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Voyageur's Best Generally Speaking of 2005

Blue Heron

Inventing extreme sports
It started out as a camping trip
by Jerome Little  |  August 23, 2005

I see by the lack of light in the early morning, the cooler temps and the approach of the school year that summer is indeed drawing to a close. They always seem to fly by, these hot, sticky months, the ones we long for in February. I have been watching my daughter getting ready for the eighth grade and remember back to my childhood days as I clung to every last moment of those dog days of August. There is one particular summer I remember most.

It was actually the year I graduated from high school. I was entering the service that fall, not unlike what I had just left in that it was going to occupy another four years of my life. So I was wringing out all I could get from what was left of my freedom. One of my best buddies suggested a weekend camping trip up north and with little arm twisting I was convinced that was what the doctor ordered. We packed up his ‘57 Desoto and away we went.

We had the usual necessities along, the fishing gear, the cooking gear, the sleeping gear, the hunting gear and the drinking gear. Now let it be known, I was a good kid all through my high school years; I never drank. Much. Maybe the glass of wine offered by my dad at Christmas, a glass of beer on the occasional family celebration, but I stayed pretty dry throughout my teens. But entering the service demanded that there be some celebratory sipping to smooth the send off. So we had a case of something along; I’ve long forgotten what label we chose.

The first day and night were pretty uneventful. The usual fishing and outdoors stuff happened and we just enjoyed ourselves being up in the wild, on our own with the stress of the city behind. About four the next afternoon we were starting to look for adventure. As we sat on the end of an old dock dangling our feet in the water, we spied an old bike leaning against a shed. We decided it might be nice to go for a ride and looked around for somebody to ask if we could borrow it for awhile. Well, we’d only use it for a little while and put it right back when we were done, so we saw little harm in assuming that the owner would be more than happy to let us have a go.

The first hour or so was just spent tooling around the camp area enjoying riding again. After all, when we became old enough to have cars, our bikes were either handed down to siblings or parked behind the garage. So it was kind of fun to just buzz around on two wheels again. Of course now it was getting on around six o’clock so we had an evening drink. And another. Pretty soon we figured we could do just about anything on that bike we wanted. This was way before the age of Extreme Sports. All these guys on those BMX’s today don’t realize that the birth of their sport was way before what history says. It really all began on a cool September night in 1966 with an old rusty bike, an anchor rope and a large hook.

The sport first took shape when we decided it would be way cool to ride off the end of the dock. Now the water was only about waist deep, so we could shoot off the dock and still locate the bike for another run. But we found as the evening wore on, it was getting harder to find and we spent more time looking than riding. That’s where the rope and the hook came in. We figured that if we tied the rope to the end of the dock, passed the hook to the rider as he went by, he could quick hook it to the bike frame before he end of the dock. My buddy decided he would be the test pilot and I would serve as ground crew. There was a little slope leading down to the dock, so he figured he’d go to the top and get a good run at ‘er. I tied off the rope and stood waiting with hook in hand.

Rick got the bike lined up dead center and shoved off. He came barreling down that hill, pedalling for all he was worth. I extended the hook as he approached, eyes wide and feet a blur. As he went by me the hook vanished from my hand and I heard a metallic clank and assumed that we now had a tethered missile. I watched in awe and admittedly some jealousy as he cleared the end of the planks. I began to understand the esteem in which we hold the pioneers of our early space programs, those brave men forging into the unknown.

Then there was a loud twang as the rope reached its end. I was absolutely amazed at how fast the bike stopped in mid launch. Only the bike. My pal on the other hand seemed to accelerate forward in a slow forward summersault, having missed leaving his future generations on the handlebars by a scant fraction of an inch. He completed the mid-air acrobatics and was now stretched out prone, his grip on the bike the last to go. I’ve tried all my life to skip stones on the water, never getting more than three or four weak pity pats. I think Rick broke the pity pat record that evening. Finally coming to the surface, water streaming from his ears, he began to feel around for the rope and bike.

“Did you see where it landed?” he asked. “Yea, its right here on the end of the dock. I guess I tied that rope off a little short. Want to try it again?” It was real nice, the quiet we had the rest of the evening, listening to the fire crackle in the campfire, sipping a brew. “Want another hot dog, Rick?” He just sat there staring off into the sunset. I knew someday he would speak me again. See you around.

This article first appeared in the August 23, 2005 issue of the Voyageur Press.