Fall is the time of year when a good friend, Virginia, occasionally asks me to accompany her to Lake Tahoe. In the past I’ve cheerfully thrown four suitcases together for the weekend trip and stayed at her luxurious home at a nearby resort called Northstar California.
Virginia’s a talented lawyer, mother, wife, and Kiwanis-member who skis, swims, hikes, golfs, does mountain biking, zip lines and ropes courses, and when back home, sings in the congregation choir, plays the piano and cooks gourmet dinners. Her New Year’s goal is to climb partly up Mt. Everest and then serve an Asian-fusion lunch. In my opinion she could do a lot more, but she claims she has one bad knee.
I used to be an athlete, as shown by with my 50-yard dash championship in elementary school, my summer camp plaque as one of the best all-around athletes, and the nickname “21-Point Trudi” for serving throughout an entire game of volleyball. Nevertheless, because I am Virginia’s guest, I have to feign an impressive hobble and lack of stamina from a collection of ailments I conjured up from Merck’s Manual: hip osteoarthritis, a trick knee, ringworm, geographic tongue, IBS, peanut allergy, dropsy, vapours, and flaring adult acne. I could easily best Virginia in all her resort-related skills, but out of my desire not to humiliate her, I’ve downplayed my athleticism.
I had this figured out the first time I went with her to Northstar where she walked me around the grounds of the resort, including the small thriving village reminiscent of Aspen, Colorado. (I’ve never been to Aspen, but Northstar looks like a movie studio’s reproduction of Aspen. This is all I have to say about reproduction.).
Virginia stopped once on our walk to look up longingly at the ropes course, then realizing what she thought were my physical limitations, moved on to an activity she was certain I can do: Lifting weighty spoonfuls of a hot fudge sundae.
One year she insisted encouragingly that we try the outdoor exercise course, following a path to exercises 1 through 20, short destinations that required sitting on sliver-ridden tree trunks, then stretching, standing, twisting, rolling into a ball and bouncing ourselves down the path. Virginia could dart from exercise to exercise. She’d pause to look back at me sympathetically while I feigned whole-body malfunction, including my tongue, which I stuck out sideways. I am certain I looked like a poster-child for any malady.
Finally Virginia figured the best she could do was take me swimming. I didn’t have to fake any illnesses or injuries for this. I watched her swim vigorously in the shallow lap lane next to me, and when she wasn’t looking, I took intermittent running leaps in the water to keep up with her. When she finally finished her laps, I paddled close-by, feigning exhaustion. She said she was impressed by how hard I’d swam, despite my physical limitations.
I had a sudden prickling of conscience. I wondered if prickling was a symptom of a real peanut allergy.
Fortunately, Virginia never invites me to Northstar during winter since I’ve convinced her of my disabilities and she figures I couldn’t possibly ski. She’s right, but not for the reasons she thinks: Snow skiing was one of the only sports I couldn’t master.
Growing up in Portland, I used to see kids at high school suddenly show up with crutches, casts, and canes, proudly reporting they’d earned their injuries by skiing at Mt. Hood.
I was savvy enough to avoid the same outcome by sticking to summer sports. However, when I moved for a time to Denver, I feared I wouldn’t fit in, so I cravenly bought ski boots (which gave me a preview of walking with arthritic knees), skis (like walking with arthritic knees, legs and feet in slow motion), warm winter underwear and a downy pink ski suit that, when I wore it, resembled astronaut Neil Armstrong taking his first small step for mankind and falling down.
While in Denver, I tried three times to ski after exhausting several instructors, including a bunny ski instructor. At Estes Park aka Hidden Springs Ski resort, I went for my first run not realizing the ground was icy. Estes Park didn’t have chair lifts, just t-bars or rope tow that I timidly approached, desperately clung to, frequently fell off and frantically hurled myself back onto as it (theoretically) pulled me along and up the slope. By the time I reached the top, I’d virtually walked sideways up the slope for almost the entire length of the rope tow.
For the remainder of this ski trip, I skillfully though unintentionally practiced the first ski lesson, learning to fall. I resembled a cartoon character whose feet flail and skid repeatedly, then crashes to the ground, legs splayed. I finally relaxed by telling myself that lying on the snow for protracted lengths of time is still considered skiing.
Hidden Springs would close not long after I was there, the staff and tow-rope unable to withstand any more like me. My second ski trip was to Winter Park which at least had some prestige. When I was dropped off the ski lift (another new experience), I practiced snowplough stops and occasionally stayed upright. Finally I was schussing cautiously down the beginner’s ski run until I noticed that the run– covered in wet snow– was a series of vertiginous concentric rings. All around me newbies began dropping and disappearing as I skied by. It was soon apparent to us that if we did not ski in continual circles, we would ski right off the narrow run, down off a significant cliff and, if we survived, into a forest bear’s lair where she’d be tending her cubs and unwilling to call the Ski Patrol.
Clearly I survived that run since I’m unashamedly writing about the experience. I had one additional ski trip where I skied in a blizzard or white-out conditions that descended as soon as I hit the slope (literally). I even considered tubing, but that ended when, as I began to climb up the sledding hill, I watched a series of tubers (mostly children as well as potatoes) careen into me, the human bowling pin.
All these life experiences suggest that despite my athletic prowess, I was never intended for the cold and icy. Except, perhaps, in a mocha frappaccino.