With Only A Motorcycle: Red Bull U.S. Grand Prix: Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca

I woke up at 3am that Sunday morning on only about 4 hours of sleep.  True to form I had only really started thinking about the trek to Monterey the day before departure.  Looking at the weather it was clear that I was going to need to be ready for an array of riding conditions not to mention that I would need to plan for comfort while taking in an entire day of racing. Temperatures for the ride south to the race were going to be in the mid 50s and windy after just four months of living near The Bay Area of California I know that I should be prepared for cold and damp conditions at a moment’s notice any time I go near the coast and looking at the time sheets for the Free Practices and Qualifying Practices on MotoGP.com and comparing that with the forecasts seemed to confirm that it would be a mild day in the mid 70s for the race.  For the trek to the race track I decided to go with the Transition Series 3 jacket with the full sleeved liner installed, the Caliber Pants sans liner as I was going to wear jeans underneath them, Cold-Tex 2.0 gloves and the and the Solution Waterproof 2.0 Road Boots. I planned on bringing a scarf to keep my neck warm on the roughly three hour trip to the will call office in Monterey which opened at 7am (which explains why I was leaving at 3am) but I ended up forgetting it. I packed my normal riding gloves for the much warmer trip back and figured that losing the liner out of the jacket and going vents full open would provide acceptable comfort.  Other than that I threw a pair of shorts in one of the saddle bags along with some regular shoes my old school Rossi Fiat Yamaha pit crew shirt and visor and sunglasses for the race.

This whole trip was a last-minute thing.  I knew the race was coming up but normally going to a MotoGP race is a full weekend camping deal (at the Indianapolis GP) where Anne and I both get to go and take in all the action. We had figured that this year would be a throw away year since she was still in Chicago and I was here.  Never-the-less I found myself looking at the tickets on the Monday before the race.  Monday was the last day before the general admission tickets went up from $60 to $70 for the run up to the race and I hatched the plan to ride down to the race day-of, watch the race and ride back that same day. A blitzkrieg race weekend!  A couple of text messages later just to get the ok from Anne and I had my ticket purchased!

Since my plan was to do this quick, dirty and on the cheap I also prepared and packed up a lunch and snacks and not enough water (it would turn out) so that I didn't end up spending a bunch of money to eat at the track. I strapped the smallest of my folding chairs to the bike which still stuck out farther than my saddlebags but I figured I might want the chair once I decided where I was going to watch the race from.  I laid all of the gear out that I didn't want to sit in the bikes saddlebags overnight so that it would be harder to forget the in the morning.  I hit the hay at 11pm.

I woke up two minutes before the 3am alarm was supposed to go off hopped out of bed put the coffee pot on and started to make breakfast.  Once I finished eating I poured the coffee into my trusty
"Contigo AUTOSEAL Stainless Steel Vacuum Insulated Tumbler" I have to mention this thing specifically because it is an item that you can buy for under $20 that will amaze you every time you use it! For instance: I put my coffee in the tumbler,  threw it unceremoniously into a saddlebag, went on a 3 hour motorcycle ride with sub-50 degree temperatures and when I got to my destination the coffer was still hot and none of it had spilled.  It's just one of those things that perform exactly as it is supposed to every time and things like that are rare.  If you're a coffee drinker and a moto-rider I suggest you pick one up!

I could feel the chill in the air as I walked out to the bike and but it felt good I since I had started to warm up as I was walking around the house in the gear grabbing the last few things I needed.  I have been getting pretty good at starting the bike and getting out of the condo complex with minimal irritation to the neighbors (I think).  I turn on the choke, back the bike out of the spot fire the engine, pop the bike in gear and let the clutch out so the bike never really hits the higher RPMs that having the choke on causes, I let the bike idle build as I am heading towards the gate and by the time I grab the clutch to stop for the gate to open I can shut off the choke and let the bike idle normally with minimal time sitting at any one location for too much time to irritate any sleepers.  It's important when you’re leaving for work at around 0520 or thereabouts and even more important when you are leaving for a MotoGP race on Sunday morning at a pinch before 4am!

Once on the road I thoroughly enjoyed the novelty of being on sparsely populated roads that go along with the very early morning.  That enjoyment was tempered with the awareness to give oncoming cars and cars that were coming up on me a wide berth on the outside chance that they be a Saturday night Reveler that finally decided to call it a night and make their way home after one too many beverages.  There was only one person that I suspect may have fallen into that category and I came upon him on 680 a little bit before the Benicia-Martinez Bridge.  The moon loomed large and low in the sky adding an extra helping of light on some of the otherwise sparsely lit expanses of open road.  The cross winds I have come across when traveling by interstate highways here in California still impress and intimidate me a bit with stronger gusts able to move my fully loaded FZ1 and myself almost into an entirely different lane!

I had printed out my directions my and had them in the tank bag but it turns out it was so dark that I couldn't really read them with the way that the tank bag sits on the bike.  I had to take small opportunities when going under an overpass to read the next direction and was able to suss things out pretty well using that method.  Since it was going to be a lonely three hour ride I had brought my old 2nd generation iPod Nano and put earphones in but in the end it turned out I had the volume adjusted too low to really hear the music very well and made myself new game of trying to guess which song was playing next on the shuffle mode.  By the time I had made it to the Gilroy area the FZ was hinting that it may be getting thirsty and my hair had somehow worked its way down so that it was matted into my forehead and the weight of my helmet plus the pressure of the 80mph wind was really irritating me.  It's funny it's just hair but somehow it occupies your subconscious and by the time I had gotten to the Gilroy exits I had convinced myself that I the hair was cutting into the skin on my forehead!  Eff it... I grabbed the first exit that had a gas sign and decided it was time for a stretch.  I stopped at the Gilroy Safeway gas station, filled up stretched my legs adjusted my hair, lost the headphones (they were irritating my ears too) and at about that moment I realized that I was surrounded by a powerful but somewhat familiar stench.  I looked around and the few people that were out and about seemed to be going about their business oblivious to it.  I would later learn that the smell I smelled was Garlic and that the super powerful odor is ALWAYS present in Gilroy because of the garlic farms and processing that goes on there!  I'm sure the people there don't even notice it anymore but man it was a powerful smell!

