Hell's Holler Hare Scramble
MHSC Round #10

August 22, 2004
Newark, MO
5th of 9 in A Sportsman
For me, the “hell” part of Hell’s Holler began two weeks prior to the
event while helping Gary Mittleberg & Co. break in the trails for the
race. Led by Gary’s son Cameron, we were slowly making our way
around what turned out to be a 15-mile loop, most of which was new
singletrack. Cameron regularly sacrificed his bike and body for the
discovery of obstacles hidden under the brush. I did my part, too.
About 11 miles into the loop, I passed by what appeared to be a
harmless log lying parallel to the trail. At the exact instant I attempted
to up-shift into second gear, the end of my left boot met a broken-off
branch sticking out of the log. Once this sharp branch got hold of my
boot, the foot peg was right behind it. I came to an abrupt halt, my
boot wedged between the branch and the foot peg.
Yeah, it hurt.

At first I thought it was just a bruise. When the pain didn't go away
and I couldn't put much pressure on my foot, I had worse thoughts -
the kind where you’re not sure if you want to take off your boot for
fear of what you might see. After a slow mile in first gear, I took a
shortcut back to my truck and called it a day. On the way there I had
to scale Joust Hill, so named for a tree branch on the way up that had
once jousted a certain rider off his bike. The alternate route I took
around Joust Hill had me nearly stuck to my axles in a muddy
swamp, but somehow the rounded knobs of my KTM’s rear tire, the
same beaten rubber I’d used for all 100 miles of the Leadbelt Enduro,
pushed me through it. After a couple attempts I was able to scale the
hill and return to my truck.

The next day a foot X-ray confirmed my suspicions: a toe was broken.
For being such a small little bone, it sure did hurt. But like last year
with my
sprained ankle, the pain gradually subsided and I passed the
final test the night before the race: I could push my foot into the boot
and shift gears, so I was going racing. I picked up Matt in Wentzville
and we arrived to a gorgeous day at the Miller farm. While pulling in
next to #500 Marty Smith, one small problem became evident almost
immediately: my left rear tire was flatter than the hair of a Republican
National Convention speaker. While Matt bummed a Camelbak from
Marty, I borrowed his floor jack and mounted the spare (which, to my
surprise, was still filled with air). Little did I know that whatever I ran
over had also punctured
both right-side tires. That would become
evident following a business trip three days later, when I returned to
the St. Louis airport to find the truck sagging noticeably to the right.

Gary had shortened the course to 10.5 miles and removed a couple of
hills that could have been tough to climb for the ascensionally
challenged. On the practice lap I hooked up with #250 Adam Ashcroft
and #644 Carl Dobson, each of us taking turns leading. Even though
it was well marked, the trail was challenging to follow. We had done
our best to break in the course two weeks prior, but the 100 or more
riders taking a practice run would make it much easier to follow once
the race began.

The start of the course was in a pasture, and I was a little slow off the
line. Normally the board drops after it’s turned sideways and “15”
(seconds) is visible. This time, the board never turned and it was
dropped while still showing “30”. I was near the back of the pack as
we entered the woods but soon found myself in a group of riders that
included #237 Elston Moore and #38 Todd Corwin. We were packed
tightly for most of the first lap, each of us looking for a little shortcut or
slight bobble that could get us in front. I finally worked my to the third
or fourth position as we neared the end of the first lap at Joust Hill. At
the top of the hill, the trail veered left but I turned too soon and got
hung up on a log. Several guys passed me there and I was in 6th
place at the scoring trailer.

On the second lap I caught up to the guys who’d passed me at the
top of Joust Hill and once again we rode as a group for most of the
lap. The trail flowed really well and was a blast to ride. Even more fun
was the position-swapping of Todd, Elston and I on both the second
and third laps. So much went on that I can’t remember where it all
happened, but I got around Elston once when we missed a turn that
should have dropped us down into a creek for about 200 feet. I had
missed the same turn on the first lap but luckily saw Todd popping up
out of the creek and had dropped in behind him. The same thing
happened on lap 2, except Elston turned back around to find the trail
and I kept going straight until the arrows reappeared (yes, it was a
sucker pass). After getting around Elston and #503 Steve Dean, I put
a hard pass on Todd coming off a steep, slick hill with a sharp left
turn at the bottom. Later he got back around me, but I passed Todd
again by taking a higher line through a trail that followed the bottom
of a ravine. After section was a high-speed, straight-line run through a
pasture and somehow the KX had enough speed to fend off Todd’s
KTM thumper.

