2007 Race Reports
June 3, 2007
Moose Run
Morrison, Illinois
The following statement about the 2007 Moose Run may surprise, or even
shock, regular riders of this, the toughest off-road race in the Midwest: I
was looking forward to it. Pick up your jaw from your keyboard, wipe the
coffee out of your nostrils, clean the Doritos off your monitor and listen to
the reason: the weather gods seemed to have cooperated for the third
year in a row. A week in advance of Mr. Bill Gusse’s annual test of log
tolerance, my eyes were glued to the Intellicast view of meteorological
happenings over the greater Morrison, Illinois area. Curious coworkers
paused to ask why my office computer screen appeared permanently fixed
on Doppler radar images. I ended phone conversations if the animation
loop flashed any semblance of color over Western Illinois. At home, my
computer’s monitor was nearly burned in with the outline of the Springfield
radar map and the 7-day Morrison forecast.

I liked what I saw.

The previous two versions of the Moose Run were relatively dry, so much
that in 2006 I actually finished the race while marveling at how difficult the
course would have been after a rain. Impossible, actually. Dry dirt at least
afforded a good run at most of the log obstacles, which was key because
they were all theoretically doable if the rains stayed away for several days
leading up to the race.
Theoretically.

For 128 of the 130 miles from my place to the Bike Barn race
headquarters, I saw thousands of acres of freshly emerging corn and
soybeans growing in dry soil. I saw visions of completing two long, tiring
laps, as I'd done the previous year. I saw lakes in corn fields at mile
marker 35 on Interstate 88. Huh?? Two miles ahead of the Morrison exit,
and there it was: water. No way. It couldn't be –
Doppler doesn't lie! The
nice lady at the Bike Barn entrance apologized for the rain but offered that
one of the Rock Creek crossings had been cut from the course.
Apparently storms had ambushed the Morrison area under the cover of
night and sleepy time at Casa del Stichnoth, and I’d missed that portion of
the radar animation loop.
Damn You, Doppler!!

Not that it would have kept me from attending, had I known the ground
would be wet, as I’m a sucker for a once-a-year flogging on the dirt bike.
Still, ominous black clouds to the West were bringing the same kind of
dread that golf course managers must feel when I enter a tee box.  This
was going to get ugly.

There’s an ancient law of physics that says something about actions
creating equal opposite reactions, which I think is pretty much true and I
also believe extends beyond the physical world. In my case, each act of
intelligence generally creates and equal opposite act of stupidity. I’d
smartly taped a tear-off over my roll-offs so that I might survive the first 30
seconds of the motocross track with goggles still intact. I countered this by
failing to notice I was lined up in the wrong row, well after the 40 or so
guys in my correct row had already staked out their places. The only spot
left for me, after I figured this out, was on the far left side. And I do mean
far. My counterpart on the opposite end of the row was lined up what
appeared by my LASIK-burned eyes to be approximately 450 yards to the
south and in a much, much better position for the first turn. The KX and I
would be taking an outside line to what would quickly become remarkably
similar to what you might see from inside your automobile at an automatic
car wash, if the car wash operator replaced the soapy water with black
muck. Standing water on the motocross track didn't stand very long. Most
of it was airborne by the time I rounded the first turn. Three turns later, the
lights went out.

I've had many types of mud and water thrown on my goggles, but never in
all my years of racing have I ever ridden completely blind. Usually I’d have
a least a small area of vision to see my way to a point where I could
remove my goggles, but this splash of watery muck completely covered
every last square millimeter of my face. I saw complete blackness. With
nothing to do but lock up the brakes and hope not to get run over, I ripped
off my tear-off while 10 bikes screamed by. Another three turns, another
mud bath. Somehow I exited the track with a small amount of clear vision
and charged ahead to the peat bogs.

Mr. Gusse found his merciful side by limiting the peat whoops to just a few
hundred yards. Even in a shortened version, the whoops were still
swallowing bikes nearly whole. Rain began as we entered the woods,
spitting just enough sprinkles from the clouds to turn the already damp dirt
into slippery mud. Our first bottleneck came a couple miles in, with about
20 bikes waiting to take turns at some unseen obstacle ahead. As I came
to a stop, my eyes were burning from what I thought was the exhaust
fumes of the bikes around me. Turns out it was the fumes from my boiling
radiator. Our progress through here was about the same as driving to O’
Hare on the Kennedy Expressway on a Friday afternoon, so after five
minutes of sitting, I was growing impatient. The underbrush was so thick I
still couldn't see what obstacle had ground us all to a halt. Since we were
on a narrow trail on the side of a ravine, dropping down off the trail to the
right was a pointless exercise of futility. To the left, I spotted a bit of an
opening in some 6-feet-tall vines and assorted brambles. The climb
through the brush was moderate, and once past the thick stuff I slowly
navigated my way back to the trail. Bottleneck averted.

