As part of our celebration of 20 stories from each of 20 Years of CMG, we’re going back today to 1998 and one of the dumbest and most glorious things we’ve ever done: the Numb Bum 24 Hour Rally.
It was held on a frozen lake north of Edmonton in February, 1998. The Numb Bum was a six-week project and written up in five parts – today, we’re bringing you the exciting bits of Parts 4 and 5, but if you really want the details, you can still find the first story here, with links to Parts 2 and 3.
Suffice to say, Founding Editor ‘Arris had thought it would be a good idea to fix up a Yamaha B-Whiz scooter with studded tires and various other wintry mods, ship it to Alberta, and race around a nine kilometre course on a frozen lake for 24 hours. Others equally as foolish were cajoled into the project and given names reminiscent of Reservoir Dogs, so the final team of six people called themselves Team Frozen Lake Dogs, or just Team FLD. Suffice it also to say, there was alcohol involved.
So let’s go back to 1998 and pick up the action just as Team CMG is getting on the plane for Edmonton, ready to freeze like they’ve never frozen before… – Ed
Words by Nick Smirniw
It’s February of 1998 and Team FLD has run out of time. The Yamaha B-Whiz has been ridden on several frozen lakes, every team member has had at least five minutes on board and all that’s left is to get out to Fairview, Alberta, and race the thing around Hay Lake for 24 hours …
With the radio spitting out retro tunes beside me, I sit here at the computer. One hand is on the keyboard, the other cradling a bottle of inspiration in a very Hemingway-esque pose.
For the past six weeks, we have been working hard to prepare for this 24-hour endurance event. The training itself has been quite rigorous, involving daytime and nighttime tests, dismantling and re-assembling the Yamaha BWS 50 scooter, and most appropriately, sleep deprivation.
This past weekend was the last time our scooter will see the light of day until it’s uncrated in Alberta the weekend of February 20th. All that was left for Team Frozen Lake Dogs was to get out west.
Our flight to Edmonton left at 7:15 pm. Somehow we all made it to the airport on time and together – including Marc and Malcolm who were there to film the whole experience.
Chaos greeted us in Edmonton when Mr. Blonde (who had flown out earlier that day and was supposed to meet us there) was MIA. Blonde finally showed up, and at 10:00 pm we left for Fairview and a seven-hour drive through the night.
We finally arrived at Fairview College at 5:00 am and proceeded to try to stuff eight of us into three rooms with two beds each. For those of you that can’t do math, that doesn’t work (eight bodies and six beds).
I volunteered to sleep on the floor of the student lounge only to be awoken at 7:30 am by a dozen French-Canadian Harley mechanics as dey were getting ready for deir morning ‘arley classes.
THE DAY BEFORE RACE DAY
Even at 7:30 in the morning, the temperature was almost disappointingly warm. By mid-afternoon, it had warmed up to about 5 degrees C and there was water covering most of the previously prepared track. By now we were getting a little concerned – we came 3,500 kms to race ON a frozen lake, not THROUGH one!
Anyway, weather concerns aside, Friday was generally uneventful. We met CMG-West correspondent Doug Bolton as well as Cathy Srayko and Brad Chorney for the first time in person, and then set them all to work.
Half the team took care of all the physical and mechanical stuff like uncrating and building a scooter from a pile of bits (including the attaching of a slow-moving-vehicle sign to the rear), and the other half went off to deal with admin stuff like trying to raise some more money for the $750 entry fee …
We didn’t all come together again until Friday night at the local bar, which we had chosen after a quick survey of which of the three bars in town we were least likely to get our asses kicked and least likely to play Country and Western music ad nauseum.
This ended up with several pitchers of bad draught beer, some impromptu arm wrestling and a visit to the liquor store – conveniently located within the bar itself. Things went pretty much downhill after that …
THE DAY OF RACE DAY
Saturday morning dawned with cloudy skies and, predictably, cloudier heads. After a healing greasy breakfast, we went for an audience with the local Fairview holy man … well, monkey.
