The Importance of Being Ernest
After finally arriving in Idaho, and my first good-night’s sleep in some time, I’m excited to spend a couple of days with my old (not old, but long-time) friend Melissa. After Melissa picks me up at the hotel (only an-hour-and-a-half late), we head off for a tour of the Hailey and Ketchum area. Hailey, population around 7,000, is the town that, rumor had it, Bruce Willis and Demi Moore owned. While they didn’t actually own it, they bought, and then sold, many of the buildings and businesses here (though Bruce still has a theatre group in Hailey). We enjoy a bite to eat at the Wood River Sustainability Center and a stop at the grocery store before driving the twenty-minutes or so to Ketchum, a cute, laid-back town filled with independent shops, restaurants, bars, and an inordinate amount of consignment stores. There’s also a movie theatre where we spend some time with Leonardo Dicaprio (yup, Bruce, Demi and Leo – name-droppin’ all over the place) before heading to the condo to cook dinner and catch some zees.
The following morning, we run around town before heading over to ride the cable care (remember Pinky and the Cable Car?) up Bald Mountain (AKA Mt. Baldy) for lunch at the Roundhouse Restaurant. It’s one of those picture-perfect days, so sunny that I hardly notice that it’s at least thirty-degrees colder than the lovely Arizona weather I just left. Still, in the last year, I’ve spent parts of winters in Germany, Hungary, New Zealand and Australia (those last two were in July and August). Strange for a person who, given the choice, would rather be hot than cold (though don’t remind me of that when I’m in the throes of a hot-flash). The seventeen-minute ride provides incredible views of the snow-covered hills and huge pine trees with branches dripping in white.
Once seated at the Roundhouse, we order their specialty – fondue. Oh, and wine because, well, there should always be wine. We eat, drink, and enjoy the fireplace on one side of us and the beautiful view on the other. Following lunch, we step outside where we watch budding ski-jumpers learn to “fly”. The small snow hill on which they learn cements my belief that I could never be a ski-jumper, as I fall walking up stairs. I’ve jumped out of airplanes, black, and white-water rafted, ultra-lighted, jumped off cliffs (into water, thank-you), and slid down an Olympic bobsled run (okay, more like rolled on wheels as it was summer, but still), yet I will never be Eddie the Eagle (more like Carole the Cockatoo). We wander around the side of the building to find a chairlift snaking even higher up the hill and ask the guy running it if we might just take a round-trip to enjoy the view (clearly we’re not wearing and skis). The guy agrees and, before you know it, we’re enjoying a ride up the hill, with our skiless feet dangling below, while watching skiers fly down the mountain on trails almost daring them to skid over the side. It looks fun and makes me wish I knew how to ski yet, I’m of the belief that one needs to learn to by the time they’re eight and the fear of death enters into the equation.
Following our round-trip, Melissa and I catch the cable car the rest of the way down the hill to do a little snowshoeing. Unfortunately, the buckle on my snowshoe seems to have an issue staying, well, buckled. I quickly dump my snowshoes as I see little need for them anyway since the trail is well-packed and the hiking boots I bought prior to leaving Arizona will do just fine. (I had to leave my hiking boots in India sue to luggage space restraints.)
Early, oh-so-very-early, the following morning, I wake up and help Melissa load most of her belongings into her car. She’s been kind enough to allow me to use it while I stay here but, as she’s a nomad like myself, only with a car, she has quite a few more possessions that I, with my one suitcase. We load her candelabra (seriously, quite a few more possessions than I), various boxes and her three suitcases into the car (We leave her snowshoes, cooler, and various cooking items in the condo for my use) and, by 5:00am, we’re on the road to the airport where I drop Melissa and am back at the condo by 6:00am for a nap.
After days inside, sitting by the fireplace, writing, and watching the snow fall, it’s time to get out into the fresh air. I drive into Ketchum and stop at the Sun Valley Museum of History. Housed in three buildings – warehouse/airplane hangar-like structures – two of which allow visitors, with one used for storage and administration, this small, very local museum run by the community library holds some gems.
