June, 2008

June 26, 2008

The Man is going Dutch.

12 hours after I left the hotel in Derby, England, I stepped into our hotel in Groeningen, Holland, tired from the long travel and delayed flight out of Birmingham, but swelling with happiness to be back at Assen once again.

I love the small town we stay in (about 30 minutes drive from the circuit), which is filled with rowdy Dutch college students, and the architecture and scenic waterways cutting throughout the countryside and into the city speak to me - that life is flowing, in and out, and it is never stagnant. Not to mention the old time buildings, never quite matching up like the Victorians in San Francisco, each one quirky, different, and full of charm, much like the people I have come to respect and admire. I'm sure that at some point in my life I will live here, absorbing the culture and learning as I go. It is a fascinating place for me, and as I would walk through the crooked stone streets of the city centre, I listened as this soundtrack followed in my footsteps.

June 24, 2008


Breathe Deeply.

June 17, 2008


We're headed to East Midlands on our journey to Donnington Park for the British GP. I'll be arriving after midnight, then driving a while to get to the outskirts of Nottingham. It's going to be a late night and an early morning, because the work starts sharp at 8AM and there's a bit of a drive to get to the circuit in the mornings. Not to mention that driving on the wrong side of the car, on the wrong side of the road, really trips me out, haha.

Anyway, it's packing time for 2 weeks out. I leave in less than one hour for the airport. It's not bad planning for one week, but two on the bounce is a little trickier. We can get some laundry done at the second hotel when we arrive, but managing the small details gets complicated when the whole team is charging things up, and as we're small and private (read: not as heavily funded as the big boys), they really don't like us to wash a ton of stuff. Normal, I guess. Instead of bringing my giant Alpinestars bag, I'll be taking two smaller A*s carry-ons, like I used to travel with in seasons' past. I would prefer the big dog, but it's often overweight just because it's so large, and I'm able to use the space in two smaller ones more effectively. Sometimes two are just better than one!

I don't expect that the Team make the MotoGP test at Indy for budgetary and mileage reasons, but we'll be ontrack for the next two weeks straight, first at Donnington Park and then straight to Assen in Holland. While normally we might get a rest day in between the races, Holland has a tradition of running their races on Saturday, so our travel day (which also includes a few hours of driving from Nottingham to the airport, and then a few more hours from Amsterdam to Groeningen, near the track) will be the rest day. The earlier days of the race week are usually the hardest for me, barring crashes, because we do the most maintenance and prep on these days, so parts are always flying out of my truck and I'm effectively cut off from my factory connection because I don't have the internet installed until Thursday afternoon or so. In years past I've used a 3G connection to the computer, similar to a cel phone hook-up, but this has proven to be a very expensive option and when you're racing around the world, everything adds up quick.

Just before I leave, I thought I'd drop a song to carry us into England. Not sure why, but this one just feels british to me right now, hahaha. A quick meal of a four cheese risotto (thanks meal-ina-bag!), and I'm out!

June 15, 2008

Happy Father's Day!

It's Father's Day in the good ole' US of A, so this special Sunday post goes out to my Dad, the man who has always had my back and who was mainly responsible for influencing me in so many positive ways.

Here he is in San Luis Obispo, about to ride my hardtail for the first time. Just a week or so after I'd completed the bike after a frantic overnight build session in my front yard (they don't just happen on Biker Build-off!), we made a plan to meet up somewhere between SF and LA. I'd wanted to take the bike on a proper shake down run, and a trip down south sounded like the perfect way to spend a weekend. Bonus that I would be able to have lunch with my Dad and brother, Thomas. BBQ!

The bike handled the trip without a problem, cruising along at the ton with a steady throb that still reverberates in my chest to this day, the beating of the twin hammers pounding out the hundreds of miles. Handling was without question, as I sat arms folded like an indian changing lanes with only my feet in front of me and shifting my torso to compress either of the seat springs in the direction I wanted to go. The six speed was flawless, and some internal engine mods coupled with high flow heads and trick pistons made passing power a non-issue. God, I love tuning things! Once we'd all met up, my Dad started giving the bike a thorough once-over, his engineering background coming into play (like always). Dad scrutinizes the neck welds . . . . with a magnifying glass he just so happened to have stashed away in his truck, hahaha.

My Dad has always been behind my riding motorcycles. I never felt like it was something I needed to hide or feel strange about. One one of his journeys around the world, Dad rode a small bore two stroke motorcycle through France and down into Spain and Portugal. I believe that bike is now swimming with the sharks, having been ridden off a cliff into the Atlantic after she had seized one too many times. I remember riding up to my Dad's place in Kaimuki after I'd traded a mountain bike and 300 bucks cash for my first bike, a Suzuki GN250. Iterations of this machine are still in daily use throughout Asia, and for me, it was the perfect starter bike. Low power, poor brakes, shot shocks and leaky forks, it taught me to ride defensively and always on the limit - because that bike was always on the limit, hahaha. I don't know where that monstrous helmet came from, but I must have ditched it quite quickly because I don't remember ever wearing something like that. Hawaii doesn't have helmet laws, and after testing my head against the freeway asphalt one rainy night in Kaneohe, I'm a firm believer of strapping on a helmet.

A few months later, I moved up to a Suzuki 650 single. It was with this bike that I began working on my own engines, and it was here that I fell in love with Torque. I'll never forget the sensation of powering down the onramp from Waialae Avenue onto the freeway, the hair on my arms sticking straight up as I rung that baby for all she was worth. It scared the crap out of me, and it was only just the beginning of my quest for more power and especially more torque.

Years later, and many bikes later, I was still obsessed with making power, this time in the form of hopped up mini-bikes. Here's Dad on my Fast 50s mini Supermoto in Sunnyvale.

