This morning at the Umstead Nordic Center

I meant to Sunday, but we were too busy having fun in our own backyard (a backyard that extends to include a forest at the end of our cul de sac). I meant to Monday, but after a one-hour bout of physical therapy (hip flexor) in the morning and another hour at the gym with the personal trainer (who was intent on dispensing copious amounts of holiday joy), I was too pooped. So this morning, knowing the snow wasn’t likely to last much longer, the 16-year-old and I packed up the skinny skis and headed to Umstead State Park, the Triangle’s Nordic center every decade or so when there’s sufficient snow.

Umstead is a 5,400-acre sylvan oasis in the heart of the Triangle. Hikers love its 20 miles of serene hiking trail, cyclists and runners take to the park’s 13 miles of bike and bridle trail. It’s the later that transform Umstead in a Nordic skier’s dream. The bridle trail’s smooth, finely crushed screened gravel surface offers few jolting surprises, which is why even six inches of snow is sufficient base. Add a canopy that opens just enough to let the snow in and you’ve got prime cross-country terrain.

“I think you need to press this button down,” Ben said as I stood flummoxed, staring down at the ski binding. Ben had never skied before; I was the veteran. Of course, the button opened the front of the binding, allowing the bar just beneath the boot’s toe to securely clip in. “The last time I used these was six, seven years ago,” I said in weak defense.

With only one pair of skis, the plan was for me, the veteran, to start on the skis, Ben, who runs cross country in high school, to run along side. After a couple miles, we’d switch. Tentatively, I pushed off. Fortunately, my marginal skills hadn’t abandoned me as well. And fortunately, the stretch of trail we were on were flat, forgiving and still packed with much  of the 8 inches of snow that had fallen

The delusional author having Kochian Olympic dreams.

Glide with the left ski, pole plant, glide with the right ski, pole plant … Glide, plant, glide plant … I was cooking! My pole planting arms and striding legs were in synch. It was poetry; I felt like I was floating over the snow. Glide, plant, glide plant … just like Bill Koch used to do it. I glanced over to see if Ben was able to keep up.

He was walking.

“Your turn,” I said.

The first time I was on cross-country skis, at a Nordic center near Breckenridge, Colorado, I had trouble simply standing, let alone putting one ski in front of the other. The skis are narrow, a couple inches wide at most. Remaining upright is Step One in Nordic 101. Ben took off down the trail. Twenty minutes later, when I’d caught up with him at the car, he said, “That was fun!”

Indeed, it was.

Photo at top: Ben having fun.

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