May 17, 2011

Sport, sport, sport, all we need is sport

Most people working in the restaurant business in a ski station don't have enough free time to keep up another real life next to working. Volatile scheduals make any planning efforts futile, therefore it's better and more logical to concentrate on the moment and enjoy what is available on the spot. The entertainment in options in Val d'Isère were pretty much covered by partying and sporting and the majority of people around didn't hold themselves back doing either or both of them. In a holiday town the word weekend has no meaning and the possibilities for both are always abundant.

When my fellow waitress broke her knee in the first hour of skiing she ever did, I was asked to stop doing sport or else the restaurant would have to close due to the lack of workers. Our team had already been missing forces and from that moment on I was required to double my efforts, become Super Trinity (with eight hands, four legs and teleportation power) and push for three instead of one-and-a-half-man I had already been. By that time I was already too scared of injury anyway, to start learning how to go downhill on two sticks or a board. The density of medicopter traffic above the heart of the metropolis did not enncourage me to start learning snow sports - neither did the endless crowds limping around on crutches or without as if I were living in a war zone.

However, I continued running at lunch hours whenever I managed to prevent myself from collapsing into a comatose 3-4 hours' siesta between the morning and evening services. Most of the "easy" runs I did meant about 150m elevation gain in 3km, often into heavy headwind, and then racing back down with the speeds I had never before seen my legs achieve. Add 1850m of starting altitude into the equation and the 30-40 minutes' crawl-sprint looks already quite impressive. Level ground was nowhere to be found, making longer distances look like Mission Impossible, especially when considering that I'm already doing sport at work for 9-10 hours a day. While taking it, "easy" with running, I was pretty good with swimming. Gasping for air and trying to crawl through a slow kilometre without drowning developed quickly into 3km pool sessions that left me feeling I could go for the 4th if I only had more time before returning to work.

Once in my daytime break I hitchhiked out of the Val to try running all the way to Bourg Saint Maurice - the nearest actual civilization - about 26km by the road and 1000m lower down. I picked up a trail on the Northern (muddier, shadier, unstabler) face of the valley at about 1550m altitude and jogged along it as long as I could. The path wound through as variable terrains as dry firm ground, loose rocks, mud and knee deep snow, carrying me on for about 5km and descending slowly for a hundred meters while not failing to present a few slight ascents from time to time. Then came tarmac and hairpin bends that I sometimes cut by bushwacking straight up the hillside. Then came an icy forestiers' track that I still could follow at a trot, gradually slowing down as the gradient increased. Then there was a moment when I was all excited about being forced to grab tree roots for safety while carefully placing my feet over the rocks and lowering myself down over the turfs. Then came the moment, a few minutes later, when I discovered myself in the middle of a vertical half-grassy cliff face, gripping the water bottle between my teeth while balancing on five toes and desperately trying to see across the overhang just below my feet separating me from safe ground some fifteen meters below.

I took a moment to breathe. I switched on my brain that I had so efficiently switched off in the morning for work. I looked down again and cold sweat started forming in my palms. The turf I was standing on and the other two I was holding firmly in my hands were both made of grass and mud held together by a skimpy piece of ice. (S***). More cold sweat started forming on my forehead.

After a long moment of weighing up the wish to get down there against the odds of staying alive, I climbed reluctantly and very carefully back up to find an alternative pass down to the river valley. As I was breaking my way through the winter-ravaged bushes and crossing slippery avalanches, I never found any way down that would avoid more exposed rock faces dropping down for hundreds of meters. I could only continue breaking my way further up through the dry undergrowth that was cutting into my legs. Just short of getting very worried I reached a dense forest of ancient fir trees where I was able to pick up a goat track leading somewhere down. Stumbling downwards on the ~70-degree slopes included plentiful climbing across storm-broken giant trees, crawling under bushes, slipping, falling and sliding on loose rocks and mud that often hid treacherous ice underneath, all the while surrounded by the aura of a magical thick forest: a deep-green mossy boulder here, an enormous frozen waterfall there...

When I eventually reached the road level to hitchhike back in time for work, muddy and bloody as I was, I had ascended for 700m (and dropped for 500m) where the plan had been to enjoy a long easy all-downhill afternoon run. Of course, I was as excited as ever about the adventure, expressing it with sparkling eyes, shaky hands and all the usual symptoms of a strong adrenaline shot, contrasting strongly with my dull monkey suit once I was back to the Bonsoir-monsieur-du-pain-de-l'eau? cycle in the evening.

I managed to snowboard for one day, followed by about two weeks of painful butt; and in the middle of April when most of the snow and the crowds where gone, I eventually got over my fear of breaking a leg, attached the skis and had the most amazing day up on the glacier. Even though the biggest bruise I got, a good big fist-size blueberry on my left calf, will take at least a month to cure, I could have never guessed that I'm that good on skis! Once every ten years on a mountain combined with a torturous childhood on cross-country skis followed by a few years of racing the cars in the center of Tallinn on rollerblades, are apparently a good enough base for dashing downhill in the snow soup. Lucky that it was snow soup and not an ice cake where I face planted in a little mound after an accidental unprofessional double jump off a wave, hehe. Now I can imagine only too well what breathing inside an avalanche might taste and smell like.


väga väga naine said...

oh, teh pretty adventure!

slim shady said...

hurmav mõõtmatu sinikas su koival.
käisin sel talvel rootsis suusatamas ja ma ka üllatusin meeldivalt, kui lihtne on mäesuusatamine. natuke tasakaalu, natuke lihaseid, natuke eelnevat murdmaapraktikat ja natuke uljust, ja paigas :) lisaks meeletu vaimustus fenomenist nimega Mägi. millega sa oled ilmselt juba nii koduselt tuttav et ei hakka mainimagi. keep up the good sport. with love and respect :)

Triin said...

mm... mägi on juba kodune, aga endiselt aukartust äratav:) ja merd olen igatsenud!

Unknown said...

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