Out on an away rotation, I was invited to go snow-machining. I had never done it, but it sounded like the best way to explore the area, and potentially thrilling. The snow-machines were parked in the front yard by a snow bluff. The owner was letting me use his wife's machine. He showed me the throttle and break, and away we went.
I felt a little nervous having never been on one – I leaned this way and that to test the weight of the machine, how much the skis slid on the icy road, how much throttle I needed to bump it along. While I was busy feeling out the machine, my host was already making the turn out onto the tundra! Never one to be left behind, I sped up a little so that I didn’t slow him down. I took the first 90-degree turn carefully, slowly, patiently ….and still managed to crash off the road into the bushes! I popped up out of the snow and yelled, “I’m alright! I’m in one piece.” My host came jogging back over to me and saw the snow-machine I had borrowed. It was laying on its side, engine sputtering, with a branch from the bushes speared through its plastic hood. Awkward silence arose. “Ah dang, I’m sorry,” I said. He turned off the engine and took a look. “We’ll need to wire the hood back together,” he said. “Follow me back to the garage.”
Back in the garage he sifted amidst his tools until he found a drill and a spool of metal wire. Then, back out in the sub-zero air, he patiently drilled along either side of cracked hood, and thread the wire through to piece the hood back together. Bare-handed. In the cold. Without a complaint or a cross word. Meanwhile I stood by not being of much use other than generating heat by shivering. Standing there feeling useless and irresponsible for twenty minutes, I had some time to reflect on how uncomfortable it is for someone else to clean up my mess, and not foist any reproach upon me. Here was someone who generously lent me their wife’s fairly expensive snow-machine to go out with his friends and experience the wonderful tundra of Alaska, and while I had probably not broken his wife’s snow-machine, I had at least demonstrated my ineptitude and how out-of-place I was as a visitor. I wondered if I would have acted so patiently with someone else’s mistake.
Thankfully, I didn’t have to wonder and shiver too long, and after 20 minutes the hood was fixed and we were back out in the snow. I progressively felt more at ease thumping through the snow, and we rode out to meet the rest of the group. Just making the ride over felt like an accomplishment, over a stream that was “Probably frozen”, fighting angles along slanted ditches, and bouncing with the unexpected gaps between the surface of the snow and the ground underneath.
My host and I made it out to the rest of the group, and then we were soon zipping toward the mountain range over the tundra and through the forest. I really wanted more than a cursory glance at the mountain range, climbing out of the horizon as the sun brilliantly composed the contours of each crag. The weather and landscape continued to amaze me the rest of the afternoon. Cross-winds would sneak up and melt off my many layers of insulation, reminding me of what felt like impending mortality; the skis beneath the machines would reverberate on icy rivers like a chorus of birds; the sensation of snow slicing under my machine was like carving through a giant bucket of ice cream at high-speed. The natural beauty and high-octane sport mixed together for a fantastic day on an already memorable away rotation.
I don’t know the next time I’ll be up in Alaska, or at least the next winter I’ll be up there. It might be a while before I snow-machine again in such gorgeous vistas. But in the meantime I want to extend more of that patience I received when I crashed the snow-machine, and provide more invitations for strangers to become friends.
How about you? When was a time you made an embarrassing gaff that someone else graciously made up for? When was a time you were out of your element but loving it anyway?