Monday, May 29, 2006

Ground Control to Major Tom

The Boy is learning to ride a two wheeler. He would have learned a couple years ago like most boys, but we didn't live in a bike-conducive complex at the time (read - drugs, broken bottles, litter, and liquor).

It reminds me of a time when I was fourteen. My Sunday School teacher gave me his old bike. It was old. It was a Sears brand Ten-speed street bicycle. I had never before, nor have I ever since, seen a Sears brand bicycle. And it was Yellow. Canary mixed with New York Cab yellow. We called her Granny Too Tall.

One day, my friends and I went bike riding down to Ft. Steilacoom Park, down the field behind Waughop Lake. This field is basically a giant hill with a beaten trail down the middle. Normally this trail of dirt interspersed with medium-sized stones is no problem, as it's basically smooth, though downhill, and my friends and I traversed this hill several times on our bikes. But one day we went to the park a little too soon after the rain. What happened was a perfect combination of teenage ignorance, old bike, wet ground and descending angle.

My friends went first; I followed on Granny Too Tall. As we started down, I noticed I was picking up speed pretty good - nothing out of the ordinary. But as I applied the hand brakes - they were too wet to grip the tires - No Brakes! So I did the next logical thing, which is put my feet down on the ground to slow myself down. This would be a good time to mention that when I was fourteen, I owned Bobos - cheap shoes with no traction. My feet slid off the wet stones like socks on a freshly waxed floor. So here I am, no brakes, no shoes to slow me down, careening down this quarter-mile hill. I do what comes naturally - I yell "no brakes!" to my friends, who immediately stop and pull off to the side of the trail so I can pass by unfettered.

Now I'm sure a lot of you are asking "why didn't you steer off the trail and let nature slow you down, and then fall safely into the grass next to the trail? I answer - because I was fourteen, and when you're fourteen, you don't think of common sense answers to crises.

Instead, I stayed on Granny Too Tall as we sped heartily down the hill, picking up momentum with every passing yard, careening down the hill to the bottom.

At the bottom of the hill, instead of going straight into the trail around the lake, there is another, little hill you must go over. This hill isn't much more than about 3-4 feet high, and normally isn't a big deal. But when you've got a quarter mile running start and a Sears-quality bike beneath you, you might have problems. I remembered the little hill right about ten feet before I got to it. This left me no time, really, to prepare for The Launch.

I don't know as I can accurately describe The Launch, as I experienced it and didn't see it. I hit the little hill at about Mach 2 (I gotta hand it to Sears, they make a powerful bike). I then launched into the air, about eight to ten feet up, my body soaring over my bike. It was truly majestic feeling, like an eagle trying to alight with a slightly-too-heavy rabbit in tow. When I finally got the chance to appreciate the splendor of flight, gravity reminded me that it is boss. Granny Too Tall and I went down at about twice the force of gravity, I'm sure - there were two of us, so it makes sense. I did a phenomenal job of keeping the tires straight for re-entry, and even managed to get my left foot back on its pedal. Unfortunately, a bike has two pedals, and missing the second pedal caused my to adjust my balance to keep from injuring certain body parts and ensuring that I injured several more body parts. I'm not quite sure how it happened, but I ended up in the dirt between a couple trees in the area between the trail and the lake. Other than a few scrapes and bruises, I was actually quite good for the wear, and likely very lucky, to boot.

I don't think Granny Too Tall ever really recovered from the trauma, though. She never could keep a tire on the front from going flat within a day. I searched and searched for a problem, but couldn't find it, so I firmly believe that Granny Too Tall was popping the tires when I wasn't looking, lest I attempt to launch her into a low level Sears orbit again.

I miss Granny Too Tall. It wasn't the prettiest of bikes, but it did the job, and was well liked by the posse.


heatherfeather said...

will you teach me to ride a bike when you're done teaching The Boy?

but maybe you shouldn't teach me how to do tricks - you appear to tick your bikes off enough that the engage in self-injurious behavior.


Gramma said...

Did Jack Frisbie give you that bike? I seem to remember something like that... and your experience obviously is a family trait (on your dad's side, of course). When we lived out at McChord, your dad bought a second-hand motorcycle. He was tooling around on it one day when the throttle stuck open. He couldn't stop it. Being 30 instead of 14, though, he pointed the motorcycle off the road into the grass and jumped off. He landed on his butt and cracked his tailbone. I had to rub ice on his a** every couple of hours for the pain. Guess you come by your talent naturally.

Hannelie said...

My husband can relate to this story of yours Steve, a keen bike rider since he was young too. He and some mates still go out to ride some dirt tracks and have heaps of fun! He got a broken thumb once as a kid...long story...
Are you still riding? How's the little one going with the lessons and balance?

Michelle said...

Fun post Steve!

Bookworm said...

You've got a narrative gift, Steve. I only have to close my eyes and there I am, watching you fly down that hill, as only a 14 year old boy could.