Frank Visone shares his experience racing his first ever enduro (and first race since 2014) in this guest editorial.
It was 2:05 AM when I finally finished loading my stuff in the trailer to head to the Moonshine Enduro, key time of 8 AM some scant six hours away and a three-hour drive to get there. If I had known what I was in for, well, I’d still have gone, but I’d have been a lot wiser about it in the process. As I started up the Suburban, the exhaust peppering out that sweet muffled sound, I noticed something ominous: no lights from the ass-end of the trailer. Great.
I have an old 5x8 utility trailer that, for the most part, has been nothing short of exceptional for a guy who never owned a pickup truck in his life. For the better part of 27 years I’ve mastered the art of pulling a rig behind me. This particular trailer, though big enough for everything I’ve ever needed it to do, has been a complete turd in the electrical department. The manufacturer placed the rear tail lights so low and in the way of everything, that I’ve smashed them more times than I can count. My more modern solution has been to buy a set of magnetized “towing lights” from Harbor Freight and slap them on the back rails. So far, it’s been working like a charm.
Until just now.
It seems only fitting for me that I’d find one of them smacked off and dangling, ground wire busted and rusted. And at 2 AM I’m not about to grab my soldering kit and go to work if I don’t have to, but the thought of a three-hour drive in the pitch black with no trailer lights had me seeing visions of police lights all morning long. Luckily, I invested in a motorcycle hitch carrier a while back to save me from the extra baggage of hauling the bike long-distance with the trailer, for times like that magical day when I finally head up north and do some J Day events. This early AM, that investment paid off big-time.
I made the swap out from trailer to rail in less than 20 minutes; the only thing now suffering was my neatly organized trunk was turned into a shit-pile of every extra doo-dad and whatzitz that I had thrown on the trailer; you know, all that stuff for “just in case.”
I pulled away at about 2:25 AM and started my journey. The ECEA Moonshine in Mahanoy City, PA, would be my first Enduro ever and my first race since 2014. See, I’m 44 years old. I got my first bike at the age of seven, and have been mainlining the single-cylinder syringe ever since. I raced until I was 30, mostly motocross, but I enjoyed the scrambles I’d done much more (I grew up in the woods and only rode MX for the first time when I was 22). I hung up the boots in 2003 when the first of my three kids was born, and rode only a handful of times in the following 13 years. That last race I mentioned above was a local scramble in the fall of 2014 (which, at that time, was my first and only race since 2003).
Needless to say, a scathing case of monkey butt has been the one thing truly missing in my life. That, and the stamina that comes from being in shape. But I digress…
Thanks to Facebook, I was re-acquainted with FahQ Racing, which, ultimately, would be the catalyst to get my ass back on the seat of my YZ. I was eventually invited into the Masshole fold, and as my attention focused more and more on the club, my drive to ride was invigorated as a result.
Sadly, life kept throwing me curveballs, and other than a few quickie pre-workday dawn-patrols at an old secret spot I used to haunt, I never really got any decent riding in. Any riding is good riding, but to think I’m going to start racing again, at 44, with these knees? HA! I need more than a few meager laps around a sand-whoop trail to prepare for competition.
5 AM is still black as midnight in late September. Combine that with driving up the side of a mountain through a town you’ve never been to, with no real ability to see or navigate the single lane highway you’re on, all while looking for signs of a motorcycle race somewhere in the dark, and things can get pretty tense. I finally managed to find the property and pull into a parking spot around 5:30, killing the engine just as dawn was starting. I had been up since 7:30 the prior morning, so I figured if I set my alarm for 6:15 I’d get just enough sleep to keep my eyes open long enough to make it to the 8 AM key time. After that, adrenaline would have to do the job.
The alarm came and went and I never heard it, but thankfully I opened my eyes around 6:25. Once I could see where I was, I drove around to get a better parking spot, took a walk and found registration. I got myself signed up for the Vet B Senior 40+ class, (and yeah, the “senior” part still hurts to write), and then made my way back to my pit to get the bike, and myself, ready for the day.
I put the bike on the stand and filled the tank with gas. As anyone who has smelled it can confirm, there is NOTHING quite like the smell of VP race fuel in the morning. I checked the chain tension and gave it a quick shot of lube, if for no other reason than to give myself something else to scrub off of the bike later on. I taped the route sheet to my front fender and placed the row number sticker on my front number plate. Boom. She’s ready.
My row number was 62, which meant with a key time of 8 AM, my start time would be about 9:02. At this point it was only a little after 7, and I’m dressed, ready, and stuffing my face with all kinds of proteins, carbs, and fluids. I pack my gas crate and drag it to the gas truck, go find a buddy of mine and say hi, and then head back to my pit to twiddle my thumbs.
"Looking back at the morning thus far, I started to get the feeling that I was smack-dab in the middle of one of Ed Hertfelder’s old ‘Duct Tapes’ columns. Much as I loved reading those as a kid in the back of Dirt Rider Magazine, I didn’t much love the current assimilation all that much."
