the cliff at 13

When I was 13 years old, my family and I spent an entire summer looking at colleges for my older brother Keith. I was young and the concept of college seemed distant and irrelevant to me. I resented all the time I had to spend away from my friends and in the car.  I wined and complained on that trip.  My bad attitude made things difficult for my family.  At 13, I was new to being ateenager and I was acting like a stage-10 brat. 

Fellow cyclers, this is a story about a portion of that trip when I accidentally rode my bike off of a cliff and ultimately changed my perspective on family bonding.

One of our stops along this trip was in Burlington Vermont to check out UVM.  The town of burlington was very cute.  There were lots of shops and restaurants with delicious fresh local food but, of course, I didn’t care. I just wanted to go home.

After leaving a restaurant in the middle of town, my Dad picked up a brochure from the check-out counter.  The brochure had a picture of a happy family riding their bikes on a beautiful sunny day along a mountain.  “Now THAT’S what we should do.”, my dad said looking at me trying to cheer me up.  If only my Dad knew that this family excursion would ultimately lead to me having a near death experience. 

I remember that I was wearing a tank top and denim shorts as we made our way to the bike rental shop. My family and I walked into the shop with our brochure in hand and were completely surprised to see that everyone else around us was wearing extreme biking BMX gear with what looked like motorcycle helmets and fully padded body suits.

My mother immediately said, “Hoonnneyy? I don’t think we’re in the right place.”  My brother was pumped “Motocross, sweet! Can we stay?!”

The shop owner came up to us and said, don’t be alarmed! Yes, we have some motocross paths nearby but we also have some very family friendly trails as well.  He ensured us that we would be fine. 

Right before we are about to leave on our ride, the shop owner gave us one vital piece of advice. He said, “No matter what you do, do not use your breaks.  It recently rained and if you use your breaks, your bike will only skid out of control.”

“This is not for me” my mother responded.  “I’m going to hike down the mountain instead.  Amy, maybe you should come with me.”

Everyone looked at me.  My brother was eager to ride.  I was nervous, but I was also this new teenager who didn't want to be viewed as a child any more.  

I agreed to go.  It was happening.  I was going to ride down a mountain with motocross bikers wearing a tank top and denim shorts.  

The path was rocky to say the least.  The store owner was right about the residual conditions left from the previous day’s rain. The path seemed like it was once a decently smooth biking trail but the previous weather conditions washed away the soil and left mostly mud and basketball sized rocks.  

To give you a better picture of what the biking path looked like, imagine a tall and steep wooded Vermont mountain.  The slope of the mountain was too steep to go straight down so the bike trail zigzagged at times and at others, spiraled around the perimeter of the mountain.  So at times, you’d have the upward slope of the mountain on your left, the path, and then a cliff that fell down the mountain on you're right.  

Everything was going smoothly until two motocross bikers whizzed passed us.  There were two big rocks ahead with only a narrow gap between for bikes to go through.  The more seasoned bikers went right over the rocks and caught about 3 feet of air.  My brother was in front of me and attempted to go over the rocks.  He too caught some air but landed much less gracefully and let out a “hhhuuuhhh” as he hit the ground

I was scared.  The rocks were seconds away and I had to decide there and then how, and if, I was going to ride over them.  At the last second, I chickened out and, without remembering the shop owners words, I clenched my breaks.  At that moment, both me and my bike skid off over the edge of the cliff.

In that moment, I blacked out,  I’m not quite sure how it happened, but I somehow found myself dangling from a tree root, my bike fell into the trees deep below.  I looked up, to see both my father and brother’s heads poking over the edge of the cliff.  As my brother held down my dad’s legs, my father used his arms to pull me up.  Luckily, I was high enough that he could just reach my hands.  

I walked down the rest of the trail as my brother and fathers arms around me.  I remember feeling an over abundance of love and appreciation for my mother when I saw her at the bottom of the mountain.  My whole body felt happy when we finally embraced.  Even though my survival was simply a stroke of luck, I still had an overwhelming sense that my father and brother would always be around to protect me.  

It may sound cheesy but my attitude towards those college trips significantly changed after that experience.  I felt grateful that I had such a loving family and parents who cared about their children’s future.  The long car rides didn’t seem as tedious and boring because I was spending time with the people in my life who meant the most to me.  To conclude, I might not use the saying, “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” but rather, “what doesn’t kill you could make you a little more humble and mature.”