Friday, November 23, 2012

White Friday

Beat and I flew to Salt Lake City to spend Thanksgiving with a large portion of my very large extended family. Between aunts, uncles, first cousins, and their children, I think there were at least forty people crammed in my uncle's rec room. This was Beat's first big Mormon family Thanksgiving. We made jokes about eating green jello mixed with carrots and overcooked turkey, but the food was actually quite good and my family members kept the uncomfortable questions to a minimum. The funniest statement came from my 82-year-old grandmother, who, upon first meeting Beat, exclaimed, "Wow, you're much cuter than I thought you'd be!"

Before the pie was even fully distributed, my sister and some cousins and aunts started gearing up for their Black Friday shopping assault. Apparently this revered holiday tradition has now trickled into Thursday, and they were all planning to hit the stores in a few hours. In my opinion, Thanksgiving is the best holiday to spend with family (less baggage and stress than Christmas), and the fact that U.S. retailers basically just gave the middle finger to Thanksgiving made me feel a bit melancholy. Although I have my own personal issues with consumer culture, I don't have a problem with Black Friday in general. I do understand how the economic machine that I depend on to prop up my lifestyle hums along. Still, as an individual, I can think of few cultural phenomenons that I'd be less likely to enjoy. Maybe a Justin Bieber concert. But no, even at one of those I could zone out and daydream. Black Friday is just torture, simple and pure. In fact, if Hell did exist, it would absolutely be a custom-designed type of place. Some people would live out their purgatories riding bikes in 40 below weather through Antarctica-like nothingness. I, on the other hand, would spend eternity trapped in the crowds at Wal-Mart on Black Friday.

Luckily, if you don't want to spend your holiday weekend in a retail mosh pit wrestling others over cheap televisions and DVDs, it's not all that hard to get away from the crowds. My dad, Beat, and I headed east into the Wasatch Mountains to climb a 10,200-foot peak called Gobblers Knob. It was, after all, the day after Thanksgiving.

Utah has been unseasonably warm all week, and the bright sun combined with radiant heat off the snow seemed to turn Mill B Basin into an oven. The terrain varied from slush to breakable crust, requiring a number of stability maneuvers that I haven't exercised in a long time. The combination of heat, rough terrain and altitude made for a tough climb. At one point after a particularly slow slog up a slope, I finally caught up to my dad and Beat and said, "I'm struggling. I don't know if it's the elevation or heat or both." It sounded ridiculous coming from a Californian who was wearing virtually the same outfit I wore at a Bay-area 50K trail run two weeks ago, given the ambient temperature was still likely in the 40s, but there it was. I was toasted. And of course it became windy and frigid on the summit ridge. Even after applying most of our extra layers, we had only time to eat a rushed lunch of Nutella sandwiches and tortilla chips on the peak before our fingers and toes were frozen.

The mountains are always joy-inducing, regardless of conditions. And even with the "heat" and weird snowpack, today's conditions on Gobbler's Knob were just about ideal. Strangely, we only saw three other people the entire time, near the trailhead. That fact is even harder for me to understand than the lines of people wrapped around Best Buy. Because if Heaven did exist, it would absolutely be customized, and mine would be a lot like this.