EVEL KNIEVEL TAKES ON COTTONWOOD HILL
As mentioned in some previous blog posts, I spent my early childhood growing up in the rural town of Bishop, California. It was the early 1970’s and the hippie movement was still in full swing, with rock bands like Three Dog Night singing “Jeremiah was a Bullfrog” and kids like me were running wild all summer in short shorts, tank tops and bare feet (or maybe the occasional pair of flimsy flip-flops).
There were many childhood heroes in those days. The Six Million Dollar man, with his bionic legs, arm and eye was saving the world on TV each week, not to mention his countless escapades of courage and valor around my house and yard, as my Steve Austin action figure battled whatever foes my imagination could conjure up on days which were never filled with boredom. Now days, $6 million dollars wouldn’t serve to rebuild a busted up guy for more than a couple of knee replacements, a catheter and a motorized wheelchair, but in the early 70’s that kind of money could build a robotic super hero!
In those days, kids didn’t have computers, smart phone, videos or DVD’s and endless entertainment at your fingertips. A kid’s imagination was his domain… a world where if you had a hot wheel car, an action figure and some dirt, you could play for hours on end and never get bored. In fact, a kid with a bicycle and a few pieces of scrap wood could build a jump and be Evel Knievel right in his own driveway! In fact, there was one day, when several of the kids in the neighborhood all got together, and with an old milk crate and some plywood, constructed a jump of, what we thought was, "EPIC" proportions. I can’t remember who it was now, but one kid came tearing down the street as fast is his smoking, little twig legs could go, and when he hit that jump he pulled up on the handle bars and really sailed off into space… the only problem was that the impact of the jump jarred his front tire loose from the front forks of his bike, and as he sailed up into the air, his tire fell down and bounced off to the side of the road. Needless to say, he came to a rather abrupt stop upon landing, as his front forks dug into the hot summer asphalt and bent upwards at an angle that would only be useful if you were pedaling your bike inside of a bowl. But don’t worry, he was stopped from bouncing his skull off the pavement by the force of his crotch slamming into the post below his handle bars, and eventually his voice returned to normal within a few weeks!
But, lest I forget, we need to get back to Evel Knievel. Now there was a true adrenalin junkiedaredevil way back before they had things like the X-Games, Mountain Dew, or Monster Energy drinks! With nothing more than a motorcycle, leather suit, cape, and a helmet, he seemingly defied the laws of physics and laughed in the face of gravitational pull. Yes, he was one of my childhood heroes, a fact which would come back to haunt me in the story I am going to share with you today. But as young children my brother and I spent days flying down the long dirt driveway on our BigWheels, and later jumping plywood ramps on our make-shift, beat up, banana seat bikes.
It happened on a hot summer weekend. I can’t exactly remember how old I was at that time (a result of too many blows to the head throughout my childhood no doubt – a fact of which my poor mother can attest), but I couldn’t have been more than 7 or 8 years old. My parents had gone out of town for the weekend, and my older brother Dirk and I were staying with one of our friend’s on the outskirts of town. It just so happened that they lived along the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains in a small house at the bottom of Cottonwood Hill (Cue dramatic music in the background – Dum, Dum, Dum!!!)
I don’t think my childhood memories are exaggerating much here, but Cottonwood Hill was actually more like Cottonwood Cliff. Not that it was incredibly long, but the angle it seemingly sloped off the edge of the world was enough that if you had a gutless car (which in the early 70’s probably would have been a Ford Pinto or AMC Pacer), you may not ever leave the valley floor unless strapped behind a beefy tow truck.
In the mid-afternoon, as my brother, myself, and our friend, Mike Bellick played in his yard, we noticed some older teenage kids with their bikes at the top of the
hill cliff. Whooping with joy
and exhilaration they coasted at incredible speeds down the steep incline and blurred
past us for several blocks worth of momentum before disappearing off somewhere
else in the neighborhood. Visions of our
hero, Evel Knievel, flooded our youthful cognitive processes and soon we found
ourselves climbing our bikes up the hill.
When I say climbing, it’s because not only did we have insufficient muscle fibers in our scrawny legs to propel a bike up the hill by pedal-power, but because if it were any steeper, I’m pretty sure we would have needed carabineers, climbing harnesses and a belay system of some sort to reach the top!
Huffing and puffing great gasps of air, we may have well been standing on Mount Everest. If I had sense enough to look around, I’m sure I would have found a small hut with an old guru sitting in it, who would have offered some sage advice such as, “What are you crazy kid?! You’ll kill yourself trying to ride down that hill!!!” But my head was filled with visions of a stars and stripes clad Knievel, and the sense of adventure and pending exhilaration bypassed all my safety mechanisms.
