When I asked the White Helmets if they could teach me to jump over something, I had in mind an object about waist-height. Big enough for injury to be a possibility - otherwise no one would be impressed - but not a certainty.
A dog would be too small; the Snake River Canyon too big. Something like a supermarket checkout would be perfect.
“I’ll take your advice on what’s achievable,” I said. And the team sergeant suggested a car. Excitement can temporarily quash fears and realism so I said: “That sounds spectacular.”
I put the phone down, Googled ‘White Helmets car jump’ and found a picture. A man on a motocross bike, about seven feet in the air over a people carrier, having just jumped off a narrow ramp resting on the shoulders of two other men. My attempt would be spectacular. Spectacularly ugly.
I wondered what had made the team sergeant think I could do this. And so did he. After our chat I’d sent him a copy of my last ‘How hard can it be’ feature, in which I’d crashed roughly 100 times while failing some basic off-road challenges.
“We’ve been thinking,” he said, calling back. “Why don't we teach you some other tricks instead, like riding backwards?” Sgt Nick Pallis now seemed determined I try anything but jumping over a car.
After some discussion we agreed I’d try their trademark fire jump – off a two-foot ramp between two pillars of burning straw on a 1970s Triumph Tiger T140 – and take it from there.
The White Helmets are serving soldiers from the Royal Corps of Signals. They perform jumps, motorcycle-based acrobatics and precision stunts at shows across the country, and are probably best known for their trademark pyramid-shaped balancing act.
They’re the oldest motorcycle display team in the world, this year celebrating their 85th anniversary. They train at their base, the Royal Signals Blandford Camp in Dorset.