It was not the usual work trip. I arrived on Thursday night to what could easily be misinterpreted as a friendly whiff of woodsmoke, thought I knew otherwise (given the recent ravage of California’s still-blazing King fire). It was dark, I was car-less, and my hotel looked like something from a Stephen King film. I’d looked forward to the trip as a bit of a solo mountain escape from the San Diego’s heat wave, and I felt suddenly negative.
After a quick dose of Zen from the husband, and news that the next day I could transfer to the race site in Squaw Valley, I headed across the street to a cheery craft bar called Mellow Fellow. Nothing that good beer, a dreadlocked bartender, a curry-turkey-cranberry panini, and a few new friends couldn’t fix. Friday morning looked much better, and after breakfast at the Log Cabin Cafe in King’s Beach (with one of said new friends) I was settled into my new digs at the Resort at Squaw Creek. (Review: Stay there.)
After the usual prep for Sunday’s race, runs on at the hotel gym and outside with friends in town to race, plus a bonus swim in the rare-for-a-hotel 25-meter pool, it was time to get to bed early for the usual 4:30 a.m. race-day wake up call.
But then, I got a call from said beer-and-breakfast companion inviting me to attend a screening of the new ski film “Days of My Youth.” When I found out it was playing at my hotel, it seems like a no-brainer.
I’m not usually one for extreme sports films featuring surfers, skateboards, and loud music; thankfully, this one surprised me. Narrated by the Buddhist teacher and philosopher Alan Watts, the film begins with the quote: “Better to have a short life that is full of what you like doing than a long life spent in a miserable way.” (Listen to an excerpt from the narration, one of Watts’ best-loved teachings, on YouTube, and watch the movie trailer here.)
There was loud music, sure, but it was all fresh, atmospheric and moving. The film is a journey of self-discovery, an exploration of a certain childlike wonder that goes beyond the activity at hand (in this case, alpine skiing). It’s full of raw desire, which poked at the creativity and adventurousness in me that sometimes gets stuck in hibernation. In short, it was a beautiful film, shot in Alaska, British Columbia, Colorado, Utah, and Peru, and featuring a star-studded cast of real people chasing their dreams. I was left with Watts’ gravely voice in my head, asking “What is it you desire?” I went out afterwards for a late dinner with my film companions, and hit the hay—unusually for race eve—around 11:30.
I woke at 4:30 a.m. to the sad news that we were facing a likely race cancelation due to the smoke rolling in from the nearby fires. The air quality was far below what’s considered safe. The film’s lesson in perspective, however, was still with me: My petty frustrations were nothing compared to the devastation of the athletes—all those hours trained, the money and time invested, the unrealized prospects. I have been there, and disappointment seems too weak a word. But further, our collective sadness as a triathlon community is small compared to the devastation of those losing their homes. Though the film inspired such comparisons, I think its deeper message is that sadness is sadness, regardless of the gravity of its cause.
As the rain came, trying to pound the smoke into submission, I worked, drank coffee, and drove around aimlessly with a friend, witnessing a few brave souls pedal out their despair on the wet roads. And I remembered, enveloped strangely in that shroud of smoke, how lucky I am to be enjoying, in Watts’ terms, the way I spend my life.