Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Shootout At Oak Ridge

Up into second place, behind the man quickly becoming my arch-nemesis, Juan.  Exactly where I want to be.  Let him lead and set the pace.  With three laps around a ten mile course that will take nearly two hours, plenty of opportunities can arise for those close enough to capitalize.  What we tend to forget about racing is that it is not about going as fast as you possibly can, it's only about going fast enough to stay ahead of second place.  I have no intention of leading the race this early and doing all the work.

Where the hell is Juan?

He settles into a decent pace, I keep a little pressure on, just so he doesn't forget me.  Halfway into the first lap he loses the front in a dusty, slick downhill corner, had he not done it there first, I am sure I would have.  This forces me into the lead, deciding to pour it on and try to get some space between us.  This works great until catching a herd of riders in a tight section, nowhere to pass.  Without fail, Juan is behind me.  Guy in front of me stops fast for seemingly no reason and I ram him, falling over.  Juan passes.  My only goal is to not let him get away, hand on the clutch, the downed KDX is still running.  I yank it up and give chase.

Juan and I trade mistakes and a fall or two for the next 2.5 laps.  The course is fast, the clay has turned into a fine dust that fills the air and lungs.  Lips are stuck together, mouth caked with red, hydration tube flailing wildly over my left shoulder, unreachable.  Mental note: get a hands free unit before the next race.  At least this time the tear-offs mounted on proper side and folded over the right way.

Coming out of the woods leads to an off-camber field pounded down harder than concrete.  Clouds of dust reduce visibility to almost nothing.  I stand to get a better view.  We are running fourth and fifth gear wide open, but it's rough going, despite the smooth appearance.  I've got the throttle to the stops, front end dancing around.  The dust has many of us overshooting corners and having to loop back around.  We have been warned of the penalties for riding off course.

End of the second lap I come through scoring 1.5 seconds behind Juan, but somehow now in third place, somebody got by us.  No matter.  My carrot is still in front and the battle begins.  Second place sounds a lot better than third.  Cursing, I make mistake after mistake, riding so piss poorly, forgetting everything I've practiced and learned.  I know I'm better than this, but fatigue is setting in.  After a stern self talking to and forcing myself to breathe, things improve.  A line opens up on the right while Juan goes left.  I take my chance and pin the thing, wide open in third gear.  My left forearm glances off a tree, sending my already pumped arm into spasms.  Forget the pain, need to get some riders between me and Juan.  Now shouting and hooting for the riders in front to move over (this is protocol when a faster rider from another class wants to get by), but none of the J class riders oblige.  This forces some aggressive passes, nothing overly risky, just not the way I usually ride, banging bars and jamming a front wheel in where I can.  Does no good.  A rider in front falls, halting progress.  Juan makes his way past.  I'm pissed, swearing inside my helmet.  Between the trees, find a way around this group.  Juan is there.  We hit the grass track section, stay with him.  WFO throttle, the bike stumbles, bogs and quits.  I roll for a few seconds.  The bike restarts.  WFO again, bike bogs and dies.  Drop the clutch, bike fires, easy on the gas, bike continues running.  I am in big trouble.  At this point the only desire is to not DNF.  That would be too embarrassing, too much.  While I have the oldest machine at the track, I pride myself on it being well-prepped and reliable.  This is a kick right in the balls.

"Just let the bike finish, I don't care if the motor's fucked", I pray to any deity that might be paying attention.  Someone is listening.  The KDX finishes the race in third place on a clearly knackered engine.  22 seconds behind Juan and about 1 minute 20 seconds behind the class winner.  Not what I wanted, but it's better than pushing it across the line.

Notice the vine that wrapped itself around my boot, then wheel, trailing behind.    

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