Amy Klinger

All That Distance Traveled

My daughter’s eleventh year has been jam-packed with milestones. With each one, I try not to think too long about the things that have slowly fallen by the wayside the past few years. Waiting for the school bus with her on foggy mornings. Packing her lunches. Singing silly, made-up bedtime songs together.

But it’s also been a time of recovering things that had been set-aside during parenting’s heavy lifting years. This was especially in my thoughts a couple weeks ago when bitter cold temperatures had us setting up for a weekend indoors rather than heading to Stowe where we would otherwise be skiing on a blue-sky, nearly-fresh powder day.  

Instead, that morning we were finishing up a lazy breakfast, figuring on a lazy afternoon when my daughter said, “You and Dad should go for a backcountry ski. I can stay home.” I nearly did a coffee spit-take. 

Without pausing to wonder about her ulterior motives, my husband and I sprang into action, piling on layers, packing snacks and a hot toddy thermos, loading the gear in the car. In 30 minutes we were on our way to an area of Vermont’s mountain woods, affectionately (if somewhat secretly) dubbed “Comfortably Numb.” 

It wasn’t the getting out on a couples ski day that sparked that déjà vu feeling of freedom and youthfulness. We generally went out by ourselves a few times a year on ski tours, rugged hikes, or mountain biking excursions, but they always required a certain choreography—lining up a play date or a sitter a week or more in advance. Instead, this kind of pure spontaneity was reminiscent of a time—roughly 11 years and a few months ago—when a weekend day offered hours’ worth of unscripted time available for pretty much anything we were interested in exploring. 

That afternoon, with the cold chasing away the humidity, the sky was a bold, unblemished blue (rare in Vermont) and the trees were especially vivid and sharp as we switchbacked our way up the mountain. Despite the 5 meager degrees, we had quickly worked up a sweat, shedding our top layer and opening our jacket “pit-zips.”  

There was no one in the woods but the two of us, talking about nothing in particular, enjoying the meditative pace of our ski trek and the sweet and easy comfort of a couple that has been together the vast majority of days for the last (dare I write it?) 22 years. We have moved, changed jobs, had a child. We’ve had amazing travels, bought cars, seen our favorite bands; we have shared books, meals, and stomach bugs. We’ve had tons of spectacular fights and sweet reconciliations.  

All that distance traveled. And yet, there was something in the cast of light through the trees, the stillness of the air—or maybe it was the gentle bobbing chickadee that had landed on a nearby scrubby branch—that collapsed time and brought me back to when we were still new. Strangers that had found something so comforting in being together that we decided to permanently entangle our lives.  

It was a bittersweet moment because to live again in that time was to be in a world in which my daughter didn’t yet exist. But fully sweet, too, because there was so much my past self had to look forward to.  

We crested the ridge and paused to admire the sweeping valley on the other side, frosty and white as a snow globe scene. The moment was brief. No longer sheltered, the wind instantly chilled our sweaty shirts. As we layered up again and stripped the climbing skins from our skis, I was still stuck in a time-warp lens, transported now to the Wallowa Mountains in eastern Oregon, almost 12 years to the day on our first major backcountry ski excursion together, a 5-day trip into the wilderness with a handful of friends and three host guides. It was the kind of multi-day adventure that had brought us together, having met on a whitewater rafting trip my first year as a grad student at the University of Utah. These were the kinds of trips I would always feel like an imposter on, continually out of my comfort zone but so desperately wanting to be an upbeat partner, game for anything. In the case of the Wallowas, the experience was made even more uncomfortable for still having been a relatively inexperienced skier.  

Since then, I’ve logged hundreds of thousands more feet of vertical. I am a far more competent skier at 48 than I was at 36, despite my knees being creakier, my back complainier. I have also mellowed personally, finding ways to co-exist with my insecurities as one begrudgingly does with the scratching mice that live in the walls.  

Back at Comfortably Numb, I heard a ping on my phone alerting me to a text. “Are you coming home soon?” And just like that, the spell was broken. But in a good way.

We kicked off and began our descent, threading the trees and letting out little whoops of delight for the dips and rolls through powder, just like we had at a time that now felt like a lifetime ago and just barely yesterday. 

10 thoughts on “All That Distance Traveled”

  1. I loved the story!! So happy you got away as a "young" couple. It is good to look back on the long road you have traveled together and be proud of your accomplishment!! Hugs~Kathy

    • Thank you for reading, Kathy! With "the boys" out on their own and pending marriage, I’m sure you’re feeling the bittersweet joy in lots of different ways.

  2. How beautiful and synchrinustic..saw S Monday at Sweet Simone’s, struck by how poised, articulate, beautiful and competent she had become..and reflected a la this piece on how much my life has changed, how we all have grown..ah..the wonder and enigma of time travel! Beautiful, Amy..thank you fir your writing as well as your daughter!

    • Your response gives me all the warm fuzzies, Meg! Thank you for your encouragement and helping shape many of the interests S is excited by today. It takes a neighborhood to raise a kid, right?

  3. The shape of things to come. While there is an element of bittersweet, it’s also quite nice to revisit your coupledom.

  4. Just beautiful. It’s so generous for you to share this moment. I am also so impressed at how your writing captures the feeling you had so well.

    • That’s so wonderful to hear, Jenny, thank you. It started off as a very different kind of post but ended up where it ended up. Apparently there were other things on my mind!

  5. Amy,
    Your experience is more tranquil and romantic, but I had a similar experience "uphill skiing" with my 19 yo-freshman at UVM last night. Since he left for college, he has been distant, claiming and clinging to "proving his independence" while getting straight A’s. Something happened this week and we have seen each other more on his Spring break than in the previous months since I dropped him off at his freshman dorm. I wasn’t really in the mood to start a skin at 1930, after long day at work, but he egged me on saying "those are the very reasons you gotta go", so I did. Watching a jet crest the mountain peak, with its landing lights still on, not hearing the engines for a few seconds, seeing the moon come out of the clouds, then, look back and see just how high we were above our starting point, gazing at the lights below, it was truly unique and peaceful.
    I felt lucky. I felt blessed. I felt privileged to be able to do such a thing. Then we saw two lights skiing down and smiled as others were enjoying the same experience. I have been doing this for 25 years and it never gets old.
    I hope WE (the royal we) all, skinners, hikers, Telewhackers, AT skiers and split boarders, can continue to experience this with respect to the land owners and property managers and stewards.
    Thanks for sharing (I pictured it with envy of your secret stash, which I will seek out and discover, teehee)

    • One of the great and wonderful surprises about this blog endeavor is how often I hear from people writing back about their experiences. Yours is an especially lovely one. Getting out in nature, writing…it’s all about human connection, right? So grateful for you sharing your story. As for that stash…you share yours first.

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