June 4, 2006
5th of 11 in Vet A
Unless you've tried it, the Moose Run is just an infamous name like
Blackwater or Erzberg. We all know it’s tough. We know you can’t worry
about what your bike will look like afterwards, or what your body will feel
like on Monday morning. But until you spend 5 hours in the saddle in Bill
Gusse’s backyard, you don’t know.
The first 3 or 4 miles are somewhat rideable, actually. The peat whoops
are deep and dusty when dry, but most of the first part of the course is
designed for ATV’s. The trails start out wide, sparsely populated with logs
and otherwise manageable, save for the occasional 3-foot wheel drop into
soil that is softer than sand. The first 10 minutes of the race could make a
first-time rider wonder what all the fuss is about.
Then comes the creek. A crowd of spectators tells you something
interesting is about to happen, and there’s hardly a scene more
remarkable than the first crossing of Rock Creek. The water is deep. The
creek bed is slimy mud. Some riders make aggressive charges, diving
right in – sometimes in a literal sense. Others take a good look at the
action, ease into the water and walk their bikes across. The first time
through, I did the latter and waded beside my KX250 through waist-deep
water. The day before, I’d finally patched T-vents into my carburetor
hoses and the results were perfect – no water in the carb, not a single
bog in the engine. Others weren't so lucky.
After the creek, the real fun begins. The trail diverges from the ATV
course and turns into the narrowest of singletrack. That, in itself, is not
uncommon to Illinois. In fact, constricted trails are just about everywhere in
the place we call Land of Narrowly Spaced Trees. At the Moose Run, the
difference is, Bill Gusse doesn't care what’s there to begin with. Orange
ribbons hang randomly from trees, to be later reinforced with black and
white arrows stapled to whatever is available. In many places it’s up to the
riders to find a path linking up the arrows.
The challenge of navigating the arrows is caused by the fact that we don’t
have forests in the upper two-thirds of Illinois. Rather, we have woods.
Places like Missouri have forests. Missouri trees are tall and their
canopies snuff out all but the most shade-happy brush. Illinois trees, on
the other hand, are equal-opportunity foliage. Anything green is welcome
to intermingle within the trees, which is great for wildlife but tough on dirt
bikers. Stray from the beaten path and anything is possible. Anything.
Sometimes you find a hidden log, other times a rusty old car. Even in the
more open sections, random objects often reach out and grab
unsuspecting riders. Photographer John Gasso's online album showed
one unlucky guy being stopped in the middle of a creek by what appeared
to be a steel cable wrapped in his rear wheel. Where did it come from?
Trees near Morrison apparently don’t stay vertical very long. They fall
over, often. And Bill Gusse finds every last one of them. These are the
kind of trees you’ll rarely see in a hare scramble, or anywhere else for that
matter. They appear out of nowhere, which is why it’s so difficult to ride
aggressively in the Moose Run: around every blind corner could be a 24-
inch log lying at an angle to the trail. Or an 18-inch log lying at an angle
and perched a foot off the ground. Or a 10-inch log sitting three feet off
the ground. Or a 16-inch log followed immediately by a 12-inch log
stretching across the trail at helmet level. The combinations are as
endless as the logs themselves. If you were to add up all the logs one foot
in diameter and larger, you’d be counting at least 20 per mile of woods.
They just don’t stop.
One of Bill Gusse's talents in course layout is forcing riders to take on the
obstacles. I counted two places where effective alternate routes had
developed around downed trees. Two places. Part of the reason for this is
many of the trails head straight down the center of small creeks and
gullies. Once you’re down there, you’re not getting out until Bill Gusse
decides to let you out. That may mean dismounting, leaning your bike
over as far as it will go and ducking under an overhanging log. It might
require lifting the back wheel over a V-shaped log. And sometimes, only a
tow strap gets you out of there. Just ask Ryan Moss, victim of a deep hole
in a creek. Two positive things came of his stuck bike, with its rear wheel
buried out of sight and its front wheel pointed upward at a 45-degree
angle: 1) everyone else knew where not to go; and 2) his bike was stuck
about 10 feet from a road culvert. A tow strap and a van solved the
problem, but not before ending Ryan's day early.
Forty minutes into the race, I came to the gas stop and located my red jug
next to Vet B rider Brian Scheulin's. Forty minutes and 16 miles. Once
again, a first timer might think things were going better than expected. And
once again, he would be wrong. The logs just kept coming, and the trail
wasn't exactly broken in yet. In one spot I found myself wandering
aimlessly in a newly planted soybean field, searching for any sign of
arrows. After backtracking into the woods, the trail was found. I would
spend the next hour and forty-five minutes trying to survive the 19 miles
following the gas stop.
In the second half of the course, some logs were nothing but obscene in
size. One required raising the front wheel to the point of nearly flipping
backwards and then hoping – praying – that the rear wheel would hit the
log in time to bring down the front end. It did, and the skid plate smacked
solid wood. The front wheel teetered, the back end tottered, and I hoped
divine intervention would give me enough momentum to clear the log.
