Downhill Racing: Day One

Perhaps you are too young to remember Robert Redford before he became a craggy monument to independent film, but he was really lovely in the movie Downhill Racer, which was all about a guy who liked to ski fast downhill. I liked looking at him, but I didn’t like the racing scenes. I was afraid he’d get hurt. I just wanted to see him in his nice turtleneck sweater, flirting with healthy-looking women.

Turns out, I don’t like being at the top of a hill on anything: certainly not on skis, or a bike, and not even when all I’m doing is hiking. On my bike, I wear out my brakes and watch my knuckles turn white when I’m going downhill. The whole time, I’m thinking about brain injuries and how I can never get the straps on my helmet to fit and so if I crash there’s no way my helmet will cradle my brain. I’m toast. Or an egg in a defective egg carton. I am also the slowest downhill skiier I know. I traverse a lot. Tiny children whiz by me, singing. I grit my teeth. And even hiking, I slip and slide down the hill, and hate it the entire way.

Uphills are just completely different. It was a happy day when I discovered that the function of a multi-gear bike is to enable you to pedal slowly up almost anything without wearing yourself out. I much prefer the quiet of skiing up a slight incline in the snow on a nice trail through the woods. If I’m in the shade, I can hike uphill pretty much forever. So, if you were to class the world into those who like to gain altitude and those who love the rush of losing it — I’m in the first group.

However, it turns out that the scenes I’m writing now in the novel I’m working on are downhill scenes. They’re the scenes of a rapidly unravelling mystery, of revelations that are significant even if they don’t lead to the answer the hero thinks he is seeking. Each scene of detection in this section of the mystery has the swoosh of the downhill about it. In fact, if you look at the arc a novel makes, the scenes I’m writing take place on the long downhill that comes after the uphill climb of the mystery I’ve been setting up for a terribly long time.

I’ve decided to write them quickly: in recognition of that steep downhill, thinking if I do so I might capture some of that rushing energy. To be honest, I’m also writing them quickly because I’d like to be done with this group of scenes, and maybe even the novel itself by the end of this month. (I have another novel lined up: one that’s in the first person, something I never thought I’d want to do, one that’s set in Paris after the second world war, one that explores the nature of love, one that will involve a lot of good food, sex and maybe some decent clothes.) This means I’ve got about ten days of fast scene writing ahead. That means writing without brakes, without traversing, slipping and sliding downhill. I’m a little nervous about it, but I keep reminding myself: nobody’s ever been seriously injured while writing too fast.

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15 thoughts on “Downhill Racing: Day One

  1. Oh BL we are soul sisters! I am always the last one down any mountain – either white-knuckled on my bike or taking long winding gentle arcs on skis, preferable stopping halfway down for whisky-laced hot chocolates to give me courage. I have long suspected that cross-country rather than downhill skiing would be my thing. Good luck with the last few pages of your novel!

  2. I do think you can classify people by up and downhill preferences! I’ll watch the knuckles, Mandarine. And Charlotte, I wish we skied where whisky-laced anything was a possibility. The best I can do is chili, and that’s not the same. I love cross-country skiing and try to talk the crazy downhillers into it all the time. Hey LK, Just watch your fingers. You need them for your writing!

  3. One thing I know is that when driving a car downhill, it’s good to downshift so you don’t burn out your brakes. In writing the last thrill-ridden downhill chapters, this obviously means that when your foot starts leaping back and forth between the gas and brake pedals, grab that whiskey-laced hot chocolate on your console to your right and enjoy the ride without a lot of screeching and squealing.

  4. I’m the same way, I’d much prefer to go uphill while hiking, etc.
    Whenever I have nightmares, it usually involves falling uncontrollably.
    Maybe a fear of loss of control?

  5. Am I lone downhiller,the one who adores careening, wind in the hair? I once raced competitively down hill, actually.
    Good luck with these scenes! I’m looking forward to hearing how they work out.

  6. Courtney, I might have guessed this from other things you’ve said — I wonder if you write the way you ski? How fun for you. And yes, Kate, it’s dizzying up there — especially when you think about how you’re going ot get yourself DOWN! And that, Andrew, is really true: the loss of control isn’t easy to deal with.

    Thanks Fencer and Aphra, I’m putting on my mittens right now. (Actually, fingerless gloves. I can’t feel the keys otherwise.) Dorothy, your poor knees! I’ve only crashed once, but it was a spectacular over the handlebars face down in the gravel — on my honeymoon, in fact. It was not very romantic, that’s for sure.

    Smokey, Thanks for the tip about downshifting. I’ll give that a try!

  7. This is fun!
    You have an amazing talent for evocative prose BL. if you can transfer that into you novel writing you are sorted.

    As for hills and the like, I am not much of a fan of uphill or downhill. Uphill is stress and both so much puffing and panting up steep inclines. Downhill is as you say full of th efea rof falling twsiting and generally looking all of my uncoordinated self. Now level, I can walk level for ever, especially if it is around a new city or a museum or a library!

    Eoin

  8. What a treat to find out I’m not the only one who doesn’t like going downhill. I too grip my brakes like crazy on my bike when I’m going downhill, and when I tried learning to ski I often fell from leaning backwards from leaning back, not wanting to go down. I had to keep telling myself as I was getting off the lift, you WANT to go down, you want to go down. So I switched to cross-country but there were still downhills. Ditto with hiking…I feel safe and confident climbing but when I have to go back down it can be terrifying. Good luck with your writing–it might be downhill but at least it’s not freefall out of an airplane.

  9. Belated downhill report. Second writing as I somehow lost the first account in transmission. A half century ago I was a Downhill Racer. That is only 25% or this ski story.

    In those by-gone times all decent skiers had to compete as ski-meisters, four event skiers, jumping, slalom, downhill and crosscountry. I was bad at at least three out of the four but held records in two of my worst events. What this has to do with writing is uncertain, but it is a story, and I think it emphasizes plunging ahead.

    Downhill ski racing was my next to worst event. Training for a fraternity ski race I had on the first pair of metal skis in North America made by a company that made airplane wings. Trying the course out I could not see in the january dusk where packed snow stopped and powder snow started. I fast forwarded from pack to powder, falling straight forward, metal skiis hit the back of my head, cut it open, four stitches required. The result first metal ski injury in North America.

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