What in the devil is wrong this morning? Traffic is pretty heavy, but moving along at almost the pace of a Georgia Super Speeder, which is highly unusual for a Wednesday on both counts. It’s raining, has been pretty much all night from the looks of things. I’m running late, so I’m pretty much in a hurry. Business as usual on I-20. I’m passing most everybody, a few get to pass me. Yeah, you’ve read right. It’s a privilege, one which can be revoked at any second. 😉
Once I merge onto I-520E it’s a different story, as is evident at the merge point of the two opposing I-20 ramps feeding into I-520E. It takes some seriously creative riding to get in between all the slowasses, the hesitant mergers, the leadfoots, the space holders, the distractedly engaged, and the mobile jabber junkies. Yes, I have categorized the crowd by their default behaviors when driving becomes more complicated and the brain starts running the risk of overloading. Inconveniences such as intersections, on/off ramps, cloverleaf ramps, and merge points are all prime spots to observe the Common Cager (incola communis rotae cavea) in their natural habitat.
I make my way towards another day filled with opportunity of earning Pirate Coin (read: I’m going to work to make the bike payment) through the succession of merge points that is Augusta’s own scaled-down version of Atlanta’s infamous Spaghetti Junction or Columbia’s suicidal Malfunction Junction. After slicing and dicing and duking it out with a cager crowd that is denser, faster, and more aggressive than usual, which makes the situation also more unpredictable than is the norm; I finally find myself some empty-enough asphalt I can settle into and go with the flow of traffic.
My bliss, however, doesn’t last long, and as the wild bunch behind me catches up, I find myself surrounded again. Damn! I hate this. I can’t stand being around this much metal. That goes against my rule of riding as if invisible. I don’t like being caged in (pun intended), it gives me few to no outs and not enough time to react to set an escape in motion if it became necessary. I like to control the situation. And I do that with the throttle.
I have planned my escape and am working my way towards the freedom that is a much airier stretch of asphalt not too far ahead. As I see an opening to escape the imminent clutches of a semi-truck spraying me with grimy rainwater its tires sling off the road surface and a tailgater in an SUV, and risking getting stuck there, I take it and quickly change lanes, squeeze in between two cars, ride the left side of the white line, then gas it a little too enthusiastically to take advantage of the next opening. I slide the rear wheel, it starts stepping out to the right. I don’t even have to think about it; nor is it an event that registers even the slightest twinges of panic in me, nor does it upset the Pirate, as is evident by the DTC light remaining dark. A simple acknowledgement, followed by trained action.
I pin the throttle, then dive left with a quick nudge on the left grip, aiming for the left wheel track of the left lane; as I do, the rear wheel hooks back up. I straighten myself out, pass the semi truck, and after one more set of rolling road blocks (two cars pacing each other slightly offset, taking up both lanes and backing up impatient caffeine-deprived, half-asleep morning commuters for miles) I am finally free. I feel like putting on blue face paint and showing my arse while yelling “Freedom!”.
I was kind of proud of myself. I smiled. It wasn’t too long ago where I would have had to pull over and dig out the emergency pair of replacement panties. And here I was complaining not too long ago that I can’t improve my skills on public roads anymore. That street riding has become mostly mundane, boring and uninspiring. I guess I underestimated the power of constant and conscious repetition of isolated skill practice. I definitely have increased my crap weather riding skills and my confidence must be solidified.
I noticed another thing, I have reached a milestone of sorts in my riding: I haven’t been singing in the rain. That means I am not nervous or anxious anymore and the need for intense concentration has passed. I still sing on occasion when I drag knee though, I’m pretty sure of it. 😉
As a side note: I’m rolling Dunlop Sportmax Q2s, the rear in Hayabusa size (a leftover from some long-ago tire sale): 190/50 as opposed to 190/55. I can reach the ground better in my race boots, but I think I lost 6 mph off the top end… *giggles* and my speedo reads about 5-7 miles slow now. Oh well… it won’t be on there forever. I really do love those tires. I think I might even like them better than the Metzeler Racetec Interact K3 (K3s are medium-hard) that came on the bike; and they are cheaper, too.
My birthday, as you might know, was three days ago. Papa wired 200 € to celebrate the occasion. Cool. What to spend it on? What to spend it on? The money arrived on the 5th and I’ve spent over a week trying to decide where to unload it. So many toys, so little cashola! Bellypan for the the Priate? Color-matched OEM seat cowl to get rid of that superfluous seat cushion that mars the beauty of my S1000RR’s awesomely fast looking tail? Carbon fiber case guards? Or some shark fins? Maybe I could buy that canopy in red and black I need for the track? Ahhhh… so many things… but what I really want, but necessarily don’t need, is a waterproof Dainese textile jacket for cold weather riding. I want something I can zip to my Dainese Hooper pants I scored for $100 less than MSRP but a few weeks ago. I’m such a Dainese gear whore. I ME. Yeah. I’ve wrestled with options and then finally settled on the Xantum Lady D-Dry in Nero/Rosso to match my bike’s colors, the truck’s colors, the team’s colors. Painfully obvious that this broad color-coordinates. Now if someone could tell me where to get a (cheap) roll of 4-inch wide, no-residue removable, medium tack, 10mil vinyl tape in red or black, I’d be a happy girl.
