Monday, January 17, 2011

Misery Sticks

I skied back-country last weekend, and despite many encounters with rocks and about 9 crashes, I came away unscathed, albeit sore for days. I'd kick myself if I got hurt skiing conditions like that, so I decided I'd quit while I was ahead and avoid the BC trails until we got another foot of snow. Perhaps Sunday would work out for a mtb ride.

After receiving Saturday's snowfall, 'skinny' mtb tires didn't sound like a good bet on the new 15cm or so of powder. I was pretty sure the other guys would do ok on their 4" shod snow bikes, but it seemed to much of a gamble for me, so the decision was made to try a skate ski. By Saturday night I was lined  up to ski with Rob and Dave Sunday late morning.

Upon picking me up, the guys did all they could to convince me that they suck at skate skiing, thinking I could well be skilled. Last year I skated once, and before that a handful of times over the prior two years. I seemed to pick it up quickly, and never really suffered too much, though I was skiing much more often when I started. My longest ski was about 1.5 hours. Sunday would be about 3. And it was -15.

Off we went from the base of Fortune. Almost immediately I felt some strain in my shins. Hmm, not so great. Once we settled into climbing toward Champlain on the Parkway my glutes started loading up with lactic acid. Hmm, definitely sub-optimal. On we went, eventually turning right on the #1 to continue toward Champlain. I was already lagging far behind the other guys at this point, flailing whenever the road was steeper than a few degrees. Where had the little technique I had gone? No idea. My muscles were protesting, but at least my heart and lungs were ok.

Climb, climb, climb, up we went. As Rob said, there's downhill skiing, then there's uphill skiing. I was an utter spaz on the steeper climbs, which was somewhat discouraging. Nevertheless, the guys waited for me without any grumbling, and I tried not to complain too much. I was suffering. Past Champlain now, we were heading for Wolf when I planted a pole on a ski and took a slow fall on my other pole, breaking it in half. Damn! At minus 15 degree outside, going back to the car to hang out while Dave and Rob skied didn't sound too great in my head. What to do? We scrambled up to the #1 to discuss.

Rob had the plan: we'd rotate poles so everyone had a turn with just one. We'd ski another hour or so. Ok, sounds good, everybody's happy. Awesome teamwork! Off we went toward Wolf. Rob recounted a story of a friend who had lost a finger. While healing he skied with one pole, holding the injured hand above his head to reduce swelling. And he schooled Rob. Rob was inspired, and this was an opportunity to see if he could adapt too. Did he ever. Off he went, leading Dave and me, and once again, the two pulled away. So it went up to Wolf, our turnaround point. On the return Dave took the single pole and he too skied like a champ. I was only able to hold on when things turned downhill. Heading down the Fortune Parkway I caught up to Rob in the tracks after some heavy double poling. Approaching fast, it didn't occur to me to stand up and take some air to slow. Instead, I stepped out as I pulled near. Smash, full on body slam. No surprise, I should have known I wouldn't pull that off...

Pulling up to the car, we were all well done, but I was particularly worked over. Skate skiing is unforgiving. You can't just go easy if you lack technique; its not like riding a bike. It can be frustrating, no doubt, especially when so many other people around seem to be moving along well and not suffering. I couldn't help wonder why the hell so many people skied. Why do something so brutalizing, in the cold? My perception of the practice was completely skewed by my weak, aching body. The thought of people skiing marathons of 50km was almost ludicrous to me in as I struggled to scale just about every climb on the #1. Why do it? Because they love it.

I get it. I get it because I love cycling, the good, the bad, and the ugly. I seek out challenges I'm not sure I'll be able to pull off. I welcome the pain I'll need to endure; I feel confident in my ability to handle it. Skate skiing on Sunday was different for me, but my experience can't be taken as representative of what others undergo when they are tuned for skiing. In simple terms, I'm out of shape for skiing. I haven't been doing it, so I suck at it right now. If I stuck with it I'd improve, experience less muscle failure and more muscle pain. That's fine, that's easy to handle. If I want to understand how others get through long skis I ought to be thinking about how I feel on really long rides...when I'm in shape.

Doing things we totally suck at is good for us. A regular dose of humility is healthy. Its also an opportunity to see things from the perspective of a neophyte, which is invaluable for those of us who tend to spend most of our time doing things we are good at. Getting dropped by my friends skiing with one pole makes me think about what it must feel like to be at the back of a group ride, struggling to hang on while the guys at the front chat. Because I am completely out of shape for skiing, every stop allowed my muscles to recover. When riders don't have many miles in their legs the same applies. Later, when the fitness comes along, the breaks become less helpful. I'm used to getting less out of those breaks, but others get a lot from them. This is a good thing to remember, and a lesson I would not have learned had I not gone out flailed on the misery sticks.

Many thanks to Rob and Dave for being gracious throughout the ski, and helping me get through it. I'm thankful to have friends who don't hesitate to help me out when I'm in a bind.

All I need now is a new set of poles and I'll be ready to humiliate myself again.


Steve said...

nice post Matt! Always great to feel like a beginner again. Struggling with something is a great way to build empathy and recognize your own achievements.

I do have to disagree with one point though. XC Skiing is clearly for insane people and should barely be considered a sport. More like a bizarre form of Scandinavian hip torture.

Anonymous said...

I suck at skiing and skating.

If only we could have some sort of mtb trail in the winter.

But, there is some good riding to be had though - wakefield!

The roads are mostly covered in sand and the roads are fast this time of year.

there is a cure to our cabin fever in the winter, but it requires driving... I hate driving to bike.

but, there are some good times to be had out in the country roads in wakefield.

just another 1.5 months to go though, I hope.
The previous years, yah can get biking in up in the gats come the 2nd week in March.

for now, I'm jogging. The gf is doing a 1/2 marathon in Feb. So, I'll latch onto that. Its dirt cheap to jog.

Bigger Dummy said...

Good on ya Matt! I skated on Sunday morning too - and it was cold. And I was wrongly waxed (blue) so I might as well have spray glued sand to the bottoms of my skis. Hell, I had to pole to move downhill, in the tracks...but man is it great to be in the Gats in the winter.

Anonymous said...

a map of a good winter biking route:

David Bilenkey said...

Nice post Matt. Nice to hear you sound like me on skate skis. ;-) And it is true about the change in perspective, always good for humility, I prefer my humbling experiences to be a tad warmer. :-)

Matt Surch said...

Thanks for the comments guys. I gotta agree with Steve, skate skiing really is hip torture, specifically hip flexor, but I evidently people get used to it. We can get used to pretty much anything.

Good to hear you are getting out Sean. I'll keep an eye for Eurosports jackets next time I'm out there. We spied a few fellow cyclists out there, always a welcome sight.

the original big ring said...

Ahhhh, so glad that you can see my perspective whenever I do a Tall Tree ride. Suffer, suffer, suffer. Seems my entire bike season is filled with humiliation.

Sounds like we'd make good ski partners though!

Good post Matt.