Thursday, April 24, 2014

Suddenly Sad

On April 7, 2007 I was hunting for a house for our family on the island of Oahu. My realtor was dutifully taking me to all the spots in our price range. It was hard work looking for a house without Kathy. Through some realtor chicanery, we ended up at a house well out of my price range but with stunning views from the top of Mariner's Ridge. We stood in awe at the view from the wall to wall and floor to ceiling windows. Once we had recovered, we walked around the back to an extremely large deck. I heard a slight noise and turned to see a medium sized dog approaching. He was brindle brown, black and white with incredible gold speckled eyes. Playful, he brought his own tennis ball and dropped it on the deck. Annoyed that I couldn't afford this gorgeous house, I thew the ball passed the next door neighbor yard, where the dog came from, and down the hill on the other side. The dog took off like a shot and the realtor laughed as we got back to business. How much was this house again?
The dog returned with the green tennis ball in his mouth. He dropped it and kicked it to my feet. Was this some sort of dare? I threw it again and he brought back again. I threw it up the hill and he brought it back again. I threw it down the hill and like a greyhound chasing a rabbit he flew off the deck only to return with ball in his mouth, hesitate and drop it at my feet. This dog was a ball chasing machine!

Somehow I made the worst financial decision ever and bought the house. And yet, it is also the best decision I've ever made for many reasons. 
We found out the dog's name was Kukui and he became a fixture at our house and Jake's best friend. They were inseparable. Through the love of Kukui, we met our neighbors Bill and Cher Sullivan. Great people who would give you the shirt off their back if you needed it. Many times when we had to go away, Jake would go next door and get spoiled rotten by Bill who just loved to have Jake on his lap and scratch his stomach. We'd come home and though Bill would know we were there, he would wait until we asked for Jake back. The bond between Jake and Kukui extended to our families. Kukui could often be found at our house while Jake was visiting their house. If I was cooking a thanksgiving turkey in the smoker, Kukui was keeping me company on the deck ... always with a tennis ball. 

Initially, Kukui liked to chase Majik around the house. I was worried about her but Kathy wisely pointed out that when Majik got tired of being chased, she'd let Kukui know. One afternoon, Kukui came down the steps with a bloody nose. Majik had let him know she was done with this game. Kukui, always a smart dog, never chased Majik again.
When Kathy and I last visited Oahu, we stayed at Turtle Bay on the North Shore and at a swanky hotel at the exclusive Ko'Olina but the best time we had was staying with Bill and Cher in their guest room.
Kathy and I were shocked today when Cher told Kathy through IM that Bill had passed away April 7th with a heart ailment. In addition, Kukui passed away a week later with prostrate cancer. These two were Cher's world. My heart goes out to Cher in this time of grieving. 
Our world is an now emptier place without them. If there is a heaven then Bill is walking Kukui and Jake through the back woods of Mariner's Ridge ... with Majik chasing after them.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

36 Years of Zealand Falls Hut

2014 - Zealand Falls Hut Cross Country Ski Trip and remembering back to prior trips.

I'm 55 years old and as some song once said, there are more miles behind me than in front of me. As a result, I find some situations bring me back in time ... to moments long past. We all know that smells do this most easily. How often have you found yourself thinking of Thanksgiving because you smelled an apple pie?

For some reason, this trip was full of these remnants and memory snippets. I can't say why ... I can only say that it happened. I'm not sure when we started. I believe that I was 19 so that would make it 1979. The people below from left to right are John Richburg, Jim Cleary, Dave Richburg, Ken Cleary, Dave Cleary, Dave Cleary (son), and me ... in the bright red downhill ski jacket.

It was a miserable trip that I loved.

Back in 1979, I wore some borrowed skis and boots that were too big for me. My feet slid inside the boot with every kick; blisters started before I hit the first bridge. As I started up the first incline, I contemplated murdering my father and uncle for bringing me there ... but I'd have to catch them first and they were already halfway up the incline. Today, I look to that hill with loving desire. Starting at the parking lot, you get cold. The more people on the trip, the longer it takes to get across the street and get moving ... movement means warmth and there is nothing like skiing uphill to get moving and warm again. In 2014, the temp at the base was 8 degrees Fahrenheit. In other words, pretty damn cold.

