The Giant Inner Tube Adventure

Some ideas are like trails of standing dominoes; once you knock the first into action, they can quickly turn into a series of unintended consequences that are impossible to stop.  This is the story of once such idea.  Hold on!  This is quite a ride…

Behind Grant Elementary School in Petaluma, Calif. was a wonderful steep hill that we actually had permission to use. I believe the owner only considered our tree climbing and box sliding plans which, for those of you younger than say 35, were not considered life-threatening as they are today. However, these relatively safe activities were not on our agenda today.

I was a student at Grant the day this great adventure unfolded.  You can still visit this hill today, but some clod built a neighborhood right where this adventure happened, so the evidence is all gone and I think the statute of limitations has expired anyway.

Everyone in the neighborhood knew this place simply as “The Hill.”  It had a magnificent view from the top and almost everything a group of boys (and a few hardy girls) needed for many types of adventures.

This particular adventure however was not repeated for reasons you’ll understand shortly. First, you need to understand some details of the topology.  Starting from the top of the hill, there was a steep but walk-able grassy slope for about 60 yards and most of this was crisscrossed with cow paths.

Then the slope got much steeper and was covered with a thick copse of ancient oak trees for about 15 yards.  At the bottom, the trees stopped at a wide level path for another 5 yards where there was a heavy wire fence which was almost as old as those trees. After the fence was a level field which had to be close to 15 empty flat acres.

Important point: from any of those cow paths, above the steep grove, you could see over the oak trees down to the field beyond the fence.

Okay, here’s what happened.  And I promise you that I’m not making this up.  We really did this.

giant tubeMy friend, Mike, and his younger brother, Jimmy, had a huge aircraft inner tube that we used for all kinds of fun.  His father got it from what used to be Hamilton Field Air Force base where he worked.

Today, we had a great idea that would horrify any rational parent- even back then, but somehow it made sense at the time, and no rational parents were nearby anyway.

inner tube pilotNear the top of the hill we talked Jimmy into standing the tube on its round edge, scrunching into the center hole so he had an arm and a leg sticking out of each side and riding the tube down the hill. We often did this on flat ground, and from the hilltop, it would be a thrilling ride.  Mike and I were smart enough to test it first on Jimmy to see if would be safe enough for us. What could possibly go wrong….?

We made Jimmy promise to stop before the steep tree-covered slope. But just in case, Mike stood about 20 feet uphill from the slope with the deadly trees to catch Jimmy if he didn’t stop in time. As a third layer of protection, I stood about 10 feet uphill from the slope. “Safety first,” we always said. Jimmy would never make it to the trees – right…?

Kids, don’t try this at home!  We actually did this.  It was not a good idea then.  It’s no better now.

Everyone got into position and Mike yelled to Jimmy to, “LET’R ROLL!”  And wow!  It was amazing how fast he accelerated. In seconds, all we could see was the tube rolling wildly with a set of arms and legs wildly waving out of each side.

For some reason, Jimmy started to scream – loudly – with multiple lung-full’s of panic laced with certain favorite swear words.  Mike and I both quickly realized that there was a problem with the physics.  Jimmy was moving much too fast to stop himself.

Mike yelled, “WE HAVE TO STOP THAT TUBE!”. We both knew that if Jimmy got hurt, his parents would redefine punishment right to the edge of homicide. I watched Mike run uphill to catch the tube before it gained even more speed.  Mike met and engaged the tube in earnest. With a muffled thump, the tube simply ate him and left him mashed into the hillside – conforming his spine to the ridges of the cow paths.  Ouch!  That had to hurt!

This left only me between Jimmy and the slope of tree-covered death. I took off running, thinking as I closed the gap between me and the murderous tube.  Mike tried to hit it head-on and that didn’t work at all.  What could I do differently?  I decided to body-block it from an angle, destabilizing its roll cycle which would surely slow it enough for Jimmy to stop it. In short,  the tube ate me too, giving me a face-first taste of those cow paths.  So much for my instincts for physics.

Quickly pealing my face out of that cow trail, I rolled over in time to watch as tube and Jimmy dropped over the edge and “oh God, no…”,  into the trees. He disappeared but we could hear branches violently snapping as Jimmy hit them.

“This is it,” I thought.  “He’s dead – and so are we…”  There was no way he could miss all those trees. . .

