This past weekend I went cross-country skiing for the very first time. Dan, my boyfriend, had been wanting to go this season, and we had an opportunity on Saturday afternoon. As we stood in line at Pigeon Creek Park waiting to rent our skis I watched as children half my size pranced into the lodge, their rosy cheeks glowing from the chilly winter air. Their jollity confirmed my ideas of the pleasant and anxiety-free hours ahead of me.
My introduction to the reality that cross-country skiing might be more difficult than expected came before we even got on the trail. My efforts to secure my boots to the skis proved futile, and it took Dan getting down on his hands and knees to align my footwear properly. When I was finally attached to the skinny contraptions we made our way to the beginning of the path. Dan took the lead, displaying what appeared to me to be the mastery of an Olympian. I, on the other hand, was quite the whim-wham of the woods, tottering along behind him, my hot pink fleece sweatshirt and wide-eyed demeanor exposing my inexperience to all who passed by.
Fortunately Dan is a patient teacher, and in a matter of minutes my stumbling lessened, my strides were smoother, and I was able to increase speed in order to keep up with my practiced companion. I began to enjoy myself and take pride in my quick skill, and when Dan told me I would probably fall at some point in our journey I dismissed the prophesy, internally resolving to prove him wrong.
We came to a small hill, which surprised me because I thought all cross-country trails were perfectly horizontal. But I made it down fine and continued on with more confidence than ever, blissfully ignorant that Dan was taking me through the hardest trail of the park and that the hill I had just skied down was a piece of chocolate cake with homemade frosting compared to what lay ahead of me.
We had been skiing for almost an hour when we started up a steep path. The angle of the climb worried me a little and upon relaying this concern to Dan he reported that we were approaching Pigeon Plunge. The word “plunge” did not strike a happy chord in my heart, rather it rang the gong of terror as I dreaded to look upon a slope that bore such an acute verb. My fears escalated as we came to the top of the peak and I looked down a drop that seemed to compete with some of the rides at Cedar Point.
“You don’t have to ski down.” Dan said, knowing all too well my horror at the thought of skiing down this hill. “You can take your boots off and walk. That’s what my mom does.”
And of course, as soon as he said that, I knew I had to, I must, I would ski down Pigeon Plunge, even if it killed me. I was a lively, vivacious young woman, and I was going to prove that I was not afraid. I would be brave and show Dan that I was invincible, even when faced with a ridge as sharp as the Grand Canyon.
“I’ll go down.” I said.
“Do you want to go first?” Dan asked.
“No, you can go first.”
“Alright, well, are you going to come down right after me?”
I looked down the hill again and at once my courage made a wicked betrayal. The depths of Pigeon Plunge taunted as my mind scrambled to make a resolve.
“Anna, you don’t want to go down,” said Dan, “Here, let’s take your boots off…”
“No!” I cried, using my pole to fend off his attempts to remove my boots from the skis.
“Well, then are you going to go down?”
“I don’t know! Just let me think about it for a minute.”
I stared down the hill. Fear gripped my heart and I felt tears coming to my eyes. I thought I needed a therapy session before I could make a decision, but when I looked back at Dan and saw that his patience was running low I realized that Mr. Fearless needed an answer now.
“Okay, I’ll go down,” I said, “you go first.”
Dan looked doubtful, but he went ahead and launched himself down Pigeon Plunge, conquering the plummet without so much as a stumble. The speed in which he had advanced troubled me further, but I crept to the edge of the hill, trying to ignore my rising heart rate. I took a deep breath and started down. The next thing I knew I was in a pile by the trees. I lifted my head and saw that I had made it about a quarter of the way down the hill.
“I fell!” I shouted down to Dan.
“I can see that.” I heard him yell back.
I tried to stand, but it was useless as the skis prevented any effort I made to rise. Soon Dan was by my side, picking me up out of the snow. He warned me that it would be hard to get started going down the hill again, but I insisted I would make it down with skis on. A few minutes of setting me up only brought another crash. Dan came once again to my rescue, but my third try resulted in immediate collapse. At this point I noticed I had an audience as I heard laughing from the top of the hill. I looked up and saw that a group of people were waiting for their turn on Pigeon Plunge.
I had to admit that the scene was funny. We continued down the hill in the same comical manner, me toppling over every few feet and Dan following and picking me back up like a sack of potatoes. A giggling sack of potatoes, that is, as I joined in the recognition of this ridiculous episode. I finally made it to the bottom and, not wanting to meet my fan club face to face, continued to ski as quickly as possible down the continuing path. I was now cold and wet because of all the snow my attire had gathered on its recent encounters with the frosty ground, but it wasn’t long until Dan and I reached the end of the trail and were back inside the lodge.
As we sat in front of a toasty fire I started to relax, relieved that our pilgrimage had been completed with all of my limbs still intact. When Dan told me he appreciated the stubbornness I had shown on a certain slope, I smiled sweetly up at him, though I knew my ankle felt quite the opposite. I payed no heed to the slight pain for the rest of the evening, knowing that I, first-time cross-country skier, had triumphed over Pigeon Plunge. The battles were fierce and the resistance strong, but I had won the war.
“Will I go down Pigeon Plunge again?,” you might ask. Of course! Why, I’ll probably be skiing down it backward by the end of next winter. Dan might be a bit more skeptical, but let me point out his previous opinion and how it proved faulty. Then again, I question whether a second victory is really necessary. Either way, I look forward to the next time I cross-country ski and will always remember Pigeon Plunge with fondness.