The Ozark Mountain Hill Slide

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The daredevil famer hits the Ozark Mountain Hill Slide.
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Animals run during the Ozark Mountain Hill Slide.

Learn about the daredevil farmer and the Ozark Mountain Hill Slide.

If that sissy sport of curling can be elevated to the status of an official Winter Olympics event, I think the Olympic Committee should sanction the more exciting sport of bringing home groceries in an Ozark ice storm, known as the Ozark Mountain Hill Slide.

The last time I competed in this event, I was way out in front of the pack when the storm actually hit, having bested most of the other participants in the obligatory shopping round. Like compulsory figures in a skating competition, frantic shopping errands seem demanded of everyone any time a winter weather advisory is issued. I deftly whipped in and out of the grocery store for the provisions I required. Spectators gasped audibly at the bold maneuvers I performed with my shopping cart, cutting off slower participants in nearly every aisle and beating out a child for the last bunch of decent bananas.

I felt confident enough of victory that I used up valuable seconds making one more stop for bird seed, and another, almost fatal one as it turned out, to buy a couple of gallons of paint. (After all, what better way to celebrate a win than to hotdog home with not only essentials, but also heavy objects completely unnecessary to surviving the storm?)

Just as I turned off onto my dirt road, a downpour of huge raindrops began. The shower was over by the time I had driven most of the two miles remaining to get to my house, but I felt like I had taken a wrong turn and come out on Big Rock Candy Mountain. Even without any sunlight coming through the clouds, every tree, twig, rock and blade of grass dazzled my eyes. Time itself seemed to freeze, encased (like everything else) in a quarter inch of glare ice.

I tried to coax my truck up the gentle rise leading to the last hill above my house, but I ended up backwards in a ditch. I abandoned my truck in that unorthodox parking place to compete the rest of the way on foot.

The only way I could get any traction was to remove my carpet-scrap truck mats and toss them, alternately, ahead of me, like some tender-footed tourist making his way across a beach of hot sand.

Each mat would freeze where I threw it, hold my weight when I stepped there, and provide me a position from which to rip up the mat from behind me and repeat the maneuver all over again. In that manner I made it up to the top of the hill not once, but three times, thereby with much difficulty transferring all my perishable provisions to a large cardboard box I had prudently rescued from the dumpster.

The temperature that night was predicted to plummet below the point that is good for liquid latex, so I skittered back down to the truck and returned, still mat-hopping, with a gallon of paint dangling from each elbow. I must have looked like some tottering and forgetful grand dame, wandering off with an oversized purse dangling on each arm. When I again achieved the summit I was determined to get home before spring with all my provisions, or die trying. (That possibility was soon to seem all too likely.)

In a phenomenon not unlike when climbers in the Himalayas are deprived of oxygen for so long that their thought processes suffer, I got the great idea that I could slide home. The result was about like what would have happened if Sir Edmund Hillary had carried skis up Mount Everest for his return trip.

I tore off one cardboard flap from the box of groceries and sat down on it. Locking my legs around the heavy box, and securing the handle of one gallon of paint in each of my tucked elbows, I shoved off down the hill. All I can say is it seemed like a good idea at the time. It really did.

As I gained momentum, a sound erupted from beneath me like a jet plane taking off. My dog and cat had ventured as far as the bottom of the hill. Now they sat there, stupidly grinning up at me, both of them blissfully unaware that I had no brakes.

By the time that fact occurred to me, I had accelerated to a point where I was beginning to lift off the ice’s surface, which was just as well, since the cardboard under me had immediately shredded, and I was in danger of destroying a perfectly good pair of Levis™ and a brand new pair of Hanes™.

I leaned back and tried to create drag with the truck mats I was still clutching, but when my elbows parted from my body, the weight of the paint cans pulled my arms nearly out of their sockets. I cast off one can, and the handle of the other mercifully broke, like a ski binding that releases seconds before your ankle snaps.

Released from these burdens and any means to slow my descent, I simply tucked into a modified luge position, praying that the cans of paint (now rocketing behind me) would veer off course before we crashed below.

I narrowly missed both animals, but hit the thicket so hard that I crawled out looking like the big loser in a cat fight. One can of paint narrowly missed taking out the cat, and the other miraculously went under the startled Dalmatian and disappeared into the briar patch like a frightened rabbit.

Only thing missing were the cheers as I emerged, shaking birdseed out of my clothes and poking around in the underbrush for the groceries that had exploded from the box.

No judges scored me for originality or the degree of technical difficulty in my performance, but I am sure that if they had, my scores would have been extraordinary. Curling. Pshaw.

Josh Young is the author of  Missouri Curiosities, which will soon be out in a second edition, published by The Globe Pequot Press.

Published on Jan 1, 2007

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