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Day Sixty-eight: Gasconade

Hey there, can I buy you a drink?

You’re most welcome. Have whatever you like.

Patty? Well that’s just a lovely name. I’m Drake, Patty. Nice to meet you too.

No, I’m not staying in town long. I’m on my way to a little thing in Washington D.C., just some formal thing, you know.

Ah, here’s your vodka tonic. Cheers!

No, it’s nothing, really. I just like to buy pretty ladies drinks when I can.

So, what do you do?

Ski instructor? That’s great – you know, I happen to be quite the skier myself. Yeah, I go every year, as often as I can. Where’s your spot?

Well, that’s okay for the weekend ski crowd, Patti, but I think we both know that’s not where the real action is. I mean, I went down Washington last winter. Twice.

Yeah, no kidding! The first time I didn’t know what I was getting into. The second time was just ’cause the first time was so much fun.

You need a refill, Patty? Okay, you let me know. Anyway, that second time I went down Washington, that kinda has something to do with this trip I’m taking – the one to D.C.

Well, okay, I’ll warn you, you’re probably not going to believe it. Hell, I still don’t believe it and I was there! Yeah, no kidding.

All right, let me see. Me and my buddy Conrad did the first run down Washington on our first day out, We went down Tuckerman, which was one hell of a thrill ride, I’ll tell you, and spent the rest of that day just jazzed up and ready to go again. But a storm blew in that afternoon, right out of nowhere, so there was no way we were going up again that day. But I tell you – there was no way I was leaving without going down the face of that mountain again, so me and Conrad decided to wait it out.

Good thing too. More people were arriving for the slopes and bed space was at a premium. The were families, college kids, some businessmen, all looking for a day’s skiing and they weren’t gonna get it. Now I wanted to give up my bed to someone – that’s just the kind of guy I am, you know? But Conrad wasn’t having any of it, since we paid top dollar and all that, and the last thing I needed was a pissed-off ski partner.

It was just then that this convoy of black SUVs rolled in. Must’ve been at been five or ten of ’em, and they all parked a ways from the lodge.

Well, I didn’t know who it was at the time, no. But let me tell the story. I’ll get to it, don’t worry, Patty.

So there we are, all snowed in for the night. A lot of people were real nervous, but me and Conrad – we’ve done this kind of thing before, y’know? I mean, I can drop off to sleep like nobody’s business, storm or no storm. This one time I was out on a shooting weekend in Nebraska – a tornado blew through, practically picked up the whole house. My buddies were all freaking out, down in the cellar, last prayers and everything. Me? I woke up bright and early the next day, nice and refreshed – in the middle of a field two miles away. No! I swear, on my mother’s grave – true story.

Anyway, the next day, me and Conrad decide that with all that new snow, the best skiing would be on Huntington. You ever been out to Washington? No? Okay, because you need to know this for the story to make sense, right? Huntington Ravine is the deadliest part of the deadliest mountain in the northeast. Seriously, people die up on that mountain every year from nothing more than just hiking around, right? They leave the huts, take a left instead of a right and the next day they’re found with their head stuck in a rock. So you go to Washington, you take your life in your hands. In fact… Hold on, I’ve got it on my phone right here… You want another drink? Cool – hey! Yeah, another vodka tonic? Cool.

Anyway, yeah, here. Here’s the picture:

That yellow sign? Yeah, basically it says, “For the love of God, turn around! If you have anything-” No, seriously! Okay, yeah, maybe I’m paraphrasing. “If you have anything left to live for, go back down the mountain and life a full and happy life.” Okay, so this is – no, that’s what the sign says! – this is a bad-ass mountain.

Huntington Ravine is the worst part of it. We’re talking gorges, vertical drops, avalanches, you name it. This place – crazy people go there to ski. So yeah, I guess we were a little crazy. But just wait….

Me and Conrad get up to the top of the ravine and we’re lookin’ down, and man – it’s enough to make a strong man curl up and cry. You see that slope and there’s millions of years of evolution just waving its arms in the air and yelling, “Don’t do it! Don’t do it!”

But you know, me and Conrad, we went all the way up there, so there was no way we’re turning around, right? So we look at each other, and man – we don’t say a thing. It’s like there’s this unspoken understanding between us.

