Cross country skiing with Mitch Mode
There is no Why anymore. The questions and the questioning, the Why and the Whys, gone now; sharp edges of hard questions rounded as pointed snow crystals under weight of time and space. Time does that; smooths the edges of things.
In the beginning there is Why? Always.
The Why is there in the nascent days as diamond frost can give light at sunrise on a winter day. In daybreak’s frost we see spark of light and in that spark, hope and beauty and promise. When we skied for the first times we saw the same. There was a quiver, a heartbeat; something moved us. We felt an attraction, found ourselves drawn in in a way we could not easily articulate.
We flirted with the ski time, dabbled in it, worked around the edges of a growing interest unsure if it would go anywhere. And we asked, at some point in our internal dialogue: Why?
Why do I like this? Why do I do this? Why do I want more? Why ski? Why?
In the early days, Why is always there.
We ski, which is a physical act, in a nation too often marked by sloth and obesity. We ski in the base elements of cold and snow, this in a culture that fears both. And we ski, some of us, in races and events of distance, in defiance of the norm of short and easy. How is it that we cannot ask Why?
We came into the sport with questions, drawn by something we could not fully understand, knowing that there was an attraction to the sweet mystery of skiing. We stood before the sport as we stood, at a time, before someone we were attracted to and felt a warmth in their glance and knew not why we were drawn, knew only that we were. And perhaps asked ourselves, “Why the attraction?”
In the early days, the Why of skiing is close at hand. We fumble and bumble our way along, make mistakes, walk away in frustration, ask ourselves, “Why? Why do this foolishness?” Then we came back to it; the reward exceeded the frustration.
Over the passing seasons, all of that fades and skiing becomes an elemental strand of who we are, flows as blood in our veins. Comes a time when there is no questioning: It is winter, it is ski season and so we will ski.
We no longer have questions. We are shaped by the winter. We ski. That is a constant. We ski in cold weather; that another. And we ski, some of us, in long races. At a certain time, we no longer ask Why?
“It is winter, it is ski season and so we will ski.”
Others may ask, “Why do this? Why ski? Why do this silly task that seems like too much work for no measurable gain?” And we answer in our own manner, but we ski through it all.
After a time, the questions stop; there is no Why anymore.
The years take off the rough edges, shape us and form us as the wind and the sun and the days sculpt new-fallen snow. A variable becomes a constant; we are melded; we are changed.
We may give a nod to the heritage of the Norwegians of ancient time, but we are modern people after all; in time we build our own traditions, season by season, event by event.
We do it with skiing; we do it with our personal relationships. Odd, perhaps, to link the two, but there it is. Oddly appropriate also to see that it’s February and the calendar looms with two dates: Valentines Day and the Birkie (or feel free to substitute any other long distance event). Two red letter days, seemingly unrelated. But no; both the same in this: Both deal with matters of the heart.
In the early days of any relationship the Why of it all looms as it did with skiing. In time, the heart rules and the questions are banished. Shadows of doubt fade in light on conviction. We dip into emotion after a time: speak of a sport as we do of a love, speak of passion, speak of feelings, speak of love and commitment. On the surface, skiing is a physical act. But time reveals otherwise.
So, Valentine’s Day, and talk of love and affection and the satisfaction wrought by that. On Valentine’s Day, for all the talk of love and emotion, underlying all is the hard work and the commitment and the devotion to make it work. In all that we may as well talk of our passions, in this case, of our skiing. It is not as great a reach as might first be noted. Unbridled passion can blur reason; time brings clarity.
Valentine’s Day is the tipping point of February. Once it is behind us we are into the time of lengthening days and long distance races, the big ones, the winter classics. We set our goals, base our accomplishment on whatever level we determine our scale of measure; time over distance or distance over time.
Understand this: The big races provide a big Why? for the uninitiated. There is the great divide with the Birkebeiner or the Vasaloppet or the long tours or long distance loppets. And the divide is this: On first learning of the event, two camps form; one says, “I gotta do that”; the other “That has to be the stupidest damn thing I’ve ever heard of.” And the follow up: “Why would you do that?”
Do them enough and the why is gone. Do them often enough and they become part of one’s personal culture, part of a life crafted and shaped by what we do and who we are. The long haul on skis is like the long haul in any good relationship; arduous, full of challenge, wearing and tiring and in the end, rewarding.
It is February. We are seasoned; we are experienced. We have built our ski lives as we have built our personal lives, day by day, year by year, Valentine’s Day by Valentine’s Day, ski day by ski day. We have answered the questions.
There is no Why? anymore.