Our Last San Diego Visitor

My biggest worry going into this trip was leaving my family and friends behind. It’s now 4 months into our travels and we’ve had a total of 17 visitors. That’s 4 visitors per month. Not bad, eh? Constantly seeing the people I love has made the transition to this foreign city very smooth. It’s also better enabled me to enjoy this life changing experience.

Our previous visitors traveled from Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and California. Today, our visitor comes from the Big Apple. Fabianna will be landing at the San Diego Airport in mere moments.

I drive around the small airport a few times, waiting her call. The familiar sound of my generic Apple iPhone ringtone blasts through the phone speaker. “I’m here! Yay!” says the enthusiastic voice of my old friend. I spot a tall, thin figure glistening in the afternoon sun. She carries a designer suitcase, wears fashionable boots, and rocks an ombre hairstyle. No doubt it’s Fabianna. We exchange hugs before hopping in the car and heading back to my apartment.

Despite being on vacation, Fab has some work to do today. She’s from NYC, after all. This allows me to catch up on some shut-eye after a hectic birthday weekend. Hours later, I’m awake and Fab is still working. Once ready to adventure, my friend sets her work status to “away” and hops in the car with me towards Cowle’s Mountain.

Although this is my 3rd time hiking this mountain, the experience is yet to get old. Being with a friend I haven’t seen in a year doesn’t hurt either. After a mile and a half hike, Fab and I take a seat in a secluded spot atop the mountain. With a hectic and stressful work schedule in NYC, Fabianna greatly enjoys this moment of fresh air and nature. However, she is unable to full withdraw from social media and soon takes out her phone and clicks the Snapchat app. We smile as the camera shutter snaps the first selfie of the trip. The first of many.

The hike down flies by as Fabianna and I catch up on the past year of our lives. Before picking up Misha from work, we stop by Trader Joe’s and buy orange chicken and fried rice; a meal we often consumed in college. As we near Misha’s office, I am engulfed with excitement as Misha and Fabianna are about to meet for the first time (well, excluding the time they chatted on Facetime for a split second). Ironically, I miss their first encounter, as I ran into the office to fill up my water bottle.

Back at the apartment Fabianna and I begin planning our next few days. Clearly displeased with my current itinerary consisting of “Friday – Padres Game” followed by a bunch of blank rows, Fabianna takes over the job. If I hadn’t known what a master planner my friend was before, I sure do now. Within minutes Fabianna has sorted through countless Groupon and Living Social offers and Googled every restaurant in the metropolitan San Diego area. My previously bare itinerary is now an ornately formatted, Arial font, size 10, boxed, bordered and color-coded masterpiece. Let the fun begin.

Upon awakening Friday morning we head straight to the well-known and highly recommended Richard Walker’s Pancake House. The line is out the door, as usual, but as we’re a party of 2, our wait is a mere 10 minutes. Fabianna and I order coffee and pigs in a car (sausage wrapped in pancakes).

We then head to the zoo. This is my 3rd time here and I feel like I know this place like the back of my hand. I weave Fabianna through the gems of this ginormous place, including the baby gorilla and orangutan stops. Fabianna, a lover of plants, is more mesmerized with the diversity of florae than the wildlife. She stops to take a picture of every succulent we pass.

Among many other things, the San Diego Zoo is famous for their pandas. Unfortunately, the wait is always extremely long and I’m yet to see these endangered species. Today, however, Fabianna and I decide to endure the 45 minute wait. The sight of the two pandas is genuinely enjoyable. They sit there, fat and content, chomping on bamboo. Seemingly, this is all they do. I’m surprised to learn that these cuddly creatures eat about 30 pounds of bamboo a day.

