Far better, for me, is the outdoors adventure. I feel like conversations are much more real there. I've thought it before: in the wilderness, I am the closest to the best person I can be.
The day before Christmas Eve, we went skiing on a trail that is usually off limits for me. Packed with steep dropoffs and climbs, it is less about gliding than survival. But sometimes, the stars align, as they did that day, with a deep dump of fresh powder, slowing me down enough that I could enjoy the ride. The temperature barely scraped into double digits, and the dogs swam through the snow, almost as deep as they were. It was perfect. On a day like that, you can talk about anything.
I thought about the people I have confided in over a camp stove, or between tents. The people I met who briefly shared my life, people whom I probably had almost zero in common besides the wilderness. People who have become lifelong friends because I swung a tool beside them on a trail, or because we shared an experience together that changed us forever. For example, Jack and me huddling in a lightning bracketed forest, sure our time was up. Steve and me burning out a safety zone as a fire rushed toward us. And the more benign: stars brushing the tops of aspen trees, sky stained pink from northern lights in an Idaho sky.
The wilderness for me is almost all that matters, although that's not really true. There's family, and friends, and doing good in the world. But if there's no wilderness, for me there's no knowing anyone. Seeing how someone reacts to adversity or compromising tells you a lot. There was the former boyfriend who showed impatience when my Raynaud's afflicted fingers refused to work. And the other one who skied ahead of us in minus twenty temperatures, while a friend stayed back with me as I towed the sled with our gear. There was the woman who pitched a fit when I suggested we hike just a little farther rather than sitting in our tents at two pm in the rain. And the good ones: Flash, who talked me through a major bonk and lack of campsites after a long, downhill hike. Beekeeper, who stuck with it on a blazing hot, 22 mile day despite overheating.
I have not always shown bravery in the wilderness. I have whined, I have had meltdowns. It is a work in progress, always. But way more real than party talk.
Happy holidays, friends. I wish for you a perfect day, whether it's a hike through the forest, a ski in an icebox winter, or even a party. See you in the new year.