June 22, 2003
Knob Noster, Missouri
8th of 10 in Vet
I am an angry KTM owner.

In my garage sits an engine-less '02 300MXC, ridden for barely 6
months, victim of a factory assembler in a hurry. The same inattention
to threadlock that brought about the Steve Crews last second pass at
Marshfield also appears to have caused the premature end of my day
at Knob Noster. Except this time, it wasn't my fault. No, really. I
swear. A bolt, a simple 10-cent part, backed its way out of the shift
drum and left me stuck in second gear. I should understand and
accept these things, for I own a KTM, with its quirks and oddities
generating some of the most active KTM-specific internet message
boards in the motorcycle cyber-world. Online support groups, more or
less, for those who bleed orange.

The day started out well enough.

I picked up Matt in the morning and drove to the beautiful,
rock-deficient race site near Knob Noster. The MHSC apparently
decided that Warrensburg is a more user-friendly name for this
venue, as it had been shown on past schedules as Knob Noster. The
property is about halfway between the two towns, and I can only
assume that the promoters grew weary of phone calls and e-mails
from racers wanting to know where they could find Bald Costas and
other variations of town that is home to the B-2 Stealth Bomber.
Those tiresome conversations, not unlike the one I am currently
hearing between two coworkers discussing a golf ball shanked into a
sand trap, must have prompted the name change to Warrensburg. I
prefer Knob Noster, and this is my story, so that is what it shall be
called. [author's note: Yes, I sometimes write these reports at
work...nothing produces creativity like analyzing how many dead cows
it takes to make a truckload of dog food.]

The Knob Noster course was 8-9 miles of bike-only singletrack, and
was laid out in reverse, more or less, of last October's hare scramble.
On the practice lap I liked what I saw, although the trails were slightly
drier and choppier than the Fall '02 race. Matt and I caught up to The
Holeshot King, #4 Doug Stone, as he did a lazy trail ride around the
course. While my practice lap was designed to get a feel for the
course at near-race speeds, Doug's primary objective was to scout for
passing opportunities. Turns out we were both able to accomplish our
goals while riding at about the same speed.

The previous Friday I had officially entered the digital age with the
purchase of a digital camera, and I handed off this pricey electronic
toy to my buddy Jeff Smith who came along for the ride with Open B
racer Mike Goforth. My instructions to Jeff were simple: make me look
good. He positioned himself at the far end of a relatively small starting
area and took some excellent shots of The Holeshot King beating the
rest of the Pro class to the first corner. When the board dropped for
the Vet class start, I got a reasonably decent jump off the line and
was about 4th going into the first turn. A quarter-mile into the course,
as we passed by the pits, the engine bogged and began to die. In
classic Stichnoth fashion, I had forgotten to turn on the gas. The
entire class passed me by as I flipped the petcock to its correct
position and attempted to kick the engine back to life. Ten kicks later
it fired up and I began charging towards the pack, now about 30
seconds ahead.

Over the next two miles I caught up to a few guys in the Vet class and
drag-raced a Kawasaki through a pasture straightaway. Here's a bit of
advice to slower riders who hold me up in the woods and then want to
race hard through the open fields:
Don't make me angry. You won't
like me when I'm angry. Resistance is futile. You
will be passed.
[minor rant now done...that felt good]

At the midway point of the lap, I could see K-Ruck #94 about 15
seconds ahead of me as we approached a drop-down into a narrow,
winding creek bed. The creek was dry but full of odd-shaped rocks,
and the same spot that challenged me on the practice lap got me
again. I lost some time pushing the bike over a tree root and Kevin
was out of sight.

Later in the first lap I began to feel the heat, as temperatures were
close to 90 degrees. With cool weather throughout the Spring and
few opportunities to "heat train" on the mountain bike, my body was a
bit out of shape for a hot race. But I felt good on the course. I ended
the first lap in 4th place, about 15 seconds behind #383 Neal
Soenksen and K-Ruck. At the beginning of the second lap, the first
creek section had been re-routed and I read the course arrows wrong.
I lost more precious seconds getting myself back on the trail.

