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 National weekend.

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
business.

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.

4:58 p.m.
Joliet, Illinois
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 down there.

9:14 p.m.
Wentzville, Missouri
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.
Wentzville, Missouri
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.

5:03 a.m.
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.

7:05 a.m.
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.

7:39 a.m.
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.

7:48 a.m.
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.

7:50 a.m.
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 matter much.

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.

8:00 a.m.
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.

8:12 a.m.
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.

8:32 a.m.
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 arrives.

9:03 a.m.
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.

9:07 a.m.
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.

9:15 a.m.
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.”

9:20 a.m.
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.

9:43 a.m.
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.

10:04 a.m.
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.

10:14 a.m.
My knee pads are rubbing me raw. I am tempted to stop and remove
them, but I know better.

10:25 a.m.
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.

10:47 a.m.
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.

11:01 a.m.
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 running late.

11:55 a.m.
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.

12:15 p.m.
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 time around.

12:33 p.m.
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.

12:58 p.m.
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.

1:35 p.m.
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.

1:45 p.m.
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.
Chicago, Illinois
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
Morrison, Illinois
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 afterwards.

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 awhile?” commercial).

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, including these:

  • 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 going again.

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
Morrison, Illinois