By mid-afternoon we leave the zoo and head back to my apartment. Tonight we’re going to my first Padres game. That’s the San Diego Padres – San Diego’s baseball team. Fabianna and I dress up and head to the stadium an hour before the first pitch. We locate a rooftop bar beside the stadium, Rare Form, and make our way up the stairs for the pre-game happy-hour. This place is truly amazing. Not only are the cushions comfy and the inexpensive drinks delicious, but we can literally see into the stadium. This is arguably the best view in the house. While Fab and I are sipping on our Pina Coladas and enjoying each other’s company, Misha arrives at the bar. Soon after, we head down to the Petco Park entrance. No offense to my fellow Braves fans, but Petco is a step up from Turner Field. The food and beer selection here is unlike any sports stadium I’ve been to. We order brats and Italian sausages along with craft beer before heading to our seats in the nose bleed section. From the comfort of our seats we are exposed to the gorgeous downtown skyline.

It’s the second game of the year for the home-town Padres and they come out victorious. Brandon Morrow pitches his way to a 1-0 victory over the in-state rival, San Francisco Giants. We stay a bit after the game to watch the fireworks show before heading to the streets below. Unlike many big-city downtown areas, San Diego has a lively nightlife. The 3 of us head to a rowdy bar named Bub’s at the Ballpark, where we meet up with our friends Patrick, Ainsley, Matt and Shane. We celebrate the win and enjoy some more beer. As the clock hits 1 a.m. we decide it’s time to call it a night.

I wake up excited for the day to come. Today Fab and I are going whale and dolphin watching. This is something I would never in my wildest dreams have thought of. But thanks to Fab’s incredible research skills, we got 2 cheap tickets to this awesome event. By 9 a.m. Misha drops us off at the San Diego Harbor where we aboard the Hornblower cruise ship. The ship is packed with tourists and volunteers. Volunteers share information about the creatures we’re about to see. As we depart from the harbor I point out the massive sea lions sun bathing on the docks. One brave sea lion follows the ship and splashes in the wake. We pass Point Loma, where Misha and I had been two months ago, before sailing another hour into the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Here we spot at least 300 dolphins. It’s mind-boggling how many dolphins are around us. These beautiful mammals jump joyfully and glide through the water. They turn on their sides in mid-air before plopping against the endless blue. Upon closer look, Fabianna and I spot baby dolphins swimming with their mothers.

After two hours, the captain announces that it’s time to return home. To our discontent, we’re still to see any whales. Before starting the motors, the captain agrees to wait 10 more minutes in the unlikely hope of spotting these ocean monsters. One of the workers speaks over the intercom, asking everyone aboard to make deep whale sounds. Fabianna and I laugh as the entire boat, us included, calls out, “ooooo ahhh ooooo uhhhh oooo ahh.” Suddenly, one of the tourists on the boat yells out, “whale.” Everyone rushes over to where the man stands and looks towards the water. The whale is not to be seen. We continue our desperation whale calls until a huge chunk of mass emerges from the water. A spout of water shoots out of the enormous blowhole, elevating yards into the air. The volunteers explain that this is a Finback Whale, the 2nd largest whale known to man.

The two hour journey back is relaxing as was sip on Mimosas and learn whale facts from the volunteers. Before returning to civilization, Fab and I check out the whale artifact presentation. We’re the only ones in attendance.

Since my birthday lasts a month. Misha takes Fabianna and me to dinner at a Russian restaurant in North Park, Pomegranate. In the 20 months Misha and I have been dating, this is our first time at a Russian restaurant. Although excited, I can’t imagine the food here will compare to Misha’s mom’s scrumptious cooking. Misha drops Fabianna and I off and heads to find parking. Fabianna and I are greeted by Demetri, the owner of the restaurant. We seem to make a good impression as Demetri offers to be our server. Misha soon arrives to the table and helps select our meals for the evening. We order golubtsi, chakhokhbili and chakapuli. If you don’t know what these foods are look them up. And then find a place that makes them. Because they are to die for. As we finish our meal I can tell I’ll soon be developing cravings for Russian food.

After dinner, Misha and I do our best to introduce Fabianna to North Park. Our first stop is a bar called Hamilton’s Tavern. This bar, known for its absurdly massive beer selection, has a ceiling covered with beer taps. While sipping on our drinks, I try to get Fabianna to talk to a handsome guy playing billiards. Being the outgoing girl she is, Fabianna agrees and sparks a conversation with him. She comes back shortly after with the unfortunate news that this man is gay. At least we tried.

