Ascent and Ascent

It was my friend Yonton who introduced me to the concept of Ascent and Descent, or A&D. A summertime A&D is defined as such: a single day wherein you go climbing and then you go kayaking. Based on the amount of driving, shuttles, equipment, and energy required for both these sports, A&D is a real feat. Yesterday, Sunday, I had my own A&D, only it was the Winter version, and it felt more like an A&A, Ascent and Ascent.

Technically skiing is more of a downhill operation, but this was my first time on my AT (All Terrain) set up. I skinned up and walked straight up the mountain, and it takes a while. The way down is just swish swish and it's over. Really, it felt like an Ascent to me.

But if I want to be truly accurate about the day, it looked more like this:

Ascent.  Getting up the mountain. I skinned. Jenny Stepped:

Descent- my summit sandwich going down:

Descent. The classic kind:

Ascent. A few hours later, back in the city, on one of our favorite problems:

Descent. Coming down:

Descent. Self explanatory. Down the hatch:

Jenny got a panic stricken message from me late on Saturday night: "Jenny! It's, as you know, I know how to downhill, but I've  never been on AT's before and I imagine you dress different? don't know what to wear so, how about this- I'll just bring everything to your house tomorrow. Okay, see you then. Also, how necessary are poles?"
Oh, man.
A few hours later, "Hi Jenny, it's me. Just want you to know that I went to bed early and everything, but then I was woken up by a party next door, and there was no way I was going to sleep so I had to sleep somewhere else, so I'm farther away now and I'll be later than I said I would. Also, do you have any extra snowpants? Mine are too big all of a sudden. Bye!"

Jenny is a natural morning person. She wakes up at 6:30 every day without an alarm. I, on the other not.

Long story short, Jenny is extremely patient and it doesn't phase her a bit when, after finally getting my boots on, I go- "Wait, wait, I think I have too many pairs of socks on. Let's start over."  And another stop on the way to the mountain to get more coffee? She's all about it! I think I love her.

When we made it to the summit, we sat down to eat some food and celebrated having an entire mountain to ourselves.   
While we were chilling out, a couple of men came skinning up the face. The first thing the lead guy said to us? "Woah! You guys part of the blond army or something?" And without hesitation we replied, "Why, yes, yes we are."   Then the other guys came gliding up to us. There were three of them. "Well," said the third, "now you're outnumbered."
Jenny tossed her head back and responded, "We're not worried. There are more of us hiding in the woods." Then she turned back to her pasta.
It was a strange conversation.

And then the fog and the ice and the snow came. And the map didn't seem to make sense.

Probably because it a map of Alpine trails. We were not interested in alpine trails.

But don't worry, the blond army made it down no sweat. I have to say, Jenny is one hell of an athlete.  And the whole concept of skinning, AT bindings and the promise of back country almost made those countless, insufferable, ubiquitous Facebook statuses of Earn your Turns, Bro!  Free Your Heals Free your Mind or Whatever! Shredding Some Gnar up at Whistler this weekend! and anything with the word "pow"....bearable. (I said Almost.) (I'm looking at you, large majority of my friends.)

 Ten o'clock, after eating an entire pizza, working on endurance, last soldier at the gym.

And finally, Prost on Phinney Ridge, for somebody's birthday, where I literally stopped all conversation when I ordered a margarita instead of a beer. Relax, haters- that's just how it is.

So, that's about it for Sunday.  We don't have any money, we don't have kids, we're confused about careers, we're halfheartedly employed. But we do have snow, and friends with sail boats, and there are 36 places to drink beer in Ballard alone. So I guess we're doing alright. 

Slightly Rattled

We're climbing at the cliffs of Tieton outside of Yakima, Washington. As you've already picked up from the title. I am with a very intelligent and very pretty group of trad rad girls with names that read like a horticulturist's guide to Ireland: Heather, Lilly, Brittany, Stephanie. And myself. A weekend of camping, ropes, blue sky, dessert, rocks.  And rattlesnakes.

It was late in the afternoon on Sunday, and the last climb of the day was really stumping me. Below, Heather had me on belay from a little ledge above the path. You had to boulder up a bit just to get on the ledge, and it was a very small area, only three square feet or so, just big enough two of us.

I was wholly fixated on my body pressed up against the slightly inverted wall, fingers digging onto a crack the width of three playing cards. (This is an exaggeration, but it was a difficult hold regardless.) Just one inch higher and I'd have a little more stability, but I couldn't seem to get there. Beneath me, I heard Brittany walking briskly up the trail. Then she stopped short. "Okay," she said, "Heather don't move. Melina, you're fine. And Heather, you're okay too but- oh shit- it's big-"

I smeared at the wall with a toe. The strength was quickly draining out of my arms. I had the feeling I shouldn't look down.

Then I heard Heather say in a tightly controlled voice, "Oh shit. That's big. Oh wow."

I fell off the rock and the rope caught me. I pushed off the wall with my feet and spun around. There was a rattlesnake, a thick, long black hose slithering around below the coiled pile of rope on the trail. 

