ISDE qualifiers are always the highlight of my year. They are the races that mean everything to me – it’s where all the hard work and training comes to a peak. I look back at all the hours spent in my gym at home and it all becomes worth the pain and sweat (and by using the word “gym”, I really mean a cold, damp shop with some free weights, an elliptical that my parents bought for me, a rowing machine, and a foam pad for sit-ups). Let me tell you, staring at the shop wall for several hours every week sure has a way of sucking the motivation right out of your body. I really got lucky this year when my parents bought me an IPod for Christmas – it’s much easier to keep motivation when a workout is assisted by Eazy-E, AC/DC, Radiohead, Dio, 50 cent, Candlebox, and Black Happy (hey, I don’t laugh at your musical choices).
I was able to have my friend Rory Sullivan haul my bike to Missouri for me (Rory has a fully decked out Sprinter van – the fun bus). I flew out on Thursday with my entire family. You see, I’m pretty lucky to have one of those families who support my passion and are willing to help at every step of the way. There were 6 of us – me, my wife, my two kids, and my Mom and Dad.
My bike arrived on Friday, the sun was blazing and it was about 75 degrees with high humidity, so we set up Rory’s Ez-Up to finish last minute preparations. There were three of us from the Northwest working under the shade of the tent: Myself, Rory, and Zach Lipana. I am typically a preparation freak, so most of my work was already done. I was a little concerned about the upcoming sound test because I was running a stock muffler with a spark arrestor end cap. Using Rory’s decibel meter, it was running about 96db – ISDE rules require 94 or less. My plan was to just give it a shot, and if I failed, install a spare muffler that Rory had in the back of his van (its funny what some people keep in the back of their van).
It turns out I was worried for no reason. I passed the sound test and tech inspection and impounded my bike for the night.
Rory and I arrived at the race site in the fun bus at about 6:45am. It was mostly cloudy now with a chance of rain in the forecast. After getting into my gear and attending the riders meeting, I was set to go. I was only a little nervous – mostly about my bike’s ability to start and keep running for two days of racing; this is the same tired old machine that I used in 2007 to qualify for the ISDE. I keep up on maintenance, but you know how it goes – it’s like trying to re-use toilet paper over and over – you can rinse it, dry it, be gentle with it, and care for it, but sooner or later, shit will start falling off and it’s going to fall to pieces right when you need it the most.
I entered the impound area 10 minutes before my start time and pushed my bike to the work area (ISDE rules state that a bike must not be started before your start time comes up). Since I didn’t have any work to do on the bike, I pushed it right up to the starting line. I did the polite thing and shook hands with the other two riders on my minute even though I was competing against them. What came out of my mouth was “hi, nice to meet you;” but floating around in my brain was “hi, I’ve worked way too hard to come all this way to have you beat me, so stay the hell out of my way or I’ll come to your house and boil your rabbit.”
8:01 – my bike fired right up. Yes!! That was special test #1 for me. ¼ mile of sand, then into the woods. The woods in Missouri are a bit different from the Northwest. The trees are just as tightly packed, but they are considerably smaller in diameter. Some bend when you hit them with a bark buster, some don’t. It took me a few miles to get a feel for which trees to avoid. The trails were awesome; they were tight but flowing with lots of elevation change. There were no huge up or down hill sections, but more like rolling hills with sharp “V’s” at the bottom.
A few miles into the event, it began to rain – not hard, but enough to screw up goggles and make the ground a little slick. There were 5 special tests scheduled for day 1; the tests were scored using transponders that were triggered as the rider passed through two wired poles. My special tests were going awesome. I was able to keep it on two wheels and I was pleased with my speed – there were really no times where I said “man, I could have gone a little faster in that section.” About half way through day 1, it began to rain pretty hard. At this point, my goggles were useless – the brush that was hanging over the trail was completely saturated and there was no way to avoid it. So, I did what I always tell riders to never do – yep, the old “C rider goggle cleaning,” I took them off. Amazingly, this was not a bad decision – the constant rain and soaked bushes kept my face and eyes washed clean of any dirt or debris.
