Monday, June 17, 2013

Final Ski Report: a Late Winter Encounter

I am lucky enough to been on skis just last week (June!). A couple days ago driving over Turnagain Pass I could see lines on Tincan Peak still holding enough snow for some long runs.  But I expect not to ski again this season due more to my schedule than to conditions. 
So I’ll perform a quick post-mortem on the season which began in October with the dream of skiing a Himalayan peak. This didn’t happen, but not for lack of effort, including mostly the effort of our Nepalese porter who carried my Rossignols about a 130 miles.  I had a great time at the Tour of Anchorage, the local cross-country ski race, and am inspired to race even harder next year.  The downside to the season would be the downhill racing season at Alyeska: just abysmal.  Slow and tentative. Maybe only once did I complete my two runs without crashing and burning.  Some exhilarating moments nonetheless. Probably I just didn’t ski enough at the resort to ever find mid-season form.
            I had a great day skiing from Arctic to Indian, a 23-mile day in perfect weather with Dave Ward and his daughter, Suzanne.  A long day and good preparation for our recent nine day expedition on the Harding Icefield, days of heaven. More about that trip another time. 
            One of my more memorable days of skiing was late season on the Chester Creek, an urban trail that winds through a sliver of wild land.  Sunday morning, early, and I hadn’t encountered a single person.  But up ahead, on the trail two men were stopped, obviously waiting for me to approach.  I slowed to a stop.  Two Native men.
            “Are you training for the Olympics?”
            “No, no, just out for some exercise.”
            “How much are those skis worth, eh?”
            This set off my inner alarm system, probably a moment or two late.
One was short, the other slight.  But I was on skis and there’s a kind of vulnerability there.  You could be knocked off your feet easily.  I am usually thinking about this in regards to possible moose encounter.
            I downplayed the value of the skis, which was in fact true—they weren’t worth much, but I sounded like a liar to myself, as I tried to explain.
            The shorter man said suddenly, “Why are white people such mean motherfuckers?”
            “I know,” I said,  “There 're a lot of pricks out there.”  This was when I noticed that his eye was swollen shut, blackened.
            “Butch,” his friend said.
            “This motherfucker,” the shorter guy continued, “I jacked him good.” And suddenly he had closed the space between us and imitated a powerful uppercut with a tremendous burst of energy.
            “Butch,” his friend said, “This isn’t the same guy.”            
             I had way underestimated Butch’s power, and, naively, not even considered his bitterness.
            “So, where are you guys going?” I asked.
            “We’ve got a foxhole out in the woods.”  He gestured outward at the frozen forest.
            “Where are you from?” I asked.
            (For you non-Alaskans, that’s about 1,000 miles from Anchorage and no roads go there.)
            Despite the small talk, Butch was still agitated, bouncing on the balls of his feet like a boxer between rounds.  It was clear that his friend was familiar with the role of keeping Butch out of trouble.  Also clear was that he was not always successful.
            “Stay warm you guys, I have to move on,” and I pushed past them into the morning fog.  When I got a few meters down the trail, I pushed harder, sprinted, and I didn’t look back.

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