But he did.  We knew he did because suddenly we heard the awful sound of Jimmy hitting that old fence. It was a violent sound of straining rusty wire mesh and tearing of old wood posts.  So he was going to die when his body passed through the wire fence mess.  We would find him in bloody cubic noodles like from a giant play dough fun factory.  His parents would not be pleased.

But this time physics (or perhaps the God of small boys) saved him. That rotten old fence actually yielded and bent over about 50 degrees – forming a ramp that (yes) launched Jimmy and that insane tube high into the air just like a ski jump – scary high.

He went high enough, in fact, for Mike and I way up the hill to see him take flight from above the trees.  I began to wonder if he was still alive and if he would ever stop.

Surreal – but there he went with arms and legs still spinning wildly out of each side of the tube.  I think he must have made peace with his fate because he was no longer screaming. Maybe he was already dead from a heart attack?  His arms and legs did look pretty floppy.  No matter – because now Mike was screaming hysterically.

It was obvious that, from that height, Jimmy was going to die (or die again…?) when he eventually crashed back to earth.  But, he didn’t.  He bounced – once.

On the up-bounce, Jimmy finally separated from the tube; fortunately, from a relatively safe altitude, and landed in the soft tall grass of that lower field.  After what felt like the longest train crash ever, Jimmy had finally stopped moving and laid still.

The tube bounced a few more times before stopping.  The final site of Jimmy’s death looked suddenly peaceful and quiet.  Mike and I ran down to verify the results.

Jimmy was still breathing – remarkable – amazing, and his eyes were huge – frozen open with panic. Incredibly – his pants weren’t even soiled. . .

When his panic dissipated and he could blink again, Jimmy was pretty angry at us, but he calmed down in a week or so.  He always did and would soon be ready for our next bright idea, but it was a long time before Jimmy got near that tube again.

Mike and I, on the other hand continued to love that old tube – but, we decided that this experiment need not be repeated or reported to any parental-type person until the applicable statutes of limitations expired – which they have – I hope.

We pushed the fence back up where it at least looked like a fence again, picked up the tube and headed for home.  Our test pilot had survived, so we would too and it was time to find some other way to entertain ourselves.

Maybe a good book this time. . .

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18 thoughts on “The Giant Inner Tube Adventure”

    1. Ah – you found my first and favorite memory and I’m so pleased you are laughing at it.

      About poor old Jimmy. He walked away on his own. He really was angry at us for several days, but was younger than Mike and me, so wanted badly to be a part of whatever we were doing. Un-named, he shows up in several other stories. I offer you both the eucalyptus sprouts and storm drain stories. I think he was with us at the rock quarry too.

      When I moved from grammar school to Jr. high, I lost track of him in the much larger population of students and my own distractions; girl-friends and bullies you know. I do know that his brother Mike was in a nasty motorcycle accident about the time I went off to trade school/college and after several months, died of his injuries, Mike never stopped living like he (and his body) still bounced like we did in grammar school.

      Somewhere along the line, I decided that I had most likely burned through more than my fair share of luck, so learned how to earn my keep in safer ways.

      I’m so pleased that you enjoyed this story as it really is one of my favorites. Thanks for letting me know you did.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Hello Anne Marie. Do you recall making this comment? I think this is where I first met you. Would you have guessed we’ve only known each other for year and a half – or does it feel more like forever? I’m not sure, but I sure recall what a joy it was to get this comment from you. But now I’m wondering, did you share it with your readers because back in those days, I didn’t know how to check such things. Did they like it?

      warmest regards always – and thanks again for your friendship.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. This was one of the first stories I recorded when I started the collection. I was still sharing them only via facebook and trying to figure out how this blog-thing was supposed to work. And yes, it is an honor each time you share one of my stories with your readers. They are a great group and I’m humbled each time you do.
        You’re also much better at finding photos than I am. I’m working on this, but it may take a while for this student to catch up with his teacher.

