June 26, 2005
In my somewhat limited hare scrambling in Indiana, for some odd
reason I often experience a “first” of one sort or another (although first
place has not been one of them). In my pre-LASIK days, I lost a
contact lens at Cayuga. Both times I competed at Kingman, the races
were restarted shortly after they began. And at the Culver hare
scramble, one of the B classes started on the front row. Some things
might be different in Indiana, but the sameness of Hoosier sand was
all over the course.
The north-central Indiana sand factor was one I’d forgotten in the
many years that had passed since I’d ridden a very enjoyable
Roselawn-style enduro here. A set of Michelin S-12’s, firmly planted
to the KX's rims since moving to Chicagoland, were up to the task. I,
on the other hand, wasn't entirely comfortable with 95 degrees and
dust rivaling a Missouri hare scramble in July (read: Florence). After
the race I heard mumblings about the course being the most
dangerous ever ridden by some, due to the dust. Obviously those
individuals have not spent much time in Missouri during the summer.
The unpredictability of Indiana hare scrambles turned into familiarity
on the starting line. Most races held in extreme heat have one thing in
common: the amount of time spent waiting for the promoter to make
his way to the starting area is directly proportional to the temperature.
The girlfriend of the young guy lined up next to me felt the need to
remind us of the heat. “I’m hot,” she said over and over while dressed
in short-shorts and a “I spent $100 on a belly button piercing and I’ll be
damned if I ain't gonna show the whole friggin' world, biotch” shirt, this
in front of 100 guys covered head-to-toe in 20 pounds of riding gear,
kind of like whining about the heat at a 4th of July parade while the
color guard passes in full dress. Oh, to be 17 and a complete idiot.
Never have I seen so much dust at race east of the Mississippi. The
start was a grass track in an open field, straight ahead for a couple
hundred yards and then zig-zagging through a mowed path. If riding
35 mph in 3 feet of visibility doesn't scare the bejesus out of you, then
you’re my hero. A really stupid hero. Inside the woods, the dust didn't
let up. It hung in the air, clogging my lungs and painting my face a
dark shade of peppercorn-poop brown. I passed a few of the B riders
that jumped out to better starts, but each time was an effort. The
course was made up of the tight, twisty trails typical of Indiana. The
only time I shifted into third gear was in the dusty grass tracks.
The course was 8 or 9 miles long and took a little over 30 minutes to
complete a lap. In less dusty conditions the trails would have been
awesome, but today they were not awesome. All I did was try to
survive for what I thought was to be two hours. When I checked into
the scoring barrels the second time, one of the ladies said “One more
lap!” Never had three words meant so much. I wanted to stop and
give her a hug. Instead, I decided I would charge through the grass
track with aggression, since I was finally alone in a world of dustless
pleasure. Then I realized I still had seven miles to go and enough
energy for about two. I backed off a bit and concentrated on doing the
nearly impossible – riding smart. One minor crash later I decided I’d
just ride to make it to the finish in one piece.
At the end of my third lap I passed through the barrels one last time
and spotted a kid with a garden hose. I pulled up to him and asked
him to let the water flow down my back. A half-hour earlier I’d thought
that being told I only had one more lap was the best feeling in the
world. Now, the best feeling was that cold water. When I reached
down to grab the kick starter, I could feel some intense heat coming
off the radiators and engine. Back at the truck, coolant was dribbling
from the lower front of the engine. I’d banged the pipe against a
stump, which created a huge dent and pushed the pipe against the
radiator hose coming off the water pump. The heat of the pipe melted
a hole in the hose and out went the coolant. While the engine didn’t
show any telltale signs of overheating, it was probably getting close.
The shortened race may have saved the cylinder (the piston got
replaced after the race).
All I wanted to do after the race was jump into an air conditioned truck
and hit the road. Which I did, but not before burning my bare feet on
the sand and frying my ass on the tailgate. On the way home, several
bank thermometers showed 98 degrees. Now that’s hot.
