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Sunday, February 17, 2008

i get knocked down...but i get up again

Things have been a little weird and crazy around here lately, so the story of snowboarding in Sochi has been on the backburner for awhile; however, as of right now the house is clean, Art is holed up in the bedroom reading his bible, and I can’t do anything else till he comes out. Perfect time to blog.
The trip began with customary eventfulness. Art had a job interview that morning, so while he was gone I was busy trying to pack for the trip. I have never been snowboarding before—and for that matter the kids have never really been anywhere snowy before (at least not for more than an hour) so packing was something of a challenge. But at last Art was back, the stuff was together, and Lyosha had arrived with his ancient car for us to load up in. We got everything in and set off to go pick up Ilya. Once he was on board we made the strangely arduous trip through the city. For some reason it takes forever to get through Novorossysk, but once you’re on the highway it’s pretty smooth sailing.
Halfway through the city there was some discussion about something—I honestly wasn’t paying much attention—and then we turned around and headed back. Apparently the combination of all of us and all our gear was too much for Lyosha’s dinosaur and the tires were rubbing disconcertingly against the metal of the car. We went all the way back to Ilya’s house to get his car and divvy up the gear and people. I suggested that I should just stay home with the kids so they could all go in one car and they could snowboard without worrying about the kids, but Art said it wasn’t sporting so we divided up. Although it was kind of a bummer to not ride together, in one way it was much better: all the adults got front seats, and everyone got seatbelts. Also, Ilya’s car had an AC adapter so we could plug in the kid’s dvd players, which made for a much quieter six hours driving than I’d expected. So I rode with Ilya and the kids, and Art kept Lyosha company.
The drive was long; I yakked Ilya’s ear off the whole way. It was like some strange compulsion: I could feel myself being “the thing that wouldn’t shut up” and yet I couldn’t stop. Oh well.
After hours and hours of winding, two-lane roads, we finally neared Sochi. We discussed via cell phone our plans for dinner, when Art reminded Ilya that Sochi has a McDonalds. Now, when you’ve been living in Russia for more than a year, McDonalds takes on some strange power that makes you feel that if only you could have some fries and a Big Mac you would be the happiest person on earth. There is a rumor going around that Ilya once drove all the way to Sochi JUST to eat at McDonalds. I don’t know if it’s true, but it sounds pretty feasible. Ilya gasped when I relayed the message—he couldn’t believe he’d forgotten. So we stopped at Mickey D’s. I’ve never been a big fan of the place, and I haven’t been away from the States for long enough for it have any power over me, but food is food.
After that we made our way to the house of the people who had offered to let us crash with them. It was the strangest place, like something out of a story. Our Ilya called it “the castle house.” There was a steep driveway, then some stairs leading up through an outdoor hallway. Then some more stairs. Then we got to the house itself: a two story monstrosity that looked like it was built a piece at a time. But it was still pretty interesting. Inside we met the family we were staying with. My brain sort of rebelled at the strangeness of it all, threw up its hands, and made itself comfortable. I mean, under normal circumstances I would have felt really awkward showing up at a strangers house with tons of gear and little kids and crashing. But there are no such things as normal circumstances here. So we went up a winding staircase in a little turret and made beds all over the place and tried to sleep. I guess Ilya and Lyosha slept well, judging from the snoring. Art and I barely slept at all with the kids all over us kicking and wiggling all night. Still, the morning dawned bright and beautiful and I figured a few cups of strong coffee and I’d be fine.
We headed for the ski slopes, and halfway there Art realized he’d forgotten his wallet. Ilya offered to spot him money (I guess, I still needed coffee and wasn’t really paying attention) and we took off again. Then Art found his wallet in the car. Yay.
