Wear the helmet
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.