By the time I got to the point where 156 splits from 101 to take me to 1 the temperature had dropped even more and I was riding through a light mist.  This was when I had really started missing my scarf that I had left on the dining room table.  But other than the small portion of exposed neck skin I was comfortable and warm.  I had only been down that portion of highway 1 once before in a rental car when Anne had come to visit and we went to Santa Cruz.  The one thing I took away from it was that the portion of road was twisty and would probably be fun on a bike but it was definitely not fun for me that morning as the light mist had become a thick fog that was causing beads of water to form on my visor that I had to turn my head intermittently to allow the wind to brush them away.  I couldn't see very far in front of me and took it very easy the rest of the way to Monterey.  Even with the fog I made it to the hotel that had the will-call office a half before they opened and the FZ got to take it's place in the moto-only parking for the fans that were staying at the hotel.  I grabbed my coffee from the saddle bag and as I mentioned before, was pleasantly surprised that it had maintained most of it's temperature along the ride and the warmth and the caffeine helped me shrug off any of the fatigue that the ride and the lack of sleep had brought on.

A half an hour of MotoGP banter with some of the other fans waiting in line to get their tickets and I had my ticket in hand and was excited to get to the track.  When I walked back out to the bike it was still in the mid 50's and the fog was still everywhere!  It turns out that the directions that I had printed to get to the free "purple" parking were in conflict with the way that the race-day organizers wanted me to go so I followed signs and some bad directions from some of the volunteers that were directing people around until I made it to the parking lot.  I decided that I did not want to use the gear-check to avoid any possible rush when I decided to leave.  I used my lock and cable to secure my riding pants to the bike, changed out of the riding boots into some regular shoes I had brought along, lost the liner for the jacket and converted my tank bag into backpack mode and headed for the track.  I made the decision to not bring the chair at that point because I didn't want to be lugging it around the whole day.

After some wandering around the early-morning paddock I made the walk up the hill to the corkscrew, it was at that point I realized that I would not be leaving that area for the rest of the day.  There was already an ample amount of spectators setting up there and I had myself a nice spot right next to the track.  I wished I had brought my chair but I came there for the racing not to be comfortable I had my spot and I was not going to relinquish it to anyone.  I had enough food for the day and I while I only had my one bottle of water I figured I could ration it out for the rest of the racing.  After all it was still in the high 50's and the last two days it was on the low to mid 70's as a high.


I don't want to get too much into the racing as it's been nearly a month since the race happened now and anyone who cares already knows what happened and has overanalyzed it death like I have but I do have a few comments.  The riders that took to the foggy track for their first session had big balls no headlights and cold temps can't be a good combo.  It was irritating that Dorna would not allow the support races to be shown on the big screens even the announcers had no idea what was going on when the racers were out of view. Electric bikes need to be way faster to ever be entertaining.  It got WAAAAY hotter that I had ever anticipated and sunburned the tops of my ear and while I didn't explore the track to the extent I would have like to I definitely enjoyed Laguna Seca and can't wait for next year’s race!!!

The ride back home was a mixed bag.  With all the vents open on the jacket and the riding pants back on over my jeans and the riding boots back on and the lighter gloves on it wasn't too bad at highway speeds.  Once I hit highway 1 traffic was STOPPED!  The same thing had happened when I was in the rental car with Anne on a non-race day so I wasn't too surprised but this time instead of being in a Ford Focus I was on my FZ1 time to split some lanes!!! I was a little nervous because the folding chair stuck out more than my saddlebags and I was afraid that they would take out someone’s mirror or cause me to fall but in the end there was no issues.  Splitting lanes heading back from the race was a trip!  In the really dense stopped traffic of highway 1 there was a point where I swear I was in the middle of a 100+ bike lane splitting train that snaked it's way through all of the stopped cars.  From time to time I a faster bike would come up on the back and I'd get over to let them by but everyone kept things in check for the most part and played nice with the cagers.  It was nice being in a "train" because all the cars were already anticipating more bikes which made things go very smooth.

I made it to San Ramon before I needed to stop for a brake but at that point I REALLY needed a break I was spent.  I stopped at a McDonalds (which I hardly ever do) and ate and then stopped at a shell station for some gas.  When I got back on the road the bike felt like an entirely different animal!  It accelerated much more smoothly and freely and the butt dyno seemed to indicate that it had more power too!  This was something I had not anticipated since I hadn't noticed a drastic drop in performance previously.  Having some time to think about it the only thing that I can deduce is that the Safeway gas I had bought in Gilroy was shite!  The Shell gas made a huge difference!  I've been using it in the FZ1 ever since that day!

I made it home at around 7pm and I was beat but what a day!  I don't think that I could have crammed more into a single day if I tried.  Definitely one of the more epic moto-days I have had since arriving in California.  I hope that you enjoyed my write-up as well as the photos and videos.  Sorry for the delay, I am making a big push before taking shift as a transmission operator so I have been trying to cram as much as possible before that day.  I have more material already in the cue for you guys from a seat repair to replacing the steering stem bearings in the FZ1 so stay tuned!

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