The largest log on the course came next, a 3-footer that the guy in front of
me launched his bike across with no attempt at actually remaining
attached to his bike. I had stopped about 8 feet shy of the log while
waiting for him to pick himself up and give me a clean shot at it. I popped
the clutch like a 15-year-old learning to drive a stick shift and surprised
myself by lofting the front wheel high enough and far enough to start the
teeter totter effect – the skid plate hit the top center of the log, the front
end teetered, the rear wheel tottered and before I knew it, I was over the
log. Even the two guys standing by to help pull bikes and riders over the
log were impressed. But it was a short-lived victory.

The smart things I’d done to that point were all given back another mile or
so later. I took a center line through a water-filled low spot and spent the
next 15 minutes digging myself out. Most of the racers had now caught
and passed me, and bike carnage was everywhere. I saw a guy on the
ground, so covered by his bike that only his helmet was visible. Logs
became more frequent, and upcoming obstacles were easy to spot just by
listening to the sounds of screaming engines.

At the railroad tracks where I’d left my gas jug, I topped off the tank, raced
along the tracks, crossed the rocky creek next to a railroad trestle and
headed into the toughest part of the course. Several miles later I saw the
face of complete despair, 15 feet below me on a log jam in Rock Creek.
An unfortunate rider had slipped off the side of the trail and fallen straight
down. He was lucky in two ways: the log jam kept him mostly out of the
water and a crew of course workers had just arrived to pull him out, along
with his bike. How, I have no idea.

My next encounter with riders under duress came another couple miles
down the trail on a slippery, grassy hill that enticed unknowing riders to
stay to the right at the crest of the hill. This would have worked fine, had
the soil under the grass not been wet, greasy brown clay. Near the top,
my wheels slid off the side of the hill, as did another rider in front of me,
just before we both met thick underbrush. We helped each other up the
hill and, once ready to be on our way, noticed another guy who’d slid off
the trail on the other side of the hill. His bike was sideways on an even
steeper slope with even thicker, taller underbrush the only objects
preventing a further slide down the hill. The guy I’d helped to the top took
one look at the situation, kick-started his bike and rode away. Sometimes,
it’s every man for himself. But I couldn't just leave the guy there. We
pushed and dragged his bike to the point he could ride down the hill and
give it another try. Just then, a guy at the bottom of the hill yelled at us,
pointing at a second trail and asking if it would get him up the hill. From
our vantage point, the answer was no. It would get him
around the hill
without having to scale it. Had I known that, I’d have been 15 minutes
further down the trail.

For the next half hour I’d alternately pass, get passed and re-pass the
same two guys. We eventually all met up at a gully crossing that was
about 4 feet deep in water. A stranded rider was there to explain the
depth of the gully – handlebar-high, as evidenced by his waterlogged
engine. We assessed our options, which came down to this: no way in hell
were we going through that gully. By the time we reached this conclusion, I’
d dumped about half my Camelbak’s water into my radiator and really
wasn't interested in abusing the engine further. I was about 3 hours into
the race and clearly this was one I would not be finishing, so the three of
us took off for a grassy field, crossed a fence row and rode around a corn
field until we found a road. A half-mile down the road we could see the pit
crew of one of my two new riding partners, parked at a bridge where the
trail crossed the road. They offered me the best bottle of water I've ever
tasted.

We again assessed our options, which consisted of riding for pride or
riding back to the Bike Barn. While we pondered this, one of the “Pit
Moms” shouted into the woods what I presume was the name of her son,
pleading for a response. Mind you, nobody was getting through that gully,
which was at least half a mile behind us. But she kept trying, over and
over.

Stupidity breeds, especially in threes, this time coming in the form of our
final decision: continue down the trail. From past experience I guessed we’
d have 7 or 8 more miles inside the woods until finishing the 32-mile loop
with about 5 miles of open fields. If we could make it that far, we’d
complete a lap, although at that point I didn't really consider it an actual
lap since we’d circumvented a section of trail. From here, it was all about
making it to the finish line. One of the guys in our threesome was riding a
KTM in the 200A class, and I’d already met him somewhere before the
gully detour while we tried to get ourselves dug out of a creek. My other
partner was racing in one of the C classes, which was somewhat
remarkable considering he’d made it this far. Although “far” was all in
relative terms. By my estimation, we’d ridden about 20 miles when we
made our decision to continue.

