Lord of the Flies

story by Dink Bridgers
copyright 1997

      I had a haunting sensation I had met the lanky guy behind the cash register before. He looked like he had been hit by a car and dragged a hundred yards. He had scabs on his elbows. He had scabs on his knees. He had scabs on his fingertips. He had scabs on his knuckles. He had scabs on his face. His nose looked like it had been broken in a couple of places.
      I slid my groceries across the counter toward him and, without a word, or even a glance, he proceeded to ring up each item.
      Helga, with the charming smile and thick, blonde dreadlocks down to her butt, stepped behind the counter, put her hand on his shoulder, and said, "Lee, this is Henry Henkel. I believe you've been wanting to meet him."
      "Well, well, so you are the famous Henry Henkel, Mr. Slickrock."
      "Well, I don't know about that." Henry smiled shyly.
      Shaking his hand was like grabbing a chunk of course and gritty sandstone.
      "I'd like to videotape an interview with you sometime and get some shots of you riding. Would you be open to that?"
      "Sure," Henry answered without hesitation.
      During the ensuing conversation he mentioned he once lived in the lower Haight in San Francisco, my home for over fifteen years.
      "Where did you live?"
     "Fillmore Street. I worked at a bike shop called Velo City on Stanyan next to Golden Gate Park."
      My memory clicked. "So that's where I know you from. I used to buy patch kits, tubes, and tires from you. You were just a kid."
      "And you worked for Holland Jones, the craziest queer in the retail bike business."
      "Well, it IS a small world."
      Henry Henkel is the uncrowned king of Moab bike surfers with a well earned reputation for being a fearless show-off. When he's not designing creative bike stuff for his accessory company, Del Sol, working in the Moab food co-op or a local bike shop, or nursing a broken bone, or exercising his alter ego, Heavy Kevy, as a disc jockey for KZMU, the local radio station, he can be found in one of a series of parallel canyons north of Moab, doing things that most would consider humanly impossible.
      Mark Horowitz, local restauranteur and former California pursuit champion says, "I remember when Henry broke his femur. Henry Henkel's famous last words will be, . . . 'Watch this!'"
      One of the places Henry loves to show-off in is Secret Entrada #1, the Moab Slickrock Trail's big brother. Secret Entrada #1 is to slickrock riders what Wiamea Bay is to surfers. It's easily accessible vertical exposure, combined with gigantic, enticing, constantly steepening, slickrock chutes and bowls, make for a lethal combination of fun, adrenaline, and danger, but to Henry Henkel this place is candy, candy worth dying for.
      The first time I rode with Henry was at Secret Entrada #1 on a tepid June morning. I had arranged a tour for Adam and Shane, a couple of youthful bikers from Atlanta on a high school graduation trip to Moab financed by their parents. Henry Henkel and Secret One were the day's tour attractions.
      Henry arrived late, greasy and groggy from a sleepless night rebuilding a VW engine for four stranded young ladies from Portland, but still he showed up with two bikes, ready to rock out for the high school whipper-snappers and my camera.
      We arrived at the wash at 6:30 AM. I had pushed the early hour to avoid the June plague of cow flies that come out like clockwork between 7 and 8. I was a bit disappointed that we had not arrived a half an hour earlier. By the time we got to the wash the cow flies were just beginning to intermingle with the morning's quota of mosquitos.
      As we plucked the bikes from the truck's bed-mounted rack we were attacked by clouds of the buggers. Mosquitos always attack at dawn, the first wave of June's suicide vampires. This was a bumper year for blood suckers due to a particularly wet winter and spring. June's skeeters are indeed horrible, but I secretly dreaded the phalanx of cow flies I knew we would encounter upon our return to the wash.
