We rolled into Chuckwalla at night and parked toward the front of the paddock. Other riders were spread out all over, with every imaginable configuration of vehicle transformed into campsites for the weekend. Some had tents on the pavement next to their pickups. Some had expanding RVs with separate enclosed trailers for their bikes.
Right behind us, a semi loomed large in the dark with its generators droning loudly like some slumbering beast. Fanned out in front of it were a half dozen matching bikes in tiger-striped race plastics waiting on pit stands.
Our new friend Pete was already set up and napping in the back of his SUV. We introduced ourselves, then started pulling stuff out of the van. With a little help pulling Penny down the ramp, she came down smoothly, even in the dark.
The sky was the kind of clear you only get in the desert, with as many stars as you’ve ever seen and halos of light around the brightest ones. Walking with Bravo through the unfamiliar terrain in the pitch black was fun and disorienting. Everyone’s bikes were up on stands, tire warmers in place. Each of them looking like predators ready to hunt.
Spots of light from the campsites stretched the riders’ shadows into alien exaggerations of the human form. Fluorescent light streaked out through the cracks in the doors of the massive hangar in the back. Something serious was going on inside, but it clearly wasn’t a place we had any right to poke our heads into.
We headed back to the van and put on the headlamp, then stretched out the canopy and laid out our coolers and containers. The paddock seemed sleepy and tense at the same time. Like electric potential. Only a few voices murmured through the dark. Most everyone was laying low in anticipation of the morning.
We were ready to hear the bikes roaring to life. The front straight was just in front of the van, and already I could picture the riders screaming past, just streaks of color and motion and sound. For now the track wound out into the desert blind and cold, indifferent to the people who were waiting to race down it.
For us, it was time to try and rest. So we crawled into the van and curled up, trying to get back some energy before morning. Trying not to think about how long it’s been since we rode. Trying not to think about the crash. Trying not to worry.