As I enter, I’m greeted by Eric who doesn’t normally work here yet is helping out, as the regular employee couldn’t come in today; that’s how it is in a small community. Eric starts up a short video which explains some of the history of the development of Sun Valley. I explore the first building, which houses some artifacts, but mostly signage and replicas of Native American tools and weapons, and model trains representing Averell Harriman, an owner of the Union Pacific Railroad and developer of the Sun valley Ski Resort. Harriman was also the 48th Governor of New York and a democratic presidential candidate in 1952 and 1956. I continue on to learn more bits of Sun Valley trivia including:
- The world’s first chairlifts made their debut at Sun Valley in 1936 (they were single seaters)
- Hollywood celebs hung out here, including Lucille Ball, Gary Cooper, Clark Gable, Marilyn Monroe and various Kennedy’s. (Betting Marilyn and a Kennedy or two had some overlapping dates.)
- Ernest Hemingway completed his novel For Whom the Bell Tolls in room 206 at the Sun Valley Lodge.
Speaking of Papa Hemingway, he owned a house in Ketchum, and this is where, on July 2, 1961, Papa took a gun to his head. (Yup, this writer has inadvertently come to the place where writers off themselves. Enough said.) The other museum building allowing visitors has a display dedicated to Hemingway’s life in Sun Valley, as well as displays on the history of skis and snowboards, the 10th Mountain Division of the U.S. Army (known as the Soldiers on Skis), and local Olympians including Gretchen Fraser, the first woman, and Sun Valley local, to win a gold medal at the winter Olympics.
After learning about the history of fellow writer Hemingway (I say this as if we’re in the same category, but please know that, though I’m not a huge fan of his writing, I more than understand that I am not, nor will I ever be, in the same category as Papa), I decide to make a pilgrimage to Papa’s grave as, yup, another Sun Valley tidbit, he’s buried here. When I ask Eric where the cemetery is, he tells me it’s just outside of town which, in a town this size means I drive a minute-and-a-half. Just as I was the only one at the museum during my entire visit, I’m alone here at the cemetery (except for all of the dead people).
I step out of the car to explore the small, peaceful cemetery. I’ve been told that Hemingway’s gravesite is somewhere in the middle and easily identified by the whiskey bottles which people leave at it as a gesture of respect. (The left behind bottles are, apparently, empty and it seems to me as if it might be more respectful to leave them full, though I think Papa might agree that it would be a terrible waste of whiskey.) I soon discover the flaw in my plan to pay my respects – winter. To be more specific, deep snow covers most tombstones and Hemingway’s grave has a flat tombstone covering the grave. I trudge through snow which reaches past my knees, testing the waterproof effectiveness of these new hiking boots as well as the warmth of these new thermal socks. While both work fairly well, my wet jeans soon get the best of me and, with a shout out to Hemingway, “REST IN PEACE PAPA!”, I walk back to the car and drive over to the Casino Bar, the only bar in town open before 5:00, and buy myself a whiskey as a gesture of respect to toast Hemingway (and also, because it’s been too long since my last glass of whiskey).
I enjoy a chat with Hannah, a local who tells me some of the history of the Casino and, with a fire, a speakeasy and tunnels below in its backstory, it begins to remind me of Yellowbelly, my favorite bar in St. John’s, Newfoundland. (Read about it on the first Drop Me Anywhere trip here.) Once Hannah leaves, I overhear a bit of the conversation between the two people on my other side and garner enough info. to understand that she’s going through a rough time. As her friend leaves, he tells her he’ll check on her later to be sure she’s okay. I approach her on my way out and tell her that I’d heard enough to know that things were a bit tough and tell her I understand (oh, how I understand) and ask if I can give her a hug. She smiles and thanks me, we hug and I wish her well as I head out.
I drive back to the condo at dusk, keeping an eye out for deer, which are beautiful, majestic creatures until one flies through your windshield while you’re traveling at sixty-miles per hour. The snow-covered mountains glow blue in the light of the setting sun and I begin to think that, even given the long-winters, I could live here.
Next, a review of the Sun Valley Lodge before a quick stop in Detroit and a trip to another of Hemingway’s old haunts, Cuba, which I’ll tell you a bit about upon my return.