Spring had finally arrived. Our wait was over and the mud was fresh. We walked home from school that late spring day knowing it was time. The sand from the snow plows had made the road look like a river with beaches on both sides. The occasional brown crispy leaf would scuttle by like a crab in quite a hurry driven by the determined wind. It smelt like spring; the fragrant mixture of months of old rot and impatient wild flowers. The leafy buds from the trees were still pointy. Flower bulbs were just starting to penetrate the saturated Earth. We knew it was time. There would be mud, oh yes lots of mud.
We hurried to get the bikes out of their winter slumber. We had been busy tuning them up for weeks and now they were ready to reward us with their power. Trusty steeds powered by an oil and gas mixture ready to take us anywhere we wanted to go. A true sense of freedom was felt while riding our motor bikes. We could go anywhere the winding trails led us and if we wanted, we could blaze new ones of our own. It was up to us; when we rode we had full control of our lives.
Rich pulled up sporting his shining YZ 250. A powerful-great looking bike that kind of, through jealousy, had put him off with some of the crew I use to ride with down at the Pits. That and the fact he got into Michelle Peterson’s jeans quite quicker than her overly- jealous-jock ex-boyfriend ever did. Rich was kind of an outsider; a rebel without a clue. His demeanor and looks demanded a second glance. His long hair and jail house looking tattoo made him look like a criminal. I liked Rich because he was an original. He was not one of these manufactured kids. I was an outsider and so was he. Rich’s attitude all though most of it was bad, was his and not duplicated by something he had seen on television.
We took of on a day of riding. His bike had more quickness where my IT400, a bigger bike over all had more top speed. My lanky frame was built for a bigger bike so I was able to out run him on the straight a ways. We took off down the road and over the whine of two speeding motorcycles screamed though a conversation:
“Hey!” I said.
“What?” replied Rich?
“I got this new kid that wants to ride with us.”
“Who is he?”
“Well his mom knows my mom and my mom kind of suggested…”
“You don’t even know him?”
“I met him once he seemed cool.”
“Well can he ride?”
I lied and said,” He used to years ago.”
“Great! We get to babysit.”
“Give him a chance, he’s quiet and seems kind of cool.” Once again I lied.
We hit the closest trail that led to Jeff’s house. We found him sitting on the front porch pondering the wide-backed red machine that was parked in his front yard. My step-dad was nice enough to bring it over on the back of his pick-up truck.
Jeff stood as we approached. He was dressed in cut off jeans and a black AC/DC tee shirt. He was a bit chubby and even more so awkward. He did have a smile from ear to ear which I thought made him look a bit insane. Rich was giving me that “What the heck have you gotten me into look”. Truly I knew this kid had never driven anything with a clutch. The last bike he was on probably had training wheels. This was his baptism by fire. I lent our new riding partner my old ATV three wheeler. It was easy to operate and good for a beginner. It still had my “Micky” vanity plate on it since when I was ten. It had speed enough to keep up with us, if we wanted him to. The automatic transmission would make it easier on Jeff. I explained the controls to him and we were off.
We headed toward the pits. The pits were located on the outskirts of an old abandoned Army base. The journey there was about five miles and we had to take a combination of trails, railroad tracks and some backyards to get there. We had to be quick and avoid the streets at all cost. A run in with the local cops could get you a warning or worse yet a ticket. If you got a cop in a bad mood or was mouthy to him, they would even have your bike towed!
Luckily our path was free from the headache of local law enforcement and we arrived at the pits. Jeff screamed over the din of the bikes:
“That sign says no trespassing.”
“Those signs are older than you.” Rich replied.
“Besides the base is closed and we come here all the time. Don’t worry.” I reassured Jeff.
When we first got to the straight away Jeff opened it up and spit gravel on us as he sped away. It really did not affect me because I had a helmet with a visor. It did blow right into Jeff’s face and he stopped his bike to brush pebbles out of his hair and pour water from his bottle on his face to remove the dust.
“Is he always like that?” Jeff asked
“Yeah, but he’s letting you hang out. He will just harass you a bit to feel you out. Don’t let it bug you he does it to everyone. He did the same thing to me.” I replied.
With a shrug and a quick kick of the starter peg, Jeff fired up his borrowed three-wheeler and took off. I followed suit and was right behind him. I had to admit that Jeff was not as bad a rider then I had imagined. Not that a three-wheeler is hard to ride. Much easier than a dirt bike mind you.
The three of us rode around the pits for nearly an hour; Jeff always had to take the lead. We would shoot down the dusty straight away. Making sure to count the five large hills and then slow down in time to cut a sharp right into the woods to avoid the river. You needed to start slowing down right at the top of the fifth hill or you would be in the water. We had heard of a few guys hitting the water at high speed. Most were ok, a couple wound up with some broken bones and even worse broken bikes.
We stopped for lunch and broke out our brown bags and bottled waters. I started the conversation:
“You’re not half bad Jeff.”
“Thanks! Riding is not as hard as I had thought it would...”
