Sunday, 12 September 2004
No one in his right mind arrives at an enduro at 3:00 a.m. for this reason: after getting the bike unloaded from the van and blowing yourself light-headed inflating your air mattress, you’re lucky if you can even work up a good snore before that Heavyweight C rider kicks over his motorcycle and tries for a 14 second quarter mile to the Porta-Potty. The Heavyweight C’s don’t do this because they’re completely thoughtless (which they certainly are); they do this because the local water at many enduros contains measurable amounts of partially dissolved Drano.
To ensure plenty of sleep, independently wealthy riders come one, two, or three days early to enjoy mini-vacations in their motor homes and palatial house trailers. Dependently poverty-stricken riders get a reasonable night’s sleep at home and arrive just before their ‘start’ time. No one arrives at 3:00 a.m. -maybe they’ve all learned their lesson from Tony Martino’s adventure.
Tony left home Saturday with the hope of arriving early enough to park upwind of the Porta-Potties and downwind of the free hot-buttered corn on the cob so he would be the first to know when a fresh batch was boiled up and not get trampled in the rush. At 6:00 p.m. on Saturday, less than ten miles from the enduro, his van stalled in a Pennsylvania town so small the COME BACK AGAIN sign was bolted to the back of the WELCOME sign.
His van’s distributor had stopped distributing: an obvious diagnosis when everything in the engine is cranking ‘round and ‘round and the distributor rotor is pointing sullenly at 6:30, apparently stuck to its own shadow. While this is not typically a roadside repair, Tony’s income put him solidly in the Fix ‘Em Where They Break bracket. The culprit was the distributor drive off the oil pump and you can’t get any deeper into the engine than this: if you do you start coming out the other side.
Tony rolled his almost-street-legal motorcycle out and used it to run over to the nearest large town, easily identified because it was equipped with a traffic signal. The town fathers were so proud of it they had TRAFFIC SIGNAL AHEAD signs advertising the light in both directions to prepare you for the delight of stopping at the thing. The town fathers had also painted the bottom six feet of every tree red, white and blue during the patriotism epidemic in 1976, so the boulevards were lined with oaks which now appeared to be afflicted with tri-colored mange.
The new oil pump cost seven dollars more than Tony had paid for the entire engine and transmission assembly, transmission first/reverse shift rod, headlight switch, and a scissors jack that came with three bricks because it would lift only four inches. The pump installation went as well as could be expected if you were using a two-cell flashlight and the glow from passing headlights to see what you’re doing while lying on a high-crowned concrete roadway which guaranteed every drooped socket a good start toward Fort Lauderdale.
It was 3:35 a.m. when Tony passed the Las Cuchara Grasosa diner and picked up the arrows leading to the start. Having taken three drops of dirty crankcase oil in one eye and a piece of cork pan gasket in the other, his vision was not what it should have been but the fluorescent orange arrows jumping into his headlight beams a hundred yards down the road were easy to follow. Twice he thought he’d arrived when he saw moonlight glinting off parked vehicles: once at a State Police impound yard, again at a field full of 1951 Fords collected by a farmer who stands to make a fortune if 1951 ever comes back. Finally, the arrows turned off the pocked asphalt onto a smooth dirt road and Tony knew he was getting close to the parking area because he remembered the road from last year. When his van began sloshing in and out of short flooded sections he recalled a bridge ahead and it came into view almost instantly. It was a substantial bridge but only barely wide enough for a van; its guardrails are torn off and burned by backpackers on the first and fifteenth of every month. Tony double-clutched into low gear to growl up the steep slope after the bridge using all the throttle he had but backing off when the rear wheels chattered and began hopping off the ground. Near the top of the climb, the road forked left and became more rutted and so overgrown that his folding outside mirrors were soon flattened against his doors.
Tony expected, any second, to see the level meadow lined with orderly rows of parked vans with a few dozen dying campfires glowing red, one or two still blazing high, ringed by pit crews staying awake all night so they wouldn’t have to get up early. Then suddenly the road dropped out from under the headlights: Tony tried to panic-stop but the brakes were wet and he got more of a panic from the van’s not stopping than from the road’s disappearance.
When the van finally quit moving, it was at the same angle as a Vermont ski jump; his tool boxes, fuel can, boots, and milk crates had slid up behind the passenger seat, and he could feel the front tire of his motorcycle pushing into his seat back as it leaned into the tie-downs. The van rolled a few feet down the steep hill every time the brake master cylinder bled down and he had to take another ‘bite’ with the brake pedal. He had ten full minutes of inching down to convince himself he was a complete idiot for not replacing the broken hand-brake cable instead of just wrapping the broken ends around the trailer hitch. (The truth is he wouldn’t even have tied them up if following drivers hadn’t kept telling him about the sparks)
At last, the van came to rest with the front bumper dug into the floor of an abandoned marl pit.
The lesson to be learned from Martino’s predicament is this: when you’re following arrows to an enduro ‘start’ area, don’t, under any circumstances, drive PAST the parking area and begin following the course markers.
P. O. Box 17564
Tucson, AZ 85731