Alone in the forest with heavy snow coming down, obscuring the trail I had just left behind me, I listened for the slightest sounds of civilization. There was nothing. No sound of vehicles to tell me where the road was. No sound of another human being. No sounds of a snowmobile coming to find me. No barking dog from the search and rescue team.
Brian and Andy had taken a different, more difficult trail and I had continued on what I thought was the “easy” route back to the lodge during a trip to Teacup Lake. We found the private club with groomed trails online, thanks to a recommendation from the Mountain Shop in Portland where we rented our skis.
That morning we drove up Mt. Hood through the thick flakes, unsure if even our four wheel drive would get us through the eighteen inches of snow in the parking lot once we arrived. We managed to back into a spot near the entrance after three tries. I almost made Brian get out and push us in, but didn’t need the extra shove after all.
After skiing directly from the car, we found the lodge about a hundred meters into the forest. It was a welcome, and very cozy sight, but we were eager to hit the trail right away so we didn’t stop.
All of this white stuff sifting down from the sky? A bonus! After all, we need to be prepared for sub-zero temperatures and harsh conditions, why not start now?
The trails near the cabin are well marked with big signs, and the huge posted map was clear. We planned our route, turned left and took off together.
The trails were beautiful! The bad weather, and the fact that it was mid-week, kept most of the skiers home. We had the place nearly to ourselves. During the first thirty minutes on the trails we saw (were passed by) about four people. After that?
The three of us stayed together for the first hour or so, finding our balance, settling into our strides and getting more and more comfortable on the skis.
We had decided that the boys would split off to the right after a couple of miles and head out to the intermediate, and longer loop. I would stay on the easier and shorter loop that would bring me back to the lodge before them. The map had been easy to read, the trails (up until then) had been well marked, and we would all meet back where we began in another hour or two.
We came to the fork in the trail and separated. For a good half hour I was smiling as I took my solitary route through some of the most beautiful, frozen scenery I’ve ever been in.
Then I came to another fork in the trail.
I was totally alone in the forest, following a wide trail that was either leading me back to the lodge, or leading me deeper into the wilderness where no one would find me for days. The small signs posted on the trees were too far away to see clearly, and the snow was too deep for me to get closer to them.
Which way to go?
I took the left fork, thinking it would continue in the direction I wanted to go. After ten minutes I ended up facing a huge, steep hill and could clearly see the black “advanced” sign on the trees. Oops. This was not my trail.
I turned around, found the fork and took the only other route available. After another half hour I was a little worried that I hadn’t seen any other signs, but the trail stayed flat and relatively straight. My memory of the posted map near the lodge made me think this must be the right trail because it was the only trail that was this long without any intersections. Fingers crossed inside my gloves, which were inside my mittens, I kept going.
Still not a soul in sight.
I kept on marching, stepping, swishing and sweating. After nearly an hour of skiing on what was a very gradual incline, I was tired! I was thinking about stopping to dig out my GPS, just to make sure I really was on the right track, but since it was under four layers of clothing, inside a zipped pocket, and I would have to take off my mittens and gloves to get to it, I was just not that desperate yet. I was pretty sure I was getting close to the lodge so I kept on going, although at a much slower pace than when I had started over two hours earlier.
Two more skiers passed me like I was standing still.
People! Civilization! Yes!
The girls rounded the bend in front of me, and as I caught up with them I caught a glimpse of the lodge through the trees. I had made it.
Five minutes later I was out of my gear with my big bottle of water, my snacks pulled out of my pack, and my feet propped up in front of the fire.
The small crowd was friendly and before long I struck up a conversation with another woman about my age who lives nearby. We both agreed that maturity brings a much bigger appreciation for cross country skiing than we ever thought we’d have in our younger days. We both loved the scenery, the beauty of the trails, the exercise that is as hard or as light as you want to make it, and the camaraderie of those who share it with you.
I only had two complaints that day. One was my own fault as I should have kept a trail map in my pocket. I didn’t realize that they were available inside the lodge. I did have a GPS which I had used to mark our parking spot, extra food and water, and plenty of protective gear, so I wasn’t worried about any of us truly dying out there, but the trail map would have been handy.
After warming myself by the fire, it was a rude awakening to go outside to the unheated bathrooms! I really can’t complain because those bathrooms are new, and beautifully built. I’m very glad they’re there.
But… Holy frozen buns!
Thank goodness for that fire back in the lodge. I needed it to thaw me out again.
It was another hour before the boys showed up, soaked in sweat, covered in snow and exhausted. That intermediate trail was long and difficult for two novices, but they made it, and they learned a few things.
Too tired to take off their skis, they gave me a wave and skied straight to the car. When we made it back to the cabin they both collapsed on the couches and didn’t get up for several hours. Tired but happy, frozen buns and all, we had a great day.