It’s early Sunday morning, and my buddy, Bryan, and I are driving due north, out of Pennsylvania, and into New York, heading for the motocross national races. I’ve never been in this part of New York, and the still-green, late summer foliage along this country highway reminds me of the California foothills in the spring, which turn wheat brown by this time of year. The sky is translucent blue, a striking contrast to the pouring Northeast rains of yesterday. I’m no expert, but I suspect this is good motocross weather – sun without dust.
As we get within a mile of the race track – transformed grazing land in the seeming middle of nowhere – there’s a policeman directing bumper-to-bumper traffic on the two-lane straightaway. Bryan rolls down the window, and asks the cop for handicapped parking. But, the cop says there isn’t any, and I suggest to Bryan that we keep driving to the next cop that I see at another entrance, a ways down the road. My never-take-no-for-an-answer policy pays off, and the second cop steers us toward parking in Pit Row, among the diesels that haul the race teams and their gear.
Bryan and I unload from my van, and head up toward the track, a bulldozed haven for motocross racers and spectators alike. The size of the venue is awesome, with herds of vendors and stampedes of fans making nature all but obsolete – a traveling carnival at its best, a metropolis constructed overnight.
I’m wide-eyed, both at the grandness of the event and from the excitement of witnessing the sport in person. When you watch motocross racing on television, you see guys on motorcycles riding through dirt, throwing in a jump here and there, and round and round they go. But, in person, the scale is awe-inspiring, with riders defying gravity, roaring at 60mph up and down hills as steep as the most extreme ski slopes, flying several stories in the air, and bathing in eye-blinding mud – it’s like a real life video game. And, for me, the video game analogy plays itself, too, with my powerchair churning in mud as we make our way up the pedestrian paths intertwined with the track, strategically choosing my course amidst the crowd.
My chair’s in good shape, though. I have the widest possible knobbies on the back of my chair, and the biggest balloon casters on the front – a powerchair that I especially configured to run through muck and mire. Every once in a while, I encounter a deep patch of mud, and my wheels spin, but just when I’m about to ask Bryan for a push or tug, I make it through. I am, however, concerned that if the mud doesn’t dry up and clear from my tires by the end of the day, my wife will have my head for tracking mud into our van and house. Nevertheless, as I weave through the increasing crowd of late-morning motocross fans, noting an exceptional mix of busty, scantily-clad motocross babes crossing my sight – eye-to-chest level – I’m less concerned about my muddy tires or homeward fait. Motocross babes are the best, I tell Bryan as I ogle the countless hot chicks on the arms of their bleached-haired, baggy-pants boyfriends.
Bryan and I watch a few amateur races from the infield, then decide to scope out a better spot for the heats of professional racers coming up next. We wind our way back through the muddy paths, past the T-shirt stands and tobacco tents, ending up by the starting line. As the pro’s line up, revving their engines, I scan the 5-person-thick crowd lining the course, and spot amongst them a fence post with handicapped sign and arrow pointing down a narrow, gravel path. I motion for Bryan to follow my lead over the roar of the race bikes, and we end up in a secured area with bleachers, overlooking a prime part of the course, where the racers fly down the hill, straight toward us, bank a turn, jump a double, hit the whoopies, and blast back up the hill. Maybe a wheelchair isn’t always the best seat, but in these instances, it is, guaranteeing a front-row spot. If I could throw a rock, I could probably hit the racers in their helmets as they race by.
With an open throttle and pop of the clutch, the pros shoot out of the starting gate, and crank around the first turn. Just then, I notice two powerchairs and a titanium ultralight chair at the other end of the bleachers – all of the wheelchairs are shiny and spotless, void of the mud and mire that coats my chair. Somehow the other wheelers traveled the same terrain as me, but stayed clean. I look back to the track, and the pro’s are flying down the hill like a swarm of bees, traveling seemingly twice as fast as the previous amateurs who rode the same course, with the same motorcycle technology. I look back at the spotless wheelchairs, then down at my mud-baked tires, then back to the pro’s flying the course – and think, it must be true that it’s not what you ride, but how you ride it.