Painted Desert

Painted Desert

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Riding the Yeti

This is a sledding adventure.

We began making plans on Friday afternoon to go sledding on Saturday. Sledding was essential. The semester was finally over, and this would be the first weekend in what felt like years that I wouldn't have to do homework half my waking hours. Plus, we were going to get a ridiculous amount of snow. Nine to thirteen inches! I'd been in the hospital for our only big snowstorm last year, so I especially didn't want to miss out on this one.

Saturday around noon, as the snow began to tail off, Pamela and I shoved two sleds and a sno tube into the car and went to pick Katie up. We had decided to take Pamela's car as it has all-wheel drive. However, we found that even though Katie's driveway is shared by two houses, at least one of which has five adults living in it, no one had bothered to shovel or plow it. Pamela tried to back in but got the car only halfway into the driveway before it started spinning its wheels. Impatient cars backed up on Route 138 and then started to go around us. There was nothing we could do but leave the car there and go inside for Katie.

Katie had no boots. She was wearing some sneakers. I looked at them and visualized the snow packing in around the ankles as soon as she stepped outside. We went out and I bounded to the car, taking big leaps through the twelve inches of snow like hares do on nature programs. The car was still there with its butt up in the snow and its nose in the wet street, and we discussed where to go. None of us grew up in Rhode Island and the only good place I could find online was half an hour away. I also offered one of the places I used to go in Connecticut, which was a little farther, but there was the promise of rotisserie chicken at my favorite restaurant afterwards. This sold Katie.

We followed the poorly-plowed 138 to the highway where, as soon as we accelerated, Pamela's car began juddering. This behavior was new to Pamela. The highway was clear of snow but we were reduced to going 40 mph up hills, Pamela's hands bouncing on the steering wheel. It was about two o'clock when we got to Fort Griswold in Groton.

Fort Griswold is a Revolutionary War fort on a hill overlooking the broad Thames River. On September 6, 1781, a British expedition led by Benedict Arnold swept up the river to attack stockpiles of goods and naval supplies. They burnt New London on the other side of the river; nearly the whole town, buildings, wharves and ships, was destroyed. In Groton they advanced on the fort but its commander, Colonel Ledyard, determined to hold it. When the British burst through he ordered his men to stop fighting. He surrendered to the British and they accepted his sword, and then killed him with it and went on to massacre or mutilate more than 80 of the fort's defenders.

This grim scene is now a park used for exercise, contemplation, festivals, firework viewing and sledding. Here is Fort Griswold in the summertime, with sledding slope to the right, mostly out of the picture. I believe sledding was a very important activity used in the defense of the early Colonies.

A few families were sledding past ancient battlements and powder magazines as we arrived. Katie went down first to try out the lime green, bullet-shaped sled she'd bought at Benny's the previous night, but the sled was a bit too short. It wanted to be a saucer, and kept turning about and dumping Katie off the side. My longer red sled was a bit more of a success. Here, Pamela and Katie get ready to ride it down together for extra momentum.

The hill is steep enough for some really rocketlike speed if you have the right vehicle with the right amount of weight in it. However, this particular trip ended in another wipeout, as captured by my zoom lens:

If your web browser allows it, click on the picture for detail.

My sno tube proved to be the best implement for the thick, powdery snow, and we all enjoyed going down on it, in ones and twos. This had a graphic of a Yeti on it and was also purchased at Benny's. I also used the red sled a bit. Once, on coming back up, Katie informed me that the tube had blown away into a ditch. The ditch was a ways away and so deep I couldn't see the tube. I slid down inside and made my way down until I came to the tube, and then continued to where the ditch let out, as the sides were four feet high and lined with snow-slippery rocks. As I went along I found a very large banner that had also blown into the ditch. I wondered if it would make a good toboggan, but I left it there. However, by the time I got back up to the top of the hill, and turned around, there was Pamela:

The banner read, "THE SPOT - LUNCH SPECIAL - Mon. Thru Sat. - All Lunch Entree Specials - $6.99." It also had a large picture of a beer with lime on it. Pamela very much wanted to use this as a toboggan. She said, "It's a sign... from God! That we were meant to sled with this sign!" Katie did not. She was not optimistic.

So Katie stood aside as Pamela recruited a couple strangers and we sat down upon the thing. As I gamely grabbed stranger Dave's legs after he sat behind me, I thought that Dave looked a bit familiar, shrugged it off. We got a push and then slid... very... slowly down the hill. Not a huge success, but no wipeout.

At some point around this time, a family with a very energetic black dog arrived. As people slid down the hill, the dog would chase after them, nearly keeping up, then race back up the hill. We all thought this was incredibly cute. I went down next on the sno tube, on my belly, and the dog chased after me. How fun! And then, all of a sudden, the dog was JUMPING ON MY HEAD and my face was forced downward into a foot of snow. Somehow, this did not diminish my speed. I was still rocketing down the slope at approximately infinity miles per hour, snow feeding directly into my shirt beneath my scarf and packing into my mouth and nostrils like thick cotton wadding. When I finally came to a stop, I picked my face up--it was burning with cold--and tried to cough and spit out all the snow, which was so packed it was almost a solid block of ice in my mouth. I rolled about in a slobbery, indignant fashion for a bit, spluttering, then trudged up the hill, throwing dirty glances at the dog. Snow still clung to my eyebrows. The snow in my shirt had mostly melted already.

