I sat at the bar and stared deep into my glass. I hadn’t planned on having a beer with dinner, but the name of the brew on the wall of the pub intrigued me to no end: Carlsbad Raceway IPA. Sitting in the crowded hall that was filled with unattended children running around like monkeys on crack while a loose collection of adults sat around tables pouring parental supervision only into their own half-empty glasses, I felt oddly alone. I sipped my beer and let the hops run circles around my palate.
Pizza Port brews some fine beers and makes a mean pizza to go along with them so choosing a beer based on its name alone is not the crap shoot you might think it to be. In fact, the beer itself is an excellent example of a West Coast style IPA. But for me the mere mention of Carlsbad Raceway and its destruction is enough to transport me far away from sticky tables and kids on sugar highs, a good beer just helps the process.
Back around 1980 I was a tall lanky kid in New Jersey that loved to race motorcycles. Our local riding area was top-notch: an abandoned gravel quarry (which we called “the Sand Pits”) with an adjacent area that was used by a manufacturer of earth moving equipment to test their vehicles. An abandoned railroad bed comprised of massive, seemingly unending whoops led to a few marvelous rocky and rooty trail systems that ran for miles like spiderwebs across the rolling hills of North Jersey. For a lucky kid with a dirt bike it was Eden.
Unlike today when you can find motorcycle racing on television almost every weekend, back then coverage of the sport (as well as the BMX scene) was largely limited to magazines. I’d spend hours reading of the latest bikes and the racing going on in far-off places like California. Of course one of the places frequently mentioned was Carlsbad Raceway, from which the USGP of motocross was often televised on ABC’s Wide World of Sports during that era – a show which I recall watching on television. At the time Carlsbad was just a dusty, dry arroyo north of San Diego, but on race day it entertained large crowds of over 45000 fans who came to see the biggest names in the sport strut their stuff on what became one of the iconic racetracks of American motocross. Today Carlsbad is a sea of homes as far as the eye can see, a far cry from what it looked like back in those days.
I stopped racing motorcycles and started playing team sports shortly after fracturing my shoulder blade in a nasty crash in the Sand Pits my freshman year in high school. Eventually the area where I was bucked off my Honda XR200R was turned into a freeway off-ramp, most of the surrounding area became an industrial park and the old railroad beds that allowed us to access the trail systems paved over and made into roads. No one rides in those areas today, it’s all pavement. To quote Joni Mitchell “they paved paradise and put up a parking lot”. Yes, even in New Jersey paradise can sometimes be found.
Fate would have it that when I first moved to California the closest riding area to my home was a place called Flightline, a fun collection of trails that filled the valley near the remains of the old Carlsbad Raceway. The raceway was a shadow of its old self but was still holding on despite intense pressure to sell. Though I had long ago given up motorcycles for mountain bikes it was still a thrill for me to see club motocross racing off in the distance while I rode. Flightline hung on for a while after the Raceway officially closed but it too was eventually bulldozed in the name of progress.
Searching deep within my beer last night I recalled the final time I had ridden Flightline. I was training for the 24 Hours in the Old Pueblo and needed a long night ride so I headed over to the area after work even though rain was in the forecast. Ordinarily I wouldn’t ride trails with so much rain in the forecast but the death knell for Flightline had already been rung and the orange plastic fences marking the outlines of the cold concrete buildings had already been laid. Screw it, I decided to ride. Let them bulldoze my tire tracks.
The rain came down and the wind rose as I pedaled around in circles through that small plot of land. It had never been a huge area but the trails made great use of every inch of land on the sides of the small canyon that ran through the center. Over the years bridges had been built by local riders to connect impassable areas. Toward the west end a small spring-fed pond that somehow persisted throughout the dry months bathed that night in the last rain it would ever see before the earthmovers began to rumble. In the normally dry creekbed the water flowed through the canyon to the nearby sea like the condensation from my Carlsbad Raceway Ale. Tree frogs began to sing their springtime chorus and a turtle appeared out of nowhere, pausing in the middle of the normally dusty trail to give me a look like “this is fun, huh?” before disappearing into the undergrowth. It was paradise amidst the parking lots and the crush of humanity.
Eventually the rain stopped that night and after a few hours of muddy, serpentine bliss on the labyrinth of trails I headed toward home along paved roads. Over the roar of the wind I could still hear the frogs singing in the distance.
Finishing my beer, I left Pizza Port’s screaming children behind and headed for the door. Rest in peace Carlsbad Raceway and Flightline. You were great while you lasted.
“When you look into the abyss, the abyss also looks into you” – Friedrich Nietzsche