I'd rented some skis over the winter break and enjoyed going out at midnight with them on the far side of the flood wall, scooting about through the darkness of the woods and trails I found there. The right boot fit poorly and, over the course of several nights, wore away the skin on one of my toes.

Were I good scientist, I would have immediately seen, at the first drop of blood, the opportunity to do science. As it was, I didn't catch on until the second night. Thus, I have photographs which would have, had I continued the experiment, allowed me to relate skiing-time to blooded-area.

The skis had another important effect, though: they were destined to take me away from the snow.

Just prior to break, I dropped by the COA (Center for Outdoor Adventure) to rent the skis and, while there, watched as a group of climbers gathered gear and departed for a three-week trip to California. I remarked aloud that I had no plans yet, and regreted it. Without missing a beat, the girl standing next to me turned and invited me to accompany her friends to Cumberland Island. I readily agreed.

So it was that, following New Year's, I caught a ride south with Dirk and Mike as they went to a Video Games Live concert (I'm told it was amazing). I spent the night with Beth and, the next morning, got picked up by Sarah, whom I had never met.

We collected things from the EWB office where I'd left them, and then had a big, rambling group breakfast with piano and guitar at James's house before hitting onto the road. It gave me a chance to meet everyone. Mary had invited me on the adventure, Sarah had picked me up, and Gretchen, whom I hadn't met previously, rounded off the party. James and Elise were taking a separate car and accompanying us to St. Louis before splitting off on their own adventure to New Orleans.

Closing the car, with its four hiking backpacks, and four “activity bags” was a trick, but we were soon heading South through Iowa, where we were caught up in a ground blizzard for a few hours. On the way, I told them about my stay in Scottish treehouses and Mary related how she had just driven to San Francisco and back in ~40 hours. The ride began to be prevaded by a comfortable sense of camaraderie with that tinge of heading into the unknown riding on top.

James had some relatives in St. Louis with whom we were able to stay and, though we rolled in a bit late, everyone was up&emdash;these were, after all, the sorts of people who took hot air balloon rides&emdash;and the conversation waxed lengthily into the night.

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