Sporting a star-spangled jumpsuit and clutching a hollow scepter that typically concealed a stash of Wild Turkey, Evel Knievel strode through a crowd of more than 10,000 on the rim of Idaho's Snake River Canyon. Potato farmers, housewives, hippies, bikers, Boy Scouts, topless women, and a marching band all surged forward into a chain-link fence that was the only barrier between them and their hero, the man who took flight on the wings of a Harley. People were so pumped that many had rioted a day before, burning Port-A-Potties and ripping the roofs off of beer trucks.
Undistracted by the Woodstock-like bacchanal, Knievel stoically climbed a 150-foot-high earthen mound at the lip of the canyon and approached a steel launch tower. Mounted onto the girded structure was the Skycycle X-2, a red, white, and blue rocket ship with wheels on its belly and Knievel's name emblazoned down the side in gold. When he reached it, he didn't even glance back to acknowledge his fans. He simply raised his scepter to the sky.
The date was September 8, 1974, and Knievel was minutes from attempting his most dangerous stunt ever. No longer satisfied to jump a mere 100 feet over a row of cars or trucks, he wanted to fly an order of magnitude farther—more than 1,600 feet across the deep, sheer-walled Snake River Canyon near Twin Falls. The British journalist David Frost, who was covering the jump for ABC's Wide World of Sports, greeted Knievel at the base of the tower. "Are you afraid?" he asked. Knievel looked borderline catatonic, his eyes unfocused and his breath coming in gulps, but he replied with signature deadpan cool. "I think that a man was put here on Earth to live," he said, "not just to exist."