2006 Race Reports
April 9, 2006
Leaf River, Illinois
Black Hawk Trails Enduro
8th of 11 in Vet A
Did you know it takes exactly 34 minutes from the time you leave the
signup table at an enduro, until you reach the starting line? It’s true.
When I left that signup table of the Black Hawk Trails Enduro, with 35
minutes until my row was to depart, I completed each of the approximately
150 preparations necessary for a 75 mile race while carrying on a
pleasant conversation with Andy from Wisconsin, parked beside me in a
Honda Civic pulling a two-rail bike trailer. The setup was reminiscent of
Missouri’s own Lars Valin, multi-time ISDE finisher and past user of an
early-1990’s Acura as a bike trailer puller. Lars eventually graduated to a
pickup truck and the AA class; maybe someday Andy from Wisconsin will
too. Thirty-four minutes came and went and I fired up my KTM for just the
second time in the last 11 months.

The drive across the Rock River valley in North-Central Illinois is hardly
inspiration for an enduro. Most places, the horizon can be seen beyond
flatlands made for growing corn and soybeans. It’s difficult to believe a 75-
mile enduro is a possibility, but take a closer look at the countryside and
you’ll see some interesting terrain for dirt bikes. The Black Hawk Trails
Enduro is in its 47th year, thanks to the cooperation of a mass of land
owners and creativity in course layout by the Forest City Riders club.  In
my first attempt, it taxed my bike and my body but left me completely
satisfied.

This year the staging area was in the small town of Leaf River, at what
was once the town’s high school. The old athletic field served as the
parking area and the cafeteria hosted signup. At 8:45 a.m., 50 people
were standing in line ahead of me, each one completing signup at about
one minute intervals. By the time I made it through the line, row choices
were slim and I could either choose #7 or something closer to #50. It was
9:30 and I had to do some quick math. I normally prefer earlier rows over
later rows, mostly because I've had fewer bad enduro experiences when I’
m closer to the front. But to do that meant a relatively short time to get
myself set up to race. I gambled and took row 7.

I left the cafeteria at 9:32 with an actual-time departure scheduled for 10:
07, made a dash for the truck for my gas jug, emptied half of it into
another jug and rushed back to the school parking lot to drop off the
second jug on the gas trailer and set my watch to key time. Then it was
back to the truck to load my roll chart (should have done that the night
before), fill up the bike’s tank with gas (should have done that the night
before) and set my two clocks to key time (should have done that while
standing in line). So actually it doesn't
have to take 34 minutes from
signup table to starting line, unless you are me and often fail to plan
ahead much further than the 30 seconds it takes to throw a Power Bar
into your fanny pack. Two guys on row 4 were rumored to have readied
themselves 15 minutes after leaving the signup table, whereas it takes me
just about that long to put on my riding gear.

With clocks and scorecard duct taped to the bike, I focused on gearing
up. Roughly half the time it takes me to get dressed is blister and chafing
prevention, also called Old People Preparation (OPP). Prophetstown in
March convinced me I've developed City Boy Hands, so on went five
strategically placed Band-aids to my palms and fingers, plus Palm Savers
on each hand. My Fox knee guards, still in the gear bag only because I've
never been able to destroy them, got special attention because the straps
chafe the inside of my legs at the knee joint. This enduro would be my
first test of knee socks I’d always thought were exclusively for
motocrossers who would attach anything with a Fox logo to their bodies.
Style be damned, I was desperate for soft protection where the straps had
been digging into my City Boy skin (as it happened, the socks worked
great).

OPP now finished, I was finally ready to give the KTM its first kick with
ninety seconds before my time to leave the starting line. The engine burst
to life and I pulled up to the starting line next to a couple guys on Yamaha
four-strokes and another guy on a CR250. The first few miles were in and
out of fields and a few short sections of woods. The pace was 18 mph for
the first 50 miles or so, which was a relaxing trail ride in the open areas
but difficult to maintain inside the woods. I was mostly on time until we
began a mile or two in scrub brush along an abandoned railroad. Missouri
racers would have classified these trails as
Spud Cut, in honor of Missouri’
s Jon “Spud” Simons and his propensity for machetes when laying out
courses, but I’m not sure even Spud could make trails as tight. Naturally,
we were checked at the end of this section and I dropped a few points.

