I’ll never know what made me do it but it was just one of those things you feel you have to do.
Back in the mid seventies we used to spend a lot of time riding our mini bikes and motorcycles in the woods between 12th and 17th streets just north of the West Shore Plaza. It has since mostly been taken over by development but there is still a little left. There were trails all through the woods on both sides of 12th street and it made for a fantastic dirt bike playground. You could ride from the North 15th to the bypass on a spider web of trails. By we I mean Brian Butt, Dean Mantis, Frank Shimer, Larry Kaspar and Dale Radnor to name a few. We would spend endless summer days doing time trials and jumps. We were the X-games before anybody ever thought of it. “The Dips” were in the woods, so named because they were a series of indentations created by several dried up streams. We used to love motoring down the trails and flying through the dips and getting some air. Being a fan of Evel Knievel, I used to try to emulate his jumping talents.
Right by the water tower, if you were coming up the hill from the West Shore Plaza to the top of the hill on 12th, there was a gorge created by a never-finished road that could have connected High Street with Indiana Avenue, but no one ever decided to build it. The gorge was an awesome place to get air because you could fly down through it from 12th towards 17th street and launch your bike up the bowl end and land before you ever got to high street. I had moth balled my Honda trail 70 and bought a Yamaha 175 Enduro. We could fly our bikes 20 to 30 feet on a good jump.
The gorge was about 12 feet deep and 28 feet from side to side. I got the bright idea to jump over it from the water tower side to the north side. Over the next few weeks I got busy building a ramp and a trail to be used as a runway. This was ambitious in itself because it had to be long enough to get up to 30-40 mph and the ramp had to be built at the correct angle or you would surely hit the wall on the other side. I had to cut down a number of trees to get the trail long enough so I could achieve the proper speed and still have room to stop before going into the gorge. To build the ramp I piled dirt up against an old door I found in the woods and used some trees as stakes to hold it in place. It took a lot of time and effort to get it right. I even checked with some of CHHS’ best and brightest science teachers to calculate the proper speed and trajectory for the combined weight of rider and bike. When it was all completed it was pretty awesome to stand on the ramp on one side and look across to where the landing area was. The only problem with the idea was that there was no way to test it to see if it would work, you only got one shot, do or die and I wasn’t 100% sure I could make it. One slip of the clutch, loss of traction, the ramp collapses, bad angle and you are on your way to Holy Spirit.
“The jump” took on a life of its own and I was questioned daily, “When are you going to do the jump”, “When are you going to do the jump”? I had no idea when I was going to do it or why I was going to try it. A few weeks passed and I was either working or hanging out at Neidig’s Gulf Service with my brother, Steve, and my friend Dean Mantis and the time just seemed right. I said, “Let’s go get this over with”. I really didn’t want an audience, I just wanted to do it to see if it could be done, I guess.
Steve pulled his Volkswagen Beetle in to the gorge just below the ramp. His theory was that if I didn’t make it and hit the wall on the other side, I would end up somewhere near the car for easy transport to the hospital. Dean waited on the landing side. No one thought to bring a camera to record the event.
I drove down to the end of the runway trail then slowly back towards the ramp and pulled up the ramp stopping just by the end as I had seen Evel do many times before his jumps. Ok, all systems are go. I drove back to the beginning of the trail and hammered the throttle. First gear, second gear, trees whizzing past, third gear, check the speed, 35 mph, good to go. As I passed the tree that became my point of no return marker, I thought, “This is it!” if I tried to stop now I would end up right in the gorge, nothing to do now but go for it. I emerged from the trees, hit the ramp and pulled back on the handle bars. I was airborne and here comes the other side. It only took a second and I felt by back tire hit the ground, front tire down, it was a shaky landing but I didn’t dump it. The next thing I felt was Dean pounding on my helmet. I rode back to the edge and took off my helmet. Dean was pointing to my back tire mark right on the edge of the wall. I had made it by and inch. Literally where vertical met horizontal, my back tire flattened that right angle. Quest complete.
Well that’s my story, it was over now and I was glad it was over. I felt kind of bad for some of the kids on 17th that really wanted to see me do it. This thing had become a much bigger deal that I ever wanted it to. About thirty years later my daughter was playing in a basketball game and I was one of the assistant coaches. Before the game we went out on the floor to shake hands with the other coaches and introduce ourselves. After I introduced myself, one coaches gave me a funny look and said, “Andy, it’s me, Frank Sajer”. So we talked about our kids and how long it had been, etc. Later, Frank came up to me and said, out of the blue, “Andy, did you really make that jump?”
It's funny what we remember about people over long periods of time. Wish you were there.
For more on Andy’s take on motors and morality, read Elwood Neidig’s Gulf Service.