Ten winters after putting down Rangeley roots—perennial roots deep in the arctic strata formerly known as our summer waterfront—we put down tracks. Serious tracks. Boldly going where we hadn’t dared to snowshoe, ski, or ice shuffle before. Faster than a speeding lawnmower. More powerful than the Funtown kiddie train. Almost able to leap aboard in a single bound. And while we might not be shreddin’ it hahd, as Bob Marley would say, we are dicin’ it up pretty good.
“Bout time!” That’s the general response we got from the “locals” this fall when we talked of buying a sled—after ‘fessing up that, no, we never owned a snow machine and, yes, we live on the slow end of the Big Lake. All winter. With nothing but miles of “white gold” between our front door to ITS 84 and beyond. For the past decade.
Usually I’m pretty honed in on anniversaries. From the mundane to the monumental, I’ll be the first one to tell you how long ago something happened, what day of the week it was, who was there, and what they were wearing. Like if Rain Man were fixated on calendar days rather than never missing an episode of Judge Wapner, that’d be me.
As it turned out, though, buying a sled during our tenth winter around the Rangeley sun was more coincidental than ceremonial. More reactive than proactive. Blame it on some kind of decade in a cabin dementia, but my instinctive, proactive time elapse surveillance never kicked in. If it had, our conversation might have been something like “Wow, ten’s a big number. Let’s celebrate with that Ski-Doo we’ve always wanted.” Instead, we just sort of woke up one day in October and, with the reverse of what a bear must feel right before hibernation, saw there was a new third-digit year coming up on the calendar and said “Ya know, a sled would be pretty darn special.” Even more special, most days, than our snowshoes and grippers. And that’s how we knew it was finally time to spice our snow daze up a notch with some horsepower and “helmet therapy.”
Our brand spankin’ Ski-Doo Skandic 600 “wide track two-up” arrived well before the first snow fall, during that twilight time of waiting and wondering also known as sneaking up on another Rangeley winter. Seeing the sled parked in the yard in all its just out of the showroom shininess added a different dimension of unknowns to the season. Would it really snow enough to ride that thing? Or, like the year we bought the new snow blower, had we triggered an inverse weather pattern and insured a winter drought? And what, exactly, were we gonna do with this gas-propelled, snow+machine piece of property except go get yet another registration stickah and reshuffle some shed space for it?
Silly us. We forgot that the only sure way to make Old Man Winter start piling on blankets and blankets of snow is to doubt, even for a day, the inevitability of his arrival up here. In these parts, idle speculation about winter—or any season—is just that. Idle. It’s counter productive right when we need all the squirrel energy we can muster to spring into action, get ourselves set up.
So, almost as fast as the yard turned from brown to white, we got busy. Never having piloted a snow mobile, Tom did some test runs and gave me, the designated back seat passenger, a “just in case” lesson on the controls. We dress rehearsed using our most expensive fashion accessories to date—our state-of-the-art helmets. How to hermetically seal our noggins while adjusting, snapping, sliding, and otherwise tweaking each advanced feature—on-the-fly—according to our ever-evolving safety, comfort and visibility requirements. How to gracefully remove the new-age brain bucket without removing large patches of hair along with it and then dropping it on the kitchen counter like a greased bowling ball. Then we graduated to figuring out how to pull on our new snazzy boots without pulling a neck muscle and before pulling on our sub-zero gauntlet gloves. Finally, I was ready to do a “hands on” demo: How to get all layered up, hop on the back of a two-up, and actually stay on.
Or so I thought. But the real lesson I learned was this: When prepping for your maiden snowmobile voyage, don’t rely on a pair of 40-year-old snow bibs you’ve had since back in your almost-maiden youth. You’ll forget that you used to be able to zip ’em up ’cause you had nothing on underneath except a pair of control top pantyhose, not rolls of wine blubber and uber thick fleece! And you’ll feel like the famous scene from Gone With the Wind where Mammy tries to get Scarlett back in her skinny clothes, minus the bed post and plus at least 10 more waistline inches!
So my first ride kinda blurred past me while, instead of wild and free, I felt like Michelin Mamma, praying the few centimeters of zipper I was able to close over my paunch didn’t let go and send a shower of shrapnel into Tom’s back. “No more snow bunny waist for you, Miss Joy Joy!” I said as I waddled back inside to find me some bigger girl pants, glad to have Amazon Prime and be searching for something less cinched, but not quite Mammy sized—yet.
