The Giant Inner Tube Adventure

Petaluma hillsPhoto Credit: Sonoma Magazine
These are the hills around Petaluma today because the scene of this story is now a neighborhood.

Mike and I held the giant tube vertical as his younger brother, Jimmy, folded himself into the hole.  When he was comfortably inside with an arm and leg on either side and able to keep himself from rolling down the hill, Mike and I ran down to our positions to catch Jimmy in the unlikely event that he was unable to stop himself. “Safety first!” we always said.

inner tube pilot

When we were ready for the great experiment, Mike looked back and forth to verify everything had been done to plan, he 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 blurring with acceleration and a set of arms and legs wildly waving out of each side.

Unexpectedly, Jimmy started to scream – loudly.  His cries for help were commingled with garbled, cyclical shrieks and whole breath loads of panic-laced swear words.  Mike and I both realized that there was a problem with the physics.  Jimmy was moving way too fast to stop himself and our fun ride experiment had instead turned into a rescue attempt.

You know how some clever ideas accidentally start a cascade of unintended consequences — seemingly impossible to stop?  Well, this was one of them.

Behind Grant Elementary School in Petaluma, California (where we were students) was a wonderful, steep hill that we all called THE HILL.  It had the best view of the Petaluma valley in the whole neighborhood and had everything a bunch of small boys could want.

We had permission to use it for tree climbing and box sliding but these relatively safe activities were not on our agenda today.

Because this is NOT historical fiction, you need to understand the topology to fully appreciate what happened.

Starting from the top, there was a steep, but walk-able, grass covered slope for 60 yards and most of it was crisscrossed with cow paths.

Next was a sharp downward lip and for the next 15 yards, the slope got even steeper and was thick with ancient oak trees and thousands of dead branch fragments in various degrees of decay.  We were experts with this hill and knew that this slope was a no-go for a kid in a tube. We had to take precautions to prevent Jimmy from entering what we now called the ‘slope of tree-covered death’.

At the bottom of that slope was a five-yard wide, level tractor road with a heavy, square patterned, wire mesh fence which had to be as old as those trees.

After the fence was a very large, level field of thick, 18-inch tall, lush grass.

Oh, an important point – from any of those high cow paths, you could see over the tops of those oak trees down into the grass field beyond the fence.

Mike, and his younger brother, Jimmy, had a huge aircraft inner tube which we used to crawl inside of and roll ourselves around the flat school yard. It was so fun that we figured it would be even more fun to ride down a steep hill.  With THE HILL giving us a free gravity-assist — it should be thrilling.

Granted, this idea would have horrified any rational parent, but somehow it made sense at the time, and no rational parents were nearby anyway.  Even if there had been a parent around, we never would have asked for permission to do this because it positively reeked of being a trigger for a parental, spontaneous knee-jerk reflexive refusal on the order of “HELL NO – you can’t do that! Are you out of your mind!?”

So, we were on our own. Mike and I were satisfied that this was going to be so much fun that we anxiously waited for our turn inside the tube. But to make sure that it was a good idea, we were thankful that Jimmy was always ready to test our ideas because that’s why God made little brothers. Besides, with our safety measures, what could possibly go wrong?

Jimmy promised to stop before the steep tree-covered slope. Just in case, Mike stood 20 feet uphill from the lip above to catch Jimmy if he didn’t. As a third layer of protection, I stood about 10 feet uphill from the slope. I was fully convinced that Jimmy would never make it to the trees.

Okay, you’re ready now.  Here’s what happened, and I promise you that I’m not making this up.  We really did this.  Please hold on tight – this is quite a ride.

You already know that within seconds, Jimmy was rolling out of control, so Mike yelled, “WE HAVE TO STOP THAT TUBE!”

He and I 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 and limbs to the ridges of those 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.  How am I going to stop this thing?  Mike tried to hit it head-on and that failed.  What could I do differently?

I decided to body-block it from a near 90-degree angle, destabilizing its roll cycle which would surely slow it enough for Jimmy to stop. In short, the tube ate me too, giving me a face-first taste of a cow path.  So much for my instincts for physics. I instantly realized both that I’d failed to save Jimmy and that the taste of cow pies had likely ruined my appetite for the next 18 months.

