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.|