I went zipping down our ¼ mile long driveway on my plastic sled and to anyone watching, I was just a blur. I was heading to pick up the mail. There was someone watching- my neighbor’s cousin, who was out on the driveway. He ran past the tall evergreens for a better look and to see “who that masked woman was.” He couldn’t believe it when I took off my hat and shook out my white hair. I saw him staring. I raised my arm and gave him a big wave. “That looks like fun!” he yelled. “You bet!” I acknowledged. Why walk if you can fly. But where was everyone else?
I’ve been Daily Sledding ever since we got 28 inches of snow. Four days in a row so far. Someone asked me what I’ve been up to the other day and I said “sledding.” They said “What?” for they didn’t trust their ears. I repeated, “Sledding. DAILY sledding.” Isn’t that what every 65 -year-old does for exercise and fun?
I got my husband Todd to join me the first day, albeit reluctantly (he wanted to chainsaw carve) but he does love a good sled run. The ½ mile tractor road where we have gone sledding ever since we built our log house on Red Mountain was not good, however. Not with 28 inches of snow and no snowmobile activity. The run had to be built. The snow had to be packed down so the run could harden up and get fast. We needed to go over it, over and over and over again.
When I was a kid, sledding in the winter was what we lived for. High Street in Pennside outside Reading, PA was blocked off with barriers so cars couldn’t kill the neighborhood kids. We sledded day and night, coming home only to eat. Sometimes we’d veer off the road and go into a person’s yard, slamming right through their hedge, making a hole. You had to keep your face down.
When we were very small, my father drove the four of us kids to a big hill in Leesport that was on a friend’s family farm. He loaded all of kids onto the long wooden toboggon and we went zooming down the hill. That day, the surface of the snow was covered in ice. It was way too fast and my dad knew it. He threw out his leg and planted it in the snow, in an attempt to slow us down. It stopped us dead. But when we got back home, Dad began to suffer. He got my brother Johnny to practice his Boy Scout first aid and splint his leg. My mother was too smart for that nonsense and figured it out and sent him to the hospital. He had broken it. Was it worth it? Damn right!
Back on our tractor road, Todd and I moved down the steep part without needing to manually push ourselves but we slowed to a stop when the hill leveled out a bit. Taking our gloved fists on either side of the sled, we pushed our bodies and sleds further along to make the run longer. It was very hard work. When we grew weary, we rolled over in the fluffy snow, brushed off, and proceeded to tramp up the track, tamping down the snow even more. Normally, you never walk in the run, but off to the side, so it stays smooth and grows faster, but there was a lot of snow to tap down. We needed a bunch of kids. Where were the kids?
Our neighbors have five kids (four are boys) and a father who likes to plays the most in the family. On our way out the drive, I asked if they wanted to join us. “Maybe,” they said. We knew we wouldn’t see them.
When our son Bryce lived at home, he could not let a snowy day go by without taking a run on his sled, even in his early 20s. He could not merely walk down the snow-covered driveway, even if it had coal cinders on it, without hopping in his sled, even risking vehicles coming up the drive. He even said, he needed to always pull a sled behind him whenever we walked in the winter. One never knew when we’d encounter a hill that could be sledded and he needed to be ready. (I wrote a blog about that years ago, entitled “Always Pull a Sled Behind You.”) But Bryce grew up and no longer lives at home. Do Todd and I need to stop sledding because there are no kids at home? I think not.
Every time Todd and I went down the tractor road, it got faster and we slid farther. There are little dips and sharp curves that make you feel as if you are on an amusement park ride. The sides of the run got deep and steep so they held you and your sled in there like a luge track (I do know what luging feels like as I was fortunate to go on an Olympic track for a Scouting story years ago). A young couple who live in a home at the top of the tractor road came out to chip ice off their driveway. “Come and sled!” I invited them. They laughed. They were thirty years younger. “This is hard work,” the young woman said. “This is more fun,” I assured her.
When does this fun have to stop? Are the only kids that sled elementary school age or even toddlers who go with their parents and grandparents in the back yard? What a shame. What a waste. A friend tried to enlighten me. “Not too many 60-year-olds can sled anymore. Many can barely walk very far. You all are the exception.” We do yoga to stay flexible. We keep moving. We ignore numbers in our age. We do what we always did, if we still can, and we take some chances.
Yesterday Todd had to work away from the house and was not home. After writing most of the day, it was time for my daily walk for fresh air and exercise, but was I really going to choose walking over sledding? Is it stupid to go sledding alone? Fuck it, I thought. I’ll zip my phone in a pocket and call the neighbors if I wreck. (Todd did almost fly over the bank the day before). I knew they were all home because I just asked them to all join me and every one turned me down.
Zooming down the tractor luge road, I found myself laughing out loud, I was having so much fun…actually giggling. When do we do that- to be so moved by joy that we must vocalize it even if no one else is around to share the emotion? Not enough in life.
Day 5 of Daily Sledding
We do have another 65-year old buddy, Dave Broomhall, who is a play baby like me. He is always game for a little fun. Plastic sleds, wooden Flexible flyers, he’s ready for all conditions. We were headed to the PA state gamelands in Drehersville because my neighbor of the five kids, told me he was snowmobiling on that same road. Where it dropped off the mountain, the snowmobiles encountered sledders. The sledders exclaimed that conditions were excellent, even for runner sleds, and it was wicked fast. We went to check it out. It’s not often that you can use a runner sled and Todd was anxious to try.
The snowmobilers packed the snow down nicely. Todd took a little runny and dove on his Flexible Fyler, landing on his belly. His gloved hands gripped the two handles that steer the sled and he was transported back to his youth. I sat in my plastic sled, legs straight out, and poised my two arms out to my sides like out riggers, ready to drag my gloved hands if I needed to go slight right or left, making sensitive adjustments. There were two sharp turns at the bottom of the hill. A bank left on the road, followed by a quick right that dumped you onto a narrow hiking trail that snaked through the woods, depositing you into the parking lot. The maneuvering was a challenge and great fun. We sped across the lot with arms over our heads, celebrating our finish. What a great ride!
Todd, Dave and I, had so much fun that we returned the following week to get one more run in before the snow melted. That day, surprisingly, there were a ton of people in the gamelands parking lot. A group of geezers like ourselves had just finished telemark skiing- a combination of Nordic X-country and alpine downhill skiing and were celebrating in the lot with beers. Another middle-aged couple on snowshoes met us on the hill as we were ready to take off in our sleds and commented, “Awesome!” (I think because we were sledding and we had white hair sticking out of our hats and were even older than them). Then we met two older gentlemen who were dressed in cammo with packs on their backs- hunter dude types just out for a hike but for lunch, they had cooked up some venison steaks over a fire…knowing how to enjoy winter too.
The kids today are much better at maneuvering around the web, trouble-shooting phones and iPads and computers when we older folks get ourselves in a jam. They spend way more time on them than we do. We are outdoors- busy sledding.
PS- We do have more 60-year old friends, Walt & Leslie Krater that also like to sled. We rented a historic CCC cabin in Parker Dam State Park, PA where they have a crazy, wild designated sledding hill. When we arrived, kids were yelling and blutzing over bumps, spinning around to all directions, flying off their sleds, going airborne. The four of us geezers went to the top of the run, first thing. Very little control if any! It was the fastest sledding ever. All the parents stood at the bottom watching their kids and us. Our kids were long gone from the nest. We had reverted back to those fun days.
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