Welcome to Part III.
Bitch Hill now past me, I focus on each major hill as a possible end point, a quitting point. Wrap me in dark wool blankets and let the snowmobiles take me away. Only once I get to the rest area, I eat a bit more banana, have a gu, and drink a bunch of warm lemonade. Then voilà, I am ready to think about making it to the next place where I might want to quit.
I tend to focus on the up hill struggles. Yes, I thought there were going to be 8 major climbs and then things will plane-out and get nearly flat after Telemark Hill. Wrong you knucklehead! There are 8 rest stations that happen to be located at the top of particularly big hills. Did I tell you, dear reader, that there are 38 minor climbs in amongst the 8 major climbs? This image does not do justice to the idea or reality of “vertical”:
As you can see, the trail looks very hilly in the first half and gradually downhill during the second half. This graphic is a lie. So, to the person who told me that the hills are “over” after the halfway mark: inaccurate balderdash! And to the people who say that “OO” is the halfway mark: more inaccurate horse-pucky! The astute reader will know that “OO” is at 22.8 km. Simple math reveals that 27.2 km still remain. Complex math reveals that you still have 4.4 km to go before you are really at the halfway mark. Using even more complex math, that is like an 8.8% difference!
………………… Do you like what you are reading? Then read on, dear readers.
SORRY READERS! I have taken down the rest of this entry because I am expanding the Birkie story and sending it out to small presses for publication. Let me know if you are interesting in a copy of such a book: firstname.lastname@example.org
The Birkebeiner is the largest cross country ski race in the U.S., and one of the largest races in the world. Over 7,000 skiers from all over the world converge in northwest Wisconsin for a 50 kilometer race (Actually there are several races going on at the same time: the 50 km skating style race, the 54km classic style race, and the 23km kortelopet—in both styles). Why so long? What’s it about? Some history may help here.
Håkon Håkonssøn’s Saga:
The Birkebeiner race gets its name from the Birkebeiners, a group of legendary Norwegian warriors and peasants. The Birkebeiners went into battle with birch bark wrapped around their shins instead of armor, so they were called “Birchleggers,” or Birkebeiners. About 800 years ago, in 1206, the Baglers (rich aristocrats and false bishops) wanted to seize power by killing the very young Prince Håkon. The Birkebeiners decided to move Prince Håkon, and his mother, Inga of Varteig, to the north, to Nidaros—their stronghold, where they could better protect him. They made this long journey over the mountains on skis. For this epic journey, the small band of Birkebeiners recruited two skiing aces to help them with the journey: Torstein Skevla (TOR-stine SHEV-la) and Skervald Skrukka (SHER-vol SKRU-ka). Torstein was like a full-back, large and powerful, with a serious red beard. Skervald was blond and lithe, sinewy and clean-shaven. Aside: the astute reader may correctly infer that I resemble Skervald. These two were the best skiers in Norway, and with their help, they guided the small band of Birkebeiners to Nidaros. In time, Prince Håkon grew to become one of the most powerful kings in Norway’s history, bringing peace, unity, and prosperity to his country. The Birkebeiner race is a modern-day commemoration of the difficult journey to save the young prince. One Birkebeiner race is held in Norway and the other in Wisconsin. I’ve heard that some skiers carry an 8 lb. pack to replicate the weight of Prince Håkon. But seriously, I think that an 18 month old baby would weigh more than that. Anyway, I want to give a shout-out to my source for this information and for the wonderful pic that begins this part of my story. I’ve summarized Lise Lunge-Larsen’s The Race of the Birkebeiners, with illustrations by Mary Azarian. I heartily recommend this book to those who are within the age range of 4-8. Actually, I recommend it to people outside of that range too.
Back inside my head as I race toward the halfway point:
These historical/mythological bits of information are swimming in my head as I struggle to the midway point. As ghosts of Torstein and Skervald keep clouding my vision, I fight the hills and plunge down the steep hills as if the Baglers are about to attack my shins. What hurts the most? My back. Since I have not worked on the technique of getting up this particular type of hill (too frequent, too steep), I make it up as I go along. Inefficient, wallowing, crazed, barking, slobbering. My legs hurt too, but not like my lower back: it’s like someone has replaced my back muscles with sand and chicken wire.
