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 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? Who knows.
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 the course.
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.
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 himself silly.
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 life.
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.