Sunday, February 25, 2018

The Graduation Trip, Part 2

Every motion by the people upstairs from us was audible to us. Their floor (our ceiling) creaked like an old sailing ship. It was worrisome at times; so loud were the creaks and groans that I wondered if the building would be standing after their children finished stomping around. And to be fair, they could have been tiptoeing for all I know; creak-creak-creak-groan was all we heard.

"We" isn't accurate. My son is eighteen and I don't think he heard anything at all. Whereas I, with the worries of the world on my shoulders, woke up with a start and couldn't go back to sleep, the teenager lightly snored his way through the whole aria folks upstairs preparing to leave, and then leaving.

Making the noise worse as the snowplow outside. Overnight six inches of nice, powdery snow had fallen and the hotel's maintenance folks were busy scraping the walkways and parking lot.

These are some of the reasons I wanted to be downtown. Knowing I wake up early, I wanted to have a coffee shop to walk to so my son could sleep late. Our ski lesson starts at 10:30; we need to be there by 9:30. I was up at 6:00 and it was a lot of time to just sit and listen to the building groan its displeasure at being up so early.

Eventually my son woke up and we drove to Dunkin Doughnuts for a quick breakfast, then on to Wildcat Mountain.

Turns out there was another scheduling snafu and our ski school appointment wasn't made for Wildcat, where I requested, but for Attitash Mountain which was only a mile from our motel. I suppose we could have gone there; I had no real preference, honestly, but picked Wildcat because my friend said it was the better option. The email didn't say which mountain the reservation was at, so I assumed they'd made it for the place I requested.

It worked out; they squeezed us in and we were outside for our ski school lesson early: 10:15.

Except the ski school lesson at Wildcat starts at 10:00.

No problem. The instructors were easily the nicest people I've met in a long time, and they worked us in. I wasn't sure if I needed the lesson; the last time I was on skis was seventeen years prior. Our lesson filled in a lot of gaps for me, raised my awareness back to where it needed to be, and my son proved to me that he was, after all, a Worth; every fall was followed immediately by getting back up and trying again.

After almost three hours, the lesson ended. We went inside to eat a quick bite, rested, and spent the next two hours on the slopes. Ski, fall down, stand up, ski, take the lift back up, repeat. After two or three runs, during which I enforced the idea that my son shouldn't try to go straight down the hill (the only thing the instructor didn't really cover). He got the hang of it and I went to the slightly more advanced runs. The resort slowly emptied as the end of the day approached; he and I wanted to keep at it, to ski more, but eventually the lift closed and we had to finish.

That night we went to Tuckerman's, a classic local establishment. The wait was an hour, except for the bar, and wouldn't you know it, there were two seats open at the bar, so we sat down. They changed the channel to the Olympics. I ordered a nice Stout and some wings; both were excellent. The wings, in particular, were some of the best I've had, though the bartender said another place in town (the name of which I've forgotten) was better. That is hard to fathom, since the Tuckerman's wings were easily in the top five of any I've ever had. I ordered the meatloaf, which was also excellent. My son got the pulled pork, which was mediocre; there's a lesson there: be ware of pulled pork in areas not famous for their barbecue.

It was still a great end to the day. We talked, old friends, buddies. He's growing into a man, and I have to transition to being that for him, a person he can come to for advice rather than the person who tells him what to do.

The next day, our return day, wasn't interesting. We started at a coffee shop in North Conway; it wasn't very good, decent at best, before making the drive to the outlet mall at Kittery Maine, where we shopped a little, and then had breakfast for lunch at Country View Restaurant. Sometimes you find places that just resonate with you, and that's what Country View was for both of us. We ordered the full breakfast, and then out came these pancakes at least a foot in diameter. I tried to eat my fill, but I couldn't. There was simply too much food. It was little embarrassing, but we had to give up and the plates were taken away with pancake left, though we did finish the rest, which included excellent bacon, sausage, and hashbrowns.

At the airport in Manchester, as we turned in the car, my son thanked me for a great vacation.

I almost cried.

Not almost. I did. Just a little. I might not have done a lot right in this world; I have asshole tendencies and can be hard to get along with. And there's still plenty of time to screw things up. But that moment, just for that short whisper of time, I felt like maybe I'd done the parenting thing okay so far.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

The Graduation Trip Part 1

For my son's pending graduation, we took a trip to New Hampshire. Just the guys, like we used to do years ago when we would go to Spring Training in Florida. Then, we planned to someday go to Spring Training in Arizona, but that never materialized.

New Hampshire was a bit of a random choice, based solely on where he could go ice climbing within a couple of hours of an airport that Southwest Airlines flies to. Denver would have been our first choice, but last year when we planned to go there for ice climbing the weather didn't cooperate. So we went north where the winter has been cold enough to ensure good ice formation.

Friday was one of those long travel days that makes you appreciate a good night's rest. Only we didn't really get that rest on Friday night. Our flight landed in Manchester at 11:20, and after picking up the rental we weren't to our hotel until about 12:30. It was a calculated plan based on this question: stay up one extra hour on Friday night or wake up an hour earlier on Saturday morning? We chose the slightly later start, figuring we would already be up on Friday anyway.

It was a good choice, and we were able to get breakfast in our Hampton Inn before hitting the road to Intervale, NH.

