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Hut trip dreams

Roger Marolt

It’s funny how something you’ve known for a long time can suddenly strike you. What I’m talking about is closely related to that weakly satisfying feeling of accomplishment evaporating into a mist of realization that you are old and have actually wasted more time than you’ve employed in life.It’s enough to induce panic. And, that’s exactly what I did a few weeks ago, suddenly aware that my eldest daughter is almost a teenager. We’re very close, and I’ve watched her grow, but in self-defense I’ve barely noticed. A few more years will pass, and she’ll be on her own. Although she could already make a convincing case against it, I have too little time left with her.Under this malaise, I fired off an e-mail to her teacher without rereading it, volunteering to chaperone a three-day winter hut trip. It was no small thing to juggle my schedule, but desperation was motivation enough to get the pressing things finished and everything else that could be, rescheduled, postponed or forgotten altogether.I arrived home late the evening before we were to depart. After a quick dinner I rummaged hastily through the garage, scavenging bits and pieces of winter camping gear that had migrated away from handiness since their last use a different life, two moves and several deep cleans ago. I packed and checked items off a list that I committed to memory sometime before thoroughly reading and after completely losing it. Setting the alarm for five a.m., I lay down for a fitful night.I tossed and turned many times before the dream began: I was following a school bus down Highway 82 in a strange truck loaded with skis and packs. Mike Tierney, of all people, was in the passenger seat. We were talking about his record-setting ascent of Mount Washington on a unicycle last summer. He was fretting because he had been up before dawn to register for this year’s race and it was already full. We stopped for a cup of coffee and lost the bus. I drove faster and faster through Glenwood Canyon to catch it, but couldn’t. We got to Vail, and just like that, it began to snow. It was amazing how much more they had than we do in Aspen. My cell phone started ringing. I futilely searched through pocket after pocket in my snow pants and jacket. Mike answered it, as the bus reappeared in front of us at the top of Vail Pass. It was Peter, my daughter’s teacher, wondering where we were.At the trailhead, the kids strapped on their skis and shouldered their packs. I went to park the truck and there were no spots available. I ended up way down at the end of a narrow side road. When I returned the class was gone. They left me a sled to pull, heaped with gear. I couldn’t get any traction in the soft snow ahead of its weight.I struggled across a meadow in flat light, suddenly finding the class stopped for lunch in a small grove of evergreens, in bold contrast to this new world of white. Nobody was complaining, and I delighted in seeing that they had discovered what some never know: the difference between pain and satisfying exertion.We skied for another hour and in a far-off stand of trees we spied the roofs of the cabins. Energized by that sight and my own fatigue, I put my head down and pulled the sledge with renewed vigor. I counted my strides – 100, 200, and then lost track. I took a peek and, if anything, the destination was farther away. As is common in dreams, giving up hope can actually give you hope. So it was that the cabins appeared around the next corner. Looking at them was enough to thaw my spirit. The surrounding trees looked to be double-dipped in white chocolate. A velvety orange glow escaped tightly closed windows. Snow frozen in swirls atop dormer peaks and fenceposts completed the perfect winter scene.The kids, instantaneously and inexplicably recovered from the effort, were already busily flying off their own sculpted ski jumps and digging snow caves in the bottomless fluff that had laid long in waiting for them. We adults joined them in the learn-through-play experience. If you can dream inside of a dream, I assuredly did. It happened later in a soft bed nestled into a cozy corner upstairs. I awoke intermittently for no other reason than to watch the glowing trees grow whiter in the moonlight filtered through heavily falling snow. The next morning on skis, Peter led us through deep powder and deeper woods to the base of Shrine Peak. Between exertion, altitude and visual magnificence there was little breath for the taking. About halfway, the teacher decided to take an ill child back down. At timberline an icy blast of wind sneaked through the insulated Gore-Tex of another dozen, and they were chased back, too.Six kids remained to scale the peak with three adults to lead them. I scanned the faces and was delighted to see that my daughter was among them. My heart pounded with joy. I knew from knowing her that it wasn’t the promise of exploration that left her there. In a young life properly full of it, this particular adventure held no premium. She wanted to spend time with me. My effort was being rewarded.”They’re wimps,” one child said of the others’ retreat.”Don’t be too harsh,” I told him. “Out here you can’t risk endangering yourself or the rest of the group if you’re unprepared, for any reason, to go on. They were smart.”My intent was a lecture. I had no idea that it was a prophecy. Another gust of wind buffeted us with icy pellets. The only obstacle that we could see between us and the gray shrouded summit was a 30-foot high cornice that guarded it menacingly. Little did we know that it was only a distraction.To be continued.Roger Marolt hopes he doesn’t wake up in the middle of the night, arms and legs flailing, only to discover that he’s in his underwear. Wake him gently at roger@maroltllp.com


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