2004 Race Reports
March 21, 2004
Combs, Arkansas
Earlier this month, regular riding biddy Matt Sellers drove to somewhere in
the vicinity of Nowhere, Georgia to buy SETRA fast guy Mike Grizzle’s 6-
month-old KTM 450EXC. Apparently Matt’s itch for long drives didn’t wear
off in time for the White Rock Enduro, as 10 days in advance of the event
he lobbied for a road trip to his first ever enduro. I’m always game for
road trips, especially when they involve college towns, cheap motels and
someone else doing the driving, so I threw our entry forms in the mail and
made plans for a weekend in Razorback country.

We hooked up with Edwardsville, Illinois’ resident enduro specialist Kevin
Betts, active this year in the BlackJack Enduro Circuit. No stranger to long
road trips, Kevin competed two weeks prior in the muddy Zink Ranch
Enduro near Sand Springs, Oklahoma. He offered to drive, so we met at
my house on Saturday, loaded our bikes and gear into Kevin’s enclosed
trailer and began the 6-hour voyage to Fayetteville, home of the
University of Arkansas. My stellar navigation skills guided us to
Springdale, just north of Fayetteville and home of Tyson Foods, where we
took a small detour and stumbled upon Tyson’s world headquarters. With
my agribusiness curiosity satisfied, we focused our efforts on settling in at
the Super 8 and tried to get a good night’s rest.

Since I had sent in our entry forms so late, I figured we had two options: a
late row or an early row. There’s good and bad with each option, but I
asked for an earlier row because over the years I’ve had worse
experiences with late rows. At Roselawn, Indiana in 1996, in what I believe
was the last of the infamous Swamp years, I was blessed with an early row
and got to navigate the muck before 200 other guys messed it up (I still
managed to bury the bike in a 3-foot bike-swallowing rut). On the other
hand, at Marietta, Illinois in 1999 I was cursed with a late row and got what
was left over after 100 guys had already destroyed the waterlogged trails.
Usually these advance requests for particular rows are generally honored
as much as the club can, but you only find out your row number for sure
when you get there. As it turned out, my wish was granted, sort of: Row 1.
Yep, that’s definitely an early row. I was “1A”; Matt was “1B”. Also on our
row was fast guy Jerry Hemann, an occasional Missouri hare scrambles
participant. Kevin Betts was on row 30, a half-hour behind us. After Matt
and I left the trailer, that was the last we would see of Kevin until the end
of the race.

The Razorback Riders, organizers of the event, had set up the staging
area in a picturesque valley in the Ozark Mountains. A creek flowed
through the property, and just across a wooden bridge was the starting
line. As the minutes counted down to our departure, 8:00 came and went
and I wondered why we hadn’t left yet (Clock Error Clue #1). At 8:01 on
my clock, the “01” card on the signboard was turned over, signaling the
start of our race. The experienced enduro riders reading this will
recognize my mistake immediately, but for everyone else, we’ll get to that
later. Jerry showed up at the last minute and the three of us were set
loose to begin an easy, 18-mph section.

This first section was mostly ATV trails that were still slightly damp. It was
a good warm-up and much needed, as I was getting used to the KTM
again after riding it only about two hours over the prior 6 months. And
being the first group of riders to see the trails, we were doing our best to
clear off the rocks and splash water out of the ruts for the rest of the field
(I was quite good at it). White Rock is an appropriate name for this area,
with many rocks and not surprisingly, some of them are white. After about
8 miles, we finally hit some singletrack winding through cedar trees and I
was confident there would be a check upcoming. Even though Jerry had
an ICO Checkmate computer, the Cadillac of enduro timekeeping devices,
its clock was off about 45 seconds from mine (Clock Error Clue #2). With
Matt being an enduro virgin and Jerry thinking his computer’s clock was
off, I was elected Chief Timekeeper by the group. When it comes to
timekeeping, I do it Old School style, with a clock, odometer and roll chart
the tools of my trade. I had been keeping us right at the top of our minute,
figuring there’d have to be something a little more difficult than ATV trails
before the first check. For me, second-gear trails are usually difficult to
maintain 18 miles per hour, so I figured we would hit the singletrack in the
top of our minute and maybe by the first check we’d lose some time but
still be within our minute and not drop any points.

I figured wrong.

