2004 Race Reports
"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
." -- 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
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