September 30, 2001
Smithville Lake, Missouri
7th of 19 in Open B
Word to the wise: it is very helpful not only having directions to a race
you've never been to before, but also having the correct directions.
Especially when it's a four hour drive each way. In Missouri, there is a
slight difference between U.S. 69 and U.S. 169. One will get you to
Smithville Lake; the other will get you to Des Moines, which is where we
were headed before stopping at a gas station to get directions. Of
course, Matt and I only resort to stopping for directions after many, many
miles have passed. Fortunately we only drove 30 minutes or so out of our
way, but we arrived too late to do a practice lap.
On the start, I jumped out to my best first-corner position of the year,
settling in behind who I assumed were the two Open B class leaders. A
mile later I blew a turn and a couple guys got around me. Same thing
happened a few miles later, and another couple guys got around me.
Soon, Matt passed me, then PizzaMan. I felt demoralized. The course
was definitely not to my liking, with mostly open grass tracks, very high
speeds (numerous 5th gear WFO pasture sections), and not enough tight
woods. I lost the most time in the grass tracks that weaved back and
forth, some in pastures with terraces that were fun to jump. The course
was full of thorn trees that made me look like a maximum security prison
escapee after the race.
I was able to pass PizzaMan again and stayed ahead of him, but I never
saw Matt again until the end of the race. He finished about two minutes
ahead of me in 4th place, his best finish this year. I fell back to 7th place
despite riding hard the whole time but not being able to master the grass
tracks. A practice lap probably would have helped, but Smithville felt like
my Tebbetts of years past.
October 21, 2001
White City, Illinois
5th of 8 in Open B
Gotta hand it to the Cahokia Creek club. They know how to slowly,
steadily demoralize a person. Riding the White City enduro is like
attending an Al Gore public address: somewhat interesting and
moderately entertaining for the first half-hour, then you just want to get it
over with and go home. The Cahokia Creek guys still hold to the "old
school" philosophy that only the toughest, fastest guys should finish an
entire enduro course. Because of the weather, last year's race was one
of the more obscenely tough enduros I've ever attempted. This year
promised to be better but still difficult due to its length. The route sheet
showed 100 actual ground miles, the longest I had ever seen. During the
previous week I had spent a large amount of time and effort getting moved
into a house, so mentally I wasn't as focused on the race as I would be
normally. I got about as much sleep the week before as those crazy
people who compete in adventure races.
The course began with 10 miles through the club grounds over very
familiar terrain (I've probably raced more times at Cahokia Creek than at
any other venue). From there, some country roads lead to woods
sections that roughly paralleled I-55. About 30 miles into the race, the
course jumped to the other side of I-55 via more country roads and then
began a 20-mile jaunt through the tightest woods in Illinois. The bonus
round, had I made it that far, was a repeat run through the same 20
miles. After that, a few more miles of country roads linked up with the club
grounds and a final pass through the 10-mile section on which the course
began. Sounds easy, right?
Here's how the Cahokia Creek club makes this race such a mental
challenge. The club grounds that make up hare scrambles courses can
be some of the most enjoyable I've ever ridden, other than during or
immediately after rain, when they become as slick as snow-pack.
Naturally, the skies broke loose about 90 minutes before the race but
didn't hurt the course. In fact, the trails were tacky and I spent most of the
first 10 miles in 2nd and 3rd gear. I was on row 25 and the "AA" guys (the
pros) were a couple of minutes behind me. So I had a few chances to see
how it's supposed to be done. Jeff Fredette passed me about 5 miles into
the course and I admired his fluid style for about 3 seconds before he
disappeared ahead of me. The other fast guys gradually caught up to me
and I was able to do several more 3-second evaluations as they sped by.
The second stage was where the mental challenge began. On the road
section following the club grounds, I missed a turn and went about 3 miles
before realizing my mistake. So that set me back 5 minutes, needlessly,
and forced me to ride faster than I should have. Plus, the woods got real
tight real fast, making it tough to get any kind of rhythm going. The first
time-consuming problem was a deep gully that became nearly impassable.
