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The Impossible Drop

Some time in 2002 I started building my own freeride area in Bend, Oregon. I had gotten a new Kona Stinky (with a hardy five inches of travel), and I was ready to start hucking.

I discovered the location one day when I was walking my dogs. We found  a little path in the woods that ended near an irrigation canal off of the Deschutes river. No one else ever came down there except a few dog walkers, but definitely no bikers. I stuck the first shovel in the ground at a spot that would become known as the Canal Jumps. The land belonged to the city water district, so the jumps were illegal, but the dirt could be easily packed . Another plus was that I could pull buckets of water from the canal when the  jumps started to dry out.



I put in a couple of sketchy double jumps, a wooden plank drop to a pile of dirt, and a couple jumps to flat. I would build each new stunt and then try it out myself. All these other features were small compared to the feature that I considered the centerpiece. I was sure that the main attraction of this area would be my drop.



Just a couple hundred feet from the dirt jumps was a gravel pit left over from when they built the canal. There was something captivating about walking to the edge of this dirt cornice and looking down into the steep walls of the pit. There was even a naturally-formed obvious point of take-off. A short peninsula of dirt hung out into space, tempting any idiot freerider with visions of grandeur. I believed, a bike could roll off this launch point with a little speed. I pictured  it sailing gracefully through the air. and touching  down on a steep landing, From there the rider would triumphantly roll out across the landing zone as people cheered and flashbulbs popped!



First I had to clear out the landing zone. I cut down small trees. I rolled away medium sized boulders. I considered that I'd be a little out of control , and  moving fast when I came in. This would be the biggest stunt I had ever tried, and I wasn’t one hundred percent sure about all the physics.

Finally, the day came.  The runout for the landing was long and smooth. My friend Logan came out with me, a light rain began to fall. I did a few practice runs.  This meant  I was starting about ten feet away from the edge and pedaling up to it, then grabbing the brakes. By some strange coincidence, a couple of dudes walked by on a trail below the stunt.
They were the same age as us, and they looked up and saw two bikers perched at the edge of this old gravel pit.

“Are you gonna jump off of that?” one asked me, smiling with morbid curiosity.

“Yeah,” I replied. They stopped walking and started spectating.

I backed up to the starting point, this was the moment of truth.
Logan positioned himself with a camera and proclaimed with confidence, “You got this.”

One of the dudes at the bottom yelled up, “ Shouldn’t you like...pound a Mountain Dew first?”

This was before the invention of Red Bull. I stood on the pedals and took two cranks… I sailed off into the void.



My first try










My front wheel touched down in the soft sand and dug in deep. Unstoppable forces carried me over the handlebars and I tomahawked end over end until I landed in the run out.

The two spectators nearly fell on the ground laughing. My bike came tumbling after me.

Logan explained what had happened, “Everything looked good, but your front wheel dug in. The landing is just too soft.”

I knew what had to be done. Over the next week I “found” some orange construction fencing at a road repair site and brought it to my drop. The flexible plastic material was just the right size and consistency to add some stability to my landing zone. I laid a big strip of it in the point of impact and covered it with sand.

I tried again. I took off from the diving board with the same amount of speed and I arced through the air right on target. This time both wheels only sunk slightly into the sand, and my suspension fully compressed violently. As my suspension compressed, so did I. My knees couldn’t support all the kinetic energy and I was slammed hard onto the seat. Somehow I stayed on the pedals and I managed to stick the landing. I rolled smoothly through the runout I had meticulously cleared. I tried to look cool as pain billowed up from my crotch.

“How was that?” Logan asked. “It looked awesome!”

“It was sweet.” I lied, my eyes watering .

Logan could barely contain himself he was so stoked. He tightened down his helmet and got into position. I snapped a picture of him as he launched the same stunt a few minutes after me. He also stuck the landing and rolled to a stop.

He got off his bike and nearly doubled over. “Aww, my god! I just racked myself so hard.”

“I got a good photo.” I explained, hoping to justify his suffering.

“I’m never going to do that again.” He said.

“Yeah, me either.”

News of the Canal  jumps began to spread. More people came in and helped dig. The jumps developed into a nice series of trickable, poppy doubles. Twice the city came in with a skidsteer and plowed everything down. Twice we rebuilt the jumps with new style and new layout. The trail to the jumps rode right past my drop. No one ever stopped or took any interest in the drop. Still it sat there, with edges of orange construction fence poking up through the sand.
Before I left Bend I was enjoying one last session at the Canal jumps. The whole crew was there, running trains through the dirt jumps.
Some new, younger riders had shown up. These were the torch bearers who would benefit from what we had built and carry on the legacy.
“Hey you guys check it out!” one of the grommets excitedly called to group. “ Jimmy’s gonna hit this drop over here!”.
Several people wandered over to watch the kid huck himself off the ledge.
I shook my head and pushed my bike back up to the top of the dirt jumps. I couldn’t even watch.

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