Camp IV, Part II
Updated: May 22
The heroes of the story, Tami & Jeff...
"I'll meet you there!"
"No-- I'll pick you up!", Jeff one-bettered me.
The next day, "Window Wednesday"...
"How exactly were you gonna gather all your ski stuff and load it in your car???"
"I was gonna start at 5 in the morning! Where there's a will, there's a way!" (long boisterous, loud laugh...)
And so our day together began. "Throw in the chair from the porch," I requested. (I've become quite adept at making commands sound like requests.) Jeff did in minutes what would have taken me hours. Tami would meet us at the hill. We were off...
As we drove, I bounced my plan off Jeff. I'd scouted the area to find the border between the parking lot and the snow with the most gradual transition. Tami and Jeff would get my feet into my boots as I sat in the chair, which would either be on the snow or pavement-- game time decision. We talked through the steps I'd have to "pass" before even thinking about getting on the chairlift. And again, we reiterated our option to abort at any point in the process if either one of us felt too much discomfort with the preliminary tests. Our virtual rehearsal was interrupted by the appearance of a sign-- Nashoba Valley Ski Area.
Like performers arriving at the theatre well before the curtain opens, we'd arrived over an hour before the lifts would open. As I'd choreographed, we bypassed the lodge and continued to the far end of the parking lot. With energy conservation critical to a safe and valiant attempt, I couldn't afford to waste my energy traipsing in and out of the base lodge. We unpacked Jeff's Element, which means I sat in the car and Tami and Jeff set up camp. In minutes, they had me in the chair, removed my shoes, put my boots on, and calmly prepared me for our expedition.
My boisterous laughter hid my trepidation.
The moment was at hand. Boots on, my handlers helped me stand and grab my ATW (All-Terrain Walker), which they'd placed perfectly in front of me. As they guided me onto the snow, I felt like I was wearing those heavy-weight shoes divers wear in the Navy, which weigh a million pounds (approximately). We moved in synch, a few inches at a time. The chair magically appeared just behind me. My right ski was placed next to my right foot, then the left. "We" stood; Tami placed my right boot into the binding's toe-piece: I clicked in. There is nothing like that sound! My face lit up as I absorbed the moment. I was ready for the first test-- could I use my poles to propel myself forward?
My poles tremored and wobbled as I corralled all my strength to push forward. First, a couple inches. Then a few more. "Nice, Pete," Jeff encouraged as I volleyed back and forth between "I can't do this" and "yes, I can do this!". His words of belief and support came when I needed them most. Before long, I'd covered about ten feet! First test: Pass.
Next up: could I turn around?
Pass. Then...as I started to push myself back to the chair to rest, something momentous happened. Care to guess? See if you can spot the moment in this clip:
There is nothing like the feeling of gliding on a pair of skis. At that moment, embers became a flame, my eyes sparkling. I was learning something new, yet I was activating a simmering part of my soul that could never die.
On to my foray with the chairlift. As I've indicated, I was most worried about unloading from the lift, the unknown gradient of the off-ramp, and my now familiar, always worsening struggle to stand from a sitting position. But before I get to that, I have to mention the simple magic of riding on a chairlift. On the chairlift, surrounded by nature's wondrous, wintry bounty, is there anything better than that free, lofty feeling of floating above the snow? I love the slow, old double chairlifts, (or single, Mad River!). I'll take that any day over the 8-person, ergonomic, heated, bubbled, business-class (yes, it's a thing!) contraptions of the current day. A 360 degree rotating gondola to ensure that no-one misses a view!? Seriously? There is something about feeling the wind and the elements on my face; being part of the winter landscape...blending in. But my favorite was Mt. Cranmore's skimobile, the ultimate ski lift indulgence: if that wasn't ski lift heaven, I don't know what was!
Back to the moment at hand. We approached the chairlift, which the attendant slowed for me. I shuffled my way into place. Jeff joined me, we lifted off and began to soar...
By the fourth tower, we reviewed-- once again-- the first and most tenuous unload. Jeff had the lift attendant slow the chair, giving me more time to negotiate my exit. (We learned that this was a flaw in the process; normal speed was better.)
The challenge of unloading was due to a confluence of factors: the unresponsiveness of my muscles when I send them a message to activate, weakness in my legs, imbalance, and my inability to flex the boot-cuff forward, all of which was exacerbated by fear. The result as I get off the chair is a low, unbalanced (obvi) chair-like position with my weight on my heels, and unable to do anything about it! With every ounce of strength I could muster, I willed myself down the ramp and came to a stop.
After a momentary celebration-- and every destination I reach safely these days is cause for celebration-- I took a deep breath. With Tami on my left and Jeff to my right, they tightened my boot buckles and guided my gloves into the pole straps. I was ready. Tami and Jeff must have felt like parents about to let go of a child in the water for the first time; a combination of composed hope and sudden panic!
I pushed off. Again, that gliding sensation overtook every ounce of my body. I slightly shifted my weight to the left ski...then to the right; the left then the right again. A small-radius turn to the right...then to the left...a pole plant, and another...a double pole plant-- throwback! My laughter flash-flooded the mountain (ok, hill). After a few more elation-filled turns, I willed myself to some sort of p r o l o n g e d hockey stop.
Instantly, my squad was at my side. Our "proof-of-concept" had been a success! Another momentary celebration, and I was off again. Telling myself to relax as my skis whirred through the forgiving, velvety snow, I linked turn after turn, trying to make each one better than the last, luxuriating in each, intoxicating moment. Another stop, another regrouping, another push. Reaching the bottom, I marveled at my good fortune. Tami placed the chair directly behind me. "Have a seat!"
And so it went, run after glorious run on a sun-drenched day in early March, 2022. I'd rest after each run, sometimes sending Tami and Jeff to explore Nashoba's expert terrain; after which they'd collect me for yet another majestic run. With each one, I tried to find the seam between measured challenge and reckless abandon, between too little and too much-- the "just-enough" line. Seven runs in all, each of 240 vertical feet. Tami and Jeff removed my boots, slipped on my sneakers, and it was on to al fresco Après ski, which we followed-up with "Après Après" at the Outlook!
Skiing that day was like meeting a new friend, yet like reconnecting with a lifelong best friend-- one who will always be there with me, regardless of whether or not we ever again share the same physical space.
Words cannot express my eternal gratitude to Tami and Jeff for their selfless gift to me, any more than my experience that day can be captured in vertical feet. I am forever grateful to you, Tami and Jeff, for helping me make the attempt to ski, for being with me regardless of the outcome, for bearing witness to my journey...for helping me say 'YES' to living.
BLACK LIVES MATTER
STOP ASIAN HATE
As I considered how to recount this story, I came across an informative article written by Emily Bartlett, wherein she describes eight ways to tell a story. To illustrate each technique, she provides an example of a speech where the storyteller used the technique. I clicked through to only one such example, which happened to use 'the mountain' technique. The speaker, Aimee Mullins, spoke about 'The Opportunity of Adversity.' Aimee was born with a condition that resulted in the amputation of both her lower legs. Parts of her TED Talk brought me to tears. I can only hope to someday be on the mountain that she has crested. Listen. Be inspired.