From #eastcoast to #nocoast.

The first time you say it, say it like a whisper. Try the words out on your tongue, under your breath, audible only to you.

I’m moving.

Say it again, this time with feeling. Let the smile crawl into your voice. Let the syllables round out in your mouth like a cat waking up. The words, they belong to you. They are your words now. Own them.

I’m moving.

A few days later, say them again. Repeat them to friends, family, landladies. Quantify them. Say them so often that you start to feel the enormity of them.

I’m moving to Colorado.

Colorado!

I was, then I wasn’t, now I am. Moving. To Colorado.

Between now and Sunday, I pack up my east coast life in my tiny Ford Fiesta. I wedge a battered ski bag between boxes in the back of my car (there’s only room for one pair.  My “race skis,” practically antiques, won’t make the journey with me.) I pile clothes into bags and boxes. I play tetris with them, fitting them into my trunk, letting them overflow into the backseat.

I’m moving. To Boulder, Colorado.

From #eastcoast to #nocoast.

Fall

It’s the end of August and autumn overtakes full branches of trees. Driving to the dump, it’s hard not to marvel at the bright orange standing stark against the green. The colors are beautiful. I don’t remember ever seeing them so sudden and crisp.

This is southern Vermont. Three hours north, in the Kingdom, the trees started turning in July. It was cold when I was there last – much too cold to go swimming (although I waded in anyway and spent the rest of the day chilled to the marrow).

The summer tumbled by, not in a flurry of activity, but bore by the steady pace of Must Do.

I think I’ve been domesticated. I’m not sure how I feel about this.

Although I do love my new cutting board and ukulele.

Remember that time it went according to plan? (Me neither)

Welcome to that special time of year when the weather is perfect between 9am and 5pm and torrential downpours complete with lightning from 5pm to 9am.

It’s a good time. Really.

I would like to share a quote I found from Skiing Magazine. They’re running a series on snow sport industry dream jobs, and of course I clicked on their interview of freelance writer Chris Solomon. Anyone who wears that much orange with a bottle of what appears to be whiskey is A-Okay By Me.

This is the bit I’m so keen on sharing:

What do you enjoy the most about ski writing?

I’ve learned over the years that it’s more about the experience, and not necessarily the perfect powder days. It’s not all about getting that iconic face shot, or that perfect gourmet meal at a four-star restaurant. People don’t always want to read about great days—those days aren’t what make us. The challenging, weird, get-your-ass-handed-to-you trips are the ones that are fun to read and write about. Standard resort stories are boring; they lack a narrative. Skiing is all about finding cool, new places and meeting cool, new people. After a while it’s not really about the snow, or the skiing itself—at least not for me.

Un-italicized emphasis is, of course, mine.

I love the weird days. Like when I went camping for the first time: when the chaperoning English teacher drove over my suitcase of snacks (destroying my bag, a jar of Nutella, and a box of granola bars), I then burned my hand moving a burning log, got some sort of rash from swampy cattail water, and didn’t sleep more than 3 hours a night because I had never slept in a tent before and it’s scary, okay?

Or that time on my college orientation trip when I decided that it was a good idea to make a pita bread sandwich with tuna, pepperoni, summer sausage, goldfish and honey. In defense of my creation, it was certainly not the worst thing I’ve ever eaten.

I don’t really have much of a point. Just wanted to share this interview, because it’s pretty neat, and the series, which is also pretty neat. I’ve heard rumors that SKIING is trying to bring itself back to life and out from under the soulless awfulness that is SKI Magazine. I hope that happens.

Care to share a weird story from one of your adventures? Don’t be shy. I just publicly admitted to eating honey and tuna fish of my own free will. Nothing is as embarrassing as that.

This photo was taken in 2006 around the time of the Tuna Incident. I'm in the middle.
This photo was taken in 2006 around the time of the Tuna Incident. I’m in the middle.

While we’re still talking about swimming…

I was shuffling through some papers tonight and rediscovered the essay Bouyancy by Willard Spiegelman. Honestly, I don’t recall where I found it and I barely remember reading it.

But, it does cover some of the sensations I talked about in my previous post and, by the transitive property of ideas, makes me seem less weird.

An excerpt:

The swimmer becomes part of the element that supports him, part of an ever-changing geometry through which he slices and which then corrects itself as he moves past. The human body is 70 percent water, so swimming returns us to ourselves. The action combines fact (“grasp”) and process (“grasping”); it requires submission that then becomes liberation. You move beyond yourself and leave no trace. Swimming frees you from the world.

There is no adventure in lap swimming. (But there is.)

250 warm-up

4×100 freestyle with lateral breathing, alternating every 25 yrs :15 rest in between

2×250 freestyle with breathing pattern, 25 – 6, 50 – 5, 75 – 4, 100 – 3.

100 freestyle normal bilateral

100 kick

4×50 IM order :15 rest

200 warm-down

For a grand total of 1750 yards. One mile.

In 2005, one mile was no big deal. Now, nine years later, it’s a big deal.

