For the standard paperback version, order here.
For the limited edition hardcover version, order here.
For the standard paperback version, order here.
For the limited edition hardcover version, order here.
The following individuals and groups contributed funding towards my $12,000 goal in order to publish Life Gives Me Lemons: Adventures in Bad Luck & Bold Misfortune—the book. My most sincere appreciation for your continued belief in my work. The scheduled release date is July 2013, so stay tuned. If you are still interested in joining the list of sponsors or want to increase your pledge level (or have any other questions or concerns about this list), please contact me via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
♦ Black Diamond Benefactors ♦ (to be recognized in printed book Acknowledgements)
|♦ Independent Ski Racing||♦ The Nadler Family||♦ The Warren C. Smith, Jr. Family|
|♦ Sue Fowler||♦ Nili Riemer||♦ Jonathan Lisle Williams|
|♦ Janice & Jeremy Holmes||♦ The Rolfs Family||♦ Mom|
|♦ The Leek Family||♦ The Shiffrin Family||♦ Dad|
|♦ The Masi Family|
■ Blue Square Backers ■
|■ Lauren Sweeney White||■ Stephen Feehan||■ Will McKay||■ Marc Sheehan|
|■ Paul Brooks||■ Jodi Flanagan||■ The Mulhern Family||■ Colin Smith|
|■ Todd Carroll||■ Kaylee George||■ Poli Nightingale||■ Michael Smith|
|■ The Chiasson Family||■ Gregory Hadley||■ Peter Pawchak||■ Scott Szorcsik|
|■ Tim Cohee||■ Chris Henshaw||■ Elevate Cycles|
|■ The Donohue Family||■ Michael Hoffman||■ Ken Read|
|■ Kevin T. Feehan||■ The Leever Family||■ Karen Rodino|
|■ Michael Feehan||■ Greg Marsden||■ Kevin Roon|
● Green Circle Supporters ●
|● Sarah Groff||● Todd “The Baron” Jarry||● World Cup Supply||● Beverly Wheeler|
|● Jen Dudanowicz||● Meghan Siri Callen||● Brad Williams||● Matt Paul|
|● Vane Broussard||● The Visconti Family||● The Boardman Family||● The Laidlaw Family|
|● Emily Comstock||● David Haslett||● The McKenna Family||● Debbie Katchen|
|● Gail Reich||● Jeff Seaton||● The Kahl Family||● The Wood Family|
|● Kristen Coates||● Ian Macomber||● The Taitz Family||● Murphy Roberts|
|● Kerry E. Lyden||● Ross Mauri||● Jed Rockwell||● Bryna McCarty|
|● The Keating Family||● Christopher Johnson||● Cameron Robbins||● Charlie McNamara|
|● Debbie Hartung||● The Calcagni Family||● Erin Fredericks||● Lauren Araiza|
|● Matt Howard||● Joshua Grubman||● Steven Barss||● The Volk Family|
|● Tom Lewis||● Jarrett Bearden||● John Hale||● Yossie & Debbie Riemer|
|● Doug Lewis||● Colleen Suflay||● Bart Hayes||● Erik Hjelm-Hansen|
|● Linny Rossi Price||● Gary Maser||● Sarah & Dylan Snell||● Jon & Steph Wetzel|
|● John Dwyer||● Charlie Powell||● Linda W. Sung||● Elle Anderson|
|● Jake McLaughlin||● Catherine Lemieux||● Jeff Partyka|
|● Aaron Hillman||● Aaron Tuckfield||● Sophia Li|
Bunny Hill Brethren
|Walter F. Rodriguez||K.C. Gandee||Warner Nickerson||Max Marno|
|Mark Shiffman||Johnny Davidson||Terry DelliQuadri||Peggy Shinn|
|Michael Beahan||Luke Laidlaw||Tim Maguire||Megan Monette|
|Kerstin Graham||Everett Young||Graham Lonetto||Alex Krebs|
|Kevin Holmes||Steph Darling||Steven Utter||Peter Dodge|
|Madeleine Bonneville||Katie Hitchcock||Darrell Gray||Trace Smith|
|Franny Robertson||Kim Hemmer Bonarski||Jessica Ratcliffe Laspino||Diane Davalos|
|Margaret Schlachter||Brandon Little||Phil Salzano||Ryan Calhoun|
|Allison Campell Angel||Jody Arends||William Lintilhac||Lindy Cochran Kelley|
|Julie Tatti||Cindy Pierce||Lauren McGrath||Tara Siri|
|Patricia Wu-Manchester||Allie Krieger Feser||Lori Ford||Justin Van Winkle|
|Colette Brooks||Tim Tierney||The Struck Family||Jesse Dwyer|
|Christin Lathrop||Liesl Kenney||Jamie Lavalle||Chauncey Morgan|
|Susan Whelihan||Nick Cohee||Tom Sell||Adam Cota|
|P.J. Johns||Kraig Sourbeer||Carla von Trapp Hunter||The Cone Family|
|Kim Souza||Jenna Kantor||Brad Saxe||Jay Hydren|
|The Kania Family||Aaron Haffey||Nataly Rubinstein||Joyce Stevens|
|Ski Press||Kieffer Christianson||Julia Littman||V.A. Lopes|
|Dave Coombs||Stephanie Kaplan||Joe Kasper||Susan & Jeff Lathrop|
|Viv Buckley||Yair Riemer||Chuck Hughes||Jenni Stielow|
|Paul Santini||Hannah Jackson||Christopher Yates||David Peszek|
|Alex Leopold||The Haskell Family||Pearson Neal||Josh Watson|
|Forrest Anderson||Tamara Coleman Lutz||Jud Bartlett||Sohier Perry|
|Paul Osgood||Alexandra Chapman||Benjamin J. Hatchett||Erin Scillia|
|Kevin Broderick||Wendy Neal||Kyle Lewis||Chip Knight|
|Erik Lambert||Rachel Silberman||Michael Radford||The Leafe Family|
|The Gaines/Coates Family||Barbara Deubel||Ryan Brennan||Eliseo Teran Bjorkman|
|Evan Martell||Helvi Furlan||Jeremy ‘Worm’ Transue||Deb Newson|
