Never Let Me Go

I’ve had a good run with winter sports. The past few years have found me skiing (mostly lodging), snowboarding (mostly falling), ice skating (OWNED IT!), snow shoeing (good center of gravity), and now, snow tubing.

Snow tubing is one of those activities I wasn’t privy to in the midwest. For whatever reason I equate it with New Hampshire hills off highways. While I wasn’t immediately familiar with the concept it was explained to me as follows: you go down a big hill in a tube.

snow_tubeThis seemed exciting. Tubes haven’t much height but offer cushioned support. I thought that because of a tube’s material there would be no way to exact speeds as fast as say, a toboggan, because the tube would rip. In all, it seems the perfect ‘sport’ for me. A leisurely ride down a gently sloped hill in a slow moving inner tube – on par with a day in a lazy river, just colder. So I enthusiastically agreed to go.

The day was unseasonably warm. Boston had it’s first hit of 50+ F and residents let it be known by going on runs in the tiniest of shorts, or wearing tees and tanks (sans jacket) and soaking up the sun as if all roads led to the beach. It was silly, and as much as I wanted to frolic through the streets I had a winter sport to attend to, so I donned my snow suit, packed a change of clothes and made way for New Hampshire.

Well, Amesbury. New Hampshire was a step over, but the weather took refuge there, too! Our snow park was reduced to a parking lot slush pool and a gaggle of children in light fleece tops and colorful snow pants. Because I went in thinking tubing was for wusses I didn’t worry much. It wasn’t until we pulled into the sports complex to find a towering hill with steep runs – each carved out of snow with ice tipped bumpers. There was a ‘magic carpet’ – or a flat bed escalator to take you and your tube to the top. There were children in helmets – some in hockey masks (WHY?)- pacing back and forth as we waited for the park to open – one upping each other in dares, each one sure to dive head first or double sure to make their tube fly. I don’t know why anyone would go down, much less draft a death wish by going head first, but the kids seemed resolute. With no one yet on the slope I watched the sport park employees trudge up the hill and stand guard at the dismount. They looked like frigid life guards with no cause for concern. Realizing how afraid I was I looked to the line to find someone, anyone, as nervous as I. This was a fools errand as I, and my cohort of three adult women, were the only unaccompanied adults. Meaning we didn’t have children. Suggesting that we were the only people in greater New England who thought it fun to throw themselves down a hill in a tube on a slick surface for the sheer want of it. Not because a kid in a hockey mask begged it of us. And of our small group only I seemed destined for panic.

I don’t know why I worry, only that I do. And that I have strange ways of attending to my phobias. For one I put myself out there, but I also make a spectacle. I took too long to choose an inter tube, and when I did my selection was curious. As we were some of the first people in line we had our pick of the litter! With so many tubes so late in the season it might be rare to find one in pristine condition but Moira and Angela found the brightest of blue tubes. Karleen, likewise, found one in a ruby shade of red, and I… without being able to explain myself chose the oldest, most faded, saddest looking tube in the lot. It operated and seemed as air filled as the rest, but this tube would never photograph well. This tube was probably the tube everyone left behind – statically growing into it’s shade of grey by way of hiding. It was a tube that spoke to my feelings and I dragged it along like I’d trained it in my own image.

Up the magic carpet we went – four lasses on a mission to enjoy what was left of these winter days. At the summit Karleen raced ahead and almost threw herself down, while I lingered behind, dragging my inner tube in figure eight patterns on stamped out snow. There was an employee who eyed Moira and I and asked if we were ready.

“Is it scary?” I asked.

“No, it isn’t”

“Will I be able to stop?”

“If you can’t traffic will stop you” another employee offered.

“Please don’t say that. I’m very neurotic.”

With that the first employee who promised me fearless fun shushed his colleague and told me I could go with my friend. He lined us up together and had me hold onto Moira’s tube handle, and her mine. Before I could again ask (for good measure) if I’d hate the experience he wished us well with one big push.

As he pushed he yelled “make sure you let go when you reach the bottom!”

WHAT THE WHAT?  Queue screams.

Now for those of you who regularly ski or tube or do things of the extreme variety my rehash may elicit a laugh. But this was EXCITING for me. Me who likes to plant herself firmly on the ground. Me who self identifies as a ‘cautious adventurer’. And perhaps because I’m such a controlling sort and didn’t have time to deconstruct my expectation or qualify my fear – maybe because the dude at the hill top did me a solid by disallowing any escape plan – well, I had no choice but to feel something new. I screamed and screamed as we careened down the hill, hitting bump after bump, my winter cap falling further over my eyes.

As soon as it starts it’s over, and responsibility sets in.  I am moving quickly down a hill, I realize.  If I don’t slow down I will know this snow.  I must slow down.  I must let go.

And I did, dragging my feet, creating micro snow storms in my wake.  And while I heeded his words, and while nothing bad came of me, I wanted to hold on a little longer.  I wanted to feel the rush of the chase if only for a moment more so as not to let go.

Once you stop a new sensation sets in.  My first inclination was to call it a day. Recognize that I do not like the sensation of being out of control and be proud of myself for trying. This would harken back to my attempt at trapeze swinging, or failed efforts to ride a roller coaster. But something was different with this. Was I growing my brazen, or might snow tubing be my sport? Because for whatever reason – the tube being close to the ground – the ease of flight – I was into it. I wanted to go again and again, and so we did. Up and down the magic carpet until the employee who earlier thought me a wimp made every effort to spin our tubes as fast as possible so that we were airborne, truly one with the wind on our successive flights down.

I was even so bold as to YOLO my experience and declare that I was going to try what the kids promised. I was going to go head first! WHO WAS WITH ME? Only to find, that for once, I was the bravest. I was the only one willing to try something new when I usually lurk in the quiet corners of refuse.

But wouldn’t you know that it takes a village. I wasn’t born with bravery. I am a product of my surroundings and rely on the comfort of my friends. While it is exciting to take on something yourself I’ve always found it best shared. What’s a story without a listener?

So while I did not dive head first that’s not to say I never will. Now I know where to go. I have the snow cred and have excuse to share this with someone else. Who’s with me? I promise to hold firm.  I promise to never let you go.