Our friend, Mike, was smart enough to peer over the edge of the chasm, his hands trembling on the handle bars, and state, “No way I’m riding down that!” But my brother Dirk, who was then one of my childhood heroes as well, and who I have followed and admired my entire life, mounted his banana seat and slipped a foot onto the pedal, so I naturally followed suit. Adrenaline pumping fun was only a few feet away.
After the initial stomach-jumping-up-into-your-throat thrill of going over the precipice, I realized that my pedals were instantly useless for propulsion, because I was suddenly rocketing faster than my legs would ever be able to go. The relentless pull of gravity now had free sway, and as the wind whipped my ragged hair about my head and tugged at my tank top, I suddenly became aware why Evel Knievel wore a leather suit, boots and a helmet, as my short nylon shorts and flip-flops left far too much exposed skin in event of a crash.
In fact, all the glory and heroics of Evel Knievel seemed irrelevant at that moment, and were replaced by the repressed memories of some of his horrific crashes and bone crushing injuries (In fact, the over 433 broken bones he suffered during his career earned him an entry in the Guinness Book of World Records as the survivor of "most bones broken in a lifetime”) The details aside, my quick-lived exhilaration was now replaced with the frozen shock and horror of impending doom as my flimsy little bike hurtled down the rough graveled roadway. I’m not sure whether it was the speed which caused my handle bars to begin violently vibrating in my grip, or the spasmodic convulsing of my body, but my twig like arms were no match for the force placed upon them.
Out of the corner of my wide-eyed terror, I saw my brother hit his brakes in attempt to slow down, causing his rear wheel to fish-tail uncontrollably as he fell behind me. At the same instant my handle bars began to wobbly back and forth with such severity that they were ripped from my sweaty palms and my front wheel spun sideways, ejecting me in rocket-like fashion head-first over the handle bars and onto the ragged gravel pavement below. Unless you were a news crew or movie studio, people didn’t really have hand held video cameras in those days, but if someone would have been filming the event, I imagine it would have been somewhat like Evel Knievel’s famous crash while trying to jump the fountains at Caesar’s Palace.
Of course, wearing nothing but a tank-top, shorts, and flip flops, my fragile flesh was exposed to the tearing forces of the rough gravel roadway as I bounced off my head and shoulder and rolled like a rag-doll for some distance down the hill side.My memories after that are a bit sporadic, but I did have glimpses of wailing screams, hamburger-bloodied hands and extremities, a pounding headache, and riding in the back of our friend’s mom’s station wagon back to their house.
Because of shock and trauma, I don’t remember much until the next day, when my friend’s aunt, who was a nurse and had heard about my crash, came over to check on my condition. When she examined my blood encrusted wounds she gave the following diagnosis, “He’s got so much rocks and dirt in these scabs that he’s sure to develop infection and permanent scars unless we clean them out.”
Upon returning from their trip, when our parents arrived to pick us up that afternoon, they could only gaze upon me with sad and knowing eyes as they looked upon my situation. It was as if experience had taught them that somehow they would return to find me in some kind of mess or another.
Making a long story short, despite the pain of having the wounds cleansed at the hands of a skilled healer, my wounds did heal without infection and left no permanent scars behind, other than those which still lay deep within my psychological reservoir of experiences. But such is the nature of this life, and it is through experiences such as these that we are molded and formed into the people we ultimately become.
If I had to draw a moral conclusion or parallel to this story and what I learned, it would be this: That far too often in life we seek to cure the seeming boredom of our lives by trying to fill the void with something thrilling or exciting. We somehow make the mistake that the fleeting rush of adrenaline and exhilaration is what provides happiness. In saying this, I am no way implying that all thrill seekers are bad or that such activities don’t have their place in life, but when we throw common sense to the wind and jeopardize our future for the temporary thrill, we can find ourselves in situations which are helplessly beyond our control.
If the thrill-seeking actions are related to sin and violation of God’s commandments, we will always crash and burn and find ourselves littered with festering, debris-filled spiritual wounds, from which there is only one way to escape without permanent scars and injury… Repentance.
Repenting from sin is not always an easy process, and often involves opening partially covered wounds and injuries and exposing them to the process of humility, restitution and spiritual cleansing. But the end result is that, under the hands of the healing Master and his atonement, our wounds can be healed and made whole by the power of His love and forgiveness. The flashy Evel Knievel and Six Million Dollar Man heroes of my youth have fortunately been replaced over the years by the real heroes in my life: My hard working and honest father, wise spiritual church leaders and friends, and countless others who live their lives in consistent acts of service and honest labor day-in and day-out. Not living life like a flash in the pan, but by showing true strength, courage and moral fortitude by their heroic efforts to control their lives and emotions and use their talents to strengthen and lift others. And especially the Master himself, Jesus Christ, who patiently and lovingly heals the wounds of my mistakes and allows me and all of us to progress and grow into something much better and more whole than we are today.