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To do so, Evel is building a quarter-mile approach road that will culminate in a 100-foot-high ramp. "I'm going to build them out of 100,000 tons of salt from the Bonneville Flats," says Knievel. Mounted on a streamlined Harley-Davidson-equipped Olympia X-2 Sky-Cycle with a water-jet booster system, he will wind up to 200 mph by the time he reaches the base of the ramp, hit 250 mph during his jet-assisted takeoff, and—one hopes—350 mph in mid-flight. "My tracking team will buzz me by radio at the halfway point if I've got the right trajectory to complete the mission," says Evel. "If not, I'll scrub." To do so, he will deploy a parachute landing system. If not used in mid-flight, the parachute will be fired to drop him safely on the far edge of the canyon, handlebars up, for a perfect wheelie landing.
Three years ago, when the Government first began indicating its reluctance to let Evel jump the Grand Canyon, he was adamant. "You can't say you're going to jump the Grand Canyon and then jump some other canyon," he said. There is, indeed, a letdown with the switch in sites. What made the Grand Canyon idea so attractive was the comicbook surrealism of the concept: the world's craziest motorcyclist jumping up, up and away across the world's biggest hole in the ground. The first element in the equation still obtains—Evel is still Superfreak, despite all the eruptions of individual insanity that have occurred in the Western world since 1968—but the Snake River Canyon?
"It's mighty rugged real estate," argues Evel stoutly. "This is your original Mountain Man country. Lewis and Clark tried to hike through that canyon back in 1805 and couldn't make it. There are stretches of it that still have to be explored on foot. Just developing it for the crowds that will come to see me jump has been plenty tough work. I'm pumping in $171,000 in improvements."
Sure, Evel, big numbers make for big excitement in this America of ours. Go on. "I'm right now negotiating with a TV network—can't tell you which one—for over $1 million in TV rights. This jump will outdraw the Pro Bowl and the Super Bowl combined—live gate! Canyonside seats for three days of motorcycle racing and the jump itself will sell for $25 minimum, and the really good seats will go for a hundred smackers. Gotta do it that way. I'm already into the jet for a quarter of a million."
The jet will generate 1,400 pounds of pressure at 240�, and there is a secret weapon, says Evel. It's The Water. Always commercial, he counts among his sponsors the Olympia Brewing Company, and the jet will boil along on the same pure H[Sub 2]O from Tumwater, Wash. that goes into Olympia beer. His own beer depleted, his own tum expanding, Evel decides to take a walk down the block and "have a look at the truck." He is in New York for a jumping engagement at Madison Square Garden—not to mention the opening of his film biography, Evel Knievel, starring George Hamilton—and has traveled here, as he does everywhere, in his 60-foot, fire-engine-red rig composed of a Kenworth custom cab-over tractor, Post custom coach and Trailmobile trailer, in which he traverses 40,000 miles of America each year. Like everything Knievellian, it combines the 20th century fantasies of both the working class and the affluent elite.
The vehicle is a small boy's dream of the truck driver's life, plus a large boy's image of a rolling Playboy Club. Air-conditioned; replete with a paneled bar stocked with the best hooch, the most exotic mixes and Olympia beer on draught; carpeted in thick-piled, zebra-striped wool; closets resplendent with patriotic jumping leathers and, easily, 100 expensive, eye-dazzling shirts. It is the sort of vessel any man would like to voyage in—particularly with a chick or two. But Evel has his wife, Linda, and his three kids along. In fact, Linda is out right now getting 65 pairs of newly purchased trousers altered for Evel. "My left leg is an inch shorter than my right on account of the fall at Caesars Palace," he explains. "Takes a bit of tailoring."
Ah, yes, the Authentic American Hero. A lesser man would send his wife out to have five pairs of trousers altered. A lesser man would crisscross America in a Cadillac. A lesser man would ride British motorcycles, rather than big, ol' American Harleys. A lesser man might well admit to hyperbole when the Government denied him permission to jump the Grand Canyon for fun and profit, or else drop out altogether. To the extent that America is a composite of dreams and desperation, Robert Craig Knievel fills the bill.
Curious it was to spot the quotation that dangles from a nail in the truck's cab. "The people I want to hear about are the people who take risks." The quote was signed " Robert Frost."
Evel hauled himself up to his full six feet, exuded far more energy than could be contained in his mere 180 pounds, focused his eyes so that their intense beams seemed fraught with much more than 32 years of crushed bones and painfully gained wisdom. "I got a better quote," he said. "It's being set up right now, etched in gold. It's from Theodore Roosevelt, and I can recite it verbatim:
'Far better it is to take a chance to win glorious victory and triumph even though checkered by failure, than to take rank with those poor spirits who know no victory nor defeat because they live in the grey twilight and have tried neither.' "