Thursday, March 31, 2011

The Three Most Stupid Things I've Ever Done - Part One

For those of you jumping in without reading the articles in chronological order and wondering what the hell this has to do with the Alaskapade, the next paragraph is a repeat from a previous entry.

I was sitting in a client's conference room in the midst of pre-meeting smalltalk when a co-worker brought up the Alaskapade and asked when I was leaving.  One of my clients asked what he was talking about and my co-worker pulled up the page on the conference room's projection screen.  We had but moments before the meeting kicked off, so there wasn't much time for me to explain.  There was time, however for my client to express his opinion that "this has to be the stupidist thing [I've] ever done".  My first instinct was to argue the purpose for my trip, but this is my customer and IBM probably wouldn't appreciate that.  So, I just grinned, nodded, and bit my lip as the meeting started.

It did get me thinking though.  I know I'm firmly resolved in my purpose for the trip and I also know that I've done many things more stupid than this.  There are too many to list without starting another blog, so I thought I would describe my top three in no particular order.As promised in my previous post, here is one of the three dumbest things I've ever done.

Racing My Dirt Bike the Weekend Following My Vasectomy

Does this really require elaboration? I had a vasectomy many years ago.  Prior to having it done, I had heard horror stories about the pain, swelling, and general discoloration immediately following the procedure.  Maybe it was the Xanax, but I found that the drama surrounding the process was really overblown.  I was dropped off for the procedure and was standing in the parking lot waiting for my ride home less than an hour later.  I went home and sat on my bag of Bird's Eye Frozen Peas as I was instructed.

That was on a Wednesday.  By the following Friday, I was feeling fine and was up and around as if nothing happened.  I should make it clear that I felt fine, but I really didn't look fine.  My balls looked like Leggs Panty Hose containers that had been colored with Paas Easter egg dye.  I was impressed with the size, albeit kinda freaked out by the color. But I digress.

Months before, I had signed up to race the Jimmy Jack Enduro, unaware at the time that I would be getting the vasectomy.  Once the surgery date was scheduled, I pretty much blew off the race figuring I would be too miserable.  But, by Saturday I was feeling better than I was on Friday and my balls had shrunk to almost their normal size and color. The sutures in each side were no longer itching either. I decided to load up the bike and ride out to the race with my friends and if I felt like it, enter the event.

An Enduro is different than what most people think of a dirt motorcycle race.  It's not like motocross with massive jumps and berm corners where each rider competes against the rest of the pack. An enduro is a race with the clock, much like an auto rally.  The idea is to get from point A to point B (and subsequently dozens of other points) at a precise time. There are several classes of competitors with classifications based on engine type and displacement, rider age, and experience.  All competitors ride the course simultaneously, but you only compete with riders in your class.  They didn't have a post-vasectomy class, nor a too-stupid-to-know-better class, so I just rode with my usual group of intermediate "B" riders.

The enduro course is long.  Really long. A typical course for intermediate and advanced riders is 80-120 miles. The terrain usually consists of canyons, creeks, rocks, bigger rocks, deeper creeks, and very dense forests. Work with me here because as mundane as these details are, they're necessary. Riders are given details of specific speeds that must be maintained between specific mileage points and there are checkpoints with synchronized clocks along the course to verify each rider is on time. The trick is, you don't get to pre-ride the course and you have no idea where the checkpoints are.  I used a small handlebar-mounted computer that interfaced with my odometer to tell me if I was on time, late, or early.  I was rarely early.  Actually, I was rarely on time either.  A rider who hits a checkpoint late gets a point for each late minute.  A rider who enters a checkpoint early gets five points, plus a point for each early minute.  The idea is to have as few points as possible at the end of the course. It's a cat and mouse game because the riders don't know where the checkpoints are and the terrain is such that there's practically no way you can ride the proper speeds for the entire course. Every so often, the course will have an open pasture or field in which riders can twist the throttle and make up some time.  These open areas were typically my favorite part of any course. That would eventually prove not to be the case at the Jimmy Jack Enduro.

We arrived at the race site on Saturday afternoon, unloaded the bikes, and set up camp.  This was in my early years of racing before I bought a camper. That night, we endured the worst storm I have ever seen short of hurricane Elena which I endured when I was in the Air Force stationed in Biloxi, Mississippi. It was so bad that I abandoned my tent and slept in the car. We awakened to a campground that looked like a refugee camp. Tents, EZ-Up canopies, and banners were scattered "from Hell to breakfast", as my mom used to say.  There was still a light drizzle in the air which was eventually followed by a full-on drenching.  Despite the weather, the promoters did not scratch the race. They were aware that many riders including myself had driven hundreds of miles to ride this event. It was a bitterly cold morning in November and there was rain and wind, but no lightning.  It may have been uncomfortable, but from a weather perspective, the conditions were not unsafe so the race was on.  Still, a little voice in my head was telling me I should sit this one out.

I have a bad habit of ignoring little voices.

