Part 4 of The Good Ole Days Series. Find other stories in this series here.)
“I am a guy who is, first of all, a businessman. I’m not a stunt man. I’m not a daredevil. I’m an explorer.” Evel Knievel
Here’s Part I (in case you missed it).
Finally, the 1972–73 school year ended. My teacher cracked a smile when she passed out report cards to our class. “Well done!” She said to everyone. That little bit of positive gesture encouraged me to think my grades were good. Our teacher instructed us not to view our cards until we made it home to show our parents. Yeah! Right!
While walking home, I opened the report card envelope and quickly slid the paper out that would determine my destiny of showmanship.
Nervously, I opened the card up and saw some A’s, A-minuses, and two B’s. Instantly my chest puffed out from pride like a rooster strutting around in a chicken coop. My walk home became a march of victory. I imagined a parade all around me; including people cheering me and congratulating me for a job well done. A car horn honking silenced my daydreaming because I almost walked in front of it.
I waited for the car to pass all the while staring at the drivers contorted face giving me a disgusted look, then crossed the street and ran home as fast as I could to wait for my father to come home from work.
I think my dad already figured out I succeeded in reaching my desired outcome of good grades as he pulled our car up in the driveway. If my grades had been poor, more than likely, I would have been moping around in my bedroom, throwing myself a pity party, but instead, I paraded around in the front yard with a smile a mile wide.
Reward for a job well done
With a job-well-done pat on the back, my father took me on a special trip to the Honda Dealership to pick out a mini-bike because of my good school grades.
The salesman showed us the current 1972 models, but I gravitated towards a beautiful glossy red Honda CT-70. Nothing else appealed to me. There was one problem. It was a newer 1973 model which meant it was fifty-six dollars more than the older models.
My dad wasn’t too keen on spending more money than he had to, but the newer model was a three-gear automatic that had a top end speed of forty-five miles an hour. Five miles an hour faster than the older model. Mr. Salesman had my attention! “Faster? Really? Please, dad?”
My heart’s desire
My father bought my heart’s desire for a total of three-hundred sixty-eight dollars, BRAND NEW!
I saved forty-dollars to purchase a patriotic red, white, and blue designed Bell Helmet (a brand Evel liked) to emulate the legendary daredevil; and also show my father I had a vested interest with our deal.
We took the mini motorcycle home where I began utilizing my self-taught skills from riding a bicycle and a hard riding Ruttman, to a now, prestigious new Honda! I channeled all my energy into becoming a daredevil.
Living in a suburban neighborhood had its limitations of where I could ride, that became my number one obstacles to overcome. The Ruttman mini-bike I once had, I did not care for because of the hard ride it offered, burn marks I received from it on my right wrist, and electrocution of private, sensitive areas of my body I did not miss. I simply did not care what happened to it. The only purpose it served was selling it and using the proceeds towards the Honda.
My father’s intentions of using the Honda were far different than my expectations. Using, meant when we go camping or at times going up to the schoolyard to ride around. The rest of the time my Honda sat parked in the shed. Don’t get me wrong! I loved the fact we could do things together, but how in the world will I become a DARE-DEVIL!
My Honda serves no purpose parked! I intended to make sure it wasn’t!
My Honda is street legal, but I did not have a driver’s license to ride legally. I convinced my dad to allow and restrict my riding up and down our seventy-foot driveway. If he knew my whereabouts, dad lets me ride when home alone. Again, pushing my limitations with my parent.
I, unaware, drove our poor elderly couple neighbor crazy from the noise from my back and forth motion hours on end. They never complained.
It did not take long for boredom to set in on my seventy-foot limitations. I began to challenge myself by not allowing my feet to touch the ground when stopping or when making turns while changing direction. I would stand on my motorcycles foot pegs then use my body as a counter weight for balance when coming to a complete stop. A skill I learned from riding my bicycle. I gracefully maneuvered all over the place like a figure skater on ice.
Watch and Learn
Eventually, word got out to others about me owning a new Honda. My neighbors who lived behind us began inviting me and hauling our cycles to local areas I had no idea existed; to ride our hearts out. No one ever mentioned to me that the several-hundred-acre property was illegal to ride on and owned by the Ford Motor Company.
