Written: August, 2009 in London, U.K.
Occurred: Summer, Late 1980s/Early 1990s in Oregon House, CA
When I was growing up in Oregon House, I often used to go riding around on my Predator BMX bike with my friends Pat and Shane (who had similar bicycles). Like most boys we would seek out excitement and go exploring in the Oregon House/Dobbins greater metropolitan area. (Actually, I guess I haven’t matured much because I still like excitement and exploring).
One day when Pat and I were riding down Frenchtown Road, we noticed that a bulldozer had carved a steep track straight up the side of a hill near Thousand Trails resort. Someone intended to build a home on top of the hill and an exploratory road of several hundred feet had been smashed out to the top. Road is a generous adjective because in creating this “road”, the bulldozer had not even used its blade. It had just driven straight up the hill and then turned around and come back down the same way. This had the effect of crushing everything down, dislodging some boulders and pushing some brush aside. But, it was by no means a road navigable by anything aside from a tank or a skilled rider on a mountain bike.
Naturally, we decided to have a go at it and walked our bikes to the top. Upon starting down, we both crashed almost immediately. This had the result of transforming our ride into a formal challenge – make it to the bottom without crashing and you win. Oh, and to make it more fun, we made the rule that you couldn’t use your brakes.
The next time Shane was with us, we took him to the hill (which we had named Suicide Hill by this time) to share the challenge with him. Now, the right track of the road was marginally better than the left, featuring a few less boulders and spoke-ensnaring, crushed Manzanita bushes. Of course, we told Shane it was easier to take the left track and looked forward to watching him crash. To our astonishment, he actually made it all of the way down, dodging and weaving the whole time, without crashing – and on the first attempt too. This turned out to not be an anomaly.
Over the remaining weeks of that summer, Shane continued to excel on Suicide Hill – not that he made it down every time, of course. But many times he did… Pat made it down a few times. And I never once successfully made it down. Not once. There would always be a log or a boulder or a hole or a crushed pile of branches that would send me tumbling off of my bike. My attempts never yielded glory and always left me covered in dust and blood, but I never gave up and I never retreated from the challenge.
One time I got to within about twenty feet of the end when my tire kicked up a branch that embedded itself in my spokes and launched me off my bicycle. Without the benefit of brakes, one would be going fairly swiftly by the time one reached the bottom of the hill. I still have a scar along my ribs from that one.
Today, Suicide Hill is a normal driveway (albeit still a steep one). It has been smoothed out and has a layer of gravel on it. Hell, the owners even planted olive trees on the hill around their Santa Fe-style home. They have no idea of the heroics and sacrifices performed on the land they claim to own… No knowledge of the blood, sweat and tears that were shed on the ground that is today a mere driveway to them.
Transiency is inherent in component things.
I haven’t seen or heard from Pat since high school.
Shane died a few years after that summer.
And me? Well, I’m still trying to figure out what the fuck to do with myself. Not an uncommon problem in my demographic if my friends and acquaintances are any indication.
This extremely boy-ish story is a typical Justin Ames’ adventure. Even if it seemed to be a really “Suicide” hill, I surely admire the relentless effort.
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