Wednesday, January 20, 2010
The weather strip crinkles against the floor as the door swings shut. I grimace at the iced world around me, standing on the porch and feeling altogether too much like a marshmallow. I know what's ahead of me. Why I keep doing it is still a mystery, even to me.
Every year at my family's cabin, I journey up our mountain to create what I feel is certainly the world's longest sledding run. What was originally a deer trail becomes a perfect half pipe of snow in the winter. It was embraced originally in the sixties by my mother and her siblings, and again when my cousins and I discovered it back in 2003 or 4. It became a tradition for us, and now me, alone. Trek the mountain. Sled down. Repeat. Just because.
A lot easier in words than in practice, I think to myself as I step warily off the porch and into the mounds of snow. Immediately, I sink into the famous Utah powder to my mid-thigh. I force one leg to push forward about six inches, the tip of my tongue protruding from my mouth in effort. Step. Sink. Repeat.
I continue trudging like this through the woods. Our cabin slowly disappears from sight as I distance myself from it. Past the point of no return, I chuckle to myself, and immediately the song from Phantom of the Opera is stuck in my head. Great.
I've brought the sled with me, and I figure out how to use it somewhat as a life raft. It works surprisingly well.
Finally, I make it to the clearing where the end of the luge spreads out. I flop down in the snow, trying to catch my breath. In the distance I hear a familiar little voice calling though the woods. It sounds far enough away to be all the way back at the cabin.
"Hannah! Hannah? HANNAH! Wh'ay-ow awh yoooo?"
It's my four year old nephew, Max. I answer, "Max? Hold on, I'm coming buddy!
And I begin my trek back.
At least it's easier this time because I've already made somewhat of a path--if that's possible in powder, at least.
When I finally get back to the cabin, I see Max just barely standing off of the porch, looking as much a marshmallow as I feel. He earnestly tells me that he wants to come with me, along with some nonsense about having ears (?). I grab his oversized glove over his hand and begin to tow him along.
As I make it off of the road and begin to climb the buildup of snow the plow makes between the woods and our driveway, I hear a second cry of my name. I look behind myself to see Isabelle, a niece. She's big enough to come along herself, I decide, and turn back to my path. For a third time I turn around to hear my name being called. Out of the cabin comes Oliver, Isabelle's 3 year-old brother, and Hudson, Max's 2 year-old brother making their way towards me. I try to grab a hold of each of their little hands, but the effort is so entirely and completely in vain that I give up. The powder is utterly inmanuverable. They wouldn't be able to go down the sledding hill anyway, so the action is pointless. I leave them to play in the front yard snow, which is a bit more compacted. I just work on getting myself, Isabelle, and Max through.
On the way to the clearing, I feel the weight on my hands change. That coupled with a muted thud behind me makes me look around. It seems that Max has completely fallen to the ground and is letting me literally pull him along the surface of snow with a glazed, unabashed look on his face. Whatever.
It takes about twenty minutes to make it back to the clearing. By that time, Max's mom Emily has come out from the cabin and has easily caught up with us. She only has jeans and a parka on along with her Uggs (crazy!) and my grandpa's-ever-present inheritance gift (an expensive camera) that was supposed to go to my mom, but Emily likes to think that she "is borrowing". For 8 months now. :)
Feuds aside, she tells me now about how she plans to get some pictures of us going down the sledding hill. Luckily, when I heard Max first calling me I was wise enough to leave the sled behind. I find it now.
It begins to snow as I look at the luge. There is no flipping way I'm going to get these kids up here when I can't even take them across a level, already treaded path without encountering some sort of mishap.
But you've got to start somewhere, eh?
So I climb.
I make sure to tell the kids to stay behind though. I don't plan on going up the whole mountain right away (that would be MURDER), I just hike up about 30-40 feet and go down to be able to compress some snow into the beginnings of a track. Then I go to the point where I previously stopped, pass it by 30-40 feet, then go down again. That way, I will be able to get more riding time in, and most importantly I won't kill my lungs by trying to force my way all the way up the mountain in one go, then have a sucky ride down. Plus, the compaction makes it easier to climb anyway.
But I'm only working on the first 30-40 feet right now, with the kids and Emily at the base of the clearing.
I don't know why each checkpoint is specifically a checkpoint, but it's been like that for years and I stop instinctively when I see the first one. It's where the little kids start for their own section of the hill.
Here we go.
The first run always stinks. I know that, and expect it. You have to compact the snow well enough the first two times to really get going from then on.
When I make it down, I automatically turn around and head back up. Nobody argues. My family knows the two-run rule. It makes a huge difference.
The second time is a lot better.
When I glide into the clearing, immediately the kids start jumping around--as much as possible in powder--yelling that it's their turn. I grab Max because he is closest and start to pull him up the slope.
After much slipping and sliding, we reach the first checkpoint. I huff as I drop the sled in front of us, struggling to keep it from slipping down the slope on it's own. Originally, I arrange Max in the front of the sled with me behind. Better pictures of Emily's kid, right? I realize, though, that there is nothing keeping the kid from: A. Sliding right off of the sled and B. Keeping the sled itself from shooting down the run. His heavily shrouded hands render him helpless, so I have no choice but to hoist him behind me and tell him to hold on to the best of his ability. I pray that either of us don't break anything. Ironic.
After some pretty good air and decent speeds we come out alive, Max grinning from ear to ear. Emily is a little disappointed that he must sit behind me, but she knows it's the only option. Isabelle looks ready to wet her pants from excitement, so I quickly motion to her to come along up the luge. She eagerly jumps to action. I, on the other hand, feel a little more wary.