Of course, I can’t find the blasted jacket anywhere. Dainese.com wants $40 for S&H and I’m not down with that. So off to Kneedraggers.com to special order it, which ends up in an email telling me that this specific item is backordered indefinitely and Dainese in Italy is currently only manufacturing the jacket in either blue or black. Yeah. No thanks. I have the order cancelled.
This money is positively burning a hole in my pocket!!! And rightfully so, because if I hang onto it too long it ends up getting wasted on more responsible things like bills. No! Birthday money can’t be wasted like that, it’s just not proper.
I end up aimlessly clicking around the Interwebs and just so happen to come across the JenningsGP track schedule and amuse myself with finding a date that coincides with one of my Saturdays off; Mondays are cheap, but then Mr. Slow can’t come with me, and I don’t want to go by myself, not to a new track. While checking dates I remember that I had previously thought about taking the Ed Bargy Racing School there, because it would count as one of the two required race weekends to rid my Novice Racing License of that annoying PROVISIONAL tag. Construction Worker Orange is so going to clash with my leathers AND my bike. That’s just hideous! I can’t ride if I don’t feel coordinated. ;P As a matter of fact, I was planning on going to the Ed Bargy school in October of 2009, when it was still at Road Atlanta (I think it was Road Atlanta anyway), but they ended up canceling it, moved it to some track in Tennessee (if I remember correctly) and the rescheduled dates were all on days I had to work. Every single one of them! That’s how I lucked into getting to go to the Kevin Schwantz School the following June; hubby must have felt a twinge of compassion for my sorry ass and bought me a slot for my birthday last year.
Eureka! I now know what great cause my birthday cash was supposed to support all along. Hmmm… I could do a three-day track special for $50 less. I dismiss the thought. What I need right now is three days of unsupervised track time to grind in some more bad habits, like I did on the Hayabusa when I was left to my own devices and a stack of motorcycle riding skill books. It took Kevin Schwantz and his team of instructors to help me unlearn all those bad “Hayabusa Habits”. I have a proper supersport now, I might as well ride like I have one and look like I kind of know what I’m doing. Ed Bargy it is. Click. Click. Click. Ca-ching!
The next day I had to call the school and ask if I could get a $100 refund. I found out not five minutes after registering that I am eligible for the upgrade price since I graduated from the Schwantz School. I actually talked to the man himself. He sounded nice and made me feel at ease, he was very friendly and eager to help; he even answered a question I had about the WERA licensing rules, then issued my refund and told me to just bring in my certificate when I come in. Cool. It is confirmed! Wooohoooo! I jumped up and launched into a how-low-can-you-go, hip gyrating, arms waving little solo dance number to celebrate the occasion and got promptly caught by some dude looking through my window. I straightened myself, brushed my tousled hair out of my face, smiled and asked if I could be of assistance.
Now I better hit the gym, race prep the bike, finish my suspension tweaks, take it to get the 12K service performed which is hideously overdue, finish the safety wiring to bring it all up to WERA’s liking, study the track map, watch some sighting lap videos for both directions, since I don’t know whether they are going to run clockwise or counterclockwise that day, and re-read A Twist Of The Wrist. Hopefully I can break through this plateau I have hit in my skill development, gain some more confidence by having my riding evaluated (and maybe even validated), maybe even shave a few seconds off my game. Definitely need to do that. I know where most of them are hiding, too. I ride like granny drives her Oldsmobile. Do we really have to come to a complete stop before turn-in just so I can stomp on the gas again? I really don’t know why and what, but I can’t bring myself to go in deep, slam on the brakes, pound it down a gear or two and crank that puppy over. Shit, I’m already finished braking and completed downshifting before I even hit the “3” of the brake markers, then I realize I’m just tooling along (la-dee-da) and I have to get on the hammer again, just to make it worth my while to actually push on the bars. *shakes head* No wonder my knee sliders skim over the pavement only barely coaxing a kiss out of the asphalt. Of course, that in turn leads to exit speeds that are probably not quite optimal and way too early, since the bike sill has way too much lean angle. Not that it matters much at my average speeds… I only slide it a little… more or less, sometimes, here and there. I have to admit, though, that is quite the guilty pleasure when it happens. Gawd, I can be such a damn squid!!! It’s a kink and I need to correct it before it starts to matter because I’m starting to ask too much of my tires.
