July 16, 2006
Park Hills, Missouri
DNF
As difficult as it is to believe, there is such a thing as dirt biking
overload, and I found it at the March of Dimes charity hare scramble
at Park Hills. The previous week I’d ridden nearly every day in some
fashion, including the Colorado ISDE qualifier, the mountains of
Taylor Park and the prior day at the Cahokia Creek Dirt Riders’ club
near White City, Illinois (thanks again, Jeff). I decided one more ride
would complete my dirt biking odyssey, so I hung out in the St. Louis
area until Sunday and took in a Missouri hare scramble while I was
there.

I should have driven straight back to Chicago.

My first  difficulty was technical in nature, this being an air conditioner
in my 1996 GMC Sonoma (168,000 miles and counting) that gave out
on the way down to Wentzville ten days earlier. Temperatures in the
90’s on race day made for a barely bearable drive to St. Joe State
Park, where Matt bailed on me and decided to spend time with the
family he hadn't seen in a week. I was counting on his EZ-up canopy
to block out some sun. Instead, by day’s end my albino-white skin
would be red as my pickup truck. Small children were temporarily
blinded by the glare (
Mommy, it burns!!).

I reluctantly geared up on the hottest race day of my season thus far,
patching together boot straps abused by a week of Colorado rocks
and soaking my jersey in ice water. The wet jersey kept most of me
cool while sitting on the starting line waiting for my time to race, but
there was just about nothing to do to relieve my burning feet. Hot sun
and black boots - it’s a cruel combination.

When the 15-second board dropped, #74 Gary Mittelberg jumped out
to a huge holeshot on a two-stroke Yamaha. Surprisingly, I was right
behind him. We entered the woods together and rode an easy pace
for a mile or two. Behind us was the rest of the A Sportsman class in
a single file line. I had no problem whatsoever following Gary and
admiring his lines, figuring if I could match his pace the whole race, I’
d be in excellent shape at the end. What I witnessed next was a
shock – on a simple first-gear turn, Gary slid out. I was poised to take
over the class lead, something I hadn't done in a several years in
Missouri.

Instead, I fell on top of Gary. He picked up his bike just as I was trying
to make the pass and I lost my balance. I felt bad -- Gary didn't
deserve it -- and offered as profuse an apology as possible while lying
spread eagle on top of his motorcycle. Meanwhile, most of the class
flew by both of us. In the clutter of two entangled bikes, Gary
recovered quicker and took off ahead of me. Again, I followed him
through a course made mostly of singletrack and absent of any major
dust.

Another mile or two went by with Gary and I trying to catch back up to
the lead pack. The challenge of reeling in good riders is that you have
to do it honestly. These guys don’t make many mistakes, so you end
up just having to go faster than the riders ahead of you. While
attempting this, I smiled for the
Miller Photographs crew next to a
creek and then found myself on the ground about 50 feet later. How I
got there is unclear, but the highlight of my fall on the gravelly dirt
was sliding into a tree. Even though my body was positioned to miss
the tree, the bike didn't and I took a handlebar in the groin. It was the
kind of impact that makes you lie down for an extra few seconds and
think about what you just did. In my case, I was lucky the handlebar
missed my sensitive parts by an inch. But it still hurt.

By the time I recovered, #554 Troy LaVelle, running at the front of the
250B class, passed by and I followed his lead for a couple miles.
More problems came at the second of two Hard/Easy trail spit-offs,
where several riders were hung up on a tricky hill in the “hard” option.
My alternate route failed, badly. I climbed to the left and found a log
in my path, clearing it decently but losing momentum and starting a
slow backwards slide down the hill. Where the slide stopped was the
same log I’d just cleared. The end result was me on the ground
(again) with one leg pinned between the log and the bike. It took
every last effort with my free leg to push the KX off myself. My knee
hurt, my palm was bruised and I was ready to go home. After 300
miles in Colorado with nothing more than a sore pinky finger, I was
pushing my luck. I finished my lap, loaded up my truck and drove 5
hours with no air conditioning. My 10-day dirt bike odyssey was
complete.

July 30, 2006
Wedron, Illinois
1st of 5 in +30A
The end of July, in a different time, would have brought about the
adding and subtracting and long division necessary to calculate my
best possible finish in a hare scrambles series. Today, it’s a bit
simpler. I race where I want to, when I feel like it. No single series, no
points battles, no algebraic exercises in the middle of the summer,
just racing for fun.

This particular weekend was Gerhard “Wardy” Ward’s Fox Valley Off
Road park near Wedron, host to one of the many rounds of the
District 17 hare scrambles series. It was a day I cursed my minimalist
approach to racing, where covered trailers and pop-up awnings are
sacrificed for the simplicity of a long-bed pickup truck. I’d pay for it,
naturally, with cloudless skies and an outdoor wall thermometer that
read 106 degrees (in the sun, but who really cares – it was
hot).  My
farmer’s tan, best one ever, would turn into an old fashioned white
boy’s scorching by the end of the day (the minimalist approach also
eschews sunscreen).

