It was a little transistor radio.  The old kind that took the nine volt battery.  Remember touching them to your tongue?  Anyway, this little radio sat within arm’s reach of the bed.  It only received AM signals but this was back when you could still hear music on AM radio.  Late at night or early in the morning when the atmosphere was just right, it would bring the weather in Chicago, Boston and even Toronto into the small room.  He’d listen ever so carefully to the commercials to try to figure out the city he was listening to.

This being the first time the boy had his own bedroom, it was welcome company when lonely and was easy to evict when unwanted.  The only type of ear phone that would fit in the output jack was the little one ear piece so the radio was generally kept right next to the pillow at night.  Volume low.  No LED to light up the dial.  Stations were found by sound alone.  Still, he sat staring in the darkness out the boxy silhouette out of habit.

The boy’s room was straight down the hallway from the rest of the house.  Noise would funnel its way down the hall to the hollow bedroom door that would act as a primitive speaker.  His brothers slept upstairs and away from what was going on in the rest of the house.  Often there was something going on.  Drunken parents entertaining the neighbors punctuated by loud bursts of manly guffaws and feminine cackles.  Every ice cube hitting every glass as the drinks kept flowing.  These were the nights the radio was on.  God forbid the boy had to go to the bathroom because daring to venture out to pee meant he may see or hear something he didn’t want to know about.  You know how women can remove their bra without taking their shirts off?  Well, when the first time you see it you shouldn’t be twelve and it’s your mom in front of her friends.

Other nights the fighting from the next bedroom would wake him up.  New ways to use curse words or the sound of hands smacking flesh would overwhelm the two inch speaker yet the volume always stayed low.  Not to drown out the noises but to be something to focus upon.  The game of always trying to find something better to listen to kept the boy’s fore finger on the dial, ever so slowly searching for something new.  Something that interested him, spoke to him, could keep his mind in one place, any other place, even if only for a few minutes.

The loneliness of those long nights was broken by that little radio and the star light that shone through the window over the bed.  The sounds of the world going on around him and knowing that he was not the only one the stars cast their light upon offered him a comfort.  Security in knowing that there would be more to life than this little room.  It wouldn’t always be like this.  One day he’d be grown and out in the world, doing things.  At that same moment there were truck drivers listening, night guards and janitors hearing what he heard, couples romantically looking at the stars.  There was a life out there waiting for him.  Glimpses of an uncertain future came through this funny little radio and let him know everything was going to be OK.

By brettdownsconspiracy

It’s all in your mind.

This is my cross bike. It teaches me many things.

You know the saying “I saw my life flash before my eyes”?  Everybody has heard it and most have said it.  Generally it’s said when someone has a near death experience.  I have had more than my share of close calls that could have taken me out.  I never saw my life flash.  I was too busy thinking about what was going on.  Last Friday I had one of those moments.

I was riding my cyclocross bike down a gravel bike path.  It had rained earlier in the day but the knobbies on my bike gave me plenty of traction.  I dove into a corner and all of a sudden, the gravel changed to blacktop.  The pavement was damp and had a thin skim of moss covering it.  No sooner than the thought of my tires sliding out popped into my head, I started drifting across the path.  I was falling.

In that moment I realized what was happening and visualized putting my leg out to try to catch myself.  I knew I’d keep sliding and probably pull a muscle in my leg from being forced into a 20 mph split.  Next I thought of putting my hands out and trying to roll but I thought about the impending road rash all over my elbows and maybe breaking a finger or two.  I knew my knees and elbows were exposed and I chose to use my jersey to help save my skin.  I sort of dove into the crash chest first, head lifted back and belly flopped onto the ground and went sliding away from my bike.

Once I stopped sliding, I took a look at myself for damages, checked my bike and then sat down with the nausea you get from a full body slam.  As I was sitting in the damp grass, I couldn’t help but wonder how in the fraction of a second between me losing traction and actually hitting the ground, not only did I envision the fall but I evaluated the options to keep injuries to a minimum.  How my brain can work that fast I have no idea.  Maybe it’s the years of losing control and crashing that has taught me to react.  Maybe it’s the injuries and understanding how I got them that let me decide how I was going to eat this shit sandwich.

I guess that’s what they mean.  It definitely wasn’t my life, it was actually my immediate future charging into my brain like a lightning bolt.  Even though I’m still sore and scuffed up, I’m still pretty jazzed about how fast I could react in an emergency situation.  Wouldn’t it be great if we could train our brains to work that way when we want them to?  It makes me wonder what else our minds are capable of doing that we don’t know.  Instinct?  Can we control it?  Or would it be a nightmare to be that focused?

As I limped home I wondered about these things.  I’m still sore.  I’m also still pretty stoked on how I was able to not only react but think so much as I was about to hit the ground.  The human mind is an amazing thing.  Take some time to appreciate it once in a while.

The day after my crash I didn’t think I’d even be able to ride. Somehow the magic of Woodward made me feel better. Fall down 7 get up 8.

By brettdownsconspiracy


Last week I came up with a new trick for my bike.  I spent some time trying to figure it out but never got it.  Over the weekend I showed some friends and we all tried it together.  I still couldn’t do it but one friend did.  Now that I had seen it, I knew the next day it would be mine.  I went out and after half an hour, I finally got it.  We had a rule while growing up, pull a new trick ten times the first day-once could be an accident.  After that initial success, I got it figured out pretty quickly.  I did it ten times and then put it in a combo of moves and did it five more times.  That old tenacity came through again.

