My friend Kevin Curtis is an amazing writer and all-around fascinating person. I had the opportunity to climb with him in the City of Rocks this summer. We were able to hit-up Thin Slice and Terror of Tiny Town one morning. He told me that he was going to do a quick summer ski-trip in the Uintahs. I asked him to write a short story about the trip. This is the result.
Cowboy asked me if it was ok if he smoked in his car.
Of course, I said. It’s not my car.
We found ways to avoid silence, although this is only our second meeting so there were more lapses in conversation than we were comfortable with. Topics were frantic. At one point I ranted, and Cowboy agreed, that the culture of high school wrestling needs restructuring; that the pressures to drop weight, to spit yourself slim, to assemble sweaty suits of plastic—that this Sport-American ritual is beyond our comprehension.
Turns out both of our fathers wrestled in high school.
Cowboy is in the happiest relationship of his life by all accounts, and thrilled to talk about it. My heart’s in the strangest place during these conversations. Cowboy’s too. We alternate between high and low subject matter, motorcycles and women, each conversation bookended by his first and last cigarette.
When you move from a place, and then move back, I tell Cowboy, you make yourself a stranger. Every action has a reaction, it seems. To Cowboy I am mostly a stranger, regardless of the back stories we exchange.
The topography off the pavement is ancient. The slopes run east to west, not north to south. They slope downward, flatly as if to reach into the sea, to scoop its waters, to rob it of some portion of its depth, but there is no sea. Here in a mountain range that runs East to West, the Uintah range, the world moves at a Vancouver pace, glacially.
Everybody in our group is from somewhere else. I was local but now I am from somewhere else too. I used to hate these meetings: a bunch of strangers corralled together. Then John told me to act like all moments are key moments. That cliché’s what’s kept me honest.
We reach Bald Mountain Pass. I grab my skis (without skins) and move through the quartzite and pigeon milk ridges towards Murdock Peak with full moon overhead and no more than an hour left till dusk. Cowboy stays by the road to watch a feral sunset with Birdie, a German Shepherd and coyote mix, more coyote than anything.
I stand at the top of the ski line, looking down the fall line. Bad luck, are you coming for me? Before every ski descent I recite to myself: Some are born to endless night. What does it matter anyway, we are all going to Graceland.
The moonlight is coming. I know it will help me sleep tonight. It cannot illuminate yet, not when the sun persists. We ski down the high, North aspect, which cuts through the boulders like a sickle. I descend until the terrain forces me to quit, until the rocks surround me.
Back at the car Cowboy pulls out a pack of Marlboros, but he doesn’t ask me if he can smoke this time. He knows me well enough to cut that. Driving east in twilight, listening to Son House’s “Death Letter Blues.” We go on a covers tangent. He goes for a cover of “Death Letter Blues”—The White Stripes. I put on a version of “Graceland” by Casiotone for The Painfully Alone:
“Losing love. It’s like a window to your heart. Everybody sees you’re blown apart. Everybody hears the wind blow.”
Cowboy pulls off the highway, keeping up his speed fast enough to stay ahead of the dust, to the trailers at Bear River. We will ski here the next two days. In the headlights we both recognize several people that we have both known much longer than we’ve know each other.