Leadbelt Enduro
Park Hills, Missouri
May 4, 2008
9th of 22 in A class
The 2008 Leadbelt Enduro marked my 5th consecutive race through
the best that St. Joe State Park has to offer the off-road motorcycling
enthusiast. In all, my wheels have touched the park’s boundaries on
68 separate occasions (it’s true, I keep track of these things), and I
cannot recall better conditions. The soil was damp but not dusty,
traction was at its finest, and the sun shone brightly on 70-degree
day. To borrow an oft-used quote from Jim “Rocket” Walker:
Purrrfect.

My faithful GMC Sonoma pickup truck turned 180,000 miles on its
way down to Wentzville, Missouri, where each visit brings the Sellers
Estate closer to the big-box retail paradise known as Wentzville
Commons. Someday in the near future, their back door may just open
directly into an IKEA. A home-cooked meal on Saturday and a good
night’s rest were just the right setup for 70 miles of rocks and trees on
Sunday.

The KX250 made the trip to Park Hills with its Watchdog enduro
computer pre-programmed. This pricey gadget cut in half the normal
time I used to spend setting up for an enduro. No more crinkled roll
charts, twin LCD clocks duct taped to the handlebars, struggling to
read a roll chart and clock at the same time. It’s like stepping up from
the Corolla to the Sequoia. The Missouri Mudders helped shorten
prep time even further by setting up the route as 3 loops, the end of
each taking us back to the staging area with plenty of time to refuel.
There was no need to drag my gas jug a quarter-mile across an open
field to an official gas available location. Instead, I could simply ride
back to my truck, fill up and go racing again.

Matt pre-entered us on our traditional Row 5, where Mike Whitaker,
Scott Barker, and Mike Crenshaw joined us. The only other riders in
front of us were AA rider John Humphrey, Charlie Wagner on a KX250
nearly identical to mine, Paul Pendry, and Lyle Crothers, all riding on
Row 4. Behind us on Row 6 were National Enduro Series scorekeeper
Brian Jahelka, Jeff Neathery on a Husky 4-stroke, and Ryon Weidner.
As usual, we’d be clearing the trail for riders behind us.

The initial speed average was 15 mph, which made for a fairly easy
ride through 3 miles of the public area of St. Joe State Park. After
that, we sped up to 18 mph and quickly reached first check and
zeroed it without much effort. The course following this check kept us
in the well-established trails inside the park, where I began seeing a
noticeable difference in my mileage compared to the mile markers on
the course. Matt had taken advantage of Dugas Engineering’s fire
sale on Watchdog computers and picked up one for himself, which he’
d calibrated the night before on his driveway by measuring the
circumference of two front tire rotations. I, on the other hand, was
using last year’s calibration that had worked reasonably well at the
Leaf River enduro. Apparently there is a difference between riding
Illinois mud and the loose, rocky “chat” of the lead-bearing terrain of
Missouri. I was way off.

I’d set my tire circumference nearly an inch too low, which made my
Watchdog think I was slower than the mile markers indicated. An 18
mph speed average at St. Joe State Park is attainable, but I usually
have to make decent progress through the hills and trees to stay on
time. When riding at that pace, I don’t often pay a whole lot of
attention to my timekeeping - not that it would have mattered,
because I couldn't remember how to adjust the tire circumference on
the fly. So I continued a fairly aggressive pace and reached the next
checkpoint 30 seconds early. The nice lady who recorded my mistake
shouted “Nice job!”. Yep, nice.

I did manage to zero the third and final check of the first loop, 19.5
miles into the 69-mile course. Matt rolled in a couple minutes later
and we compared notes on Watchdog tire size settings. I consulted
the owners manual and bumped up my wheel circumference, ate a
granola bar, topped off the gas tank and headed back to the same
spot where we’d began the race earlier. The first couple miles skirted
around the public area of St. Joe State Park and took us across the
long, flat levee that once retained water needed for the lead mining
process. Races in the park often use this route to take us from the
staging area to the opposite end of the property, and each time I think
of Jerry Hemann and his unfortunate tragedy here in 2004 on a warm,
June day. In a dusty haze, he missed a turn at high speed and left a
void in the racing community.

