Wait a minute, I’ve been here before. I had just put the skin back on my ski and looked behind me to realize in those few moments I was struggling to wrangle it back on the entire field had blown by me. I looked ahead and saw what looked like a tiny ant line marching into the distance, I looked behind me to the edge of the hill which dropped off into darkness with no one behind me. Okay, so starting this race season like I ended last year’s. Dead last. I turned and began to make my way up the hill and made sure to consistently drag my feet and try not to allow any unnecessary movement that would knock my skin off again.
I got to the top and all muscle memory of removing my skins and switching my skis had dissipated, okay so it didn’t really help that the only muscle memory I had was from two days earlier when I had put skis on for the first time this season and watched a video of a ski racer during a transition, so hadn’t fully committed it to memory. I shoved my skins down my tights and pushed off the ledge, welp, here we go.
At this point if you’re trying to figure out what is happening, don’t worry I was trying to figure that out the entire race. A week before I had found myself volunteering at a 100 mile race. I’m not sure how it came up but by the end of my time there I had committed to meeting one of the other volunteers for a skimo race on Friday night. Perfect, first time on skis this season and my second time in oh about 19 years, why not start off racing.
Fortunately, I got a text that they would be going out on Wednesday to do a loop and bringing another friend who would be towing a baby so I should be able to keep up. I texted Sully that I don’t think this person understood that when I said I was a beginner he did not realize ‘I would be pulling my tags off my new gear in the parking lot’ beginner (I bought stuff in October but was still racing my bike till December and then it got super cold in January so really had no interest).
On our practice ski on Wednesday I only got one weird look at the start of the trail from a high school nordic skier, he was like “I’m not even going to ask” to which I responded, “just you wait, this is what you get to look forward to.” So we went up, down, up, down, and I practiced my transitions with lots of humility and openness to just about every piece of advice they could give me. I had hopes of practicing the transition in my backyard on Thursday but had some hard deadlines that meant I just watched videos of Killian Jornet transitioning and went over the steps in my head. I wasn’t too worried about how long it would take me, I didn’t really care about that, but more didn’t want to accidentally lock my ski in and blow out my knee going down or not lock my ski and and loose the stability in my knee going up.
The race started with us running to our skis, getting into the bindings and taking off uphill. I actually felt like I had a somewhat decent start for not knowing what I was doing. I made a comment to another cyclist that ‘this is a bit different than cyclocross’ and kept gliding uphill (trying to channel my inner Dottie Hansen, “gracefully and grandfully” but in reality probably looking more like Marla…). I was about halfway up when I looked up to see people starting to reach the top, and felt one of my leg’s lose traction, I looked down and my skin was lying in the snow behind me. I picked it up and shuffled off to the side taking my ski off to reapply it. I fumbled with it for a bit and put it back on, okay round 2, only to make it a few shuffles and have it pop off again. Por que, why is this happening. I stopped, put it back on again and looked up to realize I was dead last. I made it to the top without any more hiccups but was also conscious to have my ski keep contact with the ground. I got to the top, got a card, transitioned, stuck my skins down my tights as I was informed to do (cycling has left me with so little modesty #kiddingmom, kinda), and took off down the hill. Bonus about being last, not a lot of traffic going down, which I was grateful for because I’m still a bit cautious about the whole downhill speed/brain injury thing (you’re welcome mom).
I got to the bottom, handed in my card, put my skins back on and started working on the uphill segment again. I had passed some people, or they had passed me in their lapping of me, but either way had some company going up. Again, I got about halfway up when I lost my skin but had a hard time wrestling it back on, a dad who was with his young son stopped and gave me two ski straps to hold it in place to get to the top. Because of the rubber my ski turned into less of a glide and more of a grumble with an awkwardly long and heavy snow-shoe technique taking over. I got to the top, transitioned, and headed down hill. The downhill wasn’t steep, except for the last little bit before the transition area, I pizza’d so hard down that section as to not go very fast but also didn’t want to crash in front of everyone. I was 8 minutes from the cut-off when they were going to stop people from going back up, well it might take me 8 minutes to transition, it didn’t and I was back on my skis headed up with about 5-6 minutes to spare. I didn’t put the ski straps on and tried to limit any unnecessary movement. I made it to the top without losing a skin. I made it down and took some wider lines into the powder because why not at that point.
Before the race I thought that trying to do 3 laps was a good goal and I was able to get that with even the mechanicals (is that even what they are called in skiing, I have no idea). I also had a lot of fun for having no idea what I was doing– at the end of the race I realized I had never flipped my boots over from the ski mode the whole time but also as a beginner I have no idea how things are suppose to feel so just assume it must be how everyone feels.
After putting my legs up on the wall for an abnormally long time that night, I headed down to the resort to go skiing on Saturday. I did some snowboarding in the resort in Colorado when I first moved there but before I got my brain injury because after just didn’t feel like it was worth the risk. I don’t think I had been on skis in the resort since maybe a middle school ski trip.
Fortunately, the two people I went with, while expert skiers were more than okay taking the day slow and spending time on only blue runs, and gave me pointers to practice turning, and showed incredible patience waiting for me at multiple points throughout the run.
We were able to get about 7 runs in and I certainly felt a little more confident by the end of the day, not sending it down the mountain, but did have some french fry moments and not just all pizza.
In other non-activity news, death remains to feel exceptionally close in Alaska. At first I thought it was because of my position at the hospital, hearing all these ways people die or are injured that I normally wouldn’t be conscious of, and then I thought maybe it was because my counterpart in Fairbanks was violently killed, we were both fresh out of law school and she had only just started her career like mine when it was cut horrifically short, and then I thought maybe I’m just more aware of it–law school is a pretty selfish pursuit so often didn’t dedicate a lot of resources to things besides studying and training, so maybe I just wasn’t fully paying attention to how often death was happening.
Then I finally realized, it’s just Alaska itself that reminds me of my mortality in so many ways, it remains the feeling that everything can kill you– the exposure, the isolation, the wildlife–being out all night in New York City and not being able to get home, something bad might happen but you probably won’t freeze to death– in Alaska getting your car stuck somewhere on a remote road that you’re trying to turn around on can become a perilous situation pretty quick (no that hasn’t happened but do have a shovel, blankets, and food in my car just in case). It just seems like the stakes are elevated all the time; you can do everything right and still die, you can do everything wrong and still survive, and that’s where I struggle- there are more wild parts of the equation that I can’t control. But like everything there is a certain amount of risk with everything involved and making sure that I’m prepared as best as possible just means maybe it won’t look totally terrible on the report–hope springs eternal.
And in more non-activities, activities, I keep thinking that the Fat Bike race is the week after it really is so now have about 3 weeks to get in shape-ish enough for 100 miles, oops. That is not going to look good on the report. Guess it’s time to finally start training.