I tried to ride a ten speed off a skateboard ramp once.
We had just moved into the crappy rental house on the street. It was kind of exciting because living in a house was not something we always got to do. I was ten years old, and the kids who lived on the street with me thought I couldn’t do it. I didn’t really think I could do it either, but I was tired of them not believing in me. So, I tried.
I sat high on the bike and with my butt on the seat, I could barely touch the ground with my feet. It had those weird, horn shaped handle bars and everything about the bike was designed to go straight on flat ground. It was not made to jump off skate board ramps.
I was going to do it though. I wasn’t sure how, and I felt like I was going to get hurt, but none of those thoughts were going to stop me. I peddled around in a lazy circle in front of the jump to prepare.
It was a late Saturday afternoon and the sun sat low enough in the sky that you’d be blinded if you tried to go towards it. I remember the trees in my neighbors’ yard too. They overlooked the street and the kids on it, occasionally sprinkling us with pine needles to let us know they were watching. The boy who lived two streets over yelled at me while I mustered up confidence… and speed.
“You won’t do it, wimp!” He yelled with his scrunchy nose and too blonde hair, making him look like the worlds biggest bully.
I hated that kid. His parent’s had money, and he always had the fanciest BMX bike in the whole neighborhood. If I had his BMX bike, I could easily make the jump. I didn’t though. I had a ten speed that I bought with money I saved from collecting cans. I bought it for five bucks from a garage sale.
My older brother, Zach, stood with the neighbor across the street to watch the spectacle. Both of them were acting like they didn’t care that much about it, but I knew they did. If I made it, Zach would tell me I was lucky. If I crashed, he would laugh. They both would. It’s what I thought older brothers did, hope for your failure.
Except I was an older brother too, and I didn’t think like that. My little brother sat on the curb in front of our house. He stared with big eyes and both hands on his knees. He was always proud of me and trying to show me how he could do everything I could do. Most of the time, he could do it better even though he was a lot younger.
He wanted me to make the jump.
It felt good having someone on my side.
I peddled fast in my final circle and got ready to hit the ramp.
The problem with trying to jump a quarter pipe is that it has a completely vertical launch trajectory. I stayed low, well as low as I could on a tall ten speed and pressed up off the pedals as I hit the middle of the ramp. When my front tire came off the jump, I was going straight up. When the back tire came off, I realized there was no way for me to get out of the direction I was headed. I had to try and turn the bike around mid-air in order to gracefully ride back down the ramp I rode up.
It didn’t work out like that.
I turned sideways in the air and was parallel and sideways to the ground when gravity fully took hold. I fell, and I fell hard. My right leg was caught in between the ramp and a pedal when I finally hit. The sharp teeth of the pedal cut through my shin and lower leg while my head was whiplashed against the concrete. The Styrofoam and plastic helmet saved my life, but was also destroyed. The impact also ripped my shirt open.
The wind was knocked out of me, I couldn’t breathe and I remember looking around for help.
Zach and the neighbor laughed and pointed, but I couldn’t hear them. The bully kid with the nice bike joined in. I hurt everywhere, but I wasn’t going to cry, and I wasn’t going to give them the satisfaction of seeing me give up. I got up to get back on my bike and do it again.
I looked over to see my little brother. He had tears in his eyes and he looked scared. I wanted to cry to. Seeing him made me feel like a failure. I had to do it.
I got back on my bike and pedaled in a circle. Three boys, all older than me, made fun of me. My right leg dripped with blood and screamed out in pain. A little boy watched me get back up.
My eyes burned from holding back tears and I remember that weird lump you get in your throat when there’s more emotion happening than you know how to deal with. I turned the bike and raced towards the jump again.
This time, I knew that I would go straight up. I stayed high on my pedals and let the handlebars ride up and into my chest. When the back tire cleared the ramp, I was able to force the front of the bike forward and begin to go fully over the backside of the ramp. I leveled the bike out in just enough time to hit the concrete and both my feet came off the pedals. My crotch slammed hard onto the top tube of the bike, but I landed it with out falling.
My crotch hurt, my leg hurt and I could barely breathe, but I did it.
I heard my little brother scream out in joy when I hit the landing. My older brother shook his head. Him and the neighbor turned around and walked away. They weren’t going to congratulate me, they wanted me to know my success didn’t matter to them. They were there to watch me fail, and nothing else.
I tried to ride my bike back to my house, but both tires were bent from the landing. My five dollar garage sale bike was done. But, I did it.
My little brother always has been proud of me. If it wasn’t for him, I would have quit. I needed someone to believe in me, and he always has.
I find our hearts strive off of belief. Internal belief, belief from others and the desire to see our potential selves as our true selves. I want to be my own little brother, but it seems the world looks for ways to make us like my older one.