Saturday, November 15, 2008

Blasphemy! (sort of)

I just received my latest issue of Trail Rider Magazine, (yes, the one that published my Sparkplug story) and inside it has a riders review of the WR250R. Since I own that bike I thought it would be interesting to see what the professional riders (writers?) had to say about the bike I enjoy.

The first paragraph contains the following words:

"This is not the kind of bike you're going to ride in the average bike-killing NETRA turkey run, or definitely not in an enduro. The WR250R is not made for that kind of riding."

They do back-off that comment a little by stating: "At least it's not made for it right out of the box."

I know that my Sparkplug Enduro experience wasn't very successful but it had almost entirely to do with my lack of conditioning and skill as opposed to the WR's capabilities. The mere fact that I finished The Black Bear Enduro on a mostly stock, (the only mods I've done are add accessories like handguards, etc...), WR250R tells me that this bike is more than capable of riding in these events. Just imagine if I was an "A" or "B" class rider and had put a trials bike tire on the back and a decent front tire on. I'll bet the results would've surprised a lot of people.

I wouldn't argue that it's as good as the KTMs or Huskys or the other bikes that are specifically designed for that type of riding, but in my opinion the WR is more than capable for riding these types of rides and doing so without a bunch of modifications.

If any WR250R owners out there ever read this, let me know what your thoughts are. I'd love to see if I'm the only one who feels this way. Shoot me an email if you like.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Fistfulls of fur!

That's what it takes to ride a bear. Well that, and some large, brass cajones and possibly a screw or two loose.
In order to ride the "Black Bear Enduro" however, all you need is a motorcycle, some riding gear, and possibly a screw or two loose.
Oh yeah, and $45.
The "2008 Black Bear Enduro" event is hosted by the Cascade Family Motorcycle Club and was held on November 2nd at the Tahuya State Forest ORV park near Belfair, WA.
I actually hadn't planned on riding any organized events the rest of this year but when I realized last week that I actually had a weekend off, I thought I'd look at the NMA events calendar to see if there was anything going on. I noticed that the Black Bear Enduro was being held and for some reason I thought it'd be a good idea to sign up and give it a try... and subject myself to another day of torture. If you are wondering what I mean by "another day of torture", you should read my post from last April that described my experience riding my first ever enduro event. I'll wait until you're done reading it...

...ok, now that you're up to date on my past fiasco, let's get to my lastest attempt at riding an enduro.
There were a few important lessons I learned from riding the "Sparkplug Enduro", and from those valuable lessons I was much better prepared for "The Black Bear".
First off, since April I have acquired a motorcycle trailer, (thanks Dad), that tows nicely behind my SUV. This is a VAST improvement from loading the WR into the back of my '75 F100 (that I paid $500 for) with a slippery 2X6 as a ramp. While I love my old truck, it's loud and has no heater, and worst of all it has no radio of any kind. So Sunday morning at 6am I'm leaving my house in Gig Harbor and heading northward toward Tahuya. I'm caffeinated, warm and surrounded by sounds from the Tragically Hip, provided nicely by the CD player in the afore-mentioned SUV. The drive to Tahuya is only 30-40 minutes from my place so before too long I'm pulling into the staging area and looking for a place to park. I found a spot and started unloading. I felt a bit like I did the last time I tried an enduro and was a bit nervous, but this time I had some idea of what to expect so it was a little less stressful. I knew exactly ZERO people there so I had no-one to share thoughts with or bounce ideas off of, but that's basically what I expected anyway so I guess I can't complain.
I headed on down to the covered area to register and get my time card. I asked the cute gals there to put me in the slowest/crappiest class available and asked if they had something like a "sportsman" class. I also asked to be put on the very last minute available because from my past experience, I really didn't want to hold up anyone behind me by going too slow. I also planned on crashing plenty and on the extremely narrow trails, there's no place for other riders to get around you. At first they looked at me like I had a third nostril... then they decided that they did in fact have a "sportsman" class and I was summarily handed a time card with the start minute of "8:47" and "sportsman" written on the top of it. I noticed that I wasn't put at the back of the pack as I had hoped but I figured there were only about a dozen or so riders that would have to pass me or use me as traction to get by... so I didn't say anything more about it. I paid my $45 and was on my way back to the truck.
I noticed a couple guys parked nearby that looked as if they'd done this a lot, (hell, they were drinking beer for breakfast, they must've known what the hell was going on), and asked them if they had some duct tape (or "Duck" tape if you prefer). I used the borrowed tape to adhere the time card to my front fender and returned the rest of the roll. They barely even looked at me.
I had a while to wait until my start time so I got all "gussied up" and took a quick little ride to see how everything felt. This was the first time I rode with a "Camelbak" hydration pack and I wanted to see if it caused any imbalance while riding. After a short jaunt, I determined that it worked well. (Why didn't I use it during the Sparkplug????). I got back to the truck and shortly before I headed down to the starting gate, I made an impulsive decision. I decided to grab a few wrenches and an allen wrench set and toss them into my pack. I find out later that this decision turns out to be a valuable one.

