Wednesday, March 13, 2013

J Day Winter Triple Crown Rd. 2 and/or 3: Snow, Slush, and MAD AIR


We’re back. As we park the Element and hop out to go register, I look furtively around at the other racers. I’m half-expecting eyes to roll as they register my improbable return--Oh, great, the Human Edurocross Obstacle strikes back!--but it doesn’t happen. The first person Greg and I recognize from last time, known to us only as Mohawk Boy for the decoration on his helmet, smiles and waves. So does the Super Senior who almost ran me over in the second moto and then gave me a hug. So far, so good. I’m here, I chant inwardly, I am incompetent--but I will not live in fear. NO FEAR: that is my goal for the race. Open up the throttle, ditch the wobbles.
Contrary to our expectations, we’ve arrived early, so Greg and I stomp around the course to get a feel for the conditions and see if any changes have been made since Round 1. It isn’t snowing here, to our astonishment, but there’s plenty on the ground from the blizzard last weekend that transformed the J Day Winter Triple Crown into a Double Crown. As late as 5 AM this morning, Greg and I were in debate about whether the event should even be a Single Crown for us: when we got on the highway in Randolph, Vermont, visibility had been next to nil and the road felt slippery even at 45 miles per hour.
“We might miss our first moto,” Greg said gloomily from the passenger seat as we passed Bethel. “We can still turn around...”
I slugged more Red Bull and told him that he was exaggerating. I would be dead before I let this weekend end up the like the last: our bikes race-ready on the trailer with no place to go, and the two of us reduced to skating or some such inferior activity to pass the time... It didn’t bear thinking of. Greg fell asleep and I drove on--through the whiteout, into the dawn, and onto clear highways by the time we reached New Hampshire. I set the cruise control to 70 and we made it to the check-in an hour before the Mini class kicked off the race.
The course hasn’t changed much during our two-week absence, except that the KTM Extreme Section has gotten extreme-er: the log over which I’d done a front flip is gone, replaced by a fast section through flat, low-lying woods and a dramatic climb up a huge hill to the finish. There is an alternative ascent, more gradual but much longer, winding through deep powder and dense evergreens until the two trails rejoin at the finish line. Standing at the junction, I look apprehensively from one route to the other.
“Which of these is supposed to be easy?” I ask a race official as his bike skids to a halt beside us.
“Take the steep one,” he says. “It’s easier--as long as you’ve got the speed.”
“You haven't got the speed,”  Greg tells me in a stage whisper.
“I know,” I say. The official drops off a sandwich board showing arrows to “EASY” and “EXTREME” and zips off. “So does he,” I add as the scream of the two-stroke fades. “He watched me pick my bike up forty times last race.”
Back at the start and waiting for Greg’s line to take off, I am annoyed to see that our borrowed camera is equipped with a dead battery. Still, I cheer as the flag drops and Greg pulls ahead of the pack. His bike launches a V of brown slush into the air as he gasses it through the huge puddle at the end of the straight--
“HOLESHO--” I begin, then his front wheel slides out and he’s on his butt in the drink.
“Stupid, stupid camera,” I think.
He fishes out the bike and still beats some stragglers into the turn. As soon as they’re out of view, I run to watch the action at the hill. A crowd of people stands waiting and talking. From the valley below us, there is a distant hum growing louder--LOUDER--and then there is air. WICKED air. The riders trace a huge trajectory off the incline, land in frictionless grey slush on the flat and gun it in wild fishtails toward the finish line. Lap by lap, Greg regains the places he lost while going swimming--he’s in fifth when I leave to get ready for my turn.
As I position my bike on the line, Greg runs out to me, still carrying his helmet.
“How’d it go?” I ask him.
“I Davy Jonesed my bike,” he says. “Did you get a picture?”
I explain, then ask, “What’s it like out there?”
He makes a conflicted face.
“There’s one rut,” he says. “It goes all the way around the track. Stay in it.”
As soon as I enter the woods, I see that he wasn’t kidding. The rut is almost footpeg-deep in places and everything outside it is mush.
“EYES UP,” I tell myself out loud. “What do you care if there’s a rut? PIN IT!”
Sure enough, a few minutes in, the rut splits in two and I pass somebody. When I get to the lumpy straightaway about two-thirds into the lap, I bump the KDX into third and gas it straight into the acceleration bumps, rather than hugging the side and sliding around in the snow as I’d done in the last race. As I accelerate, I can feel my front wheel hit the top of one pothole and bounce off--then the rear wheel hits, then the front wheel hits the next pothole-- “YEAH!” I shout, punching the air like I’ve just won a round in supercross. “So THAT’s what that’s supposed to feel like!” Ryan Villopoto could not have been happier with himself at Daytona last week than I am hitting those potholes as if they’re whoops.
After the straightaway comes a snowy descent into the low-lying section at the base of the hill. As nobody raced here the week before last, the track is a little softer, and because it’s pretty wide, there are several criss-crossing ruts to choose from. I take a couple annoying spills and give vent to my irritation with excessive throttle, which launches me off a little jump that I didn’t even seen coming. I hug the bike with my knees in the air and break into a grin as my suspension eats the landing. I grew up on an aluminum-frame hardtail mountain bike with blown-out forks, so even my old-ass KDX feels like a hovercraft with Cadillac suspension by comparison. I am hooting with glee. I charge up the Easy trail, hitting a jump there deliberately and hooting with glee some more. I perform the world’s slowest tank-slapper in the deep snow in the pine stand, but don't take down too much tape, and cruise past the finish line in high spirits.
The next two laps go by in similar fashion: I have no serious crashes, the guy I passed in the first lap never passes me back, and a skinny dude who I eventually recognize as Mohawk Boy without his helmet keeps appearing out of the forest like a leprechaun to cheer for me. Things are just as good on the second moto: Greg refrains from Davy Jonesing himself off the start line and leads the pack for a full lap, and I complete another three laps of miniature whoops and polite quantities of air without incident. 
After my race, Greg and I grab our remaining Red Bulls and hike down to the bottom of the big hill to watch the Pro class tear it up. We laugh, we stretch, we caffeinate, we watch some epic pile-ups--but we’re getting hungry for dinner and there’s a long drive ahead. In a break in traffic, we scramble up the hill. I’m already wondering as we get in the car, “No race next weekend? What are we going to do with ourselves? We can’t go skating again...”

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