That is no longer the question! I fulfilled a dream this past weekend by skiing again for 2 days in the mountains of Colorado. Downhill skiing that is. Took a 6-day trip to meet up with some friends in Breckenridge, and visit the in-laws. I knew about the trip before my diagnosis, and had every intention of going. But last fall I had virtually given up on the idea of ever skiing again. I just assumed it wouldn't be possible. I mean, how can you have a fatal illness and manage to navigate skis down a mountain? If you've skied before, you know it's a huge amount of work. You use muscles you never knew you had. As I started to get a better sense of my progression however, a dream began to take root in the back of my mind. I was careful not to give it too much energy, for fear of dissappointment. I decided I would book my ticket and go, but wait and see about the skiing. Still, I was afraid that I'd resent going out there at all if I couldn't hit the slopes.
I first went skiing in 8th grade, for 12 hours as part of a church outing at Afton Alps. By the end of the day, I had spent the majority of the time on the ground, but learned enough to 'bomb' a hill and stop by wiping out. As hard as it was, I was hooked. No. Not just hooked. I was in love with all things skiing. I found books at the library and learned technique, and begged my parents to buy my first pair of skis. Once I discovered skiing out West in the Rockies, I knew I would be a life-long skier. Although I rarely go skiing in Minnesota anymore. There is no good substitute for skiing on a real mountain. No comparison. I'd rather ski less, get the best, and really savor it.
For me, the atmosphere that surrounds you while skiing in the mountains borders on paradise. The cool, crisp air. The jaw-dropping views. The adrenaline rush of racing downhill. The tangible silence you can actually feel when you find yourself alone on a run. I get this acute sense of space and time, like I'm somehow more in-tune with the world around me. It's probably some chemical reaction running through my body, but the feeling is magical. Makes me feel more alive. I had tears in my eyes when I found myself standing on skis again at the top of Keystone last Saturday.
The tears were mostly out of joy, but there was sadness as well. With virtually everything I do now, there is a voice in the back of my mind asking "will this be the last time I can do this?" I went golfing with dad last September, down at Bellwood Oaks in Hastings, the course I took my first swings on as a kid. I couldn't help but wonder whether I'd ever be able to go with him again. Most 'last times' tend to pass without that knowledge, and I can't know anything for certain. I just get so frustrated with that voice. In some ways it helps me try harder to appreciate things as they happen, to live in the present. But at the same time it takes away from the experience. Distorts it somehow. Like a bright sunny day with black clouds on the horizon. I need to find a way to see things simply as possibilities, ones I can deal with when and if they happen.
For the most part, I didn't struggle too much with the voice this weekend. I had a few sad moments. But most of the time I just tried to take it all in. Enjoy it while it lasted. We had good snow both days, and 9 inches of fresh powder Monday at Vail. By far the best snow I've ever skied on. The sky was so blue! It was like I'd never really seen it before. And although my legs weren't what they used to be, I only fell twice. Par for the course for me. I loaded up on painkillers, and used some smelly Flexall gunk on my legs (that stuff will clear your sinuses out, sorry again to my ski-mates!). Most of the soreness is gone already, which is a nice bonus. My entire body felt like one big sore muscle there for a bit. No matter. I'm just so happy I went. And proud of myself. A feeling I've found in short supply these days. The entire trip was more than wonderful. It was spectacular. Phenomenal. Super-calla-fragilistic-expy-alla-doh-scious. You get the idea.
Was Monday, February 21st, 2005 my last time skiing? I sure hope not. I think I'll keep my hope alive a little while longer. My father-in-law, Jerry, went with that day. He's 65 years-old and a great skier. Skis every day he can. We were riding up a chairlift, surrounded by these supertall evergreens, painted white with snow. When we got to the top of the lift, you could see the Rockies for miles, all around you, and he said 'this is just a piece of heaven'. I couldn't agree more. Whether I ever ski again or not, I think hoping to find a little piece of heaven on earth again is a fine idea.