The climbing guide of choice was Charlie at Synott Mountain Guides. The office for the guide service is behind a local outdoor goods brand: Ragged Mountain Equipment. Between the store and the guide office is a small factory, a sign that local industry is not quite dead, because it doesn't get much more local than that. Charlie is a great guy and I felt no qualms handing my (adult) son off to him.

While my son climbed I went cross country skiing for the first time.

I wanted very badly to like cross country skiing. It has been a bucket list item for many years. In the Olympics, the Nordic events are my favorite, followed by the other skiing sports.

Cross country skiing might be one of the most difficult sports I've ever attempted. And I've done a lot, particularly of the outside variety. I pride myself on possessing the instincts needed to grasp the fundamentals of sports. Paragliding? No problem. Kayaking? Fine. Mountain biking? Bring it on.

But damned if I could figure out cross country skiing.

I opted to take a class, in part because it was only marginally more expensive than not taking one, but mostly just to get the fundamentals of how to move. Here's the struggle I had: a ski is made to slide, so how do you turn that into forward momentum, uphill?

The answer: with difficulty.

Now, I understand that there are people who will say that's not true. They'll argue that it's easy once you get the hang of it. But that's the trick with everything. Flying a helicopter is easy once you get the hang of it. And while cross country skiing isn't on par with flying a helicopter, it has to be close.

The lesson taught me what I needed to know, and after a quick pee break, I headed out onto the trails, something the instructor suggested once we had a chance to practice a bit.

Pfffft. Practice. I am an experiential learner. Practice is the same as doing. Put something on the line to motivate me.

Let me say this about Jackson, NH: the trails around the golf course (that's where the XC center is) are great, and there is access to many miles of additional trails to explore. That's where I headed: those other trails. I made sure to stick to the easy paths, but I gave myself a goal: do the Ellis River Trail as far as the loop just beyond the hot cocoa hut. I figured it to be around five miles or so total; I wouldn't do the entire trail, since it included some difficult sections, and the easy stuff was hard enough for me.

I'm not going to go into how many times I fell, how often I sidestepped up hills because it was easier than skiing up. I will tell you that despite the bruise I earned on my hip, it was wonderful. I was in the wilderness, and it is always better to be bruised and banged up as a result of being in the great outdoors than to be safe and sound on a sofa.

And the hot cocoa was awesome.

The rest of the day was, sadly, spent working through issues with lodging. My hotel screwed up the reservation. Expedia said they sent the hotel a correct reservation for two beds; the hotel said that wasn't the case. As a result I didn't have a place within walking distance of the North Conway downtown; that was my goal from the start. Instead I was seven miles away at a place within walking distance of nothing.

In the grand scheme of things, though, such hardship makes a vacation interesting, and after picking up my son we took it in stride. I was more interested in his ice climbing trip than the lodging issues. Charlie, it seems, lived up to the promise and it was an incredible trip for the boy. I had wanted to go with him; truly I did. And I said my shoulder hurt, my elbows hurt, and I wanted to try cross country skiing anyway. Truth is, though, that I wanted my son to do it on his own, to not have Dad around telling him how to do things that Dad didn't really know, or have my son look to me for those answers. Sometimes the hardest part of parenting - and leadership, in general - is sitting back and letting things unfold.

Part 2 will deal with the day spent skiing.

Saturday, February 3, 2018

The empty spaces

It looks to be a bit of a slow day. Rain is coming in, a perfect marriage for temps that will be just warm enough to not turn that precipitation into snow, but just cold enough to be miserable. Or on the edge of miserable. I remind myself that in South Dakota the temperature once went from -4 to +45 with in the space of two minutes; and in two hours it had completed a round trip from -4 up to + 54, then back to -4. So miserable weather is relative.

I was awake at 4:00 a.m. for reasons known only to Karma; and that was miserable. Last night I drank one beer too many, ate one meal too few, which is just a fancy way to say I got a little drunk on an empty stomach. For the rest of the month I will abstain from beer, with one or two exceptions. I will abstain from sweets; no processed sugar. Cycling season is coming, and I have given myself a goal to improve my average speed by three miles per hour. Planning how to achieve that has been a fun process. Most of my life I have had a hard time distinguishing dreams from goals. Chasing dreams is more fun than working towards a goal, to be honest, even if it means I wake up early with those visions churning away in my little head.

Sometime around 6:00 I was in Starbucks, only to discover that their heat isn't working at full capacity. It's a tough way to start the day, writing in the cold while waiting for the time when I need to start my workout.

Life is about those empty spaces, the times when there isn't anything to do. Some people hate the blank gaps in life. They fight against them and always seek some way to fill the time, usually with work. We need to embrace those times. It's good to be a little bored, to learn how to occupy ourselves in healthy, if non-productive, ways. Perspective isn't easy to gain when we have no counterpoint. Loneliness, boredom - they are good experiences that humans have forgotten about. At least in the more developed parts of the world.

On a rainy day, the gaps are going to be obvious. I will do taxes, I suppose. Maybe I'll play some video games or organize the game room; my hundred or so Atari games need organizing. There are too many cables snaking around the floor, no good way to switch from one game system to another. Or maybe I'll just read a book until pottery starts up.

Go out and live in your empty spaces today. Let them surround you and you'll be a better person for it.