AZ Race Report: I'd Have Rather DNF'd
Well, it was a rough weekend in Arizona for our local heroes.
Eric and I arrived at sign-ups for the Desert Mountain National Enduro right when they opened at 10am Saturday morning. We parked by Bruce and Clint Brown's compound, but they were nowhere in sight. The first thing Eric does when he exits the van is walk straight up to a cholla cactus and touch it with his finger tip. Of course, he backs off looking like a pin cushion. I don't know what he was expecting, but he sure looked like a new-comer to the desert with the spines poking out of his finger. What a dork
Sign-ups went well. The Arizona Trail Riders had a good handle on things, everything went smoothly, and there were free Moose scorecard holders for all the participants. They even had a free mounting
station outside. Every single person I talked to from the club was very friendly and helpful.
Things began to go downhill from there.
The club had set up a 1 mile jetting loop at the northern end of the staging area. We wanted to be sure the bikes were running well at the low altitude, and I wanted to get a feel for the terrain. I suited up, donning my new Tech 6's (no intention of racing in them, I just couldn't wait to try them out) and proceeded to do my little circles and warm-up drills while waiting for Eric to finish getting ready. My rear brake pedal felt a bit bizarre to me, but I figured it was just the new boots and shrugged it off. I adjusted the lever, just to be sure, and we took off down the road.
The jetting loop was a blast. Mostly high-speed wide-open ATV trail, but with a few sharp turns, drop-offs and sandy and rocky wash-type crossings. Whoops, too. We did a lap, and gave each other the thumbs-up, both of us grinning from ear to ear. Now, I won't lie to y'all, I was a bit nervous before arriving. I really did wonder if I had any business entering a national enduro, short loop or not. Well, after doing the loop, I felt a whole lot better about things, even tho I knew it was probably going to be the roughest race I've ever done. My bike was absolutely rippin', and the nervousness quickly morphed into a kind of confidence.
Eric and I decide to try it at a 24mph average, just to see if I can ride this stuff at that rate of speed. We take off and rip off a fast loop. Wow! This desert stuff is a blast!! My bike is literally leaping out of the turns (it's always been a bit rich, and the low elevation is being very kind to me) and I feel good right away. It usually takes me a bit of time to get in the groove, but I was psyched and ready to go. My rear brake was causing a bit of concern, but I figure I'll just change my boots, have Eric look at it, and everything will be cool. Not so.
We do one more lap, and then another. I come flying off one of the drop-offs, having just passed a guy on a KTM, only to see Eric sitting in the bottom of it looking at his forks. Seems he flew off the drop-off and landed hard, and when his fancy-schmancy Ohlins forks compressed and bottomed out,
they didn't rebound. WTF? He said he heard something snap or break in there when he landed. He's a bit shook up, but very lucky he didn't get hurt. We head back to the van. Eric is lagging behind on his lowrider, so I wait for him at the beginning of the loop.
As I'm sitting there in the shade, I see my competition riding towards the loop. I wait, trying to decide if I should wait for Eric or go for a little reconnaissance ride. I take off after the gal, just to see what she's got. I follow her through the whole loop, and then ride on back to the
van, with an even bigger smile on my face
Eric takes the forks apart, and finds the problem: his aluminum pre-load spacers have been jammed down into the forks, completely compressing the springs behind them. They aren't coming out for love
nor money. We broke several tools (spring pullers, screwdrivers, picks, etc) trying to get them out. He spent nearly all day trying to find a way to get them out, finally resorting to cutting them with a hacksaw. I had suggested that very thing hours earlier, but it wasn't a good idea then. It was now. He cut them and then finished them off with a chisel. They popped out without taking anyone's eye out, miraculous considering the compressed springs behind them.
While Eric was performing surgery on his forks, I spent the day making the rounds talking to folks, putting my numbers on, placing my scorecard just so on my fender so as not to cover up my freshly
applied Smackover stickers, and meeting our friend Ley at sign-ups.
