Tuesday, March 5, 2013

A Romantic Adventure?
Confession 1: I am a romantic, or at least I like to think so. Confession 2: I am not a daredevil. Now, you’re probably thinking that romantic and daredevil are not opposite sides of a continuum. And, in most cases you would be right. Except two weeks ago, when Audrey and I celebrated our 40th anniversary at a romantic spot that only occasionally caters to daredevils—the Mountain Top Inn in Chittenden, Vermont.
Audrey and I have a history with the Mountain Top Inn, which is why I chose it as the place to celebrate our anniversary. We used to go there for cross-country skiing vacations when we were young marrieds, and on one of those trips, Audrey was newly pregnant with the embryo that would become our son Brett eight months later. That trip was memorable for another reason, too. Temperatures hit -20 degrees with wind chills of around -60. So, how stupid were we to be there at that time! I might suggest that it was the daredevil in us acting out, but it was probably the fact that we had committed the time and money to the trip (when both commodities were not in abundance for us) and were not willing to give in to Mother Nature. But, boy, was it cold!
In a romantic gesture, I surprised Audrey many months before our anniversary by making reservations to go back to the Inn. Since we have been married so many years, I also booked one of the few rooms with a king-size bed, figuring that we could cuddle if we wanted to but would have lots of room to spread out otherwise. That’s not anti-romantic, is it?
As trip time neared, we watched the weather reports closely to be sure that there wouldn’t be a repeat performance of that time 32 years before. After all, our blood does not flow quite as strongly or warmly as it did then. The forecast was for temperatures in the teens and twenties that week. Not bad, though it had been much warmer earlier in the month. This should have set off some warning bells in our minds. Experienced skiers, or people who have lived in northern regions for a while, know that during periods of warmth, snow melts to form little puddles or slushy piles. When temperatures then drop, the puddles and piles become ice. Add some wind, and the icy patches become super slick. In other words, ideal for daredevils. Refer back to confession 2 above to see why this created a potential problem for us. But we went along blithely to Chittenden for our romantic adventure.
We arrived on a Sunday morning, noting that the car’s thermometer reading had been steadily dropping since we crossed the border between New York and Vermont. According to our dashboard, it was 7 degrees outside, but luckily not too windy. Cold, sure, but not Icelandic. We put our bags in the room and took a quick look-around. The place was as Vermont-quaint as we remembered, though the blazing wood fires in the parlors and dining rooms had been replaced with gas substitutes that give off light and a little warmth but not that woodsy fireplace smell. But I am quibbling. It was really beautiful inside; romantic, you might even say.
Then we donned our long johns, turtlenecks, sweaters, and neckpieces (assuming the layered look) and prepared to battle the elements on what we remembered as well groomed ski trails. We asked the staff in the ski lodge for suggestions of the best trails for formerly experienced, but now out-of-practice cross-country skiers to attempt. “Everything’s pretty icy out there,” we were told. “Trails 1, 2, and 3 (trails were numbered from low to high in terms of difficulty near the Inn) should be ok.”
So off we went, like lambs to the slaughter. We headed toward Trail 1, which had a nice groove in which to place our skis and glide forward. Then the groove ran out at the first slight uphill, and we were on open snow, -er ice. We fought bravely to the top of a very modest hill, and breathing heavily, surveyed the scene. “We’re here, we’re on skis, we’re tough,” we told ourselves, and then kept moving. We took a look at Trail 3, which we had been assured was gentle, but it seemed to be mostly uphill. That was somewhat problematic, but not too worrisome, until you realized that old maxim, “What goes up, must come down.” Unlike with alpine skiing, in cross-country, the downhills are what get you. Your skis have no metal edges, so you rely on your ability to edge your skis into the slow to help you stay in control and slow down. But what if the surface is too hard to edge into? Oy! We got to the top of Trail 3 and worked our way very slowly back down the other side of the hill. Instantly, we had become daredevils!

Watch out for non-daredevil skiers, too!

As we stood shakily at the bottom, I watched another skier come downhill toward us at a much faster pace than ours. I heard him repeating several times out loud something that sounded to me like, “Please, don’t die yet! Please, don’t die yet!” shouted in a French Canadian accent. Obviously, he was a man whose thinking matched my own perfectly. He stopped near us, and I asked if he had said what I had heard. He laughed. Audrey commented that I was just projecting my own thoughts on the man. Ha! My own thoughts were, “Please, let  me go inside. Please let me go inside.”
Luckily, cross-country skiing warms you right up!
We managed to make it back to the lodge, removed our skis, and then walked on slightly icy roads back to the Inn. When temperatures reached below zero that night, we knew that the ski trails would probably be just as treacherous for us the next day. We did start out skiing shakily, nevertheless, then took someone’s suggestion that we switch to snowshoes. I wasn’t so sure. The last time I had donned snowshoes, they seemed big and clunky. I felt a little like Clarabell the Clown tramping along in the snow. Nowadays, however, snowshoes have gotten to be nearly the same size as regular shoes. They just let you stay on the surface of a snow bank without falling in. Even better, they can grip on an icy surface, such as the ski trails at the Mountain Top Inn. With our classy new footwear, we stomped romantically for over a kilometer to the lake that spread out frozen and snow-covered below the Inn. We snapped some pictures, and then tramped back up to the Inn, out of breath but not fearful of eminent death.

I like to think of this as our winter sexy look!
Audrey and I didn’t waltz our way into each other’s hearts as we celebrated our latest anniversary. Instead we clomped side-by-side in snowshoes up and down hills. Are we romantics, or what!

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