As before, I had a few goals in mind for this ride, they are as follows...

1. Don't get significantly injured

2. Try to complete the entire short course

3. Try not to "hour out"

4. If I do "hour out", try to make it past the 4th checkpoint before doing so.

5. Relax and have fun.

Let's see how well I did with these goals.
8:47: As with the Sparkplug ride a few months ago, the start is from a dead stop with engines off. I still am somewhat baffled as to why this is important. The short course, (55 miles or so), takes a few hours to complete, so why does starting with a dead engine make any difference? It literally takes me .83 seconds to push the magic button and start the engine. Some of the more adventurous folks have to actually use manual labor and kick start the motor to life but even then it's anywhere from 1 to 2 seconds to make it go zoom. I'm here to tell you that I wasted more time just picking my ass up out of the brush and mud during the course of the ride so it can't be about the time wasted starting the motor. It must be done in case you can't actually get your bike started. If that's the case, you're just better off heading back to the truck and finishing off the rest of your half-rack of "breakfast" and calling it a day.

Myself and some other dude that I've never met, started our machines and headed off mere seconds after 8:47am. I let him go first since I was convinced that I'd never see him again as soon as we got into the single track. It wasn't 45 seconds into the ride and he stalled his bike and waved me by. I chuckled to myself thinking that I'd be seeing him soon as he flew by.

Interestingly enough, the first 10-15 minutes went by and I was feeling better and more confident then last time. I didn't have riders chomping at the bit to get by me and I was cruising along nicely. The first checkpoint came into view before I expected it and I stopped while one of the checkpoint workers called out "8:48" and the other one wrote "8:48" on my time card. I was fairly amazed at the fact that I arrived at Checkpoint 1 only ONE minute behind the prescribed pace. If I remember correctly, I was 9 minutes behind the pace at Checkpoint 1 during the Sparkplug so this was already an improvement. I also was feeling pretty skippy that I hadn't crashed yet either. I did my best to not get overconfident but I couldn't help feeling better about staying upright on the bike considering how slimey and slippery the conditions were.

I want to take a second and say that the volunteers that worked at all the checkpoints and fuel stops, etc... were absolutely awesome and really made the ride go smoothly. If not for them, I'm sure the event wouldn't even be possible. A big "thank you" to all those who worked the event.

So after about 12 miles went by, I started feeling a bit fatigued. I was somewhat unhappy with this new development because I didn't think I had been working all that hard yet and I knew that I still had a long way to go. A few doubts started creeping into my head about the possibility of completing the ride. My only previous experience ended with me not able to finish the course so I was starting to think that it was just going to be a repeat of last time. But I trudged on.

