Downhill All the Way
I should have known better. The slope was littered with fragments of
sundered sleds and cast-off gloves. The ambulance had already come and
gone once. And just two weeks earlier I had made exasperated comments
about how foolhardy Orson and his brother were to fly headfirst down
the trail at Snake Mountain.
But the kid dared me.
"Wanna race?" he asked as we stood at the top of Country Club Hill.
It was growing late, nearly time to leave after a couple of hours of
quality sledding. My challenger was a white male, 8 to 10 years of age,
toting a red, toboggan-style plastic sled.
"I dunno... the Sno-Tube is pretty fast," I said, referring to my own
sled, an inner-tube style with a smooth, ultraslick surface.
"I know. I've beaten everyone I raced today."
Provoked by his confidence, I agreed to race him. We were standing slightly
to the left of the hill's most punishing slope, a smooth fast downhill
leading to a sizable ridge and a series of smaller ridges resembling
a large-scale washboard. I had been experimenting with head-first sledding
with pleasing results. Not only could I get a running start, leaping
onto the resilient tube nearly at full speed, I could bend my knees,
lifting my lower legs out of the way and minimizing contact with the
ground. I would leave him sucking my snow.
As the last few stragglers moved out of the way below, I took aim and
tensed for take-off.
Smoothly sailing down the initial slope, I whipped over the first ridge,
bouncing onto one of the smaller ridges below with the front of the
sled. As I was already overbalanced, the next bounce planted my face
directly in the packed snow, smashing my glasses against my face and
vaulting my body overhead. A second later I came to rest, head up, glasses
A quick taking of stock reassured me that I could see out of both eyes,
albeit blurrily. I felt no pain. Probing my face, I could detect no
gaping wounds or shards of bone. As I held my hand to my face to slow
possible bleeding, the kid, having completed his run, hurried up to
me and exclaimed, "I've beaten everyone I raced and THAT'S WHY!"
Now he tells me. I envisioned a long string of overconfident adults
being led into his little booby trap and limping away, crippled.
"Are you all right?!" he asked.
"I don't know. How do I look?" I asked, pulling my hand away from my
"There's a cut under your eye. You should get stitches!"
A moment later Orson's brother Anselm appeared, with Orson following.
They fetched the errant Sno-Tube and glasses (bent but miraculously
unbroken) and led me back up the hill toward the car, the kid following
behind. In parting, I tried to think of a witty comment to brand forever
upon his childhood, but failed, settling for a vague wave of my free
After I wiped my face with snow, the Bradford brothers were able to
tally the wounds:
bruised, swollen lip
skinned bridge of nose
gash below left eye, of indeterminate depth
"That's how it always seems to end," said Anselm. "It could have been
worse." I could have broken my neck, I suppose. Or lost an eye. The
possibilities are endless. Yet rather than focusing on what might have
happened, I found myself chuckling over fate. That's what I get for
taking on someone a third my age. I should have known better.