Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Running The Coyote

VCHSS Round 11 Coyote Run, Rural Retreat, VA 9/4/16

Rural Retreat is beautiful country as I found in my first trip there back in June for The Hillbilly Hare Scramble.  I am looking forward to returning for the Coyote Run event, with my new gear and outlook on racing. There is a Saturday practice from 1-3 pm as well, which makes the 4 hour drive all the more worth it.  I arrive Friday evening, the weather is cool, perfect, no need for AC.

My trainer recommended running only one lap on Saturday, to learn the course and then help conserve energy for the race.  This is counter-intuitive to everything I've believed regarding practice, which is get as much as you can, whenever you can, but the physical nature of off-road racing means my body will not have enough time to recover if I put it through its paces the day before.  I reluctantly agree and pull off after riding one lap, watching Juan and other P riders pass by as I head to the pits, when what I really want to do is chase them down and see what they've got.

The course is typical VCHSS hare scrambles fare: single track with big hill climbs, a long run through a creek, mud and ruts, off camber downhills, tight sections dodging saplings, rocks and even a few jumps to keep us on our toes.  I point out to a buddy that the start has us immediately heading into the slippery creek and mention that some idiot is going to go flying in there, crash and take a bunch of people out.  Someday I will learn to keep my mouth shut.

Start time comes and goes Sunday morning.  There is a delay as a rider from the early morning race is backboarded.  The medics have him strapped to the back of an ATV and run him right through the starting grid as it is the fastest way out.  The 150 or so of us move out of the way and try not to stare too long at the grim reminder of what happens when it all goes wrong (rider was ok, thankfully).

An hour late the race begins.  The 15 guys in my class start heading for the narrow creek like a pack of Energizer bunnies on meth.  I am in fifth as we hit the water.  Just as we start leaving the creek, the first place guy falls, taking out two other riders.  I start making a move around him as he is lifting his bike, which he promptly shoves into me.  I fall over, taking a nasty shot to my left arm which momentarily dislocates my thumb and leaves my hand completely numb.  Thumb re-located, I expend a lot of energy and time picking the bike up out of the water and get my gloves soaking wet.  I hate wet gloves.  Well this is a wonderful start.
Left hand numb, angrier than a wet hen....

Now in last place I make my way out of the creek and up a huge, dusty hill, looking like a Shake N Bake chicken.  I'm pissed and making stupid mistakes, losing my head again.  A nasty root jars the handlebars from my hands and snaps me out of my temper tantrum.  I finally relax and begin slicing through the stragglers.  Rhythm found, things start coming together and the first lap ends in 4th place.  Just starting to feel my left hand again.

Things progress, momentum builds and I believe I must be gaining on the top three.  Sure enough there is Juan in front of me.  I make a pass and put my head down, now in third.  Bottleneck.  Three riders stuck on a tight singletrack section, for no apparent reason.  I wait for about three seconds and lose my cool.  There is a medium sized log blocking a line to my right.  No problem, I can jump that.  But it really helps if you know what's on the other side.  More logs.  Completely unprepared for that, I fall over.  The bottleneck clears.  And so does Juan.  I can feel the steam rising again, I'm about to blow a head gasket.  A little bit of patience saves a lot of time, some day I will grow up and learn that.  Apparently not today.  2nd lap ends, still 4th.

Yes Virginia, Spanish pigs can fly.

Finally I am able to channel the anger into useful energy and hit the zone.  I pass Juan for the last time and wonder if I can catch the leaders.  It feels like I am really moving and a check of the lap times later reveals I cut nearly two minutes off between my second and third lap.  I am happy, but it begs the question, why am I not that fast all the time?  I never catch the leaders, who finish just over two minutes ahead, about the amount of time I spent fucking around in the creek at the start and trying to jump over logs I shouldn't have.  Live and learn, I hope.

Last lap, 3rd would have to do for today.


Friday, October 14, 2016

Changes Part III of III: Man

We arrive at the third and most difficult area to affect true change.  It's easy to buy a new bike, slap on a new set of tires, drop thousands to have the most powerful motor your retirement can buy, but when we ask ourselves what is truly holding us down, we may not like the answer, as it stares back in the mirror.

