September 10, 2006
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
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.