2007 Race Reports
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 the
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 myspace.com 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
Why?, 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.

The
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.
Leaf River, Illinois
White City, Illinois
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
It was cold.