Ahh, cross country skiing, one of those activities I had watched every 4 years during the Olympics, looked like a good workout and fun but I had never actually tried it. Circumstances of crummy and extended winter weather, an invitation, borrowed skis and available time finally presented the opportunity. I boned up on it by watching Youtube videos, which gave me plenty of confidence that learning through ossmosis would work, plus I gave myself a trial run at a local park on the day before Sunday’s official event. Fell a few times on the downhill sections but otherwise I thought it was not too hard, just shuffling the legs back and forth.
We gathered at Slate Run Park and had a good turnout of Peggy, Butch, Cindy, Craig B, Jeff S, Evie, Al and Kevin K. We all had cross country skis except for Craig, who jogged with us on snowshoes. For laughs, I put on my cycling helmet and had I known the perils that were to come, I would have/should have kept it on. Slate Run has over 23,000 acres of land and a beautiful mix of meadows and woods. We shoved off on the Five Oaks Trail into the woods. Soon we came to a steep downhill with a 90⁰ turn to the left at the bottom. I was amazed at Flyin Tuna’s bravery as she began gliding down the hill but soon realized her plan was for a series of controlled falls to brake her speed. After 3-4 collapses into the snow she reached the corner where she continued to scoot for an extended period on a delicate balancing act of two skis and rear planted firmly to the ground. It was slow going but it worked and not knowing any better, I thought that was how it’s done so I aped the technique and got to the bottom the same way. The more experienced skiers, having waited for someone thus allowing us to temporarily get ahead, came to the top of that hill and promptly took their skis off and walked down. Huh, had not thought of that. Kevin K had been with us at the front and he skied down and stayed upright but not without running into the railing. Still, impressive to have almost made the bottom turn.
The problem with going down one of these hills into a gully is there is another hill coming out and there I learned how to get up a really steep hill. I swam fruitlessly around, grabbed the wooden rail at the side of the trail and began pulling myself up. Craig, feeling sorry for me, came down and shoved me up the hill…what a guy! At the top of one hill, I navigated down to a point where, if I took the correct approach, I could take a straight line to the bottom. It is of this "effort" that Peggy made into a video and has now uploaded it to Youtube, where future cross country beginner skiers can watch and be persuaded not to ski. More hills with turns were ahead and the trail was a little too technical for some (most?) of us so at some point we veered onto the Bobolink Grassland Trail. Now this was much more fun and my style of inconsistent staggering slowly morphed into somewhat of a smoother shuffling of the legs and yes, kind of like how it is supposed to be done. We came to a terrific overlook and paused to refuel but soon headed down a long but not steep hill and I felt so confident I even pulled the skis under my arms and crouched like a downhiller would, even though getting into an aero tuck offered no real benefit when going 4mph. Hey and I stayed upright. All that Youtube training was really paying off.
We had gotten onto the Kokomo Wetland Trail and Peggy began to worry the park ranger would lock the gates on us so we turned around and headed back. The group had paused and I went ahead, soon overtaken by Butch who gave me some additional pointers that refined my style even more. I think I was finally getting the hang of it but also thought my erratic style of before made me work harder and burn more calories. Kind of like switching from a hybrid bike to a road bike. We reached the parking lot and because there was still some daylight, most of us headed off to do the Shagbark and Covered Bridge trails to give us 6.5 total miles. It was an odd experience. I never found myself breathing hard nor felt my heart rate had gotten very high but my t-shirt, sweatshirt and even part of the outer jacket were soaked with perspiration so unless I was grossly overdressed, cross country skiing is a good workout, just not the cardio benefit of trail running or cycling. It is fun and a great alternative to sitting on an indoor trainer, which I have yet to touch this off-season.
The forecast is looking good for the end of the week and I’m planning a route for cycling this Saturday. I also noticed on the drive out of Slate Run that the passing of the clouds revealed a sunset that is much later than it was a couple of weeks ago. I think I can see the light at the end of the winter tunnel.