I guess you know you're starting to get old when you have DIGITAL pictures of stuff that occurred a decade ago. It's crazy and it's coming up all the time– the other day I was sitting around with my friends talking about some party we went to 9 years ago and sure enough I had pictures of the whole thing on my computer. Sigh. Where does the time go? I clearly remember selling my Mesa Boogie guitar amp for a digital camera back in 2002- the amp is still worth a cool $900.00, the camera is now worthless– but the pictures it took are priceless.
Back in August of 2002, my wife and I were reading an issue of Waterski magazine that had a feature in it about a trip down to Bennett's Ski School, near Baton Rouge, Louisiana. The article described a great time had down there by the author with then-ski-legend Chris Sullivan, who had during that period recently graced the cover of Waterski Mag himself.
Here are a few reminders of how long ago 2002 was:
1. The HO CDX was still a current ski (the "Truth" came in 2003)
2. The TSC1 SN Hull had JUST gone out of production
3. The Response RLXi did not yet exist
4. Nate Smith was what, 8 years old?
Anyhow, once we read that article we realized that's where we needed to go. First big road trip as "independent" adults. First time to a "ski school". First time I've ever driven that far. First time to New Orleans, etc. The list goes on and on. We placed the reservation in August of 2002 and stuck the confirmation receipt, hand written, on our fridge to get us through that winter.
Once late March 2003 rolled around, we packed up my then-newish-irrationally-purchased-BMW-sedan (5 more have followed since, I regret nothing) and pointed her south for 900+ miles. It was great. The speed limits in Mississippi were 75mph- if you did a mere 20 over, you were going 95. On cruise control. Not that we did that, of course.
The feeling of "freedom" was immense and is still fresh in my memory. Just us two kids, employed, healthy, educated. A small 600sq. ft. apartment and 2 cars our only responsibilities. The world was our oyster and we dove in deep. Such freewheeling fun. I'd argue that life has done nothing but get better every day, however- it's different. Better but different. Sometimes it's fun to look back and remember those previous lives and this trip just frames that period perfectly.
Our plan was pretty genius– we'd first drive into New Orleans, then stay 1 night at a very nice hotel down there right in the French quarter. After that, we'd head to Bennetts and be ready for our week of ski school. I can still clearly picture driving across the bridges coming into New Orleans, and thinking that this was a truly different and interesting place. I called my younger brother up on my Nokia cell phone as I was driving over those bridges, narrating the scene to him in amazement. We were coming into the Big Easy.
We pulled up into the hotel (and I remember feeling pretty cool- even took a picture of the car there) and unloaded our stuff. Our room was extremely nice and totally overlooked the action in the French Quarter. We'd learn to regret that later at night when we attempted to sleep with all the noise (impossible). Once we got settled in, we hit the streets.
The general smell of the French Quarter in New Orleans is interesting. Very earthy & damp, mixed with a hint of booze, tobacco smoke, and spices. Occasionally you'll get a whiff of air coming from a storm drain that makes your nose twist up a bit, keeping you on your toes. The visuals are amazing– a true, bustling river front. Beautiful ironwork on the buildings and decking supports. Ad hoc parades and music coming from all angles. Streetcars bustling by. It was all so wonderful and new, and we soaked it up like a pair of dry chamois. It was impactful enough that I remember it clearly to this day.
The day after, we had breakfast in New Orleans, walked around a bit, then headed up to Baton Rouge to check in at Bennett's.
As we neared the compound, I could not believe just how rural the surrounding area was. More new scenery & experiences. As we pulled into the Tri-Lakes compound I did not know what to expect. Would they be running out to greet us? Would we know where to go? Did this place even exist? Holy cow- it did.
We parked the car down by the pool and walked up to the Lake 1 dock. I can't begin to describe what this was like for us to see. We had never skied a private lake before– much less 3 lakes dyed a brilliant turqouise. Heck, we had never skied a slalom course or really hung out with ANYONE who was a hardcore 3-event skier. We'd never seen a pro ski, or anything like that. This was an introduction to a whole new world in so many ways.
