Formally, I was a balloon tired, single speed, undocumented, 14 year old bicycle daredevil.  I lived on my bike.  We were a set.  Mostly me and Richard Earl, and sometimes, Tinkie, FF and J-Boy.  We were not tied together by baseball bats or footballs but we were brothers on our bicycles.

We would ride the six miles up to Harding Field to swim at the decommissioned Officer’s Club swimming pool.  Then on the way home we would ride down the middle of Plank Road with cars behind us for blocks.  We thought we were entitled.  We would bask in what we thought was our glory, but it was in fact adolescent stupidity.  Daredevils are often stupid.

Coming down was never thought to be the problem.  It was getting to the top that was the issue.  Remember we were a couple of 14 year old boys that lived on our bicycles.  We were in petty good shape, but once we had to stop and lean into the rail to catch our wind.  Finally, after what seemed to be forever, we made it to the top of the bridge out of wind but thrilled.  Now came the downhill, which was the point of the whole exercise, of course.

Blithely we began the roll to the west side of the river.  We picked up speed and noticed that we were keeping up with traffic.  Richard reported later that his bike vibrated so that he was afraid it would come apart.  My eyes watered as we flew down the incline the half mile to the bottom.  We had to make the turn for the loop back beneath the bridge or else we would be committed for miles of flatland peddling.  

I hoped the pavement was free of debris as we leaned into the turn for the loop. We were still moving at an unpracticed speed, driven by our downhill momentum.  Leaning into the turn and gently breaking, we finally slowed down enough to make the turn safely and coasted over to the east bound lane and stopped to catch our breath – to let ourselves feel things we were not used to feeling.  

We were “pumped”.  We had already figured out that the “run out” on the East side was twice as long and we would be able to handle that much easier, in that all we had to do was to stay in the saddle and ride it out without turning. 

After taking a whiz in the tall grass beneath the bridge as the cars clattered by overhead, we buttoned up – looked at each other and smiled.  We had done it.  Then we nodded in the somber realization that we were only half way through.  To get home, we had to cross the wide Mississippi once more.

As we eased into the eastbound traffic, my legs felt like rubber.  I began to doubt my ability to ride to the top.  But after a while, pacing ourselves, we began to feel the rhythm and managed to get to the top without stopping.  Reaching the long flat span across the river, it seemed that the danger of the whole enterprise hit home for both of us, as we later acknowledged.  I wanted to look out at the vast industrial complex on the east side of the river but was afraid to take my eyes off the road for an instant with traffic speeding by inches to my left.

Soon we began the downhill glide that would take us home at a speed that seemed much faster than before.  We both reported vibration and sounds that were unfamiliar and ominous.  Finally after our speed bled off we made the turn for the Scenic Highway and home.

We stopped at Baton Rouge Bayou and rested under the bridge and practiced our “war stories”.  We had survived.  We replayed each part of our adventure and indulged in some yelling and laughter.  After a while  I said, “So what are you going to do now?”  He said, “I don’t know, I guess I’ll go home.”  “Yeah, me too,” I said.

For years after on the many weekend trips home from college driving over that same bridge, that had been widened by four feet to reduce the danger, I never failed to smile and shake my head in wonder.  I always thought, “Yes! We really did that.”  And I never failed to add, “Stupid, stupid, stupid!” – but always with a smile.

1 Comment

  1. I’ve often wondered where I got my love for adventure, danger and desire to push the envelope…(remember when I decided to put handlebars on my unicycle? bad idea)…now I know.

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