Wow! What a Ride! …Hellbound And Down, part 1

photo-31(photo by Miss-Fire Kristin Johnson)

Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming “Wow! What a Ride! ― Hunter S. Thompson

10325668_10152200361634608_7627567789328270453_nTeam Hellbound And Down

 In life there are sometimes opportunities too crazy to pass up. Hunter S Thompson lived it, and it’s a moto i’ve decided to live by, or as I call it the decision to just ‘get in the van.’

Get in the van‘ is basically the conscious decision to quit talking about things you want to do, making excuses, or put plans and dreams off for another day, but instead to embrace life, look fear in the face and tell fear to get lost. It’s how i learned to flattrack (read the GET IN THE VAN flattrack post here) among other things, and I wish i’d been stronger and more confident to do this in my younger years but the past is the past and so at 34 I am becoming the daredevil, badass, juvenile delinquent i wish i’d been at 15.

So, when my dear friend Greaser told me about his plans to race the Norra Mexican 500 this year (yep…500 miles across Baja on vintage motorcycles in brutal terrain), I was totally supportive and encouraging. Of course, THEN he followed up with, ‘hey you should race too!’

I thought about it for a minute…and I was fucked. I had to do it. His offer came with a van, a mechanic, and the support of his club The Yellow Jackets MC who have been racing motorcycles since they formed in 1938. Basically all I had to do was find and buy a vintage bike ($2500), a bunch of gear ($$$), learn to ride off road (i’ve never even done 1 mile on dirt, and this is 500!), and raise thousands of dollars to cover entry fees ($1800), transport gas ($1000), race gas ($200), food and lodging ($$$), etc. and do it all in time for the race in early October. Uh, no biggie. Sure, why the hell not? I’ll get in the van!971995_10152189932989608_8264714705718617213_nMe and my 1971 BSA Victor 250 desert sled race bike

A few days later I bought a bike. A 1971 BSA Victor 250 from my motorcycle mentor Hugh Mackie at Sixth Street Specials. I had to borrow money to get it, but i wasn’t backing down. Buying the bike meant this was a reality and not just talk, and though i woke up in a panic every night after for a week, i was excited and determined to pull this off, and the first time i went ripping around the neighborhood, i was in love with this brat of a baby Beezer, and the idea of racing as a woman and a Miss-Fire.

photo-4(photo by Miss-Fire Kristin Johnson)

I mean seriously, its an adventure to end all adventures. a girl on a tiny, old british motorcycle alone (well hopefully not) in a race against the clock for 3 days and 500 miles in Mexico. HELL YEA! I’d be a fool NOT to do it. Right?

photo-21(photo by Miss-Fire Kristin Johnson)

Well, there it is. I’m doing it. My bike has been gone through. I’m ordering protective gear and knobby tires this week. A Bell Powersports helmet and Von Zipper goggles are on their way to me from our wonderful friends at Hell On Wheels MC in California, i’m being trained in core and overall strength building by the wonderful Coach Ray, and in just two weeks Team Hellbound And Down will be hitting the Pine Barrens for the the first of what will be weekly, all day off road training sessions. So, See you in October Baja!

10491086_10152286393714608_6560630621284729587_nThe amazing race jerseys for Myself, Greaser and our mechanic Doc from Jill at Hometown Jersey!

Stay tuned for updates on the race prep here, and be sure to follow us on our dedicated website HELLBOUND AND DOWN where there is information on us, the race, upcoming fundraisers, and even a paypal link to help us get to Mexico. Every dollar helps and we’re blown away by the outpouring of support we’ve received so far. Most importantly from my dear Miss-Fires family who support me in all of my motorcycle shenanigans and came out in force for our first FUNDRAISER a few weeks ago. thank you Miss-Fires from the bottom of my heart…or the gears that are there in place of one.

 

Corinna Mantlo

1971 Yamaha At1 125, 1968 BSA Lightning 650, 1962 Ford Ranchero, 1971 BSA Victor 250 desert sled race bike.

 

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Deus Ex Machina Sunday Mass Ride in NYC

Photo by Stefan Wigand

Photo by Stefan Wigand

Deus Ex Machina, superheroes among custom bike builders based out of Sydney, Australia, brought their Los Angeles crew out east for a premier spring weekend and converted New York City into weather-loving, lane-splitting criminals, reuniting us with our long lost true loves once again.

It was Sunday in mid-May and one of the first beautifully sunny and warm days of the year. As usual, the Northeast was fashionably late in joining the rest of the country in the most welcomed season, but we greeted it with pure and unbridled enthusiasm. The warm sun finally shared its most elusive quality with the city that never sleeps, and we finally got the opportunity to straddle our summer flings that had begun to feel like distant memories and forget about the winter warfare from which we realized we had survived, not unscathed but unphased. In other words, we had overcome our seasonal blues, pulled up our literal and proverbial bootstraps, and got the fuck out of the house.