|Erica MacConnell||Richard Sealey||Megan Murphy||Jack and Mary Designs|
|Brendan Levine||Kathy Burrier-Dustin||Kristin Monahan Garcia||Leif Kristian Haugen|
|Brian Pinelli||Jessica Manger||Chris Frank||Laurence Alvarez-Roos|
|Louise Macey||The Lyons Family||Bob Wherry||Jill Mikucki|
|The Kistler Family||The Pech Family||Clayton Reed||Rhonda Lacken|
|Eddie Hauck||Tina Chiu-Maes||The Morann Family||Cory Ransom|
|The Prymak Family||Betty Juncker Hagymasi||Mikkel Forsthuber||Iseult Devlin|
|The Spector Family||Jennifer Boehm||Doc Livingston|
|Jessica Melcher||Myles Trainer||Tanya Barron|
|Paul F. Harlow||John McGarr||Christina McCall|
|Doug Williams||Greg Plate||Allison Sullivan Voss|
|Mark Aridgides||The Brown Family||Ben Bryant|
|Rudy Awerbuch||Reese Brown||Susie Theis|
|Chris Austin||Becky Ryder||Meghan Schloat|
|Hank McKee||Vanessa Santos Eugenio||Kathryn Davis|
New sneaker shopping day was the highlight of my autumn as a child. I enthusiastically picked out a fresh pair of white kicks every September and then spent the next two weeks doing everything within my power to keep them white. Repeated cleanings. White shoe polish. I fought the battle between wanting to show off my new sneakers and wanting to protect them from the dangerous, dirty world that existed solely to soil them. By week three, I yielded to fortune and just trashed them to hell. Now I buy colored sneakers, because with age comes wisdom.
Or so one would hope.
I recently grew instantly bored of that kayak I threw through my car windshield last spring while moving across the state. Last summer my friend Danielle introduced me to the seductive lure of stand up paddleboarding (SUP), and ever since I have thought of ditching the kayak. Who can argue with an active sport you can do while having a conversation with your friend, out on the water, with a beer balanced on the end of your board?
Some nice people at Slingshot Sports in Hood River, Oregon—among them, the amazing Debbie—helped me pick out a reasonable solution for my new addiction. Kayak sold, I awaited the arrival of my Slingshot Crossfire which was shipped to the school to save even more cash. Save money by spending…what?
Life lessons from last spring taught me that kayak racks are necesario, but they don’t fit SUPs, so I had to wait for some foam canoe blocks to arrive at my local outdoor shop. In the meantime, my coworkers increasingly teased and taunted me about the board. When Adam told me he was going to steal it if it was still in the hall the next day, I took drastic measures to get it home. Despite a late spring snow shower and unseasonably cold temperatures, I drove the board home 75 miles using a highly secure method of transit.
Wouldn’t you know, as soon as my SUP arrived, the weather remained cold and wet like a bad British vacation or the winter we never had for what felt like weeks. Finally, a break in the cold timed perfectly with a Sunday afternoon conspired to get my tail out on the water for the board’s maiden voyage up the Connecticut River.
Some friends gave me crap about wearing a PFD when they saw photos from the afternoon. Despite the fact that the air temperature hovered around 70 degrees, the water was barely 50, so I erred on the cautious side. Who, me? (Don’t worry, I would fall into the river sans life jacket a week later and would be instantly shocked by how cold 50 degree water really is when you’re submerged in it, and your t-shirt and sunglasses are sinking into the abyss.) But the more I anticipate initial disaster, the less predictable it becomes. I doubt the PFD would have been helpful had I actually been hit by this plane that veered heart-poundingly close to crashing into me while landing in the river.
Crisis averted for the meantime, I had a lovely first afternoon paddling around. I had to continuously remind myself that I was, in fact, not Huckleberry Finn. But Huck Finn probably would have done a better job pulling his rig out of the water at the end of the day. After almost two hours of paddling, I boarded the dock and reached down to pick up my SUP.
But where was my arm strength? I had left it all in the river. As I struggled to lift the 30lb. board up on the dock, I lost my grip and dropped it clumsily and heavily onto some protruding hardware. So much for my new white sneakers.
The dock screws left two precise punctures in the bottom of my board, crushing my spirits and defeating my efforts to keep my new toy in pristine condition. And this is why we can’t have nice things. While all hope for the rig was not lost and a return to sea-worthiness was a quick repair away, the cosmetic damage was, most unfortunately, permanent.