My new cycle friends quickly taught me the rules of the trails which opened a whole new world to me. They took me under their wings and mentored new skills over several months that gave me even more confidence.
Summer of 1974 – My little audience
Up until now, I never mentioned my little sister. I’m nine years older than her. So, that puts her around four-and-half years-old. Let me tell you she is my biggest fan! Not only her but her little friends that lived across the street from us. They would always gather and watch me perform my amateur stunts. Their small hands would clap together in amazement at my wheelies. You couldn’t ask for a more enthusiastic bunch of kids.
One Saturday morning I decided to build a narrow ramp about twelve inches high by ten inches wide out of scrap wood my father had behind our tool shed. I had the great idea of jumping over sidewalk lines to measure jumping distance by using my self-engineered designed non-patent miniature Evel Knievel ramp. When I completed my project. I carried it out to the front yard to place on the sidewalk where I clearly should not have done. Next, I kick-started my Honda 70 and did some warm-up laps on the sidewalk before I attempted to go airborne.
When I finished about a half-dozen practice passes alongside my ramp. I decided it was time to run up the wooden path and observe how many sidewalk lines I could clear.
Apparently, I had the attention of my adoring miniature fans. All four little bodies sat motionless watching me from the front porch of my house.
To build suspense, I coasted up the ramp and stopped to give the appearance of making mental calculations of distances I planned on jumping. Afterwards, I rolled backward off the ramp and rode my mini bike to my ready spot.
I glanced at my adoring fans while revving my engine the whole-time chuckling to myself. Wide-eyed, their mouths hung open in anticipation of my debut performance. I signaled a left-handed thumb up to my spectators, and promptly four tiny thumbs returned approval for my stunt.
Three throttle bursts to raise the adrenaline level, then off I went! Approximately ten miles an hour laser-focused on my ramp. I hit the ramp accurately remembering I had to hold the front end of the cycle up so my back-wheel hits first, otherwise I may lose control of my steering.
After my successful first attempt, a standing ovation ensued by my barely-out-of-diapers audience followed by uncontrollable clapping! I profoundly impressed these little tikes with my high-flying action so much so that they offered to lay down on the sidewalk for me to jump over them. Bless their little hearts! Who am I to pass on a challenge! WWED (What Would Evel Do).
Before I allowed my tiny tots to simulate a nap on the sidewalk. I practiced more jumps at various speeds to ensure I would clear my loyal followers so that I wouldn’t leave any tread-marks across their foreheads.
One sidewalk length roughly equaled four-feet. I easily cleared two lines (eight-feet). I asked my little sister to place a stick to mark a measurement where she thought my back wheel hit the ground while I practiced. I could only trust family with such a delicate matter. If you cannot trust an almost five-year-old’s precision call, who can you trust, right?
Here we go!
I felt comfortable with my accuracy after many practice-runs. What shocked me most about my little troopers was their willingness to be a part of the stunt. They were begging me to get on with the jump!
“Let’s go for it!” I said.
Automatically the kids rose to the occasion. Their motion reminded me of a well-executed choreographed dance, two boys, two girls, laid down side-by-side in a row like four little-salted pretzel sticks eagerly waiting for a show from a different perspective.
Looking down at four genuine smiles, I warned them of why it was important not to raise up or move. Of course, the silliness of lying next to each other caused fidgeting, giggling, and laughter.
I readied myself at the takeoff site. I yelled out one last time for complete stillness. Not a peep from my brave little souls.
I took off quickly to alleviate any accidental last-minute reaction from the kids. I hit the ramp and sailed over my target audience! I remember the squealing of excitement yelped out from each while airborne. I landed without any incident, but decide it wasn’t in my best interest to attempt the jump again. I didn’t want to push my luck.
When our jubilant little show ended, we gathered on the porch and talked about what they saw from lying on the ground. Only feedback expressed was how fast the jump had happened and begged me to do it one more time. I declined the offer. I thanked each one before we dispersed for the day. They all left shouting excitedly saying, “wait till we tell mom and dad!” Oh boy, I thought. Apparently, memories were short; no one ever said anything.