Jerry and I took off into the singletrack, which didn’t last long before we
came upon the first check. We inexplicably showed up 10 seconds early,
while Matt arrived just long enough after us to not drop any points (Clock
Error Clue #3). The Enduro Virgin got lucky. After a reset, we spent some
more time riding easy trails until late in the loop, where we dropped down
into the same trail where we had began the enduro nearly an hour before.
We had been warned that this short section of trail would have two-way
traffic, and sure enough, guys were coming up the hill as we were
descending. We narrowly avoided the oncoming traffic before arrows
diverted us into an extremely tight section of saplings near the creek at
the Razorback property. I could sense we were on pace to drop a point or
two by the time the loop ended. We crossed through the creek near the
wood bridge, where the loop ended back at the staging area and the
second check awaited us. Despite our slow progress in the tight trails at
the end of the loop, I zeroed the check (Clock Error Clue #4).

After a gas stop and a snack, we began the longest loop of the day,
about 35 miles. We continued at an 18 mph average for the first couple
miles of the section, then increased to 24 mph for the next 9 miles of
mostly singletrack. At the start of the 24 mph section I let Jerry lead and
kept him in sight long enough to see him crash. I believe that was where
he destroyed radiator shroud #2 (only half of the first shroud remained
from an earlier incident). I went on ahead and Jerry caught up a short
while later. We stayed together for a few more miles, where the trail
dumped us out into a logging road. We were hauling down the road and
got back on time quickly. Jerry motioned to me in what I thought was a
question of how we were doing on time, and I motioned back to keep on
rolling since we were back in the top of our minute. He finally came to a
stop and suggested that since we hadn’t seen arrows in over a mile, we
just might be off course. Oh, yeah…arrows. We backtracked and located
arrows, losing several minutes in the process. The singletrack prior to the
road crossing had swept to the right and we had followed the “sweep” into
the road, when we should have gone straight across the road and
continued on more singletrack. By this time we were confident Matt was
well ahead of us and were dismayed not to see him at a lengthy reset a
few miles later. He had surely continued on, thinking that as long as he
didn’t get ahead of us, he was fine.

After conveying our thoughts about arrow placement to the nearest
human being who didn’t ignore us (hey, you gotta vent at someone), Jerry
and I rested until it was time to continue on. A check awaited us shortly
after and I accidentally checked us in early. We found Matt stopped on
the trail and explained what happened. He burned the check by nearly 15
minutes. We rode at 18 mph for the next 20 miles after the long reset, with
several miles on top of a ridge that was cleared of trees. Just before the
long ridge section, we had splashed through a lot of standing water on a
logging road and my fingers were cold. But the view from atop the ridge
was spectacular. The elevation changes, from the valleys below to the
tops of the ridges, appeared to be 500 feet or more, which for this
flatlander was the highest hills I had ever ridden. The climbs seemed to
go on forever and the descents were fun but sometimes treacherous,
especially where water breaks had been built for erosion control. Going
up hills, I could launch the bike blindly over the water breaks and risk
landing on who knows what. On the way down, it was just a matter of how
fast I wanted to go, how far I wanted to launch the bike over the water
breaks, and of course the size of my
pelotas.

The 18 mph average finally changed to 24 mph for the last 5.4 miles
before the end of the short course. These last miles were a repeat of
what we had already ridden to finish out the first loop. Jerry and I rode
hard, with Matt close behind. The trails reminded me of St. Joe State
Park, fast, open, and full of rocks. After riding this section as fast and
aggressively as I am humanly capable, back at the staging area Jerry
mentioned that we were riding those trails at a speed just under what it
takes to get seriously injured. Coming from a AA rider, I took that as a
compliment. We both dropped one point at the check that awaited us on
the other side of the creek. Fifty miles down, 25 to go.

Back at the staging area, we gassed up for a second time and headed
back out for the third and final loop of the day, a 25-mile section that was
entirely 24 mph. We started on some dirt roads and Jerry jumped out
ahead. He was getting a little further ahead of time that I wanted to be, so
I let him go and he was soon out of my sight. The trails were relatively
open and fast once we got into the woods, and from there on out it was a
sprint. And sprint I did, reaching the next check right on time. Jerry
sprinted a little too hard and burned the check. The three of us stayed
together for a little while after that, but then Jerry found his groove and
left me, while Matt hung around behind me. After a couple more miles I
couldn’t hear the sound of Matt’s 4-stroke anymore. It was just me and the
trail. The hills became steeper and rockier and were full of water breaks.
About 10 miles into the loop, I came around a corner and saw a big hill
with a big rock ledge in the middle and a big bunch of spectators lining
both sides of the trail. At enduros you rarely see such crowds unless they
are there to watch something interesting, and in this case the rock ledge
was there for the spectators’ viewing pleasure. And I was there to
entertain. I went to the far left side of the trail to attempt to scale the
ledge, and probably would have made it had I not landed directly on top
of a boulder and come to a complete stop. I had nowhere to plant my feet,
so I jumped off and let the bike fall over. As the right handguard smacked
solid rock, the sound of the impact drew reaction from the crowd. I pulled
the bike off the rock ledge and saw Matt at the bottom of the hill. He
paused to let me get my bike upright and then I heard his engine surge
and die. I thought he killed the engine, but as
photos would later prove,
he dumped his bike (out of sympathy, I’m sure). I took off for another
attempt at scaling the ledge, this time on the right side. The second try
was successful and the spectators roared with approval as I blasted
through boulder after boulder on the way to the top of a very long hill.

