That one time I almost died

It’s the MOST wonderful time of the year!

With the kids jingle-belling, and everyone telling you…

It’s butt-sledding season!!

Friends, the temperatures have dropped and the snow has fallen and so on those beloved mountains and hills of mine and yours sits a bed of sweet sweet powder just waiting patiently for cheeks on sleds to swish-swhisshhhhh all the way down.

It’s one of my most favorite winter activities, second to sitting in jammies sipping warm beverages. Yes, the hike up a mountain or hill in the snow is blissfully serene. Yes, the views of snow covered valleys as far as they eye can see are *chef’s kiss*.

But, it’s the trip back down that makes this little excursion that you’re on an adventure.

In a March blog post I covered some helpful tips to ensuring a safe, respectful, and blissful sledding shesh:

  • Gather your gear
  • Find your trail
  • Hit it!

If you spent any amount of time as a child in a cold weather climate you know how to sled down a hill. Your mom bundled you up, drove you to your spot and turned you loose. You careened, arms and legs flailing in attempt to steer, over ice patches, into your younger, lighter and slower sister. Tired from belly laughs and thrills, you then dragged yourself and your sled back up the hill to do it all over again.

Sledding down a mountain is nothing like this so please refer to my previous post. And then come back for this addendum to that post, a little tale of how I almost died sledding down the most epic run on planet Earth plus a few disclaimers so that you can be fully educated when you make the same bad choices.

Let’s talk about Marble Mountain.

On Valentine’s Day of 2021, Mark and I chose to hike to the top of the mountain we were married on in 2019, Whiteface Mountain. Although home to a weather observation tower and a road that brings visitors to the top in a more conventional way, it is a breathtaking mountain with views of Lake Placid and beyond.

For Winter Olympics fans, Whiteface was also used in events for the ‘32 and ‘80 games.

To get to Whiteface Mountain the unconventional way many hikers start on a trail that first takes you up and over Marble Mountain, which still bears the cement footings of an old chair lift to now extinct ski runs. As a path cut into the mountain for a purpose, the trail heads straight up, no serpentine for erosion- or quad-sake, straight up. For 3/4 of a mile you climb. And climb and climb. No breaks, no turns. Just up.

Naturally, what goes up must…

Careen down with wild abandon.

After a long and wind-blown trek to our spot-of-love, and after huddling in a tiny snow filled shack to warm up on hot soup from our thermoses, a little leg break was much needed.

A little time to sit and let the world pass us by, to let the distance to the car draw near as we enjoyed a peaceful meander through the woods.

But that’s not how it happened.

It’s a steep trail from the bottom to the top. A few sections off Whiteface might have been considered “peaceful” and “meandering,” but we were mostly sledding for our lives until we reached the top of Marble Mountain. From there it was straight and fast with nothing but the end of the trail to slow us down.

Ladies first, obviously…so that Mark could watch and record.

To be honest, I was nervous. I had absolutely no protection against the things that could go wrong; mainly, against the the trees and the concrete footings that would most definitely mangle my body.

But the show must go on, and I was cold and wet and wanted desperately to be back at the car.

I sat on my sled, grabbed its handle and let gravity take over.

With zero resistance from twists and turns and loose snow gravity had its way with me. I slid and I slid FAST down that mountain, making it about halfway before I realized I was going at least 100mph*.

*I was not, in fact, going 100mph. It was 110mph. J/k, it was probably just 25mph but boy does that feel fast when you’re careening with wild abandon.

At this realization I bailed. I panicked and I bailed because I knew I was going way too fast to survive hitting an object in my way. I picked a nice open spot, free of immovable death traps and threw myself ass over teakettle into a full blown tumble.

I tumbled on the hard-packed trail and then I tumbled into the soft wet snow bank. I covered a lot of distance in my tumble and had the snow caked everything to prove it. Snow was in my boots, in my hat, in my pockets, in my mouth. But I was alive. And I was hysterical with glee. Adrenaline covers up a lot rational fears. Like, should I really attempt to continue to sled down the rest of this hill that I was once afraid of dying on YES I SHOULD THANKS FOR ASKING.

