The navicular, or scaphoid, bone, is a little bone in your wrist. About fifteen years ago, I broke both of mine during practice for a BMX National. Since my father was flying in to see me race that day, and since I didn’t want him to travel a long way for nothing, I wrapped duct tape around both my wrists and went out for the first heat anyway. When I landed the first jump, a modest fifteen-foot gap with a steep face to the landing, I nearly vomited from the intensity of the pain. Needless to say, things went downhill from there and as a result I’ve had trouble with my wrists ever since.
In the song “Twilight Zone”, Golden Earring sang, “You will come to know / when the bullet hits the bone.” I have come to know when I’m about to re-break one or both of my wrists. As I went flying through the air at fifty kilometers per hour, a tumbling snowmobile behind me and a hard sheet of ice ahead, I knew what was about to happen…
“It’s called a Can-Am Spyder,” I said. “It’s basically a snowmobile on wheels.” There was silence on the other end of the phone, but I imagined I could hear the wheels turning slowly in Vodka McBigbra’s head.
“You,” she opined after a few moments, “should take me to Canada to ride a snowmobile.”
“It’s September, you know.”
“Why are you changing the subject?” Why, indeed? I contacted my old pal Brian to see if he could find some Canadian snowmobiles, and four months later we were saddling a pair of Ski-Doo MXZs up for a tour of the Georgian Bay area. Brian was on one of the Ski-Doos, with Vodka riding behind me on the other. Looking back, I should have considered that
- I had never ridden a snowmobile before;
- I don’t like to lose any kind of race, whatsoever;
- Any situation where someone else is anywhere near me on similar machinery feels like a “race” to me.
I think Vodka expected that our snowmobile tour would be a nice, leisurely ride down a long, tree-lined trail, but from the moment Brian disappeared around the first corner it became a full-throttle race down a long, tree-lined trail.
We should take a break at this point to explain how snowmobiles operate, just so TTACers who actually know something about snowmobiles can enjoy the pleasure of correcting me. There’s a little Rotax V-twin engine — I believe ours was a 440, although it could also have been a 600 — that connects to some kind of centrifugal clutch and turns a rolller. This roller moves a belt studded with paddles under the snowmobile, which digs the snow out from under you, creates a hole into which the snowmobile sinks, and causes you to have to dig the snowmobile out of that hole so you can continue on your way.
Our Ski-Doos couldn’t quite do 100km/h on flat ground, er, snow, but down the six-foot wide trail that had been bulldozed from three or four feet of snow and which was lined on both sides with the aforementioned trees, that seemed plenty fast. As with the Can-Am Spyder, some sort of leaning into turns is required, and some finesse with the throttle is also necessary to balance the thing so the rider is not constantly fighting understeer. My non-scientific impression of the MXZ’s acceleration was that it was roughly equal to that of a 250cc motorcycle with one passenger.
Two hours into our ride, the pace had gotten fairly hectic. The kids on bright pink and green machines who had zipped away from us at the beginning were now moving over for Brian and me as we continued to turn the wick up. V. McB had resigned herself to silent mirroring of my increasingly desperate hang-off moves. More and more of our turns were being taken flat-out. I was starting to consider myself quite the natural at snowmobile riding. I imagined myself on a bright green racing snowmobile, jumping a big set of snow doubles, pulling a no-hander, and possibly catching the eye of some Palin-esque young Alaska mother. The gap between us and Brian was down to perhaps twenty feet when we rounded a long, fast corner and I felt the handlebars go slack on the ice.
A snowmobile rider with experience would have perhaps hit the brakes to reduce the speed of impact. I treated the Ski-Doo like a race car and held constant throttle waiting for the traction to return, which resulted in me striking the angled wall of the dug-in trail with the left front ski. As I jumped clear, the sled began to tumble. I struck the ground about twenty feet later, rolling on impact but breaking my right wrist. Vodka was pinned beneath the upturned snowmobile. I crawled back and pulled the yellow-and-black machine off her, dragging her up the waist-high wall of snow and then returning to get the MXZ out of the way of anybody behind us. Brian continued without us, having no mirrors on his Ski-Doo.
Amazingly enough, the damage was limited to the nose cone, which I tossed out of the way as we prepared to continue. (Even more amazingly, the damage only billed out at $275 when I got the total a month later.) Vodka’s right foot was broken in at least one place but she was determined to continue, so we followed the trail for another three hours at a somewhat reduced pace before arriving back at the free-standing little building sans electricity or heat that served as the snowmobile rental office.
While my companion elevated her bright-purple toes, I provided my plum Amex to the cheerful fellow who operated the agency. “You know,” he said, “there’s a bit of a ramp to the edge of the parking lot of there. Didn’t you say you were a BMX rider at some point? Did you want to try jumping one of the Ski-Doos?”
“Would you,” I inquired, “happen to have any duct tape?”
Ed’s been very tolerant of these non-car reviews this week, but I promised him I would save my other articles, on a jet-ski and a Goodyear Blimp, until another time. Still, it’s been fun writing about subjects on which I have no qualifications whatsoever. This must be what it’s like to be a GM blogger! — jb