Eventually I caught up to K-Ruck and waited for an opportunity to
pass. Kevin's speed makes him tough to get around, but I took an
inside line on a corner and made the pass. Later on I passed Neal
and trailed only #76 Gary Mittleberg, back in fighting form after a
nasty injury last year. As I passed through the scoring lane for the
second time, I accelerated hard in the open field that had served as
the starting area. I missed the shift from second to third gear, and
with the engine still racing I tried again. Still no third gear. One more
try, with more effort and strange noises from the transmission, I
jammed it into third gear. However, after that it would barely shift. I
found 2nd gear and passed through the re-routed creek section, but it
became clear that further shifting would be a fruitless effort. Rather
than abuse my clutch for another hour, I decided to call it a day.  The
next night I discovered the shift drum bolt had come loose, revealing
perfectly clean threads that suggested threadlock had not been
applied at the factory. A brief search of the KTM owners' cyber-world
showed that this was not an isolated occurrence. Grrrrr.....

Doug Stone took the overall win, followed closely by Chris Thiele. In
the Vet class, Gary Mittleberg won the race, with Steve Crews about a
minute behind. Although I did only two laps, Jeff Smith did exactly as
I looked good.

July 27, 2003
Florence, Missouri
4th of 11 in Vet

Post-race conversation with God:

Dear Lord,
Forgive me, for I have sinned. A lot. You see, it's summertime in St.
Louis and the National Association of Female Personal Trainers just
finished up a week-long conference at the convention center, just
across the street from my office. All day long, the streets were filled
with thousands of highly toned and tanned bodies of young women
from across our fine nation, dressed appropriately for the hot Midwest
sun. While I could argue that I was simply expressing my appreciation
for the physical beauty you've bestowed upon this great earth, that
beauty being supplemented by a pair of exquisitely installed Mentor
275cc implants (my own estimation of volume; she apparently
disagreed), a Commandment or two may have been compromised.
However, I humbly propose that what I experienced today might be
considered adequate punishment for last week's transgressions, and
maybe another year or two of future offenses. Hopefully you will agree.
Please allow me to explain....

The morning was already hot and humid when I loaded up the bike at
6:30 a.m. The KTM was finally back in running order and ready for its
first race since the Knob Noster transmission debacle last month. The
bottom end of the engine took a leisurely 3-week vacation at a local
dealer while I missed two rounds of the MHSC series. The good news
is that I learned how to use my new digital camera during that time
and spent one afternoon getting up close and personal with
Missouri's state insect, the tick, while shooting pictures of MHSC
racers at Flat River. The bad news is that I didn't do much of anything
during that time except contemplate the purchase of a new, non-KTM
dirt bike.

Lord, you know that I appreciate all your gifts of nature, especially
99-degree temperatures on cloudless days with 82% humidity, gently
rolling hills with an infinite assortment of sharp-edged rocks embedded
in hard, dry soil, and of course, dust. Oh, Praise the Dust! On the
practice lap, a few diabolic phrases may have been uttered in
response to the scorched earth left by the 4-wheeler race, but I could
not help myself for I am a weak man and ATV's really are evil. I am
confident that if I should be so fortunate to someday join you in
heaven, God, it will be devoid of fat-tired vehicles.

The effects of my four-week layoff showed in the practice lap, leaving
me tired and beaten. Not a good sign. During the week I had picked
up a cold that was sticking with me like bad luggage and caused an
above-normal amount of time cleansing myself of evil stuff inside the
sauna-like port-a-potties. I single-handedly reduced the overall supply
of T.P. to dangerously low levels just prior to race time. Our normal
12:30 starting time came and went as the promoters searched for a
missing quad rider in the woods. Just after 1:00, in the heat of the
afternoon the bike racers gathered along the fringe of the starting
area, laying claim to any spot resembling shade. When we finally
lined up in our respective rows, the sun baked my left (sun-facing)
boot to about 150 degrees, medium rare by most professional
standards but in my book, hotter than Stifler's mom at the lake house.

