Young kids, especially boys, love to jump things. There is some type of primal instinct deeply embedded in the male gene that compels us to place our bodies in jeopardy by attempting to jump things. This compulsion gives us a thrill from soaring over an object or obstacle of various sizes and lengths by blowing good feeling endorphins through our bodies. It isn’t just the rush of bodily chemicals flooding the nervous system, but also the feeling and sense of accomplishment that demands we put our lives in minor, sometimes major peril, to make a leap or jump. In many ways for many people this is the doorway to becoming an adrenalin junkie. For others it is just a way to make youth exciting before we realize that our bodies are too precious to play around with in such haphazardly ways.
From my earliest memories I would attempt, sometimes succeeding sometimes not, at crossing various puddles of mud or ditches of varying sizes for a rush and just to see if I could make the jump. More than once I would slosh home with soggy shoes and pants prompting a disapproving look or word from my mother because I was “ruining my clothes”. As I grew and my strength increased I was able to take bigger and better jumps while on foot. As with all activities in life, this quickly evolved by adding a mechanical tool to my ever growing love of jumping…the bike.
It didn’t take long for the transition from legs to bike to take effect. I had barely learned to control a two-wheeler when I began to experiment with the jumping of the bike. At first it was the little hump at the end of our driveway. I would gain the most minimal of heights with this little bump in the road, yet it was a start. Around this time my best friend Joel and I found an even bigger hump up at the school. This hump was located at the back of the turnaround and gave kids a good distance to build up speed before being launched air born for .78 seconds of free-flying-fun. Unfortunately our constant use of the jump also proved to be its downfall because with each jump a little more of the hump was eroded away. When it finally wore out we weren’t bummed, it just gave us another excuse to graduate to something bigger.
As our skills and nerve grew, so did the size of the ramps that we would build. We started up small, using a two foot length of ship-lap board and a chunk of firewood. These were crude little jumps that didn’t amount to a whole lot of air-time, but they were the stepping stone we needed to increase our nerve and skill to tackle some of the bigger ones. It didn’t take long for us to graduate into building larger jumps. We soon ditched the firewood in favor of cinder blocks that were far more stable and provided more height to catch that all elusive air-time we so craved.
Like with all we do in life there was a definite learning curve that took place as our skills and road-rash increased. Sometimes the ramp board would bust in the middle of a jump sending the biker into a crash or over the handle bars. This was usually caused by the constant use of the ramp and our lack of attention to the stress we were causing the board; but it wasn’t always the case. One time Joel drove off the board before reaching the climax and took a good biff as he flipped his bike and earned a couple of more bruises and scrapes. The look on his face before the crash could have won us 10,000 dollars on America’s Funniest Home Videos. Too bad none of our families had a video camera which would have been sweet to record our triumphs and tragedies. Through it all we were never put off from the obsession of taking these jumps. Even still, with all the ramps we created and jumps we took, nothing could have prepared any of us for “The Monster”.
It was a lazy Thursday summer morning and like normal I got up, ate some cornflakes and headed out the door to see what Joel had on the agenda for the day. Unfortunately the night before I had blown the back tire on my bike and had to wait until Saturday to get a new tube, nevertheless, I had a backup in my sister’s smaller, lighter pink banana seat bike to use until then. She didn’t ride as much as I did so it wasn’t a problem borrowing it.
I was about to round the third corned of the block to Joel’s house when I heard my name being yelled out by another local kid. He was calling me over to his house. It was Nick, the youngest of seven but still four years older than I was. He was sitting on his bike along with Keith, Josh and Josh’s little brother we all called Shicken. Now I’m not too sure why he was called that because he was just a runt of a kid, but had more sand than the rest of us combined. He was our go-to guinea pig because we would volunteer him to take chances we were too unwilling to take just to make sure it was safe for us to do. One time we made a swinging rope in one of our tree forts for getting from one platform to another. Now keep in mind these platforms were anywhere from 10 to 20 feet in the air. Definitely a long enough fall to make it hurt even for us young bucks that still bounced well. Still once we got the rope in the tree we sent Shicken on the maiden voyage and it was a good thing too, midway through the swing the rope snapped and Shicken landed with a hard thud on the forest floor. By the time the tears stopped we had gotten a thicker rope and from then on had a lot of fun pretending we were Tarzan.
