Thursday, June 23, 2016

Days of Future Gassed

It's funny how life nudges us into changes.  As a hardcore roadrace competitor I naturally assumed it was where I would stay, that is, until I was "nudged" into buying a dirt bike to kill time on during the winter and a whole new world opened up for me.  Within 18 months of buying that KDX200 I was competing in off-road hare scrambles and now have numerous top 5 finishes including one win in my first season off-road.

The last few years I have tried to pay more attention to those little nudges, and for the most part they have paid off.  Before I knew it, both road race bikes were sold, my focus now entirely on the dirt.  I don't make changes like this lightly, and it was hard to see my championship winning racers head off to new homes, but at some point it is possible to own too many motorcycles.  My limit seems to be about six, any more than that they don't get used and it becomes tedious trying to maintain them all.

So imagine my surprise when another small push occurred while I was purchasing a KDX parts bike.  The owner happened to mention he had another dirt bike for sale, which was in his basement, and would I like to see it?  Of course I would.

The machine was a Spanish 2004 Gas Gas Enduro Cross (EC) 300.  300cc, Two stroke, liquid cooled, six speed, carbureted single cylinder, Ohlins rear shock, Marzocchi USD forks.  Well known in trials circles, Gas Gas has been making a name for itself the last fifteen years or so building enduro bikes as well.  

This particular Spanish princess is in decent nick, the usual scuffs and scrapes one would expect from a 13 year old dirt bike, but nothing terrible.  I like my belles with scars and stories to tell...  The owner's asking price is nearly within a poor working schmuck's grasp such as mine at $1,500.  No I didn't have it in the bank right then, but I thought I knew how to get my hands on it, using mostly legal means.  I tossed and turned for nearly a week, visions of that Iberian enchantress in my head.  I researched the bike thoroughly, knew of its strengths and weaknesses, read every internet post regarding it.  I had to have her.  I sold everything I could get my hands on, including my soul, which wasn't worth much to begin with.

When I arrived with cash in hand, there would be no negotiating.  The owner felt he had undervalued the machine at his asking price.  I tried every tactic I could, but he refused to budge even $50.  In the end I paid him full freight such was the allure of the gal from Girona.  Would she be worth it?  Only time will tell....

From this....

To this....

To this.....two wheels certainly keep life interesting.


Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Grinding It Out At The Grove (Spring Grove Recap)

10:45 AM, Sunday, June 12, 2016

Spring Grove, VA

Round 7 Virginia Championship Hare Scrambles Series (VCHSS)

It's freakin' hot.  I've been trying to stay up on hydration all week.  Minutes before the race I am cramming down watermelon and drinking even more, knowing I will have to piss on the starting line.  The heat is my big concern today.  Two hours banging off of trees in full riot gear with 150 other morons in this tropical sewer might prove the death of me.

My goal is no crashes for this race.  I an effort to ride fast I keep getting into these dumb get-offs that cost far more time than just going at a steady pace.  I am also not going to try for the hole shot.  Too many guys get tangled up the first 30 seconds of a race when there are 119 minutes 30 seconds remaining.  I've swapped fork springs in the 49mm Showas that have been grafted onto the KDX and mounted a new rear tire.  The bike is as good as it can be.  Is the rider?

I'm fourth off the line and into the woods.  Relax, breathe, don't blow it all on the first lap.  Things are going well.  Until we catch riders from the previous wave.  This initial section is so tight there appears to be only one line and there is a bike stuck up against two trees.  The rider is so pumped on adrenaline he can't figure out how to turn his handlebars to get between them, so he is trying to mow them down.  I give him a little "shove" with my front wheel and he finally gets it done.  Suddenly a rider comes up on my left.  39p.  It's Juan.  And he's gone.  Dammit.

I find myself behind a KX250 that is obviously a little squirrely for tight woods work, spinning and kicking all over the place.  I wait for his inevitable mistake and make the pass.  Into third.  The course is great, grass track sections, super tight technical woods, log jumps, off camber stuff and almost no mud or dust.  Really perfect conditions, and it's obvious Juan is taking advantage of it.  I never see him for the rest of the race.  I make my way up into second place on the second lap, but third and fourth place are dogging me the whole way, just waiting for me to screw up.

Knowing that I can't make any mistakes, I intentionally slow down in the tight, single track sections to conserve my energy.  If these bozos want to pass they will have to earn it.  I slide around as fast as I dare on the slippery grass track sections.  I think my roadracing experience helps here with corner entry speed and use of the front brake.  It's all about momentum.

I can still hear the angry KTM two-strokes behind me, taunting and bullying me into an error.  I make a million, but they are all small, not enough for my competitors to capitalize on.  I finish second, 1 minute behind Juan.  A decent effort, but I can assure you I spent a lot of time that night tossing and turning, trying to figure out where to find that one minute one second I needed.

