I heard the sound of a snow machine engine pulling hard, and I knew that either one of my scouts was getting into deep powder, or he was breaking rules and riding his machine across the river.
It was scout month, and we had decided for our outing with the oldest scouts that we would snow machine in to the Forest Service cabin at Warm River Springs. Warm River Springs is a beautiful place far back in the woods. It is extremely isolated, and the solitude is enhanced by the snow, broken only by the rush of the water cascading out of the hillside.
We arrived there just before dark, and quickly set up the cabin. After a meal of steak and baked potatoes, we told ghost stories, and went to bed.
The next morning, the boys quickly downed the pancakes, eggs, and bacon, anxious to head out and do a bit more snowmobiling before we headed back. There were some fun hills to climb, and some good trails. But I had some rules. Besides safety, there was one more thing I insisted on.
The boys liked to challenge each other to see if they could snowmobile across the river. By getting up enough speed, they could use their machines much like a jet ski and fly along on top of the water.
The problem with this is that a snow machine is much heavier than a jet ski, and tends to ride lower in the water. I didn’t like them doing this for three reasons. First, if they ever had a problem, we would be caught with a snow machine sunk in the river which we would have to figure a way to get out. Secondly, the machines churned the water deep enough that it destroyed the moss and other vegetation in the river, disrupting the ecosystem. The third reason was that it was basically illegal.
Before I let them start their activities, I warned them one last time about obeying the rules, and they all promised they would.
But it wasn’t long before I heard that telltale sound. I slipped outside and found my fears were confirmed. Two of the boys had challenged each other to see if each could do what the other was doing. I watched as they crossed back and forth across the river a couple of times. Frustrated, I started walking in their direction. But just as I did, one of them turned his machine to follow the river to the cabin. Instead of about a 40 yard crossing it would be about 200 yards on top of the water.
The second boy followed. The first boy made the whole length and reached the bank just as his machine was starting to sputter. The second boy was moving along well. And even though I was upset, I hoped he would make it so we didn’t have to fish him and his machine out.
But when he was only about 20 yards from the bank, the front ski of his machine hit a sunken log hidden below the surface. The front of the machine popped up, and then dove into the river, filling the engine with water, and bringing it to a sudden stop.
We all gathered on the bank, and I could feel my frustration building as his machine started to sink. He stood up on it as it as it continued to settle deeper. When the water started rising up around his ankles, he yelled to us.
“Hey, you guys! Do something!”
The other boys looked at me, questioningly, so I figured I did need to do something. And indeed, at that point, I did do something. I applauded his less-than-stellar performance.
“That’s not what I meant!” he yelled.
Later, as he slid into the waist deep ice water to tie a rope to his machine so we could pull it out, I thought that maybe, just maybe, one boy had learned a valuable lesson that day.