July 16, 2006
Park Hills, Missouri
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
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
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
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
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
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