This was the 8th snake we had seen over the course of the weekend. We had become afraid to walk into the brush or off of the trail at all, which made going to the bathroom either a dangerous endeavor or a very public endeavor. Earlier that morning, Steph had taken three steps off the trail and walked smack into a snake, which tightened up and rattled so loudly we all heard it, and dropped racks of metal cams, carabiners and half eaten power bars to the dirt as we scampered away.

But now here we were, and two out of three of us couldn't run away.

 "Okay," said Brittany, sounding not nearly as concerned as I thought she ought to, "now it's- it's climbing up the rope." Sure enough, the smooth black snake was moving slowly up the rope, it's great head nearly on the ledge where Heather was standing. Since Heather was on belay, she couldn't move. And she wasn't getting off belay until I came down off the rock. She could have easily lowered me, but but between herself and the snake there was no room for me on the ledge. And all the books say it's bad form to lower someone on top of an unsuspecting a rattlesnake. Rattlesnakes don't appreciate surprises that way we girls do.

Stuck there as we were, this is a situation we referrer to as a real pickle.

Five days. Five days in the ICU, I thought to myself, remembering a girl who once worked for New River who was bit by a rattler in the New River Gorge. I knew of someone else who had been chomped, made it to the hospital in good time, but the ER didn't have the antivirals because 'rattlesnake bites are so rare'.

With no other idea of what to do, we treated the snake the way you treat bears in the back country. We started singing at the top of our lungs. Our voices rang out across the weird, wide open country of Eastern Washington. I directed my voice at the rock because it was too eery to watch the snake. I squeezed my eyes shut tight and wondered what we would do if Heather was bitten.

No doubt I would pull my pocket knife out of my pocket, slash the rope connecting us, down climb, and hack the snake to pieces.

Then, I'd pick her up in my arms and- forsaking all our ropes and gear, run down the steep, unstable trail to my car. From there I'd whisk her away to the nearest hospital, talking in that soothing tone I've learned in my Doula Workshop. Your Cervix is a flower blooming. Is what I'd say.

After she was  in the capable hands of the doctor, only then would I return to the cliff. It would be dark by then. I'd hike up solo, brandishing my knife. I'd collect all our gear in a pile. Then I'd find the pieces of the snake I'd sliced to death. I'd cut off the rattler and keep it as a prize.

Thankfully, the snake slithered away, and it didn't come to that.

Piles of glass and light

The waves today were huge piles of glass. The day was bright and clear, but cold, with a hard wind whipping up whitecaps and blowing the sand in curtains across the beach.

I geared up, hiked my boat out to the far end of the beach near the point break, and pushed my way into the surf. The water was choppy and bottle green. The wind blew a hard mist off the waves, sending a hail of stinging droplets fiercely into my face. The waves were piles of shattered glass and the wind was blowing tiny splinters off into the sky, sending a spray of rainbow into the air.

I cannot even describe what it's like to be battling your way through the waves, passing through the slender opening in the gloss and foam, heading farther out towards the horizon where the big waves shudder and bend. The waves were big today, and tubing. I managed to stay out of the crush of the pile, the force of which is easily enough to blow you out of your kayak and leave you out at sea with the sharks, with your paddle and kayak and own meager self to look out for.

I am getting better. Today I caught the green of the wave, the smooth underside that glints like jelly in the sun. I rode it until it dissolved into fat marbles of water and air and became a gigantic aerated pile. I bounced and carved on this pile all the way in to shore, until the wave finally bubbled to nothing on the sand with a defeated hiss.

More than once after being picked up by one gigantic aqua curler, I shot towards shore at full speed and was delivered sometime later onto the beach. I was thrust up on the sand and left there like a piece of mail, sending a flock of tourists running. There's nothing like being far out to sea and riding one single wave all the way in. It feels like the planet's wildest public transportation system.

Riding out waves and bouncing on foam piles out there in the sun glints, cold gale, shark fins and rainbow sprays was some of the most fun I've ever had.

A most unrelaxing turn of events

It is my last night in Pangal and Lorenzo's house, and so I decided to take a bath. I was covered in salt and sulfur from the day's adventure. Miles and miles of cliffside roads with a rickety trailer had frayed my nerves and the air high up in the Andes was dry and bitterly cold. The students would not stop making noises the whole day. I mean, when they weren't talking, they'd just make noises. I needed a hot soak.

The kids were all asleep and far away and the house was quiet and shut down for the night. I brought in The Wind Up Bird Chronicles and The Best American Poetry 2002 and a few episodes of arrested development on my Ipod just in case I was in there for hours and finished the two books, or lost interest. The bathtub was deep and just my size, and a pale blue color, like toothpaste. I set my books down and my shampoo and filled the tub up with hot water, then slipped in.

I barely had a moment to release my breath when I noticed the tarantula. It was hunkered on the wooden doorframe, preventing my escape from the bathroom. It was facing the other direction, pretending not to notice me. But it knew I was there. And it knew, just as I knew, that it held all the power in this moment.

I decided to adress it directly. After all, I couldn't just leap naked out of the bath and go running down the hall, which was my first impulse. Besides which, this was the only bath tub I would see until Christmas. And for some reason I'm never truly relaxed unless I'm in the bath or I'm wearing a clean pair of socks, and I'd very nearly run out of those as well. And so I spoke to the beast.

