2004 Race Reports
April 25, 2004
Cornstock 100
Casey, Illinois
10th of 14 in +30A
One of the many differences between what I do in the woods, versus what
a motocross guy does on track or a road rider does on twisty back roads,
is how I am perceived by my neighbors. Motocross guys and sport bike
riders come home and get just a passing a glance from generally
uninterested neighbors, as more often than not their bikes make it back
looking fairly much the same as when they left the garage. Woods guys
like me, on the other hand, tend to get a different reaction at the end of
the day, especially after an event like the Cornstock 100 near Casey,
Illinois. It’s not so much a reaction from my neighbors anymore, as they’re
pretty well accustomed to my off road habit. Instead, it mostly comes from
friends and relatives of neighbors who can’t fathom how a motorcycle
could completely lose its color in what would appear to be baptism by mud
pit.  I call it The Look. If you’re a woods racer, you know what I’m talking
about. Eyes wide, mouth slightly open, intense staring in you and your
bike’s direction. It is the expression that screams “That Guy is Out of His
Freakin' Mind!!” If they’re not saying it aloud, they’re thinking it. And you
know what? They’re probably right. When I pulled into my driveway on
Sunday evening, the Harley-riding son-in-law of my neighbor across the
street was sporting The Look.

The Cornstock 100 was billed as the first annual endurance race of its
kind at Lincoln Trail Motosports, an off-road area in Eastern Illinois about
two hours from my house. The race flier described the event as “100
miles of tight, technical woods, hills and hollows, motocross and grass
track, creeks and fields plus tons of fun.” The last part might have been
correct if not for a couple inches of rain in the days leading up to the
race. The race was shortened to 80 miles (10 laps) or 5 hours, whichever
came first. Even though the sun was shining and the wind was blowing
steadily, the trails were soggy. I parked a couple trucks down from fast
guy John Yarnell and slopped through the muck to sign up at motocross
track. On the way back to my truck I walked a small portion of the woods
trails and found exactly what I expected: mud, and lots of it. I was, after all,
in Illinois

The starting area was set in the middle of an open field about ¼ mile
long. By the time the race was to begin, the sun and wind had mostly
dried out the field’s surface. I signed up for Vet A and was lined up on the
first row with the other 25 or so riders in the various A classes. When the
green flag dropped, we sprinted for about 300 yards to what was a grass
track for the first couple riders and a mud track for the rest of us. As we
jockeyed for position in the grass, I ended up behind John Yarnell as we
dropped down into a narrow creek. I followed him and the rest of the lead
pack in a single file line down the center of the shallow, curvy stream. Just
after exiting the creek, we came upon the first checkpoint. Our group was
packed so tightly that we had to wait in line for the single checkpoint lady
to mark our fender-mounted scorecards. At this point the mud wasn't too
much of an obstacle since we were the first riders to navigate the trail, but
potential trouble spots were already evident. Once such point was a
downstream crossing of the same creek we had ridden through, which
was developing some deep ruts after only a dozen or so guys had passed
through it.

Next up was a section that took us in and out of another creek, where at
one point I tried to climb out of the water and came to an abrupt halt
against the creek bank. The ATV race from the previous day had left a
rut that turned into a two-foot vertical wall of mud that I couldn't get over.
So I had to pull the front wheel back and find another way out, which I
could now see was as simple as crossing the creek about 10 feet sooner
than my first attempt. Yarnell and the rest of the pack left me at that point,
but a couple miles later I found John at the bottom of a ravine, hopelessly
stuck in the mud. I was able to descend the ravine and make it up the
other side, where I parked the bike against a tree and went back to help
John out of his mud hole.  The back tire was buried, and as much as we
tried, it wouldn't come out. A couple minutes later, another of John’s
buddies came upon us and stopped to help. Between the three of us, we
got the bike turned around about 90 degrees, and with it now heading
down the center of the ravine we got it started and pushed out of the
muck.

I continued on while John caught his breath. The trail led us in and out of
the woods, through some grass tracks, and eventually back near the
staging area. The final half-mile of the lap was on the motocross track,
which was complete slop. A guy on a Honda CRF caught and passed me
on the track and then slid out going around a corner. The CRF stopped
on its side at the top of a small jump, but the guy slid off the track. When I
passed by, he was climbing back on the track while the 4-stroke
continued to idle perfectly. I rolled over most of the jumps, exited the track
and began lap two. The going was a slower in some places where deep
ruts were developing, but faster in other sections where the sun was able
to reach the ground. Most of the woods trails seemed to have a common
theme: ride on top of a ridge, then drop down into a steep ravine and try
to get up the other side without either getting stuck at the bottom or losing
traction on the uphill. This happened over and over again. I had a couple
of close calls, but my big fat Michelin S-12 chewed its way to the top of
every hill I attempted on that second lap. I did manage to biff it over a 16-
inch log and also did a graceful ground slide just before the motocross
track. MHSC regular Dwayne Parish caught up to me while I was
restarting the KX and we had some fun together on the motocross track
while finishing up our second lap.

