He's a Brooklyn-born upper middle class guy who one day said he'd had enough of New York and its, um, prejudices against people like him and moved out to Portland, the whitest large city in the US (75.5%) . In four years he has shed his New York accent and mellowed, though he is still a very bitter man. Luckily in his case the bitterness is extremely blase and funny and served up with such an over the top driness any objectionable content is almost forgivable. He revels in being the Alex Keaton in his lefty family. You can't really do justice to him in a paragraph.
On this Sunday, I am up at 4:35 am and am driving to the city centre. There, in a riverside condo with views of Mount Hood and a courtyard that looks like Bermuda, Dave resides, working out regularly, eating in, and generally living a stable, self-contained life that could almost be envied, except that he works from 9 to 5.
I'm driving down because I have the crazy idea of going skiing -- yes, on July 29.
As I've calculated it, this involves leaving Portland at 5:30 at the latest and being in the parking lot of Timberline Lodge, gateway to the USA's only year-round skiing at 7, suiting up, and maybe being up on the glacier by 7:45 to get some runs in on groomed corn.
I figure it is the perfect weekend warrior activity for guys like us. Me, a free soul wannabe in the Whitman tradition (stress on wannabe), I have again put aside my objections to ski resorts, as I did in February, to do something that seems slightly extreme and gonzo, a suck at the marrow of life, perhaps -- just once, to say I have done it. This idea appeals to Dave, too. Plus it will not stress his bum Achilles tendon and questionable cardio condition, as hiking would. And he has skiied before in the Montreal area, and in Vermont, and knows that going downhill is strenuous.
We have no idea what awaits. Timberline has a website, but it is all but impossible to get the local colour. We assume there will be many professionals or at least snobs. How hard the runs are, or how slushy and disappointing -- we can only guess.
We've hiked before, both in New York State and Oregon, and we had fun (I think) and the wacky adventure quotient was always pretty high -- usually involving getting lost and finding ourselves in terrain that was almost out of our depth.
I should note (in case he's reading, which I doubt) that this is a guy with incredible drive who can benchpress probably twice as much as me, but our hikes went to illustrate one thing -- the only training for lugging 40 pounds over mountains is to lug 40 pounds over mountains. It was more than a bit like Bryson and Katz. I now sincerely think Dave was in quite a lot of discomfort on many of our hikes, and I sometimes worried that I was subjecting him to too much, assuming he was in better shape than he was.
Not to wash my hands, but then again he was the one who always seemed to back a daring plan, against better judgment -- it was Dave who in 2003, while hiking the Timberline Trail, a fairly level trail around Mount Hood, struck out without warning on a rough traverse toward the Silcox Hut, a speck on the mountainside thousand feet above; it was Dave who said it was OK by him if we bushwhacked over a 2,500 foot minor peak in the Catskills instead of walking the highway shoulder back to the car (it turned out to be the most difficult orienteering terrain I have come across).
I pick him up on this July 29. A rendition of "Springtime for Hitler" is his Good morning. A good, cheery sign, though I struggle to make sense of the context and wonder if we have perhaps not got enough sleep. But pretty soon he elaborates on Bechtesgaden and Garmisch-Partenkirchen themes.
Within one minute we are lost, and heading south toward Salem on the interstate on the wrong side of the river. For all the bridges over the Willamette, I still have not figured out to access most of them. We get turned around and find that Route 26 Business West is a good route at this time of day. There are already signs for Mount Hood, 60 miles away.
We negotiate the deadliest road in Oregon, which is a beautiful fairly straight four-lane road with 20 ft of blacktop between directions of travel. Tired skiers and maybe just this lack of a true divider make for bad head-ons though.
The rental place in the day lodge is open when we get there. The exterior is ugly modern functionalist, contrasting with historic Timberline Lodge behind it, but if the architecture here is French Alps, the inside is already what I remember from Austria -- the same mountains of gear, Japanese and Russian skiiers, guys with high altitude tans who emanate trustworthiness as they fetch and adjust the gear. But I notice that we have been given identical Salomon carving skis. To their credit, they do warn us that since Dave weighs at least 30 pounds more, we should be very careful not to mix them up. About the runs, they don't say much that is useful, but they tell us there are exposed rocks and pistes that are only 10-15 ft across.
In Austria, ski lift etiquette always tripped me up. I won't go into the embarrassing details, but here things are more primitive and it is obvious when you should carry your skis and when you should wear them.
