Monday, July 30, 2001 - Athlete Perspective
Phil's XC Journal #3

By: Phil Villeneuve

Hi Everyone,

This week I watched an old classic James Bond movie: "Never say never again". It got me thinking on how many times I had said that before. Why is it that no matter how difficult or horrible something was, we often end up doing that action again? This spring I did something I said I would never do again! I went tree planting! So what's the big deal you ask? How could spending your spring in the outdoors, planting pretty little seedlings be so bad? Well, unless you've had the opportunity to actually plant trees for a company, you have no idea what to expect! Here's a glimpse at the wonderful world of tree planting.

I started planting when I was a member of the National Team Development Center in Thunder Bay. I had heard it was a good way to make lots of money and fast. The average price paid per tree was about 8 to 10 cents! As I soon found out, that wasn't very much money considering I was planting on the Canadian Shield. Picture yourself carrying about 300 trees on your back (which weighs about 50lbs of so), poking at the ground and hitting nothing but solid rock while your baking in the 30 degree weather and franticly fighting off about a bazillion mosquitoes that are trying to suck the life out of you! Sounds like fun eh?

The next spring, a friend and teammate of mine was a foreman for a planting company out of Prince-George, BC and was looking to recruit some planters. Since I had some planting experience and was also planning on moving to Canmore to train with the National Team, I decided to accept the job offer. Planting out west wasn't much different but at least the price per tree was higher (about 10 to 15 cents/tree). The biggest difference was camp life. You were basically camping in the bush with 50 other planters. The day would start off with the truck horn blasting away at 6 am. Breakfast was prepared by the cooks and if you actually got out of your tent more than 15 min. before your crew left for the cut block, you got to make yourself a great lunch made up of the best PB and Jam sandwiches in BC! After a wonderful fun filled day on the block you would come home and wait in line as supper was dished out on your frisbee (because your plate got taken by the camp bear the night before). Exhausted and sore everywhere, you went back to your tent, lay down and fell asleep dreaming of your own beautiful sandy beach. Needless to say, I didn't train much during most of my springs spent planting. I planted 4 years for that company and at the end of my last season I said I would 'never do it again'.

I should have known better than to defy the words of the mighty 007 because this year I went back for more! It was a small company consisting of a 6-man crew. I lived in my boss' parent's camper parked outside their home on the outskirts of Burns Lake, BC. After the days work I would come home to a nice hot shower, was cooked an awesome meal by his mother and would even have time to go for a run in the evening before going to bed. As far as tree planting is concerned, it doesn't get anymore luxurious than that! Making money was my priority but I still wanted to be able to train everyday throughout the contract. On most mornings, I would get up at 5 am to get a run and strength circuit in before breakfast. If it was convenient, I would also bike or run back from the cut block after work. After a month of planting 2 to 3 thousand trees/day I was so tired that getting out of my sleeping bag was a workout in itself. On June 9th I returned to Canmore exhausted but happy to begin training full-time.

Tree planting is hard work and it teaches you to really focus on the job at hand. You have to learn to ignore all the different distractions that surround you (bloodthirsty bugs, carnivorous pine cougars (squirrels), yappy yellow bellied sap suckers (hope I got that name right Chris), unpredictable weather or a crazy Irish planter singing all day long). Learning to control this skill is something that I find to be quite useful in ski racing. I always used to think that planting took time away from my training but the physical and mental stresses you have to deal with in a month of planting only help you to become a better athlete.

That's it for today.

(Phil Villeneuve was a member of the Canadian National Ski Team for two years and has been a part of the training centre system in Canada since it's beginning. He now lives in Canmore where he continues to pursue his Olympic dreams.)

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