While filling the two punctures with epoxy, I reminded myself of my white sneaker efforts which were always abandoned within weeks. This process was expedited with my paddleboard. Because if you want to have experiences, you have to be willing to get dirty, cut, wet, and maybe even a little broken—yes—on the very first day. As I mentioned before, I don’t even buy white sneakers anymore, because I’ve clearly grown way too smart for that.
You haven’t read a Lemon in what feels like forever, and it’s entirely my fault. It’s only been since November, but maybe you didn’t have a whole lot going on this winter and that seemed to magnify time the way minutes can feel like hours during a Friday afternoon in the office or when you’ve got a dentist’s drill grinding away at a molar.
I was in another world—the hyper-glamorous world of ski racing—that sucks you into its icy vortex for months on end before spitting you out into springtime with the distinct feeling that a mere two weeks has gone by.
Sometime around the end of April, you suddenly realize that: 1) you haven’t had a meaningful conversation about anything other than ski racing since November, 2) there’s no more ski racing until the end of next October, and, 3) you’re not even sure where or how to find people with whom to have meaningful conversations about something other than ski racing. But that’s why we have spring, to rediscover our friends just in time for summer.
This winter was particularly challenging for me because I ran head first into too many opportunities I “couldn’t pass up.” I wanted to cut my teeth in ski racing journalism, and before I knew it I was managing a season’s worth of media while simultaneously freelancing for three different publications. There was quite a bit of travel involved. I turned into a photographer. And I still had three classes to teach at a school over an hour away from where I lived—or in more realistic terms—paid rent. When I was debating whether or not to pursue all of these gigs that landed in my lap, my friend Christin said with the kind of determination that only people like Christin have, “What’s the worst that could happen? You’ll just sleep less.”
Public service announcement: if you spend the coldest months of the year exposed to the elements, stay up incredibly late facing the ever-present stress of multiple deadlines, rise with the sun to go to another ski race the next day, and forget to eat but somehow remember to drink coffee and alcohol nearly every day, you will get very sick. Sicker than Morgan Spurlock’s Super Size Me (2004) experiment. If you do all of the above in the presence of teenagers and college students and you’re one of the 5% of grown adults who has somehow managed to avoid past exposure to the Epstein-Barr virus, you’ll end up with Mono. Like I did.
Don’t ask me how I managed to write and publish 52 articles on ski racing, travel all over New England, Montana, and Colorado, and teach three classes in Vermont while playing chess with the grim reaper. A lot of work was completed while flat on my back.
A promise I made to myself while contemplating if my spleen would ever resume a reasonable size again and if I would feel better (while perusing websites on adult Mono and learning that some people take years to fully recover) was that once I was healthy again, I wasn’t going to take it for granted. I was going to enjoy nice days in the sun and walk more.
By April, I’m usually entering my first bike races of the year. That wasn’t happening this time around. I’ll still need months of rebuilding my fitness before it’s financially reasonable to enter races. After all, why pay if you don’t have a legitimate shot at winning? So when the annual Dartmouth L’Enfer du Nord (yep, Hell of the North) ripped through my town, I agreed to do what all bike racers who can’t race do. I went and took pictures.
On a partly cloudy day in downtown Hanover at the end of April when the temperature peaked at 72 degrees, I strolled around outside in a v-neck t-shirt for a little over two hours. I got some pretty sweet shots.
I started to get hungry before the big dogs took to the course, so I walked home to grab some grub. That was the extent of my whole day. No long ride, no race, just a relaxing Saturday in April. I took a late afternoon shower, and that’s when I realized something was very wrong. I’m of Irish descent, have pretty fair skin, and wear sunscreen on my face and neck every day of my life. I have several relatives who have had various parts of their bodies cut off and an aunt who died of cancer that began as melanoma. It’s a concern that’s on my radar daily. Except for two hours in April.
You can distinctly see where my neck sunscreen was no longer applicable. When I posted this photo to my Facebook page, you would have thought I had just shown my friends 30 days’ worth of pictures demonstrating intentional sunburning. Oh, the warnings! Haven’t I heard of skin cancer? Why didn’t I apply a higher SPF? I really should wear sunscreen. Yeah, no sh*t.
BeavSometimes when you spend all winter in bed sick as can be, remembering to apply sunscreen to random locations on your body before you go watch a bike race in the spring isn’t in the forefront of your mind. I wasn’t tanning on the beach. I was just thankful to be able to get out of bed to walk to the bike race in the first place.
All this so my male chauvinist cycling teammate Jason could send me a Beavis & Butt-head text, “Best part about that burn pic is we all know ur topless right then 🙂 haha.” Yeah, Jason, I couldn’t wear a shirt for the whole rest of the weekend. Real sexy.
There are things I infrequently do in life that I regret for a few hours, maybe a day. I’ve had unprotected sex outside of a monogamous relationship (is there an adult who hasn’t?), can be too lazy to recycle, and—on at least one occasion—have consumed just enough alcohol to impair my judgment without consuming enough to wholly prevent me from saying embarrassing things to people I don’t know. My sincerest apologies to the height impaired dude I once cut in line at Rasputin’s in Burlington before inquiring if he was, by any chance, amazing in bed to compensate for his Napoleonic stature. He never realized it was a backhanded compliment.
But once in my life, I did something so idiotically disturbing that, to this day, I harbor such regret it burns at my soul.
