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