Monday, March 15, 2010

Hell and Leather: Conclusion


On the Sixth Day, I changed the tires on my bike. I had gotten a set of race tires long ago and their moment had finally come. A man at the tire change spot told me that, yes, they were sticky, but their main benefit is in the mind of the rider, who believes himself invincible on rubber that greater men have directed to victory. It was a claim that a Hegelian like me was all to happy to hear.

Later in the day, the Black Buell showed up in a pickup truck from the distant past. We loaded my bike next to his and headed north. We spoke of motorcycles and philosophy. He told me the tale of why there are tusk marks from a wild boar on his radiator. I confirmed his suspicion that the secret of self consciousness lies in the need to go to the bathroom. We arrived at a suspect motel and set up for sleep. The only clear channel on the television improbably played Forrest Gump on a constant loop. Late in the night I awoke to Bubba explaining the different ways that one can prepare shrimp. One of my nephews has the same accent as Bubba. Sweet Home Alabama, I thought.

On the Seventh Day, we arrived at the track and found the last space in the pits. We enlisted in the Novice class and ran the track a few times behind the control riders. But I already knew the racing line. What was left was for me to ride it.

I toured the paddock. It was a rogues gallery of fast and expensive bikes. An BMW S1000. The coveted Desmosedici. One in particular caught my attention: A 2009 Yamaha R1, same model as the one that I owned for three days before it was totaled by a car. When I saw it, I felt the pang of a possible world. Some things are taken from us so soon. Others, we must endure for the rest of our short lives.

Out in the first session, I encountered only traffic. For the first time, I was comfortable passing bikes in a turn, on the outside no less. I rocked more speed down the straights than I had ever done before. By the time I came off the second session, the Green Ninja had arrived. He suggested that maybe it was time for me to try for the Intermediate class. This way, we could ride together. I had a control rider follow and evaluate me. He said my style was on point enough to move up. So came the first time that the Ninja and I would ride out.

We hit the track. I rocked exit first, in expectation that he would roll up behind me. At the third lap or so, I looked back and did not see him. Then I saw the yellow flag whose meaning was ‘caution, debris on the track.’ Then I saw the Green Ninja on the side of the track in the grass. He was mounted on his bike, looking down at the engine. He hadn't crashed. Looked like engine trouble. Later, he walked his machine into the paddock. The mechanic consensus was that he busted a cam chain. His bike was down for the count. The Green Ninja sat, overcome by the madness. His street bike had been grounded and now his track bike was destined for the shop as well.

The circumstances of his exit from the track were lame, but better by far than the way in which others ended their track days. As we sat in the paddock, the R1 that had made me nostalgic came into the pit on the back of the truck that retrieves crashed bikes from the track. “The back tire came out from under me,” said its rider. The sight of the wreckage reminded me of my own bike those months ago, lying shattered on a city street as I bled and cursed the sky. Whatever. It was time to ride.

Out on the track, the claims of the moto magazines and the commentators on the races on TV began to make sense. I had to muscle the Pharmacon Atlas into turns. But I had to be relaxed, lest my tenseness would transfer itself to the suspension and unsettle the bike. A few times on track, I was passed by faster men and women. I resolved to keep up with them and did a fairly good job. At one point, a red CBR passed me. I had seen him racing in the Expert class, yet here he was in the Intermediate session. I figured that this was my moment to make it happen. He flowed into corners like Rakim on the mic. He did not bother with the formalities of brakes and did not hesitate to accelerate off of apexes. He was a guide, but not a guardian. I attached my self to him for a few laps. Spent rubber from his tire flew up and pelted my chest. On the last lap, he increased in speed a bit and I rushed behind him. On a fast dual apex left, he disappeared and before I could call it off I found myself in a corner speed that I had not yet known. In a sharp moment of truth I stood the bike up and ran off the track. My notion of my abilities was corrected by the world. I had been tested and my limit was revealed on asphalt, sand and grass.

I went out for the last session and produced consistent times. The Buell had a bit of a party as well. We packed up and rocked exit for home. We shared a few comments on the day and rode the rest of the way with only the sound of the road and engine resonating in the cabin of the truck. I kept thinking about a conversation we had with a fast rider at the end of the day. He said that he went so fast around the dual apex left that he was sliding his back tire. He said that when he did this, he had to remind himself to hold the throttle, because if he let off speed, he would have crashed instantly. The tire would have suddenly regained traction and he would have been thrown off the bike in a probably violent highside. So he held on and rocketed around the same turn that I ran off of. As I considered his account, I became frustrated. Then I started thinking about Satan.

The myth the Devil is that of an angel that got a bit full of himself. So much so, that he figured he would rebel against his creator and maybe establish some new shit. It was the first transgression and probably the first ever sin. I thought that maybe it was also the first true act of will. Or at least the most powerful. A bloody angel forged some weapons and stared down a force that by definition cannot be beaten. It’s like standing in the sun and trying to not cast a shadow. He must have known that he could not have won. He must have known that his punishment would be great, perhaps the sickest sentence that anyone would ever have to serve. Yeah, but he was like fuck it, let’s give it a go. To know that your sword is too short to duel with God,but to still scream en guard in the face of omnipotence ... That is a will in which there is no weakness.

When I was on the track, I rocked the style according to my skills. But there was no moment in which I was in so far that I could not have called things off if I got spooked. I can make recourse to the fact that I was riding my street bike and wouldn’t be able to go to work or get around if I crashed it. I can speak on a general lack of skill and a need for more time to develop it. Perhaps these are good reasons. But the fact remains. There was no moment in which I committed fully, though I wanted to. I had neither the faith nor the will. My flaw on the track had been clarified as the flaw of my life.

We got to my crib and unloaded my bike. I bid farewell to the Buell and he began the last stretch to his crib. I was knackered. I laid down and wondered when I would next hit the track, if I would ever risk hell or highside for the completion of a corner. I wondered if I would ever say, fuck it, let's turn the throttle to the stopper, let's proclaim undying love, let's bring a life of possibility to its completion. Let's risk freedom.

On the night of the Seventh Day, I rested.