May 22, 2005
Park Hills, Missouri
5th of 14 in Vet A
According to the May 2 issue of BusinessWeek magazine, Weblogs (a.k.
a. blogs) are “...simply the most explosive outbreak in the information
world since the Internet itself.” Now, before you call bullsh!t on that
statement, remember this: it was printed in a magazine with “Week” in its
title, so it has to be true. So I figure it’s time to jump on the Blog
bandwagon and record my mostly meaningless thoughts on the Leadbelt
Saturday 9:04 a.m.
Naperville or Woodridge, Illinois
Another flashback to 1998-2001 in the St. Louis apartment, opening a
single car detached garage filled to capacity with what most refer to as
John’s Toys. Although I have lived in this apartment for nearly two
months, I am still unsure where I live, exactly. My mailing address
suggests Naperville but the friendly police officer I met the previous
Saturday told me that I live in Woodridge. Wherever it is, I’m finding that
both suburbs move at a pace which keeps body shops full of new
My plan for the day was to do some minor work on the KTM, pick up some
food and other necessities for the overnight trip to St. Louis and start
driving in the afternoon. The one good thing that came from my failed
attempt at racing the Naked City Enduro in April was that the KTM was
pretty much ready to race. I yanked off the lights (no need for them at St.
Joe State Park), checked the tire pressure, kicked over the engine a few
times and listened to it ping to life for the first time since my toe-smashing
ride at Newark in August of last year.
Light rain on I-55 comes down steadily all the way to Bloomington. That’s
o.k. though - Park Hills is a long way from Bloomington. It has to be dry
Arrive at the Sellers house and settle into a comfy basement bed. Alarm
is set for 5:00 a.m.
Sunday 3:02 a.m.
Thunder crashing and lightening flashing. Now I’m wishing I’d packed my
waterproof riding jacket. Maybe it will blow over by the time I get up.
Still raining. On goes my emergency pullover rain coat, useful for
repelling water but not much else. Matt and I load up the bikes in rain
gear. Looks like a long day in store for us.
Finally, the rain is ending as we pull into the staging area, but it’s
apparently scared away the locals. Attendance appears to be down and
I've run out of fingers to add up all the states represented on bike
haulers’ license plates.
Riders meeting wraps up and it’s time for the sound test. The Missouri
Mudders are an extremely efficient bunch – I’m in and out within
approximately 17 seconds.
Check and re-check keytime. Matt and I are on row 5, which means our
clocks have to be set back 5 minutes in order for our race to begin when
the display shows 8:00. As with White Rock last year, Matt will be relying
somewhat on my timekeeping skills. When I suggest that we need to set
our clocks five minutes ahead of keytime, I can sense his lack of
confidence in my ability to understand how enduros work.
No change to my old-school enduro style – mechanical odometer, roll
chart and two cheap LCD clocks from Walmart. Normally the clocks are
duct-taped to my handlebars with one showing normal time and the other
showing seconds, but one of them is already acting goofy. Off it goes.
Today I’ll see only minutes, but as I’ll soon find out, timekeeping won’t
7:55 a.m. (adjusted time)
While waiting our turn to leave the starting line, MHSC scorekeeper Tom
Eidam pulls up beside us to say hello. He is one of the few MHSC regulars
I’ll run into today, and it’s good to see an old friend.
We’re off! The first 3 miles is a leisurely 15 mph average, which is pretty
easy to maintain if I don’t do anything stupid. At the 2.9 mile mark, Matt
and I pause to get back on time. Our row has three other riders, two of
which are riding the short course (one loop) and another guy in one of
the B classes. When we decide to get back on the trail just before the 3-
mile marker, the two guys riding the short course jump ahead of us. At
this point the speed average jumps to 18 mph, which for me is basically a
race pace in the St. Joe singletrack. Enduros don’t normally involve a lot
of passing, but now I know there will be two ahead of me that I’ll need to
get around quickly. Eventually I pass both guys, but it’s not easy. The
singletrack is slick. As one of the first groups to ride the trails after the
early morning rains, we’re sliding around every turn. I gradually pull away
from the others on our row but drop the KTM a couple times around some
turns in slippery hard-packed clay.