It only got worse. The best way I can envision how such a sadistic piece of
trail was developed is that the Gusse camp must have taken issue with
what is now being billed as the toughest race in the United States: the Red
Bull Last Man Standing. This section was probably less than a mile in
length, laid out in early Spring before the underbrush concealed every
square inch of soil, and now completely un-rideable in June. We were
navigating through one side of a ravine, which meant most of the trail was
off-camber, slick, and filled with logs lying at all conceivable angles. Every
100 feet we were off our bikes, lifting them over roots, logs, and assorted
trail junk. The KX250 was in a constant state of near-overheating. After 45
minutes of progressing about ½ a mile, we could hear voices in the
distance and knew we were close...to something. Then, from behind, we
heard a guy yell. He walked up to us in full race gear and explained that
his bike had become wedged between two trees and he couldn't get it
unstuck.

Let me explain this another way: a guy walking through the woods was
making faster progress than the three of us on dirt bikes. Eventually we
found a whole 100 yards without any impossible obstacles and pulled
ahead of the guy walking. Then we heard screaming engines approaching
on the trail. The first bike was Jimmy Jarrett, then Brian Garrahan. Jimmy
paused to ask how we were doing. Brian practiced his vocabulary of
colorful metaphors. A guy on a Gas Gas came by, then Jason Thomas.
We were now more than 4 hours into the race and getting lapped by the
Pros, on a 32-mile course.

The voices we’d been hearing were those of the 3rd check crew, who told
me I’d missed them the first time around. I pointed out that it was my first
time around. They assured us the trails became easier from there on.
They lied. Me and the 200A guy eventually left the C rider behind and
started making moderate progress. I got ahead of the 200A guy for
awhile, then got stuck in a creek. Eventually we found our way into the last
long section through the center of a relatively water-free creek bed, which
I remembered from the past two years as being one of the tougher tests
before the wide-open grassy fields that ended the course. All the same
logs were there, in all the same ridiculous sizes, heights off the ground,
and impossible angles. As with the previous times I’d fought my way
through here, I found myself hung up on the very same pair of logs, in
perfect spacing for my gear shifter to wedge between them. The grinding
sound as I pulled the bike across the logs suggested I’d be bending the
shifter back into shape...again.

I’d had enough. I found an opening in the woods to a bean field and
wound my way around the perimeter until a road showed up. As luck
would have it, this road took me through Fenton and straight back to the
Bike Barn. Ryan Moss would later explain this day perfectly: it was a
real
Moose Run.

June 24, 2007
Marietta, Illinois
2nd of 3 in Vet A
The past 2 years as a resident District 17 racer have been a homecoming
of sorts, this following my 7-year sabbatical in Missouri. Marietta is one of
several racing venues which, in my formative racing years, did its best to
destroy my motorcycle and my self-respect.  My last trip here, in 1999,
was for what would be the final enduro hosted by the Central Illinois Dirt
Riders at this location. After a gazillion inches of rain the week before the
race, I got placed in a late row and houred out in the first 7 miles (it took
me two hours to get that far). To add further insult, someone in the
staging area spun their bike hauler sideways in the soggy grass and ran
over my bike stand. In the end, local law enforcement effectively ended all
future enduros here by pulling over riders on road sections. I didn't make
it to any road sections, so avoiding a ticket was about the only good thing
that happened that day.

Fast forward to the present, and Marietta looks much the same, both the
town and the staging area where Buckwheat Road dead-ends. Tony Smith
and I again partnered up for the long drive and upon arrival, the staging
area was nearly as wet as it was at the ill-fated enduro. It was no surprise.
The previous Friday, I’d furthered my 2007 personal goal of doing a better
job combining business and pleasure by taking my mountain bike along
for a client visit in Pekin, about 40 miles from the race site, which on that
day was every bit as slimy as Marietta would be on Sunday. The muddy
clay at Dirksen Park was remarkably similar in form and substance to the
muck I’d later pull off in handfuls from my KX250.

The ATV race was wrapping up as we signed in for the afternoon event.
Remember that scene in the movie Predator, where Arnold
Schwarzenegger avoids infrared detection by submerging himself in mud?
That was every ATV racer who crossed the finish line. Normal humans
would see this, turn the car around and leave. But it is The Addiction that
makes people like me and Tony unload the bikes and sign up to race,
knowing full well that ten minutes in the woods is about all it will take for us
to resemble the ATV riders crossing the finish line. Yet we race anyway,
for The Addiction is a powerful affliction.