Since this is Father's Day, I gotta give a special shoutout to my dogs, Spike and Boba. They're living the high-life now, having "retired" to Hawaii when I moved to Europe.

I never really understood how much I would miss their companionship when I decided to leave the states, and the added responsibility of knowing that I needed to head home after work to walk them, or wake up earlier to walk them, well, it was a good thing for me.

There's nothing so satisfying as just laying around taking a nap with your dogs, haha.

Just this past weekend, I made a new friend in the form of this gorgeous two year old French Bulldog named Mara. I was over at my friend Eugene's place, having a group dinner, and this snuffling little beast wouldn't leave my feet alone. Snort, snort, she sounded like me sleeping - while she was wandering through the house!

I had Chinese take-out for the first time since I've been in Europe, and surprisingly, it was great! Wuffle, wuffle, Mara couldn't get enough, and with everyone else being predominantly vegetarian my duck and bamboo must have smelt delectable!

This weekend I finally strung up my guitar with some fresh cords. New strings, new voice! I'd been meaning to learn this song for a while, but it pales in comparison to the original, which I'd first put on the website back in the summer of 2006! My Dad taught me the basics of how to play guitar, and somewhere buried away in my mom's house back in Hawaii is a box filled with old, important paperwork from my high school years - including the yellow, legal-sized piece of paper that Dad drew out the seven standard chords for me to study. My Dad taught me so much when I was a child, showing me how to saw through wood that he would use to make me a step stool so I could reach the sink and brush my teeth, to hand crafting a custom miniature boom so that I could go windsurfing. I can't forget sanding the bamboo we used to make it, for hours and hours!

We come full circle now, like all things in life. As my father had walked through Barcelona in his youth, on his travels and adventures, so have I. Dad didn't just stop here, though. From England, he travelled inwards through Europe, passing Italy, crossing Yugoslavia by bicycle, down through the Middle East, overland through Pakistan and India, across Southeast Asia, and eventually meeting my mother in Singapore. His travels didn't stop there, though, his work as an international engineer taking him to Perth and Mebourne, Hong Kong, and even all the way to Hawaii. I don't feel like I've seen and felt anywhere near as much as him, as he's been through more countries and states throughout the US than I (and in that late 60's early 70's era!), but if you're going to have a role model, it might as well be someone who did it all, and did it right. Here's to my Dad for being fearless and free!

This immigration document from March of 1920, stamped by the American Consulate of Gibraltar, shows that my grandfather had shipped in to New York City as the second mate on the Polar Star. He's listed as Russian, 24 years old, and he shipped there out of BARCELONA, Spain. Three generations of explorers, three generations of my blood having crossed the oceans (Mom, too!), three life paths that have seen all the Shubert men walk up and down the Ramblas, breathing deep of the cultures we have been fortunate enough to experience. I never got the chance to meet my grandfather, as he passed on while my Dad was still a boy, but he raised a great man and a great father, and I'll always be thankful to him for that.

It's only fitting that my Dad rides again now, this time on his own 650 single.

Dad, thanks for always being there for me and Thomas. Have a great day, and many more adventures, as we continue to walk our own paths making our dreams a reality. Thank you, for always being an inspiration. Here's one from the Old Collection!

June 12, 2008

Rebuilding an old friend.

What a great day! I woke early and started working with conviction and a cup of strong coffee (and instant creamer, hahaha), and by seven in the evening I called it quits and went on a two hour walk through my city. The sun was just starting to set, and a warm glow emanated from the brown stone walls and old rooftops - even the cobbled streets seemed to welcome each footstep, one after another, ever onward, ever forward. I made it down to Plaza Catalunya, picked up some supplies, and walked home with a purpose, working up a sweat and a smile the whole way back. It was time to rebuild an old friend, because I don't give up easily or without a fight, and if I can fix something, you know I will. I set up shop in the living room, affording myself some slightly better light, and a larger workspace than my tiny little room. It was time to resurrect iCarus, stronger, better, and with a larger capacity to hold that which moves me - my music!

Using my room mate's hairdryer (I know, I know, but my Snap-On super heat gun is buried away in B-rad's garage back in California), I loosened the adhesive resin behind the white plastic plates that seal dirt and debris out of the little shuffle.

My Target bought tools (oh, the embarrassment, hahahaha) would have to do, as it's been said that the artist does not blame the brushes, and it's true. I used an exacto knife to gently peel up one side of the plastic, moving slowly and carefully so as to not bend or damage anything. On the side with the audio port, it's simple to see the junction between the plastic plate and the headphone jack. The sharp point of the blade is almost a perfect weapon for this operation. This plate is held on solely by adhesive glue.

The side with the two switches, power and "shuffle", is slightly more complicated, but nothing some precise attention can't handle. Not only is there adhesive to deal with, but there are small plastic clips holding the plate in to a thin metal backing plate that is screwed into the shuffle body. The plastic comes up, then the switches just fall right out. It's simple to remember how they go in, as there's pretty much no way to screw up replacing them (they're different). Each side has two small screws (use a #0 phillips, or smaller if you have it), and it's no trouble to remove them. I use a piece of tape stuck upside down to the table to hold all the small bits that I don't want to disappear, in the event of a super sneeze or something else unexpected.

Once the screws and thin metal retention plates are out, the circuit board, audio jack, and battery unit are accessible. You can use whatever you're comfortable with to push the assembly out. Everything is packaged tightly, and it's a marvelous design that utilizes the internal space perfectly. I used the back of my pointed tweezers to push the unit free from the body.

There you have it! The old brain and heart of iCarus!

