The Five Hundred Dollar Brake Cable

On a chilly morning in late August of 1996, at the God-awful hour of 6:30am, I walk from the Outland VPP pit area to the chairlift at Mammoth Mountain, California. My job that day is to keep Jeremy Purdy, Outland VPP’s downhill rider, running on all eight cylinders as he competes in the Reebok Eliminator; a race twice as crazy as the Mammoth Kamikaze. Unlike the Kamikaze, where a rider races against himself and the clock in a time trial down the side of an extinct volcano, the Eliminator doubles the fun by starting riders two by two. The first one down — sometimes the only one down — goes into the next round. I didn’t eat much breakfast that day and hadn’t thought about how long I would be on the hill. Jeremy’s moving well and still in the running at ten o’clock — and I’m getting hungrier and hungrier.

Past midday and the big names; Jurgen Benecke, Myles Rockwell, Brian Lopes and the like have died on the Mountain. My boy Jeremy is stronger than ever and I’m so hungry I could eat my own underwear! I’ve been on the road since March, so that’s really saying something.

It’s just after noon. J-Man has done well enough to earn a helicopter ride to the top. As I meet him at the heli-pad, I notice his rear brake cable has two or three frayed strands – we were still going down Mammoth on V-brakes at that time. Get down the hill, I tell him; I’ll install a new cable when (or if) you come up again. What I didn’t tell him, was that I had no cable to install.

As Jeremy gets ready and begins his descent, I look around to see who can help. My eyes come to rest on Steve “Gravy” Gravenites, mechanic for Volvo Cannondale and the best known wrench on the circuit. I ask and I receive, without a moment’s hesitation; then I get ready to change a rear brake cable in less than a minute thirty. No big deal, except for the TV coverage and the prize money on the line…

Jeremy makes it to the next round. The chopper lands. I grab Jeremy’s bike and whip off the old cable. Off it flys, in goes the new cable through the housing, adjusted at the brake, securing bolt tightened, cable snipped, and cable end installed. Bing, Bang, Boom! Forty seconds.

It’s a quarter past one now and Jeremy is in the final, lined up against John Kirkcaldie on a Foes racing machine. Off they go, disappearing around the right-hander a hundred meters down the course. All is silent, with only me, Brent Foes and the time keepers left at the top of the volcano. I stand there, waiting for word from Brent, who has a walkie-talkie. Three minutes pass. Voices crackle on the radio; Brent turns to me in the thin, cold air and says, “your boy took it.”

I ride down with Brent and walk to the truck; excited for the win and a meal. Jeremy has his winnings, $5,000 in cash. He takes five one hundred dollar bills off the top, shakes my hand and says thanks. The cash goes in my pocket. I make a mental note to tell the IRS…

…the note got lost.