Boing! … 1,767 … Boing! … 1,768 … Boing! 1,769 …
“I did it!”
When I woke up that warm, sunny summer morning in 1970-something, I wasn’t yet aware of the achievement that awaited me. I didn’t know the day would become a milestone in my young life, a new Haznaw family record.
And after it was all over, I certainly didn’t think I’d remember that number so many years later.
That number, as you may have guessed, was and remains 1,769. It isn’t something I learned in school about the year 1769, when Daniel Boone embarked on his journey to explore Kentucky (true story; I looked it up).
And it’s not the last four digits of my Social Security number, so don’t get any ideas about using it to steal my personal information. No friends, 1,769 became a key number in my life the day I pogo-sticked around the block without stopping.
Let me set the scene. It’s a beautiful summer afternoon. I am, as is often the case, migrating from one activity to the next: shooting baskets, riding my bike, playing with my Hot Wheels cars and reading Nancy Drew mysteries on the front porch. (Don’t judge, it was compelling reading and a perfect “escape” from the usual grind experienced by most nine-year-olds on summer vacation.)
Mid-afternoon, I decided to do some bouncing on the pogo stick my dad had brought home a few weeks back. Where, why and how did he acquire it? No one really knows, but it was shiny and orange, and for me, it presented an exciting new skill to conquer.
It took a few days to get the hang of it, most of my time spent simply learning how to start the process. I’d try mount the gadget but because it was a stick (it said so right there in its name), it wasn’t stable, so balance would be a key factor in my success.
Time and time again, I’d put my step onto one of the foot boards and quickly raise my other foot while trying to simultaneously keep my balance and apply enough body weight to activate the heavy-duty spring inside the main cylinder. And time and time, I’d fall. Then, after hundreds of tries, something clicked. I had miraculously found the right combination of timing and balance to get and keep me bouncing.
Over the coming days, I became proficient, such that I could start and stop as I pleased, bouncing for as long as I chose (which was usually in 10- to 30-second increments; pogo-sticking, after all, isn’t the most entertaining activity in the world, and if you’ve done it, you know what I’m talking about.)
It was for that reason – and likely that reason alone – that one day, I chose to embark on a journey. After some post-lunch biking riding and light reading (by the way, if you’ve never experienced Nancy Drew, I might suggest starting with The Hidden Staircase, it’s a real page-turner), I had an idea: “I wonder if I can pogo-stick around the block.”
With nothing but time, nine-year-old energy and well, a pogo-stick, I decided to find out. After a couple of deep breaths and checking to make sure my green PF Flyers were snugly tied, I spit on my hands and rubbed them together (because that’s what any kid worth his salt and about to embark on a major quest did in the 1970s), gripped the handles and jumped on my shiny orange pogo stick.
Boing! … 1 … Boing! 2 … Boing! 3 …
Heading south on 4th Street, my first right turn came up quickly, as we lived on a corner lot.
Boing! 31 … Boing! 32 … Boing! 33 …
I navigated it with ease, and it was time to tackle the ever-so-slight downhill pass on Clyman Street. (Coincidentally, Clyman Street was named – as folklore and Wikipedia have it – after James Clyman, a frontiersman born in 1792 … so close to my “magic number.” There’s a town named after him not far from my hometown of Watertown.)
Boing! 198 … Boing! 199 … Boing! 200 …
Now is probably a good time to reflect on just how ambitious this trek was for me. I mean, I hadn’t been a pogo-sticker for more than a few days, and to date, I had only practiced stationary bouncing. I’d never even tried forward motion, and certainly had never explored things like downhills, cracks in the pavement, uneven surfaces or changes in terrain. I was starting to identify with, and feel for, the frontiersman who came before me – the aforementioned Boone and Clyman -- and the challenges and obstacles they faced nearly two centuries prior.
Maybe I was too green, and not ready to handle the rigors of such a journey. Who did I think I was, believing I could circumnavigate the block without stopping? As far as I knew, it had never been done before. Maybe I was a fool. (Later in life, that fact would become obvious to all for various reasons.) Maybe I had bitten off more than I could chew. But here I was, halfway down Clyman, heading for 3rd Street. There was no turning back.
Boing! 414 … Boing! 415 … Boing! 416 …
I felt good. My balance was solid, my focus remained on the horizon, and my energy stores were adequate, thanks to a nutritious and delicious bologna and lettuce sandwich on white with butter, a summer staple for me.
I made the turn on 3rd Street, and hit the long, flat straightaway that would take me to Bailey Street, the halfway point.
Boing! 666 … Boing! 667 … Boing! 668 …
Halfway down 3rd, I hit a stone, momentarily diverting me into the grass in front of the DeTroye house. Luckily, I was able to correct course and get back onto the sidewalk. I had averted disaster, yet it made me realize my fallibility. I knew there were no guarantees; I knew there was a chance I wouldn’t survive this ordeal. Yet, I soldiered.
Boing! 898 … Boing! 899 … Boing! 900 …
Now just over halfway, I made the turn onto Bailey Street, the most difficult stretch I’d encounter. Bailey had no sidewalk, so I’d have to take to the road. Focus was critical as I bounced around a car and over (yes, you heard right folks … over) a pothole, a risky yet gratifying maneuver. Luckily, Bailey never had much traffic, so I could focus solely on getting back to 4th Street and the home stretch.
Boing! 1,552 … Boing! 1,553 … Boing! 1,554 …
When I made the final turn onto 4th Street, I breathed a sigh of relief. I had made breezed through the Clyman Downhill and conquered the Bailey Pass. Now, it was clear sailing. Yet, I knew I needed to keep my focus. Any slipup, any distraction could blow the entire operation.
I hit 4th Street with a spring in my step (quite literally), knowing I “had” this. The neighbors’ houses flew by as I neared the finish line.
Boing! 1767 … Boing! 1,768 … Boing! 1,769 …
And then, it was over. I had done it -- to quote Mallory after conquering Mount Everest --“because it was there.”
And like Boone and Clyman before me, I felt a satisfaction that only an explorer, a frontiersman can feel. I embarked on a journey, a mission, and returned home victorious. I had done what (I believe anyway) no one in our neighborhood had ever done, and possibly, no one has done since.
That folks, pretty much sums up my childhood, and frankly, I wouldn’t change a moment of it.
© 2023 David R. Haznaw