MY COUSIN CHUCK

In the interest of getting to know who I am, I’m sharing stories from my life. I call them Preliminary Files and I hope you enjoy them.

ChuckChuck was my dad’s cousin’s son.

We were close to the same age. Chuck had many faults but mainly he was too brave.

One bright summer day, in the midst of our childhood, Chuck and I were riding our bikes down by the canal.

In the Central Valley of California, canals were necessary for the massive amount of irrigation used to water the 22,500 square miles of orchards, fields, and farmland. Each canal, made from concrete, was roughly 15 feet wide, six to eight feet deep and ran for (literally) miles.

They made great places to swim in the heat of the summer. But we weren’t out for swimming on this day. We were out for the ultimate bike ride.

The “Swift Canal”, so named by us boys for its rapid current (easily 28 miles per hour) was the closest to our house. As we pedaled up on the bank, Chuck spotted a dirt pile very close to the canal’s edge. It might have been a foot high and maybe three feet around, Chuck declared it the perfect jump for crossing the canal.

I had doubts. And while I was telling him why I didn’t think it would work, he was busy getting a good run for it.

Maybe the right speed, I mused, would make up for the ramp’s severe shortcomings.

Chuck hit that mound pedaling like a jackrabbit ahead of a prairie fire. He and his bike were launched far higher than I had imagined possible.

I watched the scene play out in slow motion as Chuck held steadfast to his bike and began his descent toward the other side of the canal. All evidence pointed to a successful landing, but with his front wheel skyward, his back wheel hit the cement wall of the canal in such a way as to bounce him off in the opposite direction. Straight up and backwards, I watched him hang in the air for just a split second above the middle of the canal before he and his bike went straight into the drink.

That’s when the panic set in. Two thousand “what ifs” trampled thru my brain like a herd of wild animals.

  • What if the current takes his bike?
  • What if the water’s moving so fast he can’t make it up to breathe?
  • What if he banged his head and passed out under water?
  • What if I have to jump in and save him?

None of the scenarios could prepare me for what was coming next. But just then I realized the 28 mph current might be sweeping him away. I hopped on my bike, racing along the canal looking for any sign of life.

Nothing. Just fast moving, dark green water. Where would I jump in?

When I saw hair come floating to the surface, I was seized by fear. But right behind hair, up came ears, then a sopping wet face, which turned to me and said, “Guess what I’m doing?”

I was pedaling as fast as I could go to stay even with the oddly floating head. “I’m riding my bike under the water!” Chuck yelled.

I had to laugh.

(My Lesson: We can imagine things way worse than they actually are. Better to use our imagination for the power of good. And; it is so hard to pedal 28 mph unless you’re being helped by the current.)

 

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