By Anna Svagzdys
The morning of my first enduro is looking about as promising as one could hope. I didn’t fall asleep on my bike while waiting to go through tech (a real risk, as I had just gotten a grand total of one hour of sleep), it isn’t raining, and after a last-minute carb re-jet, my bike is running well in the chilly October air. Paperwork completed, my boyfriend Greg and I get changed and book it down the road to the start. While we wait for our minute to come up, Greg looks over his roll chart and tries to fill me in on enduro strategy. A voice from behind us advises, “Just ride as fast as you can and follow the arrows!” That would be Coop Macritche, Dylan Macritche’s dad. This race will determine whether the 2014 enduro championship will go to Dylan or to Jim Senecal—both of them are already burning up the trail ahead of us. Looking around, I’m pleased to see that there are three other women in my line—including Taylor Johnson, who is racing her first enduro as part of the B class. I’m not sure what the day would hold, but, based on the size of the rocks scattered underneath us, I don’t expect to see any of these people again before the trophy ceremony.
The fateful second arrives. Taylor and company vanish in a roar of throttle while I wobble my way to flatter ground. After winding through some roadside fields, the narrow trail dives into the woods, giving me a taste of what the day is doing to be like. Within half a mile of the start, I find one of my fellow lady riders stuck on a big diagonal log—the first of probably a hundred that day. I give her a hand, then go on ahead. In the first few miles, most if not all of minute 19 makes its way past me, leaving me in the woods, for better or for worse.
At the first check, I have just enough time to take a drink from my camelback and shake out my hands, then the course volunteers wave me on. I’m going to be under constant threat of houring out all day, I realize. If I want to get my money’s worth, I better book it. The trail in this section zigzags over rocks and logs and up a large, gradual hill, none of which give me too much trouble. But troubles comes, sure enough, in the form of occasional mud pits studded with roots and rocks. I don’t have the speed or skill to just blitz through them, and it’s amazing what you CAN’T duck walk a bike through when you can barely touch your toes to the ground. The road sections provide some welcome relief: a nice cruise on asphalt to sit down, cool off, and take a drink from my Camelbak. The next couple checks blend together in my memory: I always come to them too late to relax. One, located just off the side of the road, I blow right by and have to make a u-turn.
“Am I houred out?” I ask the group of men standing there.
“No,” somebody says, “but you probably will by the next check.”
“If you make it to the gas stop,” somebody else offers, “you’ll get back on your original minute.”
Good, I think, that’s my goal for the day.
Before I’m even out of sight of the volunteers, I fall over in a pile of rocks. Par for that part of the course, it will turn out. Back in the woods, the rocks are no better and the muddy sections are becoming more frequent. I quickly realize that it is more efficient for me to get off the bike and push in these situations than to try to paddle through and risk dropping it. I’m relieved when the ground begins to climb again—I can handle rocky hills a lot better than I can handle rocky mud holes. I keep my speed up, even lofting my front wheel over a couple of those pesky logs: I can’t afford to fall and get stuck out here. Unlike at NETRA hare scrambles, there are no volunteers and spectators to help me if I mess up and lose my momentum. I haven’t seen a soul in miles and miles. This gives me an idea.
“I WAS BORN BY THE RIVER, IN A LITTLE TENT,” I howl experimentally into my helmet, “AND LIKE THAT RIVER, I BEEN RUNNIN—EVER SINCE—“
No one to hear you scream means no one to hear you sing, either. I’m a little alarmed at how much this improves matters. Racing, for me, is typically a battle against my temper as well as against the terrain: singing is definitely a waste of energy, but less so than screaming and throwing a temper tantrum. Massacring Sam Cooke gets me off the single track and onto a forest road, which finally brings me to pavement. That gas stop can’t be long now, I think, and zip off at hopefully not too illegal a speed, desperate to make up time.
So absorbed by my need for speed, I blow right by the gas truck and wind up back in the woods. Did I miss a check, or just gas? I wonder. One way to find out, I think, and keep going, trying to brush aside my apprehension as orange arrows point me back into the woods. At my lamentable rate of travel, I could ride for two days straight and not need gas. Sure enough, there’s plenty left in the tank when I finally arrive at what turns out to be check 6. I hit the brakes and give them my now traditional greeting: “Am I houred out?”
