The day had started clear, sunny and thirty below zero. That seems a bit cold for the eighth day of March. Even though afternoon temperatures climbed to above zero the wood burning stove was still hungry for dry pine and spruce.

It was time for Nancy and me to bundle up and fetch a couple of days worth of firewood from under our deck, toss it up and hurry it indoors. Still feeling a bit restless and needing to energetically move my body, I grabbed my long plastic red sled and hurried up Pulpit Hill. This pronounced pimple of a hill, courtesy of the last ice age, rises directly behind our Outpost, protecting us from north winds. Typical of the arrogant practice of naming natural features we have titled this hill “Pulpit” because we like to climb up to receive a sermon rather than deliver it. The view up and down the Watson River and beyond towards Needle, Goat and Twin Mountains is awe-inspiring.

The grade of Pulpit Hill is steep and the snow deep. With my legs churning and streams of breath trailing behind me, I can feel the blessed pain of burning thigh muscles. Best of all, attaining the summit warms me.

Below me, the groove of the sled track remains from runs made days earlier. I pause, taking the view in and catching my breath. Closing my eyes to relish the miracle of gulping breaths of such fresh air I find myself transformed towards a place where dreams happen.

When I opened my eyes, I found myself at the Worlds Luge Distance Championship Finals. Rather than go for the fastest time, this contest is all about sliding further than the competition.

I imagined that the Yukon Territory lobbied hard to garner the event. Typically, this event is held in Europe. This isn’t surprising since Europeans, particularly the Germans, have dominated the event. The Germans have been so dominant that they have even sent a retired champion racer, named Hans be the official race coordinator.

Hans smiles at me and waves me into position for my race down the track. Of course I am the last contestant to make the run. The gold medal is on the line. I set my sled down and carefully position myself so I will reduce any wind resistance.

The anticipation and the crowd noise are building. Hundreds of cow bells are clanking.  My eyes are focused on the groomed track, that looks like a sinuous otter slide. Both of my mittened hands are planted in the snow on each side of the sled. I push myself forward and back several times to warm the hull of the sled so that I can reduce friction and increase my speed. I nod my readiness towards Hans and I time the rhythm of my false starts to coincide with his loud countdown.

“Drie! Zwei! Eins!”

I am oblivious to the wildly cheering crowd and the clanging of their waving cowbells. This is it! All those years of sliding down hills, bloody noses, face plants in cold snow, reddened cheeks and stinging cold toes have come to this . . .the world championship!

With a massive pull in the snow, I send myself forward. In one smooth motion, I lie back on the sled and peer down the length of my descending body, over the tops of my pointed race mukluks down towards the narrow slot that separates an old spruce tree and an even more ominous propane tank. Clearly this is the most dangerous section of the course. I try to blot out the rows of white crosses that mark the spot where death has been the final playmate.

The top pitch of the course is steep and it is here that I team up with my loyal playmate ‘Gravity.’ Whether it is skiing down a mountain, a sinuous cross country ski trail or paddling through whitewater on a lively river, it can only happen with the help of my buddy “Gravity.”

WHOOSH! I rocket past the lanky spruce and its portly companion propane tank. There is no time to bask in the relief that I am through one of the most difficult stretches of this demanding course. I hit a rough stretch, where luge fans have constantly hiked across the course on their way out to pee near the edge of the course. I firmly grit my teeth, so as not to bite my tongue, and ride the bumps. I am reminded that the sledding runs of my childhood seemed much smoother.

For only a second or two, as I speed across a flats, I can allow myself the luxury of relaxation. Now I have to determine how much of my weight I have to throw to the right so as to miss another spruce and the corner of the garage. If I act to soon, I will create unnecessary friction on my run, loosing valuable distance. On the other hand if I react to late, I run the risk of shattering my sled and perhaps a bone.

Still oblivious to the cheering crowds, I time it perfectly, rolling to my right, without falling off the sled and I miss the tree by less than a foot. For the first time on my run, I can afford a smile as I slide to a stop between narrow corridor between the pile of shoveled snow and the front of the garage. I leap off the sled, jump up and down while madly waving and bask in the celebratory cacophony coming from the waving crowd.

About a hundred years ago Robert Service, poet laureate of the Yukon wrote,
“There are strange things ‘neath the midnight sun
By the men who moil for gold.”

On this late afternoon, of a late winter day that admittedly looks and feels like midwinter, I am proud to have moiled for my gold medal in the Worlds Championship Luge event. It was the highest of honors to win for my favorite nation. . . the Imagination.

Leaving the celebratory crowd behind me, I skipped through the snow, put the sled away. Suddenly the racing boy was also put away and a man, smiling like the boy, walked slowly to the house to join his wife for supper.

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