My off-season short novel

"Where are you?"

Prepare yourself for a long read.

This is the question that frequently prompts conversation from my family and friends. Since my season ended I have been a few places - least of them my actual home in Salt Lake City. My first romp was to southern Utah for a smash and grab, one night camping trip with Simon at Zion National Park. I have driven through Zion once before on a road trip, but I had yet to spend time exploring the massive landscape. Simon and I were lucky to sneak our visit in before Zion's peak season. We had no trouble securing a campsite as we moseyed into the park on a drizzly Sunday afternoon. We did several hikes that day, one of which found us caught in a beautiful and humbling storm. We piled into our tent afterwards with every layer, blanket, and snack we had with us and spent a cozy evening relaxing to the sound of the rain. In the morning there was coffee and sunshine. We hiked the famous Angel's Landing and stopped for burgers in the nearby town before driving back to Salt Lake City.

After southern Utah, I flew to northeast Texas where I spent time with my parents and extended family of critters. My mom recently added a llama to the line up (because why not) and she is the softest thing I have ever touched. I spent most of my time there with a parade of animals: Princess Cocoa the llama, Isabelle the baby goat, Alice the kunekune pig, Leo the great pyrenees dog, Mel & Ruthie the great pyrenees/anatolian puppies, Eli & George & Lucy the house dogs, Zella the newborn barbados black belly lamb, and Biff & Patty the calves.    

My mom and I started planting her garden. My dad built fires for long soaks in the hillbilly hot tub. It rained for several days so we wheelbarrowed fresh, dry hay into all the animal enclosures. We fed the chickens. We fed the pigs. We fed the calves. We bottle fed the babies. Sugar mama and I made tortillas. Sugar pops' sweet tooth came calling and we baked shortbread and cakes. It was all the good life.

I also spent time with someone who it turns out I have the longest standing friendship with (*by choice- sorry Mitchy, you win the by force category), my good pal Savannah. We realized we have now entered our tenth year of friendship despite having never lived in the same city. Savannah is that friend I can fall out of touch with for any amount of time and pick back up without missing a beat. She joined me in Texas for a few days of hoof paw claw animal hour. We decompressed from the grind of our daily lives with movies and celebrated ten years of love for one another with doughnuts. 

After taking a hot lap in my cowboy boots, it was back to Salt Lake for a baking marathon. US Speedskating asked if I would like to make biscotti for the year-end sponsor and donor gift. Seeing as I clearly have a plan for total biscotti domination, I eagerly agreed. Four days and over a thousand biscotti later, they were ready to be shipped. My little domestic kitchen oven and I were dreaming of commercial-sized bakery days ahead.  

With my baking urges temporarily satisfied to the max, it was time to prepare for a month abroad. I have yet to see what's happening over in that southern hemisphere, but I was about to get closer than I ever have before.

Kaylin Irvine and I decided to spend our off season together in Central America. Kaylin is a Canadian Olympic speedskater and has been my fierce competitor since we were pre-teens biting at the North American Championship title. We weren't friends back then but the wisdom wrought from maturity has shown us that we are actually soulmates. Our friendship was solidified in Sochi with temporary mustache tattoos and dancing to music blasting in the dining hall at 4am. 

The idea for this trip was born a year ago when I was staying with Kaylin in Calgary for an annual, end-of-the-season skating competition. In his heyday, Kaylin's grandfather built a house in Costa Rica. Upon learning this fun fact, I thought we should go there as soon as possible. Over a skype date this past December, we tried to figure out how long of a trip we should take. A week? No, longer. Ten days? We wanted to tag Nicaragua while we were at it because we would be so close to the border. Three weeks? You know what, we both have the entire month off. We don't have anything else to do. Let's go for a month. Yeah, let's go for the entire month of April. We searched for similar flight itineraries and pulled the trigger. Alright, we're going to Central America for a month.

Vibrant walls of Granada

On March 30th we flew to Nicaragua and spent our first two weeks volunteering in Granada. We found an organization that placed us with a home-stay and allowed us to craft a volunteer program emphasizing our own skills: athletic pursuits/sweating. Turns out we were pros at sweating in Granada as we arrived at the height of their dry season. Our day-to-day those first two weeks was simple and pleasant. We would wake in the morning to breakfast made by our lovely home-stay mom, mama Martha, before heading out on a forty-five minute walk to work. Our volunteering program took place at a community center in a neighborhood called Solidaridad. We would arrive in the morning and have anywhere from ten to fifteen kids ages five to eleven to work with. The community center provided a space for these kids to hang out at before they went to school each day. For the two weeks Kaylin and I were there, we tried our best to communicate ideas about living healthy and active lives. We even pulled out some skating exercises on them. But to be honest, we did a lot of coloring and playing papa caliente. 

