Writing on Altitude

By Angel Phillips

I have spent the first thirty years of my life in Wyoming and Colorado; where skiing and snowboarding are ways of life. As for myself, I have never had the slightest inclination to strap wood to my feet and shoot down the side of a snow and ice covered mountain. Despite this, I have always wanted to come along for the trip and relax in the lodge. I wish to have my feet up by a fire, looking over the breathtaking scenery, with a cup of overpriced hot cocoa in one hand and a good book in the other, while my friends damage their bodies outside. Clichéd? Perhaps, but I am okay with this dream. It wasn’t until recently that a friend offered to bring me along. It came as a surprise, as I didn’t know that she had been paying attention to my random babbling about silly things I wanted to do.

She drove me up to the Snowy Range Ski Lodge, just outside of Laramie, Wyoming, and left me in a fluorescent lit café that sat in a large room filled with lockers and ski lift counters. There wasn’t even anyone attending the coffee bar. I found myself thankful that I had my coat, as the temperature inside was only slightly higher than the outside and only because it was protected from the wind. I sat on a hard, wooden bench and began going over submissions for a literary magazine, in the hope that it would keep me entertained. I was repeatedly distracted by the people walking by with red-puffed cheeks and goggle brightened eyes. Most sniffled as they walked by, some laughed. All bounced with a boot-caused swagger, reminiscent of a 1970’s cool cat, footsteps timed to a beat he alone can hear.

My friend came in for a quick break; she showed, with pride, the ice-burned bruise forming above her right butt cheek. Then she admitted that she earned it while getting off the lift. She expressed regret at having not brought her helmet, but laughed at the idea of buying a new one at the small shop. She claimed she would “be in trouble with her bestie,” if it was discovered that she hasn’t been careful, for this reason she will remain anonymous.

A dozen conversations are overheard, a man apologized to a probable niece that he shouldn’t have spoken so roughly to her, “Robert has had a rough week,” he said, “but that’s not your fault.” A familiar- looking woman chatted with a man, and wondered if “anyone else from the group has hit the slope.” Two barely twenty-something girls ate apples, giggled, and cuddled in the corner. Whenever my gawking eyes were met by a stranger, I received looks of confusion, I wasn’t dressed right. I wasn’t a part of the pack, I could almost see nostrils flare and lips curl, but it could have just been my own awkwardness.

I remembered my friend pointing out a set of stairs when we arrived and saying, “there’s a cafeteria up there.” So, I gathered my things and wandered through sign-less hallways. I thought of stores where if you have to ask the price, you can’t afford it. If I had to ask, I didn’t belong here. Finally, I reached a different set of stairs, but they went up, and at this point I couldn’t be picky. Although the large room was lacking a fireplace or anything resembling comfortable furniture, there were large windows overlooking the mountain, and hot food and drink. I ordered green chili smothered nachos. When I asked for both the shredded and the nacho cheeses, the woman winked at me and said she could probably make that happen. I immediately felt less out of place; I had found the folks who were as odd as me. I find the hot chocolate; it is the exact same type that one could dispense from a machine at the gas station. Determined to fulfill at least one part of my fantasy, I pressed the button and watched off-brown powder mix with hot water. The grey-haired woman at the pay counter didn’t charge me for my hot chocolate and called me sweetie. I was glad that I wore my grin that makes grandparents go wild, or maybe it was the low-cut sweater. I found a seat at the end of a long vacant table, began to eat and watch out the window. Within moments, snow flurries obscured my view. I began to question why I am here, not in the grand scale sort of way, but why did I want to sit in a ski lodge, filled with ignored children, screaming of miniature injustices? I checked the time, again, and wondered if my friend will figure out where I had gone, then I started to think about how there isn’t much for cell service out there, and I was pretty sure she left her phone in the car anyway. My starting panic was soothed by two texts, which managed to come through together, demanding my location. I replied with just one word, “upstairs.”

Suddenly it hit me, that despite the woes I’ve expressed, I had written for the first time in months. Not just simple, semi-forced assignments, but desperate, fevered, hand-cramping, on the back of homework and napkin writing. I put my feet up on the chair next to me, sipped my free beverage, and watched tiny people fall in the snow. It was much warmer up there anyway. I questioned the fact that heat rises, yet high altitudes are always so damn cold. I asked no one why our closeness to the sun does nothing.

Apparently, snow falling is not conducive to skiing, so I was dragged out of the lodge, begging to write just one more paragraph. On the drive back, we popped in to the Bear Tree Tavern, in the tiny town of Centennial, for beer and food. The dark, wood walls were decorated with beer signs and numerous bear related paraphernalia. The patrons included a few locals and another small group of snowboarders. The others chatted about how much their skills are improving and made plans to change jobs, simply to be able to ski more often. They ordered pizza and burgers. Since I had already eaten, I chose to order beer. I asked the waitress about a seasonal brew, she appeared uncomfortable and irritated with my questions. I just wanted to know if it was a pale ale, as the taste makes me instantly nauseated. The only answer I could drag out of her was, “well I dunno, it’s pretty light.” I took a risk that I regretted immediately; the label clearly indicated that it was, in fact, a pale ale. Begrudgingly, I drank it quickly. Feeling sorry for myself, I wondered what I had done to deserve this atrocity. My dissatisfaction was clear in the small tip that I left.

Bellies full, we piled into the car and headed back to Laramie. I remained quiet for the drive home, and upon arrival, I thanked my friends and walked toward my car. Then, I found myself turning around and saying, “I really had a great time, let me know next time you go, I will try to join.” With that I got in my car and lit a well-earned cigarette. During the thirty-mile drive home, I wished, as I so often do, that my car could drive itself, so that I could write the words forming in my mind. The best lines are easily forgotten by the time I get to a pen and paper.

Categories: Issue 5, Non-Fiction | Leave a comment

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