Apparently a few hours of sledding with someone daring enough to brave the elements is the cure for feeling trapped in a brutal Minnesota winter. The snow was too sticky to jump over anything so I definitely need to find the wax and overhaul my toboggan before the next opportunity to snap bones. I've only broken two bones sledding, unfortunately they were important bones for someone who spends most of his time building things...my right radius and ulna close to the wrist.
I'm sure I wouldn't have broken anything that day had I remembered fear is there to protect. In my mind, fear was something to overcome as if it were an artificial obstacle that, once removed, would reveal a world of freedom and opportunity. Well, to some extent this is true, but when faced with the scenario I created the only freedom I would experience was around 6 seconds of freedom from gravity. Note to all readers, and I know this from numerous personal experiences, gravity always wins so long as you are on earth!
So my friend Rick and I decided to take our orange plastic sleds to "snurf" the dreaded, "Hiker's Hill". Those of you not familiar with snurfing should know that there was a product invented in 1965 known as the snurfer, which is basically the first snow board, but without bindings. You simply stand on it, maneuver and hope you don't fall off and mess up your face. We would snurf in our orange sleds down the steep hill behind our mobile home and onto the pond below. The grade was around 60%...that's not a typo, it really was around 50-60 degrees, which is very fast, leaving little room for error. This explains two things...why we sometimes couldn't muster the nerve to go down again and why we eventually got so good at snurfing. The real challenge were the old cars half buried in the hillside on the path down. In the summer we had ways of getting up and down that hill with little ropes, branches, etc because it really was too steep to climb, but you had to climb over all the junk, old cars, refrigerators, etc. because this place was essentially built on an old junk yard or dump. I guess we got the "junk yard" discount on our lot rent? So in the winter time snurfing a 12 ounce plastic sled, there was no option to go over sharp jagged chunks of metal, we dodged them the old fashioned way, with skill and stupidity.
So the hill behind my place was our training ground and the day finally came where we decided to test our luck on Hiker's Hill. This "hill" was legendary, kids had supposedly broken collar bones, legs and one even was crippled after simple challenges like climbing that hill on a clear dry summer day. To this day, I don't know what the hell I was thinking as a kid. Recalling stories like this and knowing there are dozens of other days I acted like a complete idiot, I wonder how I could be living with all ten fingers and toes today. Not to mention two summers later, I would live to tell the story of jumping my Huffy dirt bike after descending this very same hill. This explains why my mother would wake me in the middle of the night after a nightmare where I died...poor mom.
So no exaggerating here, only facts...here are the exact coordinates to Hiker's Hill which you can see compliments of Google Earth...
If you don't have Google Earth, download it here for free and enjoy:
After you start Google Earth, click "Add" from top menu bar, then click "Placemark" and type in the coordinates above and you'll "fly" to that location. I'll be using locations like this now and then, so if you really want to see more into the world check it out.
It is clearly visible when landing at the Billings Airport many miles away. If you click on the imagery date in google and find the 2009 satellite photo, you'll see a more accurate view of my childhood playground complete with dozens of ponds, the Yellowstone river, junk yards, endless hills & valleys (to the south) and the little mobile home where we lived at 349 Dani Street.
I wonder if there's a way to compute the grade of hills on google? Regardless of grade, when (and if) you stand at the top of this hill, there is little doubt that you could be very near your own death on a sled, bike or two feet. As far as I know, I was the only kid stupid enough to climb to the top and go over the edge and even after I did it with Rick and a group of neighborhood kids watching, nobody believed it the next day. It is daunting and on google earth it doesn't even look like a hill as it is nearly vertical.
So this story is getting out of control long...after many attempts, I eventually climbed to the top without falling back down, this is done by walking up the edge of the cliff. There was a lot of snow so falling down was soft at lower levels. Finally to the top, I said a prayer and let myself fall off the face of the cliff with my sled underneath and much to my surprise I got stuck in a huge heap of snow 30 feet below. The snow was too deep to sled! All that build up and it's not even possible to kill yourself today, the snow is too deep. I tried from that point and the same, I got stuck. About halfway down the hill, maybe 100 feet from the bottom, the grade lessened and I could feel the hardness of the ground under the snow. I jumped on my sled and was moving fast from the first second, wiped out and rolled to the bottom.
I'm certain nothing was broken at this point and the kids at the bottom seemed to think I was some kind of hero...kids are weird. That wasn't nearly the fun I had anticipated...so I took my secret weapon this time, the Flexible Flier! This was a snow tube given to me by my parents for christmas. It had handles and a rope. Thanks to extremely smooth plastic construction, this inflatable was very tough and super fast! Nobody wanted to ride it due to numerous injuries and headaches from smaller hills. But today, that tube was going to live up to its name...we were gonna fly.
Confident from my recent success dropping from the top of the cliff and surviving, I climbed back to the halfway point where I had just come down from and jumped on top of my tube. Kids were screaming, running out of the way as I was blinded by snow spray and whistling air, I balanced and somehow stayed on all the way to the bottom...
Now here's where the term, "stupid kid" was coined...at the bottom of the hill. What I haven't mentioned up to this point is why we had come to Hiker's Hill in the first place...the "jump" at the end. Okay, it wasn't a jump, it was that big 20-foot ditch road crews cut between steep mountain inclines and the road. Hitting this ditch at the right angle produces serious air, like 30 feet. However, you kind of need that much air considering you're jumping over a country road with cars. We would spot each other for traffic and I knew there were no cars since I could see for miles from up there, but what happens when I hit that jump from this speed? Now I know why the rumors about kids breaking bones on this hill are true...too bad I'm blinded on my way down about to hit the jump, yet uncertain when that will happen since I can't see and then wham! The force of hitting the short incline knocked my head down into the tube before the sensation of flying set in...and I was weightless...still weightless...wind blowing in my face, fear completely gone and still weightless. Then I began to wonder if I had died when I smacked the ground and slid, grinding my body against packed ice and rocks on the street in the neighborhood. I lost my hat, gloves, boots, a sock, pants were down to my knees, blood stained snow blotches marked my all time record jump and I was now running on adrenaline! I got up...kids were running down picking up everything that flew off of me, cheering.
The feeling of flying as a kid is innately pure and addictive, even if it isn't entirely normal or common. I was obsessed with this feeling, jumping sleds, bikes, repelling with bailing rope and once even making a hang glider that didn't work. I was addicted to adrenaline and the free fall even if I didn't know it at the time.
So what did I do? I pulled up my pants, put my clothes back on and ran back up to do it again, and again and again. I'm not sure I even let anyone use my tube that afternoon. It wasn't until long after dark that Rick and I started back down to our street to call it a day when I noticed pain in my wrist. My Dad always said if there isn't blood, you probably aren't hurt. I didn't see any blood on my wrist so I put it out of my mind. But the pain did trigger the recent memory of the first landing, the one where I cleared the county road easily by 30 or 40 feet and lost all my clothes. For the following weeks, this memory was triggered many times, that's when I broke my bones. It happened on the very first jump, yet we stayed for hours abusing our bodies again and again and I didn't even notice I was broken.
They say laughter is the key to happiness. They also say it heals. I know this for certain, laughter will allow you to break yourself into pieces without a second thought.
The mind is a powerful pain reliever, but gravity always wins...