No one calls me a crybaby sissy, wimpy-whiney coward, no sirree. Growing up in Kansas, I had driven a combine during wheat harvest, toured a slaughterhouse and crouched under a highway overpass as a tornado roared overhead. Yet none of this came to mind as I hurtled over the handlebars of a Suzuki dirt bike on a soupy summer day in Ronkonkoma.
It was a rough landing -- pitching me headfirst across a ditch at Club MX, a 10-acre park with three dirt tracks for motocross, supercross and ATVs. Sure, I had cuts and bruises, but more alarming was the swirling of the earth beneath my feet. Now, hold your thumb and forefinger a quarter-inch apart, and that's how close I was to throwing up, right there in the dirt. Lying there on the track in my fogged up goggles, I wanted to go home.
But Rio wouldn't let me. That would be Mike Rio, the owner of Club MX, who in the past hour had patiently taught me to ride a borrowed motorcycle that the owner nicknamed Suzie. But, darn it, I confused the gas (right hand) with the clutch (left hand), and gunned Suzie when I meant to slow her down. It wasn't Rio's fault, for sure. I couldn't have asked for a more thorough and assuring dirt bike instructor.
No wimping out, Rio coaxed. I was there for an adventure. Long Island has so many ways to experience an adrenaline rush -- dirt biking, sky diving, skateboarding, kite surfing -- the possibilities are endless. (See a few suggestions for thrill seekers at left.) Nope, I couldn't quit now.
As I lay in the dirt, I could hear the sounds of Rio's 15-year-old son, Ben, hitting the monster ramps and hairpin turns on the big track. (Did I mention that I was allowed only on the baby track, built for little kids and beginners?) I could hear the ver-EEEEEEEM of Ben's bike through the haze of my confusion. So I pulled myself together, and Rio put me and Suzie right back where we crashed. (Hmmmm. Is he a sadist?)
For the next hour, Suzie and I kicked butt on the baby track, with Ben and his 13-year-old cousin Hunter Stempel along as guides. I can do this, I thought. Afterward, I changed out of my dirt bike gear (knee pads, pants, long-sleeved shirt, helmet, goggles and clunky boots akin to those worn by Neil Armstrong when he first walked on the moon). Ben and Hunter admired the souvenirs from my adventure: cuts, scrapes and bruises on both forearms.
"Nice," Ben said admiringly.