Keeping in mind that I’d purchased my first motorcycle almost one year ago, I’d heard of Deus Ex Machina but admittedly knew very little about the Aussie company. I was gratefully informed of the ride by a digital newsletter that infrequently has free, appealing events to do; and my interest was doubled when a motorcycle buddy received a flyer hand-delivered to his dealership by the very guys who orchestrated the entire day. It was on.

I’d never had the privilege of joining a group ride before, and I was equally curious and nervous. I wasn’t entirely concerned that I might crash into another rider, but I had also only recently joined the motorcycle community in my home of nine years, and I was mildly shy about not knowing anyone. Additionally, remnants of the chaos that occurred on the West Side Highway only months before still irked many motorcyclists and left cops and drivers similarly suspicious of us. But nerves had never inhibited me before, so I awoke at 8:00 a.m. to break my fast and meet my buddy in time to mingle for a few minutes prior to kicking up stands at 10:30.

From Brooklyn, I crossed the Williamsburg Bridge on my black 2013 Bonneville, took in the Manhattan skyline and headed to the Lower East Side (LES). Upon arrival at the meeting point, Freemans Sporting Club where Deus had installed a stylish pop-up shop, I turned onto Rivington Street where Triumphs and custom street bikes lined the hidden block surprisingly free from random passersby. I immediately felt like I was in-the-know. I quickly found a spot to tuck in my Bonny between other bikes, whose owners had obviously spent hard-earned money to customize, and was startled to look up to find a tattooed photographer squatting nearby documenting my arrival with his Nikon D3 (or some kind of fancy camera). I timidly returned my divided attention to parking my ride, because I was surprised that anyone would find any interest in photographs of a girl from Oklahoma riding a machine that, although sexy enough, still wore all its original, boring stock parts. (These insecurities came from the fact that I’d been fantasizing about the modifications I’d been wanting to make but had yet to have the funds to fulfill.) I quickly got over myself and noticed my buddy was parked nearby on his crotch rocket. Later in the day, he confided in me of how out-of-place he felt among all the cafe racers.

There was a good, but not intimidating, crowd outside Freemans. I noticed only a handful of other brave girls lingering about and walked over to join the relaxed group of people with whom I felt an immediate connection. I somehow related to the familiar strangers from the unpretentious vibe cast from their scruffy attire of trucker hats, t-shirts and jeans.

The Deus staff welcomed our presence by introducing themselves and engaging in friendly banter with us, which further reinforced their solid reputation from the positive personal experience I now had with them. We learned each others’ names and discussed our riding histories and their stay in New York thus far. After the small talk wound down, I noticed the motorcycle clothing meticulously organized just inside Freemans. I was curious to enter not only because of my consumerist upbringing but also because of my intense attraction to cool bike wear. Once inside, I was disappointed to learn that the clothes were designed for men. Despite having a few masculine traits to my personality, my scrawny, feminine body type isn’t becoming in XXL shirts. So I ventured back outside. Shortly thereafter, a Deus associate having limited knowledge of both New York streets and its traffic, gathered everyone for a briefing on the upcoming route through three of the five boroughs, crossing three different bridges and one river twice. We were stoked and ready to ride.

We headed to our bikes, started our engines and woke up any remaining sleepers within a five-block radius. I let those parked behind me pass first to ensure I wouldn’t cut anyone off. We poured one-by-one out of the LES and thus began our invasion of New York City.

We cut through traffic. We turned heads. We ran red lights to stay together. But despite our best efforts, the large group quickly splintered into several smaller ones causing confusion as I tried to determine which riders I was meant to follow because the beautiful weather lured other random riders out that day as well. Despite my doubts, I kept with my crew. This could have been due to the monotony of bike style or ubiquity of tattoos or the various characters found upon further inspection of the group. I kept my eye on the 6’5″ guy who struggled not to overpower his modified Thruxton possessing super low handlebars that made him appear like a hunchbacked giant, yet still incredibly cool; and the cute girl whose vintage Honda kept stalling at every stoplight, backing up the line of bikes behind her but inciting sympathy and assistance from their riders. And I definitely couldn’t overlook the photographers who rode on the back of some bikes because I envied that their arms were free to hold cameras and snap shots of us all over the city. (Thus, you’ll find a link below to their photos in lieu of any I would have loved to have captured myself.)

Our bikes stayed in second gear most of the ride through Manhattan, but once we crossed the Brooklyn Bridge and hit the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway (BQE), I was able to shake out the cramps in my left hand and feel the spring wind through my leather jacket. I relished in those few minutes down the BQE more than I’d enjoyed myself in a while. I was finally able to say “good riddance!” to the 19 snow storms we’d had this year and reconnect with my passion for going fast and feeling free. Nothing could divert my attention. It felt like the Buddhist teachings of living in the moment and practicing gratitude united perfectly in my mind. And even though we were all on separate machines speeding at 80 mph with plenty of lag between each bike so that it was no longer apparent we were traveling as a group, each one of us shared the same purpose – we were acting out the mantra that the journey is the destination.