Fourth out of the first turn, trying hard not to screw up.

It ain't easy bein' green in a sea of orange!

Look through the corner dummy, and try not to look like you are humping the gas tank!

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Three Gone Conclusion

It's hard to collect your thoughts while simultaneously bouncing around between trees on a weird handling motorcycle, but I manage to assume a slightly more relaxed mental state, telling myself the worst is over now.  Nothing to do but ride.

The last couple of events I have gotten all my crashing done in the first half of the first lap, and this proves to be no different.  No further falls for the remainder of the race.  Pace is slow but steady.  I start to pass riders with the letter "P" designation, my class.  A quick glance at the scoring readout at the end of the 2nd lap shows me in 7th place.  I've moved up four spots already, travelling at what seems to be the pace of a stoned turtle.  I'm tired and making lots of little mistakes, but always managing to move forward.  Another lap passes and the screen shows me in 5th spot.  I figure it's got  to be a computer glitch or something, there is no way I am catching these guys.  One more go around and now it shows 4th.  A glimmer of hope appears.  Perhaps I can catch 3rd, that would be an honorable defeat.

This, however, is not to be.  The heavens choose halfway through the last lap to open with a deluge that turns the track into a sloppy mess.  Riders are stuck in muddy ruts and falling down in the greasy field.  I have no desire to pick up a downed motorcycle any more today, so the pace is dialed back even further.  It's raining so hard visibility becomes an issue.  My gloves are full of water, making working the controls that much more difficult.  I exit a corner onto a fast straight and the back end steps out.  Like a heroic flat-tracker I save it without even putting a foot down.  Damn, wish someone had gotten a picture of that.  Between you and me, dear reader, it was pure luck, but don't tell.  I am ready for this thing to be over.  Mud riding takes a completely different skill and mind set as well as a lot of energy, the three things I seem to have left at home today.  I cross the finish line.

The top three are long gone.  I am fourth.  I'll take it.  It's not like I have a choice in the matter.

This is Juan's ass.  I am getting very tired of looking at it.

Look, in the distance, is that the rare Big-boobed Grey Sasquatch?

This one again, 'cause I like it.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

The Crying Game (Reddy Hole III)

I narrowly escape drowning, the bike is not so lucky as the front end lands in the water.  Someone yells, "Oh my god that was bad, are you OK?".  I nod and lean against a tree catching my breath, waiting for the feeling to return to my right arm.  There appear to be no bones broken or out of place.  I realize just how very lucky I am to have only glanced off of all those trees in my airborne descent to the bottom of the embankment.  My inclination is that this race is over for me.  Then a funny thing happens....

A rider comes by and I am able to make out the name on the back of his jersey "Jaramillo".  It's Juan, the guy who beat me by one second two weeks ago.  The energy and sensation returns to my limbs as the fire rises from my gut.  Maybe I am man after all.

Of course things are never that easy.  The bike is pointing the wrong way down the hill, partially submerged.  I am already sweating like a pig and the truth of the matter is that getting the machine back up the embankment is probably going to take all of my energy.  I've been doing a lot of training in the gym, but there is doubt whether I am prepared to deal with all this.  Somehow I get the motorcycle upright, turned around, and restarted, then have to do little wheelie pivot turns to get the angle of attack required, stopping halfway up the embankment, because trees are blocking the way.  More wheelie adjustments and finally we can continue.  The marked course lays before me, all of the competitors in my class minutes ahead.  The only thing to do now is try to finish.

Maybe it's the combination of heat, humidity and pain, but a knock like this one really causes the psyche to recoil.  In one brief instant I went from the guy to beat in this class to a very lucky schmuck on an old bike languishing in 11th place feeling like crying.  Self-confidence, ego and desire bruised, they have all but deserted me while the post adrenaline crash is telling me to rest.  I begin to question my ability to ride a motorcycle.  The human body can withstand severe punishment and still perform amazing tasks, but if the mind is not right, it doesn't matter what the body is able to do.  I decided that this was now nothing more than a trail ride out of the woods.  Which would take another hour and a half, give or take....

Immediately, it's obvious that the front end is tweaked.  Somewhere in the tumble, something mechanical as well as spiritual had gotten slapped out of whack.  Turns are totally unpredictable.  When I feel like the machine is pointing straight, it's going off into the weeds.  The front end tucks for no apparent reason.  I start to hate the motorcycle, because it seems to be trying to throw me off again, even though it's nobody's fault but mine.  This thing feels like an accordion with two wheels nailed to it.  I ride on, as quickly as I dare, which is not very quick at all.

The voice inside my head is silent now, its point driven home harshly.

