Confessions of a Ballerunner

Essays on Sports, Arts, Culture, and Life

Archive for the tag “cross-country skiing”

The Four Seasons living in Ottawa: Winter

Well, it was a winter that won’t soon be forgotten. A truly Canadian winter from the days of our youth when the snowsuits were hauled out in November and didn’t come off until April. Even the hardiest, most winter-loving among us have to admit to wondering when that meteorological villain dubbed The Polar Vortex would finally release us from its icy, unyielding grip.

On the positive side, with all that extreme cold, we almost broke a record in Ottawa for longest number of skate days on the Rideau Canal. The protracted deep-freeze also ensured that the ice surface was in pristine condition for just about the whole skating season. The ice was so smooth at times that you could be forgiven for thinking you were skating inside a hockey arena on synthetic ice and not outdoors on a natural rink. What a pleasure it is to skate to work in the morning, get out for some fresh air during your lunch hour, or enjoy a romantic pas de deux with your significant other under the stars at night – especially if there is light snow falling…

There was also plenty of snow to be had this past winter, too, much to the delight of skiers and snowboarders. The cross-country ski season started in December and went right through to April. We are so lucky in Ottawa to live so near Gatineau Park. It’s only a 20-minute drive from downtown Ottawa. Although it is but one of many outdoor recreational sports I engage in, skiing in Gatineau Park is easily my favorite winter activity. There’s nothing like leaving the city behind and winding your way up through the heavily wooded Gatineau Hills for some unparalled aerobic exercise and mental relaxation. No matter how I feel when I leave the city, I always feel amazing after an afternoon of skiing in Gatineau Park.

The photos below were taken this past winter while out skating on the Rideau Canal Skateway or cross-country skiing in Gatineau Park. They were all taken on my iPhone and then edited later in Photoshop. Normally, I would use my SLR camera for photoshoots, but it’s too bulky to carry around when you’re doing sports! Although it is no substitute for a good SLR camera (which you can do so much more with when shooting in manual mode), I was impressed by the quality of the images I was able to get from the iPhone’s camera.

Winter may be harsh at times, but it is truly a beautiful, magical, contemplative season, as eloquently and convincingly argued by Adam Gopnik in his 2011 CBC Massey Lectures series, “Winter: Five Windows on the Season”. I highly recommend listening to the podcast or reading the book. You will gain a new appreciation and perhaps affection for winter.

At the National Arts Centre looking northwest towards Parliament

At the National Arts Centre looking northwest toward Parliament

Skating under the bridge at Patterson Creek to the Rideau Canal

Skating under the bridge at Patterson Creek to the Rideau Canal

Skating after a fresh snowstorm on the canal near Dow's Lake

Skating after a fresh snowstorm on the Rideau Canal near Dow’s Lake

The natural skating oval of Patterson Creek

The natural skating oval of Patterson Creek

Skating near the Bank Street Bridge with Southminster United Church in background

Skating near the Bank Street Bridge with Southminster United Church in the background

Taking a break under the bridge

Skating under Bank Street Bridge

Cross-country skiing through the mist along Ridge Road in Gatineau Park

Cross-country skiing through the mist along Ridge Road in Gatineau Park

The impending storm: descent from Huron Look-out

The impending storm: descent from Huron Look-out

Climbing the Fortune Parkway in Gatineau Park

Climbing the Fortune Parkway in Gatineau Park

The serpentine ascent up the Fortune Parkway to the Lake

The 1.5-km serpentine ascent up the Fortune Parkway to  Fortune Lake

Tough slog up Fortune Parkway

My sister taking a break from the tough slog up an icy Fortune Parkway

The bench at Huron Shelter where skiers take a break from an ascent up Ridge Road or collect the courage for the ride down!

The bench at Huron Shelter where skiers can take a break from the ascent up Ridge Road or summon their courage for the wild ride down!

Last skier out of the park

Nightfall: the parking lot at P9 was abandoned and in almost complete darkness (save for the glow from my headlamp and the lights in the distance from the ski hill at Camp Fortune) after I finished my late afternoon ski in Gatineau Park.


Little artistic expressions of Canadiana

A few painting experiments and one pen & ink drawing, all with the common thread of Canada…

Below: This is my second attempt at painting with a palette knife — an instrument, which surprisingly resembles a slim, tapered spatula for serving pie or cake, or mixing dermatologicals in a pharmacy dispensary. It was so much fun, too! I loved the heavy application of layer upon layer of color to create depth and texture for the water. (You will go through a lot of paint, though!) The inspiration for this painting was a photo (not taken by me) that I found on the Weathernetwork of our famous (or infamous, depending on your perspective) Canada geese flying over an Ottawa waterway. [Acrylic on canvas; Creative Painting class, 2010]

Below: Another painting experiment from my Creative Painting class (2010), where I used a sponge to apply acrylic paint to a canvas to create the effect of a wooly, classic Hudson’s Bay Company blanket.

Below: Bucolic wintry scene painted from my imagination of a waning afternoon of cross-country skiing (classic style). [Acrylic on canvas using brush; Creative Painting class, 2010.]

Below: This is a more recent fashion sketch of a model (Coco Rocha, a Canadian) wearing a Roland Mouret Spring 2012 outfit that was featured as an advertisement for The Bay in the Globe & Mail on March 3rd, 2012. I loved the color and structure of the outfit and the matching, intricate purse, as well as the overall drama of the pose. [Direct from the pages of my sketchbook: pen & ink drawing, followed by wash and colorization with colored conté.]

