Sunday, January 22, 2012

The Toboggan Run

"It's still snowing"

Jen looked up from her magazine photos of the lush warm beaches of Vietnam.
"Cliff Mass sure got this one wrong", I said with the slightest bit of jest; I am a big fan of Cliff and he is spot on nine times out of ten.  I can be forgiving, as the man IS trying to predict the weather.

"That Cliff!"  Jen responded with her characteristic tight lipped smile and nod of the head, followed up quickly by a not-so-subtle hint of, "Vietnam sure looks sunny and warm."

You can take a girl out of Southern California, but you can't take Southern California out of girl, I think to myself with smile.

What was forecasted to be freezing rain continued to blanket dry white powder over North Seattle all day long.  Three days into to SNOWMAGDON 2012, I was beginning to catch a bit of cabin fever and I think Jenny could tell.

"I am going to walk to the gym and work out", I announced without the least bit of enthusiasm  in my voice.

"Do you wanna go out sledding with me?" Jenny responded.

The thought of getting outside with my wife for a couple hours sounded way more appealing than pull-ups and deadlifts, "You bet!"

We suited up in our best winter garb and Jen threw on the kettle for a couple of hot thermoses;  we were out the Front Door in 15 minutes.

"Should we take a garbage can lid?" Jen asked as we trudged out to the street through seven inches of snow.

"Oh no, we'll just steal a sled from the neighbors; come on, follow me."

I led out the driveway and just two houses down Jen and I scored; an authentic made-in-china four foot  black plastic toboggan.  Escaping the scene of the crime we headed south on Phinney Ridge through neighborhoods of turn of the century craftsmen homes.  Phinney Ridge runs North and South about two miles rising 300 feet out of out Greenlake to the East, and falling 350 feet to Ballard and the Puget Sound  beyond to the the West.  Needless to say, Phinney Ridge has some steep hills and thus prime sledding real estate when the infrequent snows come to the lowlands of the Pacific Northwest.

Two runs on the sidewalk of 79th and we bypassed a crowd of mom's screaming "that's far enough!" to  ten-year old children armed with snow saucers climbing the street hill above them .  Two great powder runs in an alley and we kept heading south carried by rumors of steep streets closed off from the dangers of automobile traffic.

Orange cones and a gathering of people at in the intersection of 70th and Fremont announced that we had arrived.  A helmeted man cradling his two-year old daughter in his lap sped past in a saucer from the street above at 15 mph and shot downhill into the block below.

"They are going fast", I remarked with a concern in my voice.  Visions of the headlines ran through my head:

North Seattle Teacher and Wife Decapitated in Phinney Ridge Sledding Accident.

 Jenny nodded in silent agreement.  "What do you think?"

"I think we should walk up there and just have a look" I said and commenced stomping up the steep sidewalk with toboggan in tow.

As we crested the hill and moved into the middle of the street a distinguished looking man nearer to my fathers' age than my own emerged from his garage and slowly walked into the middle of the street.  He wore a thick white beard and carried a sled with railed steering.  Closely behind him followed a woman I assumed to be his wife.

"I bet that thing steers well", I remarked with envy.

"She steers well", he responded dryly with quite confidence as he lay belly-down on the sled in the middle of the street.  The woman followed suit and lay down on top of the man without hesitation or a flicker of emotion shown on her stoic face.  She seemed to me quite bored with the whole operation as if they had been repeating this exact same ritual for the past 30 years.  She plopped down on top of him and gave a little push.  Off they they went.

Alone at the top of the hill we chose our line and reviewed proper safety procedures.  "You go in front and try to keep your feet in; steer with your hands" I reminded Jenny, although I didn't really know what I was talking about.  We settled in our plastic rocket, pointed our nose down hill and gave a little push.  We picked up speed quickly and cleared the traffic circle in a block without incident and dropped through Fremont Ave into lower 70th Street; I pressed my gloved hands into compact ice to our sides as I tried to retain some semblance of control over our vehicle.  Breaking my own rules, I threw my feet out of the toboggan and dug my heels in attempt to control our speed.  Although my feet met the most immediate requirement of significantly reducing our velocity, it also had the unintended effect of plowing a steady stream of dirty snow and ice into Jen's face.  My wife's vision is less-than-perfect to start with and my braking maneuver, while well intentioned did little more than reduce us to an uncontrolled blind plastic missile.
Although not aiming for the jump, let alone aware of its existence, we hit it squarely at about 10 mph and caught good air before we knew what was happening.
For a moment, all was well.  A blink of weightless flight in the stark snowy night; how Santa must feel driving his sleigh through the crisp air of a winter eve.  But unlike Santa, Jenny and I abide by the laws of gravity; we all know that what goes up, must eventually come down.  I flashed back to my Lutheran Pre-School and having my chair pulled out unknowingly from underneath me by Brett Schwartzmiller as my rear slammed into the ground sending a rattle up my spine to the tip of my skull.
We pulled to a stop, stood slowly and assessed the damage.  Nothing broken, but two sore asses were diagnosed for the morning!

The helmeted father and 2-year old hiked past on their way back up the hill.
"Having fun?" the father questioned cheerfully?
"Almost to much to handle", I replied as we limped off to the end of the block and headed south again.  Bruised but not broken we climbed back up the ridge, through Woodland Park Zoo and over the bridges spanning Highway 99 into upper Woodland Park.

The Norman Rockwell scene opened in front of us.  Everywhere people sledding and skiing; un-leashed dogs running about playing in the snow; the laughter of children of all ages warming the frozen air.

Veterans of our novices experiences and much wiser now, we loaded back on the on the Toboggan and readied our hands as breaks. A small push and we descended through the crowded field into the quite wood enjoying a blissful  half mile run nearly all the way to Greenlake.

On our stomp back home Jen remarked:

"It sure is nice to be outside on the streets without any cars."

"It sure is Jen, it sure is."

As I sit and write, the rains that are typical of the Northwest winter persistently tap the skylight above me and wash away the last of the snow that crippled Seattle not four days ago.  Power will soon return to those who are without, schools will re-open and the snowplows will be parked indefinitely.
What strikes me the most about winter storms in Seattle is the direct correlation between the decreased use of the automobile and increased amount of social interaction between members of our community.  In the grocery store I overheard a woman explain to a friend how she had lived on the same street for ten years and only this week, due to the snow, met neighbors who reside just three houses away.
I too spent more time interacting with the people on my own block than I have in months.

I am happy to be headed back to work tomorrow, but must say that I like my city more when the unlikely convergence of arctic air and pacific moisture slows us down a little and forces us all to live just a little closer to our own Front Door.

That's how I roll,


Despite her innocent appearance, my wife is a hardened criminal.  We would have asked, but no one was home at the the Lawson's.

Fleeing the scene of the crime.

Hot wings and a cold beer on a winter day?  To tell you the truth, it never really sounds (or smells) that good to me at any time of the year.

The second run on 79th was significantly faster than the first.  

Jenny is a good sport and still smiling despite the bruised tailbone.

Follow the arrows to Woodland Park.

"The Hiker"stands as a tribute and memorial to the U.S. solider's who served and died in the Spanish-America Wars.

Snowman and the Baboons.

Upper Woodland Park; a winter wonderland!

Progress continues at a slow, but steady pace here at our Front Door.  I really enjoy coming home to a cozy fire after the dark wet rides of my Seattle winter.