A Fork in the Skin Track

Skinning towards backcountry nirvana in the Canadian Rockies-- photo courtesy of Peter Hoburg

Skinning towards backcountry nirvana in the Canadian Rockies--photo courtesy of Peter Hoburg

Electronic tones fade in, piercing the complete peace of my fitful slumber. I groan audibly at my cell phone, muttering various four-letter words as I reach for it, seeking an email containing the avalanche forecast for the day. I close one eye and squint at the painfully bright screen through un-corrected vision. Suddenly I’m wide awake as my blurred vision comes to focus on a different email. I hurriedly grope for my glasses and pull on a pair of sweat pants, stumbling into the living room for my laptop.

Scoping a land of endless ski lines-- photo courtesy of Beau Kiklis

Scoping a land of endless ski lines--photo courtesy of Beau Kiklis

It’s cold by Colorado standards, but the locals tell us the current temperature is pretty average for this place. We’re standing at the bottom of yet another jaw-dropping Canadian backcountry ski run, facing the internal debate of what to do next. Beau and Nikki are in clear support of a fifth lap, the rest of us; well, we’re less sure but unwilling to say so. We efficiently transition back into climbing mode and begin ascending once again. I get nearly 50 meters up the track before I turn around and inform Peter that I’m going to head back towards the hut and that I’m turning my radio off. 

Suddenly I’m in a foreign land completely out of contact with anyone. I find peace.  For the first time in weeks, it is just me. No distractions, no excuses, just self-examination. I find myself ruminating on the things that I don’t like about some of my ski partners back home. It bothers me that this is what I am thinking about; not because I think I’m being unfair, but because I know that there are more important things to ponder. I know that I’m just avoiding thinking about the recent rejection.

Finding Solace... Photo courtesy of the LC Archives

Finding Solace...Photo courtesy of the LC Archives


Back in the present I swear loudly at my computer, knowing that I had entered the password correctly but am forced to re-enter it anyway, cursing my operating system all the way. Finally I am allowed into my own computer. I hurriedly navigate to the school’s student portal.  After what feels an eternity I am finally allowed to register for a class I have already passed, at the school I have already graduated from. 

Setting a new course-- Photo courtesy of the LC Archives

Setting a new course--Photo courtesy of the LC Archives


I come across a fork in the skin track. The path to the left leads back to the warm hut and friendly company. I turn right without hesitation, sliding deeper into the cold. Before long I slide off the established track. I find myself totally isolated, nothing around but snow and trees, the branches so thick I can’t even see the mountains towering over me. This is what I need.  What I’ve needed for a long time. I click out of my bindings, throw my backpack on the ground, sit on it, and start to cry. This is the best I’ve felt in weeks. I let my emotions flow through me, an epiphany strikes like the first rays of sun after a dark and frigid night. 

I look back upon the previous year and I see the all my accomplishments: two great mountain bike races, the best ski year of my life, the new people who had quickly become some of my most trusted friends. Until this very moment, I had thought it the best year of my life, but now I see all the darkness that I had chosen to ignore. The truth is that the past year has been the year of rejection. Every job I have asked for, every promotion I have fought for, every girl I have sought after, every school I have applied to have all un-apologetically struck me down like a hated enemy. 


Surprisingly the salt water freezing to my cheeks grants me a freedom I had not expected. Suddenly I know my enemies and can face them down. I will stare my failures dead in the face and scream, “I AM SCARED AND DO NOT CARE WHO KNOWS IT. I WILL FIGHT FOR WHAT I WANT, WHAT I NEED! I AM BEATEN BUT UN-BROKEN.”

Gus Allen doing what he does best-- Photo courtesy of the LC Archives

Gus Allen doing what he does best--Photo courtesy of the LC Archives

I smile as the confirmation page comes up. Improving my grade in this class is the next step in bringing some light to the dark corners of my life. Another step has recently occurred, I finally got the promotion I should have gotten a year ago. There is still a long way to go but it feels good to know that I am making progress. I will have to keep fighting, though the wounds of my previous battles still hurt, but I see no other option; giving up will only lead to more pain.


Gus Allen

Gus is a former Outward Bound instructor locked in a perpetual battle between his inherent laziness and the desire to do something with his life. Laziness is currently in retreat.

Gus Allen