Quickly peeling my face out of the cow path, “Ptuuch”, I rolled over in time to watch as tube and Jimmy dropped over the lip and, oh God, no, down into the slope of tree-covered death. Immediately, we heard branches violently snapping.  It will be any moment now. This is it, I thought.  He’s dead – and so are we.  There’s no way he can miss all those trees.

But — he did. . .

We knew he did because suddenly we heard the awful sound of Jimmy and tube hitting that old fence. It was a violent sound of straining rusty wires and tearing of old wood posts.  So, Jimmy was going to die when his body passed through the wire fence squares.  We would find him transformed into a pile of bloody cubic noodles like something from a giant, demented, play-dough fun factory.  His parents will not be pleased.

But this time physics (or perhaps the God of small boys) saved him. That rotten fence actually yielded and the posts on either side of his point of impact cracked loudly and bent over just enough to form an, oh no. . .  a ramp that — yes — launched Jimmy and that insane tube high into the air just like a ski jump.

He and that tube were spinning their way to the clouds.

Mike and I, way up the hill saw him take flight.  I seriously began to wonder if he was still alive and if this chain of disasters would ever stop.

Surreal?  Absolutely!  But there he went — arms and legs still waving like a wet rag doll out of each side of the tube and, did I just hear a sonic-boom?  He can’t be going that fast — can he?

Jimmy must have made peace with his fate by this time because he was no longer screaming; or maybe he was already dead, like from a heart attack.  His arms and legs did look pretty floppy.  No matter – because suddenly I realized that Mike was now screaming hysterically. He has to know that his parents will insist on taking his life for him wasting Jimmy’s.

The tube was still spinning madly and gaining altitude, but it was slowing its climb.

My heart sank as I realized that from his current altitude, Jimmy was going to die (or die again. . . ?) when he and the tube crashed back to earth. Slowly, the tube lost the last of its momentum and arced into its descent, speeding up yet again for a third kamikaze-style near-death encounter.

It crossed my mind that maybe he was high enough to burn up on re-entry.  That might at least burn up all the evidence of this nightmare.

He didn’t burn up, but he didn’t crash either.

He bounced – just once. Oh God, please make it stop.

On the up-bounce, Jimmy finally, mercifully, separated from the tube from a relatively safe altitude (at least I hoped so) 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 and hidden in the peaceful tall grass.

giant tube

The tube bounced a few more times before stopping.  Mike and I ran down to verify the results or pay our last respects and quietly leave town as needed.

The final site of Jimmy’s death looked so serene and quiet.

Oh wow! It was amazing, but Jimmy was still breathing.  Remarkable! Even impossible! His eyes were huge – frozen open with panic. Incredibly – his pants weren’t even soiled, meaning he’d more than earned the bladder-control under duress merit badge, but I could only guess what a mess his nervous system had to be.

He was pretty angry at us when his cardio-vascular system un-seized and he could blink again, but he calmed down in a week or so.  He always did and we knew he’d soon be ready try another of our bright ideas, but it was a really, really long time before Jimmy got near that tube again.

We pushed the fence back up, so 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 the rest of the day, maybe something safe like playing tag in busy traffic.

No – seriously, it was time for a quiet corner at home, conspicuously snuggled up with a good book so not to arouse any suspicions and let any applicable statutes of limitations expire.

GW bio card 4

51 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

      2. Hi – I’m back. Had a big customer meeting out of town today. I had begun to explore unsplash only a few weeks ago because so many of the photos you use were sourced there. Only a few nights ago I discovered the free photo library in WP, so I’m on the right path, but now need to explore and find those inspirational shots. In other news, a close friend just died and inspired another fiction piece. It’s not done, but once started these >2000 word pieces don’t take too long. Losing him was heart-rending and writing about it somehow helps. So far, I like it, but it needs some focus before being ready to share.

        If you do share the Giant Inner Tube – I can’t wait to see if you find a better photo. I barely like what I have, but did not have the resources I now have. TTYL

        Liked by 1 person

      3. I am sorry to hear about your friend; I lost a friend in January, and it was difficult. On Tuesday, I lost a cousin. I remember my mom telling me that the hardest part of aging was losing the people you love.

