The sixteen of us looked like the Disney version of a biker gang as we winded our way around the middle part of Bermuda’s north side. After several weeks on the island, whisking hither and thither on our trusty mopeds, we were all riding with confidence despite the morning rain that had only minutes ago dampened the pavement. We had taken this route many times. After all, it was one of only two routes around Harrington Sound to get from one end of the island to the other. You either took the southern route, past Devil’s Hole, or you took the northern route, past Bailey’s Bay and beyond. Today, the northern route.
Bailey’s Bay glimmered off our right side as the road snaked along the embankment. Jagged rocks lined the waterside, steep rock grades guarded our left flank. Clouds shaded the sun as it worked to release itself from the gloom into the day. All was well.
Dr. Singletary was the pace car, so to speak. The moped, as always, strained under his 6 foot 2 inch, 240-pound frame. While graceful would not be the adjective to come to mind, he normally handled the small motorized bike like a seasoned cross-country biker. Today would be different.
When we had arrived on these shores several weeks ago we each quickly rented our own mopeds. Well, almost all of us. Ed Carver and I, both being short on cash, agreed to co-rent a bike that would be used by us in tandem on group trips and solo on an as-needed basis. Everyone else had their own. The co-rental idea seemed like a good one early on, but that notion was quickly dispelled after it was too late to change our minds. That, however, is a topic for another time. Today it’s all about Bailey’s Bay.
Each of us followed in a studious line behind our guardian professor, one behind the other, behind the next, and so on, perhaps ten or twelve feet apart. Dr. Singletary and fifteen marine biologists-in-training, enjoying our two month semester of lecture and leisure at the Bermuda Biological Station for Research. Our usual routine was lecture in the morning, a leisurely lunch on the veranda (or boat or beach), and field work in the afternoon. Today’s field work was an expedition to the northern shore to study mollusks…or was it seaweed? In any case, the rain had delayed our start and we were eager to get on site.
Our arrival would be delayed even more. In the lead, Dr. Singletary slid first. Following close on his heels, the moped containing Ed and me was next. Then Pablo’s moped slid. Then Patricia’s…and Joan’s…and Nancy’s…and the next three. Of the sixteen, ten slid their mopeds out in quick succession as they rounded the curve on which Dr. Singletary had so inconveniently chosen to crash his bike. In the span of 20 seconds or so we orchestrated a series of slides that would make synchronized swimmers – or Ringling Brothers – envious. And there we sat, two thirds of us sitting on the road helpless but to watch the next of our crew rounding the turn, seeing us on the ground, and going into their own slide. In an odd way it was a beautiful sight.
The miracle of it all is that none of us was hurt, outside of a few bruised shins and egos that is. Each of us slid out the bike in the same direction, stepping off as it slunk to the pavement. By the time ten of us had slid out the line of destruction had reached back to the head of the curve, so the remainder in our group could see the need to slow down before turning. As the first of us sat in wonderment, the last of us began to chuckle, a merriment that was unappreciated at first, but quickly joined by all.
Like the personnel injuries, damage to the mopeds was generally minor. We were able to get them all running again and headed on our way to the study site, each with a story to write back home. Only later did we realize that most of the bikes had sustained just enough damage to require replacement from the rental agency. Somehow our group of sixteen went through over fifty mopeds as this malfunction or that perfectly understandable damage (e.g., during our racing events) led to replacement after replacement. I eventually got a moped of my own, which I replaced at least twice during the final weeks. It’s a safe bet that the rental agency required a larger deposit for future students attending the semester in Bermuda.
I don’t actually recall what research project we had set out to accomplish that day. But I will always remember the Bailey’s Bay slide.
David J. Kent is the author of Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America, in Barnes and Noble stores now. His previous books include Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity and Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World and two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate.