As I was driving to town the other day, watching the snowmobile tracks along Highway 210, I saw tracks that led directly onto the highway. A memory washed over me like a riptide. A memory, like a stray cat, that keeps coming back.
At one time my family and I were avid snowmobilers. We road from the first heavy snow until the trails turned to mush. Every weekend we would load up all five sleds and hit the road. I even worked out with weights to improve my upper body strength for snowmobiling. That was more than 20 years ago. I still work out two to three times a week, but only in the water. Age and arthritis have had their way with anything that even remotely resembles upper body strength. Aside for a quick spin on the lake, I hadn’t ridden my sled in years.
For years Eric thought we should have a second sled, and last year he was offered a fixer upper sled real cheap. Hundreds of dollars later he had it running smoothly. He also tuned up my sled, so we were set to go. The first outing was easy with no excessive speed and limited ditch riding. It was fun to open it up on the lake and soar, but mostly I prefer old lady riding. It’s a little like riding a bike, you don’t ever forget how, but it’s not like in my younger days. One day we decided to cross the lake, grab a trail and follow it to Central Lakes Trail. The afternoon was mild and the snow was perfect. I was having a wonderful time. When we reached the intersection of Central Lakes Trail and Highway 210 and had a choice of riding ditches or Eric going home to get the trailer and loading up the sleds, I hesitantly agreed to riding ditches. It’s only a few miles.
That was my first mistake. Unaware of the upper body strength needed to control my sled, I managed to roll it on the first steep hillside. Eric was blazing the trail and when he looked back to check on me, he could clearly see I was down. With no damage to my sled, we righted it and talked about giving it a little more throttle to maintain the momentum. Although my confidence waned, my determination didn’t. I accelerated a little more and managed, although it was no longer fun. Then I came to an extremely steep bank. Knowing it’s illegal to ride on the shoulder of a state highway, I rode as fast as I could to stay upright. Clearing the bank, I crested the hill, and the sled flew up over the berm. As I went airborne, I lost my grip of the handlebars and flew off the machine. The next thing I knew, I was laying on the shoulder of Highway 210 without a ride. Stunned, I picked myself up and what I saw next took my breath away!
Eric was leading the way and suddenly saw a vehicle smoking its tires. He looked back and all he could see was my riderless sled in the middle of the road. Panicking, he turned his sled around, he headed back to the site. Meanwhile, I picked myself up and, in that instant, saw my Jag sitting in the middle of the westbound lane with a vehicle stopped a mere two feet in front of it. Stunned, I walked toward the machine and continued to take in the sight. An eastbound truck had also stopped and was waiting. I signaled for the truck to move on, but the driver shook his head and gestured that I should remove my sled. Having no choice but to mount the sled and drive it away, I travelled to the east bound shoulder and headed home.
Stunned and shaken, it occurred to me that I never thanked the driver of the westbound car for their vigilance and skill at avoiding my sled. I thought of the trauma the passengers must have endured. While traumatized myself, I felt bad about not stopping to thank them, as they literally saved my life.
With shaking hands, I drove the rest of the way home without incident. Ironically, the difficult part of the journey was over. I never rode again that year. Still feeling bad for the drivers and passengers of the car, I fretted about the injustice to them. Eric suggested I write about it and apologize publicly. It made sense, but I was still too shaken to even talk about it — to say nothing of admitting in my column that I almost got myself killed and traumatized a family to boot. So here I am, telling my embarrassing tale, asking forgiveness from the drivers that drove so responsibly. If you are reading this and were one of the drivers, I am terribly sorry and thankful that no one was injured. If you heard about the incident from a witness, please tell the person that I am sincerely sorry that it happened and I was too stunned to respond appropriately.
Lastly, I thank God that he protected me. I am so blessed.
This year the snow is very inviting. The sleds are ready and waiting. Will I ride again? As a child I learned that you always have to get back in the saddle, so yes, I have decided to ride again, but only on the lake or on well-groomed, marked trails.
Enjoy the winter and stay safe.