        Work has been crazy, and I have not forgotten about your article. I had some late nights with grading and helping a friend.

        Tomorrow, my day off, I have to be up bright and early, for I have to have an ultrasound to find the source of my rib pain. The doctors are wondering if it is connected to my back injury. So send up a prayer or two for me; I could use some good news! lol…glad the photo resources worked out for you.

        Right now I am writing a short story based on a story about my mom when she was a child for the childhood mischief piece. I have decided to put college classes on hold this semester. I just want to write!

        Liked by 1 person

      4. I am so sorry to hear about your friend. Writing does help. And when you are ready to share, let me know. And I need to apologize, for I almost forgot about the Giant inner Tube! Thanks for reminding me!


  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.



  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.


    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.


      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!


      2. Hi Phyllis,

        I’ve been using some of my holiday time to do some of the reading of other’s blogs that have been on my list for way too long and today I dug into some of your work. My friend – you own the market of amazing short and powerful starts to stories. I decided not to comment on each because I wanted to get something of a look around before I pretended to provide feedback. I clicked the like of those I read, both because I wanted to leave something of a trail for you to see what I saw and, I really did “like” what I read. They were all short story setup-essays and I’m still not sure on how you intend to use them, but, Phyllis, they were all so compelling ! ! I do hope you circle back and flesh some of them out.

        I’m trying to improve my own abilities in area’s like this and will be looping back in 2020 to lock down what your work can teach me. Sorry it took me so long to get back here. You have been so kind and encouraging regarding my efforts (I still treasure your feedback on my giant inner tube story) and feel like I let my daily responsibilities get the better of me instead of getting back to enjoy your work. I’ll be back soon.

        In the mean time, do let me know if you would care to hear back on things like typos I see in your short stories. Not being you, I’m seeing some things like tense matches and such. If you care, I’ll ping you back about them otherwise I’ll just let them remain artifacts of the fun you are having with these stories, and go on loving reading them.

        Warmly Gary


      3. Thank you so much. I’d appreciate your input. I’m quite blind and quite often things slip past and I also post as I write on the fly and I often go back and fix up later. Sometimes, not, lol. Depends on what else I have brewing if you know what i mean, but thank you. Delighted you came and enjoyed. I love writing. It takes you to a whole different world. I love YOUR writing. You are really wonderful and you draw your reader in, which is the point. Your stories are interesting, often funny, and you’ve led a delightful life. I love them all! And I too don’t often leave messages although I enjoy every one pretty much. Take care, hope your enjoying a wonderful holiday.

        Liked by 1 person

      4. I’ll never forget the giant inner tube, it has been a highlight for me since I read
        it! It always will be for that matter. My son and daughter enjoyed as much as I did. If you wish, please contact me at and send your thoughts so I can take my time and go over them? I’d love that.


      5. Hi Phyllis,
        I already put some as comments to your posts, but like your idea much better. I also realized that in trying to be careful with the small space normally used for comments, I forgot to reinforce how much I enjoyed each of the image/story fragments I read. You have an amazing way with description.

        Today, I put some fun polish to a story I don’t want you to miss. It was one of my favorites for a long time, but now I like so much more. Have you read my; ?


      6. Thank you. I read one or two of your comments and it gave me a sleepless night as I thought about them. I’m grateful as for several months I’d lost or nearly lost my interest in writing as my sight has been so bad. I look forward to taking a second look and making them better. A goal of every writer, surely! 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  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,

    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.


    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.
      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.


  5. Hi Ann Marie. Thanks for sharing my story with your readers. I couldn’t resist reading it through again and man – those memories are still fresh and terrifying, but what a hoot! Whew – back to adulthood and bodily safety.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Great story. Takes me back to my childhood which was fraught with peril on a daily basis. Grew up with two older brothers who did these things to me regularly.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Amelia,
      Thank you for stopping by and reading my story. I spoke with Jimmy’s brother, Mike, about a year ago and Jimmy is alive and well, having also survived his childhood.
      I think everyone agrees that this was a very tough day for him and it took him a long time to go near that inner tube again.


