January 03, 2007

The Agony of Defeet. And Deback. And Deneck. And...

My deepest apologies for being MIA over the past couple of weeks. Truth be told, I got a bit engrossed in the ho-ho-ho of the ho-ho-holidays. In fact, as a special homage to Sir Claus, I've put on a bit of weight and grew a beard. (Well, maybe not exactly a beard, but it was pretty creative facial hair nonetheless. Creative enough for Catherine to be calling me Jean Claude for a few days. Use your imagination.)

I am back in the flow of things now though. Honestly, I'm happy to be typing this because it is somewhat relaxing being that my fingers are just about the only part of my body that doesn't hurt.

You see, Catherine and I drove back from Mammoth Lakes last night where we had spent a lovely three days in the snow celebrating the New Year. Mammoth, in case you aren't aware, is a skiing/snowboarding paradise during the winter and a mountain biking/fly fishing/hiking mecca throughout the summer bloom. Obviously, I opted for the skiing/snowboarding festivities during this time of year.

Which leads me right into my current state of pain...

A few years ago I used to do a little bit of work with K2 Snowboards, arguably one of the leaders in that crazy knuckle-dragging world. The folks over at that fine company had a propensity for sending me lots of neat stuff like snowboards and clothing and backpacks and the sort, even though I told them I don't snowboard. I had piles of K2 gear sitting around my place.

For years I had every intention of learning the sport. I mean, I had all the gear, I just needed to learn how to use it. But, alas, whenever I got myself to the mountain, I couldn't resist but hop on a pair of skis. Good ole reliable.

That all changed two years ago. While spending some time up in Tahoe, I decided to spend a day giving this whole snowboarding thing a shot. I'd start with a lesson. So I called the mountain the night before and scheduled a slot for me in the early morning group lesson.

I got up at the crack of dawn and headed over to the mountain. Smartly dressed in my hipper-than-thou snowboarding pants and my coolest-guy-on-the-block snowboarding jacket, I walked over to the base of the mountain and laid down my far-too-expensive snowboard with the fresh boots and trick bindings. I buttoned up my shiny black helmet and after finagling my brand new wristguards out of their carrying case, I strapped them onto my arms.

I was ready - and damn I looked good.

There were six of us in the snowboarding lesson. There was me, the old guy in the expensive get-up, and five pre-teens in much more relaxed but clearly much hipper clothing. I felt a bit awkward but, hey, they were only kids. I had years of life experiences on my side.

The class started with a few basics, like glide down the mountain for five feet and turn right. The five little whipper-snappers went down like they'd been getting secret lessons from one of those pot-smoking Canadian Olympians. I despised them immediately. Finally it was my turn. As I started sliding, all seemed to be going just fine for the first second. It started going to hell around second two when my ass hit the ground so hard I thought I broke a cheek - and I'd imagine those are tough things to break.

I got up and tried again only to fall down immediately with a hefty thump as my face embedded itself directly into the snow.

The next two hours continued on at the same rate. The little pre-teen feckers picked up snowboarding like it was second nature. As for me, I was that guy. You know the guy - the one with all the gear that doesn't deserve it. The one who sucks at his sport so badly, he should immediately donate the thousands of dollars of merchandise to a better candidate.

You've seen that guy. You've passed him on the hill on your worst day of climbing. He's the one struggling and huffing and puffing as he rides on top of his ten thousand dollar Pinarello with the fully Campy Record set-up. He's the severely overweight guy sporting the latest T-Mobile kit as if it were handed to him by Jan Ullrich himself - and it probably was.

After a couple hours of humiliation, my snowboard lesson ended and I went to a bigger slope to spend a few solitary hours tumbling down like a misguided snowball. It hurt - mentally and physically. And then, just as I was about to finish the day, I had one part of one run - a mere 15 seconds of joy - in which everything worked out perfectly. Lo and behold, I was snowboarding.

Just as the smile reached both ears and the wahoo! left my lips, I fell over and bashed my face in the snow again, knocking the wind out of me and probably causing at least a mild concusion.

When I got back to my friend's place that evening, my body and pride crushed to a pulp, I took off all of my spankin' new K2 clothing and gave it away to my friends. Fuck this, I said as I struggled against the pain to remove my jacket. I'm done with boarding. I'm going skiing tomorrow.

So now here I am, two years later, and I think I've finally recovered from the pain of that first snowboarding experience. I figured I'd give it another shot this year up in Mammoth. Why not. Hell, I'm a damn Ironman! Snowboarding should be a piece of cake.

