Elbow Room: The Time Traveler's Life
by ben spies
Thursday, February 11, 2010

Somewhere over Europe. American MotoGP rider Ben Spies sleeps, albeit briefly, on a plane, mid-season 2009.
image by a housewife
We did a bicycle race about a week before I left for Malaysia. It was pretty good. It was my first Pro-Amateur road race. Ben Bostrom came down and joined, and Chris Clark came with him. We had a good group of people. Eight of us got a hotel and did the whole race. It was an 85-mile road race. Super tough. Super windy. We averaged about 26 mph, and I got 15th, so I was happy with that. My teammate got 4th. Then, Kevin Schwantz, Blake Young and my friend Randy that I train with, were all in Dallas that day, and they entered the Cat 5 race. A good day for racing.

It was pretty funny, because my friend Randy had said that he was going to eat a dead squirrel if he lost the Cat 5 race. And he did lose to Blake Young, who won it. Randy hasn't heard the end of it yet. I've offered to reduce the bet to three shots of patron in five minutes but as of right now he hasn't paid up.

Then I came back and got geared up to do the Malaysia test. I think it was a Saturday that we flew out— me and my dad and Alec Dare from Alpinestars. I got to Italy about two in the afternoon the next day, got to have dinner with some friends, and the next day did a photo shoot for Maxim, which took all day. It was a little bit painful. I had to do a couple of burnouts on a street bike in 15 degree weather in a T-shirt and no jacket.

I flew out the next day to go to Malaysia. I stopped in Dubai, and got to Malaysia about two in the afternoon there, again. That trip hurt me pretty bad with sleep. It was very difficult. I stayed a day and a half in Milan, then a layover in Dubai, just long enough to try to get used to the time zones, and every time zone I stopped in was six hours apart. It was really tough. We were gone for a total of seven days, and flying—not traveling, but actual time in the air—was right at 40 hours.

By the time I got to Malaysia, I was suffering pretty bad. The first day of the test was really rough on me. It wasn't so much jet lag as sleep deprivation. In five days of travel I know I had spent two 30-hour stints with no sleep. I had almost vertigo—dizziness, didn't really know what I was doing on the bike, and had to cut it early on the first day. I wasn't hitting my marks, and was totally off the wall. I told the guys it was just getting a little dangerous and I didn't need to be out there. The second day I was feeling a little bit better. It rained in the morning, so we really got limited to half a day anyway, which was probably better for me. We cut some time off and started improving my riding. It definitely wasn't the best I've felt riding, but I think we started to make some gains in improving me as a rider on a GP bike. So I think it was a decent test.

I've gotten used to flying ... it's still not my preferred way of traveling, but spending 400-plus hours in an airplane in a year, you're going to get used to it. I'm fine with flying now but I just don't sleep well on a plane. That can affect me. It is the same for everybody, but some people can cope with it a whole lot better. Some people look at where they're going, and a day early try to eat and sleep on that time schedule. The best way I've learned, in what I've heard and what I've experienced, is when you're tired, you sleep. You just go to sleep when you can. You get as much sleep as you can. The only thing I don't do is, if I nap after 2 p.m., I'm not going to be able to sleep that night.

Traveling's hard, and a lot of people don't really realize what jet lag is. It's not so much tired as it is you wake up and you think you've slept nine hours, and you look at a clock and it's 1 a.m., so you go back to sleep, and when you wake back up, you feel like you've slept four hours, you've slept 30 minutes. It hits you so hard. With me in Malaysia, it really wasn't so much that. I was sleeping okay once I got there, but going a couple of days without sleep in the five days before that, my whole balance was off. My dad could see me zig-zagging when I tried to walk down the hallway in the hotel. I looked drunk. I told my dad, "I can't walk on a white line right now."

That first day testing the bike, I came in, and I said, "I'm going over 200 mph, and I am not one hundred percent. I've got to call it quits." It was just getting to the point when I was missing stupid apexes and braking markers. It's amazing, when you do get jet lag, it can be 5 or 6 in the afternoon and you can just be hammered tired, ready to fall asleep at the table, and then you go to lay down at 8:30 that night, and you're tired, but your body's awake, and you can't sleep. I know it sounds stupid, but I'm going to say it. When jet lag hits me, it amazes me so much what happens to the body, just like the simple fact of drinking too many alcoholic beverages. That a drink can make your body feel the way it feels sometimes, and the same thing with jet lag. When you miss sleep and you fly to different time zones, what it does to your body can't be good for you. There's no way it's good for you. It hit me pretty good; there's nothing you can do about it but try to cope with it. It was a rough one, but I rode as much as I could. I still think we had a really productive test, with or without the jet lag.

