March 24, 2002
Finger Lakes State Park
Columbia, Missouri
2nd of 14 in Open B (18th overall)
Finger Lakes in March is pretty predictable: mud, and lots of it.  But
after a warm, sunny Saturday spent outside digging what my
neighbors would later describe as "a moat thingie" around the house
(actually, was installing underground drainage for my gutter
downspouts, whatever...homeowner stuff), I was cautiously optimistic
about trail conditions.  All optimism failed on the drive to Columbia.  
Over the phone, Matt wussed out on me (again) but I stopped by his
place anyway for a quick weather update.  The internet meteorologist
said wet and cold. Not good.

Just north of Columbia, weather predictions came true as a steady
mist followed me into the park and stayed for the whole race.  At the
entrance to the staging area, I overheard the club guys mention
something about an ATV racer with a broken leg, confirmed later by
Pizza Man who greeted me while in the midst of working the race.  He
said the trail conditions had been pretty good until I got there, and I
should expect some slick, nasty hills.  After signing up, I walked a bit
of the course and was shocked to see evidence of dirt (more like clay)
that appeared semi-dry in areas where the sun had reached the
ground.  But the mist continued and within a half-hour everything was
damp.  By that time the ATV's were finishing their race and I stopped
to watch some tired, mud-coated 4-wheelers and riders cross a
creek.  One guy on a Honda 250R blew out his entire silencer core
just after the crossing, and it landed in the mud, smoking, while the
ATV continued on with a noise level approaching that of Lambert
Field at 8:00 a.m. on a weekday.  Nice guy that I am, I picked it up
and carried it with cold fingers back to the staging area, where by
miraculous luck I happened to walk right past the guy and handed
him his silencer core.  As I would later discover during the race, I
needed every ounce of positive karma that came from that good deed.

I decided to warm up with a practice lap and found the course to be
challenging but very doable, with only a few potential bottleneck
sections but no bottomless mud.  Afterwards, I discovered that the
bolts to the left radiator had fallen out and it was only being held on
by the plastic shrouds.  Since I had left in the morning thinking Matt
would be coming along, I didn't pack any spare parts but improvised
with the old standby: safety wire and duct tape.  On the starting line, I
repeated the previous week's 3-kick performance and began dead
last on the motocross track.  Again, a temporary tear-off kept my
vision in decent shape and I passed a few guys on the track before
heading into the woods.  The first lap showed a few signs of riders
having difficulty with the course, but I rode well and moved toward the
front of our class.

At the beginning of the second lap, the course was decomposing into
a snot-slick rut, and I managed to slide out just after the scoring
trailer.  The right handlebar dragged in the slop just enough to jam a
bunch of mud between the end of the throttle tube and the
handguard, so there was basically no return-spring action - hold it
open and it stayed open.  Just before the MX track I attempted one of
my classic "shortcuts" to get around a couple guys and ended up
headed straight for a tree.  It was one of those instances where there
was a split second to realize there was no saving the bike and to
prepare for much pain.  I smacked the tree head on but bailed ever so
gracefully, tuck-and-roll scoring 9.7 out of 10 (point deductions for
artistic interpretation and use of the F-word multiple times).  I got up
just in time to get passed by the guy in my class with "Davey" painted
on the back of his helmet. Kind of cool, but I prefer to avoid any
distinguishing attributes so that maybe the guy drafting behind me
thinks I'm in another class and doesn't try too hard to get around.  
That's why I wear an all-black helmet and apply lots of duct tape on
my bike, because it really helps me blend in.

Still on lap 2, at the exit of the MX track was a short, steep uphill
leading to a 30-foot-long plateau, and then an abrupt 40-foot drop-off
down to an open area.  This is where I attempted to entertain the
fans, who were braving the cold wind, steady mist, and mud to watch
us climb the short hill and skate down the long hill.  I flew up the hill
in third gear, caught some air at the plateau, heard a "Whoa, boy!"
from one of the spectators and had just enough time left to scrub
some speed before sliding down the other side.  Still in third gear at
the bottom of the hill, I kept the throttle pinned and attempted to
bunny-hop a narrow gully in the middle of the open area.  The front
wheel cleared easily, but the spot where I crossed the gully was a bit
deeper than I expected.  The back wheel dropped down, smacked the
opposite side of the gully and the rebound catapulted my ass high
into the air.  So high, in fact, that I performed a half-handstand on the
handlebars and my face was almost within kissing distance of the
front fender, all while traveling at about 30mph.  To the fans, this
stunt may have resembled Carey Hart's Kiss of Death, except the bike
was horizontal and wheels firmly planted to the ground.  I was fully
prepared for pain, but somehow the bike stayed under me and I
continued riding.  From now on, I'll leave these tricks to Pastrana.

