Fear and Loathing at the Swanpound
Inspired by Raoul Duke
Check out the full story here: https://vurbmoto.com/blogs/fear-and-loathing-swanpound/22024/
A fictional account of the legendary Swanpound Beer Nationals by Aran Eversman, inspired by the “Gonzo” style of the late, great Hunter S. Thompson. Copy edit by Brandon Tietz
I scanned the latest headlines for anything worth reading. Team changes, amateur races, product reviews. “Radically redesigned”, it seems, didn’t catch my attention like it used to.
There’s a place just a few hours drive down the I-5 drug corridor in a forgotten corner of Santa Cruz, where the moon casts a blue-ish hue and depraved motorcycle riders assemble to rear their ugly heads and answer the call of All Hallows Eve. For once a year, the bell of the Swanpound tolls and those who answer the call find out just how deep the rabbit hole goes.
Bearing down on 100 in my old pickup, the wind howls a shrieked whine as the centerlines blur past below. 60, 40, 20 miles to the off-ramp for Half Moon Bay.
What happened next is socked into my memory like the fog that settles in over the Monterey.
Photo Credit @tedescophoto
The old iron gates contained the madness. Terrifying vibrations coming out of the place. Screams and shouts melted through the trees while the music kept the madness disguised, the soundtrack of the haunted mansion. As I walked the path towards the sound, the crazed, yellow eyes of the mountain creedlers blinked back at me in the glow of the night. Who or what were these awful beasts? I wondered. I had come too far to stop now and the drugs were just beginning to take hold.
Around the corner and out of the darkness was a writing pit…helimonsters? No, no it was far worse. “Why are you wearing that stupid man suit?” one of them breathed at me, hisDonnie Darko rabbit costume too realistic for comfort. “Swan, I’m looking for Swan goddamnit” I answered back but it was too late, this party was too far gone and the only way to fight this beast was to join the tide and lose any sense of remembrance why I came here.
I was a journalist by day but this was an assignment better off forgotten. No mainstream media would pick up a story about the last remaining vestige of the 1960’s motorcycle craze. This is no Hell’s Angels biography man, no…this is something else completely.
They call him Swan. A Hesher in the flesh who seems more set on breaking the rules than following them. While the underlying cult of racer culture strips motorcycling away of its defining freedom, he took the red pill, upsetting the balance of the do-gooders and throwing a good times bash worthy of the original On Any Sunday. He’s the namesake of the place but in this sea of costumed-marauders he’s nowhere to be found.
The clouds hung heavy on this bone-chilling night, menacing; threatening to unleash the fury of the gods upon the Swanpound. But the energy here seemed to hold it off, high-powered spotlights illuminating a section of course where all the action seemed to be going down. A sacrificial ritual? Perhaps, the roar of small-bore motorcycles could have been chainsaws but instead carried Batman…Super Mario…Maverick and a giant squirrel past in a blur. This was definitely happening, a pit bike death race of Satan and all of his minions was unfolding before my very eyes. The rules were simple: No fighting. No weapons. No pumpkins. A head-to-head contest through the pig slop of a blown-out venue was to be carried out in full costume.
In some circles, the Swanpound Beer National is bigger than Anaheim 1 and the Super Bowl combined. In an effort to raise capital, the Baja 1000 scheme was devised to assemble friend and foe, racer and creedler on the night when the smell of medicinal herbs and the belching fumes of mistreated machinery draws the red out of your eyes.
“Death Juice”. Is it some kind of exotic drug designed to invoke the Ibogaine effect? Pure adrenaline maybe, a limitless pill for racers trying to find the edge, and come back from it. On the prerequisite list to enter the race, it seems a glass of the stuff was the only cost to enter. After the dust settled and the sun fought through the final throes of night, it was the weight that cast the balance to the edge of control.
The course was a high-speed run with more turns than jumps, but tonight, it didn’t matter. Even the man-sized rabbit with tiny slits for eyeholes could navigate it on a good night, but this was no ordinary Halloween. Rain, wind, and cold had set in on the course. The kind of slop that cakes your knobbiest and turns your shoes into skis, there is no fighting this kind of terrain. Like the glass of Death Juice I consumed to enter, it was time to let it ride and hang it out. The controls of the once-identical XR70’s were bent and mangled by its passengers before me. Bits of blood, sweat, drink, and vomit speckled it’s front half. Would this machine take me straight to hell and pass the course entirely? On the edge of the track lies a cliff more infinite in size than measurable. They gave the signal to go, the machines roaring to life and sliding down the first straight. Jeering, cackling jackasses leaned in close over bales leaving no way off of this death match while their costumes turned into grotesque projections of the beings they were trying to assimilate. Smashed from the inside and pushed wide rounding corner 2, I was less than a knobby’s width from the edge of No Man’s Cliff. Staring straight down into the belly of the beast, I jerked left to try to save the thing, and myself from the infinite tumble into Dante’s Inferno. Cellphones blinked back at me while the wind whipped my bleary eyes fighting for control. Past Spicoli into a position I didn’t know, I picked them of one by one as I clawed, slid and smashed my way to the front. It’s the last thing I remember before the darkness set in, somewhere between concussed and unconscious the details are sparse from there on out. It was a massacre.
