Gut Rumbles

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.


Have you ever heard of a dinky town in Kentucky called Denniston, Kentucky?That's my father's family. I've got a picture of the only bulding standing but have never been there. Would love to go sometime. I understand there may be a few Denniston's still living in that area.
I lived on my bike and roller skates growing up. I recall a bike wreck going down a hill but not quite as dramatic. I use to love to roll in the kudzu and swing on grape vines. I was definitely a tomboy growing up. Afterall there was always some sort of sport team at my house with my Dad being a coach and having a older brother. They just considered me one of the gang. Sometimes I'd be a substitute at baseball games if there wasn't enough to fill the team. Small towns are great! I'm holding some good positive energy for your Mom. I believe in miracles with cancer. Afterall I am a survivor too! She's a Beautiful woman and I'm convinced she is a great MOM.

Posted by: Lexia on November 10, 2003 10:56 AM

Lemme tell you what you do in this situation. You stand up on one pedal and put your other foot on the rear tire, just where it goes past your butt between the the 2 bars of the rear part of the frame. The tire is spinning the right way to press your foot against the frame and wedge it there, which makes it easy to apply and adjust the pressure against the tire. Of course, you want the sole of your shoe rubbing the tire. If you're barefoot, then you're pretty much SOL.
I rode a bike without brakes all one summer when I was a kid, and this is how I stopped or slowed down.

Posted by: asm on November 10, 2003 11:05 AM


Next time you're in Harlan, I'll have you stop in and see a friend of mine.

It'll be worth your time, you'll end up with a LOT of way cheap cigarettes.

Details via E mail, just write me when that trip is in your plans.

And sometime, I'll tell YOU some bicycle stories that'll make you go, silver...i meant to type that in the first place.


Sloop New Dawn
Galveston, TX

Posted by: Jim on November 10, 2003 02:25 PM


You need to read "The Two Wheel ATV" by Pat McManus. It is a short story in one of his books; I can't recall exactly which one at the moment. Look in the Humor section in any bookstore.

Posted by: Gene K on November 11, 2003 12:31 AM
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