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.