Last Sunday, seventy or more Waterville Valley devotees gathered to enjoy some great food and even better company. For a pleasant change, the weather cooperated for the most part, and the warm sun felt great on our shoulders as we collected at the first stop, the Bull Hill gazebo. The fare at Bull Hill was delightful, Italian themed, and ran the gamut from delicate tarts to wonderful pizza to hearty meatballs. The throngs cheerfully dawned name-tags and settled into an easy-going pattern of chatting and circulation. It was great to see so many residents, long-time and new, and so many regular visitors — all mixing it up. It was almost too soon that Sandy Larsen blew her fox-horn, and we all took off in hot pursuit of Mark DiBona and the drink-cart.

The second stop was at the Fairway Gazebo, where we were greeted with hearty American fare, including delicous pulled pork and mini-sliders that received rave reviews.  The weather — so sunny a quarter mile away at Bull Hill — took a lurch toward late fall, with clouds looming over Osceola reminding at least a few people (cough, Mike Furgal, cough) of snow in the offing. Once again, the fox-horn blew, and once again, the crowd set off, this time up Greeley Hill to the newly renovated Elliott Gazebo.

The crew at the Elliott Gazebo had prepared two kinds of chili (chicken and beef) — a good antidote to the now-chilly-in-the-shade air — as well as several kinds of tasty Southwest-themed dips, cornbread mini-muffins, and more. The highlight of the stop was the appearance of Andrew Decoteau, who masterminded the renovations and provided much of the labor. Andrew was justifiably proud of his work and circulated a binder with before-and-after images and details about the project. Andrew celebrating the achievement of the rank of Eagle Scout this month — in part on the strength of his work on the Elliott Gazebo. Nice job, Andrew!

The fox-horn blew one more time, and the crowd migrated back down Greeley Hill to the Sisters Gazebo by the site of the old Waterville Inn. Hot cider, good coffee, and a range of tasty desserts were the perfect way to cap off the afternoon.

Over the last twenty-some-odd years of my business career, I have found that one of the best gauges of the quality of any workgroup is, quite simply, would I want to go to lunch with these people? As I looked around the Sashay crowd, I knew I was lucky to live and play with a great number of people with whom I would happily go to lunch any time. I once again counted my blessings and felt grateful to be part of such a unique community.

========

Notable by his absence on Sunday was the Sashay’s perennial Grand Marshal, Donald Jasinski. Rumor has it, though, that he is recovering well from surgery, and I know we all wish him the very best for a speedy return to his active life.

 

This fall has brought with it some complex challenges. As you know all too well, in mid-September, long-time local Beth Upton went missing during an afternoon walk near her home. As sad and frightening as her disappearance was, it also brought out the very best in the people of our town and state.

I was out of town on business when the first Nixle alert beeped into my phone – and my very first instinct was, I wanted to be home to help out in any way that I could. By the time I arrived back in the valley late the next evening, a veritable army of searchers had mobilized, combing the woods carefully, looking for any sign of Mrs. Upton. Early the following morning, I headed out with my friend Dan — who’d already spent hours canvassing the valley floor, peering under bushes and rocks — to do a mountain bike patrol up the Livermore Road and all its feeders, then, in the afternoon, a similar pass out the Greeley Ponds Trail. Everywhere we went, we encountered other searchers, all friendly but subdued, all concerned for Mrs. Upton and hoping for the best.

On Saturday morning, it was more of the same: we met at the base of Snow’s Mountain, in the Waterville Valley Academy’s handsome new building, to resume the search. Once again, dozens and dozens of people turned out, from professional Fish and Game teams to local residents. Don from Ski Fanatics was there (in shorts, a sartorial choice he came to regret later), quietly concerned and wanting to help out in any way he could. Tom and Lynn, new in town, were ready for whatever the day brought. Dorothy, an experienced woods-woman, was set to go. Pat and Mike and I — each with afternoon commitments — wanted to do whatever we could to bring Mrs. Upton home safely and ease the minds of her family members. The atmosphere in the tent before we headed out was quiet but convivial, committed.