I have a little over a month to grow a set. Better get to work on my mental game to pull out the stoppers and reduce the length and improve the timing of my approach. If I can’t set my entry speed quicker and later, I might as well quit ripping on that dude in my KSS class. I got stuck behind him on several occasions and it was frustrating because I had to either brake really hard while mid-corner or go wide to offset myself so I wouldn’t stick my nose up his tailpipe. Sometimes I had to do both. I just about fell out laughing when he let loose with the following little gem during the after-session review, and I quote:
“I don’t like to haul ass in the straights. I don’t see the point. You just have to slow down again when you get to the end of it. As a matter of fact I don’t really like to go fast in the corners either…”
I just couldn’t help myself and piped up from where I was standing towards the back by an industrial strength fan that was almost as tall as me, cooling my sweaty ass (and arm pits) sipping on a bottle of water: “I noticed! I was right behind you! And I’m a Hayabusa girl, I happen to like speed.”
I want to get to the lower 1:30s, but I’m not going to make that a goal. I know myself, I’m going to fret over crap I need not worry about. Speed comes naturally with increased skill and improved application. Worry about being good, not being fast. Yeah. Mwah. I’ll try.
I can’t wait! I hope Mr. Slow gets his vacation day because I want him to be there with me and this time he better actually watch me ride my scrawny bum around the track. Not like he did at Barber, where he elected to be a no-show because it was “so unbearably hot”, but in reality it wasn’t the heat that got to him. He finally admitted after I graduated that he was too scared and he didn’t want to watch me wreck. Well… Thanks for the vote of confidence, buddy!
Saturday, February 19th, 2011 is the date. Jennings, Florida is the place. Just a little over a month… finally something to look forward to in this drab winter existence.
OMG! I’m so excited it took me almost four hours to write this thing… I can’t keep focused. I keep getting sidetracked, I keep thinking about what I need to do to the bike… holy crapola! Woooohoooo! I’m…. damn! Finally…. yeeeeeeeaaaaaahhhh! Somebody got a Valium?
Thanks be to Keith Code, hallowed be thy skill. Glory be! For his teachings on overcoming survival reactions has saved my bacon today. I’m ok, I’m home. I deserve to level up and become a Level 15 biker chica on a Hayabusa. I saw Goose today. He waved so hard he almost fell off his Concours 14. =D Blessed be! Today was a fine day to be out there riding. I will elaborate on my ‘adventure’ later, I have a fender eliminator to put on my bike.
LATER THE SAME DAY:
So, I was on my way back from my ride with my husband, I had followed him to his work, then to the mall to pick up my repaired Kanji necklace and to the hardware store to pick up some essentials for the upcoming suspension tuning on The Fat Lady. BTW, it’s strange to walk into Jared’s in full race leathers. I even got kudos from a guy whose question of what I ride was answered by me with a nonchalant, it’s-really-no-big-deal “Hayabusa.” His jaw dropped and all he could say was: “DAY-AMN!” I smiled and told him that’s what I say every time I get on it. Anyhoo, I decide to get on the Interstate on the way home, and take the right off the three-lane highway onto the onramp. It’s the standard downhill, straight kind that comes with practically every overpass. No biggie. I had been riding it moderately-hard during my 95-mile outing to pay attention to what my suspension was doing, but nothing wickedly squiddy or anything like that. When there’s nobody around, I like practicing hanging off in these turns, because of the ability to really get my lean on and accelerate out, and that’s what I did. Nothing unusual there, either. I’ve done this turn countless times before. But right about after I hit the apex both tires started sliding towards the outside, which was a really messed up feeling, since it was totally unexpected. I thought to myself that I can’t really be going all that fast. What the hell? I’ve slid both tires before, but nothing like that. Where before, it could be called a baby drift, this was a little more… shall we say ‘pronounced’. My life did not flash before my eyes, however, I got a short mental video clip of me low-siding it off the left edge into the grass and all the way down the embankment, coming to an expensive, yet largely unhurt (minus the ego) halt about two thirds of the way down, with The Fat Lady coming to rest further ahead of me and further down, almost by I-20’s westbound shoulder. I smoothly roll on more throttle, the rear regains traction practically immediately, the Fat Lady holds her line, then straightens up and we ‘missile’ it down to the bottom of the ramp. I don’t even know how fast I was going, all I know is that when I merged I was doing about 75, 10 miles over speed limit, which is appropriate for this time of day on this particular stretch of road, unless you want to get run over. I’m still trying to figure out what just happened. No, I know the ‘what’, I’m trying to pin down the ‘why’. As I’m mulling over the possibilities, something else dawns on me. I didn’t even have to fight the impulse to chop the throttle or get on the brakes. Yeah, my heart was momentarily in my throat, the adrenaline started pumping (yeah, I kinda dig that), but my hand never so much paused or hesitated; it was one smooth reaction to something unexpected. And it was the right one.
Keith Code is my hero. Glory be. I’ll slam-hug the dude if I ever get a chance to meet him (California Superbike School, anybody? LOL). He’s saved my ass again!!!!!
Recommended Reading: A Twist Of The Wrist II by Keith Code