Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Luckiest Man Alive

Great.  It's starting to rain.  Just pulled out of the driveway and can't stop to put the raingear on now.  Cold, wet, damp, raw to the bones, but the weatherman said it wasn't going to rain.  Fuck him.  No sooner hitting the road than it comes down harder.  Frigid water soaks through armored jeans and shrinks my testicles.  The Alpinestars leather jacket repels water better, but I will have to treat the damn thing when I get home to prevent damage.  Gloves also, because too lazy to carry my waterproof ones.  Oh well.

Another thankless Monday morning heading to workaday hell surrounded by imbeciles, told what to do by overpaid paper pushers devoid of common sense, knowing it will be at least five days of this shit before a brief reprieve.  Couldn't take the truck because it needs repairs I can't afford yet, and who wants to drive anyways?

The rain comes down harder, roads slick.  Watch the painted stripes on the crosswalks, those things are treacherous.  That's all I need to do is fall down, break a leg.  Not enough sick time to cover that and they certainly won't let me work in a cast.  Avoid Lakeside Ave. because they've got the pavement grooved and there is loose gravel and debris everywhere from construction is impossible to see now that it's dark as hell because of adjusting the clocks.  Is it just me or are these new green lights so blinding you can't see what's on the other side of them?  Hope nobody ran the red in the other direction.

Goddamnit, I knew that asshole was going to turn left in front of me, so much in a hurry to join the rat race on I-95.  How the fuck did he not see the twin headlights of the Bandit that I keep on high beam at all times?  Without fail at least one shithead tries to kill me daily, but it's usually more like three.  You get to where you can sense it.  Used to make me so angry I wanted to punch out their windows, now I just give them a one finger salute and get the hell gone.  Fuck them.

Water covers the face shield, so I have to raise it to see.  Icy darts stab my cheeks and retinas.  Keep blinking, squint.  Drop the face shield, no dice.  Raise it again, deal with the million tiny stabbings.

If it rains any harder the K&N gauze air filters will fill with water and try to drown the motor.  I squeeze my knees tighter to try and keep them dry.

Finally arrive at work, but the ridiculous automatic gate never works in the rain, so off to the other entrance, nearly get rear-ended by a Frito Lay truck.  At least I get in.  Oh look, the designated motorcycle spots are taken up by contractor trucks, have to park somewhere else and get a ticket.  Spectacular.  Damn near fall over with the bike when the boot slips on the slimy centerstand.  I tear something in my chest during a herculean effort to keep the 500 pound pig from smacking tar, but succeed.  It's only pain.  Fumble with the bike cover wondering if anything will be dry by the time I get to my desk.  Who cares?  It's only water and if people think I've wet myself maybe they won't talk to me.  Fuck them.

I plop down, a sodden spectacle, Adam's ale still dripping along my nose.  Peeling off the layers, I look for dry ones underneath and start my day knowing I am the luckiest man alive.

I ride motorcycles seven days a week.

Not me, but a semi-accurate portrayal.

Repeat Offender III

Things go well for the first and second lap.  I am doing my best to conserve energy while still maintaining a good pace.  Despite this, I can feel the fatigue starting to set in.  My right hand has developed a nasty tendency to fall asleep during these races, and it becomes necessary to remove it from the throttle to shake some blood back into my digits.  A closed throttle is not conducive to forward movement, so it's an extremely frustrating condition.  In anticipation for the cold, damp conditions, I actually used a pair of latex medical gloves underneath my riding gloves and it made all the difference, because no one can ride with cold fingers.

I pick off a few slower riders as things progress, but it's amazing just how spread out everyone gets over the 6.5 mile hare scrambles course.  The VCHSS has set up a great track here at River's Edge in Chatham, with something for everyone, open grass track with lots of switchback and hairpin turns, creek crossings, the motocross section, hillclimbs and some really tight singletrack stuff as well.  It's only my first event with them and I am already impressed at how well run everything seems.

