Friday, June 27, 2008

Blue Light Ride 2004

Choking dust or impenetrable mud are regular features of the annual Blue Light Ride, an off road tradition here in Victoria. In 2004, I decided to enter my first BLR on a 1983 Yamaha IT250K…

When I arrived I learnt that the organizers had had to change the route five times in the previous week due to rain. On the way there I had seen a bearded guy herding animals into a large boat in his back yard. So I knew dust wouldn’t be a problem. With a whopping 1382 entries, it was always going to be interesting.

I checked the IT in with no problems. I was on one of the last rows to leave so I had plenty of time.
Might as well top up the tank, I thought. Kerplunk! An extender on the end of the funnel took the opportunity to drop off into the tank. It had never happened before, but hey, no problem. It didn’t matter. I took my place on row 80.

So this is what 1300+ dirt bikes assembled in the one place looks like. The line up was mostly modern, but there were a few older bikes around including a couple of other ITs. I spied a Yamaha YZ /WR with a 1976 XS650 motor shoehorned in, and a 70s era Triumph. There was even several XR Hondas from the 80s and a twin shock DR500 on the same row as me.

As I wheeled the bike closer up, I marveled at just how smoothly the throttle twist grip spins in my hand. The late night ‘clean & lube’ session (ahem) had done wonders. Wait a minute, that’s the LEFT grip spinning freely! The steady soaking rain must’ve worked it loose. My carefully packed tool kit is on the ground before I even leave the paddock. It takes a ridiculous amount of wire and cable ties etc to finally secure the recalcitrant grip.

Just in time, I grabbed my punch card and set off. I had already decided to err on the side of caution. I was nowhere near ‘race fit’ and had already witnessed one exuberant rider flip his machine on the start line; plus quite a few first corner mishaps. The rest of my row roared off, and I meekly follow behind. Within minutes I hit a series of whoops and could hear a crunching noise from behind me. It wasn’t the gnashing teeth of a frustrated rider trying to get past me (that’s an altogether different sound, which I know quite well).

I knew straight away that my rear mudguard repair has failed. Another crunch as it touched the back wheel confirmed my suspicions. Bugger. Out came the tool kit again, and I was left with a stubby fender that I knew was not going to keep me clean.

A few bikes slithered past while I was doing the modifications. By the time I get going again I figured I must be dead last. It doesn’t matter.

Amazingly, I caught up to and passed a couple of other riders. The ancient Kenda knobby on the back of the IT actually did a reasonable job of supplying forward motion.

The first real test soon arrived in the shape of a long, slimy hill. Followed by another one soon after. I adopted a strategy of creeping up in first or second gear with both feet paddling. It wasn’t glamorous, but it worked, and as I chugged pass several stuck bikes I was thankful for the Yamaha’s low down grunt. Not bad at all for a two stroke. A short while later I passed the DR500 from my row, parked by the side of the track. There was no sign of the rider.

Soon I reach the first checkpoint. There was a queue here as progress has been halted. Rumour had it that there was a killer hill ahead that no-one can get up, so the course was being re-routed. I took the opportunity to catch my breath, drink water and scrape some of the excess mud from the bike. Formed up into orderly rows, we were off again.

Another long slippery hill, and this time I did get stuck while dodging traffic. Luckily I managed to get myself going again fairly easily. That was the last time I would be so lucky… What followed was a seemingly endless struggle to keep my aging 250 upright. Downhills were almost worse than up, as the beast just kept sliding in the muck with both brakes fully on.

There were massive queues at particularly snotty hills, and at some of these I had encountered riders out on their second loop while I laboured to finish my first one. Rest stops were frequent.

I won’t bore readers with the details, but much later I emerged from the bush, filthy, tired and sore. I had completely lost track of time as I struggled in the slop. Although keen to keep going, the officials advised me that it was now too late to head out on a second loop.

I had the small satisfaction of not being the last one back, and was awarded a finishers medal as well. Despite the tough conditions, I’d had a ball and my ancient mount had lasted the distance. I resolved immediately that I would have another attempt.

This I would do in 2006. With better preparation, and riding the same bike, I would successfully complete both laps. But that’s another story…

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