For me, the true brilliance of this hare scrambles racing thing is that so much is dependent on the rider, the machine becomes secondary.  I already proved this by running a 1989 KDX200 competitively against brand new machines.  This is less true in roadracing, where horsepower and outright speed and the almighty cubic dollar still have a firm hand in the outcome.  But in the woods, it is he who does not fall down, he who does not make mistakes and he who can endure the rigors of two hours bouncing from tree to tree that triumphs.  A great equalizer.

Physically and mentally, I needed to figure out where my problems were.

I consulted with a physical trainer regarding my exercise, nutrition and hydration regimen.  I train a lot, five days a week, cardio, swimming, weight, flexibility, balance training and sneak a midweek ride in on the dirt bike.  On the weekends I ride between six to eight hours over Saturday and Sunday, trying to focus on all types of terrain and riding.

The trainer recommended some tweaks and changes, new exercises as well.  The most notable change was to mid-race hydration.  I had been using nothing but water in my pack during the course of a race.  News to me was that over a two hour event an athlete not only needs fluids, but electrolytes and complex carbohydrates as well.  I concocted a home brew of all the above and tested it over a weekend of riding with good results.  I also began incorporating "active rest" into my training schedule, actually giving my 42 year old body time to recover from the string of abuses I persisted in putting it through.  Have to be smarter than an 18 year old if you are going to continue acting like one.

That left the mind.  As far as I am aware, there is no psychologist for motorcycle racers, at least not one that works for free, so it was up to me to plumb my own depths and figure out what wire had been knocked loose.  The season began with a very relaxed attitude, enjoying riding and learning the nuances of off-road racing.  Somewhere along the line it turned into a serious competition.  The fun was gone.  It became about getting faster, all the time faster.  Pressure mounted into stress, into mistakes and into frustration, into the vicious circle of self-defeat that many racers experience.  A return to the halcyon early weeks of the season was needed, a return to fun.

Easier said than done.  After experiencing success on the track, the only desire is for more of the same.  Any human standing on the podium above you is an insult, an affront, a glaring neon monument to your failure, an enemy, a usurper, a target.  Common sense, training and technique are the first casualties in the heat of battle.  As well as breathing, we often simply forget to breathe.

I made up my mind to relax, try not to force everything, letting things work themselves out over the course of a race.  That's not easy to force yourself to do, but it was going to be necessary.  Will it work?  Only time will tell....

Always trying to find my way through the dust, literally and figuratively.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Changes Part II of III: The Machine

It is a terrible feeling, being on the starting line, green flag waving, motors screaming, bikes moving, clumps of dirt being thrown in your general direction, as you stand, frozen in place, furiously kicking a motorcycle that refuses to start.  It was worse than getting my pants yanked down in front of class in the 6th grade.....

Such was my experience at the last race.  Never again.  Previously purchased a brand new carb for the Gas Gas from RB designs, complete with his divider plate and idle circuitry mods.  Ron at RB sent the new Keihin with spare jets.  There were a few teething issues and in our conversations he recommended I go up one size on the pilot jet.  I did not listen to him, figuring the bike's reluctance to start was just the nature of a big bore 2 stroke.  I was wrong.  Upping the pilot one size from 42 to 45 made all the difference.  What can I say, I'm an idiot.  Lesson learned kiddies, listen to those who know more than you do.

One tiny piece of brass means the difference between a worn out leg and a running motorcycle.

The other problem with starting was the worn out aftermarket kickstart lever.  It was wobbly and loose and placed your foot at an angle that was extremely conducive to boot slippage.  When things got wet, nearly impossible to get a solid kick. Very frustrating.  I wasn't willing to spend $100 on another aftermarket lever that sucked, so I found a good used stock lever on the Gas Gas site for less than $50 shipped.  What a difference.

Some people don't like the stock lever (shown above) but I prefer it.

The combination of the pilot jet and the kickstart lever turned the 2004 Gas Gas EC300 from a reluctant pig into a first kick starter, making life so much easier and allowing me to save my energy for what really mattered: racing.