Only one small get off for the entirety of the race leaves me fairly pleased with my performance.  The race ends and I finish in 7th place, not very far off the 5th and 6th place riders times.  I know what I need to do for next time.  April 3rd, return to Dillwyn.  Stay tuned!

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Repeat Offender Part II

180 riders lined up on the side of a grassy hill for the start of the 2016 Joe Lloyd Memorial morning race.  Waves were flagged off in 1 minute intervals from a dead engine start.  There are about twenty other riders in my class, we are sixth or seventh row.  Unbearable tension mounts through those seven minutes.  Reason tells me how much safer the start of this race is compared to road-racing, with no riders coming up from behind, but it doesn't quell the urge to puke.  Dirt bikes have not been a part of my life since adolescence, and even then I wasn't very good at it.

Being surrounded by modern off-road weapons and seasoned gladiators adorned with shiny new gear makes me a pauper who stumbled upon the king's feast.  Don't take it wrong, every person I have had the pleasure of interacting with at these events has been wonderful, but it's a dimension away from Sunday morning solo rides.  I remind myself this is all to prove a point, that a rider who is willing to train religiously, ride intelligently, and maintain their equipment, however subpar and antique it might seem, can do fairly well without going into bankruptcy.  I may be right, I may be wrong, I intend to have a hell of a lot of fun either way.

The flag drops and the bike lights first kick.  Six riders hit the first turn into the woods ahead of me.  It's a fairly aggressive start, with lots of jockeying for position.  My plan is to take it easy for the first lap and learn the course, then wick it up for the second.  The first tiny hill climb we come to, a rider in front screws it up and entirely blocks the path, forcing an unplanned cessation in forward momentum.  I cannot hold the bike on the hill and have to roll back, much to the chagrin of riders behind.  They start taking different routes.  My new line of attack from the middle of the hill fails.  There is nothing for it but to head back to the bottom and start over, with dozens of bikes hurtling upwards.  Fuck.  It's a crushing decision, knowing the precious time being lost, but there are no other options.

Making it up, still cursing luck, but determined to press on.  The initial terrain is single track with the three Rs: rocks, roots and ruts, but easier and less technical than two weeks earlier in Dillwyn.  Settling into a decent pace, I vow not to crash.  Soon we arrive at the motocross portion of my nightmares.  It was recommended at the rider's meeting anyone not comfortable with this section should just "roll" the jumps and stay safe.  Fuck that, I may not soar over these things, but there will be some altitude.  Bike and rider survive, but I nearly jar my teeth out on the rippled "whoops" at the exit, then back to the woods.  It's starting to get fun.


Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Repeat Offender

Two weeks after my first off-road race, I am at it once more.  This time it is a Virginia Championship Hare Scrambles Series (VCHSS) event in Chatham, VA.  And once again there is a motocross track involved, but at least this time I am able to watch the youngsters take a few laps on it to get my bearings.  It's amazing watching these kids huck themselves through the air and then go sliding through corners at a rapid rate of speed I will never have enough skill to duplicate.

Truth be told, I am scared.  I find this jumping stuff very intimidating.  Don't get me wrong, the sailing through the air is quite fun, but the landing part is another thing entirely.  Adding insult to possible injury is that most of the spectators gather at the motocross section.  Getting it wrong here means lots of witnesses, but I suppose the ambulance ride would be quicker from there than getting carried out of the woods.....

The amount of entries is higher this weekend, and I think the level of competition is deeper.  Or they just have better motorhomes and tow rigs, I don't know.  Much like the road-race paddock, I am out-classed and outspent on every level.  Just once I would like to not be the underdog, but then I suppose the blog would become quite boring, what with all the winning and shit.

Damn I make creek crossing look sexy!

Friday, March 18, 2016

Give Me Safety Or Give Me Death

"Be safe."

It's the catchphrase of a new millennium.  Once reserved for parents to preach to their children and spouses to coo at one another, it's now the kind of thing you can hear from anyone, any time. Case in point: a co-worker said it to me yesterday as I was leaving, motorcycle gear, helmet in hand.