"You enjoy your spot on that doorframe, and I'll enjoy my bath, and we'll both live to see another day." And then I turned to my book and read three pages. Then I looked back at the wall. The spider had not moved. I read another half a page. I wasn't relaxed at all. Suddenly the burden of bath-time duties such as soaping and shampooing seemed exhausting. Whenever something touched me, like the shower curtain or the little beaded string on the drain, I would jump and flinch.

And then the unthinkable occured. I gave a check on the wall to see if the tarantula was still posted there. He wasn't. He had broken our little truce and taken off, no doubt inching his terrible body, remarkably reminiscent of a big hand of a hairy man, across the floor and into my bath. I shot out of the tub but then realized I had no where to go. When there is a tarantula in the room but you can't see it and you don't know where it is, it might as well be everywhere. Suddenly the pile of clothes I had left so carelessly on the floor was a potential spider nest. Even the books stacked on the shelf had created an unintentional fortress. Tarantulas, like all frightening things like ghosts or bats, can scuttle up a wall or across a ceiling just as easily as they can scuttle across the floor. No place was safe from this big guy.

So what can I say? That I 'sacked up' (a new term I learned from the kids) and remained in my bath and read from my book and washed my hair like a true soldier? Forget about it. I was out of there quicker than my head-first tumble down the stairs the other day in front of Lorenzo. I took only what I needed and I fled. I hope that the tarantula is in there foaming up with Aveda shampure and enjoying the Haruki Murakami novel, because one of us really ought to.

Desolation, continued

The days that followed our excursion to the death camp were very dark. The moon was completely hidden in the sky and as I waited until 10:30 when I could put the kids to bed, I felt like I was floating in the middle of a vast ocean. I was sitting alone down near the closed up restaurant. A siren screamed into the night from somewhere, I still don't know where, and the cats were howling so loudly I thought surely it must be one of the students trying to scare me. Occasionally someone would appear out of the night, the pale patch of their face illuminated by a headlamp, but no body spoke to me. It was a relief to finish my work and climb back to the camp, where the kids were loud and running around. I could feel the life start to drain back into the night. At 10:30 I put them to sleep, unlocked the swinging bridge and climbed high into the mountains.

I fell asleep but did not wake up the next day for class. Instead I slept the whole day. I did not leave the house, which is a dark cave built into the mountain, in fact I did not even put my head out the window for a breath of fresh air. I dreamed I was standing on the mountainside watching a meteor erupt in the sky, and a ball of fire consume the entire world. I woke up with a desperate need to walk down to the camp and be around the students, sit at the restaurant and drink a cup of coffee. But it was too late, it was 8:30 in the evening when I woke up. The house was dark cold, my eyes did not adjust well, and there were tarantulas crouching in the shadows.

I had dinner with David and Tino and Lorenzo and Pangal and their mother, Gordita. But I could not shake the feeling of isolation that had curled around me in my sleep. Even the tarantulas did not stir me, because I felt like I was not really even there. I sank back into sleep at midnight, covering my face so the spiders would not camp out above my mouth as they tend to do, attracted to the warmth. Again my mind shatters into splinters and each piece crawled off and had a wild dream. The mosaic of those wild dreams was like a twice-exposed reel of film spinning through my sleeping.

When I woke up the next morning it was sunny, and I ran down the mountain soaking in the light and the air, desperate for a day with less weight.

another Friday night on the Ottawa

Yesterday was a nice day, I suppose. I allowed myself two cups of coffee before AP and floated through the rest of the day bouncing around and talking a mile a minute. It was cold, cold, cold. In the afternoon I sunk into the chestnut and navy waters of the Ottawa and paddled across the current to the push button, where the air stung my face and bit into my hands. Andy and Matt both gave up and went to wait in their dry clothes on the riverbank where they wouldn't be so chilled. The wave was a sticky angel and I can actually take rides now, long twirly rides full of shove its and spins. We stayed with a few others until we were pale as ghosts and finally too frozen to paddle. The water was warm and soft but the air while waiting in the eddy was cold you might expect it to be in Canada.

In the evening I made a giant pot of soup by frying a whole pack of bacon and saving all the grease. I threw in diced onion and leeks and sauteed them in the grease, then added broth, potatoes, cream, flour and butter, then topped it off with mushrooms satueed in more bacon grease and more butter. I didn't say it was entirely healthy, but it was a hell of a soup. Two of the Boys, Haaken and Alex, made brownies with whipped cream and the kids fought over them to the point where I banned all desserts for the rest of the trip.

At night we walked way down the banks of the river to the survival camp, where the kids have built a moss shelter and a fire pit. Alex was asleep inside the shelter and there was a fire going. That's where we spent our Friday night, until past midnight, telling all our personal stories of tripping accidentally into the spiritual realm. Between us we've got more than our fair share, I'd say. The fire spit smoke and sparks. Ghosts hovered around in the trees. We scared ourselves so bad it wasn't even fun any more. Two of the boys who had decided to sleep outside went running back to the cabins. Only Eric remained outside for the night, already asleep with hometeam buried in the bottom of this sleeping bag.

