Sunday, May 6, 2012

Slender Currents

Good luck comes in slender currents, misfortune in a rolling tide—according to the Irish

It’s been a surreal winter for lots of reasons and I’m not going to go into the over-arching big picture here. All that feels beyond me.  But the slender currents I’ll tell you about here are local and manageable.  And the reasons for them aren’t at issue.  Good dumb luck, outside the karmic chain, so far as I can tell.
Night skiing at Alyeska with my sons.  Although we all skied a lot last season (this, if you haven’t yet given up—the snow is still out there) the three of us didn’t get out together until February.  And it was great night, with a layer of powder that kept blowing over the runs so that every run was untracked until we got on it.  Dream skiing.  And after, we got a quick meal at the Sitzmark, the classic ski resort bar at the base of the mountain.
When we got home my skis weren’t in the box on top of the car.  We racked our brains: could it be that we simply left them in the parking lot? Possible, but I almost always lean them against the car and we couldn’t have driven away without a clatter. And we had skied right to the car and I was sure I hadn’t driven over them.
Furthermore, Macklin had met us at the Sitz after taking a couple extra runs with his pals; he said he saw them in the box when he loaded his board in.  But when pressed, he couldn’t swear to it.  We never lock the box, because, with this single exception, we are always either driving the car or skiing.  I wanted to call them stolen—it felt better than saying I spaced them out.
I reversed the heinous 37 mile icey drive back down the Seward Highway to scour the parking lot: nada.  Made a call to lost and found—not hopeful.
I was heartsick, more or less.  These were new skis.  Skied on six times.  I hadn’t even mastered them yet.
Five days later I get a call from REI. Did I lose a pair of Solomon Suspects?  Some random person returned them to REI ski shop where the bindings had been mounted.  There was pink 3x5 card taped to them that read “Found at Alyeska.”
Six weeks later we are hiking up Peak Three with the plan to ski down.  It’s a perfect day, a good two feet of fresh snow, tracks to boot up, blue skies, no wind.  I’m with my son Dougal and his pals from Illinois, the Larson brothers, partners on many an adventure.
From the top of Peak Three you can see deep into the Chugach Range to the east and below us to the west, the glittering waters of Cook Inlet, to the north: Foraker, Hunter and Denali line the horizon.  Quite a vision for a couple of dudes from Illinois.  Quite view for anyone; I know I never tire of it.
The snow was so fine that I was skiing like a powder master (which I am not) slow-motion s-turns, amazing stuff.  Then suddenly I am airborne.  The good thing about powder skiing is the soft landings.  The bad thing was what I was about to find out.  One of my skis rested right on the surface, upslope, where I had ejected out of it.  The other was . . . where?  I set about searching for it like probing for an avalanche victim.  Probing every six inches with my ski pole in an ever expanding grid.  My son hucked himself up slope a hundred yards and joined me.  We blocked out an area about twenty by forty feet and went over it for a couple hours.  The thing was gone.  And worse, well not worse, but also bad: I was going to have to walk down through the best snow ever.  These skis and me, I think, were a match not made in heaven.
A few days went by and I was committed to the search.  However, even though it hadn’t snowed, the wind had swept the slope clear and cemented the surface in.  It would be spring before they emerged, like a fallen alpinist from the last century spit unexpectedly out of the glacier.  Nonetheless, that day, Macklin and I were halfway up the mountain and wanted to hit the summit.  It was windy and snowy, but we pushed on.  Once on top Macklin hit the fall line and was out of sight in a flash.  I work my way down the west ridge a couple hundred yards before entering the fall line, and have a pretty good run.  I hit the car in 18 minutes from the summit, a 2,400 foot vertical run.  
“Do you know how long it took you?” I asked Macklin. 
“Well,” he said, “the same song that I was listening to on my headphones on the summit was playing when I got to the car.  So, I’m thinking about three minutes.”
So, at the end of the season, I have another very minor surgery, minor, at least compared to the surgery that delayed the beginning of the season, and about the only thing the doctor says is, “Don’t go skiing.”   So I wait, for the stitches to come out.   And when my hiking pals ask, I say I have to sit out a week.
They call from the trailhead, “Was that a Solomon Suspect you lost?
“ Yep.” 
“We have it,” they said.
The one party that had been ahead of them that morning had brought it back and planted it like a flag in the snow next to the parking area.
So, my Suspects are returned to me.  I’m debating whether to take them out again—it’s May 6th, and I have other skis.  I’m thinking about starting out fresh with them next season.  I am knocking on wood, thankful for the slender currents of good luck, with no expectation of avoiding the rolling tide of the other.

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