Posts Tagged ‘Whistler’

Iron Will

August 27, 2013 2 comments

The beginning of a long day, at Alta Lake.

Love, respect, and determination intermingled with the Whistler mountain air Sunday.

Joining a long string of bikes making their way to Rainbow Park post dawn – fellow spectators – there was an ominous mix of expectation, hope and worry. A knowledge that there would be achievement tinged with pain. There would be victors and at the same time carnage. Dreams realized, but at significant cost.

I had butterflies in my stomach. And I was only watching.

Someone had told me spectating an Ironman was hard work, which I found slightly ridiculous. But they were right. It’s not the jockeying for prime position around the transitions that is hard, it’s the wide range of emotions you experience. From incredulity to disbelief. Whether you are watching the pros streamlining down the highway or willing someone to take another step just by clapping hard.

It was, in its own way, grueling.

I wondered, as I watched an older man in incredible pain limping along the run course at the fourteen hour mark, what was possibly motivating him to set out for the second thirteen mile lap. What could inspire someone to strap on a headlight once darkness fell, knowing they had entered the water before the sun had risen. Behind every athlete, their unique story. Because even the ones who looked fresh on race day had suffered at some point of their arduous training.

A day of dichotomy. At times I watched perfectly sculpted super humans gliding past, while at others I watched softer forms in various stages of struggle. At the finish line some athletes sat on picnic benches and chatted with family, while 20 meters away the medical tent overflowed with salty casualties awaiting IV’s or wheelchairs.

Some athletes bounced away from the finish line, while others were carried.

One thing they all shared was the courage to try. Every face etched with resolve. Evey face.

On top of all that, this.


Don’t blink or you’ll miss her.

Euphoria at watching my friend rocking a race that I will never attempt. Chrissy, who I try to persuade to have another glass of wine, stay out later, come hang at the beach for a while. She quietly sacrifices these leisurely moments in order to train, making various excuses but never complaining. She chose her dedicated path, and on Sunday, was rewarded.

Tenacious despite fatigue. Focused and unwavering, she was the fourth superwoman to cross the line. I went to cheer her on, but every time I saw her on the course, getting it done, my throat closed up and I couldn’t squeak out a word of encouragement. A spectating fail. Amazed, I could only gawk at her strength.


Christine Fletcher proving her iron will

Incredibly proud of Chrissy, and my other friends who not only finished Ironman, but achieved new milestones. In fact, props to everyone who attempted this test of mettle. Not only are you an Ironman, you are proof positive that we are capable of incredible things.

For GranFondo Virgins, Myself Among Them

September 9, 2011 4 comments

If you plan on heading to Whistler this weekend, pump up your tires and join the crowd: you will be served better by two wheels than four. The RBC GranFondo is in town. If your Italian is rusty, GranFondo translated means long race, massive pain. The upside is that cyclists will have their very own precious northbound lane along the Sea to Sky corrider from early morning until late afternoon.

For this special day, cyclists will not have to choke on exhaust. They will not be forced onto the gravel shoulder of a road by cars insistent on hugging the white line. They will be able to enjoy the breathtaking views in their peripheral vision without the distracting roar of engines.

Combine these attractions with the aging demographic, who find cycling easier on the joints if hard on the pocketbook, and you get 4000 participants in last year’s inaugural event. A huge turnout by any race standard. This year the event has almost doubled in size – it sold out in April to 7000 riders.

And yes, I’m one of them.

I have logged hundreds of miles, much of them uphill, in preparation. I’ve gone from shakily practicing those damn toe clips in my driveway to manouvering skillfully through intersections. I’ve only fallen once this summer (and that was down stairs without my bike). I feel ready for this challenge – but for one caveat.

I’m used to avoiding hulking weapons of steel, otherwise known as cars, on my rides, but what about the 6,999 other cyclists? I’ve ridden with the occasional friend in my training, but it’s hard to practice riding in a pack without, well, a pack.

