June 6, 2004
Warrensburg, Missouri
10th of 15 in A Sportsman
In any given hare scramble, the final results rarely tell the full story of
the many individual battles that take place throughout the race. We
all have stories to tell afterwards, but every once in awhile there’s a
long-lasting duel that becomes burned into permanent memory. At
Warrensburg, I had such a battle with #237 Elston Moore, with whom
I swapped positions about a half-dozen times.

Back in action for the first time since the White Rock enduro was #791
Matt Sellers, who I picked up in Wentzville on the way to the race site.
While heading west on I-70, also know as John’s Least Favorite
Interstate in All of America, an 18-wheeler honked its horn as it
passed us in the left lane. In my experience, vehicles honk at me for
two general reasons: a) they are unhappy about something, said
honk often combined with the universal hand signal of my #1 status;
or b) something important is about to fall out or off of my vehicle. Matt
and I assumed the latter and looked for evidence of gear attempting
to free itself from the confines of my truck bed. Everything appeared
to be in order, so we continued on. Several minutes later I caught up
to the horn-honking truck and began to pass on the left. The driver
rolled down his window and announced himself as none other than
#587 David Brewster. With this year’s top candidate for Most
Outstanding Statement of the Obvious, Brewster proclaimed, “I can’t
race today!”

At the race site, we checked in and did a practice lap. The course was
beautiful, as usual, with smooth, relatively dry singletrack and a few
new trails I hadn't seen before. Some of the familiar sections were
present, including a couple passes through the center of a tight,
winding creek bed and the treacherous second crossing of the large
creek that flows through the property.

On the starting line, I noticed that the 15-second board was dropping
almost in slow motion as the AA and A classes left the line. Some
riders immediately detected the initial motion of the board dropping
and got a good jump, while others were slower to react. Naturally, I
was a little slow to react when the board dropped for our class and
was headed for the first corner amidst a pack of riders. As we braked
for the first turn, #644 Carl Dobson's rear wheel slid out and he fell in
front of me. For an instant I had an opportunity to use his bike as
launch pad, but instead fell down with him. Observing this on the
Open B starting line just behind us, #370 Ray Osia uttered another
potential candidate for Most Outstanding Statement of the Obvious:
“That guy can’t buy a good start.” My front tire was lodged between
Carl’s rear tire and fender, and I yanked on the handlebars a couple
times to separate my bike from his. We both gathered ourselves and
headed into the woods, me in last place and Carl just ahead. About a
half-mile later we caught back up to our class.

The first creek crossing gave me my first opportunity to make up
some ground, as riders were struggling to make a sharp left turn up
the opposite bank. I passed at least one guy there and a few others
later on, including Elston Moore who had stopped briefly to fix a minor
mechanical problem. Over the course of the first lap I worked my way
up to 10th place, just behind #364 Bob Searing. On the second lap I
passed #29 Steve Crews on a nasty climb up a short hill that was
becoming a bottleneck. But in the process of getting up the main line
of that hill, which was becoming a shiny, polished clay rut, a few
riders got around me, one of who might have been Elston. By the end
of the lap he had turned on the speed and was nearly a minute
ahead of me in 9th place.

On the third lap I caught back up to Elston and passed him in one of
the narrow creek beds by cutting up and across one of the banks
instead of following the contour of the creek. I rode as hard as I could,
but since I wasn't gaining more than a few seconds on Elston, I could
sense that a mistake-free ride from there on would be the only thing
keeping me in front of him. Mistake #1 happened near the end of the
lap on a steep drop-down to cross a small creek. On the other side
were some nasty ruts that I tried to avoid by cutting to the left. When
the front wheel hit the silty creek bottom, I came to an immediate stop
and gave myself a bath in the creek. Elston passed by while I was
lifting my bike out of the water. A couple corners later I was surprised
to see Elston on the ground. I passed him again just as he was about
to get going and completed the third lap in 9th place.

Our battle was even more interesting on the fourth and final lap,
when I came upon two riders stuck at the top of a short but steep,
sandy hill. The approach was a quick right-hand turn, and I couldn't
see the guys stuck at the top until I had already committed myself to
a deep rut at the base of the hill. I waited a few seconds for the guys
to move out of the way, but along came Elston and found an inside
line around all of us. I could see him in the distance as I finally made
it up the hill and out into an open area. Ever so slowly I reeled him in,
a little at a time, until I was close enough to pass. He and another
rider were approaching the short hill of past bottlenecks when I
noticed a line about 20 yards in front of the sharp left turn where the
established route went up the hill. Elston and the other guy passed
by this little shortcut but I seized the moment and beat them both up
the hill.

