2007 Race Reports
September 23, 2007
Westpoint, Tennessee
DNF
To complete the 2-wheeled portion of my 3,500-mile odyssey throughout
the east half of the U.S., I chose Round #7 of the AMA National Enduro
Series near Westpoint, Tennessee. A national enduro schedule tends to
be one of the better places to look for races worth the effort of a long
drive, although three thousand miles might be a stretch. With those miles
comes an expectation of good singletrack and plenty of it. Westpoint
would not disappoint, nor would the KX250-friendly format of the 2007
national enduro series, where a series of special tests determines the
winner. Lights and timekeeping equipment aren't necessary - all a person
has to do is show up to a check-in by a certain time, ride fast for a certain
number of miles and move on to the next test. Whoever clocks the
quickest cumulative time in the tests takes the top spot.

On Saturday afternoon before the race, I pulled off I-65 at the exit for
Pulaski, and upon stepping out of
Big Bird, I noticed my shoes nearly
melting on the gas station asphalt. I’d brought my 15-year-old Walmart
tent with the intention of camping at the race site, but the Super 8 a
quarter-mile down the road was mighty tempting. I gave in, pulled out my
credit card, and $75 later was resting by the pool. Air conditioned room
and a soft bed on a 93-degree day…priceless (and so much for roughing
it).

These parts of Tennessee are a bit of an adjustment for this city boy, in
particular the concentration of Long John Silvers restaurants and the
inquisitive nature of the locals. Hushpuppie in hand, one friendly guy in
the Pulaski Walmart parking lot, strolling past Big Bird and its cargo,
asked if I was “fixin' to ride or already done rode.” I was fixin', I replied.

Earlier in the week I’d washed off the KX back at Lake Norman in the small
town of Denver, North Carolina, where
Chick Breasts are sold at corner
gas stations. Between the jet skiing and the mountain biking and the
general lounging around that is the essence of a lake house, let’s just say
bike maintenance was not on the top of the To-Do list. I did change the air
filter and briefly inspected the bike, Corona in hand, and it all looked good
from the rocking chair on the patio. Had I known the condition of my clutch
cable, I might have thrown on a new one. The end of it, between the cable
housing and the actuator arm, was frayed like the hair of a lifelong chain
smoking 50-year-old woman. The rubber bootie protector thingy
concealed it all. The fact that I'd last replaced the clutch cable at least 18
months and 20 races ago was completely lost in my comfortably cool
motel room on Saturday night.

On Sunday morning, my thoughts on preventative maintenance were
jolted back into the full view of a clutch cable in two pieces. Such was the
case about 5 miles into the first test while following a young dude on a
Honda CRF150. He began the test a minute ahead of me on row 9,
seeming like a typical 14-year-old at a family enduro with Dad in tow to
make sure Junior survives 15 miles of the kid’s course. This kid was far
from typical. I caught up to him somewhere after the other A-class rider on
my row left me in his dust a few miles before. We’d discussed the starting
order while waiting for the test and determined that he would lead initially, I’
d follow, and he would let me around if I asked. That worked fine until we
exited the woods and found the scrub brush remains of a logged forest. I
couldn't see more than 15 feet in any direction. Over the summer,
Westpoint had been as dry as much of the rest of the southern and
southeastern U.S. Inside the woods, the dust was manageable but
anywhere the sun shone, the light brown dirt was dry as a bone.

I found the CRF150 guy as he worked his way around an 85cc bike on a
hill of loose dirt. After that, it was all I could do to keep up with him. If the
future of junior class racing is the 150cc performance four-stroke, watch
out adults - some of these kids will be lapping you at hare scrambles
everywhere.

The clutch cable gave out without warning after a couple miles of following
the CRF150. I’d reached the halfway point of the initial 10-mile test and
decided to give it a go and try to at least get one score on my card. As I
soon learned, riding without a clutch isn't all that difficult. Moving over for
other riders in singletrack is a whole other thing. The trick was to time it
just right so I could lug my way through an open spot next to the trail with
just enough momentum to avoid killing the engine while giving riders
enough time and space to pass – more difficult than it sounds. I killed the
engine at least 10 times.