Not everyone is talented enough to run themselves over with their own car. It takes a precise combination of intrepid skill and careless stupidity. A cold March night, a few glasses of white wine, a reunion with a close friend who moved out West for the year, and a dark drive up a frozen, rutted dirt road in rural Vermont (where the only law enforcement official—Paul the Constable—moonlights as the town drunk) might just provide the appropriate planetary alignment for success in this endeavor. A house party smack in the middle of a week of ski races in which you get to watch your favorite people in the whole world try to pick up a paper bag using only their mouths can prove simply inspirational. It also helps if your car is both possessed and hates your freakin’ guts.
From the very moment I decided it was near time to sell my car and buy a new one, the 2002 Subaru Outback that had faithfully transported me over tens of thousands of miles got mad. I mean, really pissed. Then its anger manifested itself in a number of strange occurrences. First, the sunroof mysteriously exploded while my brother drove the car up the Garden State Parkway.
Then, I somehow managed to completely destroy both the exhaust and fuel systems, totaling over $3K worth of damage, by driving over a snow-covered boulder while backing out of my friend’s driveway. Clearly, the car knew it was headed for the chopping block.
Six months ago, when my car had turned against me for the absolute worst, I had the unique opportunity to run myself over with it. I cite this as a unique opportunity not because it was original or creative in any particular way. As it turns out, plenty of people make the same miscalculation that led to my car leveling and then dragging me down a dark, dirt road sans driver. The bit that makes my story distinct among the rest is the simple fact that I am still alive.
Many other people are not: http://www.chron.com/news/houston-texas/article/Car-rolls-over-kills-driver-2138625.php.
It all sounded heroic the following morning in Bailey’s & Burke, the country store with killer breakfast sandwiches in the middle of a no stoplight town, as I regaled my friends with the tale while suffering from a yet undiagnosed concussion and knee injury. The knee injury I had a distinct clue about. I couldn’t bear weight on my right leg, and was convinced I had suffered the standard skier’s injury—a blown out knee, consisting of a torn anterior cruciate ligament—with my antics from the night before. In a long athletic career of soccer, lacrosse, skiing, and Thanksgiving Day tackle football with all male cousins, I had somehow managed to dodge the seemingly inevitable ACL tear. An orthopedist once told me I had unusually strong and resilient ligaments for a woman. What a sexy compliment!
But there was nothing heroic about getting my all-wheel drive Subaru stuck on ice, four tires spinning, while exhaust poured out the tailpipe into the frosted March nightscape. I tried every trick in my quiver from the reliable floor mat solution to aggressive Drive and Reverse rocking, all to no avail. In an act of desperation, I phoned Troy who was staying in a condo just up the road with his team. Damsel in distress is not a role I play with ease, yet I pleaded for a rescue. He showed up moments later, assessed the situation, and got behind the car to offer a manly push. The car pulled right off the ice with his effort, but he was still behind pushing. I was ecstatic to be free of the tight jam in which I had found myself, and I wanted to both thank him for his help and tell him we were all good. In my haste, I shifted into Neutral, opened the driver’s door, and stepped out of the car.
Cars in Neutral on slopes don’t stay in one place. They roll in the downhill direction, following the fall line, much like an out of control ski racer in the midst of a high-speed crash. As my car proceeded to reverse itself down the road, my initial reaction from the driver’s doorway was to use my superhuman strength to hold back the 1+ton vehicle in motion headed for off-road doom. There are stories of people exhibiting unusual abilities in life and death situations, and Wikipedia offers a convincing list of evidence to suggest I was only moderately insane for instinctively thinking I could stop the car with my own body (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hysterical_strength).
Conventional wisdom prevailed in this case, and instead of holding the car back by bracing myself against the door, I was, instead, leveled and then wedged between the roadway and the undercarriage of the vehicle with my right leg bent backwards underneath my body. This position would lead to painful meniscus damage and a torn medial cruciate ligament, but it would also ultimately prevent my leg from winding up under the car’s front tire. I was caught under the car and was dragged across the ground while it rolled backwards down the dirt road until Troy–the genuine hero of the story–was able to jump into the moving vehicle, Hollywood stuntman-style, and put it in Park. From underneath the car, this felt like the passing of whole minutes. In reality, it was mere seconds. But I had struck my head on the frozen ground when my open door took me out, and I was legitimately in a haze. Even after the car was no longer moving, I still felt like it was. And then I uttered the most brilliant words of the night.
Railed with pain and stunned by a head injury, I couldn’t imagine how I was going to get out from under my Subaru. That’s when I asked Troy to drive the car off of me.
He didn’t heed my request and instead encouraged me to pull myself out from underneath the vehicle. Indeed, a much better idea.
My way of emotionally coping with coming as close as I ever have to killing myself and nearly earning my very own Darwin Award was as blunt and decisive as the conclusion of this epic. I replaced the demonic Subaru with a totally sweet Honda.
The new Element has just enough ground clearance to ensure I’ll never get wedged underneath. Run over? Still possible, though substantially less likely.
It’s that time of year in the Northeast Kingdom when people prematurely put their bikes away for the winter. Sure, there’s a briskness in the air and it will certainly chill your lungs, but that’s no reason to preemptively surrender to the next season before it has arrived. Viv thought I was crazy because I was still heading out on daily afternoon rides. She said, “Don’t you know it’s time to hike?” Hiking, she argued, was the only sane outdoor athletic activity to pursue in the days between the ground being covered in dead leaves and when it would eventually be blanketed in freshly fallen snow.