        Liked by 1 person

  1. Gary, I have just laughed so hard reading this story. I went to McKinkey School, so didn’t have the opportunity to experience this hill as a youngster (thank God, and being a rather unadventurous girl I’m sure I would have run the other way!!) BUT, this is now our neighborhood! We built our house here 35 years ago, and although we were one of the very early residents, the cow paths were long gone by the time we arrived. There is one lot that is still vacant (hard to believe), and my kids used to ride down the slope on cardboard. Much less dangerous, lots of fun, but I can unequivocally state that it is NOT fun if you are in your 30’s (why I thought it would be a good idea to join them I will never know…) I know we went to high school together, but were we also in the Youth Group at First Presbyterian Church together? Corey (Baur) Benjamin

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Corey. Wow! Talk about hearing the voice of someone I knew so long ago…
      I recall you fondly and am so honored that you would take the time to read one of my stories.

      It made my day to hear you laughed that hard at it. It really is one of my favorites and this is the first one I recorded because it had been so much fun to share orally. The fact that you now live at the scene of the event is just a riot. I don’t recall for sure but hope that the trees are still roughly in the same spot so you can look over the top of that small copse of ancient oaks and see where poor old Jimmy flew. It is also too bad we never became closer friends as it would have been fun to share some of these adventures with you back when you could bounce like a 10 year old rather than a 30 year old. Yea – I’ll bet that hurt some…

      I hope you’ll check out some of my other stories. Since you have kids, you should find several that may make you never want to let them out of your sight. You must check out the Kid Bomb story. As a mom – you may well just want to slug me (my own aunt sure did) but I promise you will laugh at that stunt.

      Finally, thanks so much for reaching out. You made me day and I hope to hear more of your own adventures. There really are precious memories for our kids to know and keep about our growing up.

      Blessings.

      Like

  2. OMG between cascading tears of hilarity, I finished reading your story, then, through more cascading tears (mine and my kids) as I read this aloud to them, we all nearly fell on the floor, off our chairs and that would have indeed been a dilemma of the greatest order, but sincerely, I would do it again! If I may, I would love to repost this! Everyone should read this! OMG I lived through some crazy scary crap (now that I’m older and realize what could have happened) but none as wild as this.

    Like

    1. Hi Phyllis (please correct me if I’m wrong about your name). And what a pay-off today has become! Delivering laughs like this to a mom and her kids AND on mother’s day no less. You and your kids have made my day. To your question, I would be very honored if you shared out the link to my story. Having others laugh at my stories is about the best fun around.

      Assuming your kids are not given to running off and trying stuff like this, they might also get a kick out of: the Eucalyptus Sprouts, Rock Quarry and T-Swing Adventures. Both were pretty rowdy and lots of fun. For more adult scale laughs, you should also enjoy the Chainsaw, Commuter Horseplay, Kid Bomb and Childbirth Deception Stunt. If your kids are into pancakes, they might enjoy my only story with a recipe; the Carrot Corn Pancake Incident.

      Most seriously; you are clearly much more accomplished a writer than me. Thank you for the fun and very kind note above.

      Blessings to you and your family.

      Like

      1. Thank you, Gary (if I may) and Phyllis is right, indeed. My kids are older ( I am ancient) and they enjoyed so much! I’m slowly making my way through and honestly, I’ve never enjoyed more! Thank you for the mother’s day gift because really, what could be better??? Not much. I love humour. And you have a funny bone that is awesome!

        Like

  3. Hi Gary,
    This was so funny, even though I shouldn’t laugh but the image of this poor kid rolling out of control down the hill inside the inner tube and then flying, was like something out of Monty Python. I don’t remember ever doing anything like this growing up. I clearly had a deprived childhood!
    Best wishes,
    Rowena

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Ah Gary, I may have been brought up in England in the 50s and 60s but these things certainly resonate… and this was a lovely tale of informal flight and the rubberised resilience of small boys. I was the Jimmy in the stories with my older brother the instigator and mad professor. Once, somehow, he managed to source the sulphur, potash and salt peter to make gunpowder when we were about ten/e;even and blew a hole in the lawn – I was charged with the wick lighting, which fortunately I managed to time correctly. Somehow we blamed the dog for the hole, oddly round and scorched though it was. Maybe parents were more credulous back then.

    Like

    1. Hey Geoff.
      Wow – just wow!
      Sounds like you and I should be sharing notes and I think you’re going to be constantly showing me up. I can think of very few things that I actually blew up. Uline
      Thanks so much for stopping by.
      I hope you do so again.
      Question – did you record any of these Adventures?
      I’d love to read them

      Like

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Autobiographical fun in 10 minutes or less

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