I slept fitfully, expecting to see Liarona rise from the riverbank and beckon me in towards the rapids that pound away only yards from the hard peice of wood I sleep upon.

Remember how I said this job could be less than glamorous?

My world literature class ended in disaster. Inspired by reading The Last American Man, a couple of the boys set about building a rabbit trap in the woods. Normally they would not have much time for things like that but today was a mandatory day off the river. So one of the boys, C, perhaps lacking the precise skills of Eustace Conway, busts his finger open by smashing a rock against it with all his might. When I happen to walk into the main cabin he's standing there holding a palmful of blood, dripping over Andy's precalculous study sheet he's laboriously written out by hand.

It's too bad, because it was supposed to be a lovely afternoon off, our only off-river day in Canada. Instead of rushing around getting cold gear on, scrambling in and out of the eddy and participating in flushfestive '09:

with a side of windowshade, pulling gear off, getting caught in the rubber of a dry top, throwing on (by now extremely dirty) sweatshirt, driving to dinner, piling food into your body, driving home, starting study hall, teaching an SAT class, helping with homework, responding to mom ("you never write anymore....what, do you not love me?") reading aloud, putting the chilins to bed, preparing for classes and brushin your own teeth and falling into bed to worry for a while about your personal finances and then next thing you know you're waking up and doing it all over again.... was supposed to be an afternoon of taking the dog for a walk, maybe hand washing the delicates, taking a little nap, rewatching arrested development, organizing your scattered things and all.....well. Ha. Instead we wrestled one kid into the van to go to the ER, three more hopped on because the ER is close to a Wal-Mart, Matt went along to sit in the waiting room, Dave went along because we're out of food, Stephen went to shop with David, Tino went MIA, and Andy and I were standing there blinking in a cloud of dust with a pile of blood spattered documents inside the house. The rest of the kids were watching a movie and eating a bowl of popcorn, completely unfazed.

Andy and I sat in silence for a while. I didn't have the energy to study. So I played him the single most amazing video ever made on this entire planet. And then I went to get the kids rounded up for dinner, found them sitting a fetid room watching Shooters. marinating in a haze of stink. What's IS that SMELL? I demanded. They didn't look up. That's just popcorn, One answered. Sure. I stalked into the bathroom and found the toilet clogged in the most vile of manners. I hit the pause button, which seemed to emanate a chorus of protests. Nobody's leaving this place till you all clean the toilet.

Then I tried to explain that on a Grand Canyon expedition, packing away the groover (the group pack out toilet) can actually be a fun activity to do with a buddy. The unusual proximity to human excrement. The sprinkling of lime dust. The disinfecting the hands. It all wraps up to be just a neat little ritual.

I explained that. They didn't get it. But they trooped into the bathroom like good little soldiers and did something to remedy the problem, and then I drove them to Wilderness Tours to eat giant plates of spaghetti, very similar to the giant plates of spaghetti we'd had that day for lunch.

It's 9:30, and the Wal Mart/ER/Food Shoppers aren't back yet. They've been gone 5 hours and counting. I took a kid to the ER just two days ago and waited in that waiting room for 6 hours, rereading a Canadian People, so I have little hope they'll be back any time soon.

Up all night, sleep all day, just another strange day at NRA

I started to fade a little yesterday at the end of class. I was exhausted. I was reading aloud from The Last American Man and had been reading for about an hour when all of a sudden I felt like I was about to keel over. But the water was warm, the sun was out and the wave was in, so I decided to get in my boat and I'd probably start to feel better. I strapped on my wet booties, put on my shorts and my still damp poly-pro top, then headed over to my cabin to get my PFD. Then I saw the bed, my sleeping bag, so inviting, so soft....and decided to just have a quick lie down. Just for a moment. So, wearing my cold, damp river gear I fell straight forward onto my pillow, like a tree falling, or a dead person. And I realized I couldn't get up. I couldn't even move. No worries, I figured, the kids will be paddling for hours out there, no harm in just....

.....3 1/2 hours later I woke up. The early evening sunlight was softer, and most of the kids had already paddled home, showered, and were lying around in their pajamas staring at You-tube videos.

Waking up in the middle of the day, particularly when you had not planned to sleep in the first place, is disorienting. I spent a few hours running my eyes over The Grapes of Wrath and fiddling with the aperture on my camera to prepare for the next day's classes, but I couldn't concentrate. Then I taught an SAT prep-class, then I read aloud for another half an hour to my English II boys, who were half asleep themselves on the couch. At 10 o'clock I staggered across the banks of the Ottawa to my cabin and fell hard asleep.

I woke up in the middle of the night. I hardly ever do this. For a minute I felt nothing, and I wondered why I was awake. Did I have to pee? No. Hmm. Puzzle. And then, I felt it. A stab of pain through my stomach unlike anything I had felt before. It was like a bolt of lightning, like someone had hooked me up to a telephone and was running shocks through me. Then another. Then a blinding storm of pain that lasted the entire night. I was up, wide eyed, trying not to move, and nothing (NOTHING) I did made the pain abate. Nothing gave me so much as a moment's relief. I could barely breathe. Hours went by like this, until I saw dawn creep up over the Ottawa valley and the mist begin to rise off the grass outside my windows.

