It took momentous effort to get to the top of this hill and I celebrate the fact that I haven’t vomited on Mt. Washington’s pristine cross country ski trail… yet. I stare at my bindings in an effort to regain breath and, as my heart eases its relentless pounding, I crane my head to look around. Each fallen crystal beams and the only sound is tree bows surrendering snow. I dig out a hardened shard of an old Kleenex wedged into the corner of my pocket and pry it apart in an attempt to reconstruct a surface into which I can blow my leaking nose.
Further down the hill, little specks of Spandex legs and arms move in perfect synchronicity as they glide towards me. I judge by the speed and grace of their technique that these are young women at the apex of their racing career. I gather my Kleenex shards that have fallen like volcano ash around me and hobble to the side of the trail to let them to pass. As they do, I see that I’m about 35 years their junior.
As I watch the skiers disappear, I see where the cross country trail gently butts up to a downhill trail before they veer off in their separate directions like a portal into another world. It would be mercifully easy for me to step through it and slide my way down to a land of mechanized chairs that could lift me into the sky. No headbands frozen with sweat. No streams of snot to try to mop up with tissue shards. This was the way out. Though the couch potato in me is seduced by the promise of hot chocolate and a warm lodge, I continue to slide down the trail drawn by the anticipation of what I know will be around the bend.
Every night, a snowcat leaves the Raven Lodge at Mt. Washington’s Nordic Centre and grooms kilometres of trail for skiers to access Paradise Meadows, a section of subalpine terrain in Strathcona Provincial Park that couldn’t be more aptly named. The subalpine is a fascinating world, a transition zone as the rugged landscape loses its trees the higher it goes until it culminates into the snowy bald spot of the alpine. Underfoot lay interconnected streams and lakes teaming with life that are frozen and sealed away with each new snowfall. The world is still other than the watchful Whisky Jacks that flit amongst the trees, monitoring me for any food spills to scavenge.
Each year I can’t wait to put on my skis, get a handful of fresh tissues and get out there. Even though my snowplows are big inelegant pizzas and my clothing is a rough patchwork of second hand store fashion statements from the ’80s, that swelling feeling in my heart isn’t just a sign that I need more cardio in my life, it’s the pride and peace of being home.