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