The next long section of woods as about as tight and challenging as
anything I've ridden in a very long time. Logs of all shapes and sizes, lying
over the trail at every conceivable angle, started appearing everywhere.
The pace was so slow that the KTM’s radiators boiled over anytime I
slowed to a stop. At one point I had to dismount and lean the bike at a
sharp angle to get past a very low-hanging tree limb. Several other limbs
were low enough that I had to almost put my head against the gas tank to
squeeze under them. Passing was virtually impossible without slower
riders moving over, and one of the two Yamahas on my row felt we were
the same speed (we weren't). I jumped ahead of him the next time we
came out of the woods but then bobbled around what should have been
an easy corner, then had to follow him to the next check. He squeezed in
at the very bottom of the minute and I was scored on the next minute. Now
I was annoyed, even though it was my own fault for letting him around me
to begin with. I had to remind myself I was there to have fun.

We reached the gas trailer at 26.5 ground miles and about 1:45 into the
race. Up to that point we’d only had a 1.5 mile reset. Even with a 3-mile
reset at the gas trailer, I was still late. I dumped a gallon or two of gas in
the tank and sped off. Eventually the open fields got me back on time and
the Yamaha guys were starting to run a little further ahead of schedule
than I was comfortable. I hung back closer to my minute and kept catching
up to the slower of the two Yamahas inside the woods. He wouldn't move
over, which got me thinking about Jeff Fredette’s advice moving past
slower riders: Whack’em on the right leg with your front tire. Eventually I
passed the guy and kept ahead of him in the fields.

As is customary for me in enduros that use roads to connect sections, I
missed a turn and ended up half a mile down the road at the entrance to
a livestock farm. I wasn't alone, though. Two other guys followed me, and
we all turned around and found the missed turn. I could see the Yamaha
guys ahead of me again, so I ran WFO through the fields and got back in
front of them before the next woods section.

Near the end of the first 50-mile loop, I was inside some tight woods next
to a creek and saw two KTM’s on riding in the adjacent field. They jumped
back inside the woods ahead of me and I had to follow them until the next
check because they wouldn't move over. I don’t normally care what other
riders are doing on the course, but it was the combination of course
cutting, using that to get ahead of me, and then holding me up that
annoyed me. Actually, it made me mad. So I mentioned the KTM guys’
alternate route to one of the check workers and for a brief instant felt
pretty good about it. But then the faster of the two guys wanted to race
me across fields and jump back into the woods first. The second or third
time this happened, I block passed him, went into full-out sprint pace and
left both of the KTM’s behind.

We finished up the short course with some fast woods trails and were
routed back to the staging area. The parking area was mostly deserted
when I arrived at my truck. With about 10 minutes to burn, I fueled up, ate
a Power Bar and caught my breath. The bike looked fine, so I hopped on
and began the final 25 mile loop. We were now 3.5 hours into the race
and the speed average jumped to 24 mph. For me, even with generous
amounts of open fields, this last hour of riding was hare scramble pace
with no need for timekeeping. The trails were more open and flowed well. I
jumped ahead of the two Yamaha’s and the CR250 on my row and kicked
up the pace. Gradually, I pulled away and was soon riding completely
alone. The miles clicked away fast and I was running wide open through
the fields, then pushing hard through the tight trails. The race ended with
a cool section of pine forest and the final checkpoint.

The overall winner, Jeff Fredette scored a 4. Two checks were thrown out,
the first because about 200 riders took a detour around it and the second
because missing the first check then screwed up the next check. My score
was 36, which put me near the bottom of my class. The early row probably
didn't help my performance, but I didn't care. I had a great time.

April 23, 2006
Sand Goblin Enduro
Roselawn, Indiana
The last time I had to eat my words was in July 2000, when I proclaimed
that Nelly Furtado was the full name of Nelly the St. Louis rapper. This
happens once every 5 years or so. Long overdue for more eating of
words, I was obliged by the Sand Goblin enduro near Roselawn, Indiana. I
now must take back what I said earlier about cheaters at the Byron, Illinois
enduro, because on this day I was one of them.

Roselawn, for those not familiar with the area, is moderately famous for its
multiple nudist camps. Past enduros at Roselawn used some of the woods
surrounding the camps. On warm days, it wasn't uncommon to see some
special spectators along the trails (if you’re thinking this might be
interesting, don’t bother…nudists are rarely what you hope for). But
today, temperatures were just cool enough for everyone to keep their
clothes on.

The Grand Kankakee Trail Riders hosted its fourth annual enduro under
nearly perfect conditions for racing. By way of the Chicago Skyway, the
staging area was less than 90 minutes from the mass of concrete and
steel I call home, and about 10 miles off Interstate 65 in Northwest
Indiana. Trucks and trailers were scattered over a large grassy area next
to a field of corn stalks, filled with more yellow ribbon and wood stakes
than I've ever seen in one place. The cornfield was about half a mile wide
and the ribboned track crisscrossed it several times. The sandy loam was
dry, even a bit dusty, which for April in the Midwest is about as good as it
gets.