“It’s a slow ass Trike, tubby.” Rich interrupted.
“It’s like a dirt bike with training wheels!” He added.
“I kept up with you!” Jeff replied.
I thought to myself, “Oh no, here it comes.”
“Cause I let you.” Rich said bluntly.
“I can keep up with you.” Jeff said defiantly.
“Prove it. Twenty bucks says you can’t stay two minutes behind me.”
“Mick, you time us on your watch” Rich said, staring at me.
My mind raced and I tried to think of a way to diffuse the situation. Clearly Jeff was no match for Rich’s riding skills. Then a more notorious thought came to mind. This one overruled my better judgment. You could go around the Pit’s parameter and down the straight away in low gear and keep less than two minutes behind. Maybe this was a way to take Rich down a peg. Having to pay the chubby new comer twenty of his hard earned bucks would really burn Rich’s ass. I agreed to referee the challenge. A course was set. With a drop of an empty water bottle the two took off shooting mud and rock into the air in their wake.
I could not see them after they took off into the woods. I could hear both bikes in a battled harmony of high pitched acceleration and low pitched down shifting. My head turned to listen to the two racers as they made there way around the edge of the pits. Then I head only one bike. The shrill of a dirt bike was the lone sound I could make out. Precious seconds were ticking by. What was Jeff doing?
About forty five precious seconds flew by till I heard the sound of a second motor. I recognized it instantly as my ATV. Just then Rich came over the fifth hill slowing to an abrupt stop ten feet in front of me.
“Where is your buddy? I can’t even seem him.” Rich scoffed.
“What a loser.” He laughed. “Birds of a feather…” he muttered as he sped off with his signature peel out. Mud chunks erupting from his knobby spinning back wheel.
My anger grew. This was an easy win. What is wrong with that kid that he can not even keep a three wheeler from stalling? We can’t let Rich win such an easy victory. Where was Jeff, that idiot?
As if on queue Jeff came over the fifth hill. Down shifted and came to a stop right in front of me.
“Where the heck have you been? What happened?” I snapped at him.
“I rolled the bike over, but I am alright. It was in the mud” Jeff said breathing heavily.
I closely inspected my trusty old trike and it was ok. Then I turned to notice the mud all over the portly backside of my new champion. The mud started at his butt and ran all the way up to the middle of his shoulders. That dump must have been funny to have watched I thought. Mud covered most of the bike including my vanity plate.
“Well your ok. Get going! You are only about a minute behind him” I assured.
“Quicken your pace and you should have enough time to win!”
Fastening my helmet onto his head I tightened the strap around his chins. I thought this might produce a bit more fearlessness in Jeff. I tapped him on his head with the palm of my hand and gave him a big “thumbs up.” He smiled and sped of in pursuit of his afternoon’s nemesis. Hoping my unlikely ally would step up and finally give me a one up on Rich.
Anxiously awaiting Rich’s arrival so I could start the timer I paced back and forth. Hearing both bikes once again I could judge the distance between them. It was going to be close. Rich, flying over the last hill with some air under him, slammed the brakes so he skidded to the edge of the river. This was an attempt to add insult to injury in the event that he won, which it looked like he just may. His smug look made my earlier eaten sandwich turn just a bit in my stressed stomach.
“Start the timer!” Rich yelled.
“I did as soon as you stopped!” I yelled back.
“So, where is the tubster?”
“You can be real mean at times you know.”
“I know.” He replied with a smile as wide as the river behind us.
The LCD display counted down the seconds as I desperately watched. Rich was calling out for the time like a child in the back seat of a car pestering a parent if “They were there yet?” Let me see he insisted as we both watched as the first minute blinked by on my Casio calculator watch. The droning of my child hood ATV sped towards us with a deliberate desperation. It whined like I have not heard ever in my life. It was straining. Jeff had it full balls out. Fifth gear and full throttle, it sounded like he was just a few hills back and we had a full forty seconds left. We could actually pull this off I thought.
I saw him break the summit of the fifth hill. There were no sounds of down shifting or slowing. Seeing Jeff’s eyes widen and the panic that gripped him as he slammed on his brakes. The river was coming at him at an impossible rate. He was going way to fast. The bulbous wheels of the three-wheeler locked up and bike and rider started to surf on sand gravel at high speed. Then it happened. Rider and mount separated.
I remember the surreal moment as I watched a person fly through the air. No wings, no cape, just physics and the rules of momentum. I remembered Newton’s first rule. The rule that evaded my mind during last Thursday’s pop quiz at school. “An object set in motion would stay in motion until…” I shut my eyes and blocked my ears.
Rich pulled me out of my self made hood of denial. Wrenching my hands from my ears he yelled into my face. Rich’s face was mixture of fear and delight.
“Man! Did you see that?”
“He went zoom!” Rich stated the obvious while making a rocket sound while pointing his arm towards the horizon.
Jeff must have traveled a good fifty yards airborne and landed two feet into the river. The water was about six inches deep and did little to comfort that landing. Rich and I sat there staring at the motionless body.
