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