“You know the trails? You have GPS?”
Done and done.
On that fateful day, I broke one of my cardinal rules: Do Not Ride With Strangers.
But we were new to the area. He wasn’t. He had GPS. We didn’t. Sure, just like everyone else, my iPhone had Google Maps. But that’s no substitute for navigating waypoints through a wintery bird sanctuary of thousands of indiscernible trees and dozens of frozen swamps. So, we proceeded.
He led. We followed. After only a few minutes, two things became apparent. One, there was a reason he alone arrived with two trailered snowmobiles. More on that later. And two, he was a narcissistic sociopath. More on that now.
The dynamics of riding two up versus solo is pure physics. A rudimentary understanding. Having a six-foot, two-hundred-pound muscle mass of a teen-aged son is vertical ballast. His presence raises the balance and center of gravity. Simply put, the sled becomes tippy. Best to ride on flat, groomed trails. The reasonably experienced would know and understand, where one should and should not go.
Our guide didn’t acknowledge or care. This ride was about him and what he could squeeze out of it.
Our oblivious saviour ignored the obvious and proceeded to rip through thickly forested single track paths at top speed. We had to duck under fallen trees, counter balance the slip of forty-five degree slopes, and trust there was life over our ascending hill.
Having long and confidently ridden two wheels through similar terrain probably muddied my judgement. Instead of suggesting or demanding we stick to groomed trails, I accepted this sociopath’s challenge and met his twists and turns with determination. I was riding for two.
It never occurred to me that my son thought I might commit murder.
At first, the mix of high speed lake crossings and technical single track was exhilarating. It felt like a mixed accomplishment. But when our guide stopped in the middle of a road to reference his dated, early adopter, postage stamp-sized Garmin, I knew he had either deliberately lied or seriously fucked up.
To the untrained eye, he appeared innocent. Sincere. He’d lift his helmet’s visor, huff and puff, and then scan the surroundings as if he was a man-hunting tracker. He revelled in this perceived power. He might as well have been naked, stood with one leg on the seat, and for all to see, let his junk dangle in the freeze. It was a good show. I said nothing. I remained calm. Regardless how this day ended, I would ensure it was all on him, whether he survived or not.
We now sat on our snowmobiles. Fully clothed. On a logging road. In the middle of somewhere. Nowhere. We wuz lost.
At this point in time, he had agreed to have returned us to the staging area. My son had planned on playing mind-numbing video games for the remainder of his day, and I had a date with a Dutch oven and pasta sauce ingredients. But at this point in time, Google Maps told me we were at least ten kilometres southeast of the parking lot. As our guide pondered his next move, I turned to my suspiciously quiet son.
“How’re you doing, buddy?”
“Never again,” he said.
He wasn’t scared that we were lost. Or so I’d like to think. I later learned he was more afraid for the safety of that grifter of a man. My son knew my temper’s temperament for bad drivers, and especially my verbally violent lack of patience for those that violated my trust. I turned my son’s attention to the setting sun.
“We just need to follow it,” I assured him. “If we do, we’ll eventually get there. But for now, we’ll let this dumbfuck find his way back. I don’t think he wants to freeze to death tonight.”
“Unless he does,” my son interjected.
We both laughed at the thought but sat patiently waiting new directions.
Had my daughter been with me, her comments would have been darker. Channelling her inner Wednesday, she’d have said things like, “Death becomes him” or “Feels like a good day to die”. I really should have some professional speak with her.
We had plenty of fuel. As long as we didn’t crash or have any mechanical or medical issues, I was confident we’d find our way home. Worst case scenario, we walk in the direction of the sounds of other sleds.
Finally, after two and a half hours of being lost, I recognized the terrain.
As a general rule, in a new area, I either take all lefts or all rights. This way, when we want to return, we reverse our turns. Easy peasy lemon squeezy. I brought this locale to my son’s attention. The frozen marsh we currently had stopped upon was where my son T-posed the last time we visited. I knew we were only a series of lefts from the warmth and safety of our ride home.
But I didn’t share that with our third party fraudster.
Like the previous one hundred and fifty minutes, we continued to watch him stop, lift his visor, and strain to understand his tiny, one pixel screen GPS. Not once did he look at the sun.
Without fail, he’d confidently recover his face and speed off, only to quickly reverse his direction as if intended. It seemed like a game to him. But it wasn’t. Our wannabe hero was still lost. It wasn’t a game to us either, until it was. Because he didn’t have a clue what the hell he was doing, each time he reversed direction, we safely howled with laughter, all jubilation hidden by the whine of our sleds.
When we finally reached the main lake, about a kilometre from the bordering parking lot, my son and I switched positions and I let him drive. He was glad to do so. He also operates at a much slower speed. This was good. I wanted our guide to be loaded and gone before we reached our vehicle. Sadly, when we arrived, he was still puttering around. Lurking. Waiting.
Instead of considerately sending him off, I instructed my son to ignore him and park at the opposite end of the staging area. There awaited us a beckoning outhouse. Again, more time to kill. It takes a while to undress in minus fifteen weather.
Off with the gloves. Off with the helmet. Zip. Zip. Zip. Parka. Then the bib of the snow pants. Then zip zip go the pants. And finally, a scared little fella makes his way into the Canadian cold through the trap door of a synthetic blend of base layer. Seriously. There is no more welcomed relief than a full stream, full-bladder pee. It’s delayed gratification on a whole different level.
After some hand sanitizer and a couple mandarin oranges, we rode back to our trailer to find him waiting. Why?!? Ugh!
“I’m so sorry, guys,” he began. “I got us lost. I’m sorry I’ve made you late.”
“That’s okay,” I lied. “Thanks for the adventure.”
That’s my way of saying fuck off and don’t let the door hit you on the way out. But he didn’t get the message, fuck off, or get hit by the swing of my saloon doors. He just kept talking. It became awkward. I quickly realized that I’ve danced this dance before. He wanted to exchange numbers and set up another date.
Hard. Fucking. No. My facial expression of indifference said so. But he tried anyway.
“None of my friends want to ride anymore,” he whined.
“Why’s that?” I asked, playing along.
“I don’t know,” he said. “They’re all a bunch of pussies. Even my wife won’t ride with me anymore. To get her to is like pulling teeth.”
Without looking at him, I told him to take care and again thanked him for the adventure. I coldly turned away and my son and I finished loading our snowmobile. Not until we heard him drive away did we speak.
“None of my friends want to ride anymore,” I mocked. “They’re all a bunch of pussies. Even my wife won’t ride with me anymore.”
Simultaneously, we yelled, “Geez, I wonder why.
Sadly, never again meant never again. My son later informed me that he no longer has any interest in going sledding - ever again. At least, not for a while.
He’s tried it. It’s not for him. I’m okay with that. It’s his decision. I’m just glad he gave this sled thing an honest shot. However, I will always wonder if his decision was based on our latest adventure, or if it was because of me. I may never know. I’m not prepared to field the answer to that ominous question.