Reflections

Life is short. It’s the longest thing you’ll ever do. ~ U2, from the live versions of “Moment of Surrender.”

It’s a strange thing to be able to tick off parts of your life in decades. I’m just getting used to that. I’ve known my best friend, Melissa, and dear friend, Sarah, for over two decades. I graduated from high school nearly two decades ago; college, nearly a decade and a half. All of this is so much more time than the 12 years I spent in school, from age 5 through 18, which seemed like the longest period of my life. I don’t know what strange warping of time occurs as you get older, but the days speed by fast. These days run away like horses over the hill… –U2, “Dirty Day,” a song that defined my feelings the summer between graduating high school and beginning college. Still truer today than ever.

Ten years ago, I was widowed. A decade. A lot has happened since I was 26. I’ve fulfilled a few lifelong dreams: I went to Germany and Amsterdam in 2005–a trip Mike and I had one day planned to do–and I revisited Europe two years later to tour Italy. I’ve taken up cycling–become quite the fanatic, putting between 2,000 and 4,500 miles per year since 2007. I’ve skied new places–Utah, Whistler. I’ve been in four romantic relationships. I’m not stagnant. Far from it, in fact, because losing Mike taught me to appreciate what days I do have here, to live for the moment, and to do what I want to do NOW instead of putting it off for a future I can’t promise myself will be there. I’ve continued the lessons Mike taught me about loving life. I’ve taken life by the horns and wrestled with it. What he taught me has meant more in his absence than it did when we were together. Because I’ve had more time by myself than I did with him. But his lessons were lasting. I love him for what he taught me about life–both in the way he lived his life and in his much too early death.

I guess it’s hard to believe that a monumental “anniversary” like ten years would go by without much of a pinch to my emotions. I went into the day not expecting much. I didn’t pressure myself to emote, like I tried to do last summer in celebrating the anniversary of our wedding. (I surely didn’t need another cut chin and poison sumac, ha ha!) Fortunately, the day brought a lot of distraction–a full day of work followed by a company meeting and dinner. I did observe a day of internet silence (which I only broke with a few quick posts to the U2 forum–my one allowable exception.) I did this mainly to avoid writing anything depressing if such a compulsion came over me. Which it didn’t. Still, it was refreshing to take a break from the internet again, much like I did on my vacation in Whistler. It forced me to think. Like a moment of silence held in respect.

I got home around 7:30 or 8pm. I lit a candle on my dining room table and did some writing (in my novel, not memoir-related) while listening to a U2 bootleg. I allowed myself to break my weekday fast from alcohol to have one beer. I smoked the last cigarette in a pack of cloves my best friend sent me a few Christmases ago. I’d been slowly working my way through them. I wanted to swear that I would never smoke again, in memory of Mike, but I realized as smoked that last one that it was a promise I’m not 100% sure I can keep. (I’m not a regular smoker these days–I just have one or two on occasion, maybe once a month, which is how it’s been since college with an exception of a year or two when I was grieving heavily and didn’t care. Still, I know I should stop completely. I just like the way it feels, tastes. But it’s one pleasure I really need to quit for longevity and the fact that I have asthma. I know, please don’t waste your typing with admonishments. My conscience is noisy enough.)

I will try harder to keep that promise, though. Mike never liked it when I smoked. And I couldn’t keep it from him–he always sniffed it out on me–and when I tried to get around that by taking a shower whenever I returned home after having one, he grew naturally suspicious. I wondered vaguely if I should use his guilt to stop. Maybe look at the picture of him that I still keep in my wallet (with my Grandma H’s prayer card) every time I think of having one. If only to remember that the land of Death where I’d like to meet him is not a place I want to go for a long, long time.

Anyway, I know it sounds dramatic. But I was just taking it easy. I didn’t feel anything, and I didn’t expect to feel anything. Life goes on. Still, it did feel like the end of something.

A few weeks prior to the 14th, I had what I’m now thinking of as my last fit. I had drunk a little too much (which rarely happens anymore) and it was late on a Friday night. I was jamming to U2 (some bootleg) as I’m wont to do when I’ve overindulged, and I was smoking one of the few remaining cigarettes in that pack. I stood on my back patio, looking out into the yard. My normal ritual was to try to provoke Mike’s ghost. I’ve done it a lot of times when stressed. I’ll just start saying (usually not aloud), “C’mon, Mike, if you’re still out there, show me a sign.” I keep hoping for thunder cracks or shooting stars or falling tree limbs. That night I kept thinking about white squirrels, remembering the time that we saw one run across some lonely back road in South Carolina on our way to the highpoint in November 1999. I thought about a white squirrel and begged to see one as a sign. I threatened that I would never quit smoking if I didn’t see a sign. I was pulling out all sorts of stops. Pleading to night. Insisting that if I saw just one sign of life after death it would change my life forever.

