Monday, May 16, 2022

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Joe's Neighborhood

Cross-country skiing in a bean field


Should I take the steep, black diamond run on the mountain to the left, or the longer, curving run on the mountain to the right? Do I want deep snow that sprays at every turn, or a slick track with speed? A chair lift for three, or a moving platform in a tunnel?

Colorado offers endless possibilities. The snow is powder. The staff is always great. The ski outfits are exotically amazing. The lift lines are frequently short. The runs are long.

You want to sashay around moguls or ride up the slope in a gondola built for kings? Colorado is for you. It is fun and wild and refreshing.

But that was the skiing of my youth.

Today I’m at a crossroads.

CNA - Stop HIV Iowa

On my left is a bean field. On my right is a cow pasture.

I’m several miles from any town. I’m wearing winter bicycle tights, running underwear with a protective panel, a wind jacket that has half a sleeve burned by the hot exhaust of a snowblower, a nubby wool sweater, an Elmer Fudd hat, and a large woolen cowl that was hand-knit by my wife. I suspect, as usual, that I am ahead of the fashion curve.

I slide my skis into the bean field with our dog Charlie by my side and begin my ascent.

Skiing was not part of my family repertoire. But in early high school, I started hanging with three guys more adventurous than me. None of us knew a parallel turn from a parallelogram, but they decided we were all downhill skiers. So we loaded up a car and drove to the nearest ski resort at that time, Chestnut Mountain, across the river from Dubuque. In those days, it was a few groomed runs down to the Mississippi. It was great.

Of course, we had not a clue what we were doing. We were 16 and stupid. Our go-to move was to just point the skis downward, crouch, and pray to the patron saint of broken bones. And, over time, we got bolder.

We packed up the car and went to the next-nearest ski resort, which was in La Crosse, Wisconsin. We pulled a pop-up tent trailer. We skied all day and froze all night. By the second night, we figured out we could go to the movie theater at 5 and stay until after midnight. Toasty warm.

No wine, women, or song for us. Just three showings of Disney’s “The Love Bug.” “Wild” was our group’s middle name.

Then we discovered Colorado. Our target destinations were usually Vail and Aspen. We would drive all night from Iowa and begin skiing at dawn. We’d try every run before we left town. Crazy and without fear.

Our biggest concern was how to come up with the money for Vail’s exorbitant lift tickets: $10 a day! We were shocked at the price — more so than we would be by today’s Vail day-pass: $229. Times change. Money was a little tight back then. We would stay in a flophouse with bunkbeds lining the walls, one blanket on each bunk, and strange men snoring beside us. We were unperturbed.

It was from another time. Long before skiing bean fields.

The quiet slips through the layers of my clothes and rests gently against my chest. Nobody is out in this deep Iowa snow. My skis slide and grip, slide and grip. I slowly make my way up the bean-field hill.

The rolling landscape, the old railroad trail, and the endless corn and bean fields. I might be the only person in existence. Alone and stark and awesome.

“One small step for man…”

It’s not out of line to think about death when you’re cross-country skiing in an Iowa bean field. The cold air and the white snow and the limitless sky overwhelm the small dot you make on the landscape. It gives you a little perspective. It’s hard to be a narcissist in a bean field.

I see my wife in the distance as I top the hill. I raise my ski poles in “V” for victory. Charlie the dog looks on unimpressed.

I ski down the hill and go home. I snuggle under wool blankets with a hot coffee mixed with chocolate. Charlie is asleep on the cool tile. My wife hooks a wool rug in the corner. And on the small screen… “The Love Bug.”

A good day in Iowa. ♦

Joe Weeg spent 31 years bumping around this town as a prosecutor for the Polk County Attorney’s Office. Now retired, he writes about the frequently overlooked people, places and events in Des Moines on his blog: www.

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