Living On A Whim: Part One

17 Jan


It appeared that I was in a European village. The brick streets wound through narrow passages, and wooden balconies hugged the condos above. A Swiss flag waved in the distance. Ski shops abounded, and there was a clog shop over there. White lights hung over an ice rink. It was almost international.

But I wasn’t in Europe. I was in Vail, just 100 miles from Denver. I was here on a whim, a practice in spontaneity.

You might ask why I need to practice living spontaneously. I am, after all, the girl who fled 2,000 miles in the middle of the night to a city she’d never been to.

That was the first time in my life I ever acted so boldly.

Until that night, I couldn’t make any decisions on a moment’s notice. I felt paralyzed unless I had time to ponder every decision, carefully weighing every implication of every action. I planned and planned and planned, and left nothing to chance.

In retrospect, I see how much I pondered myself out of doing anything fun, mostly because I was too afraid – too afraid to trust that things would work out. Too afraid to simply let go. There were tangible fears too, like my fear of heights, and I was too uncomfortable with that fear to ride it out.

When Mr. Poison dumped me, something snapped. Some long buried instinct rose to the surface and took over. I didn’t think of consequences. It was exhilarating. Once I felt that, I knew I wanted to feel it again, and I’ve been searching for it ever since.

So on Wednesday night, when one of my market research clients offered me a complimentary ski lift and lesson in Vail because it expired the next day, I jumped at the offer.

(Because I work from home, I sometimes have the flexibility to go anywhere on a moment’s notice, trading out a working weekend for a free weekday.)

No one tells you that spontaneity can only exist if you also have either ignorance or bravery: you either need to have no idea what you’re getting yourself into, or, if you know what you’re in for, you don’t talk yourself out of jumping.

I knew what I was getting myself into with skiing, especially at Vail, one of the world’s grand mountain resorts. I always wanted to go skiing but never did because I knew skiing would test my fear of heights. I knew the chance of falling and hurting myself would be high, which is always a bigger risk when you only have basic health insurance with a high deductible. I knew that I could easily miss a turn, hit a tree and die.

But a true international woman of mystery must be brave, and so I had to learn to be brave.

First, I had to stop the negative thoughts encircling my mind, trying to get in, the ones that would talk me out of doing this in the name of reason. Instead, I visualized what it might feel like to sweep across the mountain on my skis, spraying snow in my wake with the wind in my hair.

Turns out, all that worrying was for nothing. At Vail, they know that any adult taking a beginner ski lesson is probably scared. Consequently, they start you off nice and slow, first teaching you how to put on your boots and carry your gear (both of which are way more complicated than you might think). In a little classroom, they teach you about making c-shapes in the snow to control your speed, how to stop and how to easily save yourself from danger – on the beginner slopes, anyway. They hold your hand and don’t let go until you are more confident than they are.

When the time came to get on the ski lift, an older man skied up next to me. “Are you afraid of heights?” he asked as we got on the lift.

“I pretend not to be afraid of anything.” I tried to smile, hoping that a “fake it ‘til you make it” mentality would help me overcome the rising anxiety in my chest. I filled my belly with air like a balloon and slowly released it. I tried not to look at the ground below, which quickly felt about 100 feet away. I tried not to scold myself for taking this risk. I looked for feelings of joy in my body – did this feel fun? I wasn’t sure yet.

The chair swung slightly as we approached the top of the lift and I realized that a number of things needed to happen swiftly, nearly at the same time, in order for me to descend without incident. The bar had to go up, I had to ready my poles, I had to plant my skis, and then I had to descend a tiny ramp as the chair swung around to return back down the mountain.

As I got off, the man next to me teetered and grabbed hold of my jacket for balance; before I knew it, my skis crisscrossed and I tumbled forward. My head hit the ground, the air escaped me and I heard the lift abruptly come to a halt. I heard the swoosh-swooshing of someone approaching me.

