Cross-Country Courage

Sliding and swishing through the snow like the polar bears in this year’s Coca Cola Super Bowl commercial, I cruised around Mount Catherine at the Snoqualmie Summit in Washington this past weekend. With blue skies, warm weather and hardly a cloud in sight, I strapped two skinny skies to my feet for a day in the backcountry snow with hardly a second thought.

The Nordic Center at Snoqualmie Summit features over 50 kilometers of groomed trails for all ski and snowshoe levels. Showing off the natural beauty of the Washington Cascades, the Nordic trails weave through the dense evergreen forests, follow creeks and ridgeline ledges and serve up stunning vistas of the surrounding jagged mountains and high elevation lakes. But the cross-country course serves up something extra too – a healthy helping of courage.

Courage to Try Something New

Meeting up with an old friend and three new, I started the day by familiarizing myself with my ski-bum buddies for the afternoon. Initially afraid that I was going to be the rusty fool on the slopes while cross-country skiing, I was happy to find that the rest of my group was new to the sport as well with one exception. I have Nordic skied many times since I was a kid but it had been several years (5+) since my last trek, but three others had only gone once or never before.

Trying a new sport – or anything really – especially one that includes attaching a slipper stick to your body takes a whole lot of courage. Anytime you are willing to look like a crazy-ass nutcase, fall down a hill, and then do it all over again…is amazing. We should all act so silly more often!

Courage to Find Balance

Starting out on the Mt. Catherine Loop, a 15K trail circumventing the ski park, the first thing we had to do was find our balance and rhythm, side to side and toes to heel. To keep grip and forward motion, you will get nowhere on x-country skis without a little ballerina skill – except for maybe face first in the snow. Settling in the tracks, with polls swinging we slowly built momentum like a steam train over the rolling flat sections of the trail.

Like having your legs clicked into the Nordic skis, balance is also key to life. To keep moving forward and to avoid cold wipe-outs, the scale has to be kept equal between all the important paths in your life. For me I work hard so I can play hard because both are equally important and then on top of that I also make time for my family, friends and of course everything else. This gets out of whack every once in awhile, but when you place value in each of your corners they will always return to even.

David Sedaris wrote in an article for the New Yorker that life is like a stove top, “one burner represents your family, one is your friends, the third is your health and the fourth is your work.” To be successful, many people cut off one of their burners, to be really successful they to cut off two. But this creates a horrible and unhappy unbalance. What you need to do is change your definition of success. Like out on the snow trail, success isn’t always just finishing the loop but on some stretches it is to not fall down, or making it to the next bend, or to keep pushing until lunch. At times you may need to lower the burners, but I never-ever turn off the flame. The disproportionate balancing act that inevitably creeps into people lives is not by any means the rule – sometimes it just takes a little courage to keep your feet solid and to strike a balance to stay standing.

Courage to Conquer the Mountain

Just when we thought the trail was easy, it started to climb…and climb…and climb. We would think, oh just around that next bend and we will be at the top for lunch, but no. Following a thin ledge around the backside of the mountain for several kilometers, each of us kept sliding one foot in front of the other as we continued up in elevation. Stopping for lunch we savored in the beautiful rugged views as the wind wiped up clouds of white swirling snow and replenished our tired bodies with food. Though wearing out from the endless incline, there is something invigorating and internally motivating about reaching for a peak. It’s a deep sense of courage tangled with faith that keeps my eyes up. (Matthew 14: 22-33)

The group at the top (photo by Elysia)

Finally we were greeted with a kiss from the wide-open blue ski at the top of the run and white humps of snow speckled by trees. In our narrow-sightedness to reach the top though we overlook one small problem – the challenging descent and sinking sun.

