passions stirring


04/14/01 - Today's most significant moment was that split second when the pressure of my heel against the foot brake had the exact proportional effect on the speed at which I approached the bottom of a near-vertical slope of powdery red Georgia clay, in the first five minutes of my total lifetime experience riding solo on a 4-wheeler. I remember thinking, as I forced myself to make this descent through the fear at the top of the hill, that if this thing feels like it's going out of control, I won't be able to sling my foot out for balance or to catch the ground out of pure instinct from 25 years ago on my well-worn Honda Trail 70 dirt bike.

The significance of that moment falls squarely and quite comfortably on its influence over a dormant childhood passion. God how I wanted to jump those hills today, how I wanted to open the throttle as far as it would go and pull the handlebars into my chest white-knuckled to make that heart-stopping climb, up and in control, OVER the top! But this is a 4-wheeler, and it scares the shit out of me. Every single stroke of that 4-wheeler's engine accelerating today split me right down the middle, jolting my common sense with the fact this ain't a dirt bike, and fighting the addiction long since forgotten of the overwhelming exhilaration of conquering those hills eight to ten stories high in my youth.

The significance of this moment is that it woke me up. This is something I can do, I've done it before, and this is what I need, ambling through a miserable life bogged down in petty drama and fruitless giving. I want to feel alive again, and this is what will do it.

The 4-wheeler is all wrong. My instincts were tuned with a dirt bike, small, lightweight, you could grab the ground with both feet and control the behaviour of the bike. You're heavier than the bike, your weight can shift in a second to counteract gravity's devastating forces to keep the bike in an upright position.

Dirt biking is as much a full body sport as it is a three-way partnership between you, the bike and the ground. Your trust to survive each manuever is placed in your abilities to negotiate and communicate with the dangers through your whole body - you trust your body's responses to have the effect they're supposed to have in each turn, slide or jump.

You can't do any of that with a 4-wheeler. Your full-body control doesn't exist on a 4-wheeler. You can't negotiate with the ground - the machine is too wide; nor can you use your legs and arms to sling the machine beyond your body to compensate for a slipping tire or chain on a 4-wheeler.

On a bike, the front brake is on the right hand, forcing you to ease up on the throttle to slow her down, and the clutch is on the left, allowing for that instinctive split-second downshifting to maintain control over the bike before it chokes out under its own weight. These types of lightning-fast responses are required to successfully engage an unsteady and unpredictable earth under your wheels.

On a 4-wheeler, the front brake lever is on the left hand, where the clutch is supposed to be. Suicide in the making: when you descend a hill in third gear and instinctively downshift to second to help slow her down by distributing the job between the brakes and the transmission lest the brakes lock you into a slide, on a 4-wheeler you'll flip your ass right over the top with perfect alignment for the machine to grind your spine into the dirt in a matter of seconds! Reflex cares not what your brain may say, and by the time you realize that you're grabbing the front brake instead of the clutch, the darkest clouds of unconsciousness have already descended on your ass.

When the machine goes out of control, your body takes over and responds instinctively, and the clutch is an integral tool for survival, programmed into your reflexes from years of experience. As long as the machine is solid and stable, you know better than to grab the front brake to try to downshift on a machine with no gears..... it's when you lose control that your hand pulls in the clutch and your feet try to make contact with the earth, all without thinking: on a four-wheeler, this translates to unanimous flippage.

I belong on a dirt bike, not a 4-wheeler.

My options for acquiring a dirt bike in good condition are pretty limited. I definitely can't afford a new one. Used ones with unreliable repair and maintenance records will start at about $1300 for a ~125-150cc bike. I might luck up and get something that small in good shape if it was a kid's bike. My brother has given me a non-working Honda TwinStar 200, and it's been "mine" for the last six months, still chained inside the shed where it was parked back in '93, and hasn't been cranked since. I haven't looked into it enough to know if stripping it, rebuilding the carb, setting new rings, new shocks & extenders, new chain & steel sprocket, new brakes and putting off-road tires on it will be cost-effective compared to buying one already suitable for off-road. Damn. I'm impatient. My brother mentioned getting a mechanic friend of his to put the bike back in working condition, cashing in a favor from the guy...If I had the 200 in street-ready working condition I'm not entirely sure I'd be able to abstain from taking her out in the country just to see how she handles in the grass & sand. I could probably put tires on it first before trying something as stupid as that.... but damn it needs total stripping to lighten her up, get her running high and tight before even thinking about climbing.

When I got home tonight I spent two hours reading old desert racing articles from the seventies, back in the raw field racing days when the winner got nothing more than an ice cold beer, some congratulatory pats on the back from his best friends in the race right along side him, and a huge ass grin that lasts about as long as the vibration in your bones, your muscles, your skin, even your eyes - a hum all over that comes naturally from that kind of cross-country maxxed-out throttling of a thick and dirty engine, humping, kicking, sliding and jumping the beast between your legs.

The first thing I want to do when I get the bike, and feel comfortable with its durability under that kind of pressure, is put her on the back of the truck and head out to Milledgeville to challenge those girls to a little trailblazin' action, me on my dirt bike and them on their big-ass 4-wheelers. Now THAT's something to work for!


..the end..