November 10, 2003
I remember this one
I was visiting back "home" in Harlan County, Kentucky, sometime around 1965. My cousin Ernie and I rode bicycles on a paved road to the top of a big hill. It was a hard slog to the top, but we made it. Then, we decided to race DOWN the hill.
That road was about one mile of twists and turns, with a mountain on one side and a cliff on the other, and it dead-ended at the main thoroughfare through town. We didn't think about anything except who could win the race to the bottom. We took off.
I was ahead about halfway down the road, and flying like Moody's Goose, but Ernie tried to make a move on me, so I kicked everything I had into high gear. That's when the chain came off my bicycle.
I didn't have hand-brakes. I suddenly had no brakes at ALL.
I was flying down that mountain with the wind in my face and the pavement buzzing by below me when I realized that I COULD NOT STOP! (Don't tell me about dragging your feet. That shit won't work on that kind of grade) I started looking for a place to bail, but there was nothing but mountain on one side of me and 50' of free-fall through the trees on the other. I became just a little bit frightened.
I concentrated on keeping that bike in the road as I went faster and faster down the mountain. At the bottom, the road REALLY went steeply downhill right before it hit the stop sign before the main thoroughfare. I got there and said a silent "Oh Fuck!" in my mind as I saw all the cars passing below me. I couldn't stop. I couldn't bail. I was locked into my adventure.
I held onto that bike and closed my eyes as I got ready to die. I shot through that intersection during a miraculous break in traffic, I steered toward a red-clay trail that I saw over the my left and I laid that bike down in the middle of the biggest kudzu patch you ever saw. I rolled and tumbled for a long way before I became tangled in kudzu and went no farther. I looked down and saw the Cumberland River just below me.
Damn!, I thought. That was one hell of a ride. Rob, you almost ended up in the river.
It never really dawned on me at the time that I almost ended up dead, too.
Ernie was on the edge of the highway (that sumbitch had brakes!) yelling, "Hey, Rob! Are you okay? You won the race! What happened to my brother's bike?"
I crawled out of the kudzu, found the bike and dragged it back up that slope to the highway. "The chain came off, " I said. "I had no brakes." We put the chain back on the sprockets and rode together back to my cousin's house.
Slowly. I was in no mood for racing any more that day.
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