Dirtwise: A weekend of going back to school.

I’m working to improve myself as a rider.  If anything, just to be safer as I get faster.  I knew I had to at some point attend a school.  I had been to a Tony Distefano MX School back in 1999 when I was a bit more active in racing MX.  That was a blast & when I had re-entered the dirt world competing in trials, I knew I needed schooling and sought out the experts down at The Trials Training Center in Tennessee.  I really wanted something off-road related, and as soon as I saw a school close by, I jumped at the opportunity.

Shane Watts school opened up close by, so I signed up the day registration opened.  I wasn’t taking any chances.  I signed up and waited the 2 months or whatever it was for the weekend to roll around.  Thankfully I conned a buddy of mine to take the class with me, so we were able to split the fuel for the 5.5 hour drive, hotel, and help keep me occupied while driving.

Saturday AM rolled around, and I’m not sure about anyone else, but I was anxious.  Anxious to ride, anxious to see what we’d be learning, anxious to see just where I was doing things wrong.  The morning began with a short pep-talk from Shane Watts, followed by a quick warmup around a short .5 – 1 mile long loop through the woods down at the Cahokia Creek Dirt Riders facility.  It was a rather simple loop with a couple twisty sections, turns, sand, roots, small ruts, and all the standard stuff you’d see in a race (aside from extreme elevation changes).

Immediately after the warmup, we began in with breaking things down to the basis.  Plain & simple is how Shane does things.  You start with building blocks, stack them up, and apply them all towards the end of the day.  Shane also kept things extremely structured in his overall method of how the “classroom” time went.  Shane discussed what we would be doing, key elements, etc etc.  This was followed up by some demo’s done by Shane, followed by adding in additional key points for us to remember.  After this, we would begin applying what we were taught and were sent to practice in the field.  Shane would watch us all, make comments on what we were doing right or wrong.  After 10 minutes or so of practicing the techniques, we’d pause for a few, discuss things, and then go back out for a little longer; continuing on with practicing what we were just taught.  It was a great process to use to be able to handle the wide range of rider ability throughout the class.

As I said, it was all about building blocks.  Slowly adding things in, finishing with tying it all together.  Saturday began with working on throttle control, brake control, and body position.  We tied these couple skills into a fun drag race\braking exercise.  A line of 4 of us would drag race down a field, click through a gear or two, and then have to brake as quickly as we could at the finish line.  What a great exercise to work on throttle, feeding out the clutch, modulating power and then at the end have to do the exact opposite and work on keeping the rear tire on the ground, not locked up, and keep the front tire gripping as much as possible.  Despite being work, it was a blast.

The day progressed, to where we began working on the Square Drill.  A simple exercise of setting up 4 cones, and basically doing all you can to keep the bike in a constant drift around the 4 cones.  Now in a car, I’d honestly have no issue at all, even a quad.  But hop on a bike and try to do the same and it’s a total PITA.  Despite it being a PITA, like Shane said, it’s an absolute blast.  We all struggled to drift for even 1/4 circle, but we all made progress.  This exercise faded into us doing laps around a grass track.  A grass track that was getting more and more slick as the drizzles that began falling, turned into heavier rain.  The day concluded with us completing more Square Drill exercises.  All of us exhausted, my upper body was being destroyed from fighting the bike, trying to keep it vertical, while keeping the rear end pitched out all while having Shane yell “Go FASTER!!! PICK UP YOUR SPEED!!”.  Our coach knew we needed to wrap things up, so we headed home (er Super 8) to clean up and refill on some much needed food.

Sunday morning I woke up to dark skies and a serious threat of rough rain ahead.  By the time we were ready to go, we rolled out to get some quick breakfast.  While in the health food *cough* mcdonalds *cough* establishment, the rains began.  We sat looking as the sky was pitch black, pouring down an intense rain.  All I could think was: “this is going to be a long day”.  Thankfully by the time we got back to the Cahokia Creek Dirt Riders grounds, the rain had stopped, allowing us to gear up and get ready for more riding.

Just as Saturday began with some warmup laps on the practice loop, so did Sunday.  This time it was much more wet, with large puddles, but a bit more slippery.  Oddly enough, I found myself pressing harder.  I was more confident in placing my wheels in what I’d normally think were slick conditions.  I was on the gas harder and pushing faster than I was even the morning before in the dry.  I felt really positive and prepared myself for the days work ahead.

Things started out with working on corner ruts.  Navigating them, entering properly, looking the correct way, and appropriate throttle on the way out.  This exercise ended and followed by the dreaded Square Drill.  I wasn’t looking forward to this, but knew it had to be done.  As soon as we got out there, things began to click.  I was holding consistent drifts.  I’m sure I looked like a total goofball, floundering around trying everything to keep the bike going, but the more loops I did, the better it was.  I was holding constant circles, I was feeling great, then heard Shane yell to me “GO faster….Push yourself!”.  Not wanting to let the coach down, I did and amazingly enough, I was doing the exact same thing, but at higher and higher speeds.  Not perfect, for sure, but an absolute blast.

The day wound up with us working on a “grinding” technique; riding with wheels on the opposite sides of a downed telephone pole, while riding the length of it, which tied into us putting the techniques into action out on a small ravine climb out in the woods.  Shane again gave us a demo on how it was done, along with several alternate routes up a ravine that left us all smiling, dreaming of being as good of a rider as him.  After the demo it was our turn.  It was a small uphill, that swooped to the right, with a tree root across the thing right at the top of the climb.  Not too major of a climb, but it was slippery, and the climb was well V’d out from the rain running down it.  First time up I got stuck behind the guy in front of me, and didn’t make it non-stop up the hill.  The next attempt, I was more ambitious and pressed a bit harder.  I went in at about 3/4 throttle in 2nd gear and made it up, though had to put a foot down.  I wasn’t happy with that.  Next go at it, I knew I had to just man up, full throttle 2nd gear and just roosted into the climb.  My front tire followed the left side of the climb, with my rear sitting nicely in the middle of the thing.  I came to the root at the top and gave it a touch more gas to really get me up and through.  The root kicked me a good 10-15 feet down the trail.  Unfortunately It also kicked me to the left  onto the side wall dirt.  As I picked up my bike, I heard Shane yelling “YAHHHH AWESOME!!!”.  I couldn’t help but laugh as it just felt great to get up the hill so quickly.  I ran the hill another time, a bit more subdued at the root, and felt like I had made some great headway in my skills.

At this point, Sunday was winding down as we all worked our way out of the woods.  We were tired, the day had gone incredibly well, and it was time for things to come to a close.  Shane gave us some ending inspiring words sending us off to go ride and just enjoy riding.  I know I for sure felt thrilled.  I have no doubt in myself that my skills and confidence have gone through the roof.  I knew I could hold some good speed before this, but the little things I picked up from the class have just helped me take things to a whole new level.  I’m stoked, I’m feeling great, and ready for the races to come this year.  I’m looking forward to putting what I learned into practice in this weekends race.

Pic of the class (I’m bottom right in the red, next to Shane Watts on the end in orange):