I am most fortunate that my Pops and I were able to race motocross together for 20 years, win some championships, scream at each other, break broom handles and throw helmets – and still meet up ten years down the road, share a handshake and go for a ride on our cruisers together. In fact, I am wearing helmet hair as I write this because I just saw my Dad off after riding with him through the mountains down to I-79 to send him back to Martinsville.
As I watched him ride off and heard his Road King thunder down the valley I remembered it wasn’t always this sweet. You see, I used to have a problem with jumping. I wouldn’t do it. I’d grab gears all the way to the face of a jump, then lock up the binders and take the chicken exit. When Pops would take off work and drive us 400 miles to Texas just to see us grab a holeshot and fade to 10th after being passed on the jumps “each and every lap,” well, he would tend to get a little, uh, frustrated.
So he would go out to our practice track and build little double jumps in hopes that we would lose this awful airtime phobia. It was a fall afternoon, just about exactly like today here in West-by-God, when we finally had it out. He had built this 30-foot double that was about five feet tall and it was going to be the jump that helped me get over the hump or leave me scarred forever. After 20 attempts I had wore out a grove up the face from hitting the brakes. He tried everything: positive reinforcement, red-faced screaming, golf claps, anything in the encouragement handbook.
Finally, with the sun setting and it growing cold I watched Pops stomp over to his tow truck and drive it over to the double jump. He had gotten out, slammed the door, but left the headlights fixed on the two jumps. I rode up and sniveled, “What are you doing? Let’s go home and eat.”
The reply came from a bold, arm-crossed, figure through eyes above heavy glasses. “We aren’t leaving until you hit it.” I knew he was serious – and I was freezing and hungry.
So I dumped the clutch on my KX60 and lined up to give it one last shot. There I came screaming through the gears, going fast enough to clear 100 feet instead of 30…locked up the rear brake…got back on the gas…locked’em up again…then at the last minute gunned it at the base with my eyes closed and took off front end high. I had both feet out getting ready to abandon ship when my rear tire clipped the second jump which righted my flight enough to caress the downside and ride away. Man, I can still feel that sensation shoot through my bones: Pure adrenaline and euphoria.
I left it wide open and flat tracked it around back to Pops and power slid it down to the handlebars. We had ourselves a huge hug. He just pushed me away and slowly nodded at me until I nodded back. We left the lights on and jumped it a few more times in the dark before going home to dinner.
Two years later we were at Cooperland and there was this incredible triple step up in the woods. We watched practice as Coop and some local pros cleared it. Robbie Reynard had snuck out with the big bike practice and was eyeing the mammoth 90-foot leap-of-faith on his KX80. He had jumped it the year before when it was just a double, swapped out, and left case marks 50 feet up the face of a tree, snapping his femur in the process. Now it was even bigger and you could still see where he drilled the tree! Nonetheless, he shot down the opposite side of the valley and sent his 80cc machine a screamin’ towards the take off, never cracking the throttle. He shot up and over it, throwing an effortless whip to the backside.
I looked up at Pops and he just said, “Son, you can make it if you want to jump it.” He glanced back at it then added, “You don’t have to—that one’s big as shit—but you can do it if you put it in your head that you can.”
So I rolled out for my practice and coasted the first lap with my leg shaking on the foot peg the entire way to the downhill approach. I didn’t even look up to see if there was a yellow flag, ruts, or a concrete wall that had formed on the take off - I was committed. Hell or high water, here I come, up through the gears to fifth and left it at the stops on the right side controls. I bottomed out on the face then felt the ground fade away and my rear end stray just a bit to the left. I finally got it together and regained perspective to realize I was 45 feet up and headed perfectly to the back side. Trying to imitate Reynard I dropped my right shoulder and helped the rear end come around some more, before spraying a little roost off the top of the landing. Pops was right there in the next corner, arms crossed, looking over his glasses. We just shared a slow nod together. I jumped every damn thing that stood in my way from that point until I retired.
Look who is holding the champagne bottle.
All that stuff hit me as I watched him ride away. There were mean Dads around when we grew up. Mine was not one of them. He was stern and hard, but only enough to give us what we needed. I had a pretty good amateur career and traveled the country as a professional because of those lessons. Although, he hadn’t come to visit me and my Morgantown home until yesterday afternoon and it was beginning to burn me a little. Then ole Pops showed up at the back door of the office yesterday afternoon pretty much out of the clear blue sky. We had a good time and cruised our bikes around Morgantown. He even came down to Gibbies and partied with the gang. But he had to skin out and get back to Martinsville. Son #2 (he always called us #1, #2 and #3) is in the middle of a shit storm that I can’t even imagine. Pops will be there to remind him that he can do it. Pops is a hell of a guy and I love him very much.