I stood in the parking lot outside the church and could not wait to depart in a car.
I could not wait. I could not wait to get out on the highway and arrive in the other side of the state.
It would be dark soon. It would be much colder soon. Conditions would be perfect for the adventure that lay ahead.
John, Alec and I stood in the parking lot outside the Methodist church bundled in clothes picked especially for this occassion and we could not wait to depart for the ski resort at Powder Ridge.
The anticipation had been building for weeks. John had invited me, an outsider, to join the church youth group's outing to Poweder Ridge. In the days leading up to the big Friday night event I had sat through hours of excruciatingly-long classes at Ledyard Middle School just counting the hours until that car left for western Connecticut.
This was no ordinary ski resort after all. Yes, it had barely enough trails to be advertised as a ski resort, but it did have one thing few other snow-covered hills could provide: tubing.
How great does that sound? What a concept! All you had to do was ride a lift to the top of the tubing chutes and sit down on one of those donut-shaped inflatable tubes used in swimming pools. One gentle nudge from the lift attendant set you on your way down the lightly-iced track. You just let it rip!
It's a great concept except for two minor details: the nudge was not gentle and the track was more than a little icy.
Now I used to go sledding with my family at the local hot spot in town, a giant hill at Crandall Field. I could not count the number of times I had thrown myself down the snowy slope on an inflated pool tube with my pet Labrador chasing after me.
I had seen and experienced it all. I had doubled in a tube with Katie Warren in first grade only to watch her launch off and land her torso on a man-made jump. That was funny!
I had been in a toboggan carrying six family members that careened into a stone wall in the woods behind my aunt and uncle's house in the mountains of New Hampshire. That was fun!
At best I believed I would love tubing. At worst I thought it would be, well... a little lame.
John felt the same way. We both loved the idea of jumping in that tube and going nuts! Imagine the velocity, if tubing was, in fact, not, well... a little lame.
We had built this trip up in our minds for weeks, and what a perfect time to indulge in anticipation! What better way to get the Christmas blues out of your head than to send your teenage body on an adrenaline rush.
And the conditions were perfect for thrill-seekers from New England who took this time of year seriously. It was cold and growing darker by the time we were set to depart from that parking lot outside the church.
John had bought brand new clothes just for the occassion. He wore brand new snowboarding pants and a brand new shirt only a true 'boarder would wear.
But we weren't 'boarding. We were tubing and we did not know what that would entail until we did in fact arrive at Powder Ridge. We didn't know why we signed a waiver detailing the dangers of tubing. We didn't know until we had arrived at the top of the tubing run, sat down in the tube without any apprehension, and got that not-so-gentle nudge over the icy lip and into the track.
I still have never felt a more-nauseating, more-disorienting sensation in all my life. The first time my tube spun around my body initiated chemical reactions within my nervous system that had yet gone untested. My blood must have run backwards.
Around and around and around again. It felt like I was forever accelerating, and the nausea clouded my head.
Was there anything written on that waiver about seizures? Would I recognize a seizure if I had one?
The question was irrelevant. Whatever one called this experience it had to be worse than a seizure.
I don't know how long it took, but my tube finally came to a surprisingly graceful stop at the bottom of the slope as it lightly bounced off the barricade at the bottom. I glanced back up at the icy highway to hell I had just come down wondering if I should check for vital signs.
I found John at the bottom. He was ahead of me in line and had gone down the track shortly before I did.
I stared at John in disbelief. What the hell was that? It was absolute hell. I took one look at John and realized he felt the same way.
As I stood there waiting for my heart to retreat from my throat and slow down to a simple fight-or-flight cadence I must have been thinking two things. First, can tubing reverse all the progress a kid has made in puberty? Second, was I a "wuss?"
A middle school boy can only imagine one thing worse than losing ground in the long and painful journey through puberty, and that is being labelled a "wuss."
The only way to find out was to go through it again. After all, the first time may have been a fluke.
And even after you go through the motions a second time and nearly overfire all the neurons in your brain you never truly know if what you are doing to yourself is a fluke until you try it a third time.
After the third run John and I stood up, knees shaking, and looked at one another with our mouths open and the fear lighting up our eyes.
This royally sucked. We were wusses.
We resigned ourselves to this and decided to walk away from all of it: the icy slope; the long line of happy campers riding the lift to the top; the friendly attendant offering the "gentle nudge."
We did what teenage wusses in this situation always do. We sat down to a disgusting dinner of ski resort cafeteria food, the kind of greasy cheeseburgers and hot dogs that provide that warm comforting buffer from the cold life on the slopes.
John sat across from me, brand-new clothing and all, and we discussed how absurd tubing is. We should have been prepared for this.
We were, after all, the only wusses I knew that hated roller coasters. How embarassing.