Thunderhill is Really, Really Far

UPDATE: Added some pics!

Good morning race fans!

This past weekend I took a trip to Thunderhill Raceway for Roadriding 2.0, which is a motorcycle skills class for MSF graduates.

They taught us:

  • How to do a tech inspection
  • Exercises we can practice to improve slow-speed skills
  • Cornering techniques
  • All about tires
  • Emergency maneuvers
  • How nightmarishly hot Thunderhill can get
  • Group riding

And, as a special treat, they took us newbies out on the track for a follow-the-leader session where we were given the opportunity to ride race lines.  That’s when I was able to put my 45mph top speed to some really good use.  But that’s not the end of it, or rather — that’s not the beginning!

First, I had to actually get to Thunderhill.  And how, pray tell, did I do that?


Yes.  I RODE there.  Like a PRO.  That is; if a pro couldn’t afford a trailer.  Or a pit crew.  Or a hot dog for $2.50.


Do you know where Thunderhill is?


Really, really far.

Thunderhill, my kiddies, is in Willows.  And do you know exactly how far Willows is?  Let’s put it this way: if William Golding ever wrote a trilogy about motorcycling instead of sea-faring, it would be about me riding my motorcycle and at the end of the book, I would be in Willows.

First Leg

So the first task was to ride from the peninsula out to Sacramento.  “A hundred and twenty miles ain’t so bad.” is what I told myself (famous last words).  120 miles on my bike feels HORRIBLE.  My motorcycle is what’s called a “naked” bike, which means it has no farings and no windshield.  And that’s cool if you’re cruising in town or doing some spirited riding in the twisties…but on a super highway it’s just plain stupid.  It feels like you’re in a fight with the wind, the wind is beating your ass, and the wind is named The Fist of the North Star.


Traffic on 80E is probably as bad as Los Angeles highway traffic.  I was literally lane-sharing for 40 miles.  My first mistake was thinking I could ride to Sacramento like it’s no big deal.  My second was that I wore all black leathers for the purpose of preparing for the track, but failed to realize that in order to get there, I’d need to wear all that gear in the sweltering heat while nudged in between every SUV in the galaxy.

At 4:15 I finally pull into my friend’s driveway and set the sidestand down for the first time in three hours.  I peel off my leathers and stay inside for the rest of the afternoon and watch Ratatouille, Fantastic 4: Rise of the Silver Surfer, and one episode of Top Gear.  All of which fail miserably at entertaining me.  That night when my buddy finally arrived, he treated me out to ramen and to a tour of downtown Sacramento at night.

Sacramento Night-life.

Next morning I got up at 5:30, washed up, ate some breakfast and hit the road by 6:30 am.  I wasn’t able to fall asleep until 3:00 am that morning even though I was lights-out by 10pm the night before.  I was so anxious that I didn’t even dream of that many naked girls.  Well, there were a few, but they were definitely under ten.  Ten as in quantity not age…

Ah, fuck.

By 6:30 am I’m back on the road hauling down I-5.  It’s mostly a boring 90 miles of straight so I practice shifting up and down and try not to get hit by any cars.  I pull into the track at 8:00; 15 minutes before my class starts.  I’m immediately greeted by a sentry at the gate who asks me to waive life and limb away.  I gladly do so and motor off into the paddock.

After registration, I ride down to the paddock’s north lot just in time for class.  Thunderhill has the cool distinction of being private property so you don’t have to wear any gear while you ride around, which is AWESOME.  I quickly scope out the pits and catch some side glances at the umbrella girls (also wearing very little gear) before I make a small pit for myself near the bathrooms.  That basically meant throwing down my backpack and squatting over it until people recognized that I claimed “this here” 5 sq. ft. area.

Noob School

School kicked off with a do-it-yourself tech inspection.  Then we moved on to slalom, tight circles (aw yeah), and figure 8’s.  I’d been practicing at home so I pretty much schooled everyone.  In the afternoon, we practiced emergency braking, obstacle avoidance, and cornering.  It was so hot that even though I drank 10 bottles of water, I only managed to go to the bathroom twice.

NOTE: From this day forward, I will only buy white colored leathers.

My New Suit

Every one of my classmates was a more experienced rider than me, but I lied and told them that I had been riding for years, which, outside of fantasy land, means 3 weeks.  That bit of false information seemed to have calmed a few who displayed major suckage.

Suck or not, an alarming number of the class admitted to being signed up to attend Novice School the next day.  I told them, regrettably, I was needed elsewhere in the morning.  And it was true.  I needed to get as far away from these people as possible.  In the end, I said my goodbyes and told them to let me know when they were going back to the track…so that I can make sure I’m not there that day.  I didn’t say that last part out loud, though.

I lazed around for a few moments before heading off.  I watched the heat waves dance on the pavement as I imagined myself one day ripping it at ten/tenths down a race line.  And then I ripped one then and there in my pants.

Nice trick.

Long Ride Home

The ride home was even more strenuous than the ride there since I went from the track straight to my house.  There was no stopping in Sacramento this time and there was no ramen at the finish line.  I focused on the ride and made sure to mind my surroundings just like Ra’s al Ghul warned Bruce Wayne to do in Batman Begins.  Brucie might never listen, but I certainly do.  Because on a motorcycle, complacency equals death…write that down.

Temperature while riding is always at extremes.  One moment you’re burning up, next moment you’re freezing.  If you ever do freeway riding, I highly recommend wearing ear plugs — your eardrums will thank you.  I also took plenty of rest stops along the way to rest my butt and do some “All the gear, all the time” jumping jacks.

I made it home just before 9pm.  By the time I got inside my nose was running, my eyes were bloodshot, my skin was filthy, my hair was caked to my head, I smelled awful, and the entire front of my body was covered in bug guts.  So it was about the same as walking two blocks in San Francisco.

That night as I got cleaned up, I contemplated everything I did over the weekend.  One thought, especially, came to mind…

Before I left Thunderhill that evening, I was cooling off in the air-conditioned viewing room of the “Big Building.”  I overheard an instructor congratulating four of his students for passing New Racer School.  They nodded and listened and laughed in all the right places as their proud mentor related one of many of his “in the old days” racing stories.  I narrowed my eyes a bit at the smug bastards because, at that moment, I felt completely jealous.  I promised myself that, soon enough, I would be the one laughing at my instructor’s lame jokes as he handed me my New Racer School diploma.

But, first things first: practice.

Next Steps

  • My shifting needs work.  I need to learn to be as smooth as possible.
  • I need to master the brakes.  Enough to skid and stoppie.
  • Practice corner entry.
  • Work on throttle modulation.  Wheelie practice.
  • Dirt Bike School this Saturday, July 26, 2008
  • Novice School in September.

Some final thoughts:


Epic Novel

Epic Novel

Until next time!


One response to “Thunderhill is Really, Really Far

  1. Boy, this post was a…gas?

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