Next stop is Bar Pink, which is ironically a gay bar. The interior is decorated with pink elephants and martini glasses while the DJ plays hits from the 60s. The 3 of us snag a pool table and play a couple of rounds, Fabianna impressing most. As with most bars in North Park, we’re surrounded by scraggly hipsters.

Sunday is our last day together. We spend the morning shopping along Prospect Street and sunbathing on the beach. Deciding to get some physical activity in and sweat out the toxins we accumulated the past few nights, we then head to Torrey Pines State Reserve for a leisurely hike. As the sun begins to set we head back to the apartment and cook dinner. Another scrumptious meal. The night is bittersweet as I chat and watch TV with one of my best friends, all the while knowing she is leaving the next morning. Fabianna is one of the funniest people I know and she constantly brings a smile to my face. It may be a while until I see her again and I’ll surely miss her.

Lake Tahoe with the Crew (Part 2)

364 days have begun and ended in 2014. Today marks the 365th and final day of the year. I roll out of my queen size bed and descend the carpeted steps to the ground floor where Jared sits before the TV, wrapped up in a checkered black and red blanket.

“I’m sick,” Jared says upon seeing me try to make sense of the scene. “Everyone else went skiing.”

“What are you sick with?” I ask.

“Throat’s been hurting a bit. And my body is just weak and sore.”

“I’ve got just the trick,” I tell him before heading to the kitchen. I light the stove and place a pot atop it. 5 minutes later I produce a cup of Golden Milk for my ailing friend. Golden Milk is the modern name for an age-old beverage used to cure, well, everything. It’s an extremely easy concoction, using ingredients that you probably already have in your kitchen. Look it up.

Wanting to end the year on a productive note I grab Steven’s drone and camera and head to the lake. I shiver in my orange tennis shoes and flimsy gym pants as the 30mph winds combine with the 17 degree weather to make for a genuinely uncomfortable walk. I step onto brown sand, marking my arrival on the beach. The winds intensify making each step atop this mushy surface more challenging. By the time I reach the frozen portion of the lake the winds are so strong that I quickly dump the idea of flying the delicate piece of technology situated in the black case beside me. Instead, I admire the converging blues of the sky and the ocean, meeting at an indistinguishable point along the horizon. Stoic, snow-covered mountains sit like Zen monks in the distance. The sun has begun its fall and now illuminates the nature around me from the West. I turn my head to the right where tall pine trees with thick brown trunks line the coast of the lake. Among the trees a few prosperous residents reside in well-hidden cabins. Having gotten my fix of nature and no longer able to tolerate the cold I turn on my toe and head back to our cabin.

I enter through the big blue door and plop down beside the fireplace. Jared sits in the same spot I left him.

“I think your drink thing worked, man,” Jared says to me.

“Feeling better?” I ask.

“A lot.”

“Glad to hear it,” I tell Jared, before tuning my attention to the college football game on TV.

Shortly before 4pm Steven, Jesse and Jen arrive home from a day on the slopes. An hour and a half later the Brothers walk in.

The sound of extra virgin olive oil sizzling on the skillet is soon heard as Pierce and Hugh begin cooking a mouthwatering steak, kale and couscous meal. With the smell of the seasoned steak too overwhelming for Steven, Jesse, Jared and Jen, the 2 couples leave for a fancy Italian dinner.

Dinner is prepared and the table is set. In between mouthfuls of meat and veggies, Pierce and Hugh retell their epic tale from earlier in the day when the two decided it would be a good idea to go backcountry skiing. After 30 minutes of blindly skiing in isolation, the Brothers found themselves in fearfully unfamiliar territory. Their plan of skiing down the back of the mountain seemed precarious, at best, so the decision was made to take off the skis and climb back up to civilization. 45 painful minutes later the brothers return to safety.

9pm rolls around marking the official Ball Drop. I receive calls and texts from those on the East Coast, including my parents. This is the first time I can remember not celebrating the New Year with them. In Russian culture, New Year is one of the largest and most important holidays, always celebrated with family and close friends. Historically, our family and their best friends begin the festivities around 10:30pm on the 31st and continue the merriments until 5 or 6 in the morning. A sense of sentiment encompasses me as I speak to my cheerful mom over the phone.

