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