Have you ever sat and watched someone swim even just 500 yards? It’s dull. There seems to be no adventure to it. No grand strokes of difference, just tenacious kicking. Swimming laps is sterile and monotonous, for the watcher and for the swimmer. The lanes do not change. The floor, if we’re very lucky, gradually approaches and receives, adding some visual interest and an indication of the passage of distance; something to show, at least, for the enormous effort of moving through water. Sound becomes white noise, drowned by water and exasperated by the funny way all pool buildings refract sound. Even sensation drops away. You can feel nothing but the current of your own momentum against your skin.

There is no adventure to be seen in lap swimming. But there is adventure.

Held afloat, made buoyant by a blend of momentum and body fat, the mind slips away. Your brain no longer has to think about holding your stomach in or wonder what that smell is. Instead, muscle memory takes over and your thinking mind relaxes. While your body is counting strokes between breath, the thinking mind suspends.

Is this the swimmer’s version of a runner’s high? If so, then I haven’t run far enough or fast enough to reach this state – balanced perfectly between the Id and Superego.

There’s some correlation between which thoughts come up the stroke. Backstroke makes me plan for future things, accomplishments that haven’t yet been. Breaststroke (my worst stroke by far) is where I face weakness. Freestyle is where anxieties are presented and summarily dismissed. Butterfly (my favorite stroke by far) is pure adrenaline; it’s where I stand up for myself. Butterfly is an efficient, powerful stroke; you cannot swim butterfly when you are at war with yourself. If you do not believe that you are efficient and powerful, then the stroke will punish you.

At least, I always feel efficient and powerful after I swim butterfly. But, people who love to swim butterfly are at least a little bit crazy. I honestly don’t know if I was any good at butterfly back in 2005. I think I was okay. Not amazing, but okay. Even at my most competitive, my times didn’t really matter. I just loved swimming butterfly. I was definitely crazy.

This past one-mile swim, during my 50 backstroke I thought, “I bet I’m the right kind of crazy for triathlons.”

There is adventure in swimming laps. You just may not see quite yet.

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!”

 

5 Life Lessons Learned from Skiing

Skiing runs in the family. Mrs Momma Millikin.
Skiing runs in the family. Presenting Mrs Momma Millikin doin’ it right.

1. The latest technology will not solve your problems.

Being a gear head is fun. You reap the benefits of a multi-ski quiver, gloves with touch-tech, your phone’s fitness tracker, and goggles with snap out lenses. But none of these things are really going to make you a better skier.

There are fantastic skiers who rode straight skis long after parabolics became the norm. They lose their toenails every winter because their boots don’t have a walk mode. DIY slipboards with the graphics peeling away from the core.

Shiny new gear can help, but it won’t really fix anything.

To be a better rider, you have to put in the time, energy, and focus to build flexibility and strength. Experience is what makes you better. It’s the same in life. Chances are, you don’t really need the newest car, the latest iPhone, the fanciest college degree. These things are nice, but having them doesn’t change who you are or what you’re capable of. You are the most important thing you have. Put in the time. Be awesome.

2. If you’re not falling, you’re not trying hard enough.

Fresh and boastful after my first winter at college, I bragged to my dad that I hadn’t taken a single nosedive all season. Can you believe it? A full winter without falling over, crashing, or yard-sale-ing in full view of the lift operators. Dad shook his head and said, “Then you’re not trying hard enough.”

It was true. I was cruising through ski season without challenging myself. I wasn’t hitting anything that scared me, and definitely not pushing myself. I was really just bumbling along, cocky as a crow. The next year? I pushed harder.

Last year, I worked the hardest I’ve ever worked on skis, and you know what? I bit it. A lot. I had some really spectacular falls, but I also had a spectacular amount of fun and learned more than I have in a long time. Absolutely worth it.

Guess what? It looks like life’s the same way. Cruising doesn’t get you anywhere interesting. If nothing else, pushing the envelope makes for an excellent life story.

3. There is a world of difference between a ski buddy and a ski partner.

This comes from an old Warren Miller VHS, the one I watched over and over again growing up. The lesson is remarkably simple: ski buddies are people you can go out and rip with. Ski partners are the people you trust with your life.

With a ski buddy, you go out and rip. You have fun all day tearing up the slopes, then sit in the parking lot and cheers your PBR tall boys. You have a blast.

With a ski partner, you explore new terrain and push the envelope. These are the people who you trust. The ones you rely to help out when the going gets rough, scary, or injured. They talk you through the icy pitch, coach you over the drop, and could probably turn your skis into a makeshift sled to haul your ass out of the woods.

It’s very important to know the difference between the two groups of people. Cruise the slopes with your buddies. Do Tuckerman Ravine with your partner.

When it comes to off-slope life, have fun with your buddies. But trust your partners with your heart and soul.

4. If you don’t do it this year, you’ll be one year older when you do.

I was raised on a steady diet of Warren Miller movies, and at the end of every one, Warren’s soothing voice warns: If you don’t do it this year, you’ll be one year older when you do.