………… Do you like what you are reading? Want more? Well, read on.
SORRY READERS! I have taken down the rest of this entry because I am expanding the Birkie story and sending it out to small presses for publication. Let me know if you are interesting in a copy of such a book: email@example.com
Elite freestyle racers take off (I am not in this pic)
Nostalgia is a feeling that can hurt and heal; it is a feeling that is as much about home as it is about the people in and around the home. But what about sports? Can I be nostalgic for the big game? You know, the one in which my team had two touchdowns called back because some poor knucklehead didn’t have his mouth guard in his mouth, but then, miraculously, the team roared back and ended up winning by something like 14 points (thus saving the knucklehead’s life)? Can I be nostalgic for the tension, the cheering, the threats made to my life, the soreness of my bleeding knees? Of course! Aren’t memories like these, the ones that involve pleasure and pain, that are the chief motivating sources of power and esteem for Willy Loman in “Death of a Salesman” and Al Bundy on “Married with Children”?
Nostalgia can also be about the feeling of one’s body as it was fully immersed in an exciting and possibly dangerous sports situation. That reignited memory of an athletic event pulls one back into the moment—the collision of person and ground for example– so that comparisons between the past and the present are vivid and available. Available for what, though? Available for the nostalgic person to make decisions about the future based on the ways that these memories are sorted, meshed with other memories, and, well, interpreted. Should I stay on the couch and hold onto that memory that I think is unsurpassable? Or, should I get off the couch because I was that knucklehead, and so I want to do something now, or soon, something that I might remember in a better light? This sort of nostalgia is what I call “Sporting Nostalgia,” and I claim that it manifests itself very strongly in any sport in which the memory of one event impels the person to do it again. So, part endorphin rush, part memory crush.
Certain sports that navigate different terrain, such as marathons, bicycle races, triathlons, and even skiing can elicit a particularly strong sort of sporting nostalgia. Certainly other sports can be positively dripping with nostalgia. I will talk about those later, especially those sports that operate on similar fields—where the field is specifically made to mimic all other fields. But here, I want to discuss what kinds of nostalgia occur when traversing terrain outside of a gridded field. So, onto the road, the trail, the slopes.
The first sort of sporting nostalgia that I want to describe yokes midlife crisis to cross-country skiing. In order to illuminate this sort of nostalgia I will tell a story and let the reader do the interpretation.
This story is really about the pitfalls of opportunity. Make that opportunity plus ignorance. Then we should add in a dash of ego and just enough fitness to convince oneself of the idea of challenge, instead of empty, gasping, stupidity. These ingredients came together for me a few weeks ago.
My lovely wife Dorothy was about to go on a short trip to St. Louis to visit her folks and show off our two daughters. Her trip would enable me to attend a conference in Chicago. But at the last minute, Dot decided to cancel and go down the following weekend. Guilt set in, for my junket to Chicago was really, like all conferences, a chance to drink and smoke way more than I can when at home. I cancelled my own trip to Chicago.
She was going the next weekend though, and so I thought that I should do something healthy like cycle a hundred miles, or ski all day. It was too cold to ride my bike all day. The snow in Iowa City was finished, yet my new skate cross country skis were glaring hard at me from the back seat of my car. What to do? The wonderful research tool “Google” was a key component to my downfall. Entering “Cross Country skiing Midwest Feb 21” gave me “American Birkebeiner.” Sounded interesting. Hmmn, that’s a rather smooth looking website.
“Honey, I think I’ll do some skiing this coming weekend.”
“Good for you,” she replied. “That’s better than going to Chicago anyway… especially with all that drinking and smoking that you do at those conferences.”
“What do you mean!” I snorted. “I’ll have you know that I could have made some great contacts during–… so, I should do some skiing, huh?”
“Sure, why not, give you something to do. But, I was thinking of leaving the girls home with you.”
“Well, fine. The girls really love to hang at home with ol’ dad. Are you sure your parents won’t mind you leaving them behind?”
