Sunday, November 18, 2012

2012... She came knocking with triumph, sorrow and zero snow.

"Oh, 2011 was a tough year."

"Yeah? So was 2012."

I hear that a lot. I've heard it from clients, family, friends and strangers... I saw it on every news outlet in the world, repeatedly, and every news/economic/political blog 10 times more than that. It was a tough couple of years.

Economical growth came to a screeching halt and, faced with growing political bipartisan hatred, our powerful country limped through another dark period that seemed neverending. But it did end, and with it came some of the strongest, most violent convictions I've ever possessed.

In September, choosing to cancel a solo surf trip to central America turned out to be a great decision. Instead, I baked cupcakes. Yes, cupcakes. It was satisfying change for personal happiness when I literally threw my cares and concerns with everyone else away. I baked for 18 hours a day, seven days a week and only stopped when I could no longer stand or hold a frosting tube.

I knew I could change the world and began changing it, one tiny cake at a time. I opened a business. It was called Battycakes Cupcakes and surprisingly, it did quite well.

On top of the world and swimming in a sea of frosting and sprinkles (10 lbs heavier, of course), my happiness was eclipsed by bad news. One at a time, they came... My sister's husband has cancer. A dearly close friend miscarried, only to discover twins. Ski industry legends began dying, for no apparent reason at all. Bankruptcy. Foreclosure. And in the midst of it all, business began falling off like leaves on a severed vine. One client, then three. The next week, I lost four clients in three days.

As 2012 rolled in, my businesses struggled to contend with the tsunami-sized waves of hardship from the recession, national and international politics, ever-rising inflation and more. My personal life wasn't perfect, either; my fiancee and I were on the rocks, friends kept disappearing into personal holes, and my mind was awash with desperate impatience, perceived failure and the frustration of feeling 'meaningless'. So I skied. I skied nearly every day, letting myself drop away into the solitude of empty mountains, solitary chairlift rides and the 'swish, swish' of my skis on hard pack. It was an abysmal season, that one. With only 235" of annual snowfall, it was a record-dry snow season that come spring, would leave us in one of the driest summers ever on record. But for me, it was a game changer. I skied nearly six days a week and fell in love with the power, speed, peace and grace of 'two-planking'. I spent whole days lost in my mind and contemplating the universe and my place in it. On the rare occasion I skied with friends, I was gifted a glimpse into who I was, reflected through their eyes, and I didn't like what I saw... So I changed. I skied more and worried less. I experienced the sun, the wind and the cold, as well as impatience, passion, failure and success. Skiing the 2011/2012 season taught me to adapt. I could no longer count on the weather for 'prime conditions' and knew I had to create them for myself. And I did. I learned to love the ice and the rocks and that horrible, freezing wind. I grew out of the hatred I had for 'idiot moguls' and began enjoying them as lessons in control. Those pesky tourists and frustrating rope lines? Simply obstacles to avoid, or turn into a game. I bumped my music and cruised the mountains in search of something bigger... In search for myself. Slowly, I discovered pieces of my personal puzzle and began assembling them.

In early May of 2012, my nearly four-year long relationship ended after my season-long, head-clearing ski revelation: I had to give myself a chance. And I had to take the first step.

It turned out to be one of the best decisions of my life to date. Instead of resentment and apathy, a new respect emerged in my relationship with him and we're still best friends and roommates. BV is my family... He's my everything. It seemed pointless to cut him out of my life after four years of support, love and caring, so we made a decision to rise above the nonsense. It worked. For many reasons, both big and small, it's still working. I respect him and he respects me. We don't pull punches. We're roommates, business partners, best friends and family... He's supportive of me and my dreams without being naive -- he grounds me when my mind gets lost and tosses me into the air when I have self-doubt. He believes in me, and I in him. He's the most important person I've ever met.

