Playing In The Freezer

When Robin and I planned to take a couple of days and go skiing on the Grand Mesa with Ally and Kyle, I did not see that as a challenge to the gods of winter at all. And when I wrote this on a blog post recently, I felt the same way.

The nice thing about Nordic skiing is that you are rarely cold. You generate enough heat that the problem is what to do with all those clothing layers you started out with.

Apparently the gods saw things otherwise.

When Ally and Kyle arrived on the Mesa last Friday it was 35 degrees and blue skies, and they had a fine afternoon XC skiing and exploring. Later in the evening they bunked down in the cabin we had rented together at the Grand Mesa Lodge, Cabin #15 to be exact. Then some sort of bottom fell out of the weather during the night, and when Robin and I showed up at the cabin the next morning (Saturday) the temperature was 8 degrees and a bitter wind was blowing in your face no matter which way you turned.

But we were there to have fun, even if it meant the possible loss of body parts to frostbite in the process. Our first stop was at some sled dog races that were being held just a few miles from the lodge. Cold people, cold canines, red cheeks, white noses, and only one trailer selling hot beverages. We spent an hour or two watching the dogs, all the while stamping our feet in a brave but fruitless attempt to restore circulation. From there we moved to the cross-country ski trail area and set off through the woods.

The snow was perfect. Four inches of powder on six feet of base. Originally I had plotted out a four mile loop, but our quartet voted very quickly to cut that distance in half, “then we’ll see if we want to do any more after that.” We didn’t. At that point it was back to the cabin to warm up, sip a little coffee, and look out the window at the abundance of snow that the Mesa had to offer. Later in the afternoon Ally and Kyle headed back to Steamboat Springs, and at suppertime Robin and I went up to the lodge where the menu in the restaurant was basically pizza. It was an excellent home-made pie, however, and we finished it up and then licked the plate afterward.

Not wanting to brave the weather any more that day, we turned in early. When we awoke Sunday morning, the temp was eight degrees below zero. Now I know that some of you in the Midwest have learned to love those sorts of temperatures, but Robin and I were not emotionally prepared for them, nor had I brought along nearly enough warm clothing to go playing in a freezer. So we scratched our original itinerary and returned home a few hours early.

If it hadn’t been so frigid, though, what a landscape was up there to be explored! More beautiful snow than anyone could ever want. Too brilliantly white to look at in the sunlight without eye protection. Aspens, evergreens, iced-over lakes, and a serious shortage of the scars of civilization. It is true that there were areas where snowmobilers were blasting about with their malodorous machines, but it wan’t too hard to get away from their noise. And left to itself, a snowy landscape is one of the quietest there is.

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Cabin # 15 Review

The cabin had originally been built in the late 1890s, but for some reason the original structure was taken down and a “new” one built with the same logs, in 1939. Its outstanding feature in 2021 was its slanting floor. The footing sloped in several directions making walking about the room interesting. On a shelf in the cabin was one of those notebooks where guests are invited to write a few words about their visit. The last entry was just a week before we arrived, where a gentleman offered these words of caution:

You are advised not to drink alcohol during your stay, because it is hard enough to walk here while sober.

Guest Notebook

There was a metal-framed futon in the main room, whose mattress did not do nearly enough to protect one’s posterior from the metal slats of the frame. The sitting surface was only inches from the floor, which meant that each time you were moved to sit down, there was no contact where you expected it to be, and a moment of panic until you finally crashed onto the thinly covered slats.

We found four chairs at the small table in the kitchen area, of the wobbly and untrustworthy plastic variety often found in tall stacks at Home Depot. However, if one moved slowly and didn’t wiggle excessively, the chairs did not collapse.

Kitchen facilities were more than adequate, with a good refrigerator, nice gas stove, and newer countertop and sink. Heat for the building was a large propane space heater on the front wall of the room. With the miserable outdoor temperatures we found ourselves dealing with, that heater never had a moment’s rest.

To get upstairs to the dormitory area, you climbed a very old-fashioned stairway of the kind that was common in Thomas Jefferson’s day. The angle of the staircase was 60 degrees from horizontal, making it more like a ladder, actually. It wasn’t so hard going up, but coming down you needed to pick your way very carefully to avoid the unpleasantness that could come from a too-rapid descent. The wood of those steps had originally been rough-cut lumber, but 81 years of people going up and down had worn them to a shiny and slightly hazardous slipperiness.

The mattresses on the beds were comfortable, but all guests had been told to bring their own sleeping bags. In Covid times, it was felt safer all around to use one’s own bedding materials, apparently, and so we complied.

I liked the place, of course, in its quaint basic-ness. There was not a trace of elegance to be found. The wind found its way in through scores of cracks and gaps, and many of the furnishings were just barely adequate to their tasks. In this it resembled some fly-in fishing camps where I have stayed in the past. But the views out the windows were serene. All in all, I was glad that Cabin #15 was there for our use, even if I had a few quibbles. We were there only for a few hours, but the cabin had been there in one form or another for more than 100 years.

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We took far fewer photos than we would have if it hadn’t been so cold. Here are the few we have.

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Legislation has been introduced to ban the use of Native American mascot-ery in Colorado. If the bill goes through, our local Montrose Indians will have to find a new name for themselves or face stiff fines. It’s way past time for this, nest-ce pas? Way past. What is one to think of the mental processes of our European forefathers, who first did their best to kill off the Natives and their culture, and then later co-opted their images and names as examples of courage and resourcefulness. A truly amazing and cruel affront.

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Television viewing suggestion: The limited series Pretend It’s A City is a hoot. Fran Lebowitz’ brain runs way faster by far than the average human’s does, and she is a superbly sharp-tongued curmudgeon. The lady is aided in this documentary program by her obvious fan and friend, Martin Scorsese. Each segment is less than half an hour, so take a look. It couldn’t hurt.

Here’s a sampling of the kind of stuff you might see if you tuned in.

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