One thing I've noticed about riding these events is that nothing makes you more tired then having to pick up your bike after crashing. Now even though I techincally hadn't crashed yet, (by my definition), I did have a few instances where I had come to a stop after bouncing and sliding around and then just kinda tipped over. I'm not a big guy so picking up my 300lb WR was a bit of a task for me. I only had a few "tip overs" but they started to take a small toll on my energy reserves.

The next most tiring thing while riding this kind of ride is being just barely on the edge of crashing, but using all your extraordinary skills and superhuman efforts to prevent the crash. I found myself in this position often. I was repeatedly in a state of semi-control where I basically was just along for the ride. For example, let's just say there was a large, slippery tree root blocking the narrow, muddy trail. (I know that this NEVER was the case but for argument's sake, let's just say this may have happened a few dozen times.) So the only option I saw was to gas it, hang on and see how it turned out. I feel like I was successful in surviving this scenario more often than not, but it was one of the most tiring things to have to do and it seemed like I had to do it repeatedly. At one point I was convinced that the course just looped back around to the same crappy tree roots over and over but it turned out to just be an evil trick my mind was playing on me.

Checkpoint 2 showed up and I had lost a bit more time. I don't have my times in front of me but I think I was at :58 so I was 11 minutes behind the pace. If this trend were to continue, I figured I would probably "hour-out" by Checkpoint 5 or 6. Since I only made it to Checkpoint 3 during the Sparkplug, I guess this would be a small victory in my mind. I was still a bit bummed though. I really felt like I was doing well enough to complete the course without "houring-out" but maybe it just wasn't meant to be.

One thing I forgot to mention was that I am pretty sure I was the only rider who didn't have a "Jart chart" This basically tells you what the pace is supposed to be between various mile markers and also shows you where "resets" are, etc... Since I didn't have a chart holder for my bike, I basically took the chart that they gave me and threw it in the back of the SUV. I figured I'd never even be close to keeping pace so the chart really meant nothing to me anyway. Maybe someday I'll actually need the chart? We'll see.

As my trip meter kept clicking away the distance, I was increasingly surprised by how I wasn't getting fatigued at a more rapid pace. Don't get me wrong, I was tired as hell, but considering that I seemed to plateau in terms of overall fatigue, I was starting to feel more confident about finishing the course. I may still "hour out" but I should be able to finish at least.

I don't remember at what point this next scene took place but I'm going to say it was somewhere after Checkpoint 3. I was chugging along at my typically slow pace when I come upon about 6 riders stopped in a traffic jam. My first thought was that someone must've lost an arm or something. I pulled up behind them all and over to one side. My second thought was that if there wasn't physical carnage, there must be one hell of an obstacle in the way and if the good riders are having trouble getting by it, there's no way I'll make it. I decided to shut off the bike, hike into the woods a bit, and take a leak. After the important stuff was taken care of, I walked back to where the log jam was and checked it out. It turns out that there was a massive tree root protruding across the trail and it was located such that you had to make a hard right turn just before it. The handful of riders that I watched tackle this obstacle were very brave. Every one had to dismount and basically man-handle the bike over said tree root. I was in no mood to partake in such an endeavor... really, I wasn't. So instead, I decided to help one of the current brave souls with getting his bike over. I grabbed ahold of the rear frame and gave a what little effort I had left to help him past this mess. And for my kind gesture, he kicked me in the face. This sounds more dramatic and painful then it was, but it's true. It was obviously an accident. He was just swinging his leg back over the saddle and my head was still in the way. That'll teach me. He apologized, and off he went. No harm, no foul as far as I'm concerned... I actually just thought it was kinda funny. What wasn't so funny though was the fact that I still had to get by this thing in one piece. As I walked back to my bike, I noticed one of the smarter riders took a slight detour around the beast and I thought that looked like a grand idea... so that's what I did. It turns out that the detour wasn't super easy either, but I still think it was better than the alternative of tackling the monster tree root. As I got back on the trail, I thought for sure that this long delay would ruin any chance I had at finishing the course without houring out.

