OK, so it should be absolutely clear up front that I had no intention on doing the SLE this year. We originally considered heading down to Daytona to see the 200 while my brother (who works in the TV industry) was down working the races, but logistics got in the way and we couldn’t swing the trip. My plans were to do some tree removal around the yard in preparation for a new fence, maybe some bike maintenance, typical busywork for a weekend day. On Saturday morning I groggily walked into the kitchen at around 8:30a to see I had received a voicemail earlier that AM – surely not the “norm”, and played it to hear a somewhat panicky Fn Hal leaving a message that he and GLantern needed my help asap. I was concerned.
Immediately my brain shifted into crisis mode, and I quickly called them back expecting to hear of a broken down vehicle issue or a desperate need for bail money. What came next was a 5 minute “berating” session for being such a pantywaste for not doing the event now that I had the weekend free. By the time the call finished, I promised to think about loading up the bike and heading down – and after a 15 minute “ugh, am I really going to do this” tantrum I begrudgingly wheeled my bike up into the Ridgeline bed and started the trek to Wharton in Jersey to meet up with the gruesome twosome who were already on their way.
Attempting this enduro wasn’t completely based in negative feelings, though I will certainly say that I wasn’t overly excited about it. I’d read tons on this event, known quite a few people who’d done it years prior and knew that it was likely going to be single-track hell that would give my bark busters a workout. I looked forward to the challenge, but I just wasn’t sure I was in the mood for a self-inflicted 6 hour asskicking. Alas, once I’m in, I’m in – and I was going to try to do well.
On the way down
For those not “in the know”, here’s a nice primer about the Sandy Lane Enduro: http://www.meteormc.com/history.htm. As this was the 75th anniversary of the event, they had an awesome display of hundreds of photos of the event and it’s history – photos of old salty guys on heavy old bikes knee deep in mud puddles, donning leather helmets with smiles peaking through dirty faces. It was an amazing display of history and fortitude and a firm reminder that as tough as things might feel at the time, there are guys who had it a lot tougher and managed to make it through.
Triumphs, some of the old "winners" of years past
Maybe a "couple" of years older than Fuzzy's husky
As Glantern already explained in his previous post what some of the issues were that plagued his bike, I will skip delving further into it – it suffices to say that when you see someone starting a bike by towing it behind a car, you know it’s going to be an interesting weekend
Note Glantern`s smile - it will be long gone in 12 hours
I’d ridden a few organized DS rides already that were primarily rough single track, so I had an idea of what we were getting into – but the only way I can describe the SLE route is “hellish”. Tight, gnarly, whooped sand/dirt singletrack with scattered trees tighter together on the edge of the trail than 31″ (my bar width). It was relentless. Whatever you imagine, multiply it by 10. Some of the saplings you could bash through, but the majority were wider trees that you had to thread your bars through. I’ve never prayed for sandy roads more. There were times when it felt like there was no way you would be able to keep up any level of stamina – it just went on and on with no breaks. Every once in a while you’d catch glimpse of an open field off through the woods, and you’d be praying that the route sent you in that direction – to have it double back and send you deep into the woods again. When you weren’t in deep woods hell (which was about 80% of the ride), you were on deep sand two track or fire cuts with huge whoops. I get that it’s an Enduro, and this suggests a test of Endurance, but man, I was completely unprepared mentally for just how much endurance you’d need. I was able to stay “fresh” for the first hour in each leg – but then I’d break down mentally and it became a real struggle to push on with the same gusto, and once your “will” starts to falter you wrap your “disgust with the situation” around you like a straitjacket. I’d pull into each gas stop SURE that I was done, that I was going to bail out and just stop. After a cliff bar, some water and a few minutes of rest, I would suddenly become possessed by some horrible evil spirit – forcing my mouth to utter words like “ok, are we ready to roll?” And off we went. Back into hell.
I can say without question it was the hardest ride I’ve ever done on a DS bike. Not due to the terrain – that was gnarly, but not so bad. It was just the nonstop relentless pushing that you had to do. Every time you wanted to stop and take a 5 minute break, you couldn’t. You want to hit your times, you want to do well, so you just continue to push. Push through your hands feeling like they would fall off because you’ve been gripping the damned bars too tightly. Push through the frustration. Push through the TIRED. I wasn’t willing to quit, even though I really wanted to. I might not be riding as fast and as hard as I wanted, but I was going to keep pushing until I saw it through to the end. Or at least until the next sandy road, when the wind could blow through your jersey and cool you down, and you could relax and regain your composure on 4ft tall deep sand whoops for the next 2 miles. Ugh.
In the end, I actually didn’t do too poorly. I scored a 58, which put me in the upper 50% of the class I was riding in (senior with all of the old guys who were much faster than me ). Oddly enough, that score would’ve gotten me top 10 in quite a few other classes, top 5 in some. Not so bad. I did a lot better than I thought I was doing at the time. Mind you, this was in no small part due to Hal’s ability to read the trail and use his psychic ability to just KNOW where the next checkpoint was, he was 100% the reason why we hit our marks so well on most of the checkpoints. Armed with the knowledge of what it was REALLY like, I am sure I could do better next time out. Mentally, I’d prep myself differently. I’d push “differently” than I was, and I wouldn’t be so hard on myself during the process because I wasn’t doing as badly as I had imagined I was. Oh, I’d I’d put a few more years of experience under my belt first. I have to remind myself I’ve only been out on dirt bikes for a couple of seasons. I’m still a child in all of this.
I still have a lot to learn.