It was during the summer of 1968; I was
taking a short break from my very important naval duties. At the time I was
assigned to Advanced Undersea Weapons School at the Key West Naval Base Annex
located at the end of Caroline Street on the other side of the Key West from
the Naval Station. It was here I was being taught the mysteries of basic
electricity; a requirement for my continued education at "Torpedoman A school"
where I would learn the secrets of working on and in the handling of torpedoes.
I never did succeed at either one thanks to a serious hospital stay
fighting off phenomena and mononucleosis, one a gift from heat the other from a
young lady not to be mentioned again. Not finishing the basic electricity
school I never attended "Torpedoman A" school; instead I was made to feel unfit
for naval service and shipped off to the fleet and with the threat of being a
boatswain's mate; which at the time I had no idea what that was. But it sounded
pretty bad when they said it. (Twenty two years later I retired as a Senior
Chief Boatswain's Mate, and I never regretted one day of it.)
At the end of US 1, the southern most point
of the United States; Key West Florida
dismissal from school and transfer to the fleet didn't come until after a
couple of months of recovery and lounging around in the hospital ward and 15
days of leave to finish my recovery back to full health.
The Navy in
its infinite wisdom had us student/sailors standing watch over the fuel farm
located on the Annex. All night, every night some sailor would be walking
around every fuel storage tank. Every 4 hours a different young sailor would
take his turn at walking around in the dark protecting America's fuel supply.
Hey; Key West was a dangerous place back then. We were only 90 miles
from those very unsavory bearded characters with a fondness for weaning army
fatigues and smoking those huge Cuban cigars.
Of course we weren't
armed with any weapons; that would have been too dangerous; our purpose was to
be a human alarm. We had to call in every thirty minutes to let the voice on
the other end of the phone know the Cubans hadn't come yet. And; as you all
know, we were never infiltrated by Cuban forces, which I'm sure was directly
due to our diligence; guarding that fuel farm.
the fuel farm is still there but now the Naval Annex is
a Coast Guard station...
got booked on a flight as fast as possible and headed north for good ole New
York and home before anyone had a chance of changing their mind
going to be a nice break from my very hectic and dangerous duties. Escaping
from this hot bed of danger and action for 15 days of medical leave (which
didn't count against my real leave) was a gift I wasn't about to question.
While I was home, I discovered one of my friends had traded his road
motorcycle in for a dual sport motorcycle and began to ride off road. He knew
that I had interrupted a motocross racing career, so I could go off and do my
part to defend America from the communists. So at the first opportunity he
began to pump me for tips and tricks for off road riding.
explaining almost all of what I knew about riding motorcycles off road took up
a lot of the day, but it wasn't until he asked me about jumping a motorcycle
did I get restless to ride.
Back in the early days of motocross;
motorcycles didn't have the 12 to 14 inches of suspension travel they do today,
in fact we were pretty much glad that we had suspension. Most off road
motorcycles of the time only had a few inches of suspension travel. So we
didn't get the air they do today, in fact our techniques were much different;
especially the landing part.
But as I tried to explain
just what it was I did, and how I felt the motorcycle's movement. He just
didn't seem to understand what I was trying to explain. Our question and answer
session was accompanied with a liberal amount of cold beer. The more we talked
about riding the more beer we consumed the less coherent I was and the less he
Everyone has at one time or another been the victim
of a faux pas in their thinking, sometimes better known as panic thinking.
That's when you experience something familiar but you fail to recognize it and
believe it to be something else and then you do some pretty stupid thing
How many folks have had a motorcycle that was idling fine one moment,
then it just up and quits for no apparent reason. Then you in a slight state of
panic decide that it's an ignition problem which caused your motorcycle to stop
running. You then start to disassemble the motorcycle only to realize after a
lot of work that you failed to turn the fuel cock (valve) on; and the engine
simply ran out of gas. Or you took your motorcycle apart because it wouldn't
start, only to find the kill switch was in the off position.
a man take his motorcycle apart on the side of the road to find out he didn't
have enough gas
He was delighted that his 650 single could get 200 miles
per gallon. So during our trip about 150 miles to our destination in the
Virginia Mountains, every time we stopped and topped off our fuel tanks, he
would laugh at us.
Well he wasn't laughing now. Coming down the
mountain the fuel level was at a point in the tank that sometimes the carb
would get fuel and sometimes it wouldn't. The engines fuel mixture would lean
out and then the engine would stumble and quit then come back to life.
He was sure there was something seriously wrong, but after checking valve
clearances, spark plug condition and gap, and then putting his motorcycle back
together. He discovered all he needed to do was switch the fuel cock to
reserve; all of the problems went away. That reminds me of the famous words of
Rich Naylor "The only time you have too much gas is when you're on fire. When
the group pulls over to top off, you top off too no matter how much you don't
This panic thinking happens a lot more when you are under
the influence of any amount of alcohol, the more alcohol the weirder it gets.
In this case it wasn't panic thinking but more alcohol dull thinking.
After my friend and I were pretty much heavily imbued with the strength and
courage provide by beer. It's nice that they can put strength and courage in
every can of beer, as well as a vision enhancing ingredient, too. You see
things differently; they're never too hard, too far or too dangerous when
you're full of beer.
Then the mistake no.1; my friend took me out back
to show me his shinny new off road motorcycle, and then; mistake no.2, he
offered me a chance to ride it.
My friend's back yard wasn't very big,
and there weren't any hills or mounds suitable for getting a motorcycle
airborne. But with his insistence, and my own desire to see if I still could
fly a motorcycle. I mounted up on his new dirt bike and took a few laps around
the yard. That little bike did everything with ease, which in turn emboldened
me to push the envelope a little more.
Pretty soon I was doing
wheelies up and down the driveway and across the yard. My friend then asked me
once again about jumping the bike; that sent me on a mission to find something
to use for a ramp. I found two red bricks and a wooden shelf board 12 inches
wide and about two feet long. I set the bricks down, one on top of the other
and propped the board's end on the bricks making a ramp. The ramp worked fine
because I went over the ramp about a dozen times. Each time I landed the
motorcycle on its rear wheel, front wheel up perfectly each time.
was about to quit when my friend who was justly impressed with my skill and
daring asked if I could get the bike to jump higher. Higher meant I needed to
hit the ramp at a higher speed to get the needed momentum.
Now here is the problem I didn't see, because of the size of the
yard I couldn't move the ramp or else I wouldn't have enough landing and
stopping room. So it became necessary to spin the rear wheel as I made my U
turn to change direction to line up on the ramp. This meant that the bike would
be accelerating faster when I topped the ramp. The first time I did this; I
raced down the yard at a much higher speed, slid into the U turn and came out
with more speed. I cleared the ramp with ease gaining more height and staying
airborne longer. I had just enough room to land and slow down enough to make
another U turn and begin the next run.
I should have quit while I was
ahead, I decided this next run was going to be balls out and really be
impressive (that was the modified thinking caused by beer). What I didn't
notice was the board had been pushed to the right side of the bricks. It was
half on and half off. My increased speed and repeated jumps had move the board
over each time and now it was half on and half off.
I made the U turn
carrying even more speed out of it; I was headed for the ramp. This time the
motorcycle never did get fully vertical coming out of the turn, when the front
wheel hit the board it pushed the board off the bricks. Losing the front wheel
caused the whole motorcycle and me to slam to the ground and slide into the
The drop from semi vertical position to being horizontal on
the ground didn't hurt; it was more of a shock of enlightenment. The slide
across the yard to the hedges with me under the motorcycle was another story,
never mind the sudden stop in among branches of the hedges didn't feel all that
The damage to my pride was almost negligible due to the
numbing effects of the beer. But, the quick application of more beer, and my
friends concern mixed with laughs and "Oh Wows" had to be a scene out of some
red necks on TV reality show.
I got up a little bruised and shaken but
for the most part I was unhurt and the motorcycle just needed a bath. Thank god
for youth and beer