There's a nice thick piece of silicon bonded inside the shuffle body, keeping moisture and dust out. Unfortunately, my iCarus was powered on when it was tumbling without a direction through my washing machine, and there's no way to keep water out of the audio port. A serious short circuit must have happened, because it was never the same again. I took a moment to clean out the shuffle body of any detrimental material, using a light rubbing alcohol and water solution, and then using a compressed air can to blow away any remaining liquid. Once I was sure that the unit was pure and free of any dreck, I began the process of disassembling the donor shuffle.

Yup, two screws here. I already had a green one before (stolen in Qatar), and since I'd tried that flavor, I had no problem stripping it down so I could renovate the pink ranger. Generation one and two appear to be identical from the outside, but this time around, I went for something bigger. Gone was the little 1GB flash memory, I was going to double up, twice the storage, twice the magic and beauty of my music to carry with me on my adventures around the world!

There she is, the new heart and soul of iCarus!

I use both thumbs to carefully insert the new assembly into the old body.

Voila! All that's left to do now is charge it up and load in my latest playlist, culled from decades of feelings and emotions strewn throughout the notes and beats of my past. And I left a lot of space for new grooves, new sensations.

While iCarus was powering up, I took some time to further dismantle a cheap Malaysian replica watch. It is utterly fascinating how many intricate pieces are manufactured and assembled into a working automatic timepiece, one that runs and functions well and costs almost nothing. It's fun to learn about the internal workings, and I never feel bad when I eventually throw them away. One of these days, though, I'll be able to put everything back together, hahahaha. It's those damn springs that always seem to get me!

What's the matter, don't you like fresh fish?!? Crispy, salty goodness headed my way!

It wouldn't be a true MotoLiam day if I hadn't run across the Unicorn! I found it! While on my stroll I stumbled upon one of the strangest factory machines I've ever seen. An early to mid-eighties Yamaha 500 twin cylinder, two-stroke dual sport from France! I haven't done any real research yet on the beast, because I'm certain there are readers from around the globe who have actual experience with one of these things, and I'm waiting for their emails.

Can you imagine how squirrelly this thing must get with that substandard 120mm rear tire twisting and deforming under the power of the 500?

Oh, the wheelies this machine has seen :)

The business side of things. Sorry for the camera phone pictures, that's all I had with me on my jaunt.

My iCarus is back, alive and well, stronger and more potent than ever! It's time for me to walk again, to explore the night and revel in the soundtrack of my life.

Welcome back, Mojo, I missed you.

June 11, 2008

GP08 Catalunya, Race 7, "Back in the Saddle Again"

I got in from Bologna, Italy, late on a Monday afternoon, tired from the work week and looking for some serious recuperation time. Life had other plans for me, though, because since I stepped foot into Barcelona, the virtua-phone has been ringing off the hook and there's so much to do and see, so much life to delve into, I haven't been able to relax like I'm accustomed to. Which is great!

Some friends of mine from California gave me a buzz that they were in town for one night . . . so a pizza meeting was scheduled to discuss the latest project from MotoMorphic, a small custom build shop based out of San Raphael. Jim's a friend of mine (and mutual friend of B. Bostrom), who was here for the night after a small accident with his latest steed ended his European tour with JaFM. We were joined by an old Zeitgeister some of you may know from the old days in SF, Eugene Mosier. Dinner was great, with varied discussions ranging from motorcycle dynamics to Wired magazine, and beyond. Really, it was a great way to be welcomed back to my city, and I would see Eugene and his family later in the week in Montmelo at the race, which was cool. On Tuesday, I had a fantastic lunch with my old friend, Joe, and we talked for hours about life and racing. I feel really blessed at times, because not everyone has the same opportunities and world view that I have. Joe is fighting courageously with Parkinson's disease, and several other of my close friends are also dealing with life long challenges, like Diabetes.

JaFM is an Aprilia Mille based destroyer-of-perceptions. You can almost think you've seen it all, but there's always more out there, which is the beauty of life.

I was to stay in my apartment in the city during the race week, taking off early in the mornings to make it to the track in time to get everything final prepped before the free practices. I was a little disappointed, because it complicated things having to work around rush hour traffic and missing the standard fare hotel breakfasts that I was used to before hitting the track, but it also meant that I was home, sleeping in my own bed, every night. I could take a few hours to go out to eat where I wanted, check in with my friends, go out with my friends, and it made for more of a break, a disconnect, from the race. The sun was finally shining in Barcelona on Wednesday morning, so I opted to pitch in and help wash the race trucks. I don't remember the last time I did this, probably in late '06, but it felt so healthy, so warm, to be standing in the sun feeling my blood pumping, and actually seeing results from my hard work! Typically, my job entails putting out fires and targeting future dates, and because it's a labyrinth of details, sometimes results don't come easy. Nothing comes easy in this life.

Motorcycling, I love you.

We worked hard setting up the garage, changing engines, and going through the normal routine before a big race. A lot of sponsors and important people would be joining us for this event, and we wanted everything to go off without a hitch. One evening after work, Felix and I ended up in the most fashionable and popular area in the city, Passeo de Gracia, and we were stuck wearing our uniforms. I felt so out of place, walking around like that, but we quickly sourced the material we needed to buy, bought it, and got the heck out of dodge!

I found a new sushi place near my house this past week, and although it's pricey, some things in life are just worth it. If only they had more Saba . . . . but the sake made up for that a tiny bit, haha.

Over the weekend, I was joined at the racetrack by Bay Area Rider's Forum's web guru, Valgar, and his fiance, Janelle. We managed to have dinner during the week (again, SUSHI!!!!!), and it was cool to catch up and share stories since we'd first met in late '02.

