Death Defiance

One of my girlfriend’s favorite things to say to me—usually after I’ve related a story of death defiance—is, “Andrew, thank you for surviving long enough to meet me.”

As a kid, I spent a good portion of my time trying desperately to kill myself. Well, okay, not quite kill myself, but I was certainly working toward being maimed or paralyzed or something equally awful. Between my friends and my penchant for dare devil stunts, it was only a matter of time—and to this day, I’m quite surprised it never actually happened.

If you know where Tyler Hill is in Lebanon, you know it’s the steepest, tallest, longest hill that probably exists anywhere in the Willamette valley, with a lovely straight road that goes all the way to the top. That road, as you might imagine, has an extremely steep grade when you’re traveling down. How steep, you ask? It drops in elevation by eight hundred feet over the span of five thousand. If you were to use ODOT grade calculations, that would make this particular road an 18% grade.

My friend, Jack, and I were crazy enough to ride down the hill on our bikes; but it was so steep going up that we had to walk. We couldn’t keep our balance. It was seemingly impossible for our short and relatively weak eight year old legs.

We’d done this ride on several occasions, and we usually only made one or two runs in a day because of the distance from town and because, well, it was a long walk to the top! We were tired when we finally got to the bottom. Each ride was magnificent and scary and, incidentally, we were always traveling faster than the cars on the road when we reached the bottom. I estimate we were probably topping out at very near 35 miles per hour. This was serious business.

As if that wasn’t enough, I’d finally decided—in my dare devil eight year old routine—that riding down the hill wasn’t fun anymore. It was just too ordinary and run-of-the-mill. By now, a lot of other kids were following our lead, and I was getting tired of being copied and imitated. We needed something fresh and different.

That’s when I invented Skateboard Surfing. Or at least, I thought I’d invented it. I’d never seen it done before.

In true redneck fashion, on the way up to the hill that day, I bought an old extension cord from a garage sale for fifty cents. Once we arrived at the top of the hill, I tied it to the seat of Jack’s bicycle, put down my skateboard, wrapped the cord around my hands, and stepped on.

Jack had a peculiar look on his face. It was the first time I’d seen him reconsider a plan that I’d come up with. But, in tried and true death defiance, he shrugged and started pedaling down the road and he didn’t look back.

Now for my part, it was a fantastically fun ride for the first couple hundred feet. But I was gaining momentum at such a fast pace that, at some point about half way down the hill, I was going faster than Jack was on his bike! He glanced over at me in horror, but he didn’t dare pedal harder to try and keep up with me. That was suicide. Most kids held on to the brakes to keep from flying out of control on this road.

I was on a skateboard, I had no brake. In fact, I had no way of stopping at all. I could barely steer. I hunched down on the board and grabbed both sides with my hands. I was going so fast that I was afraid that I’d get bumped off and have a long sliding stop on the pavement. Since I was wearing shorts and a t-shirt, it didn’t sound like an altogether pleasant experience.

I’d let go of the cord at this point. I obviously didn’t need to be towed. I needed to hold on for dear life. The wind was wooshing past my head like I had it stuck out the window of a moving car on the freeway. The board was wobbling back and forth, and I could feel the wheels trying desperately to stay on as they plodded down the road.

If I could just maintain my balance a little bit longer, I could get to the bottom of the hill and—well, it didn’t matter. Over a short rise in the road, there stood a goat. Horns. Hooves. Fur. Goatee. A goat. Staring at me as I was flying toward him. I tried to stop. I tried to turn. I leaned as far as I could, but I was going too fast, had too little distance to maneuver, and there was no turning back.

The goat fell toward one side. Then, contact. I hit the stupid goat, right there, in the middle of the road.

Not many people can say they’ve hit a goat at thirty miles per hour with their skateboard, but I can. If I would have lived in any other town besides Lebanon, I think seeing a goat in the middle of the road would have been unusual. But not in my town. Nope. A goat blocking traffic seems perfectly normal. Even with all my hard work to make it this far down the hill (alive), I guess there was just no accounting for a dang goat.

The skateboard hit his little feet, and my knee smacked into his side as he sort of rolled sideways onto the skateboard with me. I’m sure it looked pretty comical, since the goat was riding on the skateboard with me for a short distance before the whole mess capsized. The front side of the board touched down from the extra weight, skidded along the pavement, and goat and rider were flung sideways to the ground.

If you’ve never had road rash, I suggest—very highly, in fact—that you avoid it. I scraped the ground on my side for a good fifty feet along the road before coming to a stop in a patch of blackberry bushes. This just wasn’t my day.

I thought the goat was dead. Not because I’d hit him so hard—which I had—but because he wasn’t moving or doing anything. Just lying there on his side, legs straight out, and staring vacantly into space. Well, until he spontaneously jumped up, leaped across the road (almost hitting one of the other riders going down) and back to whatever field or home he came from. I’d hit a fainting goat. If he hadn’t of fainted right before I’d hit him, I almost certainly would have been hurt a lot worse than I was.

Taking stock of my injuries, I had road rash down the entire left side of my body. My jean shorts, my t-shirt, and my socks on that side all had holes in them. Blood was trickling and was visible wherever skin had been in contact with the ground.

I had a fair amount of thorns stuck in my arms, mainly because I was trying to keep anything from hitting my face and had had some success.

Nothing was broken from what I could tell, so I stood up and realized that I would have to walk all the way back home to get my wounds taken care of. It was at least two or three miles away, and I was already worse for the wear.

I met with Jack at the bottom of the hill. As I walked toward him, I could see the shock in his eyes from looking at the sorry state I was in. Blood was everywhere. Nothing serious, no major bleeders, but I was messed up. I had a fat lip from smashing my face against the goats forehead; between that and the scratches from the blackberry bush and the road rash, it looked like I’d been through a few boxing matches on the way to the bottom of the hill.

When I finally got home, my mom was waiting.  “I had a feeling you were going to get hurt today.” She said.

“Why?” I asked.

“Because you took your skateboard with you and you had your usual mischievous grin.”

“Why didn’t you stop me?” I complained.

She shrugged, “You wouldn’t have learned anything then.”

She had a point. A very painful point. But it didn’t matter if I’d learned anything. I tried the stunt again a few weeks later after I’d built a “go-kart” out of wood and *two* of my skateboards. No goats that time, but I still ended up with another story. And more scars. And I still didn’t stop trying to make the trip down more fun and dangerous.

Some kids just never learn…


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