Learning to Adapt

A blown-out Achilles couldn't stop one man's skiing streak

Friends, plus a sit ski, helped the author keep his skiing streak alive at Mt. Hood, despite his injuries.
Friends, plus a sit ski, helped the author keep his skiing streak alive at Mt. Hood, despite his injuries.

I fell to the ground clutching the back of my leg. There was a freakish void. My Achilles had snapped, and as I hobbled off the soccer field I thought of the Streak.

I had cobbled together 34 consecutive monthly trips to ski, which I've chronicled in the Inlander over the past two years. Come hell or high water, I was getting out there each month to find a pitch steep enough to link 10 or more turns together.  

In the aftermath of the injury, it was clear. No one can ski with a ruptured Achilles. Impossible. Guaranteed 12-month recovery. No, ifs, ands or buts. 

I made the requisite calls and was soon scheduled for surgery. Trying to stay positive, I lied to myself. "The Streak is not a big deal," I would say. My friends saw through this rhetoric. I was devastated, but behind the scenes the covert planning began.

Soon after Dr. Khalid Shirzad skillfully repaired my Achilles tendon, I lived life ripping around on my knee scooter. Determined that the Streak would be the only casualty, I went about life as normal as possible. Gone were poring over topographical maps, checking trip reports and playing meteorologist in preparation for my monthly adventure into the mountains. 

As September crept to a close, a group of buddies put the final touches on their plan to keep the Streak alive. My ski partner and friend, Ryan Ricard, stealthily executed the coup, by locating and purchasing a sit ski. My eyes welled with tears when I learned about this. It seemed the Streak was no longer just mine, but had become communal.

On September 29, we loaded Ryan's truck and headed south. Numerous calls to ski industry folk were answered with, "Sorry, bro, but legally, we can't help you. We're closed for the season." Mt. Hood, however, was running the Magic Mile chairlift. That was as close as we were going to get to snow in September.

Heading to the mountaintop.
Heading to the mountaintop.

We awoke to bluebird skies. Ryan, Chad O'Brien, and I pulled into the parking lot of Timberline Lodge to see that the Magic Mile was not dangling a single chair, despite their website listing it as "operational." Management gave us a shrug. We were left to plan B. 

Ryan had thoughtfully packed the bed of his truck with a hodgepodge of bikes, climbing ropes, beer, various pulleys and numerous backpacks. He hitched his son's bike trailer to his mountain bike, and directed me to sit. The axle bowed as I contorted to fit. Chad, our mule, slung the awkward sit ski onto his back. We were off.

When the road became too steep to ride, Chad and Ryan pushed. They labored while I drank beer in my child-size chariot. Mostly it was laugher, but they worked for every rotation of the wheel. Pouring sweat, they carried on. With hours completed and miles to go, we came upon an employee who was driving a utility truck. Without pleading, she took us to the Silcox Hut, which was taunting us in the distance.

As we looked south to Mt. Jefferson, hikers began to question our plans. What were we doing? Why was a guy in a walking boot and crutches at 7,500 feet? We headed for the ribbon of snow lingering from the Palmer Snowfield. Chad and Ryan, my arms around their necks, hoofed me to the top of the snowy patch. Standing up the sit ski, they strapped me in. Ryan hooked himself to the chair's anchor point and Chad guided the single ski downhill. I prayed the binding was properly adjusted.With my outrigger poles set, they guided me down, in mutual distress. We slowly streaked back and forth; they barked orders to keep the chair upright and for me to keep my shoulders square, and skied to the bottom where onlookers had gathered.

After a couple of cold beers over ample laugher, we embarked on the road down. A couple miles of dirt and chip-sealed trail lay between us and endless martinis. Ryan hit rollers as I watched the cotter pin on the trailer hitch seesaw back and forth from my perch in the rear. Bits of brake broke free from the caliper as the rotors heated purple, warping as he occasionally braked around corners. The trailer squirmed on the loose volcanic rock. Passing hikers, with crutches raised, we were fueled by victory.

Three months after surgery, I was cleared to ski, albeit gingerly. Since then the Streak has been preserved, but only with the undying determination of friends. I am constantly reassured that skiing, at its core, is a communal sport. For without the shared memories and help from friends, it is simply a freezing-cold sport where people are sliding down hills with sticks on their feet. 

My hat is off to all who help others to ride snow or get outside. And if you're interested, Ryan has a slightly used sit ski with a story to tell. ♦

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