I got home and decided to jump in the shower as I was dripping with sweat.  Stepping into the warm water, I felt the sweat wash away.  When that salty water hit my leg a stinging surprised me.  I looked down and saw a semi-circular line of red dots about the same size as my sprocket.  I hadn’t even noticed it before that. I was too busy smiling from learning the trick that a few days before was only imagination.

All summer long I have other adults stare at my constantly battered shins with a look of puzzlement on them.  One woman at my kids karate class even went as far as asking me if I wanted some vitamin E oil for my legs.  “It will help prevent scarring” she told me.  I thanked her but told her to take a closer look at my shins.  I don’t mind scars.  Scars are a result of trying.  Sometimes we succeed, sometimes we bleed.  The most important thing is to keep trying.  We all have scars and they are nothing to be ashamed of.  Some are light and on the surface and some are deep and permanent.

I married my first girlfriend.  It would sometimes worry me that I had never experienced a broken heart.  Seems most people do at some point.  Long story short, after 21 years together, we got divorced.  Now that left a damn big scar.  It still weeps sometimes.  I’ve noticed when I talk about the divorce or being divorced some people will cringe at my unabashed honesty.  The look on their faces is similar to the other parents at my kids little league games when I show up in shorts.  The scabs and scars on my shins don’t hide anything.  I’m not embarrassed about how I got them.  The same can be said for my broken heart.   I got it from trying to get the most out of life.

I have a famous BMX friend who does tattoos once in a while for close friends.  He does the same tattoo every time.  It’s a little happy face with X’s for eyes.  He says the message is to live your life to die happy.  While I don’t have one of those tattoos, I do have some scars that say the same thing.  I got them from doing what I cared about.  Yes, they suck.  Yes, I try not to get them in the first place but they happen.  A person without any scars hasn’t done anything.  Now that is something to be ashamed of.

“Bones heal, Chicks dig scars and the United States of America has the best Doctor to daredevil ratio in the world.” Captain Lance Murdock.

Enter To Learn

This past weekend I was in York, PA with my kids.  I was taking them to different riding spots we used to hit.  They were amazed at each new stop.  “Dad, how do you know all these places?” I would just smile and let them out to explore.  This weekend they were on their scooters.  I’d see their eyes pop wide open the same way mine did the first time I went there.  Possibilities were so thick you can just see them everywhere.  I took them to a couple of concrete ditches and a huge asphalt bank.  I sat back and watched them surf these same permanent waves I had decades before.  While I’ll still enjoy these spots, their freshness blew the kids away.

One of the spots I took them to was a big blank parking lot.  The surface was rutty and cracked with age.  Off to one corner was a lame bank leading to a wall.  Hardly worth noticing at this point.  The boys saw it and asked it I ever rode that.  I said “Yup” and couldn’t say much more.  This last spot was Mt Rose.

Mt. Rose is now a Christian Pre-School.  Before that, it was a church and before that it had been an elementary school.  (insert your “here we go with another old school story from Brett” joke)  This parking lot had once been the home of my group of friends.  We rode there everyday for years.  The deep black asphalt was smooth and few cars ever parked in the way.  It was off the road so it was quiet and surrounded on three sides with a perpetually empty playground in front of it.  The riding that was thrown down in this lot is legendary and literally where modern flatland started.  So many tricks, so many people from all over the world, so many scabs, so many laughs, so many half gallons of Turkey Hill iced tea.  In fact, the very first flatland Jam was there in August 1990.

One day I remember riding there with Chase and the guys when between TastyKakes, Chase asked me if I ever saw the entrance to the school.  I told him I never noticed it.  He told me “Over the doors the words ‘Enter To Learn’ are carved into the building”.  We laughed together as I immediately understood the reference.  Everyday we entered the parking lot to learn our tricks.  I always remembered that.

As the years wore the lot down and the church attendance picked up we eventually migrated to other spots to ride.  Mt Rose became a part of our past just like the bikes we rode there.   Well after we stopped riding there, I went by looking at the school and saw those words over the doors “Enter to Learn”.  I smiled knowing that we had accomplished that goal.  Then I noticed the doors on the other side of the building.  They looked just the same but the phrase over them was different; “Leave To Serve”.

By that time we were all established riders and while fully riding, perhaps past our prime.  Immediately, I understood what that doorway was telling me.  We entered Mt. Rose everyday to do learn the riding that made us who we were going to be.  Now that we were grown up it was our time to serve the BMX world.  I reflected upon all the contests, videos and shows we had done.  We brought freestyle riding to thousands of people.  We set up our own events and helped friends do theirs.  We taught a kajillion little kids to do basic tricks or at least fixed their bikes.  We had designed bike frames and parts.  We came up with new inventions and ideas to make riding better.  I eventually ended up working in the bicycle industry and helped bring about needed changes to the product as well as new ideas to road and mountain bikes.  I was the guy at the bike company who sent out the little part you needed, always sent an envelope of stickers or had the info you needed.  I donated bikes and parts to good causes, contests and jams.  I had left Mt Rose parking lot to serve.

I stopped my car so my boys could spring loose and roll around.  I watched them roll up the bank where Leif taught me alley oop nose bonk to fakie on the wall.  They raced where Kevin and Chase had decided to learn all their tricks on either side of the bike.  They bunny hopped where Chris Young learned to 360 tailtap our spine ramp.  Here we were 20 years later and I was watching my sons spin and roll around on this sacred ruin.  I thought back to all the older guys who helped me along in my riding.  Here I was doing the same for these two, not even making a difference that they were my children.  They don’t need to know what happened there.  They just found their own fun as I served it up to them.










By brettdownsconspiracy