Knievel canyon jump seems like yesterday

woodwardcolumn@hotmail.comSeptember 27, 2013 

This column was originally published in the Idaho Statesman Sept. 11, 1994

This is the story of Evel Knievel, Sgt. Pepper and how I learned to like bikers.

The Sgt. Pepper theme has been in my head ever since business writer Jim Bowers popped by with the news that it was 20 years ago Thursday that Evel Knievel tried to jump the Snake River Canyon.

It was the most expensive belly flop in history, and I had a front row seat. That I'm still here to reminisce about it is a circumstance for which I am and will always be grateful to the Hell's Angels.


Knievel's dip in the river rivaled the Harry Orchard trial as an Idaho media extravaganza. Reporters came by the hundreds, from as far away as Jupiter. I was part of a Statesman team assigned to cover the Great Event. The "jump" was the closest thing Idaho has had to a Woodstock. People came by plane, train, car, bus, Harley, anything with wheels. I've forgotten the crowd estimates, but the sea of bodies made a state fair look like an office picnic. Every blade of grass from Bliss to Bruneau had someone camping on it.

As you might expect from a group that had traveled thousands of miles to see someone fall into a canyon, the crowd was not a model of orderliness. Knievel's admirers killed time by throwing up, passing out, clubbing each other with Jack Daniels bottles and otherwise enjoying themselves.

By this I mean the fans who remained in their clothing. This is a family newspaper, so we won't get into the activities of those who didn't.

An area along the rim of the canyon on either side of the jump site was reserved for celebrities, a few hundred of Knievel's closest friends and the media. It was the best vantage point, a fact not lost on the mob.

The word is used advisedly. We're talking hundreds if not thousands of individuals who had spent the previous three days ingesting every mind-altering substance known to chemistry, and a few that weren't. When members of the mob saw the rope barriers separating them from the best view, they reacted with what they considered to be a reasoned and logical response.

They tried to push us over the rim of the canyon.

No one who was there will forget the horror of being pushed back, back, back, the deadly dropoff inching closer as law officers futilely screamed for order.

Then, out of nowhere came the Hell's Angels swinging clubs, knocking heads, restoring order. The perpetrators fell back to bleed, and just like that the crisis was over.

This is not to say that all bikers are saints masquerading in chains and leather. But those bikers saved a lot of lives that day 20 years ago, and the beneficiaries came away with dramatically changed opinions about them.

Since then, I've had a number of encounters with bikers, all favorable. One of my favorite biker encounters, however, is that of a Boise woman I know.

Bandits at 6 o'clock

She was driving home from work one night when she noticed some bikers in her rear-view mirror. Instantly, she envisioned herself battered and bloodied, a prospect that did not go unfulfilled.

She was worried about the bikers, but it was a drunk driver who did the damage. A hit and run. He sideswiped her, spun her around and took off. The bikers stopped, told her they saw everything, offered to testify in her behalf.

While several of them went after and caught the driver, who must have been the sorriest drunk in the county, the others went to call her husband. They couldn't reach him, so she rode home that night on the back of one of their Hogs.

While she was waiting for them, she said, two of her scripture-quoting neighbors passed without stopping.

Do you think she lets anyone badmouth bikers?

Did Sgt. Pepper teach the band to play?

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