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Hare scramble lessons: The further ahead you look …

November 25, 2009

Years ago my father, my brother, and I raced hare scrambles.  More specifically, they were mud and snow scrambles.  More interestingly, the particular mud and snow series we raced is now the longest-running American Motorcyclist Association sanctioned off-road motorcycle series in the country.  [Interesting to me, at least.]

Square Deal Riders Mud and Snow Scramble (photo courtesy WBNG TV)

From Wikipedia:

Hare scramble is the name given to a particular form of off-road motorcycle racing. Traditionally a hare scramble can vary in length and time with the contestants completing multiple laps around a marked course through wooded or other rugged natural terrain. The overall winner is awarded to the contestant who maintains the highest speed throughout the event.

The only difference between a hare scramble as defined above and a mud and snow scramble seems to be the temperature and the depth of the ruts that form as the race day goes on.  Any scrambler knows the perils of the rut. 

When you are in the rut, it’s all about weight distribution and speed.  The direction you point the front wheel is the inferior factor in getting through many sections of the course.  The novices and encumbered veterans alike get trapped.  I remember well my last race before I learned this lesson.  As many times before, I found myself in a deep rut.  Looking through muddied goggles, my feet off the pegs, I straddled the bike and dog-kicked along the opposing high points of the trough.  My frozen hand gently feathered the throttle as I leaned over my front forks to get the best view of the network of trenching in front of me.  As I kicked, pushed, and drove myself forward I tried not to be distracted by the sights and sounds of other riders zooming past.  I tried not thinking about one of them accidentally riding over my leg as it stuck out like an outrigger.  I quickly worked the handlebars in unison with the throttle, aiming the front wheel along the path of least resistance.  I thought, “the rut must end at some point; I’ll just follow it out, carefully and slowly, and get to better ground.” Meanwhile, I noticed that this is the second time I’ve been lapped.

It is tough work moving 400 pounds of motorcycle, mud, and flesh through such an expanse of the most viscous material produced in nature.  I was tired.  I stopped pushing and pulling. I stopped cursing.  The bike idled.  Another wave of scramblers narrowly passed on either side of me as I sat in the middle of the course.  There were no spectators out that far in the woods.  In another ten minutes, I figured, the rest of the pack will pass by again.  Then, the race will be over; and a new race will begin.  Maybe it will be my brother’s race class next, I thought.  He’ll laugh when he sees my bike stuck upright in the mud and sees me sitting under that tree over there.  He won’t stop.  I wouldn’t either.

Just as I am about to de-bike and make my way to that tree I was thinking about, my eyes catch a glimpse of something not too far off in the woods.  Through the haze of rising water vapor in the forest I saw a figure standing among the trees.  A hallucination born of exhaustion?  A prison escapee?  Woodlands prophet or sage of the mud and snow scramble?  A Jedi knight? I wondered.  A 6 1/2-foot tall, 250-pound Yoda dressed in muddied racing leathers, a torn and grease-stained Carhartt, and a gray wool hat.

I could barely hear the Hare Scramble Fairy tell me, “The further ahead you look …”  The other racers lapped me again and the last part of the mystic’s message was drowned out by the surround-sound of stampeding two-strokes.  He repeated himself:

The further ahead you look, the faster you’ll go.

.

I thought to myself, “Nothing else is working;  might as well try that.”  I licked my goggles clean and rocked the bike back and forth a bit.  I looked down at my front wheel and said, “I’ll see you at the finish line.” Leveling my eyes off to the next bend about thirty yards away, I shifted all of my ample weight to the rear of the bike and eased into the throttle.  My legs guided me only long enough to stabilize and very soon they were trailing behind my knees before I replanted them on the footpegs. I picked up speed, not once looking down at the front tire, and constantly retrained my eyes up the trail as far as I could see.  The bike rose out of the mud like a cresting dolphin, planing out above the ruts.

I was 14 or 15 years old when I learned this lesson.  In the couple of decades since then, I’ve done nothing with it.  It has silently fermented in my brain.  These days I’m not looking for ways to make the days go necessarily faster.  But I wonder, could memories of being stuck in a rut in the mud and snow be allegorical to something bigger?  Is it a symbolic narrative uncovering some new truth or does it simply highlight observations that are quite obvious to everyone else?  Or is it just a subconscious reminder that if you try and go too fast you are bound to hit a few trees.

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2 Comments
  1. Tim permalink
    November 28, 2009 12:09 am

    Ah, but when the sun turns pink, the frog barks at night.

  2. spin_sir permalink
    January 4, 2010 9:19 pm

    Indian Chief, ‘Two Eagles,’ was asked by a white government
    official, ‘You have observed the white man for 90 years.
    You’ve seen his wars and his technological advances. You’ve seen his progress, and the damage he’s done.’

    The Chief nodded in agreement.
    The official continued, ‘Considering all these events, in your opinion, where did the white man go wrong?’

    The Chief stared at the government official for over a minute and then calmly replied. ‘When white man find land, Indians running it. No taxes, No debt, Plenty buffalo, plenty beaver,
    Clean Water; women did all the work, Medicine man free. Indian man spend all day hunting and fishing; all night having sex.’

    Then the chief leaned back and smiled. ‘Only white man dumb enough to think he can improve system like that.’

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