So I’ve been busily interviewing every cyclist I know and Googling the hell out of “Tips for cycling races.” The best advice I’ve had so far has been from my friend and uber-athlete, Chrissie, who told me NEVER, in any circumstances, take your eyes off the road. This may seem obvious, but I frequently shoulder check while I ride, which entails taking my eyes off the road for a millisecond. This is a no-no. I am to use my peripheral vision to shoulder check.

Eyes front.

The other thing she told me was to not watch the wheel of the rider in front of me, but rather look through them at the level of their hips, in order to see the road in front of that rider (as best you can without possessing x-ray vision).

So eyes front and slightly raised.

But what about all of those obstacles that we swerve to avoid, like broken glass and large potholes? Cyclists that I know will point these out with a wave of their hand if they are in front of me. If I’m alone however, I sometimes don’t see them until the last second. The answer, according to bloggers, is to slowly and steadily steer around these obstacles, with the emphasis on slowly and steadily. If you see it too late, and if it’s not big enough to swallow you and your bike whole, then ride through it rather than swerve and risk the rider behind you crashing into you.

Once again, the message here is eyes front. I’m getting it.

So it goes without saying when reaching for water bottles or fuel, do it without taking your eyes off of the road. My friend caught grief from riders in the Napa GranFondo when she inadvertently dropped her water bottle. Of course it was a mistake, but one that could have had consequences. I’m planning on not touching my bottles until well out of the pack.

Eyes front, steady hands.

Of course there are other niggling worries for the 120 km ride: proper nutrition and hydration, fatigue, my incessantly complaining ass. But they all pale in comparison to staying upright through the thickest of things. My biggest challenge will be to remain focused on the road in front of me, even if the rider beside me is naked.

Eyes front, smiling permitted.

For the Love of Skiing

January 25, 2011 6 comments

It's a ski day at Whistler

As I don five layers of clothing (moisture wicking base first, merino wool layer second, various thermal things that will fit thereafter), carefully stick my toe warmers on top of my wooly socks, and wedge my foot into my cumbersome ski boot, forcing the buckles closed an aerobic exercise in itself, it strikes me that skiing is an absurd sport.  I stuff my pockets with money, tissues, hand warmers, lip balm and granola bars, and head out into the dark morning looking like the Michelin Man as I juggle my helmet, skis, pole and gloves, with no free hands to do things like open doors.

Despite dressing at a speed that could rival the Six Million Dollar Man, I’m overheating before I get outside, the frigid outdoor temperatures turning my sweat into an ice cube that inconveniently coats my body, transforming me from a barbecue to a freezer before I can yodel yard sale.

But then I’m at the lift and anticipation washes over me: some days you ski, and some days you don’t. This one I’m skiing.

Symphony Bowl - can you hear the music?

I can never decide what I like best about skiing: The vistas, when you have them? The act of hurling yourself down a mountain at break-neck speed? Floating almost effortlessly through champagne powder? Laughing, (hopefully, once you make sure all of your digits are moving) with friends over good wipeouts? Enjoying a cold beer apres-ski? The thigh burning workout, always negated by a big bowl of chili and white bread at lunch?

Even the days they are handing out garbage bags at the lifts to shield you from the rain, spending a day skiing always seems better than the alternative.

Unlike the real world of line-ups, in front of a ski lift everyone is happy. A sea of smiling faces. After you! No, after you!  How do you like those skis? Have you been to Symphony Bowl today? Typical chatter amongst skiers, comfortable in the skiing fraternity. There is hope for humanity after all. This is one of the things I love about skiing.

A bluebird day, clear skies making the white snow glow neon.  Peaks and snow and sky as far as the eye can see, skiers darting like ants back and forth down the slope. I breathe mountain air and it goes straight to my soul. Surely this must be the best thing. This is why I love skiing.

Gliding over a piste you spy some untouched powder and want to be the first to trace an s-like trail through it; never mind it comes out looking more like a mathematical equation – you floated! This, surely, is what I love the most.

In the gondola, you strike up a conversation with the woman next to you, who has traveled from Hong Kong or Austria or New Zealand and is in love with your country, telling you how lucky you are to live here. Reminding me. This, too, I love.

Sitting afterwards in a crowded bar as a local musician covers Free Falling drinking cold Kokanee Gold, in the company of friends who also have aching legs and some war stories from the day. The apres-ski tradition is surely the best part of skiing. Or is it?

