I live for danger. It gets my heart pounding, It makes me feel more alive. It stirs my soul. I like it so much at times I fear I’m addicted to it. Addicted to danger. There are worse forms of addiction, I suppose, but this is not a healthy addiction either.
During the winter my brother and I used the flying saucer and toboggan ride down the side of the gully behind the corrals. It was difficult enough we didn’t really enjoy climbing up it in the summer and usually took the Cat trail behind the chicken coop, which was wide enough to drive a Cat up, hence the name. The suicide run, on the other hand, was a trail that a person could navigate the toboggan through safely if you positioned it just right and didn’t so much as sneeze on the way down. My treasured run was like threading a speeding car through a very narrow tunnel, which makes for exciting scenes in the movies, but is best left to the professionals. Those warnings, you know the ones, do not try this at home, are there for a reason. However, youth being what it is, stupid mainly, I did the run every chance I got.
Those chances were few and far between because Mother went into fits when she guessed we were up to something like the famed run. Well, actually it wasn’t too famous since we bribed the younger ones to keep quiet, but it was famous to us. Aside from Mother’s unwavering views on going down steep banks covered with trees on a toboggan when there was a perfectly safe road to ride down, my stepdad was of the opinion if we had that much energy we could do something productive like dig a hole for the new fuel tank or some other energy-burning activity. Energy conservation was not in his vocabulary when it came to kids.
This was one of those perfect days. The folks went to sell some cows and that meant we had the ranch to ourselves. They wouldn’t be home until well after dark since a trip to town also meant a trip to the bar.
Kids gone wild. Cowboy style.
Jim and Kathy followed us to the edge of the gully. Jim was carrying one of his favorite chickens. I’m not sure which one it was since he had a lot of favorite chickens. Truth be known, probably about 500 of them because he never met a chicken he didn’t like, Gary looked down the new path I discovered and shook his head. He wasn’t too sure about my plan to go rocketing down the hill between the trees, but I assured him it would be fun. Did I say I was addicted to danger?
I even did a test run on the saucer which was about the same width, but round like an upside down flying saucer, which I guess is why they called them saucers. It actually looked more like a china saucer, but where is the adventure in riding on a large, red plastic saucer like a teacup? The manufacturers knew kids craved exciting, outer space stuff, adventure, and, yes, danger. The saucer, therefore, had a flying saucer embossed into it in between the rope handles.
So, there I was, adventurer extraordinaire, in my two pairs of longhandles, worn out Wranglers, worn out boots, vest, jacket and a second down-filled vest, leather gloves and my faithful chocolate brown Bailey hat. Now, even with some extra sizing in it, since it had been mashed a lot and had seen its better days, it wasn’t much of a crash helmet and I didn’t look much like a dashing heroine with all those clothes on. Even though I fancied myself a sharp dresser at times, I had to admit this wasn’t one of them. I resembled a relative of the Goodyear mascot in various shades of brown and very faded denim blue. I flipped the end of my scarf over my shoulder, much like I imagined one of those World War I flying aces might have done, and gathered up my ride, the Red Rocket Flying Saucer.
Even the bulls got curious by this time and stood around in a semi-circle behind the smaller semi-circle of siblings, who were anxiously watching. Julie doing something stupid wasn’t new, but a person has to take their entertainment where they can get it on a ranch.
“I’m not dragging you up that hill if you kill yourself,” Gary said. I told myself it was his way of encouraging me to do well.
I smiled, waved, said a small prayer and got on my saucer. That sucker can get some speed up even without me waxing it, which I had considered. Those trees flew by in a gray and white blur, low hanging branches were so close they whipped at my clothes as I hurtled down the bank screaming and laughing all the way. I had so much speed up at the bottom I rocketed a good long ways down the bottom and up the other side before coming to a rocky halt. Thus the suicide run was born.
I trudged back, dragging my saucer behind and grinning like an old maid with a secret. The addiction was sated, for a short time.
Gary wanted me to try it one more time before he did to make sure it wasn’t luck on my part. I was rather wounded, since I was positive it was pure, unadulterated skill on my part as I wove my magic rocket down that narrow path. He should have known better than to think it was luck. I am one of the unluckiest people there are. I once took a short cut back to the ranch from a dance and got stranded in a blizzard for three days. Luck is plainly not part of my genetic makeup. Even so, it didn’t bother me to take another ride since, you know, I am addicted to danger.
