First Ride: The Good Parts

This morning I woke up alone in the house for the first time since I dropped the first of many bags in the bedroom back in January. Per usual, I slept too late, letting dream and reality blur hazily around the edges. More and more often, I dream that I am getting up and going down stairs, going about my morning routine. It’s only the lack of sensation that tells me I’m still sleeping – no feel of bare feet on the carpet, no feel of clothing against my skin.

When I finally draw myself up, I make a full press pot of coffee and sit on the porch steps with the latest issue of Outside Magazine on my knees. I take long gulps of coffee. I pretend I can’t taste the one-day-too-old flavor of the milk in my muesli.

Then, I change into my matching cycling kit, which I laid out on the kitchen counter the night before. I do this same thing the night before my first ski day of the season.

As I pounded slowly and (honestly) painfully up the hill, I thought – how on earth did I get here: to the point at which I lay out my Louis Garneau shorts, jersey, and matching gloves next to my Louis Garneau helmet, hand-me-down sunglasses, and small clip-on mirror. I still don’t own bicycle shoes, but I did spend $40 on air pump yesterday, so that has to count for something.

This was my Easter Sunday, this was my church. A too-short, too-difficult bike ride followed by Outside Magazine on the back patio, bikini-clad with a whiskey lemonade. The good parts, you see, are really, really good.

"Greetings, shopkeep. I would like a single lemon. The finest lemon you carry!"

“Greetings, shopkeep. I would like a single lemon. The finest lemon you carry!”

 

In the meantime.

I haven’t forgotten about this. I haven’t left this place behind, forgetting it like I’ve forgotten so many others. For once, I haven’t forgotten the place, but the words.

That’s it, really. I just don’t know what to say.

Are pictures really worth a thousand words? Well then, here’s a picture.

The Woods

I’m not one for flowers, really. Roses have very little appeal and while I like the look of lilies, they (like cats) hurt my eyes within a few minutes of exposure. That said, once a year, I like tulips.

The bouquet I bought yesterday sits on the kitchen counter in the glass jar usually reserved for muesli. They are pink and yellow and just starting to bloom.

The snow is thick on the ground and the days are still so cold that an hour above freezing is a welcomed reprieve. But it is spring. In a few weeks, the mountain will close and I will regret ever thinking of summer.

In the meantime, I will change the tulips’ water every day. I will fill the glass jar halfway with cold water because I’ve heard it will make them last longer.

Where the air hurts your face.

DepressedAlien.com is a really good comic. Very much worth reading through a few panels.

DepressedAlien.com is a really good comic. Very much worth reading through a few panels.

This single-panel comic turned up multiple times last week, both on my FB newsfeed and in causal conversations with friends. I laughed the first time I saw it. The second time, I giggled. The third time, I started to wonder. Why on earth do I live where the air hurts my face? And why on earth do I have no intention of ever leaving a place where the air hurts my face? Simple.

Because I know how to keep warm.

I ski the trees and find myself sweating at 20°F. I turn my face to the sun when I stand in the woods. I wrap myself in flannels so broken in they’ve lost their structural integrity, but not their warmth. I drink whiskey with my friends, letting the liquor warm our throats and our tongues. I am carried away by the sight of the stars burning fiercely through the cold night sky. Then, later still, I curl up beneath a layer of down and fall asleep to the peculiar silence of falling snow.

Why do you live where the air hurts your face?

The Art of Falling Down

Are you clumsy?

There’s a strange pleasure in having bruised knees and scuff marks on your shoes. Nothing new stays new-looking long and most of the dents and tears don’t even come with good stories, just a simple, “Oh, I don’t know. I must have tripped.”

Clumsiness comes from some combination of head-in-the-clouds inattention, awkward physical comedy, and, if you’re like me, a touch of recklessness.

T-minus 10 minutes to impact

T-minus 10 minutes to impact.

Last week, I went on a short snowmobiling tour. Just ten minutes after starting, I crashed the sled and was upside down in a ditch of soft powder, relaxed and reclining with my right foot stuck under the machine while the guide and Ted came sprinting to help me. They were, reasonably, totally freaking out. I was totally not.

When the sled was righted and I sat back down on it, the guide asked me “Are you okay?” I said yes. He repeated himself. I repeated myself. And I wasn’t lying. While I’d been nervous for the first leg of the tour, after flipping the sled, I felt much more calm and in control.

