RAIN CHECK

Rain, Rain, Come Again; Another Day in the Hills I’d like to Spend…

>Here in Southern California we’re blessed with more than our fair share of sunny skies and warm temperatures. Couple that with the fact that all five of the motocross bike manufacturers and most of the aftermarket industry are located here, and it’s no wonder that so many top pro racers from around the globe flock to “sunny” SoCal during the off-season for testing and training.

Throw in a couple gnarly rain storms, however, and the racer in serious Supercross preparation mode finds himself turned upside down with nothing to do. Because of their sanitary nature and tricky, man-made obstacles, Supercross tracks are generally unrideable when muddy, leaving only one option for those who wish to log some serious saddle time: the hills!

DAY ONE

As soon as Ivan Tedesco’s name showed up on my caller ID, I knew that a Beaumont trip was in the works. With all of the Supercross and local public tracks flooded by recent rains, the natural hits in the mountainous terrain of the legendary riding area would be prime and ready to go. Naturally, I cancelled all of my other plans and met up with a large group that consisted of Hot Sauce, Josh Hansen, Nathan Ramsey, Travis Preston, Andrew Short, Ryan Mills, Jiri Dostal, and Andy Bakken. Though drizzle fell from the skies intermittently throughout the morning, I put on a sweatshirt, wrapped my Canon in plastic, strapped on an Oakley Hardshell Backpack, and fired up my KTM 250SX in hot pursuit of the jumpers. Instead of rambling on and on about how epic the day was, I’ve decided to bullet-point some of my more mentionable memories from day one in the hills…

*Tedesco showed up decked out in a beanie, a thermal underwear top, Adidas sweat pants, and pennyloafers. Seems Lil’ Hany hooked him up with those stylish shoes, which were complete with shiny new pennies tucked away inside their tongues. Nice!

*Ivan’s van smelled like ass inside. Lil’ Hany blamed it on Ivan’s gear, but Hot Sauce was quick to point out Hansen’s knee brace socks as the culprits. The aroma inside the back of Tedesco’s van was a cross between dirty diapers and old, rotten cheese.

*One of the coolest things about freeriding in the hills is that all the pressures of racing were gone. Watching guys who are normally competitors on the track take turns at a hit and compliment one another on their style was a pleasant yet bizarre sight to see.

*Ryan Mills was one of the only riders to bring out a 450cc four-stroke. “This thing is like jumping a car,” said Mills, of his new KTM 450SX. It was painful watching him struggle to start the bike throughout the day. The KTM is the most difficult four-fiddy to fire up, and Milly’s short legs didn’t help matters any.

*Jiri Dostal is planning on making a racing comeback after a couple years of retirement. Now a full-fledged paramedic, Dostal is still only in his early 20s and has plenty of speed left in him. For those who don’t recognize the name, Dostal was a member of the now-defunct Plano Honda squad.

*Travis Preston showed up in his new Alloy riding gear, but had yet to sign a boot contract. Throughout the day, he did his homework by asking the other riders what they thought of the boots they were wearing; how comfortable they were, how the rider support was, etc…

*Andrew Short is a badass when it comes to jumping in the hills. Mounted on his Supercross practice bike, he and the new Honda CRF250R look to be an awesome match. Shorty hit every jump he could find and did it with awesome style.

*Tedesco is equally at home freeriding as he is on a Supercross track. Hot Sauce consistently threw out the biggest, most radical whips of the day. Ivan wore a flat-black Thor helmet, which was a big change from his regular multi-colored team lid. Perhaps he was trying to represent the New Mexican Mulisha…

*As hyper and goofy as Josh Hansen is, you would expect him to crush iwhen it was his turn to jump. Lil’ Hany threw more dead sailors than you’d find on the Titanic, but he did manage a great whip here and there. When I bagged on his style, he started goon riding instead, with big lock-to-lock crossups like the rider on top of a trophy.

*When the lip of a jump would get blown out, one or two riders would lay their bikes on the ground and fix it with their hands and feet. Unspoken etiquette would see the others wait to allow those who fixed the lip be the first to hit it again.

*Though he got his CRF450R plenty flat and even past flat, Preston was consistently self deprecating of his jumping style. It took me showing him a shot of him on my digital camera to convince him that he was getting the job done. “Oh, I guess I can whip it, huh?” he joked. “It takes the right jump and the stars have to be aligned.”

