Riding the Storm

Your plane lands in Seattle, late, barely affording you enough time to catch the
last puddle-jumper up north. An hour later you touch down in Bellingham and taxi down
the foggy runway to the gate. It’s fifty degrees and spitting rain, but nevermind that; you
checked the report this morning and the frost line is at 1800 feet.

The rental car clerk is as petulant as you would expect him to be at that hour and
gives you grief when you opt out of upgrading your vehicle. Considering that he
probably would have gone home two hours ago, had it not been for your reservation you
buy the insurance policy out of sympathy.
The air clears as you merge your mid-sized domestic chariot onto Sunset from I-5.
You remember that there’s always fog at the airport and you also remember how many
times you’ve been directed back to SeaTac for that very reason. You cross the Hannegan
and call Dino but he doesn’t answer, presumably because he’s already off the grid. You
leave a voicemail and carry on into the night.

You roll up the window when the air becomes bitter as you approach Kendall and
make the turn. You’re only halfway there and you’re beginning to lose some steam. Ten
minutes later, you pull into Glacier and contemplate renting a cabin but instead you
wander into the only tavern in that miserable one horse town to grab a cup of coffee and a
shot of whiskey. Knowing that this is the last stop on the way, you hit the men’s room.
There’s a commotion in the stall and you detect the repugnant odor of burning
amphetamine so you duck out the back door and take care of your business next to the
rubbish cans.

You make your way back to the bar and notice a girl at the other end that bears a
striking resemblance to a hitchhiker that you picked up out on the highway three years
prior. You order another shot and send one down to her. She immediately recognizes
you. There’s a brief conversation, a quick toast and she’s going to be back in ten with her
gear. You settle back in a booth and finish your coffee while you wait.

It’s past midnight when you hit the switchbacks. Ahead of you is a twenty-mile
climb through the forest and any company is welcome, especially in the middle of the
night when you’re half asleep. The road’s been plowed but there are flurries that are
liable to turn treacherous at any moment. Kayla (the girl) shares a smoke with you while
you make small talk about this and that. Just shy of one, you pull past the lodge and park
in the RV lot. You make arrangements with Kayla to meet for supper the following night
and she takes off to find her friends.

After a bit of wandering, you find Roosma’s motor home when Dino falls off the
roof and lands in someone else’s awning. You haven’t seen them since you moved back
to New York two years ago. You exchange salutations and share spirits for some time
before turning in. The RV reeks of mildew and bong water, but the nearest lodging is
back in Glacier and there are things to do in the morning.

Dino has set several alarm clocks to go off in two-minute intervals, starting at
half-past six. It’s not quite light out when they start going off and your head has the
ominous twinge of cheap liquor and your teeth are entrenched in the wretched taste of
stale cigarettes. Your hangover wanes when Roosma opens the door and the crisp
mountain air flows in like a flock of geese passing through a temperate meadow on an
autumn afternoon.

The previous afternoon, while you were busy queuing at LAX, the fellas had been
hiking up and taking short runs; but at eight o’clock this morning, the lift opens and
carries its first customer into the arctic bliss. A Cliff Bar, a cup of coffee and two aspirin
later, you get geared up and head out to the base. It’s still only seven-thirty, so you take a
moment to look around.

Here you are at one of North America’s last unmolested bastions to pure and
unadulterated mountain sports. There are no condos, restaurants, hotels or Range Rover
dealerships. And for that matter, there never will be, thanks to the national forest that
spreads the gap between this side of Glacier and the parking lot. All that’s up here is
fifteen hundred vertical feet of terrain, 647 inches of annual snowfall and a shack at the
bottom, to warm your bones beside the fire.

You, Dino and Roosma make the first ride up the lift, behind the obligatory patrol
officers. The trip is interrupted every so often when a less than experienced rider fails to
negotiate the boarding procedure. You change lifts and continue your ascent as the sun
crests the peak, sending bands of orange and yellow into the crystal blue atmosphere in a
way that words cannot describe. You reach the summit and take a moment to prepare
yourself for what is about to ensue.

You shove off and your senses send you to a place that you haven’t been in quite
some time. It’s a familiar place and amongst the delirium of gravity and first tracks, you
are comforted like coming home to a grand holiday supper after a prodigal trek. Your
edges set with a kidney-jarring lurch and you’re off again. The snow is blowing over
your shoulders like a gnarly wave breaking on the jetty as you carve your way into the
basin with the grace of a Russian ice dancer. Your face is numb with the winter rush as
you cruise up the wall of a crevasse.

You stop for a moment to gain your bearings. The air is clear and you can see
past the Twin Sisters and on to Mt. Hood. Your initial instinct is to tell every soul you
can find about this place but the voice of reason interjects and reminds you of the serenity
that lies in your solitude.

You notice that the fellas are quite a ways down from you so you launch from
your imperious perch and set a charge to catch up. Along the way you clear a drop that
sends you airborne and time stops. You are weightless now and events are unfolding in
slow motion. A million questions roll through your mind from ‘Who am I?’ to ‘Did I
remember to lock the car?’ Questions much larger than yourself storm into your
thoughts like a leopard overtaking an unfortunate gazelle.
But none of that matters up here on the glacier. For the time being, you are
governed only by natural law. Up, down, left and sideways are precisely as you expect
them to be and you cannot be bought or sold. If there is such a thing that tends to that
light at the end of the tunnel, you are quite certain that this is where you would come to
find it. You are in the now and whatever it was that happened before has been said and
whatever it is that lays ahead is still yet to be told. You take in a deep breath and for the
while, you are at peace.
When you land, you remember that you are riding on rented boards as your
starboard ski goes south with the buffalo. In an effort to avoid injury liabilities, the shops
set the bindings on the loose side and you always seem to forget to reef them back down
before heading out. You now lie face down in a drift, most of your gear displayed in yard
sale fashion across a hundred yards up the hill with a respectable amount of snow wedged
down your shorts.

Nevermind that that you can no longer remember the name of your middle school,
it’s all about the image now. Nobody witnessed this awful chain of events except for
Dino; who points and laughs. You scramble to your feet, gather your gear and carry on
as if nothing is the matter. You make your way back up the lift and commence another
savage journey down the mountain.
Back at the lodge, you catch sight of a spunky, snowboard-toting coed who seems
bent on grabbing your attention. It’s Kayla, entourage in tow, with sights on cashing in
on your dinner offer. You introduce the girls to the fellas without giving a thought to the
notions that you will indeed be coming back this way; and under it’s own twisted designs,
the world will move on, just as it always has done.

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