The night was still and frigid. The ice-crusted trees stood stiff. I remember the evening being cloudless and the stars especially bright that windless night. All the other kids had gone home, pulling their sleds behind them like defeated warriors.
“It’s too cold for sleigh riding,” my 11-year-old friend said. I stood alone, looking down the glazed road that ran through the hamlet where I lived.
The kids used the road for sledding even though our parents warned us it was too dangerous. It was the only road passing through Keystone, running for miles down the hilly Pennsylvania countryside to the railroad tracks along the creek. No car could maneuver its icy threat that night. But I knew my Western Flyer sled would make easy work of the challenge.
And a challenge it was. No one had ever sledded from the top of Ridgewood Road to the sharp bend, Dead Man’s Curve, about a half mile away. Usually road conditions were not right. Sometimes a car would come by, and you had to swerve off the road into a ditch to get out of harm’s way.
Halfway along the stretch was a flat section. I know of no one who had been able to sled through that troublesome spot without coming to a stop. But that night, I pulled the flaps on my hat tighter over my ears. I grabbed my sled by its outer rails and started running. With a plunge forward, I belly flopped onto the glassy road. I was on my way.
I felt like I was powered by an engine as I skipped effortlessly down the first part of the course. As my speed increased, my excitement grew. I never thought I could go so fast.
I spotted my house in the distance. One instinct said to stop and steer off the road. My parents would be upset if they knew I was sledding on the road again. I ignored the thought and kept right on going. I felt like I was never going to stop.
I got to the second downgrade, and my speed picked up. This was an important hill where you had to increase velocity before the flat stretch.
The sled rattled, and the ice beneath its runners crackled into submission. I was now at the flat spot. I pumped my legs up and down, trying to urge the sled forward.
I slowed down and resigned myself to another typical run. Nobody ever got through this spot.
I could see the beginning of the next downward slope ahead. It was just before the dark and desolate stretch to Dead Man’s Curve. So close and yet so far.
My body pushed forward into the sled, pumping with all its strength.
“God, no cars tonight! Please!” I prayed out loud.
Instead of slowing further, I felt my speed increase. “I’m going to do it!” I suddenly cried out loud.
It was like triumphant propulsion into space as I hit the crest and eased onto the last leg of the challenge. The sled began to move more swiftly. The vibration of runners against the ice sounded like thunderous applause in the quiet night.
When I reached the curve, I twisted the sled to a stop. There was no need to go any further.
“I did it!” This was one for the record books.
(to be continued)
(to be continued)