It's Wednesday, actually. My "Snapshots from Maine" is not destined to unfold chronologically. I was going to post the Making of the Ice Cream next, but I don't have the recipe itself – only the pictures. The recipe is on a page of the magazine on top of Ralph's microwave. So if you are IN Ralph's house for some reason, go ahead into the kitchen and have a look. Maybe if I stop writing snarkily about him, Ralph will type out the recipe and email it to me so I can post it along with all the lovely pictures I took while he made the ice cream on Monday.
So I'll skip over Monday for the moment, and I'll be talking somewhat about Tuesday now.
It's Wednesday, as I mentioned. I'm sitting in one of the many-tabled rooms here at Sunday River's main ski school area.
Why aren't I on the slopes? Why aren't I schussing and slaloming and tearing up the trails?
Because I am not a skier.
I wanted to be one. I wanted to do that so we could be a Family of Skiers. I wanted to demonstrate for my children that you can learn to do something No Matter How Old You Are.
Yesterday morning I woke up kind of calm and resigned to my fate, in a way. I was going to have a skiing lesson – hopefully a more comprehensive one than the very first one I had – and before the end of this trip, I'd be at least skiing green trails with my family.
I was fearful, but determined. Scared, but resigned. I felt like I was riding to the top of a rollercoaster that I suspected I didn't want to be on, but everyone else was on it and having a blast, so I went on, too, hoping that I'd end up just as pumped up on adrenaline as the rest of them. Up, up, slowly, irrevocably, up I went, figuring that time does not stop; it just continues on, unbothered by our fears and prayers to the contrary. And so, just as time was pulling me relentlessly toward my Next Ski Lesson, it would also pull me through it, and then it would be over.
We had an hour and a half drive from Ralph's house to get to Sunday River. The ride itself was fun, the kids laughing about the incredibly bumpy roads, the views of farms (including an Elk farm!), the looming mountains, the Eagles' Greatest Hits cd playing in the truck.
And it was when I realized we'd gone through the whole list of songs on that cd, and were starting the loop again, that it dawned on me that we were more than halfway there. About then, my stomach curled into a hard, raisiny knot, and I wasn't singing along quite as enthusiastically with Don and Glenn.
I was nearing the top. The rollercoaster of time, rolling relentlessly on…
I've been swinging back and forth for ages now – between determination and trepidation. Between excitement and fear. Not just this week, but in the weeks leading up to THIS week.
So anyway, first, we stop at a ski rental place to rent me boots, skiis and poles (because it's cheaper there than renting at the actual mountain), and, dead girl walking, I marched in, filled out the paperwork, tried on the boots, and we were on our way. Again. North. Up the rollercoaster.
I tried to smile. I wanted to be excited. But I wasn't there.
So, finally, we get to the mountain. We drive past the various lodges and restaurants and other stuff until we finally get to the main bunch of buildings at the midpoint of the 8 bazillion mountains that make up Sunday River. Okay, I exaggerate. There aren't 8 bazillion. More like only 6. Bazillion.
We were relatively early, so we got a good parking spot. (Near the buildings – not so far to walk carrying all our heavy gear. We gathered up what we'd need for the day, packed the rest of the stuff in the truck, and off we staggered.
We got the kids checked in first – their classes started at 9:30 or so – and then we had a bit of time to kill before worrying about my lesson. So we found a cubbyhole and stowed ski boots and helmets. The skiis and poles were outside, leaning against the racks.
I love the culture here. The community of people who come to ski (and snowboard). The first time we went away, as a family, on one of these trips, part of me was totally freaked out at the thought of just LEAVING OUR STUFF and going on our way – to ski class, to ski, to buy a cup of coffee. SOMEONE MIGHT STEAL IT! But no. They don't. As a rule, they don't. It's okay and normal to just leave your stuff somewhere and trust that it will all still be there when you decide to come back for it. It took me a while to relax into that mindset. I'm still not there entirely – I couldn't leave my laptop unattended, for instance. But it's a lovely thing, this kind of trust everyone has in everyone else.
It's probably because everything's so damn heavy – no one would WANT to take anything extra. They'd have to carry it.
But I am being cynical, I know. Everyone I have encountered – here and elsewhere – has been happy and friendly and helpful and kind. (Well, Bill would disagree, but that's a story for another time, and the exception to the rule anyway.)
So yesterday. We go to the adult learn to ski area with the idea that we'll sign me up for two lessons today – one in the morning, one in the afternoon, each an hour and a half long. But then the woman at the desk mentioned a 3 hour class they have for people who have never skiied before, and I decided I'd rather take that one, just because I didn't reeeeeeeeeeeally feel like I'd learned anything at the last lesson. (Through no fault of the instructor – it's all me.)
So I filled out another form and was told to be back a little before ten for the class.
