2007 Race Reports
April 29, 2007
Leadbelt National Enduro
Park Hills, Missouri
6th of 18 in Vet A
For reasons unclear to me, and probably anyone else, I like to keep track
of my “firsts”. These are the things and events which happen over the
course of time that have not occurred up to that point. First car, first
house, first trophy, first under-descriptive race report (that’ll have to wait).
At the 2007 Leadbelt National Enduro, once again hosted by the Missouri
Mudders, I’d brought with me my KX250 instead of my normal enduro ride,
the KTM 300MXC. Why?
Like last year, the Leadbelt would again be run in
a rally format, consisting of several special tests scattered throughout the
course. All we had to do was show up on time to each test, go as fast as
we could for anywhere from 3 to 15 miles, and go home. Timekeeping
equipment was mostly unnecessary.

Thus, the odometer-less KX made the trip to Park Hills for its first-ever
enduro, with an overnight stop at the Sellers estate in Wentzville. Upon
arrival at St. Joe State Park, I found a premium parking spot 30 feet
downwind from a port-a-pooper and began preparations for the following
5.5 hours. These included a couple finger squeezes to the front and rear
tires to insure adequate inflation and some extra duct tape around my
Power Bars to keep them from becoming a mashed pile of mush matching
the Cappuccino-shaded walls inside my condo (thanks to the
metrosexualized former owner of my place, I now know that Cappuccino is
not just a “coffee”, it’s also a color).  

The superbly organized Blackjack Enduro Circuit had, as always, posted
the route sheet on the BJEC website, and it appeared the Missouri
Mudders had taken pity on the riders who had braved 90 miles of
monsoon conditions last year. This year’s Leadbelt would be only 75 miles.
And with absolutely gorgeous, sunny skies, mud would be as common as
Hillary Clinton in hot pants.

Since BJEC races require a spark arrestor and a sound test, my first order
of business was lining up at the sound meter for a decibel check. In an
uncontrolled eBay buying spree several years ago, I’d bought both an
FMF Power Core spark arrestor
and an FMF “Q” silencer for the KX, both
of which were in my possession at the Leadbelt. Fortunately, the Power
Core was good enough to pass the test and the “Q”, also known as
El
Torpedo
, was unnecessary.

At the starting line,
Jon “Spud” Simons took his familiar spot near the front
of the pack on row 3. Missing this year was his usual partner, Aaron “Chili”
Roberts, who’d decided to take a break from the Leadbelt after a
memorable experience at the White Rock Enduro (a story for another
time). Six rows behind Spud was me, ISDE veteran John Yates, John
Johnson and Mitch Rabe. When our minute came up, I blasted out first,
headed for the pedestrian bridge adjoining the public area of the park,
and readjusted myself to the KX.

After a few minutes, John Yates flew by on his KTM as we entered the
woods inside the public area of St. Joe State Park. We worked our way
around the perimeter of the park where I immediately smashed my chain
guide against a rock, completely due to laziness. The rock was plainly
visible in an open area and I headed straight for it in the same way the
kids in my neighborhood sprint across four-lane streets to chase a dude
selling ice cream out of a 3-wheel bicycle. With plenty of time to spare, the
first group of riders was still waiting for their test to begin. Thus began a
ten-minute observation of other riders and their equipment. Mostly just
their boots, actually. The enduro guys really like expensive boots. I noticed
this at last year’s ISDE qualifier in Colorado and now I spend a good deal
of time observing footwear and wondering why I've held fast to AXO’s for
over 10 years. Alpine Stars be damned, eBay is my answer.

Rule #7 of enduro racing goes like this: the A-class rider who drove all the
way from Oregon gets to go first. So began our first test, with John Yates
taking off fast and steadily pulling away. About 5 minutes later, a pair of
Husabergs ridden by orange-appareled riders screamed by. Dylan Debel
and Ricard Wressel, dressed identically, were quickly out of sight. When
the test ended in sand flats 5 miles later, I saw one of the coolest
accessories ever to see time on a dirt bike: aluminum gas tanks on both of
the Husabergs. Then Ben Smith pulled up with his Christini all-wheel-drive
Honda and put to rest any debate about who had the coolest gadget. At
last year’s Leadbelt, I would have traded by left testicle for that bike.

