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Week in, week out. Week up, Mike down.

So, yesterday marked one week of cross country skiing for me, and I haven’t yet crossed any countries. Not even a small one, like Malta. It’s remaining resolute despite these setbacks that separates the strong-willed from the rank-and-file.

“How is the skiing going, anyway?” you might ask. It’s going pretty well, despite some inconsistencies. Thanks for asking.

Thursday’s lesson saw more very basic drills on learning to skate without poles. Some more advanced members of the group were learning to pole, but I felt far more comfortable in the Kiddie Pool (which is what I call the area between the Wax Shed and the Storage Shed – a relatively flat and featureless expanse for beginners, such as myself) without poles but with water wings.

Saturday morning found me at a Core Conditioning class, where instructors Kjell and Mike put us through the paces. I love this kind of thing, so I was happy to work hard with kettle bells, Bosu balls, and partner exercises. I’ll note that the more indoor an activity, the greater my likelihood to excel at it.

Then came the skiing, which is decidedly an outdoor activity. The wind was up, which deterred some from attending the Saturday practice, but the best part was that we had three coaches for only five students. So back to the Kiddie Pool we plunged, pole-less. One wonderful aspect of having a coach ski right behind you is they are then able to yell helpful corrections on everything you’re doing wrong. In my case, this was a more-or-less neverending stream of instruction.

“Lean forward more! Stay low! Commit! Pirouette! Glide! Save the drama for yo’ momma! Watch out for that tree! Plié! Plié!

Actually, I’m not exactly sure what they were saying, but some of it was with a Norwegian accent, which made it awesome. I am proud to report that I was able to achieve unheard-of speeds, like literally millions of nanometers per hour. Amazing.

By the end of Saturday’s practice, I felt like I was just starting to get the hang of it, or rather, I would have brief glimpses of how to do it right. I was excited for Sunday.

Sunday did not work as I had envisioned. Without the helpful stream of shouted consciousness from multiple coaches, I frustrated myself for a half hour in the Kiddie Pool. Nothing was working right. My feet kept slipping, I couldn’t get a good rhythm, and my pliés were abysmal. Demoralized, I spotted Bill Holt, who had loaned me the lovely blue skis that refused to go for me. He asked how it was going. I told him.

“Try rolling your ankles inward on your unweighted leg before you push off.”

With that bit of advice, something clicked. It was more than just my kneecaps this time. A night and day performance difference. This not only alleviated my propensity to use my lower leg flexors to lift the skis, which made my shins hurt so bad that I feared they would stop speaking to me, but also forced me to fully commit to shifting my weight over the gliding ski. So, once again, Bill managed to save my bacon. Why I keep toting pork products around with me, I’ll never know. Never should have bought all that stock in Spam. With a new surge of confidence, I moseyed around the Kiddie Pool and even ventured into the previously forbidden Soccer Field, where I felt exactly like Pele. Well, frozen Pele with sticks on his feet. I even managed another after-work ski session on Monday, and didn’t backslide back to zero, but rather retained at least some of my previously-gained skills.

I was ready for Tuesday, where single digit temperatures and howling winds did their best to diminish my enthusiasm, but I remained steadfast. I felt confident on the Kiddie Pool and even the Soccer Field. I was ready for anything.

Except the trails, which was exactly where we went. Ostensibly, this was to get us out of the wind, but I believe Coach Kjell had more nefarious reasons. Namely, to watch me fall at high speeds. He was not to be disappointed.

After a fairly pedestrian poleless warmup, we gathered around our fearless leader, whereupon he suddenly launched himself off of a cliff. Well, it wasn’t quite a cliff, but instead a rather, nay, devastatingly steep hill. For some reason, my self-preservation instincts abandoned me, and I pointed my skis toward him. Gravity did gravity’s thing, and I found myself hurling after him. He kept yelling unhelpful advice.

“Step turn! Don’t snowplow! Remember to plié!”

It turns out that snowplowing has nothing to do with snow removal, which is good, since I only have a snowblower. It has to do with turning at great velocities. By stepping and pushing into the turn, you theoretically maintain control and speed. I tried. As I stepped, my ski kept going in an angle different than my intended direction and my other ski. This situation quickly became untenable. I will spare you details about my grim reunion with the planet, but will let you know that not only did I have snow forcefully inserted into most all of my clothing, I also managed to pack my glasses perfectly full of snow. This impairs vision somewhat, for future reference.

Sufficiently humbled, I limped my way up the remaining hills, only to have to do it again and again. Whereas before I was uncoordinated to the point of being unable to actually achieve exercise, the Tuesday Hill Deathmarch proved otherwise. Exercise was found in abundance. Everywhere you looked, really. From windmilling wildly out of control on the downhill sections, to horrific grunting on the uphill segments, it was Exercise Achievement: Unlocked.

So, I feel like I’m starting to get the hang of it. I still fall spectacularly, sometime mystifying those around me, as I’ll be going along great and then suddenly I’ll crumple like I’ve had an invisible piano dropped on me.

But the main thing is that I’m having heaps of fun, I’m getting exercise, and I’m learning something new.

I just need to focus on my pliés.


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