6: Winters of Solace

6: Winters of Solace

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Reboot Your Life

Winters of Solace

You cannot be lonely if you like the person you’re alone with.

~Wayne Dyer

“I haven’t skied much,” my friend Nyna said. “So I’m not up for spending a weekend in the mountains, especially when it takes five hours to get there.”

“But you can’t improve without practice,” I said.

“I wish I wanted to go, but I don’t. I’d rather stay home, go hiking.”

“Hiking?”

I pictured the rush of sliding down the slopes and weaving between pine trees at Mammoth Mountain, my favorite resort. Hiking couldn’t compare to my winter playground.

“Let’s conquer a new trail,” Nyna said.

“Thanks, but I’m sticking with snowboarding. I just need to find someone to tag along.”

I hung up and walked into the garage to survey my gear. My one-year-old snowboard with perfectly white bindings rested against the wall. The helmet I’d purchased after smacking my head on the ice during a magnificent crash leaned against the base of the board as though napping. The gear hadn’t been used since I’d gone boarding with my last boyfriend the year before. He’d convinced me to try the sport and helped me learn to turn on the snow.

Now, a season later, I did a mental scan of friends for possible companions. Two people were avid skiers but had moved to Colorado. Another friend wanted to snowboard if she could ever afford it. The rest weren’t interested in winter sports.

I was starting to feel lonely even though I had been feeling content about being single again. I needed to do something, figure out how to get on the mountain without my friends, otherwise I’d backslide to a dark place.

I opened my computer. A search revealed a local ski club. Great! That would be easy. Then I looked at the price per trip. Too much.

What about an informal group who carpooled and hung out on the mountain? I found one of those, too, but the members seemed a lot older and were married.

My research options exhausted, I walked to the kitchen to make hot cocoa. As I reached for a mug, the answer to my dilemma slapped me in the face like a brisk breeze on a winter day.

I should go by myself.

By myself? But I could barely snowboard and didn’t know the mountain well.

Despite my counterarguments, the idea took shape with each marshmallow I dropped in the cocoa. Leave early in the morning. Plop. Stay at a hostel. Plop. Board on groomed trails. Plop.

By nightfall my car was loaded. Two days later I started my first solo snowboarding adventure. By eleven that day I sat next to a couple on a ski lift.

“Are you from Mammoth?” she asked.

“Anaheim,” I said.

“Do you and your friends come here often?” he asked.

“I came by myself,” I said.

“Alone?” Her eyes grew wide, like I said I had twelve fingers.

“Alone.”

“Good for you,” he said. “Better to come on your own than not at all.”

I nodded. A grin appeared under my ski mask. Maybe I could do this.

Each lift ride resulted in more affirmation of my solo journey. Most people admired my adventurous spirit and wished they were up for doing the same.

The five-hour drive home whizzed by as I contemplated future snowboarding trips. I schemed which weekends I’d go, the time I’d leave, which parts of the mountain I’d investigate, where I’d stay. When I pulled into my garage, my calendar for the season was filled with plans and excitement.

Come May, I returned my snowboard to the garage and said farewell until the following season. With each year I got better at snowboarding and planning my trips. I even learned to enjoy the drive.

Eight years after my first solo trip I walked into a Mammoth lodge for a lunch break. The place was packed, so I shared a table with an older man.

“Need room for your friends?” he asked.

“I’m by myself,” I said.

“Really? You should join my group.” He gestured to the empty chairs on his end of the table. “They’re not here yet, but they’re a great bunch.” He extended a hand. “I’m George.”

“Heather. Thanks, but I’m going to head out soon.”

By the time my helmet was in place and my coat was zipped up, his friends still hadn’t arrived.

“Have fun,” he said. “See you out there.”

I smiled at his kindness, but knew I’d never see him again. The mountain was too large to run into the same person twice.

The next day I went to a restaurant after my last run. As I sat by the fireplace and enjoyed the mountain view George walked by.

“Hey there,” he said.

“Hi,” I said, shocked he’d been right about seeing each other again.

“Ever been to the hot springs?”

“No.”

“Want to join us tonight?”

I weighed the pros and cons of agreeing to hang out with a stranger and his alleged friends who I had yet to meet. He did seem sincere, though, and the springs were a public place. If I drove on my own and made sure others were there it should be safe.

“Sure,” I said.

“Great. See you there at five.”

The sunset view from the hot springs was breathtaking. As the last glint of light disappeared, I climbed out of the rock-lined water, ready to take my pruned skin back to my hotel room.

“Want to ski with us tomorrow?” George asked.

“We’ll be doing some runs from the top before it gets too warm,” one of his friends said.

George had been right again. His friends were a great bunch, so I agreed to board with them. Their skill level far exceeded mine, but they were encouraging, not cocky. They helped me trust my skills and try slopes I’d avoided by myself. It made for a phenomenal day, so we decided to meet at Mammoth again two weeks later.

At the end of our next weekend on the slopes George and I sat in a lodge waiting for the others. He cocked his head to the side and smiled.

“You need to meet my friend Dale,” he said. “You’d like him.”

“Sure,” I said, figuring he’d never set us up, like the dozens of other people who’d said the same thing before.

“Excellent. I’ll make it happen.”

Six weeks later Dale and I went on our first date. Six months later we were engaged. Six months after that we were married. As I look back now I’m thankful to Nyna for not wanting to go snowboarding because it made me learn to be okay with doing things by myself, and led me down the slope to my husband.

~Heather Zuber-Harshman

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