Last month Little Bear and I went backpacking. In and of itself this was not unusual, though it was the first time just the two of us had walked in to camp under a tarp. It was noteworthy because it was February, and we were in shoes, walking over a inch of crusted snow and ice. In sharp contrast to our first two winters here, this one has fulfilled our valleys reputation as an oasis of brightness. Which I do not mind at all, as it gives the choice of driving east and hiking, or driving any other direction (including further east) and skiing. It makes my life easy, and those with short legs easier still.
That afternoon we walked a few miles up a canyon, didn’t slip on the ice, explored a cave, and with a little futzing found a flat spot at last light. Setting up our big tarp proved complicated, with almost desert-pure dirt frozen solid with the days melt. On that, or on the many limestone cobbles, I broke a Groundhog, the first time in over a decade of using them. That heightened the dis-ease of the evening, as Little Bear stood watching me hammer as the deep cold of the dark crept quickly down the hillside. My fire skills remained sharp, and that warmth did what it has done for tens of thousands of years; put those only newly at ease out under the sky to sleep. Once in his bag Little Bear’s eyes closed within seconds, and he slept for 12 hours.
The next weekend, as further evidence of our southwestesque winter, the Bear and I went on a bike ride. It was snowing fast, but the flakes stuck to dry dirt and pavement and impacted traction not at all. We made our way down to the bike park, and on our second run over the big rollers I felt a click, which I assumed was the basic drivetrain being cranky. It was in fact my right pedal spindle cracking partway through, damage which completed itself a minute later when I went to spring up the hill at the start of the jump line. My pedal detached completely, with my shoulder going into the handlebar and knee into the dirt.
It had been a long time since I’d crashed that hard, on anything. Sadly, it would not be the last such incident this month. It had also been a long time, and by that I mean never, since I had bothered to regrease my pedals, or to replace the dust cap which on that pedal shook itself loose riding Little Creek 6 years ago.
Mechanical neglect was not to be blamed for my crash the weekend after, rather personal imprudence. That same lack of big snow which has been so good for walking and biking in 2020 made the first big storm in months a matter of fervor at the local ski hill. It also reminded me that resort pow is the most overhyped medium in outdoor recreation, as a foot of blower over icey bumps and rock mainly means you can’t see the potential obstacles. So it was with me, and while looking to gap down to the cat track on my second run I stuffed a tip into a rock or stump and side slid down a short slope whose powder was a veneer over boulders. If you were riding the right lift at the right time you might have seen my haste-induced poor form. I nicked the arm of my fancy shell, broke the leash on my right ski (which it is supposed to do in a nasty fall), and bruised my whole left side in a way which made it hard to walk for the next three days. I now realize I was quite lucky to not break any bones.
All of that is quite trivial compared to the last week, as Coronavirus precautions have broken the routines whose significance most of us had little cause to understand. In Montana we have thus far felt a lesser impact than many. I can still for instance drive 30 minutes and hike for laps at that same, now closed, ski area. The volume of walking and jogging traffic past our house has neither increased nor decreased, with perhaps only a few fewer cars at the busy times. Schools are closed for at least a few weeks, and likely longer, so we’re watching a colleagues son and I’m learning how to do therapy remotely. It’s something our company ought to have had in the repertoire a while ago, so the silver lining of persistent uncertainty is new and unexpected skills, along with a hopefully enduring awareness of how much the innocuous runs our lives. With bumps being unexpected, though perhaps less so in retrospect, I can only hope that this batch has run through.