Last winter, I received my first pair of cross country skis, hand-me-downs from NS’ dad’s lovely wife. They were made in 1985 in Yugoslavia and I couldn’t have been happier to have them! No matter that I had only been cross country skiing a total of 3 times in my life, if you count the time a friend and I duct-taped skiis to our shoes because we couldn’t find the boots. Which makes me pretty much the most clueless country country skier in Sweden. No joke.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to test these beauties last year as there was too little snow, so this winter, I was excited to try them out. After a test run around the park by our apartment, I decided to register for a 30-kilometer race, the Kristinaloppet, on February 9. Why not?
The race is part of a competition called the Tjejklassikern, or “Girl Classic.” The Tjejklassikern is made up of 4 events – 30 km cross country skiing, 100km biking, 1 km swimming (thank God only 1), and 10 km running – which take place throughout the year.
I’ve been training over the last couple weeks, and I can tell you that it’s been quite a steep learning curve. My first time involved taking a bus – metro – commuter train to one of Stockholm’s wealthy northern suburbs, Täby, where I promptly wandered through neighborhoods and fields of horses in search of the alleged 5-kilometer track. No one seemed to know for sure where it was and, long story short, I ended up getting a ride from a sweet old lady off the side of the road. The 5 kilometers went pretty smoothly, albeit I was the slowest one there.
Last weekend’s journey to another track – Ursviks Motionsgård – was thankfully less of a mission, but the 10 kilometers I finished may as well have been 100. The trail wound through forests, up and down hills, each downhill leaving me terrified. Having spent the last 20 years downhill sking, it is a huge adjustment getting used to the long, narrow cross country skis, and I couldn’t seem to keep my balance, even on the slightest decline. This explains the monster of a bruise on my left hip.
Third time’s a charm. This past Saturday, I met a friend and braved Ursviks Motionsgård again. I’m not sure how I summoned the courage to return, but I’m thankful I did. The day was clear, sunny, and about -10°F – the coldest day so far this winter. We finished 15 kilometers, getting slightly lost on a supposed 7-kilometer trail, then tacking on a 5k to finish.
It was incredible. Every branch of each tree was covered in a delicate layer of frost, as were our hair and eyelashes. Men whizzed by us looking like true Vikings, their beards a blotch of whiteness (to be honest, everyone whizzed by us, no surprises there). The air was full of tiny glimmering ice crystals, shining in the rays of sun. We passed dogs running through the snow, one pulling his own packed sled, and horses stomping through the powder.
And the most incredible thing of all: I didn’t fall once.