Summer of ’85

by Jason Alan

It was the best of times, it was the summer after third grade. Every day presented a glorious opportunity for adventure. We braved the hundred plus degree heat with a carefree fervor unmatched by any jaded adult. It wasn’t even necessary for us to have a bat and baseball, a basketball, or even a frisbee or an errant tennis ball we had found on the side of the road. All we needed was to get out of the house and make every sweltering moment of that summer count.

One particular morning, my good friend Carlos and I were riding our bikes around the neighborhood and looking for something to do. He suggested we go to a place where his brother had taken him a few times. Plantner’s trails. To this day, I still don’t know why it was called that. Could have been the name of the owner, but I don’t think I even bothered to ask. It didn’t matter one bit to me. What did matter was that it was a piece of land with a series of bike trails, complete with hills and big piles of dirt meant for jumping.

Adventure.

With as much thought as a couple of ten year olds would put into such a thing (which wasn’t much), we were off. At a certain point the terrain became unfamiliar but I was unfazed and kept following Carlos. I always enjoyed going further than I had before, further than I was supposed to go and exploring new horizons. There wasn’t a square foot in and around the neighborhood where I lived that I hadn’t inspected. No tree I hadn’t climbed or roof I hadn’t been on top of, aside from those in the yards of people I didn’t know, of course. I had respect for other’s property, and it was Texas. People tended to have guns.

After a while, though, I was starting to get tired of pedaling. We had gone pretty far. As it was a long time ago I can’t be sure how long it had taken to get there, but my guess would be about an hour travel time, one way. It’s funny how I would ride around all day around the block and not get tired, but if I had a destination it seemed to drain me. But after I grilled him sufficiently, Carlos assured me that we were almost there.

We were riding on the breakdown lane of a fairly busy three lane street. The only thing that kept it from being a highway was the speed limit, although you couldn’t really tell by how fast the cars were whizzing by us. Carlos slowed down to a crawl and I wondered what was going on. To our immediate right was a wooded area that stretched on as far as I could see, and to the left was nothing but a grassy field with a barbed wire fence protecting it. More importantly, no trails.

At this point we were pushing our bikes slowly, catching our breath, and my friend informed me that once we went through a bit of woods, we were there. Then he stopped, and there it was. A little rut in the ground leading into the woods, where grass hadn’t grown since the stone age, at least as far as we were concerned. I was so tired at this point I might have missed it entirely had we been going faster. Carlos then pushed his bike down the little trail and I was right there behind him.

Before I knew what was going on, he jumped back on the bike and pushed himself forward. “See you when you get down,” he said, and within a blink of an eye he was gone.

My eyes were huge. He had just gone down a hill that was maybe only forty or fifty feet, but it to me it seemed as tall as the Sears tower. But it wasn’t the height that scared me, the tree monkey, the rooftop king. It was the fact that it went almost straight down. And those trees on either side, close enough so if I were to wreck I would almost certainly slam right into one on the way down. The dirt trail wasn’t smooth, either. There were all kinds of holes everywhere, good for catching the front wheel and sending one into Superman mode. I was standing there looking down, terrified, not sure if I was holding up my bike or if it was holding me.

I don’t know how long I was standing there. Probably only a minute or two, but it felt like much longer. Then followed one of the scariest and wonderful moments of my young life. I said hell with it and pushed myself off the edge. I went sailing down without a hitch, wind throwing itself at me and through my long curly hair. Before I knew it, there were no more woods and I was looking at a vast open field with the most awesome jumping trails I had ever seen in my life. I howled in triumph, and pedaled faster. Suddenly, I wasn’t tired any more.

We spent the rest of the day there, riding around and jumping the hills that we were able. It quickly became obvious to me that it had been made for motorized dirt bikes, but we didn’t care. As far as we saw it, it was Disneyland, and we jumped and rode until the sun was low in the sky.

We reluctantly left so we wouldn’t get in any trouble for being out after dark, and in doing so I found something out. We didn’t have to go down that hill after all. There was another way. A much easier way, in fact. I said something about it, he laughed, I called him an asshole and we moved on. I wasn’t mad at him. In fact, it was probably the most fun I had the whole day.

Shortly after we began our trip back, the inevitable happened. Carlos got a flat tire. The rest of the rather long way home, we took turns riding my bike while the other one pushed his. It was a pain in the ass but I knew he would do the same for me. Along the way, some other kids who were at the trails came upon us and asked what was going on. When I explained, one of them laughed and said he would just keep going, and that they did. Looking back today, I would say he’s in his late 30s, and probably works at a coin-op car wash with a couple felonies on his record. One can hope, at least.

Of course, when I made it home it was after dark. I promptly explained to my mother that I was helping a friend and it couldn’t be avoided. She proved me wrong without a moment’s hesitation and said that next time I should leave earlier. Moms always have the anwers, don’t they?

I would just like to say to Carlos, wherever you are, thanks for not only being a friend but also for being a little shit. Because that hill taught me something. It helped me to be a little more courageous, and while I haven’t gone down all the hills in life that I probably should have, I no doubt went down more of them because of the one I went down that day.