We were assigned to a team with two Fish and Game officers, and tasked to search the area south of Snows Brook toward Windsor Hill. That may sound like a small area, but let me tell you: a serious line search goes through every obstacle with unwavering commitment. In three and a half hours, we made about four passes south to north, north to south, carefully checking under every copse and rattling every doorknob as we passed. It was a sobering experience — in our time of searching, we only made it up to the bottom of the Northface complex — that is how painstaking the search was, and how challenging the terrain can be, even on the valley floor. I had new-found respect for the professional Search and Rescue teams that had been out for days on end, covering much rougher ground.

The search for Mrs. Upton has continued, if on a reduced basis. We all hope for closure for her family, and offer our deepest sympathies and respects.

++++++++++++

The other side of SAR? Nothing you want to experience, trust me.

A few weeks back, my wife Nancy and I slipped away early on a Saturday morning with our good friends Sue and Mark. We loaded up their car with our mountain bikes and gear and made the trek south on 93 to Franklin to ride the sensational single-track network at Franklin Falls Dam. The weather — so tempestuous just the day before — had broken and allowed us a gorgeous fall morning — cool, crisp, clear, breezy. The foliage was just beginning to turn and the trails were sweet and smooth. As usual, we were having a great time, riding hard but stopping to chat and enjoy the day together. The Franklin Falls trail network offers a decent level of challenge, but rewards the effort with a sense of flow like one finds on a perfect corduroy morning in January.

Franklin Falls also offers a fun diversion in the form of a natural mountain-biking half-pipe called “Chicken Ravine”. With sinuous singletrack winding up the walls of the ravine and shooting down steeply to cross over the floor of the gulch and shoot back up the opposite side, it’s nothing for the faint of heart — but it is a great thrill if you’re willing to stay off the brakes and trust your abilities. Mark and I have done this kind of thing a few times before. It was all new for Nancy and Sue.

History will record that Sue had the good sense to pop off her bike and walk when the steep crossed over to scary. Mark and I both shot down, hooting like teens. Nancy, adventurous as always, followed us down carefully, making the first S just fine. Unfortunately, when she bottomed out on the second transition, she hit a whoopdeedoo where the trail had eroded and flipped over the handlebars, crashing down hard on her head and shoulder. Sue was by her side in seconds and called Mark and I back up. Odds are good that Mark would have passed Usain Bolt on the way back up the trail; I paused for just a second to grab my backpack, which always has a first-aid kit. I pictured scrapes and bruises and soreness, which accompanies too many of our rides (“It’s not a mountain bike ride till someone bleeds”). When we got there, though, we realized this was a little different… Nancy was on her back, awake but dazed, on “replay”, as our friend Kevin the ski patroller would say. She’d crashed down hard and was dazed, and Sue wisely called 911 for assistance. Mark quickly headed up the trail to meet the first responders, while Sue and I tried to make Nancy comfortable. For her part, Nancy was amazingly good-humored, and kept apologizing for messing up our ride and asking if she’d fallen asleep while riding, because she felt like she was waking up from a dream.

After a little while — that felt like a very long time — the first, first responder arrived — a Tilton fireman named Chris, with his two young daughters in tow. He’d heard the call on the radio and come even though he wasn’t on duty. He called in on his radio and advised the dispatcher of what was needed and how to find us, then checked out Nancy as best he could. A little while later, two Franklin paramedics arrived (Joanie and an young man whose name I missed) with a cervical collar and a backboard. They quickly got Nancy stabilized and on the backboard, “packaged” as they said, in time for the Tilton-Northfield FD six-wheeler and a small crew to arrive and transport her out of the woods, carefully scrabbling up a steep trail and along paths made for two-wheeled vehicles.

