BY THE LIGHT OF THE (NOT SO) SILVERY MOON
A moonlit tour sounds peaceful and romantic, or it did when I was reading the travel company website.
Walk through the pure white snow in the High Cascades, looking for signs of animal life in their nocturnal wonderland.
“AHHHHHhhhhhh, it sounds so relaxing.” I told my husband, “I’ve always wanted to go snowshoeing.”
What I hadn’t planned on was scaling those High Cascade Mountains and repelling down the backside of cliffs—without a rope.
Somehow the guide put my husband and me in a group with thirteen 25-year-olds and, to add insult to injury, they had the youthful bodies of Adonis and Dianna.
Immediately, I felt like a fish out of water: a sardine, as we sat huddled together in the van.
What I didn’t realize right then, was the fact that he was sizing us up. If I had, I would have raised my hand to make sure he saw me, the chubby old Mom sitting hidden, wedged between my 6’4” husband and the forest fire-fighting dynamic duo that sat blocking me from view, on the bench seat beside me.
I should have seen (or at least heard) the warning signals, when he said, “ Usually we wander around an open field beneath the moon and stars, gazing up at the night sky BUT tonight I think we’ll try something a little more exciting.”
I had no idea that one little three-letter word was something that could have such a huge impact on my life—not until later.
I excuse my stupidity by saying I didn’t know what he was talking about. If I had, I would have stayed in my seat and been safe for the rest of the evening. Instead, I climbed out of that oversized van, into the dark night, as an old lady looking for a little romance on a weekend get-away with her husband and unknowingly entered the world of extreme sports fanatics.
”SHEESH!” Don’t be fooled by ads that entice you with promises of “Snowshoeing by the light of the moon!”
Try SURVIVALIST TRAINING in the pitch black polar caps with the wind whipping around your legs. Jet streams twist and turn like dangerous ice snakes. This wasn’t any little Jack Frost nipping at your nose. He was more like Jack the Ripper and he was trying everything he could to knock me to my knees.
Then that kind ‘ole man, Father Winter, sent whistling air around my face--blowing ice pellets into my eyes. And that was just standing in the snow park, while we were getting our gear out of the van.
That’s when the guide handed us headlights to strap on our foreheads.
I said, “We’re not going caving are we?”
He smirked, “We might as well ‘cause it’s as dark as an underground tunnel out there tonight.”
“But, what about our moonlit tour and gazing up at the romantic stars?” My chin started to quiver.
He looked at me and laughed, “What moon, what stars?” He snickered, pointing up at the overcast sky. “Did you think this was some sort of Lucky Charms Expedition? We can’t order the moon and stars like a ham and cheese sandwich at a deli.”
“But, but—,” I started to stutter. He couldn't be bothered and walked away without waiting for me to finish.
He was back in the crowd and handing out snowshoes and snowboarding pants for those of us who hadn’t anticipated subzero temperatures.
The group quickly slid on their gear, as I stood struggling to get my shoes strapped to my boots. I turned to my husband and begged for assistance. With the heavy clothing bundled around me, I had trouble finding—let alone bending—at the waist to reach the buckles on my feet—heck I have trouble touching my toes in yoga after I’ve warmed up and here my muscles were nearly frozen solid.
My loving husband helped me then we all moved out like rats following the Pied Piper into the darkness.
The Cascades were supposed to be bright beneath the moonlight reflecting off the pure white snow, at least that’s what the on-line brochure had advertised. But tonight the clouds weren’t cooperating.
Thank God we started out on flat ground or I never would have made it. At least I got a chance to get used to the off-balance feel of clown-sized shoes attached to the bottom of my feet with razor-sharp blades poking out, before I fell down in a snow drift, as I descended our first hill.
“Oh yeah,” the guide announced as he sprinted down the side of the cliff to me, “you have to be careful of those metal spikes or you could really get hurt. Not only will they shred your winter gear but they’ll make mincemeat of your flesh and you’ll get blood all over the pure white snow then we’ll have no problem finding that wildlife we’re looking for.”
“Wildlife?” I whispered.
“Oh just bears, wolves or cougars, they tend to congregate on this side of the mountain late at night.
But don’t worry. Tonight I think we’ve got them outnumbered.”
“Speaking of numbers,” I said looking around, “Didn’t we start out with 16 people?”
The guide looked around nervously, “Jessica, Jessica, Jessica where are you?”
I saw a sudden movement in the distant darkness, and wondered just who these people were. Why was I wandering around the forest, in the dark, at night with people I knew nothing about.
I’d wanted to get away from the lights of the city, to learn a little bit about the constellations, and watch for shooting stars all while listening for the hush of the nighttime forest of the Cascades.
But just what sort of people hop on a van, in the middle of the night, heading for an elevation of 6500 feet with a person they don’t know anything about, to guide them?
I started having my doubts about the people surrounding me, when the guide laughed anxiously, “Oh there you are” as Jessica flipped the switch to her headlight, sending a beam glaring into our eyes.
She giggled, sounding embarrassed.
“For God’s sake, don’t ever turn your lamps off out here unless I tell you,” the guide insisted.
She hollered, “I’m sorry, I just wanted to look up at the stars.”
“Shhoosh,” his voice was as sharp as the blades attached to my feet, “we’re hoping the bears are hibernating. I wouldn't want you to wake them.”
Finally, we made it to our last hill, wheezing and gasping for air, we looked up. Two of those 25-year-old women looked at each other and I heard one whisper, “Oh my God, is he serious?”
The other girl just nodded—too out of breath to even speak.
“I’m waiting down here,” the first one exclaimed, taking another look at the 45 degree slope of the hill.
“I didn’t sign up for a heart attack,” My husband groaned in my ear then announced to the others, “I’ll volunteer to stay behind and protect the stragglers, even though I’m making the sacrifice don’t feel sorry for me.
Shaking my head, I whispered, “Oh brother,” and started the steep ascent. But, when I made it to the top, I was dizzy and my vision was blurred and then I realized I was going to have to climb back down. Reality hit me and I knew I couldn’t make it. I sat down on my butt and assumed the Pilates tabletop position. With my snowshoes up in the air, I slid down to safety—doing the quickest set of hundreds I’d ever done.
The tour guide sprinted past me, as I glided through the snow, announcing over his shoulder, “Remember, we offer these romantic trips the few nights surrounding each full moon--from December to May.”
“Yeah, I remember your advertisement very well,” I thought, recalling the words that had sold me on this trip.
When I reached the bottom of the slope, sliding into the side of the van, I had my own personal icepack lodged up my back; my fingers felt frozen even inside my gloves and, when I tried to stand up, I realized I’d been turned into a human snowball.
The guide rushed to my aid, rolling me over to the heater he handed me the advertised cup of hot chocolate served with marshmallows to help thaw out my fingers. A few icicles melted from my nostrils into the steaming hot liquid but I didn’t care—I took a huge sip, and burnt my mouth. But I was still thanking God I was alive.
My husband came leading the others from the other side of the hill, whistling as they came. He turned to me and smiled, “Are you ready for our big adventure tomorrow morning?”
I barely managed to get one word out of my mouth, “Huh?”
“We’re going on a 47-mile tandem-bike ride tomorrow.”
The guide looked at us and laughed then with an evil sneer, and a slight chuckle he said, “Let’s keep our fingers crossed and hope the van starts.”