“Check it out man,” Nick said as I rolled to a stop at the end of his driveway. He gestured with his head and I cast my gaze over his shoulder only to find my eyes coming to rest on the largest ramp the little town of Effie had ever seen built in its 83 year history. After picking my jaw out of the dirt and putting my eyes back into my skull I hopped off Pinky and ambled up to the waiting beast. It was a thing of beauty. I took it all in as I did a slow circle around this amazing piece of armature engineering. Nick and the boys had found a surplus of cinder blocks behind his house that his dad had stored under a tarp from when they remodeled their garage back in 79. There was a total of 10 blocks stacked four high, two deep and two wide. Resting gently on this monstrosity was a sheet of ¾ inch plywood providing the ramp part of the jump. All in all they had constructed a three foot high jump with eight feet of ramp room before reaching the top. If anything it was a thing of deadly beauty.
“Has anyone takin’ the leap of faith?” I asked as I continued to marvel at the jump.
“Naw,” Nick shrugged. “None of us have the hairs to try it?”
“Not even you Shicken?” I asked turning to our little trial and error guy.
“There is no way in hell you are getting me onto the thing,” he replied with wide, scared eyes.
“Why build it then?” I asked confused.
“I don’t know,” Nick shrugged again. “Something to do I guess.” I couldn’t argue with that logic. Lots of things have been done in life just for the simple fact that it was “something to do”.
“I’ll do it.” I suddenly said which surprised everyone including me.
“Way to go Snord,” Nick said slapping me on the back. “Nice to see someone has some sand around here.” The words were starting to sink in as the reality of what I had said began to make sense in my mind. Sure I liked adventure and daring just as much as the next kid, but this was all out nuts. One screw-up and I would be in a world of hurt. But the words were out and the only way to save face was to suck it up pray to God I didn’t kill myself.
“If I’m going to do this I’m going to do it right,” I said as I pretended to study the Monster when in reality I was ready to crap in my pants. “I’m going to head back up to my place so I can build as much speed as I can. I want to catch some serious air.”
“Why man,” Keith said with concern in his voice. “Just take it slow and try it, what do you need the speed for?”
“If you’re going to do something might as well start out doing it right.” I replied. My God what in the hell was I thinking.
“That’s right Keith,” Nick said coming to my defense. “If anything the speed will make for one spectacular crash.” He gave me a toothy grin. He could see the nervousness building within my soul. “You’ll be fine, just don’t mess it up.”
“Just make sure the coast is clear when I hit the corner, I don’t want anything to break my concentration as I make the run up to this beast.”
“We’ll make sure it is clear,” promised Josh. “The lane will be all yours.”
I hopped back on Pinky and made my way up to the Lutheran church where there was a decent hill that would help me to build up some speed. The entire way I was contemplating the jump to come, the danger, and the thrill…the pain that would come with a crash. Mustering up my nerve, I kicked off and began to pedal down the hill with all the strength my legs had to offer.
As I moved into the first corner I stopped the pedaling to coast around the corner, trying to conserve as much speed as possible. Before coming out of the corner I started to pump again to increase my speed. I could see the driveway coming up quick and put all I had into that little bike of my sister’s. I had one small, gradual corner yet to take before I could align myself perfectly with the ramp; this caused another minor drop in speed but I quickly made that back up with a few more revolutions of the pedals. My concentration was like a rock, relentless and unwavering, focused on the task at hand. The wind was rushing in my ears as I stared down the Monster and made my final approach. So intent was my focus that I was scarcely aware of my friends shouting something as I hit the driveway and prepared myself to take the jump. It was at this moment that time seemed to slow down and the world dropped into slow motion.
As the front tire hit the plywood I stole a glance at Nick and the boys who were shouting words I was supposed to understand as they made an up gesture with their hands and arms. I turned my attention back to the Monster and noticed that plywood had started to buckle and bow from the force in which I hit it. Now anyone that has even the slightest idea on how physics work would know that this bow in the plywood builds up and creates some stored energy that would be released as soon as the force causing the bow is removed. As the front tire came off the jump and found air the tension released and pushed the back tire up so it went higher than the front thus causing the nose of the bike to be pointed at the ground.