Although I checked into the scoring trailer in the 3rd position at the
end of lap 2, Todd and Elston quickly passed me on the grass track
to start the third lap. The position swapping continued, though. At
some point I passed Todd again, but then he passed me in the same
ravine where I had got around him on the previous lap. For some
reason I chose to take Todd’s original route, and he took the higher
line. After that, I could feel some fatigue coming on, thanks to two
weeks of inactivity. My toe didn't bother me much during the race, but
I didn't have the stamina to maintain Todd and Elston’s pace for the
whole race. I stayed moderately close to them on the third lap, but my
fourth lap was noticeably slower.

I lost about a minute on the final lap when a guy got hung up on a
short hill. Another guy was ahead of me, waiting for the first guy to
move out of the way. I suggested that he go up the hill around the
guy on the right, which he tried and failed. I decided to show him how
it’s done and made it about two feet further before losing traction and
falling over. By the time I picked up the bike and readied myself for
another attempt, the first guy was off the trail and out of the way.

I finished the race a couple minutes behind Elston and Todd, who
were barely out of sight of each other for over two hours. Slade
Morlang continued his charge toward the A+ class by winning our
class and finishing 9th overall. Steve Leivan clinched his 12th MHSC
championship with the overall win.

September 5, 2004
Kahoka, Missouri
13th of 15 in 250A (4th of 5 in MHSC A Sportsman)
Once every five years or so, when the stars and planets align properly
over Kahoka, Missouri, the soil dries up and hare scramblers rejoice. I
had raced here five times previously under every type of condition
imaginable, from frigid cold (1996), extreme heat (1999), rain and mud
(2002-03) and that single day of near perfection (2001). In 2004
impeccable weather returned for the Mulekicker National Hare
Scramble at its familiar spot at the Burkhart farm.

Matt and I parked next to Team RocketRacing.net, where I collected
two trophies before the race even began. John Yarnell had been
saving my 6th place plaque from the Leadbelt Enduro back in May,
while Gary Mittleberg had been holding on to my 2nd place trophy
from Florence in July. A third trophy wasn't in the cards, as I signed
up for the 250A class and had no expectations of earning any
hardware. The dual-sanctioned Mulekicker scores points for both the
MHSC and the AMA National series, but the “regular” MHSC riders
have their scores tallied separately after the race. Riders enter their
classes based on AMA rules, but regardless of the class entered for
the National event, each MHSC rider gets scored in whatever class
they've been running during the year.

Matt and I took a walk around the farmstead that serves as the
Mulekicker’s staging area, admiring the high dollar rigs that always
show up for these events. We admired a KX65 entered in the mini
race that probably had more money in it than my own bike. Special
admiration went out to Kiefer Rosier and his wicked crash on the
motocross track (he remounted, took the lead and the win). But in a
big-picture sense, the most admirable part of the whole experience
was mostly a reflection of the obvious: near Kahoka, Missouri is a
farmhouse with a friggin’ near-national-caliber motocross track in its
back yard. No cows, no pigs, no crops, just a motocross track.

In the pasture where we gathered for the start of the race, the 250A’s
were lined up behind the Pro class on the second row. I always enjoy
observing the varied routines of the guys who make their living doing
what I love. On one extreme was Andy Shea with his umbrella
girl/girlfriend who, I might add, was genuinely talented. His Kawasaki
sparkled and his body was fully shaded while we waited for Aaron
Shaw to change a fouled plug. On the opposite side of the Pro’s row,
both literally and figuratively, was Shane Watts, the gifted Australian
with a recent knack for untimely injuries. Had he been wearing
anything but a chest protector with “Watts” imprinted on its backside,
he could have lined up in a middle row and drawn little attention.

My two-kick start put me well in the back of the pack, a spot in where I
pretty much expected to be anyway. The 250A’s seem to be the most
competitive of the various “A” classes, with some of the participants
within shouting distance of the Pro’s. We began in the same open
field as in past races, turned left to follow the fence line of the pit
area, then made a brief pass through the motocross track before
entering the woods. All of this happened at warp speed. I caught up
to #250 Adam Ashcroft and passed him while we curved around the
other side of the pits. Without the traditional MHSC warm-up lap I was
a bit out of focus on the first lap. The pack didn't spread out much
when we entered the first of the singletrack and I was concentrating
more on the bike in front of me than on what was coming up ahead.
The course never stayed inside the woods for more than a mile, so it
was a constant high-speed, low-speed ride around what had been
advertised as a 10-mile course. Near the midpoint, we entered the
motocross track for a 300-yard down-and-up straightaway with a
couple of jumps on the downside. Travis Green, an appropriately
named Kawasaki rider from Ohio, caught up to me from the 200A row
and launched his bike high into the air. Landings are soft on the
Kahoka track and Travis didn't slow down for the second jump. He
was long gone by the time I made it back into the woods.

