Sunday, January 9, 2011

Stunt Riding

In one of my earlier tales I said that I was eventually going to share a few more stories about my old motorcycle. The time has come at last for me to do that. For those of you who aren't familiar with any of my bike stories I'll give you a bit of background information. I was given a motorcycle for my twelfth or thirteenth Christmas. The first thing we did with it was learn to pop wheelies with some fairly amazing results. For years that bike was a source of fun and excitement. It is that very excitement that I hope to share with these brief tales.

Having had the motorcycle for a while we fell into a fairly regular routine of taking it out when the weather was nice and riding it around in the yard. The only problem was that we didn't really have a track. Dad kept about an acre of the yard mowed, but the rest was let go for most of the year. (He would mow it once or twice just to keep trees from growing in, but it was always covered in chest high weeds.) As we didn't have a track we would ride around the house again and again.

We had done it so much that we made a kind of soft dirt track of our own that circled the double wide. For the most part it worked out very well. It might not seem like much fun to ride in circles around the same spot for an hour at the time, but it was. All things considered it was a fairly satisfactory track. However, the amount of sand in the soil was a problem a couple of times.

Once, for instance, I was going around the house for perhaps the fortieth time when I decided to cut the turn as tightly as I could. I sped up and leaned into it as I came around the corner of the trailer. I was doing wonderfully when the back tire decided to slip in the sandy soil. The result was a sudden ninety degree turn that slapped me into the house at full speed.

On another occasion I had decided to take the turn around the house as widely as I possibly could. There was a hedge that separated Dad's property from the Buice's yard. My wide arc would bring me within a few feet of that hedge on every pass. Finally the moment came. The back tire slipped in the sand and I ran straight into the hedge. I hit with so much force that it threw me off the bike and into Mr. Buice's yard.

Needless to say, after a while, the going around in a circle wasn't enough to keep us interested. Now, it was more exciting than in sounds. If you have a motorcycle then you know what I mean and if you don't then there's no way for me to explain. Either way, in time I had gotten bored with it and wanted to do more. The more that stood out as most obvious was ramp jumping.

Most young men have a bit of the dare devil in them and none of the boys in our group were an exception to this rule. We all loved to take a chance for a bit of excitement. So, when I suggesting building a ramp for the motorcycle I was met with everything short of actual applause.

The spot we selected was by the old oak tree. That oak tree was something worth seeing. Three trees had grown together into one and it was massive. Before it was killed by lighting people would actually use “That oak tree on lake drive” as a point of reference when giving directions. That tree was in our yard and it was beside that tree that we built our ramp.

The ramp itself was a simple dirt hill affair with a piece of plywood on top. It was around three feet high and perhaps ten feet long. The location was excellent. We had room to get a perfect full speed start across the yard before we hit it. There was also enough room to stop before you ran into the hedge after you landed. Well, most of the time there was enough room for that.

The top of the ramp was perhaps forty feet from the hedge. Now, a normal jump at full speed would give you about twenty five feet of air time. So when you landed you still had fifteen feet or so to bring the bike to a full stop. Under normal circumstances that was more than enough room. However, for one jump we changed the circumstances just a bit.

Two friends of mine who rarely came over to the house showed up. Bucky Scott and his younger brother Seth. They watched us for a couple of jumps and then wanted to get in on it themselves. Seth was a little young for it and a little small, so I offered to give him a ride and take him for a jump. His extra weight right on my back tire gave me extra traction. I could tell as I got up to full speed that I was going faster than normal. When I hit the ramp I hit it with more force than I ever had before.

The result was spectacular. We shot up into the air like a low flying air craft. It was incredible. I was watching the ground fly by below me and getting ready to land. Then I noticed we were getting closer to the hedge than normal. In point of fact we were getting far too close. I began to feel like a cartoon character who is about to fall into something terrible. I wanted to grab the handlebars and pull us up a little higher, but sadly that doesn't work in real life.

We were dropping like a stone and headed strait for the hedge. I held on for dear life and prepared to crash land as best I could. The next moment we had actually shot over the hedge. The back tire touched the top of it, but only just. We landed right in Mr. Buice's yard and I slammed on the brakes. Other than leaving a long strip of torn up grass right in his front yard everything was fine. I turned the bike around and drove back into our yard to the sound of cheering.

That jump had been close to fifty feet. We tried again and again to match it, but we never got close. Seth had to leave right after the first jump, so we had to try it without him. I think that was the real problem. He was the perfect size and weigh. Either that or he was an alien and made the bike fly for the last twenty feet or so. I was young and it's hard to remember whether his finger tip was glowing or not. One way or the other, the Seth Scott jump was the greatest we ever had.

This next tale takes place years later. I was about sixteen or seventeen and Jesse Dicks had started coming over to the house for manliness training. Not that he would have called it that or even known that's why me and Josh had him over, but that was really what it was for. Not that Jesse wasn't a lot of fun to hang out with, he just needed a bit more in the manly category.