Falling, it seems, has the strange effect of making me less afraid.

I was terrified of road biking until I had my first big fall, scraping skin from both of my arms and leaving a welt on my hip as big as an egg. I was afraid of sailing until I capsized in the middle of Seymour Lake all alone, fighting against a too-strong wind and trying to get back to shore. Afraid of dropping the cliff until I land, too far back on my skis and forced to bail.

Because the impact is never as bad as my fears, I now know that while I’m afraid of falling, I’m not afraid of the fall itself. This makes me reckless, because I know that once I fall, the fear dissolves. Once I fall, I take stock of my body, stand up, and dust myself off. I brush snow from my shoulders, gently flick rocks out of my wounds, or shake water from my eyes. A less reckless version of myself would not have crashed that snowmobile. The less reckless me would have played it safe, would not have pushed herself to try to keep up with the more comfortable and more experienced members of her party. She wouldn’t have dared to try so hard. She also wouldn’t have enjoyed herself anywhere near as much. (Or had such a good story to tell, which, unfortunately, seems to be the story that is circulating amongst Stratton employees. “Liz from Marketing? She’s the one who flipped the snowmobile, right?”)

The most important thing to learn when trying something new is how to stop (this being my issue with the snowmobile. I’m accustomed to my right hand controlling the brake, not the accelerator). The second most important thing is how to fall.

Because you will fall. If you don’t, you’re not trying hard enough.

This reminds me of watching my nephew learn to ski. He fell a couple of times, but every time he did, my brother, my dad, and I immediately roared with laughter. “Nice one!” We’d yell as we scooped him up and placed him back on his skis. “That was awesome!”

We’re teaching him that falling is more than just no big deal, it’s downright fun. Even if it leaves you smarting, wincing, crying in pain, falling is fun.

Now if we turn this into a metaphor for life–? Puts quite a few heart-and-headaches into perspective. After all, if you’re not falling, you’re not trying hard enough.

But really, are you clumsy?

This winter, unlike the others

Maybe I’m imagining things, but it seems like I started working in the ski industry only to stop writing about skiing. Part of this change is due to the simple fact that I’m not skiing the way I was skiing at this time last year.

At Stratton, I usually (but not always) get out on the hill multiple times a week, which is amazing. My on-hill day count is fast approaching 30. If I get on the hill, usually (but not always) it’s just for an hour or two at most. I might (might) get out for a half day on one of my days off, Tuesday or Wednesday. Sometimes both. But most often, I ski for two hours, get sick of fielding presumptuous questions and comments on the lifts and retreat to the gym instead. (The most common: “Where are your friends?” Yes. Great. Thanks for that one. They’re working. Why aren’t you?)

Skiing alone is not my favorite. Skiing is a dangerous sport best enjoyed with backup that knows what do to if a ski or bone breaks. I’ve never been in a major accident, but if I do, I want my ski partners with me.

Which is why I’m so excited for next Tuesday. Doug’s coming to ride.

When I first moved to Vermont, my first ski buddy was Doug. We tore up Smuggler’s Notch like two wild things, topping off our days with poutine and good beer. We hit Jay Peak during a freak snow storm, shivering from toes to nose on the lifts, whooping powder lines all the way down.

Like most, Doug’s job is a Monday-through-Friday deal, so I was surprised and delighted when he told me he was taking a day off to come hit my mountain with me. We’ll have the mountain to ourselves. My first full day of the season.

I can’t wait.

Pray for snow.

Pray for snowUpdate:

My stars. I wrote this in a pre-coffee daze and neglected to link to this: Friends On A Powder Day. A short, sweet, pow-ful treatise to why skiing is better together. To quote the Swedes, “Shared joy is double joy. Shared sorrow is half sorrow.” There is nothing more joyful on this blue earth than skiing. I want to share it with you.

Yeah. You.

By the way, you’re looking very nice today.

 

#100HappyDays

I don’t so much burn the candle at both ends as I chuck the whole candle in the bonfire then claim that it’s all going according to plan. In short, I’m sick. A sinus infection.

