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Tomorrow, I am making my annual tag-along journey to Whistler, British Columbia. I have been going on this business trip with my husband for most of the last ten years. He makes my plane reservations every year even though I say I really don’t need to go, it’s too much. (I think he just wants someone along that he can beat in golf.) Anyway Whistler is a few hours north of Vancouver. You travel along the aptly named Sea-to-Sky Highway clinging to the mountains as they roll right into the sea, then head into the deep woods where streams and waterfalls magically appear and hiking trails are tucked just off the road’s edge. Whistler is a very nice little village, a wonderful place to meander, and a great place to ski, so they say. (I wouldn’t know since I gave up skiing because it goes with snow, which goes with cold weather, which is cold. That and the fact that, being a lousy skier, I snapped my ACL on a bunny slope some years ago.) From the village to get to our hotel you walk down a gravel path through an old growth forest—at least it looks like my idea of old growth—by pretty shaded picnic tables (and a motocross course?), then you thump across a covered bridge over a babbling brook turned roaring, rapid, rock-strewn river with the glacier thaw. The back of the hotel opens up against the mountain. Nearby is a plaza with a life-size chess set, a garden-like putt-putt course, and a maze that gobbles up children. Outside the hotel is my favorite: fire pits that woo you late at night with promises of Irish coffees and friendly strangers.

I mark our trips to Whistler in birthdays, literally, since they always fall right smack on top of mine. Two years ago, when I turned forty-nine, I was feeling very ambitious (or looking for a last hurrah) and went on a glacier hiking, cliff climbing trek on the top of one of the mountains. Here is how it happened. Our host always provides activities for spouses—that’s me. I have gone fly-fishing, taken cooking lessons, ridden ATVs, and flown over creeks on a zipline. That year, they offered a mountaintop hike “appropriate for all fitness levels.” Sounded good. I like hiking. So I took the gondola up and as I walked on the empty path to the ranger station a young man called my name. That should have been a sign. Instead I felt a sense of relief. My biggest fear had been that I would be in a group of twenty-something tri-athletes who would jog up the mountain, me scrambling to keep up and eventually falling so far behind that they’d just leave me there curled up in a cryogenic fetal position to be nursed by polar bears or Grizzly Adams. My relief didn’t last long. When my guide, Alex, gave me a special backpack and a helmet, helped me strap on crampons, and handed me an ice axe, my stomach did a little flip-flop and screamed Run! Unfortunately, I was too polite (since when?) to say sorry for all the trouble, I’ll just go have a beer now. Nope. Here I was, holding an ice axe which seemed every bit as weird as walking through the produce aisle toting a machete. Off we went duck-walking, our bodies leaning into the mountainside, across the steeply sloped glacier heading toward a sheer faced cliff. As we got nearer, Alex warned me that there was a hundred foot crevasse that I needed to look out for. He said he’d go first. Next we climbed an Anansasi-like ladder, and snapped onto the cable with two hooks (because, I learned, you could fall to your death if you only have one hook to depend on). Then I followed six foot Alex up the cliff, my squatty body straining to reach his toeholds and hand holds stretching myself like Rubber Man. There were three cliffs—eight hundred vertical feet—and my newly elongated limbs held up well until the last one when I got stuck. Stuck on a cliff face on a mountaintop. And guess what? When you are climbing a cliff, you can’t retrace your steps and go back home. Dangling wasn’t an option. I had enough sense to know letting go meant swinging in the wind and banging against the rocky spikes of the cliff. And no crying either. Right then, I looked up at Alex and said, “Appropriate for all fitness levels?” I guess I was delusional—I imagined that he could just reach down and pull my middle-aged butt up. Apparently not. So he talked me up—facts masquerading as encouragement: “there is no other way, you have to use your leg muscles, push up.” I couldn’t tell him that my leg muscles were taking a cigarette break after the last cliff. So I hung there, vertical, smeared against the side of the mountain until, thankfully, some God-given fear hormone kicked in and shoved me up to the next handhold.

In no time at all, I was sitting on the ski lodge deck, guzzling a beer, and looking back at the glaciers and cliffs I had just conquered. And for that one moment, I felt pretty sure I was master of the universe…

Next: Bodysugaring at Fifty and Bike Rides Along the River of Golden Dreams.