I used to pride myself on how fast I was in the canyons. I was a member of the illustrious “Primer Grey Crew.” To be in the PGC you had to be damn fast and also own a bike that was not considered top-notch machinery. The bike needed low horsepower figures, cheap suspension, or just had to be a few generations behind the latest kit that was being lauded in the magazines…something quirky or small displacement.
The fast guys all had primer grey paint somewhere on their bike. It was because at some point they crashed and had to repair the damage. They had the time to make the bike functional, but the effort to add paint was beyond their means or desire. Paint is used to keep rust away, so the only practical reason to paint plastic is to sell testosterone-laden men a new motorcycle, or to convince estrogen-laden women to talk to the owners of such motorcycles. The PGC had no time for this. We did not cruise the boulevards for approval of outsiders… we cruised the cliff-lined canyons in search of corners so tight our footpegs and exhausts would shower sparks behind us as we leaned impossibly through rock-strewn hairpins.
I was king of this environment. I had no fear, made no apologies. I took no quarter and I gave none. I have shoved my body through the tall grass lining a corner because it was the fast way through, simply assuming no tall rocks were hidden in their depths. I have left skidmarks in my wake, along with the baffled faces of slack-jawed pretenders who tried to keep up. The PGC made no apologies. Speed was the goal and the dragon we had to slay.
I cannot tell you the day it happened, but I can tell you what was happening in my mind. I was destroying a particular section of canyon. I was one with the machine. I was on the rear tire of the rider in front of me, and the two of us were leaving behind another few riders. The PGC was in full effect. The comment afterward was seemingly of no importance. One of the slower riders mentioned how he was thinking of his newborn son during the ride. The risks he took in each turn were weighed against his desire to watch his newborn son grow up, go to school, start football.
I remembered a phrase in racing that a wife costs you 0.2 seconds per lap and each child adds 0.5 seconds. It occurred to me that “winning” in the canyons was a game of risk, not of skill. The fastest man in the canyons – the man who took the most risk – was not the fastest or even the bravest. No, he was the man that had the least to lose. Having nothing to lose gives you an easy chance to put everything on the table. But your version of everything is not the next person’s version. Showing you are fastest in the canyons means showing you have the least to lose.
This does NOT make you the bravest. If you chose to play on this field, you have taken the easy route. Truly, the person who is bravest has had the courage to love a person enough to commit to them for life. They may have even created another living person and have committed to making that person into a functioning adult…perpetuating our species…our culture. Then – on top of all that – they choose recreation on a public road at high speed with a motorcycle. Well, it doesn’t take a primer grey “badge of honor” to respect that. Simply showing up means that rider has put a lot on the table for their sport. I think the sentiment transfers to most action sports. We have all seen the person who has stunning skill but seems on the edge of control. They achieve great results but cannot tell you how. When something goes wrong they can no longer find the confidence to will themselves to those same great results. This is very common in racing. People arrive on the scene and are immediately fast. They seem to get away with impossible moves until one day… they don’t. After a serious rag doll move they quietly depart for another hobby. People say a fine line separates the brave and the foolish. I’d say the line is quite broad, it’s just hard to see. Someone who walks confidently through a minefield because they’ve meticulously mapped out a route, is not doing the same thing as a person who walks confidently through a minefield because they never noticed the warning sign at the edge of the field. On roads open to the public, there is no way to map the minefield. Unlike a landmine, bicyclists, hikers, broken down cars, fallen rocks, and any number of other things are dynamic. They could be anywhere.
When I started racing, I told myself I would never give up riding the canyons because of the challenge. In time I gave up the twisty bits almost entirely. It wasn’t that I couldn’t do it anymore. It was that my skill level had far exceeded what the road would let me do. It suddenly felt like taking an F1 race car to a parking lot. There just wasn’t the room needed to get the vehicle up to its limit. Using pure grit to make it through a blind corner was no longer an admirable skill to me. Instead, pushing a machine to its limit in an environment that was bigger than my skill set became admirable. My skills could not remain in stasis. I was in a new league of skill, with a start line, a finish line, and a clear goal: win. Risking it all when I had nothing to lose just stopped being appealing. Advancing my skill to a level I wasn’t sure I could reach was a real risk. That was more than being in the Primer Grey Crew. THAT is playing the game of life “all in.”