The Evil Monkey (although at this point we didn’t actually know the monkey was evil at this time) lived in a cage in the local IGA and for a mere 25 cents would offer words of wisdom and a comforting joke followed by the laugh of Satan himself.
“I’m going to tell you a joke … hahahahhahahaahaaaahhahaha”, said the Evil Monkey as he shat out a plastic capsule. Lo and behold it was a guardian angel “to guide us through night and day”. Could there be a more perfect offering for our 24-hour ice-racing team from this seemingly wise (and non-evil) monkey?
We got back to the shop at 11:00 and realized that we were now a mere one hour from race time. Looking around, we quickly realized that we weren’t quite ready for the race. We had to organize the bike, organize the vehicles, organize ourselves and get to the lake … which was a 20-minute drive away.
Chaos ensued, the guardian angel was affixed to the bike and we hightailed it to the track.
We finally made it track side with only three minutes to spare (one of the film guys, Malcolm, covered our late asses by attending the pre-race riders’ meeting on our behalf). In those three minutes, we got the bike through the tech inspection, got me into my leathers and electric clothing, and lined both of us up at the back of the starting grid.
Since we missed the rider’s meeting and had not yet spoken to Malcolm, I had no idea what was going on and had no time to ask, because the moment I got there, the green flag dropped and I pinned the throttle ….
THE BIG RACE
For this part, we’re mixing two reports together. As per usual, Mr. White (Nick) will be filling us in on how his race went, but there’ll also be interjections from myself (Editor Cabot/’arris) on my experience. To differentiate them, I’ll slap my stuff in italics.
12 NOON TO 6 PM
The crowd was supportive – or maybe they were confused, but either way they laughed and cheered me on as I got smoked by everybody else once the flag dropped. After a quick acknowledgment to the cheering fans, it was time to put my head down and get racing. Or not. Either position seemed to garner the same top speed.
The first lap was a dream. All of the other bikes were long gone, the track was clean and clear and the new Holiday Racing Screws were giving more traction than we could ever desire.
Halfway into Lap Two I was feeling ridiculously warm from Gerbing’s clothing and was singing Stan Rogers songs in my helmet. Then I got lapped. Man, these guys are fast!
Then, at the beginning of Lap Three, things started to get squirrelly. It was only 12:25 pm and our fears had already been realized – the rear tire had gone flat!
Having just passed the 1-km marker, I decided not to try the next eight on a bad tire. Seeing that the only instructions given to me prior to the race were ‘don’t go backwards on the track’ I somehow managed to persuade some of those crazy French mechanics to carry the scooter through the snow to the service road and I ran back to the pits with it.
In went the first can of Fix-a-Flat and out went Rob.
Seeing Nick come in with a flat was my worst fear realized. Just a few minutes before I’d thought that we’d done it. So much to do in so little time results in failure more often than not. We couldn’t fail now. Even if the bike blew up, we got here and we got on the track. Success was ours.
But the sight of the rear tire gone flat pissed all over my grandiose thoughts. Now it felt that all those weeks of work, all the distance traveled could be for naught. Still, this was only the start of the race. We had a little under 24 hours to go and the can of Fix-a-Flat seemed to be doing its job. I should get out there!
It’s interesting to be going down pit lane flat out, yet still be under the low speed limit imposed for safety. In what seemed like minutes I finally arrived at the entry to the track. A quick look to my left to check for no real motorcycles coming down the home straight and I was in. Then as I let out a deep breath, my visor fogged up completely – I couldn’t see a thing.
Visor up and boy, this hurts the eyes. I remember talking to a past participant who said that some guy had left his visor up and frozen his eyeball to his eyelid! I could feel the water from my eyes start to freeze and spent the rest of the lap looking left, right, up, down and all around, trying desperately to stop any eye/lid freezing action.
After 20 visually stimulating minutes the lap was done and it was over to Dougie to do the honours.
Dougie never came back.
We got reports that he was at the other end of the track and was pushing the bike. When we finally got a sighting it was time to get the rescue snowmobile and sled and go get the poor bastard.