The Magic Mile takes us to Silcox Hut, familiar from our 2003 hike. While on it, Dave tells me a funny story about how his dad broke both his thumbs on separate occasions while skiing, including a compound fracture.
At Silcox Hut there are three, four wheelchairs at the edge of the snow. They seem to be waiting for something. I point to them. Dave winces.
At Silcox Hut there is a piste map which shows nothing but black diamonds above us. I reassure Dave that I was skiing down black trails in Austria by the second day. Just zigzag, I say. Stay in control. If it looks too bad, we can always slide or ride down. There are no cliffs.
The next lift goes another 1,500 ft vertically up the snowfield to Palmer. It is as I am getting on this lift that I misjudge the arc of the four-seater and stumble, ending up under the chair. The guy, who probably sees only professionals, is taken by surprise and kind of jabs at the stop button, but hits it.
Well, this is bad. I wonder if they will even let us up to the top. My thumb is jammed and the joint is making a clicking sound. It doesn't hurt badly, but basically I can now crack my thumb knuckle over and over again, whereas before I would have to wait for a while for the synovial fluid to drain back. Suddenly I see Dave's father in a new light.
After this tension breaker, the lift whisks us to the top without incident. On the way up, we see skiers zooming down the slopes at speeds easily around 60 mph, which seems sort of incredible considering most of them have...only one leg. Now this is really something. This is inspiring. Dave claims he saw a skier with no legs, fitted with a special contraption. It almost makes us forget the fact that we are going to have to ski down ourselves.
At the top there is a view of Mount Jefferson looking like an island on a lake of clouds. Oddly there is less of a view of the slope, which disappears rather quickly out of sight below us.
No warmup slope. A shelf, and then a dropoff. It looks like the public has been given a 50 ft wide alley on the right side of the snowfield, while the pros and camps generously get the fairway.
It's OK, though, if icy. I start zigzagging, my body still not remembering anything from February, I find that I am still sliding down the hill even though I am completely perpendicular. I bail out -- I go down.
Then I remember how I would turn the outside of the inside ski into the snow -- they are carving skis after all -- and get the hang of it.
I'm proud of myself, so much, that for an instant, I forget about Dave, who has just started his descent behind me and who, weighing much more than me, as I noted, picks up a fearsome amount of momentum in only his first slice across the hill. The funny thing is, his technique looks really good, better than mine, but it is clear that he is picking up more and more speed with each switchback until he finally pitches backward defensively and falls awkwardly.
Well, this was me in Austria. One ski is off. But the woman who stops her run and fetches his ski for him has less indulgence than the person who assisted me. He can't get the ski on -- again, me, except it took 15 miunutes of sliding and Bean-like adventures before I did. I was figuring it would be nightfall before I was rescued.
Unlike me, Dave has brought gloves. Unfortunately, he did not choose to wear gloves for his first run. He has now quickly donned them, but only in an effort to stanch bleeding. "How bad is it," I ask, but he obstinately shakes his head and mutters something about "many layers" and I do not pursue it further. He seems severely winded.
This litany of mounting minor injuries almost seemed competitive, and I felt a bit disappointed that I didn't fall much and had little to offer up against Dave's tally. There were no further incidents, no news-making collisions with members of the US Paralympic ski team or exposed rocks. Things briefly looked up when I found myself in a half-pipe and misjudged the path of a snowboarder high on the wall, but I plowed to a stop. Then we skied back to Timberline Lodge on a late season trail and the snow ended abruptly 100 meters short of the lodge, but much to our disappointment we came to a stop well shy of the rubble. There was some chafing around our ankles from the hike back to the rental place. Annoying, but nothing to brag about.
Dave's skiing day was over by 10am. I handed him the car keys and a beer and left him to an easy chair at the lodge while I went up, by his leave, for two more runs.
Final injury tally: For Dave, a scraped knuckle, bruised fascia around his ribs and a mild sprain of his shoulder, which may be more of a impressive looking bruise. He says it has made for good water cooler conversation, and that it has done wonders for his work social life. Me: My thumb is back to normal, but my legs are not. I had a charley horse and such incredible muscle soreness in my calves that I have been unable to run or get any exercise for the rest of the week. But Dave wins.
Final verdict: B for Timberline. Positive: Surprising amount of terrain for just one glacier and 2,500 vert. drop. Negative: The day is effectively over by mid-morning, even if you don't get injured.