Most people claim that the Abominable Snowman is a myth, but I know he is real. In fact, I know he can even fly. I actually witnessed the Flight of the Abominable Snowman. Or, Snowmen, because there were two.
The neighborhood where I grew up was an island of sorts. A raging river flowed through wild forests to our north. The wilds of Dare Devil Hill flanked our south. Giant fields stretched to our east. And another tribe claimed the land to our west.
I might have had something of a vivid imagination as a child. For example, we crossed that raging river to our north every day on our walks to and from my elementary school. On most days, I was successful jumping across its breadth. On the days I failed, my sneakers got wet. That wild river may have been only a few feet across and a couple of inches deep, but I thought of it as the wildest white water adventure.
On the weekends, we played in that wild forest – a couple of acres of trees nestled between neighborhoods. We had forts and hideouts and knew every square foot.
Dare Devil Hill was at least 6-7 feet high and surrounded by a couple of acres of vacant field. We rode our bikes through that field – and the bravest among us would ride our bikes up and down Dare Devil Hill (yes, we really did call it that. Of course, we all rode our bikes up and down. Once you received a Double Dog Dare, you had no choice but to tackle the challenge).
The giant fields to our east? The baseball and football fields of the High School I would go to in just a few years. We might have played on those fields quite a bit, even though it was strictly forbidden to do so.
And that tribe to our west? An apartment complex filled with kids . . . classmates and friends for 12 years.
We neighborhood kids were a tight knit group. We roamed across the entire neighborhood – all 52 houses – and ventured into those wild forests, forded that raging river, challenged Dare Devil Hill, played in those fields, and visited that neighboring tribe.
When we couldn’t sneak onto those high school fields, our cul-de-sac was our baseball diamond and our football field (tackles hurt). We road our bikes on the roads in addition to Dare Devil Hill and the field around it. We played hide and seek among the yards.
But, snow was the best. The white-out conditions, the drifts over your head, the arctic winds. Oh, and living in a Southern small town, that same imagination that gave my neighborhood such adventures certainly helped with my visions of winter. Being a fan of Jack London helped, too. The reality was that we would be lucky to get a couple of snows a winter that afforded us decent sledding weather.
We had many sledding routes, which essentially mirrored our bicycle kamikaze rides the other 50 weeks a year, but one was a favorite. When we had enough snow (sadly, not often enough), we could start the sled at the top of our driveway, careen down the slope (another childhood memory of steepness dashed when revisited as an adult), and across the cul-de-sac. With enough speed, we could enter the top of Kevin’s driveway, speed by his house and through his back yard (dodging quite real pine trees). Kevin’s back yard connected to Tim’s back yard which, of course, connected to Tim’s front yard.
And that is where the real fun waited. Tim’s front yard really was steep (to us kids) and you could get great speed just in time to cross the neighborhood road (fortunately, few cars ever came down that road) and into Kenny’s yard. Now Kenny’s yard was flat and, usually, you stopped about half way through. Which was good because that raging river was real, if only a few inches deep and a couple of feet wide. Failing to stop in time resulted in a very real splash down. We might have done that a couple of times over the years.
One particular winter, we had a couple of days of really good snow. Well, for us, really good snow. We had been making the run from my house, through Kevin’s yard, through Tim’s yard, and into Kenny’s yard (and mostly stopping before the creek) many, many times. The trail was becoming packed down, icy, and quite slick – all the better to go faster and faster.
My father, as fathers are apt, thought this looked like fun. He asked us to describe the route. We did, downplaying the potential danger of crossing the road between Tim’s and Kenny’s yards. Then he asked if we would let him borrow our sled and do it himself. At this point, we thought it was wise to explain the creek to him. He appreciated the extra information and promised to stop in time. We hoped that he wouldn’t just for the laugh.
Another neighbor, overhearing the course description, decided he wanted to try, too. Having seen us stack 2, 3 and even 4 boys deep on a single sled, they decided that it would be more fun for the two of them to share the same sled rather than borrowing two sleds. My father lay down on the sled. The neighbor lay down on his back. And they started off down our driveway.
Physics is an interesting thing. I will admit that, at the age of 8, I did not fully grasp all of the details, but I did realize that extra weight would get your sled going faster. But two or three – or even four – boys stacked on a sled did not come close to the weight of two full grown men on a sled. Nor did we ever come close to matching their speed.
They crossed the cul-de-sac laughing and entered Kevin’s front yard. They laughter might have hesitated as they dodged the giant pine trees dotting Kevin and Tim’s respective yards, but they cleared all of the obstacles despite the fact the trees whizzed by in blurs. Like a roller coaster clicking to the pinnacle of that giant first hill, they were about to hit the steepest descent of all.
At which point one of us – I think it was my older brother – asked if we had thought to mention the manhole.
Our neighborhood had a network of drain lines to catch the rainfall and deposit it in the raging river previously mentioned. We knew those drain lines well, where they branched throughout the neighborhood, and where the various access points were. It is just the sort of things boys learn about their neighborhoods.
Dads tend to be less knowledgeable about those things.
Which leads us to that one particular manhole. Right on the property line of Tim’s front yard – about half way down that steep hill, was one of those access points. A concrete pipe was flush with the uphill portion of the ground, but several inches above the lower ground because of the slope. This created an amazing ramp, but each of us had learned the agony of the landing – right in the middle of the street below.
Again, dads tend to be less knowledgeable about those things.
So the answer to that question was, no, none of us had thought to mention the manhole cover ramp that they were approaching at the near speed of light, 350 pounds or so of combined human weight racing on a kid’s sled across a packed, icy track.
We watched, all giggling about how funny this was going to be.
If they had missed the manhole, all would have been fine (though they probably would have not only splashed through that raging river, they would have crossed it and careened into those wild woods – that had very real trees).
If they had hit the manhole with both metal runners, they would have done a spectacular Evil Knievel ramp across the Grand Canyon. Yeah, Knievel never jumped the Grand Canyon, but he was sure talking about it then. And he had already made many spectacular jumps (and crashes). We kids were all in awe and imagined how spectacular it was going to be. And we thought we were about to see our own neighborhood version of it.
Unfortunately, they didn’t miss the manhole. And they didn’t hit it with both runners. They hit with just one runner. And they never saw the manhole cover before impact.
We did, however, see the amazing corkscrewing sled and two human bodies somersaulting through the air. The flight was astounding. The crash landing was awesome. It was the stuff of legends.
As young boys, of course, we were mature about it.
Oh, please, we laughed until we hurt. We howled. We hooted. We cheered.
They groaned and eventually picked themselves up out of the snow.
We asked if they wanted to go again. Amazingly, they declined.
We took our slightly mangled sled back to the top of the hill, and took off again. We all tried to recreate the Flight of the Abominable Snowman, but no one ever quite achieved the same artful level.
Even today, in that mythical land sandwiched between a raging river, vast fields, a neighboring tribe, and giant car repair business (Dare Devil Hill was long bulldozed over), they probably still talk about The Flight of The Abominable Snowmen.