September 10, 2006
Morrison, Illinois
1st of 2 in +30A
September 10th, and two races were options on this rainy Sunday
morning. I could go back to Geneseo for the second time this year
and battle with Will Heitman in a WFO Promotions race. Or I could
take in a Bill Gusse hare scramble near Morrison, Illinois. Let me
repeat four words: rainy Sunday and Bill Gusse. This would be an
easy choice for most. For me, well…I guess I was in the mood for a
challenge.

Mr. Gusse tones down his MXC Series hare scrambles a bit, in
comparison to the insane obstacles that make the Moose Run
famous. But he just can’t help himself. Mr. Gusse always leaves a few
well-placed impediments on every course he designs, and the Ryan’s
Farm property northeast of Morrison was no exception

A steady drizzle greeted me at the entrance and continued until just
before race time. I put off gearing up as long as I could, as it’s been
awhile since I've suited up inside my compact pickup truck and either I’
m getting bigger or the truck’s getting smaller. While I waited for the
rain to let up, I overheard a lengthy conversation between a KTM rider
and the dimwitted mouse from the Pinky and the Brain cartoon series.
I had no idea the voice of Pinky was also an amateur off-road racer.
The more excitable this young man became, the more he sounded
like Pinky, complete with British accent.  

By the time Mr. Gusse came around on his ATV to announce the start
of the race, the rain had soaked the upper 3 inches of the dirt on the
Ryan Farm. Underneath was dry from a few weeks without moisture,
but there would be only a few places where the bikes would churn up
enough muck to find waterless soil. On the starting line, the flagman
was ready to start the race when #74 Charlie Deutscher stepped off
his bike, laid it on its side and jogged back to the parking area.  In
motorcycle boots, jogging is a relative term. It’s more of an awkward
trot, and a slow one at that. Charlie fouled a plug, meaning he had to
cross the creek and make his way back to his truck. From there, he
hopped on a 4-stroke mini-bike and rode back to the starting line
while the rest of the racers waited. And waited some more while he
changed the plug with an ill-fitting plug wrench.

My start was a two-kicker, but slickness took its toll on the group of
riders in front of me and I fell in line with 5 others heading into the
woods. A few more spinouts got me another spot or two ahead, but
soon enough the fast riders I passed on the ground came back
around. It was a day to run a gear higher and keep the rear wheel
spinning, or suffer the consequences. And many did.

Mr. Gusse’s first interesting impediment came about halfway into the
course, where a very large tree had mysteriously found itself lying
horizontally, five feet off the ground (methinks the tree had some
unnatural help in its positioning). Immediately following the tree was a
small hill and a medium-sized log. One at a time, these three
obstacles would be somewhat challenging. In classic Gusse style, all
three had to be navigated at once. I rested my head on my gas tank
to scrape under the overhanging tree, slowing almost to a stop at the
very instant I needed to dump the clutch and raise the front wheel
over the log on the ground. I cleared the log, barely, and opened the
throttle to spin my way up the hill.

The skilled course designer he is, Mr. Gusse insures that any
alternate routes or corner-cutting will be met with an even greater
challenge. The first few times around one wide corner, I could see a
shorter route but kept missing it. About halfway through the race I
finally found the shortcut in time, gassed it up a small rise and found
a V-shaped log on the ground. I followed a rut up to the log, lofted
the front wheel and figured my momentum would carry the rear wheel
over the top. It did, but not before nearly catapulting me over the
handlebars. I stuck to the beaten path.

Two more offending logs knocked me off the bike throughout the race
but did no damage other than making me look stupid. My real
problem was a pair of wardrobe malfunctions about 15 minutes into
the race. Every so often my jersey, un-tucked from my pants, works
its way up my back until my Camelbak meets my skin. A few tugs and
some sticky mud eventually kept it in place. However, my brand new
MSR pants were a bit more challenging. They’d been hanging in my
closet for longer than I can remember, courtesy of an eBay buying
spree a few years back. With an infinitely adjustable Velcro belt-like
thingie, they were the first pants I’d worn in a long time that didn't
slide down my skinny ass after 5 minutes of riding. But they weren't
staying tight around my waist. In fact, they were about to fall off
completely. Suddenly a pre-race memory flashed in front of my mud-
caked goggles: I’d made a knee guard adjustment at the truck, which
requires pulling down the pants. And in classic Stichnoth fashion, I’d
not bothered to zip the pants and secure the waist with the Velcro
strap. Most folks would probably notice this in about three, maybe
four seconds. By the time I did, it was too late. Mud had covered the
Velcro and rendered it utterly sticky-less. All I could do was pull up
the zipper and hope for the best.