At the top of the first hill, I plugged in my ear buds and heard Katy Perry telling me about fireworks and letting my colors burst. Music makes me go and I thought of the different songs that I had sung in to myself in that first trip. I thought of John Richburg skiing through the woods and singing the Johnny Carson theme song. Why that song? Because it was always followed with Ed McMahon announcing ... "Heeeeeere's Johnnnnnnny!"

David Horton, Matt Cleary, Alex Drew and I cruised on passed the Sugarloaf Campground on our right. I knew that spot, that very spot where a frustrated Dean Johnson took off his skis and buried them in the snow. He was already tired and extremely frustrated with the icy conditions of skiing in January. It was cold that day, too. Dean could bench press 300 pounds and often ran marathons but found this trail much too difficult to ski so he walked the rest of the way in.

We stopped for the annual strip down. Dave, Matt, Alex and I took a layer or two off so we didn't sweat too much. Alex's camelbak water tube was frozen solid and mine was slush and I thought of all the years when I forgot to bring water or forgot my lunch! The equipment we have today is far superior to what we used many years ago and yet it was frozen.

The bridge is always a great stopping point to take pictures. I usually don't stay long at the bridge but only long enough to take a "selfie" with my sister. Jeanne wasn't able to make it this year and I considered a single selfie but decided against it.

After the bridge, there is a long boring section of flat (actually slightly up) snow covered road that is absolute drudgery. In 1979, I could feel my skin rip off my heels. In 2014, Jason Mraz kept me company as I chased behind Matt, Dave, and Alex.

The road scoots around to the right, up a bump, down a bit and up again before you find yourself at a parking lot which is the base of a trail that I think takes you up to Mt Hale. Like every year, we stopped here for a snack and to hydrate. Alex's camelbak was still frozen and mine was too. Thankfully, Alex had his wide mouth bottle and we shared that.

Matt started getting cold so we started up skiing again. Alex had really found his rhythm and took off as well. David did his David smirk and I cruised in behind him. With my extra long skis (per my request), I was slipping and sliding with skis sliding back as much as driving forward. I kept telling myself that the extra work was keeping me warm!

Lunches on this trip have always been interesting. It's fun to feed the birds. I've forgotten my lunch several times.

We ate hearty flatbread sandwiches from subway. I tried to get Matt to eat my ham and swiss but he would have none of it. The lad hasn't learned to appreciate a fine quality cheese like swiss!

This is where the real work starts. It is uphill, around trees, and next to rocks. It is some of the toughest parts of the trip because you just got confident on skis on a road and suddenly, you are winding around and around. Matt and David took to the right. I laughed and took the left turn. Soon they were backtracking and following my trail.

It's hard work skiing uphill through the woods and soon I was near sweating again and stripping off another layer. The quiet settled in and once Matt, Dave, and Alex passed me, I could relax in a nice rhythm. Soon we were at the ponds. How did that happen so quickly!

We made our way around hidden brooks and streams and over bridges and found ourselves at the base of the ascent to the hut. Dave and Matt continued to Zeecliff.

Back at the hut, we huddled together in the cold awaiting the return of the caretaker to start the wood stove. We had hot chocolate, played cribbage, and asked people to shut the door when they left it open. There were several rude people or maybe they were self-centered/absorbed who would open the door and stand in the entry way looking about the hut as if they were held back by some ancient curse. I missed Uncle Dave yelling "shut the door!" so I did a bad imitation of him. It worked sometimes.

We also met some lovely people from Denmark ... not the country but the town in Maine. My calves were stiff and achy and I thought of complaining but that's when I found out that a woman at another table was 84 years old ... and shame shut my mouth. If she wasn't going to complain, I certainly wasn't.

The hut was packed as usual, only it wasn't our crew that packed it. We were just 4 against the din of 30 people. I now understand how others have felt when we dominated the hut in years past.

