Monday, May 24, 2004

Sheetiron 300, 2004, incredibly long version

Here it is, in all the long-winded detail. I'll try to post a shorter version later for those of you who are bored with my long story. (I'm looking at you, John)

There are times when you know that you are just a little bit cooler than everyone else. Coming in from completing the Sheetiron is one of those times, shared with the rest of the survivors. Hugs, shit-talking, grins a mile wide, and we’re all off in the trucks to return to mundane life. Next year, do it again!

Last year, the Sheetiron did me. This year, I think I did the Sheetiron.

Friday I leave work and find that my bike has loaded itself into Charles’ truck. Yay! Good start. We work our way up to Stonyford, stopping at a Fresh Choice somewhere for dinner, where we swipe an “All Done” card which is supposed to tell the busboy whether you're just making another trip to the salad bar. Charles tells me that he’s going to stick that on me and take a picture when I fall. Hmmm…

We speed into Stonyford and sign in. I want to find James to camp next to and arrange plans for leaving in the morning, but it’s dark and there are 400 people here, it seems hopeless. On a hunch, we drive to where they camped last year, and there they are, with the rest of the SFMC guys. James is drunk. People from the nearby camp are yelling at them and they are yelling back. There are fireworks from another camp, and Charles and I get lost coming back from the porta-potties, which are only like 100 yards away.
We chat with various people for a while and then crash out in the back of the truck. In the morning, James is sticking has face in the window and tapping. Zoiks, it’s time! Jump up, fuss around, get everything settled, and still find that we are waiting on the boys, who had all of yesterday to get their shit sorted out. That’s OK, I’m in a great mood, and don’t really care. We all get our shit together and the five of us leave: James, Jason, Dean (James’ friend who I didn’t know before), Charles, and me. First order of business: get lost. I see James pass the road we took last year and then pull over to be confused. And there is a GOAT FARM across the street. I am thrilled. There are probably over a hundred goats, and they are just the cutest thing. The baby goats are like puppies, head butting each other and batting each other around and climbing up the trees… Oh, everyone is going, I must leave. Back to the intersection, Jason and James take off to check something and I warn Dean to stay in front of me, I am a danger to myself and others. Terrible dirt rider. Stay Away.

It’s a tricky thing, this kind of a ride. Everyone flies by you, and I think they assume a certain level of competency, but the truth is, if they get near me, I may toss at any moment and take us both out. I have NO control over my motorcycle in the dirt. But there’s no way to warn them. So is it better to leave early and have all these guys flying over you or ramming you when you crash? Or is it better to leave a little later and not have as much traffic, but get caught and yelled at by the sweepers all day? We leave early. Last year, we were being swept all day Sunday and it sucked. It’s also nice to get in earlier, and at least if there are people behind you, there’s a chance someone may stop to help if you get into trouble.

So it’s decided that the Hard Split for Saturday morning is really more like Moderate, and so we will go that way. Down the road a little ways and then off into the single track trail. Where I bail almost immediately. Within a few yards of the trail turn-off, there was a little puddle, a big puddle really, but not in comparison for what passed as puddles last year. So it’s down into the puddle, then up the bank on the other side, and then I crash. That’s great. So far, I seem to have had good luck in never dropping my bike IN a creek or major puddle, but several times on just the other side. To me, that’s good enough luck. Fishing bikes out of water and thick sludge is NO FUN. Charles helps me and we keep going. Was that a sign? The Saturday morning split gets pretty gnarly, for me. Mostly single track, people crashing everywhere. And with 400 riders, this seems like chaos and confusion, and a lot of waiting. One guy crashes, everyone waits, he gets out of the way, next guy goes in and crashes, repeat. Very funny. Some spots were worse than others, of course. Some spots, you crash, and the other riders just barrel through. At one point, I am standing stuck in a rut on a narrow track, right behind my old 350 which is stuck, and people are just riding by, actually knocking bars as they proceed. It’s all I can do to keep from dropping it back into the rut.

Later Charles told me a funny story, that on that hard section, some guy told him “she should really take the easy split.” And then promptly proceeded to crash himself, right in front of Charles.

