Friday, February 24, 2017

Bloody Mayhem

In the early 1970s, from ages 10 to 15 or so — I, along with most of my young friends, was a bike-riding maniac, and by maniac I mean a fearless, death-defying, ever-aspiring stuntman with all the good sense of that redneck friend of yours who laughs and says "Hey, watch this!" If you've followed this blog, you've probably read about all kinds of juvenile tomfoolery that I was lucky enough to survive. But this is less about me than about my young friend Robert, a.k.a. "Rufert" (how that moniker came about I can't quite recall) who was far crazier than I when it came to daredevil bicycling.
The approach to the bridge: the ride began at the road,
seen in the upper right of the photo

You see that little bridge in the photo above? In my junior high school years, that was actually a different, even more rickety bridge, and after a long, if not terribly steep hill leading down to the bridge (see the photo on the left), there was a short, sharp incline just before the bridge. On this descent, the determined, energetic bicyclist could actually achieve some serious speed. We'd pedal hard, haul ass down the hill, hit that little incline in front of the bridge, and jump our bikes clear over the creek — at least if we did it properly. I accomplished this feat countless times, with picture-perfect form (I had earned my chops wiping out in spectacular fashion on any number of other makeshift jump ramps), and had there been a Boy Scout merit badge for Jumping Bicycles Over Long Distances, I'd have earned mine many times over.

Bear in mind, this was in the days before bikes were specifically made for rugged, off-road riding. Between Rufert, our friends Charles and Chuck, my brother, and I, we owned (or at least, thanks to our parents, had at our disposal) a fairly massive number of bicycles — mostly of the Stingray or Spyder bike variety — in various stages of repair. We'd ride one till there was little left of it, and either replace it or cannibalize parts from another to make it whole again. At any given time, I had at least two fully functional bicycles, usually built from the best-functioning parts of several. Now, I was pretty conscientious about putting together a solid bicycle, but not all of us paid such thorough attention to detail. More on this shortly.

One day, Rufert, my brother Phred, and I were riding at the area you see in the photos above. Rufert, having built a brand new bike, was keen on showing it off on a major jump over the creek. Now, there was no fault in the bicycle (this time), but one might not say the same for Rufert's situational awareness. He took off, pumping those pedals for all he was worth, and my brother and I, watching in admiration from the top of the hill, figured he was moving faster than we had ever seen him move. He hit the leading edge of that bridge at top speed, flew out into the air in perfect form — standing on the pedals, front wheel angled gracefully upward — and then yelled, "Oh, shiiiitttt!!!!" Little to our knowledge, since the last time we had come out to do some energetic bridge jumping, one of the boards about two-thirds of the way across had gone missing. Rufert's back tire came down squarely in the gap, and as if he had landed on a taut trampoline, his bike went — boiiiinnnng — straight up in the air and over the edge of the bridge. We saw a big explosion of water, heard a crunch-crack-splash, and then... naught but the dispassionate sun staring down through the trees and the peaceful chirping of birds.

Phred and I hauled ass down to the creek bank, looked down into the water, and there, sprawled like a casually tossed GI Joe figure upon a bed of not-so-comfortable-looking rocks, lay Rufert, staring dazedly skyward, the pieces of his bike scattered around him. His eyes rolled toward ours, and in a pained voice, he sputtered, "Wha- happened?"

Well, Rufert recovered just fine — he was bruised and bloodied, but there was nothing broken — and in no time at all, he had his bike put back together and was ready for the next challenge.

That next challenge was The Dirt Hill — a vacant lot up the road that was, as its given name might imply, a big dirt hill, or perhaps more accurately, an array of hills, some steep, some small, some tall. There was this beautiful, 20-foot sheer drop-off leading to a mound (where I now have a geocache called "Rodan's Jump" [GC1GEPF]) that you could ride down and then fly out into the air — far, far farther than the bridge jump. The key here was stopping before you went careening down another drop-off into big, jagged rocks a short distance from the end of the jump. Now, my first trip down this course resulted in me flying out into the air, looking up, and seeing my bicycle way up in the air, coming straight for me. I hit the ground, then got hit by my bike. Oww motherfucker, oww motherfucker, oww. But not unlike a little kid going off the high diving board for the first time, I decided to try again, and my next attempt went perfectly: a beautiful, stylish jump, and from then on, man, I was the master.

Rufert mastered this jump even more readily — he got it right the first time down. However, after his little mishap at the bridge, he may not have been as conscientious as he should have been when putting his bike back together. After several successful flights off the ramp, he mounted up again, pumped his way up to the top of the cliff, gave a premature cry of victory, and came barreling down in the grip of several Gs. He hit that mound, flew out in the air, standing on the pedals, looking for all the world like the king of all stuntmen — when his front wheel separated from the forks and went spiraling out into the air. As if in slow motion, Rufert and his bike arced downward, his eyes wider than dinner plates, and the now wheel-less forks burrowed into the ground, tossing him over the handlebars and into the rocks off the edge of the landing area. Phred and I went hauling down to check him out, peered down the hill, and saw him sprawled amid the rocks like a discarded Major Matt Mason figure whose internal wire framework had been twisted all out of shape. His eyes rolled toward ours, and in a voice that sounded like Mickey Mouse on helium, he piped, "Wha- happened?"

Well, Rufert recovered just fine. Again, he was bruised and bloodied, but he hadn't broken anything except his bike. I think at this point, he was forced to pressure his folks into buying him a new one because we were by now pretty much out of spare parts.

My understanding is that Rufert grew up to be a sane and reasonably responsible adult, and I don't think he has any weird scars or protruding bits of bone as evidence of our youthful exuberance. It's only a pity that this was in the days before video because, if we could have had videos of these, I'd have worn them out by now.

Oh, to bounce around with impunity the way we used to.

1 comment:

James Robert Smith said...

They promised us flying cars and portable video cameras.

I'm not quite sure if we go rooked or got lucky.