Courage to Turn Back

Sometimes it takes more courage to realize your limitations and turn back then to climb the mountain. As much as we wanted to complete the full loop we had to take into consideration that we did not have the needed resources to make it – the time, skill or endurance. Toasting our toes in the warming hut, which is located just about as far away from the Nordic Center as possible on the backside of the mountain, we re-organized our attack for the trail. Though we had already traveled more than half-way around the loop, the upcoming kilometers mixed more uphill and steeper downhill according to the backcountry ski patrol member stationed at the hut. At 2:30 in the afternoon (our rentals were supposed to be back at 3:30 p.m. – whoops!) we turned our backs on the forward trail and retraced our trenches.

Going back the way we came though was no beachy stroll. Anyone who has ever cross-country skied can tell you that skinny skis – especially when they are too long – are not built to go downhill. Sliding along the crusted ice, my skis grinded along the surface offering little resistance to help me slow down. Unable to make turns in the snow, all of use took many hard tumbles into the snow banks as our nerves gripped our bodies. Looking down the mountain, the slopes appeared much, much taller! Yet we couldn’t stop, so in a perpetual wedge that burned my thighs and knees, we slowly continued down the trail.

Courage to Let Go

On my way down the mountain, with shaky, tired legs attempting to hold a steady wedge and poles dragging behind me through the icy snow, a middle-aged man powered up the steep slope like a steroid-duped Frozone from the Incredibles. As he passed me, he turned and yelled back with a Norwegian accent, “just let go!”

And he was right, my tight ridged form was just holding me back – and cramping my legs and grinding my knees. Once I loosened up and looked passed the ledge, my turns became smoother and the trail more manageable. Like my fear of sliding down the slope, sometimes we need to let go and stop trying to control the situation. The baggage we drag will, yes, slow us down, but that apprehension will also leave its sore spots the next day.

Letting go of the GPS is not an easy task just like cross-country skiing down that mountain was for me, but the exhilarating fear tends to steer right. By putting a little trust in my ability and mustering the courage to point my tips downhill, I not only made it down the mountain faster but fell fewer times along the way.

Courage to Forage on Alone

Once down the steep sections of the trail, we still had 3-5 kilometers of rolling hills to ski to reach the Nordic center. With the sun already below the ridgeline, I was starting to get chilled from my sweat coloring in the crispy dusk air. As a more regular skiing than the majority of my travel buddies (snowboarders), my pace also outran the group. After waiting for over 10 minutes for my friends to catch up, I finally decided to just continue ahead alone. Sailing through the sparse trees of the lower hills, my shadows cast by the low sun raced ahead of me.

At times, we just have to go it alone. Don’t let yourself be held back by your fear of being solo. You can do just about anything by yourself and easily have just as much fun if not more. Some days I am my only best friends, and yes it can be lonely at times, but I am more independent and confident for it. I refused to wait around – doesn’t help I’m not a super patient person, but that’s another post – because time won’t wait for me to catch up.

Sailing into the Nordic Center back at the base of the ski area around 5 p.m. – just a tad late with our rentals – I was rosy cheeked and glad to be back. Warming up inside and enjoying the tail ends of my trail mix, I rested my sore feet up on a bench while waiting for the rest of my group to slide on in from our courageous journey.

More Posts To Explore:

Snow, Rain & Wine

Three things I inevitably – and sometimes joyfully – look forward to each winter is snow, rain & wine. Unless one of the three stop me from enjoying the others, such as with this photo. I attempted to take my family out wine tasting while they were in town last weekend, yet the weather like a mean step-sibling, howled, blowed and snowed us out of the delicious warm tastings we so desired. But stuck in the snow trying to reach one of my favorite vineyards, I still snapped this awesome stormy photo.

Blizzard Vineyard

Versatile Blogger Award

Versatility keeps life interesting and for someone who ends up juggling the equivalent of ten plates, two swords and a can of peaches each week, it is the sole thing that keeps me sane while driving me crazy at the same time. One of the my many joys in life though is sharing all these countless passions with you.

On January 19, I was nominated for a Versatile Blogger Award. With this award comes responsibility – three simple rules – which I joyously and adventurously accept!

Rule 1: Thank who nominated you for the award & include a link to their blog

Thank you so much Custom Trip Planning for nominating me and engaging with my blog. Custom Trip Planning is a fantastic blog penned by Beth and Graham Rankin offering great travel planning tips, trip insights and fabulously descriptive posts.

