Lowell Windfree’s Bobsled Run

Note: This is a fictional tale. Rich Knoblich, WV storyteller and a regular winner of the Liar Contest at the annual Vandalia Gathering hosted by the WV Dept. of Arts and Culture, likes to add some drama, mystery and fun to his fables. It’s been said that some of the best lies are ones that are weaved with a thread of truth, which is exactly how Knoblich designs his short stories. Can you spot the truth in this tale?

Lowell Windfree created a spectacular bobsled run. The neighborhood kids loved it. His momma hated it and for good reason. The event unfolded in December two weeks before Christmas.

Following a weather prediction of heavy snow accumulation, the locals of Ohio County began preparing for the anticipated snowstorm. Postal workers readied chains on their vehicles while salt crews loaded up trucks. Parents abandoned plans for holiday shopping. The community listened to radio broadcasts with growing anxiousness. Children kept an eye on the darkening sky as they waited, anticipating the initial descent of the crystal flakes. However, the slow-approaching storm arrived later than predicted.

Lowell Windfree’s sled. (Photo courtesy of Lillehammer Sled and Luge Museum, Norway)

By bedtime, the children failed to spy any hint of snow. They hopefully went to sleep to dream for a miracle by daybreak. Not to disappoint them, Mother Nature’s storm erupted during the night, and she wove a pristine thick white blanket over the valley. As the night passed, the silent flakes piled deep. Nature made amends for the years when sparse snow flurries tantalized, but failed to produce enough snow for sledding.

Lowell awoke to gaze through frosty windows upon a landscape of soft sculpted serenity. Radio broadcasts confirmed the kids’ wishes. Icy road conditions forced the cancellation of school. There was no question as to how the giddy children would celebrate the unexpected winter holiday.

After gulping down a hearty breakfast of Quaker oatmeal, eggs, bacon and Tang, Lowell turned to preparing for some serious sled riding. Momma helped bundle him up. She gave her usual lecture.

“Honey, avoid eating the snow. It may be tainted with radioactive fallout. Some nasty fool could be testing nuclear explosives on the far side of the planet, stirring up radioactive dust which is then carried by the jet stream through the atmosphere where it’s soaked up by the falling snow. Some unsuspecting child, ignoring his momma’s warning, will eat the nuked snow. By the handful. For all we know it will transmute him into a colossal humanoid wrecking havoc upon the United States and destroying those values we all hold dear.”

Momma Windfree then chuckled and tsk tsked to herself at the scenario she concocted. She supervised Lowell’s preparation while repeating her environmental warning about nature’s lethal snowcones.

Lowell tucked his two pairs of pants into his black rubber boots and tugged hard on the awkward metal buckles. The boots kept his feet dry but provided little insulation from the frozen ground. After a few hours his feet would slowly grow numb, in spite of the extra socks, as his toes gradually acquired the qualities of the Arctic Tundra’s frigid permafrost.

Lowell pondered how other generations managed to retain the use of their toes. He imagined a future when athletes could no longer be able to adequately balance themselves after their frozen toes snapped off like popsicles. Olympic sports would focus on gravity pull activities since standing up would no longer be an athletic requirement. Rump padding would replace helmets as standard protection gear. Enthralled audiences could enjoy luge and bobsled as usual, but ice skaters and skiers would be judged on the gracefulness of their tumbling spills. No longer would the agony of ‘de feet’ bring de shame.

Once Lowell finished buckling his boots, he took to guarding his body against the frigid air. Over his thermal undershirt he pulled on a flannel shirt, next a sweatshirt, followed by a sweater, and then a light jacket. He topped off his layered ensemble with his heavy brown winter coat. He wrapped a red plaid scarf around his neck and pushed his hands into a pair of cloth garden gloves, then shoved these into old leather work gloves and finally squeezed it all into his gray woolen mittens. Lowell wore so many layers of clothing he could barely bend his joints. Pulling his cap low over his ears he shuffled out the door headed for his destiny.