Going on vacation?  Be safe.  Heading home?  Be safe.  Going to the refrigerator for a slice of cheese?  Be safe.

What does the phrase really mean?  Does it mean people think so little of you that they feel you might do something dumb and get yourself killed?  Do they think I am so naive as to be completely unaware of the risks as I step out my door?  Do they fear some random idiot might make a move that erases me from existence?  Or is it, as I suspect, a pat little apothegm that doesn't mean shit except to make us feel better about something we have no control over?

We sue for safety.  We march in the streets for it.  We demand our government enact laws to keep us safe from each other, and ourselves.  But when does it become ridiculous, or dangerous in and of itself?  At what point have we given up more than the false sense of security is worth?

I'm all about minimizing the risks I can and accepting the ones I can't, as a racer and five day a week motorcycle commuter, it's become an ingrained habit.  But that's the difference really, isn't it?  They are my risks to minimize and accept, or reject as I deem appropriate.  Mine.  My responsibility.  Not some government's, some committee, some band of concerned citizens.  

The world is a dangerous and scary place and you are never going to legislate enough, round enough sharp edges, or riddle with enough bullets to make it otherwise.  Get over it and get on with it.  And be safe about it!

What do you mean 'this doesn't look safe'?


Wednesday, March 16, 2016

The Race Begins And Ends (Part IV Trial By Fire)

I  find myself looking forward to the motocross section to take a rest from all the ruts and rocks.  Unfortunately my bars keep moving, so I am afraid to really huck myself off the jumps, instead keeping it low and gripping the tank with my wobbly knees.

The woods section is an absolute nightmare and I feel like I am being tossed about like a rag doll.  I'd swear the suspension is blown out at both ends and the frame cracked in half, the way the bike is handling.  I'm going fast where I should be going slow, and slowing down to catch my breath where I should be hauling ass.  Funny thing is, I am still picking off riders in front of me.  Most of them move over at the revving of my engine, but a few do not.  The unwritten rule is that a slower rider out in front moves over to let a faster rider by, since we are racing against the clock and not necessarily the guy in front of you.  The overtaking rider will generally let you know he's there by revving the engine or yelling (I was surprised, but you can actually hear them quite well despite all the noise).  I've been using my left hand to signal riders by to avoid problems.  I've gotten several waves and a few 'Thank You's'.  I'm amazed at how the AA class riders seem to just float over the course as they sail past, while every jolt and bump weakens my arthritic body.

About halfway through the woods I hear another rider behind me.  A glimpse of orange and I know he's on a KTM.  I pull over to let him go by, but he does not pass.  I try again and he still does not pass, so I continue on, just trying to stay upright.  Finally I stall the bike on a particularly rutted section and the KTM rider is forced to go by or hit me.  He passes and I catch the "S" at the end of his numbers.  He's in my class.  This will not do.

The chase is on, the scent is in the air and blood on the ground.  It's obvious how exhausted he is by his body language, making as many mistakes as I am and it's just a matter of time before I pass him mired in a desperately rutted and muddy section.  I have no idea what place we are in, but the only thing that matters is as long as I am ahead of him, I will not be finishing fucking last, which is good enough for me!

He's right on my ass again, the break in the woods that will dump us back out onto the grass track appears.  If I don't get some time on him, his 450 will eat my ancient little KDX up on the straightaways.  My mind tells me to wick it up now, but my body is late to respond.  I miss a corner and end up on a really crappy line that leads me over a slippery rock outcropping.  The KTM rider takes the easier line and makes a pass on me.  I leave the course in an attempt to keep up, hitting a virgin section of ground that proves to be even more slippery than the worn path, and promptly go down like a ton of bricks onto a ton of bricks.  Up as fast as my quivering jelly muscles can move, but it's too little too late as the KTM hits the grass, hits the gas and disappears like a dream in the sun.  Nothing to do now but finish.  And finish I do.

