Thursday, August 14, 2003

He's been to the mountain...

My husband's midlife crisis is of the most impressive sort: He's decided to climb Mt. Rainier. The lead-up to the climb is a year of training with the Mountaineers, Seattle's world-renowned climbing club. All spring he spent a couple nights a week in classes, coming home and practicing with first aid kits, ropes, and other gear. Then, in May, he began organized weekend climbs with certified leaders.

All went well until he failed to make the summit on his qualifying glacier climb. It wasn't fear that caused the problem, but unsteadiness that turned out to be the result of undereating. Some 5,000 calories must to be consumed over a 14-hour vigorous climb toting a 50-pound pack.

Last weekend he set off on his second glacier climb, determined to reach the top this time with more food and a slightly lighter pack. The expedition involved a hike to a "base camp" of sorts, an overnight stay, and a pre-dawn wakeup for the assault on the peak. He made it, and returned home tired but happy Sunday night.

The fun started Monday night when I hopped into his Subaru Forester. It smelled like it had been sprayed by a male mountain lion. When we turned on the fan and air-conditioner, the mountain lion reek was prompty overlaid by a thick miasma of mold. I shrieked. He quickly hit the button to open all the windows. But that was a mixed blessing. Horrible smells, seemingly from the shoulder belts, were now wafting through the car.

As luck would have it, my 13-year-old Honda Civic station wagon was in the shop for two days and I had arranged to borrow his Subaru Tuesady to drive to the airport for a day trip to California. We left the windows open all night, but when I hopped in to the car Tuesday morning the seatbelt smell on the driver's side was comparable only to the whiff of a NYC subway station restroom in August. I piled newspaper on the driver's seat, wrapped the shoulderbelt in plastic, and drove off into the pre-dawn darkness with all the windows open. Reaching the airport, I locked up the car for the day and shuddered to think what I'd smell on my return that night.

While in California, I emailed my husband to say that the Subaru needed to go in for detailing as soon as mine was out of the shop. I described my journey with the newspaper and plastic. "Newspaper," he mused. "That rings a bell. We were very wet when we got in the car Sunday and we put down a lot of newspaper to try to soak up some of the dampness in the seats."

"Is there anything else you want to tell me?" I wrote.

"There was the decomposing carcass of the elk we picked up and drove with for 50 miles before we found the dumpster," he replied.

He was joking. I think.

I returned from California that night and, while the car had been locked up all day, at least it had been in a dark, covered parking garage out of the sun. I rolled down the windows, wrapped the shoulderbelt, and sped home.

That's where the plot, and the miasma, thickened. I climbed out of the car, unwrinkled my nose, and ran in and got the Woolite heavy-duty rug and upholstery cleaner. Then I sprayed the offending seatbelt and stretched it around the steering wheel to dry. The plan was to leave the windows open, but the past week had seen rain nearly every morning. So I rolled them up.

Wednesday morning I got a phone call from my husband, who had left for work before I was fully awake. He was spluttering about horrible chemical fumes, having to throw his shirt away, etc. I made sympathetic noises, and he couldn't see the little smile on my face. I then took a bus downtown, picked up his car from the parking lot, and drove right to the detailing garage. By that time the rug cleaning smell had dissipated and we were back to eau de mountain lion.

The detailer assured me the Subaru would be ready for pickup that night at 5, but I was hardly surprised when my phone rang and caller ID showed the detail shop. Had they found a decomposing possum in the air intake? Perhaps something organic the climbers had "packed out" of the wilderness and forgotten to dispose of?

"No, it's just very, very dirty," the detailer said. "It's going to take all day just to clean the upholstery, and we'll be drying it with fans all night. How about 5 p.m. tomorrow?"

Several months ago I read about cleaning companies that come to houses to clean up murder scenes; now I'm wondering how you find them in the phone book. Meanwhile, my husband is concerned about my 13-year-old Honda. He thinks we should sell it and get a new hybrid; he'd drive that, and I could have...his Subaru.

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