October 21, 2007
White City, Illinois
4th of 9 in Vet A
If there’s such a thing as an exasperating enduro, then the Cahokia
Creek Dirt Riders have one in their annual Big Red Enduro. It’s been
a White City, Illinois tradition for about a decade longer than I've
graced this planet with my existence. I’d previously attempted the Big
Red four times, each a failure due to weather-related conditions
(houred out twice), bodily injury (broken ribs) and bike problems
(once). After four consecutive DNF's from 1999-2002, I took a four
year break from the Big Red because it kept conflicting with my
annual weeklong practice of breaking my dad’s farm equipment in
October, otherwise known as the
Farm Vacation. But this year,
harvest wrapped up early and the Big Red was back on my racing
schedule.

As is common with any race whose level of enjoyment is directly
proportional to the amount of rain in advance of the event, I was pretty
much glued to Doppler radar for six days in a row. Most parts of
Illinois had been extremely dry in September and October, so the two
inches of rain that fell on White City during the week was soaked up
like a lamb’s wool sponge. Upon arrival at the club grounds on
Sunday morning, a less informed person might have assumed no rain
had fallen there in weeks. My own arrival was by way of Rolla,
Missouri, where I had picked up Jeff Wendel’s
Gas Gas 300EC on
Saturday and loaded it alongside the KTM in my pickup truck. His
keen observation that I was carrying a load of Euro-trash (Spain and
Austria, representin’) made more sense than owning three
motorcycles with only enough space at home for two. Warrenville’s
very own Tony Smith came to the rescue with an offer to host a bike
until I could deliver one to its new temporary home down at the farm.

Jeff Smith (no relation to Tony) met me at the club grounds with
congratulations that I’d rejoined him in a semi-exclusive society called
Dudes Who Own Three Dirt Bikes for No Logical Reason (Jeff is also
a member of a more exclusive subset of this association that is
reserved for married guys). In my own mind, logic suggested the Gas
Gas would replace the KTM, which was today competing in possibly
its final race with me onboard. The venerable 300MXC was decked
out in its usual timekeeping attire, as the Big Red is a traditional
timekeeping enduro. The 18 mph speed average was a bit of a
surprise, although it really shouldn't have been with my past
experience here. The woods are tight and the pace is usually
moderate, especially if mud is a factor, and it’s entirely possible that a
more typical 24 mph average would have some C riders houring out
before the halfway point. A set of multi-colored Sharpies got my 24
mph roll chart modified well enough to work for an 18 mph schedule.

At signup, I chose the latest row available: 26. The old-school nature
of the Big Red tends to turn off enough would-be competitors that
only 30 rows are necessary, so I was near the back of the pack. With
a large portion of the course run through woods that are only ridden
during this race, choosing an early row virtually guarantees that you’ll
be connecting the arrows with new trails for most of the day. I wanted
none of that.

Within the first mile of the trails around the club grounds, young gun
Kiel Mueller used his AA skills to quickly put himself out of sight of me
and the rest of our row. I fought arm pump and the nagging feeling
that my throttle hand was way too close to the brake lever adjuster
bolt. Halfway through the first test section I glanced down at my
throttle and observed the result of what is commonly referred to as
the
Stichnoth Maintenance Plan: fix something, mess up something
else. This time it was front brake bleeding, which required loosening
the throttle housing brackets. Some would just go ahead and snug
them up again, but not me. I like challenge of rubbing my fingers
against foreign objects for 30 minutes at a time while battling an
intense urge to release my aching hands from the handlebars.

The test ended at the opposite side of the staging area, where I
tightened the throttle housing and gassed up. We took another ride
through the woods to the south boundary of the club grounds and
headed down a country road to the site of my 1999 crash that
snapped a rib or two. The A riders would ride this section twice,
consecutively, while the B and C riders would take a long break after
their first pass. It started poorly. Somehow I misread the flip cards and
checked in a minute early, which I always figure is only a one-point
mistake since in theory I’d be checking out of the section a minute
earlier. That theory was trashed when I misread an arrow and took a
longer, lower route into a swamp. Seven exhausting minutes later I
was unstuck and back on the trail.

Even with 75 or so riders clearing a path ahead of me, the trails were
tight, twisty and somewhat treacherous in places. Every so often a
series of Moose Run logs would show up around a blind corner, or a
deep gully with only one nasty line to plow through. And just like the
dry Moose Runs of past years, at each 18-inch long lying diagonally
across an off-camber uphill or a particularly steep creek bank I
thought
My god, this would be torture if this place was wet.

