If I had known what prayer was really about at the young age of sixteen I would have prayed with all of my heart. If I didn’t do something, and fast, my life would end in just a few long seconds.
Just moments earlier I was sitting on top of the world. It was a typically delightful daybreak in 1970 Chula Vista, a quiet little town not far from the Mexican border south of San Diego. I recall how thrilled I was to actually land that newspaper route. My Union Tribune manager told me it was the biggest bike route in all of San Diego County with 116 customers at its peak.
There was this one house that I had really had to perfect my delivery in order not to have to stop, get off my heavy-duty paper-boy bicycle and retrieve my errant throw out from amongst the shrubs next to the front porch steps. It was a very hilly route and this subscriber lived near the crest of Pepper Tree Drive heading north down to Bonita Road.
Whether or not I made the shot on this day escapes me. Most likely because of the HORROR that was developing with each pump of the pedals as I stood on them to gain momentum.
You see, Pepper Tree was a long and straight two lane country road back in those days and I was now heading downhill with my newspaper bags near empty. I was just finishing up the last leg of my morning run.
Visualize a dog hanging its head out the window of a vehicle, tongue flapping in the wind. That’s me on my bike looking forward to this two thousand foot long joy-ride downhill in the early morning air.
As I tapped the brake there was a very foreign response on the sole of my sneakers. The pedal pushed back; Hard. Well as you might imagine, I was taken by surprise I must say. Time slows down now. I see the T intersection down there at Bonita road with all of the morning commuters zipping through at highway speeds.
It’s about 06:30 Navy time. Dad was a lifer CPO-FTC. I’m thinking; I hope he doesn’t get mad if I cause an accident down there on Bonita Road. I try the brake again. Back in those days it was our only brake. No fancy hand levers for paper bikes. This time I lean down onto the pedal a little harder and I’ll be darned if it didn’t push back with just as much vigor. I almost went over the handlebars. Ouch!
On the edge of out of control now the scenery is whizzing by at a pretty good clip. Much too fast for my liking. I’m going to get killed in just a second I thought. To my left was a twenty foot drop off with a driveway to land on. To my right was a fifteen foot embankment going up at standard slope for county roadsides. That means steep.
So now my invitation to the grave awaiting at the foot of the hill is getting much larger. I can see how many people are in the passing cars and trucks. I don’t want to be into one of those cars just this minute. What to do.
At last my agile young mind grasps the big picture. Do something or die down there as road kill.
The bank on my right is the only hope. If I can just get the angle of approach correct I might just pull it off without losing too much skin. Going way faster than I would like I lean to the left swinging dangerously close to the drop-off so I can achieve that special angle.
Now leaning right while that marvelous brain that God built is doing the trigonometry necessary to dissipate the energy that’s been building since the mechanical failure in order to actually ZIP up that hillside and land softly without breaking my neck I hang onto the handlebars with white knuckles and a look of dread on my face.
Thud! Ouch! I’m airborne. It’s working. I cleared the rise and now as I look down it seems like I’m about ten feet in the air on top of that bank. Bad news! Somebody took out some citrus trees yesterday or the day before and all I see is stumps and sawdust.
The aroma was nice. But that’s about all that was nice just that red-hot minute. Sailing over those stumps was almost fun if not for the little unknowns. How fast am I actually moving here and how bad will it hurt if I strike the sharp edge of one of these pretty little stumps?
Based on results it wasn’t my time to die. I vaguely recall hearing the sounds of the crash landing. Clank. I think it might have knocked me silly for a couple of seconds. As I collected myself and stood to brush off the sawdust it occurred to me that I had landed smack dab in the middle of some fresh turned earth covered in shavings from a chain saw.
While the adrenaline shakes abated I examined my bike to find that the fastener to the “Coaster Brake” mechanism had fallen out. I decided to walk the bike most of the way back home. Note to self: Next time you work on bike, make it tight.
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