It took a good half hour for all the riders to reach the midpoint meeting location at the base of the Verrazano Bridge. But once we did, our spirits were even higher than when we began a couple of hours earlier. We’d just bonded in the most unusual of ways – by sharing the experience of facing the open air at top speed while ignoring civilized behavior and any obstacle inhibiting our intrepid swarm through the city. We happily posed for more photos and took in the breathtaking view before hitting the road again to finish our day. The most significant part of the ride was behind us, and all that remained were a few more miles and some further bonding time.

We arrived back at Freemans ready to avail ourselves of Deus’ hospitality. They kindly offered us some BBQ and memento t-shirts and charmed me further by complimenting my riding. I’d been on some form of motorized bike since the tender age of 13, despite purchasing my Bonny just one year ago, but I hadn’t ridden since moving to New York. Those comments supported my feeling of the day that my riding had improved. I’d taken mental notes and mimicked others I knew were infinitely more experienced than I and, although subtle, moved my body and bike in ways that felt more skillful. The thrill of my first group ride became so much more in that moment. I not only possessed bragging rights of having ridden with a respected custom motorcycle company but now had an emotional connection with them as well. They helped pull me out of my comfort zone, which although is not that difficult to do, still is not frequent enough in my life. They helped introduce me to others with whom I now have a history and have also helped increase my level of riding. My bike is now in the shop undergoing those modifications I’d been fantasizing about, and the next time Deus graces New York City with their presence, I’ll no longer be a novice stranger but a friend and more confident rider. Until they announce the date in August, I’ll be riding with my fellow Miss-Fires and looking forward to doing it all over again.

To read the blog by Deus Ex Machina and to view their photos, click here.

by Kristen Reed

SO YOU WANT TO RIDE OFF-ROAD PART 2

Or maybe I should title this, “What not to do the first day you do an off-road event” or “What to do when you’re in over your head”. The phrases of this ride were still “I’ll try this“, but added to that were “I don’t know how” and “Oh shit“. I wasn’t sure what to expect on my first off-road event, which there is a correction from part 1. This event was sponsored by the Berkshire Trail Riders Association , not NETRA , but they tend to overlap in some ways. Anyhow, I was pretty psyched to try my first trail ride.

mehappy

We loaded up the bikes into the truck and took off for Tolland, MA on Friday to settle in the night before the ride. There was an option to camp out on a farm, but someone in our group found us a nice cabin to rent. We sure were glad to have a cozy place to sleep that night because it rained cats and dogs all night and into the early morning. We were wondering what that much rain would do to the trails we were about to ride Saturday morning. Luckily the following day was crisp and clear with plenty of sunshine.

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We headed where they would hold the rider’s meeting at 9:00 AM to go over rules and helpful information about the routes we were about to adventure onto. We were given route sheets with turn by turn instructions and descriptions of the terrain. Most roads were gravel and dirt and some pavement to get from section to section. Mixed in were “Hero Level” sections that if you had the know-how and the right bike, you could go be challenged. To give you and idea of what that is, here is the description they gave with the packet:

HERO LEVEL DESIGNATIONS:

LEVEL 1: Loose gravel/sand; shallow water/mud with firm bottom

LEVEL 2: Rocky; deep water/mud with firm bottom

LEVEL 3: Deep ruts; deep washouts; large rocks, logs; deep water/ mud soft bottom

LEVEL 4: Ledge; rocks the size of Volkswagens; deep long water crossings; bottomless mud holes, greasy, exposed roots

LEVEL 5: It doesn’t get any worse than this. Don’t go alone. NO BIG BIKES!

After going over the packet the night before, we decided who would ride what. Since I was the newbiest, I was to ride with our friend J. who said he’d like to take it easy and wouldn’t mind being my mentor. He had his Transalp with street tires, so he didn’t mind taking the easier roads. Peter also decided to ride with us, since he felt he didn’t have as much experience either. Don and Dan, who had dual sports with street tires, also ended up riding in our group of five. Jason and Adam decided they would try the “Hero-Level” sections of the route, so they teamed up together. As I looked around the riders at the meeting, I could kinda tell who would be the daredevils. Lots of knobby wheels and armor that resembled exo- skeletons.

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I was glad to notice I wasn’t the only lady-rider. Some seemed like me, just trying this out, and some seemed like seasoned pros.

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There was a que to head out to the trails so we didn’t get all bunched up. Jason and Adam took off sooner while our merry band of five waited a while, since we knew we’d be slower. J. took the lead with me in tow and we headed out. Most of the roads were a lot like the dirt roads back by the cabin, and even easier. J. suggested that we start there and if I felt I could try something more challenging, then we could do that. I was having a blast, letting the tires slip about a bit. But we were told to not be jerks, since these were residential areas and trail rider associations are already on thin ice. So if there were mailboxes, keep it down, please. So not so much sliding about for me like I was back by the cabin, but I was still letting it slide a little bit.