I have just had the bejesus scared out of me. The infamous waterfall
section is once again part of the course, but this year it sneaked up on
me. I had completely forgotten about it. I suddenly dropped down into the
rock bottom creek and immediately launched over the first big ledge,
completely unprepared. The next few ledges were moderate, but on the
last big one I landed hard enough to feel it throughout my entire body.
With more water flowing down the creek this year, it was exponentially
scarier than last year.
At this point the speed average is supposed to increase to 24 mph but I’m
already running late. As expected, this enduro will be about 90 long miles
of riding as hard as possible. At the first check I dropped one point and
am headed for substantially more dropped points when the next check
Time is passing by quickly as I near the end of the 19-mile extra short
course. The second check was placed near the end of this short loop and
I dropped 11 points there. The trails to this point have been very slick and
unpredictable. Some spots are moist with good traction; others cause the
back end to weave from side to side, as if the rear tire is sweeping the
entire surface of the trail in a futile quest to find some grip. I feel like a
world rally car driver running first in order, clearing loose stuff off the road
for the benefit of the rest of the field.
The trail passes under a pedestrian bridge in the sand flats, signaling our
return to the staging area. The on-trail sound check is just ahead. I pass
the re-test and search for my gas jug. Before filling the tank, I notice that
despite the 10 minute reset, I’m still running slightly late. The gas fill-up
puts me a couple minutes behind and I notice that I've nearly emptied the
jug. Naturally, I've chosen to leave the wrong gas jug at the gas available.
We blast around the wide sand track circling the staging area and head
back out into the woods.
I’ve entered the most hellish part of the course. It’s an old hare scramble
trail made out of hard clay with about an inch of slop on top. Once the
slop is pushed to the side, it’s like riding on snow. Matt would accurately
describe the section this way: “It sucked the life out of me.”
Now settled comfortably into survival mode, I’m dropping points even
more rapidly when the speed average increases to 30 mph. Clearly, this
speed is designed to add some points to the national riders’ scores. At
the next check I drop 19 points.
Here we are supposed to pause for 10 minutes, then get back on the trail
at 9:41. Even with the 10 minutes of catch-up time, I’m still running late,
so there’s no rest for me.
A new section has been added to the trails which roughly follow the power
lines. It’s a creek as tough as any I’ve faced in Missouri. A guy wearing a
Team USA ISDE helmet passes me before we begin our run through the
center of the creek but then falls down ahead of me on a slick rock
bottom surface. I don’t see him again for several miles. This half-mile of
silty gravel and slick rock seems more like five miles. My left hand is
feeling signs of a blister coming, and I remember that I forgot to put on my
usual set of Band-aids and Palm Savers.
My knee pads are rubbing me raw. I am tempted to stop and remove
them, but I know better.
In theory, I should be finishing the first loop about now, but I’m running
about 20 minutes behind. At the 6th check just before the end of the loop,
I drop another 19 points. Randy Hawkins, 16 minutes behind on row 21,
passes me half a mile before this check. His bike has an interesting
aroma. My bike has an interesting rattle.
Finally, I’m back at my truck. With less than 10 minutes before the second
loop is to begin, I quickly fill up the gas tank, change goggles, eat a few
bites of turkey sandwich and set out for the second half of the race
without my fanny pack. If there is a time for something to break or come
loose on the bike, it will surely be soon. I’m already a couple minutes late.
First check on the second loop and I drop a point. Somehow I end up on
the alternate wuss route next to the waterfall. I had heard others say that
it’s actually the faster way, and now I’m in agreement. The trails are in
much better shape this time around but still slick in places and I’m still
At the 75.1 mile marker is another 10-minute pause, but like the first loop,
there’s no pausing for me. But as the trails continue to improve, I’m
actually close to being on time when I get to my gas jug. With about 10
minutes of free time, I make a run back to my truck to top off the gas tank,
strap on my fanny pack and head back to the sand track next to the
staging area. The Osia brothers are packing up after completing the
short course and I give Ray a wave as I blast by.