I don’t hike anymore. Unless it’s with a really hot guy–a really hot guy who will take his shirt off at the summit. Yes, that’s about the only motivation I could summon for walking so far uphill for so long. I am, after all, exceptionally prone to blisters.
As I pedaled past the empty Mountain View parking lot and rode out to Harp for a quick warm-up, I thought about all the poor fools who were working in offices, fighting with perpetually jammed copy machines, breathing recycled indoor air. Suckers. There I was on Darling Hill Ridge riding the best singletrack the Eastern United States has to offer, and it was all mine. I was entirely alone with the whole playground to myself.
This new trail, Troll Stroll, had stolen the crown of my personal favorite ride from Kitchel which had previously usurped the throne from Sidewinder. Everybody loves Sidewinder because it’s like biking in a nearly continuous halfpipe. Kitchel is fast and flowy with banked turns that remind me of a luge track. I’ve spent some quality time in luge tracks before. Does that really surprise you?
But Troll Stroll is more unsuspecting. It uses the sidehill of Darling Ridge to create a harmonious flow track, and the freshly cut tree stumps call to mind toadstools. It’s hard not to feel like you’re in a mountain biking fairytale while riding this dry flume. To give you a sense…
(video credit to YouTube user ‘BikingnStuff’)
On last week’s ride, however, I discovered that the blessing of Troll Stroll–its meandering path through low trees and over whoopty-doos–was, in fact, its autumnal downfall. And mine. While entering a quick downhill transition, my front tire (caked in frozen mud to the point that it functioned as smoothly as a pair of slicks), hit a pile of leaves. I lost all control and endoed into a tree. No big deal.
What exactly is an endo? An apocopation from the phrase end-over-end, an endo is a bicycling accident in which the rider is thrown forward over the handlebars. It rarely bodes well for the cyclist, and it can be equally hazardous to the bicycle under some circumstances. There are varying degrees of savvy which individual riders may apply to the artful execution of the endo, but it is almost always an unplanned and fortuitous occurrence.
This small accident in no way convinced me that the riding conditions were dangerous. I come from a long breed of complete klutzes. We’re perpetually covered in bruises. So as I lay on the side of the trail rubbing my knee which had hyper-extended due to a late pedal release, I was certain the fall was due to pilot error. It’s a good thing they don’t let me fly planes.
So what’s any self-deprecating mountain biker to do after enduring a fairly serious crash? I invoked the words of my grandfather. Not the ones where he told me to poke the competition in the eyes. He used a disturbing hand gesture to indicate that one, too. No, I thought of when he told me, when you get knocked down, you gotta’ get back on the horse. So I jumped back on the bike and proceeded to pedal hard into the next downhill transition.
My father often cites Einstein’s saying that the definition of insanity is repeating the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. The result was pretty much the same, only this time I took a bar end straight to the gut.
This random dude demonstrates the crucial endo tactic of getting his core the heck away from his handlebars to avoid bodily harm. He might have even tucked and rolled right out of this. Definitely. Totally ready for X Games.
As I assumed the fetal position on the side of the trail and tried to regain my breath, I realized that I had–for the first time all season–forgotten my cell phone on a bike ride. Over 3,000 miles of riding with a phone I never used, and now I was curled up in a ball in the Darling gully foreseeing an inevitable death from internal bleeding and exposure. Three minutes later, after realizing my symptoms were less severe than originally conceived and they did not deem me immobile, I began the journey of walking my bike back to town.
Hiking sounds like an awesome activity to take up until the snow flies. But then Viv told me she took a nasty fall that afternoon, injuring her wrist, while walking up the mountain. I bet she didn’t get to fly through the air like Superwoman on her way to self-destruction. Thus, the bike rolls on.
RULE 1 FOR SEDUCING A CANADIAN BOOTFITTER: Return to your illegal summer job in Canada, the job where you coach skiing without a visa for an American company on the Blackcomb glacier. It’s a kick-ass gig, and the camp you work for is sponsored by the local bootfitting shop because the owner of the shop has a ski racing daughter who needs to be coached, and Whistler is so much closer to his Utah home than Chile or the French Alps. As a part of your job—your illegal job—you will be sent to the aforementioned store to clarify details regarding the relationship between the company you work for and the bootfitters. Take note of the guy who manages the shop, the guy you’ve sort of known for three years but never bothered to pay any attention to because he seemed geeky. He isn’t geeky anymore. He’s ditched the glasses and he’s grown a patch of fuzz under his lower lip (and you’ve recently figured out what that’s good for).
RULE 2 FOR SEDUCING A CANADIAN BOOTFITTER: Pretend to be flattered by the bootfitter’s sophomoric advances and unabashed forwardness. Leave open-ended messages on his voicemail under the guise of conducting business. When he meets you for the second time, he’ll tell you he wants to do naughty things to you. Play dumb.
But after he buys you a drink whose name you can’t pronounce on the outdoor patio of the Hard Rock Cafe and then takes you back to his bachelor pad that’s decorated like Disney’s Polynesian Resort, let him further elaborate on some of those naughty things.
