My parents have a few stories they like to tell about me from when I was younger and, arguably, much wiser. Of course, I think this is true of just about anyone, but there is one particular story that seems to be my dad’s favorite, and during these months of winter training, it bears striking relevance to my current stage of life.

I will start by saying that when I was a youngster, backpacking was a big part of my family’s summer routine. I came to appreciate the getaways, not just for the experiences themselves, which were a blast, but also for the perspective they gave on coming back home. I learned that, after a weekend of backpacking, I would want to be home again, then after a weekend of being home, I wanted to be back out in the woods. Fortunately, we lived next to a wildlife refuge, so the woods weren’t far…

One particular excursion – I must have been around 9 or 10 by my estimation – took place on a wonderful weekend in August. For the majority of the trip, the weather was wonderful; the high elevation kept the heat at bay, but it wasn’t too cold either. I recall the first patch of snow we came across as we climbed into the mountains, and my sister and I were so excited to see snow in August, we immediately started making snowballs and throwing them at each other.

However, on the last day, after we made preparations to hike out, a storm rolled in, and it began dumping rain and groppel. We got the ponchos out and hiked in them, but it was still cold. Our extremities became numb, and the only thing to do was put our heads down and hike faster, getting to the car – and subsequent warmth and dryness – as quickly as possible. Of course, as the big brother in the family, I felt it necessary to keep my cool and act perfectly fine with the whole situation, at least to the best of my ability. I trudged along with my head down, charging solemnly through the elements. It was then that I turned to my dad and uttered one of the more well-known Jesse-isms of the era:

“I can’t believe I can pretend I don’t mind this.”

Anyone who has read their share of Calvin and Hobbes (if you haven’t, do it now) knows all about how being miserable builds character, and I knew it just as well as the next guy. I’m not sure that I really knew what character was, but by golly, I was going to have more of it than anyone, and that made this whole experience worth it!

Somehow, whether it’s true or not, I had the idea that if I could keep control of the misery, not let it bog me down, I could withstand more of it and therefore build more character. In fact, I’m pretty sure I still think that. Every time I get up at 5:00 in the morning for a run in the snow when it’s zero degrees and pitch dark outside, I think back to the fact that, yes, I can pretend I don’t mind it, and yes, if I try hard enough, I’ll convince myself that, you know what, it’s not really that miserable after all. I mean, it could always be colder, and there could always be more snow, and a lot of people have been a whole lot more miserable throughout history, whether it was their own choice or not.

To finish my story, though, eventually I did decide I had built enough character for one weekend, and since I always hiked faster than the rest of the family, I convinced my mom to give me the car keys and sped ahead to get in the car and get warm and dry. Sadly, when I got there, my hands were so numb that I couldn’t unlock the doors, and I ended up sitting by the car and waiting anyway. I guess there was some character left to be built or something, and fate didn’t want me to be warm and dry quite yet.

Well, it’s 4 o’clock, I’m going to head out for a run. I’ll leave you with this little bit of genius from the legendary Bill Watterson:

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Ski commute!

This weekend, it snowed. Then it snowed some more. It kept snowing.

Since I avoid driving the car at all costs, there are three ways that I get to work:

1. Bicycle – I do this about 95% of the time.

2. Bus – I do this when it’s bitterly cold, dangerously icy, or otherwise just not fun outside. I do this about 4% of the time.

There’s 1% left, and that’s reserved for those few special days each year that there happened to be two of this weekend. When there’s just too much snow for the plows to remove, it’s time to bust out the old-school wooden Bonna skis that I bought at a thrift store for $15 several years back.

Jesse Kailee Skiing

This is Kailee and me skiing through the streets of Missoula a couple winters ago. Photo credit: Jake Wilson.

The novelty of being able to ski to work is half the fun. People wave and smile as you go by, and it just feels different. On a couple occasions in the past, I have stopped to help push cars out of icy intersections, and sometimes it can just brighten your day to change things up from the regular routine.

Additionally, it’s a better workout than biking to work, or even taking the bus. Although the latter can sure get your heart rate up sometimes. It’s like getting a little bonus fitness that doesn’t really feel like work, at least until I realize my legs are super-sore a little later because I haven’t done any skiing at all this year until this weekend.

So yeah, next time it snows a ton and you don’t want to drive or bike or take the bus or do anything else that involves wheels, which are clearly inferior technology for slick conditions, have an old pair of beater skis on hand and allow a little extra time for your commute. You’ll love it!

The mercury’s a-droppin!

After a record warm and dry January, which brought about worries about environmental ramifications and the horrendous fire season it seemed to be promising, western Montana has finally plunged headlong back into winter, complete with lots of snow and sub-zero temperatures. Here’s the view from my back door this morning:

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It’s colder than it looks, too. I was just getting used to being able to ride outside, too! Now I’m just trying to remember that it’s for the best in the long run.

I decided to take the year off from skiing (at least downhill) in order to work more in town, have more training time, and save some money all at once, and January worked out really well in that respect. Now that we’re back to winter, though, I have been doing my best to head indoors for my training opportunities. Since I don’t have a gym membership anywhere, I lack a treadmill to run on, so bad weather gives me an excuse to work more on my swim stroke and ride inside. Luckily, I have a new toy to help out with that. Enter Cascade Fitness and their Fluid Pro Power Trainer:

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There it is, with my trusty Kona all ready to go!

This trainer marks the first tool in my training arsenal that has included a power meter, which, after a little initial confusion about getting it set up and synchronized with the display unit on the handlebar, works splendidly. Of course, I have only had the thing for a few weeks, and at this point I have little understanding of how to incorporate power into my regular routine, but what I have found is that it really keeps me honest about how hard I am actually working. More importantly, perhaps, it allows me to find a specific benchmark on the trainer that I can define as “race effort” or “tempo” or “being lazy”…I mean, “recovery”.

Other benefits of this specific trainer: it’s quiet! I can watch movies and the volume doesn’t have to be at an outrageous level. I like that. Also, it is extremely stable. I really don’t like feeling like my wheel is going to fall out at any moment, and my pedal stroke isn’t the smoothest when I’m riding hard (I’m working on it though!), so trainers that are a little loosey-goosey can be a real bummer. Lastly, the resistance is very consistent and smooth. This is the result of a very heavy flywheel, which makes it a little more cumbersome to transport, but I’m just considering that some extra weight training, which I can always use.

All in all, this really is a great tool to have, and since I feel less bummed about riding the trainer than I have in the past, I’ve been riding a lot more, which means, guess what: spring riding will be a lot more fun!

After putting together a few solid weeks in the pool, I am starting to feel pretty solid in the water as well, which is very encouraging. I’ve been working on form drills, trying to speed up my turnover just a little, and taking shorter, quicker breaths, and I think (hope) that it’s finally making some difference. Many thanks to Jen for the tips!

I am looking forward to a breakthrough season this year, and with the rebirth of Team Stampede in Missoula, I am hoping for a whole arsenal of triathletes from our fair city who will be out in full force come spring.