The grand spectacular

I am absolutely the best version of myself: winter me, apres ski edition, blue tights and snow boots. I'm hanging out at Vert Fest after a day of gate keeping, it's early evening and the racers and volunteers and vendors are drinking beers out of plastic cups and volleying for spots around the fire. We have our heads back laughing, telling stories and subtly one upping one another as always. The thickly falling snow makes everyone feel fresh and vibrant and prettier than usual.

A boy elbows his way into the circle and is now standing next to me, palms outstretched towards the flames. He has very rosy cheeks. That's really all I can say about him, because that's the only piece of him not covered in synthetic fabric. He's got rosy cheeks and he's tall.

We glance at one another and do the once-over, you know what I'm talking about. Then he turns to Silas, standing on his other side, and begins a loud conversation I'm just certain he wants me to hear. This is good. This is all part of the equation. I drink my beer and wait for my cue, which arrives neatly after about five minuets.

"So!" He booms. "Really been meaning to make it into the back country this winter!"

I spin around. "I'm getting into the back country, and I'm looking for more partners."

The boy grins and widens his eyes in exaggerated shock. "Well, no offense Silas, but I'd rather follow her than you!"

Ha ha, ha ha. A few jokes about Silas being old, about my being young, something about my tights. We all have a good laugh

But really though, do you want to ski? Avalanche certified? Cool. We exchange phone numbers and discuss schedules. Then we have a few hours to stand there and be quick and witty and irreverent. "I hope you don't mind my jokes!" He says. He's so jolly! "I'm always offending people with my jokes!"

I puff up my down-covered chest and say proudly, "Well I'm from the East Coast so you can't offend me!"

And then ha ha, ha ha, we start bouncing jokes back and forth. Really, it's a great time. We're shouting over the chords of a bad cover band, the snow is coming down, new people show up at the fire, introductions all around. We're all feeling very young and delightful, very prime of life. The snow catches in our eyelashes.

Around ten o'clock I call it a night. "After all, lots to do tomorrow!" I tell the protesting crowd, mostly older men, and the boy and I walk to my car. He helps me brush off the foot of new snow that's accumulated on the windshield. Then he gives me a hug, the lingering type. I drive home on I-90 feeling on top! Feeling good! Perfectly executed, I think to myself. I mentally brush my shoulders off.

It really been a good day. I made some new friends- Silas and Ryan and Stefan, and Stefan showed me this secret lodge up there you can stay in for ten bucks a night. I bought an armful of lottery tickets and won an Avalung backpack and a couple of hats and ate some pizza. The whole event thing was a spectacular win. A grand spectacular! But I was most excited about the boy, of course. He seemed so good natured and convivial, and he'd already texted me by the time I got home.
Boy not pictured. Come one. I wouldn't do that.
So we start texting, a little back and forth about snow conditions. I'm not interested in snow conditions but I am interested in where this is going, so I play it cool. 

I wait for him to invite me skiing, which I'm absolutely positive is going to happen, but it's not happening. It's just banter, and it's going to go on forever. 

In Seattle, maybe in any other city but I wouldn't know, you can bounce back and forth with useless texts forever if you're not careful. It's like being stuck in a pinball machine of passivity and vagueness. And if you think a casual 'we should ski sometime' is going to get you out of that pinball machine, you're sorely mistaken. I've learned to keep it quick and specific- suggest a time, suggest an activity, send. 

So I give up waiting and I ask: Want to go skiing on Tuesday?

And this is when it all falls apart. 

He writes me back something about how good the snow was last Friday. He says there were thirteen inches. Then he writes, thirteen inches is never a bad thing, right?

I'm thinking, is he really this into snow or is this a penis reference? And if it's a penis reference, that's fine, that's totally fine, but how about we make these innuendos in person, say, on a chairlift, say, TUESDAY.

But I can't write that, too aggressive, so I write: Ha ha, yeah.

Then he asks where I'm going on Tuesday, and I say Stevens, but I could do Alepental, and he writes that Alpental is closer, and then he doesn't say anything else. 
What would you do if you asked a guy to dinner, and instead of saying yes or no he asks where you're going. So you say, either the Sexton or The Matador, and he said "The Sexton has better fried chicken." And then he doesn't say another thing?  No shit the fried chicken is better at the Sexton, I eat there every Wednesday, do you want to fucking come with me or not?! 

