November 10, 2007
Leaf River, Illinois
5th of 7 in Vet A
Leading up to the Forest City Riders M/C enduro, I’d spent the
previous two years as resident of the City of Chicago firmly convinced
I was the only off-road motorcycle racer among its 2.9 million
inhabitants. Sure, I’d seen the occasional motocross bike in the back
of a random pickup truck parked (bravely) on a city street, but never a
woods-ready two-wheeler within city limits. I imagined my Sonoma
carrying the first enduro bike ever seen on Ashland Avenue. I believed
the RacerX in my man-purse to be the only motocross magazine ever
carried (and read cover-to-cover) on the Blue Line. I intentionally
dropped off my dry cleaning on Saturdays after loading up the KX250
for a Sunday race, just so the store owner could check out what I
presumed was the only up-close dirt bike he’d ever seen.

Turns out I may not have been the first.

Parked beside me at the Leaf River Community Center were four
racers who currently or previously lived in the city. Steve Pierson,
John Cheever, Steve Pisto, and Dawn Van Kampen were each
experienced Chicago city people, all prepared to tackle the 48th
version of the Black Hawk Trails Enduro. Originally scheduled for
April, the Black Hawk fell victim to extremely muddy conditions and
was moved to the end of the District 17 enduro schedule. Forest City
Riders race director Ryan Moss promised us two trips around a 25-
mile loop in the hills, hollers and cornfields of north-central Illinois.
With one last chance for success in 2007, the enduro met with perfect
dirt and the race went off unchallenged by that cruel female canine
that, back in April, some of the club members may have referred to as
Mother Nature.

Upon arrival around 9:00 a.m., the former athletic field of Leaf River
High was filled sparsely with a random collection of trucks, trailers,
and enduro-ready motorcycles. Eventually 122 riders and their
entourages would fill the field, a moderately remarkable feat,
considering it was a rare Saturday race and the last of the season. I'd
had to complete all my bike preparations immediately following the
Turkey Creek Enduro the previous Sunday, since the 25-mile distance
between where I live and where my dirt bikes live makes maintenance
pretty much mandatory for weekends only. Fortunately for me, a dry
Fall in the Midwest had kept my KX250 remarkably mud-free since
Westpoint enduro, so all I did was replace the air filter, change the
transmission oil and put some air in the tires. With that, I was ready to
race the Black Hawk.

I chose row 18 and, unlike the previous Sunday at Goshen, had
plenty of time to get to know the city folk parked beside me. Steve
Pierson was 5 minutes ahead of me on the 13th row, while Dawn and
Steve Pisto were several minutes behind on row 36. My row had 250A
rider Steve Rees, who would spend most of his time clearing a path
ahead of me. The start had us make a beeline from the far corner of
the old football field to choppy pine tree woods about a quarter-mile
southeast, where I took care of pre-race jitters with an early-race
crash. As if on cue, the roll chart holder I’d planned to replace in the
off-season met its end after a 12-year run and a survivor of many
worse crashes. After the pine tree forest, the next several miles
leading up to the first checkpoint were relatively free flowing woods
running along both sides of a creek. At the first crossing, I plowed
through the 40-degree water with just enough momentum to drench
my gloves. I reached the checkpoint two minutes late, which gave me
about 5 minutes to dry out my gloves by resting them against the hot
engine. My fingers went from ice cold to smoldering hot in the course
of 3 seconds, but after several repetitions I was able to grasp the
grips again and continue into the next woods section.

With an 18 mph average for the first loop, the “check-in” checkpoints
were relatively easy to zero. Steve Rees showed his enduro
experience by letting his computer guide him to ride 30 seconds into
our minute, just in case we came upon an emergency check just
inside the woods*. We found the check about a quarter-mile into the
next test section – not an emergency check, but we both arrived on
time. The previous year I’d named this section “Where Trees Go to
Die” after suffering through it in much warmer temperatures. It was a
log graveyard. I checked out three minutes late and made a dash for
the next section.

for the enduro novices, an “emergency check” is a tiebreaker of
sorts, where times are recorded down to the second (instead of to
the minute) and the goal is to check in as close to the midpoint of
your minute as possible.

Road sections were limited in this year’s edition of the Black Hawk, so
most of the 25-mile loop was in the dirt. Speeds were higher in the
second half of the loop, with more open fields to make up time lost in
the slower sections. The highlight of the last half was a Keystone
Cops search for trail arrows, which had me turn right instead of left
and follow a guy back to the same 100 yards of winding trail we’d
already ridden. The second time around, I found our error and turned
left with the arrows, but the lead guy didn't. I can only assume he got
it right the third time through.

