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Don’t Let Doogie Howser Take You to the Sugar Bush

February 21, 2011

When someone asks, “You wanna ride to the sugar bush?” it normally brings to mind visions of porn stars and bow-chicka-bow-bow* music. However, in certain parts of Canada and the U.S., going to the sugar bush is a rite of spring, an event that signifies a welcome end to winter. For my family, it also means a near-death experience.

A sugar bush is really a forest full of maple trees where people can take a horse-drawn sleigh ride to see various methods of tapping, collecting and boiling the sap to make maple syrup. I The kids endure this part of the tour in pursuit of the real prize: candy-making sessions and pancakes covered in fresh syrup.

Usually the most dangerous element of such a trip is the threat of a diabetic coma, but a few years ago we almost went to the big sugar bush in the sky during our sleigh ride.

We’d gone to this particular park for years and enjoyed rides provided by a team of huge Clydesdale horses driven by a mountainous man of indeterminate age who never flinched behind the reigns. But on this fateful day we had someone new. He was the Doogie Howser of drivers and I easily outweighed him by half (although I was seven months pregnant at the time and likely outweighed the regular driver, too)

The Serb, my three-year-old son and I settled behind Doogie, near the front of the sleigh. The horses crossed the train tracks that marked the beginning of a well-worn path in the snow that would take us in a circular route through the woods. We would be dropped off at the halfway point for some activities and then catch the next ride back to the parking lot.

Looking back, we knew something was off from the start: the horses immediately began to trot and Doogie was straining with the reigns and muttering swears under his breath. Soon the horses upped their pace further and we darted worried glances at other parents while keeping up the inane banter with our kids (i.e. “Yes, these horses sure do like to run, don’t they?”).

As the activity area came into view, the horses – sensing that they had the upper hand hoof – decided they’d had enough and broke into a let’s-blow-this-pop-stand gallop. We flew through the trees, barely keeping both runners on the grooved path as the horses careened around corners. Poor Doogie was leaning so far back in his efforts to gain control that he was practically horizontal.

The activity centre employees saw us speeding towards them and yelled at people to get out of the way. One man attempted to run alongside the horses and grab the bridle, but it was futile: we were now completely out of control.

As we whipped along the path I clenched my son with one arm and my massive belly with the other. The Serb had both of us in a vise-like grip. He leaned over and calmly instructed me on how we would deal with the sleigh flipping over.

People walking on the path ahead of us leapt into the snow bank to avoid being run over. Everyone on the sleigh was silent and we could hear Doogie’s walkie-talkie crackling with voices frantically relaying the news. We saw the train tracks in the distance and my heart dropped: it was a different crossing, one with staggered metal barriers. We were definitely going to crash.

Three burly farm workers were standing in front of the barriers waving their arms overhead and yelling, “Whoa!” The horses were still galloping full speed. We were all covered in horsehair. Doogie was drenched in either sweat or tears (or a combination of both).

Nobody screamed. We didn’t say anything at all. We were all caught in a moment, paralyzed. As we approached the men and the barriers and the tracks and the parking lot, we all held our breath. And then, on a dime and inches from the men, the horses stopped in their tracks. Suddenly we were still and it was over. Everyone applauded poor Doogie, who was openly weeping with relief.

We left the sleigh and shakily made our way through the parking lot. We never went back to that sugar bush, but did go on their wagon ride last Christmas. When I mentioned our last adventure to the driver, he informed me that people still talk about the runaway sleigh. Apparently, we are Legends of the Sugar Bush, which will obviously be the name of my porn movie should the writing thing not work out.

Like this, but pulling a sleigh.

* aka boom-chicka-boom-boom, aka boing-chica-wow-wow…the variations are endless, trust me – I Googled for an hour

16 Comments leave one →
  1. ryoko861 permalink
    February 21, 2011 8:19 am

    LMAO!! I’m sorry, but the vision of terror on all your faces must have been priceless! I’m sure it was horrifying when it was happening, but looking back, thankfully you can laugh. Definitely a day you’ll never forget. I wonder what made the horses take off like that?

  2. February 21, 2011 8:53 am

    LOL! See, your a legend in so many ways!

  3. TheIdiotSpeaketh permalink
    February 21, 2011 10:13 am

    Loved the post….BUT….now you got the damn 70’s Porn music stuck in my head! Thanks!! 🙂

  4. February 21, 2011 2:15 pm

    Oh my! Suddenly, should I ever decide to take a sleigh ride, I’ll be asking the driver for references 😉

    • February 22, 2011 8:23 pm

      Screw the references – just make sure s/he weighs more than 95 pounds!

  5. February 21, 2011 5:08 pm

    That sounds scary as hell! See- no good can ever come out of snow- I am convinced! Are your kids (or just kid) scared to death of horses? And even though you were pregnant- did you drink after that? I know I would!

    • February 22, 2011 8:25 pm

      My kids LOVE horses! But come to think of it, my thrill-seeking daughter probably got her first taste of death-defying acts in my belly!
      p.s. re your snow comment: AGREED!

  6. February 22, 2011 11:31 am

    How did you not give birth at that moment?? You must have a very strong cervix! I sat on the edge of my chair the whole time I read this!!!

    • February 22, 2011 8:27 pm

      Heh. Ironically, my first born was so massive that my husband joked all I’d have to do to get the second one out was sneeze (that’s a joke he only made once, btw)…

  7. February 22, 2011 5:09 pm

    The 7 year old came home from grade one and told me this joke:

    What do you get when a brown chicken and a brown cow cross the road?


    To the tune of: Bow-chicka-bow-bow.

    PS: Legends of The Sugar Bush sounds like a good porn title??
    PPS: My fear of horses lives on. Holy frig – they’re HUGE!

    • February 22, 2011 8:28 pm

      Did your 7 year old know the context of his joke? Because that? Is kinda awesome. And of COURSE LotSB is destined for a porn title (as in, my sugar bush is legendary…). But I also passed a coffee shop called Mystic Muffin once and claimed it as my stripper name….

  8. February 25, 2011 6:45 am

    Fantastic story. I live in a sugaring area (New England), but I don’t have any stories quite as harrowing. It is super fun though. My son loved making syrup.

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