August 10, 2003
Polo, Missouri
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 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
Sedalia, Missouri
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.

I bailed.

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.
Polo, Missouri
Sedalia, Missouri
Yeah, it hurts.