“Back in the saddle again?” That might be an appropriate phrase for the state of recovery I'm in at this point, seven weeks after hip surgery.
Although not pedaling as of this writing, I did finally clip into ski bindings, cinched tightly the straps of my poles and took the first baby steps to enjoying winter again. The surgeon gave me the all clear a few days ago, telling me to “wean yourself off the crutches” and “start using the muscles in your leg again.” Okay, that's a green enough light for me. Even though the joint itself feels good, the soft tissue will remain tender for some time. No matter, four inches of new snow was calling my name.
Typically, my winter involves a lot of ski trail grooming, skiing and snow biking, but with the lay up, other club members jumped in and did a stellar job keeping trails in shape. So good, in fact, that after the last snowfall, I could wait no longer. Usually I skate ski the majority of the time and even though I was excited by my doctors go-ahead, I knew that technique would have to wait.
Classical skiing however, would be much gentler, smooth and lend itself to getting me back in ski shape again. So with some trepidation, I clicked in and slid my boards into the tracks at my favorite trail, Levis Mound.
To describe this morning, nothing would be more spot on than 'Winter Wonderland.' The beautiful snowfall was preceded by sleety rain, which helped glue the white flock to every branch and twig trailside. It was simply beautiful.
Leaving the chalet is a gentle downhill, and not knowing what my leg would do, I started with some double poling. I figured two ski poles should equal one crutch, right? As my momentum slowed, I needed to start a little kick and glide to keep up with some imaginary ski partners ahead. Surprisingly, the ageless beauty of striding on classic skis started filtering back into my totally unfit body. My hip was good, muscles and busied tendons seem to work and soon the rhythm of the technique carried me down the trail.
I'd thought before that maybe a little short ski would be in order-just a test of my abilities for the first outing. But, as things usually go, I just couldn't turn back-not yet. Two skate skiers ahead continued on and I took a turn onto a different longer trail.
“I'll just go a ways and then come back.” I tried to believe.
As the kilometers started passing by and the scenery getting impossibly better, I gave up turning back. I was at the point of no return I figured, “I might as well keep going and do the whole Bad Bear loop.” I stopped more frequently that I ever would, but that was a good thing. I need to rest and more so soak in everything around me in the forest. Lord knows I had too many days and weeks cooped up inside. I was glad to be skiing alone for inside, even though I could give myself a pass, I'd be embarrassed by how slow I was moving. Again, no matter, it felt so damn good to be skiing again, sucking in cold air and feeling the heart pound a little cresting a climb.
The easier flat route was one choice on my return, or there was the hilly shorter route. The logic Steve on one shoulder said take the flat trail, this is your first time out. The 'can't-wait-to-ski' Steve on the other side shouted "Hills!”
Although I'd pay the price on the climbs, on this day, I really needed to smoke down at least one hill, Jackrabbit Draw. Upon cresting and starting my descent, suddenly I realized maybe this wasn't the best idea. Classic skis don't have the stability like my usual skate ones and my slight snowplow to scrub speed was a shaky at best. Set tracks however, soon had the boards locked in like rails and I couldn't help grin a little as I finished the run out at the bottom.
From this point, it was a short ski back to the trailhead and the completion of my first outing. Unclipping and then getting some help removing the ski boots (not all the flexibility is back yet!) I realized how much I missed skiing.
It's said you never know how much you miss something until it's gone. I may have overdone it a little, but I'll forgive myself this time.
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Steve Meurett lives, works and plays in West Central Wisconsin and spends about every free moment outdoors where his passions lie. His outdoor interests take him on and off trail, pursuing mountain biking and skinny skiing, photography and hunting, while keeping an eye on wild mushrooms and the next fruit for craft wine. Steve is the Trail Director at The Levis Mound Trail System and member of the Clark County Trails Advisory Committee. He resides, teaches and is a photographer in Neillsville. Steve can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.