Patty Czepiel Hayes
Snowmobiling has never been a passion of mine, but since I'm
usually willing to try new things, I agreed to give it a go. This
past winter my husband Johnny purchased a "touring" sled, a two-seater
with heated handlebars, storage compartments for snacks and beverages,
and an adjustable backrest. This sled seemed perfect for the lazy,
cold, hungry passenger with bad posture (me). It's also quieter
than older models, so I decided it was acceptable. (I'm not in
favor of disturbing humans or wildlife, and would prefer that
these things made no noise at all.)
We live in the "flatlands" as we like to call Hadley, and are
surrounded by open fields and snowmobile trails. Born and bred
New Englanders, Johnny and I vow each year to embrace the winter,
or at least try to find ways to get through it. So after purchasing
the necessary helmets, boots and outer wear (I was thrilled to
find a purple helmet to match my snowsuit), we were ready for
We joined a local snowmobile club in order to use the official
trails around town, and for the first few outings made only short
trips to friends' houses, out to breakfast, dinner, etc.. (In
the process I discovered that I'm nervous while riding, but feel
very cool walking into a restaurant looking like a purple astronaut.)
After a few weeks of this, we were ready to do a little exploring;
we left Hadley.
For the most part we stayed on flat, stable terrain, still in
the open fields. I remained the passenger, hanging on to my own
set of heated handlebars, trying to see around the back of my
husband's helmet. I learned to lean left or right when necessary,
in order to balance the sled during turns. Johnny offered me the
chance to drive more than once, but I was comfortable leaning
against the backrest, and liked being closer to the snacks in
the rear compartment.
After an hour or two of easy riding, we got adventurous and went
off into wooded trails. We ended up in Sunderland (although I
don't think we knew that at the time), on a small mountain. The
trail was extremely narrow, with a series of steep hills and trees
all around. The first few inclines seemed very scary to me, but
I trusted Johnny and assumed he knew what he was doing. (Which
he did, as he has had previous experience driving these things.)
Eventually we came to a very steep, very long, winding hill. There
was ice under the snow (naturally) and I was sure we'd slide off
the side of the trail into the trees. I realized too late that
I wanted to turn around, but we'd already started down.
Johnny maneuvered the sled down this terrible hill, using the
breaks in a seemingly skilled way. We followed the trail slowly,
skidding here and there, mostly in control, twisting and turning
around the trees. By the time we got to the bottom I was paralyzed
with fear. I wanted to go home but couldn't let go of the handlebars
long enough to lift my visor so Johnny could hear my pleading.
We continued on, me thinking about our return trip up that hill.
I hoped we'd find an alternate route when the time came.
After another hour of riding in the woods on trails that were
absolutely beautiful, I started to relax. We continued exploring,
occasionally stopping at intersections (yes, there are intersections)
debating which trails to take. Most are marked with signs, but
not all. At one point we realized we were heading in the wrong
direction. We tried to turn around and immediately got stuck in
deep snow. Luckily the snowmobile has reverse for just such an
occasion. Unfortunately, this particular machine is a little fussy
about shifting, and the reverse will not engage unless you shut
the engine off first and then restart it. (We'll have to get that
The moral of this part of the story is: never shut off your snowmobile
when you're out in the middle of nowhere, at 3 in the afternoon,
in thick woods, in deep snow, on a cold day, when you've already
eaten all your snacks, and when you're not entirely sure what
town you're in.
For whatever reason, it wouldn't restart.
So there we were, standing around wondering how we were going
to get home. It was a long walk out of the woods, the snow was
very deep, and Johnny didn't want to abandon his new sled just
yet. We left the snowmobile sit, and passed the time discussing
the lack of remaining daylight. After 15 minutes of resting, the
snowmobile started again. All fears aside, we turned around and
happily headed back home.
And then we came to that terrible hill. This time we had to go
up of course. There were no alternate routes, or at least none
that we knew about. (Just one more reason never to go exploring
without someone else who's familiar with the trails.) Before attempting
this horrifying incline, I should have gotten off and walked.
But once again, hindsight is 20/20. We got a running start as
they say, and up we went.
And we didn't make it.
We had the speed (at first), we dodged the trees, but at about
7/8 of the way up, things went …well, downhill. We were losing
too much speed, probably because of the ice (and the passenger).
I could see the top of the hill and knew we weren't going to get
there. With about 10 feet to go, we slowed to a crawl, came to
a horrifying pause, (a moment of suspended animation, or purgatory)
and then started to slide backwards. BACKWARDS! Out of control,
and backwards. With me, in the back.
That was pretty much when I decided I'd had enough of snowmobiling.
I jumped off. Before making that decision, I remember thinking
something like, "The hell with this, I'm outta here." I jumped
up and to the side, landing neatly on my feet in the woods. I
turned and waved goodbye to Johnny as he skidded backwards down
the hill, like a captain refusing to leave his ship. He was yelling
"Are you all right?" and I just kept waving. I lost sight of him
around a turn and stood there numbly for several minutes hoping
he hadn't crashed. I couldn't even hear the sled's engine anymore.
I knew he'd go all the way back down, if he made it, past where
we'd started, to get a bigger jump on the hill. Personally, I
would have jumped off too if I were him, but he had just bought
the machine and he was determined to save it. (My priorities are
a little different.) I also knew that he'd be able to see better
behind him without me in the way.
After a few more minutes of paralysis, I forced myself to walk
to the top of the hill, mainly so I wouldn't get run over when
or if he came back up. The trail was solid blue ice now because
the machine had taken all of the snow with it when it slid backwards.
Silence. I was starting to think I'd have to walk down to find
But then I heard the sled, and a few minutes later he came flying
along right to the top. He was in one piece, and laughing, almost
hysterically you might say. I don't think I laughed until we were
The rest of the trip home was on flat land, which is where we
plan to snowmobile from now on.
That night Johnny bought a chocolate mousse cake and ate the
entire thing in one sitting. He said that on way down the hill
he was thinking, "If I survive this, I'm going to buy myself a
chocolate mousse cake today."