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My First Motorcycle Hill Climb
| The whine of revving
engines saturated the air. No matter which direction I turned my
head, I saw motorcycles, leaping up over a rise, swooping down into a
gully, or remaining stationary for the present, trembling with
eagerness. Here, as I had never seen before, machine and rider
were one integral unit. An intermittent procession of
dare-devils on their two-wheeled chargers bounced down the rutted dirt
slope of the flat-topped hill where I sat watching. As each one
reached the bottom of the incline, the riders jerked the trottles of
their machines wide open, hunched forward with their arms flexed, and
hung on for all they were worth as they started up the dust-choked path
This trail led upward at a 60 degree angle for a frightening 200 feet, through inches of powdery clay, over rocky outcroppings, and finally leveling off to form an arena for the conquerers. My gaze stayed glued to each new challenger as he fought his way up the treacherous slope. I knew I would have to attempt it before the day was over.
I had been interested in motorcycles for several years, and kept telling myself that I was going to buy one, someday. Someday just never seemed to arrive, so I had to be content watching other more fortunate, or more daring, souls as they zoomed by on their cycles. That was the situation until I paid a visit to Fred, an old school buddy of mine, who had moved to Oakland, California. Along with his other slightly unusual interests, such as piloting a single-engine plane and parasailing, Fred was also a motorcycle enthusiast. One bright Sunday afternoon, he and I forced his little Honda 90 into the back seat of his compact car and headed for the hills outside Oakland. After ten minutes of careening through snake-like curves, tires squealing, we arrived at the area reserved and set aside for cycle nuts. This playground consisted of a half-dozen or more hills of assorted heights distinguished by a maze of criss-crossing trails worn in the grassy slopes.
a while, we stood beside the car soaking up the sights and sounds.
Motorcycles of all sizes and colors, from sensible little trail bikes of
plain red or yellow to powerful two-cylinder machines gleaming with
chrome and metallic paint, would appear abruptly from behind a hill only
to vanish just as quickly in another direction. The noise from
straining engines reverberated through the valleys, sounding like a
squadron of gigantic mosquitos, then rumbling like thunder below the
horizon. Finally, eager to join the fun, Fred and I unloaded the
Honda and took it to the main gathering place atop a leveled-off mound
of sun-baked clay. I waited there while Fred made a circuit of the
meandering pathways, ending with a breathtaking climb to the top of the
hill opposite the one on which I stood. A few minutes later, he
skidded to a stop beside me and told me to try it.
I hesitated at first; I had never ridden a motorcycle before. Then, with a shrug, I settled myself on the vibrating contraption. The spirit that possessed the other riders must have been contagious, because I felt perfectly at home on the seat of my borrowed bike. With a relaxed motion, I gave the throttle of the little Honda 90 a frequent twist, enjoying the tenor rumbling that surged through the straight pipe. After I had familiarized myself with the various controls - clutch, gear-shift pedal, hand and foot brakes, etc. - Fred, my good, thoughtful friend, suggested that I climb the big hill, just for starters. Reluctantly, he agreed to let me practice on a smaller slope. I found one that looked just right for a beginner. The comfortably wide trail, about a tenth of a mile long, ascended at a moderate angle the highest hill in the vicinity. It contained enough ruts and curves to give me practice handling the cycle under fairly ruggen conditions. Satisfied with my choice, I revved the engine a few times, then took off with a spurt of dust. Much to my amazement and pleasure, there wasn't anything to it. All I had to do was keep the bike out of the ruts, and this wasn't much more difficult than if I had been riding a bicycle. I reached the top and immediately turned back down the hill, cautiously keeping the cycle in low gear.
When I rejoined Fred, I felt confident enough to tackle Pike's
Peak. The next hill would be a breeze, I told myself. After
returning to the main rendezvous area, however, I was not quite so sure
of myself. I recalled seeing a few unfortunate individuals earlier
who had gotten stuck half-way up the climb and had a tough time
preventing themselves, their bikes, or both from sliding back to the
bottom of the slope. I was determined to go through with it,
regardless of any consequences to my body. The throng of riders
had thinned out quite a bit, so I maneuvered to the starting position
and, going over in my mind one last time the advice Fred had given me,
let the Honda roll easily down the starting slope. As I approached
the bottom, I twisted the throttle as far as it would go and leaned
forward, gripping the handlebars with all my strength.
All that I was aware of was the near verticle wall looming above me, the summit an impossible distance away. Concentrating on the ground directly ahead of me, I kept the front wheel aimed at the summit while trying to avoid the major obstacles in my path. I passed the halfway point, the little engine straining valiantly, when the grade became steeper and the surface more uneven. I had to choose between trying to force my way through the deceptively smooth patches of powdered clay, which could bog a cycle down in no time at all and send it sliding out of control, or taking a chance on jolting over the rocky protrusions jutting from the bank, with the possibility that it would flip the cycle backwards, sending both of us hurtling toward the spectators below.
At the last instant, I saw a way, hopefully, between the two hazards. As the rear wheel made contact with the dust, it began to swerve wildly from side to side. I stretched both feet out for balance. Then the tire found solid rock and leaped ahead, nearly leaving me behind. I had not lost my grip on the handlebars, but the next fifty feet were covered with my body more off than on the bike. I regained my seat in time to cruise triumphantly onto the summit, where I stopped to take a deep breath. I was quite pleased with myself. I waved to Fred, then started back down by another route, anxious to make the climb again.
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The Face of Death
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Big game hunt - alien vs. human.
The Glass Factory
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E-mail us with any questions or comments. Copyright 1966 by T. M. Grafius, Sr. Return to the top of the page.