Even with no resets until the gas stop back at the staging area, I
dropped only one point at the final check, mostly due to a quarter-
mile of delicately crisscrossing a moderately muddy creek. I wasn't so
concerned with getting stuck as I was with falling into that frigid water
and having to ride in wet gear for another two or three miles.

Back at the staging area, a 15 minute break was enough time to fuel
the bike, eat half a slightly frozen turkey sandwich and inspect the
bike for crash-induced damage. The roll chart holder was clearly
toast, although still technically functional as long as I stayed out of
water. Everything else looked fine as Steve Pierson rolled in a few
minutes later, acting as if one loop would be enough for his day. I
sensed he and his Yamaha might make another trip through the
course, and indeed they would.

The Forest City Riders stepped up the pace with a 24-mph average
for the second loop.  The speed increase was just enough to put me
5 seconds late at the first check, a half-mile or so from the staging
area. The trails were now broken in perfectly, and I remembered
enough of the finer details of the course to slow down in the creek
crossing and keep my gloves dry. The first reset was placed in the
same spot as the previous loop, but I was 5 minutes late and the
reset was exactly 5 minutes, so I had no time to rest. I followed Steve
Rees into the next set of woods and we again checked in on time. The
log graveyard took 6 points from me at the next check, and from there
I never could get myself back on time.

In my battle to catch up, the second half of the loop felt like Bill
Gusse’s annual October OMA race at Morrison called, simply, “The
Race”. Me and the KX250 had some long stretches of full throttle
down field lanes. Even the short road sections were tricky, not so
much in gaining momentum as scrubbing speed in loose gravel. One
of the more interesting obstacles was a highway box culvert
reminiscent of those found at the White City enduro and the Moose
Run, except this one had poured concrete stair steps at the exit under
the other side of the road. Why? I believe it has something to do with
answering the question “Why did the cow cross the road?” The
answer, of course, is to get to the grass on the other side, but only if
there’s a nice set of shallow-grade stairs to walk up.

The final test section ended with the crisscrossing creek and a few
more muddy ruts. While a few random guys were parked along the
creek trying to find the best way through, I charged ahead to a road
bridge where Ryan Moss was waiting to take my score card. At the
staging area, Steve Pierson showed up without his helmet visor about
30 minutes after I arrived. As the story goes, he removed his helmet to
help a guy at the widest creek crossing on the course. When the
stuck rider launched his bike up the side of the creek, it went into
Bikes Gone Wild mode and landed on Steve’s helmet. The worst part
of this may not have been the broken visor, the potentially cracked
helmet, or the cow pie water soaking the inside liner. Instead, the
most unfortunate part had to be wearing the soiled helmet all the way
back to the staging area. I have never witnessed a grown man yank
off his headgear so quickly.

The Black Hawk Trails Enduro is a must-do race, especially for those
curious about old school timekeeping and a desire to try out an
enduro. To keep landowners happy, the Forest City Riders only hold
the race in relatively dry conditions, so there’s little threat of
bottomless mud for miles upon miles. John Ryan set a blistering pace
in the Vet A class, winning with a score of 17. My 32 points put me
near the back of the pack, but I went home with a smile glued to my
face for approximately 36 hours straight. It was that fun.

November 25, 2007
Toys for Tots Charity Hare Scramble
White City, Illinois
At 6:50 a.m. on Sunday morning, the Travis Pastrana 199 diecast
replica would not give up its twist ties. If it had, I would have played
with the toy in the warm confines of
Big Bird while waiting for new
riding pal Steve Pierson to meet me at my
home away from home. We
had made arrangements to drive together to the annual Toys for Tots
charity hare scramble at the
Cahokia Creek Dirt Riders club. With 28
degree temperatures and overcast skies, I relaxed inside the Blazer
with the Pastrana toy, my donation to the Tots, until Steve arrived with
his massive Chevy 2500HD diesel.

Being that it was Thanksgiving weekend, the most lucrative time of
year for Illinois state law enforcement, police cruisers on I-55 were as
thick as presidential candidates in Iowa. Steve and I learned
something on this day: if you fail to move over into the left lane to give
some room to emergency vehicles parked on the right side of an
interstate highway, and one of those vehicles happens to be a state
trooper wrapping up an incident, you just may get pulled over (we
did). And if you initiate your turn signal after you’re already in the
process of pulling to the side of the road for said state trooper, you
just may get your balls busted for that too. Steve, the only person I've
ever met who carries a bail bond card in his wallet, got off with
warnings for both offenses.

