I took two skins the other day. Can I call the act of skinning on skis, taking a skin? Sounds weird now that I’ve written it out…
Anyway, I took two skins the other day. The first was with clients, a group of vets, each of whom was missing something. A body part, a part of their mind, a part of their life. The second skin I took I took alone. Both skins started from the hut we were staying and ended on a ridge about 1.5 miles later and 800 feet higher. Both skins were exhausting, inspiring, and moments I won’t ever forget if I am lucky. I keep running the two experiences over in my mind, comparing them, looking for the right words to sum up my feelings. But so far I haven’t come up with a shorter version than this:
The first skin took 3 hours and involved cajoling tired clients, who at one time were very used to sand and heat and easily hauling 90 pound rucksacks over high mountain passes – but that was in the past, before they’d been blown up. There was a lunch stop, a couple of pee stops, and of course a stop at the top to take in the view. Of which there was none. Unless you count snow coming at you sideways as a view. In which case the view was amazing. And there was laughter, of all things.
The second skin took 40 minutes and involved a lot of huffing and a smile or two. The view was of the same amazing whiteout.
The vets – The Crew, sheltered under the pines for lunch, eating, drinking, and trying their damndest to knock the snow from the pine boughs to land “just so” on their neighbor’s head. Which is hard when you only have one arm, or can’t bend your back, or your parts just don’t work as well as they used to. Somehow, however, a lot of great clumps of snow fell on a lot of heads.
And later, the trees standing quietly, with intact mantles of snow as I cruised easily past.
The shouts of encouragement from one Crew member to another. Sometimes a kind word reminding the other that “we’re all in this together”, sometimes a barb reminding the other that “we’re all in this together.” It seemed none of them wanted to be out there getting dumped on by Mother Nature, yet none of them wanted to be anywhere else at that moment. Including me.
The silence, dampened deeper by the falling snowing, broken only by the snick snick snick of my skis sliding on fresh powder and my heavy breath.
The trail the Crew left in the snow was wide and rowdy and tamped down hard as it snaked its way around trees and over rollers and through wind slabs. Here and there a one winged snow angel.
The same ground, an hour later, blank, new, untrodden, until I laid my twin lines up the side of the hill.
I wonder if there’s a metaphor in there somewhere – an inspirational poster with a picture of a mountain on it and some cosmic truth distilled down into a simple sentence to hang over the water cooler. Something about challenges, living in the moment, or nature and mountains and people. Maybe?
Or maybe not.
Maybe some things, like mountains or people or magical moments, ought not be distilled. Some things need to be big and complicated and thought about and pondered for days or years on end. I am thinking that this is one of those things.