I think I crashed 5 times Saturday morning. Once just outside of the first puddle, once trying to come up a challenging little uphill, left hander where a bunch of people were crashing (thanks to the guys that helped me get up and out of that!). Then in a little rut where I came upon my old 350 and old boyfriend. (didn’t fully crash, but sortof) Once just at the top of a hill which seemed really damn big. I got to the top, which I felt great about, but then fell (I don’t remember why) and had to wait for Charles to help because I was afraid of touching the bike and sending it sliding backward the entire way.

The last crash did me, though. I’m coming up a hill, which I can see is in two sections. My idea is to get to the middle section, and then worry about the upper section. I watch Charles get up to the middle. His front wheel is over the bump, and I think “good.” But it is not good. He had stopped when he saw James had crashed on the second part, and for some reason had not made it to the middle point entirely. Now he is sliding backwards and I am coming up on him. See what happens when you assume? I stop the DRZ, and hope he can stop his bike, but no luck. It is thick wet loose soil, we both slide down under the bikes. It’s a motorcycle sandwich! I am at the bottom, with the DRZ on top of me. Charles is on top of the DRZ, and the XR650 is on top of him. We aren’t pleased, but it IS funny. Except he is stuck, and gasoline is spewing out of my tank onto my inner thigh. I don’t like that. He gets unstuck and off, the bikes come up, during this time somehow Eric has gotten the 350 up to the middle point and parked it RIGHT IN THE MIDDLE. Dammit. (Of course it is not unreasonable, he has stopped where he could to help someone, but holy shit, my leg hurts.) Charles has headed down to a clearing to futz with the XR and get it all together again. I want to get up to that middle point to take care of this wonderful chemical burn I’m getting on my leg. I wait, motion angrily to move the damn DR350 out of the way. It’s a big enough spot he could have put it to the side behind the tree. But he is helping James so I fume for a while, and finally go for it. Maybe I’ll just crash into the 350. Fuck it. I narrowly miss it, but fall anyway (make that SIX crashes). To be fair, I expected to crash when I did that. Don’t care, rip into my tailpack and empty out almost all of my water supply onto my leg to try to stop what is now a really painful burn. Eric and James have had success, and James retreats back down to the same middle point. Charles manages to come up on the XR and get up both sections.

James is unhappy about the hill. He wants a bailout, and I’m game. I’ve had enough of this to earn a break of easy splits for at least a little while, and my leg REALLY fucking hurts. And if James can’t make that hill, there’s a good chance I can’t either. Sometimes you have to know when to turn back and call it a day on a certain trail. (It turns out we made a good decision, apparently that trail got WAY worse.) Eric says turning back is “tempting,” which surprises me. He shoots up the hill anyway, and James and I wait for the next crash on the hill to stop incoming traffic enough that we can double back. Honking our horns the whole way to hopefully avoid a head-on.

We head out to a fire road and try to figure out where we are, and how do we get back to a route-point where we can get back on the rollchart, on an easier split. Eric rolls up and has bailed on that trail as well. Sunscreen on my burn starts to help, and I tell James I will follow him whatever direction he chooses. I trust James implicitly, and there’s no way I’m getting separated. I’m hoping that Charles has hooked up with Jason, since Charles has no rollchart, and hoping that Jason could convince him that I would have definitely stuck with James who will take care of me. I suppose we’ll catch up at the Pillsbury lunch stop, or worst case, at Fort Bragg.

We find our way to a rollchart rest point and a bunch of other riders. Eric takes off and we acquire Wayne on his GS1150, Steffan on his Tiger (!), and Benny on his DR650. And we go off on a bunch of fairly boring fire roads, stopping here and there, catch up with a bunch of people at the rollchart-reload point, and then set off again. More fire roads. The one fun part is a creek crossing, which I look at with much trepidation. Last year, I got stuck in the creek (different creek) for several minutes while trying to un-wedge my bike from a log and rock it had gotten into. I did not fall, but was very worried. This time, I watch a few riders, James goes through, and then wades out to help in case of disaster. I take the right, stay on the gas. Bike plows through the first half no problem, ahh, not so bad? Nope, towards the other side, the weight of the water is bearing on my bike, front end is tossing around, the creek dips down at the approach to the steep bank. I open it up more. “Stay on the gas, or fall on your ass!” If I go down, I want it to be on the bank, not in the water. I make it out, and do not crash at all. Bystanders cheer for me. I am ecstatic. Yay!