Of course, as usual, all I got was silence in response. Not even crickets since it’s still too early for their song to fill the night. I guess some people would not take this as a definitive sign that there’s nothing more to life than what we experience, but the old atheist in me came running back to its comfort zone of disbelief. I’ve always been sure that knowing how much I need proof, surely someone who loved me–Mike or my grandma H–would have given me a sign to let me know everything is okay after death. This girl cannot live on faith alone.

Something changed in me that night. I decided I was done pleading for signs. I realized how ridiculous it was. I mine as well wish to win the lottery so that I can support myself and spend my days writing. I am finally ready to just continue to deal with the unknown as unknown as it is. I think, too, I lost a little bit of my make-believe faith that night. My agnost-o-meter now leans a little bit to the atheistic left again.

Maybe that’s what happens when you reach a decade after the loss of someone. You finally realize all the answers you were hoping you’d somehow get are really not ever going to be answered. You accept that what is, is. And it’s been that way for a long time now. It’s like I finally snapped out of a spell. Reality.

So by the time the 14th rolled around, I was already feeling as though I’d stepped across some line. I’d had an epiphany. Now what?

Time moves forward. Memory fades. The love remains in my heart, surfacing every once in awhile when I watch a sad movie or a song on the radio provokes a memory. I am thankful that I no longer feel as tortured as I did in 2001, or as lost as I was in 2002-2004, or as angry as I was in 2004-2006. After having at last moved through all the stages of grief, I’ve spent the last several years reshaping my life into something new. I’m whole again. But I’m not the same girl I was at 26. Or even 24 before I met Mike. I’m something wholly new at 36. And it’s good. If not slightly jaded. But with jaded comes some self-protection too, which I didn’t have when I was 24.

I know that I’m complete by the fact that I’m not even actively searching to date anyone. I just don’t care, really, if I ever meet someone to be with again or not. Sure, every once in awhile, I miss the excitement of new romance, intimacy of a relationship, companionship in general. I’ve got my own goals and my own plans for my life. I’m actively pursuing the things I enjoy most–writing, cycling, traveling (in that order)–and I’m happy. The relationship I’ve rebuilt with my parents has made me much emotionally stable than I’ve ever been because I feel supported and loved. I won’t take them for granted any more, that’s for sure. Blood is thicker than anything else on this planet and no matter what a huge asshole I may have been at times, my parents have always been there for me. I love them for who they are and I think they love me back despite the fact that we all know each other’s flaws. Unconditional love. When you have that, you don’t try to seek it in other people who are incapable of giving it to you (i.e., my in-laws).

I guess if I can look back on a tragic event and give it a positive spin, I would have to say that Mike’s death taught me the following three points:

1.) Life is precious. Don’t ever, for a second, waste a moment. Pursue your dreams and make the most of the adventure. We lived this in our lives together and I definitely have lived it in our life apart.

2.) Don’t forget the people in your life who are still alive. Cherish each moment with them. Appreciate the time spent together and make sure you do make time to be with them. Thus why every single one of my Christmas presents to my parents for the last few years have been activities rather than actual physical gifts. Time is more precious than anything you could ever hold.

3.) The mysteries of life don’t get revealed to you just because you beg and bargain with the dead. Regardless of what lies beyond this life (which may be nothing), the one thing I do know is that there is life before death. I’ve got proof of that every day.

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10 Years

Just a few pictures of my favorite memories with Mike…

I mentioned the setting sun on the Alabama state highpoint in a recent entry. Check out the background in the picture below. That wasn’t even the most beautiful part of it.

Mike at Alabama state highpoint, Nov. 1999

Mike and me at Alabama state highpoint, Nov. 1999

I love how he used to wear that (purple) bandanna to protect his (balding) head from the sun! I still have that bandanna; I keep it in a drawer in my nightstand.

Mike and me on a booze cruise in Cabo San Lucas, our honeymoon, Aug. 1999

I had this picture in my wallet until recently. Well, it’s still in my wallet, just not in one of the picture holders. I keep it in one of the pockets along with the prayer card from my Grandma H’s funeral. I haven’t had the heart to move either. I’d like to think they are my good luck charms…

Engagement photo, circa Jan 1999.

And, lastly, in lieu of an overly dramatic love song or poetry, I leave this video of “One Night In Bangkok” by Murray Head from the musical Chess because we heard it on our first date and it always reminds me of him. In memory of our happiest times.

