When a midlife crisis strikes, some men go out and get themselves a brand new Ferrari. Some start training for a marathon. Some quit their jobs, buy a sailboat and hit the high seas.
Some men bust out a big gold medallion, squeeze into a pair of tight rayon pants, expose their salt-and-pepper chest hair, slap on a toupee, cap their old yellow teeth and start chasing women young enough to be their daughters.
But what do you do when you’re broke, out of shape, afraid of the water, not that handsome and completely disinterested in hanging around some out-to-lunch gum-snapping twerker too young to remember when Foghat rocked?
My response to dealing with the harsh reality of reaching midlife was to become the owner of a beat-up, fourth-hand Yamaha 125 dirt bike.
Last summer, my son decided to begin his quest to become an MX star like his hero Kevin Windham. My role was to serve as his pit crew manager, chief goggle washer and chairman of the finance committee. I was content to stay on the sidelines until one Saturday afternoon at Full Throttle MX in Loranger when we parked next to a teenager who was proud to show us the used Suzuki 125 he bought with his own money.
At one point during the day after I sent my son back on the track with his tank topped off and his belly full of Gatorade, the teen turned to me and said, “Hey, you wanna take my bike out on the track and ride with your son?”
That offer stopped me dead in my tracks. We had been having a ball all summer at Full Throttle, but it never occurred to me that Austin and I would get out on the track and scratch around in the dirt together. The teenager must have thought I was stroking out because it took me a while to process the ramifications of the invitation.
First of all, even though I had a mini-bike when I was a kid and have owned a street cruiser all my adult life, there was the chance I could I wipe out and break a few bones. Then there was the prospect of ditching it and having to pay to fix the kid’s motorcycle in accordance with the gentlemen’s code that if you wreck another man’s bike, you foot the bill for any damage done.
Then there was the fact I had no gear. The dirt bike scene is largely about the look. You need to have some high-style, brightly-colored duds from Fox or Monster. I would be going out on the track in my shorts, t-shirt and tennis shoes. Nothing says “old fart” more than that. It’s like walking around in leather sandals with mid-calf white socks.
Well, being that my brain has been mired in a midlife crisis fog and barely functional, I finally replied, “Why not?!”
All of this led me to hopping on Craigslist, buying that old beat-up Yamaha and eventually learning about a group called Senior Sport Riders (SSR) which goes by the slogan “Old, Slow and Scared.” Besides the slogan, the group had a special appeal because it organizes charity events and pools resources to rent closed tracks so that families can ride together without a bunch of testosterone-charged teenagers jumping on top of your head.
I’ve learned quickly that riding a 125 on a prepped track is cool, and riding a 125 on a prepped track with your son is even cooler.
But riding on a prepped track with a bunch of wild-eyed maniacs pegging out their 450s, and then one day finding yourself taking the inside line into a left-hand hairpin turn, and having one of those maniacs try to jam in between you and the pylon, and getting pushed into a patch of loose loam, and totally washing out your front tire, and toppling over the handlebars, and slamming your head visor-first into the hardpan, and lying there a few minutes to assess whether or not your injuries are severe enough to return to work the next day, and while staring up at the clouds seeing your son’s face appear sideways out of the corner of your goggles and asking if you’re okay, and knowing that even though your head’s throbbing, your shoulder is sore and your knee is banged up the only choice you have is to get back on that bike and keep riding because there’s no way you’re going to quit while your son’s watching – not that this ever happened to me – is not cool.
Even though the SSR curiously operates as a semi-secrecy society sort of like Skull and Bones (if I come up missing…), it seemed to be a good option – at least until I found out SSR really means Senior Sandbagging Racers. That lesson was learned when I found myself revving up my 125 in the SSR gate during a recent race day at Gravity Alley Extreme MX Park in Breaux Bridge.
I’d been assured the SSR folks were indeed old, slow and scared and were sort of like a beer-drinker’s softball team. When the gate dropped I figured these guys would putter out toward the first turn and ease their way around the corners and roll over the jumps, like any old, slow and scared person would do.
Instead, I was clobbered with mud balls by the “old, slow and scared” riders next to me who were pegging it out in an “extreme” attempt to win the hole shot. If my bike had a reverse gear, I might have shifted and just backed off the track. But because I still have a trace of testosterone flowing through my veins, I goosed it and tried to keep up, nearly killing myself only twice.
If they had given a last place trophy, I would have taken it back to the office and plopped it next to the last place trophy I claimed at a 4-H golf tourney.
At any rate, the MX scene has opened up a whole new set of adventures for my son and me. It’s been fun and exciting for both of us, especially seeing my boy improve his balance and coordination and his knowledge of how machines work. And as far as navigating through my midlife crisis, it sure beats a sleek new sports car and a hot young red-head. Wait, did I just write that!?