Mountain people are odd creatures. In the heat of summer, we dream of knee-deep powder, followed by an evening near a warm cookstove, with a book and a beverage in a cabin tucked-in below treeline.
But now in deepest, darkest winter, the dreaming reverses.
I just hobbled outside the house here in Boulder to toss the ball for Willy the dog. Without bending my braced left leg, I lean on a walking stick, push the left leg way outboard (but still straight) and squat on my right leg to grab the tennis ball off the ground. Then I toss it again and a black blur of dog hair streaks down the cul-de-sac to leap in the air, mouthing the ball on the second bounce.
It’s starting to snow, that dry, light stuff that streams over your chest and face freezing a huge smile in place as you streak downhill making wide sweeping turns.
Not this season.
I ruptured my left quad trail running at dusk on New Year’s Eve when I should have been inside spooling up for the most-widespread drunk-driving evening of the year. Not to make a point of it, but my leg didn’t work all that well with the quad detached from my knee. Still doesn’t. The surgeon said I should be out of the brace after six weeks and maybe trail running again in six months.
The track, backcountry and downhill skis are racked for the season. I’m dreaming of summer and road biking, trail running and sailing.
Willy is back with his ball, and now flying off again in pursuit.
It’s ten in the morning and we are headed up to Carter Lake. Three old friends trade off the lead while we talk of work, mates, cycling and where we’d like to ride our bikes if we had a week or two. The pace is moderate, the air temperature in the 70s and there is little wind. As we pedal north, we can see Longs Peak off to the left and then the smell of first-cut hay washes over us. It’s a grassy, sweet clover smell that reminds us of places we haven’t been for a long while and other friends we shared this smell with who are now long gone.
Willy returns, drops the ball ten feet away and pushes it with his nose in my direction. He thinks that’s cute.
It’s one in the afternoon just above Lake Isabelle on the way up to Pawnee Pass. In the last hour, a thunderboomer blew through. I huddle under a space blanket making deals with God about never doing this again. Eventually the wind drops and the rain and hail slow up. I’m cold, shivering in fact, but will live to make another deal on another trail. I roll up the space blanket and begin to trot uphill again with thunder booming from the valley below. The air smells of electricity and something metallic. It was stupid to be caught out. I know better, but in that moment, there is no place I’d rather be.
Willy has dropped the ball right at my feet and is looking at me, his head turned a little sideways with that quizzical look. “Are you still with me here?”
The skipper mentions that it must be five o’clock somewhere as he cracks open a beer. We are sailing downwind in the BVIs on an old 52-foot sloop. The sails are set wing and wing, with the jib all the way out on one side of the boat and the main, which is attached to the huge boom, all the way out on the other side. With no warning, we hear a CRACK! The boom buckles and folds, dropping into the water, hauling some of the mainsail with it. The boat goes totally out of control, lurching in the direction of the broken boom. Instinct takes command. I haul in the jib, drop it on the deck and move forward to secure it. The skipper regains control of the boat. With the jib down and the main in the water, the boat slows. We begin work hauling in the broken boom and the main. The skipper starts the engine and turns us upwind to make the task easier. It seems like an hour has passed, but it has just been minutes.
I catch the skipper’s eyes. They are wide open and huge, almost as big as mine. I point at my eyes and we begin to laugh as hard and as loud as people do after dodging a bullet. The work continues but so does the laughter. We will sail again together another day.
It’s snowing hard now, the beginning of a decent flatland storm. Willy brings me this really slimy ball that I tuck in my pocket. I need to get in before the street gets slick. I can’t afford another fall. He runs ahead to the house as I hobble along and think of better days to come.
Alan Stark is a senior correspondent for Mountain Gazette, a member of Bryan Mountain Nordic Ski Patrol and publisher emeritus of Colorado Mountain Club Press.