The Soundtrack of My Grief

1. “Here Is The House” by Depeche Mode.

After Mike died, I lived in the house (condo) we shared together for an additional five months where memories haunted me at every turn. The condo seemed empty without him there, especially since it had been his home first before mine (and therefore was decorated as he left it). I spent a lot of time on the internet chatting on a yahoo group with other widows in the basement office–the only room in the house that was expressly me. I bought an old Depeche Mode CD–Black Celebration–basically on a whim, because I’d always loved Depeche Mode and I knew some of the songs off of it. I was immediately drawn to the song “Here Is The House” for its hauntingly reflective lyrics about the house in which two lovers have spent “those tender moments” of their lives. As I was living in a house filled with the ghosts of my former life, the song put me in a mood between melancholy in the remembrance of those times and despair over their loss. Sometimes when I’m out on a walk or riding my bike past that old condo, this song rises to the surface of my thoughts.

2. “Aenima” by Tool.

This song is about the destruction of California by several cataclysmic events–meteor crashes, earthquakes, tsunami. Very violent, very angry song with a very heavy rock (thrasher?) sound. Not my usual flavor of music. But I became obsessed with the song and its apocalyptic images. In a time when it felt like my whole world was falling apart, this song mirrored the storm raging within me. It gave me leave to scream. To shout the word “fuck” in sweet release without feeling vulgar since I was, you know, just repeating the lyrics to a song. I guess for me this is the purpose for angry music. I did buy two Tool CDs and I listened to them both pretty intensely for a time there. Now I never listen to them at all. But for a short while, they perfectly suited my frame of mind. At least they kept me from lashing out at the world.

3. “Wish You Were Here” by Incubus.

I think I first heard this song on a radio show on which Incubus were guests. It’s really a beautiful song from a harder rock band with a melody that sounds just as much as longing as the imagery of the words suggests. It’s not a sad song, really. The narrator describes the joy he/she experiences in vivid descriptions of standing on the beach. In that moment of happiness, the narrator realizes how much he/she misses someone. This song reminds me of the night in November of 2001 when I saw the Leonid meteor shower from my backyard and later while driving for a darker viewing location. My emotions were overtaken by the beauty of the Leonids–they were quite remarkably bright that year–and I could not help but think how much Mike would have enjoyed seeing them too. Even then, it seemed so odd to me that at the end of a horrific year–my personal loss, the national loss from 9/11–that the universe could still be so beautiful. It was almost as if the universe was telling me that it everything ultimately would be all right. Life goes on. Everything is as it is supposed to be.

4. “Lovers In A Dangerous Time” by Barenaked Ladies. (A cover of a song originally by Bruce Cockburn.)

It sounded kind of romantic to view my relationship with Mike–and its tragic end–as the story of star-crossed lovers. In fact, in the weeks following Mike’s death, I pondered all sorts of bizarre thoughts. My favorite was the idea that he and I were lovers in many past lives and that our love always ended tragically with one or the other of us dying, never to have a life fulfilled. It made me feel better to think that our story was some kind of predestined fate as it erased any guilt I might have had about his death, removed all of the “what-ifs,” for with destiny, no matter what we did, the result would always be the same. I even started writing a short story based on this idea, but I never finished it because I’m not really sure I bought the premise completely.

5. “Sail Away” by David Gray.

This is a beautiful ballad of loss that so eloquently described how I felt: “Crazy skies all wild above me now. / Winter howling at my face / And everything I held so dear / Disappeared without a trace.”

6. “Return To Me” by October Project.

I dated a guy briefly in November 2001. I guess you could call that my “rebound” relationship for it was doomed from the start because it was spurred by my loneliness and peer pressure from friends to “move on” before I was ready. I’m still friends with this guy so it’s all good, and one of the greatest gifts he gave me was introducing me to this short-lived band called October Project. The song “Return To Me” from their first album is, like David Gray’s “Sail Away,” a song of lost love that mourns in lyric and haunting melody. “I am here calling the wind / I am here calling your name / I am here calling you back / Return to me” – These were not unlike my own bargaining cries, mumbled mournfully in the early hours of the evening, praying to whatever power could bring Mike back.

7. “Walk On” by U2.

I’ve talked before about how “Walk On” was the firm hand pulling my head above water when I was drowning in the sea of my own despair. If you’ve not read it, see the sermon I delivered at my church or the little blurb I wrote on atu2.com. This song is very special to me. U2 can keep it in their live set list forever as far as I’m concerned. I recently discovered the “single edit” version which is even better than the version on All That You Can’t Leave Behind. This version opens with a piano, is less produced, and ends with a chorus of joyous “hallelujahs” that causes goosebumps to rise forcefully on my arms. As if this song didn’t do that to me already!