Bill was itching to get going, so off he went, and I texted nervously back and forth with my sister for a bit before marching to my doom gathering my skiis and poles and heading to class.
I was early, of course. I hung out in the lounge I was told to go to, and frankly, given the extremely comfy over-sized furniture in there, I could have happily spent the rest of the day curled up in one of the soft leather chairs with a good book. But instead I leaned my skiis and poles near me and leafed through a magazine.
At one point, an older man came up to me and asked if I was there for the learn to ski program. I said yes, and he asked if those were my skiis (ordinarily they supply skiis and poles for this class), and I said I'd rented them somewhere else, and he asked if I wanted to use some of their skiis, which are shorter. I assumed mine were short enough, and politely declined.
Turned out, that man was our teacher.
There were five of us in the class, all women, a range of ages, nationalities, home towns, and reasons for being there.
Our instructor – the incredibly fabulous and fascinating Don from the Bronx – was far removed from the image that might come to mind when the term "ski instructor" is tossed around. And that, strangely enough, was reassuring. I relaxed a smidge.
Don is many things, we learned. First – and most obvious – he is black. I say that only because, well, he is, but also because it's been rare – in my few years of going to ski places and seeing all the instructors – to see someone black teaching. Maybe I haven't been to enough places – that's certainly a given. But anyway, it was comforting to me because I already felt like I didn't fit the "skier" stereotype and Don didn't seem to fit the stereotype either. So maybe I'd be okay. Crazy and illogical, I admit. But that's how I felt.
He gathered the five of us into a little room, had us sit down and put little name tags on, and then Don told us he wanted us to take a turn introducing ourselves and saying where we were from, and – his words "who dragged you here." I relaxed some more.
It was true. We were all there because of someone (or someones) else.
Don told us about himself first. He's originally from the Bronx, he currently lives in the Boston area and in Bethel, ME. He taught high school for 30 years. He has always been active – skating and skiing and running and dancing. Yes, dancing. Salsa, swing, just about anything. He's also a minister – holds services up here on the mountain. I relaxed more. Don is awesome.
So we went around the room. The five of us who had been dragged here. An au pair from Columbia, here with the family she worked for. She'd never skiied, so they were paying for her lessons. The fifteen-year-old girl whose family snowmobiles, and her brother snowboards, so she thought she'd try skiing, even though she wasn't sure she'd be good at it. Me. Here because husband and kids ski and I want to be able to keep up with them. Don told me not to worry about keeping up with them. Just go at my own pace and have my own fun. I repeat. Don is awesome. Another wife/mother of skiiers. She, like me, had taken one lesson at some point before this, but it just didn't click. So she was going to try again. She was also afraid of heights, so in addition to the whole skiing thing, she was going to be braving the chair lifts. And finally, the girl who was afraid of anything fast and out of control – skiing, skating, sledding – her boyfriend said he was taking her on vacation, but didn't tell her where, so here she was.
By the end of that getting-to-know-you period, I felt LOTS better. I had faith that Don (Reverend Don, as I heard some of the other instructors fondly addressing him) would not let anything bad happen to me.
Next up, we practiced putting our skiis on. In the lobby. Just to get the hang of it, without the extra slippery stress of snow. So we did that successfully, and then Don told us to hit the bathrooms because, as they tell the little kids, even if you don't feel like you have to go, you still probably have to, and once we're out on the snow, it'll be close to three hours til we're done. So off we all went – Don included – to get that business taken care of.
And next? Off to the bus stop. We took a shuttle up the hill to the upper portion of the very beginner slope, where all the tiniest kids are in their bubble-like helmets and their teeny adorable skiis.
We worked, first, on simple things like – again – putting our skiis on. Balance. Angling your foot (and ski) so the edge is in the snow – so you can turn and stop and climb up the hill without sliding to your doom. (Okay, Don made no mention of doom. That's me again.)
He talked about positioning your body correctly over the ski, not just so you don't fall over sideways, but so you don't fall backwards. How to sidestep and duck walk. Turn (not skiing) by planting your poles on the down side of the hill and turning your skiis, bit by bit.
We practiced snowplowing. And snowplow turns.
And guess what!
I was the first one to fall.
I fell 3 times over the course of the lesson.
The first time was okay – it's what we'd all been waiting for anyway – for someone to fall. As Don says, the first person falls shows the rest how to do it. So that honor fell (haha) to me.
And he took that opportunity to try to show the class how to get up.
My nightmare began at this point.
"Roll over onto your stomach." he said.
I was lying on my left side, skiis kind of perpendicular to the hill. I had no idea how I was supposed to roll – with these ENORMOUS STICKS ATTACHED TO MY LEGS – onto my stomach. But Don was adamant.
