the beautiful simplicity of risking your life on a plastic tray

by Charlie G., 17

I miss carelessly running around in the snow with my brother and sledding down tiny hills like they were mountains. I miss how we would dash outside at even the slightest dusting of snow, like powdered sugar carefully sprinkled over a cake, and shove the sleds down the inclines that still had blades of grass peeking out like tiny green candles. I miss not having anything more important to do than to trudge up and speed down the slopes of my backyard and neighborhood.

My backyard has two hills in it, one wide and short, the other narrow and tall, like a frosted drag racing strip. Both of these hills were enjoyable, but the location that stands out the most in my memories discolored by time is the slope a few blocks from my house at Henry Sibley High School.

This hill was a mountain amongst anthills, easily three stories tall and three hundred feet wide. It was a straight shot from the top down to the field that waited at the bottom. When the conditions were just right, the snow on the hill would freeze over, creating a rock hard and incredibly slippery coating of ice over the layers of powder. This would make the mildly treacherous hill downright dangerous, and perfect for kids looking to spend a couple of hours risking their lives going upwards of twenty-five miles per hour on plastic trays.

One freezing day, one where it felt like your face was being assaulted by thousands of miniature needles from the wind, I was speeding down the icy hill headfirst, laying on my stomach in my sled like a human torpedo. I had already passed my brother, who was taking a more conservative approach down the incline. About halfway down, I noticed that I was coming up on a small bump in the snow. My sled had absolutely no steering capacity, so I had no choice but to brace for impact and hope for the best. The tip of my sled hit the bump, and I went flying out of my sled. I shot down the slope penguin-style without any sled underneath me. I was hoping the whole time I was sliding down that I wouldn’t hit the metal storm drain at the bottom of the hill that jutted up out of the ground like a blackhead on an otherwise perfect complexion. As I skidded to a stop at the bottom, heart racing but still alive, I thought to myself “that could have gone so bad,” and then “that was fun, let’s do it again!”

That day was one of my favorite memories of my childhood because on those days, where the cold air crystallized in my lungs as I eagerly sucked it in, sprinting back up the hill to go down again, I did not care about anything else. I didn’t have college applications to worry about, I didn’t have papers to write, and I had already completed my tiny math assignment a few days ago.

Looking back on those years, what I remember most was not the activity of sledding itself, but the joyously pure simplicity of speeding down a hill, running back up again, and repeating for hours on end. The activity itself was fun, yes, but nothing compared to thinking about nothing for an hour or two.

Over winter break last year, I was sitting around the house with nothing to do, so I walked up to my brother and asked if he wanted to go sledding. It felt almost childish, me being sixteen at the time and him being twelve, but it also felt perfectly right. As I raised the question, I saw my brother’s eyes light up like the sun that peeks out from behind a bank of clouds and lightly tickles the fallen snowflakes.

We gathered up the sleds which were now a little too small for us, piled them into the tiny back of my car and drove towards the high school. I struggled to work the clutch and gas through the massive soles of my boots and I nearly stalled the car multiple times. Thankfully, we made it to the hill without any kind of disaster striking.

I opened the door and got out to look at the hill. It was almost like seeing an old friend again, one that you’ve spent years apart from. We unloaded the sleds, and without any regard as to who was watching or what they might be thinking, sprinted towards the now welcoming slope.

My brother and I spent two hours at that hill, doing nothing but going down, then up, then down, then up, then down, then up, over and over again. The activity was nothing new. But the simplicity never got old.
Mendota Heights, Minnesota