A few days later, we were finally geared up, gassed up and two-up, ready to hit the trail hard, to roar into the great white open. Well, maybe not roar. What we ended up with was more like a steady purr. Because the next teaching moment came as soon as we hit the trail for more than a test run. It pertained to my spirit of adventure. The same spirit that, back in my pre-Rangeley driving days, made me the proud owner of a Mustang convertible named Joyride, the same one that keeps me wanting to ride the fastest, hairiest roller coasters till I can’t hobble on and off them anymore. Turns out, that spirit dies a quick death when exposed to snow-covered terrain. And my need for speed? On the back of a sled, that’s met and exceeded in first gear. Anything above 25 miles per hour feels like I’m riding the end car on Top Thrill Dragster at Cedar Point. In the middle of winter. Without high tech safety restraints. Yelling things not nearly as endearing as the squeals my daughters call my “roller coaster laugh.” But luckily, my pilot seemed to agree. A couple daring sprints to see “what was under the hood,” and he didn’t need me thumping on his back or silent screaming into my helmet to convince him to slow down.
So much for calling our new sled the Red Rocket! After maintaining about the same cruising speed as a Zamboni, the name just didn’t fit. That, plus when we told our daughter we had a Red Rocket, she made the same face she makes when we ask her to explain a Cards Against Humanity phrase. Said something about that term being synonymous with male dog anatomy. So now we have a Red Rover. As in “Red Rover, Red Rover, send Tom and Joy right over!” Across the lake, around Toothaker, down the Bemis track, and back home. Rambling around, blowing the cabin dust off, enjoying another popular Rangeley pastime. And, yes, getting good exercise!
Before this winter, I agreed with Bob Marley when he said snowmobiling didn’t count as outdoor exercise because “all you need to ride is an ass and a throttle thumb.” Now I beg to differ. Especially in the back seat, you also need vice-like grip strength—in your hands and your legs. Specifically in your adductors, those inner thigh muscles you don’t feel until you ride a horse or haul out your Suzane Somers ThighMaster from the 1980s. Did Suzane ever try muckling onto a vinyl seat while thumping over pressure ridges and scaling snow bankings? I think not. Because, if she had, she would have been a Ski-Doo fitness guru instead.
And talk about an ab workout! I might not be sporting a six pack, but I definitely think I’ll be in better swimsuit shape than your average Jane Sixpack, thanks to my Red Rover workouts. We thought that buying the “deluxe” after-market back seat rest for our sled model would be all we needed to have me riding in style and comfort. We were wrong. Until Tom retrofitted it, I spent most of my ride in a half crunch position I hadn’t achieved since I retired my Abs of Steel video. And all the time I was doing so, I was wondering why the engineers at Ski-Doo didn’t take some safety and design pointers from their cohorts working on car seats. If they had, seeing crash test dummies getting all stove up on the “deluxe” after-market back seat of a Ski-Doo Skandic 600 would have sent them back to the drawing board! Sure, streamlined aerodynamics is important on a two-up sled. But how streamlined is it if you end up needing to duct tape your old college “sitting up in bed” pillow with the armrests and five pounds of foam support to the back of your sled?
Luckily, we didn’t need to go that far. With a little Yankee ingenuity and some more help from Amazon, Tom had me sittin’ pretty, enjoying Rangeley’s winter splendor like never before, looking forward to many more years out and about on our anniversary gift to ourselves and our unique lifestyle. It’s not the stuff that jewelry commercials are made of—the ones that make you believe if you don’t by some sort of diamond studded “still married to my best friend” bling to commemorate your love, you’re doing something wrong. But I’m pretty sure, one time in February when we were avoiding a snow drift, our sled tracks made a big, heart-shaped loop on the lake. And sometime along in there, I got inspired to write a song. A reggae song set in the frozen north, about breaking our own path and moving to our own quirky beat.
Slow, Slow, Slow Ridahs
Sung to the tune of Buffalo Soldier
Slow, slow, slow ridahs,
Won’t go fastah.
We’re just the slow, slow, slow ridahs
Old faht Sunday drivahs.
Moved up from the Flatlands
With no real sled plans.
Bought our first Ski-Doo
Gear that’s brand new.
On days above zero.
Joined the trail club
For a stickah and a raffle stub.
Cruisn’ real slow
Where there’s good snow.
Traded in our bicycles
Feelin’ like icicles!
Toward Bald Mountain
Trail map scoutin’.
Havin’ no fear
Keepin’ it in first gear.
Toolin’ round Bemis
Maybe the ITS.
Slapped by pucker
Still we look slick
Straddlin’ the Skandic.
“Snomos” wild and free
On our four-stroke utility.
Gawkin’ to and fro
Through a helmet window.
Is that an ice bump
Or a buried stump?
But, oh what a cool sight
Our shadows on the white!
Great view of Tom’s head
His neck’s real red!
Out on the Big Lake
Watchin’ out for snow snakes.
Holdin’ on so tight
Can’t feel my frost bite.
Singin’ braaap braaap braaap ba braaap braaap
Braaap braaap braaap ba braaap ba braaap braaap!