In order to make sure my birthday wouldn’t blend indistinguishably into every other work day, I climbed a small mountain in the dark with a bag and a bivysac and slept up there. It was just unseasonal enough to be a slightly ridiculous endeavour for a weeknight, and therefore memorable.
Last year I spent the night on a raft adrift on a small lake, and that worked. I remember that birthday. A fantastic evening. Kind of set the tone for the whole year, actually.
There was a point, though, when I was waist deep in freezing water in the dark with my feet that I could no longer feel sucking menacingly into the mud, wresting the raft out of the year’s logjam/jetsam into open water with great difficulty, fish fleeing out of their winter’s refuge around my legs, teeth chattering around laughter, when I thought it would probably go pretty badly if someone chanced on me right then. *static crackles- crrsk* Crazy person in the lake; approach with extreme caution *crrrk* No one did.
Those are the best times, though, when you’re stuck someplace ridiculous, but still very dangerous, one slip, ankle twist or a blow to the head away from some ignominious accident, when you think, Okay, there is no possible room for failure here, because dying or maiming oneself when you’re up to something this silly just will not bear explanation. So you end up laughing, shaking with laughter at the sad absurdity of where you got yourself stuck, clinging desperately to a rock in the middle of a slide (for instance), thinking of the tourist we were mocking just last week who had to get plucked out of the same predicament with a helicopter. Perhaps that’s the wrong pronoun all over that paragraph; I end up snickering maniacally while clinging to a rock, or tearing my abs in the effort to right myself in a treewell (for instance).
I’ve slept at the flag pole a number of times over the years, always in the winter, and memorably I didn’t use the trail on the first several hikes, because I didn’t find it. It was a long time ago when the trail was different, I’d never climbed it in the daylight, and it was dark every time- that’s my excuse.
This time it was a leisurely night climb. Little need for a light, Nelson is as bright as a half moon on the trail- and noisy, too, the sounds of motors hammering off the hill opposite. The temperature slowly dropped the higher I climbed, pleasingly cooling as I heated up, and the wind picking up as I got up into the snow. I was plenty tired by the time I got there, and chose to nest in a pile of rocks that I knew I’d laugh at the next morning. I slept there, without even a thermarest? Funny thing how even rocks on a slant can be comfortable if you pick a spot that holds you in the right shape. Flat spots, and grass, are overrated. I learned that in Iceland.
I tried to take a picture of town, glowing orange like a bed of old coals, but the best one happened when the camera fell off the rock mid-exposure. I forgot time after that experimenting with swishing my camera around making the light look like the rapture was happening, or aliens were arriving, or the camera was drunk, etc. Because swirly light pictures never get old, until you realize that your fingers aren’t performing the tasks you intend for them any more, because they’re so cold you can’t feel them, and it might be time to huddle in, cinch up, and forget the Earth.
Just like old times.
I used to do things like that all the time. Climb a hill, sleep in the snow, then get up, put on frozen gear and snowboard for 8 hours. Do it again, for five days straight. Wake up looking at elk, or buried in powder. Take absurd risks, laugh later.
On the walk down in the morning, I decided that I’m done with this “used to” business. I’ve let go of lots of things I liked because I was starting to feel like they were age-inappropriate, or too risky, or some such bullshit. To hell with that. And that’s my birthday resolution. I don’t want to have “used to do” anything. I want to still be doing “it”, everything that seizes my fancy, to the limit of my ability. I spent all day skateboarding (in a bowl!) a month ago, when I hadn’t been on small wheels in a decade, and it was the best day ever. I snowboarded for the first day of two seasons on closing weekend at Whitewater this year, and although I’ll never be able to ride like I used to, I still have complete confidence in a tiny edge of steel at speeds that can suck saliva out of the corner of my mouth (sorry to be graphic, but that’s when you know you’re going fast). I thank Mark Heard (a god among orthopaedic surgeons) with every step that it’s possible for me, still, again, to jump, play, run. Even being able to walk is something I don’t take for granted.
Bring it on, year.