May 30, 2006

The Gasping Girl and the Mountain

Let me just say that while climbing that mountain this weekend, I vehemently committed myself to never doing the downhill skiing leg of Ski to Sea again. But somehow between then and now, I've practically already signed up again, and have spent a good part of this morning marveling at that.

But before I go there, let me describe the experience:

I had prepared myself to for it to be hard, but honestly, even in my worst nightmares I had no concept of just how grisly it would get up there. It was like I stepped into my own private version of The Old Man And the Sea. I was Hemmingway. The mountain was the fish.

We were at war.
And it was kicking my ass.

Clearly, in the end, I prevailed, but let me just say this: the downhill ski leg of the race has got to be the hardest. First, it's the only leg where you get timed while you carry your equipment to the starting point. Second, it's the only leg outside of the cross-country ski leg that isn't entirely downhill or flat. And third, because it's named alarmingly poorly, which leads the novice to think they've got it handled. To wit: though I knew there was going to be a climb, I basically just kept telling myself "Yeah, but it's the Downhill Ski leg! How hard can it be? You've been skiing for DECADES!"

Right. Most (like, 90 percent) of the time spent on that mountain is you, heavy-ass ski boots on, heavy, awkward skis and poles resting across shoulders, climbing as fast as you can up a snowy, wet mountain face that is so steep that if you look down behind you, you get vertigo and almost pass out. Downhill ski my ass.

Were I to name this leg of the event, I might choose something a bit more descriptive and/or accurate. For example, some fitting names include but aren't limited to:

1. Climb to the Summit of Mt. Baker in Ski Shit Ill-Adapted To the Purpose
2. The Only Way It Gets Worse is if You're Trapped in an Avalanche With A Live, Hungry Bear
3. Wanna Vomit, Cry And/Or Wish You Were Dead?

But I made it! Take that, Mount Baker! And my team finished squarely in the middle of the pack - decent showing for a first-time mixed rec team. I did slightly better than average for my leg -- they estimate it will take 25 minutes for the first place finisher, and between 30 and 50 minutes for the rest. I came up near 35 minutes. (If I hadn't stopped once to curse my own existance and watch two of my competitors stop to puke, I might have done slightly better, but what can you do?)

Interestingly, my legs aren't sore at all -- they're in pretty good shape from the volleyball I play a couple times a week. My right shoulder is on fire from carrying my skis up the damn mountain, but the worst part was just the cardiovascular endurance. I was working so hard that it was pretty much anaerobic - and my lungs are in moderate shape, at best. So I'm recommitted to running a couple times a week. I'm convinced by the time I get suckered into doing this again next year, (which is inevitable) I'll be able to significantly improve my time, if I train right.

It's amazing how soon after such a horrible, painful event you can be willing to put yourself right back there. Something like childbirth, I guess. Honestly, in the middle of the climb, it occurred to me that I actually paid to be there, and I was so incredulous that I would have laughed out loud, if I hadn't been suffocating and struggling to remain conscious. It was, as I've said to anyone who will listen over the past 48 hours, probably the hardest thing I've ever done.

And yet here I am, two days later, glowing with accomplishment, ready to do it all again -- but better next time.

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