Monday, May 23, 2016

Six Thousand Harleywords

Which side do I shift on again?

Yup, I really need to pee.

Not anymore.

Your green is different than my green.  But it's still better than that goddamn orange!

Your forks might be longer, but I have a headlight!

Random KDX rider whose bike and gear were WAY too clean!

Saturday, May 21, 2016

When Your Best Isn't Good Enough

As children we are taught that if we dream it, we can do it.  Give it your all, do your best, and you will succeed.

Racing teaches us that this, at least a good portion of the time, is absolutely not true.  There will be many days where your best simply will not cut it.  The reasons and excuses are myriad, but to race is to learn to fail.  Sometimes spectacularly.  Sometimes painfully.  It is not an easy or comfortable way to live, but for those who would seek the victor's laurels, it is the only way.

Many years ago an old racer told me not to be in a hurry to get my first win.  When I pressed him on his statement he replied, "Because once you win, nothing else will do.".  He was right.  As soon as all the work pays off with the highest reward, that is the only goal.  Not a "good showing" or "respectable" finish or new personal best, these become like a slap in the face.  It is the win that matters, and you begin to ask yourself exactly what you are willing to do to get it.

How much am I willing to risk, to spend, to practice, to push myself?  How much sleep am I willing to lose going over and over what needs to be done?

These are the questions that force us to know ourselves intimately, because the game of racing is largely a mental one.  Elaborate plans and preparations have to be made well in advance, and then chucked out the window the millisecond it becomes obvious they will not work.

Believe with the unwavering faith of a fanatical adherent that you will be the best on any given race day or you are beaten before the thing even starts.  Go fast enough to leave doubt behind.

And when, as she is often wont to do, our cruel mistress decides to dole out the bitter, slow acting poison of defeat rather than the sweet nectar of victory, what are we to do?  We can quit.  Or find out what we are really made of.

Hold on guys, I think I have to pee!

Friday, May 20, 2016

Part III: Bridesmaid of Harleywood

By the time I extricate myself from the octopus of men and motorcycles on top of me, my competitor is long gone, and so is most of my energy.

The course proves a challenging one, with slippery off camber rock strewn hill sections just begging to smash men and their silly dreams, tight, tight, rutted single-track with trees so close the bars will not go between without slamming the steering from lock to lock, there is a 200 foot uphill run through a creek of slimy rock ledges and jutting razors, with water pouring and splashing, threatening to wash the unwary down to the sea, an overgrown motocross track with ruts and berms lying in wait under the long grass, poised to knock you on your ass, fast, curvy fire road sections of slick red clay that seem to end just as you get up to speed.  In short, the kind of track that I would normally love, were it not for my current state of bruised exhaustion.

I am mostly solo for the first lap.  The display at scoring has me in second place, but I don't stop to see just how far behind.  Juan is out there, and I don't believe he is fast enough to have pulled out a complete disappearing act, he can be caught.

The second lap is much like the first, except I am more tired and the course is more torn up, more slippery and the ruts are getting deeper.  Despite a few stupid falls, I set my own pace and never get passed, long bits of time stretch out where I don't see anyone.  It's a weird feeling, racing, but being completely by yourself.  It can mess with your head.  Lap two ends, still in second.  I'm getting frustrated.  Where the hell is Juan?

3/4 of the way through the third and final lap my question is answered.  I've found him, halfway up a hill, hung up on a root uncovered by the ditch digging 450 powerhouses.  He frees himself just in time to remain in front of me.  I know he recognizes me, because his eyes get wide inside his goggles.  We've battled so much already this year, he is well trained to run from anything green.  And run he does.

His KTM two-stroke hits the pipe and viciously hurls the ground in my direction.  I pull my first tear-off of the day.  We hit a muddy, steep climb with nasty rocks poking out, he gives me more slimy, sticky presents.  Tear-off #2.  By the time we reach the peak, I'm already down to my last tear-off.  The son-of-a-bitch is trying to ride as fast as he can, but he keeps bobbling and nearly falling off.  I take the opposite approach, slowing down in order not to crash.  The two different styles yield the same net result, a pace that is nearly identical.  But the odds are in my favor.  He is going to fall.

He does it at the worst section, however.  The tightest single track with saplings and small trees meaning there is only one line.  His front wheel is blocking the course, I cannot back up or go forward.  Or can I?  I figure spokes will give me good traction.  Fuck it, I'm going over his bike.  I get my front wheel on top of his just as he starts to lift the bike off the ground.  He is determined not to let me go and shoves the whole mess sideways in a Herculean feat of strength.  I fall into a tree with my right shoulder and stall.  This gives our villain just enough time to remount and maintain the lead.  Now I am pissed.