It's hard to get to Malaysia whichever way I go. It's on the other side of the world so If I go through California, it's a three-hour flight there, then a 16-hour direct flight to Singapore and another hour to Kuala Lumpur. So that's 20 hours from my house of flying alone, about 25 hours of traveling. That's about as quick as you can make it. Then if you go east through Europe, it's about 22 hours of flying, with a bunch of layovers. It's really hard to get to, regardless. The way I did it this time was the worst possible way you can do it, because I was thrown off by Italy time and the layover in Dubai. Next time, we're going to get in a couple of days earlier. Which I would've done anyway, but it just wasn't possible this time. And we had a problem with some stuff not showing up on the flights. Typical travel stuff.

I'm hoping for a better second test. But all things considered, I was happy with the test. I think we put in some decent times the second day. We got into some more consistent fast times. We cut the gap down a little bit. The fast four guys are still out there, but I was definitely feeling more comfortable on the bike, for my pace.

It was hot, but it wasn't ridiculously hot. I think it got up to 96 or 97 F. But coming from a US winter, it definitely puts your body in shock. I think the track temperature on the first day got up to 62 C, which is really hot. On the bike it's not horrible, but where it really hits you is the last ten seconds of going through pit lane, when you get under 20 mph, to when you stop and can get your helmet off. That's when the heat hits you hard.

On the bike, it's definitely hot. Going 200 mph, I'm tucked in, getting all the engine heat coming off, which is a bit more on a GP bike than on a Superbike. You've got all that heat going on, it's hot, and usually when you hit the brakes, it's not enough air to be refreshing, but you usually get some venting going that cools the sweat a little bit. In Malaysia, I swear, when I came out of a tuck, the air that hit me was hotter than what was coming off the bike. I was like, "This is BS right here. This is hot."

Some people don't understand why we test there and ask why we don't test in Australia during this time of year, because it's hot there now, but when we race there, it's not hot. It's usually pretty hot when they go back to Malaysia for the race, so it makes sense to test there in the heat. It's a pain having to go there twice in a month, but that's what it is.

My dad got to go over there and see Asia and eat some different foods. We had a good time. He'd never been to Asia before. Fortunately, he likes food and loves to try different types of food, and really enjoyed it. Same with me. Alec was with us. Sometimes travel can be hard on him and all you'll see him eating is bananas. It was a pretty good experience for everyone. It was the first test overseas he'd been to, and my first "real" GP test, so it was fun.

I think the weirdest thing I saw the whole trip was four sunrises in three days, on the planes. I took pictures, and I thought, "Hold on, how did I see this many sunrises in this many hours?" And I ate some stuff that I didn't know what it was, but it tasted good. So far I don't have any parasites.

I'm recovered from the trip now. I just got off the plane, got home, jumped on the trainer for a second to break a little sweat and get the body cleaned out. Then just rest. The funny thing is I'm not jet-lagged at all being home. I spent too little of time in any time zone last week to get used to it.

Since I landed back home, I've been completely fine. It was just pretty much a day and a half in any one time zone, so I never got used to it. I'm completely one hundred percent now that I'm home. It was just one of those hard weeks, and I'm glad I made it through it.

I'm motivated and ready to get going for next year. It's going to be tough. But I'm looking forward to it.

As far as my team, Woody and House are coping well with the team. I would say Woody was sweating out of his hair at Malaysia. It was pretty entertaining to watch him in the heat. But it's just rough. It's tough on the mechanics, it's tough on people just holding the pit boards out there. It's a different kind of heat. You notice it as soon as you step off that plane. But it's good. I think Woody and Tom are doing fine, and enjoying it. Even when we're missing sleep and having crazy meals, it's totally different. It's a whole lot better than a lot of other things that are happening right now, that's one way we've got to look at it.

Now I'm getting ready for the Indy dealer show this weekend, and then round two of testing in Malaysia the last weekend of February.


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