5. Rifles, Roller skates, and Recovery

Logan canyon

Viewing posts tagged Logan canyon

5. Rifles, Roller skates, and Recovery

*** Did you arrive in the middle of the story? Start at the beginning ***

* * * * * * * * * * * *

You know me as “Paul Duane”

Truth is, Duane, is not my last name… it’s my middle name. My Father’s first name. There are a number of reasons I’ve chosen to go by my first and middle name…  Among them, is the pure badassery that is my Dad…

Duane Huber Jensen.

I want you to meet my Dad.

I’ve got to be honest with you though – I didn’t always feel this way. There were times in my life when having you meet my Dad was really challenging.

Every teenager thinks their parents are dumb.

My situation was a bit different: my Dad actually… was… dumb:

This is the story of my dumb dad.

His brother, Al, always said, “Duane had the world by the tail.”

Every girl in school swooned over him. Apparently, roller skating was hot back in the 50’s. Look at how effortlessly he holds her up.

He was a brown belt in karate.

My dad took his rifle to school.

Yeah. Read that again.

He was the captain of the ROTC rifle team and one of the top marksmen in the state. It’s hard to believe the that this was not only okay at some point, but celebrated. How far we have slid. I digress. This is not meant to be a treatise on gun laws and schools, but it’s worth noting, this is how it used to be, back when America was truly great.

He enlisted in the Army and went to basic training, narrowly missing being activated during the Korean War.

He served an LDS Mission in England for two years. To this day, we still have the 10 speed bike he rode around in England (he disassembled it and shipped it home)

Upon his return home, he had a university scholarship in electronics waiting for him. My Dad was an all American young man. Not just a bad ass by even today’s standards, but a kind and happy guy who made friends everywhere he went.  In the words of his brother Albert, “Duane had the world by the tail.”

“Ok, great, your dad was basically Wally Cleaver, a handsome strapping young man that had everything going for him. What does that have to do with motorcycles or anything else? What does this have to do with me? TELL ME ABOUT ME. MAKE THIS ABOUT ME I’M GETTING BORED.”

Okay, dear reader, I will. Stick with me for a moment.

He returned home from his mission to a lovely girl that he had been dating for a long time whom he planned to marry. He started working at the Bear Lake Marina in northern Utah.  This required him to commute through the often treacherous Logan Canyon every day. He bought a Honda CB450 motorcycle to make the commute on. He had to order a helmet in. In his typical bravado, he didn’t wait for the helmet to arrive before he started making the daily trek on his CB450.

On June 15 1965, he was coming over the summit of Logan Canyon from Bear Lake, and something went very wrong. The sheriff’s investigation was inconclusive – the two theories are that he failed to negotiate a turn and slammed into the mountain side, or that someone hit him from behind and took off. The rear fender on his bike was dented in at the height of a car fender, lending credence to the hit and run theory.  One way or the other –

Someone found him nearly dead in a ditch.

Authorities were called, he was hauled off in an ambulance (there was no such thing as life flight back then). The nearest hospital that was sufficiently equipped to handle the severity of his injuries was two hours away in Ogden.  Upon arrival, my grandmother and grandfather were told that he would probably not make it through the night.

He made it.

The doctors told his parents that he would probably not make it another 24 hours.

He made it.

The doctors told them if he made it through the next 48 hours, he would live the rest off his days in a coma.

He made it.

The doctors told them if he made it through the next 72 hours, the most they could ever hope for is that the would be a vegetable in a wheel chair.

He made it.

My Dad’s injuries were so severe, the doctors kept setting very low expectations.

He kept making it.

He was in a coma for a few months. When he emerged, he was essentially completely paralyzed.  He emerged into the vegetable state that was predicted.  A whole book could be written about what happens from here, but for the purpose of this story, I’ll summarize it:

One near death experience, one miraculous faith healing experience, countless prayers, untold hours of care by hospital staff, doctors, family, and one godsend of a physical therapist and a few years later – he learned how to do everything again. He had to learn how to walk, how to eat, how write, and even how to think, all over again. He emerged from those years of rehabilitation with only one remaining problem:

His tongue was paralyzed.

For all intents and purposes, he couldn’t speak.

He could not control his saliva, either.

He drooled constantly and could not form words very well.

His former athletic prowess was gone, too. Being able to walk and ride a bicycle was the pinnacle of his physical abilities from that point on.

And though she tried,  his fiancé could not abide this new version of Duane.

She left him.

This magnificent young man had been completely humbled. He lost everything but life itself.

This was all taking place in the late 60’s; I was born in 1976. During the ensuing time, my Dad got to work reinventing himself with the cards he had been given. He met a woman named Ann, and they got married. He got trained as a draftsman and took a job working in a cabinet shop. The details were never clear as we never talked about it, but after 5 years of marriage they divorced, setting the stage for him to meet my mother. They met, dated briefly and got married. His doctors set very low expectations about one last thing – and again,

He made it.

Specifically: Me. 

Nice hair, Mom.

What’s the point of all this?

My hope is to give you a glimpse into why the word “motorcycle” was such a forbidden word in our family.

It wasn’t at his behest though…

Just my mom.

And his mom.

And his siblings.

And anyone else who was remotely close to him through the process.

For all of his congeniality, my Dad was a stubborn sonofabitch. Once he decided he wanted something, nothing would deter him, much to my Mother’s chagrin, and if we are being honest, much to the chagrin of the Grim Reaper. My Dad had an indomitable will.

One of my early childhood memories is of my Dad and a couple of his friends riding their 10 speed bikes (yes, the one he brought home from England) from Logan to Bear Lake, all the way through Logan Canyon. For those of you familiar with the geography, you know that the only people you see doing this are extremely committed cyclists who are training for the Tour de Something….

…and Duane.

Aside from the pure physicality of this bat-shit-crazy, punishing ride, it is a symbolic one.

It’s the place where he lost everything.

I’m not sure if it didn’t phase him, or if my Dad has the most bad ass poker face and penchant for beating odds, but here’s a picture of him and his friend Lynn on one of those rides. (He did it a few different times).

Nevermind that he essentially lost his life on two wheels in this canyon. He’s now going to go wag his dick in the face of his past, in the face of death, and in the face of his disability:

My Dad was not an athlete anymore. He was basically a functional cripple – riding his bike through Logan Canyon.

On many occasions, my Dad did things that just weren’t supposed to be possible: a heritage I hold sacred.

When I use his name as part of mine, I pay homage to his legacy.

Every time you say my name, “Paul DUANE”, there is a part of me that bows in reverence to this magnificent giant of a dumb man.

****

Next: No Fear, No Guile, No Regrets

Receive notification every time I release a new post in this series. Join my newsletter mailing list: