I won’t lie. For a week, I worried about going dirt biking. Already two years had gone by since taking the motorcycle safety class, and the dirt bike was the proverbial horse, unridden before now. Broc generously offered my daughter, Shannon, and other co-workers to go on the dirt track behind the Fox Racing building where they worked, and Shannon enthusiastically volunteered me.
So I worried. Would I remember how to operate a motorcycle? Shifting gears (left hand clutch, left foot gears), braking (right hand front wheel, right foot on the tiny pedal for back wheel, apply both equally). Turning. We did a lot of turning in the motorcycle class, but it was tricky coordinating balance and speed. Compound my rusty skills with a dirt track. Slippery dirt. Probably giant hills. And malicious turns. True, I could have declined. Peer pressure, certainly from a far younger generation, has rarely swayed me. But if I did it without breaking a femur, it would be self-affirming. What a cool thing to have done. The past tense here is what I looked forward to.
After work, Shannon and her co-worker Michelle met me outside their building. Broc walked us past the bikes – 125cc and over 100lbs we’d have to pick up if we fell – as my pulse quickened. Broc is a kind man, tall and gentle, not the hard core image I’d associate with a high adrenaline sport. His love for motocross is evident. He readily put me at ease, having plenty of experience volunteering his skills in education and promotion of the sport.
Broc fitted us with cheerily decorated helmets, excessively padded inside, forcing a look of apprehension in the direction of the bikes. Michelle and I put on chest protectors, alas not like the Kevlar worn by the military, but clearly insufficient for the peril we would shortly face. After a brief overview of how to ride these bikes, Michelle and I hopped on, sitting far forward over the engine for better traction. Clutch in, shift to neutral, jump up and down on the kickstarter lever until finally, stubborn as a lawnmower, it started. Vroom vroom! OK, so maybe this would end up alright. Clutch in, use toes to push the shifter down a notch into 1st, slowly release clutch and off we go. Add a little gas from the right handle grip. Heigh Ho Silver! What fun! I had forgotten the pleasure of the wind surrounding me, the rumbling of the seat and under my feet. I was ready to get on the road and cruise into the sunset.
All too soon a gate faced me. The parking lot was ending. Now what? OK, this was only the first run down the aisle, so foregoing a powered turn, clutch went in as I slowed enough for my feet to guide me around, avoiding a search for the tiny circular pedal that passes for a foot brake. Michelle and I timidly avoided each other with each pass until Broc coerced us into shifting into 2nd for the straightaways. As it turns out, pleasure increases exponentially with respect to velocity.
A few more turns (look Shannon, no feet!) and we were pronounced prepared for the track. Reluctantly, we ushered Broc ahead of us and watched with our mouths agape and eyes riveted as he gracefully followed the contours up, down and around. Hmmm, Silver seemed a bit wary and in need of coaxing. I graciously let Michelle and her mount go first. Up the first little hill, the second larger hill, the third giant hill. They disappeared, leaving us only with the Doppler-shifted rumbling.
After a long moment devoid of screaming or crashing sounds, Silver stopped bucking in fear and we suspiciously entered the track. First hill – cool. Second larger hill – cooler. Third giant hill – aaaaaah, all the way down the precipice, carefully steering through the notch and then to the right. The turns were angled to help you use your center of gravity around the arc, but still I panicked and used the clutch, slowing to avoid a parallel section of track. A few iterations later I rose up on the turns in 1st gear, surely feeling like a true motocross racer. Broc had told us to extend the inside leg and shift our behind to the outside of the seat in turns, but Silver would have none of that.
With a sensitive accelerator, it was tricky keeping a constant speed, even in the parking lot, and here with ups and downs, lefts and rights, this skill completely eluded me. It was at this point I asked Broc for any tips and was rewarded with “Keep your speed steady.” Perhaps another day.
Round and round we went until I found Silver not responding as well. Concluding he was tiring, we clumsily got off the track, preferring to watch Michelle – unflailing Michelle, addicted Michelle – continue to ride the track at full speed, which for us was on the order of 5 mph.
With the exception of the third hill that first run, the ride felt safe. I didn’t fall, there was no blood. From my ski days, I knew this meant I wasn’t trying hard enough. But over the years I have also learned where to draw the line, that if something was worth pursuing, I could find a way to improve my skills at a later date. Just riding the bike was a sufficient goal for today. Going on a dirt track was cake frosting.
Shannon, in the meantime, had wandered to join other colleagues on an umbrella-covered deck surrounded by the track and flowering bushes. Maria was cooking a savory shrimp, ham and bacon soup on the grill, in genius foil bags that could be opened into a bowl.
I don’t know how Silver was rewarded after our excursion, but for myself there was a scrumptious soup, and the confidence from having ridden that elusive horse.