As soon as Lowell stepped outside, he scraped aside the top layer of snow and scooped up a handful of cold crystals from beneath. He ate a mouthful of the icy harsh snow. He took another bite of the snow and checked his body. Lowell suspected the most potently concentrated radioactive snow settled into the deeper layers. He intended to eat enough nuked snow for his body to acquire a greenish gleam like the glow-in-the-dark toys he collected from cereal boxes. Lowell hoped to be able to read in bed at night without the use of a lamp. He reasoned the money saved on electricity could be applied towards the purchase of Christmas presents, hopefully of the toy variety.

Lowell struggled through hip deep snow to the customary rendezvous site, Hobsons Hill, a steep unobstructed field which leveled off into a broad valley next to Lowell’s home. It offered the best sledding near the village. His friends, who arrived before him, surveyed the softened contours of the hill. Huge drifts blocked the usual path, some towering above Lowell’s head. His friends concluded that sled riding was out of the question because of the snow’s depth. Accepting the futility of trying to nudge sleds through the impassable drifts, the kids quickly abandoned the hill and returned to their suburban yards to engage in other worthwhile activities. The construction of snow forts, with the ensuing snowball battle, became the new interest for everybody, except Lowell.

Only Lowell lingered at the top of Hobsons Hill. He wanted to sled ride and had his heart set on it. What’s the point of having a snow holiday if you can’t take full advantage of the conditions? he thought. He wasn’t about to give up so readily. He gazed at the white hillside, determined to go sled riding. A plan gradually evolved from the recesses of his mind.

Lowell Windfree’s sled. (Photo courtesy of Lillehammer Sled and Luge Museum, Norway)

Fetching Dad’s snow shovel from the garage, he returned to Hobsons Hill and tackled the challenge of digging a sled riding trail. He shoveled only the upper portion of snow, leaving a thick base. Lowell piled the snow on both sides while carving a path. Some stretches of the trail were straightedge straight. However, most of the layout was composed of loops, twists, and switchbacks outlined with towering walls of snow. He tunneled through the deepest drifts. For every zig he created a zag. Finally, satisfied with the height of the snowbanks outlining the trail, Lowell returned home to store the shovel.

Back of Lowell Windfree’s sled. (Photo courtesy of Lillehammer Sled and Luge Museum, Norway)

Next he shouldered two long black hoses and dragged the green garden hose out through the cellar door to connect them to the outdoor faucet. Staggering under their weight, he carefully avoided creating kinks as he uncoiled the loops over to Hobsons Hill. Alone and unobserved, Lowell began spraying the snow trail as casually as mom watered flowers on a warm afternoon in June. He moved down the trail slowly waving the gentle spray back and forth.

Though the snow pack initially collapsed beneath the droplets, the frigid air soon began to solidify the water. The snow walls and base melded into a seamless coating of shimmering ice. Lowell didn’t finish until late in the morning. He briefly admired his workmanship, returned the hoses to storage, ate lunch, and then joined his friends at the completed snow forts. He said nothing about his deed for he wanted the ice to first freeze into a solid rock mass before he broke the news.

The next morning Lowell enjoyed a relaxing menu of cartoons and Sugar Smacks cereal. He waited until after lunch to gather up his friends and coax them into viewing his slick bobsled run. They congregated at the top of Hobsons Hill and gawked in astonished silence. Each face exhaled a quick, white, steaming breath of excitement in the frigid winter scene.

One dazzled friend gasped, “It’s shaped like a roller coaster built on the ground!” Indeed, beneath the now clear sunny sky the course shone like twisted shimmering crystal with glistening silver arcs where the icy embankments reflected the sun. They stood in silence and absorbed the beauty of Lowell’s creation. But only for a moment, for Lowell Windfree’s bobsled run beckoned to be challenged. As if on cue, the group suddenly disbanded and dashed home to retrieve their sleds.

