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Out of Balance

Ok, I admit it, when it comes to having good balance, I'm about as sure-footed as a skeleton on roller skates.  It probably has something to do with people dropping me on my head as a baby, but my mom swears that only happened a few times.  So, perhaps I should chalk it up to karma and getting what I deserve.  Either way, I have a bad habit of falling down, even from a sitting position.

When I was a teenager, my friend, Jay, and I used to ride his dad's Kawasaki three-wheeler all over the hills around his house.  When we plopped the weight of our toothpick bodies down onto the seat of that beast, the fat balloon tires didn't strain at all.  We felt as cool as Knight Rider having a conversation with his car.  The first time Jay allowed me to fly solo on the three-wheeler was also the last.  With the courage of youth, I gunned the throttle and aimed for the top of the steepest hill around.  About half way up, as my momentum slowed, I veered to the right, thinking that taking the hill at an angle would give me more climbing power.  That was a great idea for about three seconds at which time Isaac Newton taught me a very important lesson.  It's a good thing I had a helmet on or today I'd be just one more reason why three-wheelers never made it past stage one in the Darwinian cycle of ATV evolution.  Naturally, I stopped operating off-road vehicles for a long time.

Fast forward twenty years to a time when manufacturers showed the good sense to put four ATV tires on their machines, probably with people like me in mind.  As part of our jobs, a co-worker of mine and I took a ride up a mountain trail on a matching pair of Honda Foreman 450s.  I started the ride with some trepidation, slowly rebuilding the confidence that Kawasaki so cruelly stole two decades earlier.  Just a few miles into the ride and all worries were gone, but then I saw it; a fallen tree stretched across the trail in front of me, looming large like the Mother of All Speed Bumps.  I watched in awe as my co-worker skillfully maneuvered his way over the log, shifting his body from side to side, maintaining his cool as two of the four ATV wheels hung perilously in the air.  Once past the log, he parked his Honda, jumped off and motioned me forward.

I carefully inched ahead, preferring €œdeath by log€ over admitting that I was frightened out of my mind.  As I throttled forward, the Goodyear ATV tires scratched and clawed their way up the log until they hung in mid air, and all I could see was blue sky.  €œGive it some gas,€ John shouted.  In a panic, I aggressively squeezed the throttle lever with my thumb and goosed it.  I remember John grabbing the front storage rack of the Foreman to keep it from flipping over backwards, but that didn't save me.  Over the back end I went, again cursing Isaac Newton and this gravity malarkey.

Over the next several years, I managed to keep all four tires of the various ATVs I rode on the ground until one day when I decided I was good enough to take chances.  My first rollover of the day was simple enough€”that's right, I said €œfirst.€  While turning around on a narrow trail, I crept a little too far up the side hill and tipped over onto my side.  Time seemed to slow to an excruciatingly sluggish pace as if to say to me, €œNewton: 3, Richards: 0, and you really need to find a new hobby.€  The rash on my leg and the burn on my arm only punctuated my shame.  Unfortunately, Newton and his cursed gravity had one more lesson for me to learn that day.

The ride back to my truck at the trailhead allowed me to regain my confidence and rationalize that the side hill rollover had been an unavoidable accident, not my fault at all, just an unfortunate turn of events that I could do nothing about.  I arrived at the trailhead, the ATV ramp angling from the truck's tailgate down to the ground, just as I had left it.  The sight of the ramp prompted another one of my unassailably genius ideas; to go up the ramp backwards.  It seemed so simple at the time, I mean, wouldn't it be so much more logical to pull forward off the truck instead of backing down?  Who could argue with that?  So, up the ramp I went, rear end first.  About half way up, my brand new Bighorn Maxxis ATV tires somehow got off center, of course, through no fault of my own.  It was déjà vu all over again.  Time slowed, the fates laughing at my folly, and the ghost of Isaac Newton hovered above me, amused at my stupidity.  For anyone who hasn't experienced it, I can testify that it's quite humiliating to be heckled by a ghost wearing a powdered wig while you're laying on the ground with a Honda Foreman on top of you.

Upon extricating myself from beneath my red and black captor, I righted the machine and began a damage inspection.  Not a thing had broken.  The quad itself, the storage box, the spare gas can, and all of the other ATV accessories thankfully, for me, lived up to their makers' guarantees of ruggedness and durability.

These events took place over a span of 30 years, but when I lump them all together, there are some important lessons that I can learn.  First, always wear a helmet and other safety gear.  Second, stop doing stupid things or attempting riding that requires skills I just don't have.  Third, always use equipment such as ramps in the manner that the designers intended.  And, finally, for a man who once fell off of a horse named €œRainbow,€ it wouldn't be a bad idea to study Newton's laws of gravity before I kill myself.

Ryan Richards

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