As the holidays approached, I began spending time with Jaromir Born, a Czech immigrant and fellow graduate of COFI Olivar Asselin. Jaromir had immigrated to Canada the same day as me: October 7, 1986. He was a "Kubánic," a Czech who escaped by spending his life savings on a vacation in Cuba — the only Western nation Czechs were allowed to visit — knowing that the plane stopped for refueling in Montréal. Once inside the airport, Jaromir demanded assylum from the first uniformed person he met: a Hispanic janitor. He had $2 in his pocket, nothing but the clothes on his back, and spoke neither English or French. I bumped into him on the méro a few months after graduation. Now with a good job and a tan from a summer of playing tennis outside, he seemed like a different person. We saw "Dances with Wolves" together, and made plans to go cross-country skiing after Christmas.

I developed tendonitis from helping my assistant pack and ship boxes of catalogs, but I had reservations at a base de pleine aire near St-Michel-des-Saints. So I packed an ice cube tray and made ice outside my window, icing my arm several times a day. At La Mattawinnie, I was very much out of my my element, single, American and anglophone in a setting where everyone else was "en famille." But although I was alone and isolated, I was happy to have those four days to ski — even if it was with only one arm — read, write, take saunas and relax by the fireplace.

I returned home just long enough to repack my bags and on New Year's Eve, Jaromir and I left Montréal in a rainstorm, heading for Wabenaki Lodge in Parc La Mauricie. By the time we found the trail to the lodge, it was after dark and snowing hard. We hoisted our packs and slipped off into the storm by the light of our headlamps.

We spent three days skiing in fresh snow and relaxing by the fire at a 70-year-old hunting lodge. Jaromir's quiet, even temperament was balm for my soul. Very quickly we began spending most evenings together, and Jaromir became my regular partner for weekend cross-country skiing trips with Les Aventuriers.

A year would pass before my next journal entry. Jaromir and I were on the train on our way to Florida for a family reunion. Except for Vermont, it was his first trip to the US, and his first experience on an American train. He was dazzled by the balmy weather and lush forests as we rolled south through rural Delaware and Virginia.

"This iss just like Kadaň," he marvelled. "Here iss rilly incredibly dip summer! Probably I hlike it to hliff anywhere near here!"

Neither one of us could have predicted the strange cascade of events that would ultimately grant him his wish.