I woke up on Day 1 and put on my slightly older, but not quite overly embarrassing snowboard clothing. When I got to the mountain I took a couple of slow easy runs down the baby slope. And guess what? I remembered something! Sure I was falling here and there, but I was moving. I was gliding and carving turns and...it felt great! I was snowboarding! Woohooo!

Perhaps I got a bit overly cocky a little too soon - perhaps I just got lucky early on. By the third run I had had enough with the baby slope and kicked it up a notch to the intermediate run. That's about the point where everything went to hell.

It wasn't just the falling that got me, it was the not remembering how to turn right. Yeah, I was doing fine with the turns on the baby slope, but I was like a different person after those first two runs. All of the sudden I forgot how to turn right. I could turn left all day. Hell, I could turn left until the cows come home, get slaughtered and made into burgers for dinner. But the moment I tried to turn right? Ka-BAM! - I'd smash into the snow. I kept trying to practice my right turns, I kept watching other people, trying to soak up any knowledge I could. But it didn't work. Left, no problem. Right, face plant.

It sucked.

I suddenly realized I was Zoolander on a snowboard. The embarrassment, the discomfort - it came crashing back like the broken sphincter I first experienced two years ago.

By twelve thirty that day I was so frustrated with my inability to make a right turn, that I got to the bottom of the hill, threw off my board, and marched into the lodge with a huff. I stampeded to the Lessons counter and, realizing there were no more group lessons that day, demanded in a pathetic begging type of way, that I get a private lesson that afternoon.

I'm sorry, sir, the nice little Peruvian girl said to me, but we don't have any more lessons today. You can take a lesson tomorrow morning.

I harumphed, but I don't think she heard me. So I met her gaze and harumphed a little bit louder, just for effect. Then, with a mumbling of a thanks but no thanks and an awkward smile, I trudged away.

As I lay on the couch that evening, I could feel the pain building. The quads were burning, the joints didn't want to move. The wrists hurt so much I couldn't take my socks off. Hell, I could barely hold a fork. My spine felt like it got compressed from it's long winding form into a little inch of bone that was piercing my lower back. My neck and shoulders hurt when I lay down, when I stood up and when I was sitting. Other than that, they were fine.

The next morning I woke up and the pain had worsened. Screw this, I said. I'm not going to waste my last day on the mountain destroying my body. I'll focus on the snowboarding next time. Today, I ski.

So, once again, I went back to ole reliable. And with my old but still almost stylish ski clothes and my Ironman backpack strapped on my shoulders, I hit the slopes. And it was a blast.

About mid-day I was riding up the gondola when the guy sitting across from me saw my backpack. Did you race Ironman? he asked.

Yeah, I said. I did Lake Placid this year.

Wow, he replied. I signed up for Arizona this March. I'm missing a training weekend to be here, but how could I possibly pass up a good day of snowboarding, you know?

Yeah, I said, as if I really knew what a good day of snowboarding was like. As if I would actually opt to miss a training weekend to go snowboarding. As if I had an inkling of understanding of what he meant.

I am determined. Someday I will become a snowboarder. Maybe not this year. Maybe not next. But it will happen at one point.

In the meantime, maybe tomorrow I'll be able to hoist my leg onto my bike without this soaring pain.


Anonymous said...

Dude, you are a funny writer. I'm having a good chuckle at your snowboarding experiences, having cried at the end of my first day boarding, many years ago, and wishing for a big pillow to tape to my behind. I had to stick with it though, since I'd blown out a knee skiing and couldn't go back to the double-sticks approach anymore.

I hope you find your snowboarding mojo some day, it really is a kick-ass sport, once you get past that first little learning curve there. Oh yeah, and turns are toe-side and back-side, but never ever right or left :-). Toe-side turns are often the hardest, it helps to push your back toe down and back behind you (dig in with it). At least that's what works for me...

j. said...

damn fine suggestion, Robin. wish somebody told me that a week ago! i'm sitting here in Starbucks imagining my back toe being pushed down and bag and i can feel myself turning toeside.

i'll definitely try that next time. which hopefully will be in less than 2 years.

Anonymous said...

I just got back from my first snowboarding experience in Taos (Sipapu). Dislocated my shoulder - twice! Sucked... I may have messed up my IMAZ training - not worth the risk. Good luck and be careful next time.

j. said...