After volunteering, we would walk home for lunch typically followed by a siesta. The heat was no joke, especially for a couple of winter enthusiasts. In the afternoons we took Spanish lessons with a local family in their home. Afterwards, we would wander the town, usually zig-zagging side streets searching for the best ceviche and/or sampling most every dessert that met our gaze. And so our first two weeks of vacation passed in an engaging and routine manner. When our volunteer program ended, we said our goodbyes and began the next leg of our adventure: Ometepe

Volcán Concepción

On April 14th, we took a ferry called El Rey de Cocibolca from the town of San Jorge to Ometepe- an island formed by two volcanoes rising up from Lake Nicaragua. We would spend six days on Ometepe, with a real treat of an event on day four: the arrival of our third crew member, Anastasia Buscis. Anastasia is also a Canadian Olympic speedskater and an all-around grand slam of a human being. She was welcomed into vacation's loving embrace the first night with a private scorpion meet and greet under her pillow. After that, she was blessed with good fortune for the rest of the trip, lucky girl.

The three of us found accommodations at an organic, self-sustaining farm on Volcán Maderas. The farm is owned by a gentleman who also runs a farm-to-table restaurant in the town of Balgüe that we would end up frequenting. The days were spent volcano gazing, cruising the island by bicycle, and lazing about in hammocks with Lenny the dog and Little Cat the little cat. We slept with the sun, rising at first light and tucked in by nightfall. We shook down mango trees and ate raw-ass salads with just the greens grown on the farm and produce we would buy from locals. Island style suited us.

Before Anastasia arrived, Kaylin and I hiked Volcán Concepción. It was a real doozy of a trail that, for the most part, cut its path straight up the steep slopes of the volcano. Concepción often wears a cloud cap and as we neared the summit we were swathed in a cloudy mist, surrounded by vegetation that dinosaurs would feel at home in. The crater of the volcano was windy and wet, but beautiful in the way only volcanic rock can be. The hike took us five and half hours round trip and at the end we were covered in lava dirt.

It was hard to leave island style behind, but on April 20th we made way for pura vida style. We needed to be at Liberia Airport in Costa Rica by 8pm as the fourth and final member of our vacation crew was joining us: El Simon! We taxi-ed, ferried, taxi-ed, border crossed, bused, taxi-ed, rental car-ed, and grocery store pit-stopped before snatching up a Simon Zivny at the arrivals gate. We were now a full gang of four with ten days of Costa Rica ahead of us.

The house was on the ocean with clusters of small towns around us waiting to be explored. We had a full kitchen which meant plenty of grocery store trips, a very favorite activity of mine. If you told me I could travel anywhere in the world but could only visit one place while I was there, I would go to a grocery store. While I can understand Spanish and hacked my way through conversation up until this point of the trip, the addition of Simon meant the addition of a fluent Spanish speaker. Simon was giddy to have a reason to spit español fire all day long.

On April 27th, we drove to the nearby town of 27 de abril. No one seemed to know why this town was named after a date, but they all told us there must be some important reason. We found a small soda, which was essentially the front room of someone's home, and ate plates of casado, typical Costa Rican fare. In the center of town, people were setting up for festivities of some sort. Simon inquired and we learned they were preparing for a four-day long rodeo that was to begin the following night. We said we'd be back.

On a Monday as good as they come, we day tripped to Monteverde. The drive in to this mountainous region was incredible. And borderline terrifying. And subsequently hilarious. There are two roads to Monteverde and I can tell you that at least one of them is something to experience. The road we traveled was mostly gravel, or rather, the road was mostly small boulders, and often uncomfortably steep. We were grateful for the capabilities of our mid-size SUV, but as I inched the car onward, we each transitioned repeatedly between holding our breath, nausea, and laughing so hard we cried. When we hit the trail that morning, Google tried to tell us it would take an hour and forty minutes to travel this particular 40 kilometer stretch. Haha, yeah right, Google.

We knew better now. Sorry we laughed at you, Google.

Once in Monteverde, we grabbed a quick plate of food and set off for a coffee farm tour. We are all varying degrees of coffee nerds (Simon owns and operates a cafe, I am a student and beneficiary of Simon's mastery, Kaylin is eager to understand more about specialty coffee, and Anastasia is often excited to go to bed simply because she knows she will drink coffee in the morning) but this tour was a high point of the trip for us all. We went to a farm that takes its name from its home, Cafe Monteverde. Specialty coffee has carved out a place for itself in the States and is certainly on the rise, but it can still be alarming for some to shell out more than a couple of dollars for something that, remarkably, is so ubiquitous around the world. Every individual coffee cherry is harvested by hand at its peak ripeness before being processed, dried, shipped, roasted, and brewed. It was humanizing to witness the origin of that journey.

And so, as vacations do, ours came to an end. I spent a month in Central America that managed to simultaneously fly by and feel like a lifetime. We packed up all the sand-sodden clothes and accepted our soon-to-be fates of maintaining a socially acceptable level of personal hygiene. Good trip, guys.

I landed in Salt Lake City at 9pm on Saturday night. At 7am Sunday morning I was on a flight to Colorado Springs where I would spend a week at the Olympic Training Center. I have written this off season short story over the course of my stay here, in my free time between light, pre-season workouts and rehab appointments for my knee. Turns out eighteen years of speedskating may lead your knees to protest. But I am fortunate to have spent the week working with great people who are teaching my body how to continue training full speed ahead toward PyeongChang 2018. It is also the perfect environment to snap me out of vacation vibes and back to that #winallthetime frame of mind.

So onward we push. Pre-Olympic season, hello.

 

 

PS. Kaylin documented the subtle shift in my complexion in a series we call "freck check"
We present it to you now. Enjoy.