Kick it up a notch!
I became bored with my ramp and wanted to challenge myself a little more. Word was out about a massive excavation project going on to build a new shopping center, about a mile from where I lived. All kinds of large dirt piles and deep holes were plentiful to ride on as long as the excavating company and local law enforcement weren’t around. Curiosity crept into my mind’s eye. My determination to know more would not leave my thoughts.
One evening I told my father about my plan to push my Honda to the new riding site, Dad asked the obvious questions? “Are you sure you can ride at the construction site?” Out loud I said yes. Silently in my mind, I thought no. “Are you sure you are pushing your Honda to the site?” Out loud I said yes. Silently I thought, a mile? Are you kidding me? Off I went! I know, I lied, but I had to see this dirt pile playground for myself!
I left the house pushing my Honda, but when I went around the corner out of eyesight; I started the engine and rode sidesaddle. Sidesaddle riding is a technique I learned from my motorcycle mentors. It has the appearance of pushing, but realistically your traveling with both legs on one side of your cycle. In the event a police officer showed up in the area, you could cut the engine, jump off unnoticeably to walk alongside your motorcycle; looking innocent.
My inside sources said I could enter the site at the farthest point east where the construction fence happened to be unsecured alongside the main road. I fake pushed my Honda on the sidewalk towards where I found the hole in the fence. I stood still for a few minutes until no cars passed so no one could visibly see me enter the construction site.
The gently rolling hills along the roadside hindered the public’s view of work that took place. After I rode my Honda up and over the berm, I could see a breath-taking view of the vast openness of at least two-hundred acres of excavated land.
A little voice in my head told me I should not be here alone. I ignored his warnings.
I took off riding like a wild maverick running around in its limitless open pasture. The cleared area was enormous and very much inviting me to play within its boundaries.
I could see huge dirt piles and deep holes all over the place. Remnants of old tread marks from other motorcyclists littered the site.
Off in the distance, I saw a vast area the workers had excavated for what I assumed to be a future basement. It was about ten-foot deep. To put in in perspective, imagine a large Walmart size hole in the ground. It had about a thirty-degree earth ramp at the edge of the opening for heavy equipment to drive upon while removing large payloads of dirt. I had to get a closer look!
I rode over to the area and immediately went down into the hole to explore. The fragrance of natural musty earth permeated the air all around me. It was damp, wet clay in some areas. After spending some time horse playing around. I thought I should go home; I had lost track of time.
When I returned to the earth ramp, I saw a freshly carved out path slightly to the right of where I came down that I didn’t notice before. It appeared to have a steeper incline. I determined other motorcycles must have created it for jumping purposes. Upon looking at it. I had a flashback of my hero, Evel Knievel, launching himself at the Michigan State Fair Coliseum.
Down and around
Then the little voice in my head said, “I wonder what it would feel like to run up that spectacular path at top-end speed using your Honda? There is more than enough space down here to accomplish your once in a lifetime goal.” You make a significant point there little ‘v’! I thought.
I went down to the opposite end of the pit and turned around and stood still. Right foot placed on the ground, left foot ready to hit first gear on my foot shifter. Both hands prepared on the handlebars, right hand revving the throttle. Head and eyes focused on the target. No practice run, no calculating what may or may happen. Nothing! Just Do It!
The whole time I have this instant replay of my memory of Evel obsessively playing repeatedly in my mind. I imagine myself being him with all the screaming fans yelling my name! Without hesitation, I pounce on the gear shifter to take off like a marathon runner hearing the start gun. I hammer through each gear until I reached my top speed of forty-eight miles per hour. When I saw my speed on my speedometer, I was shocked because I could only hit forty-five in the past.
My target was fast approaching! Ain’t no way I’m backing out now! Let’s do this BABY!
I hit the path smoothly running straight up the incline into the heavens. While I majestically floated into the stratosphere. I had the biggest grin of satisfaction all over my face. It was the most exhilarating euphoric feeling in the world. I thought no wonder Evel liked doing this. It felt so graceful dancing with the birds of the air.
