted to bypass McCullough fearing that it wouldn’t be worth our time to investigate if the conditions aren’t ripe for skiing.

We visited with Trevor’s grandmother, then went out to eat dinner, and followed that up “Running the Sahara” a documentary about three guys who do just that.

It’s Monday now, and Trevor has extended this lovefest even further by bringing me chocolate home from his grocery-shopping excursion. I feel the love!

Monday, February 15, 2010

Things I've Learned Cross Country Skiing

Here are a couple of things I’ve learned as a beginner cross-country skier. These things aren’t rocket science – and most folks who ski probably already know – but I feel like I’ve discovered them myself through my experiences.

Gear Matters: Last year I skied in Trevor’s Mom’s old school skis and boots. I appreciated them at the time for the experience they offered. I could experience cross-country skiing and I didn’t have to buy or rent gear to figure out if I liked it. We skied a good bit last year. While I gained confidence on flat terrain, the hills were always hard. This year, with new skis, boots, and poles, I felt much more skilled right from the outset. Maybe it has to do with a bit of experience. But I think, more likely, that gear matters.
  • Boots that support the ankles make it easier to control the skis. My ankles are little weak, so when I previously wore a pair of boots that didn’t support my ankles, when I would be struggling to move the ski and it resisted, I took a dive to cater to my whim to protect my ankles.
  • Skis are determined based on your weight. Too much or too little weight on skis will impact how they glide (or not) on the surface. Getting a pair that’s right for your body is important.
  • Don’t forget the goggles or glasses to protect yourself from in-the-face flying snow if you expect precipitation. It’s uncomfortable to squint and blink to deflect incoming snow while you’re navigating a turn or a “steep” hill.
Scissor the Legs: I discovered I could scissor my legs together for a better inner-leg work out and for a more seamless glide along the tracks.

Up hill in tracks: When going up hill in the tracks, engage the core and lean over the front of the skis a bit so you don’t stand as much of a chance of backsliding.

Up hill out of tracks: If doing the duck waddle up a hill, with the tips of your skis pointed out, don’t forget to dig in a bit with the tips of your poles just behind you. With a firm grasp there, you can recover more easily if you do slide back some. I also started using a smaller lift-drag of my foot and ski so that I wouldn’t chance stepping on my own ski and bringing myself into a crashing face plant.