Wear the hel­met

The Telegram (St. John’s) - - WEEKEND LIFE - Paul Smith Paul Smith, a na­tive of Spa­niard’s Bay, fishes and wan­ders the out­doors at ev­ery op­por­tu­nity. He can be con­tacted at fly­fishthe­rock@hot­mail.com or fol­low him on twit­ter at @fly­fishthe­rock

I read a piece on CBC news that re­minded me of how lucky I have been on a few piv­otal oc­ca­sions in my life. Well, I mean they could have been quite life chang­ing, or even life end­ing, if the dice had rolled the wrong way. But I did not draw the short­est straw on ei­ther of those days, so here I am writ­ing about it. The sub­ject be­ing how dan­ger­ous ATVS and snow­mo­biles can be. Ac­ci­dents can hap­pen even when you are be­ing care­ful and pru­dent. Al­ways wear a hel­met. You never know when the dice may roll.

Dad bought me a snow­mo­bile when I was about 15 years old. I can’t re­mem­ber ex­actly, but I was young enough to know ev­ery­thing. Nat­u­rally I thought I was an ex­pert rider af­ter just a few hours of back and forth on a de­com­mis­sioned road just a stone’s throw from our house. Dad and Mom watched me for a solid hour rid­ing to and fro on that quar­ter-kilo­me­tre stretch of snow-cov­ered pave­ment. Mom made sure I wore the hel­met she had bought me. I had no choice but com­ply, or she would have over­ruled my fa­ther’s per­mis­sion to buy the sled in the first place. So be it.

For the next few days I rode the road un­su­per­vised, with my hel­met on of course. Mom could see me from the liv­ing room win­dow. I was happy, but felt a hitch to spread my wings, to go fur­ther and faster. Now I was Mario An­dretti on soggy snow. In my own mind I could run Cain’s Quest. But I only had a sin­gle-cylin­der 21hp. No mat­ter, I was ready to roar up and down Shearstown Pond. From the road­way along the beach be­tween Bay Roberts and Spa­niard’s Bay I had heard the high-pitched whine of the 440-cc twin cylin­der TNTS with a white pow­dery snow dust plume hand­ing in the still win­ter air be­hind them. It looked wicked. I was ready.

I tor­mented un­til my par­ents let me take my ma­chine up on the pond. There had been plenty of frost and they fig­ured cor­rectly that the ice was safe. They didn’t know much about sleds with en­gines, or teenagers, be­cause oth­er­wise they wouldn’t have let me go. They should have known I’d put that throt­tle right to the han­dle­bar. I did, and I went very fast, noth­ing com­pared to to­day’s rocket sleds, but prob­a­bly a solid 60km/h. I was hav­ing a ball.

I didn’t know what the hell hap­pened. One sec­ond I was fly­ing over snow drifts, the next I was soar­ing through the air. Time sort of slowed down and the world around me ap­peared like a weird slow mo­tion movie scene. I could see my pre­cious new snow­mo­bile flip­ping end over end. My heart sank just as my rear end hit the ice and I went bar­rel­ing into a snow­drift. I jumped up, dazed and cov­ered in snow. It took me a few sec­onds to re­gain my senses. Mirac­u­lously, I was OK, and my sled was right side up and thump­ing away on its one big cylin­der. But you do know, I could have eas­ily bro­ken my bloody neck. The dice could have eas­ily landed snake eyes.

What hap­pened? I thought all was fine un­til I no­ticed the front of my left ski was gone. Now I had my an­swer. The ski had cracked off and dug into the snow, launch­ing me as a hur­dling pro­jec­tile, and the ma­chine into an end-over-end som­er­sault­ing mo­tion. I don’t know how it never got wrecked. The gods were smil­ing on me for sure. And Mom made me wear a hel­met. She was the only one with any sense. I learned that I had a lot to learn. Dad wasn’t so sure about his snow­mo­bile de­ci­sion. I fixed my ma­chine and slowed down. The rest of the win­ter was un­event­ful, but fun. I gained a tad of sense.

Get­ting back to my morn­ing CBC read. In March of 2017 a New­found­land man was hav­ing just a few drinks at his friend’s house. He left about 11 p.m. to drive a short run home on his 1,000-cc sled. Yes, they are a lot faster nowa­days. But ac­ci­dents are so strange. This guy prob­a­bly was an ex­pert rider, not a silly green­horn like me. He rode home just fine on the pow­er­ful sled. This guy loved his snow­mo­bile, and had a habit of park­ing it high on a snow bank in front of his house. But for some weird con­found­ing rea­son the sled rolled off the bank and he hit his head on con­crete. Ryan Comp­ton died from his head in­jury. He wasn’t wear­ing a hel­met. He left be­hind a part­ner and a lit­tle girl just shy of her fifth birth­day. There were happy fam­ily pho­tos and the sad­ness moved me to write this piece.

New­found­land law does not re­quire snow­mo­bil­ers to wear a hel­met. Wear one any­way. It may have saved my life and it might have saved Ryan’s. I was so dazed I have no idea if I hit my head or not. Only for Mom I would not have been wear­ing a hel­met. Ac­ci­dents can hap­pen no mat­ter how skilled you are or how cau­tious you ride. Whether you ride an ATV or a sled al­ways wear head pro­tec­tion. I wear my hel­met nearly all the time on my ATV. But I plow snow with­out it. I’m wrong. This win­ter I will change that.

Fast for­ward from my snow­mo­bile fi­asco to a late 20’s ver­sion of me. I had a bit more sense and rode my Yamaha Trike in a sort of mostly pru­dent fash­ion. It’s a funny thing though. I rode over all sorts of rough ter­rain, hauled out moose, zoomed in the road in a cloud of dust for the last half hour of day­light trout­ing. De­spite all this, I in­jured my­self, the one and only time on an ATV, in the dumb­est mun­dane way. And I have logged plenty of rough and tum­ble miles on ATVS, more than most I would sus­pect. No mat­ter the lack of drama, bro­ken ribs hurt like hell.

I was haul­ing out fire­wood in spring­time. I had cut some nice black spruce that win­ter and I went about cart­ing it to the road as soon as the snow melted. I was alone. I didn’t have much room to turn around so I would do a bit of for­ward and re­verse ma­neou­vring be­fore each load. It hap­pened so fast once again. In re­verse, one wheel went up on a rock and the bike flipped over side­ways. My ribs landed right on the edge of a stump and I cracked two. The pain was swift com­ing and se­vere. But you know what? I was lucky again, be­cause I wasn’t wear­ing a hel­met and It could just as eas­ily been my head that hit the stump. Mom wasn’t watch­ing me that day.

Wear the bloody hel­met. Luck isn’t al­ways on your side. I’m not tak­ing any more chances.

New­found­land law does not re­quire snow­mo­bil­ers to wear a hel­met. Wear one any­way


Ac­ci­dents can hap­pen when you least sus­pect no mat­ter what you are do­ing.


This lit­tle girl is play­ing safe.


I’m go­ing to wear my hel­met plow­ing snow from now on.


Mak­ing the snow fly is fun but al­ways think safety.

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