March 01, 2009

Snow Day!

I've been lucky enough to keep myself really busy while unemployed with trips and activities that were paid for last year while I still had a job.

Edith, Michelle and I were supposed to go snowtubing in January, but our trip was cancelled at the last minute because of...a snowstorm. And since Adventure Society does not issue refunds, we rebooked the same trip at a later date, refusing to give up on our hopes for a grown-up snow day.

This time around, we had the opposite problem: the local forecast temperature was right on the cusp between freezing and thawing, and overnight precipitation could have melted what snow was on the ground. Given my displeasure with the record snowfall in London in January, I knew this would be the only time I hoped for snow all year.

With Adventure Society, you never actually know where you're going. They provide a van and a driver and they take you to a secret location for all sorts of outdoorsy activities, usually Upstate or out in the Poconos (like our snowmobiling trip last year). So we really didn't know what we were getting into until, well, we got there.

The van brought us to the Frost Valley YMCA, on the western/southern tier of the Catskill Mountains, where creeks are called rivers and where sap flows freely from trees for birds to sip. Maple syrup is big up there, as are the hills you climb during a snowshoe hike. There was plenty of snow on the ground upon our arrival, though a bit iced-over from what we assumed was a light rainfall the night before. The ground was blinding white and our shadows long and dark, forcing us to squint into a permanent smile that we felt until we headed home.

I'm not much of a hiker - more of a meanderer - but my legs felt stronger than ever, climbing steep and deep snow hills and teetering on the precipice of a river bank. The snowshoes weren't big tennis racquets like I imagined Pa strapping to his feet in The Long Winter, but they did increase the surface area of our footprints enough to keep us from sinking - mostly - into knee-deep snow. The biggest problem was one foot stepping on the other's snowshoe. That caused each of us to fall at least once. But my spirit was as buoyant as the Salton Sea and I had no problem getting back up and treading onwards and upwards.

After a very camp-like cafeteria lunch (where I fought 8 year old girls for a slice of sheet pizza, and a young teen boy taught me how to use the hot chocolate machine), we embarked on a slightly more exciting adventure, and the activity that particularly lured me: snowtubing. Sure, there's no gas-run motor to rev with the squeeze of the throttle, but those aerodynamic little rubber orbs go fast, and I screamed louder than I ever did on a snowmobile. Lucky for me, this time there were no creeks to crash into.

In a snowtube, your butt sinks down into the center hole, hoisting your legs up in the air (if they're short like mine). At the top of the hill, you keep repeating silently to yourself, "Please don't let me go backwards..." but once you're pushed down the bumpy slope, gathering speed as you go, you can't settle for just facing fowards. With a slight tug on one handle, you can pretty quickly whirl yourself around into a dizzying spin before you reach the bottom, and twirl yourself like a teacup for maximum effect. Otherwise, the breathless trudge back up to the top to return your tube just isn't worth it. We made sure our three trips back up that hill were damn worth it.

It was a strange physical and mental adjustment for me to once again embrace winter, having thrived so recently trips to Joshua Tree and LA. But as an adult, you have so few opportunities to play, something that's so rejuvenating to body and to spirit. In New York City, if getting to play means driving two and a half hours upstate with red cheeks and freezing toes, so be it. It was a great workout, a thrilling adventure, and a nice opportunity to recapture some child-like glee in a day off in the snow.

My current state of unemployment will soon limit my activities that cost money, but I'm sure I'll continue to entertain myself in weird and wacky ways. Someone said to me last week, "Sandi, you realize you have a very interesting life and do a lot of unusual things, right?" and I replied, "Yeah, but it's never enough...."

For more photos, click here.

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