Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Road Trip - Texas Legs...

What the Heck did we do before the internets as far as making travel plans? I was researching places to stay on my road trip from Austin to Taos, NM & stumbled across this B&B (in Lubbock) that had a restored caboose in the backyard. I hit the "reserve" button so fast I didn't even look at the price - I'm realizing more & more that unique lodging is a big part of road trip fun. It was so much funkier & luxurious than pictured. It's perfect for one person, and from reading the diaries, it is primarily used for a honeymoon night. Lubbock itself was a surprisingly cool town. The big University there was directley across the street from my caboose, so I spent a lovely evening hoofing around the really pretty campus, bathing in a famous 2 hour panhandle sunset. It was a long drive from Austin, but my next travel day was a short one to Amarillo, which is where I am now, lying in a 100 year old victorian house, where I just watched a movie on TV with the hosts - funtimes! The drive from Lubbock was so easy & the landscape so interesting: I'd seen bits of farms & farm equipment before but never on this level. I was looking for clusters of tall buildings to indicate "downtown" while approaching Amarillo, but there were only enormous and imposing grain elevators and jumbo sized heavy equipment everywhere. There cannot possibly be a job shortage in this part of the state as I've never seen so many trucks, tractors, train cars and highwaymen - possibly a hundred miles of cotton crop and tons of edgy & ominous looking cotton gins. I also spent half the day at Palo Duro Canyon State Park - it is stunning, and like everything else around here, I'm the onlly one at it! I went to this cool WWII Glider Museum outside of Lubbock, which was really fascinating, and I was the only visitor so the elderly volunteer gentleman walked me around & was so happy to see a solo woman there I think. No expense was spared for this museum showcasing these fascinating planes. Travelling alone can be challenging: a burst of anticipation when hitting the road in the a.m., followed by the comedown (turning into ennui) of hours of highway time that you tell yourself is interesting because you've never seen it before (and usually IS interesting); the afternoon dip in mood after the day's activities are squared away and you have a long evening in your lodging to contend with (I usually walk in the evenings, or read), the yearning towards bedtime so you can turn tourist mode off & research on the internet stuff to do for the next day...but I also feel the courage & chutzpah that is required to daily confront one's aloneness on the road, and the very obvious knowledge (acquired after 7 hours of driving) that one's attitude is completely a choice - and the delight that every person I've encountered has displayed a saintly level of cordiality - but this is Texas, so it's to be expected :-). Tomorrow is day 3 of my trip and I will be out of my home state by afternoon & into cooler mountain temps. I'm travelling on old route 66 to Tucumcari so there should be plenty of hokey picture ops.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Working Hard at 12,000 ft.

It seemed fated that I would get the same ski instructor as last year AND have private lessons all week after paying for group ones - but the ski gods must be on my side. If you read last year's post I won't have to go into how amazing it is to do something this challenging in middle age - so I'll just say "it is amazing to do something this challenging in middle age!" I was nervous as hell riding up to the lodge thinking it was going to be a disaster as I hadn't skied at all since last year, but after my first tentative 1/2 hour or so on my rented skis Smitty flew down the hill to welcome me back and promptly took me to the top of the mountain for our first run of the week. I had lessons every day from 9:30 to 12:30 and would pass out in a death-style nap after lunch. I was emotionally & mentally exhausted the first couple of days. Some friends I had made last year returned & we had joyous 4 course dinners together every night. I was being pushed at a much higher level than I would ever push myself. I would dread the next morning's class. I would be relieved when lunch came & I was on my own in the afternoon. Sometimes after a big wipe out I'd ask myself why I was doing this? My natural state is lying flat on my back reading a book. So why am I doing this? Because anything that I have this much resistance to is worth doing - anything this hard is worth doing. And it's how I feel at the end of the week - or how I felt at the end of last year's week that made me sign up again: I felt like I had grown; not just as an athlete or a skier but as a person. I had risked looking foolish and awkward doing something that feels so unnatural and discovered the joy of acquiring just the wee-est amount of skill. In the past, I've learned things that came easily to me, and have practiced things I have natural gifts for, but the challenge of learning something that does not come easily and I have no gift for (Smitty will vouch for that) seems to have a more profound effect - it's made me see that natural ability makes for ease of learning, but for someone like me, nothing short of grunting hard work is going to make me a skiier. I could not have done this alone though. I had massive amounts of support, attention and love from the ski school and my fellow skiers at the lodge. My instructor said I'd made HUGE progress this week, and I knew he wasn't just fishing for a bigger tip - I felt it. I knew in my bones when I was doing it right & when I was doing it wrong. We tried a few things that were too ambitious, resulting in some pretty ugly tumbles and pulled muscles. This week I gained enough speed that falling was slightly more dangerous. One fall I slid so far that my skis & poles were nowhere in sight. My friends that ski with Jean Mayer, the owner of the lodge and director of the ski school (and former Olympic skier), say that "falling is not an option." He reports they are going 55 mph. So now I am back in Austin, doing easy non-challenging activities, pining for that fulfilling camaraderie of ski week. The skiing is about 1/2 of the joy, the other half is Jean's disarmingly intimate hotel, where we are all pushed out of yet another comfort zone (emotional distance) and forced to bond with each other. After the first night, there is no resistance as we gleefully greet each other in excited anticipation of discussing the day's skiing. I spent entire 3 hour dinners discussing nothing but skiing, which was amazing considering how little time I've spent doing it - but having missed out on sports my whole life, I finally see how it bonds people. I also discovered that skiing is unforgiving to a mindset of negativity, self-pity and inner whininess. I know because I've tried it (this is my natural state around things I am afraid of) and your skiing will reflect the mindset you carry! I got into the habit of "acting as if" I was bad ass & unafraid, and sometimes it worked! But ultimately, the juiciest experience is that very still moment when I'm facing down a steeper drop that I'd faced before, where there was no world except for me poised on an edge of snow with plastic sticks on my feet, my eyes looking at the point where I would make my first turn (not at the bottom), remembering to aggressively throw myself down the hill (this part is purely an act of faith), and that miraculous moment where I go for it & bypass the voice that says NO. I say YES with a new part of me, and I'm beginning to trust this "yes" more. This week was all about the bravado of me not being afraid of this rate, I could see this sport providing unlimited learning challenge...and this year, I'll get a lot more days of skiing in if everything goes as planned :-)