8. “Warm Tape” by Red Hot Chili Peppers.

I just really liked the tune of this song. I bought the CD during the end of the summer in 2002, before I got the opportunity to move to Colorado, and I wore it out playing this song over and over again throughout the fall. The idea of  moving to Colorado was on my mind a lot and I was waiting for the chance to fulfill my dream. So the song inspired within me the excitement of heading off into the unknown–of taking control of my life, doing something adventurous. I listened to this song every time I wanted to forget myself in my ambitious dreams.

9. “Stand Up, Sit Down” by Radiohead.

“Walk into the jaws of hell” and “You can wipe out any time” – For some reason, I always found comfort in singing those lines. A bit dramatic, I know. But, hey, Radiohead wrote the song, not me!

10. “Clocks” by Coldplay.

Coldplay’s A Rush of Blood To The Head was released in 2002 and I moved to Colorado in January 2003. This CD–particularly the song “Clocks”–became the soundtrack to my experience in Colorado as its songs had a lot of radio play that year, especially since the band was touring. Whenever I hear this song, I’m reminded of the wonder of living in Colorado, which was so foreign from the place in which I grew up. I think of hiking in the mountains, cycling to work, the Flat Irons over Boulder, the house I bought in my brief time there. I always felt that Colorado was home (even though I did move back to Ohio) and the ending lines resonated with me, making me always think of the mountains I love, “Home, home, where I wanted to go….”

U2 Wish on atU2.com

The answer I submitted to atU2.com’s question of the month (click link) got posted!! I’m pretty happy, especially since I’ve been in a rather depressed mood lately and haven’t done much writing (thus all the sudden blog entries). I didn’t get the news position I was hoping for from them (and, honestly, the article I wrote for the application was crappy and uninspired), but at least I am capable of writing something worthy of being posted. This little success has brightened my day, giving me a little bit of the gas I’ve needed this week to push onwards. Maybe some other opportunities will open for me if I more aggressively pursue them. I know my writing is not perfect. But if I keep trying, eventually I will get there.

The Soundtrack of My Life With Mike

As the 10 year “anniversary” of Mike’s death approaches, I have, of course, been reflecting a little bit on our short time together as well as the years after. Because every experience in life to me is ultimately expressed through the music that I hear, my thoughts have drifted to me in the form of songs. So naturally I find myself remembering Mike in the shape of the songs that were the soundtrack to our relationship. Brace yourself–none of these songs are by U2!

1. “One Night In Bangkok” by Murray Head from the musical Chess.

This song on the radio on the way to the parachuting drop zone we visited (only to watch) on our first date. Mike turned up the radio and began singing it boldly (he never feared anyone hear his singing voice). He was so cute. I loved that lines like “the queens we use would not excite you” flowed out of his lips without embarrassment. A man who could sing a song with a homoerotic subtext as though he were singing the ABCs was completely sexy in my books. It symbolized the liberal, open-minded man I would learn he was. I loved him the instant he started explaining the song to me as if I didn’t know. “One Night In Bangkok”–hilariously enough–will always remind me of our first date.

2. “Time Of Our Life” by Green Day.

The day I jumped out of an airplane for the first time–about two months after our first date–this song was playing as I was flying over the drop zone under canopy. It’s recorded on the video Mike took of my jump from the ground. The song will always remind me of my first jump out of an airplane and, consequently, my budding love with Mike. I think he fell totally in love with me that day because I was not one to turn down a frightening challenge. Mike liked a girl with guts and determination. It was like I passed some sort of test. I knew this then and I think someone made the same observation later. I jumped for me; I just happened to get a wonderful husband out of the adventure. Which I guess is kind of a grand metaphor for love–letting go and letting oneself fall.

3. “So It Goes” by Billy Joel.

We almost broke up one night when Mike got drunk at a party and kissed another girl. I was totally prepared to leave him despite the fact that just a few hours earlier he declared that he would marry me someday. As circumstance would have it, I had to drive him home from the party since we came together and I ended up staying the night because I was too tired to drive back home to Cleveland. As I was trying to leave the next morning, Mike begged me to stay, telling me to just listen to this one song he was going to play because it said everything better than he could about how he felt. That was Billy Joel’s “So It Goes.” We danced to it together in the living room of his condo. I forgave him as tears formed in his eyes and he profusely apologized. It was his one “get out of jail free card.”

4. “Truck Drivin’ Song” by Weird Al Yankovic.