Rule 2: Reveal seven things about yourself:

Shark Cave Diving

7. I am extremely afraid of fish. I’m not sure when or why this phobia came about. I  feel super silly even admitting to it, but truly I hate fish. Whenever I’m in water near those creepy swimming creatures it is as if spiders are crawling up and down my arms and legs – my body wells up with tension and anxiety until a toddle tantrum feels inevitable. I first discovered this fear while snorkeling in Hawaii with my family about ten years ago. As soon as the first school of fish ventured near, I curled up into a ball – thus sinking and freaking out even more. However, even with this fear, I somehow went shark cave diving and for five years had a pet fish named Bruce.

6. I have lived abroad twice and dream of traveling the world. For three months during my junior year of college, I lived and studied in the small Italian town of Paderno del Grappa through the CIMBA program. This is where I first fell in love with wine and travel blogging (Italy Travel Blog). A year later during my senior year of college, I moved to South Africa and worked at a winery just outside of Cape Town for three months. (SA Travel Blog). Ultimately I’d love just to travel and write about my trips and experiences. Check out my Travel Bucket List.

5. I have Crohn’s Disease. Diagnosed only last year, I am still trying to get the disease under control, but a little tummy trouble won’t get me down.

4. I almost studied to be a fashion designer. I can’t even image how different my life would have been if I traveled down that oh-so-trendy path. Though I still love sewing my own clothing and crocheting and secretly watch Project Runway religiously (well on-demand), I am happy to keep that side of my life as just a fun hobby.

3. I never ate a full salad until I was 18. When I was young I turned my nose at anything green – unless it was lime Jell-O or kiwi and that was still a stretch. Yet one day during my freshman year of college I tried a salad and discover that there is a huge world of deliciousness beyond ranch dressing. Now I eat a salad a few times a week.

My Grandma and Grandpa

2. I started writing in third grade. My best friend and I actually wrote an entire short story series with full color illustrations. Since then I have written poems, newsletter articles, magazine features and hundreds of blog posts (I currently have two blogs of my own – Oregon Winette is my second). I hope to one day write a book – the topic is yet to be determined.

1. I am related to a quarter the population of Wyoming. Not really – but really. My grandfather is one of twelve siblings who grew up on a back country dude ranch in Wyoming and my grandmother one of ten. Between all of these cow-folk and their children, it seems every time I go to visit, other relatives appear out of the wood-works. Yet I love them all – third, fourth, fifth cousins too – but I would never date someone from the state without a detailed background check!

Rule 3: Bestow the honor to other blogs you enjoy reading

Here are 10 of my favorite blogs:

Cascades Raptor Center

Hidden on the southern slopes of Spencer’s Butte amidst knurly trees moist with draping gray-green moss, the Cascades Raptor Center looks like it’s located straight out of a set from Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi.  You know that scene where Luke, Leia & Han Solo roam through the dense forests of Endor to escape the dark side’s forces – like that. I almost expected a fuzzy like Ewok to jump out from the lurking brush. Yet alas only equally as creepy squawks emerged from the trees as we walked up the steep driveway from the over-flow parking lot below. If I wasn’t knowingly entering a bird sanctuary I think I would have been a little frightened by the wild sounds emerging from the trees.

Located just south of Eugene, Ore. on Fox Hollow Road, the Cascades Raptor Center is a nature center and wildlife hospital. Devoted to helping and healing wild, native birds and educating the public, the center hosts 60 non-releasable birds for viewing. From an energetic red-tailed hawk, who starred me down through its wooden cage to a shy, pure-white snow owl and stoic bald eagles, the Cascades Raptor Center creates an engaging and educational exhibit for all-ages.

Holding special permits for educational purposes, the raptors on display are kept in large outside lattice enclosures that camouflage into the natural surroundings. Initially entering the facility I didn’t even see half of structures, they blended so well into the winter hill side.

