August 10, 2003
3rd of 13 in Vet
Matt Sellers and I have been making the long drive to Polo for the last 3
years, and each time one of us has come back with a messed up body. I
started the trend two years ago with a shoulder injury from a nasty crash
in a pasture gully wash. Last year Matt took a season-ending high-speed
fall in an open area and broke his collarbone and a couple of ribs. This
year it was me again, coming home with a badly sprained ankle.
From my house to Adam Ashcroft's race site is almost exactly 250 miles,
but the drive is always worth it. The Polo race is one of the few bike-only
venues on the MHSC schedule, which makes the trails a blast to ride. The
absence of fat-tired vehicles kept the course narrow and a whole lot
smoother, as some of the rocks actually stayed put without undue
influence from trail-widening stampedes known as ATV hare scrambles.
This year's course was extremely dry, with huge cracks showing in the
parched soil. The practice lap was predictably dusty, but for much of the
day cloud cover kept the sun from broiling us to medium rare.
At the start, I lined up next to #106 Wade Hall, back on his Yamaha after a
wrist injury at Westphalia. With his wrist was still healing, Wade planned to
do just one lap to ease back into racing form, but toughed it out for two.
For a change, I actually got a decent start and was in 3rd place at the first
turn. Soon after, #383 Neal Soenksen took an undeveloped inside line
and passed me. I followed him closely through the first few miles of the
9.3-mile course until we came upon a slower rider in a class that started
ahead of us. In the first dry creek section, I took a risky line through some
tall grass and passed both Neal and the slower rider on the left. Ahead of
me was #226 Jerry McCasland on his Honda and #81 Matt Weis, in the
lead and setting a fast pace. I followed Jerry for much of the first lap and
tried to find a good place to make a pass. Near the end of the lap was a
series of dry creek beds full of sharp-edged rocks, and I decided to
attempt a third-gear pass. A couple of slower riders were ahead of us,
and since the pass on Neal had worked so well while he was following a
slower rider, I decided to try the same thing on Jerry. But this time my
front wheel hit an odd-shaped rock and abruptly sent me in the wrong
direction. I almost saved it, but in an instant I was on the ground with a
sore left ankle. I took some time to pick up the bike and saw a group of
riders including #442 Steve Crews go by. I figured Neal was in the group
somewhere and I was back in the middle of the pack. I didn't lose too
much time getting back on the bike and the ankle pain subsided within a
minute or two. But the crash had cost me some valuable momentum.
I finished the first lap in 6th place, just ahead of Neal. As hard as I tried, I
just couldn't be as aggressive with pain in my gear-shifter foot. Several
times I found myself taking the easy way up rocky hills to avoid having to
stick out my left foot for balance. Every so often I would brush my sore
foot against a rock or tree, which normally I wouldn't have even noticed,
but each time it happened at Polo the pain was sharp and intense. On a
tricky, rock-infested uphill my left foot made contact with a boulder and I
let out a string of expletives...in front of the Hammerdown Video crew.
Over the next two laps I slowly worked my way up the pack. By the end of
the 3rd lap, #76 Gary Mittleberg and #237 Elston Moore were way out in
front of the Vet class. Near the middle of that 3rd lap I heard the
unmistakable sound of a small-bore engine screaming behind me and
closing fast. #128 Zach Bryant, well on his way to the A class, passed by
and I tried to follow. His throttle must have been locked at halfway,
because I never heard the RPM's slow down to anywhere close to idle. It
takes tons of aggressiveness and incredibly smooth clutch work to keep
the rear wheel tracking effectively under such power, and the 200B class
fast guy made it look easy. On the lazy man's bike of choice, my 300EXC
grunted while Zach's screamed. Descending the steep downhill that was
last year's toughest ledge-filled climb, Zach took a spill and I tried my best
not to run over his bike while he attempted to drag it off the trail. In no
time, he was screaming around me again.
The highlight of my fourth and final lap came near the end, just after the
same creek section that had created my pain and suffering. With Open B
winner Mark Kendall closing the 2-minute gap between our classes, I
caught a glimpse of a brown snake lying across the trail. Like Indiana
Jones, I hate snakes. I lifted up both feet like a kid riding his bike through
a mud puddle and ran over the snake. Mark did the same, probably
without the wuss-style leg lift.
After it was over, I could hardly walk. At some point during the race I had
smacked my right foot against something (possibly the foot peg) and it
hurt almost as bad as my sprained left ankle. I was pretty much worthless
for anything except driving, so once again Matt did most of the heavy
lifting as we prepared for the long ride home. Matt had another good race
and finished 3rd in Open B. All things considered, I was happy with my 3rd
place finish in the Vet class. Now, let the healing begin....