I wanted to go down together on the sno tube, all three of us. Pamela and Katie didn't see how it could be done. I insisted that it could indeed be done, as I'd gone down on a tube of the same size with four other people once, but they still couldn't quite imagine how we'd do it. I eventually got us all sitting, facing outward and linking arms. This did not instill a feeling of security, as we weren't holding onto the tube, but nothing about sno tubing really installs a feeling of security. We went down the hill fast, Pamela yelling, and slid for a record distance!

After that we mostly stuck to this triple-tubing technique. We did try one variation in which Pamela wanted us all to lie on top of each other. I lay down on my stomach on the tube but had a vision of my back being broken and quickly rolled over before anyone else could flop on top of me. I ended up sort of curled on my side, and Katie curled up beside me with a confused expression. Pamela gave up telling us we were doing it the wrong way and splayed herself over top, and we were off down the hill in an awkward configuration that felt a bit wrong, something like putting your shirt on backwards. But we were having fun. Here, Katie and Pamela pause from the activity.

The hill was not evenly sloped. Over on the right side were some undulations, a bit divot and a big ramp someone had built right on top of one of the undulations, for maximum air. Pamela was terrified that we would go over one of the "jumps," which we never did, but we did end up going into the divot a couple of times. This was sort of like a jump, but not. Instead of feeling a lightness and then slamming into the snow, you just sort of slammed hard, butt jamming into your lumbar vertebrae, without much warning. We did have a few wipeouts near the end of the hill, as well, in which it was driven home that the painful thing about sledding is not really going over bumps but having your adult friends fall on top of you at high speed, their various elbows and knees finding all of your organs.

Pamela wanted to use our "toboggan" again before we left for the evening. But with six people. She recruited Dave and friends and Dave asked where we were from. Then he asked where he might have met me before. Suddenly I knew. I had been friends with his girlfriend years ago, and we'd all gone out to dinner once at a hole-in-the-wall Mexican place. He remembered me by my voice. (This wasn't the only connection of the day, in fact; I recalled at some point that Fort Griswold was named after the same Griswold to whom my boss from my Arizona job this past summer was distantly related.)

As people piled on the banner toboggan, I took pictures:

I got on behind Dave and one of his friends gave us a push and then jumped on back, grabbing my shoulders and standing on the back of the banner the entire way down like a sled dog musher with a bundle of human cargo. No one fell off. We still didn't get very far--being scientists, we postulated that our butts created drag points on the bottom of the flexible laminated sheet--but I think it was a success.

I had been looking at the undulations on the right side of the hill throughout the afternoon, and I decided I wanted to go over them. Specifically, to go over them fast enough to catch some air. Nobody was with me on this, which I expected, but I considered it a safe way to confront one's fears. I had a soft, air-filled sno tube with a comforting picture of a Yeti on it and there was a foot of snow. So off I went. I rode the tube on my knees, reasoning that in the event of a wipeout I would rather land on these than on my stomach or rear end. The first few runs I went over the undulations but didn't manage to lift off the snow much, at all.

Katie and Pamela tried again to line me up with the big manmade jump. I went down once more and began to turn so that I was facing completely backwards. I was going quite fast. I thought I was headed for the jump... and then... yes... I was launched like a catapault into the air. It felt like I was up about fifteen feet and it all happened very fast, so that I only had time for about four half-formed thoughts:

I thought, "This is very high, maybe too high."

I hit the snow hard, chest first, pain immediately in my ribs on the right side. I thought, "I hope I haven't broken a rib."

I thought, "I can't breathe."

After I tried to suck in a few breaths, I thought, "Why can't I breathe?"

I flopped about weakly and lay there gasping, really gasping. I could only pull a thin thread of air into my lungs each time. I sounded like what you imagine dying people sound like. I was not worried about the breathing... more about my bones... I half wanted people to show up now in case I'd broken something, but I didn't want them to, because I thought the sound of me breathing would scare them. After what felt like a minute of noisily squeezing thimblefuls of air in and out, Dave's friends appeared and asked if I was all right. All of a sudden, I was able to take a full breath, and it didn't hurt my ribs at all.

"Yeah, I'm fine!" I said, surprising myself.

"Did you get the wind knocked out of you?"

"Yes," I said.

I walked back up the hill, feeling fine except for the bruised skin over my ribs. We made a number more triple-rider runs and as four o'clock came around we departed the park for antique shopping. Katie could not feel her feet. After enjoying the antiques we went to Neon Chicken in New London, which is one of the best restaurants in the world, got a take-out meal of a rotisserie chicken and four pints of mashed potatoes, gravy, stuffing and butternut squash, four cornbreads and six cranberry sauces for $24, and went back home and ate. We all felt like a nap after that, but it was something like nine o'clock and so we watched a movie and then there was bed.

1 comment:

Mom said...

Once again, you have made me laugh out loud reading your about your antics.