“Be careful, it’s a slippery slope.”
I nodded politely, acknowledging his warning, as I turned and walked away. I got to my truck, checked to see that everything was loaded, and downed a Red Bull as I drove toward home. The two-hour drive home was a bit rough as I struggled to keep my bleary eyes open and focused on the road. But I made it, unloaded, kissed the wife, pet the dog, and collapsed into the couch.
I had just finished my first real off-road motorcycle race in over ten years, a qualifier style enduro in the mountains outside of Palmdale, California. I used to race, many years ago, but was never very good and never really got in to the whole race scene or draw of competition. Perhaps it was because I wasn’t good enough to compete. Perhaps I had other priorities. Perhaps I wasn’t properly motivated. I’m not really sure. All I know is that my previous race career was short and relatively uneventful as I gathered only a handful of trophies primarily in the beginner class.
Years of throttle twisting in the So Cal desert along with riding with some of the fastest Pro racers in the world have vastly improved my skills. And somewhere along the way I developed a strong competitive spirit – just ask my wife who will likely point to the constant string of foot races we have from point A to point anywhere with the first to touch base proudly claiming, “WINNER,” as random grocery store patrons, parking lot attendants, and onlookers gawk at our ridiculousness.
So I decided to race a few off-road races in AMA District 37 in 2014. I wanted to renew my racer’s edge; the ability to calm ones nerves on the starting line, focus on the race ahead, and maintain composure in the face of adversity. The logical question, I suppose, is, “Why?”
In September 2013 I dusted off my race face and entered the Ontario, California round of the AMA EnduroCross series. I had been watching EnduroCross on TV and in person for a few years and believed it would be fun to compete. It was. Or, at least, it was some version of fun.
Race day consisted of several practice sessions, a timed qualifying practice, a qualifying round, a last chance qualifier, and the main event. This was my first EnduroCross event ever and my first motorcycle competition in over ten years. So, naturally, the goal I set was to bring home the win. Anything else would be unacceptable. And I would have nearly hit my goal if they stopped after the qualifying practice.
I had the third-fastest qualifying time of the day. I was stoked, totally happy. I was sure I would make the main and hit the podium that night. Just one problem. I forgot about the qualifier. I forgot about the nerves, the butterflies. I forgot about the feeling of lining up elbow to elbow on a starting gate with eight other guys all shooting for the same first turn. I forgot about that feeling deep in your gut that tells you to pin it for all it’s worth and to go hide in the parking lot at the same time. I forgot about the starting line. I forgot it was a race.
And then the gate dropped.
In the end I made the main event, qualifying in last place by way of the last chance qualifier. I rode terribly in the night show, getting pinched in the first turn, falling in the first rock section, getting stuck and falling in the matrix twice, and eventually getting lapped by the leaders. Somehow I managed a seventh place, I assume because the butterflies that carried my stomach to the rafters just before the race were only slightly smaller than those of the five guys who finished behind me. Regardless, it was a terrible night and a very disappointing finish. Not because of the seventh place so much, but because of how I rode and how much I let the fear take control.
I decided that night that it was time to get back on the starting line and renew my racer’s edge.
So there I was in Palmdale, five months later, after my first real off-road race in over ten years, my friend warning me about the slippery slope that is racing – that feeling of competition and the thrill of winning. But for me it was just about getting that edge back. I needed to shake off the starting line demons so I could race as well as I ride; maybe to ride EnduroCross again, maybe just to know I could.
I drove home content that day, content that I had a good butterfly-free ride, but that it was just one of two or three races I would hit this year. I’ll see my friend and his slippery slope at a couple of races, but it’s not like I’m a racer all of a sudden now.
Later that night, as I melted into the nook of my couch, my body aching, my eyes straining to stay open, my hands still clenched in the shape of the handlebars, I grabbed the iPad and clicked on the results of the day’s race. To my surprise my name was listed at the top of my class. First place. Nerves be damned, I got the win.
And right then the slope got very, very slippery.