Saturday, April 12, 2008

Sparkplug 2008!

I meant to post this a while ago but I've only recently been able to recall the ride without curling up on the floor in the fetal position and crying.

If you've read my earlier posts you may remember me saying I was interested in competing in Enduros. My reasoning for this interest is due to the concept of racing against time and not directly against other riders, handlebar to handlebar as it were. I (mistakenly) thought that this type of competition would be more mentally challenging and less physically challenging compared to something like motocross. I still believe that it is more of a "mental game" than other racing but to say it isn't that physical is just not true.

I got my bike roughly one month ago and I've been able to ride it on some trails once since I brought it home. I looked at the NW Motorcycle Association's website on the events schedule for the Washington rides and noticed there was an Enduro scheduled for April 6th and it was going to be held at the Tahuya State Forest, not too far from my home. I decided that this would be a great opportunity to ride my bike at an organized competition and get a chance to see how the WR would do on some singletrack.

Having grown up in Enumclaw and living on a dirt road, my brother Dale & I used to ride our Honda XRs almost every day after school and on the weekends up in the foothills near our house. When you ride as much as we did, you can't help but develop a reasonable skill level of riding. We mainly rode trails through the woods and clearcuts. I fully understand that this was many years ago but when you learn something as a kid you usually have that skillset for your entire life.

I went into this Enduro with relatively low expectations. My main goals were:

1: Don't get injured

2: Have fun

3: Try to complete the course

4: Try not to "hour out"

I showed up to the staging area and parked across the street from the main parking because there was no room anywhere else. I backed the truck up to a mound of dirt that allowed me to basically ride the bike out of the truck on a level plane, (this comes in handy later). I unloaded the WR and rode it to the registration area. I paid my $45 and got a few questions answered like where the start area was, etc... I hung around for the riders' meeting and signed the release form saying that it's my own fault if I smash my melon. After the meeting I went and had my bike tested for excessive exhaust noise. Being that my bike is completely stock, it basically whispered it's way through the sound test.

They had started @ 9:00am with the first group of riders and I wasn't scheduled to start until 9:54am so I had a little time to kill. (They launch 3 riders per minute and I was in the second to last group). I went back to the truck and struck up a conversation with a couple guys on KTMs. I'm not sure I remember their names correctly but I believe it was Kevin & Rod. (Rob maybe?). Anyway, they had a few good tips and stories about what the ride was like. For some reason, I hadn't realized that the "short course" (the one I was riding) was 55 miles long and when Kevin told me that I thought to myself, "so much for getting done by 2pm".

Kevin and Rod/Rob were starting the minute before me so they told me that since they were keeping time and following the roll chart that I shouldn't pass them in order to not "burn" a checkpoint. (getting there too early). I kinda laughed and said, "that won't be a problem". (In fact, after they started @ 9:53, I never saw them again.)

As I waited for the starter to launch us, I thought it was weird that I wasn't more nervous than I was. I also thought it was strange that they require us to start with a dead engine. It's an endurance race that lasts many hours and the 2-5 seconds it takes to start the bike really means nothing in the whole scheme of things. Maybe it's just tradition?

9:54... The starter says "go". So I pushed the little button and let out the clutch and off I went. I waited for the other two riders to leave before me so I didn't slow them down. The trail started off easy and after a couple minutes I was getting the feel of the bike. I wasn't in too much of a hurry as I just wanted to ride safely and not really care about the times. It wasn't too far down the trail and I started hearing the riders behind me catching up. The next wide spot in the trail I pulled over and let them by. Since I started in the second to last group, there weren't any more riders to come up behind me. I was happy about this fact because I really didn't want someone on my ass all day. I knew that I was going to be slow and I was pretty sure I was going to crash a few times so I was glad I didn't have to feel like I was slowing down other riders who were serious about making good times.

