"I really want to try cross-country skiing!" pleaded my daughter as we headed toward the airport ladies' room to change clothes so we could hike to the "M" behind the University of Montana and reward ourselves with sweet potato fries on the "hip strip" in downtown Missoula.
I was game, having downhill skied in the past, albeit not adeptly. I'd recently announced that I would never ski that way again. I'd been feeling my age and had sworn off virtually everything but walking, fishing or pumping an elliptical trainer. But outdoor desire burns bright, and now I imagined cross-country to be less harrowing a winter endeavor for one in her, ahem, late 50s.
Two days later, we set out to rent the necessary equipment and head for the hills. Geared up and giddy, Katharine pulled out our sack lunches as I turned onto the highway.
"During lunch," I dictated, "we'll start your list of pros and cons." She had brought along a legal pad so that we might create a list of reasons for her to leave her current job for another — or not.
Sandwich gripped in left hand, pencil in right, tablet on lap, Katharine embarked on mental machinations. We approached the dilemma from all angles, and the drive flashed by. By the time we pulled into the parking lot up in the mountains, she had firmly decided to keep her job.
"All that anxiety just to stay," she sighed. "Why did I go through all that?"
"Sometimes … ," I surprised myself with such sagacity, " … you leave home in search of greener grasses and the search leads you right back to the field where you started." Dang, I'm good.
We stepped into our skis and I instructed her with what little I'd gleaned from ogling the Winter Olympics and a few YouTube videos on the sport. She took a few of the usual tumbles, but once underway, we both glided, lunged and poled like the best of them. The scenery was astonishing, the temperature a mild 55 to 60 degrees. We skied sans jackets, gloves or even hats. And the best part? We were the only people on the trail. Glorious.
I'd discovered retirement skiing for the second half.
That's when I stopped to study the trail map — and, while standing perfectly still, suddenly found myself sitting, having whiplashed my neck and overextended both ankles. The brief, sharp pain subsided, and, blessedly, when I managed to crawl until I could hoist myself erect, I was able to ski quite normally the two miles back. Even after a nasty fall, cross-country skiing was kind to my aging physique — not to mention to the ankle I'd broken a year ago, a feat likewise accomplished while standing utterly still.
Later that evening, my bubble burst. The ankle swelled, the sprain became unbearable, and my husband had to carry me to bed, tears running down my cheeks over the loss of the delusion that I might actually be somewhat athletic.
"I'm never doing anything again!" I boohooed as I slapped a bag of frozen peas on the swelling. Sometimes, indeed, those greener grasses (or whiter ski trails) only lead you right back to where you started.
By morning, however, I was considering snowshoeing. I'd read an advertisement: "If you can walk, you can snowshoe."
I can walk. I just can't stand still.
Miller is the author of 300 essays and stories that have appeared in such publications as Newsweek, the Los Angeles Times, the Orange County Register, Missoula Living Magazine and the Christian Science Monitor. Her monthly column "Peaks and Valleys" appears in Montana Woman Magazine. Visit her blog to read other stories: kcmillersoutpost.blogspot.com. She lives in Huson, Mont.
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