Somewhere after the major delay, the trail opened up and next thing I know I'm doing 45 mph on a dirt road. This goes on for a bit and shortly after heading back into the tight trails, there's another checkpoint. It turns out that the open section really allowed me to make up a bunch of time. I even think I was back to the :58 minute mark so I was within 11 minutes of the prescribed pace. I realized later that if I had been one of the good riders and had been close to the correct times, that fast section could really bite you in the ass by getting to the checkpoint too early and losing even more points than if you were late. Fortunately for me, I was so late that going fast just allowed me to make up some lost time. Maybe I'll make it after all?

Halfway done (roughly) at the Fuel stop. Initially I wasn't even planning on bringing extra fuel. At the last minute I decided to throw a small can in the truck. Later, at the staging area, I really didn't plan on putting the small gas can in the little trailer that was to be used for the short course fuel stop, but at the last minute I decided to do it. My thinking was that my bike gets about 65 mpg and if the course is only 55 miles, no sweat. Even though I knew that this kind of riding burns more gas, I thought that it couldn't be that much more. Even so, I put the gas can in there anyway, just in case. I'm glad I did... At the stop I opened my tank and there was definitely less than half a tank left. I really didn't want to be stuck out in the woods with no fuel so I happily poured the fuel in to my tank and headed back out on the trail.

Here's a picture of me taken by one of the CFMC members during the 2008 Black Bear Enduro

At this point I'm going to skip past a few miles for the sake of time... just imagine a lot of slippery rocks and tree roots, mud, water and anything else you might imagine that you wouldn't want to see while riding a dirt bike.

Mile 42ish: Less than a minute after I leave Checkpoint 8, I just started to get a second wind and was feeling more and more confident about my ability to finish this ride and not hour out... when "Oh $*^!"...... I either wasn't paying attention or just misread the trail but I found myself topping a small crest that then had a descending right hand turn. If you failed to make the turn, you would find yourself running head-on into a large tree. This is essentially what happened to me. I knew immediately that there was no way I was going to avoid hitting the tree and I also knew for sure that this one was going to hurt, a lot. I hit it hard and found myself airborne and then tumbling down the trail. I was able to get up fairly quickly and about the only pain I felt was that my left wrist was throbbing a bit. I figured it was probably a sprain and if it didn't get worse in the next couple minutes, I should be ok. I made my way up to my bike and I could hear riders approaching. I was concerned that they wouldn't see me or my bike that was laying halfway on the trail because of the blind corner. I got up to the bike and was able to wave my arms to warn the upcoming rider and he stopped. He didn't ask if I needed help but he did say 'sorry' as he rode by. I really wasn't sure if I needed help or not yet but it seemed to be something I could handle without assistance. Then I saw my bike. I drug it back onto the trail and then rolled it off to one side to assess the damage. The first thing I noticed was that both of my Zeta handguards were pointed nearly straight up. After closer inspection, it became apparent that the handlebars actually rotated inside the clamps about 60 degrees. Maybe that's why my wrists were now so sore? It seemed to be nearly impossible to operate the clutch or the brake lever. I attempted to rotate the bars back to the original position but the combination of sore wrists, general fatigue and the factory tightened bar clamps, I was unable to budge the bars at all. This is where the wrenches I talked about earlier come into play. I removed my helmet, gloves and backpack. I dug out the 10mm and got to work. Before too long I had the bars back to a usable condition and the Zeta handguards were back to the guarding position. I did a quick overall check of the rest of the bike and it appeared to not be in too bad of shape. The forks seemed straight and the fender was still in one piece. I thought I'd see if it still ran and amazingly enough, it fired up right away. I got all my wet crap back on and got back on the horse.

