Skiing Cuyamaca Peak — Cougar Tracks

A year or so after the Good-X and I moved to San Diego (1984) we bought a 1972 VW camper van with a pop top. It was an awesome vehicle (until the block cracked) and we had a lot of fun with it. We also had moved our skis with us from Colorado. We had heard — though we wondered how it could be true — that the mountains east of San Diego sometimes got enough snow to X-country ski.

Sure enough.

The first time we went up there was with a couple with whom we were friends and from whom we rented an apartment. We went to the Laguna Mountains. Of course I had no idea at that time that the valley in which we skied that day (on 8 measly inches of snow!) would someday become as familiar to me as my hand, or that I would learn to regard those 6000 foot “hills” as mountains. I was, I admit it, a Colorado snob. Now I know.

From my high valley even the highest 14er rises only 7000 feet from the valley floor, no greater gain in elevation than the top of Cuyamaca Peak from San Diego. In fact, it’s just the same. I learned that a mountain is a mountain in relation to the land from which it rises, regardless of how a mountain is defined by geologists or geological surveys or Alpinists. I’m not a mountain snob any more. The Colorado fetish with 14ers now seems a little silly. If you want oxygen deprivation hold your breath. 😉 I’m joking. I know there’s a lot more to it than that.

Today when I look at Windy Mountain or Pintada from the Monte Vista Wildlife Refuge I see snowcapped hills that rise 5000 feet from where I stand. Mountains, but…

There are two ranges outside San Diego, separated by one of the innumerable fault lines that criss-cross California. Between the two is a narrow valley with a fissure and a spring that, in time, I got to know well. The ranges are the Cuyamacas — in which I lived for eleven years, and, just 10 miles further east, the Lagunas, in which I hiked and skied. The Cuyamacas have a leash law. The Lagunas do not.

Sometimes you see photos of San Diego looking east from Coronado Island. You see ocean, town, bay, city and, behind everything, a snowy mountain. That mountain is Cuyamaca Peak.

Cuyamaca Peak with snow on it

The second time the Good X and I skied in San Diego County we headed to a trail head at Green Valley Falls (fantastic falls in spring and in a wet summer, idyllic with pools and slides to play in, drop down, swim in, wade). We parked, paid our $5 day use fee, strapped on our skis, and headed up a trail we knew nothing about. It wound around the north side of the mountain to the west where it looked down on San Diego and the Pacific Ocean. We climbed, and climbed and climbed until we got to where we could see San Diego, but that wasn’t all we saw. We also saw fresh cougar tracks.

I didn’t know anything about mountain lions then except that they are dangerous. I had no knowledge of that world yet and little curiosity. We high-tailed it down and headed home, stopping on the way to watch a movie and have dinner.

Twenty years later, I would live at the base of that mountain and see it on fire. Later, I would see that far western slope with fire weed blooming. I would hike the trails in the Laguna Mountains in all weather, and ski to the top of Garnet Peak against all sanity and all odds. I would see a mountain lion.

Garnet Peak (a fun hike in the Laguna Mountains) in the winter of 2003/2004 after the Cedar Fire, oil on canvas.

The skis in the featured photo are just like the skis I took with me in 1984 from Denver to San Diego. They are — were — wonderful back country skis. They needed to be waxed which I liked because I could control the “slide” depending on my adventure. I found these old skis three years ago in a thrift store here in Monte Vista. They aren’t my very skis, but when I saw them they seemed to call out, “Get us OUT of here!” I had not had my hip replacement (second one, different hip) yet and I wasn’t moving very well. I was with my friends. We’d gone for lunch but weren’t ready to go home, so we visited a new thrift store in town. Without thinking, I reached for those old skis and cradled them in my arms. Elizabeth said in a soft voice “Are you going to ski, Martha?” There was so much pity in her eyes that I set the skis back where they were and went back to shopping. I returned to the store alone a few days later, forked over $30, and brought them home. They stand in my studio along with many other very personal treasures from my life. In a way, that room is my “medicine bundle,” my little trove of talismans.

Looking back on my first forays into the San Diego mountains, it’s funny to realize all the things I didn’t know yet. Makes me wonder what else I don’t know yet.