The tire had gone flat and then popped off the rim, lightening the swingarm with flailing studs. This is terminal as you can spin the rear wheel as much as you want, but the tire ain’t gonna spin with it.
There was no choice except to rethink the whole rear tire setup. Brad, who worked at the college, suggested we remove the wheel and take it back to the college workshop to fix it once and for all. Although this would mean serious down time, if it fixed the problem it was worth it.
An unnamed college source seemed obsessed with Pamela Anderson and persuaded us to try filling the inner tube with seven tubes of silicone bathtub caulking. Four hours later and we now had the best looking and feeling tubes in the race, but the question still was, were they going to work?
6 PM TO MIDNIGHT – PAMELA EXPLODED
We got back, reinstalled the silicone-filled, bolted-to-the-rim tire and sent out the 270-lb Mr. Orange to do the tire testing.
By now, all of the other teams were starting to have their own problems (including one team who changed bikes!), but for the most part, even with the trouble we were having, everyone was still having fun. Mr Blonde was sleeping, Editor Cabot was socializing, and Malcolm and Marc were filming everything in sight. The whole lake was settling into a groove and the race was starting to seem normal-ish.
Of course, Mr. Orange didn’t come back.
Another snowmobile rescue but we now had a bike covered in silicon to add to the fact that the rear tire was yet again flat! Damn.
Mr. White and Brad decided to have another go at a fix, this time track-side and this time with an altogether more radical solution: Mono foam. Yes, that expanding insulating foam stuff that you spray into cracks around your house. Since it sets solid, there’s no way that it can go flat! Or at least, that was the theory.
However, we had now also exhausted our resources and any other option by filling the tires with Mono as there would be no way to get it out again. Questionable, yes, but we were now a desperate bunch.
And believe it or not, the stuff seemed to work, even if it did cut a precious 10 km/h off the scoot’s top speed. Shortly afterwards, Dougie went out and promptly managed to highside it. Highside a scooter? You had to meet Dougie.
Damage was limited to a broken brake lever and twisted forks, but it still ran and after a quick tweak of the forks it even ran straight. At last, after eight hours of down time (that’s one third of the race) we were now finally going.
This is when we decided that the Monkey was really evil and the so-called ‘guardian angel’ was duly forsaken.
By about 9:30 pm (that’s 9 and a half hours into the thing), Team FLD had officially completed 8 laps. It was time to get down to business. It was cold and dark, but at least we had a heated tent and a pot of delicious moose-meat chili, both courtesy of Miss Pink.
It’s been a crazy 9.5 hours so far and there’s still 14.5 hours to go.
By the time Dougie, Mr. Blue, Mr. Orange and Editor Cabot had to go back to the College’s residence for some kip (we were on a rota), it was midnight and the bike was going without a hitch. Miss Pink, Mr. Brown, Mr. Blonde and myself took over for the midnight shift.
MIDNIGHT TO 6 AM – FOG!
Have any of you ever experienced ice fog? I never had until about 1 am that night. Imagine riding around between two plowed snowdrifts with a major white reflection of your headlight off the fog, not really knowing where the track turns until you’re there. You can’t put your visor down because it frosts up, so your eyelids are freezing together because of the wind-chill.
Sound like fun? It wasn’t. None of that seemed to affect our efforts though … until around 4 am.
On the final lap of my shift the bike just died around the 8 km point. I managed to keep it running enough to light the lights, but not to drive. So I pushed it … all the way back to the pits (I made sure to wave at the scoring booth as I passed, ensuring that they recorded the lap!). What now??
Turns out to be carb icing, that’s what. Apparently when a 12 mm carb throat has a 4mm ice build up, it is rendered almost useless. Fortunately, the solution for this was to simply remove the air box cover and thaw the ice out. Mr. Blonde did the honours with a heat gun and off went Mr. Brown.
Mr. Brown didn’t come back.
He broke down thanks to the carb re-icing almost immediately. To add insult to injury, the combination of dark and fog made it impossible to find him until dawn – over an hour after he’d been deemed to be missing!
