Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Desolation - Chapter One (draft)

Her knees bent and hands charging forward, Kelsey Simpson chased the late afternoon shadows down the highline trail, arcing perfect turns that barely kicked up snow from the tails of her skis. Glancing briefly to her right, she noticed her friend Kim Collins – donning a sharp look of determination mixed with a playful smile – had pulled even with her. Despite the momentary blow to her ego, Kelsey knew Kim was a pretty darned good skier in her own right.

The two slowed as they neared a long right-handed bend on the trail that followed the fall line of the mountain. Kelsey suddenly dropped her right knee and turned sharply toward the left side of the trail where an opening in the trees gave way to expansive views of the southern tier of the Desolation Wilderness and the eastern slope of the Sierra Nevada mountain range.

Kelsey stopped just short of an orange boundary rope that stretched across the gap.
Visibly short of breath, Kim stopped next to Kelsey, who was peering down a steep and rocky slope that poured down the backside of Boulder Ridge, and said, “Come on, Kelsey, not today. It’s getting late in the day and I’m too tired to schlep up to Route Fifty.”

“Really?” Kelsey sighed. “Two hours ago you were all excited to ski that line you’ve been talking about for weeks and now you’re too tired? What gives?”

“I know, I know, but that storm’s coming in and we can’t afford to get caught out there.”

Kelsey turned around and peered north, the deep blue hue of Lake Tahoe encompassing her line of sight. She pointed to the rugged, snow-covered peaks dotting the north shore and said, “System’s supposed to come down from the Cascades and that front’s been stalled over the northern edge of the basin for the past couple of hours. We’ve got plenty of time, Kimmy. Besides, you’re supposed to have my back.”

“That’s nice,” Kim replied, “you’re always good for a guilt trip. Tell you what; how about you ski the backside and I’ll meet you with a car? That way you won’t have to hitchhike.”

“I dropped off my car at Alpaca Pete’s this morning; I’m all set, but thanks.”

“You dropped off your car or Aaron took it to work – again?” Kim quipped.

“You know, Kim, we gotta find you a man. That way you could learn all about compromise. Hey wait a minute. There’s a candidate!” she said, pointed to a lone skier perched by the other end of the rope.

“Umm. Nice one-piece,” she laughed. “Love the bandana.”

“Well these days you can’t be too picky; this town’s too full of druggies and tourists.”

“And which category does he fall into?”
Kelsey pulled her goggles down from her navy blue knit hat, flashed Kim a smile, and said, “Pretty cute, actually. Probably some yuppie up from the Bay Area. If he doesn’t follow me out of bounds, you should make a move.”

Kim looked at her watch and said, “Ok. You gonna be home tonight or are you going to your job?”

“Have to pay the bills, Kimmy.” Kelsey winked at her friend and pushed off without another word, her skis gliding slowly through the untracked snow until the gravity began to pull her down the treacherously steep slope.

As Kelsey finished the last of a few dozen tight turns without the slightest paused, she dropped off a five-foot ledge without hesitation and turned abruptly to avoid a stump that crested through the previous nights’ snowfall like a mine waiting to be stepped on. She knew that one miscalculated turn could easily mean a devastating meeting with a white pine and perhaps a broken bone or several.

With the valley floor quickly approaching, Kelsey snaked her way through a patch of thin saplings and slowed as she approached a clearly in the woods. Breathing heavily, she let herself fall over onto her side and landed in snow so soft it was like jumping into a pile of cotton. “Unreal,” she said out loud and turned to look back up the mountain, her body almost completely covered in powder.

If she hadn’t felt so alive, she would have sworn she were in heaven. The perfect run to end the perfect day was just what the doctor ordered, but now she’d have to strap a pair of seal skins to her skis and make the mile-long trek out to Route Fifty. The clouds, the ones she’d seen dozens of miles away, were beginning to block out the late afternoon sun. There was no time to relax.

Copyright © 2011 Jerry Graffam