The trail splits into two paths that converge 50 feet later.  He takes one and I choose the one less traveled.  It's a heads up drag race and neither of us is willing to give.  We sideswipe one another with a loud smack.  This is turning into redneck wreckfest a la NASCAR out here.  I'm not used to this.  In roadracing there is very little, if any contact.  Juan and I are bashing bars, elbowing each other in the bare knuckle brawl to the finish.  My mind is formulating a plan.  The last section before the finish consists of several motocross jumps.  Juan is not a motocrosser.  Neither am I, but I am willing to do my best impression.  My plan is to take him mid-air on the biggest jump, which I assume from experience he will either roll or keep a very low altitude.

I'm right on his ass, in fact backing off the throttle on the first few jumps to avoid hitting him.  This is not a wide track and I am just exhausted enough that I don't know if I could have jammed my way past without taking us both out.  The final jump will decide it.

To my amazement, Juan never backs off the throttle, he hits the take-off full speed and so do I.  The result is what I imagine is a spectacular double jump with both of us 30 feet in the air, covering the length of half a football field.  The truth is we weren't more than six or seven feet off the ground.  The other truth is that I cannot make my way around him.  We hit the no passing zone and I know it's over.  The computer records me as finishing one second behind the leader, what it did not record is the battle it took to get there and claim my runner up position.

I hate losing.

You know it's a rough day when you come home with tire marks on top of your fender.

More rubber on the number panel

OK folks, just so you understand, the "P" is not for pretty.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Part II: Head Over Heels In Harleywood

The pre-ride of the Harleywood course goes fairly well.  We only get to run 1/2 of the eight mile track, and somehow I have a feeling the toughest stuff will remain hidden until Sunday.  The course is a little muddy, but nothing like Blue Ridge two weeks ago.  My practice ends on a slightly sour note with a pinch flat on the rear, but the plan was to change the tube with the rear tire anyways.  I cut the course and make my way out of the woods.  Slowly.

Temps hover about 38 degrees overnight with a stiff breeze.  The generator powers an electric heater until the gas runs out, then I pull my head under the covers and wait for morning.

These cold mornings always make it difficult in deciding what to wear under the armor.  Long-sleeve thermal compression or short-sleeve compression shirt?  Better to be a little bit warm than cold, especially when it comes to arthritic shoulders and much abused back.  Thermal it is.

The race starts in an uphill grassy field.  Bike lights first kick, but the e-start guys are still quicker.  3rd into turn 1.  The field ends and it's into the woods.  Second place.  Then first.  Here we go.  My arch-nemesis Juan is right behind me.  As in he can count the loose rivets on my silencer behind me.

Ten minutes in we start catching slower riders from earlier waves, in the worst possible sections.  I come upon a rider from the 30+ class stuck on a mound of dirt in a tight single track spot with closely placed 2-3 inch diameter trees.  Small enough to bend, big enough to yank you off the bike as they rebound.  Impatient, I make my own way.  And pay the price.  The front wheel drops off the mound, directly into a deep hole hidden from the other side.  Suddenly and violently up becomes down and down up, landing in the hole, with my bike directly on top of my legs.  The shoulder takes a hell of a blow, but at least the AC joint holds, as does the collarbone.  Silently thanking my orthopedic surgeon for the good work a few years ago, I try to wriggle free.

Juan shouts, asking if I am OK.  I tell him to go by, he says he can't, there is no room.  That doesn't stop the next chucklehead in our class from trying it, ending up in the same hole and flipping his bike on top of me.  There is now a KDX200 on my legs and a KX250 crushing my upper body.  Flailing and cursing in the futile attempt to untangle myself from this Green Meanie mayhem, I catch a glimpse of Juan finding an alternate path.  Into the lead.

This is not starting out well.

Not sure what's up with my funky body language or the one foot off the pegs? 

Hey guys, wait up!

That's more like it.

Do these numbers make my ass look fat?

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Heaven is Harleywood

I am not a patient man.  Five and a half hours of dealing with Friday afternoon traffic on I-64 and I-81 have made me even less so, but as I ascend the hill at Harleywood Farms just outside of Bristol, VA, (stopping only briefly for a rather skinny cow that crosses my path), my mood improves.

Round 5 of the Virginia Championship Hare Scrambles Series is this weekend.  It promises to be a good one, because there is a 4 mile "pre-ride" of the 8 mile course on Saturday, for the nominal cost of $10.  Who wouldn't want a chance to learn half the course before racing it?

