Saturday morning and the truck's loaded. I'm headed out for my first off-road race in the high desert. The AMA District 37 Lost Coyotes Desert Hare Scramble in Ridgecrest, CA. Coming from Northern California parts of the drive are very scenic especially on highway 178 east of Bakersfield. You follow the Kern River up through the Sierra Nevada mountains. Along the river there's small waterfalls cresting big boulders and people fly fishing for trout in the pools of water. It's was very picturesque.
I drove for about nine hours. I'm now on highway 395 and start to see lots of RV's and bikes. There had to be five or six hundred people with bikes, RV's and trailers all over the place. What a site! I pulled in and looked for Tom and Irene's RV and the SoCal M/C campsite. I was racing as a guest with the SoCal M/C club. I finally found Tom and Irene but no RV. Tom had his little white pickup, a trailer and an awning. What... where's the RV, Tom? He broke down that morning on the way to the race so he had to go back and get his pickup. Boy, was I relieved! I wasn't the only one sleeping in the back of their pickup. I unloaded, setup camp and went and signed up for the races. I got my pie plate and check-point card, now I'm ready to go.
Let me start off by saying, I have a newfound respect for people that race desert off-road! It's a sport that requires you and your bike to be in top physical condition! I'm originally born and raised in Arizona and thought this hot weather 85-mile course would not be a problem. Boy, was I wrong!
It's about 8:45 AM and people are starting to line up. There were about three hundred bikes pulling up to the start line. Five rows of about sixty bikes each. Experts in the front and quads in the back. I was in the second to last row with the beginners. I'm thinking there's no way I'm going to see through the dust and if I fall behind, the quads will pass me and make it even more difficult.
The race was a "dead engine" start. There's a truck parked at the end of the bomb run with a couple guys holding a large banner (the "bomb run" is the start of the course, about a mile long). Everybody warms up their engines until the banner goes up. The banner drops and the first row takes off. If you're looking forward, you now have a face full of dirt! After a few minutes, the second row is flagged, then the third, and now it's our turn. At this moment I could literally feel my heart beating! All eyes are focused on the banner. I'm thinking, is my bike going to start on the first kick, where is the best line through the bomb, I wonder what line this guy next to me will take? Your mind is going two-forty! The banner drops. What a rush! Everyone kicks down at the same time and the bikes ROAR! I can't hear if I got my bike started. To my dismay, my bike didn't fire. Man, after all my preaching on how to start a thumper on the first kick and I couldn't even start my own. Ok, no problem, kick again. Shit! What the hell is going on? Come on f#<%ing thing start! Finally the beast comes to life, I pop the clutch and embarrassingly take off. The good thing was, there was no dust and no one to fight with for the best line through the bomb, ha!
A few miles go by and I start seeing a dust trail. Yeah! I'm catching up. Adrenalin's flowing now! I passed about ten bikes (I wont mention that a couple weren't even running, ha!). I finally caught up to a group of guys there were just about my speed. I passed them, they passed me, we went back and forth for awhile. We came up on a guy that was on the ground curled up in the fetal position with his bike fifteen feet away. No one was there so I stopped to see if he was ok and waited for the rescue truck to come. I was only there a few minutes before the rescue truck showed up.
Everything's going good so far. I'm blasting through the washes and thumpin' up the hills, I was havin' some fun now! Then, I was in the course about 25 miles and my 40oz hydration pack went dry. The temperature that day was about 100° F and I was thinking, 60 more miles with no water, NOT! I continued. I went through the last check-point on the first loop and headed for the finish line instead of continuing to the pits for gas and goggles. I was so exhausted and glad to have finished just one loop. I don't think I could have done two, especially with no water. I'm telling you, guys like Scott Summers, Johnny Campbell, Paul Krause and Ty Davis must be super-human to go rip'n' through the desert like they do!
Here are just a few basic things I learned from my first off-road race:
- Install a new spark plug before the race to make sure you get a good spark for a quick start, they're cheap enough.
- Make sure your bike is jetted properly and adjust your pilot screw the morning of the race, not before.
- Warm up your bike on the starting line and if it's a four-stroke, don't wrap it out.
- Drink plenty of liquid before and during the race and invest in a good hydration system with at least a 72oz bladder!
- It always helps when you are in good physical condition, along with your bike.
- Make sure you have a set of sturdy handguards that wrap around to protect levers incase of a crash. There's a good chance they will keep you from getting a DNF.