I had my own personal winning streak going on. My winning streak covered 11 winters, specifically the springtime of those winters.
Eleven springs where I hadn’t had any major crashes or encounters with trees or falling off a mountain. I was 11-0 and feeling pretty smug.
I’m not saying I haven’t got stuck. No, I’ve had some doozys there. And I’m not saying I haven’t scratched or dinged something up. I’ve had my issues there, too. I’m talking about my spring rides, where, in the past I have left carnage over great swaths of mountains. I seem to be particularly vulnerable during spring rides, when the snow is set up and sometimes it’s like driving on a paved surface that covers entire mountainsides.
My last wreck—on Steve Janes’ Project Maxed Out—was a yard sale of epic proportions. That was nearly 12 springtimes ago. I still have the windshield of Project Maxed Out in my office, serving as a constant reminder of that agonizing ride nearly a dozen years ago.
After that I seemed to have it out of my system. The next spring came and went and nothing—no wrecks, no dings, nothing. 1-0. My streak was on its way.
Yea, well that streak came to an end April 23, 2008, in Island Park, ID. And man was it ugly.
I wish I could blame it on something, anything. It snowed much of the day, although visibility wasn’t really an issue.
I just couldn’t find my riding rhythm. Mountain riding, at least to me, is a lot about rhythm and balance (balance being where to put your weight). When you’ve found your rhythm you can glide through trees, bust powder, do anything without fear of wadding the sled up or rolling it off a mountain.
That day—April 23—I was in a funk of some sort. I was definitely not on my game. I didn’t know it when we first started out that day, but the mountain had my number and it was going to win at any cost.
My first real problem came darn near right out of the chute. Ryan Harris, Steve and I were headed back towards Mt. Jefferson and had to cross Sawtelle Mtn. Road. Anyone who knows the area and the road knows that can be an intimidating and sometimes impossible task because a huge snow plow with a blower is used to keep the road open to the top. That results in straight up and down walls that can be several feet tall, depending on the winter. Last winter was a beaut so the walls were pretty tall. Usually we cross the road in the same place every time. It’s a spot where the edges get knocked down and you can fairly easily cross.
This day Ryan decided to take a different route. To this day, I’m not sure what he saw when he decided to literally bust up and over the wall where he did. It was easily six feet tall and dang near vertical. With some effort he went up and over. Steve was next and, again, with some effort, he went up and over. Then along comes Lane and he kind of bounces off and ends up on the road. I make a loop for another try and this time—with a lot of effort—bounce up and over. It felt like I hit a brick wall, which essentially it was, except this wall was solid ice and snow. Once on top I promptly fell off on the uphill side. Say adios to the sled, which turned downhill and did a nosedive off the edge of the road cut. We don’t need to detail all the “issues” the sled incurred at that point. Let’s just say it was a challenge to work the kill switch after that because it went MIA and to this day I have the pre filter (in pieces ) on my desk from the Polaris I was riding that day.
I managed to pull myself together, get the sled in fair working order, went up the wall again and we were on our way.
However, it didn’t get much better for me from there on. In fact, you could say things sort of went downhill.
The second major mishap came down in a creek bottom where the snow was much softer and a whole lot deeper. Steve and Ryan had both turned uphill and left a trench any respectable backhoe operator would be proud of. We’re talking you could lay pipe for yards with the trench they left. I knew it was trouble when I first saw it and knew I needed a better shot up the hill so I went further down, looking for a place to turn around and shoot up the mountain. In my quest to find a turnaround spot (remember my out of rhythm comment) I got too close to a tree well and got sucked in, ending up wedged against a pine tree, somewhat out of sight (picture in your mind me and the sled hidden by big pine boughs). No one found me for a while. Of course, I’m not sure they were looking very hard. By the time I came out of that one, I was a picture perfect replica of a pine scented air freshener that you could hang in your car.
That was a tough, grueling 28-mile ride that day. And do I even need to tell you the sled ended up in the shop for repairs?
At the end of the day the score read: Mountain 1, Lane 0.
My other streak shattered, this new streak continued April 30, again in Island Park, ID. However, this day started out much better. It was about the middle of the ride that things turned ugly.
Although once again it snowed on and off all day, the new dusting of snow was covering a spring thaw-created hardpack that was lurking just below the fresh layer of snow.
Steve and I were having a pretty good time. We were descending off a south-facing slope (red flag No. 1) when I hit a patch of ice/hardpack that made my sled take off like a rocket. Anyone who rides in those conditions knows braking is futile and can create even more problems sometimes. I couldn’t turn easily at all because the skis wouldn’t grip the surface at the speed I was gaining. That was problem No. 1. Problem No. 2 was coming at me like a freight train, except in this case it was a massive pine tree. At this point, I was gaining speed but it wasn’t lightning quick speed—yet. I did all I could to miss that tree—using all my weight to pull the sled to the side and out of the path. That was my big mistake. A huge branch from that tree that I was working so hard to miss raked me off the sled just like someone brushing a mosquito off his arm. So, there I was, lying on the ground, watching the sled—this time our Ski-Doo Rev XP, rocket down the hill towards even bigger trees. About 75-100 yards or so down the hill, the ski caught one of those massive trees and stopped it. Had it missed that tree, it was at least a couple hundred more yards of open hillside down to a stand of trees that were just begging for my sled to make it that far. Yea, I can still hear them mocking me to this day.
Just a few inches either way from that tree that served as the catch net for my Ski-Doo and it would have been a real disaster. The only things hurt that day were my pride and the ski.
Still, at the end of the day it was Mountain 2, Lane 0.
I was done for the season and it didn’t matter that May’s riding this past year was absolutely phenomenal (or so I heard). I wasn’t going to chance it. No way.
And that makes me 0-2. My streak is going the wrong direction, unless of course, you’re a sled repair shop and then I’m your best friend. But I’m not out to make any dealership rich.
Only this next spring will I find out if I continue down the path of destruction or I turn the tide and start a new streak.
I’ll keep you posted.