Monday, January 12, 2009

Excursion Article Series 12.20.08: Early-season sledding rocks, quite literally

Caption: My niece Sydnie picks up speed before crashing into a tree at the base of the hill.

Excursion: Early-season sledding
Where: Just off Moose-Wilson Road
Difficulty: Depends how fast you climb back up the hill for the next run

The thought bounced around my head like the rocks were bouncing off my knees: “Maybe it’s still too early to be sledding on this hill.”

After my knees sustained about the tenth blow through the plastic of my sled, I decided it was time to bail. It wasn’t just the rocks either. I noticed something about where I was headed that I had never noticed in all my years of stopping at the first overlook on Moose-Wilson Road: there’s running water right at the base of the hill. Either it appeared out of thin air or I looked past it through all the years, seeing the meadow beyond instead. After all, there’s always the possibility that it might contain wildlife – moose, bears and elk all frequent the area.

As can be imagined, it was a rather poor time to notice such a fact. My momentum had already picked up on the steep, baseless hill. So I chose the soft, dry, snow over the mucky, wet, freezing water below. I turned the sled sideways and rolled off gracelessly. My tumble uncovered more rocks and stopped me shy of the Houdini-water at the base of the hill that I’m convinced had appeared out of nowhere.

Caption: Sydnie giggles after running into the wiry batch of trees after her speediest run.

So I picked up my sled, rubbed the ice crystals out of my beard, flipped the snow out of my underwear and waited a moment for the powder that had gone down my neck to melt and come out the bottom of my shirt. When that was done, I readjusted my hat and climbed the hill with a slight limp to tell my two nieces waiting at the top of the hill that due to my crash-test-dummy routine and the aforementioned flowing water and rocky hill we’d probably have to find another hill to sled down.

“Next time I’ll let one of them do the testing,” I thought.

I knew exactly where to find the next hill. At the end of the plowed road from Moose toward Wilson, there is a small parking area where the road to Death Canyon trailhead is in the summer. If you park there, it’s a small matter to take a left into the forest instead of heading up the road and climb straight up a perfect sledding hill. Well, almost perfect.

The snow was quite a bit deeper on this hill despite the relative proximity to what I will now refer to as “Oops, Should-Have-Checked-Conditions-a-Bit-Before-Hurling-Myself-Down-the Hill,” or “Oops Hill” for short. Unfortunately, it was right when we got out of the car that my 15-month-old son decided it was too cold outside for his impeccable taste. The worst part is his vocabulary to tell me so consists of whimpers leading into infuriatingly whiny shouts. The good news? I had an excuse to let my nieces guinea pig this hill. So I sent Sydnie, the oldest of the two, to tromp up the hill and make the first run from halfway up.

It turned out to be less of a run and more of a slow canter petering out into a disappointing crawl. Gravity didn’t pull her tiny body enough to displace the 18 inches of fresh powder for more than a few feet. It took her several tries before she smoothed down a corridor that the sled could follow to the narrow, supple trees at the bottom.

With the more compact snow in place, Sydnie really flew down the hill, clobbering the narrow trees and winding up off her sled giggling and asking her sister Hallie to help her stand up. Meanwhile I laughed while holding my son and snapping pictures of the aftermath (see picture above).

When I finally got my turn, I decided that all the fresh snow would slow me down plenty if I went to the top of the hill and came down. I was sort of right, I guess. I did move pretty slowly on the top part, but then I met up with my nieces’ tracks and picked up plenty of speed. My collision with the trees, though painless for me, probably hurt the narrow trunks a heck of a lot more. But hey, they bounced back just fine. My knee will probably not recover so quickly.

I think next time I’ll wait until the snow has covered a little more of the shrubbery.

Caption: Kael complained about being outside most of the time we were there. But I still managed to get this cute picture of us. Check out those beautiful blue eyes.

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