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Down the Road

Those cold, hilly cross-country skiing days of fun?
By Milton M. Gross
Feb 10, 2013 - 1:12:37 AM

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I never had any plans to start cross-country skiing. I didn't like it or dislike it. I just had never thought about it.

Until the superintendent of our school district, who worked in the school where I was the teaching principal, got me involved.

My plan was simple. Stay inside during the winter and stay warm. His plan was also simple. Sell me his old pair of cross-country skis.

He had encouraged me to stop using sugar in my hot coffee. He said it wasn't good for me. Coffee was, and I could sit inside where it was warm and sip it.

Then he decided I should be outdoors getting exercise. Okay, great for spring, summer, and fall. Bad for that cold, snowy winter.

So one cold, white Saturday we were down at the dump, at a high pile of sand or something -- I don't remember what it was, only that it was covered with snow.

The superintendent helped me get the skis on and off down the lower more gentle part of the snowy hill. Whether he nudged, pushed, or cussed at me to get going, I don't recall.

I do recall that soon he had sold me the old pair of skis.

This was wonderful, a new outdoor winter sport -- and in the woods where I loved to be on weekends. What wasn't wonderful was that I had a wife and four breadsnappers, who also would need skis.

So I bought more skis, their's being new and fiberglass and mine being old and older wood. I also had to buy us all ski boots with holes on the bottoms into which the little thingies on the tops of the skis fit. (Or the other way around, memory going fast.) That held them together, which helped as it is hard to ski if your skis won't stay connected to your boots.

Now we were enjoying the new outdoor winter all-family sport, until our oldest daughter came down a hill behind me. At the bottom was a curve. Also at the bottom was a rock. One of her skis hit the rock, and soon we had one new pair of skis with a plastic front end on one of them.

She didn't cry. I wanted to, because I hated for her to start a new recreation with a brand new wounded ski.

We skied all over the nearby woods with no further broken skis or legs.

Then we moved, where I taught in another school and where we skied in some other woods. That woods wasn't hazardous, as there were fewer hills.

But I learned that April skiing was limited when the two ATVs showed up behind me, after I was a mile or so into the woods. I was standing alongside the snowy woods road when they passed. Whether they waved at me or not I don't recall. I also don't recall whether I shook my fist at them or not.

I should have. I started back out but the snow had been ruined and mud took its place during most of that trip back out to the road.

Mud makes slow cross-country skiing.

Then we moved again to where I became a news reporter in South Paris and found much better cross-countrying on which to report. Actually, I didn't report much, but I did ski a lot. We had one of those cross-country ski places nearby, where I actually took my news camera once to take a picture of an older man who was out skiing when I arrived.

To get his photo, I had to find him. I eventually did, lost and out about as far as he could go on those cross-country ski trails. I don't remember if I took his photo at his lost location or after he followed me back to civilization. I did take his photo and wrote something or other.

I skied instead on the area's snowmobile trails, which were much more interesting -- meaning a lot more hilly with lots of curves and lots of trees for me to meet on those curves.

I remember my first wife and I skiing over a hill in the West Paris woods. At the top, we paused to view several deer in a hollow below us. I'll never forget that woodsy scene. It was like viewing a beautiful calendar scene in my cozy warm study.

I'll also never forget the next hill with its usual curve at the bottom. After I reached the bottom, I turned to watch my wife descend -- screaming at me as she came that I was trying to kill her.

She was wrong. I was having too much fun watching her to think of killing her. She did try to kill herself though, I believe, accidentally. She would ski standing straight up, and she wore a long, heavy coat of some type. While I watched and listen to her scream, she hit that bottom-of-the-hill curve and tipped over. After that, she had more time to explain that she knew I was trying to kill her. She explained while sitting in the snow and continued after I helped her up.

Neither of us killed the other. I hate to kill anything. In non-skiing weather, I tell mosquitoes they have ten seconds to get off my arm, or I'll make a mean face at them.

I remember some cold cross-country skiing jaunts, and I soon figured out that I could not cross-country ski when it was colder than ten above fahrenheit, because I had to use my fingers to grip the poles. It's really hard using your fingers, when you can't feel anything with them.

When I walk in the winter woods, I can wear my mittens. That works, but not with skis.

Skiing in western Maine became poor around 1987, which I believe was the year they enacted global warming for western Maine. Snow became less, rain became more, even in February, and following the rain came icy trails.

Those trails were interesting. No longer did I steer by digging in, by leaning, or by dragging one ski pole. I steered basically by running into trees and carefully negotiating my way around them. I called that new sport cross-country ice skiing.

Cross-country ice skiing wasn't as much fun as before-global-warming-in-western-Maine cross-country skiing. I noticed I tended to hurt more, after each nasty non-steer or steer into a tree I had come to know by name.

Eight or nine years later there was more snow again. But it wasn't in western Maine that I found it. It was in Washington County -- opposite western Maine.

In the woods and fields behind our house in Steuben, I skied a good bit. On one such good-bit, I somehow fell and landed in deep snow -- a good bit. It was up to my arm pit. I don't recall how I wiggled and wobbled and got up again. Going by logic, I should still be lying there, but spring eventually came when I probably could have gotten up anyway.

But I got up, and skied on those old skis for several more years.

Until the pile of logs and brush showed up in front of me. I was on the way home, was tired, and in a hurry, so I opted to go over the pile instead of around it.

As I was crawling off the far side of the pile, I heard a snap. I examined the log pile, and it was all right. Getting suspicious, I examined my skis. One of them was not all right.

The rear of one ski had gotten caught, bent too far, and snapped off.

I limped home, not hurrying quite so much as I had been.

And never skied again.

Milt Gross can be reached for corrections, harassment, or other purposes at

Milton M. Gross Copyright 2013

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