There went 10 minutes. Then I got stuck in a creek crossing...another 10
minutes lost. Plus, the woods were mostly 1st and 2nd gear trails, the
speed average was 24mph, and the checks were few and far between. A
flawless ride through this second section would have normally cost me
20-30 points from riding too darned slow, but my foul-ups caused me to
drop somewhere around 45 points in that section alone. Even a reset and
a long road section weren't enough to get me back on time before the
next check. During this stage, Lee Lankutis caught up to me in the tight
stuff and I attempted to let him by around a corner, but he came into the
corner hot and dropped his bike trying to avoid me. I felt bad, but after we
exited the section and crossed I-55, he was pulled over on the road with
an apparent mechanical problem.
Near the end of the second section, I noticed that my left handguard had
come unscrewed at the handlebar and was flopping uselessly.
Hmmm...wondered why my left fingers were so darned sore. The first gas
stop was at some random point along a country road, 40 miles into the
course. By this time I had been on the bike about 3 hours. I found the
van of the nice lady who had offered to transport my gas container to the
refueling spot. She offered me some food, but the just the thought of
eating made me feel ill. While filling my tank, I learned a lesson in proper
refueling technique: when your gloves are caked with creek-bottom silt
(from one of my bike excavations), it is better to remove them before
unscrewing the gas cap and guiding the gas can nozzle into the tank.
Evidently, it never occurred to me that the silt would fall off my gloves and
into the tank. I stared longingly at the fuel filter on the bike parked nearby,
wishing I ever had the common sense to put one of those on my bike.
Another racer approached me and offered to let me use his spare
handlebar insert so that my hand guard would be functional again. He
had broken a clutch cable and was done for the afternoon, so his problem
was my good fortune.
The third stage consisted of a long stretch of woods, including the area
where I broke my ribs two years ago. I struggled through that section,
getting hung up a few more times before the trail straightened out over
some cornfields. Funny thing about the cornfields...I was only counting 15
or 20 tire tracks ahead of me, which suggested that the attrition rate was
high once again. I finally reached the culvert underpass that was very
difficult last year. It was full of water and silt, just like last year. Although I
was able to navigate my way through, the bike sunk wheel-deep at the
exit. A club guy was there to help pull me out, but he watched me struggle
for about 5 minutes before lending a hand. By that time, I was confident
that I would hour out at the next check, so I rode at a trail rider pace for
the next several miles.
A few miles before the final checkpoint (for me), I came upon a gully about
3 feet deep and 6 feet across. The club had built a bridge, but it had
been destroyed during the race. Four other guys were already there,
trying to decide how to get across. None of us were brave enough to
attempt jumping the gap, so we each eased our bikes down into the gully,
one by one, and the team of us pushed, pulled, cursed, heaved, cursed
some more, and shoved the bikes up to the other side. After doing that 5
times, I was dead tired and limped along until the last check. Had I not
houred out, I would have repeated that whole 20-mile section and then
headed back to the club for the last 10 miles of woods. The group of us
who had met at the gully rode back to the club, where I changed clothes
and took a long nap in the truck. I couldn't even move, I was so tired. My
stomach was upset, and each time I would try to walk I felt nauseous. This
went on for a couple of hours. During one period of sleep the guy who
had lent me his handlebar insert came by and removed it from my bike,
but I never saw him or had a chance to say thanks.
Eventually I gathered enough strength to check my results and drive
home. I slept well and felt glad to be done with the racing season. Some
day, I will conquer the White City enduro.
All in all, it was a fairly successful year. I finished 3rd in the MHSC
Open B class series, which is quite an accomplishment considering
how poorly I rode in the rocks when I moved to Missouri 3 years ago.
Next year, I hope to do even better.
White City, Illinois