My romance with the wild blue yonder soon met with a different circumstance, gravity! The ground loved me more and wanted me to return.
Remember, I described going STRAIGHT UP the path. The angle was steeper than my normal angle I was accustomed too. Yup! Straight up forty–eight miles per hour! That meant I had to come down.
At this point, my experience changed once again; it became more of a Holy one. When I realized my fate of going straight down became less than desirable, my face showed more of horror than pleasure.
Upon this realization, I started to scream HOLY MESS at the top of my lungs! Curse words fell out of the sky. Even unfamiliar words arose at the moment. I spoke in filthy tongues because I listened to little “v,” he steered me wrong!
The ground zeroed in on me pretty quick. The only thing I could think to do was hold on for dear life. The mini-bike and I hit hard, like a NASCAR hitting the wall until we came to a complete stop. My Honda went silent, my face soiled and my mouth full of dirt. I laid still for a moment on the ground to make sure all my limbs worked adequately. I alluded injury once again, only bumps and bruises. My Honda suffered bent handlebars that I easily straightened out.
The only thing broke that day was my spirit. I decided a daredevil was not in my best interest. After falling out of the sky, I started questioning Mr. Knievel’s motives for his career choice.
I came to this conclusion. Today is the day I stopped chasing someone else’s dream. Instead, I pursued my own.
I started my Honda and rode it back to the fence. Once there, I decided I should walk my motorcycle home legitimately. On that walk home, I felt my Heavenly Father, once again speaking sense into me, not little ‘v.’ It was HS (Holy Spirit) doing most of the talking instead.
I enjoy thinking and self-reflection. By nature, I am a troubleshooter; always trying to figure things out. In this particular time and place. I realized what the power of influence could have on someone. Look how I viewed Evel Knievel and how my sister and her friends saw me. Influence can have a significant impact on our lives if we don’t choose wisely. Turn on the Television; you can surmise which role models are influential in positive or negative ways.
Over the years I continued to monitor Evel Knievel’s career. Like so many others, not all, fame and fortune take control of rational thinking. When rumor of heavy drinking, womanizing, and brawling became part of Mr. Knievel’s life, it made me feel sad for him. However, one personality trait that stood out of his continued to intrigue me. He never denied any of the accusations against him. He admitted wrongdoing and took ownership of his mistakes. I don’t know about you, but I think he maintained his integrity by doing so. We are all far from perfect, aren’t we?
A change of direction
Towards the end of Robert Knievel’s life, it was interesting to discover before his life of fame, that Author W. Clement Stone, is a friend of his. A rag to riches man himself. He suggested to the young Knievel to read his book, ‘Success through a Positive Mental Attitude,’ he co-wrote with Author Napoleon Hill (Think and Grow Rich). Mr. Knievel attributes this book for changing the way he thinks.
One day, while flipping through channels on my television; I came across Evel Knievel. To my surprise, he occupied a different platform. He was in a church! Not just any church, it was the famous Reverend Robert Schuller’s Church at Crystal Cathedral in Orange County California. What in the world, I thought! I turned the volume up to listen to what he had to say.
What he said totally floored me! Evel engaged in a full-blown testimony of how God has been chasing him his whole life. Now it was time to stop running and hand over his life to his Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. What? Did I hear correctly? That is amazing!
My heart moved in admiration for this man who finally took steps to make amends emotionally with those he had hurt during his life, including his own.
After watching his moving testimony, I realized once again we had something in common. We both ended up following and being pursued by the same Hero, Jesus! WWJD will always be an influential power in my life, not WWED.
Robert Craig Knievel died shortly after the airing of his church appearance at Crystal Cathedral.
“I don’t know what in the world happened. I don’t know if it was the power of the prayer or God himself, but it just reached out, either while I was driving or walking down the sidewalk or sleeping, and it just — the power of God in Jesus just grabbed me… All of a sudden, I just believed in Jesus Christ. I did, I believed in him!” Robert Knievel
Visit John at ThinkerMe.com.
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