Meet up with the guys again who decide on taking a cutoff to avoid miles and miles of dusty fire roads, by taking a paved road into Willits, and then Fort Bragg. I’m not thrilled about this, but follow along anyway to keep with James. Highway 20 into Fort Bragg is wonderful except for some insanely long RV’s. We get to Fort Bragg by like 5. Early, Very early. Go get our photo-pins and luggage and check in to the Super 8. James goes to get a sandwich with me and then we chat in the parking lot for a while and shower and wait. Hoping that Charles and Jason will show up together any minute. Dinner is at 7 at some restaurant, and James has offered to give me a ride so I can drink. I start with the beer and finally Charles calls me.
“What hotel are you at?”
“Super 8. I told you that before. Where are you?”
He’s down the street and forgot what hotel, be there in a minute. Walks in a few minutes later, sweaty, tired looking.
“Did you get your photo pin?” I am holding mine up.
“My bike is toast. I found you a boyfriend. My bike is toast.”
Charles has NOT been riding happily along with Jason all day. His bike blew up shortly after the point where I last saw him, and he then pushed the thing for like 30 miles up and down the hills to get it back to Stonyford. He loaded it into the truck and drove to Fort Bragg to find me. Poor boo!

He is stressed and tired, and I convince him to stay the night instead of leaving directly for home. We go to dinner with the SFMC guys and it turns out there’s an hour wait for the table for 18 of us. This place is very busy. So we have drinks and talk some shit, and when they finally have our table ready, five of us decide to leave anyway and go somewhere else. Somewhere cheaper, with more appealing food. We go to a place which seats us immediately at a table set for like 20, which had been set up for a banquet that never happened. Ha! The food was cheaper and the drinks better, and we had the place pretty much to ourselves. Those suckers at the first restaurant! Talked more shit, and Charles’ mood improved greatly. I was working on my second margarita after two beers. Life was good, I was not thinking too much about the Sunday morning “tank trap” section….
Back to the hotel, crash out … I’m out like a light.

James and Jason had taken to calling the Sunday morning section the “tank trapper.” It’s just a few miles, but last year we spent several hours there. If the ride Sunday is 150 miles and 12 hours, let’s describe it as, this first 10 miles takes up about 4 of those hours. Last year I crashed there four times, and had my bike taken up a hill partway by a guy I met in a ditch, and ridden through a HUGE puddle by the ex. Which is to say, I could have crashed a lot more. I crashed, I cried, I freaked out, I kept going. I came back again for more!

Several times Saturday they were talking shit with Wayne (BMW) about “wait till we get to the Tank Trapper!” I finally told them this wasn’t helping me any, couldn’t we call it something nice like “The Cakewalk?” We settled on “Lollipop Hill” or “Shirley Temple Knoll,” although the latter turned into a disturbing comment about Shirley Temple, child-prostitute. No one seemed to know what to say to that. “how about them dodgers?”

So, Sunday morning, get up, get ready, and again wait on the boys. Charles takes off in the truck, and we finally get going around 7:30 or so. I have dread. Lots of it. I didn’t have any breakfast except a couple of caffeine pills. I am READY. We ride a few miles of pavement, very very nice, and then get to the turnoff. I remember it all very clearly from the previous year. We will turnoff, there will be a 4 foot vertical deeply rutted out, single track “hill” (nearly straight up and down) which absolutely terrified me last year. James and Jason got me up it last time, mostly by James physically holding the bike when I got halfway and freaked out several times. Then, I remember, we will get to about ten miles of severely rutted mud-clay road. The tires will be filled up and slick within the first half-mile and the ruts will be up to my knees. There will be puddles two feet deep, wide as the road, and twenty feet across. There will be people crashing everywhere, the sound of crashing, yelling, stalling, and chaos. I will cry and panic, but with any luck, I will come out the other side with a bike that still is sufficiently operable, all of my limbs bruised but intact, and a feeling of accomplishment and survival, which will be one of my best memories of the year.

All of this I remember, and look forward to with dread and a touch of excitement.

