Somehow I found myself at the summit of Emigration Canyon at 9pm, prepared to ride a skateboard down a lightless winter road. I had planned to spend the evening watching TV but there I was with sweaty palms and shaky knees, all because I didn’t know the guys who invited me up there well enough to say no. Brooks and Daniel had knocked on the door of my dorm room and said “hey, we need a third. Wanna come?” I had no idea what they meant by a “third” so of course I said yes.
Riding in their Volkswagen bus up the canyon they explained to me that the idea is that two of us would ride the longboards down the canyon road, and the third would drive the van behind the skaters, to both give them light as well as block the way of any traffic that may be coming down the road. I assumed I was to be the driver. “Naw man. You can drive the next run. You are doing us a favor so you should get to go first. Besides, Sophia gets kinda nervous without me in the car.” Sophia was the two year old girl smiling at us from her car seat. This was Utah after all and it is not uncommon for an undergrad to be married with a two year old named Sophia.
“Uh. Cool. Thanks. Uh… I have never ridden a longboard before. Maybe I shouldn’t go first.”
“What? No way! Don’t worry bro, we have never ridden the canyon before either so we are like even. No worries bro.”
I was a very good student so this made perfect sense.
It was explained to me that longboarding is nearly the same as snowboarding, which I had plenty of experience with, except for the whole stopping business. Since you can’t really stop a longboard they told me that the key is in checking your speed with weaving turns, and when that doesn’t slow you down enough, you simply jump off the board before you get going too fast. I asked how fast is too fast and they just chuckled and responded that it would depend on how fast you can run as you jump off onto your feet. I wasn’t entirely comfortable with that concept but I was already in the car. It was too late.
So there I was. The headlights of the van cast our shadows down in front of us and Daniel just smiled and said, “Here we go,” and pushed off. He was a good ten yards out ahead when I did the same. I could feel the rumble of rough pavement travel through the wheels, past my feet, and into my knees. I made a couple of awkward turns and leapt off the board landing on my feet. The board just rumbled into a snowbank. Daniel had done the same up ahead and looking back shouted “This ain’t so bad is it?” We both pushed off again. As we made our way down the dark canyon road I started to get the hang of it. I was cautious at first, jumping off at the slightest hint of discomfort, but I began to sprout some courage. Perhaps it wasn’t real courage but more a mix of adrenaline and embarrassment. I started pushing myself a little more than before.
I started leaning into the turns and holding on instead of bailing. I shifted my weight to the front foot and with my back foot I slid the tail of the board out making turn after turn. I felt fear slip away replaced by fun. I started to like it. I liked the winter wind biting my face, the blur of the yellow dashes as they sped past my feet, and the rhythmic sway of carving turns down the road. Yes. I liked this. But then a shaky turn snapped me out of it. My wheels caught just a little and as I regained my balance I regained my senses. I was going just a little too fast. Daniel was behind me now and the headlights were behind even more. I was right at the edge of controlling the board, but unfortunately going much faster than I could run. I turned by leaning back on my heels- an awkward angle from which to jump. I tuned the other way leaning on my toes- not as awkward but twice as fast. Stuck. Stuck riding a plank projectile. I began eying the snowbanks on the side of the road, planning, or timing, my last hope of escape. Not that one, there is a ditch between me and the bank. Not this one, I’m not quite ready. Too afraid. Going faster. It has to be the next one. I have to hit the next snow bank. I prepare to eject.
And as I leaned into the turn aiming at the snowbank, the glow of the snow disappeared, replaced by the dull grey of a guardrail.
Time stood still in my mind as I floated in air above the pavement. I moved my legs as if to run, hoping that when my feet finally touched down I might, somehow, stay upright. I did not. My legs were moving at the speed of me and the ground was moving at the speed of light. When feet hit ground they slowed, but torso head and arms did not. I tucked my head as I rolled bottom over top and put my arms out in front before I did tumble number two. The board clanked off the rail and ricochet back into a ditch on the other side of the road. I, having caught myself in push-up position, stood upright and stared at nothing. “Duuuuuuuuuude!” Daniel shouted as he came bounding up beside me. Startled back out of my slow motion daze I grinned and sauntered off to reclaim the board. “You cool?” Daniel asked. “Yeah. That scared the crap out of me. We are almost to the bottom, let’s finish up.” “Hecks yeah,” he agreed.
I tried to push off but couldn’t stand on the board. My legs had obtained this uncontrollable wobble that I didn’t notice till I tried to stand on the board. Two legs were fine, but when I lifted one foot up to stand on the board I was all Jell-o from the waist down. I was done. I expressed my unfortunate failure to Daniel and he compassionately replied, “Well broham, looks you got the wheel for the rest of the night.”
Back up at the top of the canyon Brooks stepped on the emergency brake and hopped out. I jumped over into the driver seat, smiled back at the kid in the car seat, and tried to grab the wheel. It wasn’t till I gripped the wheel that I realized that where I once had palms, I now had a mixture of flesh, gravel, and gore. Hamburger is great on a grill but gross on your hands and I figured the polite thing to do would be to simply drive with my finger tips.
When I got back to married student housing my wife was sitting on the couch. I said “Hey babe,” nonchalantly and she mumbled “hey,” staring at the television. I went right to the bathroom, normal behavior, but once inside I didn’t pee but rather flushed the toilet with my foot as my hands were in the sink trying to rinse away gravel and blood. I walked back into the other room and flopped onto the open end of the couch.
“Scrubs. Where ya been?”
“So funny thing. Brooks and Daniel came by and invited me to go longboarding with them. I had never been before. It was cool.”
She looked at me sideways in the way she always did when I talk about, or do things, that she did not understand or have any desire to understand; which was normal and often.
“”Oh. Cool.” Was all she said. It was at about this point, the two of us quietly looking at the screen, when she instinctively reached over to hold my hand. Her fingers brushed my palm and my hand involuntarily jerked away. It startled her. She looked at me. Looked at my hand. She looked at me. Then without a word she just shook her head and turned back to the television.
On my next birthday she bought me a longboard of my own.