In the last 5 months I have had two surgeries and a recall on a mammogram. It gets tiring thinking so much about one’s health. In the early fall I set intention to do two things that would signal to me that I was really recovered: volunteer to work with elementary students on environmental education activities and go cross-country skiing. This blog focuses on cross-country skiing and the next blog will focus on my delightful, active interactions with fourth graders.
When two longtime friends asked if I’d like to come join them for some skiing in their Idaho homelands this winter, my answer was an immediate: YES!!!!!!
I had scheduled toe surgery in mid-December, but I held to my hopes and plans to ski in early February. Within two weeks of the toe surgery, I was back doing rigorous dog walking and then quickly back to swimming. There was only a month to get my stamina back before skiing, but I was determined and it was fun moving at the pace of no pain and steadily back into conditioning.
In my 70s I have no illusion about returning to some earlier level of athletic competition. I simply want to keep finding as many ways as I can to actively explore and enjoy the earth in all seasons. The trip to Idaho taught me a lot about my recovery.
Day #1: Wobbly
After getting my rental skis, we went out for an “easy” 5K ski. I was shocked at how rigid I was going down small hills. Honestly, I was afraid of a fall. After 90 minutes, I had the kick and glide action of classic skis back, but my downhill snowplow skills were tight and even fearful. I was on a green, beginner run and that is exactly where I belonged.
Day #2: Taking it easy, studying animal tracks, and the big fall
My friends are skate skiers and lots faster than I, so I sent them off on intermediate and advanced trails and set off at my own pace on a beginner run alongside a beautiful creek. Oh, the tracks in the winter: weasel, mouse, snowshoe hare, squirrel, deer! When I took mammalogy in college, I put together a photographic book of different kinds of tracks. That knowledge really has stuck with me. I adore how winter reveals so many secrets of the animal world.
I was so entranced with all the tracks that I was only vaguely aware of the steadiness of my climb. When the Gladiator loop trail crossed over the creek and started back down to Galena Lodge, I found myself a bit nervous but still strong in my snowplowing ability. Then a big dip appeared ahead. The trail made a short, sharp turn to the left at the bottom of the hill. I paused to study it. Hmm, not sure I can quite make the turn. However, the snow at the bottom is deep and fluffy. No need to take off my skis and walk down the hill. So, I got into a snowplow and headed down. As the sharp left neared, it was clear I was not going to make it. So, I let myself head straight into the snowbank. It was soft and fun! I laughed as I untangled and uprighted myself. Some big measure of fear was gone now. The fall had happened and it was not such a big deal.
Day #3: The long downhill trail
The trail system in Sun Valley is extensive. One part of the trail runs from the top of the valley all the way to the base—a distance of over 30 K. We had two cars for the out and back trail. By this time I was much more in stride with myself—doing lots of double poling, staying in the tracks on milder downhill sections, easily stepping out of the tracks to snowplow on steeper drops as we traversed about a third of that trail.
Day #4: Two valley loops
Late in the day after the big Boulder 30K race was held on the Harriman Trail running down the valley, my friend Janelle and I explored two loops that did not intersect with the race trail. Carl was recovering from competing in the race and Janelle and I donned our skis for a short, end of the day outing.
Day #5: Fresh snow
On the last day Janelle and Carl switched to classic skis and we glided our way through 4 inches of beautiful fresh snow. Fresh snow makes the track slower—an advantage for me. Two people breaking trail in front—another advantage for me. Snow covered pines, ice encrusted creek, and only one other person on the trail besides the three of us. It felt so much like the wilderness skiing I have mostly done over the years. On the way down I sang and sang and sang. The successful return to skiing skill and form, the adrenalin of exercise, and the euphoria of mountain snow beauty all erupted into my made-up song of pure joy.
Maybe it is being raised in Minnesota and basically living my entire life in northern snow country. Maybe it’s my Scandinavian blood. I have always loved snow—the deeper, the more remote the better. Whatever the reason, the privilege of mountain skiing with two dear friends this past week marked a turning point in my healing from back surgery. I have high hopes for active years ahead. And for that, I drop to my knees in the snow. Grateful beyond words . . . and happy to get up with very little problem!