Don’t Waste the Water

Any event that combines a serious ride with well-planned gas and chow stops, has an excellent route sheet plus an escape map, and also raises $42,000 for cystic fibrosis research, deserves an Oscar and an Emmy and should even have a commemorative stamp issued.

The Leon Dube Memorial Trail Ride in New Hampshire combined so many good things that it’s hard to know where to start.

What do I consider a serious dirt ride?

Anything over 100 miles when you’re never in the same gear for longer than one minute. A ride where you pour the sweat out of your boots at the finish and you fall asleep on the job the next day.

In the case of the Dube, serious also meant that the first four stores we passed on the drive home to New Jersey were out of Bengay. The next two were out of Heet and Bengay.

That doesn’t mean I had a tough ride. My body needed a Bengay “fix” because of the inhuman contortions it had suffered while I was replacing the timing chain and sprockets on my Ford van—after only 172,000 miles!

The eight-hour drive to New Hampshire without power steering didn’t help, either.

Thankfully, the Merrimack Valley Trail Riders had printed up a route sheet for the handicapped—just for me. There were two reasons for keeping me out of traffic. The first was that they didn’t want the world’s worst dirt rider blocking the trail and ruining the ride for the merely mediocre, inept or damaged guys. The second reason was that Shirley and I were getting married the following week and I wanted to retain my health, such as it was.

Artwork by Mr. Jensen

My handicapped-only route sheet consisted of the last 31 miles of the Dube—backwards. There are advantages to riding alone and not having to worry about the fellow in front of you stopping or turning sideways halfway up a hill of loose rocks.

On the other hand, there are some disadvantages to riding alone, such as the possibility of taking a dive and breaking something important like a leg.

Gary Giroimom had that figured out. He said that one of the 300 riders who would use the same trail later in the day would certainly spot me if I were lying unconscious alongside the trail.

In the event I was left lying there, somehow overlooked, they would put plan B into effect. This plan was to send two riders, three weeks later, and have them sprinkle lime on me.

My friend Norm rode the Dube for the first time and rated it “real serious.” Norm had an interesting and practical way of rating off-road events: he measured how much less gas his steel fuel tank will hold because of the new dents in it. Anything over a pint is rated “real serious.” Any total loss over a quart and he put the event on his “never again” list.

The truth is, he could have avoided most of his new dents if he had stayed out of the “hero” sections. His excuse was that he couldn’t take his eyes off the rocks in the trail long enough to read the route sheet.

The rocks, understand, are the reason the Dube can run 300 motorcycles over more or less the same trail year after year. I’ve ridden it three times and the only difference I’ve noticed is that there are more rust streaks left by broken-off skid plate bolts.

When I met Norm at the diner 51 miles out on the non-handicapped trail, I saw that his was a typical first time experience.

Norm was my age, although he was referred to as “middle-aged” by jokers who expect to live to see 118 birthdays. Norm rode in looking beat up, worn out, dehydrated, coated with dust above the waist and covered with mud below the waist. His face sagged with fatigue, his tongue stuck out a little and his eyelids drooped over red-rimmed eyes. He was staring at his gloves trying to remember how to go about taking them off.

Norm had a lot of praise for the escape map which included an outline of the trail plus the speedometer readings as you crossed or ran alongside main roads. Secondary roads weren’t marked which was fine as they tend toward five-way intersections where none of the choices match where you think you should be going.

Without the escape map, Norm would have had to find his way back to the start, leaving his wife to worry at the lunch stop while she wore out her credit cards buying candles.

My canteen, which I had frozen the night before, was still half filled with cool water. I handed it to Norm. He stood there in the 97-degree heat babbling and asking where he should sign up for next year’s Dube. Then he took the top off the canteen and began pouring water on his head. He stopped after I reached up and put my thumb over the spout.

He was almost too tired to think but I convinced him that the water would be considerably more refreshing if he took his helmet off first!

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This column originally appeared in our May 2018 issue.