Back in the worst mud on the course, most of the slop has been cleared
off the trail and all that’s left is hard, wet clay. But it’s easier than the first
My nasty habit of dragging my right leg for balance must end. The
tweaking it took last Sunday at Colona left me hobbling for a full day, so I
concentrate on keeping my leg in front of the foot peg. So far it’s working
– 70 miles of riding and my knee still feels good.
Somewhere in here the Missouri Mudders got tricky with check placement.
Mike Sigety and John Burgard, both seasoned A-class enduro riders,
check in 3 minutes early, dropping 12 points. By some stroke of luck, I
zero the check. But something odd just happened. Of the two guys writing
down scores on the cards, the first guy writes “05”, which is good. I've lost
no points. He walks away, but then the second guy comes over and starts
to write “05” on the next line on the card. I tell him three times that the first
guy already scored me, but by then he’s already written “0”. I continue on,
tired and sore and knowing I've got about 15 miles to go.
Finally, the end is near. I’m less than two miles from the end, which is a
known control. Thus, there can’t be anymore checks, or so I believe.
When you don’t take enduro races all too seriously, sometimes you don’t
really bother to learn all the rules. If it says “known control” on the route
sheet, it’s a pretty sure bet that there will be a check there. So I putted
along the last two miles, thinking I was home free. Then the final check
appeared in the sand flats and I wished I’d ridden a little harder the last
two miles. But I’m not sure how much faster I could have ridden. I was
tired and sore. The card scorer looked at my scorecard and mumbled
something about the zero written on the last line of the card and decided
that someone else at the finish line had already written in my score. I was
too tired to catch on to what happened, but the “0” on my scorecard
suggested that I’d checked in 5 minutes early.
Back at the truck, I see a handwritten note from Matt describing the
whacking his chain guide took on the first loop. His chain kept coming off,
so he called it a day and headed for home. And so did I.
Tuesday 9:33 a.m.
The scores are now posted online, and I see that I placed 5th in my class
and somewhere in the top 40 overall. Most interesting is the 22 points I
dropped on the final check. This was a check at which even Steve Hatch
was three minutes late. I was shown as burning it by 5 minutes. So
everyone must have thought I was a cheater. It didn't affect how I placed
in my class or overall, since I probably was 15-20 minutes late to that
check anyway. Had I stuck around a couple hours to look at the scores as
they were posted, the backup sheets would have fixed it, but I didn't care.
Once again, it was a long, punishing race that was totally fun. Can't wait
until next year.
June 5, 2005
The Moose Run
12th of 18 in Open A
Every generation or so we are blessed with an individual who looks at the
world a little differently. In our sport, that person is Bill Gusse. Many
things have been written about this man, much of it now focused on his
disregard for rider-friendly races, but here’s something new: he is heavily
responsible for my interest in off-road racing. More on that later, but here’
s a little history. Up until the mid-1990's, Mr. Gusse's renowned race was
called the Illinois Cross-Country Championship. Not exactly a hare
scramble, not really an enduro, just a long race through the woods and
fields near Morrison, Illinois. When Moose picked up sponsorship for the
race in 1994, it became the Moose Run. And with the final running of the
Blackwater 100 in 1993, the Moose Run officially took over the title of
America’s Toughest Race.
The Moose Run has always been on my list of must-do races, but its
distance from St. Louis kept me from making a serious attempt at getting
myself up to Gusse Country. Now that Morrison is less than two hours
from my place, the Moose was on my schedule this year. I didn't really
care what kind of conditions I’d face on the course, I was going to at least
attempt the race. And judging by the Intellicast animated radar on
Saturday, I was in for a real treat. Storms were popping up all over the
place, dumping heavy rains on most of the northern parts of Illinois. I
prepared myself and my KX250 for a mud race. Solid brake rotors front
and rear, fully loaded roll-off canisters in both sets of goggles, extra tear-
offs to tape over the roll-offs, and plenty of towels and rags to clean up
Turns out I over-prepared for the mud, as the rain gods smiled on The
Moose. The trails were in nearly perfect condition. Near the sign-up area
was the usual collection of national-caliber riders with the testicular
fortitude to tackle two 30-mile loops. Brian Garrahan, Jimmy Jarrett and
Shane Watts were on hand, as well as the guy who defines the word
legend in the off-road world: Dick Burleson, still extraordinarily fit at an
age approaching that of my parents.
