His doctor once told him that the unhealthiest thing he could do was scratch his eyes dry. Obviously, he begged to differ. Before him was death.
It was a bright sunny Tuesday at the track and work was nearly complete. The sounds of engines roaring, screaming and whining was like music to his ears, as so many other people ripped the dirt to shreds on their own tracks. This complex had been his home for the better part of a decade, that wily mistress with a whip that scared his socks off but he just couldn't get enough of. He found it natural to breathe through the helmet he wore, his trusty O’Neal snug, tight, and not too warm, the goggles in place over his eyes too. The glass stayed dust-free as he observed the abyss before him.
Although the landing strip had foam cubes lining the approach and lip of the ramp, he ignored the safety precaution. He was always explicit with his disdain for training safety; what was the point? On the day you jumped, the foam wouldn’t be there, nothing to catch you in loving arms if fate decided to twist and turn and object. That was what he intended to do, though, to challenge fate’s obvious intentions and to challenge his old friend. The friend that was his biggest fan and biggest critic.
The foreman gave him the green flag, so the rider gazed one more time over the precipice before walking down the runway to the bottom. Emily waited for him patiently, basking in the sun as her two-stroke engine was being checked by a mechanic. She was ready, the gleaming Honda logo polished bright, making it stand out the most amongst his various stickers. She was his trusty dirt bike, having taken as many beatings as he had over the course of his career. Softly caressing the handlebars, he got himself on board, knowing that once the engine started screaming, Emily and he were one.
With a satisfying first kick, she breathed into life, purring in neutral before he clutched and pushed the gear. The runway was a down ramp itself, so he took his time driving her to the top via a service ramp. On the official night, he’d be meeting her on the top directly, but for now, he used his freedom to full measure.
When he reached the top, he felt a slight itch in his right eye that made him pull the goggles off to scratch it. Remembering his doctor’s words he refrained from a third scratch, blinking hard instead to chase the imitation away. Looking down the ramp at the dirt take off and landing, he remembered further back. There was a time when his late mother would turn off the television if he was being featured, her reason being that she could not bring herself to watch her son die. She refused to watch reruns of his jumps, all of which were obviously successful, citing her weak heart and kidney stones. He didn’t bother correcting her. He knew deep inside she was proud of him, being able to do what he wanted with his life even though it scared her to death. For the record, he reminded himself, she passed away from old age, peacefully in her sleep. He knew now she would always be watching him.
After a minute of slow breathing, he knew he was ready.
Pushing himself into a rolling start, he let Emily’s engine roar itself into the second gear, and as he reached the bottom of the first ramp, into third. Fourth came easily as soon as he levelled off, Emily feeling like a dragon on wheels. The ground was clear, flat, and like a dream, so he made a mental note to give due appreciation to the foreman’s team.
Fifth gear and the clutch slid smoothly back into position. He was edging close to the one-forty mark on the kilometre per hour reading, thanks to the slight modifications on his beast of a bike. Emily was like a collision in a star; small but packing one hell of a punch, clearing the runway strip in seconds before taking him onto to the lift off. Throttle secure, legs locked in tight, elbows braced, he was ready.
With a final push, the man and the bike flew.
The pinpoint accuracy of the track builders meant he did not feel even an iota of excessive force other than what was necessary to get him airborne. Just before the rear wheels left the dirt he pushed down, giving him further lift, his stomach flying up and hitting the back of his throat. The weightlessness was timeless, the moment stretching out and becoming forever, becoming one with the wind that roared past his helmet. He lived for this moment, this freedom to challenge every limitation, every rule of physics, to look his closest friend square in the eye and defy him. He lived so he can choose to not die.
The ground rushed at him as he neared the landing ramp, the journey of an eternity coming to an end. He braced himself for the impact, pulling the handlebars down just so he could land both wheels at the same time. Emily was still screaming in her shrill as voice as he accommodated the drop in speed from the jump into the amount of throttle he kept her at. Having done this for years, he knew how to estimate, so when the wheels hit the dirt he’d smoothly pull away and then slow down. If he had landed short, Emily would have been wrecked and he slid down the ramp at breakneck speed. Further back, he would have landed heavily on the foam cubes, which he would’ve counted as a shameful failure. Injuries were not disregarded in this situation either.
Like a lover’s arms, the ground welcomed him softly, just barely. He was bare inches from the lip of the ramp. At a hundred kilometres per hour, he sped down the ramp, softly squeezing the brakes and easing Emily to a stop. The adrenaline started fading away and the fear of the jump finally hit him. Breathless, his heart racing and goosebumps from head to toe, he managed to come to a stop after a lazy circle at the base of the ramp.
He slipped off his helmet off as soon as he shut Emily down, deep heaving breaths to help him calm down again. The slight applause from his team slowly died down as each member went on with their responsibilities. A mechanic came and helped him off the bike, taking away Emily to double check on her suspensions and to make adjustments if necessary. The biker walked around, and then back to the top of the landing ramp. He needed to see for himself exactly how far he had come. At the top, he looked across the abyss, smiled to himself, and then walked back down again. He was satisfied.
His doctor once told him that the unhealthiest thing he could do was scratch his eyes dry. Obviously, he begged to differ. Behind him was death.