Tripping It

Lehighton (PA) Times News

August 3, 1970

About Two Men Who Know What They Want

Complexity breeds a certain kind of sophistication in man.

Years ago, before television came into its own, millions of Americans spent many evenings per week at the local movie houses, where they lost their breath to the derring-do of their matinee idols and assorted stuntmen; they went to fairs to see barnstormers and stunt-car shows; they read periodicals featuring bizarre exploits of men who risked the odds—and were either enshrined in fame or who succumbed to spectacular extinction. There is just something about a man taking a risk that will give an unprecedented thrill to the usually sluggish metabolism of the human being.

In many cases the risk-taking racket has gone the way of the nickel Coke. It has, in many instances, become a science, and to the common man science is very dull. It is not, however, quite extinct or ready to roll over with its feet sticking up in the air.

Take, for example, someone like Steve McQueen, who takes his profession seriously; who, when he plays an off-beat cop in Bullitt, does his own driving through the streets of San Francisco in one of the screen’s all-time great high-speed chase scenes. Or, a little farther back, when Jock Mahoney played Yancy Derringer, doing all of his own stunts, i.e. crashing through windows, falling off horses and cliffs, etc.

But, more intensely and more contemporary, take Evel Knievel and Bill Cole. A Californian and a Canadian respectively, they have elected to pour their lives into a rather unique and probably thrown-away mold.

To refresh memories, Evel Knievel is the 30-year-old motorcycle expert who wants to ride off into the sunset by jumping a specially built American Eagle cycle (dubbed X-2 Sky Cycle) over the Grand Canyon, while Bill Cole wants to parachute off Canada’s tallest building. Obviously men who have chosen to be the best in their chosen professions.

But, like all dedicated men, they have run into obstacles.

Evel Knievel is having troubles getting the permission from the United States government to make his jump over the canyon; Bill Cole hasn’t yet found anyone who is willing to give him a check for $20,000 for his troubles when he steps off the roof of the Toronto Dominion Tower, some 760 feet above the ground.

In Evel’s case he is working around Uncle Sam by purchasing his own canyon, with a span of some six hundred feet (equal to a point on the Grand Canyon) and a little extra added attraction: it is the deepest canyon in the country. He has already leaped over the fountains at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas, before the largest crowd that that thrill-cit has ever amassed for a single performer. In between, he jumps (for $8000) over cars—or anything else that happens to be there. He’ll be jumping over an alleged eighteen cars on a cycle at Pocono International Raceway as a special attraction in a motorcycle championship race on August 16. He’s already jumped a dozen cars countless times, and eight- and ten-car jumps are becoming a commonplace thing with him.

Bill Cole has been keeping occupied by being thrown out of the Canadian Sport Parachute Association when he jumped from a plane last year without a parachute, having two of his friends meet him on the way down with an extra, which he donned while in flight; apparently the stunt stunk of “unprofessional behavior.” He and fellow chutish Murray Smith also made a jump last year from 31,000 feet over Camp Borden, Ontario, where the air is rare and the temperature is 30 degrees below zero. By the time of this writing, he has some 500 jumps to his credit. He also has the record for free-fall over Canadian territories, with 170 seconds. He’s also done free-fall advertisements for such companies as Carling Beer.

Neither of them have any death wish; both of them have a wife and kids to sit at home and bite fingernails for their safety. Both are professionals and have an urge that would be very valuable in any other profession: they want to be the best there is in their fields. Meanwhile, officialdom hems and haws, cutting off avenues to the accomplishment of their coups, while the sporting public clamors for them to have a chance, and the general public snickers at them, calling them crazy.

Both men wish to live to be old gray-haired men; but, if they must die, they’d rather die doing what they love, instead of being dispatched ignominiously by a drunk driver.

One wonders at the difficulty they both face in accomplishing their goals during an age when men have walked on the moon, which seemed to most to be impractical, impossible, and foolhardy only a decade ago. Somehow, each accomplishment that men can hang from their belts seems, on various levels, to be worthwhile.

The complexity and sophistication of Evel Knievel and Bill Cole in pursuit of their “thing” isn’t anything short of noteworthy. It is too bad that complexity also breeds tedium in man.