It was the winter of 1984 and all the kids on my street were hooked on the Winter Olympics. Each night we tuned into whatever event the network was showing and spent the rest of our non-school hours hosting our own Olympic program in the fields and frozen streams of our Wisconsin home.
Of all the “events” we competed that fateful winter, my favorite, by far, was the Wisconsin Bobsled Race. All the kids on my cul-de-sac and my siblings walked across the two-lane, 55 mph county highway separating my backyard from the “The Hill”—and with shovels and mittens, carved out a twisty, banked course that slithered through the pine forest and ended with a long run-out across the corn field.
When it was time to race, we abandoned our plastic saucer sleds and maneuverable runner sleds and headed straight for my Dad’s 8-foot long wooden toboggan. For the first run, every kid piled on and we took off.
We screamed towards the first turn held together by the 3-foot trunk of a pine tree and with a yell, everybody leaned to the right. We leaned, and we leaned, and we yelled and we screamed until we hit that trunk dead on. The front of the toboggan split in half and all the occupants either jumped or were thrown off just before contact. My brother, Ryan, who was sitting in the very front, “driving,” was thrown just past the tree, scraping his face, but not killing him. Dazed and shocked, we quickly realized building a twisting, turning, bobsled track designed for a straight toboggan through a dense forest was a really dumb idea. Our attention was quickly diverted to what we considered to be our biggest problem—the trashed toboggan.
Thinking quickly, we loaded my brother on the toboggan and pulled him down the hill, across the highway to my front door. We rang the doorbell and waited for my Mom to answer. The first thing she noticed was my brother, moaning and bleeding, lying prone on the toboggan (conveniently positioned to cover up the damaged front end). As we suspected, she went into “Mom mode” and immediately began assessing his injuries. Ryan played the part perfectly. He was really, really hurt—not bad enough to go to the hospital, but bad enough to need a bandage or two, a bowl of ice cream, and an afternoon in front of the TV.
As soon as my Mom and Ryan were inside, we hustled the toboggan to the garage, hung it in its normal place, found a rag and laid it inconspicuously across the damaged front end and took off for the Hill and another bobsled course project.
In the end, we built a really fast, cool course. We changed its location. We changed the type of sled we used. And, we changed the material (we used water to freeze the turns). Today, professionals would say that we built a course with “flow”—one where the turns, descents, and other elements were placed strategically in order to provide the best ride.
It’s a concept that if we had learned it just an hour or two earlier, that first pass on our bobsled track may have ended with a ‘whoosh’ instead of a ‘thud.’
We have since left the details of finding the flow up to the experts in the industry. For an up-close look at how they are using that knowledge to help new riders grow their skills in bike parks, turn to page XX.
I do believe my younger self and the crew I ran with could have done a lot of damage to the Hill (and our bikes) if we had ever thought to imitate some of these concoctions. Of course, we would have tested it using Dad’s bike first just to be sure.
Till next month…
Rodney J. Auth