P.S. I’m writing my ski stories because writing the stories is how I figure things out. Now that it seems I’ve reached the end of this moment in my life, I want to see it more clearly and understand it better. I hope it’s not too tedious. ❤

Learning to Langlauf

The first time I went X-country skiing was with the first-X. Our marriage was over, but we hadn’t divorced each other or even faced the reality. He was a terrible husband who hit and kicked me from time to time, but we got married young and never sought the help we needed. I was in graduate school in Denver and he, believing I would use his money to get my MA in English and then leave him (because an MA in English leads to SO MANY lucrative careers), left me for grad school in Laramie at the University of Wyoming. Up in that wild and woolly world, he started X-country skiing. When I went up to spend a weekend, he rented me skis and took me to the Medicine Bows west of Laramie.

I hated it like I’d never hated any sport before. I don’t know if it was just that I didn’t know how or the company I was with, but I ended up soaked to the skin (back then long johns were cotton waffle weave = sponge).

I vowed never to do it again.

A few years later I read about “skinny skis” in Outside Magazine and it struck a spark. I decided it might be fun if I had lessons. I found lessons in the flyer for Denver Free University and signed up. I bought skis from the LLBean Catalog (Karhu Bear Claws fish-scale skis) poles, boots and the bindings — 3 pin bindings — came with the whole thing. Strangely, the day they arrived, my X showed up at my apartment. His new wife was visiting friends and he decided to visit me. We had three or four such visits over the years and I saw — and he saw — that it probably should have worked. We just didn’t know how. I’ve known him since the 9th grade.

The first class met in a classroom and the teacher was great. He was friendly, passionate about X-country skiing. When the actual DAY came, we all got in a big Chevy Suburban and headed up to Devils Thumb Ranch over Berthoud pass and more or less across the street from Winter Park Ski Area. Devils Thumb Ranch is pretty fancy now, but back in the late 1970s it was a big one story wood and log building with a few motel rooms, a kitchen and a dining room. Out the back was a deck, a “bunny slope” where little kids could learn to downhill ski and a rental area. Behind it were miles of X-country trails, none of which were groomed trails (I never saw groomed trails until I moved here in 2014) but all of which were well marked. The trails wound around meadows, through aspen groves and pine clusters.

It was a crystalline clear Colorado mountain winter day with ice crystals in the sky and virgin snow everywhere. The teacher took us through exercises so we got used to the skis. We played tag running with those boards on our feet, falling, laughing and learning. Best class of my LIFE. Then we skied. We learned to kick and glide, how to do a stem turn and even had the chance to try the beautiful and classic telemark turn.

My dreams started there. The next class was in the Indian Peaks Wilderness Area where I loved to hike in summer. That was the day I met the Good-X, but that’s not what this post is about. The snow was front range snow which isn’t really easy for me to describe other than to say it had been through more changes than the holy snow at Devils Thumb Ranch had been. It was a wonderful day.

I wanted to go all the time, and began experiencing the reality that most people I knew didn’t want to go all the time and NONE of them wanted to X-country ski. It wasn’t “cool” and it wasn’t fast. Most people thought Nordic skiing was just walking around in snow, but it’s so much more than that and it CAN be fast. Most of all, it can take a person into the “real” mountains away from the crowds. I’d been reading A Moveable Feast in which Hemingway decries ski lifts and lauds the times when people were strong skiers because they had to make their way up the mountain under their own power. I thought getting up the mountain under my own power was the definition of cool.

So, one Sunday morning I got up, looked at my 1970 VW bug with its low-tech ski rack (basically giant rubber bands stretched against a frame that held onto the car with hooks that went inside the doors) and thought, “Fuck it. I’m going to ski to *Lost Lake.” I got dressed (I had learned about wool long johns by then), put my precious Karhu skis in the rack and headed to Boulder, then up Boulder Canyon to Nederland, to the Fourth of July Campground and parked as far up the road as it was safe to park. VW bugs had very high clearance. I took my skis off the roof, put them on and headed up the mountain.

I’d hiked this trail dozens of times. I knew it well. At first it’s essentially a gravel road that turns into a stream in spring. It goes past a ghost town and an old campground. After the road, there’s a trail head and soon the trail goes up very quickly, does a little turn and then a person is on the main trail which is a steady climb, part of it up an old corduroy mining road. It runs beside then crosses a stream over a small waterfall. A little while later, there’s a fork — go straight to several glacial lakes or up to Devils Thumb. Turn left, Lost Lake, the lowest of this cluster of glacial lakes.

