2007 Race Reports
July 29, 2007
Newark, Missouri
5th of 8 in A Sportsman
In the woods outside Newark, site of Round #12 of the Missouri Hare
Scrambles Championship, one crack of the throttle on my KX250 was all it
took to remind me that the air is much thicker in Missouri than it is in
Colorado. I’d spent the prior week with my tired KTM 300MXC in the
mountains of Taylor Park trying to coax every last bit of power out of the
engine and handling out of the chassis. Now back on the KX250, the
difference was like driving a rally car after spending a week in a 1987
Ford F-150 pickup truck. During the morning practice lap, the KX nearly
ripped off my arms the first time I dumped the clutch to climb a hill. It
turned so quickly I almost ran into a tree, and lofted its front end so
effortlessly that I had to work to keep from looping out.

Thus began my first MHSC race in over a year, at a venue renowned for
its flowing woods, challenging hills and absence of rocks. A 4:30 a.m.
wakeup call was a small price to pay for a chance to ride one of the best
hare scrambles courses in Missouri. I pulled into the staging area around
10:00 and immediately broke my #1 rule of searching for a parking spot in
the pasture: stay on the beaten path. Some of my regular readers may
recall my previous experience here in 2004, when I left the place with
punctures in three of the four tires on my Sonoma. As luck would have it, I
avoided sharp objects and hooked up with #791 Matt Sellers for the
practice lap. Gary Mittelberg & Company had assembled an 11-mile loop,
almost all of which was singletrack. The familiar hills east of the staging
area were every bit as steep as I’d remembered. Gary mentioned before
the race that he’d taken care in laying out as many as three lines up each
hill to avoid bottlenecks, but as perfect as conditions were on this day, the
main lines were going to get a lot of use.

In 2007 the MHSC adopted a new starting procedure where riders
straddle the front fender with hands placed on the handlebars. When the
15-second board drops, each rider scrambles around the front of his
bike, hops on the seat and either a) throws down the kickstarter, hoping
the engine fires on the first try; or b) is already moving forward because
all he had to do was push a button to start the engine. If you are an
electric-start person, there is no challenge to this. If your preference is for
2-strokes, many unfortunate actions can result from this procedure, the
most common being accidental contact with the kickstarter that causes it
to return to its folded-in position before you’re ready to kick it. Another
possible result is that your engine has a finicky tendency to avoid starting
on the first kick when it’s in gear and you've not held in the clutch lever
from the time you killed the engine (while in gear) until the time you threw
down the kickstarter. The latter result was mine, and for the first time in a
long time, I was dead last at the first corner. The 4-strokes fared much
better. Just prior to our A Sportsman class start, I witnessed something
I've never seen in 13 years of competing in dead-engine-start hare
scrambles: the first two rows of riders leaving the starting line were led by
thumpers.

The pace of the A Sportsman class through the first lap reminded me why
the MHSC is so competitive: these guys don’t mess around. I traded spots
with #447 Kevin O’Brien and #554 Troy LaVelle before they both pulled
away at around the midpoint of the initial lap. The free-flowing woods
offered plenty of passing opportunities, but after Kevin and Troy left me,
there was little passing to be done. My next closest competitor, #324
Brian Blauvelt, put two minutes between us on the first lap and would hold
on to that gap for most of the race. Until I caught up to lappers on the
third lap, the only guys I saw were #17 Todd Corwin having a bad day, #8
Zach Bryant having an even worse day, and the rear tire of #36 Kevin
Borts every once in awhile until he’d find a section he liked very well and
disappear out of sight.

The Mittelberg crew put some thought into the course by mixing up the
tightest trails with faster, open sections where we could breathe a bit. The
narrowest trails were reserved for the lowlands below the steepest hills on
the property, where a short section of trail was hacked through dense
willow trees and giant ragweed made me feel like I was back home riding
my old loop in the Keen Farm woods. Pie plates stapled to trees alerted
us of the most special places on the course, like Alligator Hill (make the
turn at the bottom or else fall into a lake...with alligators?), Slip’n’Slide,
and “Phew! Who Farted?”, an extra special place where at least one large
animal had met its maker.