I mounted a new front tire Thursday night and plan to mount a new rear after the pre-ride.  Changing tires is one of my least favorite tasks, ranking right up there with trying to get the KIPS valves lined up properly on an E-model without chucking the cylinder across the garage, (did I mention I was not a patient man?), but there is nothing like a new set of knobbies.  I opt for the IRC Volcanduro Intermediate Terrains because they are not terribly expensive, work well in almost every condition and have a decent lifespan.  Sure it would be nice to have extra wheels with tires mounted for any terrain, but who are we trying to kid here?  I've just spent the last week fixing my boots and gear with Shoe-Goo and safety wire.  Forget shoestring, this race budget is dental floss.

But it's worth it.  Just to be here.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Out of the Mud, Into History

The few moments of elation passing through scoring are soon replaced by the daunting reality that, although I have survived the first lap, there is at least one more to go.  Conditions are deteriorating rapidly, the marked trail is nearly impassable.  Stuck and exhausted riders litter the trail, a damp feeling of dejection fills the air.  The splattered faces of casualties are twisted in scowls of grotesque pain and hopelessness.  I cannot stop to comfort them, I must press on.

The grim fact remains that to crash into the sludge now might end this.  I simply do not know if I would have the energy to pick the bike up again.  I've only been down three times, but it took most of what I had to get going again.  The chill of morning is gone and now we sweat, some guys are wearing full vinyl rain suits, but I knew better.

Despite the exhaustion, it is absolutely crucial to focus and pick the right lines.  A foot deep rut runs for what seems the entire course.  It is draining to ride in it, and harder to try to ride beside it.  The radiators, expansion chamber and entire motor are completely packed with mud.  I have faith in Kawasaki Heavy Industries finest, but all mechanical things have their limits.  The tone of the motor is off and I fear a cooked KDX.  It is a constant wrestling match to keep the thing on two wheels and moving forward.  My hope begins to waver, and for a second I think about quitting.

I come upon a young lady half-way up an off-camber hill, blocking the only possible line.  She is stuck on a tree root, which is now smoking because she has spun the rear tire so much.  Looking back with tears in her eyes, I can't help but feel a little pity, but to assist her now would mean my bike sliding back down the hill and the end of my race.  Since it is only her spirit that is wounded, I choose the less chivalrous path, trying to help with verbal instruction, none of which works.  The KDX hisses in its impatience and steams a little.  I need to move.  Now.

I begin to go around, on my left is a valley that would probably require a helicopter to pull me out of.  Moving so slowly, making my way, the rear spins and starts to slide towards the valley of death.  Letting go of the bars, I hug a small tree for everything I am worth.  Using the tree to pull me and the motorcycle back up onto the path, spending the last ounce of energy.  The bike will have to do the work from here. Motor and heart lugging, dreading the next challenge.

It arrives soon after.  The final hill before scoring.  The marked course is unusable.  There are nearly fifty immobile riders dotting the hillside and stuck in the marsh at the bottom.  An eerie and nauseous feeling that whatever decision I make here will decide the outcome of my race rises from a pit in my stomach.  There will only be one shot at this, no do-overs, no retakes.  Have to get it right.

To many people it's just a stupid race on a stupid motorcycle with a bunch of stupid idiots too dumb to come out of the rain, so how do I explain that in those final minutes ascending that goddamn hill became the only thing in my life?  There was literally nothing else.  No before, no after, no work on Monday or boss to answer to.  There was just me.  And a big friggin' hill in my way that had taken out better riders on better equipment.

I ride around for about 5 minutes looking for a viable route, ending up on top of a ridge across from the hill.  Every possible path has me riding down the valley into a marshy quagmire and then trying to climb this mini Everest.  Time is running out.  I choose a simple, straight line and gain as much velocity as I dare, knowing I will either make it across the marsh or go over the handlebars trying.

The front wheel dives into the soft muck and dirty water splashes my face, but the bike makes it through and we begin the climb, slipping clutch, ass back on the seat, bouncing for traction.  Rocks, roots send me careening this way and that, legs flailing.  Halfway, 3/4, nearly to the top, a rider being assisted by a bystander.  I scream for them to move.  I can't stop.  Catching the rider's bars nearly sends me sliding, but I manage to save it.  I'm up.  There are dozens of spectators in mudboots and ponchos cheering.  I pull into the checkpoint and the official tells me what I want to hear.  "We're done."

I've just won my first hare scrambles.  On a 1989 KDX200.

Did the engineers have this in mind when they designed a simple 2 stroke playbike?