Subscribe to Weelunk

Within minutes, amidst shrieks of excited laughter, they hastily regrouped. Each boasted of how they would tame the finest sled riding trail to ever grace Hobsons Hill. The eager chatter soon turned to a somber discussion of who would go first and in what order the others would follow the first challenger. Lowell settled the issue: alphabetical order. He reserved the right to go last. They agreed to the fairness of the proposal, never guessing his terms established them as test pilot guinea pigs.

Cincy went first. He strode over confidently to set his sled down at the head of the course. He kneeled down on the run’s entryway to survey the matter before him. Cincy peered into the throat of a blue white trough. The ice, inches below his nose and rising to either side, gave an ominous perspective. He slid the runners back and forth as he prepared for launch. But, instead of the familiar shush shush of metal runners against smooth snow, Cincy discerned an unwholesome sound on the ice like the scratching of a chisel etching the date of expiration on a granite tombstone.

Not wishing to display hesitation in front of his peers, Cincy yelled a false bravado, “Let the games begin!” He pushed forward in a leap of faith. Gravity took over where his common sense left off. He instantly realized the foolishness of desiring a rapid start. He held on for dear life, his dear life.

Cincy instantly gained the respect and admiration of his fellow daredevils, who appreciated natural craziness at its very best. Young children, lining the edges of the incredible bobsled run, witnessed a bullet named Cincy. Even before entering the first turn, his eyes froze wide open, either from the cold or from fear. He experienced every devilish trick the run possessed.

Halfway through the course Cincy flashed back to last Monday’s science class. The students enjoyed watching a vintage black and white NASA reel about astronaut training techniques on G-force acceleration. A volunteer strapped to a high velocity rocket jetted down a long pair of railroad tracks. The acceleration contorted the man’s facial features into a painful grimace. As Cincy’s mind returned to his own voluntary slide into terror he wondered if perhaps his face exhibited a similar expression. He shuddered when a sonic boom reported he had broken the sound barrier.

After several frantic minutes the ride ended when Cincy’s sled plowed into a thick cushion of snow at the bottom of the trail. His sleigh dragged to a stop like a runaway truck plowing to a halt in a roadside gravel pit. He forced his aching white knuckles to release their death grip.

Everybody at the top of the hill held their breath watching Cincy crawl onto shaking knees then slowly staggering upright. He gave a weak wave to signal his survival. A cheer arose! Confidence returned to the hearts, if not the minds, of the remaining challengers.

Spectators gasped in disbelief when the second rider, Jarvis, hurtled down the icy run. The tremendous speed stretched his eyes and mouth back to his ears, and his ears further back to the rear of his head. Nobody realized Jarvis was screaming like a banshee because the tight tautness of his lips prevented the escape of any noise.

Jarvis also finished the thrilling trip in a soft snow bank. He rose unsteadily to his feet. He felt woozy. Jarvis recalled his mother’s accident scenario, the standard mom lecture where one impresses upon their child the need for presentable undergarments to avoid hospital staff gossip. He was grateful he obeyed mother’s advice for he was close to needing a change. He looked back at Hobsons Hill in disbelief as the next sledder flew down the outrageous course.

Mike ‘Grunt’ became a fiery shooting star. Mike earned his nickname ‘Grunt’ because his limited speech pattern was composed mostly of monosyllabic grunts. He communicated with minimal lip movement. Uh-huh, huh, uh-oh.

Mike’s ride permanently altered his psyche. No one knows what vision Mike experienced on his commute, but he definitely finished in an altered state of mind. It was commonly assumed the trip caused Mike’s adrenaline gland to slam into high gear and it never eased back to a normal level. Years later it was rumored Mike worked as a hyperactive talk show host on AM radio and bungee jumped from hot air balloons for relaxation.

The fourth rider was Penny. She appeared to have a cloud of churning snow following her sled as she swept downhill. However, spectators standing close to the run observed that the white whirlwind was actually acrid smoke coming from Penny’s boots as she dragged them in an attempt to brake. The stench of burning gumshoes was key evidence supporting this testimony.

