When we were growing up my dad bought a small boat and a low frills pair of water skis. The boat proved to be not quite powerful enough to lift you up for slalom skiing, and both my brother and myself found regular water skiing a tad mundane. So my brother went out and picked up a ‘hydroslide’ – one of the first knee boards available (or at least here in the midwest).
We’d used it quite a bit that summer and had a lot of fun, but along came winter. My brother managed to chase down an old Massey Furgeson snowmobile and dropped a bigger engine in it. (it even required cutting away part of the frame to get the exhaust manifold to fit) After much fussing he managed to get it workable enough to afford him some good Michigan winter fun.
One day he asks me if I want to try being pulled behind it on my downhill skis so I said sure! (hey, teenagers aren’t big on brains) We decided to go down to the lake across from the neighborhood and the snow was deep enough that I suggested “hey, why don’t we get the hydroslide and try it out?”
Since it was his snowmobile, I ended up being the guinea pig on the knee board. The lake (pictured above) is just over a mile long. We started off from ‘sunny beach’ (on the top right side) and he started off slow and straight across the lake. As it turns out, the wind was blowing from that direction flowing toward the direction which we were heading. Thus the further he went, the more I ended up in deep(er) snow, the more I could control and turn. As a result, I gave him the signal to speed up. He did.
He cut a short turn and headed back toward the shore where we had come from in a tight circle. It was a hoot. If I leaned I could get just enough of a turn going, so I signaled him again to speed up even more. As we came back to the far side of the lake, I noticed the snow get a little shallower, but I could still do a slight lean to turn so no biggie. I shot around a bit doing some short zig-zags and eventually did a wide shot out to the right as he did his long counter-clockwise turn.
Now we were getting real close to the side we had started from (and the side the wind was coming from) and suddenly realized I didn’t have enough snow to turn. Still no biggie, I contented myself with just kinda ‘riding it out’ on the outside edge until the snow thickened up again. Another thing I quickly realized as I made that wide right sweep was that in that shallow snow, I had even less control when the rope went slack. This became very important soon thereafter.
We started to approach the beach again and my brother wasn’t turning. A few houses down from the beach was where the Gregory’s lived. Mr. Gregory regularly came out every winter with his lawn tractor to plow out a really nice ice rink for his son and his friends. He had already plowed it with the tractor by that time but was out hand shoveling some of the drifts as we were conducting our ‘experiment’. Upon seeing him ahead, my mind started doing geometry and primitive calculus: ‘inability-to-turn-kneeboard + wide-to-right + Tim-not-turning-snowmobile + Mr.-Gregory + high-rate-of-speed + me + kneeboard = hospital + lawsuit‘
I start waving to my brother trying to communicate my predicament. But although we’d come up with hand signals for left, right, speed up, slow down and stop we didn’t have one for ‘HOLY CRAP I’M ABOUT TO KILL MR. GREGORY!’ I considered letting go but my course was currently dead on for poor Mr. Gregory. So I gave my brother the signal for ‘GO LEFT’ as he was looking quite confused at what the hell I was doing and couldn’t figure out what the one hand waving frantically and pointing meant. Apparently he couldn’t see the single finger going across my neck inside my mittens then pointing to Mr. Gregory through blowing snow, exhaust and a helmet visor.
It suddenly occurred to me that I was screaming and it also occurred to me that my brother wasn’t hearing any of it over the engine of the snowmobile, but it had drawn the attention of Mr. Gregory. He could hear me! Good news!!! I yelled as loud as I could ‘I HAVE NO CONTROL, GET OUT OF THE WAY!” and judging by how Mr. Gregory went into a good imitation of Wiley Coyote on an oil slick, he apparently figured out enough of the message to attempt compliance.
By this time my brother had already started a considerable turn which now kicked in this little magical thing I’d used shortly before for cheap thrills and was now finding out it could be applied to other types of thrills as well. A little thing called centrifugal force. I found that my state of lack of control was now being augmented by a state of HOLY-CRAP-SPEED!!!
What happened next is still a blur to this day but I remember leaning back as I approached the first bank of snow on one side of the rink, catching air for about 30-40 feet (I’m not sure how much of it was ‘over’ Mr. Gregory but there were no sudden thuds or screams of pain until I came down on the ice myself – then there was both). Then came the realization that a hydroslide that has very little control on 1-3″ deep snow has absolutely no control on slick ice. Even though I was probably whipping out behind the Massey Furgeson at a good 60-70 mph, I ended up doing a couple of [involuntary] 360’s for style points before coming in contact with the snow bank on the other side of the rink.
I caught that snow bank at a slight angle on the board which turned out to be a good thing as I could lean a bit to get over some of the lumpier hard snow and then caught air for another 30-40 feet as I was yanked over the other side.
Don’t ask me how – probably the fear of getting beat silly with Mr. Gregory’s shovel if he caught up with me – but I somehow managed to hold on to the rope and stay on the board. My brother was smart enough to gun it for the far end of the lake in a straight line. I can’t be sure through all that snow and exhaust, but I think the look on his face said something about the potential abuse at the hands of Mr. Gregory’s shovel also. When we got to the far end of the lake again, he started to get off his snowmobile to turn around and ask me ‘What the hell did you think you were doing?” when he was met with a bitch tackle from hell and me screaming the exact same words before he could get them out.
It didn’t take too long for us to wind down and laugh our butts off over the whole thing, but as I recall we avoided Mr. Gregory for a while after that.