      We did the mosquito-slapping dance as we disembarked the truck and checked our gear. The others mounted their bikes in record time, encouraged by the gathering blood thirsty hordes. Henry was riding one bike, dragging the other by the left handlebar grip. Henry likes to use two bikes out here, a full suspension for ledges and chutes, a front suspended for jumps. I watched him ride out of the wash towing his second bike, leading Shane and Adam toward the slickrock. Shane and Adam were in a bug-nightmare panic.
      I fumbled with my gear. I had three cameras to pack and carry so I was left at the mercy of the mosquito-mob feeding frenzy. When I finally got cameras and film stashed into my giant water pack and mounted my bike I was a mass of itchy bumps followed by a cloud of blood sucking pests, now being joined by a growing flock of cow flies.
      "I've never seen it this bad," Henry commented as I joined the group. "The cow flies usually don't come up this high on the slickrock." It was like a plot point in a crummy horror movie.
      We rode further out onto the slickrock and finally the cow flies thinned to a manageable few. The great thing about cow flies is that you can take revenge on the little grey suckers. They are used to biting cows. Their method is to go for the haunches, but they are not genetically coded to attack anything that can turn around and slap. The sound of Shane and Adam slapping their thighs echoed across the slickrock canyon rim.
      "There. I got you, you little beast," Shane rejoiced in an insignificant victory.
      We spent the next few hours getting a slickrock riding lesson from Henry.
      "Hey, you guys want to see where I broke my hip?" he asked, as he paused above a steep slope at the end of the long slickrock member that stretches out into the wash.
      We entertained his morbid memories, following him down the slope to where the slickrock steepened drastically and bottomed out next to a small knob.
      "This is the place. Right down there."
      Henry pointed to the very bottom of the slope. The spot was just on the edge of a cliff face about 50 feet above the wash, at a point where the entrada slickrock layer changed from tacky red to slippery green-grey.
      "I had been riding for quite a while already and had damaged one, well, I had damaged both of my wheels. When I hit the bottom of that slope my front wheel tacoed and I went straight into the rock. I crawled up onto that nob and laid there for a few hours in the 100 degree heat while my friend went to the airport to call search and rescue. See that road over there? That's called 'Henry's Road.' That's where search and rescue drove in to get me. They couldn't get me down, so they called in a helicopter and I took the $7000 helicopter ride to Grand Junction. I got to see the Colorado National Monument from the air, but I really don't remember it too well. I was in a bit of pain and high on morphine."
      I put Henry through his paces for the camera. I had him do jumps and ledges repeatedly and he performed like a dedicated pit bull, throwing himself into the rock, ignoring injuries, old and new. A small group of riders gathered to watch the spectacle as Henry repeated one particular jump above a place he calls "Valley Grande."
      "Are you guys professionals?" asked a passer-by.
      I looked down at my camera. I was on shot number 36.
      "Henry, I've got to load another roll."
      When I rewound the camera I got that sickening feeling as I felt no resistance to the backwind. When I opened the camera the film had broken. For the past hour I had been shooting air. I didn't have the heart to tell Henry he had been slamming into solid rock, expanding stress fractures and tearing flesh, for an empty camera. I just tossed in another roll and begged him to give me a few more runs just for "back-up." He did so with little complaint. The man absolutely loves to jump a mountainbike.
      "I need to come out here and practice," he said just as he completed another jump where he lifted both feet off the bike and turned around in mid air, then landed hard, making a guick left turn before he slammed into the rock face. "I'm beat. Let's go back."
      "Do you think you can give me one more shot on the Mushroom rock before we head back to the truck?" I asked, remembering a fine shot I took with the empty camera.
      "No, man, I'm hammered."
      I didn't insist.
      On the way back down the section that Henry affectionately calls "The Porpoise Area" Shane made the mistake of following Henry. I saw a rock fly up, shot out by contact with Shane's front wheel, and down he went going twenty miles an hour. In a jumble of shiny aluminum and skinny legs, he crashed into a parallel slickrock ledge and went flailing and rolling across the 10 grit sandpaper surface. I thought to myself, "Oh shit, and I didn't even have him sign the waiver."
