The Wisdom of Hippie Dan - Page 2
Meanwhile, I was staying with the Obrechts, the family that had re-formed the Proctor High School boys’ ski team. To see my mom and little brother and sister, I had to sneak back to the house when I knew my dad was working. Dusty and his housemates lived day-to-day. I couldn’t stop thinking about the future. I knew my skiing career was coming to an end; I didn’t have Dusty’s talent, and while I could hone my technique until a casual observer would think I was born in Norway, I also had figured out that guys like Dusty—and there were a lot of them at the upper levels of cross-country skiing—could almost always sprint faster than I could. No matter how hard I worked, I could never attain the pure speed that others could. I think whoever—or whatever—gave me determination and a good work ethic forgot to throw in fast twitch muscles. Then Dusty called and told me he had won a 50-mile race called the Minnesota Voyageur. He said he was going to run it next year, too, and asked whether I wanted to train with him. Of course I said yes. (I always said yes to Dusty.) I told myself it was to get in shape for the next ski season. But in reality Dusty was living the life I envied: free, fun, and fast. He was a dirtbag, and I wanted to be a dirtbag, too.
So we dirtbags trained. We would run for 2, 2½ hours, Dusty giving me shit the whole way. Jurker this and Jurker that, telling me I studied too hard, that I thought too much, I needed to loosen up, who cared if I was a fucking valedictorian. We picked up mud along the way and flung it at each other with various insults. Then one day, just when I was getting used to running distance, Dusty said we should mix up the training, and he threw bike riding into the equation. My experience riding was on the hunk of metal my dad had welded for me. Dusty promised it would be fun. He persuaded a friend of his to sell me his old bike—a Celeste green steel Bianchi. It was too small for me, so Dusty helped me put on an oversized mountain bike seat post. We’d go 70, 100 miles. Dusty knew how to ride, knew all the mechanics. He had raced against George Hincapie a few years earlier; Hincapie would eventually compete in the Tour de France. There I was, my giant seat post jabbing the seat into my nuts every time I hit a rock, ready to quit every 5 minutes. Except I didn’t. Maybe because it was such a relief to be away from studying and the sadness of my family, from watching my mom deteriorate and sensing my dad get sadder and more angry. I didn’t have the skills, and I didn’t have the bike, but I discovered something important during those rides with Dusty. I learned that even though I was a hack, even though I didn’t know anything about riding—I hadn’t read a single book on it, hadn’t studied a single essay on spinning or gear ratios—I could gut out those long rides. I wondered what else I could gut out.
I moved into the dorms my sophomore year. I signed up for a class with a Sister Mary Richard Boo, who was a notorious hardass, even among St. Scholastica’s hardass nuns. The first day of class she told us to get Crime and Punishment. We had five days to read it. It was a struggle between my other classes, my 30-hour-a-week Nordic-Track job, sneaking home to help my mom, and training for what I was sure would be my last season of cross-country skiing.
I looked at my classmates (the student body was 70 percent female), laughing on their way to class. I didn’t think many of them were on scholarship. They always seemed to have plenty of time. It seemed to me their life was school and intramural sports and parties. I felt out of place. It wasn’t the first time.
It didn’t help when Dusty would come over from the House of Gravity reeking of marijuana, hair down to his shoulders, making googly eyes at the coeds. He’d say, “Hey, maaaaaaaaaaaaaan,” and they’d blush. They all asked me, “Who’s your stoner friend?” Dusty was always a hit with the ladies. One day he slapped a sticker on my door that read: thank you for pot smoking. I left it up, and the visiting students would laugh as they passed by, but I’m sure their parents didn’t.