I believe we came through a few level 1 sections, and then right before lunch, I met my first challenge. It wasn’t marked on the route sheet as a Hero Section for some reason, but J. and the guys think it seemed between a level 2 and 3. There was a mix of tennis ball and baby head sized rocks with water flowing through and some mud. I felt worried at first, but was glad to have knobbies and made it through to other side with some bumping and sliding. It even was fun after a few minutes once I figured out how to control the bike by getting off the seat and up on my pegs… like riding a horse. I was even given the glorious scene of men peeing into the ravine at the end of hero section. The surprise hero trail must’ve shook the piss out of them or something.

After a lunch break, we headed back to continue the route. J. stopped near a Hero Level 2.5 and asked me if I wanted to try that. It would have deep water and a rocky downhill. I was feeling uncertain about it, since the last hero section tired me out. I said, “I don’t know… I’m feeling intimidated.” J. walked over to the guys and asked something… I could see them shrugging. So he asked me again and I said, “Well, I guess I could take a look and see what happens.” We came up to the start of the section and there was a large puddle with a lot of mud. J. went right in and crossed at the side.. his feet up to the ankles in mud and his bike sputtering and churning to the other side. I’m muttering into my helmet, “Oh shit.” I look back at the guys and they are looking at me wide-eyed as if, “If she does it, we’ll do it.”

So I take my knobbied-self and get in the mud. What do you know… the bike could care less and made it over without dropping me into the puddle. Great! Let’s give this a whirl! Then I look back and Don is on his side against a rock with his bike pinning him down. “Oh shit!” We help him up and he’s ok. “Are you sure this is a level 2.5? Maybe we should turn back with these street-tired bikes.” But peer pressure ramps up and Dan says, “This isn’t enough to turn me back yet.” So off we go over some rocks like the previous hero I went over before lunch. Then we come up to rocky covered hill that runs upward. There are about three waist-high boulder/ledges with water running over them. I wish I had taken a picture, but I was too busy panicking.

“Oh shit! I don’t know how to do that!” J. says… “Just remember to keep your momentum going… don’t stop, just keep going!” Then he climbs right up those ledges with street tires. I look back… the same wide-eyed guys “If she does it, I’ll do it.” Oh man… I should’ve stopped there. Because I knew once I went up, I’d be like a cat stuck in a tree without knowing how to get down. But up I go…. and my bike stalls right before the rock ledges.

“I don’t know how to do this. I don’t think I can get up there.” J. comes back and say, “Come on, don’t wuss out on me now!”… “Oh shit. Ok… I don’t know what to do though, J.” So he tells me to follow his line… and he shows me by walking over the ledges… and also sliding on them since they are wet. “Ok, Erika… I did this with street tires, it’s not as bad as it looks. Now back up by Don and get your momentum going and follow that line.” So I back up, block the voice of reason out of my head… and I charge forward. I stand up on the pegs with my weight forward and up the bike goes! Right over all three ledges. Yahooo!! Then… Thud… whack. I hit a rut and fall over and smack my head on a rock. Luckily I wasn’t hurt… my back protection I just bought recently and my helmet did their job. But I was feeling pissed off.

Why in the hell did I fall for peer pressure? Whey didn’t I follow my instincts and turn back? This is just stupid! Then the guys come up and say… “You did it girl! And you looked good doing it!” Well… heh heh… ok then.. I guess I did do that insane climb. So I continue on, mostly because I don’t know how to get back down. But we come across a very large puddle, bigger than the first one. Some guys from different group come up behind us and we let them go through… and they plow through… get stuck… sputter in knee deep water… and with difficulty manage to get to the other side.

J. says, “Ok Erika, you go first.” This time I say, “No way! I’m not doing that! I don’t know how.” So J. gets on my bike… gets stuck, but managed to get it through… you know… with knobbies and all. I find out later he also took it through a second water crossing up ahead. The guys then proceed to get stuck one by one with street tires, but with help get through.

At this point, only J’s bike is on the other side and as he contemplates that, Adam appears. Now I know for sure that I’m in over my head if he’s showing up. Not that my inner voice wasn’t screaming at me the whole time, “You big dumb dumb!” Anyhow, I wait to see what strategy he will take, and he goes straight through the middle. I think this area would probably not have been so bad, but since there was so much rain it was worse than usual. Adam get stuck in the mud right in middle. The bike sputters and dies, flooded.

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At this point, I start to wonder where Jason is. “Hey, where’s Jason?”. “He’s right behind me, maybe he stalled or something.” That isn’t too far-fetched. He had a kick starter, so he may be wrestling with that on a hill. I don’t think too much about it until another 15 minutes go by. “Maybe we should look for him.” But right at that moment he comes up over the hill. We show him where not to cross, now that we watched so many get stuck in there earlier. He looks at me with surprise probably thinking, “What the heck is she doing here?” He crosses and sits down by a tree. “I think I sprained something, I stalled on that ledge and came down on my foot. I’m going to make like Rip Van Winkle under this tree for  little bit.”