The guys tell me no: I’m free to get gas, have some lunch, and report back. Setting the bike on its stand to fuel up, I notice a couple problems. One, my kickstand is bent and the bike is piddling fuel onto the grass. This is easily solved by propping it up on a stick. The second problem is more worrying: there is a weeping puncture wound in my clutch cover. That might be the end of my race. “Does anyone have an eight millimeter socket wrench?” I poll the audience. A wrench is provided and I check the oil, which is remarkably still okay. A little crowd gathers. One guy pulls out a roll of Gorilla Tape and begins to patch the hole. “There’s soup and cookies,” somebody mentions, and I am off like a shot in the direction of the food. By the time I have finished inhaling a bowl of chicken soup and half a dinner roll (the other half of which goes in my pocket for later), the Gorilla Tape patch is looking pretty substantial and my minute is approaching. I restart the bike and pull up to the line.
When the number cards turn over, I go… and immediately fall over in an enormous mud puddle. “This too shall pass,” I think, and start pushing. My feet can barely find traction, let alone my grease-packed, racing-slick-looking rear trials tire. I make it out of this particular swillhole and around the tiny motocross track, then find myself in another mud puddle, this one predictably strewn with boulders. I start pushing, slip, and fall over. The muddy rock garden begins to slope uphill. Unbelievable. I start to lose my cool. By the time I reach the 1.5 foot diameter, diagonal, bark-less log that lies across the midpoint of the incline, I have lost it. I rev the engine, drop the clutch, and let the bike fly halfway over the log by itself. Under ordinary circumstances, picking up its back end and dragging it the rest of the way over the log would not be a big deal, but at this level of exhaustion, it is. Swears are uttered. Energy is wasted in screaming. When the bike is all finally uphill of the log, I am presented with a problem: only half the rock garden is behind me, and I now have no energy to make it through the rest. I walk the trail, scouting out the easiest line and removing any lose rocks from it. Time to push, I think, and pick up the bike.
Just then, I hear the roar of another engine, and a sweeper—the Northeastern Common Woods Grim Reaper—bounces into view. He’s not a big proponent of helping, he announces, but if I’d like, he’ll ride my bike up the hill.
Of course, when he puts it like that, I’d rather roll out the mat and commit hara-kiri right there than let him so much as touch the thing. I put on my helmet, start her up, and start pushing. I have to stop and rest a couple times, but I make it to the top. By this time, there are two sweepers observing my progress. Does it get any easier? I ask them. They respond in the negative.
“It’s okay, we won’t pass you,” one of them says. “We’re going to take down the arrows behind you. Go ahead.”
I carry on, but I know in the back of my head that my race is over. Back on the single track, all goes smoothly for about half a minute, then I see huge mud ruts making a right angle into brown water. I follow them around the corner—then nearly start crying (again). The ruts re-emerge from the swill and lead straight up and enormous, loamy, leaf-strewn hill. I slam the throttle open, hang on, and start spinning about 1/3 of the way from the top. Then I fall over, then the bike slides back to the bottom. This, I think, is the end. The sweepers find me standing next to the bike, holding the throttle open and uselessly burning the edge off my tire—not with any real hope of making it to the top, but just to feel productive. One of them dumps his bike, takes mine, sits on the rear fender and paddles it to the top. I chase after him, pretending to push and wishing, for the thousandth time that day, that my legs were longer, or that my bike was shorter, or that I’d run a knobby in the rear, or that I’d gotten more sleep that night.
At the top of the hill, the trail intersects a forest road, which the sweepers direct me to follow until it reaches the paved road and then wait for them. A guy on a four-wheeler finds me before they do and gives me directions back to the parking lot. I putter off, trying to take in the scenery and sunshine and not beat myself up too badly for only finishing half the race. Back in the parking lot, I take stock of the damage to my machine and eat the now highly compacted dinner roll that I had put in my pocket at check 6. Greg rolls in about an hour later.
“What an emotional roller coaster that was,” he says, taking off his helmet.
“You’re tellin’ me,” I say.
One dollar PBR drafts in the clubhouse brighten our spirits considerably, allowing us to deal fairly gracefully with the shock when each of us wins a trophy in our class. We also learn that with this race, Jim Senecal has won his fourth enduro championship in a row, a feat nobody has yet accomplished in the half-century history of the series. After polishing off another round of Pibbers, we load up the bikes and head back north. This may not have been the smartest choice for my first enduro, given the highly technical terrain, but it was a great event and I hope to be back next year. I’ll ride the damn thing on a trials bike if I have to—those rocks haven’t heard the last from me!
By Anna Svagzdys
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