Monday, January 28, 2008

It's All Fun and Games...

Our anniversary snowboarding trip last week went really well. Until it didn't. For the past two years, Jess has been trying to tell me that she has bad luck. And it's not that I didn't believe her, so much as I thought that maybe my life-long good luck could win out. But last year wasn't exactly an example of my rosy, stress free life so I guess I should have taken the hint.

But let's start with the good stuff.

Early Wednesday morning, we packed up all our gear and headed east into the sunrise. The drive was picturesque, the kind of post-card living one is privileged to get used to living in the the Pacific Northwest. As we left the little town of Sandy, we were surrounded by a dense morning fog that ended abruptly a few minutes later. It literally looked like we came out of a weather-made tunnel. Jess managed to capture some of the effect with some quick camera work.

Coming out of the Fog

The road sign on the way up advised carrying chains, but didn't mandate them. The roads were fairly decent, packed snow, but not icy. We wound our way up behind several large buses. We were shooting for a 10am lesson, but that would've required getting up at 5:00am.

We arrived at 9:50 and spent the next 90 minutes in various lines, behind several bus loads of Adventists on a group trip who arrived just ahead of us. Jess wasted no opportunity to comment on the fact that crowds such as the ones we were caught up in are a major reason why she could never seriously get into snowboarding. I'm used to her low tolerance for crowds and mostly ignored the griping. Fun awaited.

By the time we were got our boards and boots and found a locker for our stuff, it was almost lunch time. The next lesson wasn't till 1:00 so we decided to eat before hand. Also, we were already dehydrated and my elevation headache was making itself felt. We ate garden burgers in the cafeteria while we watched people come down the last insanely steep hill to the main lifts. I remembered well inching my way down that hill after a coworker stranded me at the top of the mountain with all of 5 minutes of 'instructions.'

After lunch we still had an hour to kill. "Come on, let's go up," I said. From the look on her face, Jess would've been content to hang out inside, but she agreed. I felt it was time to bring on the fun. I remembered how to strap my board on and how to skate with one leg strapped in. It was, as they say, all downhill from there.

I managed to exit the lift without too much trouble, but as soon as I was strapped in, I pretty much fell my way down the bunny hill. At one point, I got going too fast. I knew I didn't want to catch my toe edge and face plant at that speed but that led to overcompensating in the other direction, which put me flat on my back. Hard. I lay there for a moment while cartoon birds tweeted around my head. Well, at least my helmet had just paid for itself.

I was too busy falling to see Jess get down the hill, but it seemed to go a lot better for her. "I think I need a lesson," I said when we reached the bottom. My butt was really hurting and the slap to the head did not help my altitude headache one bit. I kept thinking if I could just take my laptop case (made of memory foam) and stick it down my pants, that would be so awesome. (I learned later, that someone has already thought of this, and yes, I went straight out and bought a pair!)

We made our way over to the lesson meet-up area. We had noticed throughout the morning that there didn't seem to be too many friendly people working at Mt Hood Meadows. They weren't exactly unfriendly but they weren't what you'd call welcoming either. This trend continued as I waited in the lesson area and the instructor standing two feet away and facing me ignored me steadily while talking to the two men beside me.

Fortunately, he was not to be our guide for the day. A woman named Rebecca turned out to be saddled with the newbies today. We were in the first timers group. Jess could've moved up, but didn't want to abandon me. She's sweet like that.

Rebecca collected all our vouchers and questioned us to see what our experience was. "Have you ever snowboarded before?" she asked me.

"Successfully?" I responded.

"Say no more," she said.

2008_0116_007_snowboarding.jpgAfter waiting for some late comers, we finally got going. She spent some time talking about the equipment, how to maneuver on and off the lift etc and then the magic moment came and we headed to the lift. As students in ski/board school, we got a special lift line that let us cut in front of everyone else.