In the old days, you'd get full on rejected and it was wonderful. When I was in 8th grade I asked Oak Clifford to be my boyfriend, after only four months of gathering courage, and he said no. No is pretty easy to interpret. So I moved on and I set my sights on Ethan Waldo, no problem. 

Sometime in the past six or seven years, the customary rejection became just no response at all.  It's a lazy but generally straightforward no. You don't hear from him within 24 hours? Move it along. 

It's the same in the publishing industry. Used to be you'd receive a rejection letter in the mail. Someone took the time to type out a no thank you, or at least send a copy of a form letter. They were almost a badge of honor; authors would do ironic things like turn them into wall paper or make books out of them. 

Not these days. Now you just hear....nothing. Ever. I've written about 15 punchy little magazine pitches in the last six months and submitted them, painstakingly following all the guidelines, each time a quivering little ball of excitement- this is the one, best pitch ever! And then nothing but crickets. Not a word. 

It's just how it goes. 

But this? These non-response responses? It's a new kind of humiliation, because you've gathered the courage to ask someone on a date, and twenty minutes later you're still texting, trying to figure out whether you're talking about snow or about penises and then you remember- wait, didn't I just ask you out? 

(I'm using Vert Fest boy because it's recent and hilarious but he's not the only one, remember Snake Guy?)

So Tuesday comes along and I go skiing, without him, and he sends me a text later that evening. So, did you go skiing?

I'm picturing a cave man. A cave man texting.

I reply yes. He replies something about snow conditions. 

This should have been it. I know that. But to be perfectly honest, I gave it one last try. I shouldn't have because the writing was on the wall, and it's embarrassing to admit, but I did. Just in case he was into me, but he was just dumb as a rock.  

I asked him to go to Smash Putt for Jeremy's birthday with me.  He wrote back: Smash Putt?? 

I explained that smash putt was like mini golf, but hip. 

And that was that. That was the last I ever heard from him. 

So that's how this one ended. Not with a bang, not with a whimper, but with an explanation of smash putt. 

At least I won an Avalung, so it wasn't a total wash. 

all in a week

1. eleven girls drinking barley tea at the spa. 2. bluebird days and 60 degrees at the summit. 3. tights and boots weather, my favorite. 4. my boat world girl on a wet, wet powder day. 5. my view every morning. 6. ski day with the boy who does not sugar coat his advice. 7. dinner party in our little house. 8. my office at the ski lodge. 9. the friday powder day grin. 10. sessions with my dream team trainer, Ren. 

Whistler Blackcomb

As it turns out, I survived the blizzard and the bad roads; my bus pulled safely into Logan airport around the same time a tour bus outside Portland, Oregon skidded on an icy patch of highway, crashed through a guard rail and killed nine people on their way to Vancouver, British Columbia.

I was on my way up to Vancouver the next morning as well. My plane landed in Seattle at midnight and I slept a few hours in the new house, still unpacked, unfurnished, the heat not yet turned on. In one month I've slept there only three times. I packed a bag in the still-dark morning, throwing piles of clothes across the bare floors- base layers, jackets, down vests, clothes to sleep in, clothes for nights out in Whistler Village, sparkly things for new years, three different pairs of boots. A passport. Books. Sometimes, when I head off on a little trip like this, I'm not really sure how long I'll be gone for.  
With coffee and the radio for company, I drove North on quiet roads, past Bellingham, through the Canadian border and up the long, winding, snow-swept road to the behemoth peaks of Whistler and Blackcomb, arriving just in time to miss the last chair. Thank God. By that time, six hours of heightened awareness on narrow roads later, the caffeine had worn off and all the airports and interstates caught up with me, and if there is anything more stressful than driving through the manic, olympic-rings-soaked Whistler Village with an extreme need to pee with no parking and no bathrooms and lots of haphazard snow-stoned pedestrians clunking slowly across the road in ski boots, I hope I never experience it.

