Back a thousand years ago, my good friend Mike whom I went to Fordham with, had the idea that we should go on a skiing trip. Whatever possessed him to come up with that idea is lost to history. He at least had had some experience with cross country skiing, and so always ready for an adventure if not a challenge, we decided that is where we would start. The mountains could wait.
So one bright clear cold Saturday morning we set out across the river and into northern New Jersey, our destination – Vernon Valley Great Gorge Ski Resort. It was quite the destination for New Yorkers at the time, as it was either that or heading up the Hudson River Valley to upstate New York and Connecticut. As we were beginners and not sure if the endeavor was worth a long journey, we opted for New Jersey.
When we arrived, we went to the ski rental shop and then proceeded to spend the next hour trying to figure out how to get the damn skis onto the special shoes you had to wear. Bad omen. When we finally figured out that puzzle we headed for the cross country trail. The nice thing about cross country skiing is that it at least resembles walking, or sliding if you will; you have a fair amount of control and you can go slow enough that if you do topple, you aren’t going to kill yourself (we saved that for the mountains, but more on that later).
So there we were on this quite beautiful trail that wound its way through stands of evergreens. There was a nice layer of powdery snow and we actually were doing quite well. We weren’t going to win any prizes for speed, and we started to hope we could get back to the lodge before nightfall, even though we were told the whole trail should take no more than an hour.
The other nice thing about the sport is you could actually carry on a conversation with your companion, stop to take in a view, or simply rest; all very civilized. And we met some others on the trail, most notably an elderly gentleman that saluted us with a hearty “Hiya Boys!”. We greeted him back and went on our snail’s pace way. In about ten minutes there he was again coming up behind us. We parted to let him pass, getting another “Hiya Boys”. Had he just done the whole course and was on his second lap, while we were still within sight of the lodge we had left forty minutes ago? Nah, couldn’t be; he must have taken a shorter route somewhere. We went back to plodding along, talking, starting to breathe heavily, still not gaining much ground and then…. some slushing behind us.
And again we parted. In a few moments, he was gone up ahead and lost to sight. He was skiing quite a bit faster than us, but two times, no- three times as fast?! Mike looked at me with his “What the fuck?” look and I could only shrug, as by that time I could hardly breathe, let alone talk.
This continued throughout the afternoon, with the old man lapping us a good ten or twelve times. Each time we thought we had seen the last of him……
By the fifth or sixth time, our return greeting started to sour a bit:
“Yea yea hiya yourself you sonova….”
As you can imagine this did nothing for our moods or our egos and soon our conversation took a turn.
“Stupid sport anyway”
“Damn old man, why is he so cheery?”
“I’m freaking cold now- screw this”
“Whose idea was this anyway?!”
“Let’s get outta here.”
“So help me if I see that guy one more time….”
And on it went, until finally, we were on the last few hundred yards to the end of the trail. And that is when it happened. Ice. A bit patch of it, and as slow as we were going, in a second we were going a whole lot faster. Now the thing is we only knew how to go straight ahead; no one mentioned having to make turns or anything. So I picked up speed, calling to Mike who was having his own problems. As I turned back to look ahead I saw one lone tree, standing right in my path.
Was that me screaming at myself or was that Mike?
It didn’t matter. I couldn’t turn and so prepared for impact. The tree got larger and larger as I approached heading straight for it. Then one ski went on one side of the tree; the other ski went on the other side and my body went straight down the middle into the trunk of it!
Head met tree.
Body collapsed straight back into the snow.
I stared up at the blue sky, feeling a warm ooze start to make its way down my forehead.
There was a vague blur to my left; Mike continuing on his way to God knows where, he not having the luxury of a tree to stop him. Perpetual motion, man.
We tried not to look too beaten up when we returned the skis and took seats at the lodge bar though it was hard to hide the huge bump steadily growing on my forehead, the sprigs of evergreen sticking out of my hair, and the trail of dried blood down my face.
“Well that was fun,” Mike said, and I just looked at him.
“Well it was funny anyway” he continued, and thinking back it was true – we must have looked pretty silly shouting to each other, unable to stop!
“You know what we should do?” he asked after taking a sip of his beer.
“What’s that Ollie?” I answered though I knew what he was going to say.
“We should come back and go downhill skiing; I bet we will be better at that”.
Well, of course, I knew that made no sense at all, but I found myself nodding as I drained my glass.
There is no limit to the dumb and often hilarious, joyous and memorable things you could do when you have one really good friend to do them with.
To be continued….