April 28, 2002
Kahoka, Missouri
2nd of 13 in Open B
For the average dirt bike racer, the starting line of a hare scramble
rarely determines the outcome of a race, since 2 or 3 hours in the
woods is an eternity compared to a couple-second deficit going into
the first turn.  But when you give your competitors a 2-minute head
start and lose by 36 seconds, the start seems just a little bit important
-- more on that later.

The 2002 version of "The Mulekicker" National Hare Scramble was
held in the familiar surroundings of Mike Burkhart's backyard
motocross track a few miles outside of Kahoka, Missouri.  This event
falls on the schedules of several hare scrambles series and attracts
riders from the mud-infested District 17, the Iowa guys recently out of
hibernation, some national-caliber pro's, and the usual handful of
racers who drive very long distances to attend a national event.  
Burkhart's meticulously prepared course was punished with steady
rains for much of Saturday's races, and by Sunday the formerly
grassy parking area looked like a cattle feedlot in November. But the
rains had ended and some course re-routes kept the trails
rideable...sort of.

At the starting line, the Open B class shared the 5th row with the 250
B class in the same open field as past Mulekickers.  As the green flag
started each row, the mud spray from spinning wheels shot up in a
high arch, landing about 3 rows back.  The AA's mud only made it to
row in front of me, but the next three rows pelted me with enough
mud to make the bike look like I had already been around the course.
When the green flag signaled our start, my engine was silent as the
20 or so riders on my row charged for the first turn.  Several kicks
later, still nothing.  I pushed the bike off to the side and kept on
kicking while the two rows behind me departed. I don't really believe
in the whole plug-fouling thing.  I just keep kicking, swearing, and
kicking some more until the bike starts.  Usually it does.  After two
minutes I was beginning to wonder.  Eventually the bike fired up and I
began my journey through one of the nastiest courses I've ridden in a
long time.  The first groups of riders had turned the trails into a series
of ruts, some already so deep that riders were struggling and I had to
wait my turn to get through.  In one particularly deep rut, I patiently
waited for the guy in front of me to spin his way out. I dropped my
head down to keep his mud spray from contaminating my goggles,
and when I lifted my head, it was about 3 pounds heavier thanks to a
fresh coating of sticky clay on the top of my visor.

After a couple of slide-outs, I slowly got accustomed to the track and
plodded my way through the course.  The layout was similar to
previous years, with the woods sections connected by wide-open
blasts through open fields.  Except this time, the open fields were
complete slop and anything less than third gear was risky.  I was
averaging about 10 mph but slowly caught and passed several riders
by the time we first made our way onto the motocross track.  The
track is laid out on a hillside and to make it rideable in the mud, over
the years Burkhart has dumped truckloads of sawdust on the track
and worked it into the soil.  In the summer, it resembles a sand track.  
While sand is more fun to ride when wet, saturated sawdust is
somewhat like riding through the loose silt found in creek beds,
except it's softer.  It required a good deal of power to climb the hills
on the track, and over the whoops the bike's front end tended to dive
down into the soft stuff.  The first short run through the motocross
track contained one of the steepest hills and the bike needed every
ounce of power to make it to the top.  After another few miles of
woods and open fields, we came back to the track for an extended
ride around most of it, then back to the woods and a long stretch of
grass-turned-slime track.  After that, another quick return to the track
preceded the scoring trailer.  I thought that first lap would never end.

Lap #2 was eerily quiet and I encountered few bikes and lots of
creative alternate routes around the deep ruts and mud holes.  In
some cases, riders had abandoned the woods altogether and cut
through the open fields.  The semi-honest racer that I am, I tried to
keep within spitting distance of the arrows until I dumped the bike in
an off-camber section.  With an extra 40 pounds of mud, the bike was
not easy to pick up.  In fact, The Rock would have cooked up a sweat
trying to get the thing back on two wheels.  After that, I took every
advantage of the shortcuts created by others and may have added
some new ones myself.  Just past the halfway point, I picked the
wrong rut after navigating a nasty gully and got stuck just as the pro's
were lapping me.  A group of 4 or 5 came through that section like a
friggin' 100-car freight train and literally slammed their bikes through
the gully.  One guy fell over but was quickly helped by spectators and
the rest charged through like they were riding in dry loam.  

Just after the start of Lap #3, I gassed up near the staging area.  
Matt's fancy transparent gas can was sitting next to my red Wal-Mart
special, apparently unused.  I couldn't remember passing him and
wondered if something went wrong, but I couldn't see him at the
truck.  By this time, the boys were flat-out cheating on the course.  
But who could blame anyone - most of the original course was made
up of 2-foot ruts.  In this part of the country, there is no rock base to
contain the ruts...they'll get as deep as your bike can make them.  
The creek crossings were still in good shape, thanks to many logs
laid down in 5-foot sections to help us get through.  But the trails that
were close to the fields were mostly being bypassed entirely.  Only
one checkpoint had been set up in the woods, and I even saw guys
bypassing that to keep out of the woods.  About halfway through the
lap I came upon Matt sitting along the trail with an overheated bike.  I
stopped for about half a minute to see that he was O.K. and then took
off.  Within a couple minutes my bike started steaming heavily and I
pulled into an open field (now part of the trail) and shut it down.  
Another poor guy on an air-cooled Honda XR was having similar
problems.  I dribbled some water on the radiators and they
immediately sizzled, a sure sign of a hot engine.  So much mud had
packed its way into the radiator guards that only about half the
normal airflow was reaching the radiators.  A few minutes later I
restarted the bike and took it easy for the rest of the lap.  At the
scoring trailer I was told I had finished in 2nd place.  Not bad,
considering the conditions.  When I saw that I had missed the win by
36 seconds, the "what-if's" started playing in my head...what if the
bike had started normally?  What if I hadn't got stuck in that one
nasty rut, or had only stopped for 4 minutes to cool off the bike
instead of 5? As they say, that's racing.