I found myself parked across from Rich Lafferty. I wanted to go over and introduce myself to him, but I’m too much of a knob to do it. Who wants some middle-aged groupie coming over and bugging him while he’s trying to get ready for a race like this? Instead, I just decided to relax and wait for my start time. Watching Rich on the bike is amazing though, I have to say. As a rider, I’m always impressed by other guys who have their shit wired tight. And Rich has it TIGHT. He has this amazing balance and poise on his bike that is evident as soon as he throws a leg over it. As I watched him ride around to warm up the bike, and then get himself warmed up mentally and physically, I was in awe of that balance as it was put to use floating over some dirt mounds and rocks in the pit area. I knew that was the last I’d see of him for the day.
I did one last thing before finally deciding to ride over to the start area and wait for my time. I filled a metal drink canister with some extra gas. I have ZERO clue as to what kind of gas mileage I’m going to get. What kind of testing do you think I can do with those “dawn patrols??” We had three gas stops on the day, and I have a 2.5-gallon tank on my ‘96 YZ250, but I decided not to take any chances. I shoved it into my waist-belt tool kit (ok, fine,“fanny pack”) and headed off to the starting area.
No sooner did I find myself settling in and getting comfortable in the staging area, then someone walked by and said “You’re dripping something from the back of the bike.” I looked around and realized it was that damn bottle. I’d ridden with it before, and never had an issue. But somehow it opened up while I was sitting there, and it managed to soak my tool bag, the back of my pants, and ultimately my lower back and ass. In short order I felt the skin of my lower back begin to burn.
Looking back at the morning thus far, I started to get the feeling that I was smack-dab in the middle of one of Ed Hertfelder’s old ‘Duct Tapes’ columns. Much as I loved reading those as a kid in the back of Dirt Rider Magazine, I didn’t much love the current assimilation all that much.
Finally, my line is up. I’m ready. Bike is warmed up and ready. My line mates give me the go ahead to take off first. I click on my GoPro and we get the signal, and I’m off. About two minutes in, I realize that I never put my goggles on. Surprised? I’m not. I look down and see my goggles are still hanging around my handlebars. Better there than sitting on the seat of my Suburban. “Whatever,” I thought to myself. I’d get a chance to get them on sooner or later.
It was sooner. But you already knew this.
Ten minutes into the race, I had a nice pace going, feeling good and trying to find a flow with the rocks that were embedded into the trails. Came in hot at a turn/water crossing and lost the line, so I pulled over to get my goggles on, and in the process let about seven guys past me. No worries, I’m here to survive and finish today, not hit the podium.
I’ve never seen so many rocks before in my life.
This was the sentence that kept repeating in my head as I made my way through the first section and the beginning of the first test. It felt like both tires were flat as I was bouncing off these things—I swear I felt my rims clap a half-dozen times. At one point I had to pull over and check them to be sure they weren’t. It was pretty intense for a guy from NJ who is used to nothing but sand-whoops and tight single-track.
These rocks though—we’re not talking loose gravel or anything. What we’re talking about are boulders embedded into the trail, and the loose stuff varied between the size of a racquet ball and a softball on average, so if you’re not careful and nimble enough, you’ll be horizontal before you know it. Add to that the extremely tight trails, and you have a recipe for a lot of banged bars and swearing.
As anybody who races in the woods knows, if you come to an abrupt stop, a lot of things happen, the worst of which is your body catches up to reality. You get instantly overheated, your heartrate goes crazy, you finally realize that you can’t breathe, and you still have to try and kick the bike to life and get moving again. Imagine all of this happening while you’re leaning on a downhill rocky slope trying to find a way to balance and kick the bike over. Repeatedly. All. Morning. Long.
Needless to say, my first 10 miles or so were interesting… However, something happened along the way that changed the next several miles for me. I was really feeling tired at one point, and when you get tired, your mind has a tendency to get lazy. On a motorcycle, in the stress of a race, you go into survival mode. You sit. A LOT. (And when I say “you” of course I mean me). Where you know you should be standing and saving energy, your mind tells you “dude, you’re beat. Just sit and be safe through this section.”
I decided not to listen on a particularly bouldery uphill run. Someone blitzed by me, standing up, steady on the throttle, making me look every bit like the complete turd I was. So I stood up, slipped the clutch, and chugged up the hill as if rocks weren’t actually a thing. Realizing that I was less tired doing it this way versus bouncing off of every rock known to man with my seat planted firmly on the foam, I suddenly had some new life breathed back into me, and I found the throttle again. In the last couple miles before gas stop #1, I made some aggressive passes and charged all the way to the truck. It felt good. I felt like I earned that gas stop.
When I got to the gas stop, I was able to cram a sandwich in my face, chug some much needed water, and do some quick repairs to the bike. Somehow the bar-mount bolts loosened up just enough for my bars to start rotating on me mid rock-bounce. Guess I tagged about five trees too many. Regardless, I was still able to make my late charge and come in to the stop feeling good, so I didn’t complain about it—I just grabbed my 10mm and clamped them tight.