By 10pm the cabin is packed with all 8 of its tenants yet again. We congregate in the living room where we reminisce about the year that was. Before we know it, it’s 11:20pm. With 40 minutes left until us West Coast kids can officially say we’ve lived in 2015, the 8 of us rapidly throw on our jackets and drive towards the casinos. After circling the parking lot for 15 minutes while unsuccessfully looking for a parking spot, we finally fit the Acura between an oversized van and a bush. With our phones reading 11:58, Pierce, Hugh, Riley and I sprint to the stampede of excited individuals bundled up in winter clothing along the road. An unnecessarily large quantity of cops, dressed in riot gear, calmly take photos with animated youth. Unable to spot our 4 friends, the Smiths and I jump a barricade dividing the sidewalk from the street. We now stand amid the madness. Screams erupt and kisses flood my view marking the big hand and little hand meeting at the number 12. I turn to my right and kiss my girlfriend. Not wanting to make the Brothers feel awkward, we quickly pull apart.

It’s the wee hours of the morning and everyone’s ready for bed. That is, until Pierce realizes he can’t find his wallet. The 8 of us search every nook and cranny, flipping over half-packed suitcases and comfy couch cushions in search of this square piece of brown leather. No luck. Despite his afternoon flight the following day, Pierce seems least worried about the disappearance of the only form of identification which can successfully get him onto the plane. Within minutes of giving up on the search, Pierce is snoring loud enough for the neighbors to hear. The next morning, Riley and I are awoken by a frantic Hugh who, ironically, also lost his wallet.

“I’ve been searching for 2 hours,” he tells us.

While Riley, appalled by the fact that both her brothers wallets have gone missing within 24 hours of their flight home, goes down stairs to help the search, I call the casino from last night. They have Hugh’s wallet. ½ of the problem is solved. Pierce’s half of the problem is later resolved when the airline informs Pierce that they could search for his identity through their computer system.

While Riley crankily drives her brothers half way to Sacramento to meet with her uncle, the rest of the crew and I cook some mouthwatering pork brats, deliciously seasoned beef burgers and perfectly prepared spinach dip in anticipation of the first ever College Football Playoff game. Kickoff between the Oregon Ducks and the Florida State Seminoles (where Steven, Jesse, Jared and Jen attended college) is at 2pm PT. As a Florida Gator fan I find it tough to root for the ‘noles. However, I choose to side with the arch-nemesis today as a victory by the team in garnet and gold would make for quite a joyous evening with my friends. Unfortunately, the outcome of the game is not as hoped, with the team out of Eugene, Oregon coming out triumphant.

Despite their semi-depressed state, the 4 Florida State alum agree to spend the night playing board games with Riley and me. We begin with Trivial Pursuit, 20th Anniversary edition. As the 20th anniversary happened to be over 20 years ago, none of us fare well. We give up on this game and transition to Pictionary. An hour or two of below average drawings later, Jen and Jared are declared winners. Prior to going to bed the 6 remaining cabin-mates agree on hiking Emerald Bay the following morning.

And we do exactly that. A mile long hike along a clearly marked out snow-covered trail ends at a castle. This 38 bedroom Scandinavian-style fortress, dubbed Vikingsholm, was built in 1929 for Mrs. Lora Josephine Knight as a summer home. I think back to what life must have been like here 85 years ago. With the home likely not having a telephone at the time, let alone a cell phone or a computer, Mrs. Knight must have experienced an unimaginable type of serenity at this home. About 50 meters from the castle is the bay. Transparent water, laying still as a fallen tree, glistens beneath the powerful sun. Smack in the center of this bay rests a small stone structure, representing the Tea House, which could only be reached by boat. Beyond this minuscule mass of land, known as Fannette Island, the bay continues until it empties into the grand lake herself – Tahoe. Evergreen pine trees and unforgotten mountains trap us in this tranquil space. Unable to contain her excitement, Riley attempts to run on the snow in her not-made-for-running Uggs. She elegantly falls backwards, right onto her ass.

