One good story about snowmobiles deserves another, right? And besides, it’s the end of February in SW Montana… if we don’t snowmobile now, then when?? I know, I know, give you a break… snowmobiling is only one of a half-dozen great winter sports, why not give those other sports their due?? Simple… because I love snowmobiling, because it has changed my life, changed my self-perception, changed how I will face the rest of my life. Really??! Yup. Really.
It was four years ago. I’d had some friends tell me that snowmobiling was dangerous, and that it was time for me to forget about thrills and spills in the high country, and accept my age and my situation in life… that I couldn’t afford to break anything.
That’s me four years ago – everything was borrowed, except the gloves
I had begun riding a loaner sled the year before, really liked it, and had bought a used sled from the Vigilante Groomers here in Virginia City. The groomers, Daryl, Larry and Gene, were teaching me to be a more aggressive rider. It had been difficult for me… much of my learning had to do with “going against your instincts for survival…” and they were teaching me things like “challenging the sled, as it can do things I don’t think it can – ” and “the throttle is your best friend… lean hard on a steep hill, and keep the hammer down…” things I would have loved hearing when I was 30 years younger… but not now.
And yet, every time I did what they taught me, it worked, and I began to slowly get better. My confidence grew, only to be challenged anew by my pals, until I would return home, having wrecked, dug out and, at the end of the day was worn out, unsure if I should really be doing this. I wanted a much-faster improvement, and it didn’t seem to be happening.
Worse, I was seeing my riding friends do things on their sleds I couldn’t imagine doing… even as I watched. They would roar up the side of a steep mountain, along the top of a craggy ridge, down through the powder so deep I would sometimes lose total sight of the sled and the rider. And when I tried the deep stuff, I’d get stuck. Every time.
An easy outing with a group from Virginia City
And so, with all this, a critical moment arrived. It was on a Friday afternoon in February, much like this Friday night that I’m writing this, except that the weather was rough… a blizzard with hefty winds and temps dropping to the low teens. I was here, in the cabin, thinking about the ride my pals had planned for the next morning. Daryl’s son, Monty, and Monty’s son, Marcus, were and are, to my mind, the madmen of the high country. They’ll go virtually anywhere, straight up, straight down, crazy stuff… stuff the rest of us wouldn’t even think of doing. And that’s okay. The problem was that Monty, his wife Mel and Marcus would decide what the rest of us could do, and would usually challenge us to the max. Sooner or later, it always got scary. My adrenal glands had suddenly resurfaced, pumping the magic elixir into my blood stream until it was sometimes minutes before I could breathe normally.
After one hair-raising experience for me, which included a 10-foot free-fall into a big drift next to a barbed-wire fence, I criticized Monty for putting me in that spot. “Hell, man,” he grinned, “We’d never take you anywhere we didn’t thing you could go…”
On the occasions when I was invited out with Monty, Mel and Marcus (the 3 M’s…) they continued to challenge me, help me to be better. True, they got me to do some things that were totally out of my ability…. I thought. I didn’t like the fear, I didn’t much like the adrenalin rushes I couldn’t control, and I began thinking that I was not cut out for this kind of recreation, that I couldn’t be the rider they thought I could, that maybe it really was time to admit my limitations of age and ability. Those were my thoughts that afternoon in February, when I found a way to re-define myself.
I didn’t want to quit sledding, but I was scared about half the time. I didn’t want to feel like that anymore. I was unsure of myself about half the time, nervous, almost hyperventilating once in awhile, and I didn’t want to feel like that anymore,either. So I sat here, pondering what to do. I knew that if I didn’t go out with them tomorrow, I’d stop challenging myself, stay on the trail always, become more timid and more timid, and finally sell the sled and stop snowmobiling all together. Perhaps it would be okay… perhaps I was not right for this.
Who knows what happens in moments like these? Certainly not me. I do remember thinking, “Am I ready to be like my friends who told me this is too dangerous? Are they right? Could this incredibly fun, challenging part of my life really be over??”
I wasn’t ready to accept this hard, older-age truth. I had already stopped skiing and ice skating. Now this? But then I had an idea, and idea that might save me for a little while, or at least buy me time to find out who I was or wasn’t, and what I could or couldn’t do. I threw on my heavy sledding clothes, fired up the snowmobile out at the door, and headed up Alder Gulch in the heavy blizzard at 4:00 in the afternoon. I knew what I was doing… that there was only a bit more than an hour of daylight left. But I had a plan.
Sidehill trail up Alder Gulch
I rode up to the cabins, 6 miles up, just north of the old Kearsarge mine. I would have gone a bit further on the trail, but the blizzard had blown a drift across the trail that was going to have to be dug through. So I stopped there. My plan was to do this sort of Zen thing, where I turn off the sled’s engine up here, 6 miles from town, as a proof to the spirit that not only was I willing to knowingly take that chance, with only a half hour of daylight left, but, in effect, kill that fearful, conservative part of me for ever.
Where I froze my conservative, fearful self
Well, I tried. But my brain kept telling me that if the sled wouldn’t start again, I wouldn’t make it back to town. No one knew I was up there. No, I couldn’t bring myself to chance it. The snow was swirling up into the air like small tornados, I was getting cold, standing there by the sled, trying to figure out what to do. Then, I got it. If I couldn’t kill the chicken shit part of me, then by god, I’d freeze it! So I physically cast my “scared self” off the trail and into a snowdrift beside the trail, with the sled still running. “There you are, and there you’ll stay!” I yelled into the howling wind. “I freeze you here, here and now, to never bother me again!” I rode back to town in the gathering dusk, wondering if I had the courage and determination to make it stick.
What’s the upshot of all this?? I’m still snowmobiling, and Gene has helped me get a new, more powerful sled, which has helped me be an even better rider. I was out several times last winter with the 3 M’s and Daryl. They took me places I never thought I could get to, and I got pictures, which will be the subject of an upcoming post. I am loving sledding more than ever, and am a better rider today than I’d ever have dreamed… due totally to my friends, who never gave up on me, always encouraged, always gave me a perspective of courage, of good sense, and of the physics of a steep, snowy mountainside, which have given me some thrills I’d never have imagined, with more yet to come. I am now a proud member of the Vigilante Snowmobile Club and the ACME Groomers.
I’ve been back into Cirque Lake, where I never thought I would see, let alone meditate on. The minute we got there, I realized I’d found my spiritual center on earth. I’ve been back four times… it’s the same every time. Today I help groom our trails for others. And today I ride with joy, not fear.
Why do I write these long stories to you?? It’s not about me, really… it’s about the human condition. All of our personal experiences can be shared with each other, and should be… were you not able to internalize an experience very close to what I just related, perhaps a way better one… one that was meaningful for you, reminding you of who you still are, who you are still yet to become?? For, are we done, basically? Or are we still growing, improving, stretching, trying to maybe put yet one more notch in our holster? And if not that, then at least not yet letting go of who we have been, of who we can yet be for each other, of who we might yet inspire… even at our age. What do you think? Do you think it’s possible? Do you think it’s worthwhile?
Well, it was for me. We all know we can’t be good for each other until we’re right with ourselves. This experience was a turning point for me… and I’ve been right with myself ever since, and am… to this day. And by god I’d better be good for my friends at this point in my life, because the transition was not easy!! My friends still expect much from me, and I have no intention of disappointing them.