I caught back up to Davey and passed him for good, but on the third
lap the hills were in really bad shape.  The toughest climb, by virtue
of length alone, began with a deteriorating creek crossing and a
well-greased, rocky hill that the ATV's had completely destroyed.  The
hot line from the first lap was getting slicker with every bike, but I was
able to use enough momentum to scale the hill each time.  Alternate
routes were developing around many of the hills, and they all got
harder as the race wore on.  The worst was a climb that was spaced
between a couple of lakes, with only about three lines to choose
from.  By the time I made my fourth and final pass through this
section, a stuck rider was blocking the line I had used three times
before, so I took the most-used line that had just opened up, but
strayed about a foot to the edge of the well traveled rut down the
center, and the less-used dirt gave just enough traction to barely get
me up the hill.  By this time fatigue was a big factor, and I limped to
the finish, quickly changed clothes and sat in my warm truck for
about an hour.

Double-A Ron took the overall, after busting out a huge lead and
riding safely to the win.  The fast guys didn't even seem affected by
the mud.  Shaw lapped me about 3/4ths of the way into my 3rd lap
and was just flying. The next guys didn't catch me until I was almost
to the scoring trailer.  I finished second, behind Keith Kibort who
finished strong in the Open B series last year and has continued to
ride very well this year.  Another year, another Columbia mud debacle.

April 14, 2002
Steelville, Missouri
6th of 22 in Open B
Ever stopped for gas on the way to a race, looked in the back of your
truck or trailer and saw a noticeable void that should have been
occupied by a crucial piece of equipment or gear?  If it's happened to
you, then you know the sick feeling.  I pulled into the Mobil gas
station in Steelville at about 9:00 a.m., stretched my stiff legs with a
stroll around the backside of the truck, and the unthinkable question
hit me like a bad episode of MacGyver: why is there so much empty
space in the back of my truck?  The answer was pretty simple: I didn't
pack the Rubbermaid container that holds my helmet, gloves,
goggles, and Camelbak.  I'm sure
MacGyver could have built me
everything I needed out of plywood, Bazooka gum and the shirt off
my back, but I certainly didn't have the skills.  So I checked my watch,
did some math and figured that if I turned around and drove like hell,
I could make it home, grab the box, and get back to the race site just
before signup ended.  Which is exactly what I did.

Steve Weible was about 2 minutes from pulling the plug on the
scanner when I showed up at the signup table.  At that point I was
sort of in a semi-haze, just trying to get the bike and gear unloaded,
get dressed, warm up the bike and get to the starting line in time.  
With beautiful weather, all the fair-weather racers came out of the
woodwork to ride what was billed as the last race to be held at this
location.  After 20 consecutive years of holding hare scrambles here,
the MHSC will give other clubs the opportunity to be on the schedule
in 2003.

In the four years I've been racing at Steelville, the course has
changed very little.  The only deviation that stood out this year was
routing the trail around the manure pile, instead of straight through it.  
You would think that after 4 years of racing the same course, I would
at some point figure out how to ride it.  But once again, I would only
be able to muster a top-third finish in my class.  With so much racing
on the same path, the trails get choppier every year.  My legs were
not in shape to stand up 90% of the time, which seems to be the only
way to ride fast there.  On the first lap I got behind Dave Gerbes
("Davey") and Keith Kibort and followed them for awhile.  On a long
uphill, I tried an aggressive pass on Dave and found myself heading
for a rock about the size of a truck tire.  I cut to the inside of the rock
and basically shoved Dave out of the way (sorry).  He passed me
back later on (and much more courteously), after I stalled out in a
tight, rocky section.  At some point I got back around him, but then at
the end of the second lap, Dave caught his second wind as he flew
by me in the pit area like I was standing still.  After that I never saw
him again.  So I went from 3rd near the end of lap 2, to 6th at the end
of my third and final lap.  With riders in our class spaced so closely,
the fall I took on the last lap probably cost me a couple places.  On
one of the many off-camber climbs, I got a bit sideways and hit a tree,
and the bike end up pointed down the hill.  It took some time to get
started and get back on the trail.  A small mistake, but costly.

Even though my results were disappointing, I had fun and rode
safely.  I'll miss Steelville...sort of.
Columbia, Missouri
Steelville, Missouri