A couple miles later I heard the telltale flopping of the plastic
taillight/fender combo, my way of making a two-stroke smoke-
spouting motorcycle appear street legal (not even close). The words
of Matt Sellers came to mind from our summer vacation in Taylor
Park, the last time my zip-tie method of securing the end of the fender
extender failed. He suggested a screw would do a better job. I said
Oh no, these zip-ties last about two years. I had some time to reflect
upon that on the side of the trail while pulling out a couple new zip-
ties from my fanny pack. Three more minutes lost. I kept the KTM on
two wheels through the rest of the section and was greeted by Jeff
Smith at the check.

The second pass through this section was much smoother than the
first, mainly because I avoided the swamp. Sort of. In what is
becoming a bad habit of late, I accidentally cut off part of the course,
some of which included the same mud hole I’d stuck myself in the
first go around. It all started with a guy stuck on the side of a creek
bank, same as my first pass. I could see him from a distance as I was
blasting down the center of a 30-foot-wide creek.  Instead of waiting
my turn, like I did on the previous loop, I spotted another way up the
creek bank about 100 feet ahead of the guy blocking the exit. At the
top of the creek bank I pointed the KTM in the general direction of the
stuck bike ahead and found myself dangerously close to a big mud
hole. Another guy behind me had followed my lead and kept going
straight instead of turning in my direction. He yelled at me to follow
and I did (
note to self: stop listening to people). A minute later I
realized that mud hole was oddly similar to the one I’d earlier spent 7
minutes pushing my way out. Evidently my shortcut converged with
the mud hole. How much I’d cut off the course, I had no idea, but I
wasn't alone.

The rest of the loop was some of the best riding of the day, now that
the trail was well broken in. Jeff Smith again marked my score and I
headed down the road to the remote gas stop. Mileage markers
showed a 0.4-mile difference from my odometer, so I’d missed less
than two minutes of riding. I was still on track to meet my endlessly
repeated goal of “Just Finish”, but doing it without those 4 tenths
would be just a little less satisfying.

The most interesting part of the course came in the 4th test at a spot
we’d been warned about at the riders meeting. Instead of using a
road to cross over I-55, the club decided to go underground by way of
a culvert. As interstate drainage goes, civil engineers don’t mess
around when it comes to limited access highways. This was one
serious culvert, the Mother of All Culverts, if you will. From end to end
was about the length of a football field, approximately 10 feet square.
Despite the near drought conditions, somehow, someway, the entire
length was filled with mud and water. And not just a light coating of
mud, mind you, a 20-inch-deep layer, based on my own estimation of
how far my front wheel was diving into the ruts. Club members were
on hand to point out the best line to enter the culvert, but from there
we were on our own.

I dropped down into first gear, jerked the throttle all the way to its
stop, and held on. Twenty feet in I couldn’t see anything except a
distant light. I felt the KTM struggling for traction, the rear wheel
churning through the water and the front end occasionally dipping
down into a deep rut. A hundred feet in, I could make out the
reflection of the wake left behind from earlier riders and waves of
water pushed ahead of my bike by its front wheel. At two hundred
feet inside the culvert, the front wheel began a series of dives that
ended with me stuck in water up to the airbox. Instead of killing the
engine when it began bogging, I let it run just long enough for the
carb vent hoses to start sucking up water like a 5-horse shop vac.
There I was, standing in water up to my knees, the roar of engines
echoing through square concrete, water from other riders’ screaming
bikes splashing my left side, one guy falling over on his way past me
and frantically righting it before the airbox filled with water. Ahead of
me was the sight of half a dozen guys peering in at the end of the
tunnel, laughing off their collective asses. They weren't about to walk
75 feet through the muck to pull me out.

The rear end lifted surprisingly easily from the hole I’d helped create.
The carburetor vent hoses were still submerged, so I pushed the bike
forward to slightly higher ground, then began kicking. With a splash
of water now inside the carb and headed for the cylinder, I knew I had
no choice but to keep on kicking over the engine until the moisture
worked its way out. Twenty kicks was all it took for the engine to
gurgle to life. I held open the throttle for a half-minute until it ran
smoothly, then spun my way out of the culvert.

Somewhere in this loop I glanced down at my odometer and read
58.9 miles. A few minutes later I saw the same thing. At the end of the
loop I discovered why: the odometer cable had been yanked from the
gear drive at the wheel. So much for timekeeping. Actually, it’s not a
complete disaster as long as mileage markers are posted periodically.
But what you must know is when to enter woods if you suspect a
check may be just inside. That’s not so easy without an odometer.
Luckily for me, Ryan Moss was killing time on the side of a gravel
road just ahead of the next woods section. He told me when to go in
and was spot-on. The course workers were flipping the 26 card just
as I approached.

