I was honored to attend a special event this weekend called the Disabled Veterans Snowmobile Ride in beautiful McCall, Idaho. It was put on by snowmobiling groups from around the area (and supported by several members of state and federal law enforcement, firefighters, and parks and recreation personnel, all of whom donated their time).
I had never snowmobiled in the mountains, but a few years ago I got to ride one in a meadow. So it should not be surprising to learn that in my mind, snowmobiling was the winter equivalent of this:
It was not.
They partnered experienced riders with each of the veterans, and my buddy (fellow Navy veteran) and I were teamed up with (1) an owner of a snowmobile store and (2) one of the leaders of the largest snowmobiling organization in the state. They were no slacks. Before we got started, one of them told me that the day before he had led a group to (and I’m paraphrasing here), “…places we should never have gone.”
That should have raised a warning flag.
The speedometer pegging out at 200 mph should have raised another.
The first half of the ride was easy – a fifteen mile ride on a snow covered road took us to a famous hot springs and many riders took advantage of the warm pool.
They fed everyone, then encouraged the riders to “play” on the way back.
Play is an interesting word. To my six-year-old, it involves fairy princesses, plastic castles and dolls. To the snowmobiling community it involves mountains, remembering that the brake is on the left and the throttle is on the right, and trying not to get crushed by a 700 pound machine as it rolls over you after you crash.
Oh, and something called tree wells.
As I recall, our instruction on snow machine operations was something like, “(unintelligible)…countersteer…(unintelligible), (unintelligible)…stand on one leg and kneel on the seat with the other…(unintelligible).”
And then we were off.
While concentrating on trying to avoid tree wells by turning my handlebars left to go right and standing on one leg while kneeling on the seat with the other, I must have missed the dip in the trail. I flew off sideways and my machine rolled on top of me. It took two grown men to get me free, and several more minutes before we were able to get the snowmobile back on its tracks. I was a little embarrassed, but determined to go on.
Before you knew it, I was moving again.
Three seconds later I hit another dip.
As I laid face down in the snow with 700 pounds of horsepower resting on top of me, it occurred to me that this sport is harder than it looks. It was more like riding a Brahma bull and less like drifting in a boat on a peaceful lake. It took everything I had to stay upright and return safely to base camp. By the time we got home, I was sore, testosterone deficient (either from using it until it was depleted, or because the other three riders were more macho than me), and weary.
And I would do it again in a heartbeat.
Thank you to the Idaho snowmobiling community who, through its gracious embrace of the men and women who sacrificed in service to the country, showed a whole bunch of disabled veterans what it means to be a community.
You are all our heroes of the week.
Let’s go play.