This past weekend was one of those interludes where I thought of my family scattered in a crazy constellation. Marypat and I were driving to Hayward, Wisconsin so MP could take part in the annual 50K Birkie ski race with 10,000 of her closest friends. Eli was the only one holding down the Montana fort, slogging away with school and work in Billings. Sawyer was nordic racing on the college circuit in Red River, NM. Ruby was in Toronto giving a speech at a wilderness canoe symposium.
Nearly to Hayward, our phone rings. It’s Ruby in the Toronto airport. She had borrowed a phone from a stranger because her phone refused to function in Canada. Her debit card wouldn’t work. She had to make her way to an unfamiliar address in downtown Toronto and had no cash. We gave her the bank number to see if she could get her card working. She hung up and we didn’t hear from her again for 3 days. No news is good news, right? Right. My 20-year-0ld daughter in a strange city with no money and no communication and human trafficking rings lurking around every corner.
The Birkie absolutely overwhelms the small town of Hayward. A sea of lycra folk jostling through registration lines at the high school, every motel and bar and ski shop overflowing. All to ski a 30-mile course through the woods with waves of competitors, in conditions that, 3 out of 5 years, are crappy. We pay good money to participate, take on a 30-hour round trip drive, lose sleep to race anxiety, navigate the maze of traffic and bus drop-offs. Call me a dud, but I’m not feeling it. Marypat, on the other hand, is all over being 60 and joining a new age class, and damned if she doesn’t come in 4th in her category with a time of 3:32, despite drizzle, slush, and a few, butt-bruising mishaps.
Me, what I’m feeling is seeing old friends and colleagues from that northern Wisconsin era in my life. Staying with Hayward friends who once took my writing workshop, and who know the reservation cafe with light, fluffy pancakes and only four people at tables, who are full of canoe stories and know just when and where to intersect the race on a back road and cheer for our favorite skiers.
And I’m feeling the Sunday breakfast in Ashland with two of my best and oldest friends, catching up on life’s poignant and resonant roll toward old age over scrambled eggs and english muffins with classical music in the background and Lake Superior out there, down the street, rolling off against the winter sky. Yeah, I’m feeling that.
Somewhere in the middle of that plate of breakfast, we get an email from Ruby, relating the “shit-show” of getting into Toronto, giving her talk to a “bunch of old people who I made cry” and threading her way back through thin air to Arizona.