At the scoring checkpoint, I limped back to the staging area, packed up
and drove Big Bird over to the gas stop to retrieve my jug. The gas trailers
were parked just up the road from the checkpoint where I’d left the course,
and it was here I got my first taste of mobile pit crews at national enduros.
As a participant in a handful of national enduros over the years, I’d never
paid much attention to other riders’ support teams. At the gas stop, it was
like a whole other staging area. Trucks and trailers were lined up for a
quarter-mile on either side of the road. Pop-up awnings, full pit crews,
motorhomes, you name it, I saw it. After lugging a nearly-full five gallon
gas jug back to the Blazer, I did a 14-point turn among the vehicles on the
roadside and headed back down the gravel road to start my long drive
home.

Thus completed the recreational part of my road trip. I made one final stop
in Owensboro, Kentucky for business and arrived back in Chicago twelve
days after I’d left. The rest of the adventure can be viewed
here. An
interesting trip, no doubt.

October 14, 2007
Upland, Indiana
3rd of 11 in Vet A
We all have different ways of measuring how fast we ride in the woods.
Sometimes it’s a comparison to riding buddies, or how you stack up to
guys in your racing class. Me? I just try to outrun the yellow jackets. At the
Muddobbers M/C enduro near at Upland, Indiana, I found out I’m slower
than bees.

Eastern Standard Time forced an early wake-up but refreshingly traffic-
less drive down the Dan Ryan, the hell-on-wheels highway most
Chicagoans endure when heading towards our Hoosier neighbors. The
race site, an hour north of Indianapolis, was staged at the Upland Lions
Club which, unlike most Lions Clubs I’m familiar with, had its own
grandstand for holding rodeos and tractor pulls and such. Across from the
grandstand was the Lions Club headquarters where all the mathematical
aspects of the race were handled, including my own calculation for how to
set my clock to key time for row 46. I strayed from my usual habit of
signing up for an early row because I’d slightly miscalculated the driving
time to Upland (
note to self: never question Google) and wanted more
time to get prepared to race.

The rally-style format of the Upland enduro, with its limited timekeeping
requirements, meant I could race the odometer-less KX250 instead of my
aging KTM. Since the Muddobbers M/C club holds firmly to lighting
requirements, I strapped on an Acerbis headlight and bolted a taillight to
the rear fender to give my KX a decidedly enduro appearance. “It won’t be
straight after the race,” observed one helpful guy while watching me
adjust the rubber straps of the sleek, white-on-black headlight shell.
Probably true. License plates are also a must, and it just so happened
that I had in my possession a temporary motorcycle plate from the State of
Illinois, a result of my attempt to license a Gas Gas 300 bought in
September from former Missouri hare scrambler Jeff Wendel. Whether or
not this licensing attempt is successful (a 50-50 chance, by my
estimation), it was the first time since 2002 I’d carried a real, bona fide,
current license plate for an enduro. And just like all prior real, bona fide,
current license plates from past years, this one didn't match the bike I was
riding. But it let me start the race, unlike a less fortunate guy in the row
ahead of me who was sent home with a plate-less YZ125.

On my row were two KTM’s and a YZ250 with a green headlight and a
yellow front fender. The colorful YZ belonged to Traverse City native
Bryan Marsh, while the two KTM's were piloted by young Jordan Mapes
and Leonard Keen, a seriously fast AA rider with several overall enduro
victories to his credit. Like me, Bryan entered the Vet A class, while
Jordan raced the C class and Leonard the AA class. In a rally format,
there are no formal rules on who enters special tests first, but it all gets
sorted out quickly with a quick scan of the scorecards on each rider’s front
fender. Leonard would clearly lead every test, Bryan and I would follow
and Jordan would go in last. Or so I thought. After we entered the woods
for the first test, Leonard and Bryan took off ahead and I thought I’d ride
comfortably in the 3rd position. That is, until Jordan rode my rear tire for
the first 5 minutes. I finally let him by and wondered if I’d misread his
scorecard.