I made my turn and skied the sweet flat trail to the lake which was frozen and covered with snow. The mountains that held the lake as a cup holds tea were too steep to hold any snow themselves and the tracks of small avalanches were apparent on the eastern slopes.

There wasn’t much to do up there when it came to it. The main event was getting there. I drank some water, ate a granola bar, considered my adventure and turned around. The only challenge of the experience was getting down the steep little bit at the beginning of the trail, but I did it. I loaded my skis back on the top of my VW Bug and headed home to Denver.

It was my fourth time on X-country skis.

That winter there were more experiences on my skinny skis. My neighbor (guy in the photo above) and I headed up to Devils Thumb ranch one Saturday and had a blast that included me falling forward into four feet of snow and burying my arms. I laughed so hard I couldn’t get up. My friend came whizzing by, saw me, cracked up and nearly hit a tree before he crashed. BUT it also happened that day that in the stillness of the snowy forest a jay ate a bit of granola from my hand. I lived in momentary hope that this neighbor — newly moved into the apartment across the hall — would want to go ALL THE TIME but he didn’t. It was the first lesson I had that guys will do stuff with you not because they like what you’re doing but because they have a condom in their wallet. Dark times. 😉

My Karhu skis were not back-country skis. They were just simple and cheap waxless skis. I would own more appropriate skis as time wore on and ski some other dramatic places, but never that adventure again.

I’m not that girl any more — not physically, obviously, but in more profound ways. I understand where she wanted to go back in 1979/1980 and I’ve been there. That’s enormous. When I think of how long it has taken me to learn what anything actually IS I’m dumbfounded.

And maybe I still don’t know.

*There are at least three lakes named “Lost Lake” in Colorado which could explain how they got lost. This is the Lost Lake I’m referring to here. It was once fairly remote but a lot more people live in the towns around it now, so the trails are now sometimes closed due to over use.

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2021/01/23/rdp-saturday-spark/

Molly and I Go Skiing

This Wasn’t the day in the story below, but this is Molly and this is me, 1991 Laguna Mountains, San Diego County, CA
“The first fall of snow is not only an event, but it is a magical event. You go to bed in one kind of world and wake up in another quite different, and if this is not enchantment, then where is it to be found?” J.B. Priestley

~~~

Many of my dogs have been snow dogs — mostly Siberian Huskies, but Molly was an Australian Shepherd/Malamute mix. She was my first “snow dog,” and she was very special. I think many dog owners have experienced life with an extraordinary dog, and Molly was just such a one.

Around Valentine’s Day in 1989, I found her in a big cardboard box with her brothers and sisters at the El Cajon swap meet. Her mom was a Malamute. The people were very eager to get rid of the pups. It appeared that they’d hoped to breed Malamutes, but a licentious Aussie had gotten to her first. The pups were free, somewhere around 8 weeks old. 

It was, for me, love at first sight. Molly was patterned like a blue merle Aussie. Her eyes were brown and she had a little pink heart shape on her nose. She was born without a tail — just a little flap of fur where a tail would have been. I hadn’t thought of having two dogs, but Truffle had recently been spayed and maybe she would look at Molly as her own pup.

The very first day — that very afternoon — I took her to the Laguna Mountains with Truffle, hiking. She was far too small for that, but it gave me my first glimpse into her amazing mind. Tiny as she was, when she got hot and tired, she found a shady place and dug with her little feet until she found cool, damp earth and she laid down, flat on her belly, and looked up at me. 

I became very familiar with that look. It said, ”Surely you know better than this?” 

And she smiled.

I ended up carrying her out, realizing how dumb — and inadvertently cruel — I had been.

Her nickname became ”Smiler” for the way she had of curling back her lips when she was overjoyed happy to see the people she loved. With no tail to wag, she had to do something.

Molly didn’t bark; she “woo-woo”ed. She went to puppy school and dropped out. Once she felt she’d mastered a skill such as “sit” or “down” she just went to sleep. She did take the final exam and passed with flying colors. Throughout her life, she never walked well on a leash; neither of the breeds in her ancestry was exactly what you’d call ”submissive.” 

When tested with sheep, she showed no interest in herding, but she would keep my niece and her little friends in one corner of the backyard when she was tired of playing with them. Molly had intelligence and will, and, from her, I learned how a human and a dog can be partners, friends, equals. That particular balance became my goal in my relationship with all the dogs in my life. 

We lived together for nearly fifteen years. They were tumultuous years in my life, but Molly stayed the course with her particular fierce and light-hearted sense of how things should be. 

Most of all, we wanted to be together ALL THE TIME. We loved each other fiercely.