The drive was beautiful, the weather was ideal. Blue skies, no clouds, no wind…I don’t know anything about snow sports but I figure this was a good day. We arrived at the place and started trying to get ready to go. Things were pretty unorganized—Ilya wanted to go on the runs right away, me and Art wanted breakfast (and coffee!!!) first, so we split up. We ate breakfast while the brothers Gromov went up the mountain. Ilya was the first one down—he said he couldn’t stand to watch Lyosha anymore. He said he was falling and falling over and over, and getting really upset. Sure enough, about ten minutes later a very tired, very sweaty, and very grouchy Lyosha showed up and plopped down on the snow glowering. I was beginning to worry; if snowboarding is that hard for someone who’s done it before, what kind of luck will I have? I strapped into my bindings pretty nervously, and started to slowly slide down the little bunny slopes. Without any warning I upended and fell flat on my face. Man, it hurt! I didn’t think it would be easy, but I wasn’t expecting it to hurt! Feeling a little bewildered and not a little bit cheated, I got up again, slid a few feet, then fell hard on my butt.
Art decided to forgo a lot of bunny sloping, and went straight up on a run with the guys. I stayed behind with the kids, trying to figure out how to move on the snowboard and mostly falling. The bunny slopes were horrible: icy, really short, with lots of teenagers on sleds and tubes to run into you and knock you over. I was getting upset. The kids were not behaving. There was weeping and gnashing of teeth.
Finally the guys made it back down, Art was grinning painfully, Lyosha seemed a little less irritated but still tired. Ilya was entirely unfazed. Art told me to go up and try it. So I went up while he stayed with the kids. An hour long ski lift ride later, I was at the top of the mountain with Lyosha taking pictures. I still don’t know why. A half hour later I was with him at the top of a run, looking down the steep hill skeptically. Then Ilya called us and said this run was too hard, go down to the next one. Which we did. That was one was too hard as well. We went down to the next one and I almost quit. It had been almost two hours (they have the world’s slowest ski lifts) and I was worried that Art would be upset. Plus I was scared. But then I figured (quite correctly it turned out)that if I came back after all that time without having even gone Art would be even more irritated. So I went.
First thing that happened, I watched my feet helicopter through the air, then landed on my head so hard that I felt my teeth rattle. It was hard to get up. But I did. Then I fell. Got up. Fell. Got up. At one point I figure out how to slow down, and for awhile I did pretty good. But then I was just tired, and I started falling more than moving. It was harder and harder to get back on my feet. At one point I faced a really steep incline and just gave up and slid down on my butt. After what felt like eons, I finally dragged my bruised, sore, concussed self back to the bottom. Art was mad I’d taken so long. Lyosha was tired. Ilya was bummed we hadn’t had more fun. We drove back, ate at McDonalds again, then went back to the castle house and crashed. This time I slept.
The next day we decided to snowboard for half a day then go home. Originally we’d planned to spend another night, but the Gromov’s have allergies and the people we stayed with had cats and a huge dog and Ilya especially was suffering because of it. Plus, everyone was so sore. We also decided to try another ski place. Well…we got to that place, and it was amazing. HUGE. With really fast lifts, really good snow, and a really nice bunny slope. And I forgot to bring up my snowboard. It was fine, really; I was in so much pain and I don’t think I could have hauled myself up from a fall if I’d tried, so I just hung out with the kids playing on the snow skate while the guys went. We definitely have to go to that place next time. It was beautiful. Art was amazing—I need to post the video Ilya got of him going down a run—and that made me happy. And our Ilya was getting pretty good on the snow skate—he’s a natural!
Finally it was time to go. We piled into cars—this time I rode with Lyosha, to give Ilya a break from my incessant chatter and also for me to get a break from the kids—and off we went. We stopped at McDonalds yet again (I don’t want to see that place again for a long, LONG time) and then went home. I had a good time riding in Lyosha’s beast. It smells like gasoline, and is really loud, but it’s more comfortable. And I enjoyed the chance to talk to him and get to know him a little better.
All in all it was a typical vacation—a mixture of fun, irritation, exhaustion, getting lost, forgetting things, falling down, laughing…
I’d do it again.


mumpers said...

Sounds like a fun trip. It's so true about McDonalds abroad. I think we went to the one in Chisinau twice this weekend. Say hi to the Brothers Gromov for us. :)

Heather said...

Ouch! I'm sorry your first snowboarding experience was such a disaster. I hope things go better next time. Kind of reminds me of my mom's first (and only) time skiing - she forgot how to turn, split a fence and landed in the parking lot! Haha!

I want to see pictures of the castle house! =0)