On the third lap I finally got around Kevin Borts when he had to take a
second try at the steepest hill on the course. The closest I would get to
any of the guys in my class was about half a mile from the end, when
Brian Blauvelt had some problems on the fourth lap. I rode his rear tire to
the end, but without any good passing opportunities, he finished a couple
seconds ahead of me in 4th place. I held the 5th spot throughout the
entire race, finished 18th overall, and couldn't have been happier. No real
mistakes, no twisted knees (the bane of my racing existence in 2007), not
much fatigue and pretty much a perpetual smile for two hours and 21
minutes.

August 12, 2007
Roselawn, Indiana
5th of 10 in Vet A
A few years ago on a warm August day, I came across Missouri fast guy
Lars Valin in the woods of St. Joe State Park, testing a brand new CR250
for the International Six Days Enduro. He handed over his new bike for me
to test ride, to which I naturally offered my KTM 300MXC in exchange. His
response? “That KTM will screw me up. I’ll stick with my Honda”. I thought
Lars was just being courteous, not wanting to give my bike a pro-class
whipping it wasn’t set up to handle. Looking back on it now, after four
years of dual Japanese/European motorcycle ownership, I know what he
was really thinking. On a similarly warm August day in 2007, my frequent
alternations between the KTM and KX were screwing me up.

Case in point: after racing the Newark round of the Missouri Hare
Scrambles Championship on my KX250, I'd switched back to the KTM for
the Summer Bummer enduro at Roselawn. Prior to Newark I’d ridden 5
days in Colorado on the KTM; preceding that was the Marietta, Illinois
hare scramble on the KX. When I took a few warm-up sprints along the
east end of the former airstrip that is now the Summer Bummer staging
area, the KTM’s shifter seemed to be positioned abnormally high. The
shifter bolt was a bit loose, so I assumed it had slipped up into the next
higher notch on the shift shaft tines. A quick adjustment got the shifter’s
position to a similar level as the KX’s. I was good to go, or so I thought.
Thirty minutes later I would discover why the KTM's shifter was positioned
higher than the KX’s. And it would cost me some time.

For the first time in eons, I’d arrived to an enduro with plenty of time to
spare. The signup line was short, my 9th row position was a solid place to
be, and both of my LCD clocks appeared to be functioning well. Earlier in
the week my lifelong war with ragweed pollen scored a win for the
allergens, so I made use of a day off work by giving the KTM a little TLC
in advance of the enduro. It was needed. Colorado had sheared off the
rear brake pedal step pad, induced a fork seal leak and destroyed a rear
tire. Now race worthy again, the KTM was ready to begin a 90-mile
journey of tight woods and country roads.

At 10:09 a.m., temperatures were already headed for the low-90’s and I
was glad to start moving. To begin the enduro, the Hill & Gully Riders set
up a mini-EnduroCross course on the west end of the staging area, with a
few logs set up around what appeared to be a mud drag pit. While an
early morning shower had settled the dust, the mud pit was mostly the
same sugar sand prevalent in this part of Northwestern Indiana. Following
the logs and sand pit was the narrow woods for which Roselawn is
famous, beginning with a mile or so of trails squeezed between the
staging area and Highway 10.

From there we moved northward on a country road to the next set of
woods, where I quickly discovered my rear brake was doing very little
braking – none, actually. Each push on the brake pedal…nothing. I pulled
off the trail to investigate and found at some point I’d run over a yellow
“Caution” ribbon that was now wrapped around the rear hub. The ribbon
had worked its way into the brake pads, where in its melted state was
acting as a very effective lubricating agent.