Mile 2: Crash! My front tire slides out in a muddy turn and down I go. The bike runs for a few seconds then stops. I get off the ground and lift the bike back up. I thought, "ok, first crash is over and it didn't hurt too bad, now I don't have to worry about the crashing". I pushed the starter button and the bike just cranked and cranked. No putt putt sounds. What The Hell??? The bike is brand new and has 26 total miles on it and the first crash causes it to not run anymore??? POS! At this point I was already thankful (even more thankful later) that I had an electric starter. If I had been kicking this 4 stroke all day... I'd have had 4 strokes of my own. I turned the key off and tried to think of a reason why it wouldn't start. I was very glad there wasn't anyone behind me because there was absolutely no room for anyone to go around me as I sat there befuddled. I decided to "cranky cranky" some more so I turned the key back on. I heard a high pitched motor running... ...a light bulb fizzled and sparked and finally lit inside my brain. I had been so stoked about buying a Fuel Injected bike to eliminate having to re-jet the carb and all that but it didn't dawn on me until just that moment that the fuel pump needed to recharge the system after dumping the bike. It fired immediately upon hitting the starter. First lesson learned.

Back on the trail again and things were going well for a half-hour or so until I came to a semi-steep hill. I got a good run at it but the ground was loose and I really couldn't get much momentum going. I got nearly to the top and a big 'ol tree root reared its ugly head. I gunned it to see if I could get more speed but it actually lost traction a little bit and the root proved to be too tall for me to clear at that speed. I was stuck just before the top of the hill. I tried to walk the bike while spinning the rear tire but I just couldn't get it moving. The only option at this point was to back down the hill (hopefully without careening out of control off the edge) and give it another try. Somehow I managed to accomplish the backward descent without any problems. The next attempt up the hill went a little better as I basically just "gave 'er the onion" and I was able to bounce and hop my way over the tree root with a modicum of control. This particular scene was ultimately replayed multiple times throughout the day. I lost count of the tree root encounters and nearly every time I cleared one, I was on the edge of losing grip or flying off the edge of the trail. The bike was very capable of clearing each obstacle, I was just not fit enough to handle the constant jerking and lurching and after a while I became so fatigued that getting over these "roadblocks" became a daunting task that would've probably been very comical to watch from the gallery. Fortunately for me there was no gallery to point and laugh.

1st Checkpoint: I stopped at the first checkpoint and found out I was 9 minutes behind the pace. I thought to myself, hey only 9 minutes, not too bad. The stop lasted only a few seconds and then I was off again. I don't know what I was expecting but the checkpoint was a little anti-climactic. Maybe if there was an espresso stand and a hot-tub available at each checkpoint it might be more exciting?

More riding, more tree roots, more mud. I actually was enjoying it all, except for maybe the tree roots. I crashed a few times, nothing too serious. I had a few struggles with getting past the roots and that ate up a bunch of time. I found myself narrowly avoiding a couple potential big crashes and I decided this wasn't worth bustin' my ass over so I started a quiet mantra... "slower is faster" over and over in my head. My theory was that if I went slower, I'd crash less, if I crashed less, I'd actually make it through the course faster overall. While I still think that thought process has some merit, it turns out that slower was, in fact, just slower.

Checkpoint 2: 26 minutes off the pace. OK, I lost another 17 minutes but I should be able to not lose too much more if the trail isn't as rough as the first part. HA!

More mud, more trees, and yes, more tree roots. I was extremely tired at this point and I had resigned myself to the fact that I wasn't going to catch up to the pace. In fact, I was going into survival mode. All I wanted to do was get through this without crashing hard. I had visions of missing one of the countless slippery, muddy, hairpin corners and flying off into the wilderness where I'd be lying in a crumpled pile hoping that the sweep riders would find me before nightfall, or before I bled to death, preferably both.

Checkpoint 3: The guy tells me I'm 6 minutes from "houring out" and I am not surprised.

More stumps, more mud, more water holes... oh yeah, tree roots too.

I am now riding with rubber legs and arms. I'm thirsty and hungry. (Kevin had asked me earlier if I had any water to take with me... now I know why.) I probably should have eaten a better breakfast as well. I had a bowl of cereal at around 6:30am and it was now after noon. Not too smart on my part. Another lesson learned.