Mike bought Weird Al’s Running With Scissors because he wanted me to hear “The Saga Begins”–the spoof of “American Pie” about Star Wars Episode I. I loved that song, but we both really got stuck on “Truck Drivin’ Song” which, coincidentally, is a song about a cross-dressing truck driver. Hmm. Is there a theme here? We thought the song was hilariously funny and even had the DJ play it towards the end of our wedding reception, much to the mass confusion our guests. We used to sing lines of this song to each other and giggle.

5. “Little Light Of Love” by RXRA from the The Fifth Element movie soundtrack.

The Fifth Element was more than a movie to me and Mike–it was a religious experience. We worshiped this movie like our own gospel and we watched it at least once a month (often times more). We knew every line and we repeated them to each other constantly. We wanted to dress up as the movie’s main characters for Halloween in some future year–Korbin Dallas (Bruce Willis) and Leloo (Milla Jovovich). We even wanted to name our first son Korbin. We believed the core message of this satirical movie: Life is important.

I own the deluxe anniversary edition of The Fifth Element, which I bought a few years ago when it was re-released. I have only watched it once. It’s just not as fun without having someone to recite all the lines with. Still, I can listen to the soundtrack, which I also own, and remember all those Saturday mornings in winter when we watched this movie together as we lay together on the couch.

6. “Money” from the musical Cabaret.

Another Fritzy and Misha (our nicknames) favorite–the musical Cabaret. We saw Cabaret performed at the Palace Theatre in Cleveland, I believe, during the 1999-2000 season. We were season ticket holders for the Broadway Series during the two years we were together. We bought the Broadway soundtrack and wore the CD down with plays on road trips. I picked the song “Money” because I remember Mike singing it joyously every time it came on. (That and “Two Ladies,” but I was trying to avoid another yet song with sexual innuendo…)

7. “When I See You Smile” by Bad English.

When planning our wedding, we struggled with the song to use as our first dance. Mike kept wanting to use Billy Joel’s “She’s Got A Way” but I kept insisting that we needed to pick a song that embodied both of us, not just his feelings about me. During our first meeting with the DJ, we couldn’t come up with anything, and we lamely picked some song that I don’t recall, I just remember being completely dissatisfied with the choice. Later, as I was painting what would be my own space in his house–a small room in the basement we set up as an office–I was listening to an 80s compilation CD I had and Bad English’s “When I See You Smile” came on. I began to sing it, Mike joined in. I looked to Mike and exclaimed, “This is it, right?! We should use this song!” He agreed enthusiastically and so we did. It was a great choice. Whenever I watch the wedding video, I see two young people in love, smiling at each other–“like a ray of light.” Yep, it was the perfect song for two lovers of 80s music.

8. “Iris” by The Goo Goo Dolls.

The bridal dance at our wedding was The Goo Goo Dolls’ “Iris,” inspired under pressure at the same meeting with the DJ when the song actually played over the speakers at the restaurant where we had met. I always liked this song. I didn’t think it had much to do with me and Mike until I found myself crying my eyes out when it came on the radio while I was driving to work the day before my brother’s wedding in 2006. The song still reminds me of the swishing purple dresses of my bride’s maids, my mother missing her call to come to the dance floor with my dad, the feeling of dancing with my groom, all the tension from the anxious wedding day slipping away. There’s a happy, yet melancholic tone to that song that still gets to me, and maybe applies more strongly to our relationship in retrospect.

And I’d give up forever to touch you
‘Cause I know that you feel me somehow
You’re the closest to heaven that I’ll ever be
And I don’t want to go home right now

This song actually appears on The City of Angels soundtrack, which is sadly foreshadowing, as the movie is about an angel who gives up eternity for love only for the woman he loves to die just hours after they finally get together. Ah, the ironies.

9. “Driver’s Seat” by Sniff N’ Tears.

We took a road trip down to Florida for Thanksgiving in 1999–just three months after we were married. We took our time getting down there so that we could hit some highpoints along the way–N. Carolina, S. Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, and Florida. I remember a foggy morning as our car rambled along a lonely highway in S. Carolina where it seemed like we were the only two people on the planet. A white squirrel–the first I’d ever seen in my life–ran across the road as I was driving. I remember Mike reading medical insurance forms to me from the passenger seat; he was filling them out to add me to his policy. I remember the sun setting blood-red over the rolling hills of Alabama’s highpoint–the fiery beauty of which is captured on all our pictures though it’s still not as bright as I remember it. Somewhere during our adventure, the song “Driver’s Seat” played on a station we’d tuned in. Whenever I hear this song, all these memories flood my senses. Somehow it seems appropriate. An old song for the timelessness of the landscape in which we ventured.

