June 30, 2002
Newark, Missouri
2nd of 13 in Open B
The ninth installment of the MHSC series officially brought in the Dog
Days of Summer, with a spankin' new location near Newark.  The
northwest corner of Missouri is a kinder, gentler place than the lower
half of the state, and with this new venue came brand new trails and
temperatures in the mid-90's.  Gary Mittelberg & Co. laid out a
9.5-mile course that was just about perfect, with a good combination
of fast woods, tight, technical stuff, and some open fields.

Matt and I drove up early (for us) and baked in the sun most of the
morning.  Like my homeboy Nelly, it was gettin' hot in therre, so I took
off all my clothes.  Actually it was just the shirt, but unaware
spectators were given no warning.  The painful glare was too much
for some who inadvertently caught a glimpse of the effulgence (it's a
word, really) that is my pale, white chest. As I'm writing this nearly two
weeks later, I'm still peeling large, thin sheets of dead skin off my
shoulders (note to self: next time pack the sunblock, the thick stuff
that spreads on like mayonnaise. Or maybe just pack mayonnaise.).

The heat kept attendance down a bit, as evidenced by a relatively
short line for signup. We ran across fast-guy Lars Valin, who had
recently qualified for the International Six Days Enduro to be held in
the Czech Republic later this year. He's such a modest guy that his
buddy had to encourage him to tell us about this awesome news.  
While in line, we had a clear view of the ATV's coming through the
scoring trailer.  Despite the hot and dusty conditions, we saw many
ATV's pass by plastered in mud, further proof that in these parts you
can be blinded by dust and swamp mud, both in the same race.

The practice lap began with a quarter-mile of wet, sandy creek bed
that was already deteriorating from the few bikes that had passed
through ahead of us.  Next up was an off-camber singletrack section
that ended with a short, steep climb that two guys were hung up on.
The potential bottlenecks were adding up, and we had barely gone a
mile down the trail.  Since the course was completely new, we
followed the arrows as best we could but still got off the course many
times.  We saw a surprising amount of sand and a couple more
potential problem areas before completing the course about 40
minutes after we started.

The race organizers recognized the nasty spots and did an excellent
job of re-routing and re-marking some of the trails. On the starting
line, the Open B class was placed several rows back, which gave me
just enough time to notice a hole in my fuel line. Not a big one, but
just enough to wet the line.  The few minutes in which I contemplated
my alternatives reminded me of a comment from my buddy Bill
Steele, after my clutch perch bolt fell out approximately 30 seconds
into the
Jonesboro, Illinois hare scramble in 2000: "Maybe you should
come up with some sort of pre-race maintenance routine." Note to
self: add "Replace fuel line more frequently than once every 5 years"
to the pre-race maintenance routine.

I took my usual mid-pack position at the first turn and saw Matt jump
out a few places ahead of me.  We immediately crossed a creek and
did a high-speed run through the pasture on the other side, and then
dropped back down in the creek.  The worst of the creek section that
we had ridden on the practice lap had been removed, but enough
remained I was completely covered with sand by the time we exited
that section.  The downside to wearing fully vented jerseys is that the
sand goes right through the mesh and slides down into my pants.  
That combined with a gripper seat cover and my aversion to standing
while I ride, sitting down bare-assed on a belt sander is probably the
best comparison I can offer.

I moved up a couple spots in the first half of the course and passed
Matt somewhere in there. The trail was now much better defined, and
I had little trouble navigating the course.  Most of the terrain was a
dry, light loam that offered great traction throughout the woods. That
traction was very helpful on one hill that was the steepest I've seen in
the MHSC series this year.  The hill was made even more challenging
because of a tree root lying across the trail just before the summit,
which meant that any lack of momentum would leave riders with rear
tires spinning helplessly on the root, followed by a lengthy slide back
down the hill.  I made it each time, but others were less fortunate. The
course contained exactly one rock, about the size of a football, placed
directly in the center of an off-camber trail.  Needless to say, I hit the
darned thing every single time.