RULE 3 FOR SEDUCING A CANADIAN BOOTFITTER: Agree to run away to the undeveloped property that the bootfitter owns in a remote location off the coast of the Pacific Ocean for a holiday weekend. Canadians don’t go on vacation; they go on holiday. Adjust your vocabulary accordingly. Ride the ferry. Take your Subaru off-roading, go skinny-dipping, build a fire during drought season and have the lesbian neighbors call you crazy, bound across moss strewn logs in an enchanted forest, and make passionate love for two straight days. When you get back to Whistler, spend an insane amount of money on a bicycle that will be stolen three days later. It will be worth it in the end because the bootfitter will be with you when you discover the cut lock, and the experience will bring you closer together. You will feel his heart beating while you rest your sorrowful head on his chest. He will hold you tight. Try as you might, you will never be able to purge this moment from your memory.
RULE 4 FOR SEDUCING A CANADIAN BOOTFITTER: Leave Canada much later than you were supposed to. Go back to California. Change your entire life. Instead of staying in the city for the year and aspiring to greatness, take a job in the mountains and aspire to make rent each month. Send the bootfitter a postcard, letter, or package every couple of weeks. Burn him Jack Johnson and Donovan Frankenreiter albums. Sign up for unlimited long-distance calls to anywhere in North America. It will be three dollars cheaper if you limit your plan to the continental U.S., but you’ll probably want to call that bootfitter in Canada once in a while.
RULE 5 FOR SEDUCING A CANADIAN BOOTFITTER: Never refer to him as your boyfriend.
RULE 6 FOR SEDUCING A CANADIAN BOOTFITTER: Carve out a long weekend to fly back to Canada. Bring your new bike, the bike you couldn’t afford the first time around but replaced when the original was stolen.
It looks just like the stolen one, but it isn’t exactly the same. The bike is your excuse for travel. After all the phone calls and care packages, it seems like you might need an excuse.
JUST ONE RULE FOR LOSING A CANADIAN BOOTFITTER: Show up to ride your bike after not seeing the bootfitter for almost two months. Expect things to be the same as they were the last time you lay in his bed, when he held you close and tried to comfort you. Lean in to kiss him. He won’t kiss you back. He’ll tell you he’s saving kissing for more romantic encounters, like with a girlfriend. This is his way of saying you will never be his girlfriend. Wonder if you ever wanted to be his girlfriend to begin with. Unable to answer that question for yourself, get out of bed in the middle of the night because you feel cheap, like a prostitute, like Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman when she’ll do anything to Richard Gere but kiss him on the lips.
Not the end of the movie when she gets to be the princess. The beginning of the movie, when she’s still a hooker in trashy clothes. You will never be the princess; focus on reality. Sleep on the couch. It will be freezing in the living room and you’ll shiver all night. The following morning, get into a disagreement over the course of your relationship even as friends, feel tears running down your cheeks for the first time since your bike was stolen, and then watch the bootfitter leave for work at 6:45 AM. Agree to call him, to stay in touch, but don’t give your promise a specific timeframe. You’ll need more than just hours to think this all through. Sleep in until 8 AM. Your eyes will be closed but your mind will be racing. Wake up, climb the ladder to his loft, and jump on the computer to figure out how to get to Vancouver in time for your flight. While checking bus schedules, you’ll recognize an envelope you sent him weeks ago, back during Rule 4, tucked into a stack of papers. You know it’s wrong to look through those papers, but you’re moved that he’s kept the envelope and not just the letter. You want to know if he saves all your letters and their corresponding envelopes. He does.
But he also has all the letters from Lisa and Jill and Courtney and Kelly. They are dated one week ago, three weeks ago, last month, last year. Try your hardest not to throw up, then throw up anyway.
The same rule applies to black bears and homeless people. If you intend to avoid confrontation, do not–under any circumstance–make eye contact. Walk down Shattuck Avenue in Berkeley with your gaze fixed astutely on the concrete pavement just in front of your feet. Blast Pandora’s ‘Summer Hits of the 90s’ through your over-sized headphones–that gargantuan, ridiculous Skullcandy headset you wear over your ears to announce to the world: I have tuned you out. I can’t hear you asking for my leftovers or inquiring if I can spare a buck. I’m staring at the ground. You don’t even exist.
When riding a bike, however, visual acuity is crucial. Eye contact with the dazed driver pulling out of a parking lot can save your life. New cyclists are told to constantly scan their surroundings. So on last week’s solo lollipop ride around scenic Lake Willoughby, I had my eyes wide open for danger. The pavement on Route 5A alone provides enough sensory stimulation to keep my brain firing in overdrive. Deep gully, grass-filled crack, pothole, low shoulder, gravel, manure: take your pick. And just when I’ve adjusted to the rhythmic bumping and uneven surfaces, I pedal to the telltale curve in the road when alarm conditionally sets in as if Pavlov himself is ringing a bell in my ear. Rapidly approaching on the right side of the road is every cyclist’s nightmare. The Dog House.
In my mind, the Dog House is owned by a nefarious, tattooed man who has an entire dresser drawer dedicated to chains and chain-like accessories. His toenails are painted black. From the varied and distinct barks that emerge from this property every time I approach, I have concluded that the Dog House owner is raising no fewer than ten angry, flesh-eating canines for sport. Luckily, they are all on leashes or behind fences, but each time I ride by, I still employ a Fabian Cancellara-esque time trialing effort to ensure my personal safety. I also hold onto my water bottle and prepare to spray at will if necessary.
The Nintendo game Paperboy trained me to know that every dog, no matter how mellow and well-trained, is bound to chase after a moving bicycle, especially if you are trying to deliver newspapers while outrunning a tornado. It also taught me that people place garbage cans in very ill-opportune locations. What I have never been able to figure out, however, is why tires rolling down a driveway are such a common hazard to the everyday cyclist.