I am surprised when I come to a small clearing and I see a rider on a DRZ250 stopped there. My first thought was that it might be a rescue rider who's looking for the idiot who's stumbling through the short course at mind-numbingly slow speeds and extricate him from the woods. It turns out it was a girl who was just taking a breather. I decided it would be a great time for me to take a little rest as well. Any excuse would've been good enough for me. We talked briefly and then we decided to get going. She asked if I wanted to go first and I said 'no, you can go ahead'. I was thinking, this will be a good distraction for me... I can just follow her and watch her go over the obstacles before I have to. After about 30 seconds on the trail... she was gone. She was kicking my ass and I was now even more humiliated then I might've already been. 20 minutes later I saw her again. She had crashed on a blind corner and I nearly ran into her but was heroically able to avoid it by crashing myself. It was the least I could do. She struggled to get her bike running and we talked a little while she periodically cranked the starter. She said it was only 6 miles to the fuel stop. FUEL STOP??? I didn't realize there even was a fuel stop. I was alternately pleased and dismayed. Because I had somehow jacked-up my computer / trip-meter somewhere around mile 15, I actually had no idea how far I had gone. I was under the impression that I had traveled at least 200 miles by now and I should be getting close to the end, not just HALFWAY! (Nevermind that I've only been through 3 checkpoints.) I had decided then and there that I'd just get to the fuel stop, which was basically where we started, and just call it a day. She got her Zuki started and again was off with a splash of mud. I rode along and tried not to think about the 5 or 6 miles to go. I just kept riding. I saw her again at the 4th checkpoint, where we had both more than "houred out", and she took off just as I was getting there. I asked the dude at the stop if there was a short cut to the fuel stop and he actually said 'yes'. He said to ride 100 yards on the trail and I'd come to a dirt road that would lead me to a paved road. The paved road would lead me to the parking area. (As my late Grandfather would say "all roads lead home"). I decided that to continue on the trail was just tempting fate. I was so exhausted that it would be increasingly dangerous for me to stay on the course so I opted for the easy way out. I know that's the chicken sh*t way out but considering my state of mind, I didn't care.

I made it to where my truck was parked and I had mixed feelings. I was relieved to be done for the day but I was a little disappointed in myself for not being better prepared and at least completing the course. I parked the WR behind the truck and I smiled internally, (because smiling externally would've required too much energy), that I had parked the truck level with the mound of dirt so I didn't have to push or ride the bike up a ramp. Honestly I probably would've had to ask for help because I was way too wiped out to do it alone. Maybe I could have waited for that girl to finish and ask her to help load it? Man, would that have sucked! As I sat in the cab of the truck taking off my wet gear, I noticed a few riders periodically riding past the area where I was parked. I initially thought that there were a bunch of recreational riders out on a sunday but in a couple minutes I realized that these were riders who were actually finishing the entire course. Other than being covered in mud, they all looked like they had just pulled the bikes off the trailer. Zipping around the corner, riding wheelies (ok, slight exaggeration) and just looking like they'd barely broken a sweat. I came to the realization that maybe this just wasn't for me. If I can't even make it halfway without nearly collapsing from exhaustion and everyone else just cruised through like we were on Interstate 5, I may need to just stick to the kiddy trails.

After loading up and getting dry clothes on, I drove toward home. I stopped to get some food and fluids but basically I just needed a hot bath and a nap.

As I drove home I thought about the ride. I actually started feeling better about the whole thing since I really hadn't been riding for 15+ years. I was riding a dual sport bike that was completely stock and relatively heavy for a small guy like me. I think under the circumstances it didn't turn out too bad. I met 2 of my 4 goals by not getting injured (seriously) and by having fun. I really did enjoy the majority of the ride, it was challenging but fun.

I am looking forward to trying a few other rides this summer. Who knows, I may even try the Sparkplug again next year?

Lessons learned:
1. Fuel pump thing after crashing.
2. Hydration & nutrition... must have it!
3. Be fit... or at least more so than I was.
4. Ride a few easier rides first!
5. Wear better protective boots.
6. Learn to love tree roots!


Rowdy Style said...

oh wow scott!! truely an adventure. and adventure is when things don't go as planned and there is a bit of risk involved. so you fully had an adventure.

being a pilot im suprised you had such a short checklist before "taking off" on this enduro...hahahha. j/k

great write up!!

aDrifter said...

I have been contemplating riding a Enduro/Hare Scramble with my new WR250R just for the heck of it, with similar expectations as yours. Good to know it can be made to at least halfway without houring out. Great story, sounds like it was fun.

Scott said...

Yes, you'd think I'd have been better prepared... oh well, maybe that added to the adventure?