“And, in short, I was afraid.”–-Eliot’s Prufrock
How many words will it take to describe how horribly I raced in the Town League this season at Alyeska? And I’m not even talking about how I compared to the other skiers, which I can’t care too much about because they’re almost all better than me even had I been skiing my best.
I’m talking about how much crappier I was this season than last season. Reasons abound, he rationalized, after the fact.
I started late due to surgery and the course was in lousy condition many of the nights: rutted like a luge course one night, hard as polished diamond field (a diamond field?) another night, –15 F˚ another night, blizzard another night. I only raced five nights, so maybe one night it was okay. My times were lousy every night, though.
By lousy, I mean an average of five full seconds slower than last season. Last season, on a really good night, I once hit the gates (well, didn’t hit them) for a 22 second run. This season I averaged around 29. When a 24 second run is a whole infinity practically, 5 seconds, well, that’s an infinity, too. Time does something inexplicable between the start and the finish line: slowing down and speeding up simultaneously.
I asked my surgeon why I was afraid to let it all hang out this season, when last year I wasn’t (or far less so, apparently). ("Let it all hang out"–my alma mater Evergreen's motto–Omnia Extares.) He laughed because it was the second question I asked him that was, according to him, out of his league. The first question, which I’m embarrassed to admit, was, “Okay it’s a miracle I’m alive, why aren’t I more ecstatic about it?” Not his field, he said, implying I needed a different sort of professional help. Now I was asking him why I stood at the starting gate, ski tips hanging out over the lip, poles poised for leverage, waiting to hear “Skier ready blue, Skier ready red? Three, two, one, . . .” and was . . . scared.
Last season, I couldn’t wait to race. I took a killer fall too, last season, described by a PBR–drinking local racer as “mega ragdoll yard sale.” But I couldn’t wait for the next run.
My surgeon said, “The Scottish race car driver, Sterling Moss said that when he became afraid, he became cautious and becoming cautious increased his danger, didn’t lessen it. And Moss knew that then it was time to quit.” Obviously, my surgeon is telling me that less risky pursuits would be more, I don’t know, age appropriate?
Anyway, at the end of the racing season, I was just glad to have finished the seasons’ runs unhurt. Then, I had a couple IPAs, at the Sitzmark, Aly’s classic après-ski bar, collected my race t-shirt and hit the road back up to Anchorage where I got on a plane to Detroit where I would visit my dad who is beyond doctor’s help, little cancer fires in too many parts of his body to put out. I easily put skiing out of mind. On a good day my dad gets out of bed and walks to his recliner and back and forth a few times, but he’s clearly winding down. On the day the hospice nurse was there he was in good enough spirits to make faces at me behind her back. But some time during the hospice nurses’ droning I had this epiphany and it was this: next year I’m charging hard in Town League, fuck it.
As previously scheduled I returned from the Midwest a day earlier than my conference lasted to race in the second largest cross country ski race in North America, the Tour of Anchorage. Last year in my first Tour I did not distinguish myself, except by how terrible I felt at the end, which included mild hallucinations (not the good kind), vomiting, and hypothermia. The trifecta. Thus, it’s obvious why I was so eager to repeat the experience. I concluded it was a nutrition problem and I had help figuring out a strategy from our trainer, the great Heidi Beer.
On race day morning I had not slept much, having just flown in from Chicago the day before. But master ski waxer, Dave Ward, and his faithful apprentice waxer, Erich Heinrich, had expertly prepared my bases and, somehow, I felt great and during the 25 K course I never stopped feeling great. I kept an even pace, and even finished strong on the final long uphill. It was a vindication, or something.
We’re having a record snow year and I’ll probably get some runs in well into June. I’m already nearing my season's record for days on skis. No more racing, but lots more skiing ahead. And that’s a good thing, because you never know what run will have been your last.