Enduro races always start at 8:00am on Sunday mornings. At 8:00am, the first row of five riders takes off.  The second row at 8:01, and so on until all rows are out. I figured someone on my row must have a clue about the course and I would just try to keep up with them.  Problem was, this time I was apparently that guy on my row who appeared to have a clue and to whom the other riders looked up. Insert your metaphor here: blind leading the blind, drunk monkeys porking a football, etc.

The starting area was downhill from the camping area, so I just mounted my Kawasaki, coasted down the hill, popped the clutch in gear, and bump started the engine and rode to the line where my row was waiting. I was about midway through the pack in what turned out to be a smaller group of riders than there would have been had the weather not turned.  One by one, minute by minute, the rows in front of me took off with motors revving as they disappeared into the woods and appeared to be swallowed by the dense fog. When my row started, excitement and nerves got the best of me and I screwed up and stalled the motor. Not thinking about the events that had taken place just three days prior and in a panic over my starting line miscue, I quickly slammed my right leg down on the kick starter of my high-compression, 365cc four stroke motor.


Fortunately, the motor fired on the first attempt and I was on my way.  It was only thirty seconds into the event and my handlebar computer was already alerting me to the fact that I was behind. Keeping an eye on the computer while trying to avoid the trees that seemed to randomly move into my path somewhat numbed the feeling of explosive swelling taking place inside the crotch of my riding pants.

Within a few minutes, I caught up with the riders from my row and had made up my time.  I hit the first checkpoint on my minute and  took no points. I thought to myself how there were dozens of riders who scratched the event just because of some inclement weather and here I was kicking ass only a few days after surgery.  Pussies!  After only an hour or so, the course conditions had deteriorated so much that the trail was almost indistinguishable from the surrounding terrain.

All enduro courses are marked with red surveyor's tape, usually hung in the trees and bushes on the right side along the route. If the markers are on the right, you're going the right way.  I usually had no idea where the hell I was, but I at least knew I was going the right direction.  I must have passed half the pack before I hit the first gas stop.  Before the race, we place our gas cans on a trailer with our row number affixed to them. Race officials take them to a predetermined location on the course and line them up by row number.  When riders arrive at the gas stop, our fuel cans are magically there waiting for us. Before the race, Robert (a friend with whom I drove to the race from Dallas) took my can with a lunch inside an attached plastic grocery store bag to the gas trailer for me while I searched the camping area unsuccessfully for the remains of my tent. It also meant I didn't have to lift anything heavy.

While at the gas stop, I scarfed down my soggy sandwich and cookies and downed a warm Mountain Dew. I decided to forgo filling my tank because I really didn't need the fuel. I had plenty left to get me to the next gas stop and with less fuel weight, my Kawasaki was easier to handle in the sloppy trail conditions. Once again, I was spared from heavy lifting.  I tried to sit on a stump as I ate, but the swelling and pain in my groin were catching up with me so I just stood and tried not to waddle as I walked.  I always packed aspirin in my lunch sack to thin the blood and prevent numbness in my hands.  I popped a few extra tablets  in hopes that the pain relief might head further south.

I took off from the gas stop and couldn't help but notice that the course looked barely ridden.  Apparently, most of the riders bagged the race at the gas stop and took a fire road shortcut back to camp. Pussies. I figured with so many riders out of the race, this was a great opportunity for me to earn top points for the overall State championship in my class.  My balls were arguing against my continuing on, but I had come this far and I was not packing it in due to a little pain.

A few miles after the gas stop, I had accrued very few points on my time card, but had had a tough go at it through some particularly tight woods and creek sections.  The woods were so dense that a few times, I literally had to stop and wiggle my handlebars between the trees and then continue to the next bottleneck. The torrential rains had swelled one previously ankle-high water crossing to waist height and there were course officials there pointing out the most shallow line over which to cross.  The creek was littered with fallen motorcycles and riders attempting to extricate themselves from the swollen flow.  Somehow, I managed to ride across and remain vertical. My swelling balls probably provided additional buoyancy as I crossed.  Whatever the reason, when I hit the far shore, my four-stroke motor pulled like a tractor and I shot up the embankment with ease.

The water crossing was followed by the tightest woods I had ever ridden.  It was clear that this course was laid out by a sadomasochistic motorcyclist. My computer was screaming at me that I was falling far behind.  I could see a clearing ahead of me and hoped that the course would lead me to it so I could open up the throttle and make up some time. The course markers followed a serpentine path, but eventually led me out of the woods.  The clearing was actually a wide valley with a slight decline to the bottom and a slight incline out to the wood line a mile or so ahead on the horizon.  Visibility at the basin was short as the fog was dense in the absence of trees.  Nevertheless, it was a welcomed sight and I shot out of the woods like a rocket.

About halfway across, the dirt in the field had turned into mush and I was fighting to remain vertical and maintain forward momentum. My riding position was such that I was leaning as far back as possible on the bike to keep the weight off the front wheel hoping to avoid a forward flip face-plant into the mud.  As such, the rough terrain was forcing my seat to bump up and slap my butt mercilessly and the kinetic ripple effect on my groin was becoming unbearable.  I glanced down at my computer to check my status and inadvertently steered into a deep, wet rut that eventually swallowed my rear wheel down to the axle.