The race week kind of got away from me a little bit, with a tremendous crash by TE24 that occupied my full attention throughout Friday and Saturday. I barely remember anything that happened on those two days, as myself and the mechanics were so busy rebuilding a complete bike that I wouldn't have noticed if the sun had fallen out of the sky.

About the only thing that really caught my eye over the weekend was a gorgeous display of vintage BMW's in the MotoGP hospitality area.


Lots of great history and a genetic heritage that is obvious. Really makes me like the new HP2 Sport that much more . . . .

The mood through qualifying was tense, and we exceeded the pit lane speed limit just before our last hot lap . . . . making it through the timing lights with three seconds to spare before the end of the session. Every second counts. Of course, we had to pay a significant penalty (more than once, haha), but it was well worth it to give ourselves a shot to improve our position.

Instead of studying up on Kawasaki this time, Manuel went straight for this Brazilian, hahaha.

Never loan your camera to someone else, or you might end up getting it back with pictures like this one!

The race started, and man, I really wish there were more riders who could see us from this angle . . . but the season is long and it's a hard one. I intend to do my best to give my guys the best shot they can to get some good results.

Oliver Jacque looks on at the bike he is primarily responsible for developing. He wears a Chopard Gran Turismo XL Chrono, fitting for its French/Swiss roots.

By the time Sunday night rolled around, all I wanted to do was sleep. We were lined up for two days of testing at the track after the race, which meant that many more hours to put on the machines and the equipment. Daft Punk decided to join us.

Ohhhh Yeah.

I'm too sexy for my shirt, too sexy for my shirt . . . bwahahahahaha!

Actually, not that sexy, especially with the return of evil mustachio'd Liam!

Finally the work week plus testing came to an end, and what a pleasant surprise it was to be told I would be delivering this new Kawi Z750 from the racetrack to a dealer in BCN. Once I got onto clear roads, the wind holding me in her embrace, my head became even clearer, the colors brighter, and I knew I was back.

I'm back in the saddle again!

June 04, 2008

GP08 Mugello, Race 6, "Mugello, My Heart"

Mugello is a *magical* race. There's no other way to describe it. The power evident in the passion and fervor of the fans, the extra motivation from all the riders, the sheer unbridled joy of Valentino Rossi, the picturesque and romantic landscape, it is all very real and very true. Mugello is also one of the most difficult races for me on the calendar, as it is the home race for Ducati, and many top engineers and personnel from Corse make the short trek from the Factory to the racetrack to observe, scrutinize, analyze, and begin the planning for next year's squadras.

It is truly my favorite race of the season, and this year it saved my life. Mugello, my heart, I love you.

This is a longer post, so for those of you with low-bandwidth connections, I apologize.

I began my journey to this hallowed ground at Barcelona's El Prat Aeropuerto. The mood from my two Team mates who joined me was somber and serious, and we knew we were headed into a rough race. Preseason and the first five races hadn't been kind to us, but there was a quiet intensity coming off of everyone, and I knew that as professionals we would do everything we could to put our boys on top. We could handle anything and everything that was thrown at us, and if we couldn't, we wouldn't be here. In my case, I was to deal with my main factory contacts this weekend in person, handling such matters as lead times for complicated electronics pieces, orders, re-orders, and other bureaucratic necessities that make a private team function well within the umbrella of the Factory. As a natural born problem solver, my mind was set on doing my all to see that my Team would be taken care of through 2008 and beyond. I fueled myself with this heavily mustard-ized hot dog, knocked myself out on the flight with a beer, and landed in Firenze fresh and ready to rock.

I disembarked to some heavy heat, the sweat and humidity covering everything around the airport. In the distance, small hills reminded me of home, as the tall mountains I grew up around were between one and two thousand feet. Of course, the mountains I grew up with were steep and sharp, with constant strong ocean winds blowing up across the face. When I would stand at the edge of the world, looking out over a horizon that was clearly curved, I would think that the wind could hold me up, push me back.

I boarded a small bus to get from the plane to the luggage collecting area, pressed up against a mess of people wearing everything from sweats and sandals, to Armani and Panerai's. Yes, I was really in Italy, home of some of the most fashionable people I've ever come across, whether or not that fashion sense was right or wrong. The common theme at the moment are these huge sunglasses, covering half a woman's face and obscuring all but the most minor of details. True beauty is found in the eyes, deep beneath the surface. Any and all attempts to shroud this aspect in mystery is just vanity, and yes, I'm guilty, too.

Outside in the parking lot of the airport, a collection of old-timers gathered to go on a bicycle ride, complete with chase vehicle. I was taken back by their ages, because they were elderly, but it was clear that they were on a mission and I respected their enthusiasm and drive. Italy is where passionate people live.

We piled into a large van, a Fiat Ducato (same type as we used in '06), while a select few got to ride in a little Alfa micro-wagon. I wanted to relax a bit before the race week, so I spread myself out across one of the backseats of the furgonetta and let the scenery come to me. The drive towards the circuit takes you through sweeping turns along the sides of the Tuscan hills, through tunnels, past lakes and perfectly situated villages. At times, you can see lone watch towers, their stone construction having withstood the centuries, peeking up from the tops of wooded ridges. Patchwork fields abound, and this is farming country. My hayfever would activate almost immediately, hahaha.

It's not a long drive, as Mugello lies between Firenze and Bologna (ok, maybe Bologna is a little further away) and both routes to the circuit are absolutely gorgeous. You feel like you're headed towards something special. And you are.

There's a new arch over the famous helmet of Mugello, and indeed, the facilities have been upgraded as well, with a new viewing tower in place and additional offices and structural reinforcement around the paddock buildings. We pulled in to pick up the four driver's of our racetrucks, who also happen to be mechanics on our team.