I registered to race with the intention of riding on row #31 with Ryan Moss,
who had a spot open on the row he’d reserved. But the signup crew gave
away Ryan’s opening before I arrived, so I had to settle for my previously
reserved #26. Unlike Byron, I arrived with plenty of time to register and
ready myself for the race. The group of Michigan riders parked beside
me, however, had an experience similar to mine two Sundays earlier.
They’d signed up for row #23, which gave them a fair amount of
preparation time, but they were a bit confused about timekeeping. I
offered a few tips, showed them how I keep time with my pair of Walmart
digital clocks, and gave them the generic 24 mph roll chart that had been
taking up space in my gear bag the last couple years. The three guys in
the group ended up with about the same amount of time to spare as I’d
had at Byron, and the same amount of mild panic. I had a similar, short-
lived attack of panic when the nice lady serving as their pit crew informed
me that there had been some last-minute changes to the route sheet. I’d
already printed my own custom roll chart using the route sheet posted on
the midwestenduros.com website, and had just given away my only spare
roll chart. As generic as it was, the spare was the only thing that would
save me from changes in the route sheet. Luckily for me, the changes
were minor. The resets were identical, which was all I was really
concerned about anyway.

Brief introductions on the starting line revealed a pair of guys from
Michigan and two from Ohio. The Michigan guy next to me rode a KX250
in the Vet B class, while one of the Ohio guys on a Yamaha 4-stroke was
in the Vet A class. Our minute came up and we blasted around the dirt
track for what seemed like half an hour. The Yamaha guy lead initially
until I passed him, and eventually it was just me and the KX250 guy flying
around each corner. I wished I was on my own KX250, as the KTM just
didn't want to turn. In the sandy dirt, I couldn't square off any corners
without the rear wheel spinning uselessly. I could only point the KTM down
the edge of every berm and let it try to follow the contour.

After the dirt track ended, we cruised through field lanes and short
stretches of scrub brush along drainage ditches. The first check came a
couple miles later, and it was mostly designed to catch the guys running
hot. I zeroed it and continued on some easy fields and roads before
coming to the first woods section. The two Ohio guys went in about 20
seconds early, and even though I didn't think there would be another
check very soon, I didn't want to leave that early. So I followed the slower
of the two guys, on a KTM, and eventually he let me pass. I caught up to
the Yamaha guy and rode with him at a pretty good pace. I felt like I could
go faster, but he wasn't moving over and or making any mistakes that
would let me around. The trail ended at a road about half a mile later and
we cruised for a couple miles.

The next woods section arrived after more riding through fields. My
philosophy on riding transfer sections on roads and through fields is
pretty simple: Take it Easy (unless running late, in which case it’s Ride
Like Hell). The Ohio and Michigan guys rode like hell and then stopped to
wait at the edge of the woods. As I arrived, I could see the group start
heading into the trees and, sensing a check somewhere close, I sprinted
to a small opening and entered the woods first. The check was
predictably placed a couple hundred yards inside the woods. As would be
common throughout the course, this was a “check-in” check, to be
followed later by a “check-out” check where the woods were about to end.
I zeroed the check and then sprinted as fast as my bike and body were
able. At the end of the section I dropped 2 points and the Yamaha guy
was well behind me.

Now here’s something to ponder for all the up-and-coming enduro riders
out there: if you've just seen a guy on your row take off like a bat from
Hades and he walks away from you, would it make sense to let that guy
lead the next time you get inside the woods? Maybe my idea of common
sense is too advanced to be appreciated in its own time. The Ohio guys
continued to Ride Like Hell through each transfer section and enter every
section of woods early.  I’d catch up to the slower guy on the KTM and he’
d reluctantly let me around, then catch up to the Yamaha guy and try to
pass. I begged, I pleaded, I shouted, I yelled. Nothing. At one point he
bobbled over a log and seemed to offer me a chance to get by, but I had
nearly knocked myself off the bike to keep from thumping his rear tire
when he stopped. He gave me a look, then dumped the clutch and took
off again in front of me.

The rest of the first loop continued in and out of tight woods, alternately
fast and slow. As was advertised in the rider meeting, we were routed
inside a house. I expected to ride inside the front door and out the back
door, but we ended up with mini-tour of the ground floor. We rode up the
front porch, inside the front door, through the kitchen, then a 180-degree
turn into a hallway, a left turn into some sort of utility room and out the
side door. I’m assuming the club didn't realize how difficult the tight 180-
degree turn would be, because when I arrived at the front door I sat for
about two minutes waiting for my turn to enter the house. The check next
to the side door was an emergency check, meaning times were scored to
the second. So depending on which row you were on and when you
arrived, you might gain or lose more points than someone riding exactly
the same speed up to that point. The Yamaha guy on my row, who I’d just
spent the previous 10 minutes battling in the woods and eventually
gapping by 30 seconds or so, was now about 5 seconds behind me.

