Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Shiny's Big Bike Jump

One particular instance in my childhood has remained with me with such clarity that I often wonder why. Unlike other thoughts, it doesn't seem to fade away to a major theme without details. The details have always just stuck and so I relate them to you.

For a year while living in West Des Moines, our neighbor had a kid named Shiny. Shiny and my younger brother were friends and so I hung out with them having no friends around my age. One sunny afternoon, we got the idea to make a ramp and jump our bikes. We quickly congregated at the base of a small but extremely steep hill behind the apartment building where the builders had evidently run out of money. There was a sidewalk at the top of the hill and one at the bottom but just a steep washed out dirt path connecting them where a steep flight of steps should have been.

We scrounged up a couple of cinder blocks and a short length of board from which we fashioned a crude ramp. The ramp was angled up at about a forty-five degree angle and right at the base of the steep hill. As an engineer now, I can see the folly of our setup but as a kid, I just knew it was going to work. Shiny, who was probably only 4 or 5 at the time, became the first and as it turned out, only guinea pig.

Shiny wheeled his bike down to the beginning of a straight stretch of sidewalk above the hill before turning around and mounting it. With a look of determination, he started cranking at the pedals for all he was worth, building up a full head of steam as he rode towards the top of the hill fifty feet away. He was at full speed when he left the sidewalk and went over the crest of the hill, pedals still turning though the wheels of the bike had left the ground. The bike arced through the air making contact about halfway down the hill and picking up even more speed in it's suicidal plunge to the bottom. When Shiny and his bike reached the bottom and started up the short but equally steep ramp, the laws of physics kicked in. Shiny's body still had downward momentum while his bike now had upward momentum. They collided and then bounced apart as they neared the top of the ramp having imparted their kinetic energy on each other. The bike headed off the ramp and crashed immediately to the ground while Shiny sailed up and over the handlebars like an airplane taking off.

Shiny's arms were stretched out in front of him and his legs following behind as he reached the apex of his climb and started his downward decent into his final approach with the sidewalk below him. Oomph! Shiny touched down on his belly like a plane without landing gear and the wind was forcefully ejected from his lungs. His forward momentum carried him forward on his stomach down the sidewalk until friction robbed him of his forward momentum and he stopped nearly twenty feet away from the ramp. As Shiny rolled over on his back gasping for air, I saw that the front of his shirt had been sanded away by the sidewalk and all that remained was a scratched up and bloodied belly and chest, his two arms protruding through the shirt sleeves and a flap of shirt in the back. His jeans suddenly had four or five news holes ripped into them. The sidewalk contained a ten feet skid mark containing bits of shirt, denim and blood that ended where Shiny now lay.

Shiny eventually regained his breath and sat up as the rest of us lost ours in gasps of laughter. I don't remember any of the aftermath of the jump because my mind blanks out at this point, but whenever I think of Shiny's big bike jump, a smile never fails to steal across my face.

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