Just south of Springfield, teammate Matt Sellers called to advise me
of rain on the way from Wentzville, Missouri to White City, Illinois. I
brushed off his news as the probable effects of consuming too much
Stag on Saturday night, but sure as sh!t on a shingle, tiny raindrops
coated Steve’s windshield about 20 miles north of the Mount Olive
exit. The Cahokia Creek club grounds were reminiscent of a summer
hare scramble here in 2000, one of several where I dragged Matt
across the Missouri border expecting to race in dry conditions, only to
find the exact opposite of that. This was a day made for coffee, hot
chocolate, warm beer or anything served in a container that warms
your hands and your gut at the same time.

Colorado riding pal Scott Maxwell made the journey from Fulton,
Missouri, as did buddies Kevin Hicklin and Todd Darr.
Jeff Smith and his best girl Vickie were on hand and ready to race, as
was Missouri mud specialist Aaron Shaw. In the category of
national pro Brian Garrahan showed up to race in the Ironman class.
It made about as much sense as the collective failure to launch
involving 3 of the 4 two-stroke engines in my immediate group of race
buddies. They were about as fond of the cold as I was. First to try was
Scott’s teammate Brian McMullin on a rare ATK, followed by me and
my new-to-me Gas Gas, and then Steve’s YZ125. Last time I saw that
much kicking and swearing, I’d just driven a set of fully loaded grain
wagons through a wooden bridge.

Gas Gas 300EC was a recent purchase from Jeff Wendel of
Rolla, Missouri, who made me an offer I couldn't refuse on a bike I
needed to have. The KTM 300MXC had been showing its age in 2007,
and the Gas Gas would be a worthy replacement. But curiously, on
this cool, damp morning the Spanish Diva gave me the silent
treatment after firing up just fine the night before. Eventually the
engine got over whatever was ailing it, but not before I sent Matt out
to the starting line to ride the first lap.

A relatively short course had Matt finishing his first lap about 12
minutes after the start. As I made my way from Steve’s truck to the
open field where we’d trade laps, the fast riders in the A class had
just arrived at Endurocross-like obstacles in the narrow section of
woods between the port-a-potties and Illinois Route 138. On my way
to set up for the lap tradeoff, I watched the first guys arrive here and
handle damp logs and railroad ties with relative ease. When Matt
checked through the scoring barrels a couple minutes later, I dashed
for the creek crossing that would begin my inaugural ride on the Diva.

I took an easy first lap on the Gasser, feeling out the suspension and
jetting on a course typical of most White City races – all singletrack,
most of the time. Surprisingly, the high ground was only saturated an
inch or two into the soil. The first group of riders had cleared away
some of the slime and left me with occasional patches of dry dirt. In
the low-lying areas, the earlier riders had cleared the top layer of mud
to reveal…more mud. The club went easy on us, though, and marked
the trails away from any major swamps. In a handful of spots
throughout the course, we passed within a foot or less of ledges
where the penalty for error was climbing your way out of a creek. One
such spot had a helpless rider in the creek every time I passed by.

The alternating-lap format was a perfect setting for making carburetor
adjustments and a few clicks here and there on the shock and fork
adjusters. The Diva worked out most of her carb issues about halfway
through the race, and by then the suspension settings were pretty
close to good enough. To describe the Gasser’s overall performance,
it was a cross between my KX250 and KTM 300. The suspension,
brakes and handling were much like the KX; the engine was all KTM.
Throw in a motocross-like transmission with an “overdrive” 6th gear,
and it’s a pretty good package.
When I first reached the Endurocross section, it had already been
rerouted. Apparently we amateurs have yet to master the art of
manmade obstacles covered in a wet mist and the club gave up on us
quickly. Light rain fell off and on throughout the whole 3-hour race,
while the outside temperature continued to drop like a football thrown
to a New Orleans Saints receiver. The cool-down period between laps
was just that – a bit uncomfortable even with a riding jacket. Once I
had the Diva in the woods, though, I heated up nicely. Near the end
of the lap, at each pass through a rough cornfield east of the staging
area, I could've ridden through an ice block and never felt a thing
(except an ice block).

In the end, Matt and I completed 13 laps in three hours, with Matt
riding seven to my six. Kevin Hicklin and his brother Bryan smoked
the C class convincingly, while Aaron Shaw took home the Ironman
win ahead of Brian Garrahan. As usual, the real winners were the kids
- especially the lucky one who ends up snagging the Travis Pastrana
199 racer replica dirt bike.
Not quite ready for Endurocross
Leaf River, Illinois
White City, Illinois