Once when I was young I slid down the side of a mountain. This was when I lived in Seattle, and I would go up to the mountains with my friends in search of hot springs, one in particular that was small but had a nice series of decks built around it and you could slip easily from a hot-hot pool to a merely hot pool to, finally, a cold pool, when you couldn’t take the heat anymore. Everyone was naked up there year round, even in winter, and it was all very freeing, sitting on the side of a mountain, surrounded by trees, soaking yourself in these baths laced with lithium.
There was a man who called himself the Naked Chef, who was a sort of host for the place. He hiked up there every weekend with pounds of food in his backpack and he would set up a little cooking area and make vegetarian dishes for anyone who wanted them. He’d had some small amount of fame for this and if he was just meeting you for the first time he would eventually offer a binder filled with laminated articles about himself. He had an enormous penis – even flaccid – and it was much darker than the rest of his body. The food was fine, if a bit salty.
We went up there not just to soak in the hot water and to eat food cooked by a naked man but also to do drugs. We smoked pot even on the hike up which seems absurd to me now, stopping our hike to take hits from a bowl, as if being in these gorgeous mountains wasn’t enough, as if crunching through the snow for an hour, hiking up up up, sweating, our hearts racing, endorphins flying, wasn’t enough. But that was what I was doing then, and nothing was ever enough. And then when we got to the hot springs we ate mushrooms, but not too many. On the spectrum of Tripping Your Face Off versus Feeling Something, I’m pretty sure we were just sort of feeling something.
Amongst other things, what we were feeling was good and we stayed too long, and the sun was starting to set and soon it would be dark and it would be hard to get down the trail in the dark. It wasn’t impossible. There were people who lived nearby who had been climbing it since they were in high school and often showed up at the hot springs at two or three in the morning after a night of drinking.
But we were city girls who had barely made it up the trail in the first place, spotting colored ribbons in the distance after much searching. We would never make it down in the dark. And no one wanted to stay up there all night. We had all come down from whatever highs we had and were toasted warm from the springs. We were dreaming of our beds. Also that Naked Chef, he did like to talk. I don’t know if we could have handled an entire night with him, as nice a man as he was.
Someone else sitting at the hot springs suggested that instead of hiking the winding trail back down we could just try and slide down the mountain. People did it all the time. It was much faster than hiking, although admittedly sort of dangerous. I do not recall asking, “How dangerous is sort of dangerous?” That seems like a question I would ask now, though. (Definitely I would ask that question.) But we were all in on this genius idea to slide our way down on our asses and so we wandered off away from the hot springs and the trails and in the direction of a clearing until there we were, on the side of a mountain covered in pure, crisp snow, punctuated by the occasional tree top. There seemed to be some paths in the snow where people had slid down before. There weren’t any dead bodies or anything. It looked safe enough.
And so down we went, scooching slowly at first on our behinds, until suddenly gravity kicked in and we started zooming down the side of the mountain, screeching and terror-laughing. It was fun and it was terrible. I kept running into the tops of trees. It was difficult to slow myself down. There was no possibility of steering myself. It was the craziest physical thing I had ever done. I was twenty-five years old. Everyone I was with I had known for less than a year. We had taken the advice of a stoned, naked man in a hot tub on the side of a mountain and now nature was having its way with us. It felt fantastic. I’ll never be able to recreate that adrenaline rush. I was moving fast. I let go.
Why was I thinking about it this morning? Yesterday was a super intense day at BEA. It was an entirely new experience for me. I had no idea how to react to anything except to smile. I met person after person. Everyone was so nice to me. I got misty in the bathroom. And then I took a cab home, and after I gave the driver directions I fell asleep. Do you know how hard it is to fall asleep in a cab in New York City? Sober? In the middle of the day? And we took Canal Street, and Canal Street is basically like made of boulders. But this is how I respond to excitement now I guess. By passing out.
The end of this story is we made it to the bottom. It was the dumbest thing I had ever done and we made it to the bottom. We landed at the side of the road, not too far from where we had parked our car. And in fact it had been so much faster than if we would have hiked. We felt very smart at that moment, but then I looked up at that mountain and said, “I’m never doing that again.” How soundly did I sleep that night though? I had survived something.