10. “Here’s To The Night” by Eve 6.

After he died, I was convinced this song was a message from Mike meant to comfort and assure me. Ten years later, and still no more sure there is really life after death than I was back then, I really don’t know if it was–or even could be–Mike. I’d like to think it was. But that’s what we do as humans–we see signs where we want to in a vain effort make sense of life. Despite the fact that I now have this song among the many that clutter my iTunes, and that most of the time when it plays it’s because I selected to play it, this song still reminds me of Mike. It’s the power boost I need to get through a teary day or to find the courage to do something I fear. “Here’s To The Night” is Mike’s phone number in the afterlife. It’s how we communicate with each other across the dimensions of space that separate us. And I’m okay believing that even if I don’t really think I can talk to Mike for real. There’s a part of him in me and this song helps me channel it.

Skication Whistler

It was certainly easy to detox from the internet at place like Whistler, B.C. I’m no virgin to the North American West as far as skiing goes, having been to both Colorado and Utah, so it does take a lot to impress me. I was completely and utterly blown away by Whistler. It’s not that the powder was anything special (there is certainly better powder at Colorado and Utah, even this late in the season, I’m sure); it was the sheer massive size of the two mountains that comprise this ski resort. And the absolute undeniable beauty of the Canadian Cascades. I had the time of my life there.

We stayed at The Blackcomb Lodge in Whistler village which allowed us the wonderful convenience of ski-in/ski-out.  We only had to walk down the Village Stroll–a completely pedestrian street–to its terminus at the Blackcomb and Whistler gondolas. The picture below shows the view of the village from outside the doors of the hotel.

A view of Whistler village from the doorstep of The Blackcomb Lodge.

As I unpacked my toiletries in the room I shared with my friend Janet, I realized something very odd. Is it obvious which side of the shelf held my stuff? Purple products to the left; natural products to the right! (I am going to start using natural products myself… Better for the environment, better for me. But more on that later. And I’m still hoping to find them in purple bottles.)

My passion for purple has invaded every facet of my life!

The first day, we skied at Whistler. Janet was excited to show me the Peak-to-Creek Trail which goes from the very top of Whistler Peak to the bottom at Creekside village (a separate village from Whistler village). So we boarded the Whistler gondola and took it all the way to the last station which is one lift short f the peak. The picture below shows the scenery from this location which, incidentally, is also where you can catch the Peak 2 Peak gondola to Blackcomb should you change your mind about what mountain you want to ski for the day. Funny side note, every time someone talked about this gondola, I thought they were saying Peek N’ Peak–the name of a resort in upstate NY at which I sometimes ski.

Peak 2 Peak Gondola from the near the Roundhouse Lodge.

We took the Peak chair (picture below) up to the top of the mountain. And let me just mention that one of the other times we rode up this chair later in the week, Janet didn’t put the bar down. I thought I could handle it, but I got very nervous at the last bit that goes very high over a cliff right before the end. Janet thought it was kind of funny that I got vertigo; it didn’t bother her at all. I personally think riding the lifts at any resort is the scariest part of skiing–I prefer to have both feet firmly planted on the ground, no matter what angle the ground is that I’m standing on–and so I always prefer to have the restraining bar down. In fact, I hate that Boston Mills has no restraining bars–drives me insane. Anyway, after the experience of riding with the bar up, I wouldn’t let Janet keep the bar up for the rest of the week.

The lift to Whistler Peak seen from Roundhouse Lodge area.

The picture below shows what it looks like at the top of the peak. What a beautiful arctic paradise!

Whistler Peak looking towards the Symphony Amplitheater.

We headed off in the opposite direction to the Peak-to-Creek. Below is a picture of me by the sign to the trail at the very top before we headed down.

Start of the Peak-to-Creek Trail. I love how the sign is covered with frozen snow.

My legs were in tune from all the days I spent at Boston Mills (23 days!!) so I was really confident. The conditions were great–lots of powdery stuff all around. Peak-to-Creek touts itself as the longest intermediate run in North America. Most eastern skiers know that the ranking system for ski slopes varies from resort to resort, especially out west; what is intermediate at one place might actually be a difficult run at another resort. I’ve found that in most cases a lot of how I feel about a slope is mental. I’ve always–no matter where I am–believe that I can do a blue (intermediate) run regardless of how steep it is. Except last year when was outclassed at Snowbird (in Utah) by some seriously challenging–and scary–intermediate runs. I remembered all too well my failure at Snowbird and how tripped up I was in general in Utah last year so I admit I was a little nervous about skiing at Whistler. However, all fears were relieved as I began down this slope for, to my very practiced legs this year, it seemed to be the perfect pitch for me–something I felt extremely comfortable taking some speed on. So I was a little surprised when, pausing to catch my breath, another lady stopped next to me and said, “Wow! This is the easy one?” skeptically. It didn’t seem hard to me at all, but I guess she was a beginning skier.

