This world…it’s something to wonder about, that’s for sure. We wonder what it could be, what it should be, what it will be, what it won’t be…sometimes we get so caught up in wondering what this world is coming to that we lose our sense of wonder altogether. Once in a while, you just need to escape all those ought-to-be’s and not-to-be’s and go play. Wander, discover, explore. Get lost in a little wonderland of your own.
A few weekends ago, Evan and I decided to make our own escape and head for the hills. With so much snowfall in the past few weeks, we couldn’t resist the urge to get out for a day of snow play. We loaded up the car with all the snow gear, the camping gear and the photo gear and headed north on highway 395. We always like to hit the road early so we can watch the day come alive because you never know what kind of show Dawn will put on. It was a quiet sunrise with no spectacular light show, but watching the moon set behind the snow-covered Sierra crest was cause enough to pull over and capture a few photos. It was bitter cold, so I hunkered down in the car while my hubby stood on the side of the highway freezing his fingers taking pictures. He did capture a few beauties, as he always does.
As we continued along, we could not stop admiring the snowy sight, repeatedly commenting on the last time we saw the Sierra with so much snow. I don’t think we have seen those mountains so white since the year we first moved to the area, which seems a lifetime ago. We were delighted to see our happy mountains holding the promise of finally quenching this thirsty land.
We drove north, to Rock Creek, a canyon north of Bishop, south of Mammoth Lakes on the west side of highway 395. We thought the Rock Creek Sno-Park would be a good place to give this Alpine Touring ski thing another try. Last spring, we got this idea stuck in our heads that we’d like to engage in a new winter sport. Evan did all the research. We traveled to Mammoth, we rented, we tried, we decided to buy. We asked a billion questions, we hmmmmed and haaaaaawed, we finally bit the bullet and layed out a sizable chunk of change for a brand-new set of his and her skis…and all the miscellaneous gear that goes with ’em. We were trepidatious. We oscillated between gung-ho excitement and buyer’s remorse. But, we slapped on the skins, gave it a try and we had a great time getting a feel for the sport on easy terrain.
I hadn’t skied in years, though I grew up in Utah where winter sports are a natural part of every kid’s lifestyle. There are ski resorts up every canyon and going to the slopes is a regular weekend family activity. I have fond memories of snowshoes, snowboards and alpine skis, but what I really enjoyed was the cross-country. I remember my step-mom giving me her hand-me-downs (wool knickers, knee-high socks and everything!). It was old-school gear, but I loved it and used it for years. That’s what appealed to me about this Alpine Touring thing. Plus the hiking. When you put those skins on and head uphill, it’s like hiking, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing all bundled together in this brand-new winter adventure…until you have to go downhill. That’s where the trouble started.
I was never very good at the downhill thing. On skis, I never really progressed past the “snowplow” stage and I never had the knack for snowboarding. But I felt comfortable on these new AT skis and I was beginning to get the hang of the moves and the motion. After a couple of “let’s get a feel for it” trips, we headed out on our first beginner’s adventure up Convict Lake Canyon. It was easy terrain and we only skinned up about 4 miles before we turned around. It was the first hill. The bunny hill. I got brave and removed the skins. On the very first turn something went wrong, I fell and my bindings did not release. I heard the snap before I felt the pain and I instantly knew I had hurt my knee. It scared me, but I found my calm, removed the skis and assessed the situation. Evan and I discussed the possibility of sending a Spot message to call for search and rescue. I realized I was hurt, but I could still walk and I did…3.75 miles carrying my skis and boots on my pack. It took about 4 hours to travel less than 4 miles and it seemed like forever. I was so relieved to reach the road that would lead us back to the car because I thought we were almost back. There, we met the nicest couple in a beat-up Jeep and they insisted we were not as close as we believed. They loaded up our gear and hauled me back to our car. There wasn’t room for Evan, so he walked the distance, hoping these supposedly kind strangers would actually deliver his wife to the designated spot. And they did. They were wonderful and we were so grateful for their help. At that point, my knee was very swollen and badly bruised. I knew I was injured, but it didn’t seem to be an emergency, so we decided that such an occasion was worthy of treating ourselves to a very fine dining experience at the Convict Lake Lodge. That was a very good, quite expensive and well-earned meal!
The following week happened to be my Spring Break (as a teacher, this is a sacred and most-awaited time of year), which started with a doctor’s visit, followed by the orthopedic surgeon, the crutches, the brace and multiple trips to the hospital for x-rays. I had fractured my tibia at the point where the ACL connects to the bone. I could not bend my knee for six weeks, followed by two months of physical therapy. But I felt very lucky. One millimeter more and the fractured bone would require surgery to pin it back in place. Had my ACL been compromised, it would have required reconstructive surgery. Phew! on both counts. In the grand scheme of things, it was a minor injury and I was so grateful. Yet, recovery was hard. What I realized from this experience is that Life does not slow down for people like me, just because of an injury. It was hard keeping up with the daily responsibilities. It took a toll on me physically and mentally and to be honest, 10 months later, I am still recovering. Needless to say, I was hesitant to try this backcountry ski adventure again. Perhaps hesitant isn’t quite the right word…I was anxious, fearful, frightened, scared. Compounded by the fact that someone I dearly love was, just a few days before, caught in an avalanche and seriously injured, I was questioning my skills and abilities. I was a little afraid to play with Mama Nature, for she can be fierce and I felt totally inadequate. However, it was such a beautiful day and all that fresh powder, sparkling in the sunlight, captured my sense of wonder and drew me in. It was a winter wonderland and how can you not be enchanted by that?
I must admit that I am not a very bold adventurer. I am a timid climber, a fair-weather hiker and I am not always keen on trying new things. I am afraid of heights, scared of speed and exposure terrifies me. I fear many things in life, yet I think I am pretty brave. As a kindergarten teacher, I do a lot of reassuring. I always tell my kiddos that being brave doesn’t mean you are not afraid of something. When you are scared of a thing and you face it anyway…that is brave. I never tell the wee ones, don’t be afraid. Rather, I tell them, it’s O.K. to be afraid. But let’s be brave. Let’s try it anyway and we will call it an “adventure”. You never know, perhaps it will be wonderful! And if it’s not…well, then, we’ll just try again. I learn so much from my work with young kids and I constantly refer to my experiences with them. On this day, I felt truly brave. It was wonderful and I look forward to trying again. Sometimes moving forward is scary, but making new tracks can be exciting.
Go on now, be brave. Make new tracks and get lost in your wonderland :)