Long story short, the guys take some straps Jason had on him and pull Adam backward out of the mud. He managed to get it started, but goes back the way he came while J. followed behind him to make sure he got back alright. I tried to get through the rest of the Hero section, fell over again, and became completely defeated. Jason rode it down most of the way and walked back up for his bike, which I feel bad about now that I know his foot is broken. Peter rode it another section to help out. Once we got to a section that resembled the first Hero section, I took it the rest of way through that.

Lessons, I learned so many lessons. Peer pressure… at my age. I am amazed that still works on me, but now I know it does. Mind over matter… keeping my mind on the task at hand worked wonders. Being defeated… don’t be too hard on myself and just take away what I learned from it. Will I do Hero Sections again? Probably not in the near future. Will I give up on riding dirt bikes? Not likely, I had too much fun at times to drop it completely. But I won’t soon forget how unpredictable things can end up.

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So You Want to Ride Off-Road part 1

Or maybe I should title this “So you want to try off-roading?” I never have considered it much in the past, just looks like a bunch of frustration trying to go over boulders and getting stuck in the mud. Meh, not for me. I’ll stick to the pavement. But then a couple of years ago someone asked me to get in the van, as Corinna put it in a previous post.

The Murder Van

 

“We’re signing up for American Supercamp, who wants in?” I looked it up online and, “I don’t know, that looks insane!”, I thought. I had heard of flat track racing, but never thought I would want to try it. But I did. I wanted to at least try it and if it wasn’t for me, then at least I could say I did something insane. So along with Beth, Val, Corinna, and Jason, we signed up and gave it a whirl.

It was my first time on a dirt bike ever, and I loved it. Of course, I was getting instruction from pros like Chris Carr, and a team of instructors who made it more about having fun than about drilling it into us. Well, they did drill it into us, but they never made us feel bad for falling over. The attitude was more like, “Well, now that you got that over with, you realize it’s not so bad to fall.” Which was true, other than a bruise. The fear was gone so it left room in my head to take more risks and really start sliding about in the dirt. I could see who fell and who hadn’t fallen yet, as in I was passing pre-fallen students. Until they fell… then it was game over and soon I was getting dirt flung back in my face. It was a dirty good time for my first introduction to dirt bikes.

I haven’t been on a dirt bike since. However, I have been looking at Jason’s dirt bike in a new light. He frequents trail rides with his friend Jay as often as he can escape the city. He leaves at the crack of dawn and comes back a couple of days later covered in dirt and grinning ear to ear. I finally tell him, “You know, I think I want to try that. I could try that at least once and if it’s not for me, then at least I could say I got some tires dirty.” Of course, I have absolutely zero experience trail riding and am not entertaining expectations of blipping over some logs with ease, but maybe I could try the bunny hill version of trail riding. I thought at first he would avoid the notion in order to have his alone time. But to my surprise, he found a dirt bike for me to “borrow”.

Yamaha TTR250

I was really excited when I saw that! It’s the larger version of the bikes we rode in American Supercamp. He told me about a NETRA event coming up in May in the Berkshires. There will be trails and dirt roads that he thinks I could handle, and some more advanced “hero” trails for those who are crazy in the head, which he will do. Sure! I’ll try that!

I finally got to play around with the Yamaha this past weekend. We have been watching a cabin upstate for some friends and thought it would be the perfect place to get my feet wet. There are plenty of dirt roads back there, as well as a few trails. So we unload his and hers dirtbikes… ha… and I go to get on, and realize… ummm. “I don’t know how to trail ride. Got any tips before I go bruise myself?”

“First thing… to get on, you put the kickstand up and turn the wheel away from you, so the seat comes down low enough so you can swing your leg over. Then straighten the wheel and there you have it.” So I do this, with a little difficulty. I don’t have proper dirt bike gear, since I’m only trying this out. I borrowed his AD1 pants for knee protection, but they are not gusseted and made it hard to ballerina onto the bike. But I managed to do it anyway. I notice I’m tippy toed, and I’m not a shorty at 5’8″ with a 32″ inseam. But that’s ok, the bike is light and I don’t feel any danger.

“When you go down a hill, put your butt farther back over the rear wheel, and maybe be up on your haunches like you’re riding a horse if the terrain is rougher. That way traction stays in the back and you can let the bike do what it needs to do without being jostled about. I see we’re at the top of Cardiac Hill, maybe I should ride yours down this one since it is more advanced. For now, just ride back and forth up here where it’s flat to get  a feel for the bike.”

Cardiac Hill was named by the owners of the cabin. It’s a steep hill with deep rain ruts that can swallow a tire. Walking up that hill with backpacks and gear make you feel like you’re going to have a heart attack. So I do as he says and go back and forth a few time. BORRRING!

“Hey, I want to try going down this hill. What’s the worst that could happen? I fall over and get a bruise?” He has me follow him, and I get on my haunches with my butt in back and the bike just goes right down. I got the rear tire into one of the ruts and the front tire to the side, and I think I’m going to eat dirt, but instead I released my tension and let it go do it’s thing. It was indeed like riding a horse and the bike galloped down the hill without throwing me. The rest of the roads back there are fairly easy with small hills and dips and turns. I can’t resist flat tracking it. Jason was riding pretty slow, I thought because he thought I would want to go slow. (He really just didn’t want to piss off the neighbors) So I pass him and slide in the turns and have a great old time.

