GRIMY HAND­SHAKE

GRIMY HAND­SHAKE

Bike (USA) - - Contents - BY MIKE FERRENTINO I PHOTO: ALE DI LULLO

Of­fi­cer Don Lock­wood was an im­pos­ing slab of a man. His ruddy com­plex­ion shone a malev­o­lent red­dish pink, off­set­ting the jet black of his uni­form and snug-fit­ting cap. His ap­pear­ance and de­meanor tele­graphed a tor­tured soul per­pet­u­ally on the brink of vi­o­lence, and whether or not that was true, there was enough gos­sip and in­nu­endo among my teenage cadre of friends that we all made sure to keep as much dis­tance be­tween our­selves and the sole up­holder of ve­hic­u­lar jus­tice in our home­town.

Dis­tance, at this par­tic­u­lar mo­ment, was not a lux­ury I was af­forded. He sat in the pas­sen­ger seat of my fam­ily’s Austin Maxi, face ex­pres­sion­less, fill­ing the ve­hi­cle with a weighty si­lence. I had just re­versed into a par­al­lel park­ing spot on a steep hill, the fi­nal hur­dle in what had been a gru­el­ing hour­long driv­ing test, and Of­fi­cer Lock­wood held my as-yet-un­de­ter­mined fu­ture as a driver in his hands. Sec­onds stretched into what felt like hours be­fore he fi­nally spoke: “It seems, Mis­ter Ferrentino, that you have grasped the fun­da­men­tals of driv­ing a car ad­e­quately enough. So, in spite of my per­sonal reser­va­tions about your judge­ment, I am go­ing to grant you your driver’s li­cense. But re­mem­ber this—I am grant­ing you the priv­i­lege of driv­ing. It’s not a right. It’s a priv­i­lege; one that can be re­voked at any time.”

His per­sonal reser­va­tions were well­founded. I was 17. The year be­fore, he had chased me along the road to Whanga­mata as I wrung out a Kawasaki 500 triple at speeds that were well be­yond the realm of sen­si­bil­ity or le­gal­ity. The year be­fore that, at 15, when most of my friends were ea­gerly get­ting their driver’s li­censes, I had flipped the Austin Maxi in a mo­ment of “Dukes-ofHaz­zard”-in­spired dip­shit­tery, de­stroy­ing my neigh­bor’s hedge and throw­ing my aunt out the back win­dow in the process. My fa­ther had calmly told me then that ,“It might be a while” be­fore I was al­lowed to drive any of his cars again.

Of­fi­cer Lock­wood’s words stayed with me. I was re­minded of them when the priv­i­lege of driv­ing was re­voked twice in the fol­low­ing decade as I fol­lowed through on the rit­ual stu­pid­ity that con­sumes a cer­tain per­cent­age of young adult males when they are al­lowed ac­cess to any­thing with wheels and en­gines. They were ut­tered al­most word for word by a State Park ranger who caught me spin­ning donuts on a beach south of Half Moon Bay in an old post of­fice jeep that I had scored for $200. And they were re­peated again, ver­ba­tim, by a Santa Clara County Sher­iff, who en­coun­tered

me at­tempt­ing to dis-im­pale my $140 1971 Ford Thun­der­bird (sui­cide rear doors, skull and cross­bones on the sides and a snazzy WWII-fighter-in­spired snarling shark mouth painted around the grille) from the cy­clone fence that I had landed on/in while get­ting a lit­tle too rad at a con­struc­tion site. And they have come un­bid­den into my con­scious­ness in the many long years that fol­lowed, af­ter I stopped do­ing stupid shit in cars in fa­vor of do­ing stupid shit on moun­tain bikes, when­ever I would roll up to a ‘No Tres­pass­ing’ sign: “Right to pass by per­mis­sion and sub­ject to con­trol of owner.”

On moun­tain bikes, I have been an in­vet­er­ate and un­apolo­getic poacher. I have qui­etly snuck into state and na­tional parks where bikes are ex­plic­itly for­bid­den, left tire tracks on pri­vate es­tates and through ease­ments that have been clearly signed as closed to the pub­lic and have ped­aled through more than a few Wilder­ness ar­eas. I did this for years, al­ways with a chip on my shoul­der. It was civil dis­obe­di­ence, and I was ex­er­cis­ing my rights as a citizen to protest the sta­tus quo. At least that was what I told my­self. That line of rea­son­ing was pure bull­shit. I was poach­ing be­cause I didn’t want to obey the law and be­cause I didn’t re­ally care what im­pact my ac­tions might have on any­one else.

It has been a very long time since I have donned the man­tle of ‘Self-Right­eous Citizen War­rior Trail Poacher.’ Over the past cou­ple decades, my per­cep­tion of per­sonal rights and priv­i­lege has shifted. I be­gan to view not just rid­ing but ev­ery­thing I do in life through the lens of priv­i­lege. It is a priv­i­lege to be alive, not a right. It is a priv­i­lege to have mil­lions of acres of pub­lic land to en­joy, and I am thank­ful those acres ex­ist. It is a priv­i­lege to be healthy enough to ex­plore the trails on those lands by bike, and to have the time and re­sources to af­ford that ex­plo­ration.

These days, I am in­creas­ingly thank­ful for things I have pre­vi­ously taken for granted. Life, health, time— three very big, very pre­cious parts of ex­is­tence I used to count on with­out thought. In much the same way that a teenager might think it’s a good idea to see how side­ways he can get a front-wheel-drive sta­tion wagon around a de­creas­ing ra­dius gravel corner with his aunt in the pas­sen­ger seat singing the “Dukes of Haz­zard” theme song, the older ver­sion of that teen, not­ing a much higher odome­ter read­ing, might be more in­clined to ease off the gas well be­fore corner en­try.

The trail poacher in me is dead now. I don’t want to feel the vibe from pissed off hik­ers, and I don’t want to add to the karmic juju of how moun­tain bik­ers are per­ceived within the broader com­mu­nity. I can’t undo my past ac­tions, but I pre­fer these days not to gen­er­ate any fresh neg­a­tive weight. And with each pass­ing year, I shed some right­eous­ness and gain some grat­i­tude. I have no right to life, health, bikes or ac­cess. All of this, from my own breath to the trails I ride, ex­ists in a state of priv­i­lege. I am lucky, we are all lucky, that we get to do this. I un­der­stand you now, Don. Fi­nally.

PHOTO: DAVE TRUMPORE

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