A Cautionary Tale
I’d been on the road to Far Away peak for a long time. At least since I’d first put on a pair of skis, and maybe before that. Sometimes you just get tangled up in the traffic, though, and you can’t tell where you’re going. And then one day you’re there and you realize, even if you never knew it before, that that’s where you were going all along. Maybe we’re all on our way to some Far Away peak. Anyway, this is my story and I think the important thing to remember about it is that it’s not the getting, it’s the going.
Freeman hung a hard one into the parking lot at ol’ Blue Chip ski area, getting completely sideways, the stereo set on stun and mumbling under his breath about “geriatric-mouth-breathing-gapers-and-if-they-wanted-to-drive-so-slow-then-why-didn’t-they-get-up-and-leave-earlier.” Because of traffic we were barely going to make first run. But despite that, I could tell Freeman was jacked, and that was a bad sign. He’s crazy in that dangerous sort of way, that serious, sincere way that is often contagious, overriding your best judgement. You forget he’s crazy until you’ve saned up, and then it’s always too late.
There were the usual hassles in line as we showed our outdoor recreation privelege and recreational insurance cards. Then I went to get area admission tickets while Freeman traded our liquor rations for a couple of lift ride tickets. He looked at me like a traitor when I handed him his helmet, but merely bridled as the lift engineer buckled him in, his attention already focused up the slope.
As our pod quequed up, Freeman pointed up the valley towards the permanently closed area and Far Away peak. He started going on about its potential for epic runs, but I was watching the beginners rumble by in their fall prevention skirts (these carbon fiber composite jobs that looked like old hoop skirts and compressed like a slinky to keep you from falling over) and wondering when <I>those</I> would become mandatory, so I was only half listening.
A couple of litter gang members got in a ruckus over a pop can and I saw Freeman wince. He’d spent a fair amount of time on litter gangs trying to collect his quota and remove points from his skiing record too, and I knew he’d rather pick up soap in a prison shower than be reminded of it. Our pod finally bumped up to the front of the line and we braced as they fired us up the hill, rail gun style. Induction loops on top of the lift poles defined our path and boosted us along.
I was still recovering from touch down, it still takes me a while, when I realized Freeman had already popped his belt off and started talking”…hit those chutes first…” The lift engineer tossed him a sour look as he ejected me and saw Freeman had released his own harness. But Freeman was already skating away and missed it. I looked at the liftie apologetically and hurried after Free. I had worked here last year as a guide and was caught between professional embarassment and being more than a little anxious to show off to Free.
I caught up with him at the gate, talking animatedly with my friend Krista. I was ducking smoothly under the gate from old habit when she blocked me and said “Like I was telling your friend here,” accenting friend like an accusation, “that will be fifteen dollars, each. And you have to wait for another guide to come back before you go down because we can’t leave the chute unattended.”
I wanted to believe she was kidding, but I knew she wasn’t. “C’mon Krista, I worked here all last year, I don’t need any guide, and well, don’t you think you could let us go just this once?” I was trying to be reasonable, but Free was looking over the edge and hopping from foot to foot in a way that was very disturbing.
Krista mellowed a bit, maybe from guilt or whatever. “I’m sorry, Jack, but those are the rules. It’s not our fault. You know the insurance regulations. And there’re people who are willing to pay premo for firsties.” I was tuning her out. It always turns my stomach to hear someone pitch one of those party lines like everything would be all right if we could just both believe it.
What with gas and admission and pay-per-ride fares, there was no way Free and I could afford the chute surcharge, we couldn’t even afford lunch. I turned away, downhearted, to break the news to Free, just in time to see him take off his helmet and put on his crazy smile. “Krista!” he called and threw it to her. Instinctively she let go of the gate to catch it. Free was already skating hard and with a whoop he disappeared over the edge. I looked at Krista for a moment, surprised as she, but I recovered quicker and, laughing, followed my friend.
My concerns about about Krista and insurance regulations disappeared long before I hit the snow, like global warming disappearing in the face of nuclear winter. That had to be the run of my life. Free was waiting for me at the bottom of the chute, but I only stopped long enough to throw my helmet into the trees and, still laughing, we chased after it.
All too soon we burst out of the trees and onto a trail. Freeman led the way right across a merge zone under the rope and back into the trees. I saw a hint of red out of the corner of my eye but I was too drunk on the rush of untracked snow and the snow-ghosted trees passing by like giant teeth to register it.
Sobriety was a face shot when I hit the next trail, though. Free had already been tackled and they netted me as soon as I was in the open.
After that, it went from the unreal to the surreal. They took me down pretty hard and didn’t let me up until they had taken all of my gear, five or six guys holding me down and yelling at me. You’ld have thought they were trying out for “COPS”. I kept looking for Free and finally saw him standing there cuffed as they read the charges:
“Tresspassing, reckless self-endangerment, theft of insurance, failure to obey an authority figure, engaging in recreational activity without proper saftey equipment, speeding, failure to yield…” By now I was herded next to Free and they were pushing us along. “Young man are you listening? These are serious charges, you will lose your rec-priv card you know. And that’s just the start. Are you listening?”
I lifted my head up to look at Free. He wasn’t even looking at the guy. He still had that crazy smile on and he was looking across the valley to Far Away peak, mumbling under his breath again. I had to strain, but when I leaned close I could hear him, “That’s skiable, I know it is.” I followed his gaze and finally understood.
For the first time in a long time, I began to feel free.