Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The Dangers of Sledding

Growing up in rural Wisconsin, you basically try to keep yourself from going crazy as a kid by doing all kinds of stupid shit. We played with fireworks (oh, there are stories about that), shot each other with BB guns (and later, paintball guns), shot arrows straight up in the air and tried to dodge them (before it was popularized by Garden State), threw rocks at bulls, and tried to pee on electric fences. While this was a lot of fun, these were stupid summer activities, and seeing as how summer lasts approximately 10 minutes in Wisconsin, you really had to find some alternatives to those sorts of things to keep your time occupied. Sure, during the really cold days, you would play video games, but having no console at my house growing up put me at a great disadvantage when playing against my friends. I can only take getting my ass kicked at Street Fighter 2 so many times before I need to do something else. Board (bored) games were okay, but we weren't sophisticated enough at the time to do long, drawn out games like Risk, so most of those were done with in about 20 minutes. Eventually we realized we had to brave the elements and try to find something to do outside. This, of course, led to snowball fights, snow fort building, and best of all, sledding.

Living in the middle of nowhere definitely had its perks when it came to sledding: you had untouched hills that only you knew about/could get to, you had snowmobiles and other devices to act as sled lifts back up the hill, you always had proper winter clothing from having to do chores, and no one around to hear you scream like a little girl all the way down the hill. My friend Nick and I lived right next to each other growing up ("right next to each other" being a quarter mile away from each other in the country), so we always hung out and went sledding at Nick's house. He had a great sledding hill on his property that was a ton of fun to sled on. I can remember one of the first times going on that hill, I was uninformed of the layout of the hill. I have taken the time to draw you, the reader, a diagram of the hill so you can follow my story from here:

Well, you started at the top and you were supposed to follow the red path shown on the right of the image (click on the image to see it in a bigger view). As you can see by the blue path, I didn't make the "recommended" path.

Now, I call it a "recommended" path, but really, it was the only path you could take because of the junk pile with cinder blocks and the briar patch behind it. And you may ask yourself how we managed to navigate such a treacherous path at all. We had sleds like this to guide us. Sure, they look sturdy and steerable, but when you are zooming down the hill at roughly the speed of sound, the front ski has a tendency to skip off the ground with the smallest bump. This causes a temporary loss of steering ability, thus making the rider go off-course if they aren't aware of such things.

I was not aware of such things.

As we stood at the top of the hill, my friend Nick and his older brother Dan began advising me on how to lean into the corners and take the "gentle" curves on the hill. They told me about how I needed to look beyond the first turn to make sure I didn't oversteer and miss the second curve. If you missed the second curve, you would go off into the powdery snow and lose momentum, abruptly ending the fun. Also, there was a ramp they had built towards the bottom of the hill, so if I wanted to avoid that, I had to take the second turn high and stay to the left side of the trail. I felt like I was getting insider stock trading options. I was going to know every in and out of the hill on my first run down! Well, on my fateful first run, I set off down the initial part of the hill. The first run before you have to turn is the steepest and where you gain the most speed. As I came to the first turn in the path, I glanced ahead to make sure I could ease into the second turn and not miss the path.

I did not make it to the second turn.

As I saw the path and came right into the first turn, I whipped the steering wheel to the left, careening down the hill at breakneck speed. Remember how I said if you hit a bump the front ski would lift off the ground? Well, there was a rather large bump/drop off right before the first curve, causing my front ski to leave the ground. So, instead of turning, my sled went straight off the path towards the junk pile and briars with all the control of Evel Knievel after a botched motorcycle jump. My ski came down and made a futile last attempt to listen to my steering command as it met with a cinder block that was frozen to the ground. Inertia, being the harsh mistress it is, stopped my sled, but allowed me to pass through her barriers uninhibited. The briars, on the other hand, did not let me pass. Luckily for me, they were dried from the harsh winter and weren't particularly thick, but that didn't stop them from hurting. As I lay on the ground struggling to get out of my predicament, I heard Nick and Dan say something I will never forget:

Dan: "Watch out for the junk pile!"

Nick: "You gotta turn early!"

Thanks for the timely advice, guys.

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