So, back to the turnoff. I pause, some guys are going around to the left a different way. We wait to see if they come back. Nope, but we will follow the chart anyway (sometimes people know something you don’t know about why the route is BAD). To the left, the vertical hill is still visible, but now the trail goes around it. Looking at it now, it does not look like a thing someone would have thought of as trail. Ruts on the bottom section perpendicular to the trail for a little bit, but nothing major. Up the road a ways and there are just ruts about half a foot deep the whole way, I am waiting, but I can see this is very different from last year. I rode and waited for the Terror, but it never came. I don’t even think I ever lost traction badly. We come to a clearing that I remember well. I pull up next to James.
“That was it! This is where we all pulled over last year.” James is leaving out an important detail.
“You mean the LAST time I crashed, when I went over the bars?” We had to pull over there and cry and breathe for a while last year. Everyone had pulled over to stop and rest/vista, and I came up and crashed fairly spectacularly right in front of everyone. Very funny.
“Yup. That was it. That was the Tank Trap.”
“I guess it really is Lollipop Hill.”
Dean shrugs and doesn’t see what all our complaining was about. He was not on the ride last year. I tell him I’m not sure whether to be relieved or disappointed.

And we’re off again, it is very dusty, and the route is mostly a slightly worn fire road;, bumpy, with thick dust and gravel portions, but nothing scary like last time. I lose traction a few times and decide that I can plow through this shit with my front wheel at full lock to the side, as long as I keep on the gas. I still have no clue how this thing works, but keep going. I do know that when all seems bad, gas it. I learned that well enough last year, and it’s the one thing I do tend to stick with. Does nothing to help with cornering, which I suck at, but it does get me though the two river crossings and a bunch of other oh-shits.

More gravel roads, then the lunch stop, then into Mendocino National Forest. This has to be the most beautiful stretch of “road” I’ve ever ridden, but I can’t look too much or I may die. Get to the summit. Last year, the main route was closed for snow, this year it is open. And it’s fucking gorgeous. There’s snow all around, and trees, and it’s just stunning. We pull over to a place where a bunch of guys are riding and taking pictures in the snow, spinning the back tire and shooting snow out behind them for the camera. Too much fun! Down the road some more, and make the final decision of route. Thankfully, we all decide to avoid the Elevator Shaft, which I have already decided I don’t even want to LOOK at, based on the stories I’ve heard.

Out some more fire roads, and finally turnoff onto this little tiny road, which apparently, cars can go on, but I really don’t see how. It’s tiny, with big sharp chunky rocks, and cliff on one side. Neat road, challenging, but not omigod, crash ever-other turn hard. And very pretty when we get to the top and ride along the crest for quite a ways. Jason rides into a ditch and we pick him up. There are cows on the side of the road. Very fun road/trail. Part of it was just a bit more than single track. I have no idea what a car would do. Down at the bottom, there’s a bonus river crossing which is not on the rollchart. I look at it, watch a few riders, and don’t panic this time. Make it through easily and get cheers. People on dirtbikes are so goddam friendly! Few more miles, and we come back to the paved road to Stonyford.

Charles has left, so now I’m ready to ride my DRZ home (about 3 hours). I go to check-in, and I have won a raffle prize based on my rider number. It is the biggest thing on the table- a huge pack of shop towels (like 8 rolls, I think) Uhhhh, how the hell am I supposed to carry that home? James does not think I should ride home, and asks one of his club-mates to give me a ride to Oakland. A few minutes with the guys for hugs, pictures and throwing water on our faces. (we have all inhaled SO much dust!) Load the bike into Chuck’s truck and away we go. Get to Oakland and discover I have somehow left a bunch of my riding gear behind. Dumbass! I don’t know how, because I remember running over to the truck with it in my hands. Shrug. Borrow enough to get home, and arrive at my place around 10:00. Much better than last year. Sit in the bathtub with a cocktail and then, finally, “All Done.” Where’s my Fresh Choice card? Sadly, I think it’s ended up on Charles’ bike instead of me.


Rebecca is my heroine. She rode like a trooper, conquering all obstacles. I can only hope she realizes how amazing she is, and starts living la vida.

Yes, my bike exploded XR bits everywhere, but before that, it ran so fine. I jumped doubles, and hit singletrack at roadgoing speeds.

Shop says the Thing will be ready by June 4. I want more dirt. And more Rebecca.

OMG, you LEFT your riding gear? Where? did someone get it? You trucked home? Wonderful.

You are my heroine. I stand and salute in your general direction.
Posted by Charles on Monday, May 24, 2004 at 3:24 PM

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