Finally, when I heard everyone else waking up and head off to workout, I got up long enough to tell the first person I saw to cancel my classes, and then I lay back down. Finally I sifted back to sleep and slept and woke up and slept and woke up feverishly for hours. Finally, at 3pm, as the final class period was ending, I woke up for good. My dog had slept next to me the entire time, 17 hours since we had initially lay down for the night.

I felt a little better but still off kilter. The dog and I went inside and I read aloud for half an hour to my class. Yes, it would make a lot more sense for the kids to read to themselves, but we don't have enough books, somehow. So I read to them. They say they like better that way, anyway. Of course they do. All they have to do is curl up on a couch and shut their eyes and pet the dog. I like it too, though, it's a nice change of pace. They don't dread English class, that's for sure.

So after my strange day of dreaming and pain, I geared up and slid into the water in a new boat, a Pyranah 420 I borrowed from Nicole Mansfield, who is up visiting with Dave Fusili. The water, I noticed for the first time, was the same color as the beef aspic in the movie Julie and Julia, and warm as bath water. With no one else on the river besides Nicole, Dave, Andy and Matt, we had complete reign of the waves. For the first time I hit babyface dead on and got three long surf sessions in.

And now I can barely keep my eyes open, the rats seem to be tromping back into my stomach for another all-night chew session, and I wonder when I'll start to feel better. I took the whole summer off and had a team of natureopathic doctors working with me, I took pills and oils and gells and medicinal teas and had all sorts of things donw, but I never got any answers, and I didn't get much better. I can't just wait around forever and hope I start to feel better, so life goes on and I'm back at work, which coincidentally is the worst place to be when you're sick. Life goes on....but it would be so much easier if I could just feel better.

This is not our fault

I have a friend named Cassie who goes to art school in Boston. In the evenings she rides the train beneath the city and decides that she's mediocre. I can see her, there in the rumbling twilight of the subway with the sodium lights flashing by, rolling this idea back and forth through her head like a marble. Deciding how it feels, if this is something she can get used to.

My sister is a musician. She performed in front of 2,500 people just a few days ago. She wrote and sings this song. And yet she still wonders out loud if she'll ever make it. She wonders what will happen to her if she doesn't.

There was a voice that one day fluttered into my skull and stayed there. I was working a job in Seattle and writing a little bit on the side and everything was going well. I had a small apartment and a car and was in only a little bit of debt and was doing pretty good by all accounts. And one day the voice started hissing. Is this all? You certainly are playing it safe. You are heading towards a life of nothingness. You will very soon be nothing. Not a terrible thing to be, it whispered. It's easy after all. But nothing is nothing.

It was unsettling. I listened to it and two weeks later had given away everything I owned and was on a plane to the other coast. It was winter there and so I was alone for a while. The voice kept humming. This is alright for now, but this can't last. We both know this can't last. So I went south. I lived out of a backpack and fell off waterfalls. Life was terribly exciting. My head was quiet and I sung in the shower to fill the silence.

Then one day on a warm, clear river, I got caught and trapped in a cave underwater. I saw black spots and I knew that my number was up. I was a dead girl. But then I went through a long dark rock tunnel and emerged in the current. I climbed up on an island and lay there, bleeding all over and choking up water. Something landed lightly on my shoulder. I turned my head and saw the little wings. Well this is just terrible, it said, how stupid are you? we both know this won't last.

The voice planted itself firmly in my brain. At the slightest tremor of synapse it would launch into a rehearsed monologue. Aren't you too old to be living out of a backpack? Shouldn't you be going back to school? You don't have a novel written yet, how terrible, you never will if you haven't yet. This is games, what you're doing. There is no future in this. Everyone you know is settling down and starting up a life that will last. Do you want to be financially stable? Do you? Do you even know what a 401k is? This continued until I left and went home.

Now I am back in Seattle. I have a long scar on my right leg. In about a month I'll have no money left. "I'm trying! I'll quit the school! I'll find a career!" I tell the voice at night, in the morning, in the car, in the kitchen, in the bathroom, when I'm alone, when I'm out with friends. "I'll put something in my savings account. I'll keep the house cleaner. I'll wear better clothes. I'll be nicer. I'll be a real person."

Good luck, it says. Odds are against you. Are you sure you want to settle down now, at this age? Shouldn't you have a few more adventures before you give in?

"I'll go back to the school then. I'll live in Chile. I'll do big things down there. I'll leave Seattle and everything here behind."

The worst part is, says the voice, no matter what you choose, you'll be wasting your potential for something else. No matter what you do, you'll be a quitter.

I'm not the only one. I know a boy who paddles class 5 rapids every single day, because it is the only way to quell the incessant marching of questions in his mind. Then he takes out and there they are again.

I know a girl who got married a few months ago. She tells me, "every two days, I know that this is the life that I wanted. But the days in between...."she throws her hand and looks off into the distance.

This is not our fault. It's the hallmark of the 20's. It's doubt and guilt and shame and hesitation and indecision. It is the absolute certainty that everyone else has got it figured out, knows something we don't, and will soon be coming into the small fortune they worked so hard to secure. They are making the headlines of the paper we're one day sure to be sleeping under.