Ah, but all the tension disappeared the second I found the yurt, in a patch of woods decorated in white christmas lights. I helped myself to some of the bourbon and gin and half eaten cake that covered the one table, and then I collapsed gratefully in my sleeping bag next a wood stove and sunk into a beautiful nap. And when I woke up, the boys were home, back from the mountain.
Curry is through-and-through Alaskan. He's friendly and flannel clad and (devastatingly handsome) and always finished his sentence with 'do you want to come along?'

As in, "My university friends and I are going on our annual whistler trip before new years, and we're staying in a yurt, do you want to come along?"

It was a no brainer. There's nothing cozier than a yurt, and nothing happier than falling asleep in one after a hard day skiing and an easy night drinking beer. At the end of one of the most tirelessly adventurous years of my life, finishing off its final days with such style was perfectly fitting.

Whistler is the grand mal seizure of the ski area world. Huge. Complicated. Completely overwhelming. It's two mountains, Whistler and Blackcomb, with a jaw dropping, record-breaking, cross mountain gondola between the two. We took it first thing to get over to Blackcomb glacier for my inaugural Canadian ski run, and I was very grateful that on my growing list of fears (other people's bad weather driving, drowning, avalanches, multiple sclerosis, olives) heights is not included.
The trip was perfect. It was all my favorite things crushed together: bright layers of warm Patagonia, clean snow, endless runs, mountain sunsets, cheap burgers, amber ales, good sleep, and spending time with these two dudes who knew each other so well they all but spoke their own language. I love watching boys who really love each other interact. Always have.
On New Years eve I said goodbye to the Canadians/Alaskans and drove down to Bellingham. All the radio stations were playing their top 100 count downs and I listened to the same five songs over and over, singing out loud and drinking triple shot americanos, bodily exhausted but lit up with post-skiing cheerfulness. (Try as you may to be hipster but it's always these overplayed pop songs that become the anthem of the year. It just happens. Go with it. Let that ship carry your body safe to shore and then call me, maybe.)  

Only once on the drive South did I turn my head to consider the empty passenger seat, and realize that the adventures are different now.  Now they are all mine. It's good and it's bad.
And this was the my last one of 2012.

Avalanche One

Randall Tate Photography
And now for a good old fashioned adventure.

Randall and I left Seattle for Bellingham before 5am, and were eagerly anticipating the sun rising for the journey. It never did, and we ended up killing time in a Fairhaven coffee shop, and then in the American Alpine Club classroom for the first hour of lessons before the world lit up even a little bit.

Randall Tate Photography
We stayed in that classroom till 5pm on Friday, except for a lunch break where we drank absurdly sized margaritas which nudged me into a pleasant and warm state of mind for the remainder of the day. Randall and I shared our classroom with eleven others- including a Whitefish pro, a couple of good looking mountaineers and four relatively young, incredibly enthused, Boeing employed snowboarders who I began referring to in my head as simply "The Stoked." We learned all about avalanches and their foundation of snow science: fern, aspect, the avalanche rose, terrain traps, convexity and trigger points. It was the most fun eight hours of EMT continued education credit available.

For the next two days, we carved pits into the snow with shovels and saws and toured the back country of Mt. Baker. At the time, Baker had the most snow of anywhere in North America, although I'm not sure how long that lasted, because Friday night Stevens Pass to the East was buried at a rate of about two feet in an hour, and The Stoked were bemoaning not being there. I'm not sure what we could have done with anymore powder, however. As it was there was already too much of it.

We took turns breaking trail, thank goodness, but either way all movement was exhausting. If, during transition, I placed a single boot off the skin track, I'd fall up to my neck in snow. It would take a day's ration of energy to swim to the surface and right myself. Skiing downhill in untracked powder was a wild rush, and mentally taxing only because the fear of falling translated into the fear of writhing helpless in the snow, carving an ever deepening hole, for an embarrassing long time, for the snow was feather soft and endlessly deep. Other than that the days were peaceful, snowing consistently, a completely quiet, cold world which I observed from the depth of four hooded jackets and the pink-tinged blur of fogged goggles.

