Tuesday, January 09, 2007

The Legend Of Yerba Buena Hill--

Yerba Buena Hill--

I lived on Yerba Buena Rd. during the early seventies, from first grade through the sixth grade, in one continual childhood stream of learning and growing and imagining and adventuring and crashing at times, and burning badly.

I survived obviously, with no broken bones, few deep scars, and an entire mini-series worth of adventures and stories and days worth my noting with a smile and a twinkle.

I was logically led to Google EARTH by my desire to demonstrate just how significant Yerba Buena Hill was in length and steepness in my memories of my youth. As you can see, steepness is difficult to perceive. You are just going to have to take my word for it, that Yerba Buena Hill was “hella steep”.

The blue line I drew is the section of Yerba Buena Rd. that I am talking about. It was a zigzag hill, meaning there was no way you rode your bike straight up it unless you were Lance Oneball. Instead, you attacked the hill like it had switchbacks, and you zigged and zagged from gutter to gutter tacking by turning uphill if you were fresh, or in a downhill loop if you were spent, like a retrograde planet in “the olden days”.

When you got to the top of Yerba Buena Hill, you would always stop and turn around and look back down-- mostly to catch your breath, but also to look upon your climbing feat with a bit of satisfaction. It was indeed quite a hill.

The intersection at the bottom was a four-way, but one way led to a dead end as you can see in the picture. This made it effectively a three way, and you could safely run the stop sign on the bottom if you stayed way left, as your only blind spot was a right turning car turning away from you. Left turning cars were avoided as they turned across your path, because they cheated out to look before they crossed, and you could veer in behind them.

I bring all this up because having such a dominating hill so close to my house meant we ran it with just about anything that had wheels, and when you run a hill with a stop sign at the bottom of it, things are bound to happen.

Nobody I know of ever lost their life at that intersection, but I know of many who lost the skin on their limbs-- lots of skin-- and I, of course, was one of those. That’s probably why I have such fond memories of Yerba Buena Hill. I was one of the ones who ran her often, and survived.

In first grade we were afraid of her on our bicycles. She looked too big and daunting and fast for our level of experience. Call me a coward, if you must, but the first year we lived at her feet, I would not take a bicycle up her slope and run her down…

Instead, my brother and I nailed our skates to two by fours, and then nailed a piece of plywood on this. This was just before the urethane wheel innovation, so I am talking about steel wheels with ball bearings visibly traveling around inside them in a track. Steel wheels on pitted asphalt with a pile of gravel accumulated at her bottom where gravel that tumbles down would eventually end up. Two boys who were careful and wore plastic football helmets and practiced tandem riding on lesser slopes before the big run.

Tandem riding meant you sat opposite each other facing each other and wrapped your legs around the other. You held hands and steered by leaning either backward and forward at the same time, or forward and backward. The point was to lean in the same direction and this seemed to make the low slung craft sort of go where you wanted it to go-- sort of.

We had tacked some carpet on the plywood to make our historic run more comfortable. We had tied a small length of rope on our craft to help us drag it up Yerba Buena Hill. Steve and I wore Pops’ cheap leather work gloves as our planned breaking apparatus. The weather was fine and the streets were relatively empty.

We started out OK. We zigged a bit, and zagged a bit and hit the curb once part way down. Tumbling onto someone’s lawn in a heap was one of the joys of being a kid, and we enjoyed it in giggles and twinkles, but we both figured the craft would break up if we did it again.

Logic and reason were telling us we would have to run the rest of the hill straight down.

So we did.

I think we may have hit 35 or 40. Somewhere in there. Probably closer to 35, to be honest, and the screaming-grinding noise the wheels made was adding to the thrill and the adrenaline rush. And then right at the bottom, right in the middle of that intersection, it got suddenly real quiet. The wheels would scream no more. They had hit large pieces of gravel and had stopped, stopping the entire craft with it and actually ripping off a skate and a two by four.

But that is not to say Steve and I stopped. Not for a bit, anyway. Not after a short, silent flight and landing on our little plastic helmeted heads. That’s when it got noisy again. The scraping of plastic across asphalt that near to your ears. The “kathwumphing” of little boy bodies on the coarse and pitted asphalt. The inadvertent screaming.

We both bled that day, but our long sleeved attire and gloves and helmet allowed the
battle to rage on for five more years…

Steve ran it once in our home-made go cart. To steer, you kept two hands on a rope tied to the outer edges of a wooden front axle that pivoted on a large bolt with washers. At about 40 miles an hour a bug hit him in the eye and he reacted by letting go of one of the ropes to grab at his eye. This resulted in what engineers would refer to as a “wild veering”, and he ran squarely forward at high speeds into a curb. Wood splinters flew in the air as our front end exploded.

The front end of the go-cart was destroyed, and by a child’s logic, Steve wasn’t allowed to help us fix it since he broke it.

I watched two teenagers in shorts and on a street-legal enduro motorcycle attempt to climb Yerba Buena Hill carrying a surf board once. I say “attempt” because the guy in the back was holding the board sideways across his belly, and then gripping his buddy around the middle. It was the shift from second into third maybe eighty feet up her steepness that was the right combination of engine torque, power band, wind resistance and stupidity. The surf board had caught enough air to pull the rear rider off the back of the bike, only he didn’t want to let go of the guy driving, so the guy driving was pulled off the back of the bike, only he didn’t want to let go of the motorcycle, so the motorcycle was flipped upside down onto its handle bars in one of the funniest scary things I have ever seen.

The guy on the back lost a tattoo he had just had needled into the cheek of his backside, is the neighborhood story that went around.