Somewhere at the beginning of my third lap, I pushed on rear brake pedal
and felt no resistance at all. The rear brake was completely gone, despite
the new brake pads I’d put on the night before. It was pretty slow going
after that, and scary as hell the time I went down a steep hill with a hard
left turn at the bottom, feeling no rear brake and very little front brake.
Missing the turn would have taken me down into a nasty gully, so the fear
factor was set on “Max. Tight Sphincter” until I was able to get the bike
down the hill without sliding down into a gully. The checkpoint workers
tried their best to recommend the best ways around upcoming obstacles,
but some of the instructions were a little difficult to understand. “Go down
the hill, around the tree, then back up the hill and over, then down again
and cross the creek and you’ll be fine.” Riiiiight. In the second half of the
lap I finally found a hill I couldn't get up on the first try and had to drag the
bike down the side of the hill. Near the end of the lap were a couple of
crossings of the widest creek on the property, with many spectators lining
its banks. One friendly guy pointed out a line, but of course I ignored him
and tried the same line I’d taken twice before. This innocuous-appearing
line had been dug out deep enough to uncover a tree root that I hit so
hard with my front wheel that I slid forward and gave myself the proverbial
tank-slapper. Ouch. I finished up the lap and called it a day.

Despite the nasty conditions, I enjoyed my three laps. My ventures into
Illinois are often for the purpose of honing my mud riding skills, and the
Cornstock 100 (or 80) did not disappoint.

May 2, 2004
Polo, Missouri
5th of 12 in A-Sportsman
A hare scramble, by its nature, is a battle among individuals. We
challenge each other and we aspire to be faster than the guy parked next
to us on the starting line. Sometimes we say it’s just for fun, but if that
were the case we wouldn't go racing. No matter how we justify our
reasons for racing, somewhere inside all of us, we want to see how we
stack up against other riders.

But other times, our battles are less with each other and more with that
old battle-ax called Mother Nature. She had already dropped a couple
inches of rain on the Polo area, so I expected mud. I expected ruts. Some
deep water, maybe. But we got more than that. Way more. Partly cloudy
skies during my four-hour drive gave way to darkness as I pulled into the
staging area. The rain that had dampened the area was coming back.
Sprinkles began while I was standing in the sign-up line, but for the most
part the raindrops left about as fast as they arrived. Kevin Ruckdeschell's
KTM was showing very little orange after arriving back from his initial
course marshal duties. I’m a firm supporter of the practice lap under just
about any conditions, so Kevin’s bike didn't deter me. I signed up, geared
up, and took off to see what the course looked like.

I saw mud, and lots of it. I also saw plenty of rocks. Normally this is a good
thing, but as I would discover later on, it was actually a very bad
combination. Another bad association was mud and open pastures.
Again, usually pastures are good, a chance to catch your breath before
heading back into the woods. But after the practice lap I had so much clay
and grass attached to my KX250 that it looked like a shrine to the adobe
brick gods. Grass caught up around the countershaft sprocket was
actually smoking when I returned to my truck.

Another interesting feature of the course was a pair of bridges
constructed across a ditch. The course designers used very good
planning here, anticipating a scenario in which one rider fell over while
crossing the bridge. The second bridge would be available to prevent any
bottlenecks. I tested this scenario for myself on the practice lap. While
crossing one of the bridges, which were now covered in a layer of slime,
my back wheel slid out so quickly that I was on the ground before I even
knew what happened. Again, the bridge builders took into account the
abilities (or lack thereof) of guys like me and nailed boards along the
edges to keep our wheels from sliding completely off the bridge and down
into the ditch. But even their superior design skills were no match for the
skills of riders like Tracy Bauman, who was gifted enough to utilize not
one, but BOTH bridges at the same time (this according to Kevin
Richdeschell who claims to have video evidence of the feat).

