2004 Race Reports
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