Using a cultural pass from the Eugene library, good for up-to $25 in admission cost, my sister, brother-in-law, nephew and I wandered through the center for free, gazing on the beautiful birds. I can’t say my nephew paid any real attention to the birds – he’s only 4.5 months old, many of the birds bigger than him – but the informational placards accompanying the animals brought the bird’s stories to life even for us.

Like Puck, an adorable American Kestrel who when still young enough to be begging for food landed on a boy’s head at a baseball game. The bird when taken to a rehabilitation center was deemed a human imprint – they have been physiology influenced by human behavior during phase-sensitive learning, likely from direct interaction. Puck due to this negative human contact could no longer function securely in the wild.

Walking along the dirt trails between structures, each of the birds had a story – unique as their own feathers but inevitably tied back to the damaging effects of humans on their habitat and learning.

But at the Cascades Raptor Center, they are trying to prevent this from happening further. Through their educational programs, rehabilitation center, community outreach and of course public tours of the sanctuary, the center is educating and exposing the public one very cute raptor at a time.

Cascades Raptor Center:

My sister & I

32275 Fox Hollow Road, Eugene, OR 97405 – (541) 485-1320

Hours:

Winter (November – March), Tuesday – Sunday, noon – 5 p.m.

Summer (April – October), Tuesday – Sunday, 10 a.m. – 6 p.m.

Admission:

Adults $7, Teens/Seniors $6, Children under 12 $4

*This was a Eugene Bucket List item!

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Me with my cute "birdy" nephew!

Water in the Web

I hate spiders, but love their webs. Look how the beads of water just hang from its shiny threads in the morning fog – a brilliant and intriguing design of nature.

This photo was taken on my saturday morning training run. I am up to 3 miles now toward my half-marathon goal. I used my iPhone 3GS to capture the photo and then edited the image with the Luminance and Dynamic Light Apps.

Happy 2012!

From the center of Burnside Bridge overlooking the Willamette River and lights of downtown, I rang in 2012 with friends in Portland. Waking up with the sun, the new year greeted me with a firm punch of reality and a fat lip (I was elbowed in the face at the bar). Hopefully this isn’t a sign of things to come this year!

I hope everyone had a wonderful, pain-free 2011 & may this new year be full of surprising, joyful adventures!

Midnight view looking south from Burnside Bridge, Portland

How was your New Year’s Eve? Where did you celebrate?

Best Photos of 2011

Wow is 2011 really almost over?

I can hardly remember what happened last week then last April, so lets take a look back at my favorite blog photos from 2011.

What month’s photo is your favorite? Comment below or on my Facebook page.

April – One of my first photos on my blog

April 20, 2011 - Porch Faucet

May – Explored the Ford Alumni Center at the University of Oregon

May 30, 2011 - Glass Globes at the Ford Alumni Center

June – USA Track and Field Championship at Hayward Field, University of Oregon

June 27, 2011 - USA Track Champs

July – Finally summer, went hiking every week. This photo is from hiking to Trestle Creek Falls.

August 9, 2011 - Cascade Greens

August – Hit up the Oregon Coast this summer for a two day road trip. Day 1, Day 2

Doing cartwheels on the beach - August 21, 2011

September Snapped this photo while training for my cycling adventure along the Willamette Valley Scenic Bikeway.

Day 1a, Day 2a , Day 2b, Day 3

McKenzie View Drive - Sept 21, 2011

October Visited my friend Amy in Washington D.C. and had the opportunity to see the new Martin Luther King Jr. Monument.

Oct. 29, 2011 - Martin Luther King Jr. Monument

November – Found the Pacific Ocean right at sunset on my road trip to Napa with #BuickTweetHouse for the Napa Valley Film Festival.

Nov 11, 2011 - California sunset

December -The weather has finally started to turn cold and dreary. Learn how to survive the winter in the PNW.

Dec 17, 2011 - The Willamette River through the fog and trees

For more photos from the year, review my Photo of the Day archives.

Happy Holidays and New Years!