Shortly after our breakup, he encouraged (read: dared and pushed) me to enter my very first downhill mountain bike race at Sundance Resort. I bought my entry mostly (if not entirely) to just shut him up. My fear of failure held me back and my initiative to change my life seemed to have stall. The week before the race, I rode the course for the first time and scared myself silly. I doubted my ability and my skill; I doubted everything about myself. What if I lost? What if I made an ass out of myself? What if I fell? Good God, what would I do if I fell off the bike? The weekend of the race arrived, and with it, rain. Torrential, freezing, miserable rain. It was the kind of wet that seeps and soaks and chills to the bone, and it came down in buckets. The course was closed for practice, they cancelled the Super D race, and there was snow resting very low across those giant mountains that just days before, had been dry and dusty. But I was there... Sitting in the rain in my poncho and winter coat, watching the snow line creep lower and lower, I was hoping the race actually wouldn't happen. But race day dawned clear and cool, leaving us with a slick course full of steep, rooty sections. BV had wisely encouraged me to rent a downhill bike for the weekend instead of riding my 6" Reign, which probably saved my life. My first race lap was a disaster. At almost 7 minutes start to finish, I was in tears as I listened to the line judges repeat my time. I had failed. I knew I was better than a 7-minute race time. I told B I wasn't going to race my second lap. "What's the point?", I angrily told him. "Why even stay?" What was the point? The reason, he said, was so I didn't have regrets. We were staying, and I could either sit by my bike and cry, or I could 'stop the pity party and get back on the damn bike'. Bolstered by my anger and a bit of whisky, I loaded the lift for my second run of the day; my last shot at the podium. It wasn't a perfect run by any means, but it was good enough for third place and, as I found out weeks later, would qualify me for the USAC nationals in July.

I was hooked. I entered another race, this time in Wolf Mountain, and my worst fears came true: I failed miserably. I lost to the women that just weeks earlier, I had bested. It was a humbling learning experience that I'll never forget and a lesson in self-control that I'll never have to repeat. Races are only won through preparation, self-discipline and commitment. Anything less than an exemplary effort results in dismal results. I learned that one the hard way. With a renewed determination and a clearer head, I began working and riding as much as possible to save (and earn) a new downhill bike.

The next six weeks weren't easy. BV was out of commission for the rest of the summer the week after the race at Wolf Mountain thanks to a terrible bike crash, so I was back to my most comfortable state (which I would realize much later): alone. I was up before the sun for client workouts and honest toil but afterwards, I would ride until sunset. On the days where I had no commitments, I would run myself ragged with morning trail rides, 8-hour downhill park practice followed by evening shuttle laps. I rode every moment I wasn't working, most of it alone. I made friends who would later teach me valuable lessons, and they changed me as a person and a rider. I rose to the challenge of excelling at a new sport and with that, I became more confident. I entered and registered for both the USAC National Championships and the Northstar at Tahoe stop of the ProGRT circuit, but a devastating miscalculation in mid-July left me broken and unable to compete at nationals. I was frustrated but intent on competing in Lake Tahoe, so I jumped back on the bike and resumed my training too soon. It ended in a separated shoulder and barely earning me a top-five finish in my new category two weeks later. Driving overnight to make it to my fourth downhill race in Pomerelle, I nursed my sore body and slept while my resident angel (BV) manned the wheel. I raced alone in Idaho and being the only competitor in my class, took first. It was disappointing to 'win' by default but it brought more education and understanding in the sport I had chosen to make my career.

I returned to Utah to a finished build of my dream bike, thanks to friends at a local shop; after racing on rentals and borrowed bikes all summer, it felt like a miracle to be on something of my own. I lovingly named her Lola, and proceeded to run the best race of my season, and the last, later that month in Brian Head. It was a tough course in awful conditions but I loved it and raced for myself, which put me first on the podium for the first win of my career.

After returning from Brianhead, BV and I moved from Park City down to the Salt Lake valley in preparation for ski season. Not yet realizing the treasure we had just stumbled onto, we began to explore the hills and trails on foot as his recovery progressed. I rode my bike as much as possible, alone or with friends, loving the tacky, challenging terrain the Wasatch Front presented. For months, fall generously blessed me with cooler temps, gorgeous colors, life lessons and opportunities for growth.

Then, as suddenly as it had begun, fall was over. Winter arrived. Summer, and with it biking, had ended. It was certainly one for the books.