The run with her is nice, as before with Max, but with a few changes. It takes longer for us to accelerate, but the speed is a lot better. My mind begins to drift to physics and Newton's 1st law, but I quickly snuffle the thought; procrastinating my homework, of course.
We continue sledding like this for a little while longer. Max goes again, then Isabelle, and while I pile Max on the sled for a third time, I hear down the slope Emily call to me that Isabelle is going inside, and that she herself might as well soon.
The snow has packed down surprisingly well; we shoot down the slope surprisingly fast and I find it hard to slow down and resist banking on the curves. When we are almost at the bottom, we hit a root (or maybe a previously snow buried branch of a tree). Max flies off of the sled while I barrel on, unable to stop. There is a sharp pain in my left middle finger. After I slow down in the clearing, I look back up to find Max somewhere on the track. He is a little shaken, but seems alright enough. Emily attempts to climb up after him in her Uggs and jeans while I stand up. I immediately know some thing's wrong with my finger; I can't move it and it's numb from shock I suppose. I don't say anything for two reasons. First, my family has had WAY too many injuries to comprehend. And, coincidentally second, because of that many injuries to deal with, my family has strangely become way more skeptical when determining who's hurt and who's not. Sadly, when there are mistakes in judging honesty it's usually ME who gets picked as the liar. When I should have had surgery, I was told to just dance the performance 3 days after the initial injury. When I should have gone directly to the hospital, I was taken reluctantly to the Insta-Care (even the name is bad news) where many "doctors" there misread my X-Rays and admitted it, I don't know.... a YEAR later? So I decide to play it down. Don't bring it up. If it turns into something, then I'll give them something to deal with. It's embarrassing if you whine about it in a skeptical family and it's really nothing.
Because it was numb, I decide to ignore my finger. It's not like I could move it a lot in my glove before. Same difference right?
Wrong, I soon realize.
But, as persevering as ever, I gingerly stand up and get Max down from the rest of the luge with Emily, only putting weight on my right hand. Max was fine on the run, but he did prefer to be taken inside now. Emily takes him by the arm and begins the journey back. I still am baffled at how she's only wearing jeans. No wonder she wants to go in.
Now it's solo time.
I pass my previous checkpoint and continue up the mountain. I almost forget what it's like to have to dig your way through feet of snow, but *luckily* I am given the quick opportunity to reassert it once more.
I come to a stop where I know to. This time, when I set down the sled I make sure none of my fingers are curling around to the bottom of the sled. I keep my left hand palm-down and gingerly slide it under one of the hand straps. Ready?
This time is a lot more fun. I've reached one of the more steep parts, and when I soar down on the surface of the powder, it's literally like those fancy ski commercials where snow sprays everywhere. It's so light that it feels like a strange mix of waterskiing and flying. I smile naturally, and am dissapointed when I reach the bottom. But I can feel something growing inside me now, some memory. Why I do this. It's a litle closer to resurfacing.
I turn back to the hill and head up. This time when I reach the next point, I have to fall down and lay in the snow for a while. My heart is pounding so hard against my ribs I can not only audibly hear it pounding, but can see my light turquoise ski coat shivering along with it. An ominus and slightly creepy thought. The high elevation is hard on even us Utahns.
I look at the snow around me and wonder for a while. There's just so much of it, it's hard to understand. It just won't...go away. It's perfectly immune to melting, no matter how I push it or shift it around. I'm close enough to the flakes to see a peculiar pattern on them today. Normally powder flakes are very small and dry. Today, the top of the snow is strangely glazed over with larger pieces of the thinest ice you've seen, much more thin than glass. Like little ribbed scales. I tell myself to ask my sister-in-law photographer Megan to get a picure of them before they melt back into the norm.
I know I'm close to the top. So I worry less when I see the end of the track approaching. I can enjoy the run instead of dreading the next walk up.
Finally, I reach the summit of our track. I look down the mountain. Our cabin is somewhat in a small bowl between close mountain ridges I see the opposite mountains looming at me. I remember living in New York, and how the people there couldn't understand the jagged, ruggedness of the authentic Rockies. The only word I think to describe them is "majestic" which is unbearably cliche and cheesy, but hey, it's cheesy for a reason right? People use it a lot because it's good. And besides, it's my own thought process, so butt out.
The numbness in my finger has gone, and it's been throbbing since the last three runs. When I move it, sharp pains jab all along my middle knuckle, which I bet is swolen and bruised. I know I've probably caused myself needless extra pain by doing this, and I hope it's worth it. But instead of calculating chances, I focus on the view. It's incredible.
Our cabin is at the very base of the valley, a tiny pinprick of grey tin roof and an organic light green. I cannot fathom how there are many people sitting and talking in there, even smaller than a pinprick. The sky is a perfect, highly sought after light blue. High above in the atmosphere are whiffs of cirrus clouds, untouched by jet planes or factory pollution.
I take a deep breath and look down the track. It's really pretty steep here, and I know that this will be one wild ride.
I settle onto the sled.
I laugh openly and freely, something I haven't done in a while. My disposition is bubbly and childlike. My finger doesn't hurt, and all of my mundane worries are left at the top of the mountain, forgotten. I can't remember feeling like this for so long.
I only think word as I reach the clearing and bank against buried trees.
As one of my favorite writers once said, "I think that there is a metaphor here, but I will let it go unsaid."