The second trip was ever better and faster than the first since I had already packed the snow a bit. Gary was still not sure, but agreed to go on the third try. He, like me, came crawling back up the bank with a smile so wide he could eat corn off the cob in one bite.
“Told you it was fun,” I said as he reached the top.
I could tell he was addicted also. And therein lies the sign of a true addict. You not only want to feel the thrill yourself, but you want others to feel it with you.
“Let’s do the toboggan,” I said. “We can lay down to cut the wind resistance and really get up some speed.”
“I don’t know. There isn’t as much control on the toboggan,” he objected. “Won’t have hardly any if you’re laying down on it.”
How could he so quickly forget the excited screams of Jim and Kathy as we shot down the gully? How could he forget the thrill? Obviously, he wasn’t quite as hooked as I was. It would take a bit more priming to get him onboard with this new thrill.
“Well, I’m going to,” I said as I screwed my hat down tight. The secret to being a cow person was to never lose your hat no matter how bad the wreck. It didn’t much matter if that cow you just roped decided to come charging back around your horse and wind you up like a top, which invariably caused said horse to break in two like a July Fourth bronc, you never lose your hat. It’s a rule. Part of the old west. Part of the cowboy code.
I sighted down the path like a pool shark lining up a shot and positioned the toboggan just right.
“I ain’t dragging you up the hill if you kill yourself,” Gary said.
I nodded stoically in my best female Gary Cooper fashion and touched the brim of my hat in acknowledgement.
“I’ll drag you out,” Jim offered. “Charlie won’t mind.”
I knew Jim just wanted an excuse to get the draft horse out and use him and was probably hoping I would at least break a leg, but I appreciated the offer.
Wind resistance does make a difference. I was airborne more than once and this time it was a good thing. Most of the time I was in the air because I just got bucked off a horse and was very close to getting my head planted in the ground. That’s kind of exciting also, but this was a good excitement. I was sure every coyote within five miles left for parts unknown after all my whooping and screaming.
I got a little tired of trudging up that bank and the toboggan was heavy, but it was worth it.
“Ready to try it?” I huffed, when I reached the top of the hill.
The milk cow, who wasn’t surprised by much or interested in anything other than feed, joined the crowd of onlookers. Topper, my stepdad’s gray mare, reached over and bit her to encourage her to move. The cow bawled and kicked, but moved. All the stock understood Topper was the stud duck of the animal kingdom and tried to avoid her ill temper. So with six bulls, a milk cow, various chickens, an ill-tempered mare and the rest of the horses, two siblings and me, a frail girl, to encourage him, I was sure my brother would want to taste the thrill of victory or at least lots of flying snow, which tastes a lot like victory under the right circumstances.
“I ain’t going down that hill on that thing.”
He was clearly not addicted to danger.
“I’ll go again. It’s safe.”
“You go again, then I’ll go,” he agreed with hesitation. “I ain’t dragging—”
“I know. You’re not dragging me up if I kill myself.”
Jim grinned at me and did the thumbs up. “Me and Charlie will though.”
I once again carefully lined the toboggan up and pushed away. Somewhere on the way down I clipped a tree, which sent the toboggan flying into the air. I’m pretty sure there are one hundred and seventy-three trees flanking suicide run and I hit everyone one of them. I felt like one of those balls in a pinball machine. The only thing missing was that dinging, but my ringing head was filling in, so it was a fairly accurate pinball machine imitation. My siblings screamed in excitement since I was no longer doing so. I finally stopped rolling somewhere near the cut going up to the chicken coop and just laid there. The toboggan slid to a halt near me.
“You dead?” Jim called down after me.
I sort of wished I was, but I wasn’t. “Nope,” I called back after a while.
I could hear a faint trace of hope in his voice. “You hurt? Want me to get Charlie?”
“Nope, I’m fine.”
If my stepdad found out I messed around and hurt myself bad enough to necessitate being hauled out of the draw by a horse he would make sure to find a way to burn some of my youthful energy next time they went to town.
I groaned and rolled over.
“You sure?” Jim called again, now sounding quite disappointed as hope for his opportunity to get Charlie out faded.
“Yep. I’m fine.” The treked back up that blasted bank, dragging the toboggan, which I was quite sure weighed three hundred pounds. It took a while as I crawled, limped and clawed my way up. Long enough for the bulls, horses, milk cow and one of my siblings to abandon me in my time of defeat.
To my credit, I kept my hat on during the pell-mell flight down the hill.