Saturday, March 6, 2010

Cow on Ice, Redux

I had a comp day after a busy couple of weeks at the office, and I had planned to test my Anti-Monkey Butt Powder on a long bike ride, make a trip to Trader Joe's, and do other amusing things. And then I said to myself, "Self,we're going skiing." Since moving to Sacramento, I had not availed myself even once of the great winter sports just a couple of hours away. I had been completely obsessed by the Vancouver Olympics and was inspired to get out there. I'm afraid of downhill these days, plus it's expensive, and I suck at it. I did some quick googling for cross-country and found that Tahoe Donner has a great XC ski center, with lots of nice flat-looking meadows for beginners, because I've been on XC skis maybe four times, total? The forecast was perfect; 38 degrees, no precip expected. I put on my cold-weather bike tights, gathered some tech garments, a fanny pack, and victuals, and jumped in the car.

Two hours later I was opting for striding skis over skate skis in the rental shop, largely because I thought that it would be easy to putter along on the former when I got tired, whereas skate skis seem to require a lot of effort all the time. I bounded up the snowbank and onto the bright white snow behind the lodge, and I clicked in. "Whoa!" I said. I had forgotten how incredibly light, skinny, and edgeless striding skis are. And long. They just wanted to go all over the damn place. I made my way cautiously toward the nearest set of tracks and tried to establish a rhythm of kick, glide, kick, glide.

Fifty yards later, I stopped, panting. This shit is hard, man! Plus I was dealing with 6600 feet of altitude. I caught my breath and set off again, a little more slowly. It felt great. I imagined myself with an Olympic bib, breaking away from a pack of people with names like Boergsen and Hakkipukkennen and Krystkowa. And then I stopped again to catch my breath. There was hardly anyone about - most of the people who wanted to ski on a Friday afternoon were out on the advanced trails with their own skis and boots. The snowpack looked to be about five feet deep, with some new fluffy stuff around the groomed trails. It was gorgeous. I started off again to where two trails intersected. The tracks vanished and a little undulation snuck in right at that spot. I promptly fell over.

The only time I had been on XC skis in a real cross-country situation was on a weekend retreat at Salmon Lakes with a bunch of outdoorsy types from Project RAFT, in about 1992. I did OK on the trail to the lodge, but during the orienteering challenge the next day, I was hosed. We were going up and down ridges, across deep snowfields, every damn where. I fell down early, often, and hard. I was surrounded by expert mountainy people who could do anything on skis, on water, with climbing gear, whatever, and my competitive ego was still a problem for me back then. I got very grumpy and whiny, and to this day I remember
my behavior with some embarrassment. Our Siberian buddy Sergei kindly likened the sight of me on skis to "cow on ice," which made me laugh in the midst of it all.

But in 2010, the Cow on Ice picked herself up and strode forward with a pretty sincere smile. I fell down again at the next tiny downhill, scattering loose change, lip balm, and my Droid in an impressive pattern on the snow. I didn't even find the Droid again until the next loop. Exercising extreme caution, I made it upright through the biggest downhill turning bit on the second-easiest loop in the whole resort, and sailed down the home stretch back toward the lodge. I stopped at the end of the tracks and promptly fell over. Exhausted, I lay quietly in the snow for a while, collecting the energy to get my skis off and get to my feet.

It's not the falling I mind, or even the landing (by and large), but the getting up. It's so awkward and so strenuous. I would happily fall down ten or 15 times on packed snow (though not ice), if a giant hand would only reach down from the heavens and pluck me out of the snow, brush me off, and set me down on my skis again.

I got myself re-situated, skiied over the trackless, slick snow toward the big trail map and -- you see where this is going, don't you? -- promptly fell over. A kind soul came over to pull me up, but I felt that my knees would not take the strain and I politely declined. I set out on my second loop, still in good humor. The weather was great, I was getting an intense full-body workout, and I was in the mountains. I made it around the second loop without a single fall, starting to feel a better sense of balance. I asked a nice man who skiied by me, coaching his flailing girlfriend, for a few tips, and those helped as well. People in the cross-country world are invariably nice, sincere, and helpful, as far as I can tell. It's a No-Snark environment. Weird, but not unpleasant. I went back to the lodge for a little break and refueling, chatting with the nice man and the girlfriend and a nice woman from Wisconsin who was freaked out by how big the hills were on the more advanced trails. I saw a woman whose skis seemed wider and more stable than mine, and I commented on that. "Yeah," she said. "It looked like they rented you some Death Sticks." Death Sticks. That had a nice ring to it.

I managed another uneventful loop, but the fourth time around I let myself get a little too much "speed" going into the "big" downhill turn. I sailed through the air and did a spectacular face plant into a fluffy snowbank by the trail. Ahh! Refreshing! I got out of the skis, struggled to my feet, wrote my initials in the snow with my pole so that those who came after would see the marks of my glory, clipped in, and strode on. My triceps, shoulders, quads, butt, and calves were all getting pretty tired after this effort, so I did one more mini-loop and called it a day. Unfortunately I took my hardest fall of the day as I was carrying my skis back down the snow steps to the rental shop, doinking myself pretty hard and tweaking my left shoulder, which ached all the way home.

This morning, though, after a massive dose of ibuprofen, a great night's sleep, and a very hot shower, I feel pretty decent. A bruise or two, a lingering stiffness around the shoulders and knees, and a strong urge to spend the rest of the day in a hot tub, but otherwise, pretty good. I want to get up there again before the season ends, maybe try some skate skis next time. At least they have edges.


  1. Hilarious! Great post, Jayne. I cannot cross country ski to save my life. I suck at it. Keep on falling--getting up is great exercise :-)

  2. Great story. And I'm so jealous you got to cross country ski. I'm totally addicted and if I'd been there I would've been out there with you in a millisecond. And I stopped keeping track of my falls on the first day. Let's just say I had a *lot* of them!

  3. What strikes me most is not that you kept going, but that you went skiing alone in the first place. I'm not sure I'd have the confidence to take on something like that myself.

    A friend suggested I visit your site, as I'm contemplating doing a triathalon (mini - 500m swim, 10mi bike, 3mi run) to celebrate my 40th birthday.

  4. You are awesome!! I need a dose of something to kick me into gear for training. You just keep getting back up, that is amazing Jayne.

  5. i always think I want to cross country ski...but it's that slippery snowy stuff that keeps me from doing it!

  6. Yeah, that snow was slippery all right.

  7. Hi Jayne. Fun post. I came lurking by after reading your tri book...SO MUCH fun after reading Sally Edwards and Dr. whatsisname. They have great inspiring info, but I am approaching 50 and am some change over 2 bills...I just didn't think they were talking to ME. Thanks.