August 24, 2003
8th of 9 in Vet
Ever feel like you're pushing your luck? Two weeks after a severe ankle
sprain at Polo, that's how I felt at Round 12 of the Missouri Hare
Scrambles Championship. The day after Polo, it took just about all the
pain tolerance I could muster to walk from my downtown parking garage to
the office. But with each passing day I saw small improvements. I
measured my progress on how well I could keep up with a rather, shall we
say, 350 pound lady who each day makes a heavily labored trip to and
from the same parking garage. On Monday, the day after the injury, she
smoked me. On Friday, two days before the Sedalia race, I finally
outpaced her. That was progress enough to prepare the KTM for racing.
The final test came Saturday afternoon, when I shoved my fat foot into the
AXO's and strapped up the boot. I passed.
I was going to Sedalia.
Matt drove his big rig to the race site southeast of town on another warm,
dry morning. For the first time this year, we brought his pop-up awning
and my amazingly comfortable folding chairs (footrests make all the
difference, believe me). Both were much appreciated in the hot sun. The
area had received some rain during the week, which kept down dust
levels in the woods. Still, with many weeks since the last significant
amount of precipitation, the course looked dry.
I had some concern with how the ankle would respond to gear shifting, but
after a fistful of Advil and a couple initial shifts on the practice lap it felt
fine. As usual, I treated practice as a full-on sprint, unable to make myself
slow down and take a close look at the course. As expected, the trails
were dry but the dust was manageable. By the end of the lap, with #221
Mike Hamilton screaming behind me, I was beat. Two weeks of R&R had
ruined my stamina. What was especially disappointing is that those two
weeks were the best this summer for after-work heat training on the
bicycle. Until mid-August, we'd only had a few days of upper-90's
temperatures in the St. Louis area. There's nothing more effective than
torturing yourself in the heat to prepare for hot Sundays, but I'd missed
out on the heat wave between Polo and Sedalia, instead lounging around
the house with my left "kankle," watching Queer Eye reruns and the Nick
Lachey/Jessica Simpson reality show on MTV.
To explain how tired I was after the practice lap, picture me napping in my
comfy chair beneath Matt's awning. I could have slept well into the
afternoon, but I woke up in time to ride to the starting line. I took an inside
position next to the woods, which also happened to be the most shaded
spot on the line. The start was a sprint through an open field that
paralleled part of the course that was just inside the woods on the right.
After 100 yards or so we cut into the woods and joined up with the course.
I entered the woods in my typical mid-pack position, trying to keep up with
#442 Steve Crews. He jumped out in front and left me searching for clean
air on the ATV section of the course. Eventually we exited the wide trails
and began several miles of new singletrack. Steve and #237 Elston
Moore both fell just as the trails narrowed, and #76 Gary Mittelberg and I
passed them. I tried to keep up with Gary, but he gradually pulled away
with his smooth style on the Yamaha 4-stroke. Elston caught up quickly
and passed me after I bobbled coming out of a gully. Elston is fun to
follow because his lines are almost always what I'd choose. Passing
opportunities were scarce, and although I had a chance in a heavily
whooped creek section, I held back and continued following Elston. I didn't
want risk further injury so early in the race. Little did I know that more pain
was in my immediate future.
My ankle held out surprisingly well, other than the times I planted my left
foot for balance around sharp turns. I continued to follow Elston through
the singletrack and into the final section of ATV trails. About a mile before
the scoring trailer, my right hand guard clipped a tree and I lost my grip
on the bars. The KTM veered to the left, but I couldn't get my right hand
back on the bars in time to correct the bike. It seemed very clear to me
that I was heading straight into a tree, so I did something I have never
done before in all of my years of riding and racing dirt bikes.
Normally, I'll ride out a sure crash until something -- a tree, a rock, the
ground -- stops me and the bike. I once stuck with my KTM as it
nose-dived down a 3-foot creek bank and broke a couple of ribs when the
bike flipped on top of me. That's how committed (or stupid) I am to going
down with my bike. But on this day, I decided to sacrifice the bike instead
of my body and I jumped off. There was one minor problem: I bailed
directly into a tree at about 20 mph. It was a full frontal body slam, the
kind where breathing is difficult afterwards and the world becomes eerily
quiet. My ribs hurt. My legs hurt. Heck, even the twins were suffering. I
gave Steve Crews the thumbs up as he passed by, then searched for my
bike. It had chosen a clear path through the woods and lay on its side
about 50 feet from me. I sat for awhile, watched Matt ride by, and then
tested my most important body parts. Everything seemed functional, so I
got back on the bike and finished the first lap.
I considered quitting right away, but after a few minutes on the bike I felt
O.K. and wanted to ride some more. So I did another lap and it was fun.
But I just didn't have it in me to do 2+ hours, so I called it a day after the
2nd lap, a little over an hour into the race. I rested my sore body in my
comfy chair while Matt completed 5 laps. Gary Mittelberg continued his
winning ways in the Vet class and took the win, while the nearly
unbeatable Steve Leivan captured yet another overall victory.