March 30, 2003
Bixby, Missouri
3rd of 14 in Vet
The Viburnum Trend Riding Area is a great example of local industry
working with the surrounding communities for the benefit of
recreation. Doe Run Co., a multinational mining company, donated
the 600-acre property on which the 3rd round of the MHSC series was
held. The land will soon be open to the public for weekend riding, but
MHSC racers were able to preview the property in advance of its
anticipated opening later this year.

A cold wind greeted us at signup, where I traded in my damaged
RFID card for a new one, free of charge, thanks to the Nasty Creek
club and their generous donation to the MHSC. Matt and I went out
for a practice lap that seemed to go on forever, or at least 11 miles,
and found a nice mix of singletrack, ATV trails and plenty of rocks.
The trail passed through several ass-punishing, first-gear boulder
gardens and a high-speed power line section full of no-see'em rocks.
Surprisingly, a few deep mud holes had developed from Saturday's
ATV race, and alternate routes were already forming on the practice
lap.

I lined up near the outside of the 14-member Vet class, with '02 class
winner Kevin Ruckdeschell on my right. Matt was a couple rows
behind me in the Open B class. After the class ahead of us took off, I
began my normal starting routine: run the engine until the 30-second
board appears; pull in the clutch; shift into 2nd gear; hit the kill
switch; as the engine is nearly dead, give a short burst of throttle to
fill the combustion chamber with fuel; gently push down kick starter
and feel for piston's top dead center position, then give it one hell of a
kick when the board drops. Works like a charm - unless it's my
300MXC. For the second week in a row, the routine failed me. Even
worse, this time multiple kicks were not enough to start the bike. One
of the unwritten rules (or maybe it is written somewhere) of dead
engine starts at hare scrambles is that you better have your bike in
motion or pushed off the starting line before the board drops for the
row behind you. When the 30-second board was raised for the class
lined up behind me, I pushed my bike to a spectator area and made a
few more attempts to get the engine running. Matt witnessed this and
gave me a shout, possibly for encouragement but probably for
harassment. Hare scramble etiquette dictates that when the
15-second board is up and the next class is set to start, spodes like
me should refrain from attempting to start their bikes until the board
drops and they are on their way - somewhat like a call for quiet during
a tee-off.

I resumed my frantic kicking, trying various combinations of fuel-on/no
throttle, throttle/fuel-off, throttle/fuel-on with swearing, no
throttle/fuel-off with begging, pleading, and more swear words.
Finally, as the 30-second board went up for Matt's Open B class, the
engine fired and I made my way towards the first corner in 2nd gear
while fumbling to turn the gas tank petcock back to the "on" position.
In case you are wondering, the answer is yes, I had remembered to
turn on the gas prior to the occurrence of all these events.

The only real upside to starting 90 seconds later than the rest of my
class is that the riders were well-spaced by the time I finally caught
up. I was able to focus on passing one rider at a time, rather than
groups of riders. Being relatively new to the Vet class, I had no idea
who was or wasn't in my class, so everyone was fair game. I passed
early and I passed often, using the block pass and my personal
favorite, the "bump pass", as effectively as ever. Since a large portion
of the course was singletrack, I chose my lines carefully and
somehow managed not to fall while taking out, I mean, passing other
riders. Lap times would later show that I made it through half the Vet
class pack on the first lap.

I continued to make progress on the second loop, with a time only 4
seconds slower than the quickest lap recorded for the Vet class, Neal
Soenksen's 37:57 lap that vaulted him from 5th to 1st at the start of
lap 3. A quick look at my watch suggested that I could probably do 4
laps, but barely, and I'd be racing well past the 2.5 hour mark as I
finished my final lap. Fuel capacity became a slight concern as I
began the third lap. Should I stop and put in a splash of gas to start
the 4th lap? Before I could think about it any further, I dumped the
bike going around a tight corner and a couple guys that I'd already
passed got around me. I was able to pass them back in short order,
but then the bike began acting as if one of the brakes was locking up.
I let off the throttle and came to a very rapid stop without even trying.
After examining both calipers and seeing nothing visibly wrong, I
noticed that the rear brake lever was locked in its down position. I
yanked on it a couple times and heard the satisfying "plop" of a small
stone fall to the ground, and like magic, the brake unlocked. Although
I'd come within 10 seconds of K-Ruck at the end of the second lap,
this delay on lap 3 ruined my chances of catching him.

At least 10 guys had passed by while I was parked on the trail,
including who I assumed to be Steve Crews on his Kawasaki. I finally
caught up to him on my 4th and final lap and managed to follow him
for several miles. But I took a minor spill that ended with me and the
bike at rest against a fallen tree, and Steve increased his lead. After
the race I would discover that the tree had left my seat cover with a
huge hole in the top center, directly underneath my backside. This
was the seat I had borrowed from my old EXC because it is softer and
has better grip for what I assumed would be a muddy race at
Columbia the week before. I had intended to remove it and use the
MXC seat at Bixby, but naturally I was too lazy to spend the
approximately 25 seconds it would have taken to do the swap. So
now I have an EXC that I'm trying to sell with a massive hole in the
seat cover.

Later in the 4th lap, I caught back up to Steve and got around him
near the end of the lap. I finished in 3rd place, a couple minutes
behind K-Ruck and the Vet class winner, Rick Kinkelaar. In the Open
B class, Matt had one of his best rides, finishing in 3rd place. The
overall victory went to Steve Leivan, who blazed his way to his first
victory of the year.

