It happened in 1964, during the summer after my thirteenth birthday. That July, my family traveled to Rhame, North Dakota. Actually, we visited my Uncle Lester and Aunt Ina’s farm in the hinterlands, miles and miles outside Rhame. Big place, with hundreds of acres of wheat rotated with alfalfa for the cattle, which included cows, sheep, pigs, and a few horses. They were harvesting the summer wheat at that time and my cousin Lee and I were allowed to drive the grain trucks to the elevators because it was private property all the way to the co-op. As a consequence, I
became pretty good at handling a five-ton with a stick.
After a week of working the fields, um, well. Working. It wasn’t work to us because we spent most of our time plinking prairie dogs, exploring abandoned farmhouses, and sneaking beer out of the real workers’ coolers. Anyway, at the end of the week we had more disposable income than we’d ever seen in our lives. Naturally, the very first thing we did was pool our funds and buy a well-used Ducati 125cc from one of Lee’s acquaintances.
We spent the next week riding like maniacs all over the farm, terrorizing the livestock (you haven’t lived until you’ve chased piglets through a loblolly while on a motorcycle) and exploring every gully and hill unsuitable for sane riding.
On the morning before I was to return home, I took the bike out for a last ride. I ended up in an alfalfa field doing controlled sideways, slides through the greasy stuff into the side of a haystack, and jarring my brains out riding across sunbaked furrows. By that afternoon, hunger finally got enough of my attention to make me think about going back to the house to eat. Since there was a large, fallow field between me and my dinner, I decided on one last stunt before giving up for the day.
Riding in a furrow, I attempted to set the land speed record for a normally aspirated rat-bike in a plowed field. With the sun in my eyes I popped the clutch and rocketed forward, a huge rooster tail of dirt flying from the rear wheel. Twenty, twenty-five, thirty. The wheezy little engine screamed to redline between each shift. Bucking and weaving through the patchy alfalfa, I kept the throttle pegged at WFO and barely used the clutch.
Thirty-five, thirty-six, thirty-seven. Accelerating was slowed by the loose dirt and uneven ground. I looked up from the speedometer in time to see the ginormous boulder, covered with dust and barely peeking above the surface, the instant before the front wheel made contact.
I flew, literally, over the handlebars, doing a 270-degree layout and landing flat on my back with feet forward. I bounced, I rolled, I tumbled for who knows how far, until inertia lost to friction and consciousness lost to oblivion.
When I awoke I was laying spread-eagle, looking into the clear blue sky, which I couldn’t see very well because my glasses were missing. After a while, I got my lungs working again. Staggering to my feet, I noticed that every square inch of my body was in agony. Luckily, I found my unbroken glasses not far away. The poor bike. I heaved it upright and it actually started after a few kicks, but the front wheel was so bent that it jammed against the front fork. The only way to get it back to the house, almost a mile away, was to carry it with the front off the ground. I was a skinny kid, and the machine weighed a lot more than I.
It was near dark by the time I struggled into the farmyard. The first thing I heard was my dad uproariously laughing. The second thing I heard was my mom screaming. My younger brother, who used to be funny, gave me the name at dinner that evening, much to the enjoyment of everyone else at the table. All these years and motorcycles later, I still wear it proudly.
Or as a significant portion of the distaff population would say, "You're an idiot."