Part 1 – Temptation:

I sorta doubt you'll be amazed
To learn that I was born and raised
In Mississippi, on the coast
(Katrina's playground), where at most
The 'hills' might rise some twenty feet...
They may have melted in the heat,
Or been eroded by the rain;
I'll let geologists explain.

I only know that, bottom line,
The ground was flat, no steep incline,
No downward slopes for bikes to soar;
The coast was level, like a floor.
But there, before the reign of Ike,
Was where I learned to ride a bike
By rolling down a big steep hill...
Provided by an old sawmill.

To ev'ry stand of native pine,
They'd brought a saw to roar and whine
As logs were trimmed of bark and knot,
Becoming lumber on the spot.
While that big blade squared up the wood,
They'd build a mound, high as they could,
Of sawdust, chipped off by the blade,
As deep, broad cuts were crudely made.

Once they were done, they'd move the mill,
But leave behind the sawdust hill.
Though rain and sun compressed each mound,
It towered over weeded ground.
When kids who'd never known the thrill
Of cycles whizzing down a hill
Discovered these huge, tempting piles,
Their faces beamed with big broad smiles.

My cousins, Clell and Kenny Reed,
Both loved that little thrill of speed.
They'd drag their bikes up to the top;
Then race down, braking to a stop –
SWOO-OO-OOSH – just before they reached a ditch.
They'd end the day all smeared with pitch,
With bruises, cuts – an icky mess,
But as I watched them, I confess:

I'd never wanted something more
Than getting in on all that gore!
Though I was two years younger... Hell,
I stood almost as tall as Clell.
I racked my brain; I'd need a bike.
My brother's? Too big for a tyke.
I knew I couldn't use the seat,
But what if I could somehow cheat?

I'm now much meeker than most men...
But I was stubborn way back then.
I tried it, straddling the bar;
The pedals still went down too far.
I couldn't pedal it, but still:
Who needs to pedal down a hill?
With pedals level, it fit fine;
That downhill thrill would soon be mine.

My brother Mack was really nice,
I knew that he would not think twice
Before acceding to my plea
To lend his brand new bike to me.
But if I told him what I'd planned,
I thought he might not understand.
To sign Mack's bike up for my task,
I deemed it better not to ask.

I'd tried to ride a bike before,
For maybe fifteen feet, no more,
Until I toppled off and fell.
My bike career had not gone well.
But this was clearly THE BEST WAY
To learn to ride – just coast, okay?
Much simpler, one less thing to do,
And sawdust feels much softer, too...

Part 2 – Atop the Summit:

Next weekend three boys made the climb
Up to the summit; it was time
For mysteries to be revealed,
For me to learn to ride two-wheeled.
Was I afraid? Was I unsure
That I'd survive? That big mound's lure
Filled all the space between my ears;
It overwhelmed my doubts and fears.

To climb a sawdust pile is tough;
With empty hands, it's hard enough.
My brother's Shelby was a tank,
I had to tug and shove and yank.
That bike weighed fifty-something pounds,
Not quite ideal to drag up mounds.
But I'd been waiting for a week,
So I persisted to the peak.

A sawdust mound's a mushy heap
That crumbles once it gets too steep,
But quite sufficient for the game
That boys on bikes played when they came.
This mound had been there for a while
And older kids had shaped the pile.
With shovels they had formed a ramp,
Compacting it while it was damp.

The ramp led straight out to the road –
Just past a ditch, which rarely flowed
Unless we'd had a summer flood.
Dark murky puddles, scum and mud
Awaited any kid whose pride
Kept him from braking as he tried
To see how close he dared to come...
That muddy ditch had captured some.

The ramp was very firmly packed
By all the boys and bikes who'd tracked
Its slope as they had made their way
Toward manhood... my turn came that day.
My cousins both roared down it first.
I waited... Folks, that was the worst.
I stood and stared down that long slope...
As fear welled up, I clung to hope.

The mound was (maybe) ten yards tall;
To kids a long, long way to fall.
Its angle – thirty-five degrees?
Looked close to vertical; my knees
Felt weak as I began to see
The challenge just ahead for me.
'This kid's a human, not a goat,'
I thought as bile rose in my throat.

