Monday, March 15, 2010

Making it down the mountain

Today is my first full day of a week in Park City, Utah. Park City is known foremost for its top-rate skiing, which to those of you who know me AT ALL, at least invites a bit of mirthful incredulity. "Paige? Skiing?"  I know.  I know.  At the age of thirty-five, I can do a split. I can ice skate, and I can run stadiums better than most lacrosse players.  Skiing?  Ha.  

And then there was the whole debate over what constitutes a vacation. I recognize that even sitting here as I am in a lovely hotel, I am rather spoiled to bring this to the table.  That said, after a very long year at work with ongoing challenges, and as a hothouse flower in the truest sense of the word (I kid you not. I am like one of those heat/humidity loving banana plants. I love hothouses. Steam rooms. HEAT. Bring it on.), spending my break in more cold doing something for which I have a cool and distant appreciation - well. It didn't seem very vacation-like to me. And seeing as I am bunny-slope-bound, and Alex speaks the language of quadruple-black-diamond-with-zigzags-and-exclamation-points, it didn't seem to involve to a whole lot of "couple bonding" which I admit, I want and need.  And to be fair, my admittedly narrow definition of this does not involve watching me careen down a mountainside for days on end.

And sometimes the truth is in the challenges, and in learning to work through them with the balance, respect, and acceptance that they deserve.

One of the things that I am "working on" is confronting my self-doubt with a little more determination and a little less "meh". When I face scenarios with which I have a tenuous sense of enjoyment at best, I tend to be a little bit of a stick-in-the-mud.  This is a difficult personality trait, I recognize...when it comes to tending the soul of another, caring for someone, or trying most new things, I am perfectly fine.  You can also count on me to try almost any kind of food on the planet, so long as it doesn't involve American cheese. When it comes to anything involving snow, skis, heavy boots, and poles - none of which feel at all like extensions of my body - trepidation takes hold like a lamprey. It isn't fun for me, and it isn't fun for my husband, who in his expert-skier mindset understandably has a difficult time understanding my stubborn difficulty with negotiating so much equipment while careening down a mountain. Quickly.

This morning we went skiing for the first time together with our dear friends, Dominic and Eliza.  Eliza used to race - so, umm, she's really good.  Dominic is an expert rock climber and an improving skier. He's also one of the best cheerleaders I have ever met. I wanted to high five him when I fell down for the twentieth time and he was right there, saying "Good job, Paige!" and meaning it.  Before we set out though, panic set in.  The boots - they felt like concrete blocks.  The skis had me tripping over myself like a new-born colt. This had man-down written all over it. And I admit it - I panicked. "Take me OFF this mountain," I muttered under my breath, completely aware of all of the skiers on the mountain who in my mind, were stopping to watch the free entertainment wobbling, sliding, and slipping with all the knock-kneed grace of a giraffe. The first run down felt like an eternity, and I had sudden sympathy for my students when I charge them with completing a new assignment that I expect in two days - an eternity of effort, focus, and pushing bounds to many of them.

The second run, which Eliza patiently guided me down, took less time. I fell, laughed, got up again, had a few brief moments of euphoric disillusionment during which time I imagined myself winning Olympic gold - it was awesome.  And then I would fall again. And ski lifts - why are ski lifts so darned difficult? I can never gauge when to jump. Alex was good at explaining this, but I am really bad at following directions with any consistency, I find. It was a lesson in finding patience with myself, with my co-skiers, with the mountain, and with the ski equipment, which I secretly wanted to hurl off the nearest cliff.

All in all, two and a half hours in, and I was done. I do enjoy aspects of skiing - in small doses. Like aspic. But I am not a skier. I can approximate good cheer and I can wear cute ski clothes and feel all sporty, but in truth, it's a bit of a paper-thin veneer.  Tomorrow, I'll get back on the slopes, and I will ski for a few hours, and I'm sure I will improve. Slightly.

But then, I'll want to read. And maybe nap. Or sit by a fire. Or find a cool art gallery. Or decide where we should eat dinner. And shed my ski-bunny pretensions for who I truly am: an apres-skier.  I am trying to make peace now with maybe not being someone who can be labeled "a skier" and instead trying to reach another place entirely. Perhaps making it down the mountain means confronting the things that one simply will NOT excel in, and finding simple happiness in this alone.  Perhaps it also means working on that always-challenging but ever-rewarding balancing act with a partner, when we together stare a situation in the face head-on and say "Okay. So we want different things at this moment. And let's figure out how to make both people happy."

This week, we will make it down the mountain.  And we might take different trails. Perhaps what matters is that we share in the spills, physical and figurative. And also that we recognize that we DO share common interests: hiking a mountain, for instance. Give me Maine, New Hampshire, the Alps, and I will want to reach the summit. It's the ups and downs that make things interesting, and make things worthwhile.  

On our shuttle back to our hotel today, one of our favorite songs came on the radio. And I looked at Alex, this man I married for all of our shared loves and for all of our differences, and I thought to myself "there is nowhere I would rather be."


  1. I had a similar experience when I tried horse riding once (I blogged it – A Horse Called Satan.) It reminds me that we all have personal boundaries, and that there’s nothing shameful about being uncomfortable if we step outside them. When I was younger I was prepared to put to my body on the line on a rugby pitch, but gymnastics and anything to do with ice frightened the life out of me. I think it was less a fear of injury than of being disconnected. Sure, we can push our boundaries if we want to, just so long as we don’t feel in some way inadequate and beat ourselves up when it makes us uncomfortable.

  2. Oh my gosh!! What a beautiful wonderful finish! What a treat to Alex :)

  3. 9 years ago, i accidentally skied down vail mountain and when i got to the bottom, i declared my day done. however, this year, after one run on cross country skis i shared with an entire room of people watching the olympic cross country skiing event - that i looked just like them. so i guess its finding your style of it- which you so eloquently explained, but more the people who you have along for the ride. glad you are part of my motorcade. love.