“If you do something, anything, long enough it becomes part of who you are, not a separate activity that you take on.” –Mitch Mode
By Mitch Mode
I no longer know why I ski. Does that seem strange? I do it all winter, skiing; one might expect I’d be able to articulate why. But I don’t know that I can. Nor, in truth, do I think that particular bit of knowledge is important.
If you do something, anything, long enough it becomes part of who you are, not a separate activity that you take on. It may be hunting or fishing, skiing or canoeing, making a garden or picking blackberries. You may be able to speak in the early days of what appeals to you but after the years, after the decades, things change.
People may ask why you do what you do; you may shrug your shoulders, mutter, “Just because” or something inane and look rather foolish for the lack of a concise response. The simple fact may be that it’s been so long that you’ve considered the subject that you really cannot, off the top of your head, tell why you do it. It is simply ingrained in who you are, that complex weave and warp of experience that makes you You.
So I ski; I don’t know why. And toward the end of the ski season I ski the
Birkebeiner. I don’t know why on that count either. Skiing a loop at the golf course on a Sunday afternoon seems harmless enough; skiing the Birkebeiner seems to border on folly. It’s a long event, thirty-some miles. It doesn’t matter; I can pretty much guarantee that if it was shorter or longer I’d still do it. Just can’t tell you why I do. It’s just part of who I am.
Every time that I ski in November or December, January or February, every time I ski I have the Birkie in mind. I know that I need to build up stamina and fitness to ski that far. I long ago gave up on adding “speed” to that equation. Skiing fast used to be a big deal but those days are gone.
Now I just want to get to the finish line and look for something to eat.
The Birkie was in my mind last week when I clipped into the bindings, adjusted pole straps and pushed off, into the new ski year. A year ago I did the same about 6 weeks earlier, mid-November; good early snow, trails packed, skiing there for the taking. It was wonderful. This year, not so. It is, as they say, what it is.
I kicked with the one ski, glided with the other. Kick. Glide. Kick. Glide. Repeat. It felt right and if you asked Why? at that moment I might have said, I ski for that peaceful rhythm; Kick. Glide. Kick. Glide.
Fifteen minutes into it I was breathing hard and the wonder of kick and glide gone to labored breathing. I stopped, gasping, thought to myself, “I’m doomed”. I’m doomed because the Birkie is seven weeks away and I’m gagging like a fish out of water after 15 lousy minutes.
Here is what I know about the Birkebeiner: You reap what you sow. It’s really simple: How well you do on race day is based on what you do pre-race. Do the work; reap the reward. Simple. A lot of life is like that; do the work, things will be fine. Simple.
Here’s the other thing that came to me as I stood there: I’ve not done the work. Have not roller skied, have not run, not ridden the bicycle, nothing. I spent the autumn in the company of my dogs on what amounted to leisurely walks in pursuit of birds. Which is nice but doesn’t get you to the finish line of the Birkie. Come December, ski season, we had rain and warm and no snow.
So on this first day of my ski season, a very late start, I’m doomed and I know it. With less than two months, not much to do about it.
I did what I could do, which was catch my breath and start to ski again. I’ve said for years that if you can ski from here to the corner you can ski the Birkebeiner, just not very fast. Still, there are time limits in the race; one can’t do it over a few days. Only thing now is to make what I can out of what I’ve got.
I skied slowly, telling myself that I was working on my technique and that was better done at a snail’s pace. Truth is I had two speeds, slow and slower; I wasn’t going anywhere very fast, good technique or not.
There is a place on the ski trail where the track climbs very gradually and evenly then levels out before it drops into an easy downhill that sweeps to the left. On that level stretch, just before the downhill, one can look off the track. There is a level area with low, scrubby trees and then the land rises up to a ridge. Along the peak of the ridge are pine trees; tall and stately, like sentinels.
On this day there was no sunshine and the clouds leached out all color. The trees looked black-green against the snow. The pines were very tall and I felt very small. It was calm; there was no wind to animate the scene. It was as if I was in a black and white photo of 100 years ago; everything frozen in time.
I stood still and looked. It was as if I was both connected, a part of it all but a spectator at the same time. I felt a peacefulness and comfort in the presence of the trees and the snow and the pure air.
And if you were to ask me, Why do you ski? I might say, “For moments as this.”
Then I started up, kick and glide, kick and glide, the rhythm of skiing on the long track that will lead to the Birkebeiner and beyond.
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