That particular avalanche class, although not our first choice (our original class, a yurt trip powder cat trip, was cancelled because of dangerous conditions) was a momentous occasion as we shared three days with Lyle, who I've since come to know to as Lyle Who is All That is Man. Lyle is a mountain guide, a structural firefighter in Seattle, and a former Alaskan longshoremen fishermen. Had he also been a pediatric surgeon it would not have surprised me the slightest. He spoke very quietly and politely, almost as if he were trepidatious of being the center of attention, which is funny because Lyle should be unsure of nothing, ever. Randall and I loved Lyle. 
Randall Tate Photography
The other instructor was a man named Dustin who very much looked the part: he had cheek bones chiseled from ice and stained rose from the wind. Dustin was very quick to make a joke, and brush off the dust from my sweater when I dropped it on the ground, and talk with great about the 'suffering' of guiding on Denali. Randall and I both know the outdoor guiding well, and we felt very fortunate that we avoided entirely the douche-baggery we both slightly expected from our instructors. They were in fact very patient and cheerful and certainly most enjoyable to look at. 

That weekend we stayed at the Mountaineer lodge, which shown warm-bright under a heavy frosting of snow. We shared the lodge with The Stoked and also a handful of similarly windblown and healthy young skiers and three snowboarders who had an affinity for curling up in slippers near the wood stove with their nose in guide books, discussing with great revelry their most recent trip to Peru. (Or perhaps it was Patagonia. Or Perugia?) When I went to bed at 10pm they were thus engaged and when I woke up at 6 there they were, in the same positions, with the same boundless enthusiasm, as if they were barely aware that sleep as a state existed in the first place, much less that it was considered a necessity by some.

That lodge, softened by snow, warmed and lit, was even more dreamy that weekend because, as luck would have it, it was was 'decorating' weekend. The round old woman who ran the place announced at Saturday breakfast that there would be party that evening with 'cake and punch' and that we were all to partake in decorating the place for Christmas.
And so we found ourselves, after ten hours of pushing through relentless powder, skinning up and gliding down hills and chopping countless pits into the drifts, presented with glitter paint, brushes, and an entire window each on which to paint. True to her world, the round woman baked nut cookies, a strawberry cake iced with cool whip and a bowl of Hawaiian punch mixed with ginger ale that when added up, although sickening with regards to sugar accumulation, created an atmosphere so wholesome and sweet I nearly died.
For a little while it was completely quiet as all of us painted on our panes of glass, everyone in sweaters and long underwear, deeply concentrated. The Stoked surprised me by painting four separate lovely designs, mountains and skiers and one Santa Claus surfing a wave, done up in marvelous detail. A family with two tiny red haired girls climbed up on furniture and painted a snowman three panes high. The only window that did not register close to outstanding was that belonging to Randal and I, but mostly me; I'd painted a house floating on the black sky outside the window, and a few small stars and snow drifts, and then I'd lost all inspiration. I'd have filled the whole thing up with snow but the children had all the white paint and weren't giving it up, so I filled the rest of the window with blue. All Randall really added was a stencil of a pine tree in the middle of the air, and everybody asked if our house was a tribute to the Sandy flood victims, which was never the intent.
I slept very well at the lodge, the strain of snow struggle tugging my body into a white, heavy underworld. Randall on the other hand had a different story to tell and claimed that I snored. Which is the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard in my life, since I'm a crystal quiet sleeper. Snoring drives me crazy and I would never do it.
Randall Tate Photography
So Randall said he'd video me the following night, and he did. But I refused to listen to the playback the next day in the car because it would crush me and my pristine image of myself. He let it rest for a few days and then ambushed me: along with some photos, he emailed me a sound file: he claimed it was a song he'd heard and thought of me. The song was called Sweet Dreams (in hindsight, did I really not see this coming?) and I literally thought, "How sweet of him." I opened it up and it wasn't a song at all, it was a soundbite which I quickly destroyed.

Aside from that, I can't say the weekend could have at all been improved. We are all Avi I certified now, with Randall and I a few hours closer to continuing our N-EMT registration for another two years.

It concluded, as all good things do, with pints of porter at a ski bar with an overcrowded table and seven hungry souls ordering plates of hot food and talking about upcoming adventures. I challenge you to find a worthy weekend that does not end in such a manner.