After learning how to use the slow-motion feature on her phone, Jesse videotapes the boys perform a perfectly choreographed cartwheel/jump combination. The girls proceed to attempt an even better performance consisting of hand stands and jumps. Riley, once again, ends up flat on her back in the snow.

Our appetites enlarged and our thirst not nearly quenched, Riley and I coordinate a night at the Brewery with our 4 friends. The Brewery is [as you probably imagined] a brewery. They are also famous for having mediocre pizzas, which the 6 of us gluttonously order 3 of. The rest of the night is spent at the cabin playing the highly anticipated game of One Night Ultimate Warewolf. This is Riley and my first time playing this game of animated quarreling and lying, but we are quick to pick up on it. I’ll be honest – Riley is much better than me. I proceed to lose 6 of the 9 rounds I play.

Everyone goes to bed except Jared and I, who converse about our good friend, Garrett, back home. As I bring my magenta tea cup to my thirsty lips, a loud thud echoes throughout the house. A female squeal is heard from the living room. Jared and I scurry over to the sound of the commotion. Jen lies on the ground, holding her head and laughing in attempt to mask her desire to cry.

“What happened?” Jared and I ask in unison.

“I fell down the stairs,” Jen says.

“What? How?” Jared inquires.

“I dunno. I just slipped.”

“Did you try to jump down or something?”

“No, I was just standing on the top step and then I slipped,” Jen explains. “Damn, that hurt. I fell down the entire flight of stairs.”

Finding the situation scary, yet inappropriately humorous, I rush to the kitchen to grab a bag of ice for Jen’s throbbing skull.

We wake up the following morning to our last full day in Tahoe. With Heavenly finally opening the majority of their lifts and runs, Riley and I pack our ski and snowboard gear and head to this tourist-sucking mountain. The sun shines brightly among the few clouds and the terrain is manageable. Double digit runs and a handful of 3 inch high jumps later, the clock hits 4pm, marking the last run. Riley and I descend the 2 mile-high mountain via the gondola. We sit beside a young Mexican couple coddling a precious, sleeping child the size of my forearm. Out the back window, upon which the family rests their tired heads, we view the entirety of Lake Tahoe, darkening in the sunset.

For dinner, Riley and I cook while the rest of the gang heads to a restaurant. We reconvene for one more night in the hot tub. Superlatives are handed out. I am fortunate enough to win Best Cook, while Riley (averaging 16 hours of sleep per day) wins Best Napper. Jesse wins Best Planner (which is a fitting award for someone who managed to successfully plan out 95% of the steps taken and foods eaten by the group). Steven wins Best Attitude (which he accepts with a hearty smile and a thumbs up); Jen wins most down to party/most afraid of everything (as she sips her bottle of Sutter House wine while whipping her head back and forth in search of man-eating bears) and Jared wins most indulgent (as he salivates over the last pieces of pizza he guzzled down the night before.

Knowing that my old friends are leaving bright and early the next morning and that I won’t see them for an extended period of time, we all share heartfelt hugs before shutting our eyes for the night.

By 5am Steven, Jesse, Jared and Jen are enroute to San Francisco airport. Riley and I wake up 4 hours later and tidy up the house in preparation for check out. By half past 11, we’ve emptied every garbage can, started a load of towels in the washer machine, pressed Start on the dishwasher and locked the cabin. Good bye, Lake Tahoe.

3 hours later Riley and I pull into her Aunt and Uncle’s house in Sacramento. I leave Riley to recover for the next 3 days while I head to San Francisco to meet up with my college roommate, David. We spend the night conversing, reminiscing and discussing the future. The next morning David catches a bus back to Los Angeles while I head to UC Berkeley to explore the campus. Shortly after the onset of rush hour, I drive to Stockton for dinner with a family friend. Irena and her 3 children sit at the dinner table with me, eating grass-fed organic steak, a healthy conglomeration of vegetables and fresh baked brownies. We enjoy good conversation until a quarter past 9. By 10pm, I’m back in Sacramento, resting peacefully in bed. An action-packed 10 days filled with numerous walks down memory lane has ended. Now it’s time to catch up on some sleep.

