Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Even The Snake Fears The Storm (Rattlesnake Part II)

Saturday, October 8, 2016

The rain continues all night and into the morning.  Hard.  I wake and find my nice hard-packed parking area at the bottom of the hill has turned into a muddy morass.  My two-wheel drive van with skinny street tires will be forever stuck if I don't move quickly.  I forage for sticks and branches to shove under the wheels and make a semi-dramatic mudslinging escape 150 feet up the hill.  Now I have to drag all my crap up there as well.  In the still pouring rain.  Ah, the joys of racing.  In a gesture of welcome goodwill, one of the VCHSS officials notices my plight and offers to back his pick-up down into the quicksand so I don't have to carry everything up the hill.  There are plenty of good people left out there, and lots of them ride dirtbikes.

The Saturday pre-run has been cancelled due to the weather.  Races go on rain or shine, but organizers feel there is no need to destroy a course for a practice session, makes perfect sense.  That leaves me lots of spare time, as the race is not until Sunday.  I opt to walk some of the 9 mile course.

The start is in the infield of the 1/2 mile dirt track of Wythe Raceway, and leads into a mulched section full of switchbacks and turns that finally dumps you out onto the sprint car oval.  This will be a sixth gear wide open affair, then foot down into the banked turn, still hard on the gas if your balls are big enough.  From there into the woods and "grass track" section, which is wide, muddy and has plenty of jumps, then comes the woods section, lots of hill climbs, mud, creek crossings and rocks.  Fields and grassy hills as well.  This course has everything.  And it's all crazy fast.  I head back to the pits thinking that this is going to be one hell of a race.

In a funny/scary/ridiculous aside, about 4 PM went to walk more of the course.  The rain stopped but it turned cold and windy.  Figuring not to be gone long, I did not take my cell phone, a jacket or any water.  45 minutes later I was hopelessly lost, with the sun going down, stuck on a muddy uphill that was nearly impossible to climb on foot.  How can you be lost you ask?  The course is clearly marked dummy!  True, the problem with following the arrows was that I had no idea how far was left to walk until the end and it was getting dark and colder rapidly.  I cut off through uncharted woods and began going around in circles.  I could hear no sounds of humanity.  A twinge of panic ran through me.  After wasting plenty of energy scrambling up and down these slick hills already, a sick fear grew inside that I might spend the night in the woods.  Or die of exposure and become some dipshit of a statistic.  "Virginia Man Dies 50 Feet From Safety" or something similar would read the headline.  Finally, as the last light of day faded I found a gravel road.  And a really creepy abandoned church complete with even creepier cemetery.  Needless to say I hoofed it as fast as my raw feet would carry me and made it back to the track.  Lesson learned.  


Wythe Raceway.  Note the painted white lines that demarcate the start area.  The yellow painted tires mark the infield course.

Obstacle section and jump before timing and scoring booth.

There is nothing like the beauty of nature to fill one's soul

Home on the range?

Mr. Grouch's country home.

Monday, November 21, 2016

The Road To Rattlesnake (Part I)

Friday, October 7th 2016 

I left work early to return to Rural Retreat, VA, for the penultimate round of the Virginia Championship Hare Scrambles Series, known as "Rattlesnake".  A hurricane was marching its way up the East Coast, promising plenty of rain and high wind for the entire seaboard.  There was a pre-run of the course scheduled for Saturday afternoon, but I had another, ulterior motive for arriving as early as I could...

Languishing in a garage only two hours from the race track in Hickory NC, was a 2006 Gas Gas EC300, nearly identical to my 2004 model.  The price was in the ballpark, and I desperately needed a parts bike.  I wanted the peace of mind that I wouldn't miss a race because I didn't have a part in time.  Emails exchanged, appointment made, there was nothing to do now but drive.  And drive.  Through the driving rain.

An invisible sun began to sink as I unloaded and set up camp at Wythe Raceway.  I headed back on to I-81 just as the rain started bucketing down.  2.5 hours later in the pitch dark, rain still pouring, I arrived at a suburban home.  The owner and I spoke for over an hour, exchanging war stories and tall tales.  I kicked the tires, but he and I both knew, I was going home with this thing one way or the other.  The only item left was the numbers.  This particular EC looks decent, but the wary eye sees the tell tale signs of a hard life.  Chain and sprockets shot, wheel bearings toast, shock in desperate need of a rebuild, footpeg bracket broken and re-welded on the same side as mine (disappointing), the only reason the front forks are not leaking is apparently because there is no oil in them.  Suspension linkage bolts are loose, with the nut falling off of one, exhaust pipe nearly flattened.  Rear sub-frame is a cobbled on Kawasaki unit, rear fender is cracked.  Yup, all the hallmarks of an 11 year-old dirt bike that has suffered at the hands of someone who didn't care.  But it seems to run reasonably well and there are plenty of good, serviceable parts, like a new Brembo clutch master cylinder and aftermarket powervalve cover among others.

