I don’t remember the year or my exact age, I only have vague recollections of that time, almost like recalling a dream that occurred many years ago. I do recall my older sister dragging my mother out of the house countless times to go watch some movie called Saturday night fever, the huge eyeglasses that my father wore consuming a quarter of his face, and that our 1970 ¾ ton pickup was pampered by dad like the new truck that it still was.
Every summer, as soon as school let out, our family would pack up the travel trailer and move out to the camping resort on Eloika Lake that a friend of my father owned. I don’t know where it came from, but one summer my dad acquired a red mini-bike frame which he installed a 5 H.P. Tecumseh engine in.
I don’t have any pictures of the thing, but it bore a strong resemblance to the “Hog” that Harry and Lloyd rode out to Aspen on. The only means of stopping the thing was a foot lever that, when nominal pressure was applied, pushed a scrap of an old car tire riveted onto a steel plate against the bikes rear tire. I don’t recall exactly how effective that little piece of engineering was, only that I am still here, so it must have done the job. The details of my first riding lesson on the thing, if I ever really had one, and knowing my father’s sense of humor probably went something like, “You be careful on that thing.” Which to a child of my somewhat abbreviated attention span during my hyper active youth was somewhat akin to saying, “Here you go kid, have a piece of metal with an engine attached to it; don’t die too soon.”
I must have been strong enough to start it, only because I did when nobody else was around. I do remember, quite vividly, that the “Kill switch” was nothing more than a piece of sheet metal bolted to the engines’ head. After a hard schooling in a highly abbreviated lesson in the Theory of Electricity, I learned that a dry stick (It had to be dry, I learned that also) was a much better insulator than my index finger when it came time to push the piece of metal against the head of the spark plug and hold it there long enough to shut the thing off.
The act of going from a vibrating mass of potential energy into one of kinetic energy involved cranking the throttle, which in turn was followed by a thunderous mixed cacophony of engine exhaust and rattling noises coming from the centrifugal clutch. Eventually the chain would begin turning the rear sprocket that was only a fraction of an inch smaller than the wheel that it was mounted to and I was under way. There was no suspension so I felt every dip, rock, rut, and pothole on the trail. At that tender age, I learned what it meant to be sore, and what a real headache was, and the miraculous healing powers that a single aspirin held. I learned the difference between a “Raspberry” that one gets while crashing a bicycle and the “Road rash” experience that my mini bike would provide on a weekly basis; the pain of sodium peroxide foaming over open wounds and the derision from my mother, cackling the dangers of motorcycles. Burn marks on my left sneaker where my foot would get too close to the centrifugal clutch, and watching small rocks fester out from underneath my skin for weeks after one of my crash and burn experiences, actually the festering part was pretty cool. Reeking of spilled raw gas and the stinging sensation of getting bugs in my eyes. Needless to say, I was hooked, I absolutely loved it! I loved every part of it.
Once I was underway, and that massive sprocket was keeping up with the torque of the engine, everything smoothed out (So to speak) and in my wild adolescent imagination all was perfect in my world. I piloted my machine over countless miles of single track, breaking out from the thick forests into open sage fields; my shadow, bounding over the bushes that whipped at my feet, would race me to the next stand of trees. I rode that thing all summer long, sometimes with my friends and their various motor bikes, and sometimes just me and my shadow thumping through the landscape that surrounded the lake.
I don’t remember much from that period of my life, I can’t even remember what year it was, but I do remember the summer that I got the mini-bike. That painfully simple piece of backyard engineering that infected me instantly and marked the beginning of my love affair with two wheels and an engine. Even though I can hardly recall anything else, I will always remember my summer of first times; those of mini-bikes, soreness, ringing ears, peroxide and band-aids, and freedom, oh the freedom!