~~~

One March afternoon in 2000 I was at work and heard the news that more than 20 inches of snow had fallen in the Laguna Mountains and was expected to continue — at a slower rate — all night.

I wanted to ski, but I’d gotten rid of my skis in the GREAT PURGE when the Good X moved out. I found, to my great surprise, that there was a place in San Diego where I could rent X-country skis. I called and said, “I need skis, boots, and poles, whatever, for a woman 5’2” 160 pounds, 7.5 shoes. Can I come and get them this afternoon?”

“Yeah, sure. You know where we are?”

“Not really.” He gave me directions. I made my plans known to my bosses (who were also colleagues) that I would not be at school/work the next day, and that I would call in sick. I explained that I was going skiing with my dog. There in San Diego County I was going to have a “snow day.”

“Isn’t that dangerous? To ski alone like that in the back-country?”

A common question in my life. I knew people — friends — who did really dangerous things. I was just going to the nearby mountains to X-country ski with my best friend who happened to be a dog. In the Laguna Mountains, there was zero chance of an avalanche. There really was NOTHING dangerous about it unless I fell and broke something. I believed (on some level) that Molly was perfectly capable of rescuing me and driving home.

I walked in the shop and the guy behind the counter — the owner — looked up and said, “5’2” 160?” 

“Yep.”

“Here you go. Try on the boots.”

The boots were fine.

I was on fire with excitement. I was rapturous. I had not X-country skied in YEARS, almost a DECADE. I couldn’t wait. I was going skiing. Snow!!!! The next morning Molly and I were on the road loud music blasting out of the CD player.

I planned to park at the Meadows Information Station on the Sunrise Highway. I hoped the road wasn’t closed. I didn’t have chains. I figured if the road were closed I’d park where I could and just ski up the road with my dog on a leash, but on that holy day, we got lucky. Waaa—HOOO!

I had no plan, no route. I was just going to ski. I knew the snow would be great. Some of the best X-country skiing in my life was in Southern California, dense snow, receptive to skis, easy to break trail, easy to turn, and fast on hills.

I buckled on Molly’s pack so she could carry our water and granola bars, and we were off across the meadow and then down, down to Laguna Pond. 

About 50 feet above Laguna Pond the season changed to spring. The warmer air, coming from the ocean, laden with water, was here soft mist bending to the cool surface of the pond on its way to higher, colder elevations where it would turn to snow. In those mountains, the Lagunas, the seasons are often inches from each other. I have stood on a trail on the northeast side of the Lagunas, over the desert, arms outstretched, one hand in a winter storm and the other in sunshine, the climate created by the rain shadow. 

I turned and we skied back up to winter then down again to spring, and up and then, having enjoyed the phenomenon enough, I returned to winter to stay. There we climbed hills and skied down, and the snow fell. On the top of one hill above the meadow, Molly jumped up and landed on her back. She rolled around, making angels in the deep snow. I stepped out of my skis and got down beside her to made an angel of my own. When I finished, I looked over at my blissful, wet, snowy dog and saw her…

