Bicycle + Gravel = Crash

Growing up on a Kansas farm in the 1970s, my little brother and I spent a lot of time outside doing chores or having fun. One of the things we loved to do was ride our bicycles. We would traverse the gravel and dirt roads around our farm looking for anything new and exciting. We’d spend hours riding around and when we returned home, the first one to the top of our long driveway was the first to grab the hose for a refreshing drink of country well water! Always cold. Always refreshing. Bottled water? No thanks!

A Typical Kansas Gravel Road

A typical gravel road somewhere in Kansas. Picture courtesy of

Riding bikes on these roads was not always an easy task, especially for elementary age kids like us. Dirt roads were usually a smooth and easy ride, but gravel roads presented problems. On a gravel road, depending on the amount of cars, trucks, tractors, and other mobile farm equipment that used it, there would be parallel tracks where wheels worn down or displaced the gravel and rocks. This would usually leave a small hump of gravel and rocks in the middle of the road. The smoothest ride, as one might imagine, is to ride your bike in one of the parallel tracks. When there were only two bicycles, no problem. More than two meant someone was eating dust or trying to ride on that center hump! The shoulders of those country roads were usually overgrown with grass and weeds or a fairly deep little ditch, so riding on the shoulder was never an option. Another non-riding option was right after the county road grader came through and smoothed everything out, destroying the parallel tracks in the process. The unwritten rule was to wait a day or two for the farm traffic to reinstall the parallel paths of smoothness. If only my little brother and I had adhered to that rule!

It began as a normal day of exploring on our bicycles. Little did we know that it would turn into a bloody terror. We were actually on our way home when it happened. The hill that lies between the Fitzpatrick’s house and the rusted iron and wood bridge that spanned the infamous Stranger Creek was all that stood between us and home. This was, and still is, a pretty steep hill. A hill that, when you were not in shape, you had to walk your bikes up. We were at the top and looking down the gravely road, which the county had just graded earlier in the day. For a brief second, I thought maybe we should just walk our bikes down the recently graded hill because there were no smooth tracks. The second was over and all I remember is looking at my little brother and saying, “See you at the bottom!”

New Bike

Brand new bike. This photo was taken about two years before the move to the farm. Atchison, Kansas. Circa 1970. Photo by Kaye Vessar.

I started pedaling and heard my little brother behind me, “Wait for me!”. I had planned to pedal a bit and then coast as I picked up speed. That planned changed as I noticed my little brother suddenly by my side. I pedaled a few more times to make sure I was in front of him. My handlebars started to wobble a bit due to the freshly graded gravel. I got it under control and kept coasting, adding a little braking to help maintain my control. Then it hit me like a thunderbolt…Brian! I struggled to maintain control and could barely manage it, but could he? I turned to look behind me. He was going way too fast for all the loose gravel we were combating. I could tell he was scared and starting to freak out. His front wheel began to shake and wobble.  And then everything went into slow motion.

His front wheel snapped to one side. I could see his back tire beginning to rise above him has his hands left the handlebars and stretched out in front of him. It almost looked like he could fly, but gravity is a mother scratcher and instead of floating into the air it grabbed a hold of my little brother and slammed him hard onto the gravel road. If only it had ended there. His momentum kept him moving forward, scraping his body along several tons of newly graded gravel. The dust was flying and I saw his wide-eyed look of terror and heard a slow scream for help. “G..RRR..EE..GGuh. HELLLPP MEEE!” My little brother’s body spitting gravel and all I could do was watch. I was too far ahead to help and, in reality, what could I have done?

“Brian!” I yelled as I came to a screeching stop, dropped my bike, and sprinted to help my brother. “I’m coming little buddy!” When I got to him, he was a mangled pile of dirt, gravel, and blood. I helped him up and untangled his feet from his bicycle. His jeans were torn and bloody, as was his shirt. One of his elbows had a bloody strip of skin dangling in the air as blood dripped off of it onto the dusty gravel road. The amazing thing is that he wasn’t crying! He had tears streaming down making tracks in his dirty face, but he wasn’t crying. He was one tough little guy!


Brothers. About two years before the move to the farm. Atchison, Kansas. December 1970. Photo by Kaye Vessar.

We drug his bike to the side of the road and left it in the ditch. I put my bicycle in the same spot and we began the slow walk home, me supporting my little brother as he walked with a pronounced limp. We cut through the pasture to make the walk shorter and in no time we were walking through the front door. The moment my Grandma Moody saw us she called for my mom and immediately began inspecting his injuries.

“Oh my gosh!” my mother gasped. “Are you okay? What happened?” I proceeded to tell her the story as she and my grandmother began cleaning Brian’s wounds. As I told the story, my mom gave me a couple of those side-look glances that only a mother can give that speak volumes without words. Those glances said, “Why did you let this happen? You were supposed to be watching out for your little brother”…and I felt every side-look glance deep in my soul.

As my grandmother continued to pick and dig gravel out of Brian’s face, arms, and legs, and calm him down, she seemed to feel the same pain Brian did every time she had to dig out a piece of gravel. I know she would have traded places with him in a heartbeat if it were possible. Meanwhile, my mother took me aside for questioning. “What happened Greg?” I told her the story. “Your brother could have been seriously hurt on that hill. He is always going to try to keep up with you. Why did you even try to race to the bottom of the hill? You know better.” Ouch. I was the one that said “see you at the bottom”, but it was not meant as the starting gun of a race. I simply meant that I would see him at the bottom of the hill. I should have known that Brian would see it as a challenge to keep up, but we were just kids and thinking was not high on our list. When my dad got home, he and I took the truck back to the hill and collected our bicycles. Brian’s bike survived the crash with minimal damage and my dad fixed it up almost as good as new.

Luckily, my little brother was not seriously injured. He had some pretty nasty road rash, but did not need stitches. The medicine he received plenty of was love and care from Grandma and Mom. And that is the best medicine of all.


© 2019 Greg Vessar. All Rights Reserved.


Categories: Family, Memoir, WritingTags: , ,


  1. Scariest bike ride of my life!! Luckily it wasnt long before we got horses and the motorcycles. Made the exploring much easier.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I could feel the pain! Love the pics dude!

    Liked by 1 person

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