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ISDE 2011 Kotka-Hamina, Finland

 

I have been preparing for this race for the past few months and finally it was time to leave. My girlfriend and mom went with me for support.
We left Newark, NJ Monday evening. The flight was delayed about an hour due to weather conditions. It was an uneventful flight. When we landed in Amsterdam on Tuesday I had no idea how big that airport was. It took us 25min to walk to our connecting flight gate. Since our plane was delayed in Newark we almost missed the flight. However our bags did miss the flight. When we landed in Helsinki, Finland our luggage wasn’t there.

  So I filed the claim with KLM airlines and picked up our rental cars and we drove an hour to the Hotel without our luggage.  We checked into the hotel, which was a decent place; my room even had a sauna! After we got settled we left to drive around the small city of Kotka, where the parc ferme and padock were located.  Then we went to a City Market (Finland’s answer to Walmart) to purchase what we needed until our luggage arrived. That was an exhausting day.
We left Newark, NJ Monday evening. The flight was delayed about an hour due to weather conditions. It was an uneventful flight. When we landed in Amsterdam on Tuesday I had no idea how big that airport was. It took us 25min to walk to our connecting flight gate. Since our plane was delayed in Newark we almost missed the flight. However our bags did miss the flight. When we landed in Helsinki, Finland our luggage wasn’t there. So I filed the claim with KLM airlines and picked up our rental cars and we drove an hour to the Hotel without our luggage.  We checked into the hotel, which was a decent place; my room even had a sauna! After we got settled we left to drive around the small city of Kotka, where the parc ferme and padock were located.  Then we went to a City Market (Finland’s answer to Walmart) to purchase what we needed until our luggage arrived. That was an exhausting day.      The next few days were long days spent working on my bike and walking special tests. I rode a new 2012 KTM 250 EXC-f.  The first and last test we ride on days 1,2, and 3 features a rock garden that would rival the worst rock gardens in Pennsylvania. And it was about 1/3 of the test. After two days we finally get our luggage and I was able to finish preparing my bike. On Thursday I finally get my bike together and was able to ride it for a few hours. The only place I was able to test the bike was at the motocross track where the final moto will be held. The bike seems awesome, I set it up a little better at the track and I am ready to race. 
    Friday was spent walking tests and putting the final touches on my bike until we had to go to admin inspection (sign up) and through tech inspection.  They were pretty strict on sound this year which they tested at full throttle. A lot of riders were having problems making the strict sound requirements, which was 112db. Luckily my rental bike with oem quiet exhaust had no problems passing.  Once you pass sound you push the bike through the rest of tech inspection where they mark certain parts on the bike and then you push it right in to the parc ferme (impound) and then you can’t touch the bike until your 10 minute work period on day one.

Somewhere during the past few days my lower back started to bother me, and I was getting pains in my legs. It wasn’t too bad but I could tell it was getting worse.

The weekend was spent walking the remainder of the special tests which range from deep sand to technical rocks. They all look very fun to ride; it is just making me more excited for the race to start. The weather has been gorgeous all week so far in the mid to upper 70’s and sunny, but the forcast for Monday doesn’t look so good.



Day 1- I woke up early but couldn’t sleep well. I’m not sure if it was because of my back pain or from the excitement. I think it was probably both. I have had back problems for a few years. It usually gets better when I get on the bike. It was raining, but I was still excited to ride. I was very stiff walking my bike out of the impound area. I just kept telling myself it will get better. Well the first test was the most difficult and by the time I got there, there was no more dirt between the rocks. I just tried to be smooth and not make mistakes. I had a good test time.  I had a long day in front of me. My back pain kept getting worse as the day progressed. I have never ridden in so much pain. At each check I had problems getting off and on the bike. I kept trying to stretch it out but nothing made me feel better. The team doctor was at one special test and he helped me try and stretch it out. He gave me some Motrin and I just tried not to lose any more time. By this time I was about 35 minutes late. I just couldn’t ride, the pain was too great. I just kept telling myself to keep going and that I know I can keep going. I worked too hard to get here to quit now.  At the end of the day I was 45 minutes late and struggled to push through the pain to change my rear tire and impound the bike.

Day 2- Another rainy day.  I met up with the team doctor in the morning and he gave me a shot of Toradol which is an anti inflammatory/ pain reliever. Which after about a half hour I felt half normal again. I was able to ride much better today. I started in the back up the pack because of my poor day one. I had a few good tests and didn’t lose any trail points. This was a good day. I changed both tires at the end of the day and impounded.

    Day 3- A totally new course with some new special tests, but it is raining yet again. I went from being about the last USA club rider starting to being the second, this is closer to where I should be. The one test was on a ski area. Walking it earlier in the week I was very excited to ride this one.  Unfortunately with the rain, this test was completely destroyed by the time I got there.  I was probably one of the last riders to be able to make it up the very steep hill on the first try in that test. Which had become a game of criss cross crash with the bikes scattered 
on the hill and the riders coming back down it. The course today was a lot of road riding, but it was raining and I was very wet and very cold. My back was worse today than yesterday and I was having a difficult time riding the ruts and whoops because I couldn’t be in the right riding position. Overall it was a good day.

 

Day 4- Another new course, more rain, and more new special tests. I had a good starting position again today, but my back was getting worse. Not nearly as bad as day one but it was definitely slowing me down.  The sand tests were about the worst with my back having trouble in the sandy corners and the whoops. I pushed through the pain. The ski slope test was nearly un-passable today due to the extremely deep ruts and deep mud. I ended up getting stuck in it the second time through, but luckily I was able to get it out without losing too much time. I changed both tires at the end of the day and impounded on time.

Day 5- It was the same course as day 4 but they decided to cancel the ski slope test which I was dreading having to ride again since it was almost impassable the last time I rode it. Luckily there was no rain today. My spirits were up and  I was feeling good. I received another shot of toradol in the morning and I felt good all day. I did crash a couple times in the tests but I was still happy.  I had a mile on my face all day. I came in at the end of the day and scraped some mud off my bike and went over it before impounding.

  Day 6- Today was just a short ride to the final motocross test. I was in the first moto of the day, so I started pretty early.  We were able to ride around the track one time before racing on it. It was a fun track and all of the jumps were safe. I didn’t get the greatest start but I pushed my way up to a decent moto finish. We impound the bikes at the track after our moto’s. And then the grueling race is over and you just need to ride back to the paddock to tear the bike down and return it. On the ride back to the paddock I couldn’t think of anything else but going
 for a trail ride. I cleaned up the bike and took my parts off of it packed up all my stuff and kissed my bike goodbye as I returned it.

The ISDE is like Christmas for me. There is so much anticipation leading up to the event and then it is here and gone in the blink of an eye. This year was extremely difficult. Not just because I rode 1696km or 1053.84 miles of the most difficult beat up terrain. Also because of my back pain, I have never ridden in that much pain before. I am very happy with my silver metal. It is always an extremely fulfilling experience, not only for the riding experience but for the life experience also. I always look forward to going back and doing it again.

When I got home I went to a back specialist and got an mri of my lower back and they found that I had 2 severely herniated discs pressing on my spinal cord. I have since stopped riding temporarily to let my back heal and I have surgery scheduled for Oct 19 to fix the discs. I will be back on the bike before I know it.



Ben Smith