We negotiate, I pay too much, load the Gasser and head back into the monsoon.

High and dry loaded in the back of the van, newest member of the fleet, 2006 Gas Gas EC300

Monday, November 7, 2016


Someone asked me the other day what my vices were.  I had to stop and think about it then, and I am still thinking about it now.  I don't subscribe to the most common ones.  The discussion turned to my (as Hunter Thompson put it)  "affinity for speed".  Apparently, in some circles, speed is thought of as a vice.  And those who seek it are called "adrenaline junkies".  I was not aware the depths of my depravity. defines vice as "an immoral or evil habit or practice" also "a fault, defect or shortcoming".

That definition and the moniker "adrenaline junkie" seem so far away from my concept of speed I felt the need to dedicate this post to it.  So what then, separates the desire to go fast from womanizing? Boozing? Overeating?  Smoking? Chasing the dragon?  Why do some of us, myself  included, look at it as more of a holy crusade than a damning iniquity?  What follows is what I was able to come up with.

Speed, for true adherents, is not an addiction, but a quest, something not taken lightly or entered into on a whim.  In and of itself not an inherent death sentence or destroyer of morals or character.  Quite the opposite. While there are risks, the rewards far outweigh them.

It calls upon us to become the best versions of ourselves we can imagine, to prepare, to train, to plan.  To constantly rise above arbitrary limits set by others, as well as our own.  It fosters study, knowledge, creativity and self-reflection, instead of dulling the senses and mind.  It is a skill and an art that must be finely honed.  One which suffers no "faults", "defects" or "shortcomings".  Rather than covering those things up, it only spotlights them and insists on resolution.

No one questions the sprinter when they seek to be the fastest, or the swimmer or the bicyclist.  Why should it be any different then, for the motorcycle racer?  Can it kill you?  Sure, but many more people die in bed every year.  Perhaps sleeping is a vice?

In the end, a true vice limits your capabilities, your potential and ultimately takes away from the quality of your life.  Speed and racing in general offer tremendous possibilities for exactly the opposite.

Never slow down.  

Debauching myself with a bit of knee dragging at Road Atlanta 2015

Friday, November 4, 2016

Pay The Iron Price

Iron Mountain GP VCHSS Round 13 September 25, 2016

Rural Retreat again.  I love coming out here, if only to escape the godawful heat and humidity of central VA.  After five years my thick Yankee blood is still trying to acclimate.  The terrain, hilly, rocky, with plenty of water crossings and mud also suits my riding style.  Only it has been dry.  Lack of rain has turned the entire course, aside from the creek, into a mountainous dust bowl.

Dave and I ride two laps in Saturday practice, struggling with the hugely steep off-camber sections that threaten to throw the unskilled unceremoniously down the mountain.  We both survive by taking it very slowly, now with the knowledge that  our work is cut out for us on Sunday.

Dust. Everywhere dust.  The race begins and the clouds grow.  Off the start into a dry uphill that the early rows have already dug down to rock and root.  I get bumped into a slower middle line as four riders take the preferred left one.  Which works out in my favor because someone screws it up on the left side and nearly takes everybody out.  Crest of the hill I am in third.  Ok, I can work with this.  I intend on winning this race.  No mistakes.  Make time by not losing it.  Keep your head.

These mantras work very well for the first half of the lap.  I'm not blazing the course, but I'm also not falling down or making too many terrible mistakes.  Through the creek and the muddy ruts, about a 1/4 mile, which consists of the only moisture over the entire track.  The rest is parched, and visibility is shit.

The first bottleneck nearly ends my race.  What a clusterfuck.   An off camber, extremely dry uphill single-track with apparently only one passable route.  Somebody gets stuck, loses their head and starts digging trenches with an adrenaline fueled throttle hand.  People go around and start falling sideways down the hill, catching themselves on trees and thorny vines to stay upright.  There are bikes and bodies scattered around the steeply sloped battlefield.  I am stuck with riders in front and behind.  The kid in front is managing to hurl dusty clods at my face while the bastard behind me keeps ramming my rear wheel as if it's going to get me moving any quicker.  Like the assholes who sit there beeping their horns in a traffic jam that is clearly not going anywhere.

