Wednesday, September 11, 2013

track day report

Been pondering the general shortage of time lately -- winter coming, birthdays, looming mortality etc. As we know, I probably won't die of mad cow disease, or bird flu, or even a motorcycle accident, but rather from sitting in chairs. The modern, slow-motion violence of just having a sedentary day job year after year -- odds are, that's what'll do me in.

You'd think this understanding, with all its accompanying despair and/or calmness of mind (depending on the day of the week), would allow me to throw myself headlong into dangerous pursuits. Occasionally it does. But usually, no. I am still a chicken, pretty often. Example: this weekend, I hitched a ride up to Shelton, Wash., to do a track day with a bunch of fellow SFRCers at the Ridge. (The Ridge is the track about which famed Isle of Man champ Dave Roper said: "maybe my favorite race track in the universe.") We left work early Friday and drove up that afternoon in Travis's new old truck.

Three bikes in back, with room for a mini or two!

I was stomach-ache nervous starting about Wednesday. Woke up Friday morning before the alarm went off, packed up, headed to the office, failed to concentrate at all on the job, and just basically performed deep breathing exercises until it was time to leave.

The drive was adventuresome enough to distract me from impending doom. After I got us lost a couple of times (no smartphone can help you if you can't tell left from right), we found our way to the track and set up camp in the parking lot. (Sounds grim but it was actually very comfortable - thank you, REI sleeping pad!) At this point I reverted back to panic because when you pull into the parking lot, what you see is this. Which looks terrifying from below, mainly because it is bloody terrifying.

But once we unloaded the bikes and set up camp, and the other guys arrived, I relaxed. Patrick's been racing and winning trophies practically every weekend all summer, and he mentioned how much he was looking forward to a fun, relaxing track day where you could hang out and ride with your friends and not get stressed out about trying to go full-blast, so I decided to aim for that stance. Also, I had some beer.

That worked until morning.

When I woke up the whole parking lot and surrounding area was socked in under a pea-soup fog. (But not green, though. Just thick like that. You could barely see!) After the rider's meeting, where they reminded us what the various flags meant (adding that it wouldn't matter because the flags would be invisible through the fog), those of us new to the track hopped into a trailer and were driven around for a one-lap tour, narrated by an ace rider with a charming Canadian accent. He kept saying stuff like "I sure wish we could see that cone there because that's where you'll want to tip in to this corner." From the back of the trailer, we could not see at all -- but we knew there were many hilly bits, because we kept all falling into each other. The narrating Canadian said, "If this fog doesn't burn off before your first session, I'd recommend skipping it, because this track with zero visibility is....ooof." So that was super comforting to hear.

Then it was time for our first classroom session. The only thing I remember from this is that the instructor advised us to take very deep breaths if nervous. I tried to focus on how attractive he was, and on my breathing, rather than all the trembling and various regrets about how little I'd had time to accomplish in my (soon to be) sadly abbreviated life. It kind of worked.

We left the classroom, got on our bikes, and lined up behind instructors for the first session. Within 30 seconds it was clear I would be totally blind the whole time. The fog congregated on my visor, and instead of just peering through it like a sensible person I tried to wipe it off with a glove, which made a big opaque smear across my field of vision. Visor up! OK. What was that he'd said about breathing? Oh right -- we should try to. Yes. OK. Wait, where did everyone go? Shit -- I'm holding up the entire operation. Zoom, catch up. Eeek, slow down! Repeat for 20 minutes. Breathe twice. End session 1.

After that the fog lifted and everything was much better.

A few illustrations:

Here's me looking basically just annoyed to be there. And another similar one.

Later in the day, one of PSSR's several awesome instructors followed me around to observe and coach. This was pretty fun and extremely helpful -- although the only time I actually felt comfortable on the track was when I followed one of them. The track has 16 turns, which is a lot to memorize in a day, and some of the lines are really weird -- but they make perfect sense when someone leads you through them. Here's a handy map:


Turns 13 and 14 are the ones that look scary from the parking lot, but in fact 15 and 16 worried me more, because passing (or, in my case, being passed) right there is super-hairball: you have to go pretty much all the way across the width of the track, far right to far left and back to far right, while trying to build speed for the front straight, all of which potentially cuts off anyone trying to get around you, so - kablammo, maybe? Luckily I couldn't see behind me ever. Who knows what went on back there.'s Patrick demonstrating how this sort of thing ought to be done.

Getting back to my pondering of mortality and whatnot, here is the complete list of injuries accumulated at the track day:

1. Stung by wasp, crook of elbow, left arm (the stinger is still in there and it really hurts!)
2. Pinkie finger pinched during pre-coffee tent-disassembly mishap (all better now)
3. Heart-attack diet, exclusively
4. Touch more sun than is probably healthy

That's it. (Now don't I feel silly.)

Anyway, I had a blast (as soon as I could see) and somehow my back tire got melty all the way to the edge, even though I'm pretty sure I was only going about 35mph the whole time. Look at it!

No chicken strips!

In perhaps the weekend's most humbling development, several people noticed (but politely did not mention, until I brought it up) that my bike is actually somehow dirtier than Patrick's. I don't know how this happened, and at first I wasn't sure whether to feel incredibly guilty about it or kind of proud. But the reactions of others led me to believe it was not something to be proud of, so today I washed the bike. It looks much better and might have dropped five or 10 pounds.

After the track day, Travis and Courtney and I continued on to the Isle of Vashon TT -- an enormous vintage-bike rally thing basically designed for strolling along gazing at cool and rare motorcycles, aka mantiquing, and a bit of riding around the beautiful island. We saw a lot of amazing bikes I won't even attempt to describe because I'll probably get them wrong. Travis competed in the field games and beat the old dudes in most categories (except the slow-bike race, which is fine because there's no glory in being slower than a dude on a harley anyway, even on purpose).

(Photo by Courtney)

All in all not a bad weekend.

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