I don't think we're supposed to talk about this. We're supposed to put our heads down and push on and put on a facade of confidence that, once it's night and we're alone, we unwrap from around our necks like a scarf: everything is okay. Everything is just fine. Maybe that's why it seems so important to be with someone else, because when they're around we'll keep it up. We'll keep it on. But it's always there.

What does your voice tell you? Mine reminds me all the time that my life is inadequate and I"m in big trouble, just in case I've slipped and ooops! enjoyed myself, or felt content, or excited, or proud, or inspired, or capable, or I've stopped thinking about the future for just one tiny moment.

I think the voice gets more dangerous the more we keep quiet. So, talk about it. Also, this song will help.

In Which I Recount Being Chilly

What first occurred was the feeling of hysteria swelling inside the chest, between the lungs, a growing panic escalating as the last glimpse of sunlight vaporized into the cold. Then the feeling was gone, frozen out of us, and all I was left with was an extreme thirst. The plastic thermometer that hung from my jacket split down the middle, the mercury gave a shrug. Later on, someone will bring a newspaper to me at the hospital and I will read that with wind chill, the temperature on the ridge that evening was forty degrees below zero. I'll throw it aside and say carelessly, for the benefit of my parents, well it didn't feel that cold. My dad walks out of the room, the doctor who is bandaging my feet shakes his head.

Yeah, it was a cold bloody night but in all honesty, I don't think that it did feel like negative forty. How can you even feel something so cold- how can you feel anything- when you are, essentially, frozen? Because that is what we were, five little Popsicles sucking down the black smoke from a small fire we kept lit with pine boughs, dwarfed within an immense wilderness of hard ice and black stars. The feeling of cold air burning the throat and snapping at the skin was long gone, replaced by the lethargy of a body slowly shutting down, the organs gasping for blood, the brain alienating itself from the sensation of touch. You don't feel much when this happens, not pain exactly, just a sort of irritation with the whole thing. I remember feeling that it was such a bother, this business about being horrifically lost, such a nuisance. And then Andy put his feet into the flame and they caught on fire and I started laughing. And when the same thing happened to me I was delighted. I'm probably going to freeze my feet off, I said outloud, but right now they're on fire! How ironic is that!

Was this humor well received amongst my counterparts, three teachers and one skinny thirteen year old boy (a boy I had immense fondness for and always will)? Nope. Did the strange attempts at jokes continue to fall out of my mouth the whole time? Why, yes. Did I understand how desperate the situation was? Not by any stretch of the imagination. But remember that I was fifteen, and I had a lot on my mind. I was one of those kids who would rip up a page of math homework and do it all again if my handwriting was not just perfect (this might give you a glimpse into my social life at the time,) and missing two days of schoolwork was going to set me back, damn it. On the second night, after we found our way out, I sat at the headquarters of the Franconia Search and Rescue, a swollen, blackened mess as somebody cut my clothes off of me, and was entirely sincere when I said to my math teacher, 'Suzy, I didn't get to my homework!' And I remember so well her glare, her furious response: do you think we fucking care?

So school was on my mind that night, sure, but mostly boyz-who-kayaked and my hair (wow, 8 years don't change much about a person, ey?) Yes, my hair was down to my fifteen year old ass at the time and I was vain as hell about it. By the time we were parked around the fire, it was frozen in a massive dreadlock, impossibly tangled from hours of pushing through tree limbs. There were entire pinecones stuck in it and I had a terrible suspicion I was going to have to chop it off. It was this that troubled me the most- not my hands which would perhaps be made to suffer the indignity of being truncated at the first knuckle, not my ears which were going to fall off, not the slow process of learning to walk again or the pain-in-the-ass prosthetics that would certainly replace my feet. With the exception of the ears (they'd heal on their own) all of this remained a very real possibility for a good while. But all that could be dealt with later, because there were other things to worry about: another object of despair for me was that, back in September, I had met the rodeo boys-just briefly, but long enough- and in one glance I'd fallen in love with the whole lot of them. And they would be coming back from Nepal tomorrow night!!!! And what, I'd still be stuck up here on this mountain?! (The indignity.)

And then during one terrible hour, after the sun went down and the prospects looked dismal, the trail (the wrong trail which eventually petered out into nothing) wound around a tree and up a blindingly steep hill. I turned to Mike and asked permission for Andy and I to crawl up the hill- demoralizing, maybe, but easier than walking. He took a moment and then said it would be okay. We got down on the ground, the three teachers kept walking. And it was there on my hands and knees crawling up the hill and pulling myself along with the roots of trees, that there dawned on me a ghastly realization: the most humiliating and cruel realization that could ever enter the mind of a fifteen year old girl: I just might die tonight and I HAVE NOT BEEN KISSED YET. Oh, hell.

As we sat there in the snow and froze (given up for the night, lost in a valley many mountains away from where we should have been), I spent a considerable amount of time turning this over in my mind. You would think that the moment I was let loose from the hospital I'd have wheeled myself back to the lodge with one mission and one mission alone. It couldn't have been too hard to find a willing set of lips from one of those kids- but I severely underestimated my power as one of the very few girls in that school. I didn't have the balls and it took me a full year before I finally put to rest that primal fear of dying without getting any, down in the basement of the lodge.

