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