I have always successfully eluded the frothy-mouthed, rabid Dog House protectors, but they remind me to stay on my toes throughout the ride. After circumnavigating Lake Willoughby via the Crystal Lake addition last week, I was well on my way to the point of the journey where I tell myself I’m practically home. While this point is actually seven miles and nearly 1,000 feet of climbing away from home, it is still the instant that the ‘You’re nearly there’ mantra begins to play on repeat as my inner monologue.
I was roughly a mile from the home free marker and the town of West Burke when I caught a glimpse of an unleashed black dog on the left hand shoulder of Route 5. My typical approach kicked into high gear, and I unconsciously picked up the pace. I reached down to find my fuller water bottle as back-up arsenal. As I got closer to the canine who had its back turned to me, I thought, “That’s one BIG dog.” And as I passed the big, black dog and it turned its head to meet my eyes, I lost my breath and a regular heartbeat for a moment. It wasn’t a dog at all. It was–instead–a big, black bear.
I geared down and started hammering, and when I thought I was well past the bear, I looked over my left shoulder. While it was not particularly close, the bear was running down the road directly behind me.
My friends have since informed me that black bears do not chase, but this bear was close enough behind me and running fast enough to launch me into panic mode. I glanced at my speedometer. I was traveling 24mph. I thought, “I’m on my bike–this is good–I’m on my bike–I can get away.” And just when I had convinced myself I was going to be fine, I recalled reading somewhere that bears can run up to 30mph.
After pedaling my bike as fast as I am convinced it can go, I looked back again to see that the bear was gone. Not a trace. But its image and the associated fear was still ever-present in mind. And as I cruised into the sleepy hamlet of West Burke, I reminded myself of the universally applicable rule: never make eye contact with the homeless.
Race days begin at 5:15 when I crawl out of bed already late and then scramble in darkened chaos to get ready. The vans technically pull out at 6am, but the head coach and my boss always leaves early; even if you’re not exactly sure where you’re going, he will still leave without you. When it’s cold outside, -10 like it frequently is before winter sunrises in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont, the vans can take a while to clean off and turn over and then a good 20 minutes to defrost, and the walk from my dorm to the parking lot is a few minutes as well. Time all adds up on these mornings.
My van is the crappiest vehicle in the bunch. It’s been in and out of the shop all winter, and it no longer has a radio. I am convinced that I was specifically assigned this van because I am my boss’s least favorite employee. It reminds me of my first car that slowly fell apart over three years of ownership. That’s basically my van. In addition to the radio going, I discover this morning that the cigarette lighters don’t work either, so that rules out my iPod as an alternative source of music. In a frantic rush, I grab some portable speakers from one of the kids and plug another mp3 player into them for the hour plus drive to Jay Peak.
The snow is abating and the moon is beginning to set as I drive up Route 91 towards Canada. It’s a brilliant orange, and it peaks out from behind several mountains along the drive. Everyone in my van is dead asleep within 10 minutes of driving except for Chris who’s riding shotgun. Chris is a quiet, focused, intensely serious 13-year-old boy. I catch him staring out the window at the moon for several minutes before I exclaim, “Would you look at that thing? Isn’t it beautiful?” After some deep reflection he replies, “Yep.” That’s the most Chris will say to me all year.
The weather on the highway is not indicative of the weather at the mountain. Jay Peak is covered in a cloud, and as we walk towards the lodge, the rumors are already spreading. There’s ice on the lifts. They’re not running. We’re going to have to wait it out until the lift operations staff can de-ice them. It’s a good thing I’m almost as good at cards as I am at coaching ski racing.
The ice won’t melt. We play cards for an hour while we await word from the mountain. Then we play cards for another hour. We’re butting up against the edge of opportunity. If the lifts don’t open soon, there will not be enough time in the day to actually hold the race. We convene as a group of coaches to discuss options. Everyone is ready to call it a day, to pack it in, and to get a warm cup of coffee for the drive home. And then my boss proposes a brilliant idea: who needs lifts? Why not just hike? I was mentally already back in my living room watching re-runs of The Real World when I set out on foot to ascend the course.
Despite the cold and frozen mist falling from the sky, the hike wasn’t half bad. I had gotten into the nasty habit of eating too many breakfast sandwiches before parking my lazy ass on the side of the mountain all winter long, and it’s refreshing to start off the day with a more physical pursuit. The athletes who had to hike and race, however, were not necessarily embracing the experience as an opportunity to warm-up. I repeat the mantra that got me through a month-long NOLS course in the Wind River Wilderness of Wyoming: just keep putting one foot in front of the other. Eventually, you’ll be at the top.
Results from the race prove to be less extraordinary than the experience itself. After hiking up the hill and sweating up a storm, the coaches had to stand out in the cold while athlete after athlete tackled a frozen, crusty slalom course with little tact or grace. Then we got to repeat the whole process for second run. Yet, for a few hours, it seemed like the suggestion to hike was worthwhile. After all, we had saved the race even if it didn’t bring out the best skiing.
What the Great Jay Peak Hike Fest of 2008 did bring out, however, was the weakened immune systems of athletes and coaches. For the next two weeks, viruses circled the campus crippling staff and athletes alike in a festering swarm of infection and illness leading everyone to conclude: we probably shoulda’ just played cards.
