I believe in Dawn Patrol

Stephanie - Santa Fe, New Mexico
Entered on December 3, 2007
Age Group: 30 - 50
Themes: sports
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As far as I can tell, there aren’t many ways to cheat time. The only exception I’ve found is to make the most out of that sunless window of opportunity before work, commonly known among athletes as dawn patrol. When the snow starts to fly, this early morning telemark adventure is the best trick in the universe for desk jockeys like me who want freedom and a solid 401k. Dawn patrol has never let me down. It takes me completely out of the world—especially on a powder day—so that I can be at peace living within it.

Cheating time is never easy, but it’s brutal at 5:45 a.m. Some January mornings are so dark, cold, and windy that you wonder if the sun will ever shine again. Contrary to what every cell in my body is begging me to do, I force myself out from under my down cocoon, turn on the coffee pot, and slowly layer up in an obscene amount of polypro and Gore-Tex. If all goes according to plan, I’m out the door in ten minutes, boots slung over my shoulder, commuter cup full of caffeinated jet fuel in one hand, and skis and poles in the other. I give my Jeep a few seconds to warm up, then drive to the meeting spot, freezing fingers and toes off while I wait for the rest of the crew.

If the snowplow has cleared a path for us, it usually takes about 27.5 minutes to drive the snaky mountain road to the ski basin. At the top, nobody says much as we acclimatize to the cold, cram our feet into telly boots, smack our skins haphazardly onto skis and slowly start the trudge that will take us 1,700 feet straight up. At first, I feel breathless as I sync my lungs to the output of my arms and legs—breath comes hard at 12,000 feet. But then I get into a rhythm: As my body burns, my eyes take in the perfectly crenellated ridges of the freshly groomed corduroy.

If it’s warm, I stop to strip off a layer. If it’s cold, I pick up the pace. If I’m with my girlfriends, we slow down to chat about boys, work, and dreams. If I’m all by myself, I chant a mantra—something happy and uplifting, which helps me motor faster toward the promised land.

Right around the time when the run opens up to a wide, yet deceptively steep groomer, I get discouraged. I’m cold, it’s windy, I’ve been trudging forever, but I still can’t see the summit.

At the top—finally!—it’s a race to see how fast our numb fingers can peel off our skins and sweaty clothes. This striptease before God is where the fun really begins. It’s all downhill from here and I feel triumphant for having conquered something significant at a time that I’d normally be rolling out of bed and dipping a spoon into my Cheerios.

When skis are freed from their sticky skins and the hot chocolate thermos has been passed and stowed away, we scout the runs to see where the snow has fallen with the greatest abandon. Whether we ski trees, steeps, or a groomer, we’ve earned every hard-earned turn, knees burning and heart bursting at the joy that we’ve discovered the freedom of the morning.