What Comfort Zone?

By Jim Dickens

Last post I mentioned that this winter the Ridgeline Tour was focusing on fitness and included 3 endurance cross country ski races. And, the next post was sure to have some debacle. This is that promised post and my wife and I spent a good time outside our comfort zones.

Sun Valley Lodge's pool is heated to 100 degrees
Sun Valley Lodge Hot Tub, Huge with waiters, Awesome

Lori, my wife, and I have successfully completed the first race, the Boulder Mountain Tour in Sun Valley, Idaho. It was 34K and we finished middle of the pack. We rewarded ourselves by sitting in the largest hot tub I know and drinking a cold beer. So now you know it ended well. However, there were many uncomfortable instances and debacle along the way. I’ll share a few.

Starting on a nicely groomed trail

A few weeks ago, Lori and I headed north to train at the Kettle Moraine Southern Unit Nordic Trails. Long and well maintained, they are perfect for getting comfortable skiing long distances. We decided to ski the longest loop, 10 miles. While changing into our clothes in the warming hut a fellow skier told us the trails were in good shape but that some weren’t groomed today as the grooming machine had broken down. We ended up at mile 6.5 far from the hut in completely ungroomed snow so chunky and hilly that we had to take off our skis and start post holing it. The sun was starting to set and the temperature fell from 20 to the single digits. We had burned through our water and were now under dressed and well out of our comfort zone. Fortunately, at mile 8, the trail became groomed and we completed the loop safely.

20 of life’s best minutes

As you probably know, a polar vortex gripped the midwest a couple of weeks ago producing record cold. 36 hours before our flight to the Idaho race, we were notified our flight was cancelled. All potential future flights that would get us there in time were full or cancelled. Searching southward we found a flight out of St. Louis and booked it. We found renting a car to be difficult as they were being used by everyone stuck in Chicago. Eventually we succeeded and started driving through severe cold in white out conditions while making a hotel reservation on the way. New plans, strange places, horrible cold and darkness made things quite uncomfortable. However, the new flight connected through San Diego and we got to spend 20 minutes in warm palm tree filled sunshine. It melted our angst and discomfort.

I should also mention a small debacle discovered as we traveled to Idaho, I reserved accommodations for the wrong date with no excuse. So during all the rerouting to get to Idaho, I had to get a refund and rebook. It wasn’t easy. I didn’t get a full refund and Lori saw once again what an idiot I can be.

Scared and cold at the starting Line

The race itself had challenges beyond the usual physical discomfort of aching muscles and burning lungs. There was little information on what where and when so we had to constantly ask people what was going on and how everything worked. Uncertainty is a mind killer. The race day was foreboding with clouds clinging low down the mountains producing a dim light and a steady shower of snow. Standing at the starting line, we noticed very few as old as we were. Everyone looked elite with well proportioned aerobic bodies covered in spandex. They were all warming up doing the skating technique which is much faster than the classic technique we ski. The first heat of elite racers took off at 20 miles per hour. Several heats later we plodded out in our baggy clothes at about 6 to 7 miles per hour. I was impressed we even had the courage to start. After 5 miles on the trail, we looked around and we were alone.

We decided to stick together which helped us soldier on. The food and drink stations stayed open and had encouraging kind volunteers. Out of 900 skiers there were 20 or so doing the classic technique, a few finished ahead and a few behind and a few DNF’ed. So Lori and I decided to tell people we finished middle of the pack. I was too proud to say virtually last.

Wouldn’t be as good if it were easy

It was a great physical and mental challenge for us and getting out of our comfort zone makes the success so much better. I like the analogy, that the discomfort of thirst makes a simple glass of water taste better than an unthirsty glass of the finest wine. Finally, I’d say that under Lori’s kind warm preschool teaching exterior lies a good amount of toughness and courage.

Next up is the longest toughest race, the American Birkebeiner February 23rd in Hayward, WI which I will do with my friend Carlos. He has more willpower than anyone I know and I know some pretty tough people.

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