I have spent most of my ski mountaineering hours with my head down, trudging ahead to try and keep up with my ski partners. I’ve gotten used my own huffing and puffing being the only sound I hear along with the occasional beeping as my heart rate monitor warns me I’m about to go into cardiac arrest. All those hours alone at the back of the pack gives me plenty of time to think. As I completed an extremely unpleasant out-ski last spring that involved more ski-walking than actual skiing, I kept my mind busy coming up with the best ways to be the slowest person in any adventure team. Due to the nature of my schedule and the small community of backcountry skiers in my area, I am usually the only female of the group and am by far the slowest…seriously I need new ski partners that I do not refer to as the “cardio-kings.” But, someone has to bring up the rear, right?
Here’s the top ways to be the best weakest link in any adventure group – skiing, mountain biking, backpacking, the idea is the same. Some of these tips I have totally nailed, some of them I am still working on. I’m sure the cardio-kings will know exactly which ones I need a little practice on still.
Know your equipment – Your partners will appreciate the fact that you know how to use your gear, you know how to get things in and out of your pack, if something breaks, you know how to fix it. When you are the slowest moving member, it really helps if you don’t have to explode your pack just to find your goggles. Practice how to use your camp stove or bike pump. Know how to get in and out of a climbing harness quickly (or know how to stand with your arms up in the air so people can help you do that). These things make the fact that you might be moving the slowest much easier to manage in a trip situation. As the famous Doug Coombs said, “get them in the transitions.”
Check the ego at the door – Do you know what your partners want most out of the day? To make it back to the car safely and not have to pull you out on the sled because you felt bad being so slow up the skin track so you decided you’d show them how rad you can ski down the tree line (the scenario is obviously the same in mountain-biking). Skiing or riding within your limits is the best way to keep safe and happy.
Eat and drink, but not the night before – I know I’m not the only one who cries and gets hangry when my blood glucose gets too low. What is surprising is how many times in the past I waited and waited for my faster partners to stop and take a break even though I could feel myself falling apart. My numerous apologies to my partners of “yep, sorry for biting your head off, I guess I just needed to eat” taught me some valuable lessons. I now carry quick-eating food in every pocket I can find. Being able to grab a gel or bar anytime I need it keeps me moving much better than totally bonking and expecting to be able to recover during a “puffy jacket on, sit-down break.” I’ve learned to keep water handy, often a bottle on the outside of my pack as well. When you consider that the slower people often have sustained aerobic efforts 10-20 beats/minute higher than their more fit partners, it makes perfect sense they would need to eat and drink more frequently.
The photos below are all of an amazing day we had last spring with Mac Wirth, age 12. I recall that he totally bonked at the top of our longest skin and I pointed out that he had a full backpack of food? He pointed out that I’m his mom and shouldn’t I have stopped to make sure he ate? He then proceeded to crush me on the ski down after he ate his sandwich.
On the note of eating and drinking, be considerate and think about the days before a planned adventure. No one likes the person who shows up after a long night of margarita drinking or all-you-can-eat Mexican buffets. These indulgences should be saved for after your trip! Show up hydrated, well-rested and plan your pre-trip meals to be ready to crush. It should also go without saying that trying that new Crossfit Gym the day or two before a big adventure is frowned upon. Actually, get your fastest friend a free day-pass at the Crossfit place. Let them slaughter their quads and maybe you can keep up with them and tell them all about the new Netflix series you have been watching.
Be realistic – Bragging around happy hour swills that you love to backcountry ski or loved riding in Moab might get you an invitation to join a group adventure. However, if you neglected to mention that it’s been 10 years ago since you’ve put on your ski boots or you don’t know where your bike helmet is buried in the garage and you’ve only coached your kid’s soccer team in the last decade, you are setting everyone up for a crappy day. No one likes a sandbagger, but be realistic about your CURRENT abilities. I’ve learned as long as I’m honest about my fitness and confidence, people are willing to find an adventure that is fun for everyone involved. This sort of mirror Tip #2. Don’t be afraid to ask faster or more experienced people to take you out, just be realistic about how the adventure should play out. If someone is late for dinner with their in-laws because you over-sold your abilities and it took you twice as long to complete a bike ride as you made it seem, you are way less likely to get another invite.
Stay positive – I’m really working on this, I loved the blog post by Syd Schulz
It helped me dramatically adjust my mindset. I love taking out friends who are just learning a new sport, so why am I always apologizing for myself? If I follow my advice from above, I show up on time, with good equipment and a great attitude, ready to shred the day, right? Anyone should love to have me along, my jokes are really amazing. So, let’s work on saying “thank you to everyone who always waits for me, not I’m sorry I’m a piece of shit today.” Constant comments and complaints about how out of shape you are does nothing to enhance someone else’s day. Being grateful for the experience, enjoying the scenery and singing your favorite Adele songs on the walkie-talkies could just make you a key person on the invite list. Always bringing post-adventure treats and cold beer never hurt either.
So, embrace the position of weakest link, I’ve actually come to really enjoy knowing I can shut off my mom-brain and only take care of myself. Things go great as long as I have at least 2-5 other people there to also take care of me. Speaking of that, I will be working on a follow up piece on being a good trip leader and how to not kill the weaker people in your group.
Kellie Wirth, Team Mom