I remember clearly that the scene was very quiet. It was sunny, perfectly blue skies. Sunday is one of the few days during the season that the staff at Bennett's can unwind, since it's between ski school weeks. As such, there were people just hanging around being, well, people. Boats were just sitting there, dogs were walking about. Danyelle –and I recall this specifically– was doing homework with some highschool friends right on the dock. "Are 'yall here for ski school?" "Um, yes." "Ok, you could go check by the main house and see if Ann is around to check you in". So casual. So low-key. Here we were so used to fast-paced city living– you know– you have to check in NOW at THIS TIME or you will lose your spot, you have to be here at this time and follow these rules. Not here. So laid back. Yet another totally new experience. We learned in subsequent trips to just move right in and settle up/check in whenever. No rush. Mi casa is su casa.
We stayed in Cabin #3 on that first trip. We loved it. Deck right over the lake, all the comforts of home, nicely set aside from the rest of the complex. This was key, also, because we were the "elders" of the group that week. Also visiting that week was the U of I and the UCLA ski teams. What a combination! As you can imagine, those guys had quite a bit of fun that week and it was really entertaining to watch.
Since we had 2 college ski teams there that week, it was a FULL school. Timing was pretty tight. Breakfast each morning at specific times, then RIGHT to warmups and right to the lake.
I don't know HOW this occurred, but somehow I ended up going FIRST that Monday. First guy. So, there's 20-odd people on the dock, and I'm sitting there putting on my shared Mach 1 (Beth and I shared the same ski and thought it was super cool at the time), my Casad vest, using the house handle because I'd never even heard of someone using their own handle. Ever. I believe Chris Sullivan was in the boat. Or maybe Damien. Can't recall exactly. Either way, I know for sure that I did not even get up the first time. Talk about embarrassing. I took it in stride and tried again, getting up on the 2nd try.
I can't recall any of my slalom runs, really, other than one HUGE OTF fall while Sully was in the boat. He said something like "dude, that's the worst fall I've seen all week". It was also my first blown eardrum, but I had no idea at the time. I just thought I had really bad swimmer's ear all week. I certainly could not even come close to skiing the course at that time, but we had fun and learned a lot. Same with Beth. We just had a blast all week.
At some point I got the brilliant idea that I was going to learn to barefoot while I was there. I mean, I was at a ski school anyway, right? No problem. I was able to borrow a "house" barefoot suit and was directed to lake 3, which had a de-badged yellow 197 with a BI boom on it. Anne was driving, Tony Lightfoot was working there at the time and was my "barefoot coach". At the time I had no idea how far barefooting was from 3-event, but I digress. Tony had me use the feet-on-cables method, where you replicate a deepwater start by hanging onto the boom and wrapping your feet around the support cables. We tried with he barefoot shoe skis the first few times, kinda getting the hang of it. Then we tried with just bare feet (I remember Tony telling Anne in his British accent "Anne, I need you to take the boat to thirty-eight miles per hour", and the subsequent lump in my throat just before we took off) and the feeling was AMAZING. I was hooked immediately. A quick trip to the proshop after the barefoot lesson and I had a barefoot suit on order. It would arrive later that week, with Tony announcing over the PA system "Joel Hughes, your barefoot suit is here" when it arrived. Ah, those were the days! The summer of 2003 was spent barefooting, and I still do it a couple times a year.
So, that's my story. As we drove home, Beth typed up notes from our experience on a laptop. Not only was the laptop novel, but the Microsoft Streets 2002 was as well. GPS was pretty elite those days and the iPhone wouldn't be released for another 5 years.
A couple weeks after returning from that first ski school trip, I traded in my beautiful sedan for my first SUV. To tow the old Nautique that we bought the previous fall. I wouldn't have another "fun" car for 6 more years! Well worth it, though, because the fun was just beginning with our new sport and there were more adventures to come.