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