This 10-mile section ended up being the last, as the interstate tunnel
became impassable. We were sent back to the staging area without
completing the final loop, and that was fine by me. I drove back to
Chicago with my load of Euro-trash and the satisfaction of conquering
the Big Red for the first time in my history. It was more than good.

Post-race note
Here’s a word of advice: don’t try on the expensive boots. Trust me,
just don’t do it. On the Saturday before the race, I left Chicago
without my old AXO mid-level boots, and instead of calling anyone
and everyone I knew who might have a spare set of size-11’s, I
decided my old boots were pretty worn out anyway and made a
detour to
Donelson Cycles in St. Louis. Just for kicks I tried on Fox’s
latest Forma boots and…OH…MY…GOD.  If you’re old enough to
have owned a pair of Moon Boots for the winter season, it was like
that. Form-fitting to the max. I had no choice – the credit card came
out quicker than an Al Gore acceptance speech and in short order I
became an owner of the most expensive, albeit most comfortable, set
of boots ever to grace my beat up feet. The entire race I never even
knew they were there. There’s no going back, of course. Mid-level
boots just won’t suffice anymore. So I’ll say it again: leave the
expensive boots on the rack. Don’t touch them when tempted, just
back away slowly and exit the bike shop immediately.
White City, Illinois
Goshen, Indiana
November 4, 2007
Goshen, Indiana
6th of 12 in Vet A




These words are commonly (and accurately) used to depict Regis
Philbin, but another man fits this description as tight as an Isotoner
glove:
Agus MacGuyver. Back in his days of freelance work for the
Phoenix Foundation, Mac could build a supercomputer out of wing
nuts, dental floss and used French fry grease.  In his image, I took
every last bit of mechanical improvisation within my cluttered brain
and used it to pass tech inspection at the Turkey Creek Enduro near
Goshen, Indiana.

The Goshen event was my first attempt at an enduro, in 1995, when I
rode a 1994 Suzuki RMX250 with a blown shock seal and didn't even
know it. I was a bit less experienced rider back then. On a cool, windy
November day I showed up without a roll chart, grabbed a couple
long sleeved shirts, threw on my riding jacket and winter gloves and
then wondered why I was so dang hot inside the woods. I wondered
why guys on dirt bikes were crouched in the woods as if to hide (or lie
in wait?). I wondered why my rear suspension was so bouncy and
why I was so dang hot inside the woods.  

Those mysteries would eventually be solved in the years leading up
to 2007 and my return to the venue that launched my desire to figure
out what all the fuss was about with enduro racing. The fuss is this: 4-
6 hours of riding in the woods with occasional breaks to catch your
breath. All one must do to enjoy this is learn a bunch of odd rules
about riding not for speed, but for speed
average. There’s also a rule
or two about various functions your bike must perform prior to the
race, such as the ability to produce light in various forms and to not
be a loud, obnoxious, spark-spewing pig. These requirements vary by
location. Some enduro-hosting clubs have no exhaust decibel limits
and most only require the appearance of street legality, so anyone
mounting a headlight and taillight and carrying a motorcycle license
plate (could be from a Honda scooter or a Harley; nobody seems to
care as long as it’s a license plate) is generally good to go.

Not so at Turkey Creek.

To receive the standard AMA signup form for entering the race,
passing tech inspection was mandatory. No pass, no race. I’d read
the event flyer on the
Riders Motorcycle Club website and knew the
club required working lights, but I thought maybe they were just
talking about the headlight. That was an incorrect assumption. The
guy manning tech inspection on the edge of the New Paris industrial
park, the staging area for the race, nodded as I connected the 9-volt
battery to my KX250’s headlight and gave me a thumbs-up on the
sound test. “Looks like your taillight’s not working,” he said. “Gee, that’
s odd,” I replied, knowing full well that the only way it would produce
any light was if it were set afire. I’d stripped the internals from inside
the amber lens – no need to subject a perfectly good light bulb and
wiring harness to the abuse of off-road racing, right? But now I was in
a bit of a pickle. The tech inspector ordered me back to my truck to
make the taillight work.

What does one do when faced with such a challenge? MacGuyver-
ize, of course. I yanked out a small bulb from under the dash of my
pickup truck, pulled the battery out of my digital camera, snipped two
pieces of wire from my
torque converter shut-off switch, duct taped the
wires to the battery and the light bulb, stuffed the bulb inside the
taillight lens, zip-tied the taillight assembly to the rear fender and
hoped it would continue producing light until I made it back to tech
inspection (this required a bumpy ride over a levee between a couple
of the industrial park’s waste water holding ponds). All was
acceptable to the inspector guy and I rushed over to the signup
building.














