I bring you this story by special request. My last Random Dozen meme inspired requests for, The Coolest Kid, a true story from my childhood which was originally posted on my now defunct blog, The Grownups Wanted Us Dead. Enjoy reading about the time I rode my bike off a cliff.
The Coolest Kid
For my 9th birthday I received a brand new bike. It was a pink and white Schwinn Sting Ray complete with banana seat, flared handlebars and hand brakes. It was the coolest bike in the neighborhood — which, of course, made me the coolest kid.
Mr. LaBeau, my baby-sitter’s husband, insisted that I try out the bike in his driveway before he would allow me on the street. That is probably a good thing, because I used the side of the garage as brakes several times before I learned not to pedal backwards, but squeeze the hand grips instead.
Finally I was declared street worthy and I zipped to the homes of all of my friends, cajoling each of them in turn to join me outside on their own wheels. There were about eight of us zooming through the neighborhood in follow-the-leader style. Me — the coolest kid in the neighborhood — being the leader, of course.
They followed me around the block, through the empty field, across the playground, around the school building, and then — knowing I would loose the cowards — I headed straight for Dead Man’s Trail, an almost vertical drop into the big gully behind the school house. At the bottom of the drop where the trail leveled out it passed between two pine trees and immediately made a 50 degree turn. Bikes that didn’t make the turn ended up about six feet down in a narrow stream. Riders flew several feet through the air and landed in a tangle of wild raspberry bushes. Very few of us had the guts to take that trail on our bikes.
Some say that dare-devil bravery is not really courage. It is, instead, a form of hubris birthed by lack of fore-thought. I’d like to argue that point. I’d like to, but I can’t.
I took the trail at top speed. Both wheels left the ground and I soared several feet, landing smoothly. I rocketed down the trail, standing on the pedals with my long hair streaming in my wake. I imagined my friends all standing at the rim, watching me in awe. Unfortunately, I couldn’t look. Coming up fast were two huge yellow pine trees. It took a steady hand to maneuver between them. More than once when riding my “baby-bike” I had left the back of my knuckles on the bark of one of those trees. The best thing to do was let go of the handlebars and just steer with one’s fingertips. That way no skin was lost. The passage only took a fraction of a second, so the bike never had time to go out of control.
I was an expert at fingertip steering — in fact, I was an expert in hands-free steering, but not with a 50 degree curve ahead of me. I let go of the handlebars for a nanosecond. My bike shot into the gap between the trees. Those fancy new, flared out handlebars scraped bark from both trunks. I jerked my hands to my chest as the bike jolted to a stop. Like a rocket, I flew ten feet through the air, sailing over the embankment and the stream, arching over the raspberry patch and landing upside down in it’s southern-most branches. Unfortunately, despite their tenacious grip, they weren’t strong enough to hold me. I crashed to earth flat on my back, staring up at the sky. Stars burst behind my eyes, and I swear I heard little birds singing my death chant.
My friends left their bikes at the top of the trail and clambered down. They had to climb the embankment, circle the raspberry patch and fight through a Pussy Willow thicket to get to me. By the time they arrived, I had regained my feet and rid myself of most most of the raspberry branches. Some of the thorns, however, stayed with me throughout the summer.
I heard my friends crashing through the underbrush and braced myself for the onslaught of their teasing. They greeted me instead with joy and concern. Sugar and Cheerleader began searching for my skin beneath the blood. Handsome insisted on checking for broken bones. Amazingly, aside from being a bit crumpled and scratched, I was fine.
My friends wanted to take me home. I insisted on being taken to my bike. It stood right where I’d left it, wedged between the two trees at the bottom of the trail. Handsome freed it with a tug, and aside from a mangled right handgrip, it was none the worse for wear.
With Handsome helping me, and Stretch and Sugar on either side of my bike, we climbed the hill. The boys refused to return my bike at the top. They insisted on delivering me to the tender mercies of my grandmother. They escorted me all the way into the kitchen.
Gram was cooking lunch. She stood in front of the kitchen stove and looked me over from head to foot, tangled hair, tattered clothing and blood smeared skin. She sighed, shook her head and said, “I swear, one of these days you’re going to kill yourself. I ought to just get it over with and do it for you.”
I would have felt a lot better at that statement had she not been holding a wooden spoon. However, Gram didn’t spank. Her punishments were much more subtle. She stood me in the bathtub, scrubbed me with a stiff-bristled wooden brush, painted me in Mercurochrome, and made me sit on the kitchen stool for days on end — well, at least one.
By the time I made it outside every kid within five square blocks wanted a look at my cuts and to hear my Dead Man’s Trial survival tale. Really, it wasn’t anything special. Just pretty much what you’d expect from the coolest kid in the neighborhood.