I was sitting on a chairlift at Badger Pass in Yosemite fifty feet off the ground trying not to think about the fact that it was really cold, the chair was wet and slippery, and there was no seatbelt.
I closed my eyes and concentrated on being safely inside and warm, which made me think about family, especially my nine-year-old granddaughter Leila who, at a recent dinner, asked me:
“What were your top five worst accidents?”
“Hmm,” I said. “I fell off a mountain once.”
I was on a hike in New Hampshire with some Boy Scouts. We stopped at a small pool just below the summit to fill our canteens. I tiptoed away, climbed to a large boulder overlooking the pool, and shouted to the scouts below: “Great time for a cannonball, huh?” A second later my feet went out from under me and I landed in the pool of water. At first they were happy that I lived, then not so happy that they were all now dripping wet.
The chairlift stopped, briefly rocking me back and forth. I closed my eyes again and pictured Leila holding up two fingers at that family dinner.
“I did a header off a parking meter.”
When I was a kid I used to love to run and jump parking meters. To accomplish this I had to reach out with both hands, put them on top of the parking meter and leap over. One day I was going for my personal best of five in a row, but my timing was off on the last one so I didn’t get my hands out of the way in time and I sat on them. “My nose landed first. Haven’t jumped a parking meter since.”
The lift reached the top. I stood. My right foot went right, my left foot left. My ski poles became airborne. People dove for the ground while I rolled to a stop like an odd-shaped snowball. “Great day, huh?” I said, brushing myself off.
As I began my decent down Eagle run, I visualized Leila, now holding up three fingers.
“My first wheelie,” I said.
One year, after I made a chopper out of my Honda 350 motorcycle, my buddy Del took it for a test ride and said it was great for pulling wheelies, but try as I might I couldn’t get the hang of it. Then, as traffic stopped right in front of my old high school, I revved the engine, popped the clutch, and the bike went through my legs, straight up in the air, leaving me holding onto the handlebars running to keep up until we both fell over to thunderous applause. “Broken toe, cracked ribs and I scratched the paint.”
I remembered that I was skiing, realized I was going pretty dang fast and decided to turn quickly and stop. As I was lying there, checking for broken bones and trying to get find my hat and glasses, I flashed on Leila raising four fingers at that dinner.
“Rappelling off a castle,” I said.
There was a guy named Kimball who loved the German castles along the Rhine and built a replica of one in Gilford, New Hampshire in 1897. Years later it was abandoned and teenagers used to sneak past the caretaker at night and wander in and around the castle. One night we ended up on the roof with no apparent way to get down. We found an old piece of plastic and decided to rappel. When my turn came, I threw one leg over then the other so I was in a sitting position, feet against the wall, looking up. I landed in the same position, my outstretched hands holding nothing but air. “That plastic was really slippery.”
When I reached the bottom of Eagle I decided to see how Leila was doing on Bruin. She was just about to get on the lift.
“Come on,” she yelled.
I hurried forward. The chair approached. I got my skis tangled with Leila’s.
“Duck!” the life operator yelled.
Leila and I both fell and watched as the chair barely missed our heads. I smiled and held up five fingers. “You’re now in one of my accidents!”
“Am I too young to get insurance?” she asked.