Lake Tahoe with the Crew (Part 1)

My ears have been popping for 30 consecutive minutes. The temperature continues to drop and the wind intensifies. Misha gingerly drives along the edge of steep cliffs while I admire the snowcapped mountains filling up the horizon. Staring down is discerning, as a fall would be deadly. We turn a corner and are slapped in the face by the most mesmerizing body of water I’ve ever seen. Lake Tahoe glistens with countless crystals beneath the setting sun. The water is a deep blue like that of a newly polished azurite pendant. Misha and my brothers fall silent as we soak in the beauty of nature before us.

We arrive in the small town of South Lake Tahoe shortly after the sun sets. Our first stop is Misha’s family friend’s house, where Misha will be picking up his snowboard. Misha turns onto an unlit road, not noticing the black ice covering the pavement. The wheels spin wildly as they grasp for traction. Misha does his best to guide the struggling vehicle into a soft patch of snow. Pierce and Hugh exit the car and give it a shove, ejecting it from the ditch. Undeterred, Misha finds an alternate, safer route to the house. After loading his gear into the car and resting his snowboard atop Pierce and Hugh’s laps, Misha gets back into the driver’s seat and steers us to our home for the next week.

Parked along the snowy street, I open my car door to piercing cold air. The 4 of us rush through the cabin door and immediately turn on the fireplace. Relieved to be out of the below-freezing temperatures outside, we let warmth overcome us. A large, brown leather wrap-around couch, homey wooden furniture, and fluffy blankets and pillows make me feel comfy and relaxed. I envision a winter slumber approaching. But first, we must wait for the others guests to arrive.

In the meanwhile, we decide to rent ski equipment and purchase food. A car full of skis, ski poles, boots and $300 worth of groceries later we come home to a lively environment. Misha’s friends from Florida have arrived. Introductions are made. There is Steven – tall, dark and handsome. He sits roasting by the fire beside his girlfriend of 4 years, Jesse – a beautiful girl with long dirty-blonde hair and big green eyes. She appears filled with excitement. The couch is occupied by Jared, proudly wearing a full beard and beanie; evidently adjusting to the drastic change of climate. His girlfriend of 8 years, Jen, sits near him. She is a small girl with short black hair and a face full of Italian features. Jen struggles hiding her enthusiasm after seeing snow for her first time. Hugh and Pierce (who are referred to as “the Brothers” throughout the trip) introduce themselves to the crew and plop down on the couch, opposite of Jen and Jared. Feeling restless, they soon head to the kitchen where they pop open a few beers before immersing themselves in the backyard hot tub. They return 30 minutes later. Having not seen his friends in a good while, Misha stays awake catching up, while Pierce, Hugh and I all hop into a king size bed upstairs, like we used to as kids on Christmas Eve.

I wake up to an even colder day. Bundled up in unfamiliar winter clothes, we squeeze into my car filled with skiing and snowboarding equipment. A 40 minute commute later we arrive at Sierra Mountain for our first day of skiing. Pierce and Hugh jump out of the car and head straight for the blue and black runs. After changing into our gear, Misha and I meet up with Steven, Jesse, Jared and Jen. Although Steven and Jesse have a year of experience and exhibit skill on the slopes, Jared and Jen are first-timers and don’t fare as well. While Misha and I wait in line to head up the bunny slope we see an out-of-control Jen unintentionally ski into the trees. For the next 10 minutes, Steven attempts to push a fear-stricken Jen back onto the slope. Agony occupies Jen’s face while confusion and determination fills Steven’s. Unwilling to wait any longer, Jared skies down the bunny slope for his first time. He exhibits impressive control and successfully pizza and French fries himself down the hill without falling.

After a short stay on the bunny hill, Steven, Misha, Jesse and I head for the more difficult, blue runs. Jesse and I anxiously hover at the top of the mountain, as Misha and Steven speed down. Slow and steady, but with some screams and falls, we make it to the bottom in one piece. Jesse and I agree that some easier, green runs are in order for the time being. The hours quickly pass and the weather becomes progressively colder. With frozen fingers and toes, we call it a day at 4pm.