Thrashed. Violated. Raped. The smoldering wreckage of the grounds held the only memories of last night’s contest. Somewhere, a makeshift trophy denoted the winner but it didn’t matter. Well into the night and through dawn I stumbled from circle to circle. Cackles, vultures laughing, drinking, smoking, steaming from the cold, cold night their words melted past me at a pace I couldn’t keep up. Their faces contorted from human to lizard and back again. Night crept into all corners of my vision, hard to keep my senses alert as the darkness encroached. All the while, I realized, the plan was unfolding exactly as the puppeteer had planned.
Bodies and tents littered the yard sometime after dawn as I rounded the corner for the back porch. And that’s where I found him : Swan, the architect of this mountainside madness rolling a RAW paper and surveying the scene. He didn’t speak, but his upright posture resembled that of the bird by which he’s named. Shaking his head as he noticed me, I wasn’t sure what would happen next.
“You see this?” He asked me, pointing to the carnage and wreckage that surrounded us on all sides. “This is what I call a good fuckin’ time, man!” Laughing at his joke and sparking a light, I knew he was right. Not a person left standing or otherwise would argue that fact. This place is a monument to the misbehavior that made motocross the rebel’s anthem. A pit bike race? Nah. Halloween bash? Not quite. The Swanpound Beer Nationals is more than that. One of the last holdouts of what motocross was supposed to be, it’s a fight club for motorcycle racers to explore the inner beast away from prying eyes of journalist swine like me. On every 365th day of the year, those who answer the call find themselves wondering just what happened the night before. Battered, bruised and on the backside of a night best not remembering, it’s the Swanpound that keeps their racer spirit alive until the moon and the Santa Cruz night howl its werewolf call once more.
It started like the opening scene to a mountain bike movie: in the predawn hours, sleepy cyclists roll out of bed to screeching alarms and pre-packed bags, signaling the anticipation of an epic ride. The sun races to greet them at the horizon line by the time they hit Interstate 5. It’s rare that any trip follows this kind of trajectory for an entire day, but for myself and my copilot, pro skater Mark Partain, this Cinderella story is packed to the brim with stoke and chance encounters from start to finish.
I left all of my video and camera gear at home in favor of a kitchen-variety arsenal: your Mom’s Nikon D40, standard issue with a 55-200 lens, and a GoPro–a camelbackable setup I didn’t have to worry about too much should I eat shit sending it down Bachelor. This camera combo has been dominating Costco end caps since the dawn of the superstore, so chances are you (or your parents) have one of these little DSLRs tucked away somewhere…
Two Wheels, One Love: A 2015 GT Sensor X Pro Review
By: Aran Eversman
It was around 400’ of vertical elevation into the opening climb on my 2015 GT Sensor X Pro that I began to ponder why exactly I had spent my every last penny on this new steed. I wrote it off as a birthday gift to myself (it’s on April 8th): There I was, pushing a bicycle built for someone well beyond my skill level of Barney up a stair-stepped climb with middle-aged hikers ahead and behind me, matching my sluggish pace step-for-step. It was about that time that I realized my first rookie mistake: In my blind excitement to ride this fluorescent all-mountain killer, I left my helmet in the truck. “Shit…it’s either go back and do this all over again, or pack it in for an easier trail” I thought to myself, unsure of the answer when I dropped the post and flipped the shock into Descend. I’m a motocross journalist and cinematographer by day and the owner of a little place called the Grindstone Compound, so the concept of manual labor isn’t exactly hardwired in our DNA as we walk up climbs like this with a blip of the throttle on our fourty-some horsepower fire-breathing steeds. I was beat already, and barely past the one-third mile mark.
A quick blast over the ground I had just covered sent any worry so far out of my mind it seemed a bad dream you can’t quite remember…”Was I really just thinking that”?! Even though I was running this thing with flat pedals, no socks on my feet and suspension setup for a dude 30 pounds heavier than me, it didn’t matter. For an instant I was Gee Atherton, flowing down the techie section that I just fought my way up like a boss. I didn’t have to think about what the bike was doing under me, I just borrowed some line selection skills from my moto memory bank and let the bike do the work. The looser I stayed, the better she worked under me. By the time I reached the truck I was working on an unfamiliar kind of high that had me grinning ear to ear and chatting up anyone in sight. As someone who has habitually cut corners with craigslist fixer-uppers in exchange for the latest tech, I suddenly realized the err in my ways. “If you’re going to do something, do it right” I decided, and this beautiful bicycle was a shining reminder of that kind of decision making in action.
Now, was I really shredding the trail like I was on GT Factory Racing? No, actually I was probably going slow as hell. But it didn’t matter, because the bike gave me the confidence to push a little harder and let it hang out a bit more. Where I might have scrubbed the brakes on a lesser steed, I opted to carry the front end over technical sections with confidence because I knew the bike (and brakes) could handle any error in my technique.
