What were you doing last Friday at 4AM? Maybe you were working on a paper, maybe you were partying with your friends, or maybe, like the majority of normal humans in this time zone, you were enjoying some much-need REM sleep. There are a variety of things one can do at 4AM, but I can pretty much guarantee you weren’t doing what I was doing. Unless you were with me.
See, in my quest to make peace with winter, I’ve decided I needed to change my approach… to approaching. I’ve been working for the last few months to assemble the cheapest, most efficient touring setup ever, and it’s been going quite well. A batch of granola and a few bucks got me a pair of skis, and a phone call home got me some sweet old bindings, but then the snow came and cut short my internet trolling for climbing skins. Rather than pass up the first weekend of winter fun, I ended up supporting local business; spending nearly all of my grocery money for the week on two orange, hairy, sticky strips of plastic. Which brings us to what I was doing at 4AM last Friday: cutting skins.
I wanted to make them perfect, but stuff was being loaded into the car as I was fine-trimming the edges, so I grabbed another quick swig of coffee and got going. Thus began my first experience with touring- on a moonlit morning in October.
I love new sports, because there’s always the potential that you’ll be a “natural” and just instantly kick ass. I’ve been a natural at some sports, I’ve been proficient at others, but I’ve never just straight-up sucked at something the way I straight up sucked at touring.
The movement was totally foreign, my boots seemed determined to wedge my shins in half, and in my mind every kick-turn had the potential to blow both my knees. I quickly found myself skinning alone, hearing only the squeak of my boots, the distant giggles of my companions, and my own ragged breathing. It was really, really hard, but somewhere between my racing heart and the sweat pouring down my back, I began to truly enjoy the movement.
I figure it’s been a long time since I’ve earned every inch of a climb. I’ve found various head tricks and techniques to cheat the pain on a bike, but with this new strange sport I had no choice but to experience all of it. It was weirdly enjoyable to be so present in my pissed-off body- and it didn’t hurt that the sun came up at exactly the moment we reached the top. I’ve never seen snow come in quite the vivid shades we saw up there- every highlight was bright, peachy orange, and every shadow was lime green or fading to blue. As I peered over the edge at the patchwork of still-brown fields below, I couldn’t imagine anywhere else I’d want to be.
Yet I hadn’t even really considered the descent. I’ve been hurt for a few seasons in a row now, and as a result have been looking at skiing out of the corner of my eye for the last year- kind of like you’d look at a mountain lion- avoiding direct contact. I buckled my boots, going through all the familiar motions and feeling more than a little nervous. My goggles were still crusty from the last time I’d worn them, over a year ago.
Luckly, some absurdly deep October pow and eighteen years of muscle-memory eliminated my fears. Skiing’s something I love to do, probably more than most everything else, and by the time I collapsed at the bottom, totally spent and incapable of keeping a straight face, life had gotten a whole lot simpler. We slapped on the skins and set off for another lap.