Our boys had gotten hung up on their way over from Modenas, home of Ferrari, but were due to arrive later that evening. I spent some time stretching my legs and taking in the various teams setting up for the weekend.

Alfa Romeo, baby! Alfa has a working relationship with Marlboro Ducati, and at every race they are available, the Factory Team travels by Alfa, four members per car. We had this sharp little black number at our disposal.

So this is the cockpit of the Alfa! Turbo diesels can be fun . . . .

But not as much fun as the new baby Monster 696. I took some time to examine the beast, scouring over the chassis and noting small differences from the pre-production prototypes I had witnessed in the Factory the previous November. It is a very well finished product, sure to make a lot of people very happy and introduce a new generation of enthusiasts to the grand marque that is Ducati.

We rolled back to our converted farm house accomodations, known here as "agri-turismo". It is one of the prettiest and most romantic locations I have ever been to. The Team sits and waits for our dinner plans to be finalized.

There were roses everywhere, reminding me that love is in the air, spring is in bloom.

Just a few feet from the door to my room, these gorgeous pink roses waited for me, greeting me every morning and kissing me goodnight when it was time to sleep.

A small treehouse kept the children happy, and there was a sheepdog who wandered about, constantly trying to fetch and chase the myriad of semi-wild cats who lived on the farm.

I dug out this old plow from a ditch. This old machine, who's purpose was to help put life into this earth, to continue the cycle, is still beautiful even now - rusted, missing a handle, but pure in its design.

Night comes, and the clouds are magnificent. Strong winds moving across the earth, touching all and rarely leaving a trace.

As dusk moved in, we headed past the circuit into Scarperia, one of the most beautiful villages in Tuscany, if not all of Italy. The famous restaurant iL Rustico was our destination.

Martin chows down on some righteous clams, the basque mechanic channeling some serious mollusk eating power.

I opted for meat, and learned an important (and expensive lesson) in the process. Etto means it's sold by the 100 gram, so be careful when you order the fiorentina!

Up early the next morning, and the sun shone brightly into our rooms even before 6AM. Heading into the paddock, the hospitality units were almost fully built, the luxurious upper deck of the Marlboro Ducati Team gleaming. How did they ever get that up there?

While we layed down carpet and prepared our garage, Dorna workers outside on the main straight prepared the signage for the Gran Premio d'Italia Alice.

Inside the garage, we did the same.

Rizla Suzuki has a cool engine moving device, lifting the engine crate up into the truck. I don't have anything as cool as that, just my back.

These hillsides, so empty right now, will be crawling with 100 thousand fanatics come Sunday. I might have been one of them.

So lush, so beautiful. The naked greenery of this place, the natural energy coursing through this place, it fills me with something special and reminds me of home.

A new watchtower, new i-beams of raw steel, complete with shiny welded rivets and large headed bolts. Every day I could look up from the side of my truck, the red Mugello Circuit sign looking down, smiling. I am here.

Within the offices of the paddock building, the tv station room full of monitors tracks everyone's progress throughout the circuit. It is from here that the live tv feed is created. One man watches all, see's all, and chooses which camera gets the go-ahead. "Cue on camera 4, switch to camera 12, etc".

There are a *lot* of tv's here. Most of the watches in the paddock at tuned to this clock, and no matter where we are, at all times we are on "MotoGP Time". It's our life, our livelihood, and even though we're here racing against one another, time is the only true judge we'll ever have. "The race is long, and in the end, it's only with ourselves." - Baz

Bwahahaha! V.H.S.!!!!!!!

Driving back through the fields after work, we'd pass fresh baby stalks of corn, and cotton was everywhere. Fluffy balls of it drifted along the breezes, making my eyes itch and nose run, and generally, just making my life more difficult. My antihistamines didn't do anything for me this past weekend, but I am a survivor. Wood is still commonly used for heat, and there is a feeling of old world here that must be lived. Our rooms always felt moist, the sheets on the beds always damp, the bathroom mirror always cloudy.

In the evenings before the race weekend, I'd rest in the courtyard watching the animals at play. Can you guess which one I had?

Hahaha, BOTH!

By Friday morning, the rains were in full effect, coming down with a fury and intensity that is Mugello. Everything is amplified here, and when the weather is good, it is great! When it's bad, though, it is really bad. Track workers stayed huddled up in their over coats, faces scrunched and squinting against the cold drops and whipping winds.

Now this is a shot right out of Hawaii. The rain was cleansing me, washing away the darkness that had clouded my heart, covered my eyes and constricted my chest.

My appetite picked up slightly compared to weeks past, and as this was an Italian GP, our Team was treated to some local foods that were a gift from our amazing chefs. Here's a small sample of how good we've got it this year. The cured ham is decidedly Spanish, though, hahaha.

And still, the rains came.

Quick shot I took earlier in the week of the mobile gourmet restaurant on wheels that our reknowned chef, Vincenzo, had built especially for him this season. That's the view of Napoli on the side, his hometown.

That night at the house I stayed up late thinking. Most nights I stayed up late thinking, and as we were literally in the middle of nowhere, with nothing to do or see, I had a lot time to contemplate. It was remarkably peaceful and quiet, save for the hum and whirr of all the insects. In the distance, you could hear motors screaming and raging off their rev-limiters, cannons going off, and the wild festivities of Mugello rocked on through the nights from Thursday through Saturday. Even throughout the day, large explosions would sound, and whoever was packing the heat had some serious firepower, haha. I listened to my music, I fell back into myself.

I breathed deep of this life, slowly, and felt my body renewing itself. A glow caught my eye.

I held this tiny creature in my hand, it's light pulsing. So much light from within, and the lights inside of me were starting to go off, too. I have much to share; experiences and thoughts, love and acceptance, compassion, and a tremendous fire inside.