The Pretty Bikes Stay at Home
One of my first observations in the staging area was a general absence
of sparklingly clean motorcycles. The exceptions were the heavily
sponsored riders with their usual showroom-clean bikes. With as much
press coverage as this race has received over the years, most
participants know to expect that they’re not going to make it through the
course without some cosmetic dings, cracks, and assorted breakages. My
KX250, many rides removed from its showroom sparkle, was the most
logical choice for the Moose.
I signed up for the Open A class, not my normal choice but the class
offerings are somewhat limited in the Off-road Motorcycle & ATV (OMA)
series. This put me in the second row with the likes of perennial fast guys
Ryan Moss, Ben Shafer, and Jeff Fredette. A little out of my league, but I
wasn't planning on anything except surviving, which I tried to do at the
start, a drag race through a field and a few minutes on a motocross track.
My fear and loathing of motocross was confirmed (as if it needed to be)
as the whole A class, for the most part, made it through the track ahead
of me. We then blasted through a mile or two of deeply whooped-out
Morrison peat. A couple truckloads of the stuff would have made the
grass grow splendidly around my old St. Louis home, but riding through it
was an experience like no other. Thankfully, it was dry. Peat is not quite
sand but looser than Central Illinois black dirt and hellish when formed
into 30-inch whoops. I escaped this section with only one minor get-off,
then headed into the woods.
The first mile of woods was deceptively benign, thanks in part to the ATV’
s who had cleared a wide path the prior day. But soon I came upon the
first of a number of interesting obstacles on the course. Each of these will
be named, simply, Classic Gusse, defined as an obstruction that would
otherwise not be part of normal off-road courses. This one was a small
stream with no vegetation on either side, thanks to a herd of cattle that
had used the area as a watering hole or a crapper (both, possibly).
Although no more than four feet across and 18-inches deep, the creek
was sure trouble if you dropped the front wheel into the water. One guy
was showing me the futility of this as I approached, so I chose a line
perpendicular to the creek and launched my bike to the other side. Easy
as (cow) pie.
This section of woods was filled with cow paths, many of which were used
in the course. Once such path took us along the side of Rock Creek with
just enough room for a couple of motorcycle tires. One bad move and I’d
be taking a bath ten feet below. We crossed over this creek several times
by way of makeshift bridges, but a few crossings took us directly through
the water. The first of these water crossings came where a mass of
spectators were perched along the banks, most there to witness what has
been described by others as Nightmare at Rock Creek. On a muddier
day, this could be true, but today it was just a bad dream. The water’s
depth was at about the height of what the KX can handle. As the engine
bogged the first time, I jumped off and gave the bike a good push.
Another bog later, I was at the other side and was able to keep the bike
running. I gunned it up the creek bank and felt good about conquering
another Classic Gusse.
Mr. Gusse is unapologetic about these challenges. In fact, he relishes
rider’s complaints about his courses. Think it’s too hard? Then go home
and work on that pressed pansy project with your mom. The next Classic
Gusse was another creek crossing, this one not as deep but very tricky at
the top of the opposite creek bank. A v-shaped log was lying at a slight
angle, just out of sight as I reached the top of the bank. Somehow I
reacted in time to loft the front wheel over the log, but another rider
wasn't as fortunate. He had slid to the side and fell back down the creek
bank, his bike sitting almost vertical (cue the “Not going anywhere for
Confidence is Dangerous
A funny thing happens when the trails are in decent shape and you feel
like you’re finding a groove: the course reaches out and takes a stab at
you. In most cases it was just a small moment of fear, but each time I up-
shifted and grabbed some throttle, a nasty little object lay in wait.
Sometimes it was a diagonal root on an off-camber trail; other times it was
an 18-inch log following a blind turn. In typical Illinois fashion, inside the
woods I could use second gear for about half a second before having to
hit the brakes hard for the next sharp turn.