Once in the ambulance, it was a short drive to Franklin Hospital. I didn’t have any great expectations for a small-town ER, but was blown away with the quality and thoroughness of the care Nancy received. The ER doctor, and most particularly the nurse who took care of us, could not have been more professional or more concerned.

The good news is, after a couple weeks of soreness and some serious bruises (I have witnesses, I swear), Nancy is feeling much better. Her mountain biking season is over for this year — but she’s ready to go back in the spring. In the mean time, I can not say enough good things about the care and concern we received from the first responders from the Franklin and Tilton fire departments, and from the team at the Franklin Hospital. I know we all appreciate how professional the Public Safety team is in Waterville Valley — but it is gratifying to know that one will receive the same level of care and service in other towns too. It was a long, scary day, made much better by the simple kindness and professionalism of these people.

 

Change is a curious thing. On one hand, it strikes a small amount of fear in the stoutest heart. On the other hand, it opens up a range of opportunities that the status quo simply doesn’t allow. This month marks a milestone for the Waterville Valley Foundation, with the resignation of long-time director Mike Aronson.

I first really met Mike Aronson at Cheryl and Bruce Saenger’s housewarming a couple years back. I’d seen Mike around town, and most particularly up at the mountain, ferrying Adaptive students around the base area on a snowmobile, the smile on his face almost invariably bigger than that on the student behind him. At the Saengers’ party, Mike and I were down on the golf-course level (his native environment, as it turns out), and the crowd was thinning out, and we ended up talking. For whatever reason, I immediately saw in this man both a kindred spirit and an old soul who knew things I didn’t yet understand. We had a frank, intimate, and ultimately refreshing conversation about things that matter in life, and I left impressed by the things Mike seemed to know, and his acceptance of the things he might never understand.

Flash forward just a little — the very next fall, I think — when my friend Mike Furgal convinced me that the Waterville Valley Foundation was both a worthy cause and something that would take very little of my time (50/50 isn’t that bad, Furgal… in baseball, at least), and I found myself in Mike Aronson’s family room with a group of faces I recognized but names I’d barely heard. Mike Aronson, the president of our small organization, quietly took charge and walked us through my first meeting. That meeting marked in some ways the beginning of a new era for the Waterville Valley Foundation — a virtual torch-passing from several long-time directors to a new guard of members who had recently moved to town and were looking for ways that they might make a difference in the place we’d decided to call our home.

Mike Aronson had been through several eras in the history of the WVF, and served as a kind of collective consciousness for the entire organization. He knew our donors by name, face, and predilection. He knew the history of the organization, and he had a natural sense of the direction we should take. In a very real sense, he was the core of what the WVF was, and the outrider of what it might become. For the last several years, Mike has worked hard to bring order to our sometimes confusing affairs. He has been a constant voice the core mission of the Foundation — supporting the things that make Waterville Valley unique.

Mike Aronson was elected to the Waterville Valley Board of Selectmen last winter. Anyone who knows Mike, knows he takes that role very seriously, especially in time of great change (even great positive change). At the end of the summer, Mike indicated to me that he felt like his time on the board of the Foundation was coming to an end — that, between the role of Selectman, and his role as a parent to Andrew (who’s doing great at Plymouth High School, thank you very much), he thought it was better if he passed the torch to a new generation. Naturally, my first thought was, “Wait, you know everything that matters…”. My second thought was, “You kept the Foundation alive and brought it to where it is today”. I know that Mike values both his contributions as Selectman, and the infinitesimally small time he has with his son Andrew as a young teen, enormously. So, it was with great mixed feelings that I accepted Mike’s resignation from the Waterville Valley Foundation’s board of directors. I was, of course, comforted when Mike reminded me that he wasn’t going anywhere, and we could hunt him down for his advice any time.

Thank you, Mike Aronson, from the Board of Directors of the Waterville Valley Foundation, and from the people who love Waterville Valley. Sorry to see you go, but glad to know you’re not going very far at all.