As we hunched over the fire, the fluid inside my cells turned into sharp little snowflakes, expanding and bursting through their membranous walls like winter pipes in an old house. The damage was worst in my ears, fingers, face and feet, but all throughout my body the vast and complicated inner workings had slowed to a crawl. My pulse limped along. It was all of us: Megan, to my right, was talking out loud to a pair of birds that wasn't there: oh, look at you! are you sisters?! At one point I dozed off and had a dream, that Jen and Trevor were at my side and telling me to get up, because they had found us and we could go home. It was warmer down in the valley than it had been on the ridge, only about twenty below zero, and the literally blinding snowstorm that had got us lost in the first place had -mercifully- stopped. The sky was clear and black and wearing a dazzling armory of stars.

And what was going on back on the ground? When we didn't materialize at five, six, seven....the teacher who had turned back at the top and was waiting at the parking lot started to get agitated. She makes some phone calls- the Game Warden in Franconia was pulled away from a quiet dinner with his wife, volunteers started to congregate and maps were unrolled: what was there intended route? Are they well-prepared? (The answer to this question is no, we weren't. No sleeping bag, no tent, no headlamps, no nothin'...except a mini box of frosted mini wheats, which I brought along, way to go me and my big thinking.) My poor parents, woken up at 2am by the good man who had the misfortune (for many reasons) to be the head of school at this time- we've notified search and rescue.....They drove an hour and a half in that witching hour down to the White Mountains. I know some of the details- how my mother kept running to the bathroom to throw up, how the Game Warden gingery asked them for a body description- any, you know, birthmarks? scars? How mother kept thinking about a pair of pajamas she had ordered from Delia's (rEmEMbeR TheM?!) as a christmas present...well, I suppose I'll just return them.... But this is the part of the story I don't think about, because it makes me very depressed.

We were lost for two days. There was a search party of about one hundred people spread out on the mountain, as well as anyone who just happened to be hiking on Franconia ridge during that time. There were one helicopter with heat-identifying tracking devices and two more on the way, a terrifically expensive addition to the effort from the Coast Guard that cost my poor school, already staggering under the weight of its own secrets, thousands upon thousands of dollars. Did we see anybody the whole time we were out? Besides two apparitions of human figures, (one a beckoning black figure that disappeared as we approached it -talk about a close call!) no, we saw nobody. We found our way out ourselves as the second day blinked out and the second dreadful night enclosed on the searchers and the despondent parents.

When we did stumble out out we were greeted by a great big show of newscasters, ambulances, fire trucks, the remaining staff from AQ's CS department who were on the verge of pulling out their eyeballs. We were taken to the Search and Rescue headquarters (chaos) and then by wailing ambulance to Littletown hospital. The surgeon was woken up at his home, took one look at my feet and tells my father that the amputation dance would surely be danced and the aftermath would be grueling. Oh, my poor father! My cousin informs me that my now rather strained relationship with my dad all stems from this moment. That I had asked him to buy me plastic mountaineering boots after my semester in France and he had said no. [What good does a fifteen year Vermonter old get out of 800$ boots, he thought, and he had a point.] That the doctor told my father directly that my severe frostbite [the others got away with light cases] was because my boots had been drastically unfit for the climate, light leather summer hiking boots. I don't remember any of that, but it sure put a tear in the ol' familial ties!)

Poor Dad goes and blames himself. And I, sensing a weak moment, immediately ask him to buy me a new CD I wanted and voila, the CD materializes! At that moment I could have asked for any material possession and it would have appeared- really what I should have asked for was a good hard slap across the cheek so I would wake up from the shock and stop acting like such a fucking lunatic. Yeah, I put my parents through 40 hours of hell but still saw it as an opportunity to get something that I want out of it. I'm not going to be all dramatic and say I'll never forgive myself for that move, but I'll never forget that I was capable of doing it.

What else, what else....the hypothermia was mean but its thunder was totally stolen by the frostbite. Megan passed out in her wheelchair next to me, someone clamped something around my nose and mouth, it produced a warmed mist that I breathed in and the magical de-icing of the insides began. Dehydration hit hard, my muscles seized all at once I got stuck, paralyzed, in the bathroom (did I leave that place with one shred of dignity? Debatable!) I was informed that I would have to stay in the hospital for gawdknowshowlong and couldn't return to the lodge, (I sobbed so loudly the nurses politely asked me if I couldn't keep it down and my mother said oh for christ SAKES lina). A parade of nurses came running in and chastising me after I pulled out my IV (it was beeping too loudly to sleep). The hopeless condition of hair (what was formerly my hair, anyway)? Shave it off, was their first idea. But I sat in that hospital bed the first night, wide awake, watching myself on the late night news, tearing apart the dreadlock with a plastic fork from the cafeteria. Take my feet, I told the nurse, but stay away from my hair. (She found this an awkward thing to respond to, seeing as they were already planning on taking my feet at that point, they had beaten me to the punch, but I didn't know that yet.) My fingers and ears could get away with an application of burn cream but my feet (if you haven't yet gotten the picture) were a nightmare. They looked like hamburger meat, only worse. Grotesquely swollen, dark red and purple with patches of black that were nothing if not crispy (charred from the fire) and fluids leaking out from everywhere and colonies of thick yellow blisters taking up residency. That's what flesh looks like when you freeze it and then put it in the roaster: third degree frostbite- skin frozen solid to the bone- topped with straight up third degree burns. I was taken to a nice room with a little whirlpool and was gruffly (the surgeon pulled no punches) let into the big secret: there was a 95% chance of amputation on all 10 of my toes.

