Ep10. Volcano Sledding

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Location: Leon, Nicaragua

(I posted this a while back- but this is the extended/podcast-version. ENJOY!)

While I was sitting in Grammie’s house with the fire going, sipping tea, we watched the snow come down. It was, yet another, winter storm for America’s East Coast. She asked me when the last time I saw snow was- I couldn’t remember. It had been a really long time. “So you haven’t been sledding?”

“Oh, no. I went Volcano Sledding!”

I paused for half a second and then repeated it for her again, slowly. “I SLEDDED DOWN A VOLCANO!”

Yep. A new sport to be added to the rest of the adrenaline-causing-rushes that one does like bungee jumping, skydiving, and scuba-diving with sharks. Not being sure that “Volcano Boarding” should be classified as “one of the most dangerous sports available to men” as it was advertised to be. The most dangerous part of the whole thing is that no waiver is filled out before hand- making this a lawyer’s dream— or nightmare.

The whole experience consists of hiking up the side of the most active and youngest volcano in Central America (Cerro Negro) in the blazing sun, acquiring small fish-tank-like-pebbles in every orifice of your body, while carrying a make-shift toboggan that is a little more than a piece of plywood with PVC on the front and a small piece of formica on the bottom “to give you speed!”—all while wearing an orange jumpsuit that makes everyone look like a jail bird.

At the top, the group received a total of three minutes of “survival training” consisting of “If you’re going to bail, drop the chord and cover your face. Drop the chord, cover your face. Drop the chord…. And cover your face.” It all seemed like a joke, being told something three times like we were children, but the instructions seemed overly simple for “sledding” that one begins to get a little nervous—actually taking in the fact that this IS a volcano…. And SLEDDING DOWN IT is about to happen.

Approaching the edge with my “toboggan”, a makeshift scarf and overly-scratched goggles cover useful fleshy bits, holding a last bit of breath and trying to clear the visions of the ticker-tape parade that will, surely, be held back home for the “Hero of the Volcano”. Fantasies of friends carrying me on their shoulders, the newspapers spewing headlines of “Local (semi-crazy) Girl Survives Sledding Down A Volcano!” and a king’s feast of perfectly grilled burgers, stuffed with blue-cheese, topped with caramelized onions, streaky bacon, served on toasted poppy-seed buns, with red-potato salad – the kind that your mom used to make-completes the picture. Ready (and now hungry), my brain is psyched out and has determined that this is going to be the single greatest moment of my life.

Letting go of the ground, my fears and my last held breath; feet are in front of me, the ground starts to wiz by. Faster and faster, making steering nearly impossible. Left foot goes down, ash-gravel spewing everywhere, the goggles and sunset and hope of ticker-tape clouding my vision as pulling on the chord seems to be doing nothing. “Volcano Girl starts to lose control, but can she gain it back?” an announcer voice booms in my head. Core tight, leaning forward, pulling the chord tight—none of it matters. The battle against gravity is lost and my body tumbles off the board and down the mountain.

“DROP THE CHORD, COVER YOUR FACE!” booms the announcer voice. A few scratches to my pride and arm were all that was affected. Grabbing the board, walking the rest of the way down, the rush was gone and replaced with embarrassment for my mid-western ancestors who, practically, invented tobogganing. The vision of the parade and mouth-watering feast fades as the hungover California boys, who have never experienced a snow-day, rush past going 80Km an hour. The sun sets, the last victims sled down, we pack up the truck and head back to Leon for some free celebratory mojitos. After the second drink a brilliant thought occurs: No one saw the bail! Hell, if this story wasn’t written, it was as if it never happened!

The next morning the volcano erupted and volcano boarding was canceled for the next ten days. No longer feeling like a wuss- the heroic parade vision popped back into my head, newspapers with the heading “Local Girl Dodges Death!” fly off the shelves, the local band plays some Sousa marches as classic Chryslers wheel around the square and my hair is littered with blue and green ticker tape. Awesome feeling is restored!


MORAL: If you ever get the chance to sled down a volcano- take it. Just make sure the volcano isn’t erupting that day.


Thanks to Dexter Britain and John Phillips Sousa for their music contribution and BigFoot Hostel for taking me volcano sledding.

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