As we were routed back to the staging area to complete the first loop, we
passed through the entire length of the dirt track. This time, speed didn't
matter, as the only check between the start and the end of the track was
an observation check, mostly designed to keep people from cutting
straight to the staging area (which a few riders did).

The second loop began much as the first, with the Ohio guys going in the
woods early. After following them for a short while, I earned my away
around by taking a better line around a large log. From there on, I tried to
ride aggressively through some insanely deep sand whoops and a
general wasteland of downed trees. A few of logs could have had
Fredette carved into them, especially a nasty one in a narrow line of
woods following a small creek. The trail made a right-hand turn at the top
of a small hill, where a large tree had fallen. Several guys were struggling
to get up the hill and make the turn, so I tried to pass them on the left. As I
neared the top of the hill, my rear wheel dug a trench in the sand and the
bike came to a complete stop. I dragged the back end out of the hole and
gave it a second try, this time successfully.

At that point I was dropping no more than 5 or 6 points at the checks, but
the last three checkpoints would begin adding points. Or for me, the last
two checks. I took an alternate line around a big log on the low side of an
off-camber trail, which took me to a higher trail running parallel to the
arrows. It was a well-established trail, which should have been a tip-off
that something was wrong, because up to that point there weren't any well-
established trails that far off the arrows. But I kept going. I could still see
the arrows down and to the left, so I continued until I couldn't see the
arrows anymore. After a couple hundred feet of seeing no arrows, I
decided it was time to get back on the marked trail. At that very instant,
the arrows reappeared ahead of me and I thought I was back on the trail.

Technically, that was correct.

What I didn't know was that I cut off about 1.5 miles of the course and,
equally as important, missed check #10. I rode to the finish thinking I put
in a good ride and only dropped 38 points in 11 checks. When I arrived at
my truck, the Michigan guys were already winding down after doing their
own course cutting - about 10 miles of it. They asked me how many miles I
had on my odometer and I said 100. Right there, Mr. Oblivious himself
missed Clue #1 in the Mystery of the Missing Check. My odometer should
have read 101.4 (which included a third pass through the gawdaful dirt
track, to finish off the 75-mile course). Clue #2 came an hour or so later
when about 40 guys started comparing score cards with their buddies and
wondered why their buddies had 12 checks instead of 11. The guys with
11 checks on their scorecards asked Jeff Fredette & Co. what the deal
was and he told them the honest, painful truth: you missed check #10. I
arrived at the situation in time for Mr. Fredette to jump on a Red Bull
podium box and explain the situation to a crowd of onlookers, in
excruciating detail (I missed the part where he referred to 12 checks in
total).

The guys riding around the fallen tree before check #10 had inadvertently
ended up on a trail used for the youth race the day before. It wasn't
marked with any arrows, but was cut in very well after the young racers
passed over it. At this point I was not even thinking I’d been one of the
course-cutters. After all, I’d only been out of sight of arrows for a couple
hundred feet – 100 yards at most. Mr. Fredette's description of the fallen
tree and alternate route didn't sink in. He said it would have been 1,000
feet of seeing no arrows in order to miss the check. At the speed I was
going, it would have taken me at least a full minute to travel 1,000 feet.
Under my breath I was mumbling, “Stop whining, losers…you cheated.
You missed a check. Go home, drive safe, see you next year.”

Fast forward 90 minutes. The scrore cards were posted in traditional
enduro fashion, pinned to clotheslines stretched across the wall of a large
tent. The cards were grouped by class, and in order of finish. We weren't
allowed inside the tent at that point and the Vet A class results were
placed just far enough inside that I couldn't find my card or read any
scores. Eventually the crowd thinned out enough that I was able to move
close enough to see my card at the end of the Vet A grouping, with no
score total. How could that be? Had to be a mistake...or was it? Uh-oh. I
dashed back to my truck to retrieve my copy of the scorecard. Most of the
cards I’d see on the clotheslines had 12 checks. Mine had 11.

I cheated.

Obviously it wasn't intentional, but it didn't matter. Even though nearly
25% of the riders missed check #10, it wasn't a high enough percentage
to throw out the check. I went home, ate my words from Byron and
pondered what could have been, had I stayed a little closer to the arrows.
Regardless, I had a great time, rode well and didn't do anything more
stupid than miss a check on an absolutely perfect day for racing.
Leaf River, Illinois
Roselawn, Indiana