      I rode up to Shane who was now on his feet and insisting he was alright. "Oh, man look at my bike!" This is the first thing a true mountain biker says after a crash.
      "Your elbow is a mess, Shane. Can you move it?" I asked, in a pitiful attempt to exercise a bit of tour guide First Aid.
      "It's O.K., but look, you can see the bone."
      "Don't worry, that's just the white layer of skin underneath. Slickrock can really take off that top layer," Henry stated with the force of vast experience. I think every spot on Henry's body has revealed its underlayer at one time or another.
      We paused for a few minutes to inventory Shane's wounds. His elbow was hamburger, both thighs were bloody and bruised, his hip was abraded and bruised, his hand was scraped and bleeding, his shoulder was black and blue.
      Shane maintained his attention to his bike.
      "Oh, man, my brake lever is bent."
      "That's not all that's bent. Look at your bar end," chided Adam.
      "And your handlebar," I added.
      "And your wheel," Henry added.
      "Aw, man, and I've ruined both my gloves."
      It was a litany of war wounds and damage that went on for five minutes.
      "Well, this will give me an excuse to upgrade. Dad did tell me not to do anything stupid until the last day. I guess it's the last day."
      We washed Shane's wounds, put his tire back on the rim, and headed back toward the wash. Shane and Adam went ahead, spending a few minutes playing on the undulating surface as Henry and I followed. Henry rode in front of me, guiding his second bike beside him with one hand on each handlebar and brake.
      When we came to a particularly steep sidehill Henry continued on. Behind him I released the hillside foot from my clipless pedal for more security as I watched Henry effortlessly traverse the slope. When we came to a section of deep sand Henry maneuvered and manhandled both bikes up and down in the slogging sand. I realized that if Henry rode two bikes I could almost keep up with him.
      The closer we got to the wash bottom the more cow flies began to gather around each rider, attaching themselves to tender buttocks, sucking blood through sheer lycra shorts. I watched the little buggers, ten at a time, hitching a ride on Henry's butt. I cringed as I thought that my butt was a bigger target and must have fifty on it right now.
      The torture had just begun.
      I blasted down the slickrock, dangerously spanking my rear end as I went, like an elementary school kid playing "horsey" in the playground.
      Shane and Adam beat me to the wash. I could see that this was an advantage for me. The cow flies flocked and attached themselves to the first rider, but soon I was beginning to attract more and more as we shot up the wash, through the standing water, and up to the camping area where I had parked the truck. When we reached the truck all hell broke loose. I have never seen so many flies in my life. Each one of us was surrounded by his own private swarm. They were everywhere. When I dismounted the bike I saw twenty or thirty on each of my legs. One swat and I killed three at a time, but I just couldn't keep up.
      Shane and Adam went into a frenzy of panic. Eyes wide with fear, they threw down their bikes and danced around the locked truck like Indians at a 100-mile-per-hour powwow sundance.
      "This is CRAZY!"
      I jumped from my bike and dug the keys out of my pack. "Into the truck, QUICK!" I shouted.
      We scooted into the seats, slamming doors behind us. We had taken at least ten or twenty flies into the cab with us and proceeded to take revenge on the determined little bastards.
      "Where's Henry?" Adam asked.
      "He's back there bringing two bikes down the slickrock," I replied. "He's going to be eaten alive. This is like Kujo or something."
      "Listen, I'll put my bike on the rack right here. Wait inside and when Henry gets here, you guys jump out, get on your bikes, and ride like hell up the hill with him. The flies won't be so bad once you get out of the wash."
      I jumped from the truck and began to remove the front wheel from my bike. In seconds the cloud of flies drove me back into the truck.
      "How the hell am I ever going to get my bike on the rack?" I asked in complete frustration and dread.
      "This is BAD," Shane said solemnly.
