White City, Illinois
DNF
With bike maintenance, and maybe life in general, sometimes I don't
see the big picture. I'll drill down to the minutia of trying to get the
clutch lever to stop flopping around the pivot bolt, all the while failing
to notice the engine has virtually no compression. Actually, I knew the
bike was kicking over a little too easily at Eugene, but it still fired up,
so where's the problem with that? When I hooked up with my buddy
Jeff Smith at Flat River in late-September, the old bike wouldn't start
(I knew there was a reason to have two bikes!) and the subsequent
engine tear-down produced the culprit: ring-end gap of approximately
0.090". No, that's not a misprint and yes, it was just a smidgen above
the recommended gap of 0.020".  Also, one of the hose connections
at the bottom of the right-side radiator was severely kinked, which
explained the coolant loss after Eugene. So I had ridden Eugene on a
bike with virtually no compression and a radiator leak, and somehow
finished 20th overall. Any bike that can survive my harsh riding style
and 8th grade shop class mechanical ability is tougher than Brett
Favre with a handful of painkillers.

When I put the finishing touches on the top-end job at about 9:00
p.m. the night before the White City enduro, I noticed that one of the
cylinder head bolts wouldn't tighten down to torque specs*. I thought,
what the heck, it's snug enough and there's 5 other bolts to hold
down the head and I want to race tomorrow! To hell with the head
bolt! With the garage doors closed so as not to annoy the neighbors
any more than usual, the bike fired up. Sunday morning at 6:30 a.m.,
the bike fired up again. With mostly dry weather the past month,
never was there a better opportunity to finish the White City enduro
for the first time ever.

*
note to '99 KTM riders: do NOT tighten the head bolts to the KTM
owner's manual specs of 35 N-m. Wrong, wrong, wrong!! The '02
owner's manual shows 18 N-m....now that's more like it.

Upon arrival, I was pleasantly surprised to see an 18-mph average on
the route sheet. As usual, the total miles were high enough that
finishing would require 6 hours in the saddle. That is just a long
freakin' time. Naturally I didn't bother to bring an 18-mph roll chart, so
I took my 24-mph chart and modified it accordingly. The result was a
12-foot long, 3-inch wide chicken-scratch-filled paper that looked
more like a chart from a seismograph than a roll chart for an enduro.
No fancy-dancy computers for this guy. I was on minute 20, which
would be far enough back for the earlier riders to blaze a nicely
defined trail. The good news this year was that the gas stops were
both at the club grounds, meaning that I wouldn't have to beg
someone to take out my gas jug to some remote location.

Three of us began on the 20th row, and I let one of the guys lead for
the first 5 miles or so. The route started in the club grounds, which,
when dry, are some of the best trails I've ever ridden. The lead guy let
me pass when I started to get my groove on, and soon Jeff Fredette,
freshly back from the ISDE in the Czech Republic, caught up to me
as he always does. Watching him is ride is seeing grace in
motion...he really makes it look easy. We left the club grounds after
about 8.5 miles and headed out to the remote trails on the Mount
Olive side of I-55. The 18-mph average kept speeds down on the road
sections, and I had time to stop for a snack and witness Fredette
showing perfect form while on his knees, balancing his bike in a ditch
while taking a leak. All those years of experience, paying off yet again
for the crafty veteran.

The club grounds were like a 4-lane highway compared to the
outlying trails in the next 20 miles, with mostly first and second gear
stuff. The dirt was just perfect, slightly damp with plenty of traction,
and easy to ride smoothly in. After each reset, the tighter it got, the
quicker Fredette caught up to me. I was enjoying myself and counting
down the miles to my first-ever finish of this old-school enduro,
imagining the satisfaction of riding 100 miles in a
day...WHAM...thump...what the hell??!? Is that my bike on the
ground 20 feet ahead of me? Why am I sitting on the ground with a
sore ass? Oh yeah, tree. Big tree. Should have ducked a little lower.
In a daze, I walked up the trail to my bike as a couple of guys asked if
I was O.K. and I gave them the thumbs up, even though I couldn't
see straight. The bike was on its side, engine still running and back
wheel spinning in second gear. I pulled in the clutch, righted the bike
and continued onward in a slight haze. A few minutes my later my
head cleared and I was back...I was sooo back. Trees be damned, I
was going to finish.

During most of the race I had been detecting a slight aroma of
antifreeze, and during one of the road sections after my tree
encounter, I stopped to look at the cylinder head. I didn't like what I
saw. Coolant was seeping out the head bolt that had been stripped,
although it didn't appear that I was losing much. Even so, I didn't
want to risk overheating, especially when I could be many miles from
the club grounds if and when it happened. The last road section
before the gas stop led back to the club grounds, and just before
checking into the woods I took one last look at the cylinder head. A
couple more miles (and another pass by Fredette) and I was back at
my truck, giving one last thought to continuing. I didn't...beaten again.
But it was a great day. For the club, the turnout was very
disappointing, with only 55 guys riding. Apparently the previous two
years scared away many. But I will be back. And I will finish.

October 27, 2002
Knob Noster, Misouri
1st of 8 in Open B
Fifteen races, and it all came down to this.

Actually, only a few class winners were determined at the 16th and
final round of the 2002 Missouri Hare Scrambles Championship. Most
notably, the overall champion would be crowned on this day, with the
battle between Steve Leivan and Brandon Forrester culminating with
a final showdown. The highly competitive Vet class winner would also
be determined, with Kevin Ruckdeschell in the driver's seat, and the
Junior class also came down to the wire.

