I've always wanted to compete in the Winter Olympics. It's been my dream to win a gold medal and usher in an era of world peace with a well-publicized high-five with a North Korean athlete. My bags for Vancouver were already packed when I got some bad news: sledding in the park was no longer an Olympic event.
As a world-class competitor, I thrive on defeat. So I turned to my backup plan: I would join the American ski team.
My first step would be to learn how to ski. Fortunately, a group of my friends were going to Jackson Hole, one of America's best ski resorts. I changed my flight from Vancouver to Wyoming and prepared to get my Olympic dreams back on track.
Learning to ski as an adult is emotionally taxing. While you grip your instructor's sleeve and make him promise to catch you in his arms at the bottom of the bunny slope, a baby flies by on a snowboard. As your friends race down mountains with names like Thunder and Head Rush, you struggle on a hill called Pooh Bear. And the first time you fall, you have to lie in the snow until somebody comes over to tell you how to stand up.
After my first group lesson, everyone from my class went to lunch together. One skier spent the entire time asking when we were going on the chairlift, one skier talked at length about his ice axe, and one skier shared his views on detainee abuse at Guantanamo (he's for it).
Having survived the minor humiliations of the first day, I celebrated by drinking ten beers and sneaking into the hot tub at a luxury hotel. I then headed to a bar popular among cowboys, a job I thought didn't exist anymore, like explorer or knight. But this bar was full of cowboys, or at the very least, dedicated fans of period garb. There was also a group of pretty girls who'd all drawn sideburns, mustaches or beards onto their faces. This didn't stop the cowboys from asking them to dance.
On the bus back to the hotel, a bearded man told me he'd spent an hour searching for his backpack before he realized he was wearing it. The story made no sense until the man confided that he'd just taken mushrooms. Then he recommended a bar where he'd recently "danced in a circle of fourteen divorced cougars, like in an Amazon video," a sentence no amount of hallucinogenics can explain.
The next day, I signed up for a second lesson. My new instructor was sworn enemies with my previous teacher. He spent most of the morning muttering that his job was to teach skiing, not to make friends. Since he wasn't good at either, I ditched him after lunch.
My friends, eager to see what I'd learned, joined me for one final run. If things went well, they would see how far I'd progressed on my road to the Olympics. If things went poorly, they could tell my mother I'd died doing something I sort of liked.
We sped down the slope. Skidding to a stop at the bottom, I lifted my poles in triumph. I'd come a long way in two days, from novice to probable Olympian. As I turned to face the mountain I'd just conquered, I got my skis crossed and tripped over my own legs. But this time, I got up all by myself.