But I didn't believe it. Sometimes, you just know better than what a doctor is telling you. And I'm nothing if not determined: I did get out of the hospital and I did go back to the lodge, where I did not kiss anybody but I did do a fairly decent job of healing. There was a whole lot of of pain, and a lot boys taking their biology lesson over my feet during the twice-daily cleaning and redressing. I woke up screaming from nightmares of- whadayaknow- being lost alone in the woods- and my roomate, Ashley, had to deal with me. Every time I went back to the hospital they'd say hmmm...and they would delay setting a date for the Big De-Digiting and then amputation was brought up less and less and instead they wanted to peel skin off of my stomach and use that to doctor up the toes, which sounded like some fun. And then, a few months after the ordeal, when I was starting to walk without a cane through the dismal halls of Woodstock Union and the rest of my school was in sunny Mexico sending reports of blue skies and smoothie stands, I was informed I was in the clear. No skin grafts needed. Somehow you healed on your own, said the doctor, bearded, bespectacled and slightly bemused. You must be one very healthy young girl.

So there you have it. That should explain some of my questionable tendencies. If you know me, you know what I mean. How I can be so clumsy and accident prone, a magnet for awkward encounters and strange occurrences, I lose a lot of things and break even more: but it doesn't really phase me. Lisa, remember when you walked into the apartment and found me writing in my notebook while the kitchen was slowly flooding? Or when my dry bag broke on the grand canyon and then got dunked into Crystal rapid and everything was lost or broken, including my expensive camera smashed, and it didn't seem to bother me?

That is because I was very very happy to walk out alive from those woods that night, grateful to still be kicking, and that gratuity has never receded. Above all I am supremely excited just to be bouncing around and nothing on the daily scale seems big enough to get down about. And that night was exactly eight years ago today.

In Which We Come to Explore the Wreckage

Somebody went through the lodge swinging an ax and knocking through Walls. The place is a wreck, the fields overgrown, broken AT2 paddles with splintered blades are twisted with weeds. The ghosts boy paddlers roam the place now, an unlikely group of ghosts but there you have it.

We spent two nights there. Chico lives on the ground floor, where the boys used to sleep. The girls always slept in the upstairs, except when we were breaking the rules. Of course, it only took breaking the rules once and we were out of there. Like Veronica.

Chico lives with his girlfriend, Cara, and the place has been redone. But it still looks a lot like it used to, and the memories were searing, and I felt like I was underwater exploring a sunken ship. In the town of Brownsville, the lodge has become taboo, because of what happened. And because the school that tried to exist after we left was also abandoned. Nobody will fess up to owning the place. Every body left in the night. But I was so happy there. So was Calef, and Chico, and Ethan, while he lasted. Of course, that was seven years ago.

We paddled the West river in Jamaica, VT. Class III with some III+ and big water. It was an amazing play run, although I was concentrated on navigating my way downriver. I learned to catch micro eddies out of pure necessity, as Calef was the jr. world champions back in his day and Chico was pretty close to it. I watched them bang out dozens of cartwheels and clean cartwheels as I desperately tried to hang on in the swirly eddies. Running into Ethan Waldo on the river was fantastic, and it continued the 10 year tradition of running into each other in interesting places. I had a nice boof off of boof rock and caught some real air. Boof late ''s rather addicting. We did the run a few times. At the take out on the last run, Calef and Chico were laughing and trying to pull the other's skirt, and some stranger said something about boy love, with a laugh, and that made all the AQ boys go quiet and stop smiling.

The next day we went to Sumner Falls on the Connecticut river where I finally, for the first time, sank into a wave and got to surfing. (The one other time I'd tried to play was a hole on the sky, and I flipped on my head in the shallow spot and went dragging my knuckles downriver till I could compose myself enough to roll up. When I came up, Brett was sailing next to me and Keta and Joe Barkley were laughing from the eddy. Those last few runs on the skykomish were shallow as hell, but sweet times.)

Calef, Ethan, Chico and I stayed out for a few hours and watched the wave transform from foaming white into a smooth green tongue as the river levels rose with the dam release. I think the only time I've seen Ethan smile genuinely is when we're on the river.

Thrown in the back of a truck full of kayaks and wet gear, pulling into the lodge, brought back the memories again. It was hard to sleep there without dreaming of school days. I woke up disoriented. Calef and I took off to boat in New Hampshire, but the rig broke down, the part that arrived the next evening wasn't right, we couldn't get it started and then Calef was suddenly ripped from the vacation and summoned to Virginia, and that was it.