Next: Part III of Changes: The Man

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Changes Part I of III

Many racers are resistant to change, sometimes out of superstition or fear or just pigheadedness.  I am as guilty as the next.  But I would like to think that enough years competing in different competitive disciplines (stock cars, motorcycle road-racing and off-road hare scrambles) has taught me to recognize when something flat out isn't working.  My previous post regarding the VCHSS round at Sandy Bottom read here showed me there were a few things amiss in my racing program.  I could continue to struggle, wasting more energy and time until I quit in frustration or got hurt, or worse, hurt someone else.

Racing is all about time, whether you are on or off the track, there is none to waste.  Three areas requiring immediate attention were easily identifiable.  This post will deal with the first: Gear.

Simply put, the gear I was wearing, while quality stuff, was simply not designed for the hot/humid weather we were now encountering in Virginia.  I needed something with venting, lots of it.  Good kit ain't cheap, and the 600 or so bucks a helmet, pants and armor/jersey combo were going to cost would sting for a working class dolt racing on a dental-floss budget mid-season with a Christmas bonus too far off to spend.  Unless I was going to hibernate in the central air until October, it was going to be necessary.  It truly was not a matter of comfort, but of safety.

So I did my research, scoured the internet for reviews and best prices and here is what I came up with (let me be clear that I do not give a rat's ass about color, I was after function, not fashion.  I also do not endorse or receive any discounts from the retailers or manufacturers mentioned, but I have had good experiences with them.).

Helmet: Klim F4 Legacy.  Purchased from Dennis Kirk via Ebay $269.99 with free shipping.  The F4 is purported to be the best vented helmet made and Klim's gear has always been synonymous with quality, so this seemed like a no-brainer.   The medium fit my head (7 1/4) well, but I did have to go with the 30mm cheek pads to get the tight but not uncomfortable fit I like.  The venting has no equal, as other reviews have stated you can literally see your scalp through the ports in the top, while still having the ECE rating.  My only complaint, or caution, is that if you ride in areas with low-hanging branches and vines that require ducking under, be careful, they will rip the plastic air scoops right off the top of the helmet (see pictures).  There is nothing like smashing up your shit on the first ride.

Klim F4 Helmet

Pants: Klim Mojave In The Boot Pants.  Like the F4 helmet, Klim's Mojave pants have the reputation for being the best vented off-road pant available.  I was surprised at how thick the material felt in combination with the liner, I guess if it was any lighter or thinner it would shred itself at the mere mention of rocks and thorns.  There is plenty of mesh in the waist and below the knees.  The pants fit true at a size 32 waist, with some adjustability via velcro straps on the side.  Well made and definitely cooler than the non-vented MSR pants I was wearing.  Purchased via Ebay seller lytleracinggroup for $169.99 shipped.

Klim Mojave Pant

Ballistic Jersey:  Fox Titan Sport Jacket.  I am a firm believer in armor.  Lots of armor, and padding.  The older I get, the more of it I wear.  I crash a lot, and there is no better feeling than jumping up after a get-off unbruised other than ego.  I was wearing the EVS ballistic jersey, but they only come in black and the venting is not great.  The Fox Titan was getting good reviews so I tried it for $149.95 with free shipping from Motorcycle Superstore.  The venting is much better, the armpit area is actually open, so if you do not wear a shirt underneath, you can really get some air over your body, there is an added benefit of being able to use your body odor to distract the guys following you.  Like all of these ballistic jerseys/vests, the material that the pads are sewn to is very vulnerable to tears.  My first ride saw an errant branch tear into the area just above the shoulder pads, break out the Shoe Goo and sewing needle.  Wearing a motocross jersey over the jacket should help with this, but I am all about less layers in the summer.

Fox Titan Sport Jacket

   The first ride in the new kit is a hot and humid late afternoon practice in the woods.  The new gear vents much better than my other stuff, as long as there is some air-flow.  Stop or get stuck for any length of time and before you know it you are overheating, and barring an air-conditioned suit or moving to Alaska, there is nothing to be done about that.  As time progresses I will give my long term impressions of the gear, but right now, there is another race to get ready for!  Look for "Changes" part II coming soon, where I discuss the changes made to my Gas Gas EC300 to withstand the rigors of hare scrambles racing.

New gear in action, being chased by another damn pumpkin.