When we returned to Cardiac Hill later that day, I remembered what he told me about going up steep hills. Thank God because I scared myself a little trying to chase him up that thing.

“When you go up a hill, or when you’re slowing down, it’s not like flat tracking. You put your weight forward over the handle bars to keep the front end down. If you have to, stand up on the pegs and keep the weight forward.”

So after passing him so rudely earlier, he came flying up from behind me and passed me on that hill. I had a streak of competitive attitude and followed him up. The bike was about to go out of control, so I stood up on the pegs and put my weight over the front end. It was rough, but I made it up that hill without bruises. I followed him into the woods where the trails narrowed a bit and there are uneven paths and brush. I was taking it with a lot less attitude. Mainly because I realized I have no skills going slowly over rocks and up steep angled hills. I kept stalling the bike and completely fizzled.

Jason was looking down at me through the brush waiting. Oh well… I got that far before my 43-yr-old thighs gave out. I came to realize 2 things. 1. I really enjoyed that. 2. I’ll need to do more squats.

 

April 10, 2014. Maehongson to Chiang Mai

I woke before dawn and noticed that Aileen was already awake.  “I’ve been thinking about our ride” she said.  My immediate thought was that she’d say she was too scared to continue or that I’d have to promise to ride more slowly.  “OK” I said, “What’s on your mind?”  She surprised me. “I want to earn my ton-up patch on this trip”.  “Honey, we are riding the Mae Hong Son loop, the legendary road of 1864 turns and that doesn’t leave much space for straight stretches where we can wind it out to 100 mph, but if an opportunity presents itself then just hold on tight”.

The first 10 or so miles the road is gently undulating. The road then crosses a ridge that involves a steep climb with many hairpin bends.  Riding up is the easier part.  You need first gear to exit many of these turns and you need to downshift before you enter them.  This involves a bit of revving on the downshifts to keep things smooth. There’s no need for brakes. You need to take these bends wide as the road is particularly steep on the inside and there’s a risk of lifting the front wheel or even flipping the bike, particularly when riding 2 up with luggage.  You definitely don’t want to stop dead in these turns as there is a big gap between how far you can extend your feet and where the road surface is on the inside of the turn.  Downhill is exhilarating but hard work as your weight is borne by your arms, especially when braking hard. I use some of that force to apply counter-steer.

We settle into a flow with the continuously winding road.  Go out wide prior to a right-hander, cross the yellow line if there’s no oncoming traffic, exit near the left side of the road, then a quick flip to head over the the center and a flip to the left for the left hander, repeat… It is somewhat like gliding over a dance floor.  The art is getting good lines, well executed turns and doing it with speed and fluidity. Like a dance it exists only in the moment and leaves only memories behind it. Aileen I can tell is starting to really enjoy it. She is leaning into a turn every bit as much as I am and I sometimes have to counteract it.

There is a long steep climb to the view point at Soppong.  It is still only around 7am when we get there and the roadside stalls are still closed. Aileen sits in a sala near the mountain edge to meditate and I head back to the bike. I sit and watch and listen.  About every 5 minutes I hear a motorcycle coming up the mountain and sometimes a truck.  Women arrive and start to open their stalls. Most sell hand crafts things that you see in most markets and tourist areas.

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Aileen’s mountain-top morning meditation

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Our Kawasaki er6-n – a parallel twin 650 naked sportsbike.

When I rode down from Soppong towards Pai 4 months earlier I had just joined in with a group of riders I had met on the mountain top. They said they were fast riders and most were riding Ducatis. As they set off I didn’t realize that they ride in 2 groups – fast and ridiculously fast.  Unwittingly I left with the ridiculously fast group. For a while I was riding at the edge of my comfort zone as there was no way I was going to let them get way from me. After a while my comfort zone expanded and some of those riders were having a hard time keeping up with me. I was braking hard at the last possible moment, using my momentum to apply counter steer and getting my knee down on the many downhill hairpin bends.  At the end of that ride some of the riders asked if I was an ex-racer. “No” I replied, “but some of my riding buddies are.  I’m just a crazy farang grandmother”.   This time though I’m taking time to take in the view and share the moment with Aileen.    About 5 km outside of Pai the road flattens out and I see a straight ahead of me that is enticing me to go faster. I drop down to 4th and gun it, winding it out to about 10,000 rpm.  Did I mention that there are effectively no speed limits in Thailand?  We reach Pai and head for a restaurant.  “How did you enjoy that part of the ride?” I ask.  “Great!” she says, “It was exciting”.  She delivers a huge beaming smile when I tell her “You just earned your ton-up patch”.

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Aileen on hearing that we just hit 100 mph on the road into Pai.

From Pai we rode into Chiang Mai where things were gearing up for Songkran.

