Face Shot

I love dirt jumping. I love dirt jumping in eastern Pennsylvania in the early spring and late fall — bookends to the season and a uniquely different soul and feel. I love the press and rebound of hitting the lip at speed, forcing it low, racer-style. I love the feeling of pumping backside and accelerating. I especially love ripping a big kicked out whip after scubbing a lip at speed. I hate the feeling of waking up out of the “dream” — happy thoughts and pleasant sunny days, resurfacing and realizing that you just bounced your face off the ground and spent the last hour asking the same question over and over…

Downhill racer Jon Gabor and I have been riding together for years, and our local racing battles were pretty legendary. Two big fish in a small pond, and the pond was pretty stacked for many years. Racing was cool, but jumping with him is what I’ve always liked the most. Jon is an exceptional jumper, fearless with unbelievable skill and killer style. I like riding with him because he rides with a Pastrana-like amp, and he is kind of old school — you’ll never see no-handers or kiddie Playstation maneuvers. Jon is pretty much pure-race. I like that Jon pushes me to jump stuff I normally wouldn’t. I hate that Jon was present for the three times I’ve knocked myself out — every time he shows up at the jumps I always wonder “is today the day for the 4th?”

Back in the early 90’s, mountain bikes were a pretty rare sight at the dirt jumps. Picture sleeveless t-shirts, Hammer shinguards, wrist sweatbands and whimpy XC bikes converted to instant slalom bikes with Azonic shorty stems, Club Roost riser bars and crappy chain tensioners and that was the scene (unless you had an EWR!). Along the Lehigh Canal at Riverside trails, a tree fell across the trail like an arch. You could still ride through it, but you had to duck, dive, then re-accelerate towards the longest set of doubles. Pretty silly, but I guess neither of us owned a saw. I must have ridden that line a million times that spring, always ducking the tree perfectly, until that one day with Jon. Pedaling head high and then bright light of the unmistakable smack of head on wood. It cleaned me off my bike at once, two hits; me hitting head, head hitting ground. When I came around, I remember running my tongue across my teeth feeling the chips. I can still feel them as I type.

That same year, autumn at Minersville trails. Fall colors, smoke from the firepit, BBQ, kids with cigs. Damp, foggy, and ominous lighting and mood — I never felt comfortable all morning. Try as I might, I just could not get into a groove and I just rode like shit. There were so many people there going off, and I really felt like an idiot — timid, stiff and apprehensive. Out of frustration I just went for one of the bigger sets there. I sort of remember that morning, and I sort of remember driving home. Like a double jump, there is nothing in the middle. It is still a foggy memory, vague faces and blurry memories, bruised and crooked and curiously all in sepia tone.

The next summer a lot of riding went down at “The Farm” outside of Kutztown, PA. Kids on a farm — a ton of wooded land, quadcycles, a Bobcat, imagination, a plethora of jumps, and a ridiculous amount of skill for a bunch of 13-16 year olds. I don’t remember their names, but the kids were sick. They had some sweet sets, and the dirt was choice. I went there a lot that summer, as did Jon and a few other as this place was kept on the down low. We had some good sessions there, and we always pushed each other to progress and one-up ourselves. Late in the day at the end of one session there, I decided to learn a “Hannah” — pulling the bike into you straight up and down, head forward near the front tire. I thought I knew what to do, pedaled at the jump, hit it and tried to pull up into it… Life was great! The best things in my life were happening, everything was perfect and I was King of the World! I was winning races, had a Porsche, big house, everything I tried I could pull off, no problem. I could do no wrong with life and I was the Mac Daddy. At some point I woke up and realized holy shit — none of that ever happened…

It was like Brad Pitt in the boxing scene from the movie Snatch, resurfacing and reawakening into the reality. My head hurt, my face hurt, I had a big-ass lump on my forehead. Everything was scrambled and I felt nauseous. Apparently instead of pulling my bike up, I instead pulled myself way too far forward. I completely overshot the landing, nosed-in and endo’d right to my face without ever taking my hands off the bars. Lights out. Taking inventory, I learned that I was walking around asking the same question for over and over again for at least an hour. I was seriously scrambled, and my face began to drain. The whole right side of my face would eventually turn black, heavily bruised and bloated and puffy. The white of my right eye also became engorged with blood — gross. Something to talk with customers about, eh?!

Three knockouts in the span of one year. It was scary and I wonder if there was any permanent damage? As the riding season unfolds here in the northeast, remember that there is always the possibility for danger. You are going to crash, it is just a part of riding and YOU are responsible for your crash. But that is what we ride for — to constantly challenge ourselves and beat down fears and complacency and the feeling of the perfect session. Dirt jumping is too much fun — digging, shaping, packing and riding. Jumping with Jon is always a learning experience, but I wonder when the next knockout will come. Factor in my snowboarding concussion and I’ve covered all the seasons! At least I cannot blame Jon for that one…

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