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