Message on a napkin

This was the message on the napkin that I found appended to my car windshield when I returned from a glorious afternoon of cross-country skiing (‘classic’ style, not ‘skate’ – for the record) in Gatineau Park. I hadn’t noticed it until I was just about to drive off, and when I did, I scowled thinking it was some sort of parking ticket. I opened it and began reading…

Hi, this is an odd note, but I noticed you were skate skiing alone. If you ever would like someone to join you please call me and maybe we could chat first or have a coffee. If this seems too strange or you are uncomfortable no problem – just toss this tissue! Thanks [name & phone number removed]

The first thing I thought after reading the message was, this couldn’t have been intended for me. (Exhibit A – I was skiing classic style that day.) Then, in my characteristic hyperanalytical self, I began deconstructing the message… Was he some creepy guy trying to prey on vulnerable women? (Afterall, he would only have known which vehicle was mine if he had been watching me as I hastily got my gear on in the parking lot before hitting the trails… Maybe he was still around somewhere watching me from a safe distance… No, thankfully, the parking area was largely deserted.) OK, maybe he was just some harmless older guy – a retiree – looking for love anywhere he could find it. (Still kind of creepy.) Or maybe, (glass half-full, for once), just maybe he was this ruggedly handsome, competitive, Eastern European elite skier, who had been down for the Loppet and was captivated by my uncommon beauty (Yeah, that’s totally it!?… More likely he was looking for his Lindsey Vonn!)

In any case, I was hypoglycemic and cold, so got into my car and drove back through the windy roads out of the Park (but not before stopping in at the local dépanneur and boulangerie to refuel with chocolate milk and a chocolate chip cookie, respectively), radio turned to Cross-Country Check-Up (Yes, I am a CBC geek – first step is admitting it). All the while, though, I am engaged in a separate internal debate about the merits and potential risks of contacting this mysterious napkin author. Aside from the potential creepiness of the character behind the missive, the concept was rather original and bold, and certainly a refreshing approach to appeal to the attention of a woman. (Most men these days – or at least most of the ones I have met – leave the ‘pursuing’ to women, sadly. Call me old-fashioned, traditional, an affront to feminism, or whatever, but personally, I prefer to be the pursued, the courted and not the reverse – but, and here’s the catch, only when the guy is someone I’m actually attracted to. Yeah, I know, don’t we all wish it could be that easy!?..)

After a few more hours of my excessively rational inner risk-manager squaring off against my more romantic, adventurous, curious self, I decide to take a calculated risk and send “Napkin Man” (this name makes me think of Jude Law in that scene with Cameron Diaz and his characters’ daughters in The Holiday – a must-see-again-and-again film, if you are a woman. Classic chick-flick! :-)) a text without revealing my name. Still dubious about both his skiing skills (if he was any kind of regular xc-skier, he’d absolutely know the difference between “classic” and “skate” skiing) and whether I was the intended recipient, I decided to quiz him on what I was wearing…

Within minutes, I received a text reply confirming all but the correct color of my ski hat (green vs blue). (OK, now what?..) I then decided to ask him his age – realizing, of course, he could lie. He replied and said he was 49, (ok, probably being truthful) and that he couldn’t tell exactly how much “significantly younger” I was. He further added that he had skied to a look-out point in the Park that I realized was only slightly further than the spot I had used as my turn-around point. (Strange, had we crossed paths somewhere?) When I replied, I indicated that he was a bit older than the age range of men I was hoping to meet. However, I thanked him for noticing me and for reaching out in the bold and creative way in which he did. I also expressed how I wished more men would take a similar risk in attempting to [directly] connect with women [as opposed to wasting a lot of time e-chatting on internet dating sites, or by simply waiting and letting the woman take the lead – which is so frustrating]. I ended my text by wishing him luck and happy skiing. (I flipped my phone closed and sat back, thinking, good for me for taking a risk. See, that wasn’t such a bad experience afterall…) A few minutes later, another text… It was Napkin Man again… (What now?) This next message left me a bit confused. It seemed to suggest that he was just struck by the fact that I was out skiing alone and that he was ONLY looking for a ski partner. (OK, I guess that’s possible. Or, maybe he was trying to get me to reconsider meeting up with him by appearing non-threatening… But, if skiing with a buddy was the sole intent, why go to all this trouble to find one? The region is full of athletes and sports clubs with no shortage of opportunities to find a work-out partner through more conventional channels…) For some reason, Napkin Man also felt the need to include a mention of the fact he drove a (luxury) vehicle. [I can’t say I’ve ever been one to be wooed by guys bragging about their fancy cars – even though I do appreciate a nice vehicle – so this was not helping his cause and was confusing the tenuous ‘just want to ski with you’ proposal even more.]  I contemplated sending another message, but my risk manager self overrode me. I figured if this guy was a bit of a creep or stalker, the last thing I should be doing was to continue engaging him. I closed the phone and hoped he’d get the message. (He did.)

Is there a point I want to make about this story? Even though Napkin Man didn’t turn out to be this hot, Eastern-European Olympic ski athlete who was totally enamoured by my beauty and skiing prowess (And yes, I could easily see how this could happen!?… ;-)), it made for an interesting end to an otherwise grueling afternoon of a double-bill of running and skiing, and ultimately, was a nice (needed) little boost for my ego. It also felt strangely empowering to have taken a risk and contacted the guy. Sort of like finding out how the story ends to a real, live Missed Connections post – that Sophie Blackall so beautifully and imaginatively illustrates in her popular blog and book – instead of letting it disappear into the ether, a potential missed opportunity for love or romance, or regret for the path not taken…

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