After that crash, I definitely felt a bit more tentative. I wasn't as concerned about the pain of an injury as I was about missing work. With the upcoming layoffs at my airline, I really need to work while I can until I can find another job. So I was taking it a bit easier at this point. One thing about this though is that I find if you ride scared, I think you're actually more apt to crash again. You have to have a certain amount of an aggressive attitude toward certain obstacles to successfully traverse them. If you try to "pansy" your way over them, you're just going to crash again. It's a fine line.

As the minutes zipped by my confidence was returning. I had no idea where I stood as far as the pace but I was pretty sure I was more than an hour late to the next checkpoint. At least I knew I could finish the course though.

Somewhere near the end of the ride there was probably the most dangerous section of the entire course. It was not even really a trail. It was a very steep descent through a bunch of trees but it was very soft ground and no place to really stop if you needed to. If you were to lose control you'd defintely be careening headlong down the 30% grade until you smashed into tree. The difficulty of the section wasn't too terribly bad but since it was getting toward the end of the ride, the fatigue factor played a huge part in whether or not one would make it or not. I actually found that if I shut the motor off and just let the compression act as a brake, it worked better and I was able to reach the bottom without dying. Crisis averted.

A few more miles go by and eventually I get to another checkpoint, the guy tells me that it's the last one and to just take it easy and follow the arrows back to the staging area. I don't recall the time that was written down but I do believe that is was less than an hour late. I couldn't believe it, I actually finished the course without "houring out". It wasn't pretty but with two major delays, including a fairly big crash, I was surprised to have actually done it. This was a big accomplishment for me personally and no matter what the times were, I was happy to have just survived the ordeal in one piece.

After getting to the "end", I still had a few miles to go just to make it back to the truck. I followed the trail with a sense of satisfaction and I just putt-putted along at a slow pace. I was a little dismayed, however, at the difficulty of some of the trail that was left. While it wasn't any more difficult then any of the stuff I'd just been through, I was mentally "done" with it all. I just wanted it to be over and I wondered why they didn't just pave a nice freeway back to the staging area?

I finally made it back to the parking area and as I got there, there was a final "checkpoint" where they took your time card and said "congrats". As the guy removed my card he noticed that it said "Sportsman" and he indicated to me that this was the hardest class, NOT the easiest like I had requested. He said that I should've been in one of the "C" classes and I asked that if it could be changed. He said "no"... so I left. I wasn't really upset because I was still pretty satisfied about just finishing and I really didn't have any delusions about finishing high in the daily rankings. I still don't have my final times/scores but just finishing was my goal so I'm happy.

(Update: I got some clarification on the classes and the sportsman class is actually NEITHER the hardest, or the easiest. It's just a recreational class where any level rider can enter and just ride it for fun. There were 9 riders in the sportsman class this race and it appears from the scores posted that 2 of them were excellent riders and the rest were closer to my skill level.)

I got back to the SUV & trailer, I took off all the soaking wet gear and put on some dry clothes. I ate a sandwich, drank a Rockstar coffee drink and generally just plopped down in the back of the SUV. I eventually mustered up enough energy to load the bike on the trailer and get everthing else loaded up in the car and headed toward home. I remembered to grab my small, half empty gas can from the staging area and got on the road.

On my way home I called my wife to give her a quick run-down of my day and to make sure that there was plenty of hot water available for a long soak...

(As I type this, it's now been 4 days since the event. I was very sore all over until this morning. My muscles seem to have mostly recovered but I've now got a constant sharp pain in one of my wrists. I am getting xrays later today so maybe I'll find out what it's all about.)

Update: Just got back from the doctor's office and after performing the well known "Finklestein's test", the doctor determined that I have not broken any bones in my wrist but instead have what is called "de Quervain's disease". Basically it's a fancy way of saying that one of the tendons in my wrist is strained and needs to rest for a few days and should be fine. This is good news as far as I'm concerned.

I hope you all enjoyed this ride report.

Another update... The CFMC just posted the results for the event. I finished 4th out of 9 riders in my class. I had 176 points which isn't very good, but I didn't get a DNF so I'm happy!