And so I did, with less fear and less bailing; making it to the bottom where I was greeted by a dog.

Of course, Mark watched, recorded and learned from my bail, and so he gave himself a smoother, less snow-caked ride down. He also greeted the dog before we limped the last mile to the car.

I shouldn’t need to tell you at this point that butt-sledding down mountains is extremely dangerous. But I will anyway.


If you are hiking in the winter, you will most definitely have micro-spikes (for the icy spots) and snowshoes (required in some areas but also generally a good idea). These items are spikey and can easily get caught on rocks, branches and snow, sending you ass over teakettle toward things that can impale you or worse.

Worse being falling off a cliff. Even the baby hills can have big drop offs with mystery dangers at the bottom.

And this leads to danger for the rescuers. Rangers aren’t always able to be air lifted and dropped on the scene of your misadventure; they hike the same hike, in the same conditions and risk the same dangers.

So keep that in mind when you’re placing your buns on sled.

Make good choices.

BONUS: I really almost died on Giant Mountain.

This is another steep climb that wears on the legs but offers great sledding on the way down; however the conditions for swooshing at the top are vastly different than those toward the bottom. The beautiful powder turns to pure ice and that is where our story begins.

Picture this: Stacie, out of her weary mind, cocky from successful runs at the top of the mountain, steps up to her sled and takes off on a section of the trail that is icy and curvy, full of boulders and downed tree limbs.

Mark does not. He is still in possession of the sense God gave him.

Stacie careens. Out of control.

Around curves.

Over boulders.

Up and over the trail and down a creek embankment.

Rolling and rolling down.

My trip down Marble Mountain was dangerous, but I would do it again because I still felt like I had control.

My trip down the bottom of Giant Mountain was dumb in addition to dangerous. I had no control on the ice and it was pure luck that I wasn’t seriously injured. I learned a lesson that day so you don’t have to. Have fun but be safe, friends!

Wait. How far is a marathon?

My youngest sister decided on a whim to sign up for the race Mark and I are running in her Wisconsin town next summer. She comes from a line of impulsive adventure seekers, the same line from which I descended, those who say yes first and ask questions later.

Which is why I got the follow up text, “wait, how far is a marathon?”

Inspirational speech and new running shoes later, she’s still in; it’ll be tough, but I know she’ll do the thing.

If I can do it, you can do it! Is what I tell her and most people who have something to say about our running adventures.

No doubt, you’ve heard the line before; in general it’s supposed to show you that if a terrible/horrible/no-gooder like me can do it, so can you! person who is obviously in a much better position physically/mentally/financially!

Does it ever really inspire confidence? The sayer is never actually terrible, horrible, or no-good, they’re usually pretty excellent, and the hearer already had a running list of their own detractions to talk themselves out of it.

Ok. But in this case you have to trust me:

If I can do it…

Growing up, I listened to the stories my dad would tell about his time in the Navy. He would talk about being on ships and in tents on top of mountains, about being pushed into pools with hands tied behind his back and treading water for hours with boots and uniform on and all the running. I thought “SURELY this is NOT for me!”

I had wanted a career in the military, to be just like my dad, but I knew I absolutely could not/would not force my body to do those things. I was pampered and pristine. And so I completely altered the course of my life and went the civilian way, the pampered civilian way, where I wasn’t asked to lift heavy things or run for no reason.

My dad, by-the-way, was part of the 3rd Reconnaissance Battalion, a special unit based in Okinawa, Japan that crawled around in the mud and jumped out of planes; not exactly the most accurate, all encompassing representation of military life. A fact I only just recently learned.

This is the epitome of lazy, my friends, and I challenge you to find a lazier fellow than the one who could not be bothered to go down a path of service because running was just too sweaty and hard.

It is terrible, horrible and simply No. Good.

And yet!

I’ve since run a marathon.

In fact, I’ve run five.

I’ve climbed the highest peaks in New York State and started climbing the highest in New Hampshire.

I’m also in the process of joining the Navy Reserves.

So believe me when I say if I can pick myself up and off the couch where I thought I was perfectly content with my bag of Hostess Donettes and do it…

You really can do it!