I was the smart ass in your class who tested the teacher’s patience but always made everyone laugh. So by 11th grade when I started to feel entitled to ‘personal days’ just like the staff, the people responsible for my education didn’t seem to miss me. My truancy was a stealth operation covered up by forged letters from colleges I supposedly visited and a calculated scheme that cracked the attendance policy at my suburban New Jersey public high school. It worked like a charm back then, but I still awake to cold sweats in the middle of the night brought on by nightmares in which Randolph High School administrators force me to retake Calculus in order to retain every degree I have subsequently obtained. In short, I don’t recommend cutting class as much as I did.
The best day I ever cut class was in the fall of my senior year. Cold temperatures had blanketed the Northeast just before Thanksgiving, and Hunter Mountain in Upstate New York boasted one of its earliest openings in memory. Two ski friends from other public schools were itching to get on snow as well, so we devised a plan to skip school on a Friday and rally to and from Hunter in a single day. It was a 2.5-hour drive in each direction, but I possessed the two keys to instantaneous teenage celebrity: determination and a car. ‘Car’ was a loose term I used to describe the gasoline-dependent engine and metal frame I cruised around in. My brother would later confirm that the $3,000 Honda Accord my dad bought for me from the Middle Eastern man who ran a chop shop in Edgewater, NJ was in fact a ‘Franken-car,’ or two vehicles that had previously been in accidents and were welded together to create a single automobile. The radio and heat were both broken, so I drove around with a battery-powered boom box in the backseat while wearing ski clothes through its three winters of life.
But at the start of the ’98-’99 winter, I picked up my friends Erin and Ashley and headed for Hunter Mountain. Erin was a total hottie with a wild default. Some people have a wild side or a wild streak, but wild was Erin’s status quo.
In stark contrast, Ashley was the tame, reserved, shy, ‘good angel’ who sat on my opposing shoulder. She had recently taken a liking to a mutual friend of ours who was a freshman at Cornell, and on the whole drive up to Hunter we had to hear about Adam. Adam, Adam, Adam.
We envisioned ourselves taking ripping, top-to-bottom ski runs while our friends sat in Biology class learning about the Krebs Cycle. When I pulled into the parking lot at Hunter Mountain, however, our delusions crashed into the reality of early season skiing. A narrow ribbon of snow weaved its way from the peak and came to a sudden end in a pile of mud fifty-some odd paces from the chairlift. Patrons were walking over hay with their skis underfoot just to load the lift; tickets were full price.
Never one to waste an opportunity, I called for a round-two rally and suggested we continue northward nearly four more hours to the Vermont ski mecca of Killington. By a majority-rules vote, Ashley was forced against her will to join us for additional adventure. We arrived at Killington just after lunchtime, paid full price for tickets, and skied on psneaux (manmade snow) for three hours. By the time the lifts closed at four, I was exhausted and wondered how I could ever make the drive home to New Jersey. It was, after all, the Dark Ages between the decline and fall of Jolt Cola and the glorious invention of Red Bull.
Ashley had what at the time, and without a map for reference, seemed like a brilliant idea. She suggested we “stop off” at Cornell on our way home from Killington to visit Adam. We could sleep in his dorm and could tell our parents we were staying at each others’ houses. She had an additional stake in the proposal that seemed to swing her over to our delinquent side, but it sounded like a reasonable solution with my limited experience navigating Upstate New York. In present day, with my handy GPS, I could never be persuaded to drive well out of my way for someone else’s booty call. But this was 1998 and we were still convinced we’d have flying cars before everyone drove around with miniature satellite computers on their dashboards.
I began to panic when the road signs to our next major map marker in Adam’s directions indicated vaster and vaster expanses. At a critical juncture when we realized our money was running low, we made the group decision to eat only Taco Bell from there on out. Breakfast nachos, anyone? We had only our ski clothes and Erin refused to set foot on a college campus without some swankier duds, so during one of our pit stops she came back to the car with a whole new outfit. I exclaimed, “Erin, we’re eating Taco Bell to conserve funds and you’re running off to buy clothes? I don’t know how we’re going to afford the gas to get home.” She just shook her head at me and replied, “Calm down. I stole this outfit from K-Mart.” We were headed straight for the juvenile detention facility that was right down the street from my childhood home.
Although Adam was expecting us, he had no warm welcome for anyone other than Ashley, and even that greeting was tepid. He walked us around campus, took us to a frat party that was promptly broken up by security after someone pulled the fire alarm, and then escorted us back to his cramped and cluttered dorm room. Ashley got to share his extra-long twin mattress with him while Erin and I found some floor space. It was November in Ithaca, and these Cornell guys had their bedroom window propped wide open. I slept for five minutes between the shivering.
The next morning, we bummed some cash off Adam and walked to my car in the visitor parking lot where I discovered my entire CD collection had been stolen. So much for the return on investment of my Columbia House membership. As we drove off the Cornell campus and through Ithaca, Ashley was in a sour mood. She just kept saying how terrible the whole trip was. Adam had not given her the attention she sought, and he was hardly happy to see her. She kept saying the drive was one big waste of time.
Erin lost it. “A waste of time?!” she yelled. “At least you got to sleep in a bed last night. We had to rub butts on the floor just to stay warm!”
As my car puttered into the driveway back home, the gas gauge registering empty, I made a decision that proved invaluable to my crime-free future. I determined that I could cut any class in life I wanted to except–of course–for Geography.