Wednesday, May 1, 2013

How to Lose Friends and Alienate People

Every time I get off my dirt bike, I forget how to ride it. It seems I was born without muscle memory--and very nearly without the other kind of memory, which may explain why I insist on writing everything down. Every first lap of every day I have ridden has been an unmitigated disaster, and today is no exception. As I struggle to free my bike from where I’ve wedged it sideways between two trees on sloping, rocky ground, I can just make out Greg, Chris and Jared waiting for me at the crest of the hill. They’ve been there for a while, and the sight of them fills me with feelings of worthlessness and despair. This is something that I should probably talk out with a therapist, but since I can’t afford one, I funnel the unwanted feelings into an andrenal flood of unadulterated Haterade and send the bike flying with a shove, a shot of throttle, and a scream that could shatter glass and frighten children a county away.

Once I’ve picked it up and climbed aboard, the boys move on and I chase after them, faster than I ought but slower than I’d like, inevitably blowing another birm not 50 yards down the trail. By the time I’m on the bike again, Greg is coming back down the trail to look for me. We manage not to collide as Greg veers into the woods, shouting something I can’t make out and gesturing at something in front of him.

“WHAT?” I yell, beginning to follow him, but as soon as I leave the trail, my front tire deflects off a log and I fall over again.

Greg parks the KTM and walks over to help.

“You were headed straight for this huge, rocky uphill,” he says, his voice hoarse from a cold. “You never would have made it, so I wanted to show you a shortcut so you wouldn’t hurt yourself.”

If I were a dog, at this point--and mentally I may well have been a dog, at this point--my fur would have stood on end.

“Oh,” I snarl. “Thank you so much for rescuing the damsel in distress.”

I hoist the KDX and give it a kick, but Greg motions me to cut it off.

“What!?” I snap.

“Sorry. I’m losing my voice--”

“Well” I say, “I didn’t ask for any advice.”

Behind his goggles, Greg looks somewhere between incredulous and hurt.

“Why do you have to be so mean?” he says.

I replay the conversation in my head and feel a sudden chill in my guts that makes me want to dump the bike and go squeeze him, but by the time I come to this revelation, all that’s left of the KTM is some settling dust. I kick the KDX again and roll off in half-hearted pursuit, worthlessness and despair flooding in as the Haterade floods out.

I survive the rest of the lap and meet the boys back at the truck. Greg gamely pretends I’m not an asshole and, as we search for our water bottles, I grab his hand awkwardly in lieu of a public apology. There is another NETRA race next weekend, so we all decide to do six laps of the track without stopping, dead-engine start and all.

Pulling up to our makeshift line, I feel content to let the experienced riders slug it out and bring up the rear where I belong, but as Greg counts down from three to one, a suppressed canine instinct devours this rational decision and I wheelie spastically for the holeshot. Attempting to shift into second, I find neutral instead, and then, for reasons which are still not clear to me, the KDX seems to vanish from between my knees. I land on my back just in time to see Greg hit his brakes behind me and sail over his handlebars: the KTM pitches harmlessly into the trees, but Greg is headed straight for me. I reach out with the combined intention of breaking his fall and keeping him from breaking my ribs, and this leaves us lying on the dirt with my arm around his shoulders like we’ve settled in for a romantic evening of stargazing.

Greg leaps to his feet, totally unamused, but Chris and Jared are laughing their asses off. Much to my surprise, I’m laughing with them.

“That was priceless,” says Jared. “If I had been wearing my GoPro...”

Greg, Chris and Jared zoom off and I restart my lap alone in the woods. It’s a fairly long track, and the “race” is on--no one will be waiting up ahead for me, or worse, stuck behind me, if I do something stupid. Almost magically, I fall back into the hypnotic racing Zen that allowed me to survive the NETRA Spring Challenge without punching any spectators, even though I got stuck up to the handlebars fifteen times. My first lap goes by without major incident, then my second lap--sure, I fall, but the track is long enough that, even if the same rooty uphill throws me every lap, I have time to catch my breath and lower my blood pressure before I have to tackle it again. Greg blows by me on my fourth lap, and, as I’m coming down the switchbacks from the top of the track on lap five, I see a flash of blue behind me--Jared’s Yamaha.

I consider stopping and letting him pass, but I know from experience that if I turn my racing tunnel vision on anything but the track, I will be off it for good. Besides, I think, he’s not exactly knocking into my rear tire yet, is he? I decide to wait to let him pass until it would be rude not to, and to forestall this as long as possible, I push aside my fatigue, stand up, and remind myself to twist the throttle. Half a lap later, Jared yells “YOU’RE DOING GREAT!” as he sneaks past me on a straightaway. My last lap is is perfectly clean, and when I get back to the truck, I feel almost pleased with myself. Everyone concludes that it was a fun day, and we drive off into the sunset feeling accomplished.

Now, It is becoming apparent to me that the focus of this blog will be my continually failed attempts to keep my frustration in check while riding. In the interest of journalistic integrity and thematic continuity, I must tell you that, the day after this happy venture in Bethel, I went back to the Berlin track and dumped my bike on that one hairpin turn so many times I almost passed out from rage (as I mentioned in Freakin’ Out, Part 1, the Short Fuse amounts to a terminal genetic condition in my family, and my case is worse than most). If anyone out there has any anger management tips, please send them my way before I get committed, or dumped, or politely disinvited from riding with anyone ever again. The first Montshire Trail Riders Thursday night ride of the year--and my first ride with the club--will be at the Bethel track tomorrow. I know there’s a copy of How to Win Friends and Influence People lying around here somewhere--I will have to add that to my cross-training regimen along with mountain biking if I don’t get a handle on this soon.

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