I was stuck.

I stepped off the bike and realized that it was sunk so deep in the mud that the seat was only about knee high to me as I stood next to it.  I had come too far under too much pain to give in now, so I decided to un-stick myself and keep moving.

There's a process for extracting a mud-stuck motorcycle wherein you rock the bike back and forth from side to side and loosen the mud surrounding the rear wheel.  Then, you can lift the rear end up and you're clear.  I tried unsuccessfully to rock the bike loose and decided to just try and lift the rear wheel out of the mud.

I stood behind the bike and gripped the rear wheel with both hands and gave a firm tug.  It was then that I heard an unfamiliar sound that emanated from inside me, but could clearly be heard from the outside.  In fact, I'm pretty sure it echoed against the nearby woods. It sounded like a thick rubber band being stretched beyond its capacity and the ends slapping against a wall as it tears apart.  The sound was accompanied by a feeling of being hit in the groin by a baseball bat swung by Barry Bonds after a fresh Deca-Durabolin injection.  The actual vasectomy snipping was nothing compared to this.  My eyes crossed and I was so dizzy that I wasn't sure if I would shit or puke first.  Had my boots not been sunk so deep into the mud, I would have fallen over like one of those old toy cartoon character statues that collapses when you push up the bottom of its base.

Despite the cold, I was sweating so profusely that my riding jersey was soaked and I was freezing in the light breeze as a result.  I took off the sweat-soaked jersey, wrung it out, and laid it over the Kawasaki's seat.  All the while, other riders appeared out of the fog behind me and passed by as I stood trying to regain my senses. I was afraid to look, but I had to know what happened.

I unbuckled/unzipped my riding pants and wrestled them and my biker shorts-style underwear down past the top of my racing boots and bent over to throw up first, and then take inventory. My face was probably as green was my Kawasaki when I saw that my balls had been replaced with discolored grapefruits and noticed a strange ooze dripping from them.  About this time, several riders appeared out of the woods and were heading straight for me.  Riders tend to follow other riders' paths in inclement weather with the hope of staying on a defined trail.

So there I was; shirtless and effectively naked from the waist down, standing in an open field with my feet spread wide apart and bent over with my Casper-white butt greeting the other riders as they made a bee-line towards me.  I could see the "what the f*ck" look in the bug-wide eyes of speeding riders as they looked over at me, lost concentration on the course, and then nose dived into the mud.  Within mere seconds, the field around me was littered with motorcycles and riders who were cursing the weather, the mud, and most certainly Casper the friendly ghost.  Some of them saw the humor in the situation and laughed it off. Some even thought I was planted as a distraction by the race promoters. Others were just pissed and blamed me for their delay while they maintained their distance and cursed me from afar. None of them bothered to help me out of my predicament.

About the time the rider and motorcycle carnage cleared the area, my spinning head had begun to slow down and my stomach had completely purged itself. I barfed so much I thought I was seeing coffee grinds in my puke.  An EMT back at the camping area told me later that what I thought was coffee was probably blood.  I donned my sweat and rain soaked jersey, gingerly stuffed my swollen sack into my drawers, marveled briefly at the protuberance, and pulled up my riding pants.  The sweep riders would be by soon and (since I was no longer naked) would hopefully help me out.

Eventually, a course official on a four-wheeler appeared out of the woods and fog and stopped to tow me out.  After I explained what I had been through earlier in the week (and after he stopped laughing hysterically), he offered to trade vehicles with me so I would have a less uncomfortable ride back to camp.  Feeling like a big enough loser for not finishing the race, I opted to ride my own bike back. Once on drier surface, I made my way to one of the fire roads and took the shortcut back to camp.  Pussy.

As I arrived at camp and rode past the other riders, I was ignored by most, but greeted with stares, sneers, laughter, and a few middle fingers from others.  I stopped by the officials' tent and turned in my incomplete score card in an attempt to salvage whatever season points I could. I parked my bike at the spot where my camp had been before it blew away in the night, changed into some loose-fitting sweat pants, and crawled into the back seat of my car to lay down.

I awakened to the sound of an air horn, indicating that the race was over and that the scores had been tabulated. I made my way to the tent figuring no one would recognize me since I wasn't naked.  Times and scores were read aloud by the race promoters as trophies and ribbons were distributed. Much to my surprise, I went further on the course than anyone else in my class and took first place.  Confident that my anonymity was intact, I wobbled up to accept my trophy and pose briefly for a photo as someone in the crowd yelled "turn around and bend over".  Everyone under the tent was laughing except me.  Actually, I found it as funny as they did. I was just in too much pain to laugh at that moment.

It was a long and painful ride home. In retrospect, that was certainly among the dumbest things I've ever done.  Interestingly enough however, by the end of the season I won the overall Texas State championship in  my class by only three points over my closest competitor. The trophy was long since donated, but I kept and still occasionally wear the embroidered jacket the Texas State Championship Enduro Circuit gave me.