I knew I was in trouble when my foot missed the gearshift and the engine started to sputter, so I made the turn, hoping to throat up the power to carry me through and back on the downward slope. Trouble is, I was on the wrong side of vertical, some two hundred feet above my son, and my engine died.
The four hundred pound ATV -- with me on it -- was about to roll down a sand dune two hundred feet high.
My son, down below, yelled something, but I couldn't make him out. I was too busy leaping free as the ATV leaned at a no-recovery angle.
I tucked into a ball as I struck the soft sand. I could hear the machine tumbling after me, three, four times, so I rolled five or six, encouraging my rolls and steering myself off to the side. Don't want a burning engine, a gasoline tank and four hundred pounds of hard, hot, edgy machine anywhere near me when we're tumbling together. Still, as I fell, I feared impact.
I'm sure my safety was secure in seconds, but I'll tell ya, it seemed like minutes at the time.
My son ran up the dune and helped me roll over the machine, helped me inspect it. For all the rolling and tumbling, both machine and I seemed in good shape, just one small ding on my arm where the soft, sticky grip of the handlebars tore some skin.
"Thought you'd bought it," he said with a grin. "Dad's Last Call."
I laughed. "Well, it's been a good life..."
We started my machine, and I dusted myself off, at least as much as I could considering I was wearing jeans, a jacket, boots and was at an angle and at a place where sand blows across dunes hundreds of feet high. The Imperial Dunes National Recreation Area, just twenty miles west of Yuma, in California.
We'd been there before.
My son pointed to a trail leading around the dune, not straight up it. I shook my head, and tore off, making a wide circle, as my son sat on his machine, helmet in hand, watching me. I built up speed to about forty and shifted into third. More speed, and up I went, the same path as before.
"You're crazy!" my son yelled as I blew past him.
I gunned the engine and tore up the dune, straight for as long as possible, then as power ebbs, downshifting -- where I'd screwed up the last time -- for more torque. I raced for the top, angling as I approached, so I didn't just shoot over the top and maybe fall fifty feet. Nearing the crest at a steep angle, I leaned far over the engine, adding weight to the front end, so the machine wouldn't wheelie-over on me.
Skill management. Important for doing the dunes on one of these machines.
I made the dune easily, and stopped at the top. Gave my son the thumbs-up. Then, he, too, made the wide circle to gather speed and roared up the dune behind me. On his own trail. "Yee haw!" he roared. "Nothing beats this!"
Yeah, it's probably a father-son thing...
He pulled off his helmet and I pulled mine. Across mutual grins, I said, "This never happened. Rebecca need not know."
My son laughed. "No kidding," he said. "Grounded for life."
We spent the rest of the day roaring up and down dunes, when possible chasing lizards on the sands. Some were large. And man, they run fast, sometimes on two feet. We couldn't catch them -- not that we'd try -- and they live under the sands, so one doesn't know where they are. They just pop up and begin running. Then, next thing you know, they get smart, turn and...poof, they're gone.
Watching those lizards low-tail it, I couldn't help but think of the Geico geko...
|Returning from largest dune|
We'd rented two monster ATVs (my son and I), a smaller ATV ( his wife) and a two-seater for my wife and our three year old granddaughter. While my son's wife would brave the dunes much like my son and me -- they own two back home in North Carolina -- albeit less spectacularly, my wife and granddaughter rode the valleys and some of the easier trails. Her two-seater came equipped with a storage area large enough for our lunch, umbrellas and beer cooler, plus four folding chairs. We dined out among the dunes, not far from the U.S./Mexico border fence.
|My wife, Ella's Chauffeur and our Two Seater|
|A Rest after Lunch|
|I want one!|
You can't do this at the Imperial Dunes National Recreational Area during summer months. It's closed. Out in the dunes, temperatures can soar twenty degrees above the Yuma furnace. Trust me, you don't want to be in the dunes when it's 130 (F). In fact, it's probably illegal.
We shared the dunes this late February weekday with Border Patrol Jeeps, dune buggies over thirty feet long and a few other nutjobs like my son and me. I wouldn't want to be on the dunes on a weekend, when the crowds descend. These monster dune buggies, some of them twenty feet long and weighing a couple tons only have a ten foot flag, and they can fly over a dune with almost no warning. It's no wonder lives are lost here every year.
Call me stupid, call me reckless, but this is fun. And, hell, I'm sixty-three. If I have to go out, I'd much rather go out having the time of my life.
That night, as we tucked L'il Ella in, she said to me, "I love the sandbox, the bumps. Let's do it tomorrow!"
Whew! It took my muscles three days to recover.
Now I wonder how my son will feel when L'il Ella grows up and comes home at fifteen on the back of a Harley?