About a third of the way down, there was a turn off for those not venturing on the remainder of the Peak-to-Creek–a legitimately easy run that Janet described as flat–and our beginner friend took off for that option. I think the sign shown in the picture below marked the continuance of the Peak-to-Creek for those continuing on.

The official Peak-to-Creek start.

Anyway, this slope was so long it actually had a rest area! I saw this sign, but I missed the actual place where you were supposed to stop which I guess had a bench. Maybe it was covered by snow?

The rest area on the Peak-to-Creek trail.

We were plagued by a fog from about the midway down the trail to almost the bottom. It was a little disconcerting. The snow was definitely heavier and wet towards the bottom. I was fully experiencing what Janet had described to me–and which I’d disbelieved somewhat–about Whistler. I got to experience it again and again throughout the week. It was like every part of both mountains had their own season with the bottom third of both being stuck in real-time with spring. Winter was maintained at the top third, though, and that’s generally where we skied. But often as you went down a run, the conditions would literally change once you crossed some invisible line. We only skied down the entire length of the mountain this once for the Peak-to-Creek (we downloaded on the gondola at the end of each day). It was really fun, though, to ski for that long!

Janet skiing down one of the humps along the Peak-to-Creek trail.

We were soon underneath the clouds again where it appeared to be snowing. I don’t particularly remember that, but I can see it in this photo.

Overlooking Creekside Village on the end of the Peak-to-Creek Trail

By the end of the day, we even managed to ski a few black diamonds–Bear Paw and Raven/Ptarmigan. Each of these trails also offered yawning views of Whistler Village. (I have no problem with vertigo if my feet are on the ground.) It kind of gives you an awesome God’s eye view of the world when you can see signs of civilization stretching out before you. I find the most exciting runs are where I have perspective about how high from the bottom I am. There’s a run in Holimont like this called Grear where you can see Ellicotville below in a distance. It’s slightly off-putting, but at the same time, it’s awesome as you’re skiing to see yourself get closer and closer to ground. You don’t get that feeling so much at the top of a mountain such as Whistler where skiing one run doesn’t even take you a third of the way down from the top and “bottom” is actually just another level area where you can catch a lift to go back up.

The second day we awoke to bright sunny skies. We went to Blackcomb. Here are some delightful shots from the top of the Exelerator lift which is the one that you take after you get off the gondola to Blackcomb.

Some slopes seen from the top of the Exelerator lift at Blackcomb.

Top of Excelorator lift.

And further down the trail….

Some Blackcomb scenery.

It was literally an eyesore how beautiful this place revealed itself to be in the sunlight. At every turn, I wanted to stop and take pictures. I didn’t take nearly as many as the scenery I remember in my head, such as the next day when we explored the Symphony Amplitheatre and Harmony Ridge at Whistler. There was just so many beautiful scenes and, seriously, I was trying desperately to ski. I wish I could give you all a live video recording of the scenery right from my head. It was stunning, breath-taking. The kind of sights that make you want to kiss the sky and thank whatever whimsical power of life created all this beauty. Seriously. One can have a religious experience out there. That’s what I love most about skiing… and the only time I ever feel this way about skiing is when I’m out west where everything is just so larger than life. There were places on both mountains where I literally felt so small and insignificant against the majestic backdrop in which I was skiing.

7th Heaven is one of Blackcomb’s natural wonders. From it, you can see Whistler’s Symphony Amplitheatre and Harmony Ridge areas. We skied Cloud 9 (a scenic intermediate run) a few times that first day and, on our last two days (which we spent at Blackcomb), I braved some moguls on a few of the other trails.

Bottom part of Cloud 9 Trail in the 7th Heaven area of Blackcomb (Whistler in the distance).

Side note: There was a run parallel to this one–same steepness–with a moguls that I nailed on the last day! I was getting good!! Two more days and I would have been a pro at moguls. Though, I must admit, these moguls–being made of soft snow and lacking the icy ruts common out east–were nothing like the moguls I’ve been stuck within in New York or Ohio. They are still hard and often times just a bit too big, but at least the snow gives under year skis. In contrast, I’ve been stuck on moguls out east that feel like my ski will break before I can cut through the ice cube that is poorly passing as a mogul.

Peak Overlooking 7th Heaven area of Blackcomb.