Hippie Hype Songs for the SoCal Suck
Just a few minutes before this I was in my Tacoma withDispatch – The General at full volume, a battle-anthem for my hippie heart as I headed for a completely unknown trial in the heart of Escondido, California: The Elfin Forest Reserve, I decided would be my christening ride. I picked it based loosely on some interesting singletrack.com reviews despite a very clear warning that this wasn’t a beginner trail. This one was gonna kick the shit out of me before I earned any reward, but I was sure that the farther out I went, the less chance of encountering anyone I had. My secret and driving mission was just to find a corner of the SoCal suck that wasn’t crawling with people, traffic and big box stores.
I’l admit, my renewed affinity for cycling is really a biproduct of a soul-searching mission that brought me down the rabbit hole of the meditative arts. Maybe unlocking the next level of performance, whether a racer, filmer or writer lies not in the almighty dollar but in the mind itself; a conduit to accessing the universal energy that allows us to do amazing things. Cycling fills my craving for rad gearand the notion of propelling myself down the trail with only the sound of the soil and the wind in my hair soothing my need to find the edge and just hang off the side.
Behind Every Hot Girl is a Guy Who’s Sick Of…
Dirtbikes will always be my first love, but there was something about her that just started to feel too, “Been there, done that”. I wanted to keep a hand in the mix but branch out, and cycling seemed like the perfect blend of body, mind and flow state to feed my action sports addiction.
For the past 2 years I have kept in touch with my friend Bill Rudell from GT Bicycles, pinging him whenever I had a little cash in my pocket to see if he had any test bikes back from the mags I might be able to pick up for a song and a little spit shine. A few weeks ago, I was in luck: Opportunity struck and he had an unmolested SensorX Pro with my name on it, still with a hefty price tag but I could just swing it. The last time I was doing a lot of cycling is when I was slanging bikes and skis at Mountain Outfitters in West Bend, WI back in high school so this was a much-needed investment. And needless to say, technology has evolved long beyond the days of my old Giant NRS.
This isn’t exactly a technical review, but here’s my experience on the 2015 GT Sensor X Pro: I fell in love with bikes today and it was due to a healthy mix
of GT steeze, perfect weather and work-for-reward trail conditions. Equipped with an e-thirteen direct mount single chainring up front and XT Shadow derailleur 10 with SLX controls, I found myself to be working the entire gear range without a whole lot of need on either side of it despite 15 degree grades up and down and dogshit slippery shale to make things interesting. In total I covered about 14 miles and 5,300 vertical on terrain that showcased what you’d expect from the best of SoCal riding (I think): tight switchbacks, sizable stair steps, some fast, flowy sections, rutted fire roads, oasis vistas and a little sand to boot. I covered the gamut of suspension settings, from locked out to full descend mode. At both ends of the spectrum I was floored – this thing has a tractable snap when locked out but with a flip of the seat post trigger and lockout levers on the Pike Fork (another huge upgrade to the standard Sensor lineup) and Fox Float, I never found the bottom of the stroke nor a hit she couldn’t handle. I’m no expert but from all of the research I did before I settled on this girl, it’s the Sensor setup in straight purist form. Hell yes.
Running with Scissors
Ever seen the movie Running with Scissors with Will Ferrell as the novelist that realizes his novel-in-progress is also dictating his life-in-progress? I had this happen to me around mile 7: the spark hit to write this piece, a quick blurb about how intuitive the bike handles and predictable it’s handling….And just then I pushed the front end in a sandy flat corner at speed. I bailed in time and landed on my feet, since I had literally been writing the section in my mind it was almost as if I knew it was coming.
Needing a quick little break to get my legs back under me I headed up to Lake Hodges Overlook, the final outpost on an epic loop. I only saw one other rider all day, this cat named Tim who also stopped at the overlook to catch the fresh breeze and killer view. We parted ways and I headed back to cash in on all that climbing I had done in first hour and a half.
The way down was ethereal – I was in the zone and even though my new friend Tim caught me on the way down, it didn’t matter. I had all the style of Martin Maes today…and in just a few days I’ll be back in my Southern Oregon hideout shedding the forbidden loams of the Illinois Valley. Motorcycles, Mountain Bikes…it doesn’t matter. It’s the perfect days and breakthrough moments that put these two-wheeled sports in our veins for life.
A much lengthier blog post to follow, but I am ecstatic to announce that ARAN.IO is the latest recruit of the team over at Bulletproof. The opportunity to collaborate with some truly high performance humans and create content under the Bulletproof banner is mind blowing.
For now, here’s a quick recipe for Bulletproof Coffee. If you drink coffee and it’s not Bulletproof, you are missing out on huge performance gains and mental clarity. Living in brain fog sucks, I was there for years and didn’t know it. A few cups of this stuff is like putting on a pair of glasses for the first time…you didn’t even know that kind of detail existed!