Thursday, February 21, 2013

Canaan Birthdays

“Hey honey, I have a great idea about how to celebrate your 50th birthday. How about we spend the weekend in West Virginia with a bunch of my friends whom you barely know? We’ll leave you behind at the house while we go out and do a bunch of outdoor activities you don’t enjoy. And by the way, would you cook us dinner the night of your birthday?”

These are not the words of a sane man. Fortunately, Valerie’s back has been bothering her recently, leaving her unable to swing a baseball bat or a meat cleaver to any great effect, and so I’m alive today to recount the story of our weekend.

First, though, I must correct a slight distortion on my part. I did not actually ask Valerie to cook dinner (the rest of the first paragraph is true). Rather, I mentioned that I had signed up to bring a vegetarian main course and Valerie, knowing that I’d opt for something along the lines of a quinoa-crusted, kale-wrapped tempeh infested habanero tofu lentil curry, acted in her own self-interest and preempted my Moosewood-on-meth style of cooking with the more mainstream choice of her excellent vegetable lasagna.

So, Friday after lunch we headed west loaded up with lasagna, birthday cake and winter sports gear. It was a quick trip out the lovely and uncrowded Corridor H road (WV 55/48) followed by a chance to gawk at the giant wind turbines as we traversed the twisty Mt. Storm road over into Davis. We arrived at the house to find Bela, Jen and Yvonne already there. The rest of the crew trickled in fairly soon thereafter – Suzanne, Susan, Peter* and Gina. Friday night was devoted to catching up and pre-loading on calories in preparation for the weekend’s activities. Our dinner featured the lasagna, Jen’s wonderful chicken marbella, salad and green beans, brussel sprouts, an assortment of fresh breads – and of course birthday cake and champagne! (I’m sure I’m forgetting some things). 

Relaxing after dinner at Doc's Guest House
Saturday dawned cold and snowy, with temperatures barely into the double digits. A steady light snow overnight had covered the area with a fresh layer of powder. After slowly rolling through breakfast and mustering the group (Suzanne and Susan were staying at a nearby B&B) we headed over to Whitegrass to do some cross-country skiing. In my haste to pack the car on Friday I had forgotten my ski boots. Whitegrass didn’t have any boots to rent that matched my old-school three pin bindings and so I had to rent the whole kit and caboodle – which gave me a chance to try some more modern equipment. Unfortunately, I don’t get to ski very often and so I’m a perpetual beginner. As a result Suzanne and I stuck to the lower, easier trails – Springer Orchard, Gandolf’s Glade, and Timberline. Jen, who is a more proficient skier, and Yvonne, who is just fearless and unstoppable, split off from us after Springer Orchard and headed to the more challenging upper trails. Bela and Susan went off to snow shoe, and Gina and Peter headed off on their own, as is their wont. We really only skied for half a day, as we got a slightly late start and I didn’t want to leave Valerie alone for too long (though she was well equipped with needlecrafts, books and movies). Also, it was pretty cold - the drinking tube of my Camelback froze right up, leaving me no with drinkable water in addition to ice cold hands. Along the trail I got a little extra amusement and distraction from my cold digits: thanks to her new extra-svelteness, Suzanne's ski pants were loose on her and she had to stop periodically and do a rather unorthodox XC ski shimmy to pull them up as they started to sink down towards her knees. 

Back at the Whitegrass lodge, conditions were packed like a Tokyo subway car at rush hour thanks to the good conditions and holiday weekend, but even so maintained its scruffily pleasant vibe. One cannot leave Whitegrass without soup and so I fought my way through the crowd and got a bowl of spinach barley. Overall, it was a good day, enhanced by an ongoing light snow.

Saturday night most of us ate leftovers from Friday’s dinner. Valerie had hit the leftovers for lunch and so I ran across the street to Hellbender’s and got her a burrito. While I waited for her food I got into a conversation with a couple of Whitegrass employees who were hanging out at the bar. They clued me into some snow shoe trails at Whitegrass. While we didn’t wind up making use of them on this trip, I’ll file away the knowledge for the future. Our dinner included birthday cake, of course! And champagne! This time it was for Bela’s birthday, which fell on Saturday.

Sunday’s forecast was for continued cold, with 20-30 MPH winds and more snow. Gina had told us Saturday night that any temperature below ten degrees should be modified with the adjectival phrase “fun-loving”, and so I report that we arose Sunday to gusty winds and a temperature reading of eight fun-loving degrees. No one was eager to get outside – except for Yvonne, who would give the Energizer Bunny a coronary if he tried to keep up with her (as an aside, I’m sure Yvonne is good friends with the Energizer Bunny and has had him over for dinner). Eventually, a few brave souls wandered over to see the B&B where Suzanne and Susan were staying, then we all regrouped at the house and set out. Bela, Jen, Suzanne and I headed over to Blackwater Falls State Park where we snow-shoed some beautiful trails. Despite the temps, I kept warmer than I had the day before – my hands had been a real problem while I had been skiing on Saturday. Still, our outing was a somewhat short one as we could keep warm for only so long. As we walked we enjoyed the odd wavy pattern that Bela’s old-school beavertail snowshoes left in the snow. We occasionally stopped to take pictures, but we really had to keep moving to stay warm. 
Jesse, Bela, Jen & Suzanne at Blackwater Falls
 After we were done we headed over to Tip Top in Thomas for coffee. It turned out that they had a light menu available as well and so we got a little lunch. I had a bowl of rather tasty spicy Thai curry soup with tofu (of course). We ducked into the antique tchotchke store next door so they could show me an accordion but we didn’t linger. Instead we headed back to the house where we found Valerie – who was hungry, having been left out of lunch.
Blackwater Falls State Park

Sunday night we ate dinner at Whitegrass, which is an interesting experience (made more interesting by a drive through a near whiteout to get there). For dinner they convert the lodge into a restaurant, with live Irish music and a semi-buffet menu. It’s funky and loud. I can’t say it was a dining experience I’d like to repeat again and again, but it was fun enough.
Dinner at Whitegrass

Our original plan had been to head out to The Purple Fiddle in Thomas after dinner, but given the challenging driving conditions and our general sloth we decided to just head home, where we ate leftover cake and Suzanne’s delicious drunken pears for dessert. However, the true highlight of the evening was a fitful sing-along lead by the resident out-of-practice accordionist. Gina and Peter left for home but soon returned – driving conditions had gotten pretty bad and they thought better of trying to make the trip.

Sunday was actually the nicest weather day – somewhat warmer and sunny. Some folks stuck around and enjoyed it with some more skiing, but about half the group packed up and hit the road. As always, the micro-climate of Canaan is particularly strange as you head out of it. While Davis had about two feet of snow on the ground, twenty minutes into the trip home all signs of snow were gone – we had an easy cruise on dry roads back home.

All in all, a successful weekend, and Valerie’s birthday celebration continues …

*There was only one Peter H on this trip and so I don't have to use my usual nomenclature. If you're keeping score, this was Peter H2.