Smiling.

~~~

This is a chapter from my book My Everest.

The Masks I Like to Wear

The mask in the photo above signifies 1) that it’s cold outside and 2) that I’m out in it. The one in the photo isn’t particularly warm, but it’s OK. My ultimate mask is this one:

One layer of fleece and a layer of whatever Buff puts on its, uh, buffs. This mask means either that the day is very cold or I’m moving at a rate of speed somewhat faster than I walk. In short — I’m on my skis.

We got a skiff of snow last night and I’m getting a sense of how this winter is likely to play out. We might not get a dump (we might), but it will be cold and these little bits at a time will build up to an icy, windblown, five inches. That’s OK with me. I am absolutely NOT picky.

Last year I found myself sliding into the Colorado snow mentality, thinking, “Naw. Not good enough.” What IDIOCY especially for a person on the shady side of the mountain! Carpe Nix!!! (There’s your daily Latin lesson [and mine]) NEVER in Southern California would my thoughts have gone in that direction. As the song says, “Any snow is good snow, so I take what I can get.”

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2020/12/15/rdp-tuesday-mask/

Possibilities Arrive in the Mail

Yesterday I got GREAT mail, not any diamonds or rubies, but some great stuff appeared in my maimed mailbox. I got my fishing license which will allow me to take the dogs to the Wildlife Areas when they open next week.

Colorado has a new law that’s due to the increased traffic of people going, “Holy shit, the mall is closed! What are we going to do?” The new law could provide additional revenue and/or keep people off the trails. Initially I was, “What????” But it turned out to be a good deal — under $10 for seniors and to my delight part of that money goes to search and rescue. Compared to California this is a bargain. In many parks and wildlife areas in California, people pay $5 at the door and there IS a door. Not in most of the places I hiked, but lots of places especially those where people actually want to go such as Mount Palomar campground and the trail up to the observatory, and, naturally, various trails in the Redwoods.

After working for a wilderness park, doing trail rehabilitation and organizing volunteers to help with maintenance on heavily used trails, I’m all for keeping ignorant people off trails. I think schools should offer — require — a class in “How to go outside and visit natural landscapes with respect for and consideration of wildlife, plant-life and the ground you walk on.”

I got a new mask. It’s very special and I like it a LOT. It is snowflakes on a winter-sky-blue background with fog and glitter that looks like ice crystals in the air. I don’t think anyone likes wearing a mask. To avoid it I just don’t spend much time where I need one. I go to the store every two weeks and in all this time I’ve made one trip to the vet. Masks are hot and make my glasses steam up and they are, for all of us, reminders of the ubiquitous treachery of a semi-living thing floating around that could hurt us.

It’s weird in these times because what I’m doing right now is actually preserving my life through the choices I have to make. Sometimes I wonder “What the hell is going on?” and then I remember the point of it all which is really December when I can reasonably expect the first snow. It could be sooner, but I see no reason for hoping with reckless abandon which would be snow on Hallowe’en, or throwing caution to the wind and expecting snow in September. It could all happen, but… This little mask looks like the world I’m saving my life for. It’s really that. I just want to go skiing.

Yesterday’s mail also brought the Willow Creek Journal. The Willow Creek Journal is a little literary magazine put out by the Creede Arts Council. It’s a beautiful publication, and I have had paintings published in it two years in a row, including this volume. My painting — Rio Grande in January. — is on the last page. On the same page is a little poem — “Zoetrope (Girl on Skis)” by Wayne Sheldrake. It’s a poem about seeing a girl/woman cross country skiing in the back country and catching her image as she skied a tree-lined trail. I had to look up “zoetrope.” I recognized the word, but it was way back in the convoluted back chambers of my brain, something my brother would say, but its meaning? Lost, lost, lost. It’s perfect, though, for his poem.

Here’s his poem:

From a shuffle
of piked trees,
(still-life on white),
a swiftlet blue
swiftlet of blue
ignited by snowshoe slope
quickened through ice-platinum shadow.

She strobed St. Elmo bright
and lighter than gravity,
through the frozen trees,

like a bird
a strange bird
that knows many secrets
(the invisible looms
and wickets of sylvan
winter flight).

As she turned,
darted away,
bent for open
ice-platinum air,
the trees, bestirred,
sighed with me.

Wayne Sheldrake

The mail was full of promises and reminders of things I love most and I am grateful. I hike at the Wildlife Areas in winter so I can visit the frozen river, a river depicted in my published painting.