From the top of the 7th Heaven Express, you can also go down into the Horstman Glacier to access the Blackcomb Glacier. Unfortunately, this involves riding a T-bar and then taking your skis off to climb a short steep hill. I’ll preface this by saying that the last time I used a T-bar was probably age 16 when I was learning to ski (which is totally not the thing a new skier should be doing). I was totally scared to be dragged up a hill on a T-bar. But I knew I wanted to ski Blackcomb Glacier so I nervously went up the T-bar with Janet after watching several people load. It wasn’t as bad as I thought but I was completely uncomfortable about that whole experience.

The Horstman Glacier and scary T-bar.

I came back a few days later to ski the Horstman Glacier (pictured above). It was really easy. The T-bar was the worst part, really. And after I got off the T-bar that last time, I swore I was done using T-bars for the week.

Anyway, when you unload from the scary T-bar at the top (a process which is, in itself, frighting; you just let go of the bar but it has to be done at the proper time, else you risk falling down or hitting yourself in the head as the bar swings away), you follow the swarm of people taking their skis off to climb the little hump that gets you to the Blackcomb Glacier area. I didn’t know I was going to do some back country skiing! (Well, not really.)

The Blackcomb Glacier is a bowl that you can basically enter in at any angle that you want. I was aiming for the groomed strip that runs down the middle of it. Before you get to that part, however, there’s what basically amounts to a gaping natural half-pipe double-black diamond called Blow-Hole. Yeah, double-black diamond runs always have ominous names that often accurately describe just what you see…. As steep as that run turned out to be, I definitely did not see the point in the extra challenge of a rutted tube with walls taller than a person on each side. Apparently no one else did either as I did not see anyone taking the challenge offered by Blow Hole. Perhaps I should of dared someone.

People standing at the start of the groomed part of Blackcomb Glacier; Blow Hole in the foreground.

Little did I know I was actually going to be more comfortable in the ungroomed powder. It turns out that this run–labeled as an intermediate–was actually a bit more challenging at the top than I anticipated and I got into one of those states where I was too afraid to take a turn. As a result, I ended up traversing into the powder simply because I did not want to turn. I paused for about ten minutes, looking hopelessly down the slope and sweating profusely in fear. Then I finally coaxed myself into a turn. Once I got moving, I was fine. I guess you can say I’m a little gun shy sometimes on groomed runs–I prefer deep powder cuz I feel like if I fall, I won’t tumble far and the fall itself won’t hurt. I was a little mad at myself for choking at the top of the glacier–this happens sometimes–and I wanted to come back and do the run again, but I never did since it was such a pain in the ass to get to and Janet said she wouldn’t come with me if I did. At least it was the only time I choked the entire time I was at Whistler. Unlike my experience in Utah.

The hardest part of the glacier is really short. And then the rest of the 14-or so kilometers (yes, 14!!) is spent drifting effortlessly down through a valley and occasionally skiing down a small bump. You eventually are dumped onto the Blackcomb Glacier Road trail which winds around the mountain and takes you back to the Excelerator lift. The whole process seems to take about 45 minutes to an hour. It feels quite touristy–the thing you must do when you’re at Blackcomb. But probably not something you’d do over and over again in one day. It just takes too long. The scenery was totally worth it, though. At least I think so.

Valley around Blackcomb Glacier (the sheer immensity of this area could not be fully captured by my camera).

We went back to Whistler on the third day; Blackcomb the fourth; and then, after much debate with ourselves, we went back to Blackcomb the last day. It was really too hard to decide–I honestly loved both mountains–and I was really sorry that I didn’t get to enjoy both an equal number of days. The weather we experienced out there was mostly fantastic. It was sunny for the most part three of the five days, though we did experience a sudden fog towards the end of the forth day and some occasional snow flurries here and there on some of the other days. It never got unbearably cold; in fact, I overdressed the first day. The skiing was great everywhere but the bottom of the mountain. All of the separate areas were like their own self-contained ski-resorts. It was amazing.

I enjoyed the town in the evening almost as much as the mountain, especially the Brewhouse that offered free WiFi and a great selection of microbrews (I liked their brown ale the best, but I can’t remember what it was called other than it had “Bear” in the name.) All of the restaurants in town were a bit pricey, for sure, but that’s pretty much a given at a ski resort. Being on vacation, I tend not to care as much. (Which is how they get you, I suppose.) I would definitely go back to Whistler… It really seemed like the perfect place to go in the spring. I would love to go there right after they’ve been dumped on by several feet of snow. I suspect I would have braved some of the ungroomed bowls in that case.

Some scenery at Blackcomb.

You can view the rest of my pictures on my Shutterfly site (linked).