By now I was tired and ready for the race to end, but the Razorback crew
had saved the worst for last. The next couple of miles were mostly
singletrack strewn with boulders, big, small, and otherwise. The KTM
proved itself in this section, allowing me to ride like a wimp and still keep
chugging along. My race mercifully ended at about the 70-ground-mile
mark, where Jerry Hemann was waiting for me. We headed back to the
staging area on the same trail we had already ridden twice, thinking we
were surely lost. We kept on following the arrows for nearly 5 miles until
we finally came out at the creek crossing at the Razorback grounds.

Matt showed up several minutes later holding his left hand. Somewhere
after Spectator Hill, he fell and broke the end of his thumb. Due to our
mistakes, we were both out of contention for decent finishes and even
though Matt got hurt, we still had a great time riding somewhere we’d
never been before. It was only when the scores were posted on the
internet that I realized my critical timekeeping mistake: My clock was set a
minute early. Of the 9 checks that counted (one was thrown out), I was
early to four. And at two of those four checks I was two minutes early.
Ouch. I had failed in my duty as Chief Timekeeper. Had I set my clock
correctly, I may have still legitimately burned two checks, but dropping so
many points put me pretty far down the bottom of my class. But I didn't
really care. I was there to have fun and I wasn't disappointed. Thanks to
the Razorback Riders for putting on an excellent event.

March 28, 2004
Belleville, Illinois
1st of 4 in Vet
Who in their right mind would race at Belleville, following a week of
intermittent rains and a forecast for more on Sunday?

To understand that question, you have to know a thing or two about the
Belleville Enduro Team club grounds. Depending on the weather, you can
have a lot of fun or wish you had stayed home. It’s good or bad, pleasure
or pain, filet or head cheese, Jessica Simpson or Courtney Love, and it all
depends on the weather. And on Sunday morning it didn’t look good. But
that didn’t stop me from putting the KX to its first test in real mud, and
Belleville is the real deal.

I parked next to Joe Rosier and his son Keifer, a regular in the MHSC
Junior class. Like me, Keifer was using this race as a warm-up for the
MHSC opener at Lebanon the following Sunday. Predictably, the
moderately educated guess that serves as the Intellicast weather forecast
was wrong, but in our favor. The morning rains were delayed like an
afternoon flight on Delta, when you’re scheduled to get home in time for
dinner but they screw you with a bogus mechanical problem that
mysteriously pops up when your flight is less than 1/3 full and they cancel
it so they can put everyone on the next flight that doesn’t leave for three
more friggin’ hours.  But I digress. I spent just over an hour walking the
course under partly sunny skies and covered it all. My moderately
educated guess of a 3-mile length was confirmed at the riders meeting,
and based on the fact that we were sharing the ATV course, 10-12 laps in
2 hours seemed reasonable. Other than a big water hole near the far
corner of the property, everything looked entirely rideable. Nothing too
tight, only slightly technical, and short. The club officials lined us up at 10:
30 a.m., earlier than most races, but that would be a blessing.

I signed up for the Vet class, which included Cape Girardeau, Missouri
native Jason Hawk on his big KTM thumper. Two rows ahead of us was
MHSC regular Dwayne Parish sporting his brightly colored helmet. The
starting line was on the TT track, its gently banked turns lined with
plywood walls that screamed “Leg Splinters!” to anyone feeling more
aggressive than the damp clay would allow. I watched the first couple rows
navigate the sweeping first turn, fly over the smooth jump on the opposite
side of the oval, then exit the track and begin a muddy climb up the
steepest hill on the course. My row included one other class, with a total
of about 8 guys on the line. On my right was Jason and to my left was a
guy on a KX250 like mine. When the flag dropped, the two of us on the KX’
s got quick starts and charged into the sweeping left turn close together.
He took the holeshot but I kept him very close. After leaving the TT track
and climbing the steep hill, we made a left turn and a quick right as we
passed through a fence gate. The ground was slick around the gate and
the other KX guy slid out, handing me the lead. I ran with it, flying down
the backside of the hill with the rear wheel kicking up. In 4th gear through
a grassy area, I braked hard to turn into the woods. The left turn had a
nice berm leading into the trees, which was very necessary for changing
direction in the greasy clay and would be the only type of corner that
could be negotiated at any speed.