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2020/07/07/rdp-tuesday-ruby/

Cabin Fever? Not Exactly…

I have not been out of the San Luis Valley since September. That’s a record. I love it here, it is Heaven, but damn… I have not talked to a person in the flesh since my birthday 2 1/2 weeks ago. Yeah, I’ve been busy, and I am an introvert, but seriously? In the first place, I don’t have a lot of friends and here in winter people hibernate. I think a lot of people make quilts and do other stuff inside. I’m one of the few people who’s outside everyday.

I’d hoped to do a lot of X-country skiing but discovered the first time out that 1) my quads had shortened from the months of rehabbing the foot meaning NOT walking and just riding the bike-to-nowhere so, 2) I was having problems getting a good kick which requires extending the leg, 3) the foot, while healed, could only stand to ski for about 1/2 mile. I pushed it, but why hurt myself? I’m not going to. When I figured out what was different between this year and last year I realized I had to focus on walking for a while and langlauf if I was lucky. When I started, a mile and a half (in snow) was the limit of a walk before my foot hurt, now I’m going much farther (in snow). BUT the snow is melting. On the other paw, the dogs are happy to be going out again and so am I. I realize how much I like walking them.

We have a month before the golf course will open to golfers. I hope to get the most out of February no matter what it is. And, some property owner out there in the back-of-beyond has put a locked gate across what was once part of our favorite walk. I understand why — lots of kids driving on that “road” — but it’s really too bad. 😦 Plus the incredible amounts of cow manure on what was once a beautiful nearby trail to the river and the damage to everything growing there… I don’t know about people.

The last time we had legitimate snow was December 20. For a while that was fine because temps stayed below freezing, but now? Every day seeks to imitate spring and hits the 40 F/4 C or above.

It’s all worse because the end of 2019 was very exciting with shows, and readings, and radio appearances. 2019 had its problems, but it was an exceedingly productive year for me as a writer. The thing is, I like to write, but I don’t have a story. I’ve often thought that the times Hemingway didn’t have a story were the times that depressed him and he regarded the blank page as the “white bull.” It must have been hard on him with publishers waiting for a manuscript and sitting there with nothing to say. The uninitiated believe that writers are subject to depression because they write. No. It’s NOT writing that’s depressing.

And money. Prices on things go up all the time and I am, right now, trying very hard to pay off debt rather than incurring more.

Anyway, I’m thinking that this coming week I might just take Bella up to Wolf Creek Ski Area where there is a X-country area and ski as long as I can. Wolf Creek ALWAYS has the most snow of any ski area in Colorado. It has a 75 inch base last time I checked and the X-country ski area is groomed. I just hope I can ski long/far enough to make it worth the trip. I’m also a little worried about the “take a friend” warning. I don’t have one. My outdoor friends are four-legged. Bear has to be leashed. I have yet to figure out how to ski with a leashed dog.

Skied Again

Some people don’t consider Cross Country skiing, also known as Nordic skiing, to be skiing. That’s OK with me. I’ve seen guys strap skins on their down hill skis, climb up a mountain, take off the skins and ski down, and I mean a big mountain. That was 30+ years ago and now the two sports have moved closer together. I know that from the skis I just bought. Like downhill skis, they are “cut in” on the sides and they are comparatively short. They are different, as I’m learning from taking them out, twice now. I can tell from the few little knolls I’ve skied down that they would really like more hills than my golf course offers, but I had to tell them, “Guys, listen. I don’t really remember how to turn.”

“Sure you do,” they said, “just keep at it.”

They’re probably right.

Maybe what I should worry about is having conversations with my skis.

I had the golf-course to myself. Someone was there this morning — the skater guy, I think, from the tracks. In the meantime — night before last — we had a sweet fluff of light snow. It was followed by a warm temps (40 F/4C) yesterday and a bitter wind, bitter enough to make slanted icicles as the day cooled and the melted snow on the roof-lines froze.

I knew this morning I wanted to get out there, but I waited to see what was going to happen with the temperature. If it got to freezing — or a little above, I would go. I knew there would be a crust of ice under drifts, and in shady spots, it was kind of icy, but, overall, I’ve skied on much worse.

I fell — that’s the best thing that happened. I found out that I can get up from a fall and how I would do it. There are a couple of positions I’m not supposed to get myself into, and one of them could be the result of getting up from a fall. It was wonderful to know I can get up.