I finally went to sleep at 2:30AM, drifting off to yet more endless dreams. I woke at 4:30AM. Stepping outside for some air, I sat listening to the party trackside, engines still being run, and audible from several kilometres away. Even the light from the campsite fires lit the sky.

I was glowing inside. I woke completely clear headed, and I finally understood everything that I had been going through these past weeks. It all made sense, and I remained awake through dawn, thinking, listening to some of my oldest music, smiling, waiting for my day to begin, waiting for my sun to start shining.

As I waited for everyone else to wake up, I photographed these three great snails. They twisted and squirmed together, intertwined, until one of them had to leave.

At the track, our Ducati electronics engineer, M.C., studied up on a Kawasaki technical article.

I was ready for action.

Bridgestone brought some new meats to the track, and things were shaping up for qualifying.

And then I met one of my all-time heroes. This woman inspired me to make the jump to MotoGP, to risk it all and see what I was made out of. If you know who she is, then you know her history. Her hair might be a little shorter now, and she's preoccupied with her two lovely children, but the fire still burns as brightly as ever inside her.

The clouds began to turn and part as I left the track that night. The sofa's upstairs in the Marlboro booth are actually lit from within, though it's hard to see from this photo.

Those of you who smoke Drum, hand-rolled cigarettes (as I had for many years), are welcome to a pack of limited edition Rizla Suzuki rolling papers from me if you can catch me at Laguna or Indy.

On raceday, we were ready. The warbirds were primed. Our team, who's been through so much together already, was facing a time where we weren't really in contention. Last year was the highlight of my career thus far in MotoGP, when we podiumed in third place with Alex Barros. This year would be different, but as teams go, we were united. My close friends on the team, they are like family to me. When times are tough, they stick by me, entrench with me, and are ready to do whatever it takes to stay alive and get to that next race, that next level. Onwards and upwards.

I waited on the grid for the bikes to loop around on their out lap before staging. I don't know if you noticed, but this is the Alice Grand Prix, haha.

Just a few feet from me, the new pneumatic valved Honda of Tadayuki Okada crouched, waiting to roar and sing to the heavens that it was alive.

The race went as I thought, with Valentino walking away from all challengers, his unadulterated love for riding motorcycles carrying him fast and far. The crowds surged in on us before the bikes could even return to the garages, riders dirt tracking to avoid the mobs, and fighting just to stay upright. In front of us, the police were doing everything they could to hold them back, both sides literally forcing the gates and fences inwards and outwards, a contest of wills and emotions. Shortly after this photo was taken, more police showed up and the crowd responded by "leaning in" and really making some pressure. It was incredible to see and be a part of.

Over on the main straight, the crowd had completely taken over, their adoration for Valentino eclipsing even the highest walls, the tallest barbed wire fences. To feel such raw emotion, such vivid and clear rapture, was like a lightning bolt to my chest. It was chaotic and stunning, a true spectacle.

Valentino responded in kind, saluting the crowd and being what he is best. Valentino.

After a few hours, the crowds disappeared.

The track became empty.

And once the trucks were packed up, we had a short meal at iL Rustico again, this time with artichoke and buffalo cheese pizza. It was a fitting end to a hard week of work, but we have more races to get to, more action and adventure.

As I stood outside that morning, I was reawakened, renewed, refreshed, reinvigorated, re-energized, refocused, reborn. My capacity for *LOVE* is even greater than it was before, even greater than I had thought possible. I was alive again, in love with life and everything around me. My purpose was back, to be the best that I could be, in all things, in all ways. I breathed deep, inhaling, feeling time stop around me. I have found beauty in the world again. I am awake now.

Goodbye, Michelle. There's so much I want to say, so much I want to share with you. When you look to the Moon and think of me, the wind will rustle through your hair and whisper that I have always loved you.

June 03, 2008

GP08 China, Race 4, "Goodbye Again, China" part 2

This was the last sunset I would see from China. How the days had torn by, each one rolling and tumbling into the next, and then before I knew it, before I could realize the full weight of what was happening around me in Great China, it was time to leave.

In the last china post, we had left you while traversing up Huai Hai road, Felix lugging his overloaded computer trolley through the crowds on tiled concrete sidewalks. Sure enough, the handle broke on the trolley, and the amusement we got at this fact lasted for several blocks. "Llegado en China, Muerto en China - Born in China, Dead in China." Felix had just bought this a year ago, at the last Chinese GP, and now we were officially on a mission to get another one. The only problem was that I had led us up a luxury goods road, and finding a place to buy cheap knock-offs didn't seem like it would be easy. For some reason, China (like other parts of Asia) has this fascination with collectable books and making albums. As the people become more westernized, it's a sign of wealth and status to have dual weddings, traditional and "black and white". Felix got a kick out of taking these shots, so thanks go to him for several of the photos you'll see here.

I was really surprised by the amount of "marriage planning" stores there were.

Through some harried phone calls trying to get directions from Scott, and not knowing how to read the roadsigns (they were all in Chinese), we made a rough plan to meet near the "top" of the street in front of a recognizable department store. About this time. the fancy places started thinning out, and we were joining what I like to call real china - shanty type communities in simple concrete buildings, separated by plywood (or worse) materials. About as basic as you can get. Occasionally you could see an air-conditioner hanging out of a window, and I get the feeling these were people who had "made it". These were the dark streets, and just outside, guarding the little alleys that would lead into these converted family apartments, these showrooms for replica goods, there would be guys standing on the street hawking fake handbags, watches, pretty much everything. We got to our location a little earlier than I anticipated, and when someone started following us and watching Felix' broken trolley with interest, I knew we had found someone who could sell us the fake luggage we were looking for.