*With only a couple days on his KTM 250SX, Nathan Ramsey still looked less than comfortable. “Getting back on a two-stroke after three years on a thumper is fun,” he said. Still, N8 Dawg was the most tentative rider in the group.

*Andy Bakken is a local pro from the LBC (Long Beach, for all you Snoop Dogg oblivious) and he has one of the most graceful whips in the business. Pronounced “Back-en,” the other riders still called him “Bacon.”

*When the rain began to fall more steadily, we decided to call it a day and head back to base camp. When we got there, Chad Reed was sitting on his tailgate, waiting for the group to return, as finding your friends in the vast Beaumont riding area is all but impossible.

*Of the group, only Ramsey and Preston elected to stay and ride with the new Supercross champ in the rain. I was on the fence about getting my camera wet, but when Reedy asked if I was gonna stay to get some shots of him, I unloaded my bike and began to rewrap my camera in plastic.

*Anxious to get going again, Preston and Ramsey fired up their bikes and took off. As Reedy threw on a big heavy blue Yamaha jacket, he assured me that he would take it off when we were shooting photos. Then he hopped on his YZ250 and took off in hot pursuit of N8 and Presto, while I struggled to get my backpack and helmet on.

*Naturally, I was unable to track the trio down (see above paragraph about Beaumont being a vast area), so I returned to the truck and loaded back up as the rain began to fall harder and harder. I felt like the dorky fat kid in junior high who gets ditched by his classmates at recess. (Not that I know anything about that, mind you….)

DAY TWO

With a second storm sweeping through Southern California a couple weeks later and memories of the great photo ops fresh in my mind, I decided to ring up Short to see if anyone was headed to the hills for another day of riding. With most of his buddies headed to Hawaii for a fly-by-night Supercross invitational, Short didn’t know of many riders who would go, but we both agreed to get on the phone and try to rustle up a crowd. In the end, an impressive group consisting of Short, Ramsey, new Factory Connection rider Thomas Hahn, Bakken, TWMX test rider Michael Young, WBR’s Richie Owens, Team Green’s Tyler Keefe, Mike Sleeter, Mills, Suzuki’s Casey Hinson, and others showed up for a day of play. N8 Dawg was bound and determined to try the north side of Beaumont this time, so we all agreed to follow him to the less popular side of the mountain, which was littered with plenty of big-air hits that were helped by some man-made lips…

*Right from the get-go, it was apparent that Ramsey was more comfortable on the north side of the mountain, as he went plenty big on his KTM 250. “Last time, I hadn’t been play-riding in a long time,” he said. “I’m a lot more comfortable today!”

*So comfortable was Nate that he even busted out some old school can cans and nac nacs… all that was missing was the overplayed heel clicker! Inspired by his personal catalog of FMX tricks, he removed the left side airbox cover in order to try out some seat grab tricks. After a few scary dead sailors, Ramsey came to his senses and decided to stick with the race-inspired whip instead.

*One of the most impressive riders of the day was KTM head honcho Scot Harden’s son, Brock. A top 125cc intermediate, Brock was absolutely fearless aboard his screaming 125 as he was more often than not the first rider to attempt each sketchy hit. “Broccoli” drew cheers from everyone on hand when he sacked up and hit a super-technical step-down double long before anyone else. If he ever gives up racing, expect Harden to join Bartram and Renner as a KTM-mounted FMX star.

*Riding with a shovel under your ass requires a special talent…one that I don’t have. While Short and Ramsey were able to traverse the trails sitting down on a shovel handle, I lacked the coordination to do so and had to find an alternative manner of carrying mine.

*Riding with a shovel shoved in between your backpack straps can be a painful affair. Each time I hit a whoop or dip in the trail, the handle would dig into my back. And then there were those bushes on the sides of the trail that would reach out and grab the handle or shovel head, which stuck out a foot past my shoulder on each side…

*Milly seemed to have finally figured out how to start his big four-stroke KTM. This time, he didn’t spend 10 minutes kicking at his big orange beast each time he stopped for a break.

*A stream crossing gone wrong, however, saw Mills covered in mud and looking much like a Tropicana Night Club mud wrestler once he finally freed himself from the muck. Even though his bike was weighed down with at least 20 pounds of mud, Ryan proceeded to air out his “big car” with the best of them.

*During our first trip back to the truck for water and gas, a guy clad in jeans and a T-shirt came coasting down a hill on a brand-new-looking Honda CR125R, decked out in full Factory Connection graphics and Mills’s old #44. When he clicked it into gear and tried to bump start the CR, it made a disgusting bogged-out sound and coasted to a stop.