That is the look of pain in my eyes, not determination.  Post crash, notice the right hand fork boot is out of place.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Unsteady At Reddy (Reddy Hole pt. II)

Morning is hot, humid and overcast.  A little light rain.  Haven't even geared up yet and I am already sweating.  The track consists of a field section with plenty of switchback turns full of grey silt and suffocatingly close single track, plenty of hidden stumps sticking up to throw your front wheel off course and you into the giggly weeds.

This race has a "split start".  Basically there are two options after leaving the start line, you can head directly into the woods for the single track part of the course, or run the field.  According to the announcer testing has shown both will take the same amount of time, so in theory there is no advantage.  In reality I know if a bunch of guys head for the single track right off the bat and somebody has a problem, it could slow things down.  The field has much more room.  That's my theory anyway.

Flag flies and the group splits nearly 50/50 woods and field.  I pass two riders and begin the switchbacks.  I can hear someone in the crowd yelling my name and I am momentarily distracted.  This is enough to break my concentration.  The front tucks in the silt and down I go.  From hero to zero in two corners, son of a bitch.  I grab the clutch and keep the pig running while I right the ship and get the mess moving again.  Several riders have gone by.  Somewhere in a dark little corner of my mind a quiet voice whispers: "It's gonna be one of those days."

The woods begin and within five minutes my goggles are foggier than Malcolm Young's memory.  The voice in my mind whispers a little louder.  Never take off the goggles, usually get stabbed in the face by a branch.  I have nightmares of an eyeball ending up like a marshmallow on a stick.  If I am to continue, there is no choice.  At least I can get some air to my face now.  Laps are short at five miles, we will be doing 5 of them plus one mile, in this godawful humidity.  Fun.  The first lap passes hot and sweaty, but mostly uneventful.  I am in third.

The track is tight in many spots, there are traffic jams with almost no alternative paths.  Four bikes are bottle-necked, the first one has his handlebars stuck on a sapling.  It looks like if I am willing to try and mow down a few trees I can pass the whole lot.  Normally against wanton abuse of local flora, I make a special exception because this is a race goddammit.  The gambit works and I pass the group, which includes first and second place of my class.  Now in first.

My heart leaps at the proposition of such an early lead in this race.  There is a long way to go, but if I can put some time on these guys, I might be able to hang on until it's over.  I feel pretty good, the bike is running pretty good, let's wick it up a bit.  Mistake.  I get a little throttle happy and the rear steps out on a slight uphill right-hander.  Normally not an issue, but I am standing when it happens, so there is no time to get a foot down.  No problem, just use a little body english to correct.  Normally not an issue, but I miscalculate the proximity of an eight inch diameter pine tree, which promptly tests the integrity of the right Acromioclavicular Joint (my good one).  Elbow is sent into the ribs and somehow hits a nerve in the right arm, causing it to go completely numb.  Unable to hang on I find myself unceremoniously tossed off the bike, into the trees, down an embankment and towards a pond.  I have just enough time to take a breath and close my eyes in preparation for the drowning that is about to ensue.

That little voice inside my head?  It's screaming at me now.

OK, I never said I was graceful.  Here I am screwing something up, but not crashing.  Early in the race because my goggles are still on.

The truly eagle-eyed may notice two subtle differences in the bike between the two photos, to be explained in Part III.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Without Further Ado, Reddy Hole Preview

Ten days pre-race was the usual scrambling to get the bike ready.  Parts arrive that have to be fitted, parts don't arrive that have to be located.  New swingarm bearings, rear wheel bearings, sprockets were installed.  We ride in so much water any bearings do not stand a chance, so I have just come to expect they will be replaced a few times a year.

The weather finally turned hot and humid.  I knew it was coming, but it sure was nice to race in decent, at times even cold, weather.  Now it would be nothing but suffering and flirting with dehydration.  To top it all off the air conditioning in the van quit working.  At least I've got a home unit to hang from one of the van's windows and run off the generator, otherwise there would be no sleep.

Reddy Hole is an hour drive from home, very convenient.  Round 6 of the Virginia Championship Hare Scrambles Series, currently third in points.  We are camped under power lines you can hear buzzing.  I must have gotten shocked 62 times putting up my goddamn canopy.  I'm afraid I might touch some bare metal in the middle of the night and electrocute myself, or end up with some crazy mutation from this electrical energy.  All good fun.

Had to buy a cheapie bike stand because I forgot mine in the garage.  Support your trackside vendor!  $45 later and now the bike won't fall over.  I gave up on a kickstand long ago after it kept getting stuck in ruts.

Walked half the course.  Little rough and bumpy in the woods and a field section with multiple switchbacks of silty dust that appears to offer no traction.  No hill climbs or particularly technical sections, aside from the crazy tight woods stuff with trees so close together I think my hips will rub as we pass through.  Gonna be interesting tomorrow.....

Not sure if that's the sunset, or electrical sparks... 
At least the crappers were the right color, if not the perfect shade....

Shameless selfie to prove I do indeed walk the course.....