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Cross-country skiing is a team sport -- at least for some it is

The cold months are now upon us, and have been for a long time. But up until last week, I was living in a state of denial of winter's presence, often riding my bicycle down the sidewalks of Detroit Lakes or running errands in my Caribbean tourist outfit, attracting curious glances from passerby.

However, all of that changed on Thursday, when I was frostbitten to the 3rd degree on 60 percent of my body after a "day at the beach."

"Something has to change," I said to myself, while desperately attempting to salvage my blackened extremities. And then it occurred to me that that "something" needed to be my outlook. So I raised my shriveled, four-fingered right hand out of the luke-warm water it was soaking in and solemnly vowed that from that day on, I would embrace winter, rather than put my health in jeopardy by continually denying it.

Naturally, the first step in this "embracing" process would be to engage in some strictly winter-themed activities. So the next day found me with my mother in Fargo ("City of Lights"), purchasing a pair of used cross-country skis. I splurged (because the money to make these purchases was coming out of my mom's pocket) and bought the necessary ski-boots and poles new. I rode home excited about the prospect of a new hobby.

To my dismay, it was much too dark by the time I had returned home to begin cross-country skiing that evening. But the next morning brought blue skies, sub-freezing temperatures and, to my delight, two inches of fresh powder snow. Simply put, it was the perfect day to begin my new winter sport.

Excited, I hurried through my morning routine. Then, I proceeded to put on and tie my ski boots with an uncharacteristically little amount of difficulty. Next, I attempted to attach my feet to the skis. That didn't go quite as smoothly. First of all, I couldn't tell which ski was meant for the left foot and which for the right, or whether it mattered at all. This problem was solved when, and this was doubtlessly no more than a figment of my imagination, I began to notice a slight (ever so slight) curve on the inside track of each ski, indicating, in my mind, at least, the correct feet to place my skis in.

It then dawned on me that the time had come for me to perform the sacred unification of foot and ski. The thought gave me shivers. I started by slowly, deliberately lifting my left foot into the air and then placing it into the appropriate platform.

Next, I needed to press the small circular metal tab on the clamp securing my foot to the ski, using my ski-pole. This is where I ran into real trouble. No matter how hard I tried to do otherwise, I kept missing the tab with my pole, instead stabbing the wooden part of the ski. I jabbed at it endlessly, like a caveman trying to spear a fish; only my target was stationary.

When I finally made the desired connection, I pushed down on the tab with my ski-pole, thinking all of my woes were behind me. Was I ever wrong! No matter how hard I tried, I could not secure the clamp. I simply wasn't strong enough.

I strained at it for several minutes, grunting loudly and periodically muttering phrases, which I would later regret, but to no avail. Just then, as if by an act of Providence, my 14-year-old brother materialized out of nowhere and brushed me aside.

"Let me take care of this", he said confidently, and with the greatest of ease heroically secured not one, but both of my feet to skis.

Finally I was ready to ski. But first, I needed to descend the hill leading to the lake, where I intended to practice my new hobby. The hill is a steep one, and when I saw the rocks jutting out at the bottom, it became quite apparent that I would not be able to descend it "freestyle," despite the chant of some neighbor kids, who had assembled on the ice, to put everything on the line and just "do it."

Instead, I stumbled down the hill in an awkward backwards, sideways fashion, using my poles to keep me from tripping and rolling into the monstrous stones which, I swear, were grinning at me. Despite descending the hill very slowly, I nearly lost my footing on several occasions, all the while wondering why I had to choose this as my new hobby. After all, I have trouble enough walking without skis attached to my feet.

Cross-country skiing, I then decided, must not be a sport intended for clumsy people like me. Meanwhile, my audience watched intently. When I finally reached the bottom, one of them held up a card that read "4.5." Apparently, my descent down "Dead-Man's Bluff" had carried little entertainment value.

In spite of my earlier troubles, the experience of cross-country skiing itself was exceedingly enjoyable and invigorating, and presented me with a unique opportunity to get in touch with my Nordic side.

I must have been quite a spectacle to behold -- as you can imagine -- for at least the first half-hour or so. But miraculously, I eventually managed to travel all the way across "our" bay without falling over once. Not once! That milestone -- the "epiphany" -- gave me a renewed sense of hope, and I skied all the way home without so much as a stumble.

We have wonderful snow this year, and lots of it. If you have not yet found a winter sport, give cross-country skiing a try. Just make sure you have someone nearby to help you get your skis on.

Nathan Kitzmann is a sophomore at Detroit Lakes High School.