I pulled out what ribbon I could, continued down the trail and hoped the
plastic would burn off soon. My single source of stopping power was now
only a damningly spongy front brake that is more like half a front brake. It
would, at times, bring my progress to a relatively quick halt, but only when
the brake lever was about a ¼-inch from the handlebar.  I continued down
the trail at a beginner’s pace for the next 15 minutes until, suddenly, the
rear brake began functioning again. All told, I’d lost about 10 minutes.

Another 15 minutes of woods and country roads passed by without
incident, and then the bike wouldn't downshift. I was having flashbacks to
Knob Noster, Missouri in 2003, when the shift drum bolt backed out, and
hoped it wasn't a similar fate. Again, I pulled off the trail to inspect and
saw that the shifter was rubbing against the skid plate “wing” that protects
the stator. Now I knew why the KTM’s shift lever had been set higher than
the KX250’s. You would think the guy who set it that way to begin with
(read: me) could remember why. Then again, this is the same guy who, in
his previous Summer Bummer, left a rag in the airbox. Off came the fanny
pack, out came the tools, and 10 minutes later I was ready to ride again.

The course designers did their best to keep the trails tight and rhythm-
less for riders. It seemed there was no rhyme or reason for the various
twists and turns, which prevented me from riding in any form resembling
smooth. Even the sporadic logs played a part. In one of the longer woods
sections, just as I began self-congratulations for crossing a tricky log
across the trail, I looked ahead just in time to see an overhead log nearly
remove my helmet. We would ride this section again after the mid-race
gas stop and that same log tandem would again nearly take off my head.

I arrived back at the staging area just before noon, gassed the bike, ate a
turkey sandwich and headed back out to Highway 55. The second loop
repeated a portion of the first and took us to the same abandoned house
we’d ridden through at the last two spring enduros. This time, ribbons
directed us around the house - no indoor riding this time. We then
headed into the same woods section that only the A classes had to ride at
the earlier Sand Booger enduro. The trail avoided much of the extremely
tight woods behind the house, but later in the race the A classes would
get their extra challenge.

My own challenge came about halfway through the second loop while
following 200A rider Terry Wilton. In a tight section literally carved out of
scrub brush, I couldn't turn the bike in time to miss a tree. Even though it
was a pretty slow head-on collision, my headlight popped out of its shell.
The 10-minutes spent fixing it left me playing catch-up for about the next
full hour, despite a handful of short resets. Only when we hit the open
road on the return trip to the staging area was I able to ride fast enough
to catch up. Terry Wilton, the only other A-rider on my row, was already
there, ready to ride the last 10 miles through the Sun Aura nudist club
woods. This section had been reserved specially for the A classes, now in
our fourth hour of riding. Temperatures had reached into the 90’s and I
was a bit tired – ending the race at this point would have been just about
right, but the extra challenge was directly in front of us and we took off
into the nudie woods. Terry led the first couple of miles, but his pace was
slower here than in the early stages of the race. I was on his rear wheel
and eventually he let me pass. Thirty seconds later I stalled the bike and
he retook the lead.

On such a warm day, it was only naturally that some nudie club members
would be on hand to cheer us on. As much as I thought I would be
prepared, I wasn't. It’s always a shock. The good thing about riding fast
through the woods is that the 30 or so naked people hanging out in a
group along the trail were only a 2-second snippet of private parts. That
particular spot was the only place I’d see any of them.

Terry let me by in a set of sand whoops and I pulled away, riding mostly
alone in the very tight trails surrounding the staging area. My average
speed through here could only have been 10 mph at best. Heat and
exhaustion were now in full force, and I was relieved to see spectators in
the woods wearing clothes. The end was near.

I finished well out of range of the top 4 finishers in the Vet A class, due to
losing about 30 minutes fixing things on the side of the trail. Most of the A-
riders contenting for trophies turned in scores in the lower 40’s, which was
where I might have been without my serious of unfortunate incidents. I
looked at it as some of the best fun I could ever have for $35 and no
permanent damage to me or the bike. A day well spent.
Newark, Missouri
Roselawn, Indiana