Squawk Radio

Monday, December 19, 2005

On the SEVENTH Day of Christmas, the Squawkers Give to Thee....JULIA QUINN!

Ah, winter.

We all have our cold weather traditions, and in my family it means that my husband will drag me to REI to purchase another piece of ridiculously expensive equipment that I will use only rarely. If you don’t believe me, take a look at the inside of my garage. I am the sheepish owner of:

Snowshoes & Boots (used twice)
Downhill Skis & Boots (used six times)
Cross-Country Skis (but no boots. Unsurprisingly, never used.)

This is to say nothing of the jogging stroller that can be outfitted with skis. I’m serious. You pop off the wheels and stick skis on. The last time we had snow here (it’s a big event if the white stuff actually sticks) my husband took every kid on the block up and down the street for a ride.

I don’t own ice skates, which is surprising, since I actually can skate. (Not well, of course. I can’t do anything well that requires coordination.) I never mastered skating backwards, but I figure that’s okay, as I am already clumsy enough when I can see where I’m going.

I also don’t own a sled, but I don’t really need one. If there’s one thing you learn at boarding school, it’s that lunchroom trays make the absolute best sleds. Of course, I don’t have a lunchroom tray, either, but I have recently learned that laundry baskets also work well, and I do have three of those.

On occasion, however, I do haul out the downhill skis and pretend that I know what I’m doing. When I lived in Colorado, the first thing most people asked me was, “Do you ski?” My reply was always, “Well, I can ski.”

There is a big difference between saying you can ski and saying you do ski.

Anyway, within a month of our arrival in Colorado in 1998, my husband dragged me to the ski store and declared that we were getting outfitted because we lived in Colorado and by God we were going to be skiers.

Plus, the resorts were running a special on season passes for locals that year, which was the only way we could justify it.

So I got skis and boots and poles and a few months later I found myself in a car, heading up to Breckenridge. There were three of us: Paul (my husband), our friend Henry, and me. I was feeling a little nervous as I had not skied for, oh, ten years, but I figured as long as I kept to the bunny slopes, I’d be fine.

After a couple of hours in the car, we arrived at Breckenridge, parked, stuffed our feet into our boots, and trekked to the bus stop.

Have I mentioned that I hate walking in ski boots?

And then, lo and behold, when we hop on the bus, both Paul and Henry exclaim, “Chaz!”

Chaz, it turns out, is another intern at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center. (With all three of them on the slopes, it does make you wonder who was tending to the patients.) He had a decided twang to his voice—Texas, if I recall correctly.

Mistake #1: trusting a Texan about skiing. I’ve got nothing against Texans; heck, LisaK is one of my favorite people ever. But Texas is not known for its winter sports.

We take the bus to the bottom of Peak 8, and I find myself immediately hustled onto the Colorado Super Chair, one of those monster-quick ski lifts that whizzes up the hill fast enough to leave everyone with frostbite.

We get to the top, and the three guys begin studying the trail map. I decide that this would be a good time for me to remind Paul that I have not skied for a decade, and I would prefer to take a nice, easy green trail first. Paul offers to come with me, but I said no, he should go ahead and do a more difficult trail with his friends and meet me at the bottom. I was not being a martyr here. I will never be a speed demon, and I knew he’d be spending half his time waiting for me, and then I would spend half my time feeling bad that he was spending half his time waiting for me.

Chaz informed us that he was on vacation, and this was his fourth day in a row at Breckenridge, so he totally knew his way around.

Mistake #2: trusting a Texan about skiing. Oh, wait, was that Mistake #1?

The boys decide that they will head down a trail called Spruce. I am to take the Four O’Clock and meet them at the bottom. I smile, salute, and head down the hill, my confidence high due to the fact that had I managed to unload off the ski lift without wiping out.

The Four O’Clock was totally my type of trail. A nice, shallow incline, some long stretches where you’re just coasting, and best of all, almost completely empty. I hate skiing when it’s crowded. To be honest, I have very little fear that I will fall and break my neck. But I have a great fear of getting whallopped by some twelve-year-old flying down the hill at forty miles per hour.

But this was not a concern on the Four O’Clock. Aside from the fact that there were no twelve-year-olds zooming down the hill, it was the sort of run that you couldn’t pick up a ton of speed on, anyway.

After a few minutes, I entered a zen mode. It was so peaceful. Just me and trees and the snow and the breeze. I started thinking that maybe I did have it in me to be a skier. Maybe I could be one of those people who wants to get up at five in the morning so as to arrive at the slopes bright and early (and miss all the traffic on I-70.)

After a few more minutes I saw some buildings. Well, that’s nice, I thought. Condos right on the slopes. How convenient.