*”This is bullshit!” he yelled. “I just bought this thing yesterday and it won’t start. It is supposed to be Ryan Mills’s old bike, too!” Marveling at the coincidence, we all burst into laughter and looked at Milly, who sat on his tailgate with a devious look on his face. “That’s my old bike?” he said. “Oh man, you got screwed. That thing will never start!”

*As a struggling privateer, Sleeter claimed to have some serious skills with a wrench and offered to help get the guy’s bike going. After completely destroying a new NGK while trying to perform a spark plug swap, Sleeter succeeded in getting the CR fired up with an old, spooge-encrusted spark plug that he found at the bottom of his tool box.

*After thanking us, the proud new owner of Mills’s old Honda bogged his way up the hill and out of sight. Knowing well that another fouled plug was inevitable, we all decided to gear up and head back out for more jumps.

Confession time: a week or so after our epic trips to the hills, I couldn’t resist the temptation to return with some of my buddies to try our hand at a few of the hits. Though we were able to negotiate some of them, the larger hits left me feeling like a fish out of water as I rolled over them and shook my head. Sizing up the jumps myself gave me an even greater appreciation for the days I had spent with the riders all to myself and my Canon.

Man, I can’t wait until it rains again…

order to try out some seat grab tricks. After a few scary dead sailors, Ramsey came to his senses and decided to stick with the race-inspired whip instead.

*One of the most impressive riders of the day was KTM head honcho Scot Harden’s son, Brock. A top 125cc intermediate, Brock was absolutely fearless aboard his screaming 125 as he was more often than not the first rider to attempt each sketchy hit. “Broccoli” drew cheers from everyone on hand when he sacked up and hit a super-technical step-down double long before anyone else. If he ever gives up racing, expect Harden to join Bartram and Renner as a KTM-mounted FMX star.

*Riding with a shovel under your ass requires a special talent…one that I don’t have. While Short and Ramsey were able to traverse the trails sitting down on a shovel handle, I lacked the coordination to do so and had to find an alternative manner of carrying mine.

*Riding with a shovel shoved in between your backpack straps can be a painful affair. Each time I hit a whoop or dip in the trail, the handle would dig into my back. And then there were those bushes on the sides of the trail that would reach out and grab the handle or shovel head, which stuck out a foot past my shoulder on each side…

*Milly seemed to have finally figured out how to start his big four-stroke KTM. This time, he didn’t spend 10 minutes kicking at his big orange beast each time he stopped for a break.

*A stream crossing gone wrong, however, saw Mills covered in mud and looking much like a Tropicana Night Club mud wrestler once he finally freed himself from the muck. Even though his bike was weighed down with at least 20 pounds of mud, Ryan proceeded to air out his “big car” with the best of them.

*During our first trip back to the truck for water and gas, a guy clad in jeans and a T-shirt came coasting down a hill on a brand-new-looking Honda CR125R, decked out in full Factory Connection graphics and Mills’s old #44. When he clicked it into gear and tried to bump start the CR, it made a disgusting bogged-out sound and coasted to a stop.

*”This is bullshit!” he yelled. “I just bought this thing yesterday and it won’t start. It is supposed to be Ryan Mills’s old bike, too!” Marveling at the coincidence, we all burst into laughter and looked at Milly, who sat on his tailgate with a devious look on his face. “That’s my old bike?” he said. “Oh man, you got screwed. That thing will never start!”

*As a struggling privateer, Sleeter claimed to have some serious skills with a wrench and offered to help get the guy’s bike going. After completely destroying a new NGK while trying to perform a spark plug swap, Sleeter succeeded in getting the CR fired up with an old, spooge-encrusted spark plug that he found at the bottom of his tool box.

*After thanking us, the proud new owner of Mills’s old Honda bogged his way up the hill and out of sight. Knowing well that another fouled plug was inevitable, we all decided to gear up and head back out for more jumps.

Confession time: a week or so after our epic trips to the hills, I couldn’t resist the temptation to return with some of my buddies to try our hand at a few of the hits. Though we were able to negotiate some of them, the larger hits left me feeling like a fish out of water as I rolled over them and shook my head. Sizing up the jumps myself gave me an even greater appreciation for the days I had spent with the riders all to myself and my Canon.

Man, I can’t wait until it rains again…