Test #2 took us through the other side of the fence from the public area of
the park. The singletrack here was delicious, with a few short stretches of
4th gear where the KX shined. The end of the 7.5-mile test was near the
starting point about ¼-mile from the staging area. I gassed up and
attempted to straighten the chain guide by pounding it against a rock. With
moderate success, I bolted it back together, minus one stubborn bolt that I
decided I could live without, and sprinted to the starting point. From there
was a 1.5-mile ride through mostly open sand to the beginning of the third
test.

We were now in one of the rockier sections of the park, outside the public
area where we would remain for most of the rest of the race. I stayed close
to John Yates for a mile or two until he showed his ISDE skills in a rutted
ATV trail. His path was smooth; mine was choppy. That was all it took for
him to disappear out of sight for the rest of the 5.5-mile test. We were very
close to the infamous waterfall section that generated many interesting
photos from last year’s race, but the creek never appeared.

From there was a 5 mile cruise up and down the rolling hills under a power
line. Back inside the woods was Test #4, which at 15 miles was the longest
of the day. It was also the best test of the day, all singletrack. Club
member Mike Schmidt was on hand to check in riders while Ben Smith
explained that his front tire does not actually wear out twice as fast as
everyone else’s. In this section, some form of trail junk grabbed my left foot
and gave my knee a good twist. It was a moment of pain and hope that the
hurting would end quickly. It did, five painful minutes later. The long
section of creek bed that was so difficult last year was 150% better, even
the flat rock section that was now relatively dry. I finished the test, gassed
up for the last time and cruised back to the same spot where we’d started
the second loop.

The group of riders starting the third and final loop was noticeably smaller,
due to the various C classes riding only the first two loops. As the clock
wound down to our minute, we were headed in a slightly different direction
than the previous loop and took on some new trails. As the lady at the
checkpoint counted down the seconds with just her right hand, John Yates
was looking elsewhere. When her hand signaled zero, I took off first and
John followed. We rode together for a mile or so until I could sense it was
time for John to go on ahead. He never uttered a single word behind me,
only waited patiently as he did at earlier points in the race when we came
upon slower riders, then made passes as opportunities were presented.

Eventually what I’d been anticipating on the previous loop appeared in all
its glory: the waterfall. As usual, spectators lined the banks of the rock
bottom creek and watched me jump off the ledges. I hit all of them cleanly
except the last 2-footer, when I didn't have enough running room to get
some momentum under the front wheel. The wheel dropped off the ledge,
but I was able to make the save and continue. John Yates was far ahead
of me at this point, but he would later comment that the rock base almost
seemed more slick
without rushing whitewater. If nothing else, the last year’
s flowing water may have helped the bikes track a little straighter through
there.
After this 10.5-mile test was over, I didn't slow down. The route sheet
showed the speed average for the transfer section as 24 mph, rather
than the 18 mph average in the previous transfer sections. Although it
wasn't terribly difficult to maintain that average through the power line
section, I wasn't taking any chances. Still, I arrived plenty early to the 6th
and final test of the day, with more of the singletrack we’d enjoyed in the
15-mile test on the earlier loop. The woods simply flowed up and down
moderately rocky, rolling hills, all the way to the sand flats where the test,
and the race, ended. I thanked the club members at the end, packed up
my rock-beaten KX250 and began the long drive home with a stop in
Festus for a Hardees Thickburger. It was my first.

