“You can’t be here right now” the snowcat driver hollered at me over the purr of the engines. Ain’t that the truth I thought to myself as I struggled the last quarter mile to the cabin in the dark with a fading headlamp.
Why in God’s name did I let my 5pm before dark quick dinner escalate into a 4 course meal with a total stranger? A lovely total stranger who I had met at the chef’s table at Skadi, a local Scandinavian restaurant tucked into a strange business park on a residential street in town. We poured through stories and courses and before I knew it deep dark had settled into the snow covered streets.
As I was huffing along the snowy path, my freezing breath exploding out of me as I tried to race my headlamp’s battery reserve to the cabin, all I could think about was the story I had heard recently from a friend that Mammoth’s hills were covered in mountain lions and that they were more to be feared than the healthy local bear population.
I was pretty sure I had been stalked a couple winters ago on a very similar night. That night I sung “hey bear” loudly for the entire half mile walk to the cabin, being careful not to run or appear panicked. The next day when I saw fresh tracks littered around the back side of the campground I knew I wasn’t just scared of the dark.
I was relieved to see that snowcat and it’s glaring headlights cutting through the pitch black of the campground. It felt so alien seeing such a large vehicle in the middle of the backcountry trek to the cabin and I had a momentary flash to The Shining and Dick Hallorann barelling his way to the Overlook Hotel.
I crossed the track well in front of the cat to make sure the driver saw me and wouldn’t inadvertently knock me into a snow bank.
I can only imagine what was running through his mind as he opened his door to reprimand me. As I explained to him that I was just trying to make my way to my cabin he grinned and exclaimed “That’s your cabin back there with the lights on?”. As I explained yes, I am the idiot trying to make my way in the pitch black after a 4 course dinner to an isolated cabin alone, he responded “Well, yes you are allowed to be here!”.
I explained to him I was rarely out on the path after dark and that it was good to know what time they normally groomed now, since in three years I had never even heard the snowcat on the snow muted cross country ski trail. As I wandered forward into the night I was grateful to have had that brief contact with someone. To know I wasn’t “Alone, in the night, in the dark” to quote a line from one of my favorite scary movies.
The isolation of the cabin in winter is one of it’s greatest advantages but at the same time is also it’s greatest disadvantage when alone. Every time I take that walk back in the frigid dark alone and terrified I ask myself over and over “What were you thinking?”, and every time I awake to a pristine, silent, snow covered lake and take my first step outside to the hush of the winter forest I remember it is all worth it.