Van Life

*Ben S. checking in.

The shuffle button on my iPhone is working. Lake Placid, New York recedes in the small gap left between the duffle bags and equipment of too many skiers. Miles of trees and fingerlike lakes fill the windshield. The shuffle function locks on The Killers. “We’re burning down the highway” Brandon Flowers tells me through my earbuds, “On the back of a hurricane.” My phone has another button, for volume, which I jam repeatedly while our grey 15 passenger van hurtles, tiredly, towards the south. Away from 2 weeks of hard training, away from the Adirondack mountains, and ostensibly towards Vermont. Except, after leaving our last official training camp of the year, we’re headed somewhere far scarier and without any specific location.

The last two weeks have been something of a ceremonial end to fall training. We still have plenty of work ahead of us before we can translate our training into races, but the end of this camp means that the proverbial hay is officially in the proverbial barn. What remains is weeks of sharpening, of final touches left to be made of our fitness; the start of the season is imminent. I’m confident because I know I’ve done a lot of work. I’m nervous because, right now, I can’t know if I’ve done enough. Will I be strong in January? What about March? I’ve come to understand this refractory state of anticipation as a necessary part of the fall.

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Speeds in Lake Plaicd (PC: Matt Whitcomb)

Unless you’re just a Scandanavian mutant, built out of muscle and with an extra lung, you’ll know that ski racing requires quadratic thinking, the ability to not only understand your own momentum, but to hit a target along the way. Because that calculation changes with every stride you take, you need to think a certain number of strides ahead, always remembering to factor in where you are at any given moment and how far you’ve got left to go; I am stuck in between these two variables, I am thinking too big. It’s easy to get paralyzed thinking like this, in fact it’s skiing’s biggest trap. It’s easy to believe that skiing shouldn’t work this way, that skiing well is a product of racing in the vaguely defined moment, of letting go. But skiing in the moment doesn’t mean zoning out, it doesn’t mean being obtuse or forgetting to think. I believe it means redefining the ‘how far you’ve got left to go’ part of the equation. The key isn’t to stop thinking, it’s to stop thinking so far down the line. Not to stop calculating, but to understand that the nature of this sport is that the targets are always moving. The key to a successful season is to try and hit the targets in front of me (like the easy week ahead) instead of the ones I am imagining I will see in 2 months time.

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Ian chasing down Erik (PC: Matt Whitcomb)

We’re now passing by the New York State Washington Correctional Facility. It reminds me of the titular prison in the Shawshank Redemption. Uniting the two sides of NY-22 is just about nothing, save for some slate. My phone has moved on from the Killers to something I don’t like quite so much, so I press the other volume button on my phone and I begin to hear the speed of the van a little more. We are driving towards Vermont, but after that I don’t need to worry quite so much about where I’m headed.

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Bagging summits. 

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