In seventh place.

Out of 30 riders in class.

The only guy riding a bike that was built in the last century.  In my first off road race. Yeah, it's not a win, still, I can't help but be a little proud.

Post race nose-picking?

Trying to appear fresh as a daisy while my body seizes.


Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Into The Woods (Part III of Trial By Fire)

I relax a bit as we head into the woods.  The marked single track course feels like the riding I do every weekend, except with people behind you trying to get by and people in front slowing you down.  Racing brain has taken over and I am looking for a way around every rider ahead of me and trying to go fast, even though I have no idea which way the course goes.  Typical rookie mistake.

A group of us reach the first hill climb to find a bottleneck of about 10 riders stuck on the hill.  It doesn't look particularly difficult, so I am wondering what the holdup is.  After about five seconds, riders in front of me start taking creative lines to avoid the crowd, so I figure what the hell.

Quite impressed with my first hill climb, I approach a creek crossing with a rickety bridge covered in chicken wire.  Two riders in front of me slide off the bridge into the creek, so I make it a point to slow way down and get across.  And then promptly crashed in the mud on the other side of the bridge.  At least it wasn't in the creek.

I would have been embarrassed except that I am seeing so much piss poor riding and bad technique I feel right at home.  I'm making a million mistakes, holding the bars too tightly and generally tiring myself out.  I've got massive arm pump less than half-way through the first lap.  I know the key is to relax and slow down, but I'm in sprint mode.  Roadracing gives us very little time to get a job done, so you have to go balls to the wall for those twenty minutes.  I've got at least eighty-five minutes left here, my body will never make it like this.

The woods section ends, dumping us out onto the grass track section, wide open but bumpy, it's deceiving, because underneath that grippy grass is slimy mud, so you have to be careful.  I am wrung out in 5th gear with one gear left, but I don't dare use it.  I've found the limit of the KDX suspension, the rear is hopping all around, any faster and I can tell the ends of the motorcycle will be swapping positions.  I would prefer not to crash in front of all the spectators lining the side of the course.  Better to do it in the woods where there is no one to laugh at you!

The second lap is much better.  I handle the motocross track with a basic competence and have a better idea of what to expect in the woods.  There are some fairly technical hill climbs, which while difficult, prove to be fun as well.  It's satisfying as a 42 year old man on a 27 year old bike to pass younger bucks on shiny, brand new machines who are stuck in the middle of a hill, digging trenches and wasting the piss and vinegar of their youth.  Of course, for every brilliant move I make out there, I make at least three mistakes.  By the end of the day I will have fallen off ten times.

Third lap I finally think I have the hang of things, but the course is deteriorating rapidly, especially in the woods.  The ruts are getting over 18" deep, and in some places the trees are so tightly packed you have no option but to ride in them.  The 60 horsepower 450s ridden by gas happy douchebags who don't understand the meaning of "throttle control" have trenched damn near the entire woods section, exposing roots and rocks that prove treacherous to feet, rims and the continued forward motion of motorcycles.  Creek crossings have turned into nearly impassable morasses, and hill climbs have been dug down to slippery rock.  I am tiring out, but the course is demanding more.  I make it to scoring at the end of the third lap to see the white flag.  One more lap.  I can make it.

Five minutes later, I don't know if I can make it.  I'm on about my fourth wind and fading fast.  I spent too much energy too early on, now it's just survival.  There is little comfort in the fact that every other rider I see is just as exhausted, some of them can barely keep their bikes upright, many don't and I pass anyone I can.

Warming up

Blisters suck

Monday, March 14, 2016

Daylight Savings Hell

Forgot to change the tinted shield on my helmet when we set the clocks ahead.