Black Tusk sitting above the cloud cover, up where we belong

As each part of the ski day unfolds my loyalties shift, my favorite aspect changes like the snow conditions at Whistler; swiftly and without warning.

Hitting the slopes, nosepickers in toe

January 5, 2011 4 comments

A bluebird day at Blackcomb - what's not to like?

There are many things I love to do with my children: read books, watch movies, discuss dental hygiene, impart didactic stories from my youth, tickle them silly.  Absent from the list is anything requiring physical strength; for all of my redeeming qualities, patience does not make the list, and boatloads of patience is required when cajoling three children of different sizes and abilities into breaking a sweat.

I love to ski, and have from the first moment I forced my foot into a borrowed ski boot that was two sizes too small, so from the get-go I can’t for the life of me understand their opposition to this sport.  I cringe inwardly when I hear these words come out of my mouth: “When I was a little girl….” so I don’t say it to them, but I just realized I CAN say it here.  What follows is a diatribe.

I dreamed of skiing as a child.  I watched ski race coverage religiously on the ABC Wide World of Sports, salivating at the spectacle of skiers effortlessly flying down steep slopes, averting my eyes when they careened into fences and spectators.  Fascinating stuff.

Nova Scotia, my old stomping ground, is not known for its mountainous terrain, the closest hill (or bump, or mosquito bite) was an hour away.  Despite this, there was an active skiing community that I longed to be a part of, even though my parents didn’t ski and it was prohibitively expensive.

Here is where having several older siblings of driving age is an asset (because sharing one box of cookies amongst nine children certainly wasn’t).  My sister was part of this hot-rod skiing community, and she took my pain-in-the-butt-ten-year-old self, for some reason, skiing once a year for a spell.

My siblings liberally chime in about my many misgivings as a child  – and now adult – but even they will admit I was a joy to teach skiing; I’ve probably not been as keen or as excited about learning anything since.  They may, however, have been embarrassed to be associated with me, since my thrown-together, borrowed ski ensemble resembled a garage sale more than an outfit.

I wish I had a picture to show my own kids, who’s splashy ski suits and matching gloves and helmets never seem to make their grade.  I grit my teeth.

Ella, not so happy

I remember refusing to go in for lunch, choosing to eat a sandwich instead while in line for the t-bar (It was all t-bars and rope tows in those days, so sitting down was out of the question).  I remember thinking my hands were going to fall off from cold, but not wanting to complain in case I was made to go inside.  I remember drinking nothing, despite almost unbearable thirst, so that I wouldn’t have to go to the bathroom.  I remember legs shaking from fatigue, and swallowing snot in lieu of finding Kleenex.

Granted, I am not as hard core these days, but you see where I’m going with this: I was so thankful for the opportunity to ski that I thought I’d never have, I was determined to make the most of it.  Those nights when I came home from the slopes, I would lay in bed with the sensation of the t-bar pulling me up the hill, reliving each moment of my ski day.

None of my children have this ski bug, despite the phenomenal ski terrain at our doorstep and access to the best instruction in the world.  Kids today.  The mere mention of going skiing sends them into a tirade of reasons why we shouldn’t.  It breaks my heart.  If I hadn’t birthed them myself, I would be seriously questioning their DNA.

Like playing golf is a good way of ruining a nice walk, skiing with my children was the worst way to spend a day that I could think of.  The expense and time of suiting them all up, only to log three runs between hot chocolate/lunch/pee/cold feet breaks, not to mention the tears and complaints, was not worth the colossal effort.

But there is hope on the horizon.

On New Year’s day, under the ideal conditions of a bluebird sky, temperature inversion, and no line ups, I had a pleasant ski day with my children.  We stuck to very doable blue runs, had fun with jumps in the terrain garden, and raced through the gates on the GMC race course.  This is big news in my life.

Finally, all smiles

I learned years ago that my children will be the opposite of me, despite my best laid plans; but where skiing is involved I might win the day yet.  Very fitting with my New Year’s mantra: Anything is possible in 2011.