Greetings, earthlings. Apologies for the lack of wordage on this blog this season. It’s been a rather epic year, with all kinds of ski-related thoughts and inspirations and conundrums that deserve to be shared. [I’ve actually been writing more than ever, see some work at BigLife and WanderOn.] However, I’m here now, at your feet, begging that you forgive me and continue to read my ramblings on the life led on skinny skis.
Forgive me? Fabulous. Read on.
“Everyone has an awkward phase,” people say, referring to those glorious years between the age of 12 and (18? 20? I’m 24 and still in the thick of it)–where braces, insecurity and knocked knees hesitantly lead us down lockered halls toward whatever terrors lurk between class bells.
Everyone has an awkward phase. But if everyone’s awkward phase was even a fraction as acute as mine, my prayers are with them. As a pubescent, I put the “angle” in “gangly,” the “awk” in “gawky.” I was the ‘before’ character in every 90’s teenage makeover movie. With braces, wiry hair and a propensity for turning beet red around any eligible specimen of the opposite sex (you know who you are), the probability of my middle school survival felt rather bleak.
Around seventh grade, someone had the idea to throw this lanky, nose-bleeding, wall-running into adolescent giraffe into a pair of spandex. Give her a pair of carbon toothpicks to balance on, they said. See how that goes.
You know, it went pretty well.
I remember sitting at the kitchen table with my dad, telling him of all of the magic I was discovering in this odd sport of cross-country skiing. I loved the landscape, exploring on snow, the friends I made, and, most importantly, the confidence I gained as I got better at skiing.
“It’s the only place where I feel graceful,” I announced with respect to the trail, probably through food-filled braces.
“What?!” my dad responded. Perhaps the image was hard for him to render, not only me being graceful, but anyone being graceful on cross country skis. Propelled by some of the most unnatural human movements, at most levels, the sport appears to be anything but.
However, anyone who has experienced it knows exactly what I’m talking about. How, when you finally balance over your ski, your momentum must move forward. When that ski interacts with the snow just right, you feel almost weightless–yet still completely grounded. That momentum and balance combine into a sensation universally worshipped as GLIDE.
It wasn’t until recently that I understood that gliding, as we experience it, is unique to cross country skiing. A couple of weeks ago, in an unusual turn of events, I spent the weekend on edged skis in the backcountry (a comparative blog on powder vs. nordic skiing to come). After three days of skin-propelled uphill shuffling, I nearly forgot how going uphill could possibly feel good.
And then I went Nordic skiing. On hard tracks. When it was 25 degrees and lightly snowing. On my first stride, I felt immediate relief. Hovering over my light, agile ski I could almost feel a moment of flight. After the (admittedly amazing) weekend of wiggling through the backcountry, I felt completely in my element there in the track. Home.
Of course, it doesn’t always feel that way. Not only does it take years to get comfortable enough on skis to actually shift your weight and glide along, but glide’s experience and longevity are largely condition-and-attitude dependent. Take this weekend’s Boulder Mountain Tour, for example. The 34-kilometer race started after a night of constantly falling, wet, heavy snow.
The Blaine County Recreation Department had done all that they could to keep the trail groomed and compact, but between race start and finish, another ten inches fell on the course, making for a hard fought finish for every skier in the field. After being decidedly dropped in the first 3k of the race, I spent the next 31 kilometers alone, leaning into the headwind and trying constantly, desperately, to glide.
It was a journey.
Some thoughts were certainly thunk, positive self-talk spoken and one-to-three profanities blasted into the indifferent wilderness as I lumbered along the course. Every so often, tree cover or a windward bank would expose a glazed section of trail just big enough to experience the relief of shifting from a shuffle to a glide. Those intermittent bursts, brief moments of positive reinforcement, gave me just enough encouragement, at just the right times, to get me to the finish line.
In the end, that’s really all you need. Sometimes, living in this world just feels like a game of leapfrog from one weightless moment to another, even if it means sifting through snowstorms, braces and awkward moments in between. If you’re lucky enough to encounter those moments at a frequency high enough to get you to your goal, or inspire you to make new ones, I’d say you’re gliding pretty well.
Cheers to the next.