It’s been at least 10 years since I was the slowest guy on my row at an
enduro, and in that first test I was feeling like I should have entered the C
class. The woods were dry, slightly dusty in a few areas and full of sugary
powder - not exactly sand, but not quite dirt either. Throughout the 7-mile
test I never really adjusted to quick turns in loose singletrack and dumped
the bike several times in slow speed tip-overs. After 10 miles I’d dropped 9
points, while Bryan carded an 8. That single point would be a big one in
tallying our final scores.

I finally found some rhythm in the second test, made up of 16 miles of
nicely flowing singletrack that was the longest in length and probably the
best trails of the day. I let Bryan lead initially, but I was riding well enough
to push him pretty hard. He took the long way around a large log lying at
an angle, while I squared up and launched my bike over it. After that, we
were separated by just enough distance to be out of sight of each other
for the rest of the test. Scores were tallied down to the second, and while
we both scored a 12, I finished 18 seconds quicker.

Much of the course loosely followed the Mississinewa River and the woods
on either side of I-69. The Mississinewa is a serious river, around 100
yards wide in most places, and we crossed it several times. While standing
in line to claim my free meal after the race, I was reminded of the
unpredictable nature of these kinds of rivers by a photo of Stephen
Edmonson at last year’s national enduro at this location, diving straight
into the water and handing the overall win to Russell Bobbitt. At each
crossing I took my time so that I might avoid being next year’s highlight
photo. Along I-69, some of the course was laid out over flat, wide-open
fields where we could race the highway traffic. For the three seconds a
car would have witnessed motorcycles flying along the highway at 75 mph,
the image of asylum-ready dirt bikers would have solidified the most likely
impression etched in minds and memories: those boys ain't right.

The remote gas stop after the second test was placed at a scenic
campsite next to the historic Cumberland covered bridge over the
Mississinewa. One Power Bar and a couple gallons of gas later, I was on
to the third test. Bryan and I stuck together again, pushing each other to
ride hard through the singletrack. After he missed a turn on a brief road
section, I took the lead until finding myself stuck in the only mud hole in
the entire 85-mile course. By this time Bryan had found his way back on
the trail and passed by while I was dragging my KTM out of the mud. He
finished the test 30 seconds in front of me.

More sweet, supple singletrack was in store for the fourth test, with Bryan
and I in sight of each other just about the whole 8 miles. Somewhere in
here I passed between two trees, thinking I’d rubbed my neck against
some sort of sticker bush, then realized the stinging sensation was
continuing as mercilessly as a High School Musical tune. I always knew I
wasn't the fastest guy on a dirt bike, but being outrun by bees was just
plain demoralizing. Fifteen minutes later the stinging, as well as the test,
came to an end with a wide-open blast along a fence next to the
interstate. I arrived at the checkpoint in Bryan’s cloud of dust, where we
both dropped 7 points.

The final test, reserved for the A and B riders, was 14 miles of moderately
tight trails and several more crossings of the Mississinewa River. The
narrowly spaced trees claimed Leonard Keen about 100 yards into the
test. Bryan and I paused to let him remount and restart, knowing full well if
we rode around him, he’d be passing us about 10 seconds later. I jumped
out ahead of Bryan and rode by myself for most of the test. Halfway
through this section, Bryan’s brake lever came loose but somehow he
stayed on my minute and we both carded a 10 for the test. When the
scores were tallied, I finished with 46; Bryan had 45. We were second and
third, respectively, in the Vet A class and had our pictures taken on an
Olympic-style podium. That was cool, and so was the enduro. I’ll be back
next year.
Sprocket envy.
He didn't get to ride the 2008 KTM 250 XC-We at Upland (as featured
in the November 2007 edition of Dirt Rider magazine), but he did ride
pretty darned fast.
Westpoint, TN
Upland, Indiana
The perfect marriage of
grease and more
grease.
I got to ride on the
same row as this guy
!