The sweep guys came and went, but an hour after I had changed
clothes and loaded up my bike, I still had not seen Matt. Finally, just
before the trophy presentation I saw him walking across the
motocross track.  After three hours sitting idle in the woods and
getting hosed by the sweep guys, Matt gave up and started walking.  
He did not look pleased.  But his 7th place trophy was a testament to
the attrition rate.

As I'm writing this, the Disney Channel is re-running Motocrossed for
the umpteenth time, the story of a girl mixing it up with the boys at the
track.  Missouri's own Amanda Lappe was one of only two entrants in
the women's class brave enough to mix it up with the boys at the
Mulekicker...as the hottie-mom on Motocrossed said, You Go Girl!
(coincidently, the same words used by the boyz at the playground the
last time I displayed my stellar ball handling skills). After protests,
Chuck Woodford was awarded the overall win, followed closely by
Scott Plessinger and Jason Raines.  Their 5 laps in 2.5 hours is
nothing short of amazing.

May 26, 2002
Kingman, Indiana
5th of 18 in Big B
Every so often I get the urge to take in a race near the Motherland,
also known as God's Country, the place I grew up in Eastern Illinois.  
The riding there is much like Kahoka, Missouri, where the dirt is black,
the mud is even blacker, and rocks are something people read about
in National Geographic.  At the farm where I used to play ride, I once
buried the back end so deep that I had to borrow a winch to extricate
my bike from a Finger Lakes-style mud hole. In that part of the world,
water-filled gullys and ruts are like Al Gore on the campaign trail:
appears fairly innocuous, but you suspect there's something dark and
dirty beneath, the depths of which can only be surmised until you get
sucked in and have to be pulled out with help from powerful
Republicans, er, a really strong winch.

Anyway, the Memorial Day extended weekend was a good excuse to
visit the farm and race the Kingman, Indiana hare scramble.  Since
the location is not too far across the Illinois border, Kingman is part of
both the Indiana (D-15) and upper-Illinois (D-17) district series.  I had
ridden the course two years ago and it was the most like our old farm
trails as anything I had ever raced. Dense woods, deep mud,
moderate hills, and slower speeds were highlights of that race. As I
walked the course this time, the trails were in decent shape despite
some rain earlier in the week.

Before the race, I was reacquainted with the D15/17-style parade lap,
in which a club member leads all the riders around the course.  
Unlike a Missouri-style practice lap, where you can start anytime after
the club clears out the ATV's and can ride at race speeds if you
choose, the Kingman parade lap was a sluggish freight-train of 100
riders slowly navigating the course.  The parade lap wasn't much of a
warm-up, but more of a chance to preview the course without having
to walk it.  So the arm pump that normally works its way out of my
system on a Missouri practice lap was in full effect just after the race
began. I had a decent start but killed the engine about 200 yards
later, after rubbing bars with another rider.  Most of the woods were
tight, but there were a couple of short GNCC-type sections to get up
some speed.

Near the end of the first lap, we were directed back to the starting
area for a restart.  While waiting for the other riders to emerge from
the woods, we learned that shortly after my row left the line, someone
in a row behind us had been injured and the back row had not been
able to start while the injured rider was attended to.  Strange that the
only times I've ever seen a restart at a hare scramble have been at
this race (see the
Kingman race report from 2000).  The second start
was similar to the first, except that I didn't kill the engine in the first
200 yards.  I settled into a decent pace and got to know the course
pretty well over the next 7 or 8 laps. In some ways, it's nice to be able
to remember the finer points of the trail in a 3-4 mile-per-lap D17 race,
versus an MHSC race where guys like me get in 3 or 4 laps on an
8-10 mile loop.  The downside is knowing those nasty places will
come up twice as often.  The toughest section was near the end of
the course, where the trail dropped down into a water-filled ravine
with some very large rocks that many from that part of the country
had probably not seen since their last trip to the Punch Bowl at
Turkey Run (Indiana folks will get that one).  Finally, I was able to use
my rock-riding experience somewhere besides Missouri.  But just after
that section was a rapidly deteriorating creek crossing to remind me
that I was still in Indiana.

At the last uphill climb before the scoring barrels, I saw my sister and
nephew cheering me on as I finished my second lap.  Laura and Kyle
came to see firsthand what their crazy brother/uncle does on the
weekends. I saw them a few more times as I completed the next 5 or
6 laps.  Most of the creek crossings were kept in good shape with the
help of bridges, but I did manage to get hung up on the worst one on
my next-to-last lap.  Fortunately there were plenty of guys standing
around to pull me up the creek bank. I finished the race a respectable
5th place in my class.  While I was loading up the bike and waiting for
the results to be posted, Kyle, age 7, watched the mini-bike (50-65cc)
race and asked the question few mothers want to hear: "When can I
start racing?"  The answer was something to the effect of "when you
don't live in my house anymore."  Tough luck, kid.
Kahoka, Missouri
Kingman, Indiana