"Billy [Russell] is still getting used to the Hare
Scramble starts and he learned something new at
this race, turn your gas on before the race or your
bike just may not start
." -- Pat Garrahan in his
2004 Elkton, Oregon national hare scramble race
May 16, 2004
Westphalia, Missouri
11th of 14 in A Sportsman
First, let me state what to some may already be obvious: I am an idiot.
A certified fool. I would like to say that forgetting to turn on the gas is
a once-in-a-lifetime occurrence for me at a race, but as we saw last
year at Warrensburg, that is not the case. I rode my KX250 from my
truck to the starting line and used just enough gas to drain the
carburetor. When the 15-second board dropped, the other riders
vaulted forward and I had nothing. A guy next to me on a 4-stroke
had to give his engine several kicks but eventually he, too, left me on
the line. I glanced down, viewed the petcock in its “Off” position and
felt the same kind of dread that happens when you try squeezing out
that last bit of gas at the end of a race, hear the engine sputtering,
and can’t get the petcock switched to “Reserve” before the engine
dies. I kicked over the engine until the 30-second board came out for
the Senior class in the row behind me, then pushed my bike off to the
side. The engine finally fired just after the Senior class took off.

I sprinted into the woods at the back of the Senior class pack and
passed many of them within a few miles. The trails were mostly ATV-
wide, so speeds were high. Much of the course followed the same
route as many past races at this venue, causing some extremely
choppy conditions. With my class still far ahead, I tried to ride as
aggressively as I could. About midway through the first lap I caught
up to Tom Eidam, then got passed by Open B winner Dwayne Parish
riding with blazing speed through the open trails.

Other than its roughness, the course was in good condition. But the
wide open, rugged trails took their toll on my clutch hand. In the
second lap a blister developed on my palm, then another on my
middle finger. Small adjustments to preserve my clutch hand were
slowing me down, but I didn't realize that until after I had finished an
uneventful second lap. On the third lap some of the Senior class guys
that I had passed earlier were getting around me, including Tom
Eidam. The blisters were growing as the course became rougher. The
short sections of singletrack were welcome relief, but on the wide
trails I just couldn't grip the handlebars well enough. I began the
fourth lap with a left hand that was just plain raw. Each time I pulled
in the clutch lever, I felt pain. At about the halfway point in that lap, I
gave up and putted around the rest of the course, mostly in first gear.
I had enough time to do a fifth lap but called it a day instead.

As much as I like to keep these reports somewhat light and
entertaining, I would like to point out a serious example of what I see
as the most concerning problem in our sport. In one of the open
pasture sections, a guy on a 4-stroke passed me with his throttle
pretty much wide open. The noise coming out of that guy’s bike was
so mind-numbingly deafening that I could not even hear my own
engine. I had to slow down because my ears hurt. There are many
issues that threaten our riding areas and access to trails, but none
will end our riding privileges more quickly than insanely loud bikes.
Think about it...please.

Leadbelt National Enduro
St. Joe State Park (Park Hills, Missouri)
May 23, 2004
7th of 19 in Vet A
It’s not often that I spend six hours straight on a motorcycle, for good
reason: it hurts. Past Leadbelt enduros that I've ridden were a bit
more moderate in terms of total mileage, but when the AMA began
scheduling this enduro for its national series, the Missouri Mudders
upped the ante. I had pre-registered on row 5 with Jeff Neathery and
the legendary Donnie Dannar,
captured on film (or .jpeg) and made
famous at the 2004 White Rock Enduro for his acrobatic fender kiss
on Work Hill.  Sadly, Donnie was unable to attend the enduro and left
numerous Leadbelt photographers canvassing the course for
alternative photo opportunities.

At the riders meeting, course officials announced that the infamous
Waterfall would again be part of the 50-mile loop. This section drew
rave reviews from some of last year’s participants and gasps of
anxiety from others. While the waterfall showed up early in the 2003
Leadbelt course, this year it would be just a few miles from the end of
the loop. So in addition to late-race exhaustion, riders would have the
Waterfall to look forward to.