There is an expansion chamber there somewhere.

Rotor slots filled.

How can you not love a machine that can handle this kind of abuse?

Remind me how this is fun?

What it's all for.  $3 worth of plastic.


Friday, May 6, 2016

Marauders of the Muck

I like to consider myself a fairly decent rider in the mud (even though I secretly don't like it).  After all, the place where we train is called "MudMart".  No training could have prepared us for the morass we were now encountering.  The ground, apparently up to twelve inches down, is the consistency of Jello topped with baby shit, only more slippery.

I may be in fourth or fortieth position, none of it really matters, because there is so much gook in my eyes I can't even find the damn course.  I follow the sound of the bikes, sliding and paddling like a baby giraffe on ice.  My stand up riding style is simply not going to work in these "conditions".  I plunk my ass down on the seat and wonder how long it will take them to discover my remains.  Fifteen minutes into the race I realize three things:

  1. Going fast is out the window
  2. Survival is now the only thing that matters
  3. I want my mommy 
I am also in second place.  The winner of the last round takes a header into a creek.  I check to make sure he isn't drowning and continue on.  I can barely keep the rider in front of me on the KTM in sight, he just seems to have a better handle on this greasy hell than I do.  Or does he?  Soon he falls down and I pass.  He catches me, I find a wonderfully placed neutral when shifting and forward momentum stops, but gravity does not.  Faceplant directly to the muck.  I remount and skate my way after.  He comes upon a stuck rider, can't stop, rear ends him and falls over.  I putter on by.

These are the Blue Ridge Mountains and the course winds its way up and down, with lots of off-camber mid-hill turns and such.  Normally this would make for an excellent ride, but now nothing more than pure misery.  The track is littered with stuck riders, some slumped over their steaming machines, spent after only thirty minutes, mired in the middle of hill-climbs, stuck in swamps at the bottom of valleys.  The final hill before timing and scoring is a disaster.  It's a big one and the first few bikes through have already torn it to bits.  Picking a fresh line, I slip the clutch and bounce my ass up and down on the seat to find the traction needed to surmount this thing.  I make it and pass under the scoring machine.  I'm in first place.  For how long?

Pretty country, until you are buried to your armpits in mud with an overheating motorcycle and 30 other dipshits trying to get by.  

Thursday, May 5, 2016

After The Flood

3.5 hour drive to Martinsville, VA for Round 4 of the Virginia Championship Hare Scrambles Series.  Currently 2nd in points in 40+C.  Had to do a quick rebuild and bottom end swap to get the bike back together.  I've got about 9 hours ride time on the motor and everything seems to be holding up well.

The rain starts as soon as I unload the bike.  It does not stop for the next 16 hours.  I toss and turn listening to the drumming on the van roof.  I know it is going to be a mess out there in the woods tomorrow.  I have a very good feeling about this race, but I also have very bad ones.

We are delayed on Sunday as they pull riders out of the mud from the race before ours.  Still raining.  The 150+ riders are standing ankle deep in red muck waiting for this thing to happen.  There is talk of "goggles" or "no goggles" up and down the rows.  Rain has already gotten between my tear-offs and I know what my decision is.  I pull them up just below my visor, knowing that is probably where they will stay for the duration.  Riders seem nervous and jumpy, moving around a lot, stretching, jogging in place, jumping jacks.  If they knew what hell awaited, they would be saving their energy.

Finally we get the go ahead.  Mud flies and for a second I wish I had goggles on.  One of my contact lenses slides to the corner of my eye never to be seen from again.  This is not starting out so well.  I blink to clear the mud from my one good eye and set off after the machines throwing handfuls of sopping wet earth in my direction, knowing this is going to be a tough day.

Storm clouds gather around the encampment.

Before 12 hours of constant rain.

A fun hill today, tomorrow, an impassable climb.


Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Scramble Before Blue Ridge

Parts arrive one after the other.  Piston and rings, gaskets, seals and other various sundry.  Every day is like Christmas on my doorstep, but these aren't the type of items you like to buy, they are the kind you have to.  If you want to run.  If you want to race.

Every night for the next week is a late night.  I'm amazed at just how testy I get after 8 hours at workaday hell followed by another 4 in the garage, with some sort of dinner wolfed down in between.  Now there is not only normal race prep and maintenance, there is bottom end swapping, clutch swapping, top end re-building and a lot of finger crossing that the transmission and crank seals are good in the spare bottom end.  There is no time for sending a crank out now.

Finally things start coming back together.

Might was well check the compression.

I'll take it.

Looking more like a motorcycle and less like a collection of broken shit.