FROZEN FOOLISHNESS

It was a day much like we have had recently this cold winter, but in the mid-1970’s when I was young enough to stand it. Three of us “observed trials” riders were getting some winter practice in January in the abandoned strip mines at Hanging Rock, Ohio. (See an earlier post “Bad Day at Hanging Rock” for further goings on there)

The strip mines offered an utterly ruined landscape, making the moon look like a country club golf course, with jumbled rocks, deep holes and large ponds where the mined pits had filled up. After roaming around in the rock tailings and frozen cascades on the hillsides for a while , we ventured down to the low spots where the ponds had frozen over. Having more sense of adventure than any of the common variety, we rode out onto the icy surface after careful examination of its potential safety (which consisted of a glance over and “Yeah, that looks OK”)

We skated around for a while, low pressure trials tires skittering, doing donuts on the thin skim of snow, and then, being young men, had to line up for a race.

Trials motorcycles are specialized machines, built to crawl over obstacles and make incredibly tight maneuvers in difficult terrain….not, in any way, to race on ice. Had YouTube, or even the internet, existed back then, our efforts at staying upright, much less gaining any speed advantage would have become an instant sensation in the “Stupid Human Tricks” category. I recall one episode where the three of us tried to enter the same turn simultaneously and ended up locked together sliding sideways, utterly without control until we hit the opposite bank of the pond, where we were laughing too hard to pick up the bikes or ourselves.

The “racing” went on until Tommy broke through the surface at one edge, ending up with both wheels up to the axles in slush.

We moved over to another pond, where we found an abandoned grocery cart partially stuck in the frozen mud near the edge. With some effort we freed the cart and set about figuring out what possibilities for mischief it might offer.

Quickly, one of us was dispatched to the bike trailer, returning with a couple of the long, sturdy nylon tie-down straps. We placed one hook in the mesh of the cart, linked two straps together, and hooked the other end to a rear frame loop on one of the bikes, giving us about a 15 foot “ski rope”between motorcycle and the basket. The cart was intact, with all four wheels, though if one of them was typically stuck, it wouldn’t matter on the ice. A volunteer climbed into the cart and the experiment in Darwinism began.

With some careful effort, the contraption could get moving and then pick up speed. The fun part came when a turn could be achieved causing the grocery conveyance to “Crack the Whip”, flinging the cart and its occupant flying across the ice and at the same time pulling the back wheel of the motorcycle out from under the rider, causing him to fight for control (almost always unsuccessfully) as the cart now became the tail wagging the dog. The usual end was a crash of all parties into the snow bank at the edge. All three of us took multiple turns as driver and as cart passenger/unguided missile.

They say that Providence favors drunks and fools, and we were entirely sober. Our attempts at self destruction went on until the sun got too low to provide even minimal heat and sufficient light, with nary a broken bone to show for it, though we would all be sore for days to come. We packed up our bikes, leaving the now somewhat battered cart for the next group of guys (it is, sadly, most often guys who engage in such semi-organized lunacy) to experiment with and headed for home. I think it was nearly two weeks before the checkerboard imprints from the cart’s wire mesh left my skin. To this day, when I pull a cart out of its rack at the grocery, I get a twinge in my hip.

About johngrice

Retired small town lawyer, lifelong motorcyclist, traveler and old guy sitting around thinking.
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