Enough time had passed since the March of Dimes fiasco that I'd
regained my passion for racing, which is the only way to justify riding
in upper-nineties heat. Rick Kinkelaar would later ask me why I even
showed up on such a miserable day, with absolutely nothing at stake.
Pretty simple, really: I just wanted to race.

While the youth classes finished their various races, I took a walk
through part of the course for no better reason than to find some
shade. Fox Valley was new for me but similar to many Illinois venues.
The most interesting find was a creek bed filled with rocks, much like
what Missouri racers navigate in almost every hare scramble. Tight
trails, short but steep hills and a couple of water crossings were also
on hand to make the course interesting.

The “Old Guy” A classes lined up on the second row, baking in the
heat while the fast guys took off one row ahead of us. Wardy’s
starting routine is to take off his cap and throw it on the ground. He
often does this with a hint of trickery. As he spoke a few words to our
row, he threw down the hat in mid-sentence. That Wardy, always
keeping us guessing. I recovered quickly enough to enter the woods
in about 5th place. A minute later, the lead guy fell over between two
trees, with no other place for anyone else to get around. All we could
do was sit tight until he picked up his bike, then blow by him. With
three guys ahead of me, I block passed one guy and then forced my
way past #625 Ron Peterson, leading the +40A class. That left #401
Will Heitman in the +30A class lead. In a very narrow section of cedar
trees, I rammed my way past in what would be a series of grumpy
moves throughout the race, partly brought on by my irritation from the
heat and also because I am old.

Now in the lead, I quickly gave it right back by taking what Wardy
calls the Sally Trail around a large log just before the scoring lane. I
didn't see the short route but I did watch Will and Ron hop over the
log and jump back ahead of me. Will chuckled while I fell in line
behind the two. I checked through the scoring lane for a partial lap
about 3 minutes into the race, then sat back and waited for a chance
to pass. The creek bed was my best bet, but after all my careful
scouting before the race, I fell over. Will and Ron left me for most of
the lap before I was able to catch back up. I followed for another lap,
then made my move in the creek on the third full lap.

The creek was kind to me this time. I passed Will, who was now
behind Ron, then made it past Ron before exiting the creek. I picked
up the pace and tried to check out, but Will wouldn't let me. He
begged his way past Ron, then rode my back wheel for a lap or two. I
could hear his Yamaha roaring behind me at every checkpoint.

At the halfway point, the chills came. It’s a feeling you know you’re
not supposed to have in 95 degree heat. Mostly it’s a sure sign that it’
s time to gulp down some water. At that point I was sipping
constantly, unsure whether I’d be able to keep up the pace and hold
off Will and not run out of water. Each time we passed through the
motocross course, I could see him at the opposite end of every
straightaway, gaining time on me like every other person out there.
One of my oldest lessons in racing, learned when Matt Sellers passed
me in the final 200 yards at
Sedalia many years ago, was to keep just
enough distance from the guy chasing you that he loses his
motivation to catch up. I tried, but Will just wouldn't go away.

Neither would my grumpy side. It came out with a vengeance on a
couple of lappers who I might normally have given the benefit of the
doubt if I weren't so friggin' hot. They clearly hadn't read my race
reports over the years, for if they had, they would have known it is the
most egregious of racing sins to try to drag race me across open
fields. I simply won’t stand for it, for I am old and cranky. Words
spilled out of my lips like Jagermeister on the worst kind of Saturday
night (it was the heat talking).

I was also a bit crabby on the final lap, when Rick Kinkelaar stuck his
bike in a rut and I followed his path. At the time I had no idea it was
Rick, since he started a minute ahead of me and is always one of the
fastest guys on the race course. But today Rick had a host of bike
problems, including a non-existent clutch. Despite his struggles, he
was still riding fast. I yanked my front wheel out of the rut and used
Rick’s front tire as traction, then sped to the finish line in first place.

Wardy's new transponder system worked perfectly and showed me
just how close I was to taking the overall win. Computer-generated
results, adjusted for time, showed that Jay Hall edged me out by 3
seconds (Jay started a minute ahead of me on the front row). Based
on lap times, one more trip around the course may have pushed me
past him, but had Jay any idea he was that close to missing the
overall victory, I think he would have picked up the pace and left me
in his dust. After the race, Will feigned annoyance that I pushed him
to ride an 8-lap pace, when only two others, Jay Hall and Rick
Kinkelaar (both in the AA class), matched our pace. I shrugged, then
shrugged again when Rick asked me why in the heck I was even
racing on one of the hottest days of the year. Like I said, I just wanted
to race.
Park Hills, Missouri
Wedron, Illinois