While on what is now our third road trip around the fabulous USA, the husband and I embarked on a somewhat personal pilgrimage to the little town that started it all. Incline Village. Diamond Peak Resort. North Lake Tahoe. The place where the husband and I originally met.
I’m not one to wax lyrical about Michael, or the state of our marriage in general. We’re not the kind of couple to go in for public declarations of love of any form. In fact, just the thought of it starting to make me feel a little queasy! But, our recent trip down memory lane got me thinking a little. So here’s a little ditty about us. The husband and me.
It was 2004. I was twenty years old. Christmas was looming, and it was my first time travelling overseas without my family. The year had been up and down – I’d spent it vacillating in and out of something resembling a bad relationship – you know, the kind where he calls you up any time of night and you scamper right over, then he all but kicks you out of the bed at 6am the following morning (just your typical needy college girl stuff, right?). I’d decided to go to the US and work the ski season there. Not because I particularly wanted to go to the US, and not because I was desperate for awesome skiing (hell, I’d never even seen snow) but because it seemed to be the easiest option for a first time solo female overseas trip. The agency sorts out your visa, hooks you up with potential workplaces, so the hard bit is done. All you need to do is book your flights – and find somewhere to live.
I ended up being hired as a cashier at tiny little Diamond Peak ski resort because they had a shorter ski season than a lot of the bigger resorts and I had to be back in Melbourne early due to college commitments. I wasn’t originally hired by Diamond Peak – rather I was offered a job at a random east coast resort but had to bow out as they needed me to stay until mid-March. I never even did an interview with Diamond Peak – just emailed, introduced myself and they hired me. Funnily enough, Diamond Peak wasn’t the husband’s first choice either – he had turned up at the job expo for an interview with Copper Mountain but was told there was a long wait, and instead took the opportunity to interview at Diamond Peak. He was subsequently hired as a lift operator.
Job in hand, the next thing I needed was somewhere to live for three months. I managed to get my hands on a list of other Aussies going across to Diamond Peak for work and sent out a perky email, “Hi! I’m Monique, I’m going to be working at Diamond Peak and am looking for a place to live…” The husband was one of the ones that responded to my email.
We added each other on MSN, and chatted online a few times. He was younger than me, only 18, and some kind of computer nerd – the first time I saw him was via his webcam all babyface, long fringe and toothy grin. I didn’t have a webcam, but I did send him a couple of pics of myself, one where I was dressed as Barbie in a long blond wig (not exactly sure what I was going for there) I was totally not interested in him, but true to those who are horribly insecure, still wanted him to be interested in me.
The first time we physically stood in the same room together was in LA at the hotel designated by the agency as the meeting place before everyone went off to their respective workplaces. We didn’t spend much time together until the flight to Reno – we had booked the same one – he sat in the row just ahead of me as I got my first view of snowy mountains from the air.
I was totally unprepared to be taking a trip on my own. I didn’t even know the name of the town we were staying in and would have ended up on a bus all the way to South Lake Tahoe if the husband hadn’t been confident and savvy enough to step in. I would like to say things have changed, but they haven’t really, he still does the majority of travel navigation and I just float along blissfully with him.
Travelling up to Incline from Reno in the “no stress express”and the entire trip our mouths was falling open at the sight of the snow, the trees – like nothing I’d ever seen before. The absolute beauty of it all. On arriving in Incline, we found the only other hotel in town other than the Grand Hyatt and booked a room (and a bed) to share.
I’d like to say we made the most of that queen bed – but we didn’t. I was oh-so-mature at twenty years old with my short funky haircut (never mind that I still couldn’t legally drink in the US) and he was a baby. Each of us slept hugging our respective sides of the bed – sides we still adhere to now strangely enough – I was so close to the edge I may as well have been sleeping on the floor. I’m sure he didn’t dare cross the invisible line down the middle of the bed lest he get a taste of my wrath.
We spent the next couple of days wandering around the town in the snow, from real estate agent to real estate agent, trying to find a sharehouse. It was tough going, the hotel we were staying at was a twenty minute walk from town, and with snow on the ground, it got pretty damn cold. And we got kinda weary, trudging around finding nothing available, no one willing to rent to a couple of young students, until finally we hit the jackpot. A four bedroom apartment – each bedroom with its own ensuite bathroom, located in the town itself. Although it was a 45 minute trek up the mountain to work (I know, I did it every single day for 2.5 months) it was close to the supermarket and laundromat. The husband and I congratulated each other on our success, and celebrated moving in with another two girls we had befriended, drinking beers and Smirnoff ice that I had convinced some store to sell to us. We were friends. The experience of house-hunting in the snow had bonded us together.
We finally got together in the traditional Australian style – a drunken pash after a few too many beers at the Mexican bar. At the start, it was meant to be a simple holiday fling – back in Australia we didn’t live anywhere near each other; it just wasn’t practical, a two hour flight to see each other when we were both in the middle of our university degrees. Sometimes things just aren’t that simple.
There in the snow, he taught me to snowboard, and I showed him early on just how shitty I can get when I’m finding it difficult to do something. I would give him free food when he came through the cafeteria each day for lunch, ringing up the chicken tenders as a single soda – always adding on the employee discount. Before we knew it, we were officially a couple.
I’d like to say the rest is history. And it kinda is; I left the US first to go back to Melbourne. That day was hard. Devastating. It’s safe to say we both cried a lot. I don’t know that we ever really made the decision to keep things going, it’s just how things ended up. I guess you could say we decided to see what would happen until it was no longer happening. For a year we flew back and forth between Brisbane and Melbourne, then took a year off to travel overseas together. Then two more years of flying back and forth until we were finally sharing an apartment again.
It’s hardly changed at all. Incline Village, that is. It’s still beautiful and sleepy, and the summertime is even quieter than the winter. Our relationship has of course changed as relationships will over 14 years. We were both so young, naïve, insecure. Together, we have grown, learned, evolved. We’ve been through spiky meadows and deserted plains. We’ve driven long windy (sometimes dirt) roads and we’ve floated down some sparkling rivers, not realizing there was a waterfall at the end. We have exposed ourselves to this wondrous world; and we will always do so, as long as opportunities peek at us from beyond the horizon.
Incline will always be a special place for us. It was the beginning of a great adventure with two protagonists instead of one. An adventure encompassing many mini-adventures, some plateaus, and a whole lotta unknown. An adventure that has no endpoint. An adventure which isn’t anywhere near finished.