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You ever face your fears head-on because people are relying on you? You ever do this while on vacation?
Wednesday, Shannon gets up with Ben to let me sleep that extra hour between 6:30 and 7:30. She goes back to bed while he and I scarf down our respective bowls of Cinnamon Shredded Wheat and then drive to T-Buck’s The Hole Thing.
I discover that even here no donut shop features a white creme filled. Hundreds of miles from home, I’m foiled again. Curses! I order for everybody, including Mom and Dad, and hand the lady my debit card.
“We can take that if you run it through like an ATM card,” she says. She points to a card reader with buttons labeled in $20 increments. (this is just surcharges waiting to happen)
“I don’t have this card pinned for ATM use yet. So, I can only pay with cash?”
Their donut supply is dwindling. “Please hold our order until I get back,” I say.
I strap a slightly confused Ben back into his car seat and reach the upper limits of 35 mph back to our cabin. The van locked to help deter would-be car and kid thieves, I dash inside and upstairs to grab some cash. I mumble to Shannon what I’m doing, but get only a pillow-muffled grunt in response.
Ben’s still safely inside Homer when I return. Back at The Hole Thing, a man waiting in line for the full breakfast restaurant talks to Ben in a great Donald Duck impression. I can’t understand a word the man says, but Ben laughs every time he speaks.
Across from our roundtop table is an interesting item for sale. The sign on it reads:
(their reason for such self-serving payment methods is made evident)
Ben quickly jumps into my camera’s view and grabs the door handle for a picture. Our collective donut-tooth sated, we start the quick jaunt back to the cabin. I spot two deer rooting in scree for tasty wildflowers. The young buck’s meager antlers are in velvet. Ben enjoys watching them forage while I snap a few pics.
By the time we get back and rouse Shannon, we’re in a hurry. Mom and Dad, being much better at this “vacation” thing than we are, make the short walk from their camper and assure us that we still have time for fun. After we decide our course of action, they all watch me slather on the SPF 45.
First up is the ski lift. One great thing about four-year-olds (or at least ours) is that they haven’t learned to be scared of many of the things that make adults wet themselves. Bouyed by their child’s confidence and blissfully ignorant courage, parents often engage in behaviors they otherwise would avoid. We aren’t scared of the ski lift, per se, but we temper our reactions when seeing it close-up for the first time. We don’t want to cloud Ben’s judgment beyond the requisite, “Be still.”
We stand side-by-side on black feet painted on a red box, Shannon holding Ben in front of her. I wonder why only every other lift chair has seat pads (there may be a prize for anyone who knows the answer before reading it). The next one rounds the semi-circle and scoops us off the ground. I pull down the safety bar and up we go.
I’ve been on this ski lift before, when I was about seven. I’m anxious to see whether my mind recalls that trip.
Within the first minute, Shannon and I glance at each other with that, “This is freaking me out, but don’t scare the boy” look. I can jump out of tall trees all day with the proper equipment and a reliable belayer, but the safety bar on the lift chair doesn’t even latch, and the impact-reducing slope of the hillside is little consolation when it’s 30-plus feet below. (is there a word for “impact-reducing?”)
Another good incentive for someone to invent the impact absorption shield in my story “Falcon.”
A few minutes later, the lift stops and our chair sways forward and back for a full minute. I look at my watch to time it for the lawsuit. 11:24. “It’s okay,” I say, trying to reassure myself, too. “It will get started again in a minute.” I try to recall details of long ski lift outages, and rest my mind after realizing we probably could last a very long time up there in the middle of July.
At about 11:27, the lift starts again and we sway for another minute as we ascend.
Shannon and I confide that we can do without the random stopping.
The few times we pass over trees, our feet easily clear the conifers. We notice beaded necklackes that previous riders have dropped into the trees. My cynical side instantly thinks, “Idiots.”
Shannon struggles to keep Ben still. There is enough room between him and the safety bar that if he straightens his body and wriggles free from her grip, he’ll slide right into a free fall of approximately two seconds. We express this to him in slightly different terms. “If you don’t quit moving around, you could fall, and you would be hurt real bad.”
Thanks to her efforts, I’m able to take pictures and video. The lift stops a couple more times on our way up. “Maybe someone fell while trying to get on and they had to stop it for a minute,” I guess wildly.
A full 30 minutes after we started, we reach the top. I wonder aloud whether the lift moves that slowly during ski season. Let’s see… 30 minutes up, three minutes down (baseless ski time estimate, FYI). That means for just four runs down the mountain, a skier has to endure a full two hours in the lift chair. Bummer.
In the restaurant at the top, I discover that I can’t remember a damn thing from when I was seven. The lady behind the counter confirms that this is the only restaurant that’s been up there, and describes in detail the additions that have been made since its inception.
“I just asked because I remember when I was a boy that a bear left a paw print on a window here,” I say.
She points to a small window on the west side of the building. “Probably that one right there. They always come to that one. They try to get in the door, too. You can see bite and scratch marks on.” (We don’t see any when we check.)
We see familiar faces while eating. Our neighbors from cabin two are at the next table over. Red River’s a small place, but being easily entertained, we enjoy the moment.
Before getting back on the lift, I ask one of the operators the burning question of the day. “Why does it stop sometimes?”
“For people who can’t get on while it’s moving,” he says. I was close.
“Okay, so why does only every second seat take passengers?”
“Because in summer there are a lot more people going down on the lift. In winter, they’re skiing down. We do it to distribute the weight better.”
Translation: The lift’s motor can’t handle all the extra weight.
As we pull the safety bar over us and start down, we discover the reason why movie scripts often include the line, “Don’t look down,” but never, “Don’t look up.” Down is much scarier.
Just about the time Shannon and I get over our renewed vertigo, the lift makes one of its delightfully disconcerting stops. The swinging still bothers us more than it should. I take a careful look at how the lift chair is attached to the cable. Looks tenuous, at best, so I block it out and avoid looking again.
We get some grand views of the town. We smile and nod at mountain bikers riding the lift up, each bike occupying its own chair.
Ben spots a go-kart track.
After our safe landing, I fork over the nine bucks for a go-kart ride because Ben asked and, I’ll admit, I have a weakness for those four-wheeled wonders. I wish secretly that they didn’t chuff pollutants in such a picturesque place, but then realize that even rechargeable batteries ultimately get their fuel from dead dinosaurs, too.
Ben and I start out in the lead. One little boy passes us when I swing a curve wide for a photo op. He tries to hold us off later, but I pull a Mario Andretti and never lose the lead again. Somehow, defeating a 10-year-old pleases me.
For those who made it this far, here are a couple of videos (you read the book — now see the condensed version).
Next up: we take a drive to, and walk out on, the third highest bridge in the United States; and much more, and on the same day as all of the above.