File this under "It seemed like a good idea at the time."
The cover story of the Weekend section was "Leaf Peeping"—going to parks to see the resplendent fall foliage and suggested a local ski hill to get up close, literally. Because why just stay on the ground and observe nature when you can hop on a ski lift and dangle from the heights?
It seemed like a good idea at the time.
A nice fall day, a nice ride to the country. The clouds moved in and as we arrived it started sprinkling, ever so slightly. I suggested carrying an umbrella, but I was in the minority on this. Everyone was set on believing it would pass over. We boarded the ski lift, as sprinkles turned to raindrops. While our feet moved further and further from the ground below, our jeans from the knees down became rain-soaked, and I opened the umbrella over our heads and shoulders.
It was about at this point that my enthusiasm for leaf peeping was displaced by my forgotten, or perhaps untested, fear of heights. Realizing how much further the lift had to go up the mountain, and the ever-increasing distance between our dangling legs and Mother Earth below, my excitement turned to panic.
Of course, my husband and daughter were just fine.
My mind however, had become a raging tug of war between the gripping desire to GET OFF THIS THING vs. trying to absorb the incomprehensibility of the increasing distance between my mortal being and the planet I have called home. The idea of how easy it would be to simply, peacefully, slide out of the seat, aided by my pre-lubricated jeans, and be received, mercifully, by the arms of Mother Earth, became full frontal. Yes, there would be some broken bones, but at least I'd be off this ever-climbing, sky-soaring, cable-contraption.
Making it worse was the lift’s intermittent stopping, and the full-throttle downpouring rain.
Maybe a sunny day would have been nice.
Somehow, making it to the top, we saw the long line of people waiting in the rain, to board the lift to come back down the hill. Everyone deplaning the lift filed immediately back into the line waiting to re-board.
There was absolutely no way I could fathom getting back on the lift. At least not voluntarily or while still conscious.
My daughter and husband didn’t know what to do. I told them to go on ahead and take the lift down the hill. I was intent on descending the mountain on foot.
Did I mention that the perpetrator of this entire situation, the oh-so-pretty and so colorful foliage leaves, once on the ground, form a carpet, and with the addition of a constant downpour of rain, become an adult Slip-n-Slide? Difficulty level: Advanced. Do Not Try This At Home. May Not Be Suitable For Everyone.
Standing at the top, I looked down the mountain: it looked like it went on forever. As in you couldn't really see all the way to the bottom. The view from the top seemed to say: YOU WILL NEVER FINISH WALKING DOWN THIS MOUNTAIN. I estimated the trek would take over a day.
The option of waiting in the line in drenching rain to get back on the ski lift was so unappealing that people were attempting to walk down, except parts of the mountain were steep as in nearly vertical, so the leaf-carpet had given way to mud, and many had resigned to skidding down in the mud on their bottoms.
My daughter, athletic in all sports, skippity-skipped down the mountain ahead of us.
My husband, string bean tall, with two weak and previously-broken ankles, was clad with traction-free Sperry Topsider shoes, the required standard issue of the complete intellectual, one who is at home on a tennis court or a golf green, but without a single day’s worth of overnight camping or hiking experience under his belt. I felt bad for him the first time I saw him hit the ground. It wasn't the last, and I stopped watching. I had to face my own problem of somehow transporting my physical self to the bottom.
And so what began as a fun family outing became an unintended “Survivor” episode. Throwback to the ironic words of the Gilligan's Island theme song "...A Three-Hour Tour. A Three-Hour Tour…"
At least I had the sole umbrella, and less than a novice's understanding of how to traverse a mountain.
Sometimes placing the point of the umbrella on a pad of wet leaves, it would skid out from under, threatening to take me with it. I learned to visually choose every piece of ground into which I would push the point of the umbrella. Then, carefully, I selected the tiny, tiny steps, putting one foot side-by-side with the other, one at a time, trying to avoid wet leaves, branches and rocks. Many decisions with very slow progress. And the rain wasn't giving us a break.
Occasionally I'd look up from my ground-focused step selecting to see how far there was to go, only to be disillusioned to see that nothing discernable had changed. I'd been carefully side-stepping for what seemed like a LONG TIME, and yet none of it seemed to have had made any impression on the Mountain at all, which still seemed larger than life, and un-addressable.
Looking down the mountain, my side-steps seemed silly and I began imagining that nothing short of a Med Evac would get me out of here before nightfall. Others were skidding down, attempting to descale the mountain. Meanwhile, the ski lodge was sending people up the mountain on snowmobiles to rescue those who were hurt or otherwise completely unable to navigate their escape.
One Med Evac wasn't going to do it. They'd have to send a fleet. I secretly hoped that by now, someone had the good sense to summon them and we'd be rescued shortly. I only had to make a brave attempt until then.
And yet the futility of each tiny step, measured against the massive mountain. Meaningless steps and steps and steps, each one swallowed up by the mountain.
Until repeated meaninglessness, aggregated, became meaningful.
Finally, unbelievably, we reached the bottom. I arrived last. It had taken about an hour-and-a-half to carefully step down the mountain.
My daughter, who had been waiting at the bottom of the mountain for about an hour, looked at us and said:
“What took you guys so long?”