We headed north this weekend to find snow. Our lawn is bare, we got rain and ice a week ago and it’s long melted. The trails in the woods are muddy; the air is damp and the balmy 45 degree temps make it feel like spring. We drove three and a half hours before eight inches of the white stuff showed up.
We are lucky to have friends with a north woods cabin on a lake; even better, they like to share it with their friends. Thirteen of us materialized when we heard the snow was in good skiing condition; cross country skiing – Classic or Skate. We played hard all day Saturday in Winter Park Minocqua. We arrived around ten in the morning to a full parking lot and set after set of skis lined up at the Chalet door. Wow. My heart sank. I’m not an experienced skier, thinking about how many people would be out there on the trails, watching me wipe out, made me very nervous.
My guy and I decided to hike the snowshoe trails with a couple of our friends instead of getting on our skis right away. It was gorgeous and weather perfect. We hiked steadily for three hours, accidentally got off trail and bushwhacked through a marsh. It was there, in the marsh, my right leg punched a hole through to icy water. Luckily, the continued tramping through the woods, uphill and down, kept me warm enough and we got back to the Chalet long before frost-bite could set in. After locating dry socks, eating lunch, and a having a good warming by the fire, we decided to go skiing, the last two hours before sun set in the park.
Now, while it had been an absolutely wonderful hike in the woods, it did seem to pale in comparison to the experience our friends were having skiing. My guy’s friends totally adore the sport. Everyone came through the doors radiating joy. I decided I had better get out there and get on my skis. I knew deep in my heart, if I put off getting on my skis, my fear would only escalate. Unlike biking where I can’t wait to get out the door on my bike, I dread getting on my skis. My fear is rooted in the seemingly out of control speed I pick up going down a hill. Throw in, for good measure, going down a hill and around a corner and I become unglued.
I noticed on the enormous map on the wall what was marked as the Cookie Trail. Yes, it is the trail which caters to the youngest, most novice skier. It is clearly marked with cookie signs. Mailboxes all along the route contain a punch for the punch card which one can turn in at the end of the route for a free cookie at the Chalet. I declined the punch card option, but it was the route I decided to take. Perhaps a session without steep hills and sharp corners would be just what I needed to get some mojo around skiing. Now here is why I love my guy with all my heart and soul. He opted to go skiing with me. With me – instead of racing around another trail on his skate skis! He’s the best.
The Cookie Trail was just the ticket. I loved every minute out there and the lack of steep hills allowed me to focus on general technique and to actually ski, for once in my life, without falling, to the point that the following day, when the entire group decided to head to the Oneida County Washburn Lake Outdoor Area, I wasn’t as terrified to get back on my skis.
The thing about cross-country skiing is that each park will mark the easiest route but, it is only easy in comparison to the rest of the trails in the park. The trails at Perch Lake were hilly. Everyone warned me I would be facing some steep down hills, no matter which route I took. A friend, B, offered to go with me. (I know my guy was delighted to ski on his own.) Knowing the park, she navigated us towards the most level routes possible, but we did hit some “huge” hills. She had me practice snowplowing – feet set out wide so skis won’t cross, legs pressing down, holding the inside edges of the skis into the snow – something I’ve never learned well enough to make it useful for me. We skied one loop several times just so I could go down the same hill multiple times. It was the type of hill I am the most terrified of, steep and fast, with a curve in the middle as it heads around a corner; a tree right at the corner.
I have to admit, I never did successfully get down that hill without falling, but here is what I noticed: when I was focused on technique, cutting into the snow, or keeping my knees bent, or shifting my weight according to the turn, or keeping my eyes in the direction of where I wanted to go, my brain felt light and spacious. If I focused, for even a second on how I felt out of control, or afraid of the speed, or even considered the existence of the tree to my right, my brain feel fogged up with a dark little cloud and I would a fall. It was weird.
Turns out, not surprisingly, skiing, in my case Classical cross-country skiing, provides a great metaphor for living life. Where you look is where you go. If you stay in the present moment, you can focus on technique. If you stay relaxed, knees slightly bent, and centered over your skis, you will stay upright in most situations. How and where you shift, or place your weight, on your skis is what guides you around corners; it is also what brings you to a complete stop, safely. The level to which you feel fear, tense up, lean too far forward, or lean too far backward, will determine whether you glide or fall. How you fall dictates how you get back up again.
Now, I can’t wait for it to snow here. We’re expecting 4 inches tomorrow night. Excellent. I’m looking forward to continuing the practice of how to live life!