Dinner was delicious. Alex was an able chef cooking the pasta and I made a homemade Alfredo sauce. Everything came out great and I thought back to the carrot cakes and prior meals ... we've done some really fine dining up at the hut in recent years. I missed Dave Richburg and his organizational skills. Matt and Dave cleaned up ... fast, efficient, and even cleaned up other group's messes. Then Matt went and got more water. It didn't go unnoticed by the hut caretaker.

The cribbage game was fierce. Alex kept us honest with the scoring. I guess I should say that he helped us when we missed scoring all our points. I think Alex would give Dave Cleary a run for his money.

We finished our bottle of red wine and crawled into bed. The bunks have completely changed! Since I have no idea how to describe them ... you'll have to go up there and see it for yourselves. It was cold in the bunk rooms ... cold enough that even the nail heads had frost on them. And yet, we all awoke warm and refreshed.

Breakfast was light and easy and soon we were packing up our gear. Kathy, one of the hikers from Denmark (not the country but the town in Maine) pulled me aside. We had engaged in several fun conversations the previous evening.

"I just want to tell you that you have some real gentlemen hiking with you. While you were cooking, none of your crew touched the wine! If that was our crew, that bottle would have been gone not long after you set it down on the table but they waited for you. You served bread and butter and neither young man ate it until you were there sitting with them as a group. I noticed that the four of you did a toast! That was amazing because I'm sure that you were all hungry."

Her words were well received and I shared them with Dave, Matt and Alex who just shrugged and continued packing their gear. What is important about this? The shrug is important because these young men did what they did (respect) because it was the right thing to do. When old people complain about the future generations, I think of moments like these and laugh. Every older generation complains about the next generation.

Matt's thin gloves were missing. I had moved them from his shoes to hanging on a line so they would dry faster. Someone must have taken them by mistake. Matt was a bit distraught and I felt bad about it. I was about to buy him a new pair from the caretaker when the caretaker gave Matt a used pair that he had. It was a very kind thing for him to do ... and I think it is directly related to Matt's efforts at cleaning up and getting water ... people caring about each other.

We started the ski out ... and it was fast and fun. I think it was one of the best ski out I've ever had. We were flying! Alex pointed out that I said the same thing last year ... punk kid!

I zipped along down and through the glades, no longer cold because I was definitely exhilarated. Holding the camera in one hand an two poles in the other, I whipped by where Jeanne blew her knee out. Matt, Dave and Alex awaited at the bottom and I was going so fast that I thought I would fly right into the raging river that awaits you if you miss the left turn.

Below is a picture of Alex. He had fallen and put out his arms and the sunk unceremoniously deep into the snow right up to his biceps.

They used to be short Christmas trees that lined the last section before the road but now they have grown tall. Saddled with fresh snow, they bend until the snow drops and blends with the trail. I remember Eddie and Dad doggedly skiing out one year when the snow was warm and sticking to our skis. I remember seeing how the two best friends plodded along indifferent to the conditions. One can only imagine what they were discussing ... world events, religious matters, the fate of the MBTA after they left?

We convened at the upper parking lot where we had eaten lunch the previous day. We were getting hungry and thoughts of a cold beer at the Woodstock Inn tempted us to ski a bit more recklessly. It was at this time that my long skis served me well. As much as I cursed them coming up, I was grateful on my way down for their speedy descent. I knew that Matt was behind me but he wasn't going to catch me on this downhill. I enjoyed the competition. Sometimes it doesn't matter who wins and I would even say that if I won. The enjoyment for me was how each of us pushed each other to be better. We were all better for the effort expended.

Matt, Dave, Alex, and I screamed down the final hill. Normally, we would go to Truants Tavern. It was a tradition started many years ago when we skied approximately 21 miles in subzero temperatures. Our water froze that day too; so did the wine and the scotch became slush. Our metal was tested that day and we overcame each obstacle and we were better for it as well. In the end and for 30+ years later, we found our dinner at Truant's Tavern. The Tavern has gone downhill in recent years. The 3 young men were looking to me to determine if tradition should be broken ... well, I'm not one for tradition and we enjoyed the slightly more expensive Woodstock Inn.

I never know when my last ski in to Zealand Falls hut will be. I guess from here on out, it will be one of those things like, "wait until next year."