Dorothy and the kids were thusly out of my hair, enabling my glorious, fitness weekend. I reflected that I could easily ski the half Birkebeiner so my lack of fitness would not be a factor. Plus, I thought of this big event as more of like a one-day RAGBRAI, sort of like the wonderful, two-day TOMRV bike tour that I love to do, you know, stop whenever, finish, have a beer. Do your own thing. My last ski before the Birki was Feb 14th. But seriously, that was one killer hour of training, especially as the only snow left was a 200 meter patch of mush that was on the shady side of the Ashton Cross Country Course. But I made that hour count by skiing fast against the wind to replicate a hill work out. Monday and Wednesday I had lots of meetings and Tuesday and Thursday I had to teach all day, so I did not have a lot of time to get in much training. I figured I might sneak in a run on Friday morning before driving to Wisconsin.
By Thursday, three days before the race, I got serious about signing up for the Birkebeiner. Maybe the shorter race, the Korteloppet, would be the smarter move, I thought. But if I am going to lay out all that cash, I might as well get my money’s worth. I called some friends who I knew had done it in the past. They were mildly encouraging amid their guffaws. They gave me some tips: “don’t start too fast,” “have you thought about wax?” “where are you staying?” Wax? I just got my skis this year, why would I need wax already? As luck would have it, the local shop, Geoff’s Bike and Ski, was open late on Thursday and they could squeeze me in. I mean I was skating, so I didn’t need grip wax for crying out loud. At the shop I ran into Jeff, an accomplished ski and bike racer. I told him I was doing the Birkallopet. He smiled and said “you mean Birkebeiner.” With his back turned to me (he was picking up some custom made gloves or something), he asked me where I was staying. And before I could remember the name, he answered for me: “probably Rice Lake.”
“How did you know?” I asked.
“That’s where a lot of first-timers stay,” laconically.
“Wow, that’s great. Maybe we could ski together.”
Silence. Then, “I’m in the second wave, and you are in the tenth. Have a good one. And remember, don’t start too fast.”
Well, I could see that he was nervous, and so I let him go, even though I wanted to tell him about how hard I skied last Saturday. As he left the shop, I wondered what he meant by catching the second or the tenth wave.
After 6 hours of driving, I made it to the Rice Lake Super 8 hotel. Then I decided to drive to Hayward and check in and get my race number. Good thing I called the Birki hotline first. It seems that the registration was not in Hayward, but at the start of the race, at some lodge. After 2 more hours of driving I finally got to the Telemark Lodge. Signed in (Oh, that is what the tenth wave means: all first-timers like me who stay in Rice Lake because they decide to do this three days before the race) and soaked up the vibes. I was feeling pretty good considering the full day behind the wheel. A little hungry, but fine really. What I really needed was some new gear, now that would appease that twinge of uncertainty. I picked up some new gloves and ate dinner near the lodge. Then I drove 2 hours back to my hotel. I laid out my gear and then stretched out. As I was stretching I thought about how much to save for the finish, and I was reminded of Petter Northug’s strides up that hill in the 2007 World Cup race in Sapporo, wow, he really stomped their gizzards going up that last rise. Perhaps I would surprise myself.
• • •
Made it to the bus on time. Breakfast, check. Gear, check. Game face, check. Made it to the start tent by 9:30 am, check. Looking around I can see the fear oozing from their eyes. I got this thing. No sweat. At the line, I am amazed by the crowd. The last wave must have three or four hundred. A huge field filled with skiers and volunteers. I scootch toward the line. Every centimeter counts. And we’re off. Oops. No, we’re not. Pretty slow at the start. Need to free space. Wow, look at all those skiers go down. Hey, look out. That was close. Watch the poles, these are brand spanking new. I see some free space. I’m really striding now. Sheesh my heart rate is up there, but I’ll mellow out once the crowd thins.
I make a left and see the beginning of the telegraph line hills. The first one is more like a small mountain. I burn it up to the top only to see a row of hills just as big in front of me. No sweat, I can tackle these because there are only 8 major hills—and there is a rest area and food at the top of each of these hills—and then the course smoothes out at around 25k, or so I had overheard at the Telemark Lodge. At the top of the second hill, I taste metal shavings in my mouth. By the third hill I stop and take stock. There are about a dozen others stopped. Some are bent double, some are taking off layers. One guy throws his vest in the snow and skis off. I start to realize the massiveness of this thing. By the fourth hill I reflect on this fact: I have now skied more hills than my whole season, my whole life. These hills are not so much hills, they are small mountain passes. They are so steep that I have no technique with which to manage them (V1, V2, V3?). I watch as people pass me. That one woman is very smooth; I’ll try to imitate her. Say, this is a bit easier. I look up and she is 100 meters in front of me. But still, I feel fresh and strong, in a weird sort of tired way. I glide past the first food station at North End Cabin. Brilliant move, I gain precious seconds. The snow is not fresh. Six inches of mashed potatoes. Nice.