 

Early Morning in Mae Hong Son

Friday April 4

Monday April 7.

We picked up the rented motorcycle (Kawasaki 650 ER-n) in Chiang Mai on Monday morning. I had rented one of these on my trip here four months earlier.  We left our luggage at the rental place and took a ride up Doi Suthep to Wat Phra That. Aileen was nervous on the hairpin bends but bravely leaned in the right direction when needed.  After her meditation we headed back down the mountain. I took it slowly as she needed time to gain confidence in me, the bike and herself. We then loaded up the bike and headed towards Mae Sariang on rt 108 which was a 4 lane highway for the first hour or so (boring). We got to the town of Hot and stopped for a while to hydrate and rest. We were jet lagged and neither of us had got much sleep the night before. We were fending off fatigue and we had just 90 minutes of daylight left. The road from Hot to Mae Sariang is magnificent and has to be one of the world’s best motorcycling roads.  We rode through a river valley and then ascended into the mountains. The air got quite a bit cooler but since it had been 100+ Fahrenheit at the lower elevations the cooling was quite welcome.  I rode with exuberance and Aileen was remarkably calm. Just 2 weeks before we had ridden up the Palisades Parkway to West Point and she had closed her eyes for the whole way up there and needed to stop at the State Line rest area to deal with her anxiety.

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Aileen’s panic break at the State Line when heading up the Palisades.

She had come a long way in those 2 weeks. Riding at dusk was (I know, I use this a lot when talking about Thailand) enchanting. We rode between silhouetted mountains into Mae Sariang. We arrived there just before nightfall and got a room with a balcony that almost overhung the Salaway River. The next day after a breakfast of sticky rice with coconut we headed to the morning market.

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Breakfast of sticky rice on the guest house balcony.

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IMG_5351 Mae Sariang morning market.

We then loaded up and headed north on 108 toward Mae Hong Son. With the exception of one straight of about a mile the road to Mae Hong Son is a continuous string of curves and undulations.  Unpleasant if you are driving but shear joy for motorcyclists. After checking into our bungalow we headed up Doi Kong Mu to view the sunset.

 

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Sunset from Doi Kong Mu, Maehongson

 

Wednesday April 9th. Mae Hong Son

We’re still jet lagged and I woke at 5 am. Aileen heard me moving about the bungalow and got up. We stepped out to view the dawn and watch and listen as the town slowly woke up. It was quiet except for roosters (quite a few of them) and the occasional whir of a small motorcycle. After a short walk around the lake we saw the mountains emerge from the lightening sky. There were delicate colors. The lake was still.

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Dawn breaks over Jong Kham Lake in Maehongson

Monks heading out to seek daily alms.

Monks heading out to seek daily alms.

Each day soon after dawn the monks head out to seek alms. I saw some young boys and their robes were quite new. The Poi Sang Long festival completed just 2 days ago during which a lot of Shan boys became monks for the first time. Mae Hong Son is the epicenter of Shan culture in Thailand. We spent the entire day in Mae Hong Son getting over jetlag. We walked about the town late in the afternoon and made arrangements with the resort management for us to check out at first light the next day. Next stop will be Pai and a magnificent stretch of highway 1095.

 

 

Get In The Van

1622837_10152059945019608_1522239630_nat Mid Carolina Speedway for practice laps

A bunch of my vintage motorcycle friends race vintage Flat Track in the AMA circuit, and I’ve wanted to try it for years. They’re a great group of guys, and every time I asked about how a beginner might get into it, the answer was always the same, ‘just get in the van.”

1901555_10152065324234608_1295608601_nThe ‘Factory Wars’ class 

This answer was always genuine and heartfelt, and I love all the guys and the sport in general for the inclusive, supportive vibe, but…as a girl it just wasn’t that easy. I don’t wear a size 11 boot or big boy leathers. I didn’t have a bike to race and I was too nervous to borrow one of the beautiful vintage bikes that the fellas race because if I broke it, I’d have felt awful…and they’d be out a race bike.

524758_10150765774306797_452777550_nMiss-Fires me (left), Erika (top) & Valerie (bottom center) and friends Beth & Renee 

Racing can be expensive if you have to buy a pair of boots, a steel shoe, leathers and get your hands on a bike…all before you know whether you are even going to like it or not, so when I heard about American Supercamp two years ago, I signed up, got in the van and headed to Delaware.

535667_10150765774556797_1920378463_nLearning the basics

Danny Walker, the man behind Supercamp provided us with full gear, a fleet of bikes that they dared us to break and best of all, hands on instruction by race legends Chris Carr, E. Bostrom, Edwards, and more. The weekend was a blast and I knew I was hooked, but it wasn’t until I met my now friend and fellow Miss-Fires member Kara, who races AMA Vintage in the Brakeless 250 class. that it started to become a real possibility.

1451585_10152059846834608_1818992037_nMiss-Fires member Kara, of Five & Dime Racing (now on MotoLady.com)

Kara and I wear the same size leathers and the same size shoe so when she told me about the first races of the season down south earlier this month, and said the same old line to me of ‘just get in the van” I think i literally jumped for joy.

