When cross-country goes downhill

The phone jolted me awake, as would be expected at the crack of 9.

“Huh? Wha?” I croaked.

“Hey,” boomed the Amazon Queen on the other end. “You get a look at what it’s like outside?”

Outside? I wondered. I hadn’t looked outside the inside of my eyelids, let alone at outside outside.

“Yeah, sure, nice,” I mumbled.

It was all I could think of, though I would’ve said anything if it could’ve gotten me off the phone and back in Beddy-Bye Land. But no way would that happen, not with She Who Must Be Obeyed.

“It’s a perfect day for skiing,” she said.

“That’s nice,” I said.

“Right on,” she said. “So I’ll pick you up in an hour.”

“But I won’t be -?”I started, only to hear a click and the dial tone.

You may fight the good fight and win. You may even fight City Hall and win. But you fight the AQ, and you’ll lose. Guaranteed.

I dragged downstairs, made and drank a bucket of coffee, ate leftover something from the fridge, and was, if not functional, at least functioning.

About 59 minutes after she’d called, the AQ pulled in the driveway and we were off.

As she chatted merrily about the powder, the base, a new wax she’d discovered, her carbon-fiber poles and atomic-powered bindings, I listened politely. Truth is, it was in one ear and out the other. This was no reflection on her love of skiing, so much as on my like of it.

Like almost everyone else in My Home Town, I learned to ski at an early age, but never became skilled. At best, I was an adequate skier, which meant I could go from the top of Pisgah to the bottom without breaking my neck.

I never skied downhill after high school, but in recent years I took up cross country, at which I’m also not skilled. To me, cross country skiing is less a sport than it is a leisure time activity with the emphasis on “leisure,” rather than “activity.” I’m not even sure I’d call what I do “skiing,” so much as schlepping on snow.

This is of course in marked contrast to the AQ.

She plays sports to gain skills and serious conditioning. If she played mah-jongg, it’d somehow become either an aerobic or contact sport. So when she skis with me, she has to have an entire change of routine – and heart -?or I’d be left miles behind. But she does slow down for me, since it’s her attempt to start me on the road to uber-fitness and under-fatness. It’s also pretty much in vain, but for reasons known only to her, she persists in this folly.

Bad start

For that day’s ski she decided we’d go on the Jack Rabbit trail. Though we didn’t’ discuss it, but I think the AQ planned on going through the woods, around McKenzie Pond, up the Haystack trail, and then maybe down to Pottersville and back I never asked her any specifics of our route, since some things are best left unknown at the start.

We parked at the North Country Community College gym and headed out to the railroad tracks. Once there, we put on our skis and started on our way. Or more exactly, she put on her skis and started on her way. I put my skis, but took a few steps and one foot came out of its binding. I put my foot back in and it kept coming out. Meanwhile, the AQ was gliding off into the horizon.

“Hey!” I yelled.

Luckily she was still within earshot.

“What?” she said.

“I need help,” I called, sounding far too whiny for my liking.

She glided back in an instant, maybe two.

“What is it?” she asked.

“This binding,” I said. “There’s something wrong with it. My foot keeps slipping out.”

“OK,” she said, “put your foot in.”

I did. Then I lifted my foot just a little bit, and it slipped free.

“See,” I said, “there’s something wrong with it.”

“There’s nothing wrong with it,” she said. “It worked just fine last week.”

“Yeah,” I said, “but that was last week. This is – “

“This week,” she said, cutting me off. “And now that we know what week this is, put your foot in there again.”

I did as she told, and again my foot came out. We repeated the process, each time with the same result.

“All right,” she said, “put your other foot in that ski.”

I did and – surprise surprise – that foot slipped out as well.

“So now will you admit there’s something wrong with the binding?” I asked.

“No,” she said, staring at the offending binding, as if she could will it to work.

She was obviously getting mad because her workout was about to get cancelled.

I was also getting mad, but for a different reason: If she thought there was nothing wrong with the binding, then ergo, there was something wrong with ME.

She pushed on the binding, blew on it, even cursed it but no matter: My foot still kept coming out.

“Here,” she said, after some more esoteric ministrations, “try it now.”

“No,” I said. “I’m not going to try it at all. It isn’t working, I can’t ski with one ski, so we’re out of here.”

She gave me a dirty look.

I returned it.

“Look,” I said, “there’s something wrong with the binding. I don’t know what it is. You don’t know what it is. But something’s wrong with it.”

She shook her head.

“No?” I said.

“No,” she said.

“So you’re saying I’m doing something wrong?”

“Yes,” she said.

Good finish

Now here’s the thing: Putting on skis is easy – so easy, even I can do it. It takes no knowledge of skiing, no knowledge of mechanics, no knowledge of nothin’. All you do is put your foot into the binding till it clicks and holds your boot (or in my case, it clicks and does not hold your boot). Yet there’s the AQ accusing me of somehow not doing it right. I felt myself flushing with the righteous anger of an Old Testament prophet.

“OK, tell you what,” I said, with teeth clenched. “Put on my boot and then you put the ski on.”

She agreed and we switched boots.

Then the fun began, as she kept putting on the ski and it kept falling off. Giving the devil her due, she gave it a good 15 or 20 tries before she gave up and headed back to the car, me in tow.

The ride on silence to my place, though no more than two miles, seemed to last at least four hours.

We nodded curt goodbyes and she drove off, taking my skis with her. I went in and cooled my anger with a pint of Stewart’s Death by Chocolate.

A half hour later, the phone rang. It was the AQ.

“Well, I figured it out,” she said.

“Oh really?” I said.

“Yeah. The binding was frozen. I guess it happens from time to time. I took the ski indoors and once the binding thawed, it worked perfectly.”

“A frozen binding?” I said. “Who woulda thunked it?”

We chatted a bunch more, and at no point did I mention, or even hint, that the fault lay in the binding. not the Dope.

After all, some bindings, are profoundly important – others aren’t important at all.