Happy Days are Here at last

The past week, while sick with sinusitis, I skied three days in a row (granted, just an hour or two at a time. Granted, two powder days), swam for 45 minutes one evening, and two nights ago had my first tennis lesson in probably 16 years. My whole body aches, from thighs to wrists to nasal passages. And yet I still want out. I want to open my stride and fly down these dirt roads. I want to click into my bindings and push my edges into the soft snow. I want to feel the power of each butterfly stroke. I even prefer the frustrating, maddening challenge of learning the proper way to hit a tennis ball to this. This: sitting still, blowing my nose at regular intervals.

That said, it’s good to slow down. To appreciate one’s energy. The ebb and flow of it. The itching fire. Sick days are good days to launch new experiments, to test out new waters. Hence why you’ll see my Instagram account suddenly littered with #100HappyDays.

Can you be happy for 100 days in a row?

Thank you, modern medicine. #100HappyDays

Thank you, modern medicine. #100HappyDays

I’m in an incredibly happy place now that I’m at Stratton, but the fact that this happiness still surprises me is a very, very bad thing. What on earth was I doing for the last few years that made me so casually miserable? What on earth was I missing? I’d rather be happy.

The honeymoon won’t last forever. I’ll have bad days, bad weeks. But I want to keep the happy going as long as I can. And not only do I want to keep it going, I want to be able to stop and appreciate it once in a while. To look my day in the face and say, “yup, still happy,” because of and in spite of what that day brings.

Wanna try it, too?

The person you were.

A while back, a few close friends started wondering out loud what their childhood selves would think of them now. Which, of course, got me thinking back to 12 year-old me.

I never had a clear idea of what I wanted to be when I grew up. The adult world made very little sense to me; I simply had no context for it, preferring to spend my time in the wilds of my imagination. I knew I wouldn’t follow in my mother’s footsteps, working with children on the autism spectrum. I had a feeling that dad’s world, management in the heavy machinery industry, was equally not for me. I think I wanted to travel. I think I found peace in writing. I definitely found comfort in the internet.

Yeah, we had the internet back in the year 2000. It was slow, everything was pixelated, and you got kicked offline if anyone picked up the telephone.

Anyway.

When my friends first mused out loud about their past selves’ approval, I thought that my little self would find my current self vaguely confusing. You do what? she would say, wrinkling her nose.

But I thought about it some more, ruminating through the evening as I went about the rhythm of my night. Of course the 12 year-old would be confused. Social media wasn’t a thing back then. My current job simply did not exist back in that day. But also, work didn’t really mean anything to that girl. Not yet, at least. So I changed the scenario in my mind.

Hi Liz. Your job is skiing. You spend all day talking about the thing you love most in the world to people who also love it. You get out on the mountain multiple times a week. On your days off, you’re usually at the mountain anyway. You write every day. It’s hard work, but it’s not a labor. You live in your favorite state, the place you’ve loved your whole life.

But more importantly, Liz, you’re happier and more connected than you ever thought you would be. You found your friends. The people who understand and love you. The people who share their lives with you just as you share yourself with them. That’s realy, really precious.

By the way – you should start watching Doctor Who sooner rather than later. I know the premise is totally hokey, but trust me. You’ll really like it. Also: your hair. Stop doing that to it. Just. Grow it out for god’s sake; You look like an idiot.

Seriously that hair. It needs to stop.

Seriously that hair. It needs to stop.

Happy 2014 to you – and to the person you used to be.

Follow the line no one else sees. Just hit it. You’ll be fine.

This Saturday is International Women’s Ski Day. While I’m pretty sure it’s something that K2 dreamed up as a marketing tool, I’m really glad they did and was sure to jump on the #IWSD bandwagon.

As the watchful sort, I see a lot of women-focused marketing around the ski/snowboard world, and I find a lot of it doesn’t apply to me at all. Some is focused on women who are busy parents who are less interested in the slopes than in getting their husbands and children bundled up. (This “snow bunny” will be bundled up in the lodge with either a hot chocolate or a Bloody Mary, thank you very much.) Some treats skiing women as tag-alongs in need of lessons in order to keep up with their 8 year-old sons on the trail.

Gag me.

No offense meant! Really! I’m sorry! But it’s an honest fact that neither of these ideas of “skiing female” resonates with me in the slightest. I find them both vaguely offensive, but that’s a product of who I am and my upbringing in a high-testosterone admit-no-defeat den of bro-dom.