Ley and I ride down to tech inspection, and I've got no rear brake whatsoever. I look down, after taking a big ribbing from the guys at tech, to see every last drop of brake fluid splayed out all over my rear wheel. It looked kind of like that spin-art stuff we used to do in the `70's, only dustier. We head back to the van, and Eric goes to work on it. He has finally decided his race weekend is over, as his damping rods are bent, so he focuses his attention on my latest mechanical adventure. He takes the caliper apart, cleans it out, and refills the fluid. We get it feeling sort of ok, and I go out for a test loop. Before I leave, Ley wipes my wheel clean so we can see if any more fluid leaks out. I have no brakes, and when I return, the wheel is covered again. It seems I have blown a piston seal in the caliper. Of course, we don't have a spare. In our 39 years of combined riding experience, neither one of us has ever experienced this sort of failure before.
I figure I can still ride, I'll just have to back it off a notch or two. It ain't like I had any notion of maintaining the ridiculous speed averages anyway, right? Ley and Eric are adamantly against the idea. Ley finally relents and says ok, to go do the jetting loop at 24mph and see what happens. He knew damn well what would happen, and I bet y'all do, too: I was blowing turns left and right, plowing the front end in the soft stuff every time I tried to slow down, and just riding like a bozo in general, holding my breath whenever I had to slow down quickly for anything gnarly. Ya know, like a left turn or a right turn... This was no way to have to go through my first national
I refused to accept defeat so easily. Of course, there wasn't another bike like mine within probably 250 miles, probably no GasGas dealers within driving distance that would actually have the seal in stock, and no factory truck to lend a gal a helping hand. I cruised the pits anyway, looking for the AA rider on the EC250. I heard he owned a dealership in PA and figured it couldn't hurt to talk to him. I never found him. I talked to a fine group of District 36 guys with a trailer-full of GasGases. No luck. It was starting to sink in with a dreadful certainty that my race weekend was over as well, before it even got started.
Here I was, so worried about finishing without houring out, when the real obstacle was just making it to the damned starting line. And wouldn't you know, this was the first time Eric and I have gone so far from home without taking a spare bike. I think it would be a huge understatement to say we were quite disappointed.
I never found Jim Hall, so I just said my good-byes to Bruce and Clint, and we made tentative plans to meet in Utah in May, and/or Arizona sometime before summer. Eric and I headed back to the hotel
and had dinner with Ley. He was quite bummed as well, as he was the one that wanted us to come out and race with him (hah! as if that would even happen...He's a fast A rider. I never actually ride "with" him, I ride with his dust) and now he was left to race on his own. That, and all 3 of us were really looking forward to dinner, wine and the hot tub after the race. We had to get back home and spend Monday working on bikes and ordering parts, rather than driving back from Arizona. The Quicksilver is next weekend and Eric wants to get the bike stuff out of the way as soon as possible.
Ley had a rough weekend himself. He got about 10 miles into the B loop and got a flat tire in a very rocky section. After getting the bike out of the rocks and over to the edge of the trail, he takes off his rear wheel and goes to take his tire irons, tube and Co2 cartridges out of the pack on his rear fender. One problem, though: the pack isn't there. He puts the wheel back on and rides very, very carefully back to the pits. Not a stellar end to his race, that's for sure.
So the final tally for the weekend:
Total miles driven: 1,464
Total miles ridden: 13
Total hours spent driving: 24
Total $ spent: About $800 (groceries, gas, room, entry. Meals not
Dinners missed with Mike W: at least 1
Rides missed with Baxter and Jeff Campbell: 1
Total number of tacky RV parks passed while in Arizona: 4,391
All in all, the weekend wasn't a total loss. The scenery was beautiful, the food good, the weather perfect, we got to see some friends we hadn't seen in awhile, I met lots of very cool people, and
I have a better idea as to what to expect next year. Eric and I always have a good time road-tripping together, too. I'm a firm believer in things happening for a reason, and who knows? Maybe it was the enduro god's way of telling me I was a bit too confident going into a very
dusty high-speed race in terrain I'm not real familiar with. That's what I'm telling myself anyway, in keeping with my tradition of finding a silver lining in a totally f'ed up situation
have to go get `em next year...if my bike lasts that long.
Thanks, everyone, for the good thoughts and wishes for good luck. Maybe next year y'all can just shower me with spare parts instead, ok?