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This is what motocrossers do when no oneis looking. This is what we do in the dry air, the dustywind, and the unforgiving sun. We ride. A Supercrossrace is merely a snapshot of my life. A clip. A highlight. What I do when the world is watching. It's myreason for being, yes. But between those races iswhere life happens. And a huge part of my life ispreparation.
That's why my longtime mechanic and friend,Skip Norfolk, and I were at the KTM practice track inCorona, California, on that warm, sunny, dusty daythe twenty-first of September 2002. I had just signedwith KTM after five years on a Yamaha. Riding abrand-new bike is like getting to know a completestranger. If you don't know anything about that person you have to ask. I ask by riding. Again and againand again.
How does it handle in the corners? How broad isthe power delivery? Do I feel comfortable thirty feet inthe air? Is this bike faster than Ricky's? And about a thousand other things I have to know before I pull up to the startinggate under the lights of Edison International Field in Anaheim forround one of the AMA Supercross Series in January.
I had already put over fourteen hours on the new bike over the pasttwo weeks and was beginning to feel pretty comfortable on it. Skip andI had wrapped up another five-hour session and were close to having thebike completely dialed. He gives the rear suspension a couple of clicks,documents the day's findings in his logbook, and loads up the truck.
"I'd better take it out for one more quick spin," I gladly tell Skip. Staying late at the track was nothing new for us. For the better part ofthe last thirteen years we've spent countless hours going over an infinite number of suspension and carburation settings. Besides, you neverknow exactly how long it'll take to work the kinks out of a motorcycle, so Skip gave the thumbs up so we'd have a jump on tomorrow's testing. "Just two more laps, Skip."
Skip flicks his stopwatch and I blast down the first straightaway.I guide the bike in and out of a tight hairpin, as easily as I would pointand click a mouse, then shoot for a sixty-foot triple jump. With a blipof the throttle in second gear, I'm sent thirty-five feet into the lower atmosphere. I like the view from up here. I've seen it many times in mythirteen-year career. So good I take my right foot off the footpeg andswing it over the bike behind me like I'm going to dismount my KTMin midair. The nac-nac. Been doing it that way before there was anything called the X Games.
Upon returning to earth, I grab a handful of brake, but not toomuch, snake in and out of another turn, then head for a tricky rhythmsection -- the meat and potatoes of a Supercross course-- made up of asmall triple, another triple, and a big double. Negotiating a 200-poundmotorcycle with a hair-trigger temper through a technical section likethis requires upper body strength, a gymnast's balance, and the precision of a scalpel-wielding surgeon. Now do that at full speed. One mistake and you'll actually need a surgeon.
I smoothly pogo the first triple, gas it, hit the second triple, thenmore gas before the double. But there's a bit of a problem. As I come off the second triple jump, my bike bogs down. The high-pitched scream ofthe 250 two-stroke motor is reduced to a suffocated low rumble as itstarves for gas. This is never a good sound.
I've built up too much momentum to avoid the double, so I hit it asplanned -- bogged out engine and all. The idea is to land smoothly downthe backside of the landing jump. But it isn't going to happen. The bikedies. With my KTM gasping and choking, it takes an unwanted nosedive, ejecting me over the handlebars. I'm sailing through the air without my bike, praying for a soft landing I know isn't coming. Luckily, I'vegot my feet out in front of me. I land on the face of the landing jump almost as if I've jumped out of a window. Unfortunately, that window wasthree stories high. It isn't really a bad crash. At least it doesn't look thatway. Even though I land on my feet, I hit with such force that my bodyfolds completely over like I'm trying to touch my toes-- with the back of my neck.
The human body can only bend so far forward before unnaturalthings begin to happen. In my case, the top of my right femur pops outof my hipbone, tearing away the ligaments and muscles that were holding it in place, and shoots out of the back of my right ass cheek. Regardless of what kind of pain you've dealt with in your life, a dislocated hip will make you cry.
I've crashed plenty in my career, suffered a broken wrist here, abroken leg there. I've been knocked unconscious, had double vision forsix weeks, and nearly had my ribcage crushed. (And I've had it prettygood.) But I was thirty years old and now I knew the meaning of agony. My leg was paralyzed with pain. It shot up my back and through all myextremities. I laid there on the track in a fetal position-- because I couldn't straighten out my legs -- while Skip came rushing over ...Wide Open
Excerpted from Wide Open: A Life in Supercross by Jeremy McGrath, Chris Palmer
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