He had been very sick as a child and his mother had protected him just a bit too much. By the time he was a teenager he was perfectly capable of looking out for himself, but she hadn't realized it yet. Fortunately he had. As soon as he got over the “I'm going to die!” factor he became unstoppable. After years spent not being able to do this or that because of his health he was out to challenge himself in every possible way.

Any young man who was craving excitement after years of captivity might turn to motorcycles as a possible source of thrills. Jesse certainly did. For a long time he had been afraid to get on either my or my brother's bike. One day he decided that he had been timid long enough and decided to take one for a spin. After a little debate he decided to cut his teeth on Josh's machine.

Josh had a street bike whereas I had a dirt bike. His was also smaller and had a lower horse power than mine. When we had gotten them he was smaller than me, although by the time this story took place Josh was a little bigger than me. In any event, the point is that Josh's bike was smaller and less intimidating to Jesse. He hopped on and Josh cranked it for him. He revved it up and took off across our field. Of course, it was a street bike and wasn't meant to be used like that. We kept yelling for him to come back as he bumped up and down through the uneven un-mowed field. Finally he felt like he could use a break and headed back to where we were waiting for him.

He said that he had really enjoyed it, but that it had been a little too bumpy a ride. Josh and I explained that the reason was simply that he had taken a street bike on a cruise through a field. In the end Jesse was persuaded to hop on my bike behind me and let me take him for a real spin through the field. Jesse climbed on board, I cranked the engine and we were off.

I got up to speed fast because I wanted to give him a bit of a scare. Fear was part of Jesse's manliness training. He had to much of it, so I let a little out whenever I could. We were flying at close to top speed through chest high grass when Jesse screamed in my ear.

“Cinder blocks!”

Jesse had spotted a small pile of blocks right in our path. I dodged to one side as fast as I could and we shot past them.

“Plow!” Jesse screamed at the tops of his lungs.

I had actually already seen the upside-down disk harrow and was correcting our coarse by the time he yelled. We were leaned over because of the turn I had to make to avoid the cinder blocks and there wasn't enough distance to come to a stop. We had no choice but to dodge. If we had hit that thing at the speed we were going it might have killed us. As it was we barley missed it. I could have easily reached out and touched it with my foot.


He didn't have time to yell that final warning. As soon as we had gotten past the harrow another pile of cinder block popped into view. We hit it dead on. The result was Jesse and I flying a few feet and then landing in the field. We both got up laughing.

“What are the odds of that?” I asked brushing myself off.

“What is all that stuff doing out here?”

“I don't know. Dad was doing something with the plow months ago. We never ride in this field.”

“I can tell.”

Jesse and I decided to walk back to the house. He was finished with the motorcycles for the day. I couldn't say that I blamed him. He had gotten his start and that was enough. A little while later he headed home and I didn't see him until the next day. I had gone over to his house to pick him up and was waiting for him in the living room when his mother started a conversation with me.

“What did you and Jesse do yesterday?” She asked with a kind of “make conversation” voice.

“This and that, you know how it is.”

“I do. Did you take him out on your motorcycles?”

“Yes, Ma'am. He wanted to go for a ride. I figured why not.” I replied, beginning to grow suspicious.

“I see. Y'all had fun?”

“Yes, Ma'am.”

At this point she called for Jesse. He walked slowly into the room with a bit of wry smile on his face.

“Show him your leg.” His mother demanded.

Jesse pulled up his pants leg and revealed a nasty bruise on his shin. It was like a black line drawn on the bone. You could see where blood had run down his leg under the skin almost down to his foot.

“Jesse didn't tell me about your wreck. He didn't even limp and perhaps I would never have found out if he hadn't walked from the bathroom to his bedroom in his underwear. I understand that he is growing up and that he is old enough to decide if he wants to risk his life doing something. However, he is still my son. If something like this happens in future I want to be told. Do you boys understand?”

“Yes Ma'am!” was our immediate reply.

As we were heading out I asked Jesse what had happened.

“Well, my leg hit the disk harrow as we flew past. My genes kept me from getting cut, so I just got that nasty bruise.”

“Why didn't you say anything to me?”

“It wasn't your fault. Either way I had a good time. I wanted to make sure we could go riding again.”

That was one of the greatest moments in our friendship. Jesse had manned up, kept quiet about his pain and hidden his wound from everyone so we could go and do it again. I felt proud of him and a bit proud of myself. The manliness training was working. Over time Jesse got as good as any of us on the motorcycles. His first attempts hadn't been great, but his last ones were and that's what really counts.

I suppose motorcycles can be dangerous. There have been far too many injuries to argue with that. However, I feel that the risk is worth the gain. Those bikes brought us adventure and excitement and helped us along the road from boyhood to manhood. I have yet to get my sons a dirt bike. I think that is something that is going to have to change. Every young man needs the chance to let his daredevil out before it's time to settle down. A motorcycle is a good way to do that. At least, it was for us.

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