Wednesday, February 16, 2011

111 Miles

This past Monday marked fifteen Valentine's Days come and gone with the husband, and for the first time ever, we were apart. Not only that, but I was not wearing my wedding ring. Took it right off. Because my fingers were swollen like sausages.

We spent the weekend up in the Adirondacks with friends who had invited us to go snowmobiling. Amazingly, my parents were each able to take a set of children on short notice, my friend (God bless her) took the dog, and we were good to go. John and I left Friday late afternoon for Old Forge, which is the snowmobiling mecca of the east. I’m not even joking. Instead of cars, the small town is jam-packed with snowmobiles and people strolling about in full winter regalia, looking like rather colorful astronauts.

After meeting our friends at the inn, we headed to a restaurant at the bottom of a steep hill. Inside, the walls by the door were lined with heavy jackets and helmets. Men and women wandered around in snow bibs (which I haven’t worn since I was twelve), their cheeks rosy from the brisk night air. I felt conspicuous with my corduroy coat; everyone else donned a brand-name snowmobiling jacket: Yamaha, Ski-doo, Polaris…

A fire kept things cozy, and a live band played an Indigo Girls song in the corner. We found a booth and our friends, Chris and Kim, gave us the snowmobiling lowdown.  When they were done, I asked them a series of questions mainly concerning the chances of me crashing into a tree. I then went over my very particular care plan should I suffer a spinal injury, insisting that no one resuscitate and that they donate all my organs to those in need, but not to “science.” I’m not sure if this ever happens, but I’m not comfortable with my heart being in a jar in some professor’s lab.

Chris is a doctor, a medical kind, mind you, and I didn’t want him to take any life-saving measures. You can’t raise twins if you’re paralyzed. You just can’t. Better to leave that to my husband and his new, hideously unattractive nanny.

Saturday morning, I put on my snow gear, which included under armour, jeans, a shirt and a sweater, snow bibs, a jacket, boots, gloves, and an unwieldy helmet with a radio attached to it. I took my first spin on the snowmobile around the parking lot, where I did a lot of embarrassing and girlish shrieking. This is where I learned that arm flapping when freaked out doesn’t work well when on a snowmobile. You tend to lose your balance, and become susceptible to tumbling over.

We headed off to the trails, which meant crossing an asphalt road. You can’t steer a snowmobile if there’s no snow. You have to position yourself just right and step on it, waiting until you reach snow again to maneuver your machine. I found this slightly disconcerting.

We made it to the trail! I was doing well! And then I drove into a ditch.  We were only 5 minutes into our venture. The ditch, I soon found out, happened to also be a small creek. Absolutely mortified and somewhat stunned, I crawled out of the ditch and waited for help. Chris carries rope in his sled, and within moments, five guys had stopped to help.

“It’s my first time!” I kept insisting. A guy patted me on the arm.

“You’re doing great!” That was so nice of him to say since clearly I wasn’t doing great at all. Driving your sled into a ditch is the exact opposite of doing great.

It only took ten minutes for the men to haul the sled out of the ditch. Both the sled and I were unharmed, so I got back on and gave it another whirl. Slowly, I gained back my confidence. John, directly ahead of me, radioed me every couple of minutes:

“You okay?”

“Yes. And you don’t have to go so slow,” I called back, irritated. And as soon as I said that, I went into my second ditch.

“It’s not as bad, this time!” I insisted. It wasn’t. It only took three men to haul me out. Fairly certain our hosts would insist I go back to the hotel room and stay a safe distance from their snowmobiles, I was surprised by their good humor and their encouragement. I got back on.

Chris gave me rather simple but invaluable advice. “Look where you want to go, not where you don’t want to go.” After that- no more ditches. I think that statement may be bigger than even snowmobiling. I’m hoping Caleb will use it as a quote in his valedictorian speech.

We rode through wide trails, skinny trails, over bridges, along steep ravines. We rode on nearly deserted roads to a diner in a small town, where we hung out jackets and snow bibs to dry. After falling in the snow and (ahem) water, my butt was a trifle cold and damp, so I stuck it up against the heater until it got good and toasty. Again, the only people in the diner were snowmobilers.

The next leg of the trip took us across the frozen Stillwater Reservoir, a six mile jaunt of smooth, fast riding. I was told not to be concerned about the slush, that it was from cracks in the surface where water had seeped through. I wasn’t concerned about it until I got to it, and then I became fairly certain I was going to perish within the icy waters, an ironic death, since I am a fairly good swimmer.  (Not to get braggy.)

There was a good amount of mist over the lake, and soon John’s taillights disappeared, and though I knew Kim was right behind me, I felt pretty isolated. We followed a line of scraggly trees to the lights at the edge of the lake, where a secluded hamlet awaited us. Beaver River is only accessible by boat or snowmobile and has a total population of 8. I assume these 8 people run the three businesses within the hamlet. We stopped at the Norridgewock III Resort, where a restaurant was full of more chapped faces, helmets, and people huddled over cups of coffee and hot cocoa. I drank hot cocoa with ample whipped cream.

We headed out about fifteen minutes before dusk, thereby again traversing Stillwater Reservoir during the most spectacular sunset I’ve ever seen. We drove toward the brilliant orange light, the mist dissipating into the air, the stars just beginning to emerge. It was absolutely surreal and beautiful. As we approached land, Kim called over the radio,

“I’m having so much fun hitting all of these moguls!” Kim is kind of a daredevil. Her husband responded,

“DON’T HIT THE MOGULS! We don’t know what they are!”

I’m concerned about slush and Kim is flying over rocky islands.

The remainder of the ride was in the dark, and the sky was absolutely clear. The stars put on a brilliant winter show.

The day would have been without further incident except that while trying to get the snowmobile over a small but rather steep incline, it kept going and I stayed behind. Lying on my back, molded rather comfortably in a drift, I felt relatively peaceful.

“So that happened,” I thought. I looked up at the stars. Kim ran toward me, fearing the worst, so I got up, tried again, and was on my way before the men even knew what happened.

By the end of the day we had driven 111 miles.

We went back to the inn, changed, and ate Italian food at the fanciest restaurant in town, where the dress code remained snow bibs and boots. I slept hard, excited to hit the trails the next day.

And then I woke up, and I ached in areas I did not know could ache. My head ached, my shoulders ached, my back ached, but the worst was my hands. My hands had tightly gripped the handles of that snowmobile for 111 miles, and my joints had swelled up.  My thumb ached from holding down the throttle. 
We spent Sunday morning at the Old Forge hardware store after eating pancakes.  It has taken three days for the swelling in my hands to go down, though the wedding ring doesn’t quite fit yet.  That being said,

I’d totally do it again.

John on a sled.

Scenic vista

Miles to go before we sleep...

Stillwater Reservoir

Hamlet of Beaver River



hokgardner said...

Looks like so much fun, trips into the ditch and swollen fingers aside.

I never have been on a snowmobile. I'll have to add it to my list.

Shana said...

My family lives near Stillwater (Dad's from Lowville, Mom's from Crogan and all my family still lives up there) and I spent many a summer camping there in my time...never have seen it all iced over though - I'm envious! I have to say, your story-telling is hilarious! I felt like I was there with you - going in the ditches and all!

Tracy said...

You are a wonderful story teller! I too will have to add snowmobiling to my life list of things to do.

Holly said...

Thanks ladies. It was pretty fun.