We gotta do this. Y’know? We wouldn’t be able to live with ourselves if we didn’t.

And if something should happen… well.

Friends never leave a man behind, right?

So we look at each other and we just kinda nod, and…

You’re a skier, Patti, so you know what it’s like, right? That rush? That feeling like you’re just barely in control, just on the edge? Yeah.

This was that times a thousand. A million.

I once spent time with these Zen monks in Japan, right? Yeah, after I got out of college I went over there – you know, to learn more about myself? So they talk about this thing called “no-mind,” where you – the part of you that is You – just… goes away. You’re not thinking anymore. You’re not worrying about the future or thinking about the past. You’re just here. Now. And that’s it.

That’s what it was like. It was like being alive for the first time, going down that face.

Yeah.

Anyway, sorry. Hey, thanks, man. Keep the change. Anyway, Me and Conrad stop, and we just start laughing, right? I mean there’s nothing we can say about what we just did, so we start laughing. But right then I start to hear a noise – and it’s an ugly noise. Kind of a rumbling, creaking noise from far off. Now I know what it is. And Conrad knows what it is. And we just look at each other and think, “Oh shit.”

“Avalanche.”

And we start getting the hell out of there. We’re skiing as fast as we can, but all that snow is coming down like a freight train and it’s gonna get us if we don’t ski like bats outta hell.

We’re close to getting out of there, we’re just this close to safety, when I see a guy lying in the snow. He’s off his skis, looks like maybe he broke a leg or something.

Now we can go help him or we can save ourselves, and there’s another one of those moments where me and Conrad just kinda look at each other.

Never leave a man behind, right?

So we head over there and he looks like he’s in pretty bad shape. One leg’s just bent the wrong way and he’s all passed out. But we don’t have time to be nice about it – we can hear that giant wall of snow just crashing towards us. So we pick the guy up, I put him over my shoulders, like this? Right, and we haul ass out of the ravine.

I have no idea how we made it out, especially me with that guy on my back. But we did it. And as soon as we did, there were all these guys in black coats, pointing guns at us and yelling at us to get down! Get down on the fucking ground! So I let the guy off my shoulders, and these guys come and pick him up, and me and Conrad get on the ground. And we’re like that for a few minutes until some other guy shows up, some little tweedy guy with glasses and big rubber boots. He comes up and tells us to stand up, that we’re not in any trouble and that we had done a great thing.

Yeah? Yeah, I had no idea what he was talking about either, you know? The whole thing was just a mess, but this guy comes over and shakes our hands and thanks us again and again, and finally we find out who it was we found on the mountainside there.

The President.

Of the Uni – no, seriously! I am not shitting you, Patty, the President of the United States, I swear to god!

C’mon, would I make something like that up? I couldn’t make that up!

Turns out he’d slipped away from his secret service to do some skiing on his own, and took a fall. If we hadn’t found him, then… Well, things’d be different, that’s for sure.

Well of course you didn’t see it in the news. They didn’t want to make a big thing of it, right? It’s like Carter and the rabbit or Bush and the pretzel – it’s embarrassing! So they come back to D.C., give the press a cover story, and make sure he’s off his feet for a while.

So anyway, that’s what I’m going to D.C. for. There’s this dinner at the White House and the President and the First Lady asked me and Conrad to come. I mean, they can’t do a whole big thing – and you know what? I wouldn’t want a medal or anything like that anyway.

I didn’t save the guy because he was the President, you know? I didn’t even know that ’till later. I did it because… Because it was the right thing to to.

It was what anyone would have done.

So yeah. That’s what I’m doing this weekend.

No, I’m sure your life is anything but boring, Patty. You want another one of those? All right, but only because you asked so nicely. Hey, man! One more round here! Thanks, man.

Anyway.

So how about this. I got this story about the time I was working in a volunteer fire department back when I was in college. It’s great, but you know, it’s getting a little late. So if you want – no pressure or anything – but if you want, we can finish those drinks –

Thanks, man. Keep the change.

We can finish these drinks, and I have a suite upstairs. !604. It’s nice, got a couch and everything. I can tell you that, or you could tell me about yourself.

Or. You know. Whatever.

Yeah? Well, I’m sure you have lots of stories to tell, Pretty Patty.

Cheers.

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