I moved to Bend three winters ago. Things looked a lot different then than they do now – figuratively, at least. Literally the crisp blue skies, white blanketed mountains, and unplowed trenches in the roundabouts look remarkably similar as to when we first met.
That first January I had no idea how much the fresh powder and turning seasons would mean to me, to my new start, to making this new place my new home. The mountain range backdrop, snowcapped and full of mystery and fun, was unlike anything I’d ever experienced, and offered the most perfectly symbolic fresh start just when I needed it most. It’s pretty clear that because of that this season feels the homiest to me here.
Shortly into my stint as a winter loving Oregonian I found myself traveling alone. On the trails, covering fewer miles than ever before, sucking biting cold oxygenless air, embarrassed of my lack of fitness. Dinners at bars down the street in an attempt to be social (and use someone else’s wifi when mine acted up and I couldn’t figure out how to fix it). Late nights coming home from anywhere and everywhere. Two footprints in the snow. Sometimes the tracks filled in before I even got the chance to look back and see how far or where I’d come from.
There were others sometimes, of course. Good friends who are now of the best, acquaintances who’re no longer around, and many in between. Shared miles, pints, and fireside chats connected me to this place and its people, but it was those solo missions that brought me my footing and to my senses.
In those times I learned a lot about who I am, and even more about who I’m not. I found some hidden aspirations as well as some buried demons. I shared the deepest and darkest conversations I’ve ever had with myself, and sometimes felt despairing loneliness in it.
During one of those talks I realized that all the self-realization, as ugly as some of it was, was fruitless if I didn’t also learn how to accept and open up – at least slightly – about it. That was the next step. I had to get out of my own head and break down some walls. Those comforting, steely walls I spent almost three decades building to protect myself from… What? Others? Myself? I felt so openly threatened, but with no clue towards who or where from.
Vulnerability is the most terrifying of emotions. It feels unsafe and unnatural and weak. Like, “Here! Here’s all of my insecurities and flaws and ways you can hurt me, but for some blindly ignorant reason I’ll trust you won’t!”
For as extraordinarily difficult as it was to bridge the first topic, let the first few words flow, and open up honestly to others, an immediate relief was felt when I finally did. Even if just by simply letting the thoughts out of my brain and into the universe I felt lighter, freed from some of them. By expressing them I wasn’t just saying things for others to hear them, I needed to hear them out loud for myself. And you know, as crazy as it is that I hadn’t thought this far ahead, a lot of great things came in the conversations that followed letting them go.
I grew a lot that first year, along a path that varied from dangerously windy, snaking in and out of destructive and conducive behavior, to long and boring and drawn out, with roller coaster hills and valleys I thought I’d never climb out of. But somehow, I guess because we’re human and it’s our natural instinct, I found a way to keep trudging on.
And so last year, after all that freshman ground work had me feeling (mostly) stable on my own two feet, I sought something new to push me further out of my comfort zone. Liberated by my newfound strength I wanted to feel challenged, emblazoned, and most importantly part of the community here in Bend I’d grown to love so much over the previous year. That took me to the mountain, where I (fittingly or ironically) fell in love with a winter sport I’d never considered trying before moving here.
Which also hilariously knocked me off those newfound “stable” two feet so many fucking times the NFL would’ve put me in concussion protocol and just left me there the rest of the season. So. Many. Ringers.
Skiing gave me so much last year – so much that I only realized how meaningful it’d been once it was taken away this summer. (Isn’t that how it always goes??) On a late day in June with skis haphazardly attached to a backpack, gasping for breath in shorts and ski boots at tower 18 looking up at the rest of the climb to the summit, I called it crazy. Stupid. Why would we lug a bunch of gear to the top of a mountain in the middle of summer, hiking for two hours, just to take a 90 second ride down? Not even all the way down. The snow was gone mid-mountain. Certainly we were insane. I didn’t love this sport enough for this.
But those turns, and the reflective sunburn that came with them, did nothing more than solidify my love for it. We got back into town and proceeded directly to enjoying lawn beers at a brew fest, and while trying to disguise the backsweat on my tank top I told anyone who’d listen about our summer ski mission with the dramatization of a Homer epic. My sunburn got even worse, and so did my snow-fluenza.
So in love with winter.
Aside from the actual learning to ski, my time on the mountain has taught me so much. Like year one taught me about myself, year two taught me about the world around me. I learned that investments aren’t just the gear you buy or the hours you spend, it’s what you do with them, the intangibles you take away. I learned that runs are fun with friends who push you faster, further, and into new territory (and who like sharing beers in the parking lot after,) but that sometimes a solo mission is exactly what you need, just like those two-footprint trails I was leaving the winter before.
And most importantly, I learned that you can point your tips straight down the mountain at your destination, risking a catastrophic high-speed implosion at the expense of a wildly fun ride, but you can also take a massive tumble (maybe more embarrassingly) by coming to an unnecessary and abrupt stop when the momentum starts feeling too scary.
In a full-circle kind of way, I wrote most of this post in my head while running alone on Christmas Eve. The pavement was slick and the trails snow-packed, and the holiday time alone felt both invigorating and terribly depressing. I thought about my time here, which resulted in what you’ve read so far, and then what I want from my upcoming years. With winter being my newfound favorite season and Januaries having been notoriously momentous as of late, should probably keep the momentum going.
So this year I’m challenging myself to take my growth/healing process a little further. Being open, vulnerable, and sharing are still struggles of mine, and I think, a key part of this process. And just in life, probably, but that seems too big. Let’s keep these steps manageable.
I want to write more, and share more, on different topics and in different ways, and just get more things out of my head and into writing, into the universe. I haven’t figured out quite yet how to do that yet – whether it’s daily journaling or a new online outlet, but I’m committing to making more time for it. It probably won’t be here, but I’ll (probably) tell you when and where I decide.
But regardless of the details, here’s to the future in writing.