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.