I’m not telling you to go run a marathon (but hey, if I can do it….wink). I’m saying you really can do that hard thing you swore you absolutely could not/would not do.

How do you eat an elephant?

One bite at a time.

My sister is going to take her training one bite at a time; slowly and deliberately she’ll add to what she did the day before and by August that will have taken her over 26.2 miles. She’ll use a training plan that has laid out exactly what she will need to do in order to reach that goal.

I started out in much the same way and picked up a few lessons:

Have grace for yourself!

Recognize that you are starting something new and unfamiliar and will not be the best at it. I struggle to overcome this daily. You might think it the trait of a type A perfectionist and good on you! for demanding the very best of yourself, but you’d be wrong. It’s the act of the most lazy of all the lazies; of someone who paints themselves a failure after getting it wrong on the first try and can’t be bothered to put in the hard work to reach the finish line. Don’t be that guy, but until you’re not that guy, give yourself a little grace as often as you need it.

Be patient with yourself!

I see you. I know you. I am you. Your body does not respond well to changes. It is going to try to overthrow your ruthless regime and take away your ability to walk, bend, or sleep. If you take your time and keep at it, you will regain control over your body and you will reap those glorious rewards that come with doing the thing.

When I trained for my first long distance race, a half marathon, I had knee pain that radiated up and down my leg making it hard to even walk; it was discouraging and I didn’t know how I’d be able to finish my training. But I learned what strength training exercises would build up the muscles around my knee, muscles I literally never ever use, I did them, and I ran my race. It wasn’t pretty, I still had some pain in my knee, but by my third half marathon my legs were conditioned enough that I was able to run pain free.

There were side stitches and heart issues I had to overcome too—please don’t make me tell you to check with your doctor before taking any of my advice!

Sometimes you have to force yourself!

I have to tell myself daily to do the things that need to be done. I’d rather sleep. I’d rather snack. I’d rather clean the toilet some days than go out on a cold morning to run around my neighborhood for an hour. But I know that 1) I’m training for a goal and if I veer too far off course it’s only going to be that much harder to cross the literal finish line, and 2) I’m going to feel like I let myself down by not doing it. It’s a lose-lose situation; I’m miserable if I do and I’m miserable if I don’t, but read: Glorious Rewards above and you see there is a “win” at the end of one of those miserable tunnels.

Mark’s advice is to get up, get dressed, lace up the sneaks and head out for just a mile. If after that mile I’m still not feeling it, come home, put the comfies on and and get back in bed. Of course I never come back after that mile, that’s the whole point; by then the blood is pumping, the endorphins are pumping and I’m ready to finish my workout.

It’s ok to hate it!

Life is not sunshine and puppy kisses all the time, neither is pushing yourself toward your limit. But if you do, you’ll find that you have a much higher tolerance for the tough stuff. As a wise man once said said, “after the Olympics, everything looked so damned easy.”

I remind my teenage step-daughter that she’s allowed to be miserable as we’re climbing the worst-of-the-worst rock scramble to get to the top of our mountain; that she can stop and breathe and rest her legs and let out an age appropriate swear like “balderdash!” and “barnacles!” She usually skips the swearing but does haul her butt to the top and enjoys that glorious reward.

Don’t recreate the wheel!

Others have come before you, they did the thing and learned a lesson or two so listen! When climbing the mountains in the High Peaks region of the Adirondack Park, Mark and I read blogs on what others did, we scoured Facebook posts, we found out which trails to avoid, where there might be broken bridges and mud pits. When we run we use Hal Higdon’s training plans that give us the workouts our legs need to be able to cover the distance and we cover the damn distance. Although we could figure all this out on our own, why waste the experiences of the ones who’ve done the work? Look to your adventure-elders, they might know a thing or two.

My sister is going to learn her own lessons along the way. When it comes to the nitty gritty of running before work vs. running after work, fueling with burritos vs. gel blocks, through trial and error she’ll figure out what works best for her; but she will have a foundation of advice to build a successful training plan on…in a really good pair of shoes.