Throughout the year, the MHSC has been testing a new scoring
method in which plastic cards, about the size of a credit card, are
placed under helmet visors. A PVC pipe contraption rigged up to the
scoring trailer detects the cards as riders pass through. The cards
take the place of bar code stickers, so there's no manual scanning
involved. As I found out while attempting to run the scanner at
Smithville Lake, there is a certain technique to its operation, which
can lead to scoring errors. With the cards, it's all automatic. A
sampling of riders had been using the cards in past races, but today
everyone would get a plastic card duct-taped to the underside of their
helmet visors. What happens if your visor gets ripped off your helmet,
you ask? "Better go back and find it," said Tom Eidam.

After I signed up and received my card, I walked down to the big
creek to check out the water level. The Knob Noster area had
apparently been dry for some time, as the creek was fairly low and
easily passable, unlike last year when it was just high enough to
make for an uncomfortable crossing. I suited up with an extra jersey
and shivered in the 45-degree air, hoping my bike would start after its
second engine tear-down in two weeks. It came to life after a few
good kicks and I began my practice lap.

What I found on the trails was pure joy. The course was nearly
identical to White City the previous week, with twisty trails on loamy
ground with very few rocks. Most of the woods could be ridden at a
very fast pace in second and third gear, except for two drop-downs
into small, narrow creek beds that were first gear and a lot of clutch.
The first creek bed run was relatively short, but the second run was
longer and tougher and ended with a rock garden, just to remind
everyone that we were still in Missouri. Anyone caught behind a
slower rider would have no choice but to follow. The 9-mile course
had a few wide-open areas and a small track laid out in an open field,
but no major obstacles. Today, everyone could ride at an aggressive
pace.

Back at the truck, once again I smelled antifreeze on the bike, but this
time it was just the radiator bleed bolt that I forgot to tighten. The
heli-coil was doing its job in the cylinder and the bike was running
perfectly. My fingertips were cold, so I switched to winter gloves and
headed to the starting area to wait in the cold for our row to start. The
Open B class was about 7 rows back, which meant a total of around
15 minutes on the line trying to shake off the chill and get a good view
of the other classes starting their races. On my left was Dwayne
Parrish, riding a KTM 300MXC, and Pat Welch was on my right with
his big 520SX. When the board dropped, I had to two-kick the bike
and went into the first corner in the back of the pack. The trail
wandered in and around the pit area before crossing the big creek. I
charged through the creek and passed Pat, sending a nice cool
splash of water his way, but he immediately passed me back in the
open area on the opposite side. My 300 was no match for his big
4-stroke and with watered-up goggles I followed him in a train of
riders that included Dwayne and Marty Smith. Pat eventually let me
by, but Dwayne and Marty were riding strong. I had a chance to get
by Marty on a tricky hill that had two lines to the top, but I foolishly
followed him while he spun out on some rocks at the top. We both
lost momentum but Marty recovered as I continued to spin, so I had to
play catch-up. Pat passed me in the long stretch of narrow creek bed
after I got hung up on a nasty tree root. The bike fell over
upside-down and I had to drag it out of the way. At the end of the first
lap, Dwayne checked in first, followed by Marty and then me. Pat and
Wayne Hatfield were another 30 seconds back.

I was finally able to get around Marty near the end of lap two, where
we crossed the big creek for the second time. I learned from my
previous mistake and took a different line up the creek bank, which
was just enough of an advantage to get around him and focus on
Dwayne. I took the lead just before the scoring trailer, but lurking
behind me was Wayne, who passed me somewhere in the third lap.
By then, I was starting to encounter traffic as we began lapping
riders. Other than a few deep ruts in creek banks, the trail held up
very well for the entire race, so the fast guys kept going fast. Just
after the first woods check on the fourth lap, the AA's were already
lapping me. Steve Levian and Doug Stone had set a blistering pace,
with Brandon Forrester close behind. I got around Wayne somewhere
in that fourth lap, but he was on my back tire when we passed
through the scoring trailer to start our fifth and final lap. I put just a
small amount of distance on him, but then got caught behind a slow
rider in the long stretch of narrow creek. After the long creek run,
passing was still a challenge. I rode hard for the last lap and could
see Wayne behind me when I came through the last section of grass
track around the pits. Once again, I took the win, but the margin was
only 15 seconds. As the lap times showed, everyone was riding fast at
Knob Noster. The top 25 overall finishers included exactly one person
who wasn't an A or AA rider. Funny how perfect conditions can bring
out the best in bikes and riders.

The overall winner was Steve Leivan, who also took home the series
with his victory. Doug Stone placed second while Brandon Forrester,
poised to de-throne Leivan as King of the MHSC, suffered a
mechanical problem and finished as runner-up for the series. The
final standings will be permanently marked with controversy, as
Forrester was denied his request to work the Knob Noster race and
earn work average points that would have given him the overall
championship.  But congratulations are well-deserved for Leivan, who
came back from nasty off-season injuries to win the series against
some very tough odds. Congrats are also in order for K-Ruck, who
secured the Vet class series with his 4th place finish.

For me, the 2002 season brought the most success I've ever had, with
5 MHSC class wins and the Open B series win. A milestone this year
was three top-20 overall finishes in the MHSC, which left me tied for
49th overall in the series. The only real disappointment was not
finishing that friggin' White City enduro for the 4th year in a row.
People ask me where the speed came from this year, but there's no
magic to it. I kept the mistakes to a minimum, added some new
aggression to my riding style (as Adam Ashcroft can attest to), and
built up a pretty good resistance to the summer heat.  But the real
success this year was no visits to my friendly doctor, who probably
wonders why I don't come around anymore.
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See you next year....
White City, Illinois
Knob Noster, Missouri