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Saturday, February 10, 2007

Snowshoes: Another Word for Torture

For a $25 entry fee, $15 dollar snowshoe rental fee, and an hour (more or less) of imitating a duck, you too can see this view of Mt. Hood from the top of Frog Butte.

Halfway through my forties, my body has started to send me subtle reminders that the lease is going to expire – in the meantime, maintenance fees are going up. One of these costs is a disciplined approach to exercise, which I don’t have (on account of the discipline part). So when my sister and brother-in-law invited me to go snowshoeing with them, I thought, “Exercise! What could it hurt?”

My little sister, who incidentally runs every day and actually does have a disciplined approach to exercise said, “It’s only 5 kilometers. You can walk three miles can’t you?”

“Sure!” I finally said after a long thoughtful pause during which I imagined things like long level sidewalks and flat quarter mile tracks. “Of course I can.”

But when we pulled into the Frog Lake parking lot, it became clear that 5 kilometers was a misunderstanding (Substitute miles for kilometers). Also, did I mention that this was a race put on by an organization called X-Dog Events? Neither did my Sister.

It wasn’t until we stood somewhere in proximity to the starting line, at the tail end of a herd of fanatical snowshoe aficionados, that a race organizer described the course. Pretty much what I heard went something like, “Now that we have your money, you must climb 1500 feet of elevation in 2.6 miles, turn around and return here.”

“Is that a lot?” I wondered.

The theory behind snowshoes, I guess, is that the expanded surface area for your feet keeps you from sinking into powdered snow and getting stuck. I couldn’t really find any powder to test this theory out. A light mist filled the surrounding valleys and what ice was left in the trees was melting and dripping off. The snow was packed like a groomed ski-slope.


I had previously thumbed through a How To Snowshoe Book. Somehow, the author of the book had managed to stretch the sentence, “If you can walk, you can snowshoe,” over 200 pages. What it really boils down to is that by strapping oversized shoes onto your feet, you can simulate all the grace and beauty of trying to walk as if you had testicles the size of cantaloupes.



It didn’t escape my attention that everyone was moving considerably faster than I was. “These people don’t know how to pace themselves,” I thought. I imagined in a mile or so, I would begin to make up ground. But as time wore on, I lost sight of the pack, and then eventually, I even lost sight of the stragglers.

The sun broke out from behind high cloud cover. Sunlight glinted off the ice on Mt. Jefferson. I stopped, ostensibly to take pictures, but sadly also to catch my breath from . . . walking. I was now so far behind that, were it not for the hundreds of snowshoe tracks in the snow before me, and the deafening roar of snowmobile traffic, I might very well have thought that I was alone in the wilderness.



Gradually, as I rounded a bend, I saw an opportunity to escape the humiliation of being in last place. Some small distance ahead, a snowshoe participant was evidently struggling with the misfortune of equipment failure. She kept stopping to bend down and adjust or refasten her shoes.

I summoned up what reserves of energy I could muster and concentrated on passing her – on taking advantage of her misfortune - my true competitive spirit reviving. As she bent down once again to adjust her shoes, I managed to pass and in so doing began reveling in my athletic prowess.

The glory of the moment turned out to be short lived. Somehow, my mechanical, jarring, big-balled-like-gait over packed snow had dislodged my glasses from the front shirt pocket I had hung them from in order to peer through the diopter adjusted viewfinder of my camera. I was forced to turn back and find them, ultimately reclaiming my position in last place.

After what seemed like a quarter-mile or so (total mileage from the starting line), I realized that the first place competitors were already on their way back. I studied them in awe and embarrassment and tried to rationalize my own sad performance. That guy in first place was obviously a genetic freak, bred for snowshoeing by obscenely rich parents. Those two guys behind him looked almost as if they might be native Minnesotans. That well toned woman close on their heels must obviously be a professional world class athlete. That high school kid obviously didn’t have to contend with being forty years old. That octogenarian with blue hair striding by with a big smile while talking easily to a sedated man in a wheel chair was, lets face it, kicking my ass.


By the time I got to the top of Frog Butte, a race organizer was already taking down the little orange flags that marked the route. He points a camera at me and takes my photo. “What’s that for?” I ask, afraid that they’ll publish it somewhere with the caption ‘Loser’. “It’s so we can identify you later if you don’t make it back,” he says matter of factly.*

*He didn't really say it. I made it up.




On the lonely way back down, I notice the evaporating/sublimating snow results in the mist I’ve been noticing in the valleys and in the coolness between the trees. Exhausted and weak, I stumble towards the parking lot ignoring sarcastic angels who beckon me to walk toward the light.



For those who might be interested in similar outdoor events, visit the X-Dog Events pages at:

http://www.xdevents.com/index.php

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