I gaped at where I'd have to ride,
While risking life and limb and hide,
Good sense and gravity defied...
Could I remain erect, astride
A ramp that's not quite three feet wide,
With steeper slopes down either side?
I'd told Clell, "I'm not scared." I lied.
Was there some place where I could hide?

'I'll be okay; I'll have some fun,'
I almost chanted. Should I run?
But I was trapped; I held my ground,
And waited there up on the mound
As Clell and Kenny climbed again,
And helped me mount Mack's Shelby... then
My panic hormones oozed and poured.
I gulped for breath, but stayed aboard.

I knew that I would hate the feel
If some curved tube of cold hard steel
Should suddenly come thrusting up
Where, unprotected by a cup,
Grew tender parts... I couldn't bear
To think of getting hammered there,
To have them crushed like fragile eggs.
Up on my toes, I stretched my legs.

Part 3 – Ride to Ruin:

My cousins held me up and ran
Across the broad expanse of tan,
Then let me go; I started down.
I must have looked like some strange clown
Who does his best to stay serene
As things get ugly, dire and mean.
My ride was not a pretty sight;
The bike did not remain upright.

Was my perception heightened, keen,
A slo-mo instant replay scene?
Not even close – things happened fast,
A half-remembered blur. At last,
I lay flat on my back, confused,
Entangled with the bike and bruised.
Though Kenny laughed, Clell seemed concerned,
"Are you alright?" I later learned:

I'd made it maybe halfway down
Before the bike veered off the crown.
I'd fallen, tumbling in a slide,
Careening down the steep rough side.
The bike and I both had some dings,
Some knocks and scrapes and other things,
Which stated clearly: THIS AIN'T SMART!
But kids have much less brain than heart...

Again I climbed, again I rode,
Again I crashed, but never slowed.
As fast as I could climb that mound,
I'd once again be downward bound.
I'll spare you all the sad details,
But gravity always prevails,
And impacts injure flesh and steel...
It's good that kids are quick to heal.

How many runs it took till I
Went all the way? I wouldn't lie...
That memory may be suppressed,
Or overwhelmed by all the rest
Of what I did and felt that day.
I learned to ride; what can I say?
Of course there was one little glitch;
I crashed into that stagnant ditch.

It took another run (or ten)
To get the hang of braking, then
I did a few more, just for drill,
To prove I'd mastered that big hill.
Of course the hill had struck some blows,
But bruises fade and skin regrows.
Who cares about a bleeding hand?
I'd had more fun than I could stand.

But Mack's new bike had not fared well;
In fact the poor thing looked like Hell –
Both fenders bent, a missing grip,
Its chain guard dangling, one big rip
And other gouges in the seat,
One streamlined shroud was pretty beat,
The headlight broken, scraped-up paint.
I dreaded facing Mack's complaint.

I cringed when finally he saw,
What I had done, emotions raw...
His bike had gone from new to trashed –
Because his little brother crashed
His pride and joy, the bike he'd earned...
He glared at me; his temper burned.
"I'm sorry, Mack..." I cried; how lame –
But he forgave me all the same.

Mack loved that bike, but loved me more.
Though he was hurt, a little sore,
He couldn't help but feel some pride
About what I had bravely tried.
I'd learned to ride a bike. He grinned.
To ev'ry kid, Mack was a friend.
"You need a smaller bike," was all
He said to me, "Mine's way too tall."


I got a bike – a hand-me-down.
I rode it all the way to town,
An epic trek (about a mile),
But I arrived in grace and style –
Just one of many rides I'd take
Without a clue that I would make
The sport of cycling part of life
For me as well as Kay, my wife.

We've ridden now for many years,
On bikes and trikes with complex gears;
I've found fulfillment, health and fun
In riding; when at last I'm done,
I feel quite sure that I'll recall
My first and boldest ride of all.
I'll think about that sawdust pile;
I won't suppress a wistful smile.

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Last updated Nov 26 2007