“Is he dead?” Rich said with a scared tone.
“Let’s go check.” I replied with a pounding heart.
“He’s your friend dude. It’s your problem!”
“Well we got to go check; he could be hurt real bad!”
“You made the bet, you dared him!” I screamed at Rich.
“I am out of here!” Rich said with almost a cry in his voice.
Running to his bike, the rebel started it and left me alone by the riverside. I sat a moment, listening to the bike’s scream slowly drown into the din of the wind and woodland birds. I turned and stood still staring at the still static form by the river’s edge. Then it moved!
Jeff moved! A deep moan came out of him. I ran up, towering over the fallen figure blocking out the sunlight from his face. Jeff rolled over to a sitting position. His arm was ashen and blood trickled from the side of his head. Ribbons of crimson were weaving downward with the current of the river. I tried to speak and then he did.
“Did we win?” he said
“Yup?” This is all I could muster still watching the ribbons grow.
“Can you help me up?” Jeff asked.
“Sure pal.” I grabbed the arm that was not looking ghastly white and helped him to his unsure feet.
“How do you feel” I said stuttering.
“I am hurt bad. I have a clicking sound in my shoulder and arm feels numb”
“I know some first aid. Let me help.”
Desperately scrounging my mind for anything I could remember from my third year of boy’s scouts, I did my best to patch him up. His arm was bleeding pretty badly so I wrapped my belt tightly around the upper part. The back of his shirt was ripped apart and some stones where imbedded into his shoulder blades in various locations. I put my sweater on him against his wishes that I move his no-doubt broken shoulder. All that plus some story -worthy “road rash” this kids was in bad shape. I had to act fast.
I opted to take my trusty childhood trike versus my big bike. Jeff could not ride out of the pits himself. The trike’s seat was longer and wider allowing plenty of room for two. The suspension was a lot more rider friendly than my motorcycle so Jeff would not be bounced around as much. So I hid my dirt bike in the underbrush and near a familiar location. I then went to start the second victim of the crash. The machine was a bit worse for wear in the paint department, but I did not see any major crash related injuries. After a few pumps of the primer and a half dozen hard kicks, my reliable partner fired up and we were ready to leave the pits.
Our journey was slow and steady. I had to stop a couple time to let Jeff adjust his position. Holding on with his one good arm around my waist we made our way to the edge of the pits. He was holding on with all he could, but I knew he was growing tired
I could feel him almost passing out a couple of time when we finally hit the pavement. He would slowly slouch more and more, then catch him self to an upright position.
This time around I took the road the whole way. I was hoping to run into the cops. Where were they? We found our way to the closest store with a pay phone and I called nine one one. Within minutes we had cruisers and an ambulance at our disposal. The EMT’s took Jeff and the police took me. They wanted to talk to me about what had happened. I once again lied and left Rich out of the story. Why bring him into it? I had seen Rich for what he really was and was not going to hang around with him anymore. He was a punk and a coward to boot. Just like all the rest of the carbon-copy people that only care about themselves. I was done with him.
I got to ride in the ambulance to the nearest hospital, which was kind of cool. The hospital staff gave me a cold soda and a bag of chips as I waited to hear about Jeff. My appetite disappeared when Jeff’s mom jogged by sobbing and my own mother walked by slowly staring at me with wide eyes. Those were the “No bike” eyes I had seen the last time my report card had come out. The mud would have to wait.
The doctor finally came out and explained that along with his obvious injuries, Jeff had a couple broken ribs and one had torn a hole in his lung. The Doc threw me a bone and said that since I had acted so quickly and bandaged Jeff up a bit, he was going to pull though just fine. That made my mom’s “death stare” ratchet down to just an annoyed look. I finally got the ok to talk to Jeff after a few more hours.
I opened the door and look toward the bed where Jeff was laying. Broad white ceiling to floor curtains were enclosing him and I thought like this was an opening of a show which I new not of the ending. I slowly parted the curtains. There I saw an old man relieving himself into a large silver bed pan.
“Oh!” the old skinny bearded man screamed.
“Damn!” I echoed in dissatisfaction.
“I am over here” I heard in a familiar voice now just a whisper.
Jeff was in the adjacent bed of the same room. I approached and his curtain was wide open. He looked well, but had a tube coming out of his side. The machine that it was hooked to reminded me of the sound “Darth Vader” made breathing. We talked:
“You ok, so they say” I started.
“Yeah it’s not so bad, it don’t really hurt.” Jeff responded.
“You’re on some cool drugs from what I hear.”
“Well you seem really banged up and I am sorry for that.” I added.
“It’s not your fault; I had fun up to the end.”
“The end could have not been all that much fun for you.”
“Well when I was flying up in that air and I saw the ground and then the sky and then the ground again. I was smiling. Just didn’t stick the landing.” He chuckled.
“Well, you’re in a good mood.” I replied.
“It was the most fun I had since moving here.” Jeff had that smile again.
“Can we do it again when I am better” he asked.
“Pal, we can do it when ever you are ready!”
That was the truth.