Fortunately, it did.
Bill Gusse is not entirely without compassion. The most difficult woods
section was saved for the end but was followed by about 5 miles of wide
open ditches and fields of peat. Before I came to those ditches and fields,
I was nearly the victim of When Bikes Attack! While hung up on a root,
another bike approached from behind. As the bike neared, I focused on
clearing the root and then felt a heavy thump against my shoulders. I
turned my head around and saw an upside down Yamaha clinging to my
rear fender and its rider standing behind. I was a bit offended. Then I saw
that no harm had been done to either of us and I laughed at the sight. We
helped each other past the nasty root and for the next couple miles I still
couldn't figure out why he launched his bike into the back of mine. The
trail was flat and easy to navigate up to that point. Clearly, the
hydrocillator in his Yamaha was faulty.
The course ended with a motocross track, where I performed a classic
high-side crash to an audience of onlookers. The previous year, when I’d
come to this point, I wanted nothing more to do with any of the obstacles I’
d just faced. This year, instead of packing up and driving home, I decided
a second lap might just be easier than the first. My unintended focus on
endurance events this year must have paid off, for I felt as if I still had
enough energy to survive another 2.5 hours. I refueled the KX beside my
pickup truck and then did something I will never, ever do again: I relieved
myself without removing my gloves. Why? Because it takes so long to
blister-proof my City Boy Hands. Five strategically placed Band-Aids and
two Palm Savers – it’s as much an art as a necessity and I didn't want to
disturb anything inside the gloves. So I touched my pee-pee with gloves
that had seen 35 miles of every kind of weed known to Northern Illinois.
One week later, I would pay. That’s all I’m going to say about that.
In some ways the second lap was easier, other ways more difficult. The
small amounts of time I shaved by following better lines through tough
sections were usually offset by screw-ups in other sections that hadn't
caused any problems on the first lap. Mostly, I rode scared. Sometimes it’s
better not to know what’s coming. Around several blind corners, where
large logs appeared instantly, I was timid. One log I’d cleared (barely)
earlier in the day caused my hardest fall and bent my shifter, all because I
panicked and came to a dead stop about two feet from it.
I did grow some cojones in some sections, such as the deep crossing of
Rock Creek. Instead of walking my KX through the water, I stayed on the
seat and opened the throttle as far as it would let me. In the center of the
creek, the engine gave one very brief bog but carried me to the other
side. After the gas stop (once again, 40 minutes into the lap), I passed
through a road culvert and came upon the KTM of Ryan Moss, deeply
stuck in a creek. Ryan was long gone; his bike served as a warning. Most
riders avoided the creek by scaling the grassy bank on the right side of
the culvert, which I though was a good idea until I noticed the marked trail
on the opposite side. The creek at this point was more of a waterless
ditch, so once again I followed someone else’s path and dropped down
into the center. I was progressing as well as I could, considering the
bottom of the ditch was about a foot wide and two feet deep. Thirty feet
later I realized I had to get out of there, and fast, so I lifted the front wheel
out of the narrow ditch and pushed my way up the side. It was the most
energy I wasted all day.
The rest of the second half was about as uneventful as a Moose Run can
be. Not that it was without its usual sphincter-tightening obstacles around
every corner, but the riders were spread out widely, with less than half the
field starting the second lap. Most of my time was spent alone in the
woods, struggling with the bent shifter. For 30 minutes or so, each shift
had to be deliberate but eventually I got used to it. I did manage to smash
the fat part of my pipe against a sawed-off five-inch log sticking out into
the trail, but overall bike damage was otherwise minimal. My body was
wearing down near the end and I was glad to see the long section of
ditches and fields. At the motocross track, I gave no special shows to the
crowd and finished at roughly 6:00 p.m., nearly five hours after I’d started.
I hadn't been so satisfied in seeing my scorecard removed from my front
fender since the Leadbelt Enduro five weeks earlier. Once again, last year’
s champ Jimmy Jarrett took the overall win, followed by Justin Williamson.
Only 41 riders finished two laps and just 8 riders completed three trips
around the course. Once again, even when dry, the Moose Run was as
tough as it gets.
June 20, 2006
1st of 7 in +30A
Luck can be darn helpful sometimes. There’s two kinds: that which you
expect is a possibility under certain circumstances, and the kind which
comes as a complete surprise. The latter was my type of luck at a new
race site near Hooppole, Illinois, part of the WFO Promotions hare
scramble series in Western Illinois.
The race site is a bit unusual for Illinois, for its sandy soil, short stubby
cactus and freely growing hemp. It was as populous as the cactus. Having
said that, if you live somewhere like California or Florida and are seriously
considering a road trip to next year’s Hooppole hare scramble, consider
that hemp used to be grown in Illinois for making rope about 65 years ago.
So plan on smoking truckloads at a time to get the same effect as the stuff
those Mexican dudes sell around the corner from me.
