It was cold. It was dark….but it was NOT a stormy night.
Writers cliché avoided…
The air was crisp, as was the glistening sheen of hard-packed snow decorating the long-ish hill. At the crest of this hump of frozen Earth milled a multitude of brightly-colored scarves, boots, hats, coats and mittens, each encasing a child excited to sit in a dull grey inner-tube and glide down the white expanse.
Tubing in Wisconsin in the 70’s was a very popular and social experience.
Off in the distance, campers and cars and buses dutifully sat in the parking lot, ready to warm their offward charges with hot chocolate, baked goods, and electric warmth once the heat of excitement was blown off the tube-ers by the breakneck velocities achieved by rubber gliding on ice propelled by gravity.
Baked goods were required for this event, as they were for most social gatherings in the 70’s in Wisconsin. At this very moment my Mother was warming previously-frozen glazed donuts in our schoolbus-come-camper as Dad herded all 4 of us kids to the ticket booth.
Honestly, I think 8 year old me was more excited for the donuts…
The ticket booth was a rough-wood shelter standing sentry between the hill and parking lot, offering more heat, additional baked goods, tube rentals, and a phone should summoning emergency personnel be necessary.
The excitement (as well as very fast-moving kids) covered the mountain, so thick you could smell it in the frosty air…although that could have been the exhaust from the tow rope mechanism.
We were spoiled on this hill – we didn’t have to trudge up on foot, desperate to maintain balance while overloaded with a huge rubber tube…we got to go up in style, clinging to a thick and hairy rope which dragged us, sitting in our tubes, effortlessly up the summit.
Enter me…8 years old, and klutzy as hell.
The tow rope was coarse and rough and clingy. It LOVED scarves and mittens the way I loved baked goods. My scarf must have been extra tasty, because it was too busy eating it to let me get free of the rope once I’d made it all the way up to the top.
I banged into the safety rail at the top, screaming at the top of my lungs as I saw the huge pulley get its first taste of my red, white and blue knitted scarf…certain I was going to be sucked into the mechanism next.
America had just celebrated its bicentennial, and we were all kinda star-struck with patriotic-color fever.
Lucky for me, that safety rail, once jostled, stopped the rope’s incessant pull, and summoned the attendants at the top of the hill, who were well versed in extracting dangly bits of clothing from the gears.
It was probably bad for business (not to mention a social faux-pas) for the machinery to eat a small child.
A flurry of attendants descended on the howling me, one extracting me from my scarf, another extracting said scarf from the machinery, yet another lobbing my tubed-self out and away from the snacking rope into a fourth, who steadied the tube so I could climb out. A fifth was given the knitwear and got me re-bundled, with the tow-rope treat now wrapped around my face and securely tucked inside my jacket.
The hill looked a LOT smaller from the bottom, and I have to admit, the courage (instilled in me by the goading of my older brother and sister) drained outta me like an over-full bladder at the MOUNTAIN of ice and rock I perched on the tip of – a wall of majestically plunging ravines and sharply up-thrusting spires threaded through the face of this Rocky Mountains wannabee of a hill.
I learned over-dramatization at a young age…
I sidestepped (VERY carefully) to the very end of the launch area, tube in tow, hoping that nobody would notice the little kid quietly questioning their sanity at deciding this death-drop into the jaws of oblivion sounded like fun.
Can we just skip ahead to the donuts in the bus, please???
The workers at the top of the hill must have experienced this hesitation in the youngsters before…because it wasn’t long before one of them stepped up to my quaking form.
“It’s fun…” she said. “Let’s get you in the tube.”
She held the rubber ring-o-death firmly on the ground, steadying me as I hesitantly climbed aboard the vehicle of my destruction.
You know, how now, when you go to an entertainment venue which incorporates big rubber tubes, the have handles built into the rubber so you can get a good grip?
Yea, those hadn’t been thought of yet in the 70’s.
The closest thing to a handle on this tube was the stem-bit sticking out of it so you could fill it with pressurized air.
I clung to that bit for dear life as the attendant shoved me into the void.
I have no vivid recollection of the actual trip down the hill except for one long, unending wail of terror issuing from my throat, and a particularly large bump in the hillside which allowed me the thrill of going airborne in one direction while the tube took a different route.
Rolling, sliding, and flailing down an ice-covered hill in the dark of a cold, crisp night, surrounded on all sides by other kids breaking the sound barrier while safely encased in their rubber bumpers may be some masochistic person’s idea of a good time (and who am I to judge??), but I don’t share that sentiment.
Hours later, I came to a complete and total stop.
It felt like hours, thank you very much…
and found I’d survived my trip down the hill, more or less intact (bodily, yes, my pride, not so much).
My demonic, death-delivering transport ring drifted, almost gloatingly, about 20 yards away. Now, it may have been the 20 pounds of finely-shaved ice crystals shoved in my ears by my cruel decent; it may have been the multiple contusions or the burgeoning concussion; it could even have been my heart beating so loudly in my chest they could hear it in the next county; but I will swear to this day I heard that sadistic rubber bladder giggling like thing gone mad.
I was SOOOOOOOOOO done with tubing.
I stalked over to the thing with all the strength of an indignant 8 year old.
Aimed a boot-and-snow covered foot at the thing.
Henceforth to be known as mistake number….ah….I think….I’ve lost count. Mistake # whatever…
See…I’d forgotten one key element here. My own personal cirque-de-sol-Satan, who had just finished tossing me off it’s back, had allies on this mountain. And one was hurtling directly at my quaking, angry, threatening 8 year old form JUST as I aimed that kick.
Anybody get the licence number of that bus???
Ass over teakettle….again….and again…and again… I got run over by a tube-er.
I was now REALLY done with tubing. No amount of cajoling was getting me back up that mountain.
The only circles I saw from that point on in the evening were warm and bready, with lots of sugar-glaze.