Rewards of a crash start
By most measures, unless you live in the deep south, Friday’s snow was little more than a dusting. It was hardly worth getting out the snow shovel. A broom sufficed.
Yet it was enough to freshen an earlier dusting and, perhaps, just enough for cross country skiing. Rocky Point was an option until I got a call from my son, Ted.
“Any snow left in the woods down your way?”
“Looks good.” Ted assured. “Let’s give it a try.”
Cross country skiing on a thin cover can be tricky, if not treacherous. Rocks are exposed and fallen branches that pose no problem when buried in a blanket of 8 to 12 inches can snap like jaws from a trap. I was ready to give it a shot, if for nothing more than to get outside, exercise and, most importantly, initiate the winter season.
We set off on a familiar although rarely traveled trail in the North Kingstown woods. The snow was unblemished, the trail filled with sticks and a combination of fallen limbs that required standing parallel to and lifting one ski at a time to get around. I started off, quickly relinquishing the lead to Ted and Nash, his Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. Nash was excited to be included, although Ted wasn’t going to let him run loose for fear that he could fall prey to a fisher cat or even a bobcat that he has seen in these woods.
Ted had Nash on a short leash and the dog quickly learned to run alongside. They were a team.
We cut through the woods, circumventing boulders and cutting between trees, climbing until we reached the crest of a hill. From winters past, I knew we had reached a favorite spot for sledding. The steep decent was pristine, even area kids had concluded this snow wasn’t worth a trek through the woods. But here we were in cross-country skis that are long and unwieldy.
Ted didn’t give the sled run a second thought. He wasn’t going to attempt it, especially with Nash in tow. He started down the back end of the hill, making his own trail. Brambles, thorny spines, crossed his way. I followed, conscious that I was gaining speed and rapidly losing control. I dragged my poles in an effort to brake my descent. That was a mistake. I caught a stick, skidded and landed with a thump. Now my skies were crossed and still heading down hill. By the time I rolled around and got the poles free, Ted and Nash were gone. They wouldn’t be hard to find. Theirs was the only trail. I brushed off the snow and set off again.
Gravity took control. I was moving…well, it seemed like flying. Brambles ripped at my pants, twigs crunched under my weight. Then I spotted the fallen branch ahead. There was no way I could make it over this without stopping and lifting one ski at a time. How was I going to stop?
A sapling looked to be my savior. It was directly in my path. As long as my skis didn’t go on either side of the tree, I figured I could grab it and hold on. The alternative was to make a crash landing. That seemed the more humiliating of the options although, at this point, no one was there to witness it. It was going to be the sapling.
I reached out and grabbed my emergency brake, feeling it bend to my weight. Now I spun around, a branch catching my hat and launching it. I went down in a cushion of leaves.
The woods were silent. I listened for Ted and Nash. I was salted with tiny snowflakes, like Christmas card sparkle dust. I’d bundled up, imagining it would be cold. That was a mistake. I was in a sweat. The tiny flakes melted on my face and I was surprisingly refreshed and invigorated.
I considered taking off my skis and following on foot. Surely that would have been the cautious approach.
Using the sapling, I stood up and brushed off the snow and found my far-flung hat. My skis were still on. I’d reached the bottom of the hill and a boggy area that in spring would be pock marked by skunk cabbage and reverberating with the songs of tree frogs and cat birds. It was frozen. Quiet.
Ted and Nash’s tracks showed the way stretching toward a stone wall and the trunk of a dead pine that had lost its branches and stood as straight as a utility pole.
Then from beyond I heard Ted.
“Are you there, Dad?” His voice was concerned.
“I’m here,” I yelled shattering the calm. I scanned for the red of his parka from among all the trees. He was a distant speck.
Now on level terrain and on an established path – there were even fresh footprints – I settled into that kick-glide that makes cross-country so enjoyable. I had a second wind. But it was the crash start that framed the day and brought me closer to the beauty of winter and the reward of persistence (or is it stubbornness?) than I would have ever imagined.