Just before noon, riders gathered around the outskirts of the staging area
to take a parade lap. While we waited for the 80cc class to finish their
race, I nudged my way to the front of the pack to get an early jump on the
masses. A parade lap is mostly a course tour at a snail’s pace if you’re
anywhere behind the first 20 or 30 riders, and I wasn't in much of a mood
for patience. The trail was 4.5 miles long, about 1/3 of it tight singletrack,
1/3 ATV trails and the rest very fast runs through fields and pastures. Two
spots looked like sure trouble during the race, both ditches with bottoms
as soft as the Trixies at North Avenue Beach (can I say that?). Other than
a large log or two, the dusty fields looked to be the primary challenge of
Then the rains came.
The skies let loose as we lined up in the starting area. I stared straight
ahead through wet, foggy goggles to the first turn. The fastest guys
apparently thought we were headed elsewhere off the start and placed
themselves farther to the right. Call it dumb luck, but I had picked the only
open spot on the front row, which happened to be the shortest route to
the first turn. It wasn't like I stole someone else’s space – there just
weren't any bikes lined up that far to the left. At the blast of a shotgun, my
KX250 sprang to life and I sprinted to the first corner in about 5th place,
ahead of 20 or so other A and AA riders. More luck.
It was an odd feeling. I was inside tight woods at the start of the race and
not packed with other riders like Brown Line commuters during rush hour.
Three or four guys passed me before we looped back around to the
soybean field that would link us to the ATV trails. I upshifted to 5th gear
and turned the throttle nearly to its stop. At this point the rain was pouring
and each fat drop that made it inside my helmet stung my nose. I couldn't
see more than 75 feet ahead. Before the race began I’d expected less
vision through here because of dust, but now it was rain and my goggles
were just north of useless. Near the end of the field was a hard left where
we crossed over an old fencerow and continued next to a corn field. The
turn came fast and I missed it. A quick U-turn revealed another guy behind
me who also missed the turn and 4 or 5 guys looking to take advantage of
our mistake. I lost a spot or two before we came to one of the sketchy
ditches that I’d thought would be big trouble during the race. It was.
I powered my way through the ditch, cleanly, barely. The knobby tires of
one bike after another were digging deep ruts and, as I would learn later,
the ditch became a huge bottleneck. Anyone who didn't make it through
with the first 20 riders would have to wait their turn. Some riders tried to
cross the ditch using an old irrigation bridge with some very large gaps.
Others tried alternate paths across the ditch, only to be caught on the
wrong side of a fence and forced to backtrack.
This was my final installment of dumb luck, and it was important. While the
others lost time here on the first lap, I was through without incident and
put a gap on the +30A field. Best part about that was the ditch was
rerouted to a much easier spot on my second lap. The ATV trails following
the ditch were slimy, although the sandy soil was handling the rain fairly
well. This next couple miles of trail darted in and out of the trees, with most
woods sections connected by open straights heavily whooped out by the
ATVs earlier. Near the end of the lap was an open pasture where I could
blast through the grass as fast as I dared. It was risky. Perennial fast guy
Phil Converse would perform a huge endo in this section and knock
The rains finally ended at the main checkpoint. During the next 2 or 3 laps
the course would improve drastically as the sand soaked up the moisture.
From the second lap to the end of the race, I wouldn't be passed by
anyone until Dan Burgard caught me 50 feet from the end. But lapped
riders would be a constant battle. The first of the C class guys appeared
near the end of the second lap and would be steady throughout. As
always, some riders were ridiculously helpful at moving over; others would
let me count the knobbies on their back tires inside the woods, then try to
drag race in the open areas. In one of those open areas, the most
chopped-up section of sand whoops on the course, I attempted to pass
two riders before reentering the woods. I moved to the far right to start my
pass, when the second guy decided to make a pass on the first guy. He
began to move directly into my path while we both hammered through the
whoops at 50 mph. I have never yelled at someone so loud in my entire
The track took me down just once, on the 3rd lap. Classic mistake – my
front wheel slid across a small, wet diagonal log. The crash was instant
and harmless enough that I kept my hand on the clutch, picked up the
bike and lost just a few seconds. About an hour into the race a tree
branch grabbed my goggles and pulled the strap down around my neck. A
five second break could have remedied the situation, but I didn't want to
stop. Now goggle-less, the passing became tougher in the open fields.
With a couple laps to go, the track kept improving but the goggle situation
worsened. How so, you ask, since I wasn't wearing them? Let me explain:
tree branches grabbed the roll-off tape. No harm in that except the
whistling of tape streaming 3 feet behind my helmet. Then the tape broke
apart and unwound a few more feet. Eventually it found a path to the
chain, wrapped itself tightly and instantly around the rear wheel and
jerked my head sideways.
At the end of my 8th and final lap, overall winner Dan Burgard lapped me
just before the scoring barrels. My good fortune carried me to the class
win, followed by Will Heitman. In a show of good sportsmanship, the racers
collected more than $250 for the landowner, whose soybeans were torn
up a bit more than expected after the rain. Another fun WFO race.