Sunday, November 2, 2008
Blue Sting Ray
The first bike on my list is the 1970 Schwinn Sting Ray, blue in color, I received for Christmas when I was 10. My brother and I had been pestering our parents for these bikes—they were a hot commodity among the kids in our neighborhood. Some kids had cheaper imitations, the Huffy comes to mind, but we were lucky enough to get genuine Schwinns. Of course we would have loved to get the hot rod “Orange Crate” model with a stick shift (!) on the top tube but we were happy with what our parents bought.
One of my memories of that time was how my Grandpa Clawson took an interest in what was going on in the run up to Christmas and the whole "kids want bicycles” news. He and Grammie came over to our house sometime before the holidays and showed us some of his racing medals. Grandpa had been a Utah State Champion in the early 1920s and we most certainly would have seen some of his photos and his State Champ jersey on that day. Honestly, I don't remember much about those things. We were not really excited about bike riding, or racing, at least not the old fashioned "10 speed" type of racing that Grandpa had done.
We wanted Sting Rays because they looked sort of like choppers or at least some vague hippie-type conveyance. We wanted to cruise around, pull wheelies and scramble in the dirt sort of like we were on motorcycles. Now that was cool!
One day a group of friends was out in the field by our house. A kid from the neighborhood named Mark Knudsen had made a jump out of some sod, placed at the nexus of a rocky downhill-to-dip trail that had the potential to launch a kid plus bike at least a couple of feet into the air. I remember Mark was great on a bike. He could wheelie his Sting Ray down the street and perform a number of sweet tricks such as standing on the seat, skidding using the coaster brake, and of course jumping. My group of friends were all more adept at jumping than me, and on this day were giving me (chicken) tips on jumping technique.
As I recall, the thrust of the discussion was proper weight centering that would give the best chance for a successful jump. "Successful" would be a jump that didn't end badly. The true fact is, I was scared to death.
After some serious self talk and a couple of aborted runs at the ramp, I made my first attempt. Rolling down the rocky hill and up the face of the jump I realized to my terror that I had not pulled up on the bars like I was instructed by my friends. The result was a classic endo, the first of my career. Ass over teakettle would describe it, and a face full of dirt and misery were my rewards. For a timid kid such as I, this was a humiliating experience... in front of my peers no less, suffice it to say I was afraid to try again—but just pissed off enough to give it another go. Dammit! (yes I was into cursing even back then.)
Fortified with anger and resolve to redeem myself, and with the repeated instructions to "pull back" ringing in my ears, I was back on the bike for another run. This time I was NOT going to endo. As I crested the jump for the second time, I did pull back on the bars. Way back. The dreaded loop out, right onto my ass with a thump that was felt all the way to my teeth. This was a prelude to many future crashes, and many encounters with a mouth-full of dirt, severe pain, and a mixture of anxiety and determination that would ultimately keep me coming back for more.