|Overlooking Lake Marie with the crew!|
By your request, I write this from Clifford's passenger seat.
We left early this morning, set on making the Medicine Bow ascent loop. Rain on the ground and the beginning of an autumn chill, I could see the fresh snow on the mountain tops. I turned to Christi and asked if perhaps we should rethink our adventure. She looked at me, didn't say anything. I nodded my head and knew we would make the loop no matter the weather.
As we drove up the switchbacks, yellow and orange fall colors dotted the newly fallen beetle kill. Sunshine splattered through the trees but I could see the cloud hanging over the Snowies and knew it was low visibility up top.
Chatter from the back of Clifford was animated and I shouted back a greeting to our newest team member, Ben 2.0. Curly hair just like Ben 1.0. I gazed past 1.0 at 2.0 and was surprised to see the same sparkling eyes as well.
Clifford had now ascended into the cloud cover and the familiar feeling of being cuddled by winter crept into my soul. Morgan piped up and said, "It's like our own personal Narnia winter." We pulled into the Lake Marie parking lot, dawned hats, gloves and buffs. I ran a few quick spirals in the parking lot and my prints looked like 'goldfish crackers' in the snow.
Down the path we ran. Ben, Ben, and Kit-Kat fell into step next to me and then Trevor, with his Wyoming jacket blazed by - making a slalom course out of all of us.
As we climbed, the cloud cover became thicker and thicker until we could only see from one post to the next. Ben 1.0 had followed Trevor and the two had blazed ahead with Nick in pursuit. I ran with Kit-Kat and Ben 2.0. Ben, a kinesiology major hopes to go to medical school. I'm sure he will declare a microbiology major soon. Kit-Kat has a beautiful mind. She is writing an essay arguing that both the Odyssey and the Telemakia are really 'homecoming' stories. She is majoring in business and hopes to someday take over her father's brewery.
We trudge through 3-inches of snow and the wind begins to swirl. With the limited visibility, I turn my small group around to check in with Christi's group and, of course, her GPS. But we are right on track. I fall into step with Christi and she tells me the cliff notes version of 'The Hate You Give.' She highlights a conversation that the characters - of mixed race - have in the car. They are all questioning quintessential things that 'white people do' or that 'black people do'. One of them asks, "Why do white people always break up and not stay in a group in dangerous situations. You never see black people splitting into groups and getting killed because of it. You stick around where everyone has your back".
At that moment we realize that Maddy, Morgan and K Palm had fallen behind. Christi and I double back and from here out we determine to keep our groups connected.
Thus, with Kit-kat and Ben 2.0, I climb. The temperature has and the snow was is dryer but we are warm. I told them that this is the kind of day that builds grit. But these youngsters are no strangers to grit. In only a few weeks of knowing Kit-Kat, I have heard more survival stories than anything else. Over the summer she played in 'The Troopers'. They drove from one venue to another at night, slept in the bus and when they arrived the next morning, they stared rehearsing and then performed at night before getting back into the bus. One day she got a bloody nose while playing, ripped a piece off her shirt off, put it in her nose and kept playing.
Keeping track of the Christi's group, we pause for a drink and notice the beautiful pattern of ice on the leeward side of a rock. All taken by a tiny awe-inspiring site, we speak of the patterns of nature and their repetition. Ben 2.0 says, "It likely has something to do with hydrogen bonding." I smile inside, think of all of you and say, "and surface area."
We take the last switchback and rise onto the final rocky stretch. It is cold, windy and moving from rock to rock requires hands. My fingers begin to feel wet and the familiar feeling of coaches’ cold fingers sets in. I lead the two Freshmen to the summit and the double back to meet Christi's group. I find Christi and Morgan; they say K Palm and Maddy are coming. Together Christi and I lead Ben 2.0, Morgan and Kit-Kat down the opposite summit trail until we get to the point that the trail is discernable. Ben 2.0, endorphins rushing, waxes rhapsodic about winter and how much he loves -10ºF days, whore frost and frost eyelashes. Kit-kat says that we should develop a new line of mascara called 'Nordic'. Suddenly the energy, laced with fear and cold causes a hole to open in the space-time continuum and I am back again on the South Fork Lake Creek where I welcomed most of you to the team. Remember how quickly the lighting started? We huddled under rocks and I hoped that all of you would live; it was the first time of many that I realized that I would easily give my own life for all of yours.
But the memory from that day that is most acute is not the fear on the rocks but it is the elation of the moment when we safely descended. I stopped you when I knew the lighting was far enough away; we dipped out fingers into the black mud and put war paint on our faces. Remember? The picture still hangs on our wall. That war paint sure lasted through many years of battle.
Once Christi had helped Kit-Kat, Ben 2.0 and I to get past the scree she had turned around to reconnect with Maddy and K Palm.
The wind, now fierce, reminds me that there is such a fine line between safe and ‘at risk’. I fight to keep the endorphins rushing so that I can keep the skiers jazzed. I want to yell back to Morgan and ask what would happen next in Narnia but I can't fight the wind.
Worried about the group behind I tell Kit-Kat and Ben to keep following the trail and I'll run backwards just to check. I also hope that running uphill will warm my hands.
Fortunately it's only minutes before I see the three. I shout out, "If we step up the pace we will catch the others." Maddy leads the way and we half ski, half run down the descent. We move from one Karin to another and eventually I feel my hands move from the pain to warmth. Maddy reminds me that her major is also Kinesiology. She tells me how excited she is about biology, how, even though she is not in the class, she helps Rilley do her homework.
As you all know, the sexier the conversation, the faster the pace and we close the gap to Kit-Kat, Morgan and Ben 2.0. Unexpectedly the drifts get deeper as we descend until finally we turn a corner and can see over the edge of the Med Bow face and catch a glimpse of Lake Marie. "Someday I'll tell people about the great adventure I once had with the ski team." Says Ben 2.0.
If it is possible to cross the feelings of acute joy with those of deepest sadness, it is what both I feel now. I say, "Ben, if you stay on the team than it is quite possible that you are beginning the greatest adventure of your life." My chest tightens and eye fog now supersedes the real fog around us for all I can see is the colors of your dress, Elise, as it mixed with the new highlights in your hair on the night that you left and you said, "Thank you for the greatest adventure of my life." In that moment I thought that there was no way I could ever start again, ever love another group of athletes, ever even take another breath.
But now, on the final Med Bow descent, I close off the back of my throat and force one deep yoga breath. I realize the fog has begun to lift and Ben 2.0 sings "Jolly Holiday" from Mary Poppins. Just as he rings out, "Mary makes the sun shine bright..", a ray of sunshine hits my back and spreads across the snow. In a moment of warmth I realize that I will love another group of athletes because I know that we are all still together, that we never really leave one another behind and because I know that all of you would simply want me to.