by Winona Post Editor-in-chief Sarah Squires
As kids, we can’t wait to grow up, be in charge of ourselves, do what we want. Struggling for those little bits of independence seem quite profound, and as children, we often harvest lots of life lessons from our attempts to mimic grown ups. Most of the time, those lessons are not immediately clear to us; in my case, it was pretty obvious that I still needed Mom and Dad.
I don’t remember how old I was, but I was young enough not to have strayed from the ‘rents very far or very often. We had gone to Taylors Falls, Minn., where my parents met up with a few friends and we headed to a water park that was seated at the foot of a ski slope.
Having never been to much of a water park before, I was beyond excited. The only water slide I had been on to that point was the lazy one at our community center, which slowly wound around in little curves before gently plopping riders into the shallow end of the pool.
This place was much different. Looming in the sky was a slide called “The Black Hole,” which plunged riders straight down, curved underground, and then shot them out into a little covered tube that connected with the pool outside. Could I, little old me, possibly gather the courage for the scariest slide? Maybe, I told myself. I’ll just go up the stairs and check it out.
I remember standing at the top of that slide, peering down the black hole, listening to the older kids scream on their way down. I barely met the height requirement, and was carefully reading the warning sign: “No pregnant women; ride with caution; persons with heart conditions may not ride this slide; cross your legs and arms and remain in that position for the entirety of the ride.”
I was terrified. And then it was my turn, and the teenaged worker planted at the top impatiently urged me on while the other kids in line complained at my pause. Peer pressure got me, and I scooted to the edge of the cliff, the chlorine vapors wafting up through the tube, and shoved off.
First, the feeling of free falling is not a fun experience for me — not then, not now. When your body feels as though it is falling down several stories, little safety notices printed on signs commanding you to keep your legs and arms crossed are not the things that are controlling your arms and legs. No. Instead, your body says “HEY! We need to slow this down! HOLD ON!” And your arms and legs shoot out, attempting to brace against the sides of the torturous tunnel, violating the rules. And then you plunge underground and into a pool of standing water, and things get rather painful.
The shock of hitting the water in that position ripped my swimming suit up so high my leg holes were in my armpits. I was in pain. I was terrified. But I had survived The Black Hole! And I never wanted to go on another water slide again.
I wandered through the water park, trying to knock the water from my ears and watching the bruises form, when I spotted what looked like a much more innocent ride, one that couldn’t possibly be laced with terror like the water slide. It was a slide-type ride built into the side of the ski hill, where people would get on little sleds and ride down the hill on concrete tracks. Sounded much more pleasant, so I bounded off for my next independent adventure.
When I got to the sled ride, I realized that I would have to take a ski lift up to the top of the hill. I’d never been on a ski lift before, and I was by myself, but I was watching these other brave kids hop on like it was no big deal, so off I went to figure out the lift.
I got onto it with no problem. It was kind of scary being that high up in the air without any sort of real seat belt, but I hung on with sweaty palms and stared straight ahead, waiting out the storm of heights. As I approached the landing pad, I panicked: Does a person jump off when the chair crosses the spot for landing, or does she jump off right before in an effort to actually land on the spot that says landing? I don’t know which I chose, but I chose wrong, and the chair hit me in the back of the head and knocked me unconscious.
I woke up a minute or two later, dazed, and looked up at the lift operator hovering over me. They had stopped the chair lift, and dozens of kids were hanging in their chairs, staring at me, laughing. Embarrassed beyond belief, I assured the woman I was OK, and just wanted to get on my sled and get out of there.
The lady handed me the little plastic sled, and showed me the emergency brake. “Only pull it if you absolutely have to stop,” she explained, “because if you stop, you won’t be able to get enough momentum to get down the rest of the hill, and you will have to carry your sled and walk down.”
Don’t hit the brake. Check. I pushed off and began coasting down the concrete track, watching pine trees fly by, thinking that, despite my short bout of unconsciousness, this ride wasn’t as bad as The Black Hole. As I came around a curve, I spotted another girl on a sled. Stopped in the middle of the track. Crying.
Groaning, I pulled my brake in order not to hit her from behind, and got up and pulled my sled off the track and approached her. Before I could ask her why she was crying, I figured it out myself: there was a black bear standing near by, staring at us.
Somehow, this little girl was younger than me (learning the same lesson I was, I suppose), so I grabbed her arm, threw both our sleds into the woods, and yanked her down the hill, running at full speed.
We got to the bottom of the hill. I hastily explained where the workers could find our sleds, and ran back to my mommy as fast as I could.