May 6, 2007
Wedron, Illinois
DNF
Gerhard “Wardy” Ward’s 2007 Fox Valley Off-Road series began with an
excellent turnout for the 2007 opening round. So good, in fact, that I
nearly couldn’t find a place to park. After settling for the middle of a dirt
path intended for vehicular traffic, I ran into the Kankakee Crew, Jeff
Snedcor and Troy Weber, on the way to the signup line, then met
Warrenville's very own +40B rider Tony Smith. By the time I returned to
my truck, a few ATV riders attending the morning race had packed up
and opened up a sweet spot next to the Ryan Moss clan.

Course conditions were relatively dry, even dusty in some spots, so I
prepared myself by remembering that I should have thought about taking
some slack out of the chain. The beating I gave the chain guide at the
Leadbelt Enduro caused the chain to grind down the plastic wear block a
bit more than was usual, leaving some extra slack. But there was no time.
Once we all completed Wardy’s customary March of the Testing
Transponders, where each rider purposefully walks through the
apparatus responsible for electronic scoring, transponder in hand (or zip-
tied to chest protectors), our next task was to make a beeline for the
starting area and claim a good position in our respective rows. There
would be no time for mechanical modifications.

Wardy's “hat trick” method of starting the race often catches even the
most experienced riders off guard. Jeff Snedcor, racing this year in the
Open A class and positioned one row ahead of me, was one of those
riders. I was ready for Wardy’s trickery, however, and shortly after his hat
hit the ground I made the first corner in the 4th spot. Through a series of
off-camber ATV trails, I stayed with the lead pack and passed two riders
who missed turns. The trails were fast, and soon enough we arrived at
the most interesting part of the course: the rocky creek. A staple of any
Wardy hare scramble, the creek is Missouri-like in its collection of
baseball-sized rocks. We dropped down into the channel and raced
upstream through mud, water and rounded stones.

As the creek turned to the left, the established line appeared to take us
to the right, straight up a well-traveled bank and onto the dirt road
separating the creek from more woods. The course had been laid out
similarly at one of Wardy’s 2006 hare scrambles, and from there it had
been a straight shot across the road and up a moderately steep wooded
trail. The lead rider climbed up out of the bank and I followed, then picked
up the arrows that led to an off-camber trail on the other side of the road.
When the lead rider hesitated on the road, I saw that as a chance to take
over first place and never looked back. If I had, I would have seen more
arrows ahead of me in the creek.

My first hint I’d done something wrong was when I found myself all alone
in the woods. Guys like #401 Will Heitman should have been right behind
me. Then Ryan Moss passed me. Bad sign. Ryan started a row ahead of
me in the AA class. High winds had made a mess of the taped-off area of
the motocross track, and at first I thought maybe I’d cut the course there.
Then more A riders from the first row passed by, including Jeff Snedcor,
who probably wondered as Ryan Moss did how I could have been ahead
of him. Crap.

On the second lap, I quickly discovered my error in the creek. When I
tried to climb out of the creek like I’d done previously, a guy was there to
point me in the right direction. After finishing the creek section and
working my way back to the point I’d picked up the off-camber trails the
lap before, I estimated that I’d cut about 2 minutes off the course. As the
electronic scoring would later show, that’s almost exactly how much I’d
cut. Lap 1 would have to be thrown out.

At that point it became clear that I was riding for fun. I worked on turning
more aggressively, building momentum on approaches to steep hills, and
flying through the rocky creek as fast as I dared. As lapped riders
appeared and a few deep ruts developed, I did almost as much passing
in that creek as I did in the rest of the course combined.

On my 7th lap, Troy Weber snapped a digital photo of me just after I’d re-
twisted the same knee I’d injured at the Leadbelt Enduro the week
before. It hurt just as much the second time. Seeing as I’d be forfeiting
the first lap anyway, I saw it as a sign to make that lap my last and head
for home. The rest of the Vet A riders got in one more lap, with #445 Clint
Pherigo taking a close win over Will Heitman. I brought up the rear, one
lap down. All is fair in love and racing.
Check out how the fast guys ride the waterfall.
Park Hills, Missouri
Wedron, Illinois