      I stepped out a second time and managed to get the wheel off, then jumped back into truck in a panic. Outside the flies swarmed against the window like a petulance in some Hollywood B movie. I jumped out again and persisted this time, finally managing to get the bike into the bed of the truck and partially on the rack. The flies extracted a fee in blood for every move, every fumble, eventually keeeping me from completing the chore when the skewer in the fork mount refused to tighten. I ran back to the cab and dove in, slamming the door behind me.
      Flies covered my legs. I could feel them on my butt, squished against the seat, like I was sitting on a bed of pins.
      One more trip out into the swarm and I tightened the skewer and fumbled with the rear wheel mount that was twisted in on itself. I gritted my teeth and tried to ignore the stinging bites and itches. When I got back into the truck flies thumped against the inside and outside of the windows as Adam and Shane killed one after another. Eventually the inside was clear.
      Behind us, rolling up the wash, I could see Henry amid a tormenting multitude of the winged grey monsters.
      "Oh, my God, he's covered!" moaned Adam.
      It was as if every fly that surrounded the truck saw Henry and instantly headed for him. Within seconds he was overwhelmed.
      "Man, he's got at least fifty on one butt cheek," Shane commented.
      "While they are busy with Henry, get out and ride hard! I'm going to back this truck out of here and follow you up the road. Get Henry moving!" I almost had to pry them out of the vehicle.
      Once Shane and Adam were out of the truck they began to do the insane powwow dance as the flies began to gather around them. They lifted their bikes from the sand, hoped on, and spanked themselves up the road out of the wash. I have never seen two people ride mountainbikes so fast. Henry followed them, almost calmly, riding up the hill with no hands on the handlebars of the bike he was sitting on. One hand controlled the bike to his right hand while he used the other to swat flies off his butt.
      I followed up the hill. Ahead, at the top, Shane and Adam turned around to use downhill momentum to outrun the flies. The only thing wrong with this tactic was that they were heading back down into the wash where the flies were gathering in vast numbers waiting for more fresh blood.
      Ahead Henry pushed onward and upward, crested the hill, and vanished from sight.
      I jumped from the cab to help Shane and Adam, who were now off their bikes, running back and forth up and down the hill, eyes wide, arms and legs flailing. It was a display of panic I had not seen since I was a child and was attacked by a nest of wasps. I gritted my teeth, ignored my primal fear, jumped from the cab once again into the swarm, removed the front wheels from their bikes, and managed to get them mounted inside the bed in a blur.
      Back in the double cab, Shane queried, "Where the hell is Henry?"
      I answered, "He's up the road trying to outrun the flies."
      When we crested the hill Henry was nowhere to be seen.
      "Jesus, that guy can ride two bikes faster than most people can ride one," Adam admitted.
      I drove onward and within a half mile or so I could see Henry far ahead, kicking up dust, plummeting down another sandy slope ON TWO BIKES. Finally, when the clouds of flies thinned in the open desert he stopped and waited for the truck.
      After we loaded his bikes into the bed he said, "You know, it wasn't so bad if I could swat them, but I had a bunch on my left arm and I had to keep my right hand on the other bike. I had to just let them chomp away."
      "How does that arm feel? I hear that if you just let them bite you the bites don't itch, because they suck out all of their saliva. It's the saliva that makes the bites itch and when you swat them they leave the saliva in the wound."
      Henry said, "You know? You're right. The bites on my left arm don't itch at all."
      "I guess it's true then, but personally I don't possess the generosity necessary to allow those little bastards to suck on my flesh without taking out some revenge on the buggers."
      Henry removed his bike gloves.
      Shane asked, "How did you lose that fingernail?"
      "I've been working on a house and I hit my finger with the hammer. Hell, I hit this finger too," Henry said as he held up his battered hands for all to examine.
      One nail was hanging by a thin shred of skin. The other was black and curling backwards. If you studied Henry Henkel's body you could find a lot of things like this. You could be asking him these kind of questions all day.

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copyright 1996,97
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