We talked to him with just a few words in English, and he was certainly excited at the possibility of making a sale, so we cautiously followed him into the back streets and out of the light. Barred windows let you know what kind of area you were in, and when we finally arrived at the first of many little showrooms, I was surprised at the amount of people "working" there, or just hanging out playing cards and wasting time. It was nine-something at night, and it was time to get down to business.

I went into the back room to check out the fake watches, noting that almost all of the false goods I have witnessed in China are of the lowest quality that I have found. Typically, everything false is produced in China, but outside vendors will come in, select the best material, and sell it on other markets, all across Asia. Most of the better watches end up in Kuala Lumpur, and it's pretty common to see members of the paddock wandering through Chinatown in KL looking for deals. Meanwhile, up front Felix was doing his best to haggle, and this is where I came in. Normally, I don't care at all for fake stuff, because I believe you always get what you pay for. However, when it comes to bargaining, I'm able to channel something from my mother, and I love getting into it because I know that as foreigners, we're automatically paying up to three times the normal price for a Shanghai-nese , at that's at the sworn "lowest price". Anyway, I am usually the guy who plays bad-cop, and always advise my friends and team mates to walk away, there's a cheaper place, I saw it cheaper somewhere else, I know the local price, etc, etc. We arrived at a decent deal, and heck, considering how much weight Felix lugs around, and how much he uses the dang thing, it is kind of incredible that he can get a year's worth of use out of something so cheap. He started swapping contents immediately, digging up documents, medicine, stickers, and all sorts of stuff. The local guys just stood and stared at him, taking some stickers and putting them crookedly on the walls of their place. As soon as he was finished transferring over everything, they grabbed his old bag and started making comparisons and analyzing its construction.

We then ventured to a few other little stores, checking out false dvd's and other miscellaneous garbage until Scott called and let us know he was in the area. Yes! We navigated our way out of the little maze of corridors, and met up with Scott on a street corner. Walking a few short blocks we were in search of some authentic Chinese/Shanghai food, but when we got close to one place, Scott mentioned that his wife, Kay, had some fantastic Hong Kong-nese grub there. We were so hungry, and tired from trudging through the streets after our long day+ of travel, that we immediately jumped inside and started ordering away. In a normal place like this, you don't even look at the prices or consider what you're getting, because it's insanely cheap by European or American standards. Lots of catching up took place, and I was bummed because I really enjoy spending time with Scott and Kay as a couple, because they're people that I admire and they're adventurous and committed. Kay was on a business trip that day, and in fact had been away from Scott for about three months. Scott said that Kay would be back later that week, though, so schedule permitting, I was hopeful to spend time with them later in the week.

After dinner, we decided to grab a beer, and Scott gave us a little tour of his neighborhood. It had restaurants galore, and these little all-purpose convenience stores strewn throughout. These mom-n-pop places are all over, and you can buy things like hand soap, motor oil, bicycle locks, and all kinds of odd-ball building materials, including all the plastic water/sewage piping you can see here. Not to mention the stack of toilet seats!

Almost to a street with a couple bars, we passed one of the coolest bikes in China, a 750cc replica of an old eastern European marque. I want to say it's a BMW, but I don't remember definitively, despite having read about them some years ago before I even made it to China.

Aside from seeing Scott again, this bike was a great highlight to the night, because it wasn't some shined up thing trying to look pretty, it was rough and well used, like a true workhorse should be.

Just pop off the lid of the pot to get to the air filter, and while you're at it, bring me a distributor from an old car and throw it on there, haha.

Felix dared to enter the sidecar, but I couldn't bring myself to touch another man's (p)ride. I never have.

We had a couple quiet beers, talking about how weird it must be to live so long in Shanghai without speaking Chinese and constantly being mistaken for "local", meaning everyone speaks with them in Chinese and they nod their heads in agreement and point at pictures on the menu. Actually, Scott and Kay have started picking up some phrases, so they're doing much better than the last year I saw them. Calling it an early night, Felix and I jumped in a cab and whisked ourselves back towards our faraway hotel, about an hour away, give or take, on the bad directions and road construction between the city and An'ting. As soon as we got a cab, the first thing to do is hand over the hotel's business card (complete with mini-map on the back) and point at the phone number until the cabbie calls the hotel. It was outrageously expensive by Chinese standards, but I don't know of any other place you can ride a cab for more than an hour for 20 bucks. Up early the next morning, we headed towards the circuit, spying these giant Pramac billboards. After all, it was the Pramac Grand Prix of China (I'm sure you all saw the Pramac logo's around the track during the race).

Once more into this huge monument to a sport the people here don't understand. It snowed here earlier, causing these reverse umbrellas to fill with heavy deposits and crash down onto the grand stand seating below. Oddly enough, this large banner/poster had two images of TE24, and none of SG50.

Most of the other teams weren't there when we arrived, save for the lone Kawasaki parts guy, Rob, who was diligently unloading his crates and shuffling them around so the team would have less work to do when they showed up later that afternoon.

Did I mention that AXIO is sponsoring the Factory Kawasaki racing effort this season? You should see all the neat stuff they've got this year, and I'm really proud to have brought Axio in to MotoGP so they could ride the wave with the fastest bikes on the planet. This is the spec 2 Swift pack, and it's got all the updates and improvements I'd suggested after a season of use with my team last year. Try it, I think everyone will be really surprised at the functionality of this new model.

We worked through the day into the night, and because we didn't have a hospitality unit set up (no one does on the fly-away, outside of Europe races), we went searching for a little known restuarant in An'ting, the German one. It wasn't in the same location, so we gave up and just started caravanning around until finally our driver got so fed up he called his boss and got directions . . . . taking us to a place we never would have found that was, in fact, the german place. Here you can see the local ketchup, Tsingtao beer, my requisite coconut milk (when in China), and a couple team mates who look ready to eat anything.

