Your doubt in the frequency of my near-lethal escapades probably stems from my previous addiction to Mr. Toad's Wild Ride.
Dad didn't care about the bike. His only concern was fitting in everyone else's stuff. Mom saw my bike as a pain in the ass. She tried to come off as practical by asserting that there would be no place to ride the damned thing. When I didn't back down, she countered with a volley of sarcasm and threats. I remained calm but her sarcasm morphed into a guilt-trip and her threats were upgraded to ultimatums. I fought back and bellowed, "It'd be like separating a cowboy from his horse." I must have been quite adamant because my rare victory earned me the privilege, during the ninety-minute ride, of having a suitcase jammed between my cramped legs and the knowledge that my selfishness left the bike blocking dad's rear view vision.
Our travels took us through the tiny hamlet of New Milford. From town we connected to a winding two-lane road on an upgrade.IN A SHORT TIME, WE FOUND A SIGN WITH THE CAMP'S NAME WITH AN ARROW POINTING UP AND TO THE RIGHT.
Our journey would be over in a mile and a half. IN THE HEART OF LITCHFIELD COUNTY, LOVER'S LEAP STATE PARK, ALONG ROUTE 67, IN BEAUTIFUL NEW MILFORD.
The unpaved cut-off was up a steep incline. Into the forest, we bumped and bounced on this rut-filled country lane. The first thing I noticed was an isolated rural mailbox with the name E. H. Johnson on it. Next, camouflaged by the trees, I could barely make-out Johnson's log cabin. It disappeared quickly because it was built on a different, downward slope as we continued to rise. Beyond Johnson's place, a shear cliff, "protected" by three parallel strands of rusty barbed wire ran along the left side. On the right, a jagged mountain wall hugged the narrow byway. Soon we approached a sharp curve and were surprised by the sudden appearance of another car going down. My dad was cursing under his breath as he and the other driver maneuvered to safely squeeze past each other.
When we reached our destination, mom and dad found no Nazis or devil worshippers and were satisfied that their baby wasn't in peril. They helped me settle in and lingered until I gave them the stink-eye.
My first two weeks of camp went well but mom turned out to be right, I didn't need the bike. Well, not until I missed a car ride to town on my day off. That's when I got the genius idea to ride my bike into New Milford...it was all downhill. Once in town, I projected that I would find my friends and they would give me and the bike a lift back up.
My ride through the property was on a mostly flat surface. But beyond the front gate, the road slanted down. That's where I blasted off from. In a short time, I had enough momentum that I didn't need to peddle. I was involuntarily gathering speed and was digging the rush. At the same time, the solid earthen road gave way to a series of small pock-marks and some serious pot-holes. Then the dirt on the ground was replaced by a continuous supply of rocks and slippery gravel...all the way to the sharp turn that had annoyed my father.
I had to apply a lot of weight on the brake in order to make the one tough turn. When I succeeded, the next stretch of trail remained straight for a long time. I could feel my hair in my eyes as I sped along the mountain wall. On a couple of occasions, I went into a slight skid. One time, I swerved towards the barbed wire and shear drop beyond it. So to right myself, I put all my weight on the brake. My idea worked but I sensed that the bike's frame was bending under me. Even though I righted my ship, I was going so fast that I was afraid to let up on the brake.
The road began to twist at the same time steepness became less acute. When I saw Johnson's cabin in the distance, I slowed down enough to let up on the brake. When I regained complete control, I spiraled through the woods until I came to another straight, steep section that led to the paved highway.
When I came to a stop, I was so exhilarated that kismet led me back up to camp for a re-ride. ON THE LONG WALK BACK UP, I RECALLED HOW AFTER EACH ROLLER-COASTER RIDE, THE CONEY ISLAND CYCLONE HANDLERS WOULD WHISPER A CUT-RATE FOR A RE-RIDE. THEIR AIM WAS TO SAVE YOU MONEY BY SCREWING THE BOSS AND POCKETING THE MONEY. YOU MIGHT THINK THAT SUCH PETTY 1971 HIJINX DOESN'T HAPPEN ANYMORE BUT IN 2003, (THE LAST TIME I WAS THERE), THEY WERE STILL DOING IT.
1971 was in the pre-Evel Knievel-era...nobody wore bicycle helmets. So when I turned the bike around at the summit, my only protection were shorts, a tee-shirt and sneakers. I took a deep breath and like a schmuck, decided to enhance my rush by NOT crushing down on the brake so much. After all, I didn't want to risk breaking my bike.WITH YOUTH COMES A FALSE SENSE OF INVINCIBILITY. I KNOW THAT'S TRUE BECAUSE I REALLY CHOSE TO AVOID DAMAGING THE BIKE AND NEVER CONSIDERED THE POSSIBILITY OF INJURING MYSELF.
When I blasted off the second time, I was more relaxed. It even crossed my mind to skip going to town and ride the mountain all day. I decided to peddle a little longer and in no time I was speeding. I delayed using the brake and when I did, I didn't use the same pressure. When the smooth dirt was replaced by pebbles and depressions, I saw the one sharp turn up ahead. Before I could slam on the brake, I hit the edge of a large stone. Just before the blind turn, my back tire began to fishtail. I was drifting towards the barbed wire. I knew I had lost control when I couldn't avoid a deep crater. BAM! I flew over the handlebars and splattered to the ground, face first.
I was okay but in a lot of pain. I assessed my abrasions, bruises and scrapes before staggering to my feet. In a daze, I dropped back down to one knee when I realized that my nose was bleeding. It was at that precise second that a red Ford Econoline Van stormed around the sharp bend, slammed on his brakes and screeched to a stop...with his grill just a few feet from my face.YEAH, YEAH, THE INTERNET DOESN'T HAVE EVERYTHING. SO DON'T WASTE YOUR TIME TELLING ME THAT THIS IS A 1976 ECONOLINE...AND I ALSO REALIZE IT AIN'T RED EITHER! I JUST WANTED TO GIVE YOU AN IDEA OF WHAT I WAS UP AGAINST...OR IN MY CASE...NEARLY UP AGAINST.
I limped over to the administration office. The octogenarian camp owner with the German accent recognized that I was suffering from a low degree of shock and accompanied me to the infirmary. The nurse determined that I was to be transported to a doctor in town. Ironically, while I spaced-out waiting to be taken, my parents showed up for a surprise visit. Spooky how moms always know. I survived my cuts, a broken nose and tons of embarrassment but I never heard the end of mom's, "I told you so," scorn.
Obviously if Disney's Mr. Toad ever went on MY ride, he'd see why his should never have been called wild. And who knows, back in '71, this chubby, hair challenged, non-risk taker might have inspired the Snake River Canyon jump or the very concept of Extreme Sports.