The Giant Inner Tube Adventure

Mike and I held the giant tube vertically as 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 pilotWhen 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.

For some reason, Jimmy started to scream – loudly.  Cries for help were commingled with garbled, noxious-sounding shrieks and whole breaths 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 just 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.

But first, you need to understand the topology.  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 lip and for the next 15 yards, the slope got much steeper and was thick with ancient oak trees and thousands of dead branch fragments in various degrees of decay.  After these trees, there was a 5 yard wide, level tractor road with a heavy, square patterned, wire fence which had to be as old as those trees.

After the fence was a very large, level field of thick, lush grass.

Important point; from any of those high cow paths, you could see over the oak trees down into the field beyond the fence.

Mike, and his younger brother, Jimmy, had a huge aircraft inner tube which we thought would be great fun to ride down a steep hill.  It was fun on flat ground but with THE HILL giving us a 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.  Mike and I were glad that Jimmy was always ready to test our ideas and besides, 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. 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.  Hold on!  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! “

Mike 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 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.  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 sharp 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 a cow path.  So much for my instincts for physics.

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 could hear 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 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 fence actually yielded and bent over to form a ramp that – yes — launched Jimmy and that insane tube high into the air just like a ski jump.

He sailed scary high.

He went high enough that Mike and I, way up the hill saw him take flight.  I seriously began to wonder if he was still alive and if that tube would ever stop.

The tube was still spinning madly and gaining altitude, but it was slowing its climb to the clouds. Surreal?  Absolutely!  But there he went — arms and legs still waving like a wet rag doll out of each side of the tube.

He 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 – like that would do any good.

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 kamikaze-style death crash.

But he didn’t crash.  He bounced – once.

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 surrounded by peaceful tall grass.

giant tubeThe 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 merit badge, but I could only guess what a mess his nervous system had to be.

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 another bright idea but it was a 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 a quiet corner at home, conspicuously snuggled up with a good book so not to arouse suspicions and let any applicable statutes of limitations expire.

To select another story, please visit the full index by clicking here.

Gary photo n bio

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22 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!

        Like

  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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