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With full gear sorted,  the last piece was what bike I would ride. The deal was sealed when I met her team mechanic, and fearless leader Jeff Davis. in trade for a custom seat (which i make for a living as Via Meccanica) for the team’s 1965 BSA 250 brakeless bike, Jeff set me up with a Honda 175, lovingly referred to as The Dung Beetle.

1798871_10152059927659608_484285421_nI have a special place in my heart for ‘The Dung Beetle”

So, after 4 years, I was finally off to the races. We got in the van and drove 3 people, 3 bikes and a ton of gear down to Neeces, South Carolina. There, at the Mid Carolina Speedway, we were able to do practice laps all day on a 1/4 mile track. This was my first time ever on a track, and Kara led me around, showing me ‘the line’. I was slow and stiff but with each lap I got better, faster and more confident. I got the feel for sliding into the turns (where that size 8 steel shoe comes in handy) and started rolling on the throttle more and more. I didn’t touch the brakes once and though i’m sure my laps were slow as molasses to watch, I felt like Speed Racer.

1925155_10152064859199608_1061590697_nEarly morning at Ogelthorpe Speedway. Excited and terrified.

Next stop was Savannah, Georgia for the AMA Nationals, where Kara was scheduled to race the 250 BSA in Brakeless and I would race my first race in the 250 Hot Shoe class.

1620663_10152064835274608_1244314870_nGearing up. Not as easy as it looks.

Due to heavy rain, the races the night before were cancelled and the pits were packed with 70 classes of racers all scheduled to race in one day (about twice as many as generally scheduled). At the racers meeting, they explained that because of this, practice laps, heats and races would be shorter and that things would be rushing along all day to fit everyone in. Just my luck right? But, instead of it being chaotic and stressful, the day was simply filled with the same overwhelming camaraderie that I have always found in the Vintage motorcycle scene. I ran into long time friends from Sixth Street Racing, and made a whole batch of new friends. They were nothing but supportive not just of me, but of each other. parts were loaned, bikes were fixed, and ribbing jokes kept us all in good spirits even when ambulances had to take riders off the track throughout the day.

10013613_10152065135314608_471945085_nAt the starting line of my first race ever (2nd from the left)

Too quick to rethink this whole brilliant idea of flat track, my class was called and Kara and Jeff scurried me off to the starting line. They explained the rules, flag signals (none of which i think i heard from inside my helmet) and with big grins and a pat on the shoulder, i was off! My first real practice race…and I was SLOOOOWWW. I got lapped by everyone but didn’t care. I was confident on this much bigger 1/2 mile track and kept my line that Kara and Jeff had taught me at Mid Carolina. When I hit my last lap and slowed down to exit the track, i was greeted with nothing but cheers and hugs. no one cared i was slow, or stiff, or maybe in the way of the seasoned riders. They’d all bee there.

1982023_10152065384159608_504112490_nKara lining up on the BSA 250 Brakeless

In between my practice laps, heat and race, i got to hang out and watch Kara and the other ‘big kids’ do their thing. It is absolutely amazing to watch racers who know what the hell they’re doing slide around those corners at top speed.

1899890_10152065558009608_755597846_nWatching the Womens Class race

It was also great to see so many women race. Mostly teenagers, and all racing modern bikes. They were every level of experienced and I was excited to meet one at registration who was also about to do her first race that day. For the first time, there was even a ‘Women’s Class”. These girls rode hard with the fellas all day long and held their own to say the least, but watching all of them together on the track was definitely inspiring. In that race there was a very bad crash, and one of the girls was taken away on a stretcher (sadly we found later that she passed away). The race was paused for a few minutes while they cleared the track, and all I could think of was what must have been going through the head of the first time racer who had to go back out again after that just minutes later. But she did, and she didn’t give it any less than she had before. As Hugh Mackie of Sixth Street Racing said to me at the time, ‘its part of it. it happens to all of us sooner or later”. Its true and it’s serious but so is the feeling you get when you follow through with something you set your heart and mind to do. I may have been slow, but i did it. I pushed myself and got better each time I ran the track. I didn’t puss out and stay home. I got in the van and i loved every minute of it.

1972454_10152065595094608_850637459_nKara and Jeff of Five & Dime Racing

Kara went on to take 2nd place in her class that night (and then first several days later in Florida). Exhausted and Ecstatic, we climbed into the bleachers and drank beer in the freezing cold to watch the pros race late into the night. Chris Carr who was one of my instructors at American Supercamp was in those races, and watching him race, I realized how much had just come full circle for me on this trip. I am forever thankful for all of the people over the years who encouraged me to, and finally made me get in the van. Biggest thanks of all, of course to the amazing Speed Racer and my dear friend and fellow Miss-Fire, Kara.

Corinna Mantlo

1971 Yamaha At1 125, 1968 BSA Lightning 650, 1962 Ford Ranchero