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The Event: The First Annual Brother Fraternity-Sister Sorority Winter Drink, Dance, and Tickle Festival Field Trip. We were social young animals in our late teens and early twenties, not to mention that out mental elevators did not stop at every floor.
The Time: January 1966, ten-ish in the morning or thereabouts.
Where: The Olympic bobsled complex, Mount Van Hoevenberg, Lake Placid, New York.
Why: To experience the thrill of riding a sled down the side of an icy mountain where serious injury or death was possible.
The Waiver: Each rider had to sign a waiver stating that, in the event of serious injury or death, we agreed not to hold the State of New York (the owner) responsible for the serious injury or death. The minute I signed it, I felt like dead man walking. Or rather, like dead man doing poo in his pants.
There was no way I could back out, though, because the only girl amongst us chose me for her partner. Quite forcefully chose me, nearly pulling my right arm out of its socket. “Hey, watch it, that’s my pitching arm!” I barked, knowing that I couldn’t sue the State of New York for a dislocated shoulder. “Oh, are you on the baseball team?” she asked. “Nope, ping-pong,” I replied.
The Preliminaries: Our “ride” was a four-man model—in our case, a three-man-one-woman model—stripped-down to just the bare frame with gear shift-like knobs to hang on to. There was a professional driver, the redhead behind him (did I mention the girl had two tons of beautiful red hair?), then me (the ping-pong pitcher), and finally the professional brakeman. The verbose driver gave us our instructions: “Just sit there.”
The Ride: Only the two pros pushed the sled before jumping on, so we got off to a slow start. The run was straight for a bit to gain speed, and then we came to the first turn. A baby turn as I soon found out, but scream city anyway at suddenly riding sideways.
Like many things, the reality was quite different than watching it on TV. Down there on the ground the walls of ice looked HUGE and all encompassing, like a cocoon. All I could see was ice coming at us, faster and faster, while the wind slapped me in the face and every bump, hundreds of bumps from re-frozen ice and other sleds, rattled through my entire body. Fresh and smooth Zambonied ice? No fooking way.
Just when I thought I was getting used to sliding sideways on either right or left curves, we came to the famous
where the sled went nearly upside-down to the left and then immediately upside-down to the right before straightening out. Even though the team didn’t take us close to the lip, it was a thrill and a ½.
Finally, after the last curve, we came out of the cocoon to sunlight, trees, people, and a cloud of snow as the brakeman stopped the sled on an incline. With nary a word to us, the pros picked up the sled, carried it to the dump truck transport, and rode back to the top to be with their own kind.
I found out later that our top speed was 40mph, but mostly in the 35mph range. The sledders, lugers, and skeletons of today are insane, not to mention lunatics. But for me, riding a bobsled was the craziest thing I’d done in my young life, and I loved every minute of it.
Your freckles are wind burned,” I told Red.
“Yeah, so are yours,” she laughed. “I didn’t know they had pitchers in ping-pong.”
“Pitchers!” I exclaimed. “Lettuce go to the lodge and quaff a couple.”
I was on familiar ground now; this was, after all, the Tickle Festival.