Thanks, Warren, for imparting a premature, morbid understanding of mortality in a 9 year old.

At first, this saying echoed in my head to chastise me for cowardice. No, I didn’t follow my brother off that jump because I’m 9 years old. Next year, when I’m 10, maybe I’ll do it. Emphasis on the maybe.

Now that I’m in my twenties, I’m starting to see it in a different light. I’m not yet old enough to worry about my physical health, but I do realize how quickly life changes. If I don’t drop this chute this year, I might not have a chance next year. Why? I might have a pass to a different mountain. I might have packed up and moved, or the friend who has been dreaming of this line might move. Without him or her, dropping in won’t feel as special.

At the same time, there are definitely things worth waiting a year for. Last year, I didn’t make it to Tuckerman Ravine due to a recurring knee injury. But you know what? Next spring, when I’m one year older and wiser, I’ll be more prepared. My knee won’t let me down.

I have no idea what the rest of this year will throw at me, let alone next year. Life, love, family, friends, work. Anything can change in an instant, so listen to that voice that says “you’ll regret it if you don’t go.” If you don’t go now, for better or worse, you’ll be one year older when you do.

Finally…

5. Relax. It’s just skiing.

It doesn’t matter if you’re a beginner, an expert, or a professional freeskier, in the end, it’s just skiing. It’s supposed to be fun.

I remind myself of this often – to step forward with a shrug and a smile.

Go out and enjoy wherever your ride takes you.

What life lessons have you learned from your sport? Tell me about it in the comments!

Top of the Notch

One misty moisty morning, when cloudy was the weather, I chanced to meet an old man clothed all in leather.
One misty moisty morning, when cloudy was the weather, I chanced to meet an old man clothed all in leather.

It was a misty, moisty morning when cloudy was the weather… We took a few wrong turns, but never found the right one. So, we gave up searching for the route for Sterling Falls and hiked to Sterling Pond instead.

Some combination of yesterday’s hike and this morning’s browsing through old blog posts and new motivations brought this to mind:

Put good things in your body, then do good things with it.

Going Bare(foot)

From ages 8-18, I was a swimmer. Happy, water-logged, and injury-free. Until a strained shoulder aggravated and ended my swimming career just as I was getting excited about swimming at the college level. Kicked out of the pool, I stood on land with a confused look on my face. What am I supposed to do now?

After quite a lot of peer pressure, I took up Ultimate. Which went well enough until I got good enough to make the sharp, sudden cuts that make Ultimate an awesome sport to watch and play. I kept spraining my ankles and wrenching my knees… and custom orthotics only made it worse…. Long story short, it seemed like my running career was over before it started.

And then I switched to New Balance Minimus Trail.

Pre-minimus, I couldn’t run for longer than half a mile on pavement. On my first minimus run, I ran four miles. I had never, ever run four miles before.

The soft Vibram soles connected me directly with the ground, letting my foot strike adapt immediately to irregularities without twisting ankles. The snug heel keeps my foot in place, while the roomy toe-box lets the mid- and fore-foot stretch and flex naturally.

There aren’t really barefoot running shoes, though. There’s a 4mm drop. While I don’t really understand what that means, the 4mm drop encourages the mid-foot strike. Even when I tried these shoes out for the first time, they forced me to adapt a more balanced, forward stance. (I am a supinator that likes to lean back and walk on my heels. Serious issue for running. And skiing.)

I love these shoes. I love them so much I often use them on day hikes instead of hiking boots. They got me through my first Spartan Sprint. They are the shoes that got me running and have kept me running ever since.

Long name, light shoe.
Yellow is my least favorite color. I hate it. Probably because I’m from Massachusetts and therefore find yellow lights offensive.

For my second pair, I opted to try out the Minimus Multi-Sport, the water-resistant cousin to the Trail. They’re essentially the same show with a less breathable coating. And I’ll say, for running on damp streets, the Multi-Sports are great. But I definitely notice the loss in breathability. With the Trails, I could run without socks on really hot days, but not with the Multi-Sports. I tried once, and it was pretty uncomfortable.

I’m planning on getting a new pair of Trails pretty soon. I’ll save the Multi-Sports for day-to-day use (like walking to the grocery store on a damp day. Being in a grocery store with soggy-feeling feet just ain’t right), while using the Trails my primary running shoe.

But guarantee, if you see me yogging through town, I’ll be wearing these.

Live, Learn, Run.

 

Bookworm

I spent my country vacation devouring words. Finally, a book in my hands.

I love the way a good book lingers. The words hold on for days. Sometimes weeks. The really good ones hold on for years, trailing along like a shadow. Words and lines pop up unbidden. Entire scenes play in my head as I groggily pass between brewing coffee and boiling oatmeal.

Glen Duncan’s books The Last Werewolf and Talulla Rising are as delicious as they are brutal, vicious, and strange. Monsters that quote Camus? Go for it.