The first tricky section came quickly, an off-camber straightaway inside
the woods that the ATV’s would later struggle with. By now I was catching
up to guys in the row ahead of me and was able to get around a couple
where the trail opened up. The club had built some water breaks on the
wide trail, not nearly as steep as what I had seen the previous weekend at
White Rock but a bit sketchier because of rocks that awaited in the
landing zone. I flew over the first break in 4th gear, the second one in 3rd,
and braked hard to make the next turn. The KX front brake was flat-out
awesome, very confidence-inspiring, and the bike handled superbly
through the high-speed choppy trails.

Near the back corner of the club property, I looked for an arrow split-off
that I had seen during my walk around the course. The club’s intention
here was unclear, as the arrows pointing left were barely visible unless
you knew they were there. The main route was longer, but the shorter
route was more technical and had a nasty mud hole. I saw bikes up ahead
of me, so I took the shorter route through the mud hole and beat several
of them to a tricky downhill off-camber. But as I would discover on the next
lap, there was a check set up at the spot where the two trails converged. I
had scouted an inside line where the trail dropped off, but that line
bypassed the checkpoint. I didn’t even realize it was there on the first lap
and blew right by it. From then on, I took the longer route.

The trail zigzagged through the north end of the property until we reached
the second checkpoint at the far northwest corner of the club grounds.
After a 5th gear run along the perimeter of the property, we turned back
into the woods. Just before the big water hole was a tight, slick lefthander
that I thought I could negotiate at speed by throwing the KX into the berm
and scrub some speed. Slow down I did, as the bike slid out from under
me and blocked the trail, with the front end pointed in the wrong direction.
The end of the left handguard was firmly planted a few inches into the
clay, and it took two tries to jerk it loose. I got it turned around after two
riders passed by and I charged through the center of the mud hole. The
only good thing about Belleville clay is that it’s firm, which kept me from
sinking in the water. Throughout the rest of the race I was able to take the
same line through the center of the hole.

In the last mile of the course, the slime was a little nastier and it took some
effort to keep the bike going straight. None of the mud was particularly
deep, just slick. But I had put on the fattest Michelin S-12 rear tire I could
find and hooked up great. The next few laps were more of the same, but
during the first hour of the race my clutch hand felt tired. The KX is a little
more work when things get technical, as it likes to be revved. Thoughts of
an aftermarket hydraulic clutch passed through my head while I endured
the pain in my left hand. But halfway through the race the pain
disappeared and I never noticed my clutch hand again.  Around that
same time, Dwayne Parish, who had started a couple minutes ahead of
me, soon was visible just before checkpoint #1. I followed him for a couple
minutes until the trail opened up and I was able to make the pass by out-
braking him to the next corner.

The only spot in the course that had to be re-routed was a small hill
where a deep rut was developing at the base. Some of the less
experienced riders were getting hung up there, but the course officials
reacted quickly to keep guys like me from using them as traction and
marked a different way up the hill. Another interesting spot was just
before the point where I had crashed on the first lap, which was near the
end of the high-speed section after checkpoint #2. It was a sweeping left
turn with a nice little rut to lean into, but somewhere around the seventh
lap I was coming up on a guy pretty fast and wanted to beat him to the
mud hole. He took the established line while I went wide around the turn in
4th gear, outside the rut, and executed my best imitation of a power slide.
A speedway racer would have giggled in amusement, but my near slide-
out in 4th gear was enough to scare the other guy into letting me around.

A couple of the fast guys on the first row lapped me about 75 minutes into
the race, while I was following a Honda thumper on the TT track. The
Honda guy had a pretty good pace going, and I wasn’t able to pass him
until the next lap. As the race wore on, I rode well and felt good. That KX
hit has become addictive, as has the strong front brake. The rain held off
until the checkered flag came out and I was able to load up the bike and
change clothes while it was still dry. The peewee race following the initial
rain shower left me with a lasting impression of Belleville. A little guy on a
PW50 was coming off the TT track, his front tire packing so much clay
that his forks were acting as mud wipers. That, my friend, is the Belleville I
know and love (sort of).
White Rock Enduro
Belleville, Illinois
They call it
Spectator Hill
Yes, it's a thumb, and
yes, those are pins.