April 13, 2003
Westphalia, Missouri
3rd of 17 in Vet
April weather in Missouri is always hit-or-miss, but this day was just
about perfect for Round 4 of the MHSC series near Westphalia. Once
again, parking was plentiful as the ATV race was held the previous
day. Matt and I took an early practice lap and found some familiar
ATV trails mixed with two sections of new singletrack. The new trails
had been ridden sparingly, and I was reminded of the annual White
City enduro as I refined my arrow-navigating skills.

Near the starting line, I took some time to practice my starting routine
and figure out what I had been doing wrong the previous two races.
Apparently the bike doesn't like that last blip of throttle while the kill
switch is on. Or maybe the bike just doesn't like me. Anyway, after a
couple of successful practice starts I lined up near the inside of the
Vet class row. After further review, I could see two lines at the
left-hand turn into the woods. The inside line looked to be a sharp,
abrupt turn, while the outside line appeared to be a faster, sweeping
turn. I moved over to the right side of our row, thinking I could get a
better approach to the outside line into the woods and carry more
speed. My theory didn't look so good when Doug Stone, lined up on
the far left side of the AA row, easily got the holeshot by taking the
inside line. When the board dropped for the Vet class, my bike started
on the first kick, but I got pushed too far to the outside and was
mid-pack at the first turn.

The first couple miles of the course were tight ATV trails, with passing
opportunities limited and challenging. Some creative lines got me
around a few guys and the pack was spread out by the time we
entered the first wide-open blast through a pasture. With little rain the
previous week, the open areas were very dusty and I was riding blind
whenever more than a couple bikes were ahead of me. We cruised
through a fun section of open woods and continued on the ATV trails
for another mile or two. The first stage of new singletrack was much
more established by now, which meant the rocks were at least visible.
I had put on a new SDG tall-soft seat to replace the concrete slab that
KTM calls seat foam, and for the first time on the MXC I didn't notice
my bony ass getting spanked the whole ride. To give you an idea of
how hard the KTM seat is, think of the last time you visited the
primate house at the zoo. Think about those monkeys with bright red
posteriors that scream "I was just dragged on my bare butt over
pea-gravel for three miles." Yeah, that's me after two hours on a KTM
seat.

Back to the race...the middle part of the course had an interesting run
through a narrow creek bed that was clogged with riders the first time
through. From there it was a drag race to a grass track that contained
a set of terraces that doubled as awesome 3rd and 4th gear jumps.
The track had been laid out so that some of the turns were placed
around the terraces, so we were jumping at an angle. On our first
pass through this section, lines had developed in the grass and it was
kind of fun to blast through the series of jumps and 180-degree turns.
After another drag race to exit the grass track, we were routed back
into the woods and entered the second stage of virgin singletrack.
This section was nearly Illinois-style, with dense woods and only one
way through the initial quarter-mile.

I came through the scoring lane in 6th place after the first lap. By that
time Steve Crews had broken out into the lead and would not be
challenged the rest of the race. I passed Elston Moore, Jerry
McCasland, and Wade Hall somewhere in the 2nd lap, but Elston and
Matt Weis were right on my tail. In the terrace section, the EMT crew
was attending to 200C rider Jason Clark, unconscious after a nasty
get-off  (Uncle K-Ruck thinks he needs a steering damper). Matt Weis
came flying by a passed me within the first mile of lap 3, making a
charge to the front of the pack that put him in 2nd place by the end of
that lap. Elston also got around me on the third lap but I kept him
within shouting distance for the next two laps.

My lap times were showing the potential for 6 laps if I hurried, and
that I did on the 5th lap. The new sections of trail were breaking in
nicely but the faster ATV sections were getting rough. Just after the
scoring lane at the start of my 6th and final lap, the trail dropped
down into a gully and coming out of it I caught a rut that kicked the
back end sideways. I kept the bike on the trail but it stalled and
wouldn't fire up right away. The 15-20 seconds I lost might have been
the difference between 2nd and 3rd place, and that incident was the
only time-consuming mistake I made the whole race. After Uncle
K-Ruck stopped to check on the status of his nephew, I had gained
some ground. On my last lap I finally caught up to him in the narrow
creek section. The exit of that section had developed quite a bit of
slop and a deepening rut. I cut to the inside of the slop and K-Ruck
took the outside line, and I was able to get around him as his front
wheel slid out. At the time I didn't realize it was him, but as I've
learned many times before, the guy you choose to let by late in the
race might just be the guy who finishes a spot ahead of you (see
Sedalia '00). K-Ruck put on the heat in a big way, from the drag race
to the grassy terrace section, around the grass track, and back into
the woods. I held him off and pulled away in the singletrack, taking
3rd place and 29th overall.

Matt Weis was only 5 seconds ahead of me at the end, and had I not
stalled the bike I might have had a chance to challenge him. Steve
Crews had a great race and took the win with a healthy margin over
Matt, myself, and K-Ruck. In the overall results, Steve Leivan took
another victory by just a few seconds over Doug Stone. The fight for
the 26th thru 32nd  spots in the overall results was intense, as the 7
riders in that order were only 20 seconds apart. Another fun,
challenging race.
Bixby, Missouri
Westphalia, Missouri