Things You Can’t Quit in the Middle

“In Montana, you either love the weather or you suffer.”

–Adam Delorme in “This Is Home” 

Winter is long and hard out here at the place where Wyoming and Montana meet. Either you can succumb to the drab boring chill, or you can find a way to have fun. So I’m learning to downhill ski.

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Skiing is something I’ve always wanted to do, and yet something I’ve always feared. Through the years I’ve been variously deterred by the cost, by the danger, by my out-of-shape lack-of-skill, and by my distant proximity to mountains. This winter, Rafal and I were able to squirrel a little money away, I’ve gotten in much better shape, and we have mountains visible from every window in our home. Skiing is still dangerous, of course, but sometimes you’ve just gotta be brave.

Rafal and I each purchased a “Learn to Ski in Three” package from Bridger Bowl (just outside of Bozeman, Montana). With this, we each got three lessons, three gear rentals, and three lift tickets (one for the beginner’s area, one for the lower half of the mountain, and one for the full mountain).

My first time out—on the bunny hill—I couldn’t believe how well I was doing. I didn’t fall, I was making turns, I felt surprisingly comfortable on my skis.

My second time out was far more humbling. My lesson instructor didn’t teach me much. Rafal and I, the two other people in our lesson group, and our instructor went once down the bunny hill, and then twice down the easiest of the easy green runs. That was the entire lesson. Her only advice was “try to focus on making turns.”

Following this, Rafal and I decided to go down the next easiest green run. Within minutes, I started *flying* down the hill. The bunny hill and the easiest green run are about the same pitch (meaning they are equally steep). This one was steeper: still considered “easy” of course, but more intense than I was used to. I managed to make several turns, but I wasn’t slowing down. Before long, I fell face-first, losing my poles, glasses, and hat in the snow. I hurt my neck and shoulder, but I bruised my confidence most of all.

And I still needed to get to the bottom of the hill.

Rafal came up from behind and found me in the snow. He helped me up, and I was trembling. My adrenaline was pumping. I was really shaken up. Had a magical fairy appeared and offered to lift me down to the apres ski bar, I would have taken her up on it. If I could have quit skiing (possibly forever) right then and there, I would have done it. But instead, I got up on my feet, and followed Rafal at a snail’s pace. As we made our way down the hill, I felt my equilibrium coming back. I was knocked back down to size, to be sure, but by the time I reached the ground, I was ready to get on the lift again.

This is why I like starting things I can’t quit in the middle.

When I was a kid, I was never a fast runner. I always quit playing tag when I was stuck being “it.” I could never last in a competitive sport. I quit softball and volleyball. I would always make up excuses in gym class. I’ve even been known to storm out on a heated game of Settlers if it seems like I’m getting picked on. I’m kind of a quitter by nature.

But activities that involve travel, laboriously propelling your body your space, they need to be completed. You can go forward or you can go backwards, but your legs (outfitted with boots, or skis, or bicycle tires) are going to carry you there. Whether you like it or not.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been deep in the woods on some trail somewhere, thinking, What would I pay to be home right now? Thinking, Is it farther to go forward, or turn around? Thinking, Why do I do this to myself? I almost never want to go, but I’m always glad that I went.

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On our first cross-country ski adventure of the season—when we accidently chose a very difficult trail, and the snow was still sparse, and they hadn’t started grooming—I fell a lot. I fell down so much that tears of frustration streamed down my cheeks. I’d never done the trail before, so I didn’t have a sense of how long the loop would take. I felt trapped: there was only one way out of this situation, and it involved traveling over snow. I had to take a deep breath and keep moving.

I trick myself into biting off more than I can chew. I get myself into situations that only I can get myself out of. I catapult myself into the unknown. Sometimes I pout for a little while. Sometimes I even sit down in the middle of trail and cry. But I always find my way back.

I’m learning to be less of a quitter. I’m learning to have fun in the snow.

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