"Just roll onto your stomach." he repeated. My feeble protests of "I can't" were ignored. So I rolled onto my belly – and let me tell you, this was awkward and embarrassing as hell – my feet – and their giant skiis – sticking up somewhere that I can't even describe, because they were somewhere behind me.
"Now," said Don, from somewere above and behind me, "put your skiis down flat."
"Put them down flat."
They were crossed or something – honestly, I don't know where they were, but somehow, eventually, I was lying on my stomach on the snow, legs out in a wide, hideous V behind me, toes pointing out in each direction, skiis on edges on the ground.
"Now push up."
Yeah, okay. That'll work.
I scrabbled around on the snow, trying to imagine how to do that, and much as I think Don is awesome, at that moment, I thought he had to be nuts. Or cruel.
He tried again. "Just push up onto your knees and then push up off the ground."
I really did. But either I don't have enough upper body strength (very likely) or enough strength anywhere else in my body (also very likely), because I was unable to do what Don asked. And so. Miserable with shame, but sick of flailing around like a beached whale with enormous sticks strapped to my tail, I pressed the little release things on my bindings and took the damn giant sticks off. Then I put them back on and sidestepped up the hill.
The next time I fell it was while we were working on gradual stops, coming, say, from one side of the hill down and across and to a stop lower down on the other side. Simple enough, right?
Simple enough unless you're me and you still just can't seem to get your feet and boots and skiis to do what they need to do.
I went careening gracefully across the hill, trying to turn and stop, not succeeding and, in an effort to stop before killing anyone, I fell down. Sort of backwards. Helmets are not overrated.
I staggered to my feet again (not on my belly – I popped my skiis off) and continued on.
As the afternoon went on, I noticed, with more and more frequency, that my knees and right ankle were not feeling happy about things. My ankle kept doing that weird popping sort of thing (and no, popping is not the best adjective) it did last time. My knees were just HURTING. And I just felt like my body and my boots and skiis were just NOT getting along. My enthusiasm and confidence kept dropping, and I wished there was a clock up in a tree somewhere so I could see how much longer this class from hell was going to be.
Three of the other women in the class were doing great. They looked happy. They did not look like any part of them hurt. They had not fallen down and failed to get up properly.
My last fall was right at the foot of the wonder carpet or magic carpet – the nice friendly conveyor belt that brings us beginners up to the top of our hill. I slowly, miserably pulled myself upright, clicked my damn boots back into my damn bindings, and slid my way onto the carpet.
And while I was on there, I really just decided I hated skiing. I wanted to love it. Or at least like it. Or at least, feel some joy for longer than a fraction of a second. Well, that last part? There were a few times that I did actually feel a sort of "Wheeeeeeeeeee!" happiness. Usually I fell after that.
I got off the carpet, skiied out of the way of the people behind me, started skiing the zig zag pattern we'd been doing, and then I just stopped. I heard Don calling out to me from his spot midway down the hill. My knees screamed, my ankle just felt weird, and my legs hurt where the tops of the boots were hitting them.
I felt miserable about it, but I took my skiis off, and carried them to where Don was. I explained that my knees and ankle were hurting, and I tried hard not to cry, but I'm not good at that, so a couple tears leaked out. I felt like Tonya H. wailing about her laces to the judges. Oh, there's a lovely comparison. That made me feel worse.
Don said maybe I just needed to loosen my boots for a while – they're not comfortable anyway, and maybe taking a break would help. He said to leave my poles and skiis there, and head over to the little building nearby and hang out on the deck with my boots loosened for a bit.
So I did. I don't know how long I was there – not forever, but long enough to decide that I was not up for falling down any more. It's just not my thing, and that's it. I don't know what my thing IS, but I don't think it's skiing. I walked back and forth on that deck, stretching my tight muscles, wiggling my foot around to see how my ankle felt.
I was on the deck of the handicapped services building. I watched guides go out with blind children and with a couple people in wheelchairs. People determined to ski, no matter what their physical limitations might be. I felt awed by them and kind of loserish in comparison.
But I came to realize – or recognize – that the bottom line is that for them, the absolutely determined skiers, skiing is the important thing. They must love it. I can imagine it, perhaps – the exhilerating feeling of cold air brushing against your cheeks, the feeling of flying. I can imagine loving it so much that I would not let anything stand in my way of grabbing any and every opportunity to have those feelings of exileration, flying, freedom.
I can imagine it. But the feeling is not my own.
And so, soon after that, when the class ended, I thanked Don sincerely. He suggested various things that might help, he was kind, and positive, and awesome.
And then I walked down the side of the hill, carrying my poles and skiis, to meet Bill at the fire pit as we'd agreed on earlier that day.
I felt worse, and I felt better. I was still unsure about what I'd do next – whether I'd ski again the next day, but something had kind of settled in my head.
Whatever I decided, it would be okay. With everyone.