By Karl Terry, PNT Managing Editor
I received an excited voice mail the other day that Travis Pastrana had actually been in Portales and attended a Little League team’s practice.
It sounded like a really big deal, though I’d never heard of Pastrana. And as is often the case, his appearance was reported to me after he had come and gone.
I called the person back and learned that Pastrana is an X-Games star who does stunts on a motorcycle and is famous for doing a double back flip. He didn’t actually jump any fences or Little Leaguers with his motorcycle, but he did evidently leave them with autographs and a positive message.
Turns out he was at a Farwell elementary class by invitation, and a local family who knew he was there invited him over.
I’ve seen X-Games (short for Extreme Games) on TV, and the Winter X-Games took over the town of Aspen near where I lived for a time each winter. The sports and tricks are pretty wild. A lot wilder than I ever remember getting.
As I was growing up Evel Knievel was the highest flying motorcycle rider in the world. A couple of times a year he would perform a death-defying stunt jump. After seeing one of those jumps, my brother and I decided it looked like fun and set out to duplicate the drama.
We had paper routes and rode our bikes everywhere — on the route, to school, baseball practice, to the store — anywhere we went, we were on our bikes. Therefore we thought of ourselves as pretty accomplished riders. We also worked on them ourselves, something Evel Knievel probably didn’t do.
The idea was to find some boards to make ramps out of and something to prop the ramps up on. Milk crates, first one, then stacked several high, proved to work well. We started small and gradually worked up the courage to make bigger and bigger jumps.
For extra drama we would lay a couple of neighborhood kids out in front of the ramp and jump them. We really wanted to do a flaming hoop but never quite figured out how to do that one.
We got pretty good at it until one fateful day.
My brother’s bike was the best for jumping and wheelies and so we swapped off riding it a lot. Evidently that day it had been the subject of a bit of fifth-grader shade tree mechanic work that wasn’t quite up to union standards.
Mounted on the bike I started my run at a really big ramp and hit it just fine; the front forks were up good and I was flying. That’s when I noticed the front wheel was no longer attached to the forks but sailing through the air on its own.
I braced myself as the front forks buried themselves into the ground, but I was launched over the handlebars like a human cannonball. Just before I tucked and rolled, I saw the front wheel of the bike, which had made two big bounces, slam into the neighbor’s fence.
Nothing was broken, and I only received a few scrapes and bruises. But you can bet I never jumped another ramp without personally tightening the nuts on the front fork.
We went so far as to build a little dirt bike (bicycle) track on a vacant lot one summer, nearly a decade before the BMX bicycle craze hit. We had our own X-Games on that lot with bigger jumps and meets among the neighborhood kids where we held timed and head-to-head races.
My brother or I never broke an arm or leg when we were doing all that, but no doubt, it was guys like us who paved the way for the likes of Pastrana.
Karl Terry is managing editor at the Portales News-Tribune. Contact him at 356-4481, ext. 33 or e-mail: