Sunday, January 12, 2014

Snow Tubing and Sipping Hot Chocolate

"Snow Tubing and Sipping Hot Chocolate"
Darrel Hammon 

Snow—something that the Caribbean and the Dominican Republic have never seen and probably will never see, except, maybe in pictures. Of course, when I was growing up, the snows came in thick bundles, and then the perennial eastern Idaho winds blew the snow until it piled high in driveways, on the roads, and over our fences. 
The winters in Menan, Idaho, bring memories of snow and more snow. Dad pulled us on sleds or tubes behind the car, particularly the white station wagon and the old tractor. Even then I didn’t think much of the dangers. I’m sure Dad was driving safely and exercised all points of caution. The best part of winters, it seemed, was going tubing.
When we lived in Lewiston, Idaho, some years ago, we had to drive out of Lewiston a few dozen miles to places where snow actually stayed on the ground. That particular winter, we had a Korean exchange student living with us. What an experience that was! After the big snow storm, we joined her group of exchange students at Field Springs, a local tubing hot spot. 
She had never been tubing before so Hailey, my then 11-year-old, showed how it was done. But it took our student time before she conjured up the courage to go. Finally, she and another Korean student climbed on an old tractor tire tube and sped down the hill. After that, we had a difficult time getting her to quit and go home.
When I was a kid, tubing in the winter was as common as snow itself. And the best place to tube was the sand dunes between Rexburg and St. Anthony. In the summer, they served as the basis for picnics and frolics in the sand. In the winter, they metamorphosed into wicked hills with awesome jumps and dangerous moguls. I’m sure if I saw my daughters doing what we did, I suspect I wouldn’t let them even go tubing.
The tubes usually came from John Deere 4020s or maybe smaller or maybe even a Massey-Ferguson or two. To young people, those tubes were huge. Some of them carried patches over previous wounds. If we ever had to patch a tire, we just loaded up the tube in the back of the pickup and headed over to the Menan Co-op. Usually, either Melvin or Elmo Hall or Milt McIntire took great care in patching the tire while talking to us about what was going on.
We always bundled up, either in a snowmobile suit or insulated coveralls. Mother made sure we had warm socks to wear inside those awful green snow pacs. Some of the others wore snowmobile boots or galoshes over their cowboy boots, the ones with pointy toes. Feet needed to be dry and warm.
After making sure we were warm, we hit the slopes. At first, we tackled the easy ones with very few bumps, just long gliding stretches that enlivened us. The worst part was walking back up the hill. Before too long, though, we were ready for the more dangerous hills.
We sauntered to the edge and began the preparations. We made trains of tubes, often two or three kids on one tube. We stretched our legs to the next tube where the riders clung to our legs. Soon we were ready to sail down the hill. Someone usually had to push us to get us started. Or we just scooted our feet along the ground, gaining momentum on the way.
It was quite a sight to see a train of almost a dozen tubes with a couple dozen young people flying down a particular hill with a wicked jump either in the middle or at the end or both. The best part was being a part of the train, the worst being in the middle.
Often, the jumps took their toll on the riders. Frequently, we sailed so high—or at least in our minds we sailed high—that we failed to hang on to the legs of those in back of us. Consequently, the flying tubes became enmeshed with flying people and flying boots and sometimes even gloves. Even more often, we all ended up at the bottom in one giant heap, the bottom people yelling for everyone else to get off. After we rested for awhile, we climbed the hill to try it again. 
As I look back on it all now, I wonder how we walked away without more injuries than we did. Granted, a few bumps and bruises, a broken arm, and a sprain leg or arm became the norm on most trips. How we managed not to break our necks or back still mystifies me even today.
Perhaps the best part of the tubing trip was gathering around the vehicles, sipping hot chocolate from Styrofoam cups and discussing the proceedings of the day. With each sip, the jumps turned larger than life, the air we caught even more so. But it was nice to crawl into a warm car and reminisce about our adventures as we trundled back home.

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