After the practice lap I wiped off the mud and grass from my fancy Devol
radiator guards, which continued their excellent job of protecting my
radiators but were already being enclosed by the natural brick that was
Polo’s terrain. The race began right on time, and off the starting line I
assumed my usual position in the middle of the pack. Our first challenge
was a creek filled with rock ledges, and just after dropping down into it my
front wheel slid out. The bike and I performed a graceful slide down the
creek, much to the delight of numerous spectators. The other riders left
quickly while I remounted. Kevin Ruckdeschell was standing along the
creek bank, about 100 feet downstream, and offered some insightful
advice: “It’s a two-hour race!” That it was, and in the second hour of the
race my little spill would be virtually meaningless, a faint memory. But at
the time I was a little annoyed, especially because I was completely
covered in water and had only ridden about 200 yards. I restarted the
engine and charged through the creek, eventually catching up to my
class several miles later.

Despite the wet conditions, the course was in good shape. After each of
the 250 or so riders passed over the trails, I was confident the mud would
turn from slimy to tacky in short order. But first lap was slick. Two short
climbs were extra tricky, each involving hills littered with rocks. Unlike my
previous race at the Cornstock 100, where the climbs were doable as
long as I chose a clear line, Polo’s mud was mixed with slippery rocks.
Fresh, seemingly clean routes up hillsides did not guaranty a successful
climb. On the initial lap I had no problems with any hills but the next laps
would be much more difficult.

I completed the first lap near the back of the pack, as expected, but
began to make some progress on the second lap. By this time the trail
was broken in as well as it would get, but a couple of mistakes slowed my
pace. The main line up one of the tricky hills became just about
impossible, and I had to drag my KX250 down the hill for a second
attempt. In the last half of the lap, which contained the deepest ruts, I saw
what appeared to be a little shortcut around a corner. It converged with
the main trail next to the pair of bridges, but my path was blocked by a
large V-shaped tree branch lying at an angle. My front wheel would slide
to the side each time I tried to cross the branch. After a minute or so of
struggling, I was able to lift up the branch with one hand and shove it
down into the ditch. With a clear path to the bridges, I continued on and
finished the lap in 5th place.

Lap 3 appeared to be more of the same until about the halfway point. I
saw a bright flash of lightening, then a huge crash of thunder and the
skies let loose. As the wind picked up, I noticed small white balls bouncing
on the ground, then realized it was hail. The pea-sized projectiles didn't
last long, but they hurt, mostly the stuff that made it into my helmet. After
the hail ended, the rain and lightening continued for much of the rest of
the lap. Somehow I was able to ride in these nasty conditions with few
mistakes and was actually having some fun, despite a few tough spots
where the lines were getting very creative. Most of the problem areas
started with a small gully or a short hill, and the clay-based soil offered
little traction through those areas.

Near the end of this lap I thought the race might end early because of the
lightening, but I was sent on for a fourth lap. After all, we are the MHSC:
hail and bolts of lightening be damned, we finish what we started!
Although the rain had let up, enough water had soaked into the trails that
traction was considerably less than it had been. In fact, I seemed to have
been riding faster when the rain was pouring. The first half of the lap was
slick but rideable as long as I avoided a few nasty ruts up creek beds and
chose good lines up the hills. But the second half of the lap was worse.
Much worse. The trails in this part of the course were in swampy areas
where deep ruts had developed. The lines around the mud holes were
branching out quite far from the main trail .

My first time-consuming trouble spot was a short run up a rocky hill that
had to be climbed with a hard left turn and very little approach. I saw
several guys hung up there, some in the final stages of giving up and
dropping the bikes on their sides. To avoid this traffic I continued past the
main lines up the hill and tried to find a better place to climb. The hill was
mildly steep and would not have been much of a challenge in dry
conditions, but after the rain it was extremely difficult. I rode toward an
area away from the main routes up the hill that looked promising. But
suddenly I noticed a fence blocking my path. I had no choice but to
attempt a run up the hill while riding parallel to the fence. On my first try I
got about halfway up before losing traction. I rolled back down the hill,
found a slightly different line, and opened the throttle all the way. This
time I made it nearly to the top but got hung up on some fallen trees. I
struggled to get the bike over the logs as the engine began to heat up. I
made it through just as the Holeshot King, Doug Stone, lapped me.

I battled on, trying to pick good lines and keep up my momentum, but the
course was turning into one long rut. In some places the ruts were
relatively shallow where the clay was packed down, but our tires were
polishing it to a nice, slick shine. I would have better luck riding with skis
attached to my boots. I had one more problem with a short, rocky hill near
the end, requiring two attempts to get past it, and finally finished the lap
and the race. My bike was about 10 shades of black. The chain had
gathered so much mud around the countershaft sprocket that the gear
shifter was barely detectable. On the ride home I witnessed the faces of
many individuals obviously confused as to how a motorcycle could gather
so much mud. But from the perspective of anyone who raced at Polo, my
bike was just one of many that were in need of good power washings and
lengthy apologies from their owners. Polo was a classic.
Casey, Illinois
Polo, Missouri