After the gas stop, we rode out on the same trail as we did at the start of the day. These trails were trashed! When I went through them the first time, I left them in very good condition for the other riders. But those inconsiderate jerks decided to make a sloppy, one-lined mess out of them. For about 4 miles, it was a slot car track. There was still plenty of traction, but the tight trails made it impossible to escape the rut. The one thing I learned at this point was that the trail was a mere suggestion of where to ride. I began to see other lines that were created by the “inconsiderate jerks” that were just a foot or two off the main line. These new lines were not as flowing or rider friendly as the original line, but they took a lot less energy to ride because they were not rutted yet.
There was one very memorable section of trail that we rode on both days: The Waterfall. We entered a stream and rode down it (oh, shut up you tree hugger – you can probably relate to my earlier “toilet paper re-use” comment). The flat shale type rock had formed multiple little waterfalls, one after the other. The largest drop-off was probably about 4 or 5 feet straight down; it was pretty fun jumping down the waterfalls with people lining the sides of the stream cheering and snapping photos.
After the stream, there were a few more miles of trail, one more special test, and then the finish. I used my 15 minute work period to bleed my forks, check my air filter, add a little oil, lube my chain, and scrape some mud off. I impounded the bike, got cleaned up and went to dinner. I got back to the hotel early to prep my goggles for day 2 – it was supposed to rain all night and throughout the next day.
It rained all night. I pushed my bike from the morning work area to the starting line and turned on the fuel. After a few seconds, I noticed fuel leaking from the float overflow tube. Crap. I either had a stuck float or a piece of dirt stuck on the float needle. With 30 seconds until my start, there was only one thing to do – turn the gas off, empty the bowl, and hope the bike runs all day. 8:01. I turned on the gas and fired the bike and took off. It ran fine, so the float either got itself un-stuck or the fuel leak was small enough that it wasn’t flooding itself. At this point, who gives a crap – I’m here to do a job and I’ll get it done no matter what.
The trails were actually better than day 1 because it was raining really hard – this left the mud less tacky and a little easier to ride. I was doing really well until ¾ of the way through special test 1. My rear brake locked up. I took a couple of seconds to look and see if maybe a rock was wedged in the pedal. Nothing. Since I was in a test, I put it in first gear, opened the throttle, and rode to the finish. At the finish of the test, the brakes were so hot that embers of burnt brake pad were jumping off the caliper and sizzling on the ground. It only took me a few seconds to notice that the pedal stop screw had worked its way all the way in. I backed it out, tightened the lock nut, and got back on the trail. As I rode away from the test, I decided to have a little mental conversation with my bike: “OK, listen here you pile of shit. First the float, then the brakes – if you get in my way of qualifying for Six Days, I swear I will ghost ride you over the first cliff I can find and leave you for the raccoons to piss all over for the rest of eternity.” I think it listened to me because aside from running a little rough, I didn’t have any major issues for the rest of the day.
At the gas stop, I changed the brake pads because I had fried them all the way down to the metal in test 1. The rest of the day was fairly uneventful and much of the same course as day 1. It was a pretty tough Enduro for only 70 miles per day, and it claimed quite a few DNF’s.
At the end of day 1 I was in 4th place – 120 seconds behind 3rd. After my bike issues during a test on day 2, I knew that I was pretty far behind, but I really needed to finish because you never know what can happen to the other riders when the conditions are so tough. Sure enough, the rider in 3rd had some water create electrical issues with his bike just 15 miles from the finish. I was able to secure third due to both his bad luck and my own determination. This year the AMA is taking the top 3 riders from each class at each qualifier to the ISDE. So, I’m in!
Thanks to my wife for dumping gas in my bike in the pouring rain while standing in 2 inches of mud – now that’s love! Thanks to my parents for coming and supporting me. Also for the support: Pit Stop Auto, Cascade Family MC, Motorex, Asterisk, Polar Heart Rate Monitors, Moto Pro Suspension, Offroad Champions, Black Diamond Bike, Hinshaws Motorcycle Store, Devol Alloy Products, and Arai Helmets.
I was thinking that I still might drive my bike off a cliff, but that will have to wait, I have an Enduro to win in Shelton next weekend.
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