When we got to the top, we all clustered together out of the way. Rebecca went over strapping in and then she did the single most helpful thing of the day. She talked us through the mechanics of controlling your speed and steering but then she demonstrated as well, using her hands to illustrate what her feet were doing. It was like being able to watch the rudder of a ship underwater and see exactly which movements made what turns. Light bulbs went off all over the place over my head.

It's worth noting that I didn't have another hard fall for the rest of the day and my speed didn't get out of control anymore.

The day pretty much continued in the same pattern. She would demo a technique and then we would meet up halfway down the hill. Jess already knew this stuff of course and I felt like I had discovered the keys to the kingdom. The two of us were always way ahead of the nine others in our class, and spent a lot of time waiting for them to reach the rendezvous points.

By the time our lesson ended, Jess and I were working on something called 'linking our J turns,' which are the precursor to real turning (AKA carving) down the mountain.

We took a break to get some water (I'm definitely bringing my camelbak next time) and have a snack before going back out to keep practicing.

2008_0116_015_snowboarding.jpgWe kept at it until the sun set and we got cold. Then we drove back down to the Resort at the Mountain in Welches, where we enjoyed a completely swank fireside lodge with kitchenette. We had pre-made dinner of fried rice and a few other things which was maybe the most brilliant suggestion ever (made by Jess of course). We were so sore we could barely walk, and hauling our stuff up the stairs was a bit of a trial. I expected my butt to hurt (and it did not disappoint), but I wasn't prepared for the throb in my lower quads, no doubt from trying to squat down and stay on the right edge all day.

Long showers and lots of Arnica later, we settled into the king sized bed for the night with some DVDs and prepared to abuse ourselves some more the next day.

Day Two

We were up bright and early, not wanting to spend our whole morning in lines again. We got to Meadows at 9:00am and there were no bus loads of Adventists or anyone else so we walked right through all the rental lines and reported for our lesson at 9:50am.

We decided to upgrade to "Green" status, which supposedly meant that you were comfortable on Green Diamond areas of the mountain. I'm not sure that was the case, but we were definitely beyond the first timer class.

As luck would have it, we had our instructor, who's name was Nate, all to ourselves. Nate turned out to be the second nice staff person we'd met. Rebecca gave us a great review at the lesson meet up so we didn't dally, but headed right to the lift.

2008_0117_004_snowboarding.jpgThe day was clear, gorgeous and warm and Nate put us right to work. My big goal for the day was not to fall hard on my butt because it was wickedly sore from the day before and the snow was packed down hard and fast. We started out reviewing the linking turns we'd worked on the day before for a couple of runs. The first trip down went OK, but on the second run I got going too fast again and did my classic butt/head plant. My goggles slanted sideways off my face from the impact, and my helmet's value went up another infinite amount.

Nate and Jess came to a stop just above me. The fall must have looked bad because they both seemed really concerned. "Are you OK?" asked Nate.

"Oh yeah, that's just how I like to start the day," I joked, to try to put them at ease. I actually wasn't hurting as much as I did the first time. Maybe my butt was too numb already. In any case, I was able to get up and finish the run with no problem.

We went up again and Nate wanted us to try putting our J turns together into actual back and forth turns, or carving down the mountain. He kept trying to explain how we could make very wide swaths across the hill by sitting on our heel edge a certain amount. "You're just going to have to get it once to see what I mean," he told us.

2008_0116_010_snowboarding.jpgSo with that, Jess started off, and a second later, I went after her. Unfortunately, she had started a little ways up the hill from me, and our wide, crossing trajectories were now carrying us straight towards each other in an X formation. I tried to make a sharp left that would bring me parallel instead of across, but didn't quite make it. We didn't collide, but I went by just in front of her and she brushed the back of my board. We both went down. We were going pretty slowly when it happened and my fall wasn't bad. But as I lay on my back, I could hear Jess yelling. She has a much higher pain tolerance than I do, so when the yelling didn't stop and I flipped over and saw her holding her wrist up in the air as still as possible, I knew in my gut that our day was over.

