Monday, February 11, 2013

Making Tracks

We were forecast on Friday to get the Storm of the Millennium, which turned out to be rather a nonevent in the Philadelphia suburbs but did pack a wallop further up the I-95 corridor.

Despite only getting a few inches, however, I was really heartened to see some tracks on a small hill near our house.

Not deer tracks. Not rabbit. Not cat or dog.


There is a retaining basin on the back end of the circle on which our house is situated, and some kids had grabbed their flying saucers, raced to the hill, and spent some time zipping down.

Sledding seems to be fading from popularity, at least as far as I have witnessed. Probably too antithetical to kids' desires these days to spend a wintry day camping out in front of cable. Or igloo-ing with their iPhones. 

I know in years past, we have taken our girls to that very hill on the retaining basin for sledding, and after about a half hour or so, they're cold and tired and have had enough.

When we were younger, sledding was an all-day activity. The best place for it was near a quadrant of baseball fields. This wide plane dropped off to a steep hill at the back end, perfect for careening down at breakneck speeds. 

Or breakarm.

Or breakleg. 

We called it Steel Field, as it was situated on Steel Road. And like thousands of sledding sites across America, it had a Killer Hill, a section that seemed steeper, faster, and more fraught with danger than the other areas.

I seem to remember one of my brothers -- was eldest Sean if I'm remembering right -- fracturing some bone or other when his sled slammed into a tree on Killer Hill.

Winter wasn't winter without at least one kid getting creamed. Liability issues be damned.

If the trees didn't get you, there was a small creek that posed the constant threat of soakage to those who couldn't stop in time. Nothing put an end to an afternoon of sledding quicker than cracking through the sheen of ice that covered this small rivulet and emerging dripping wet.

If the natural obstacles weren't enough to get your pulse pounding, there were always a few man-made thrills as well. We'd heap up snow into moguls that resulted in sufficient airtime to ensure your teeth would crack together as you landed.

Our sleds of choice were the venerable Flexible Flyers. I've since learned that Flexible Flyers were invented by a Philadelphian, who pioneered the idea that a sled might be improved upon if the darned thing could actually be steered. Steering was essential on Killer Hill; it seemed like every year the kids who sustained the most physical damage were the ones who opted for either toboggans or, worse, those round plastic saucers.

Flexible Flyers became the gold standard for us because of their hearty construction. They were virtually indestructible, evidenced by the fact that I still have mine and it is still usable (well seemingly usable; I haven't ridden it for decades, but it seems solid enough). They also offered a variety of riding styles: You could either sit upright and steer with the feet or lie down -- bellyflop style -- and grab the steering bar with both hands. The advantage to the latter technique was the ability to run toward the hill and build up a head of steam speed-wise.

On snowy afternoons, we walked to Steel Field, dragging our Flexible Flyers behind us, leashed to our mittened fingers by a hunk of clothesline. We sledded all day and, cheeks an applejack red, staggered all the way home, chilled to the bone and exhausted. It was rare that a pot of hot chocolate wasn't waiting for us, courtesy of Mom.

Never happen today. Kids don't walk anywhere, and the suggestion that they do so would be met with blank stares. At least it would from my kids. And those liability issues are now causing sledders to wear helmets.


Geez, the next thing you know, sleds will be outfitted with brakes, horns, and seat belts.

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