By the fourth grade, I could run Yerba Buena Hill straight down on a bicycle. I had a Stingray with a banana seat (sparkling yellow with a big “S” and a racing stripe) and a four foot sissy bar with a peace sign at the top. The bike had good kick-back bendix brakes, and I could keep my speed just below high speed wobble and burn by pulsing these as I flew down. Anything under 30 was a good safe run, and I made the run many days on the way home from school.

Remember the beginning of The Six Million Dollar Man, when Steve Austin is shouting “She’s breaking up! She’s breaking up! I can’t hold her! She’s breaking up!”

Well, that happened to me in the fourth grade. I had road rashes that kept me from moving my elbows at all for over a week.

Remember those 5 speed Stingray-looking bikes with the big giant shift knob between your legs on the top bar and cheap caliper brakes? The kind of brakes that break off at high speeds? The kind of bike you got at KMART?

Oh my god!

Don’t do that to your kids, people. The shift knob is too close to the nads and the bike itself is a hazard to a child.

I borrowed one to make the Yerba Buena Hill run, and discovered that at over twenty mile an hour, the rear calipers simply rip off. At thirty you DO NOT DARE hit your front brake while pointing down a steep hill. You will FLY for awhile if you do. And at forty, the cheap bike will start to loosen. The front fork to front handlebar connection will be severed by a loosened gooseneck wedge/bolt combo. The untrue wheels will start wobbling crazily and at 45 the whole thing will simply start coming apart from underneath you. I did not yell “She’s breaking up, she’s breaking up!” But those immortal words fit the situation better than any others I have ever come across. “I can’t hold her! She’s breaking up!”

I went down in a pair of cut-offs and a tank top. No helmet. I had shoes, but no socks. I didn’t even fly, I just sagged to the ground at high speed while what was once a bicycle turned into a pretzel. Skin was removed from both my shoulders all the way down each arm, and down both outside thighs and both shins on the sides. I truly was an equal opportunity shredder. The man who lived directly across the street from my house had heard the crash and rushed down to help me. He was a radiologist, but in my state, that was close enough.

What I remember most about the injuries was just how huge the scabs were. My arms and legs were basically scabs, and they would tear if I tried to open or close my arms or work my legs at all.

For a week, I was allowed to stay home from school, and I walked around the house like Frankenstein. With the scabs on my face-cheeks and my butt cheeks- and just like Yerba Buena Hill herself- I truly was a monster.


whimsicalnbrainpan said...

LMAO! I skinned my butt roller skating when I was ten. I was wearing loose shorts and for some reason my feet went out from under me and I skidded for about 20ft. I couldn't sit for a week. Always wore jeans after that no matter how warm it was.

Hammer said...

You bring back a slew of memories.
Funny that the hill was name "good herb" I had a go cart exactly as you describe. Too bad common sense physics was lost on us kids back then. Well then we wouldn't have had as much fun...

I had a skateboard I got in 76 with urathane wheels that I rode sitting down on my own hill but instead of gravel we had goat head stickers. Which would imbed themselves into the body.
Couldn't ride a bike because these thorns would flatten tires.

I'll have to google earth my own stomping grounds.

Allie D. said...

Oh god, Scott! I'm surprised you are alive to tell that story! LOL

I was a very tame child. Apparently the rest of you kids were hopped up on life... er... something. ;)

I took you up on your meme, by the way. This was a fantastic idea. Thank you!

Lizza said...

Gee, Scott. If you were a cat you'd have used up about 8 lives by now. :-D

Word Doctor said...

Oh, man, the memories, the memories! Like you, while the other kids in my neighborhood were experimenting with weed, I was experimenting with GRAVITY! I had a big hill, but judging from your commie-spy satellite pic, Y.B. hill was serious!

I am looking at a twelve-inch scar that runs down the back of my left forearm to my elbow. It has faded quite a bit over the years, but will always be a caustic reminder of flight number "don't forget to tighten the nuts on the front wheel of your bike."

Fun stuff.

Anonymous said...

The amount of stuff you have stored in that brain of yours is truly frightening.

In a good way... I think.

My story isn't my own. It's my brothers.

We had a really steep embankment near where we lived when I was about eight.

Strict instructions from the parents forbid us to ride our bikes down that embankment.

My brother, being a boy and all, just couldn't help himself. The temptation was too great and I'm guessing the whole forbidden thing only made it all that more alluring.

To cut a long story short. He defied our parents, rode his BMX down the embankment and shortly thereafter arrived at the front door of our home, bleeding profusely, with his best mate in tow for moral support.

My brother had the handbrake of his BMX stuck in the side of his head. I kid you not.

He was standing at the front door holding the handle bars (that his friend had removed from the frame of the bike) at a right angle because he'd lost his balance, been thrown over the bike which then landed on top of him and that's when the handbrake implanted itself in his head.

My mother's response. "Stay where you are, I've just mopped the floor and I don't need your blood all over it." Really, that was how she reacted to seeing her eldest son standing at the front door with half a bike stuck in the side of his head.

Our parents took him to the emergency department of the local hospital, where the doctors initial response was to laugh, then x-ray, then remove the handbrake from his skill.

Everything was fine. It wasn't implanted too far in - so no permanent damage, but an awesome scar.

He never rode down that embankment again.

The truth is often stranger than fiction.

Anonymous said...

Error in last comment.

The handbrake was removed from his skull, not his skill.

Obviously if he had any skill, he wouldn't have had half a bike embedded in his head.

amusing said...

When you get bored, or have spare time, really you ought to be writing the "Seriously Dangerous Book for Boys"