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 gone, stunned.
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 face momentarily.
"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 right arm.
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.