"I've always said that when the canyon jump comes, if I miss it I'll get somewhere quicker where you're all going someday. ... Dying is a part of living and none of us is going to get out of here alive." -- Evel Knievel
The idea came to Knievel in 1966 at Moose's Saloon in Kalispell, long before George Hamilton would play him in a movie ("Evel Knievel") and Knievel would star as himself in another ("Viva Knievel").
There was a picture of the Grand Canyon hanging in the bar, and "the drunker I got, the littler that Grand Canyon looked on the wall," he would explain later. After countless Montana Mules – draft beers with tomato juice – Knievel decided that one day he'd try to jump a motorcycle over the Grand Canyon.
Of course, a motorcycle can't stay airborne that long and the U.S. Department of the Interior wouldn't hear of such a thing anyway. So Knievel, "bought my own damn canyon." Eight years later, on land he had purchased on the Snake River Canyon of Idaho, in a contraption he called a "Sky-Cycle" – a bucket seat attached to a steam-powered thrust engine designed to carry Knievel one mile across the canyon, deploy a parachute and drop to earth, landing on sort of a pogo stick located in the Sky-Cycle's nose – Evel Knievel launched himself into celebrity history.
Knievel hired former Navy engineer Bob Truax to build the rocket-powered Sky-Cycle. The Sky-Cycle cost over $150,000 and was unsuccessful in clearing the canyon in test runs. Despite this, Knievel decided to make the attempt because he had given his word that he would.
“I didn’t think I even had a 50-50 chance to make it,” Knievel remembers. “Everyone told me not to do it, but I was determined to keep my word, so I climbed up and got strapped in. When I punched that power button I thought, ‘God, here I come.’”
"I've always said that when the canyon jump comes, if I miss it I'll get somewhere quicker where you're all going someday," Knievel said. "And I'll wait for you, because dying is a part of living and none of us is going to get out of here alive. If Mother Nature don't get you, Father Time will."
The jump, on Sept. 8, 1974, was nearly a total disaster. Crowds rioted the previous night because of excessive beer and concession prices. The parachute accidentally deployed when the Sky-Cycle was launched, and strong headwinds blew Knievel back into the canyon where he crashed, 600 feet below, just a few feet from the swirling waters of the river. Twelve thousand people trampled restraining fences to try to get to the edge of the canyon and see what had happened. Miraculously, Evel Knievel walked away with only minor injuries.