Summer was coming to an end. School, the four letter word I used to think was an institution in the same sense that Riker’s Island is an institution, was right around the corner. Not just any school. The start of High School. The Three Musketeers and I were growing a little older and slowly growing apart. One was moving away because his father got a new job out of state. Another had a girlfriend and stopped coming out as often as he used to. And I was playing football and had to get ready for all the lovely hazing and misery that comes with the start of high school (in hindsight-I should have stuck to riding dirt bikes). But, for a brief moment, the Three Musketeers and I were still riding together.
One morning we were racing each other in the AMA Arenacross Series (imaginary, of course). These were heated duels that we took very seriously because you could totally rag on your buddy who came in last for at least a week. Well, I was coming around the second turn (a tree next to a large rock) when another, unknown dirt bike crossed my path. I hit both brakes hard and fell over. It was better than slamming into the tree, rock, or other rider.
After brushing myself off, maybe cursing a little (I’ve been known to), I picked up my bike and looked around for the new rider. I wanted to introduce myself. To my relief, he had stopped and was waiting for me.
I don’t recall my exact words, but I think they rhymed with, “What the pluck was that, masshole?”
He laughed. Always a good reaction to me when you’ve obviously disturbed my zen-like nature. Then he took off his helmet and I realized he was the local (insert expletive of choice here). I’ll just call him Johnny from The Karate Kid movie.
“You guys suck. Get off our trails.” And with this statement, his friend (insert expletive of choice here) arrived with 80′s cheesy movie timing. They were on brand new Yamaha’s and because they were a grade ahead of us, they were a lot bigger.
My buddies pulled up and looked at the two less than enlightened jack offs. “Let’s just go.” One said to me. “We’ll come back later.”
However, Johnny from The Karate Kid, had really gotten my Irish up. I wasn’t going anywhere.
“Told you to get out of here.” Johnny said in his best tough guy voice. “Those bikes suck almost as much as you do.”
“Oh yeah?” I said. “Wanna prove it?”
He laughed again. “You want to race me?”
I detected fear in his voice. “Yes. You’re so good-what could you be afraid of? You win and we’ll leave. I win and you get the (another bad word) out of here.”
Johnny was clearly a little put off by this. His fat, gorilla like friend fully expected him to put up to my challenge in this Lord of the Flies contest. He played with the throttle on his Yamaha in nervous consideration. Then he seemed to reach a conclusion. “Alright.” He said. He looked a little like Mel Gibson in Lethal Weapon when he asked the suicidal guy if he really wanted to jump off the rooftop. “We’ll race! I wanna do this!”
After considering if Johnny was possibly insane from his crazed facial expression, I set the parameters of the race. We’d ride to the end of the main trail. Winner takes all.
We lined up at the start point. A line in the dirt drawn with a stick. Johnny’s big fat friend stood in front of us like Cha Cha DiGregorio in the movie Grease. I have a great sense of the absurd-and the thought of Johnny’s friend possibly having a neckerchief set me to laughing hysterically. Johnny didn’t like that and I could feel his Cobra Kai glare.
So the big, fat fatty raised and lowered his arm (his signal to go) and me and Johnny hit the throttle (did I hear Danger Zone by Kenny Loggins when I took off?).
Now, let’s get to reality. Johnny Numbnuts was on a brand new Yamaha with an actual CC designation. I was on a beat up, duct taped, pieced together contraption loosely defined as a motocross worthy dirt bike. I had no chance of winning in a flat out race. None. Zero. Zip. Nada (for my Spanish speaking friends). But, my greatest strength has always been telling me I have no shot at something. I then go out of my way to prove you wrong by any means necessary. And that day on that trail, Johnny Dipwad was not going to win. Period.
We tore down the trail spitting rocks and dirt. Johnny F Face (use your imagination) was ahead of me, but not by much. I knew this trail, had been riding it for three years on all kinds of bikes and snowmobiles. He had barely even walked through. And I knew that the trail would curve at a certain point right near the end. That would be where I’d make my move. I hadn’t been there myself in three weeks, but what did that matter? We got near to the end and I could see the curve. So did Johnny. He stuck out his foot and hit the brake. I gunned it and whipped past him. I then extended the international sign of friendship and peace with my middle finger. And shot up the hidden path in the curve (hidden by a small bush). Victory was mine!
I looked up and saw that something was askew. The hidden trail was normally just a tiny dirt path in the grass. In front of me was a looming mound of dirt about four feet high. Surprise! A local construction company had started to build new baseball fields nearby and used this spot to dump dirt.
Now I could brake and lose. Or go for it. My refuse to lose nature took over and I hit the dirt ramp full throttle. I experienced the freedom that comes with flight. The sensation that all people long for in their dreams. Wind, weightlessness, and the acute awareness that this is gonna hurt when you land. Really bad.
My first realization of hurt was that my feet were off the pegs. I was in the air long enough to say to myself, ‘Let go of the handlebars.’ Which I did. Like most people who have near death experiences I saw myself hovering…above my dirt bike. Only, I really was hovering…above my dirt bike. I watched it land, violently below me, the front tire exploding off the frame (damn you duct tape). Serenely, I accepted that I too, would soon land just as badly as that poor dirt bike. Poor me. And did I ever land! In the best fashion possible! Going about 90 mph (slight exaggeration) into a thick, pricker bush. Like prickers of the one inch kind. I mean, like really sharp and numerous prickers. And me in a tee shirt. Ever see the movie Hell Raiser? Lightweights. Those prickers dug into my skin and into my memory for life. To this day I have been known to chainsaw, with extreme prejudice, the occasional pricker bush that crosses my path (alright, I made that up).
On the lighter side of things, I won. I beat Johnny D Bag (once again, use your imagination). Bleeding, bruised, and trying desperately to come up with an explanation to give my mother for my condition, I held my head high. Johnny the Rat had to leave with his brand new bike, knowing he had lost to an incoming freshman. It was sweet.
Up until I realized I had busted my friend’s bike. And quite possibly my face as well. What I won, I had won at great cost.
The riding season is upon us. Even when you’re riding familiar roads and paths or tricking in that spot you love, remember to do a quick scan of the area. A pothole or other roadwork could cause a great day of riding to become a really bad one. I rode those trails for years and had no clue that dirt mound was going to be in my secret spot. Not only did I owe my friend for breaking his duct taped together bike, I wasn’t able to ride for a long time after that because it was the bike I personally used to ride those trails. Let’s put on our helmets and have some fun. Just do your homework first!
See you on the streets…
Jaime Valentino is a writer with a wide background and array of experiences that he relates through his most current endeavor, Behind the Visor.
J. has been published by a diverse group of companies. Whether it was fantasy stories (through Raven, LLC a fiction publishing company) to Wine Blogs for Three Thieves Wine, he has always had an intimate knowledge and unique viewpoint that has translated well to his readers who have followed him over the years.
Sportbikes are the one passion in his life he has always returned to no matter what. He rode his first mini-bike at nine years old and has never looked back.
J. lives in New York City. Though he will tell you he thrives there…