I stop at the second food station and see the folly of my enterprise. The scales fall from my eyes. Thus is my status: I have now skied 16 k: the longest of any ski outing of the entire year, of my entire life. I have been on skate skis exactly 8 times in my life. All of them within the past two months. There are no hills on my practice course. I am at my limit, my legs are shaking, my hands are frozen and cramped. I am a dead man skiing.
Stay Tuned For Part II…I will post it this Friday, April 10, by 5 pm.
An excerpt from Edward S. Casey’s, Remembering: A Phenomenological Study
“One of the most eloquent testimonies to place’s extraordinary memorability is found in nostalgia. We are nostalgic primarily about particular places that have been emotionally significant to us and which we now miss: we are in pain (algos) about a return home (nostos) that is not presently possible. It is not accidental that ‘nostalgia’ and ‘homesickness’ are still regarded as synonyms in current English dictionaries.”
What is the relation between place and nostalgia?
The problem with place is that philosophers in the 18th and 19th centuries sought to emphasize metaphysical ideas over materially constructed emotions and feelings. And the concrete home, along with site-specific nostalgia, fell off the academic map. But nostalgia gained steam in popular culture. Nostalgia in the early nineteenth century was seen by many to be the natural consequence of an upheaval of memory, often catalyzed by a forced removal from a known place, especially one’s home. On one hand, conscripted soldiers and migrant laborers forced from their homes suffered from a type of nostalgia closely connected to increasingly powerful forces of capitalism and state power. And on the other hand, according to Jean Starobinski in “The Idea of Nostalgia” (1966), academics and philosophers were de-linking the physical home from nostalgia, stating, as Kant did, that it was a romantic middle-class preoccupation with the passing of youth itself. Kant’s ideas on nostalgia, of course, were not simple. Casey says that “Kant scoffed at this remedy,” of a return home; any actual return was bound to be “very disappointing” because the physical site may have become “wholly transformed” (201).1 But Casey points out in another essay titled “The World of Nostalgia” (1987), that Kant, like Johannes Hofer (see previous post), also believed that nostalgia was an imaginative act that has affinities with various memories of places that are used to construct a “created” world (367-8).2 The friction between the place-based and philosophy-based views of nostalgia, not “settled” by the medical community until the end of the nineteenth-century, is not just present in a world full of moving, displacement, and exile, it is a primary source of both human identity adjustment and reinforcement.3
So, what does this mean for today’s world in which place matters a lot to those losing their homes due to foreclosures and job losses? And what does it mean for those caught up in telecommuting and web 2.0–where workers and users are making the work place less important?
Stay tuned to this blog for definitive answers!
1 Casey believes that the history of nostalgia within philosophy hinges upon to role of place. While specific place diminished in stature during the eighteenth and nineteenth century, the desire for a return to imagination as the source of the world increased. Put another way, by the late eighteenth century, as the geographic site of home was stripped from nostalgia, it was replaced with a spiritual return, an attachment to a way of being in the world. Artists, unlike most philosophers, elevated and refined the uses of nostalgia in terms of actual homes, and if not in terms of descriptions of physical structures, then in terms of the hope of return–often in the face of great odds. See Edward S. Casey, Remembering: A Phenomenological Study (1987; Bloomington: Indiana UP, 2000) 201.
2 In “The World of Nostalgia,” Casey compares a variety of philosophers’ views on nostalgia in terms of place. Casey’s phenomenological perspective regards home as vexingly tethered to both the exterior world and the world “within.” Ultimately, Casey believes that nostalgia is a “unique mode of insight into a world that has become irretrievably past and that arrays itself, as we remember it now, in a plenitude of places” (380). Edward S. Casey, “The World of Nostalgia,” Man and World 4.20 (Oct 1987): 361-384.
