Day 36 featured powder turns at Butler Gulch.
My very first foray into the world of endurance sports happened around the age of seven or eight while living in Norway. In the winter, as is customary in Norway, my family would go cross country skiing every weekend. It was quite a way to grow up, and when combined with daily skis after school it helped me become quite adept at handling a pair of nordic skis at a rather young age. Those days are vivid in my memory.
We would take the trolley up from Oslo, past the legendary Hollmenkollen ski jump, to the end of the line, a place called Trivanstua. Trivanstua was a large radio tower that overlooked the city, and it was the jumping off point to probably the best nordic skiing in the world, a place called Nordmaka. Nordmaka was basically a high wooded plateau that featured thousands of miles of cross country ski trails.
We would get off the train and my dad would fire up the blow torch to pine tar our wooden skis. To this day, the smell of pine tar holds a special place in my heart because of this. Then it would be the wax of the day, and we would be off on our daily adventure. Soon we would leave the hustle and bustle of the main terminal behind, and be off on our exploration of the trails.
Some of the trails were flat, but many were quite challenging. My school would have ski carnival//race every year, and my first year, in first grade, I remember racing (relative) across the flats when my ski popped off on the very first hill as I was trying to herringbone up it. Not knowing any better, and of course being in race mode, I continued up the hill, sans ski. I'm not sure if I finished the race on one ski or not, but it was a rather comical moment.
The hills were made much more challenging by our wooden edges. I remember a terrifyingly steep decent, that was always sheer ice, as the snow is much wetter in Norway than in Colorado. I dare say I was OK on those little skis though, and I don't think I walked many, if any, of the hills.
The trails in Norway always led somewhere, and usually that was to a cabin, or hytte as the are called in Norway. These were amazing places for a young child, with a roaring fire, older, strong skiers and of course yummy food, from pasta to hot dogs (pulsa) to some bizarre hot fruit drink.
My family always encouraged my skiing. We joined something called the Norwegian Ski Foreningen, and with membership came a card where you could chart how many kilometers you skied each winter, and if you skied a certain amount of kilometers you would earn a gold, silver or bronze pin. For my age at the time, 300 km was a bronze, 400 km a silver and 500 km a gold. I of course had to go for the gold. After each ski my mother would write in the distance we skied and the destination.
There was a destination north of the main area that always held a mystical quality for me – Kikustua. Kikustua was a long was away, a solid 24 km round trip from Oslo, which at the age of eight or nine is not a small thing. While skiing trails I would see signs pointing to Kikustua, but it was almost out of the realm of the possible. Kikustua was the place for super heroes, for gods, and I was just a kid.
The thing was though, we were skiing a lot. As March approached I'd had a lot of miles under my belt and had done well in the school ski carnival, placing first in alpine and third in nordic. My parents decided I was ready.
My memories from that ski are spotty, but there are some. First, it was long, but beautiful. I remember narrow trails through the woods, new snow-draped woods, and I remember the cabin. It was full of skiers, and I was certainly the youngest one there. They were all strong men and women, speaking Norwegain, looking alive. I remember food, I remember the fire. And then, I remember on the way home, the worst bonk of my young life. An absolute stop, laying on the snow style. My mother and father did not panic. Instead they produced a chocolate bar, Norwegian chocolate, which I engulfed and almost instantaneously was back on my feet and charging to the finish.
With that ski, I managed to cross the 500 km threshold for the winter, and earned a gold pin for the season. I've done a lot of ski and bike adventures and races since, but I must say the feeling of accomplishment I felt at finishing that ski to Kikustua perhaps surpasses anything I have done since. It was, in a sense, the first time for a boy to accomplish things reserved for men.
I'm thinking of this because tonight my wife and I are planning a ski for tomorrow – oddly enough it's also 24 km round trip, just like the ski to Kikustua. It's up to a place called King Lake. There will be no huts, as this is North America and things are a bit more wild here. We'll likely be greeted by endless trail breaking, the stark Continental Divide and swirling winds. No matter. Skiing in the U.S. is different – unless you want to ski around in circles at the area with lycra clad bike racers – you'll want a pair of sturdy skis with metal edges, as you will encounter all sorts of snow conditions with the exception of groomed trails.
It's going to be an exciting adventure. Elaine has only nordic skied maybe 12 times, a couple this year, a couple last year and about half a dozen in 2007-08, the year when many suspect we were doing unsavory things but in actuality were just going skiing before school and enjoying the peace that this activity brings.
We're packed up and ready to roll. We have soup in a thermos for lunch and plenty of candy bars. The leather boots have been Nikwaxed, and Elaine did some custom work on her boots (by the way, she is quickly becoming an ace boot fitter at Neptune – she's got a knack for it…come on in if you want an amazing fit). Our skis have tip-to-tail polar waxed in, and the wax of the day is in the pack.
I am very fortunate to have such a wonderful set of parents, to introduce me to this sport of skiing, and also a phenomenal wife. Just tonight, we were kind of hemming and hawing about what to do on Christmas Eve. Going to church was of course an option, but while we're both deeply spiritual, we have an aversion to churches as we have found a lot of judgement by man in the house of God. Elaine suggested tonight that instead of church we head out for a night time nordic ski Christmas Eve, with headlamps, our dog and a thermos of something yummy. I couldn't ask for something more perfect.
People tend to focus a lot on our age gap, but they are missing the point completely. To have somebody who completes you so well, whose interests parallel yours, and whose happiness is derived from the same things as yours is a rare thing indeed. And then, beyond that, something so much deeper that I can't really even put it into words. It took Elaine for me to find that, and I have to say preparing for a ski with her outstrips any preparation for adventures I did with the boys back in the day. The only thing it compares to is the anticipation of those early skis with my parents in the woods of Norway.
Here's to family, here's to love, here's to skiing and here's to adventure. That combination is, in my book, the absolute key to happiness.