It was a dazzling blue-sky day. Not many animal tracks and no sign of “my” deer, so I didn’t feel so guilty about having walked the dogs at the high school before going out to “our” place.

Happy Day!!!

Monday I couldn’t stand it any more. I saw people X-country skiing on my golf course when Dusty, Bear and I went for Dr. Zhivagoesque walk on Sunday. So, I drove to Alamosa and went into the store I have avoided since I moved here, Kristi Mountain Sports. I knew the store would be wonderful (it is), but I have just felt like an old crippled up lady who had no business in a store like that.

I went in. The kid at the counter asked if he could help. I said, “I need cross country skis and boots. I just can’t stand it any more.”

“Ready for new equipment, huh?”

I heard that in a lot of different ways but I thought, “I got the important new equipment. Now I want to use it,” thinking of my hip joint.

“Yeah.”

“Let me find someone who knows more than I do.”

“OK.”

Another kid came out and damn, he spoke my language. I’ve lived a really long time without anyone speaking that vernacular of my language. He set me up with just what I wanted. I left it there for him to put on the bindings and tune the skis. They didn’t even ask for a down payment. I got a very good deal on the boots. ❤

The next morning, a frost in the air,, hoarfrost on the trees, beautiful blue sky low fog morning with occasional blusters of snow flurries, I returned and picked up my skis. They were almost the same price as my tax refund will be. “It was meant to be,” said the girl who helped me when I told her that.

But then I didn’t ski. For two days I’ve had the skis and didn’t ski. I tried to figure that out and it hit me this afternoon when I was walking Bear and Dusty. I was afraid I wouldn’t know how any more. I am no longer afraid of falling. I’ve fallen several times in the snow and gotten up. Those falls were a big clue that I should get the skis. Being able to fall and get up in snow is one of skiing’s most important skills.

This afternoon I skied for 3/4 of a mile. It was wonderful. At first I was afraid I wouldn’t figure out the bindings, but they were a cinch (ha ha), and they are great. My first few “steps” on the snow were awkward, and I nearly fell, but instincts that might have been dead after all this time kicked in, and said, “Go to the snow. Get off this beaten-down, icy shit. You’ll be fine.” That happened several times as I went around the groomed track.

It was spectacular. I loved it as much as ever. I have retained a lot of skill, and some things remain to be tested. And I live only ONE BLOCK from one of the most amazing places I’ve ever had the chance to ski. Once I get what the girl in the store called my “ski legs,” there are mountains.

The last time I cross-country skied was with my dog, Molly (Malamute/Aussie) in 2000. That’s almost 20 years ago. There was a huge dump of snow in the Laguna Mountains east of San Diego. I rented skis, ditched work, and Molly and I skied for a whole afternoon, all by ourselves, not another human in sight. It was really amazing. Today was amazing.

Cold

Years ago my ex and I went to visit my mom in Billings, Montana. That year, Billings was experiencing extreme cold — -20 F/-40F at night. That’s actually pretty close to Celsius; not much conversion needed. We had rented Cross Country skis (living in San Diego at the time) and really, really, really, really wanted to ski.

Our standards for snow and trail grooming were very low. Mine still are. When you live in a place where there is little snow, and that 30 miles away, you go ski on what you have. Montana at Christmas was always a kind of paradise for us. That very cold winter, we skied anyway, usually on a trail through the woods along the Yellowstone River. If you’re decently dressed when you X-country ski you will get warm, even when it’s very, very cold.

It was other-worldly.

When it’s that cold, flowing water — even in the process of freezing — is warmer than the air. It makes steam. The river was a mixture of ice and mist. The conditions for skiing were not great, but the experience was beautiful.

A few days later, we took our skis up to Red Lodge only to discover that in Red Lodge — just a couple thousand feet higher in elevation than Billings — the temperature was “normal” meaning in the 20s (-6 C and above). It felt balmy to us at that point. The heavy cold air was trapped by the upper warm air and couldn’t move out of the lower elevations until the weather pattern changed.

The fancy golf course at Red Lodge had been groomed and we enjoyed skiing on well-manicured deep snow in less extreme temps, but there was nothing memorable about it. The next day we returned and took our skis on a trail beside the creek that runs down from the Beartooths into Red Lodge. On the trail we saw cougar tracks and decided to go home.

I hope tomorrow I get to take my waxless X-country skis out to the golf course. I hope I am still able to do this. The temperature is supposed to be pretty chilly, 14, but a positive number. I hope Bear isn’t too hurt when I don’t take her along.

Happy New Year, everyone.