Old Or Out Of Shape?

As seldom as Bill rides hard-core off-road anymore, showing off his rusty skills tends to lead to problems.

“What are you doing, daddy?” My son had walked into my bathroom as I lay on the floor struggling like an upturned turtle. I had started to remove my riding gear from a standing position, but ultimately decided that curling on the floor and helplessly pulling at my pant legs could work better. That had been at least fifteen minutes earlier and by the time my son found me, I was as out of breath as a 90-year-old smoker jumping hurdles. Every muscle in my body was screaming at me, begging me to just give up and die, yet I pressed on, determined to rid myself of the sweaty clothing.

Each year I host a company ride on the Sunday following the St. Louis Supercross race. An annual event since 1998, tying the ride to the race provides dealership employees with a weekend-long experience of camaraderie, a chance to ride an assortment of demo quads and bikes and, most importantly, generate a year’s worth of stories to tell friends and customers. Most of us enjoy a relaxing day of motoring around my farm’s trails, enjoying the ride and the Missouri hills. A few of us, however, use this ride to show off our rusty skills, attempting to replicate the riding styles of those we’d watched the night before. As seldom as I personally ride hard-core off-road anymore, this tends to lead to problems.

This year’s ride was unbelievable. After a winter that just never stopped, we finally saw sunshine and 75 degree temperatures that quickly turned the previously saturated soil into a sticky loam that begged to be ridden. The dirt called to me, and after taking everyone on a welcome loop aboard a new KTM quad, I switched to my trusty RM-Z450 with the intention of warming up with a traditional “hot lap” through the woods. This is where my troubles began.

Whether it is old age or simply poor health, I cannot say. I prefer to think the former, but feel that I’m lying to myself when I say it. I hit the trail like a rocket, passing a parts guy, a sales guy and a service technician almost immediately. The dirt was still calling. I picked up the pace, feeling good on the bike; together we were one machine, gracefully dancing among the rocks and roots, ruts and logs that scattered the trail. The wind pushed through my Arai’s vents and brought with it the whistling song that only speed can sing. My muscles loosened, I kept the front end light and the RM-Z responded to every minute throttle adjustment along the way. We were in perfect harmony en route to complete moto euphoria.

I could see my wife’s cousins riding in a group ahead of me. Like a bullet, I caught them and was soon working my way through the pack of four. They had to be impressed as I dodged right of the trail, wheelied over a downed tree and sprung back ahead of the group. I could almost hear their cheers of approval telling me that they were witnessing a riding talent obviously not short from what they’d seen at the dome only twelve-hours earlier. I thought for a moment that my wife would likely be receiving an e-mail about how unbelievably fast her husband is on a bike. That would certainly make her feel good, just knowing that she was married to such an outstanding example of masculine excellence.

I leaned the bike hard into a right-hand turn just ahead of the cousin-pack, extended my right leg far above the front fender and, nearly dragging the grip in the dirt, I dug the mighty RM-Z in sideways, blasting through the turn like Carmichael on crack. As the centrifugal force brought the bike vertical at the end of the turn, I was suddenly introduced to a new friend — Mr. Hidden Tree Root.

Unlike tree roots that cross the trail in a straight line – as had the many that I’d already hopped over that morning, Mr. Hidden Tree Root crossed at an angle opposite my current direction of travel. Also, unlike your garden-variety tree root that shows itself well in advance of your approach, Mr. Hidden Tree Root had covered himself with a nice layer of damp leaves. This blanket of foliage served both as a wonderful camouflage as well as a natural moisturizer that left his wooden surface as slick as a sinus infection. Add to all of this a knobby rubber tire heavily weighted by a forward-leaning rider, a great deal of speed and a physically impossible angle of attack, and I found myself with a recipe for Rag Doll Pie.

By the time I was able to break my mind free from the caressing of adrenaline-induced self-worship, my front tire (and the attached bike) took a rather rude left turn without my permission. As the forward momentum currently propelling my body did not allow for a left turn, I continued to travel straight. Simple physics. As with most sudden panic situations, my brain instantly slowed the picture of events in my mind as though I were watching a slow-mo replay. I know that doctors would describe this as a natural safety mechanism that allows us more time to respond in an emergency situation. However, when you are propelled through the air at a high rate of speed and heading directly for a rocky trail and surrounding trees, the slow-motion thing is really nothing more than added torture. There is absolutely nothing that can be done — short of sprouting wings — that will save a person in that situation. The only reaction is to frantically flail your arms and legs, effectively adding to the humor effect for anyone bearing witness.

Personally, when confronted with a high-speed riding crash, I try to follow the rule of DTRP. That would be duck, tuck, roll and pray. In this case, I ducked, tucked, skidded, smacked and moaned. (DTSSM). Following three attempts to bounce back up as I would have 20 years ago, I finally crawled back to my bike and allowed my wife’s cousins to help me up to a standing position. I realized then that the e-mail my wife would soon receive would not likely paint me as a skilled rider after all.

Following the advice of an unknown sadistic historian, I got back on the horse that threw me. That particular horse now donned some badly bent handlebars, but after a short time I was able to compensate and pick up pace. I had several other crashes that day and by the end of the ride I had strained, sprained, pulled and bruised pretty much every part of my body. In fact, I was suddenly quite aware of parts that I didn’t previously know existed.

Hence the position of embarrassment in the bathroom floor that I mentioned earlier. Exactly what is the proper response when a son finds his father lathered in sweat and panting while attempting to take off a pair of pants? After all, I’m supposed to be Superman to him. I’m supposed to represent the strong hand of the family unit. I’m supposed to be a representative of what he will one day become — a sampling of the greatness that his DNA can produce; someone for him to look up to with wonder-filled eyes and think, “That’s my Dad!”

I slowly raised my head from the floor and looked my son directly in the eyes, careful to remove any sign of pain and agony from my face. I reached up with a firm, unshaking hand and squeezed his arm gently as he stood before me. Then, in a deeply firm yet loving voice I said to him the only thing that a father in my position could say …”Son, grab daddy’s pant leg and pull.”

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