Risk and Reward

Posted: January 18, 2014 in Culture, Idle Nonsense

A couple of my coworkers were griping recently about Chicago weather, even before recent extreme cold brought by the polar vortex (which is expected to return). Complaints focused on the cold and wind, but driving in the snow was singled out for special attention. I prepare for weather, but it wouldn’t occur to me to complain too much about it. Their reticence to go out and brave the elements brought to mind how in my youth we never thought twice about it; we were always outside, even on subzero days. The more snow, the better, and we would spend snow days off from school greedily and deliriously happy out on the hills from 9 a.m. until dark, not even stopping for food. I remember coming in one time soaking from sweat and snowmelt, the inside wrists of my sleeves completely caked with ice buildup I hadn’t even noticed. That boyhood sledding was on hills formed from worn-down bluffs carved long ago by the Missouri River in the northern suburbs of Kansas City. Chicago has no such hills, so winter sports here are of a fundamentally different sort, as I suppose they are in the Rockies and other mountainous climes.

Recently, I caught sight of an ad for the Hammerhead Pro X sled, offered for around $150:
It’s a far cry from the basic wood-and-steel sled of my youth, though those traditional types are still available. If the Hammerhead, made from high-tech materials, is built for speed and control (and adults), sleds of my youth were definitely more inclined toward reckless abandon. Indeed, it always seemed to me that the reward of all that climbing, cold, and effort was being enough out of control to have some fear but enough in control to master both sled and fear. We took our sleds over and off every jump and ramp and drop we could find, sometimes ending with bloody noses when the landing was too hard. I also saw my share of fools who risked a lot more than I ever did on toboggans and cafeteria trays — something they often regretted in hindsight. My one such learning experience was being goaded into riding off a ramp on top of a piece of sheet metal or metal siding someone had brought, which launched me somewhat higher into the air than I expected and with complete loss of control since there was absolutely nothing to hold onto. Luckily, no injury resulted, just a hard landing on my butt. A favorite memory is once executing a 360° powerslide on a patch of refrozen snow crust and then sledding straight out of it. I tried to repeat it several times that same day without success; it was a once-in-a-lifetime move.

The reward of extreme sports is something now left to far younger people than me. I blame Mountain Dew and the X Games for raising the risk bar higher and higher, with predictable results. I participate in endurance sports, but obstacle races, mountain biking (including downhill on ski slopes), skiing and snowboarding, and a variety of other risky endeavors are now things of the past for me. The rewards are no longer worth the risk.

  1. Brian Miller says:

    Well, I have to say, one of the reasons I like your blog postings is that they showcase an interesting range of interests, collapse, TED talks, music theory and now sledding. It was nice that you do not offer up a reason as to why people were not out enjoying the recent snow, just an observation. It turned out to be a nice lovely memory of growing up.

    I often refer jokingly to some of the homes in our farming valley as being inhabited by vampires. You can drive by for years. There will be cars in the drive, children’s toys scattered around the yard and on weekends there will be a few extra vehicles from visitors. The yard will back up to fields and woods. Yet, never will you see a soul outside. Do they only come out at night?

    Who knows? But why would one live 30 minutes to an hour from the city, out in the country, if your only exposure to the outside is from car door to front door?


    PS Pretty cool sled though. Makes me recall getting my purple Spider bike with the banana seat. Man, had I arrived!

    • Brutus says:

      Oh, I had the spider bike, too, which like the sleds went off ramps, jumps, and drops galore. The thing was a tank and could take all the abuse I dished.

      Thanks for your compliment. You know that I can rant about absolutely anything (why are there no more plain old everyday pens and pencils?), but the Hammerhead sled sparked something else this time.

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