3 Homesickness has replaced nostalgia as a medical term, so that a crossing of usage has occurred: nostalgia has been de-medicalized, while homesickness has recently entered medical literature. During the First World War, American troops were still being treated for nostalgia. But by the Second World War, some doctors employed therapy as treatment for homesickness. By 1952, no entries on homesickness were in The American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). But homesickness returned by the 1968 edition. See Susan J. Matt, “You Can’t Go Home Again: Homesickness and Nostalgia in U.S. History,” The Journal of American History 94.2 (2007): 469-97. Recent studies on the linkage between environment and body have emphasized the possible existence of homesickness as a disease. The pediatric specialist Christopher A. Thurber has written several scholarly articles on treating homesickness in adolescents. See Christopher A. Thurber, Edward Walton, and the Council on School Health, “Preventing and Treating Homesickness,” Pediatrics 119 (2007): 192-201; and Christopher A. Thurber and Marian D. Sigman, “Preliminary Models of Risk and Protective Factors for Childhood Homesickness: Review and Empirical Synthesis, Child Development 69.4 (1998): 903-34.
This editorial might be of interest to those following the housing meltdown as it melts down the rest of the economy here in Iowa, in the U.S., and around the world. Yes, I know it is a year old. But, unfortunately, much of this is still current.
Originally published in the Iowa City Press-Citizen
September 23, 2007
By Sean Scanlan
Even if you are safely housed, you may suffer from a worsening case of homesickness. Consider the following: The ongoing Darfur conflict has displaced more than 2.5 million people. More than 1.1 million Iraqis have been displaced since 2003. Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast, displacing an estimated 1.1 million.
Closer to home, in Chicago, the subprime mortgage crisis sent foreclosures literally through the roof. Writing in the Chicago Tribune, John McCarron reports than urban foreclosures in 2006 were more than 10,000. But in the suburbs, the holy grail of the American dream, there were nearly 19,000 foreclosures.
Even closer to home, Iowa has its own housing crisis. When I started to write this guest opinion, Iowa was ranked as the ninth most affected state in the subprime collapse. By the second week of September, Iowa moved up to fourth, according to Iowa Public Radio. Last year, 1 in 2,700 Iowa property owners faced foreclosure — up 9 percent from the previous year. Losing one’s home is not something that affects somebody else in a foreign land, it happens to your neighbors, to you, possibly to me. And something must be done.
These statistics are part of the story of American homemaking and building that goes back to World War II. This story has two sides to it. The mythical side that says if you don’t succeed, it is your fault. The other — which is based on recorded documents and personal experiences — says that opportunity is not handed out equally and systemic profiteering ruins actual lives. Because myths have enough presence in popular culture and in the marketplace, I will focus on the less well-known side of the story. The central plot of this story is the alliance between the for-profit housing industry and government (local and federal) that altered laws, infrastructure and housing design, eventually creating a monstrous machine in whose belly we now find ourselves.
Historical context is important. After World War II, the demand for housing was so great, reports historian Kenneth T. Jackson, that retired trolley cars, large ice boxes and surplus grain bins were sold as homes. To solve this crisis, the Veterans Administration mortgage program and the FHA combined with businesses to help families move into their own homes.
Sounds good so far. But four decisions altered the very look and feel of the American home:
• First, house builders promoted factory production techniques that stripped away the need for skilled labor.
• Second, the government did not require massive building companies such as Levitt and Sons to build roads, schools, sewers or sidewalks.
• Third, the VA and FHA backed loans for single-family homes, not apartments, and rarely in urban areas.
• Fourth, house loans were largely restricted to white males.
If these policies did not include the elderly or minorities, if they isolated families and women, if they destroyed public transportation and urban neighborhoods, at least they provided many millions homes on a large scale.
Iowa City and ‘in loco parentis’
The farm crisis of the 1970s shocked the housing structure of Iowa City. As the university’s enrollment grew, the state’s coffers dried up. With no money to build new dorms, local housing businesses approached the school with a proposition: Get rid of the “in loco parentis” rule, and we will take care of your housing problems.