I stretched out a lead over Elston that was just enough that I couldn't
hear his bike behind me, but I knew he was back there just waiting for
me to make a mistake. Near the end of the race he got his chance. In
the last mile or so I got bogged down by some lapped riders and
Elston caught back up. About a quarter-mile from the end was a
small creek crossing that had developed deep ruts. A few riders
ahead of me were taking turns going up what appeared to be the best
alternate route and like a fool I waited for my turn. Just as I was about
to drop down into the creek and cross over, Elston snuck in ahead of
me and made, in his words, a sucker pass. But I’d had too much fun
to care. Call it the evening out of karma: I had already made two
slightly questionable passes on Elston. Once again, the
competitiveness of the A Sportsman class showed in the results, as
the 7th through 10th place spots were only a handful of seconds
apart. And as usual, everyone rode fast at Warrensburg.

June 20, 2004
Marshfield, Missouri
4th of 11 in A Sportsman
Beware of the practice lap, for it can end your race before it starts.
This I almost learned the hard way at Round 6 of the Missouri Hare
Scrambles Championship. After arriving to beautiful weather for mid-
June in Southwest Missouri, Matt and I went out for our customary
practice lap, where I tried to get around a guy and fell over in a
shallow creek. The silencer was gurgling underwater but by some
miracle I kept the engine running. I picked up the bike and saw a mini
water cannon shooting out behind me each time I revved the engine.
With wet packing material inside the silencer, the exhaust note
changed dramatically. I caught up to Matt, who had taken off ahead
of me, and drowned out all evidence of his running motor as I passed
by with my ear-splittingly loud silencer. Eventually the packing
material dried out and the KX250 returned to its usual semi-noisy self.
The first half of the course was fast, with much of it following ATV
trails. The second half was mostly singletrack, and like last year’s
Marshfield course, some was technically challenging and downright
tight for Missouri.

While riding to the starting line I was greeted by #149 Ryan Rohleder,
winner of every 200C race he has entered this year and son of #259
John Rohleder who is affectionately nicknamed Crazy Jesus by his
fans, in part because of his resemblance to the universally accepted
portrayal of Jerusalem’s most famous carpenter and also from a riding
style that begs the question, “How would I ride if I cared little of
neither life nor limb?” I lined up on the inside of the A Sportsman row
next to #76 Gary Mittleberg, who along with the rest of my class left
me standing while I two-kicked the bike. I settled in behind #487 Tom
Huber and followed the pack for much of the first lap. Toward the
end, I nearly strangled myself by getting a little too close to a vine
while trying to find a good line through a muddy gully and finished
the lap in 6th place.

As with last year, stapled to random trees were paper plates
containing various notes of encouragement, observation, and fact.
The rockiest section of creek bed was named in honor of the notably
absent Doug Stone and some of the tighter trails were identified as
Spud Cut. One message confirmed, finally, what for years had been
the subject of rumor, speculation, and innuendo: Todd Corwin does,
in fact, blow goats.

On the second lap, #35 Kevin Ruckdeschell caught up to me after
taking a first lap spill. He put on the pressure and I let him by in one
of the grass tracks. Kevin put a small gap on me in the tight trails but
then got caught up in a minor bottleneck. I followed him into the
muddiest section of singletrack, where his pace slowed and I shouted
some words of encouragement. He responded by dumping the clutch
and roosting me with mud, then pulled over to let me lead for awhile.
We checked through the scoring trailer just a few seconds apart at
the end of the lap.

Kevin stayed close behind on the third lap and then passed me
again. I followed closely as we entered the tight trails in the second
half of the course and watched him get slightly crossed up after
clipping a rock. Somehow Kevin avoided bouncing off about 10 large
trees. Later on, he showed me a good line around a rock garden
because that’s the helpful guy he is. I had one opportunity to pass
where most riders were taking the long way around a log, but I didn't
react in time to hop over the log and continued to follow Kevin. When
we reached the muddiest trails near the end of the loop, we both went
wide left to avoid the worst of the ruts. He went a little wider left than I
did, and I came out ahead where the alternate lines converged into
the main trail.

I completed the third lap in 4th place, where I would remain. Todd
Corwin was about a minute ahead of me in the 3rd spot, but I was
only able to close the gap to about 45 seconds. All the while, I figured
Kevin was close behind so I pushed as hard as I could. In the tight
trails, I came up on #122 Nick Bryant, last year’s 6th place finisher in
the Junior class and now a 200C competitor. The narrow course made
it difficult to pass. After following him for a short time, he disappeared
around a corner and suddenly came back into sight, hung up on a
small log. I couldn't abort in time to avoid him and smacked into his
rear tire. Nick and his bike both went down. I felt bad about knocking
him down and worse about not stopping to help because I was too
preoccupied in keeping ahead of Kevin. As it turned out, Kevin
whacked his knee on a tree root that slowed his pace on the 4th lap
and I finished several minutes ahead.

As is often the case, the tight trails at Marshfield were kind to me in
the overall results, as I broke into the top 20 for the first time this year.
Slade Morlang edged out Gary Mittleberg to win the A Sportsman
class, while Steve Leivan took yet another overall victory.
Warrensburg, Missouri
Marshfield, Missouri