Heading out after that gas stop, I still felt that aggression and drive to push forward. Things were going ok for a while, even though stupid mistakes, combined with a clutch that was already showing signs of excessive wear, had me off the side of the main line several times. (Note to self: never again go the cheap route and buy your clutch plates from Amazon. Dumbass.) The worst hadn’t even hit me yet.
It was about halfway between gas-stops 1 and 2 that the A/B split happened. C riders went “that-away” and us faster guys… (sorry, I had to pause here to laugh at myself) went the other way. You ever see a goat path on the side of a mountain? You know, where they somehow find one rock jutting out of the flat rock face and they make it work? I was begging for that over what I was “riding” in this section. This was the absolute shittiest thing one man can force upon another. Whoever laid out this trail is evil. Absolutely evil.
But I still loved it.
We’re talking about tight, bar slapping single track, littered with boulders EVERYWHERE. In the middle of turns, uphill turns and downhill turns. Between trees with no clearance for bars (so as you’re trying not to clap your bark busters you’re also trying not to stall it over the small mountain you have to climb as well). Oh yeah, I forgot one other thing: this was all slapped right onto the steep side of a mountain. Bouncing downhill through trees and rocks with your arms locked up from arm pump worse than you’ve ever had in your life is a tremendous treat. Trust me.
The uphills were fun though, and a bit of a reprieve. Thankfully, my YZ would chug up pretty much everything in sight in second gear, with a little clutch control when needed. That gave me a lot of confidence, which worked both for and against me, because as I started gaining speed, I also made more mistakes. I went down in this section more times than I can remember (but I have the GoPro footage to remind me of it whenever I feel the need to relive this pain). Eventually though, the mistakes and constant stoppages were what would do me in for good. Once I got out of the A/B split, it was all I could do to make it to the next gas stop. I was spent.
"For the first time in three long years, I spent the entire day on my motorcycle. No worries, no stress from life, just me, my helmet, and a 220-pound kettle bell on wheels that constantly found the need to remind me exactly who was boss."
My need to fill you in on my personal riding timeline earlier in this story wasn’t to show you how cool I think I am because I’ve been riding since I was 7. Nope. It was to highlight the very reason why I’m a complete idiot for choosing this Enduro as my first race in three years. I’m 44 and totally out of shape. I had NO idea this would be as intense as it was. Picture this—in that A/B split section, I was alone on the trail for almost an hour. Nobody passed me, or even caught up to me in that time, and it wasn’t because I was lightning fast; it was only when I’d finally eaten it in a section where it was damn near impossible to correct and get back on the trail that I saw any other riders go by. I sat there for about 15 minutes trying to catch my breath and figure out how to get back on the trail before the first guy caught and passed me. That is how intense the section really was.
By the time I finally limped into the second gas stop, I was done. On one of the smaller crashes I’d had, the bike fell over on my leg and I felt my ankle pop. Now that I had slowed down and was off the bike, I could feel the swelling start to set in. I then started thinking about the three-hour drive home, and almost contemplated going back onto the trail just so I’d have to wait longer before I had to take this boot off and get in the car.
But the reality was that I was completely gassed. There was nothing left in the tank. I had burned up so much energy muscling through that split section that I couldn’t replenish it fast enough at the gas stop to snap me out of the slump I was in. I could hear guys who were already taking their third and final gas stop talk about that last section (the one I would be entering after this gas stop if I didn’t DNF) as having the best riding of the day, with loamy, sweeping, flowy turns for miles. Had to get through about three miles more of those god-awful rocks, but then you were in Nirvana. I was drooling. Of course, I realized when I snapped out of it that I was drooling because I had lost most of my motor functions by this point.
I wrestled with the thought of roughing the next three miles of hell just so I could experience that nirvana section. But then, when I tried to get up off the ground to get motivated, I couldn’t. I had to crawl and use the gas truck as leverage to pry myself up onto my feet. That was it. There was absolutely nothing left of myself to give. I knew if I continued on, I would get myself into serious trouble, and had the forethought to not put someone else’s race day in jeopardy by having to help my mangled corpse get off the trail and back to the ambulance. I had to tap out after only about 2/3 of the race completed. I was bummed to say the least.
I managed to get a lift back to the pits from the support truck. I then loaded the bike, ate and drank what was in my cooler, then sat for a moment and reflected on my day, which was far from over because I had the three-hour trek back home to contend with.
While I was upset at having a DNF, I was still smiling. How could I not? For the first time in three long years, I spent the entire day on my motorcycle. No worries, no stress from life, just me, my helmet, and a 220-pound kettle bell on wheels that constantly found the need to remind me exactly who was boss.
But that barrier has been broken. I’m back. Life has been throwing me lemons for a long while now, and that weekend in late September, I decided to make Pennsylvania Moonshine out if it. And having gone through this one, DNF or not, I know the next one won’t be so difficult. I’ve got a few more events I’d like to tackle before the end of 2017, but whether or not I get to them, I’m already looking ahead to 2018 and beyond, because I definitely am born again.