The final part of the story behind how I got to ride on the Salt Flats during Speed Week 2019. Part 3 can be found here
Tired and emotional
We needed to move fast now, really fast. The Hayabusa had failed tech inspection because the tire valve stems had to be metal, not rubber. But the good news was, that was the only failure. So, we hastily rolled the bike back onto the trailer and quickly researched local tire and motorbike workshops. Although Wendover the town just off the speedway was not right next door, it wasn't a long drive away so 30 minutes later and we had managed to find what we needed. Next stop the tire fitting shop.
We pulled up to S&R Auto on Wendover Boulevard to find a hive of activity in the oily workshop. Eventually we tracked down the frazzled owner who scratched his head with a greasy finger and said it'd be a couple of hours before they could sort it. There must have been a horrified look on our faces because he quickly followed up apologetically telling us the reason - tbe fire chief's truck was being seen to and it was an emergency and nothing, just nothing and no-one, could jump the queue.
Finally we were done. Bike reloaded on the trailer and back to the tech bay. The inspectors checked it over and fortunately immediately gave it the green light while the stickers were applied simultaneously along with some red sticky tape on the white fairings. The colouring was so that if the bike had a fall the bits and pieces would be found more easily in the white salt. Practical, but not particularly reassuring. Stickers were attached to the front to confirm to the starter that tech inspection was passed and the limit the bike could go to which was generally the fastest speed allowable with the tires.
Then crunch time. I had to talk to someone about the rookie course because it was at least an hour or two since the deadline had passed, it would be closed for sure. How was I going to somehow get them to let me ride? It seemed an impossible ask, but a tiny speck of hope was still alight, light an ember in a fire.
I went up to a course inspector and explained the delay. The whole story about the fire chief, how we'd only bought the bike yesterday and how this was all about a dream that I could share so that others could be inspired to go out and have adventures themselves. Surely they could see how hard we'd worked to get the bike ready, could I please have my one rookie run? Just to say I did it... I'd ridden on Bonneville Salt Flats. It had taken me a couple of minutes to spill my story out, as emotional as I was. The inspector waited patiently for me to finish. "Oh yeah, you can do it on the long course, no problem." WHAT!?! YES!!!!??? I actually jumped for joy. The show could and would go on!
We got to the start line, there were about 10-15 bikes and cars in front. Nothing like how it had been for Dino, with his 8 hour wait in the boiling sun that Tuesday. It was late in the day, around 4pm and I reckoned there was about another hour's racing to be had. It looked like I was going to get one run in if it was quick, but the shadows were growing ever longer by the second. An hour later - three to the line. So close now.
As I stood there, the warm sun beating down on me, the exertion of the day subsiding a little I can remember a song on continuous loop in my head. It was 'Forever Autumn' from War of the Worlds by Jeff Wayne. I think the tempo had a soothing effect, particularly the guitar. That song stayed with me for the entire run, I later recalled. I doubt if I could ever listen to it again and not remember this singular moment of my existence.
When you're close to the front you need to be ready to roll when the starter calls you forward. You need to have your suit, boots and helmet on ready at least 2 or 3 back so that you don't hold up the line so even though it's hot, you got to comply with the rules or be forced to go to the end of the line. It was getting really blistering now and I heard there had been a vehicle fire on the track. No one was hurt but that meant another delay on what was already borrowed time. I had a few people come up and wish me luck, sometimes they would (in a well meaning sort of way) tell me of accidents earlier in the day, that the salt was dangerous. That they were going home. But nothing got to me anymore, I had found a place of pure focus. Calm and confident. My mind was clear and I knew what I had to do.
At about a quarter mile from the end I could see I was drifting towards the middle and there was a little shimmy in the bike. That felt like riding on sand. It wasn't a problem, I just moved over to the left a bit more but I realised how prudent it was to take the line I did. You don’t want to be looking at the track when you're going flat out, sliding around like you're on ice.
Then, just like that, it was all over in the blink of an eye. I barely had time for the first three lines of Forever Autumn in my head although the song was in there in the background like ambient music in a shopping mall. The black quarter mile markers had flown past and the orange mile marker was now behind me. I'd done it! It was absolutely serene. I'd made it to the mile. The moment had arrived when I could breathe again.
In the nick of time!
I found out they shut the course right after my run. Speed Week also closed a day early this year due to the salt conditions, not allowing anything but qualifying runs on the Friday - so those who had hit a record speed on Thursday and then just needed to repeat it next day (as is the rules) in order for it to stand.
So that really had been my one and only chance and every moment in that day was critical for me to make it. Which made it even more special.
Driving back from the speedway to Salt Lake City, myself, Josh, Suzanne and Vidal cycled between ecstatically talking about what had happened to moments of quiet reflection as the sun set and drew long golden shadows over the salt and mountains.
Vidal and Suzanne had to leave for SLC that night so Josh and I hitched a lift with them to get us closer to the airport. Public transport links to the airport from Wendover are pretty non-existent, so you have to hire a car or get a cab. The next couple of days we spent in Salt Lake City, cleaning the car and bike from head to toe, I was still floating from the experience and getting to grips with what happened. To be honest, I still am.
Hang on, why did I do that?
So, I did it. I rode on the salt flats at Bonneville. In just five months I came from nowhere, not even having sat on a sports bike, to racing on the famous salt flats with champions and legends of speed. It was the stuff of movies. But why?
Simple, to show it can be done. To demonstrate that even the extraordinary is within the grasp of the ordinary. A person with no prior experience can get out there and with the right attitude, determination and the support of good people can do so much more than the stereotype that someone else, particularly the media, imposes.
It's all down to your choices in life. You can do way more than you think you can. You are much stronger than you think you are and you always have more choices than you think you do. Don't let fear or anyone else stop you. Take that trip, start that hobby, join that club, set yourself a high target. Find time for things you love to do and the people you love to be around. This isn't about racing or taking up extreme sports, it's about experiences. Put them ahead of 'things' every time. Don't leave it too late.
For Teddy, Avery and Willow. Remember, you can be and do anything. Do what you love and the rest will follow." - The Existential Nana