Penny’s vocal cords emitted an hysterical scream for the entire duration of her ride. While she barreled past, bystanders were treated to the finest demonstration of the Doppler Effect the human larynx could emulate. She approached with a high intensity wailing and as she flashed by her screaming appeared to drop an octave. Balancing on the brink of a nervous breakdown, Penny thought her heart stopped when her coaster did.

But the bobsled run withheld its best for the last rider to tempt fate. Lowell, the lone challenger left at the top of the hill, watched with glee as each friend tackled his monstrous creation. Now it was his turn, time for the grand finalé. His anticipation escalated to climactic proportions. He felt the exhilaration a small child experiences hours before Christmas morning’s arrival. Confidently, he set his sled into the groove at the head of the run.

Back of Lowell Windfree’s sled. (Photo courtesy of Lillehammer Sled and Luge Museum, Norway)

He stared directly into the yawning maw of the beast looking to devour him. His imagination played tricks on him. He thought he heard a low ominous voice rumble from the mouth of the trench, “I. Want. YOU!” There would be no disappointment for Lowell Windfree this snow holiday! Satisfaction was about to be delivered.

The dizzying pace reached a more explosive level than even Lowell expected. The wind thundered in his ears. Icicles formed on his brows. The end of his red plaid scarf shred to tatters as it flapped wildly in the air. His stomach wrenched each time he flew up one side of the icy trough, then down and up the opposite side. He gasped with every battering change in direction. He slid up the walls higher than the previous riders, he cut the turns sharper. Snow tunnels collapsed from the aftershock of his passage. His sense of up from down became totally distorted in the twists and loops. As his sled barreled from side to side it snapped and cracked like a bullwhip. The bobsled run gave all and held nothing in reserve.

As the trip got out of hand Lowell’s smile broadened. He hunkered down to gain more speed. Spectators thought they heard screeching maniacal laughter. Some said a glow appeared in the green eyes of the rider. Lowell’s search for adventure was being realized.

Nature and physics combined to enthrall him. A breeze stirred. The shifting snow obscured Lowell’s vision. The wind caused his eyes to tear. The view of the run blurred as visibility approached a whiteout. The frigid air stung his grateful features like needles. Serious satisfaction washed over the thrill seeker. Blinded by the snow, Lowell grew ecstatic.

Abruptly, Lowell’s adventure ceased. A bump at the end of the course spilled him gently to one side. He rolled onto his back dreamily facing the heavens, feeling the euphoria slowly ebb away. He breathed a blissful sigh of contentment.

Then, through his bleary eyes, he saw a menacing shadow approach. It loomed over him. His snow- impaired vision gave the dark form a scolding countenance. It looked angry, red-faced, with flared nostrils firing boiling steam into the crisp winter air. Lowell removed his gloves and brushed the snow away from his eyes. He blinked twice and squinted to improve his focus on the enraged apparition.

Lowell’s mother hovered over him, shaking a piece of paper in his face with one clenched fist shouting, “Lowell Windfree, you’ve gone and done it this time!”

The mail carrier had succeeded in delivering the mail. In the mailbox Momma Windfree retrieved the water bill which included Lowell’s construction costs. Crumpled in her fist was the dollar amount of the sprayed water. Lowell was brusquely brought to his feet and escorted home with Momma yelping the entire way. There he was sent to his room until an appropriate punishment could be determined.

The remaining sledders, silently witnessed Lowell’s grandiose departure. They turned their attention to gaze back up Hobsons Hill. The adrenaline subsided. Heartbeats slowed to normal. There were no injuries, and sanity crept back into their skulls. They had stories to share and tales to exaggerate. But the storytelling would have to wait. Amid raucous shouts and howling laughter, they grabbed the ropes of their sleds and started the trek back to the top of Hobsons Hill. For plenty of daylight remained, ample time to master the challenges of Lowell Windfree’s bobsled run.