The night before a ride was always exciting for me. The day would be spent preparing. Mapping out the route I would take. My riding clothes cleaned and ironed and resting on the chair next to my bed. My bag packed with dehydrated fruit and trail mix. A couple of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. My water bottle filled. Fresh batteries in my radio headset. (yes, one of those big headphone looking radios). My Ten speed would be all polished and the chain oiled. My tire repair kit and snake bite kit tucked in the pouch under the seat. My helmet attached to the back rack, with an Eddie sticker on the top of it with the words “Aces High” on the back. The preparation was always an all day event.
While most kids my age were sleeping in on Saturday mornings, I was riding. I lived for it. Something about being completely alone, peddling down some long stretch of road. No one knowing where I was or what I was doing. Total freedom. Guided only by the moon and the patch of light coming from my headlamp. It was liberating.
It was common for me to sneak out of the house once my parents went to sleep. Slip out the window and to my bike which I would hide in the bushes in the back alley. I would plot a loop course. Each time getting further and further away. The trick would be to make the course without ever stopping and making it back before my parents were awake. Some trips would be a couple of hours, some would take the entire night. Sneaking back into my window, sweaty and fighting to catch my breath. Night rides were incredible. The roads were empty, the darkness would narrow my vision, just the late night radio shows to keep me company. The king biscuit flower hour, Doctor Demento, Masterpiece theater, and of course on those special occasions, Jim Ladd’s Metal Shop. I loved it when he would open the show with “This is Lucifer, Welcome to Hell”. In the dark of night, all alone, chills would run down my spine.
On this night it would be different though. On this night I would ride further than I had ever ridden before. In the years to come I would take even longer rides and eventually my candy apple red Schwinn would be traded in for a Yamaha V-Max and I would spend my days riding up and down the Baja coast. But on this night, it was my first real test of endurance. I had plotted a course that would take me through the back streets of Riverside, into the Box Springs canyon, down through Moreno Valley and into San Jacinto. Eventually arriving at my Uncle Dean’s house in Hemet.
I told my folks I was would be leaving around 5 a.m. But I couldn’t wait that long. So as soon as my parents shut off their light, I slipped out my bedroom window. I hopped on my bike and was peddling down Magnolia Avenue by 11:30. This would be my last ride for the Summer. School would start two weeks later. I was 12 and didn’t have a care in the world, as long as I kept peddling.
I made my way through the first few hours without any problems. It started getting very foggy by the time I hit the Box Springs. There were very few cars on the road by then. I was growing tired. I should have slept at least a few hours before such a ride, but I was too excited. I had mapped out a course along the old route 60. They had built a new one a couple of years prior and the old was was blocked off on both ends and it had been unused for quite some time. Kids use to use it to drag race on, or bring kegs down and have big bonfires in the rocky terrain that ran along side the roadway. That was until they sealed it off with huge cement blocks. Box Springs canyon road had a story behind it too. As a kid I would hear stories about bank robbers using it to escape capture. Police were to frightened to make chase down it’s crazy turns and sharp corners. This was a fun road to cycle down at night.
By 3 a.m. I was on the lost highway. Not a single sign of life other than the occasional bat making a swoop through the beam of light I was tailing behind . The fog set in so thick that all I could see was the dot of light shinning on the road from my headlight. Which was starting to go dim. The reception on my radio was lost. The road was so unmaintained that large weeds grew from the center of the cracked ash fault. Pot holes the size of bowling balls were everywhere. Rocks and boulders scattered around fallen from the rock walls that lined the road. There was an old story about a man with green teeth and long hair that lived in those rocks and would kidnap children and take them into a hidden cave where he would keep them prisoner. Those stories started running through my head. I kept hearing noises, rattlesnakes, wild dogs, bears. and what scared me the most, bobcats. I grew tired and hungry but was afraid to stop. I had to keep moving. I could not see anything in front of me, I had no way of telling where I was or how much further til the end. It seemed like I was riding for ever. I started to panic, praying out loud and making all kinds of promises. I would stop stealing pages out of Playboy magazines at the local department store. I would stop lusting after Andrea Cooper from our church, I would never ever sneak out of the house again. I started wondering if I was even on the right path. The road grew worse and worse. The bike shook so hard I had to keep one hand on the headlight to keep it from falling off. The morning dew and the moisture from the fog drenched my clothes. I was shivering. But then it happened, the sun popped up over the mountains and the fog cleared and I could see the end of the road. I stopped, parked the bike and sat on a rock to rest. I had one of my sandwiches and sipped on some water. The relief was so comforting, I was never so happy to see sunlight. The next Summer two teenagers would go missing on that road. Not long after the highway would be torn up and their bodies would be discovered in an old cave that was hidden deep in the crevices of those rocks I was resting on.
Still very tired, I made my way downhill through some farm land and finally arriving at my Uncles house around noon. It had taken me 13 hours. My Aunt Stella made me some lunch and let me nap on her couch. After I spent the entire night with my Aunt and Uncle, God I loved those people, I wish I never had to leave. I left in the morning for home. This time after a good nights sleep. I would take a busier road home, through Perris, into Canyon Crest and finally back home as it grew dark again. I had made it, and I was very proud for that. .