Sailing through the air it dawned on me that I wasn’t use to jumping Pinky. Had I used Diane’s bike more I would have realized that the bike was a good deal lighter than mine and thus would handle jumps differently. Hindsight baby…damn.
About the time I was making the connection on the major mistake I made in doing this jump, first the front tire of Pinky found the ground and then something curious happened. Instead of crashing or the back tire touching ground, I pulled off a feat of balance that has yet to be repeated in the tiny town of Effie. I somehow managed to ride the front tire of the bike in a sort of reverse-wheelie with the back tire still 2 ½ feet up in the air. Here is where my luck turned from bad to worse.
Like with a lot of my younger decisions, I had not taken the time to properly think through this one. I didn’t take into consideration the fact that Pinky was a lighter bike and would handle different, nor did I think about the speed I was building before hitting the jump. Had I had my good old dirt-bike there would have been no problem, but alas that was not the case here. Not only did I clear a good six feet on the jump, but I rode a front wheelie which made stopping impossible because the brakes were located on the back tire which at the moment was stuck up in the air. While my front wheelie may have looked as graceful as all get out, my crash into the Lindgren garage door was not. I had failed to realize that I would only have a short span of space to stop after the jump. The front tire hit first and my momentum carried me face first into the door while the rest of the bike slapped me hard in the back until we both crumbled into a heap in front of the nice sized dent I made in the door. Within moments my friends were there to help untangle me from the bike.
It took a few minutes for my facilities to return to me as I lay on the cool grass next to the garage as my friends stood above me and stared with looks of astonishment. I could taste blood in my mouth and I knew a nice sized lump was starting to form on my forehead. I would like to tell you I didn’t cry, but that would be a lie. I didn’t blubber on like a baby and whine for my mommy even though some tears of pain slipped from my eyes as the adrenaline wore off and the pain kicked in. Nick was the first one to speak.
“Snord that was one of the wickedest jumps I have ever saw,” he said with a grin. “How the hell did you ride that wheelie?” Still unable to speak because of shock I gave him a bloody smile and shrugged, which hurt.
“Dude we were yelling for you to stand up,” added Keith. He looked like he didn’t understand why I didn’t listen.
“Oh,” I managed to croak out. “That’s what you guys were saying.” The world was starting to make sense again as I played back the last few minutes of my life in my head. The more I went over it the more it seemed like a good idea. Had I stood, I would have been able to pull up on the bike as I left the Monster and kept the front tire pointed up instead of the back, hence having the ability to stop when I landed.
After a few minutes on the ground to collect myself I sat up and spit out a gob of bloody spit. I rubbed the knot on my head and looked at the dent in the door. Ah crap, Nick’s dad is going to be pissed.
“Sorry about the door man,” I said.
“Yeah it is kind of big,” Nick said taking it in. I think in all the excitement he overlooked the fact that there was now a nice sized dent with a splash of blood and an impression of my face presently imprinted on the white paneled door. “I don’t think my dad is going to be too upset though. Buck put the car through one once so I think he will see this one as minor.” Buck is Nick’s oldest brother.
“How bad is the bike?” Maybe Nick wasn’t going to get into too much hot water with the dent but I knew if I wrecked my sister’s bike my old man was going to tan my hide.
“I think the handle bars are a little bent but the wheels still seem round,” Keith said as he walked the bike back over to me.
“Well that is a plus,” I said and got to my feet. My left shin hurt and felt wet inside of my jeans. Pulling my pant-leg up I revealed a nice four inch gash that was dripping blood into my shoe. “Think I’ll need stitches?”
“Naw,” said Nick. “I’ve seen worse on my brothers. Clean it up and slap some gauze on it and you will be good to go.”
“Ok,” I said still in a mild haze. I took the bike from Keith and looked back towards the Monster. “Who’s next?” The boys looked around at each other and then to Shicken.“
“Ain’t no way I’m doing it!” Stated Shicken with authority.
Five minutes later the Monster was gone with all of its parts put back into their respective places. We never did attempt to build such a monstrosity of a jump again. We played it safe and stuck to smaller ones where the crashes weren’t as bad or the risks too great. Nevertheless, I will always be remembered as the kid that rode a front wheelie into the Lindgren garage door. The blood is gone now, but my facial impression still remains.