Nate slide to a stop close by and I crawled up to where she was and convinced her to let me unstrap her board. We got her sitting up and took off her mitten and put some icy snow on her wrist. (Damn snow--if it had only been softer---this was the first of a never ending series of 'if-onlys' my brain would rotate for the foreseeable future: if only I'd bought her a pair of the small wrist guards that fit under her mittens; If only I'd started a few seconds later; if only I'd turned faster--you get the idea).

Nate called ski patrol and even though we were halfway down the bunny hill in sight of the clinic, the patrolman put her in the sled and took off with her. Nate took care of her board and I strapped mine back on (I had taken if off while we waited) to board down the rest of the way. The clinic was across the hill from where we were and, in a final twist of irony, I figured out what Nate meant about the heel edge and successfully traversed the hill instead of going straight down.

By the time we de-boarded and got to the clinic, Jess had her own bed next to a woman who was in truly bad shape from a ski accident. They were having trouble finding her husband. Apparently it had been a while but, she said, he wasn't the type to read the signs posted at all the lifts advising him to get the hell down the mountain and check on his wife.

They took an X-Ray on site, and as soon as the pictures came up, the nurse offered Jess some Vicodin. "I'm afraid you've broken your wrist honey," she said.

So this is what she means when she said she has bad luck...

Jess was holding up pretty well, all things considered but I could tell she was in a lot of pain. Not only was our day over, so were most of our plans for the next six months. She wouldn't be able to work for a while (Hi, IV nurse here, I usually do this with my right, but we'll just see how it goes...). She can get short term disability, but first they'd make her eat up every bit of vacation/sick time (it's all combined). There went our plans to visit her friends in Colorado for some cross country ski fun in March (or any cross country skiing close to home for the rest of the season). There went our plans to do the Oregon or Washington bike tour this summer (no vacation time). The suckage just seemed to go on and on, and the long weeks of house chores and care taking I was looking at was the very least of it.

Fortunately, (or not, since it comes from too much experience), if there's one thing Jess is good at, it's handling adversity. Minor annoyances like getting cut off in traffic, or me forgetting to change the toilet paper drive her crazy. But give her real challenge and she shines. This makes her an excellent person to have around say, when your mom is dying. It also means that, aside from a few moments of understandable frustration, she's a good patient who's really easy to take care of. We've settled into a nice routine, I make the meals and tie her shoes and write things down and she does whatever she can, which includes more things every day.

In some ways I feel like I'm living two lives (three if you count the fact that I still need to deal with my mom's house), but this is a risk we both took when we went up to the mountain. I've learned my lesson about her luck. She's retiring from all downhill sports (she broke a leg skiing at 16, which ended that sport), and I don't think she'll be needing a mountain bike either...

Despite everything, I'm not quite ready to give up on the sport. Aside from the fact that I'm hoping my own luck will hold out, I felt like I was making good progress and could probably get the hang of it in a few more sessions. Besides, I already bought the wrist guards, helmet and now, the padded shorts. We bought a package of three lessons and got vouchers for our ruined day, so there's still two lessons left that I can use anytime this season. Rentals and all-mountain passes included. Now all I need is a buddy who's crazy enough to join me.

Any takers?


Eris said...

I'll pass but poor Jess. As they say here, bless her heart!!

Happy Anniversary too!

Yonni said...

Two years? Didn't you go on your first date when I was there visiting Eris? That's crazy! But in a totally awesome way.

Happy anniversary (and feel better, Jess)!

Anonymous said...

I'm so sorry to read about Jess's injury. Damn! I broke my wrist snowboarding about 5 years ago and had to have three pins put in it to put it back together again ... so I feel Jess's pain! Tell her to hang in there. And, in a related note, wrist guards rule. So do helmets.

I'm glad you aren't ready to abandon the snowboard yet--it took me three days of riding before I could link a turn. But after that, it's pure bliss. Broken wrists aside.