Mornings at the hotel were a mix of our team, some 125/250 guys, the Clinica Mobile folks, and a smattering of continental breakfast items interspersed with a veritable ton of Chinese fast food and dim sum. I was loving it, chowing down more than I usually do in the mornings. I even managed to get some soy bean milk to dunk my donuts in, haha. Unfortunately, they never did figure out how to make a cup of coffee, so that was always trying.

Most of the team dinners were at the german place, but one night a couple of us were too tired so we went straight back to the hotel instead. We had been hearing stories about the hotel's restuarant, and a thai or taiwan noodle soup. When we ordered, we learned they only had enough noodles to make two soups, and the rest of us settled for strange chicken sandwiches and goofy dishes. The next night, we made sure to go back to the german place.

Later in the week after Kay had gotten back, I finished relatively early and headed back into Shanghai. It was already fairly late, so we opted for two drinks and snacks at a trendy and chic night spot called the People's Lounge, or something like that. I was really looking forward to seeing her again, because she's an incredibly strong woman whom I admire very much. Invariably, as I spend more time with my friends who are married, I find myself exploring their relationships with their partners, asking questions and taking my time to fully understand their dynamic and what makes them work so well. Kay and Scott regaled me with stories of their tough first years, living apart, constant fighting, but always staying committed to the idea that through it all, they would put in the hard work to reap the benefits later. It's funny, but both of them were so frank and blunt about certain subjects, perhaps the most telling thing they told me was that after fighting so hard and so much, eventually they got to a point where there was no point in fighting about anything anymore. Life is full of compromises, just like the bikes.

Everything about this place was just a little bit different, like the entrance to the restaurant/lounge which consisted of this optical lock. You had to place you hand under the lights in the correct sequence or a false door would slide open (star trek style) and reveal a giant mirror. Uber Sci-Fi.

Eventually, we made it inside!

It was absolutely fantastic to catch up with this couple, as they are both involved in pursueing different dreams that have carried them across the world, from their home in SF, to Korea, Japan, and now, China. I spent my time asking them about how their relationship worked so well, and they spent their time asking me questions about my girlfriend, Michelle. I gotta say, it really put a smile on my face to be telling them about her, maybe one of the few smiles I had that week. China was a rough one, but speaking english with people from back home in the bay area, talking about girls and boys, men and women, it was simply great. I know Scott was cranking away at his job designing video games in Shanghai, and Kay's fashion business was really taking off, starting straight at the top at prominent LA fashion house, Fred Something-or-Other. WOOT! Here's wishing them the best of luck and good fortune in their respective endeavors :)

We had some dessert.

Another off thing about the place? The bathrooms! I took Scott over, just to take pictures of him trying to figure it out, as I had stumbled through when we first arrived. Here are three bathrooms.

"The door won't budge!!"

"What the *(&# is going on here!"

I think this is one of the funniest designs/tricks I've ever seen in my life, and I'm surely going to do something similar in my own place one day. AWESOME! More photos from Scott's camera will be in another post :)

Raceday came around, and it was a mixed bag in the morning.

I stood on the grid, thinking about 2005 when I was in these very seats looking down at the start of the race and promising myself that one day I would be there.

I thought about my dreams and hopes, and how dreams can change. Hope lives eternal. I think about how lucky I am to have made it here, how special and rare it is to be able to see the world from my vantage point, traveling with the circus and seeing all these places, these people, changing with the years. My carbon foot-print is huge, and my world view is even bigger, and it's truly remarkable to be able to do what I do (with a little help from some good people at my side). Not to mention I get to watch the greatest motorcycle racers do their thing week in and week out.

And then they were off.

While watching from the box, I knew my people back home were watching live, as the complete time difference on this end of the world put us perfectly in sync with the west coast. Friends that had travelled to China to see the race and meet with me once again dropped by as we were frantically packing up after the event. I was sourcing cardboard boxes from various teams to ship back material that would be re-painted in preparation for the French bike scheme of Le Mans. John F. popped by to wish me a good season.

My friends from Mito, Japan (Motegi) also came by. Take is one of the chief designers of the Nissan Z series, having worked on them since the inception of the 300Z up through the current model. He promises the next one will be even more spectacular, haha. I will likely see him again in Japan this year.

Vanessa was here from Australia, working the grid for NH69, but with our busy schedules, we only had time to say hello and goodbye. I'm looking forward to spending time with her aunt and uncle (and the rest of the fam) in Phillip Island later this season.

Look! A mini-motard! Fairly trick bits and frame on this one.

Then it was time to see the sun set, and finish packing up the garage. We were flying out later that night, so everyone was in a mad scramble to get finished with the flight containers. When everything was about wrapped up, we started heading to the offices behind the paddock, hoping there was enough time to take a 2 minute shower and wash away all the sweat. The last thing you want is to sit on a flight for 12+ hours stinking of the track, but luckily everyone made it and then it was time to rush through traffic on the two hour or so drive to the airport.

Everyone checked in and separated to go shopping or eating. I stopped for my last meal in Shanghai, appropriately some simple soup, dumplings, and vegetables. I couldn't ask for more. Thinking back on China, there's so much I'll never be able to get in to, so many memories and experiences that I can't translate into this website. These are the kind of life movements, a shifting of the spirit, that you have to see for yourself. It's for this reason that I am always trying to get my friends to travel abroad to see the races, because there is so much more to the story, so much more to life, than running around in circles.

Fireworks were set off to announce our leaving China, some small ones the night before at the german restaurant.

I'll miss you, China. Good Luck.