My brother-in-law, Kenny, is the talented, out-doors sort of fellow. Although I’ve admired his skills when we hunted and fished years ago, he might well be a licensed, card carrying knucklehead.

During the 2011 Missouri River flood, Rita and I traveled to Bismarck to help sandbag the same brother-in-law’s house. Pulling a fifth-wheel style trailer, he drove me to where the National Guard was filling sandbags using the “spider” – a contraption that delivers sand from an overhead hopper into many circular directions for bagging. With the line of waiting vehicles advancing slowly, Kenny jumped out of the truck and ran ahead to help fill bags while I inched the truck and trailer closer to the front of the line.

When our turn to load came, Kenny ran back to the truck and bellowed, “Slide over – it takes a real man to drive a rig like this.” Once at the wheel again, a National Guardsman waved our direction, motioning to circle around to the far side of the spider toward an open space. Driving past numerous vehicles in the circle, Kenny cut the corner too closely causing the trailer behind to rip the bumper off a pickup loading sandbags. When he suggested recently we go snowmobiling in the Turtle Mountains, I assumed it would be his outdoor talents that would be on display. I was wrong.

The plan included a twenty-five-mile round-trip to Calvin’s Corner where we would warm up over lunch before completing the return trip. We departed with three other riders on a poorly established trail heading east. It wasn’t long before the lead rider took us down an incline that required each machine’s careful navigation to descend a narrow path onto a pond. All five sleds managed the passage, threading the needle through a stand of sturdy pines. Once there, it was obvious the only way out required a reverse course up the same tree-lined track.

The second sled attempting the return lost momentum halfway up when its skis became entwined in fallen branches hidden under the snow. After twenty minutes of pushing, pulling and a generous smattering of foul language, the sled reached the top of the hill. Witnessing this, and recognizing limited snowmobiling skills, I suggested Kenny ride my machine up the slippery slope. He did so uneventfully.

He trekked back to the pond on foot, then mounted his own ride – borrowed from my wife’s brother for the day. Fully betrayed by recent success and adrenaline-inspired confidence, he mashed the throttle to sprint up the gauntlet once more. Halfway up this time, he wandered off-center causing the sled to tip and begin a slow roll to the left. Kenny bailed out barely in time to avoid being steamrolled into an oblivion of snow. The snowmobile continued its sideways tumble until it slammed into a pair of trees, coming to rest upside down. Explaining later to Rita’s brother, he implied I was the one responsible for the damage.

After lunch the group headed back. Soon, Kenny’s snowmobile (likely still smarting from its sideways logroll) conked out. He attached a towrope from my sled to his then barked, “You pull, I’ll ride behind.”

Eventually back at Long Lake, the finish was in sight. I picked up the pace. Tired of watching nothing but my backside, Kenny couldn’t take a lack of excitement anymore. Without warning, he steered his sled sideways like a slalom skier behind a speed boat, jerking the tail end of my ride sideways. The snowmobile tilted up on one ski as down-hill skier Bode Miller might, headed around the last pole during the Olympics Super-G. As happens to Montana cowboys atop Brahma bulls, my low-altitude ejection began. Like the pelicans do each summer, I briefly flew parallel to the lake. Though the snow on the lake was soft, the landing grabbed my left hip, twisting me like a candy cane.

What is true for pickup trucks with trailers also applies to other types of transportation. Further understood is – all it takes to ruin an otherwise enjoyable day is a knucklehead-in-law.

Sommers is a retired Minot orthodontist, past president of the N.D. Dental and Orthodontist Associations, husband, father, grandfather and reluctant diaper changer (not his — grandkids’!)


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