For example, the last university-built dorm was Slater Hall — that was 1968. The ramifications of this decision have changed the shape of Iowa City’s homes, architecture and streets. It has changed people’s lives, whether these people are students who now live in “undergraduate ghettos” of converted single-family homes or families who have been forced out of these once quiet and safe neighborhoods.
The rise of undergraduate apartment culture has changed the feel of Iowa City, and reciprocally, those feelings affect the future shape of this city. The current housing crisis is mainly a homeowner problem, but we can see how university students are implicated in the mess.
This crisis does not lead to nostalgic homesickness for a lost, yet better, past. This is a structural homesickness. Actual housing practices (redlining, unfair mortgage rates, restrictive covenants, complex rate adjustments, unfair landlord-tenant agreements) and actual short-term government policies (FHA loans to builders but not for infrastructure) have combined to deface the connections between where people live and how they live.
Architect Dolores Hayden explains that for the past 50 years, federal subsidies for accelerated depreciation for commercial real estate and subsidies for interstate highways have laid the groundwork for the catastrophe of “sprawl” including, for example, abandoned Wal-Mart and Menards stores. These shortsighted decisions do help somebody: big businesses. These decisions have also created a contest between residents who wish to enjoy the suburban city and developers who seek to profit from them. This contest ruins communal ties; it does not have to be this way.
Solving the current crisis
The current subprime foreclosures are part of the legacy of 1980s banking deregulation — a real-estate speculation debacle that resulted in 1,000 bank failures and $150 billion in losses. Who should we blame? John McCarron warns against placing all of the blame on defaulting borrows.
How about some proof that business is really to blame? Last year, Ameriquest Mortgage Co. entered into a $325 million settlement with the attorneys general and regulators from 49 states because they pleaded guilty to predatory lending practices such as hidden charges and falsified loan applications. The machine of business and government are “gaming” the system because they made the system.
What should we do? McCarron has some good ideas:
• First, mandatory mortgage counseling.
• Second, full disclosure of all costs to the borrower.
• Third, cap rates.
• Fourth, make all mortgage company rates and financial statements a matter of public record.
In addition, we must do one essential task: plan our neighborhoods and our city for long-term, balanced and equitable growth.
Recently, the Iowa City Council has taken up the idea of long-range planning. I applaud this drive, and I hope that residents have a voice in the actual process of reconfiguring our hometown. But, I am worried about whose interests will ultimately rule the day. Specifically, who will be helped and hurt by the development along South Gilbert and Sand Road? We’ve already seen how road widening in that area may cause more problems than it solves.
The majority of blame for the current housing crisis rests with the rapacious housing industry that builds without foresight, lends without scruple and profits without personal ethics. The collective feelings that produce homesickness enable us to yearn for something better, not for the homes and the practices of the past (surely our lending practices are better than the misogynist and racist practices of the early 20th century).
We must demand homes for young Iowans, old Iowans, new Iowans, especially those who face barriers to gaining their own home. Let’s leave behind the myth that says failure in our democratic society is due to not working hard enough. It takes more than one person’s hard work to reinvent the idea and place of home. It requires a collective, communal effort to change the machine, so that fairness and profit are in balance. Within such an effort is a story worth following.
# # #
Nostalgia is a word that was invented by Johannes Hofer, a Swiss medical student, in his 1688 dissertation titled “Medical Dissertation on Nostalgia.” He combined two Greek roots: nostos, or return home, plus algia, or suffering. So together we get homesickness–the common synonym for nostalgia in many dictionaries.
Commonly thought of as a yearning for the recent past, or homesickness due to present losses, nostalgia is a deceptively complex word that, like an umbrella, covers a wide range of personal and collective feelings about the collision between the past and the present. But nostalgia is also about the future, characterized by, especially, the tension between looking toward the past for traditional answers and looking toward the future for hope. The simultaneous presence of peculiarly modern forms of destabilization and recurrent desires for stabilization produces this tension.
Nostalgia helps frame the past in terms of present experience. Nostalgia illuminates the historical context of the actual and perceived loss of home. But what is more, when public pasts fuse with private feelings in stories of historical change (real or imagined stories), nostalgia informs and structures decision-making and ultimately it reconfigures identity. Nostalgia is not amnesia, but rather, it is a complex use of the past during present moments of crisis.
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