Even though I arrived in what should have been plenty of time to sign
in, pass the sound test (barely) and get geared up, I managed to
fumble around long enough to kill all but about three minutes of
spare time. Jeff was waiting for me at the starting area in the sand
flats next to the pit area. The skies were a bit overcast and the wind
was kicking up some sand as the clock counted down to our minute.
We had two other riders with us on our row, and as the course
officials flipped over “5” on the number board, Jeff and I took off first.
The beginning speed average was a leisurely 15 mph as we rode past
the pits through the sand. While we rounded a sweeping corner, my
KTM, idle since the White Rock Enduro in March, welcomed me back
into its saddle by locking in on a mound of grass in the sand. As if by
magnetic attraction, the front wheel caught the edge of the mound
and buried itself in the sand. Jeff passed by as I went down, surely
wondering how in the heck anyone could fall in the first 200 yards of a
100-mile enduro, during a 15 mph section in open sand. Fortunately
for me, the photographers were unavailable for that photo op.

I caught back up to Jeff in time to take about a one minute break just
before the 3-mile mark, after which we were fair game for checks. The
speed average jumped to 18 mph at that point, where Jeff and I took
off again with him leading. The trails were mostly twisty, second gear
stuff that I could tell was going to challenge me to keep on time. Jeff
eventually let me lead and we quickly caught up to a pair of guys in
the row ahead of us. One guy let me around immediately, but the
lead rider wouldn't let me pass. After about three yells I lost my
patience and put an MHSC-style block pass on the guy.  

The 18-mph speed average increased to 24 mph just after the 8-mile
mark, and from there on it was a sprint to the gas available about 12
miles later. The course was in great shape after a relatively dry week,
and the trails were fairly easy to follow. Much of the first 20 miles
twisted through the non-public area of St. Joe State Park where hare
scrambles courses are typically run. If not for an extremely sensitive
rear brake, the ride to the gas available would have been relatively
uneventful. But for the first time in my 5-year history with KTM's, the
300MXC actually solved its own problem.  The spark arrestor
eventually oozed out enough spooge to cover the caliper and drip
onto the rear brake rotor. After that, the braking action was fine (who
says spooge is a bad thing?). The gas available, 20.6 miles into the
race, was also the location of the first reset. I was a few minutes
behind at that point but the reset gave me enough time to gas up and
rest for a short time. Jeff arrived at our gas jugs just a minute or two
after me.

As the clouds began spitting out raindrops, we took off together and
began the second section of the course. These trails meandered
through the woods adjacent to a long stretch of power lines. With
many miles of singletrack, this area was the most enjoyable riding of
the day. But a few miles into these densely-canopied woods, the
skies darkened and my rose-tinted goggle lenses made it tough to
see. The speed average dropped back to 18 mph somewhere in this
section but I was still running behind. One of the challenges of my
old-school method of timekeeping (clock, roll chart and odometer) is
that it’s very hard to read the roll chart while being bounced around
on the trail. Even so, I've competed in enough enduros over the years
to get a feel for the speeds necessary to stay on time without
constantly monitoring the roll chart. Too much 2nd gear in an 18 mph
section will make me late, and that's what I was doing too much of. I
knew I needed to go faster.

The trails eventually led us into the public area of the park for the
third section of the loop, where the woods were more open and
speeds were faster. These familiar trails should have helped me get
back on time, but the roll chart said otherwise. Near the end of this
section we passed through a brief but very tricky infestation of jagged
rocks and ledges that were just close enough to a lake to envision a
wet, premature end to my day. When riding for fun in the park, it’s a
spot I normally try to avoid like a psychotic ex-girlfriend, but on this
day I was forced to deal with it, sort of like when you run into your
psychotic ex-girlfriend while with your current girlfriend and have to be
nice when you really want to just push her into the nearest lake. But I
digress. By some miracle I breezed through the rocks and shortly
after that was another check. Following the check was the next reset
out in the middle of the St. Joe sand flats, where I had a couple
minutes to catch my breath. I was now about 37 miles into the
enduro. Jeff caught up just before I was ready to get back on the trail
and showed me the blank screen on his Watchdog computer. Now
he, too, was an old-school timekeeper.

