After the 6th round of the season, I headed in that following Tuesday to have all the hardware removed from my leg that had been installed back in December 2016. I had scheduled surgery for that time for a couple reasons – 1) if things went well, then I’d have 3 ½ weeks to recover, which should be enough time for the bones to be relatively healed from the swiss cheese and 2) if things didn’t go well and there was more infection or it looked like it had done more damage, then I’d only be missing one more round instead of several.
Surgery seemed to go well, and I was sent home with a bag full of titanium that we removed. I had four zippers on my leg, and about 100 staples holding it all together, but was released with “weight bearing as tolerated” with a warning to be very careful of a fall or hard hit, but told that “normal” activities shouldn’t cause a problem.
Thankfully recovery seemed to be going well, so I signed up for the last round of the season. By the time the week of the races rolled around, I was itching to ride again, and really looking forward to getting back on the bike after where we left off in my last race.
Thursday afternoon I packed up and headed down. Got all unloaded and set up for the weekend, and planned to spend the Friday test day blowing some dust off my brain and body, test my leg out, and start figuring out the bigger bike at this track. The weather decided to not cooperate very well, however, and Friday morning was lost to rain and wind. It did begin to clear up a little before noon, so I signed up for the half day and got ready to ride.
The first two sessions were super slow as I just refreshed myself on the track, and felt the bike out. Traction wasn’t great, so I didn’t want to push anything, but during the third session I finally started to relax on the bike and the track felt like it was flowing really well for me. I thought it was a good place to kick off my Saturday practices, and I was content with the afternoon.
We headed out for an enjoyable dinner with the group, and then my teammates arrived about the time we got back and we got set up for the weekend of racing. Saturday morning started off much better than Friday, and while cool, at least the sun was out and it was looking like it would be a good day. Due to the chill I skipped the first session, then headed out for the rest of the morning sessions. I was going slow (very slow) but comfortably. By the afternoon I was working on starting to implement some of the techniques I had been working on last year, but hadn’t been confident enough in the new bike to even try this year. My approach is to take these things very slowly, one step at a time, a little bit at a time, but the advantage is that once it’s there, it’s consistent. Takes me awhile, but it comes along.
My practice times were very slow. I started out doing 2:12s, and only got down to 2:09s. I knew that unless I found some time, I’d be lucky not to get lapped in my Sunday races – but, as long as I finished my AFemme race, the season was pretty much in the bag and I didn’t have anything else to prove. This weekend was all about kicking off next year, and building on the confidence I had found at the end of round 6.
For AFemme, they changed it up and put the expert ladies at the back of the F40 grid so we wouldn’t be slicing and dicing the 250s. Valentine and I were the only gals there, however, so the two of us got our own wave. I figured I wouldn’t be much of a challenger for her, but looked forward to the race either way. Our wave was ready to go, 2 board, 1 board – GREEN! Um, WHAT THE HECK! Flagger kind of forgot to give us a sideways! Our reactions were pretty similar, and we took off. My start was okay, but Valentine’s was great as well, and she was able to grab the lead by turn one where I was massively over slowing. I chased her for awhile and by lap two we were into the back of the F40 grid. Other than riding with/around a few of those guys, the race was relatively uneventful. The front of the F40 HW grid managed to lap us (as I knew was likely to happen) and we completed the race uneventfully.
I found a few seconds in that race, down to 2:06s, only 10 seconds off my personal best on the 600 LOL. While I am painfully aware how slow that is, I was still happy that I was feeling confident, comfortable, and able to keep nipping at things. I figured if the trend continued, I could legitimately see 2:03s by the end of Sunday.
The Saturday night shenanigans kicked off, and a good time was had by all. Costume contests, decorated pits, food, beer, and great conversations flowed. Eventually tucked into bed for some sleep, realizing just how awesome it is to be at the track, doing what we do.
Sunday dawned much like Saturday, so I chose to skip the morning practice. I didn’t want to go out there with a slick track and get it into my head that traction was ‘bad’ when I knew it would warm up by the time I was racing. My two races were in the morning – races 4 and 6. My tires were looking amazing, so decided to keep them on for both races. Race 4 came up, and we got ready and headed out.
Once again, simply due to the fact that I’ve shown up, I was on the second row. I knew that wouldn’t last long, but I still wanted to test my starts against these guys. My start for the Open Superstock was okay, but far from my best. Off we went, and it didn’t take that long for the main pack to head off into the distance. After the first couple laps, however, I seemed to get into “meh” mode. I wasn’t even sure why, and when a novice friend passed me I decided to chase him down for a bit, but then fell back into meh mode in less than a lap. Eh, I finished (dead last) and came in to find I had still found a couple more seconds despite the lack of “fight” I exhibited.
There was only a short time before this race and the next one – I made sure the bike was ready to go, topped off the fuel, ran to the bathroom, then started to get ready. A slight delay in the calls gave me a few more minutes to get some extra water in, and get my mind back in the game since I didn’t want a repeat of the previous race.
In both of my races I’m about the same spot due to my attendance, and I wanted to do my best to hang a little bit longer this time. I had a fantastic start, making it into the front row a bit, but as has been the story this year, the rest of the group took off. I wasn’t giving up this time though! I kept at it, kept trying to creep up on re-learning those techniques and slowly nipping at my problem areas. The same friend passed me, but this time I didn’t just let him walk away – while I couldn’t quite reel him all the way back in, he wasn’t getting away like the previous race.
I came in from my final race of the year to find I had made down to 2:02s, beating my weekend goal. That meant over the course of 3 races I had gained 7 seconds. I felt safe, comfortable, and confident in what I was doing, but was still able to start pushing a few things a bit more than I had been willing to until now. My leg held up well, and being able to wear my normal size boots made shifting a lot easier. I was trying a different foot position, which I definitely preferred and made me feel far more secure on the bike, but it wasn’t habit so still required a fair bit of thought to get things where I wanted them to be.
This final round was one that I left feeling good about. I wasn’t beating myself up over my laptimes, and was basing my success more on my accomplishments and confidence than finishes and times. It felt like a great kick off for 2018, and a really good place to get moving with my winter plans and goals.
My first season as an expert was definitely a trying one. Apart from the competition (which I knew would leave me as a back marker this year), the issues and complications with my leg caused me a lot more stress than even I realized. Despite all of that, however, the year was not a complete loss. I learned some valuable lessons, have seen how simple determination can bring you through despite it all, and I’ve come to love my bike and feel confident in what it is doing, and I’m able to start taking myself out of my “safe” comfort zone again.
I wrapped up this year with a bit more pace than I started out with last year, which gives me some reasonably high hopes of next year being a bit more successful in terms of finishes and laptimes. My winter plans are already rolling forward, and as long as the final stages of my leg’s healing goes well, I should be a lot stronger and physically better off when the 2018 season kicks off than I am at this point in time. I intend to build the bike to suit my future goals, and get it set up to take me to the next level when I’m ready, rather than continuing to chase my tail like I did for too long this year. My team is getting more solidified, and we’re already starting our prep for the next season.
2017 and my first expert year, and first year on the big bike wrapped up with the following overall finishes:
AFemme: 2nd of 6 riders (2 wins, 2 seconds, 2 thirds) of
Open Superstock: 8th of 23 riders
Open GP: 14th of 34 riders
This has been a trying year, and things didn’t always go as planned, but I’ve learned what I can, I have my take-aways, and I’m looking forward to continuing to move forward in the coming months.