I want to see women portrayed as athletes. Which is why my heart goes pitter patter whenever I see the name SheJumps or the Outdoor Women’s Alliance updates their Instagram account. This is why I refuse to retweet or link to any article that focuses more on Lindsey Vonn’s relationship status than her powerful downhill drive.

I say this even though I was too shy to join into the SheJumps event at Stowe last year. I was there at the mountain. I was the chick in the red coat and pink goggles standing off to one side before ducking my head and scurrying into the singles line before any of the bold women in pink tutus and powder skis could noticed me. (I’m working on it.)

To honor #IWSD, I pulled my coworker and web-content wizard, Courtney, aside. I told her about the day and asked her if we could profile some of the bold, brilliant, brave women at Stratton. Courtney ran with the idea. I cans till hardly believe how much passion she threw behind the project. Every day in the two weeks leading up to December 14, she’s posting a profile of a new Stratton lady on the Stratton Be. Blog.

Liz Millikin Stratton Blog Slider

To my surprise, she volunteered me as a participant. And, to my further surprise, she made me sound pretty cool. My favorite paragraph, of course, is the one that ties into the Slackcountry Living mission:

As for my advice, Millikin referenced something her brother once shared with her. ‘Follow the line no one else sees.’ “The path you take down the mountain is yours and yours alone,” says Millikin. “Be creative. Make your own path.  It’s yours. You got it.”

Of course, said brother called me out on that line. “I don’t remember saying that. I remember saying, ‘Yeah, just hit that. You’ll be fine.’” While this is a much better example of typical big-brother-to-little-sister advice, I maintain that he said what he said, even if not in the same words. He never told me to be creative, but he did tell me to look for my own line. In retrospect, he probably thought I was going to poach his.

Back on topic – check out the blog posts in honor of #IWSD. There are some amazing female athletes on the hill, maybe more than you thought.

Oh – and if you’re wondering, yes. I did hit it. And yes, I was fine.

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What’s the best ski advice you’ve ever received?

Music on the Mountain

For the winter, my weekend is Tuesday-Wednesday. This is both strange and wonderful. Strange in that most of the people I know are working these two days. Strange in that I seem to want that Friday post-work run or beer, but that craving kicks in on a Monday afternoon. But wonderful to that all of the shops are open and empty. I can go to the bank, the post office, anywhere really, completely at my leisure and have these places be open and unencumbered. Including the mountain.

It this isn't nice, I don;t know what is.

It this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.

This was one of the first times I’ve ever ridden with music. I tried once last year, plugging myself into some singer/songwriter mix of mine, but my mind revolted after only one run. I couldn’t stand the whispering voice, the strumming guitar.

Today, on the near-empty mountain, I dialed up Imogen Heap to keep me company, hoping that her atmospheric style would jive better with the day’s ride – sunny, warm, and uncrowded.

With “Have You Got It In You” just starting to vibrate in my ears, I dropped my hands down to my boots and leaned into the first drop. Grizzly Bear’s a pitchy run, much more so than any of the other currently open runs at Stratton. It turns sharply, forcing you to switchback across its strong fall lines, then drops you without ceremony or apology. I can already tell where the ice patches will grow come January when packs of skiers and riders scour clean what the wind misses. Right now, on this warm day, there’s just enough give for Imogen and I to dig in with two edges and cut a sharp arc in the snow.

Imogene Heap struck the right balance of music and melody to match what I needed from the day – a relaxing tour of my new home, taking the hill, my skis, and my new boots out for a test ride.

Ol' Yellow didn't always steer me right but they never did steer me wrong. Black Beauty's got a lot to live up to.

Ol’ Yellow didn’t always steer me right but they never did steer me wrong. Black Beauty’s got a lot to live up to.

My new boots, by the way, are Salomon X Max 90s. I got them because my feet and ankles are, apparently, itty bitty. even at 24.5, I still feel like I have too much wiggle room, but it’s such an upgrade from my old Rossi Race 2s. I noticed today that I’m not having as hard of a time staying up and over my skis. Usually, I’m a tragically backseat driver when it comes to skiing. I’ve been driving myself mad the past few years trying to correct the issue. Maybe I finally figured it out. Money well spent.

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Do you listen to music when you ride? What tunes do you recommend? Otherwise I’ll just put this one Imogen Heap album on repeat.