The 4Runner crawled admirably, if roughly, as its tires articulated over the rocky terrain. So focused on not rolling over, I had failed to notice the group standing bewildered and slightly agog as I approached them. It was a public thoroughfare, in the most loose of terms, yet I felt that I was intruding. That instinct was not wrong; as I rolled down the window, a kind gentleman informed me that they were imminently to spread the ashes of their recently deceased friend. I stayed with them briefly, respectfully, as the deed was done, wept, as I am prone, and then continued on my descent, exiting out of the surreality.
Mere moments earlier, I had been post-holed in a squishy patch, laughing hysterically at myself and the folly of my pursuit. Keen to outrun the inevitable disappearance of snow from even high promontories, I had set out solo in search of just one more run. The mission was nominally a failure in that I failed to ski any consecutive distance longer than a few ski lengths. It was a success in demonstrating that I have a deep, perhaps troubling obsession. 138 days in and I just could not let go.
With tears in my eyes and Yacht Rock on the Sirius, I motored down into civilization, reminiscing over the joys of the months prior, the powder days and the frozen noses, the summits and the sojourns, the masks and the masquerades, all of the small details and memories that comprise a ski season. My minor melancholy was not that I had lost sight of those treasures; they were with me, although perhaps not as poignantly as they should have been. It was that I had also set myself a goal — an arbitrary, stupid, unnecessary, vainglorious, meaningless milestone — and I was annoyed that I had failed to meet it.
That is not entirely accurate. In a purely offhand comment at the end of last ski season, I had mentioned a number, an outlandish figure, a silly amount of skiing to do for one who is very professionally and parentally engaged. That integer lay dormant in my imagination, but perhaps had burrowed into my subconscious without my realization. Despite or because of living a hella hectic life, one in which I was firing on all cylinders, even taking on an additional vocation, I always found ways to make it out to ski. Most days, a lot of nights, I had planks on my feet and a commensurate smile on my countenance.
My original goal was surpassed by a large margin. It was a typical outcome: setting an absurd benchmark and then besting it by a significant percentage. Stubborn, driven, motivated, focused, some other adjectives that are much less flattering, I rarely fail to see my vision through to the end. But I rarely cherish accomplishments. During the season, knowing that I was going to meet my goal, I set a new one and then became relentless in its pursuit. In the offing, I flirted with the idea of reducing my passion to a number, to seeing success only in the goal and not in the activity itself, to having the end subsume the means.
It was the pulverized human remains that provided proper perspective. Loss has been my lot over the past few years; but for the grace could go I. When I do perish, many moons hence, a tally of my achieved goals will not be my legacy, will not be the kit I bring into the afterlife. It will be Violet’s smile as she rips a sweet pow turn, will be the elation at the top of a jagged peak, will be the irreplaceable delight of cruising through deep snow at high speed with the ski gang.
The carrot at the end of the stick lures me, but it is not the crunchy bite that I cherish. The steps toward the carrot are what resonate and inspire and comfort. I suppose that for next year, I will need a bigger carrot.