I finally get around the kid, who now has the root he is stuck on burning from the friction.  Most of his knobbies are chunked and piled behind him.  I don't get far, about six feet on and there are more riders stuck, fallen and just generally in the damn way.  The guy behind me goes uphill to find another path.  I follow him.  So does everyone else.  Soon we are all jammed up in a tangle of vines, saplings, stumps and weeds, walled in by piles of knocked down trees that are too large to get over, wasting precious energy in a vain attempt to make forward progress.  People are yelling, dirt flying, bikes moving in every direction.  Bloody chaos.  I can't find a way and realize I have to go back if I ever want to move ahead.  It's a crushing blow.  I've already lost five minutes and it looks like more now.  I head back to the marked trail, get by some stalled riders, eventually threading through the impasse, anger on the rise.  I'm doing my best to keep a clear head, but this little disaster is shredding my last nerve.  I ride mad, making mistakes, bouncing off of trees in an effort to make up lost time, losing more in the process.  I manage, however, not to crash.  That is, until I target fixate myself into a 3" sapling that tweaks the forks and my left shoulder.  Up again, straighten bike and body as best as possible and move along.

We come to the Christmas tree farm section, grassy, hilly, bumpy and high speed if you can manage to miss the hidden pot holes.  Racing down one hill and up another like a giant roller-coaster of dust.  The rhythm comes at long last, let's start riding like somebody who has done this before.  Maybe I can salvage something here.  Anger now translates to speed picking off stragglers mid-hill, top and bottom as well.  Out of the tree farm and into a small field before a steep uphill.  There is a ditch jump here that I remember from practice.  Nothing too bad.  Hit it in third gear, moving.  The bike launches, rider and machine land perfectly....

And the left freakin' footpeg bracket lets go.  Peg drops 90 degrees, foot slides off the peg, fall on the gas tank, ensuring that I will never have children or possibly urinate properly again and proceed to run over my left foot with the rear wheel.  My initial thought is that my foot slipped from the peg, but looking down I can see it hanging on by a thread.  I wonder for a minute if it can be ridden like this, shifting and having nothing to stand on, for another hour and a half.  Remembering vividly the off-camber section, my gut knows.  There is no way.  Even with an heroic attempt it would be weeks before they found my carcass at the bottom of a ravine, buried under 250 pounds of Spanish pork.

I finish the remaining portion of the lap, make timing and scoring and continue back to the pits on the ride of shame, trying to ignore the swelling in ankle and the bruising of spirit.  My race is over.

It never gets any easier.

Once through the creek was all I got.  Both feet still firmly in place.  Both footpegs still attached.

The aftermath. Lieutenant Dan, you only got one peg!

Instead of making fun of guys in shop class, I should have learned to weld.  Would have come in a lot handier than those damn AP English courses......

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Powerless At Peninsula

September 11, 2016 Spring Grove, VA 

Round 12 Virginia Championship Hare Scrambles Series

The season is starting to turn into one big blur.  Having driven all over the state for my first year of hare scrambles racing, which is proving to be more grueling than I thought.  I am really struggling with the coastal VA races.  Maybe it's the heat or the generally dry and dusty courses, but my riding suffers and so do the results.  Or maybe it's just the lack of some good mud and slick rocks.  I never considered myself a specialist, but I do seem to do much better under those conditions.

Whatever the reason, I found myself once again in Spring Grove, VA.  And it's hot.  I walked a few miles of the course and have a good idea what to expect.  I get a good start and wind up behind the first place rider.  It's a battle of two different riding styles.  He sits down almost the entire time, whereas I stand nearly all the time.  His style seems to prove better as he pulls away on the second lap and I get passed and bumped into third.  Things turn from mildly annoying to worse as I get lost in a huge dust cloud at the end of the second lap, which nearly has me barreling headlong into a tree.  Things go from worse to shit as we come back into the woods on the third lap.  I can see a teenage girl down on her hands and knees beside her bike.  She appears to be in pain, so I stop to see if she's ok.

I immediately get rear-ended and knocked down by some adrenaline addled schmuck who keeps going.  The girl is up and ok, but another rider runs over her bike.  And mine.  Several riders in my class go by and it's like a kick in the nuts.  I remount, only to find the front end slightly tweaked.  No time to fuck with it now.  I continue and catch up to the other P riders.  I go to make a pass and drop the front wheel in a hole ringed with tree roots, which wrenches the bars from my hands and puts me down on the ground.  Nice shot to the ribs and my left arm/hand, still injured from Coyote Run, goes numb again.  Fuck me.

Up again, take three seconds to straighten the wheel as best as possible.  At least the bike starts first kick.  All this fiddle-fucking has exhausted me.  I work as hard as I can as fast as I can and finish a disappointing, dusty, dismal race in what I assume is like 7th place.  When I check the results later I find it was actually a 4th.  For an off day, not as off as I thought.  Two weeks until the Iron Mountain GP, Rural Retreat VA.  Time to get a win.

Third off the start, just visible to the left of the two pumpkins

You can just make out my helmet and white shoulder pads behind 8p.

The woods are lovely dark and deep, now where the hell did the 1st place guy go?

The look of consternation before getting a KTM suppository.

Watching in frustration as a podium finish slips through my sweaty, dirty grasp