It’s National Bike Month, which got me thinking about a neighbor kid from my childhood. We grew up in the woods outside Sandpoint, and there weren’t many other kids around, so we had to make our own fun. Most of that revolved around bikes, and my brother and I were pretty tame on two wheels — the most daring feats involving what seemed like precipitous jumps, but which were probably no higher than a foot off the ground.
Well, this neighbor of mine, his idea of a good time was to ride his beat-up old Huffy to the top of a high hill on our dirt road, teeter at the top and pedal as furiously as he could to the bottom. At the magic point, just before the hill started to level off and his speed was at its greatest, this kid would let go of the handlebars and push himself off the seat — hanging in midair for a frozen moment as the bike continued racing, suddenly riderless, into the ditch.
For a heartbeat, he was weightless, and I imagine it must have felt like he’d never come down as he was propelled up and out into the air, seemingly gaining elevation as the slope of the road fell away.
It was pretty majestic, I remember, until he came down in an explosion of dust and gravel, skidding and rolling across the rocks, wearing nothing but shorts and a T-shirt. I always expected him to break something, or cry, or — at the very least — stop intentionally wiping himself out at the bottom of the hill.
But he never did any of those things; instead, he’d hit the ground like a meteor and spring back up, blood streaming down his knees, dirt in his teeth and laughing like a maniac.
My neighbor did this at least once every day during the summer, and it was a ritual that continued until he and his extended family suddenly disappeared from the complex of trailer homes they’d established across the road from us.
It was a weird expression of human will that I don’t think I fully understood at the time — and probably still don’t get. Something about mortality, or transcendence, or maybe it was as simple as the enjoyment to be found in beating the living hell out of your own body. I suspect that he just thought it was fun to fall off his bike, but his brutal commitment was equal parts gruesome and inspiring. Which, if nothing else, shows just how far you can go with a bike.
A version of this story first appeared in Boise Weekly.