Monday, April 29, 2019

Live and Learn

Heading over Teton Pass recently in a raging snow storm, I am reminded of an earlier time coming over this same pass in 1979 as a greenhorn.  We were 21, indefatigable, indestructible east coast preppies and we were trying to make it back to Jackson Hole from Targhee during a fierce storm in my big old 1969 Country Squire Station Wagon.  ‘The Green Monster’, as we called it, was a stripped down version without the wood panels or the backwards barf seats in the rear, but it was mine, it was paid for and it was a beast.  The FM converter was blasting some bootleg Grateful Dead out of Jackson and the car was littered with beers, boots, burgers, skis, a shovel and one sleeping bag.  We may have been young and dumb ski bums but we were not stupid. 

On our first try over the pass, we stalled halfway up behind some conservative old guy in a boxy silver Volvo with New Hampshire plates who foolishly slowed and stopped when he could not see anymore.  ‘Live Free or Drive’ we yelled at him. With only rear wheel drive we could not continue the climb without good momentum, so we backed into a U-turn, getting out to push our car and help the frightened New Englander do the same, and we headed back down in defeat towards the calm flats near Victor and Driggs, Idaho.   

Not to be dismayed, at the bottom of the grade we pulled another Kojack style U-turn and headed back to the pass at full speed.  I positioned my three passengers and all our equipment in the back over the rear wheels for maximum traction.  As we came around a blind corner, we saw a guy in a bus driver’s uniform taking a pee in the roadside snowbank.  WTF we thought, before it was a thing.  When we came around the next corner, we found his bus stuck in the snowbank on the right side of the road with all its passengers milling about helplessly in the road and on the shoulder.  Knowing we could not stop I started beeping the horn wildly and waving frantically as they scrambled and jumped into the safety of the snowbank.   

My buddies were howling in the back, praying and pushing down with all their weight on the spinning rear wheels.  We barely made it over the Teton pass successfully on that second try and coasted sown past the Glory chute and into the Jackson Motel-6 ($13.99?) just in time for happy hour and Gong Show reruns.  Persistence pays.  Youth is not wasted on the young, it is a prerequisite.  

Now I’m heading north to Montana for another ski trip in a modern, four-wheel-drive German sedan. I feel that I have come a long way in 40 years of driving and skiing and living in the north, snow country.  The road is bad but the car is good and I make my way up and down Teton pass towards Driggs.  I am passed only by local contractors with super beefy, studded Wyoming snow tires that grip and rip the ice.  Those guys aren’t kidding.

The snowplow drivers are out closing roads in the Teton River valley, with big gates at critical intersections, but they allow me thru with a wink and a nod, ‘at my own risk’.  I make my way towards Henrys Fork, Island Park and Montana, but the last cop in Ashton Idaho says the road is closed over the top and there is no way I’m going up.  So, I double back to Rexburg to hit the Freeway, the only way north for a hundred miles.   The freeway is open with a one lane ice rink heading north into the dark winter weather and people are cowardly bailing off the exits and accidentally into the center divider, likes rats from a burning ship.  After a while I am all alone, heading north into the mouth of the beast storm.

The Freeway is sketchy, at best, with blowing ground-snow and white-out conditions.  Visibility is 50 feet and at times going over the Mon-Ida pass I am completely blinded by a full face-shot, for what seems like 5-10 seconds.  None-the-less when I look down at the speedometer, I am going 60 mph along with a white knuckle trucker that are foolishly following me.  It is Montana after all, where the speed limit is -  ‘Safe and Prudent’.  What does that Mean?

It is high stress driving and I have to pee like a racehorse, but I don’t dare slow or stop at the exit or on the soft shoulder.  I soldier on, for what seems like hours,  until somewhere near Lima Montana, I pop out of the cloud cover and the snow slows to a mere blizzard.  I can see mountains and blue skies and a few other cars and I know that I have been miraculously delivered, once more.  I stop to pee and stretch and count my lucky stars.  I make my way towards civilization and a friend’s house for a weekend skiing the frigid ma and pa resorts of Montana.  Persistence pays off again.  Live and learn.  Or not.

Thursday, January 31, 2019


After another great powder day skiing in Utah’s Wasatch mountains, I was soaking in my backyard hot tub enjoying the orange-pink alpenglow hues on the surrounding hills. I had spent the day charging ahead of the maddening crowd with good friends, outflanking the competition, seeking untracked runs while searching and destroying pockets of pow.  My soaking was a fitting respite from the dog-eat-dog, survival of the fittest war that is the new age, powder day at our crowded, corporate ski resorts.  I was complacent after enjoying some of my favorite old haunts and ski lines by thinking outside the box and trying new and different strategies for survival and optimization.  Zig when they zag.  Evolve or lose. 

My brand new puppy Eva was out in the backyard with me, exploring the trenches I had stomped for her in the virgin snow.  A soft, black cattle dog nearly 8 weeks old and only two days removed from her mother, siblings and heated barn bedding, she knows only snow and has never seen or smelled the ground.  She is fascinated with our us, our house and with the heat that comes up magically from a vent in the floor. 

As she snuggled the pure powder and pounced on imaginary leaves and mice, I saw her look up quizzically with a flake frosted face and follow a shape across the evening sky.  I looked up as well and saw our local Barn Owl glide by, with his silent four-foot wing span fully extended and his head down, not twenty feet off the ground, considering and calculating.  I jumped from the tub, in all my naked-isity, and scooped up young Eva from the fresh, white snow.  I stashed her quickly back into the safe warm house.  She needed more time to grow and learn, experience and analyze this Darwinian world.  We will both live and learn and evolve to see another powder day. 