July 3, 2005
5th of 7 in Vet A
There is dry, and then there is Casey in July after many weeks with
hardly a drop of rain. The 2005 version of the Cornstock 100 was its
polar opposite of last year’s inaugural hundred-miler. Mired in mud at
the ’04 race, I managed only a few laps before my rear brakes gave
out. This year would be a battle with blinding dust on a course
already chewed up by the ATV race a day earlier.
The good part about racing at a motocross-centric venue is that they
usually know handle dust. Or at least some of it. The motocross track
and the pit area had been dampened by a large tractor-pulled water
wagon. Unfortunately, they neglected to water the trails. After signup,
I took a quick walk through the trails while the Junior class completed
their race, and a Florence-like fine powder had built up at the edge of
every berm. The dust kicked up by the Juniors just hung in the air,
barely a breeze to be found inside the woods.
Riding blind at high speeds is something the average non-riding
person would have a hard time appreciating. Actually, I don’t know
anyone who really appreciates it, because for the most part, it sucks.
How much does it suck, you ask? In the immortal words of one
Wayne Campbell, it sucks donkey. That bad, yes. The only time when
it doesn't suck as much is when you get the holeshot and make
everyone behind you eat your dust. But since “holeshot” and
“Stichnoth” are uttered in the same breath about as often as “Dick
Cheney” and “Public Appearance”, I fully expected to eat dust at the
start of the Cornstock. And I didn't just eat it, I devoured it like chicken
wings on Hooters Air.
The Lincoln Trail woods have little of what I would call pure
singletrack, and none of it was used in the Cornstock. Not that it
would have been much better with more singletrack, as every dirt
particle on the course had already been loosened up by the ATV’s.
Visibility in most places was about five feet, just far enough to keep in
sight the rear fender of the bike ahead of me. Complicating the dusty
conditions was a spongy front brake that didn't serve me well as I
tried to avoid rear-ending bikes that seemed to appear out of
The first lap was all about survival. I followed freight trains of bikes,
choked on dust, and could hardly tell where the trail was. Most of that
lap was reactive riding, just trying to hang on as unseen objects (and
there were many) tried to separate me from the KX. I made a few
passes, then dumped the bike and watched most of the guys pass
me back. The lap ended at the motocross track, watered a bit but
hard as concrete in most places. I was following two guys for a couple
of miles before we entered the track, got around one and then
watched the other get sideways on a small jump and take a nasty
crash just before we reached the scoring barrels.
With as much dust as I inhaled on the first lap, I began to wonder
how long my air filter would last before hopelessly clogging with dirt.
Before the race I’d chatted with perennial fast guy Rick Kinkelaar, who
mentioned that he brought a spare filter. This thought did actually
cross my mind the morning of the race, yet I made a conscious
decision to leave my freshly oiled spare filter on the kitchen counter.
Another dusty lap lay ahead, although slightly less so as the bikes
began to spread out. Wherever there was a bike, a long trail of dust
followed. I caught up to a few bikes on the second lap and struggled
each time to find a way around.
On the third lap I felt the irritating pain that is the beginning of a
blister. I’d forgotten to put on my PalmSavers and a blister was
forming on my clutch hand. I knew I needed to get those PalmSavers
on my hands, so I reluctantly pitted at the end of the lap. I’d hoped to
do 4 or 5 laps before pitting, but that wasn't going to happen. I filled
up with gas, pulled on the PalmSavers and headed back out for my
fourth lap. By this time I was catching lappers, most of who moved
over quickly. Even so, I still had to deal with their dust trails. As soon
as I came upon the dust, I’d ride about a quarter-mile before I could
see a bike.
The next two laps were a blur of dust, although there was actually
decent visibility in a few spots. At the end of my 6th lap, three hours
and 50 miles into the race, I decided that lap 7 would be my last. I
just wasn't in the mood for a 6-hour ride. The KX is generally good for
about 3 hours, then it becomes a handful. The KTM probably would
have been a better choice, but even then I probably wouldn't have
done all the laps I had coming. As with the hot, dry Culver race the
weekend before, I packed up and headed for home with only two
desires: a cold shower and a long nap. Rick Kinkelaar used his spare
air filter wisely and won the Vet A class, while Jeremy Smith took the