Welcome to my morning commute:

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Trial By Fire Part II

I found myself at the Actiontown MX park in Dillwyn, VA for the VXCS cross country race I had been talked into by friends.  The week prior was spent prepping the machine, greasing and replacing bearings, new sprockets, new rear tire and giving it a good going over for small things that could turn into big problems in the woods.  One thing holds true for all forms of racing: most failures can be prevented in the garage.

What might not be preventable, and what was now most on my mind, was possibly breaking my aging body into a million pieces coming down off the first jump.  It had been twenty years since I flew very high on a motorcycle and it's not like I was very good at it.  Walking the track prior would have been great, but the group I travelled with was running behind, (go figure), leaving just enough time to register.  And then sit on the starting line for nearly an hour.

That's another truism of racing, apparently.  The waiting.  Sunday proved no different as we sat on the starting line, bodies and bikes growing colder by the minute in the 40 degree temps.  The two-stroke riders kept restarting just to keep some heat in their expansion chambers.  I knew if the KDX cooled off too much it would run muddy for the first minute, so keeping it hot was the only choice.

Finally they began waving the rows off in sixty second intervals.  The faster A and B riders were off first.  The start was dead engine, meaning he who got it lit first was usually first in Turn 1.  I was at a disadvantage due to being kick-start only, but I also knew this was a two hour race, there was no way to win it with the holeshot.  In fact, my plan was to dawdle on the start and let the quick starters lead the way.  I didn't want to get caught up in some first corner pile-up of thirty dummies from my class all diving for the lead.  So I took it easy.

Not easy enough, because I was about sixth into the first turn, with riders surrounding me, fore, aft, starboard and port .  I expected to be bumped and battered around, but was very impressed that no one made any contact.  These guys were riding with a lot of smarts and respect and as we all clear the first corner, I am already enjoying myself.

That is, until the first jump.  I am following another rider in my class as we approach what any motocross rider would call a small, easy, dare I say '"pussy" jump, but to me it looks like I am about to be hurled into the stratosphere like a doomed space shuttle.  I think I actually said a little prayer as I launched in third gear, off the edge of the world.  The one thing my brain keeps telling me is to spot my landing and be ready for it.  I can see that I am going to come up a little bit short on this tiny double, so I won't get a gentle landing using the downslope on the other side, but the top of the landing is rounded off enough that I won't "case" it and shatter my brittle bones.  The landing is a bit hard, but not terrible.  The shitty part is that my handlebars move forward from the impact and now I can't operate the brake or clutch levers without a huge reach.  The whole bike now feels weird, and there are more jumps coming up.  I can't trust whether the bars will move again, so I have to grip the tank on the landings with my knees and keep my grip loose on the bars.  It's not graceful, but I survive the entire first go round on the motocross track, saying a silent thank you to whomever designed it in such a forgiving way.

As we hit the woods I come to the first bottleneck of about fifteen riders and take the opportunity to pound my bars back into place with my fists, possibly refracturing my fifth metacarpal on the right hand (old snowmobile injury).  I keep reminding myself to calm down.  We've got almost two hours to go.  Make time by not losing time.  Don't fall. 

That doesn't last long.

The second half of the starting grid.  I'm in there somewhere, wondering when the hell things are going to get going.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Trial By Fire Part I

They told me Sunday's VXCS Cross Country race started on a motocross track.  They didn't tell me that we would be running the whole thing, once per lap.

At the age of 42, never having competed on a real motocross track, there really was no desire to do so.  Air is not something I am used to catching as a roadracer, unless I really fuck up.  Sure there were small jumps riding in the woods, four foot drops into creek beds and the like, but nothing that would have me eight, ten, twelve feet in the air wondering which might be the best way to land.

But here I was last Sunday, lining up with 150 other morons, getting ready to take a hot lap under combat conditions on a motocross track I had not seen until 30 minutes prior, had never ridden and really had no clue as to which way it even went.  On a motorcycle manufactured in the late 1980's!  How did I get myself into these things?