The best came when
John Gasso photographed me on 3 consecutive
laps at the same spot, each time showing the progression of a bike
rapidly losing any semblance of color, other than black. The worst
came when I was passed by two kids in the 100cc class.  They were
fast, no doubt, but it is a bit humbling to see two guys less than half
your age teach you a thing or two about mud riding.

At the end, I was glad to see the checkered flag and pull off the
muddiest gear I seen since the Leadbelt Enduro. Jason Thomas took
the overall win after absolutely destroying the course. He was the only
Pro to lap me and did it on my next-to-last lap. Gary Gibbs was the
only other +30A rider brave enough to tough out the wet course. As
expected, Mr. Gusse made me work for my trophy.

September 24, 2006
Culver, Indiana
3rd of 6 in Vet A
Quilted velvet. It’s not just a British toilet paper, it’s the essence of the
Plymouth Blackhawks hare scramble. I have cursed many types of
sand in my non-illustrious amateur racing career, but on this day I
chose wisely. Weekend rains wreaked havoc on the black clay of
Illinois, leaving me with no better option than to venture into the sand
hills of Northwest Indiana for the first time since the Roselawn enduro
in April.

I left Chicago at 8:00 a.m., expecting to arrive at the race site around
10:00, which I did in spite of the I-90 Skyway nearly baiting me into
driving off the elevated roadway (continuous, monotonous
construction, as usual, on every roadway leading into and out of
Indiana). I asked the signup crew what time the race would begin,
and they said 12:00, with an emphasis on
Eastern time. Once again,
Indiana nearly screwed me. I stepped up the pace and readied myself
to ride.

The A classes lined up on the front row, blasted through a mowed
grass loop and circled into the woods. Another mid-pack start set me
out on the grass/sand track with the 20 or so guys on my row,
spreading us out and leaving some on the ground, including an
unfortunate guy writhing in pain where we crossed over a sand road.
His bike could have been on a solo ride to Plymouth for all I knew, as
it was nowhere to be seen. Inside the woods, the soil alternated
between slimy, sandy, and sticky. About 7 or 8 guys were ahead of
me, including two in my class who I’d not see again. The old guys in
Indiana can ride.

We followed a sandy gulch and crossed it in an inconspicuous spot
where the beaten path continued straight ahead. Several riders,
including me on the following lap, would fly by the arrows leading us
through the gully. Some, such as the B-rider parked next to me,
would keep going despite the obvious lack of arrows and join up with
the A riders where the beaten path converged with the arrowed trail. I
met up with my parking lot neighbor at this convergence and he
apparently realized his mistake and let me by quickly.

The Culver hare scramble is a nice change from the shorter courses
of Illinois, with a 7 or 8 mile loop. Though the soil is sandy, there are
only a few sections of sand whoops and none feel as endless as what
is common at Roselawn. But climbing up out of the main waterless
gulch through the property would become a challenge later in the
race. Already on the first lap, riders were digging out a deep sand
trench that would eventually rival the ruts of the infamous Le Touquet
beach race in France.

If there is such a thing as slalom in the woods, I found it in one short
section of woods. Each time through, it was a smooth, slightly bermed
alternation of sharp (but not too sharp) left and right turns. On the
KX, the slalom was excellent. Also excellent: no significant mud holes
and only a tricky pair of logs in a sand gully to create potential for
hang-ups.

The 4 laps I completed in 1.5 hours were almost routine. I made a few
passes, got passed a couple times and had no problems with
lappers. Two hours would have been even better. I did fall over a
couple times getting used to tight, sandy corners, but other than that I
damaged neither bike nor body. In the end, I missed out on a trophy
for the first time in awhile but drove home totally satisfied.
Morrison, Illinois
Culver, Indiana