  7. Well, you were right. Your story didn’t disappoint! I grew up with 3 older brothers. It’s a wonder that boys survive adolescence! Thanks for sharing. 😊

    Liked by 1 person

  8. It’s like thinking one could be just like Mary Poppins by jumping off the roof holding an umbrella on a windy day.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. hahahah
      But in your example, at least someone was trying to “think.”
      Thanks for stopping by Antoinette. It’s always a pleasure to find you among the stacks.


  9. That was very funny! I rode a Flexi wagon down a big hill (no brakes) and spent many a summer night ice sliding down another (again, no breaks) but I never rode inside a tire like that. It’s amazing to think that we somehow survived childhood. Jimmy may have been angry for a while, but I bet he looked back at that event with a certain amount of pride – what a story he could tell! I wonder, are Mike and Jimmy still your friends after all these years?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ah
      Funny story about your question.
      Mike was in a bad accident when I was in college. I visited him there but he was in bad shape. I called the hospital later and am sure I was told that he died from his injuries, but he didn’t. I learned 40 years later that my friend was still alive, so I got on the phone and we laughed it off.
      But I think we’re still friends after my telling everyone that he was dead.
      You just can’t make up such funny stuff.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. I’d love to know if Jimmy read this story? Hehe 😂 , i was definitely the Jimmy in our family, my brothers put me up for all sorts of dangerous exploits. I’m surprised I survived in one piece although one pogo stick accident did result in a later broken foot that put paid to my grade 8 ballet exam.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Oh, my goodness- what a story!! Amazing he was not seriously hurt! Back in my youthful days it is a wonder any of us survived! I was an eyewitness to several unwise choices – for example, riding our bikes downhill without holding on to the handlebars and one kid hitting a stone in his pathway that knocked him off onto the hot asphalt street. Other than some scratches and scrapes on his arms and legs he got up and limped home.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ah – yes – you too saw things that we would never allow our kids to do. But here we still are, laughing about those memories. Thanks for reading it. Hope it left you smiling and cringing at the same time. 🙂


  12. I remember reading this a while back on the Petaluma FB page, it was one of the reasons I subscribed to this blog. It was a great story and reminded me of many crazy things my sister, her friends, and I did while living on the West side during our years there. I loved the hills, horseback riding on them, driving up Sonoma Mountain Road when hardly anyone else knew about it (my, how that has changed), helping friends with Boy Scout sleepovers at the Old Adobe. Life was fun then and I think kids now miss out on those adventures.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ha, yup – we had some great times growing up here, but it’s time to be moving out. I’m almost ready to retire and we can’t afford to live here especially with our current federal leadership – which I almost can’t move away from. I really glad we met via that old FBk post and have enjoyed having any of your attention as a reader. I left for trade school in late 1973 and never really made it back to P-town. We live nearby now, but are planning our escape from Calif. Thanks for reading my stories.


  13. Oh God! So funny…in parts. Gulp! Poor Jimmy. How on earth did he not die? How was he not brain damaged or something? This reminds me of similar adventures my brothers and their friends got up to back in the 70s. No fear…until something bad happened! 🙈
    Great story Gary!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Gloria – I’m so glad you enjoyed this story. It’s one of my personal favorites – and embarrassments because we really thought this was a great idea. You are correct. Jimmy should have died and Mike and I – we should have caught hell from both our parents for trying such a stunt – but that’s part of the charm now that everyone survived.
      My kids, who know all these stories still give me grief for not letting them have any similar fun growing up.
      Thanks for stopping by for a laugh. You’re welcome any time.

      Liked by 1 person

  14. Boys! You got to love the tenacity to follow through on a vision despite the limits of physics. ThNks for the chuckle


  15. Oh my….the joy of raising boys….lol. When we were young, we’d sit on our skateboards and go down the steeper driveways in the neighborhood or the large hill at the end of the neighborhood…the results were often road rash or nettle stings from going off the road. Yikes. In the winter it was taking inner tubes down them which sometimes didn’t end well.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ah! So I’m not alone in collecting a few near-death experiences as a child. All of a sudden, I know you so much better (grinning). I hope you laughed out loud at this story.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s