When the Vet class finally left the line at 1:22 p.m., the temperature
was nearly 100 degrees. My usual mid-pack start was in a cloud of
dust with virtually no vision whatsoever beyond my front fender. The
first stretch of trail was a high-speed pasture section, a wonderful way
to start a dusty race. Put 15 bikes together and let them blindly drag
race WFO for a quarter-mile. Nice. Even worse was the first woods
section, where I followed about 6 other riders and could just barely
make out the back tire of the guy in front of me. Putting along in 1st
gear, the lead riders were long gone within the first 5 minutes.

Further in the woods, the pack spread out somewhat and I was able
to make a few passes. Each was a struggle, as the course was
incredibly rough. Near the midpoint of the first lap I lost my balance
trying to take a shortcut around some riders and dropped the bike on
a side hill. All of the guys who I had worked so hard to pass were now
ahead of me again. By the time we neared the last couple miles of the
infernal first lap, I was choking on dust and coughing so hard I nearly
hurled up the turkey sandwich I'd eaten for lunch. The water level in
my Camelbak was dropping at a dangerously fast rate.

I hope you can forgive me for the exclamation of creative metaphors
that resulted from blowing through the yellow tape that marked the first
turn in the starting area. You see, at the start of that second lap I
expected arrows to point me in the right direction, but the hand of
Satan must have removed them. Or maybe the club assumed that we
were smart enough to remember how to ride that section. Either way, I
was upset and frustrated and wanted to hurt someone. Well, not really,
maybe just scare someone really bad, but not a Manson-like psychotic
type of fright (choose your Manson, either one applies); more of a
wet-your-pants kind of scare.

Two rows behind, Matt had already caught up to me while I fumbled
my way back on the course. I don't really remember much about that
second lap, other than dust and heat and fatigue. I was clearly out of
shape for that level of heat, and it made me angry. Last year I prided
myself on my heat tolerance and never "bonked" during a race. But
today I was definitely feeling a serious bonking coming on. Others
were already there, with many riders parked along the trail trying to
cool down.

One the third lap, the pack had thinned out enough to make the trail
a little easier to see, and I finally settled down and rode better. I had
been following #73 Open B fast guy Mark Kendall and got around him
on a tricky hill, then caught back up to Matt, who was leading the
Open B class. He stalled his bike and I passed him while shouting out
a warning that Kendall was right behind us. I kept up a decent pace
but fell a couple times on that lap.

The pace I maintained and mistakes made on the third lap cost me
some stamina, and on the fourth lap I was running out of energy. The
trail was still horribly rough but not much worse than the prior 3 laps.
Kendall eventually passed me, which meant he was a couple minutes
ahead overall. I figured that his pace would be fast enough to finish in
the top 20, which was my goal for the day. But to accomplish that, I
would need 5 laps. Near the end of the 4th lap, my watch indicated at
least 10 minutes until the two-hour mark, so it was clear that I'd be
riding another lap. I thought about calling it a day, knowing from
experience what I would feel like after the race if I did another lap. But
somehow the sight of #30 Adam Ashcroft pulling off the trail was an
incentive to keep going. Adam is a strong racer, which is a testament
to just how hard this race was. I wanted to tough it out.

Two events made toughing out the 5th lap even tougher. The first was
that sickening feel of sucking on the Camelbak tube and getting
nothing but air. The second was the feel of a loose gear shift lever. I
stopped a couple of times to hand-tighten the shifter bolt, but after a
few minutes it would loosen again. Eventually the lever fell off and I
rode to the finish in 2nd gear. I felt beaten in every imaginable way. I
couldn't move. Matt had to load up the bikes while I forced myself to
drink (back home, the scale showed that I was about 8 pounds
lighter, which meant I had lost 5% of my body weight). We didn't
bother to stick around for the results. We just wanted to get the hell
out of the most hellish course this side of Kahoka.

In summary, the Catholics call it Purgatory, but I call it Florence. Amen.
Knob Noster, Missouri
Florence, Missouri
Florence, Missouri

Hell's Best Kept Secret