About a third of the way through the loop was a gas stop. I figured the KX
would go 30 miles without refueling, so I rode through and started down
an open trail next to a railroad track. Somewhere after this 5th gear
section was another Classic Gusse. This time it was a square culvert
under a road. While plenty wide for a motorcycle, its height was only
about 5 feet. Even more interesting was that a couple feet of dirt had
eroded next to the entrance of the culvert, creating a concrete ledge. A
few chunks of concrete had been piled next to the ledge to help us get up
into the culvert, but I still had to pop up the front wheel to scale the ledge.
As I entered the culvert with the front wheel in the air, I had to immediately
duck down to avoid being knocked off the bike by the “ceiling” of the
culvert. One more Classic Gusse conquered, barely.
Yeah, It’s Like What You've Read
Most of us who follow The Moose know there are a lot of logs on the
course. Up until the gas stop I’d handled the sporadic 18-inchers without
incident, thinking that if this was what all the fuss was about, maybe this
race wasn't going to live up to its hype. But I had to remind myself that
course conditions were about as perfect as they get in Northwestern
Illinois. Many of those logs I’d conquered would have been infinitely more
challenging if slick and snotty. There were few, if any, nasty ruts to
navigate and my energy level was still decent.
Things began to change over the next 15 miles. We entered a very long
stretch of tight, technical singletrack that seemed never to end. And
around every corner was a log. I quickly lost count of the number of times
I came around a corner, assessed an approaching obstacle and thought,
You cannot be serious. While most of the logs were on the ground, some
were above the ground just high enough to ride under. I must stress the
word just. A couple of these required dismounting the bike and leaning it
at an angle.
At this point I decided that I had no desire to see this stuff a second time.
One loop would be enough. I wasn't incredibly tired, but I knew I’d
eventually botch a log crossing or slip off a ravine and have to get
physical with the bike. Soon enough, I was right. We dropped down into a
small, mostly dry creek bed with steep banks, the type where once you
get down there, you’re going to be there awhile. And Mr. Gusse kept us
down there a good long while. Naturally the place was filled with big logs.
In the bottom of a creek bed, trees rarely fall flat against the ground. Most
of the logs were hanging off the ground in some form or another. I was
beginning to learn the art of hefting the back end of my KX over fallen
trees. It’s not terribly difficult the first 20 times or so. After that it becomes
a bit of a chore. The worst was a pair of logs spaced just far enough
apart to fit a 21” front wheel. Mine fell between the logs and stopped the
bike. I, on the other hand, kept going a little further. I spent about 5
minutes extricating the bike from the grasp of those logs. Now the energy
level was declining fast.
More Classic Gusse's were strategically placed in the last part of the loop,
- A round culvert about 6 feet in diameter, with bolts protruding
through the top center of the corrugated metal. My helmet took the
brunt of the first ten or so bolts before I bothered to duck down low
enough to avoid them.
- The most intimidating log of all, a two-footer sitting about 10 inches
off the ground. Do the math and you’ll understand how high the
front end of my bike had to be lofted in the air just to get half the
bike over the log. Once on top of the log, it was teeter-totter time.
The second half of the bike made it over by momentum alone.
- Nightmare at Rock Creek Part Two: another deepwater crossing,
this time out in the open area that was the final 3-4 miles of the
loop. This time the KX didn't make it across. After I pushed it to the
other side and kicked over the engine in shallower water, we were
At the final run through the motocross track, I may have obtained about 3
inches of air over one or two jumps. I missed the same turn that Shane
Watts would later overlook to hand the overall win to Jimmy Jarrett. For
me, obviously it didn't matter. There wasn't another bike within 5 minutes
of me. In fact, over the last 10 miles I saw just a handful of other bikes on
the course. The scorers scanned my bar code and I headed back to my
truck, packed up and called it a day.
In summary, the Moose Run is a tough race, even on a day of perfect
weather and trail conditions. There’s really no way to prepare for it. You
just do it, not necessarily to finish well, but to survive. This is the race that
fostered my interest in off-road racing as a teenager, reading Dirt Rider’s
accounts of the Illinois Cross-Country Championship. I wanted to be in the
woods doing the same as the mud-caked guys in the pictures. So to Mr.
Gusse: thank you. I will be back.
Park Hills, Missouri
|"Mr. Jarrett, nice to
see your rear tire for 6