Monday, February 16, 2015

MORTAL TERROR!

This nonsense originally appeared in the December/January issue of Trail Rider Magazine - but they didn't have space for my illustration, which was the best part, so I'm gonna post it again here.


Well, since my bike is pretty much benched until I can scrape up some decent winter tires and a top end kit, I’m going to tell you a story about the most terrified I’ve ever been on a dirt bike.

The scene is Fast Freddy’s Wednesday night motocross ride, and I pretty much have no business being there other than getting in the way of the fast people and ruining the berms for everyone by riding over them and then crashing on the other side. There are three jumps at Fast Freddy’s track, and at least in this direction, I am hitting none of them. The two tabletops are too big for me to bother trying, and the third jump, though technically feasible, is a psychological no-go. It’s a funny notch cut out of the side of a huge hill that constitutes an unremarkable step-up in one direction and a completely horrifying step-down in the other. The downhill approach is blind—you can’t see the lip of the jump until you’re either going over it or casing it, and casing it would mean somersaulting down an incredibly steep, maybe three-story slope, straight through a sharp right turn and into the bushes, closely pursued by your bike. Needless to say, I was jamming on the brakes and rolling through this veritable pongee pit all evening, until some dude decided it would be funny to convince me to do otherwise.

“You’re taking the step-down, aren’t you?” this character asks when I roll into the pits. His name is Doyle, and he’s grinning in that good-natured but definitely loony way that, now that I think of it, is typical of anyone who’s survived to middle age while still thinking extreme sports are fun. I shake my head no. “What? You’ve GOT to take the step-down!” Doyle says. “You’ll be fine. You could ROLL off it and clear it, no problem.” “Oh, alright,” I finally say. “You go first.”

My new coach leads on. After waiting for me to catch up, he coasts over the gap at what does seem to be a pretty manageable pace... Shaking my head, I hit the brakes and roll it, as usual. Taking another lap of the track, I come back up the hill to see Doyle pulled off to the side near the step-down, enthusiastically waving me on. I try to muster up some courage, but as I approach the edge of the hill—

“NOPE,” I shout.

It’s a leap of faith kind of situation: you have to be going fast enough to clear the jump before you even see it, so really you just have to gas it into the void and hope for the best. I needed to start hoping earlier.

I crawl over the jump, then lay on the gas. Next time around, I’ll just do it, I think. Other people have cased jumps, crashed and broken a bunch of bones. It’s not the end of the world. I crest the hill in third, hold the throttle on evenly, take a deep breath—and let out a scream of pure, shameless terror as the bike floats weightlessly into the unknown. The tires touch down so smoothly on the descent that I don’t even feel the landing. It’s almost anticlimactic.

Heart racing, I blast through the rest of the track and come up to the jump again. Just as I’m about to hit it, I second-guess myself: am I really going fast enough? I hit the gas—way too much of the gas—and the bike launches, front wheel high, clear over the step-down. The bushes on the far side of the turn draw closer as the bike continues to rotate toward the vertical—BRAKES, I think to myself, BRAKES! I pull in the clutch and put my foot down. My locked rear tire hits dirt half-way to the base of the hill, bottoming out my shock, then my forks, and making my navigation of the immediately following turn even less graceful than usual. I pull over to the car at the soonest possible opportunity, dry-mouthed and very, very thankful when word goes around that it’s time to ride the track in the other direction.

After that, I’ve been more willing to venture into the air on my machine, though admittedly that was the last event of the season at Fast Freddy’s track and I haven’t encountered any obstacle as senselessly terrifying since. Note, I never said anything about my most terrifying moment OFF of, or barely attached to, my bike: that’s a story for another day.

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