Come race off road with us they said!  You'll be good at it they said!  I cannot resist a challenge, and I have to admit to feeling just a little bit of confidence in my off-road riding prowess as of late.  I knew from my pavement experience that the true test, the only way to really know how good you are is to man up, gear up and put your ass on the line.  The starting line.

Gearing up man and machine.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Training Day

Might as well have called it "Ass-Whooping Day".  Spent a lot of time on the ground.  3" of snow that melted by noon made everything very slippery and of course the first place I headed to was the rocky/mud/roots section for a nice warm up of getting thrown down.

The next three hours were only marginally better.  My rhythm was off and sections that never posed a problem were proving daunting.  Let's chalk it up to the conditions and a worn rear tire, but deep down we know it's the rider.

Saturday is an off day, off the bike, but not work.  Ostensibly to save energy for Sunday, which will be my first off-road race.  Ever.  The pavement junky is going to try his hand in the dirt.  Pray for me, after yesterday, I'm gonna need it.

This is not happiness.

The Wall of Shame.  Note the green fender. That is my offering.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

No New Tale To Tell

(Thank you to Love and Rockets for a great song and the title of today's blog, it's the best written part of it.)

I got nothing.  Here's a picture.

A long time ago in a country sort of far away, I raced a 1971 Suzuki Titan 500.  Here I am at a VRRA event chasing Toivo Madrus and one of the Hurst brothers (Chris or Peter, not sure which).

Wednesday, March 2, 2016


A large part of the reason I started road racing was because I lacked the restraint to act like a civilized human being on the street.  Not in the wheelies in rush hour traffic on the interstate way, but in more of a tearing around on backroads hell bent for leather way.  Either one is stupid and reckless, so thankfully racing and off-road riding mostly sate my need to act a fool.  Most of my street riding now is just commuting to and from work.  Shouldn't be able to get into too much trouble, right?

The problem is, there are certain motorcycles that just beg you to be a hooligan, with mischief and wickedness a part of their make-up as surely as gears and alloys.  These are the motorcycles we remember, the ones that beg us to be bad.  I own a classic example of one of these anti-social machines: a 1982 RD350LC.

Never officially imported to the US, I found this one languishing in a garage in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada in 2007, in need of a motor rebuild and purchased it for the princely sum of $375 Canadian dollars.  We have had a rocky, tumultuous, passionate affair.  Immediately the LC began costing me more money than planned when it was discovered not only did it need a top end rebuild, but the crank was damaged as well.  And it didn't stop there.  Two hair raising seizures later, that both ended in 90 mph plus skids when the back wheel locked up, I discovered one of the cylinders had an internal coolant leak.  I threw good money after bad at this machine, ended up with at least five times its resale value tied up in parts.  This evil princess wanted to take me for everything I had.

I would probably let her, too, because the sweet two-stroke music it makes on the pipe, that feeling in the first three gears as it lofts the front wheel makes all the bad stuff go away.  It's almost impossible to resist doing a wheelie at every stop light, the rearward weight bias and light weight almost ensure it.  This bike makes me want to ride like a jackass, while struggling to be a mature adult....


Tuesday, March 1, 2016

The Hum

Moment.  From the Latin word momentum, meaning not only short time, but moving power.

There are these moments after a long session on the dirt bike, when everyone else has packed up and gone, things are quiet and the day is ending.  The constant barrage of "braap, braap", silenced, the jostling, up down, elbows and knees bending in time to the bumps and whoops, over.  Gear is coming off, piece by piece, the perspiration evaporating and Monday coming quick but not yet.  And your whole body just hums.

I don't know how else to describe it.  An electric hum, low level vibration barely detectable running throughout.  Partially, maybe the onset of exhaustion, or shock at the pounding you just inflicted on yourself, but there's more to it than that, like the calm after the storm and before the next one.  A brief interlude prior to thoughts rushing back in a filthy deluge.  A peace.

I like to sit on the tailgate and soak it in, until the hum begins to subside.  Moving power indeed.

The end of the day, with nothing left but memories and mud.  And the Hum