The second half of the course was more open than the first, thanks to
an abundance of grass tracks. This year I haven’t loathed the fast
pasture sections as much on the KX, with its motocross-style hit and
confidence-inspiring brakes. Solely through attrition I worked my way
up to the 12th spot at the end of the first full lap. The field had spread
out by this time, which meant I had to begin focusing on the trail in
front, rather than the back tire of the guy ahead of me. After two years
of muddy Mulekickers, the dry course was full of the chop left over
from endless ruts. The worst of it was in front of the pits, just before
entering the motocross track for the final time on each lap. It was a
straight line to the track, but fast and incredibly rough. Some guys
were trying to pit along the fence line that separated the course from
the staging area, which added further complications.

Since I’d been told the course was 10 miles, I planned to stop for gas
after the third lap. I assumed that would be just shy of two hours into
the race. Even though my body was ready for a rest after three laps,
after checking through the scoring trailer my watch showed I’d barely
ridden an hour. My lap times were just north of 20 minutes, but it was
still hard for me to believe I could do 10 miles that quickly. I smacked
the watch that was wrapped around my handlebars to make sure it
hadn't performed its trick of switching modes to “Alarm”. No problems
there, so I did some more math and figured I could wait until I’d
completed 5 laps before gassing.

Near the middle of the 5th lap, I came up behind a train of lappers
that included #369 Jim Walker of RocketRacing.net. Naturally it
happened just before the longest stretch of limited passing
opportunities. Other than pull over and stop, there wasn't much any
of the guys ahead of me could do except keep on riding. Eventually
our pack grew to include Shane Watts, who had taken over the lead
on that lap. Even he, the master lapper passer, couldn't find any way
to get around our group. When we came to the motocross track,
Watts checked out with Chuck Woodford just a few seconds behind.
Jason Raines was also making a charge, with he and Cole Calkins
right behind Watts and Woodford.

Lurking behind me was Adam Ashcroft, who up to that point had been
a couple minutes back for most of the race. My gas stop at the
beginning of the 6th lap was just lengthy enough for him to pass me
while I screwed on the gas cap. I followed him closely for about half
the lap, then decided to attempt a pass by going through a minor
mud hole that everyone else was avoiding. I didn't quite have the
momentum to get through my chosen rut, but Glen Osia, working the
race, gave my forks a tug and pulled me out. Adam was still ahead
and I tried to keep him in sight. When we entered the motocross track
for the second time on that lap, at each turn he was about a hundred
yards ahead and maintained that distance when we neared the
scoring trailer. Surprisingly, the white flag was already out. I had
expected to do 8 laps, but my 7th would be my last. So I made a
decision: I must pass Adam.

I used to think I was only capable of riding at 100% speed 100% of
the time. All this talk from the Pro’s about pacing themselves during
the race, keeping the lead guys in sight and then making a last-lap
charge to the finish, I didn't get it. And for the most part, I still don’t.
But once I decided I had to catch Adam, it was on, baby! With one lap
to go, I summoned what little energy was left in my beat up body and
got aggressive. On the previous couple of laps I had slowed to 23
minutes, about a minute longer than what I’d done with a fresh body
on the first two laps. But my final charge whittled the last lap down to
a respectable 22:19. I took a chance on the motocross track, passing
Adam near the spot and in the same style that Travis Green had
launched himself by me on the first lap (a “Bubba” pass, as Adam
would later describe it). On our second pass through the motocross
track I could see Adam a few turns behind. He got closer when I re-
entered the woods and slid out around a corner. But the engine kept
running and so did I. With dehydration chills passing through my
body, I finished the race just in front of Adam.

Jason Raines took the overall win, with Shane Watts in second. Top
Missouri finishers were Chris Thiele in 6th and Steve Leivan in 7th. In
the MHSC-only scoring, I was fourth in A Sportsman and 24th overall.
Newark, Missouri
Kahoka, Missouri