“You all right?” Before I saw who it was, two strong arms pulled me up from the snow. My goggles were covered in snow so it took me a minute to gather my bearings, and my breath. I pulled up my goggles and saw a lift attendant next to me. I swallowed my astonishment from falling, and nodded my head in defiance to my body’s immediate, painful reaction.

“You all right?” he asked again.

“Yes, I’m fine,” I puffed out. “Thank you.” I didn’t want him to see that I was shaken up.

That was not the first impression I wanted to make on the ski slopes.

After that, I was a little shaky making sloppy turns down the hill. I didn’t fall, but the fear of falling inhibited my enjoyment. I tried to talk myself out of getting back on the lift. What if I fell again?

It took me five more tries before I finally stuck my landing from the chair lift. By that time, all you could do was laugh at all the ways I managed to fall.

In fact, falling got a little easier every time I did it. I smiled to myself, picked myself up, and promised myself not to stop until I succeeded.

Maybe spontaneity is nothing more than not taking yourself, or anything, too seriously.

As if by magic, my change in attitude changed my ability to ski. Laughing at myself lightened my heart, and that lightened my step. I was making turns more easily every time I went down the mountain. By the end of the day I had conquered every beginner run on the mountain. I was almost delusional in how successful I felt. I almost convinced myself I could out-ski a villain.

Rolling into base village just before twilight, I decided to reward my bravery and persistence with a warm drink at a crowded bar full of skiers and a live band.

At the bar, I took a large sip of my Bailey’s and congratulated myself for my little successes on the ski slope. Every sophisticated woman of intrigue should know how to command the snow, I decided then. With little planning, I made just a little progress in that direction.

Suddenly, I felt a tap on my shoulder.

“Jennifer?!” I turned around, surprised, to see Katie Wilson staring back at me, with raised eyebrows and a big smile. Katie is a friend of a friend from Boston. I don’t know her well but she had always been nice to me when we saw each other out with our friends. It was disorienting to see someone from Boston here in Colorado.

“Katie!” I gave her a big hug. “What are you doing here?”

“I’m on vacation with some friends.”

“Is Jason here with you?”

“No, he’s back at home and at school.” She pointed to a table with a guy and a girl sitting at it. “Those are my friends, Linus and Jessica. Why don’t you come join us?”

“It’s just so crazy to see you here, so far from Boston,” I said, still in disbelief, as she led me to the table.

“Really?” Katie asked over her shoulder. “This happens to me all the time. I’m always running into people I know in the weirdest places – especially far from home.”

Linus and Jessica (not a couple) welcomed me right away. They told jokes, asked me all sorts of questions, and seemed energetically interested in my story of how I landed in Denver.

It’s been so long since I’ve laughed with friends – or, at least, people who feel like friends. I reveled in the feeling of camaraderie. Once again, I applauded myself for making myself act spontaneously. If this is what happens when you do things on a whim, the reward far outweighed the risk.

I looked at the fading light and remembered that I had to drive back to Denver that night. I started to gather my things.

“Where are you going?” Linus asked.

“I have to hit the road before it gets too late to drive.”

Katie looked up. “Do you have to go back tonight? Tomorrow is Friday. Why don’t you stay at our condo? We have a pullout sofa. Couldn’t you put off work for one more day?”

Old habits – old personalities – die hard. I now realize that if I ever want to feel as liberated, happy, and powerful as I did the night I left Boston, I would have to make a conscious effort.

Running on adrenaline from all I’d conquered that day, I said yes and ordered another drink.

To be continued.


One Response to “Living On A Whim: Part One”

  1. totallycaroline 01/18/2016 at 8:04 AM #

    What an excellent adventure. I admire your bravery at trying something new like that. I am not a fan of the cold weather whatsoever, but whenever I have heard of Vail, it sounded very glam :)… who knows, maybe with some gorgeous snow gear, i could be persuaded LOL

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