Last weekend, I told you I was going to go dirt bike riding with my old running pal Don Lorenzen. I did go...and what an adventure. I recall Don saying, "I've never had a beginner do that. And furthermore, I've never seen it happen like that before."
Before I get to the incident that spurred his comment, let me tell you about the day. Don and his close riding buddies are very into dirt bike riding. This sport is far more than riding a motorcycle on dirt roads.
Because I have limited experience on a motorcycle (last time I rode one I was 10) and limited experience on a vehicle like a motorcycle (rode a four-wheeler about 15 years ago), he started with basic maneuvers.
Before basic training could even begin, first I had to get all of the gear on. First, socks that go all the way up to your knees. Over the socks go knee and shin guards. Then, the fancy cycling pants followed by motocross boots. I used to downhill ski quite a bit and these boots feel like a strange combination of ski boots and tall horseback riding boots. The boots were a bit big for me, making it tough to feel the shifters (shifting done with your left foot - toe really) and the rear brake which is activated with your right foot. But, I'd manage.
After your lower body is all dressed up, the finishing touches are added to your upper body. First I wore an undershirt, covered with a fancy motorcycle shirt. Over motorcycle shirt is a plastic chest and shoulder protector. For arm protection, I wore my mountain bike arm guards. Finally, a helmet and sunglasses are put on before the last bit of gear - gloves.
That's two full paragraphs to describe putting on personal protective gear and I'm exhausted from just getting dressed. Of course, once you have all that stuff on and you're getting ready to approach the bike - you have to use the restroom. Dang.
Below is a photo of Todd Singiser, me and Don Lorenzen (Dennis Anderson is taking the photo):
Before starting the bike, Don patiently explains the clutch (left hand activated) and the shifting (one click down is 1st gear, one click up is neutral, two clicks up is 2nd, three clicks up is 3rd and that's all I need for today). The gas is activated by a grabbing the right handlebar and twisting it towards me (this action is described more fully later in the story) and the front brake is activated with the right hand, similar to mountain bike brakes. Not to be confused with the clutch activated with the left hand (also similar in position to a mountain bike brake), which does not brake; but can be used as a shutdown mechanism of sorts. As I mentioned before, the rear brake is activated with the right foot.
That is a lot of different body motions to coordinate with natural instinct.
Gale and Don the moto-zen master below:
My first activity was to start the bike and ride around the parking lot in 1st gear. That went well, so I graduated to second gear. There was braking practice, more shifting practice, circles both directions and figure eight patterns. Since I seemed to be catching on pretty fast, I graduated to riding up and down a sloped area between two parking lots. Some seated, some standing and more figure eights.
After a short break, Don asked if I wanted to go out on the dirt road and double-track. I told him if he thought I was ready, I was up for the trek.
The road had roots, rocks and ruts. This was no smooth parking lot. In the rating system for obstacles, I suspect it is a 1.5 out of 10, with 1 being the smooth parking lot. I thought I was doing pretty well, only killing the engine about a dozen times and getting hung up in a small ditch water crossing once. It was boggy and deep, but not very wide.
Then came the non-rhythmic, choppy, rut section. My natural instinct from mountain biking, when getting into a bumpy technical section (now rated a 2.0 out of 10), apparently, is to grab the handlebars and try to keep the bike upright. This action is perfectly acceptable, as long as you don't twist your wrist and apply lots of gas.
In seconds I was heading right for a small, dry bog area with about a one foot drop off. I tried to keep the bike (weighing some 250ish pounds) upright and didn't. I laid it down onto the dropoff and the grass.
Don came back and helped me get the bike back upright, pointed in the right direction. He also picked a nice line with minimal bumps for me to ride through before crossing a shallow creek and climbing a short and steep (rating 2.2) hill. He would ride the line first and show me the way. Good plan.
He rode easily through the ruts and crossed the creek. When I began through the ruts, they grabbed the front wheel. Instinctually, I grabbed the handlebars to steady the bike - and - you guessed it - the gas. A lot of gas.
I remember thinking two things:
"Wow, I'm going really fast and I can't take my hand off of the gas."
"I am going to run directly into that willow tree/bush."
The next thing I remember is standing on the ground, looking at the bike that was vertical to the ground and gently resting on the branches of the willow tree. The rear fender was touching the ground and some of the rear wheel; but mostly the tree was holding the bike.
While this is happening with me, Don recalls hearing the extreme gas sound, "Wwwweeeeeeeeeeee". When he turned to look, he saw a cloud of blue smoke. After turning around to find what happened, he looked down the hill to see me standing on the ground sans bike.
I had managed to accelerate the bike right out from underneath me and somehow I landed on my feet without a stunt double.
When Don realized I was not hurt, he started laughing. He laughed so much it brought tears to his eyes. When he was able to catch his breath he said, "I've never had a beginner do that. And furthermore, I've never seen it happen like that before."
I did ride through that darn creek and up that 2.2 hill. After a sandwich break we rode another 30 minutes or so.
After about four hours total of riding that day, it took me a week to recover. My legs were tired and my shoulders were stiff.
On the drive home, I kept repeating "This was not fun. This was not fun."
The last thing I need is a new sport...
PS...Big thanks to Nick Hansen for loaning me his motorcycle so I could run it up a tree...