One of the many things I love about Lake Lanier is year-round sailing. Up north boating takes a long winter break. By mid-November, the Jersey Shore has become a desolate place. The tourists have all gone home and the wind is howling down the boardwalk, as the surf pounds against the sea wall. At the marina, all the boats have been hauled out of the water and their engines winterized. The masts have been pulled out of the sailboats and properly stored and there is not much to do. The weather is cold and miserable with not a hint of snow and only the anticipation of Thanksgiving and Christmas to relieve the boredom.
One of our marina patrons provided a solution. He was going to Florida for Thanksgiving week, so he offered his ski cabin in central Vermont to the crew in appreciation for taking good care of his boat during the summer. This was the perfect cure for the ennui that had set in, so we accepted.
We assembled an eclectic group of sailors, houseboaters and other good friends and headed north. The cabin was centrally located between several ski areas so there would be plenty of outdoor activity besides partying.
Not everyone was a downhill skier so the first day we decided to go cross country skiing at Mountain Meadows, a popular area with miles of well-groomed trails and a good ski school and lodge. The trails ran through sugar maple forest, where occasionally you would come across tracks of rabbits, foxes, and deer. Every once in a while, you would come out into a clearing with incredible vistas of snow-covered farmlands and mountains in the distance. As my girlfriend and I skied along, every few hundred yards we would come upon a blue stain in the snow. I figured some Snow-Cat or Ski-Doo had an antifreeze leak and thought
no more about it.
At the end of the day, we all gathered in front of the enormous fireplace at the ski lodge for hot mulled cider. My brother’s girlfriend was standing right in front of the fire and she was wearing a new pair of blue corduroy trousers. As she stood before the heat, we could actually see steam coming from them. Thus, was solved the mystery of the blue stains in the snow! When she got back to our cabin, she found that not only her long underwear but also her legs were dyed blue. (Note: never wear new bright-colored pants in the snow if you fall down a lot.)
Next day we all decided to take some lessons. While the rest of the crew opted for a basic or intermediate lesson, I decided to take a lesson to improve my Telemark turns. (Note: Nordic skiing is basically cross country, similar to jogging or skating, Telemark turns allow you to take the cross-country skis downhill but require a bit of practice to master. Alpine skiing is all downhill, more like a very energetic sleigh ride.) I was the only one in the class and the instructor was a fellow named Mike Gallagher. The name was familiar, but I wasn’t sure where I had heard it. He was a great instructor and I learned a lot from him. I bought
him a hot rum and cider in the bar afterward and asked how he had gotten into Nordic skiing. He told me his father was in the U.S. Army’s 10th Mountain Division in Colorado and he basically grew up on skis. He excelled in high school and was considered an Olympic hopeful. In his senior year, he got into a terrible car wreck and all the doctors told him he might not walk again much less ski! He decided “Screw you doctors, I’m not only going to walk but I will ski.” He was never good enough to be an Olympic competitor in Alpine skiing but excelled in Nordic, not only in the five, 15 and 30-kilometer races but also in the biathlon, where you ski several kilometers with a rifle on your shoulder then flop down in the snow, shoot at a number of targets, get back up and do it all over again! He was on the US Olympic team competing in three Olympics, 1964, 1968, and 1972. He was currently the head coach of the US Nordic Olympic Ski team! That’s when I realized why the name sounded familiar!
Meanwhile back at the cabin, it was a weeklong party with a number of funny situations happening. One evening while cleaning up from dinner, Bill, one of our houseboat buddies, was loading the dishwasher. He had just finished filling the soap dispenser with liquid hand dishwashing detergent. My girlfriend saw what he was doing and told him he had to use the powdered automatic dish washer detergent, so he put that in as well. She told him he had to get the liquid out of there or it would foam all over the place. He assured her that he knew what he was doing and hit the start button. We all began play ing Scrabble in the dining room as the dishwasher was humming away in the kitchen. I was facing the kitchen door and pretty soon this wall of soap suds started oozing out of the dishwasher and creeping across the floor toward us. It was
about a foot and a half high and looked like something out of a 1950s science fiction movie! I kept quiet waiting for a reaction from someone and pretty soon one of the girls screamed. We all suspended
the game to watch Bill clean up the mess and bail out the dishwasher. This was much more fun than Scrabble.
The funniest incident happened on Thanksgiving Day. Our friend Paula volunteered to roast the turkey. Now Paula is a dear sweet person whom I think took too many drugs back in the 1960s. However, we knew she was a good cook, so we were happy to let her do it. We all retired to the living room expecting delicious aromas to eventually emanate from the kitchen. Instead we hear this Crash! Bam! Screech! Bam! Crash!
Upon investigating we saw Paula attacking the oven with a tire iron! We got the weapon away from her and she tearfully explained that she was unfamiliar with this stove, so after setting the temperature at 350
degrees and the oven timer at four hours she mistakenly hit “Self- Clean” instead of “Start.” The oven door automatically locked and would stay locked for the next five hours while the temperature went up to 1,200 degrees and turned every bit of organic matter inside the oven, including our turkey, into a fine gray powder which you could easily vacuum up. She was desperately trying to get the oven door open without alerting us that there was a problem and thought the tire iron was the solution.
Now my brother Haik had run a successful marina with bar and restaurant for years, so he had seen almost every problem imaginable. He simply went over to the breaker box on the wall in the utility room, pulled the master switch turning off all the power in the house, waited 30 seconds and turned it on again. Every clock, TV, VCR, and timer in the house began flashing zeros, including the oven timer. He went over to the oven and opened the door!
Thanksgiving makes us think of things we are thankful for and that one really made me happy that I had a bunch of good friends and a talented resourceful brother!
Capt. Haik Mendes, 1955-2015
Mike Gallagher, 1942-2013