And then the trail ended.

Just ended.

How, you ask, do I know it ended? Because there was a street in front of me. As in a paved, can drive a car on it, street. And directly across the street was a bus stop with four people looking at me as if I was insane.

It was at that moment that I understand the reasons behind the trail’s name. The Four O’Clock would be the trail you took at Four O’Clock. In other words, the last run of the day.

Because it does not drop you off near ANY FREAKING SKI LIFT!!!!

I started feeling a little queasy. But I did what any self-respecting human being without a Y chromosome would do.

I asked for directions.

Yes, I popped off my skis, slung them over my shoulder, and trudged across the street. None of the people at the bus stop were in ski gear, so I figured they were locals and could help me out. I found the one who looked the most reasonable and asked her how I got back to the base of the mountain. She explained that I could take the bus, but the bus went in the wrong direction and I’d have to circle around, and it’d take a really long time. But if I just walked the other way, I’d be there really quickly.

It was a short walk, she promised. She did it all the time.

So I carefully repeated her directions and took off for the base of the mountain.

Have I mentioned I hate walking in ski boots?

Have I mentioned that a short walk in shoes is a marathon in ski boots?

I walk. And I walk. And I walk. For at least twenty minutes. Maybe more. I start to wonder what Paul is thinking. I have now been gone a long time.

Then I find myself in a construction zone. I am not kidding. I walked in my ski boots with my skis on my shoulders through a construction site. I tried to act like I knew what I was doing, but I don’t think any of the construction workers were buying it.

Finally, I see the village up ahead. Ski lifts, hot chocolate stands. A stiff drink sounds pretty good. I stagger to a bench, perch my skis against a rack, and sit down.

I don’t see Paul anywhere, but I am not concerned. He’s probably gone up and down the mountain a few times.

I wait.

And I wait.

And then I want some more.

And then I do something I should have done before all that waiting. I look around.

And I think to myself, “I’ve never been here before.”

With dawning horror, I pull out my trail map.

And I say something that really can’t be printed in this blog, because I have hiked a mile to the wrong ski lift. I am at the base of Peak 9. I am supposed to be at Peak 8.

I almost cried.

To make things worse, the only way to get where I’m going is to take a lift, ski a run, take another lift, and ski another run.

But I do it. And I only fall twice. (I should point out, however, that something I did considerably more than twice was curse out Chaz. And that woman at the bus stop.)

I finally make it to the bottom of Peak 8. This time I don’t notice the hot chocolate stands, or in all honesty, anything other than the bench. Every muscle shaking with exhaustion, I remove my skis, tuck them carefully in the stand, and collapse.

And guess how long I got to rest when I saw Paul, swishing down the hill?

One minute.

Yes, I had one minute of lung reconstitution before my husband came to a splendid stop in front of me and said, “Where have you been?”

It’s about an hour and a half since we parted ways, you see.

I would like to say that I calmly recounted my adventure. But that would be a lie. Instead, I growled. I was beyond speech. I think I managed something including the words, “bus stop, ready to cry, kill, and (of course) Chaz.”

Paul says, “Chaz feels so awful.”

“Oh, really?” This, through gritted teeth.

“After we waited for you for twenty minutes, he figured out what happened,” Paul says. “I went up and then went down the Four O’Clock, looking for you. I was afraid you’d broken your leg or something.”

He’d like that, I think viciously. He has a certificate in wilderness emergency medicine he never gets to use.

And then Paul says, “Why didn’t you just hop on the bus?”

Very carefully, I ask, “What do you mean?”

He tells me that if I’d just waited at the bus stop, I could have hitched a ride straight to the base of Peak 8. That’s what he did.

I said nothing. It was either that or go for his throat.

He looks at me with concern. Says my name.

Finally, I say, “I want lunch.”

He looks at his watch. “But it’s only--”


Chaz and Henry arrive.

Paul carefully places himself between me and Chaz. This, I’m later told, is for Chaz’s safety. “I think we’ll get some lunch,” he says.

And so we did.

P.S. I could barely walk the next day.

P.P.S. I have no idea what happened to Chaz, but should you ever meet a physician with a Texas accent on the ski slopes, do not ask him for directions!!!!!

[We Squawkers are pretty sure you readers know who Julia Quinn is, if only from the hilarious week she gave us as a Guest Squawker last summer (anyone remember the parody of J. Alfred Prufrock?). Anyway, if you don't know...Julia is a New York Times bestselling author of some of the funniest, sexiest Regency romances around. Everything else you might wish to know can be found on her website, http://www.juliaquinn.com]
Eloisa James, 8:07 AM