We were bicycling over Daggett Pass when a semi-truck passed us.
Without thinking — as if any 16-year-old boy does — Brian suddenly shifted down and took off.
I realized what he was trying to do and was screaming at the top of my lungs telling him to stop. But between the wind and the fact I was rolling at 40 mph and Brian was now going much faster I doubt he heard me. My heart virtually stopped as I was pedaling furiously trying to catch up with him while watching him drop into the slipstream of the truck. And then it happened. He was sucked into the envelope with his speed increasing even more. Brian, as I watched in horror, did a “slingshot” around the truck as both were speeding down a curvy mountain highway in Nevada. It was a trick he had seen in his favorite movie at the time — the bicycle racing classic film “American Flyer”.
Brian was in the opposite lane approaching a blind curve. I feared the worst.
I caught up with Brian a minute later when Brian had passed the truck and then pulled over to the guard rail. As I came to a stop I was virtually yelling at him that if he ever pulled a stunt like that again he would never ride with me. Brian was looking down the entire time. I thought he was simply catching his breath or ignoring me.
But when he looked up I realized he was crying.
At the point where he could no longer control the bicycle, it dawned on him that what he was doing wasn’t a good idea. And — after hearing me dressing him down for what I described as one of the stupidest knee jerk things I’d ever seen — he was in fear that I’d never take him again on my trips bicycling in the Sierra or Death Valley.
Even though I wanted to tell him he could forget bicycling with me given my iron clad rule about not doing anything that jeopardizes his safety or that of anyone else including me, I calmed down and switched gears to re-enforce the consequences that could have happened. I told him not to forget it but at the same time not to dwell on it.
Brian lived to see another day despite doing something stupid. It wasn’t the first time nor was it the last time he did things a bit too spontaneous when he was around me. It was, though, without a doubt the most dangerous stunt, that he pulled.
Brian is now teaching at a university in Idaho. A few years back he relayed how the time we rode together and talked about stuff as we pedaled along gave him a chance to grow up.
I thought of Brian this week when I read about Christian Adamek. He’s the 15-year-old Alabama teen that folks described as quirky, happy-go-lucky, and smart. It sounded like they were describing Brian.
Adamek made his way into the national discussion by doing something childish and then doing something horrifically stupid. He streaked at a Sparkman High football game in his hometown of Harvest, Alabama. His peers loved it. They posted videos on YouTube and referenced him as a legend. The school administration wasn’t amused. Not only where they talking about expelling Adamek but they contacted law enforcement authorities who said that they would bring criminal charges against the 15-year-old. And if he was convicted, under Alabama law he’d have to register as a sex offender for the rest of his life.
Adamek hanged himself on Oct. 2.
Streaking was stupid. Killing yourself is beyond stupid.
The pundits, professional and otherwise, ponder whether depression was a factor. News flash: Teens get depressed including boys.
Too often, we all forget we were once teens. And teens — especially boys — are impulsive and when their world comes crashing down can’t see beyond the moment.
More than a few people are ripping into the principal arguing suspension would have fit the crime more so than expulsion. As for the threat of criminal prosecution and a possible future as a registered sex offender, we really need to look at how far we are taking zero tolerance.
No one is saying authorities should have high fived the teen. What he did was wrong, plain and simple. But throwing the book at him was wrong as well.
Whatever happened to the concept of rehabilitation or, in the case of teens that are growing emotionally, mentoring and extending second chances?
I will not judge someone who commits suicide. Live long enough and those you know who take their own lives grows way too long: A long-time girlfriend, a minister who was also a close friend, and even a teen that was years younger than you who just wanted someone to listen to him and feel that he belonged.
As we mature most of us understand the world is in a multitude shades of gray. But teens rarely see life in anything but black and white whether it’s being rejected in love, fitting in, or the weight of punishment.
Adults need to understand.
And given time and support teens will too.
This column is the opinion of executive editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or 209-249-3519.