Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Gravity by TKO in the 2nd Round: I Go to the J Day Triple Crown, Rd. 1, and Fall Down a Lot

It is seven o’clock in the morning, I have been on the road for three hours, and I’m lost. My boyfriend awakes from peaceful slumber in the passenger seat to find me jack-knifing the trailer in the middle of a residential street. The stillness of the winter dawn is broken by a glassy crunch and further profaned by my impolite inquiry about the origin of the sound.
“Probably the tail light breaking,” says Greg. “Look, just pull forward until we get to someplace where you can pull a U-turn...”
Thinking that this is an inauspicious start to my first race, I proceed as directed. The place where I can pull a U-turn turns out to be the junction with the road to the race: so the tail light died in vain. I’m in a charming mood as we sign the waiver at the gate and pay our entrance fee, and our first sight of the parking lot does little to cheer me.
“We’re going to get stuck worse than last time,” I prophesize, guiding Greg's Honda Element and trailer to relative high ground between barely iced-over puddles. ‘Last time,’ when I had filled the role of Greg’s driver at the NETRA Winter Scramble, the parking lot had ended up looking like a World War One battlefield, and though our eventual escape was far more thrilling than driving a glorified minivan in second gear has any right to be, it was too early in the morning for me to anticipate a repeat performance with anything other than dread.
Greg, riding in the C 250 class, goes to the line first, leaving me to work the camera.
“I get so nervous on the line,” he says as he positions his bike. “Are you nervous yet?”
“No,” I lie. “I’m not really here to race, just to go around the track without getting run over.”
“Shoot for three laps,” he says. “You won’t get run over. Good luck if I don’t see you before you start.”
“Good luck to you, too,” I say, and make my way to the first turn with the camera. I kneel down in the snowbank, the green flag drops, and”HOLESHOT!” I yell, clicking away. Greg has a wheel out in front coming into the turn and carries a clean lead out of it.

I document five laps for him, running hither and thither with the borrowed camera, until, succumbing to nerves at last, I head back to the car, kick my KDX to life and strap on my boots and helmet. It’s been two weeks since last I rode, and the bike feels heavy and intimidating as I “trials” it in circles around the rutted parking lot.
On the line, the other half of the Women’s class, a slender girl in green gear on a YZ250F, smiles at me. She looks like she knows what she’s doing. So do the members of the Super Senior class, who will be racing in our line. The flag drops and the first line takes off, then a pause, then the flag raises for the second lineI try to start my engine with them and fail. There’s Greg on the sideline, muddy and helmet-haired, smiling his encouragement. I sigh. This is going to be ugly. The flag drops and I totter after the receding backs of my competitors into the first turn. I make it almost to the second turn and around a Super Senior whose bike has stalled, then my front washes and I fall over. I pick the bike up250 pounds of 1998’s finest machineryas the recently stalled Super Senior goes zipping by. I kickstart and wobble off in pursuit. So it begins, I think.
My first, overwhelming impression is that I should not be doing this, because I am in everybody's way. One-third of my way into my first lap, people are already lapping methe front runners, and then the whole pack. I am crashing, stalling, or just falling over at a steady rate of once per minute, and my arms are getting tired. By the time I make it to the KTM Extreme Section at the end of the lap, the pack is back for thirds, piled up behind me in the gnarly single-track and yelling at me to move. But there’s a two foot-tall log in my way. How the hell am I going to get over that?
The yelling behind me intensifiesI feel like a stampede of wildebeests is bearing down on meAxis-engineered wildebeests with angry two-stroke engines and spiked tires
“Fuck it,” I think to myself, and hit the gas. My front tire hits the logfront suspension compressesfront tire rolls over it. My rear wheel hits the logrear suspension compresses...
That wasn't so bad, I think.
And my rear suspension decompresses.
I spend a moment windmilling in the air and wondering what I’d ever done to deserve this before I land and the bike lands on me. I untangle myself, wiggle the fingers of my stinging left hand experimentally, and then haul ass out of the way. I make it to the starting gate: Lap One, in the bag. For a 30-minute moto, it’s shaping up to be a hell of a long race.
The next two laps pass in a stupor of exhaustion and correspondingly stupid mistakes. I am too tired to go fast, and I’m going too slow to keep from falling. When I see the checkered flag, my handlebar hits the snow for what I fully intend to be the last time that day.
“Exhaustion,” the guy at the computer diagnoses as I struggle to pick up the KDX. “I know that feeling.”
I am in no state to acknowledge this voice of sympathy as I stagger out of the way.
“Three laps!” Greg cheers as I return to the car. “You did great!”
I collapse in the passenger seat.
"Never again," I say.
Famous last words. We spend an hour in the truck with the heat blasting, eating granola bars and recounting our adventures, and when Greg goes off to the line for his second moto, I’m a little jealous.
“Why don’t you try one more lap?” he says. “If you’re tired, just pull over. They’ll drag your bike out of the woods with an ATV if they have to.”
The green flag drops, Greg gets the holeshot again, and after five laps, I’m back at the car, warming up the KDX. I paid my moneywhy not?
My second moto feels better. I finish the first lap and go for a second. I’m going faster, falling less, and I’m not even that tired anymore. Somewhere in the back stretch, I get thrown sideways out of a rut, and the Super Senior who’d been about to pass me hits my bike, then me. It’s not his faultthere’s no braking in this slush, or even steering. We dust ourselves off, apologize to one another repeatedly (no doubt he is sorry for hitting a girl, and I am sorry for causing a guy as old as my grandfather to crash), and keep going. When I come past the finish again, I see the B class lining up at the start, and I pull off into the parking lot. Like hell am I getting underfoot of that!
As Greg and I exchange congratulations at the carhe to me for my survival, I to him for his 4th place finishthe Super Senior in front of whom I’d crashed comes over, gives me a hug, and apologizes again.
“You meet good people racing,” Greg remarks after I assure the man that no damage had been done.
We stick around to watch the B and A classes race, then, when our wet feet start freezing, we head northand with minimal objection from the deepening mud in the parking lot.
“Glad you went out for the second moto?” asks Greg.
“Are we coming back for the second race?”
“Of course.”
That sharp incline at the bottom of the learning curve is brutal, but damn, does it hold your interest...

"Looks like Brave Sir Robin is running away!" - My Dad