Why I Don’t Like Bicycles

My first job was at a horse camp called Wolf Mountain. They called me Pasture Maintenance Engineer. Heady business for a 14 year old. To put it simply, I was in charge of keeping the horse pastures green. To put it plainly, I dug ditches all summer.
Most of the place was watered using a method called “flood irrigation.” This process involved filling a ditch that ran along the top of the pasture with water until it flooded over and ran downhill to cover the grass. The problem with Wolf Mountain’s pastures was that the flood ditches hadn’t been maintained in quite a few years, and were almost completely full of dirt.

I lived a few miles away from the camp, so I rode a mountain bike back and forth every day. Once I got to work, I picked up my pick and shovel and carried them on my bike to whatever pasture I was going to be working on that day. It seemed a dangerous practice even back then. I had asked if they would let me use one of the many beat up trucks they had around there as a work vehicle, but they didn’t go for it. I’m sure that I was probably in the best shape of my life that summer with all the ditch digging and bike riding.

If memory serves me correctly, I made $3.50 an hour. That really wasn’t too bad for me at that point in my life since I had exactly zero expenses. About $100 a week went directly into a savings account. At any rate, besides minimum wage, I also got a free lunch at any of the three cafeterias around the camp. I had a favorite cafeteria. They all served the same food, but I had a couple of friends that I’d gotten to know over the summer that worked at one of them. Unfortunately, that cafeteria served lunch a half hour before my lunch break. I learned that half way through the summer, along with the fact that I was causing everybody there extra work every time I showed up to eat after they were done serving food.  So, I stopped going there.

Then we had a heat wave. It was disastrously hot. My boss, Norm, in a rare show of concern for my well being, gave me the afternoon off so that I didn’t pass out in the middle of a 15 acre pasture with nobody else around. I realized that the timing of this afternoon off meant that if I hurried, I could make lunch at my favorite spot. I hurried. This particular cafeteria was at one of the lowest points in the camp, at the bottom of a long, steep hill. I normally didn’t ride my bike down that hill out of fear of death and dismemberment. But I was in a hurry.

This hill had two roads on it: a car road, and a footpath. I started my descent on the car road, but I knew that I would need to end up on the footpath to reach my destination. I picked up a good deal of speed as I went down the hill. I should say at this point, or I should have said earlier, that I never really grew comfortable on the bike. I could control it, but it always felt like the bike was out to get me.

I had my eye on the spot where I was going to cross over from the car road into the footpath. My plan had to be adjusted though, because of my speed and the tree in the middle of the crossover point. Originally, I was going to cross in front of the tree, but I decided that I’d rather cross behind it. Unfortunately, the path was quite rough after the tree. I had to look down as I navigated rocky terrain and then hopped over a small ditch. I looked back up and all that was in front of me was sand, sand, sand, antique metal plow.

I hit my breaks, but the sand didn’t allow me much purchase. I kicked my back tire around and tried to lay the bike down, but even then I didn’t have enough time. The next day I went back and looked over the little trenches my bike tires dug. I was perfectly parallel to the plow when my tires ran into it. I popped back up, bashed my face against a square piece of metal, and found myself dangling upside down with just my shoulders and the back of my head brushing the ground. The first thing that came to mind was “That sucked…”

The plow had some kind of hand brake on it. This brake went through one of my socks. My other foot was pinned between my bike and the plow, suspending me there. I touched my face and felt my cheek already swollen. My hand didn’t stray up far enough to feel the big gash in my forehead. I had to sit up and take off my shoes and socks before I fell down. Then I wandered until I found somebody to take me to the first aid station. The camp called my dad, who took me to the hospital. I ended up with 8 stitches and a reprimand for not wearing a helmet. The wrinkles in my forehead disguise the scar pretty well, but if one knows to look for it, it’s not hard to see.

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