When we finally did find him, I grabbed the scooter and pushed it past the scoring booth again. It turns out that after having seen me run by on two consecutive laps, people thought I was pushing the bike around the whole track!
By now we had lost a few chunks of bike. Dougie’s high-side had snapped a brake lever, we lost the engine access cover somewhere on the track, numerous flats had allowed the tire studs to gouge the swingarm and I managed to tear off a piece of the floorboards after convincing myself that I could keep up with the big boys in the hairpin.
6 PM TO NOON – THE END IS NOW
We returned to the track at 9 am to take over from the rest of Team FLD after a good seven hours sleep.
We left Fairview in brilliant sunshine but got to the track in dense ice fog. The tire had now hit so many ruts and holes that the Mono foam, instead of being nice and circular, was an irregular polygon of flats. This actually added to the entertainment as any speed anywhere would have the back end jumping like a demented frog!
Of course, our tire problems had now been replaced by carb icing which would kill the bike as good as any flat. Regardless, myself and Dougie managed to make up for lost time caused by Saturday’s flats, while avoiding a blocked carb.
Then all too early I realized that I was entering my final lap. The end was indeed nigh and all the chaos, all the work, all the frustration was behind us. If this was my last lap, then I might as well make it a good one.
Most team members said that they did the circuit flat out (‘scuse the pun) all the way. I had always let off the throttle in corners, never quite trusting the grip of the tires. Sod it. This is my last lap. I don’t care anymore.
Puddles of water had developed over the course of the race but now instead of swerving around I went straight on through, watching the water freeze almost instantaneously as it hit me and the bike.
At 11:40 am Mr. White took the bike for the last lap …
I was elected to take the glory lap and went out to enjoy it. We couldn’t get the bike to run over 30 km/h now, but the sun was shining and I was overcome with such a feeling of satisfaction that nothing mattered … until the carb iced up and the bike stalled mid-way through the lap.
I stood there laughing. Since I was sitting at the point physically closest to the start-finish straight (even though there was about 4 km of track between they and I) I had a prime view of everyone else finishing the race.
Mr. Orange ran through the snow with my trusty Swiss Army knife and quickly saved the day. Closing ceremonies were delayed, with all the racers and spectators waiting for me to cross the finish line however possible.
I finally did. We all celebrated.
In total, we covered 44 laps (each lap was about nine km), which was not bad considering that for the first 12 hours we were hard pressed to get in one lap per hour (losing at least eight hours to the tire problems). That put us squarely last, but we were all ecstatic.
The good news is that we came in first in both the under-100cc and the scooter classes. Or, depending on how you look at it, we could have come in last place considering we were the only ones in these classes. But team Frozen Lake Dogs sees the glass as half full, so as far as we’re concerned, we set race and lap records!
Team FLD even managed to pick up a couple of awards. We got the Farthest Traveled Award (that was tough) and the ‘Innovator’ Award for having broken down so much.
The crowd was given a champagne shower and we went home with an amazing level of satisfaction for having traveled more than 7,000 kms in 3.5 days for $16 worth of trophies. Oh yeah, and Rob broke the trophies on the way home (sorry about that – Rob).
But what a blast! No matter how stupid this was, we did it and we did well. There’s a story to tell the grand kids.
Mr. White (Nick Smirniw)
Doug and Tammy at the Fairview College Foundation office, to Bert for providing us with some digital photos and computer assistance, to Stan the college computer guy, and pretty much all of the people of Fairview (and especially the Roadhouse bar) who didn’t think we were too weird and beat us up.
Most importantly, we must mention the amount of work that Cathy Srayko and Brad Chorney put into our effort. Cathy dealt with local details (and made awesome chili) and Brad steered us through all of our tire problems. Without these two we may not have made it.
And finally to the companies that helped make it possible by providing the gear that we needed:
Yamaha Motor Canada – www.yamaha-motor.ca
Gerbing heated clothing – www.gerbing.com
Snowmobile rider attire – www.kpx-kimpex.com
I still have the 8mm video tapes somewhere in my collection of, um stuff. Maybe I will find the time to digitize it this winter.