There's Something About Trail Creek

After traveling in different directions for 15 years, Jo and I reconnect in the spring of 2007. We burn up the summer and fall hiking and biking and skiing together throughout December. When she suggests a trip to Trail Creek, I balk. Back in the day Jo owned a home up there and invited me over to ski. There wasn’t much snow, and it was warm that day, and I remember the sun glaring off the slush very close to my face. As in face plant. I remember, too, being snared in the sagebrush and angrily shaking my skis like a man with dog shit on his shoes.

Despite my reservations, Jo persuades me. There’s plenty of snow, she points out, and we’ll be skiing in a location far from her old home. What brings me fully on board is her enthusiastic description of the Absarokas rising in the distance and the long, swooping glide back down.

Storm clouds are building as we snap into our skis and set out across a pasture, beelining for the logging road that will take us most of the way to the top. First, however, we need to climb a steep bank. The snow is deep and drifted, but after a couple of cave-ins and a tumble we gain the road and begin winding up through the remaining trees. It’s awfully pretty, what with snow drifting in lazy skeins from overhanging limbs, and if there’s any sagebrush it’s buried wonderfully deep. The powder, in fact, grows deeper and deeper until the tips of our skis are sinking out of sight.

Two hours later we’re catching our breaths beneath a scarred old fir when Jo points out the last steep ridge we’ll have to climb. With no logging road up there and no sheltering trees, before long we’re trudging through powder up to our knees. Three-quarters of the way to the top, I fall and can’t get up. Partly it’s exhaustion, but mostly it’s snow so deep I can’t get a grip. Jo, meanwhile, is overheating. She pulls off her stocking cap and stuffs it in her pocket. Then, while I flop around like a man with a neurological disorder, she treks on toward the ridge.

Feeling all of my 60+ years, I fall back in the snow as two of the voices that inhabit me like a home for the deranged begin to bicker. The absurdly upbeat voice encourages me with the knowledge that the Mountain Gorillas are ruled by a silverback and urges me to get off my butt. The depressingly cynical voice scoffs at the notion of my being anything like a Mountain Gorilla and reminds me that my pubic hair is gray. Realizing that to stay down will mean listening to my demented offspring bicker until I’m rescued or die, I struggle to my feet.

By the time I’m up and climbing, Jo is standing with her back to me on top of the ridge. I assume she’s ignoring my ordeal to spare my feelings, but when I finally reach her side I see that her mind is on something else. A front has muscled in and the Absarokas have been swallowed by dark and fisted clouds.

The cold finds us on the ridge, the wind scurries around our knees and sizzles off our clothes. Jo pushes her neck gaiter up over her ears and breaks the truly bad news. While I’ve been floundering, she’s ventured a ways down the other side, and the snow is at least as deep. There won’t be any swooping or gliding today, just a lot more tromping with boards on our feet.

I can see that Jo feels bad, that she only wanted to share one of her special places, and I try to reassure her with a squeeze. A quarter-of-a-mile further on my sincerity is tested when she falls and commences flopping out her own interpretation of a turtle on its back. From out of nowhere my Trail Creek ignominy wells up like acid reflux. Why, just this morning she’s laughingly reminded me of 15 years ago when “I left you lying in the slush.”

I consider tramping on by, leaving her to flap and flounder. Instead, I brush snow off my clothes and adjust my gaiters. I pull down my cap and turn up my collar. Ignominy aside, I’m certainly not going to deprive the woman of her turn to break trail.

Getting off the mountain is a slog, but it’s a downhill slog, and our spirits lift as a following wind pushes us down through the brushy coulees and across the sculpted meadows. Back at the car, I positively start to beam as we shed a layer of clothes. Apparently Jo’s bangs were wet when she pulled her neck gaiter up over her ears, and somehow she’s molded a giant overhanging curl like Mary’s in the movie There's Something about Mary. I don’t mention it, of course, and all the way back to town I’m hoping she doesn’t feel it nodding up there like a cockatoo’s lunatic crest.

Innocent as I can, subtle as I can, I mention that we’ve had a pretty rough day.