As usual, I had no idea what position I was in after the first lap, but I
felt good about my riding.  Lap two was more of the same, with no
major mistakes but I began to feel the heat.  About halfway into that
lap I could hear what sounded like an 80cc bike screaming behind
me, which was motivation enough to ignore the heat and keep riding
hard. (the Junior class winner, had he continued at his blistering pace
for 4 laps, would have beaten about half of guys in all of the B
classes).  I was surprisingly consistent on the second and third laps
and remained in 2nd place (barely).  On my fourth and final lap, I
kept up the pace and finished strong.  Matt finished just a few
minutes behind me in 4th place with his strongest ride of the year.

Brandon Forrester was leading Steve Leivan by less than a bike
length when they lapped me near the end, and that's how they
finished overall.  A pair of fast guys named Chris - Thiele and Nesbitt
- were a couple minutes off the pace and finished 3rd and 4th,
respectively.  Matt Coffman, our soon-should-be A class guy, had no
trouble spanking the Open B class, with lap times 2 minutes quicker
than mine.  Overall, this new location was fantastic and I hope to see
it on the schedule next year.

July 14, 2002
Tebbetts, Missouri
3rd of 16 in Open B
So I was standing in the signup line at the Missouri speedway also
known as the Tebbetts race course, when I glanced down at what
appeared to be flat, white rocks.  Except they weren't rocks, they were
tombstones, many from the 1850's.  Scattered around the tombstones
were bones...seriously.  Leg bones, vertebrae, and a nearly complete
skull.  Animal bones, no doubt, but still Blair-Witch-creepy, man.
How's a guy supposed to focus on racing when you're stepping on
dead people, huh?

Superstitions aside, the Tebbetts course is always fast, but last year
was slowed down a little with a couple miles of tight new singletrack.  
This year, the singletrack was gone and the course was its old,
insanely fast self.  The practice lap revealed many of the same trails
as past years, including a long, rocky creek bed and some wide open
pasture sections, along with some natural jumps that would make RC
happy.

On the start, I was in the middle of the 16-rider pack going into the
dusty first turn.  The first obstacle was a small ravine, where
PizzaMan took an inside line and got around me.  That line seemed
pretty rough on the practice lap, and apparently the distraction of
PizzaMan's skills through that section caused me to stall the engine
at the bottom of the ravine.  Hello, back of the pack.  Last place, to be
exact.  I caught up quickly, fought through some dust, and finally
found PizzaMan in a section of woods that had recently been logged.  
I managed to get around him and kept working my way through the
pack.  For some reason the long, rocky creek bed didn't give me any
problems this year, and I was actually passing people through that
section (thank you, Scotts steering damper).

Near the end of the second lap, I pulled my roll-offs to clear my
vision, felt some resistance, pulled a little harder, and was left with
the string hanging in my hand.  So much for clear vision.  When we
crossed the gravel road next to the property entrance, I yanked off my
goggles, threw them in the grass, and fought the dust for the rest of
the race.  It wasn't so bad in the woods, but the open areas were
horrible with dust in my eyes.  On the third lap, I was following a
couple of slower riders and looking for a way to pass.  I took a
shortcut through some standing water that was a bit deeper than I
thought, and the huge splash completely drenched me.  Not sure if it
was the shortcut or the distraction of a whale-sized belly flop in the
creek that got me around the guys I was trying to pass, but the dust
cleared from my eyes and I felt a whole lot cooler.

One of the highlights of the course has always been the terraces in
the pasture around the staging area, which double as
motocross-sized jumps. One set of terraces parallel to the gravel road
had a drop-down, then a quick jump that kicked the bike sideways in
midair.  Lots of fun in 4th gear and dust in my eyes.  I did four 11-mile
laps, each one in about 32-33 minutes. As always, third place at a
course as fast as Tebbetts was as good as a victory for me.  Steve
Leivan took the overall win with a blistering pace, followed by Brandon
Forrester.
Newark, Missouri
Tebbetts, Missouri