Misha, Pierce, Hugh and I arrive home and eagerly cook a salmon, potatoes and asparagus dinner and eat it by the blaring fire. The others arrive from a dinner out and are ready for the casinos. Our cabin is conveniently located one mile away from the state-line of California and Nevada, which is an area surrounded by restaurants, bars, tourist shops and casinos. Jared and Steven, experienced gamblers, head straight to the Craps table with Misha tagging along to learn. The girls aren’t thrilled with this excursion as they are too familiar with their boyfriend’s obsessions with casinos. Not interested in watching a bunch of rowdy persons throw a dice against an enclosed felt rink, I walk with Pierce to the slot machines. Free drinks in hand, we crack up as Pierce proudly turns his $3.00 into $7.00. Exhausted from skiing and bored of gambling, Pierce, Jesse, Jen and I head out leaving the boys behind to gamble. Upon exiting the casino doors we stand face to face with a thick sheet of white. I look up at the falling sky, thinking there is no way the snow will stop anytime soon.

My prediction is right. I wake up the next morning to a winter wonderland. Gusts of wind swirl symmetrical snowflakes, covering everything in fresh powder. The forecast of a half-inch of snow was grossly wrong, as it snowed nearly a foot and a half during the night. Excited for the seemingly perfect day for skiing, everyone quickly gets dressed and heads outside for their cars. To my utter despair I find a $205 ticket atop my windshield for blocking the path of the snowplow. How is a group of kids from Georgia and South Florida (currently experiencing lows of 75 degrees) supposed to even know what a snowplow is? Let alone the fact that we can’t park on the streets on days it snows. We call the owner and ask her this exact question. She kindly offers to pay half the ticket.

Our spirits elevated, we begin our drive to the mountain. However, due to havocking winds and hazardous road conditions we are soon forced back into our cabins. While deliberating Plan B, Misha and his friends decide the perfect event would be an old tradition of theirs – Beerlympics (short for Beer Olympics). Beerlympics is a series of drinking games (some of which I’ve never heard of) between two teams. First team to 6 victories is crowned champion. We pick names out of a hat to split teams. Jesse, Pierce, Misha and I face off against Steven, Jared, Hugh and Jen. Jesse and Jared’s rivalry is by far the most entertaining part of the night. It all begins with a not-so-kind-hearted squid. What is a squid, you may ask. A squid is when an individual (person A) offers a high five or a knuckle pound to [Person B] by extending their open hand or closed fist. When Person B attempts to high five or pound knuckles with Person A, Person A pulls back his hands and waves wiggly fingers towards the face of Person B. This is exactly what Jared does to Jesse to begin the night. And Jesse does not live this down. The next 6 hours are filled with shotgunning (chugging a can of beer from a hand-made hole in the aluminum), flipping cups, throwing ping pong balls and carefree bickering. One, particularly enjoyable and intense game is called Downs. 8 beers are placed on the table (4 on each side) and a ping pong ball is thrown from one side of the table towards the opponents cans on the other side of the table. The opponent then races to retrieve the ball and place it atop the table while the shooting team chugs their beer. While playing this marvelous game, Jesse slides across the carpet causing rug burn and a bloody knee, Jen slams her head against the table, and Misha nearly castrates Steven by reaching between his legs to retrieve a scurrying ping pong ball.

With the competition nearing an end, and our team clawing towards a comeback, Jesse becomes even more ferocious towards her arch-nemesis, Jared. Screams and curses are commonly heard among the group’s laughter. Jesse is particularly thrilled when she sinks the last cup in beer pong, after Jared calls her out for holding on to the ball for too long. Jared, however, gets the last laugh as his team prevails 6 to 4, after an entertaining, neck-and-neck battle.

The tournament concludes at 11pm, at which time we stumble over to the casino for some late night gambling. A hangover setting in, and the day not having even ended, we decide to head home to our warm beds.

Waking up from a deep slumber, I realize its New Year’s Eve. My pounding head argues that I should remain in bed rather than celebrate the New Year, but I’m on vacation and it’s the holidays. Let the festivities begin.