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Winter Renegade

I ran in slow motion, as if in a dream or a nightmare, through the deep and dirty, uneven snow piles stacked up by the plows on the side of the road the stormy night before.  My frozen, wet galoshes felt like concrete blocks and I could hardly lift each foot off the ground as a mad man chased me down for pelting his car.  My two pre-teen, 1960’s compatriots, Michael Powers and Kenny Boufart, scattered in opposite directions, abandoning each other quicker than Judas Iscariot.  Mike was quiet, funny, and loved BB-guns and the Beatles while Ken was older, stronger and a lady’s man.  Partners in crime but not in punishment, it was universally understood; each man for himself. 

I looked over my shoulder and saw the irate motorist gaining on me in his pinstripe suit with a wide red power tie and slick Italian loafers, his car door flung open out on highway 31.  He was yelling something about ‘getting you god damn kids’.  Kenny headed upstream against traffic, recklessly on the muddy shoulder while Michael headed downstream quickly with it.  I chose the high road, up and over the artic roadside mounds, heading towards the familiar backyards and open lands I knew so well. 

Seconds before we three amigos were engaged in a harmless past time of throwing snowballs at the big panel trucks rolling by in the dirty Levittown alpenglow of the suburban sunset.  The thick east coast snow packed down into hard and dense snowballs, too hard to throw at people or cars but perfect for making a beautiful thud when they hit the hollow trucks in the evening rush hour.  A high, hard fastball got away from me and hit a passing black Cadillac Coup-de Ville with red interior, a classic Mafia type sedan in our young minds.  The surprised Wise Guy slammed on the brakes and jumped out of the car before I even knew what had happened.  My friends and I exchanged surprised glances at each other and instantly had the same thought.  Run!!!

I made it around to the first corner house, Lenny Arkinore’s.  He was a weird skinny kid with greasy hair, dandruff and flakey skin, a mean mother with no husband and a barky dog called Tennessee Jed.  The low front fence was scalable but when I tried to jump over it I missed heavy and low and it hit me at the waist as I tumbled over it into the snow.  Jed was on me instantly and the irate Henchman was not far behind.  I jumped up but the big Goodfella reached over the fence and grabbed me by the collar, my scarf and the scruff of my neck.  I wiggled and shook wildly, spun around and dropped to the ground, crazily freeing myself from the man’s grip of everything but my scarf, which I abandoned with no remorse and headed across the yard with Jed nipping at my heals.  I had obeyed he first rule of a street fight:  Go nuts early. 

Another fence scaled, and I was in Bobby Bacarella’s back yard slipping around the covered underground pool and behind the pool house.  Bobby was younger but was a good athlete and a funny-cool kid with a ‘built-in’ pool so we hung out occasionally, especially in the summer.  No one was home so I went undetected as I stealthfully skirted the property perimeter like the two-bit outlaw I thought I was.  My last glimpse behind me revealed the mad man standing there hopelessly holding my scarf and looking at Jed and all the backyard fences.  Michael and Kenny were nowhere in sight, safe due to my distraction. 

I slipped thru the last slatted fence and into the open field behind the Mandra’s small farm stand.  They were the last rural holdout in this land of suburban sprawl.  They had goats, chickens and an old barn complete with a crazy old Aqualung type farmhand and a hoot-owl.  With my hands on my knees I caught my breath and contemplated my fate.  With some remorse I understood the man’s startled rage but never expected him to chase me down or rag-doll me on the fence like some Dickens Trollop.  I was just 11, a kid, having some fun.  Couldn’t anyone take a joke anymore. 

I shook it off but started to chill down a bit after running and sweating in the damp twilight cold.  I walked down the thin snow covered farm road rustling out a small white rabbit and slipped into the grammar school field behind my house.  I scaled the last fence into my own back yard where, through the dark play gym and monkey-bars, I saw my mother working at the kitchen window.  She was making dinner in our small and cozy, steamy-warm, middle class Irish home with a cigarette between her lips and a drink at her side, in her pearls, grey pants suit and rubber kitchen gloves. 

I burst through the backdoor onto the plastic mat set up for snowy boots and began pealing the wet layers, dropping hats, mittens and boots to the floor.  I jostled my kid sister in her baby-jumper roller-chair as my Chinese Pug dog named Ling-Ding clawed, licked and sniffed me like a long lost friend.

“How was your day”, my mom asked.
“Fine” I said. 
“What did you do” she countered.
 “Nothing” I admitted.    

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

On the Other Hand

I was skiing some pow bumps in the woods with a friend yesterday and as I turned over an innocuous rise, I landed a loaded ski on a rock on the back side.  It tossed me steeply and quickly downhill, on to the back of my head and helmet and I heard a crunch in my neck on another rock as I let out a low groan. I thought 'this is what its like to break your neck'.

I sat there for a bit and my trusty friend Paul came up and asked me if I was OK.  “I’m not sure”, I thought, “I’m too old for this shit”.  I could move my head around gingerly, so my neck wasn’t broken, and It didn’t feel like a concussion, so we sat there for a minute and got it together slowly.  “I’m fine.”

As we skied back to our band of brothers, I felt the stretching soreness down my back and in my chest, into my lungs and heart.  I skied cautiously and conservatively for the rest of the day.  I could not fly.  I could not swoop.  I feel better today after a night of icing and a morning of heat, but a seminal feeling remains in the back of my mind.  “Don’t get cocky kid.”