What Washington Could Learn from Sledding Up a Hill

Matthew Dowd

By Matthew Dowd

Feb 22, 2013 3:17pm
abc down mi 130222 wblog What Washington Could Learn from Sledding Up a Hill

Luke Cypret

How do we know if the hills in life are too big to climb or if we have the capacity to get to the top of our dreams or if our problems in this country are too big to overcome?

This past week I spent some time in the snows of Montana with one of my younger brothers and two of my nephew’s snowmobiling in the Gallatin National Forest and in Yellowstone National Park.  We took many beautiful winding wind swept trails at both sunrise and sunset and saw amazing natural beauty and wildlife along the way.  Sometimes we would go full throttle and race each other through twists and turns, and sometimes we would go slow or stop to just take in the landscape.

At one point we came to this huge steep hill where we stopped and wondered if our snowmobiles could make it up to the top and back down safely.  Later I learned this hill was called “fiberglass hill” because of the damage to snowmobiles that didn’t make it and rolled down broken and mangled, and to get up this hill required much more powerful machines than we had rented.  We didn’t know that at the moment we came to it at the end of the groomed trails.

My nephew who is 25 decided to try and got about a quarter of the way up before he turned around quickly and came back rolling his snowmobile as he came down.  I looked up and without much thinking (in retrospect I probably should have paused a bit longer) decided to go full throttle and give a shot.

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Hitting the hill at full speed I moved up with a bit of both fear and exhilaration, passed my nephews high point and kept going, until I reached about three quarters of the way up.  That is when my snowmobile and me couldn’t go any further and came to a stop.  No matter how much gas I gave it, I couldn’t go an inch further up or even turn around, and the snowmobile dug into the snow and ice.  At this point, I was in major danger of hurting the sled (as folks up there call snowmobiles) and myself.  I now started to really worry.

My brother and my nephews looked up at me from the bottom of the hill and I could tell they were both concerned and found it a bit humorous, and they didn’t know what to do either.   At first I tried to back it down slowly in reverse, and made about 50 feet of progress (not much on this tall hill or at this point what I thought had become a mountain).  And it only accomplished getting the back of the snowmobile further stuck.  I got off the snowmobile and couldn’t even maintain my place on the hill without holding onto the machine, so lifting it and moving it was impossible.  I turned around and saw my younger brother slowly making his way up the hill.  The angle of the hill was so steep that he had to slowly side step his way up.  It took this triathlete brother of mine nearly 20 minutes to get to me.

Together we tried moving it but barely made any progress but we did get the snowmobile on its side but more wedged into the snow.  At this point, we had few options, so we decided together to do a slow roll and see if we could get it down the hill.  He was on the upward side and I was on the downward, and as we lifted the snowmobile started to roll.  At this point, we both thought we would get the snowmobile down but it would be totaled because it would flip over and over until it reached bottom.

As it rolled, I got the idea I could catch one of the blades with my arm as it rolled and try and keep it upright.  Looking back, that was probably foolhardy.   The snowmobile rolled once as it moved down hill and I hung tight on the blade hoping I could keep it from rolling again.  It worked but I was caught under the snowmobile, as it was now upright slid down the hill.  I made it all the way and at the bottom was able to get up a little bruised and battered but unharmed.  We got the snowmobile started and made our way back to West Yellowstone.  My brother was shaking his head and said, “Man you are lucky, but what were you thinking?” I said I had no idea.

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At dinner that night, I met up with him with a smile on my face, and said though it was a mistake to attempt that run up the hill, I am glad I did because I learned two things.   First, I told him that even though I am now 51, I am still willing to take risks and do daring things (as the wonderful author Brene Brown says in her book, Daring Greatly). He said, “Yeah, you have been doing that your whole life.”  And second, I realized again that my brother is a person who no matter what always comes to those in need.   And both those things warmed my heart on a cold night in Montana.

None of us will get to the top of our own hills without “daring greatly”.  That sometimes while wisdom and reason is important, we have to just try even if we may fail or get hurt along the way or suffer loss.  A life lived in the safe warm confines of our routines may feel secure, but won’t allow us to know what we can achieve or create.  Pushing ourselves beyond our comfort zones and into uncharted territory and through our vulnerability may be the only way to achieve the heights we dream about.

And when we get stuck on the hills in our life or are in trouble, sometimes we need the help of loved ones to get us to safety.  That we can’t live a life alone and do great things without the assistance of companions along the way.

Maybe the president and the Republicans can push themselves out of their safe and comfortable talking points and dogma which gives security, and do something daring and solve the major problems facing the country today such as the fiscal mess we are in.  And if they get stuck, maybe they can turn to us, the voters, and we can help them on the hill.   And even if we together don’t reach the summit, at least we will have tried, and cleared a path for those that follow us.

Maybe it is just a dream of mine or maybe I am still woozy from that fall down the hill, but I do think it is possible for our country and for us individually if we have the courage to dare to follow our dreams.

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