I didn't plan on adding 20 pounds of mud to my bike by riding a practice
lap, but oh, the temptation…I cruised around the starting area for a
couple minutes, deliberating, then gave in and dropped into the woods
behind a group of riders. To my surprise, the ATV’s had cleared away the
sloppiest few inches of topsoil, leaving behind firm clay. That still left
plenty of mud in the singletrack sections, one of which included a narrow,
rocky path around a ravine. The foliage through here was thick, and
combined with a rock ledge formation about 20 feet high, the whole
atmosphere of the section was dark and eerie.

The bikes and riders who sat out the practice lap were easy to spot in the
starting area. In the second row, the usual Vet A and +40A riders were
lined to my left and right. Only Will Heitman and Shawn Mineart, in
competition for series points, joined me in the Vet A class. Directly in front
of me was a bike-sized gap in the row of A and AA riders, whose occupant
had apparently made a run back to the pits. As a prank, one of his pit
crew asked me to fill his vacant spot, which happened to be one of the
primo positions in the front row. I was a reluctant participant, figuring with
my luck, whoever’s spot I was taking was probably much bigger, stronger
and meaner than I was. Will Heitman gave me an “Are you crazy?” shrug
as I waited for the guy to return. As it turned out, I had taken the spot of a
youngster named Bren Raschke, who barely looked old enough to be
racing in the adult classes. He caught on to our little joke quickly and I
moved back into my row.

I got off the line quickly and jumped ahead of Will and Shawn at the first
turn, then followed a couple of riders through first mile of the course. The
Marietta terrain is full of ravines that eventually lead to the Spoon River,
and I think we rode up, down, across and through each of them. One in
particular, an uphill near the staging area, was polished down to clay
worthy of throwing pots.

The rocky off-camber section near the rock formation was trouble just
waiting to happen. I didn't see anyone slide off the trail and down into the
ravine, but photos would later show that at least one person did just that,
and it took four strong men to pull out the bike. The couple hundred yards
following this section was a reminder of Missouri riding, complete with
slippery flat rock. It was here that Will Heitman first caught up to me on a
bike that sounded plain angry. After exiting the off-camber singletrack, the
engine either tamed itself or Will fell behind again, because I didn't hear it
again until the lap was nearly complete. He pushed me hard until finding
his way around me just before the pasture where we’d started the race.

Any chance of catching Will ended when I followed a guy into a short
section that may have actually been cut from the course due to its
wetness. We were some of the first bikes through this section, which didn't
make any sense on the second lap. Making even less sense was my path
up the side of a ravine that saw me helplessly spinning my rear wheel on a
small tree across the trail. At least 10 guys passed me while I took another
stab at the hill, and Will gained about a minute. I never did ride that short
section again.

As 15-minute laps clicked by, I did my best to entertain a group of
spectators in a low, open area next to the Spoon River. The course had
us flying through the low area in fourth gear, then turning into a
moderately steep hill with flat rocks embedded in its face. In third gear, the
rocks spat my rear wheel left, then right, then left again. If there is such a
thing as a vertical tail whip, I think I did it. Another set of spectators, a
group of teenage girls, cheered each time I passed. Whatever they were
shouting didn't have much to do with me, but I didn't mind the mistaken
identity. I needed the encouragement.

I found Will again in the final laps, after he stalled his KTM at the bottom of
a slippery hill. This was the same hill Tony and I had scouted before the
race and wondered how we’d get our bikes stopped in time for the 90-
degree left turn at the bottom. Beyond the 10-foot area in which to make
the turn was a large gully. Very ugly possibilities there. Will recovered
within another lap and passed me again at the exact spot he’d made his
earlier pass. On the same lap, the AA class made its way around the 3-
mile course and began lapping me, first Zack Sulzberger and then the
usual group of fast guys including Jeremy Smith, who suggested I move
out of his path in that special way only he can.

On the last lap, Will took a chance trying to pass Shawn Minnaert for the
lead and found himself sideways in a ravine. Shawn got away and I
squeezed by for 2nd place. Zack Sulzberger, who I had spotted driving the
Sulzberger Racing trailer through the heart of Chicago’s Loop two weeks
prior (what are the odds?), took the overall win. My KX250 was really not
much muddier than any other wet ride in Central Illinois trails, a testament
to good trail design that was both challenging and fun.
Morrison, Illinois
Marietta, Illinois