The last section of the 50-mile loop took us to the west side of the
park and outside the public area. On every even mile there was a
piece of white cardboard stapled to a tree, with the mileages and
times printed twice – once with numbers corresponding to the first
time around the loop, and another set for the second go around. At
the riders meeting we had been told the Waterfall would be around
mile marker 55 (about 45 ground miles into the loop). As I approached
that point I became just a little bit nervous. Around every corner I
expected to see it. Finally, the trail came to a spot where a second set
of arrows pointed to an alternate route and a guy was planted there
directing traffic. This year the signs were labeled more politically
correct with use of the words “Easy” and “Hard” (use your imagination
of what the “Easy” trail was called last year). Choosing the trail
marked “Hard” led to the Waterfall and “Easy” was presumably, well,
easier (but longer) than the Waterfall route. I’m always a sucker for
the more challenging option, so I took the hard trail and quickly saw
the most intriguing section of trail that I've ever ridden. It ran straight
down the center of a creek with a flat rock bed and dropped 20-30
feet over the next 100 yards. Using my knowledge gained from
Geology 101 (Rocks for Jocks) at the University of Illinois, I would
describe these rock features as: a) flat, pretty much; b) kinda tan
colored; c) a bunch of ledge drop-offs. The creek had a small trickle
of water flow and about half a dozen vertical drops ranging from 2-4
feet. Each ledge was just long enough to allow about half a second
before having to commit to launching off the next ledge. The sides of
the creek were lined with spectators and cameras. I pointed the KTM
down the center and hit the first couple of smaller drops cleanly. As
cameras flashed, I launched over one drop after another. The two
largest drop-offs, both around 3-4 feet, came last. The first of these
high ledges was a straight approach, but the next one required a
quick change in direction to match the contour of the creek. I was
able to jump down both of those ledges
without any problems and
sighed with relief. A few miles later, the first loop ended. I had just
enough time to gas up and scarf down a sandwich before heading
back out for my second loop.

While the short-course riders relaxed, I began my fourth hour of
racing. Strangely, I felt almost fresh as I rode through the next 20
miles to the gas available. Over the course of 100 miles, it’s
sometimes hard to recall any significant details of a particular section,
and I honestly can’t remember anything substantial about the hour or
so it took to get to the next reset. At the gas available, 70 miles into
race, I topped off the tank but didn't see Jeff. After another minute or
two of rest, I headed back into the woods just a bit early. As we were
warned at the rider’s meeting, a check appeared quickly. I saw a “4”
on the number board and went into my best sloth mode, hoping that
they’d flip the card to “5” and I wouldn't burn the check. Thankfully,
the card was flipped just when I was about to put down my foot.
[editor's note: this may or may not have occurred at this check, but
like I said, 100 miles is a lot of friggin' riding so my memory might be a
little off]

When I started my second trip through the nice singletrack, I began to
notice my front wheel sliding around more than it had the first time
through. Then I felt the back end sliding around. In the brief sections
where sunlight was reaching the ground, I could see the trails were
definitely damper than on the previous loop. Apparently a small
cloudburst had dropped just enough rain over this area to make
things a little slippery. After a few miles of sliding around, the course
was dry again. This section probably separated the fastest riders, as it
was all 24 mph versus 18 mph the first time through.

Back in the public area of the park, my knees felt sore. I was about 80
miles into the course and had been on the bike nearly 5 hours. At one
point the trail met up with a very well established ATV path, where the
arrows indicated a sharp left turn onto this path. I overshot the turn,
but the woods were fairly open in this area so I made a gentler turn
and rode parallel to the marked trail until I could find an opening to
get back on the arrows. When I found an opening and swerved left to
get back on the trail, I realized I was riding about 5 feet higher than
the ATV path, which had been eroded down several feet after many
years of use. In third gear, there was no time to abort so I flew over
the ledge. The drop down onto the trail was one heck of a jolt, but
after that I didn't notice my sore knees anymore.

At the next reset in the middle of the sand flats, I saw no sign of Jeff
and assumed he had encountered a problem somewhere in the
second loop. This time the reset gave me only a minute or so of rest,
as the speed average had been 24 mph for all but 11 miles of the
second loop. I was back on the trail quickly to begin the last 12 miles
of the race. By now my body was starting to feel the effects of nearly
90 miles of riding, and I just wanted to get done. As with the first loop,
I anticipated the approaching Waterfall at every corner when my
mileage indicated it was close. There were fewer spectators the
second time through but the result was the same: I made it through
smoothly. A few miles later I reached the sand track next to the entry
road that led to the pit area. I was in the home stretch, firmly planted
in the seat and too tired to stand for any length of time. But just
before the final checkpoint, I could see a guy with a camera taking
shots of riders as they slowed to cross over the road. I reluctantly
stood up on the pegs to give
some semblance of aggressive riding,
saw the camera flash and then flopped back down on the seat.

I ended with a score of 55, good enough for 7th place in the Vet A
class. The overall winner was Steve Hatch with a score of 5. Doing the
math, Steve made it to the finish line 9 minutes sooner than me and
had 41 extra minutes of rest during the resets. And that, folks, is why
he gets paid to ride. The Leadbelt was a milestone event for me, as I
had never before ridden a 100-mile enduro. Like I said, the reason is
simple: it hurts.
Westphalia, Missouri
Park Hills, Missouri