By this time, the latest row available was 14, in part because the
Turkey Creek Enduro was a two-day affair. Those racing on Saturday
had already chosen their rows for Sunday, which left me with an
earlier row and about 30 minutes to gear up and program my new
Watchdog enduro computer for its maiden voyage. The Watchdog
installation needed some of its own MacGuyver-izing over the
weekend, in particular the mounting of the magnetic pick-up sensor at
the KX250’s front brake caliper. The pre-testing had gone off without
a hitch, but a mile into the course the odometer quit counting. Without
enough time to do my usual enduro ritual of duct taping two LDC
clocks and a roll chart holder to my handlebars, I was relying totally
on the Watchdog, which now wasn't working.

After the second reset, following about 5 miles of singletrack, I fiddled
with the sensor wire. No luck, still dead. I yanked the camera battery
off the taillight before it became trail junk, then followed a guy who I
thought was on my row. Turns out he was in the row behind me, so
for several minutes I put myself further behind schedule by trying to
key off a slower guy. Once I realized my mistake, I jumped out ahead
and rode hard, but still dropped 3 points at the next check. No other
Vet A riders would drop more than 2 points here, including
Upland
row buddy Bryan Marsh who was several minutes behind me on row
31. I had some time to make up.

The next timed section was the longest of the day, with generous
helpings of logs, leaf-covered singletrack, and remnants of past creek
dredging. As would be evident throughout the race, the Goshen area
natives do a lot digging. Creek straightening, gravel excavating, strip
mining, you name it, it’s been dug. Row 14 turned out to be a pretty
good choice for trail quality. By the time my KX arrived in the woods,
the course was mostly broken in by the 30 or so riders ahead of me
and the soil was still fairly smooth. I dropped only 13 points here, with
only the top three Vet A finishers making it through quicker.

At the next reset I chatted with Vet B and Illinois rider Neal Haarman,
who was sporting a Watchdog like me. We compared notes on the
Big Red Enduro at White City two weeks prior, where Neal enjoyed
the course so well he decided to ride about 10 miles of it a second
time. His computer had us right on time leading up to the next set of
woods, where by divine intervention (or enough fiddling with the
sensor wire) my Watchdog finally began counting miles. At last, I
could tell exactly when I needed to enter the singletrack. No more
staring at vibrating 16-point Times New Roman font on a roll chart
and cross-referencing the numbers with the time displayed on the
LCD clocks, all while trying to avoid crashing into trees. It almost felt
like cheating.

After a remote pit stop for gas, the A and AA riders were given about 4
miles of trail all for themselves. Neal continued down a road while I
darted into an old strip mine, engulfed in thick brush, trees and hills.
Jason Roerig, the other A rider on my row, took off ahead and
disappeared. The trail arrived at an active gravel pit with a well placed
sign noting a drop-off into the pit. Without that warning, I would have
sailed over the edge like an Al Gore corporate jet on its way to an
energy conservation rally.

I dropped another six points at the checkpoint following the gravel pit,
then rejoined the B and C riders on a road section. It was here that I
first doubted the Watchdog. I knew I’d passed a reset but the
computer told me I was still late. That didn't compute (get it?
Compute? Enduro
computer? Oh hell, just keep on reading). Thing
was, the reset was only five minute’s worth and I’d been later than
that at the last check. Indeed, I was behind schedule and would stay
that way until the final test.

At the final reset before the last 14 miles of the course, Fred
Thompson (no relation to
Fred Thompson) on row 18 pulled up
behind a group of us pausing next to a road. The end of his pinky
finger appeared to have been severed. The sight of it was enough to
make anyone a bit more cautious on the trail. Down the road, we were
checked into a woods section that would eventually take us back to
the staging area. I dropped 6 points there to finish with a total score of
47, good enough for 6th place.

If you've ever reached the point where you’re a little burned out with
the intensity of hare scrambles or GNCC-type racing, enduros are a
great way to rediscover why we all ride dirt bikes in the woods. It’s just
a lot of fun. The hosting clubs put out Herculean efforts in staging
these enduros, and the Riders M/C should be commended for the
Turkey Creek Enduro. Great job, guys.
His mind is the ultimate weapon.

For him, saving the day is all in a day's
work.

He acts fast and thinks faster.

Part boy-scout. Part genius. All hero.
Enduro riders kickin' it
Old School
Trials tire in the
woods: why, just why?