On this day, an 18 mph speed average would make for a leisurely
ride over green grass on the levee, through a short stretch of swampy
clay, and over to an old bridge underpass where we waited to enter
the woods. Somewhere in here, while weaving my way through
winding trails bounded by trees, my brake-slide turning technique
failed me. The rear tire completed its right hand slide just a bit too
late, leaving my left foot with just enough room to crunch between the
foot peg and the tree. In these situations, I measure the damage by
how long it takes the pain to subside. If a minute passes and I still
have a throbbing pain, usually one or more bones have broken. This
time, the pain subsided within this timeframe and I continued on.

The first real test came when the speed average changed to 24 mph.
Unless I’m on an open road, 24 mph turns an enduro into a hare
scramble. About halfway through this test section, Brian Jahelka
approached from behind and passed me after I missed a turn. I
followed Brian for about as long as it takes for a guy to make a
mistake while riding just outside his comfort zone – for me,
approximately 3 minutes. The resulting third gear slide-out caused no
damage, and I found Brian at the next reset. The checkpoint just prior
to this reset added 8 points on my score card.

For the next 6 miles we weaved back to the same spot where we’d
finished the first loop. During this time I didn't realize we were back to
an 18 mph average, so I pushed harder than I probably should have.
As luck would have it…I got lost. About a mile before the end of the
loop in a 4th gear ATV trail, Charlie Wagner and I blew by an arrow
and had to backtrack. The couple minutes it took me to find my way
back to the trail added just enough time to keep me from burning the
final check of the 2nd loop. For the first time ever, bad luck created
good luck. My scorecard would show me zeroing the check like a Pro,
but it was really just dumb luck. Back at the truck, Matt and I both
helped ourselves to a round of Ibuprofen before heading back out for
our final loop.

As is typical for the Leadbelt Enduro, the last part of the race is
reserved for the A and B riders, for good reason: it works you like a
bad hangover. The loop started innocently enough with another
leisurely jaunt over the levee and some of the same trails from the
2nd loop. Then the Missouri Mudders decided it was time to test our
navigational abilities. About half of the 3rd loop was virgin trails that
appeared to have been ridden only by the guy responsible for the
route sheet mileage. There was not a hint of defined trail anywhere.
At first, two guys ahead of me on row 4 helped clear a path until I
passed one of those guys within the first few miles. Many of the trails
were arrowed on varying sides of ravines, and I often found myself on
the wrong side of the ravines trying to find my way back to the arrows.

Eventually we rejoined the established trails in the area of the
infamous Waterfall. As in past Leadbelt Enduros, I could feel the flat
rock creek and its ledges coming around every corner. The fear and
anticipation built for a couple miles until, finally, I arrived at the start of
the Waterfall…and promptly crossed right over the flat rock creek bed
and bounded up the other side of the bank. Behind me, Matt and
Brian Jahelka were so convinced they were entering the Waterfall that
they decided to head down the rock ledges. A fender-high log across
the trail was enough to get them both back on track, but that was the
closest we’d get to the Waterfall.

At this point we were running against a 24 mph speed average
through the rest of the race, with one final reset following the area of
the Waterfall. I dropped another 11 points and the end of this section
and ended up a minute late to the next checkpoint, which was
designed to check us in to the final section of the day. We ended the
race with about 7 miles of trails in and around the power line area on
the east edge of the park boundaries. The Missouri Mudders teased
us near the end with sand flats that usually signal the end of the
course, but one last tight section of narrowly spaced cedars gave us
all a final reminder that there is plenty of
Spud Cut in St. Joe State
Park.

I completed the race with a respectable 32 points, which easily could
have been 30 had I not burned the second check. Matt completed his
first-ever Leadbelt Enduro and local fast guy Brock Busenbark blitzed
the field with a 14. At the end of the race, I packed up for home under
sunny skies and 70 degrees.
Purrrfect day in Missouri.

June 15, 2008
Wedron, Illinois
3rd of 6 in +30A
To be a moderately capable amateur motorcycle racer, on some level
or another, one must be a goal-oriented individual. Without being a
regular on any racing circuit, my goals are usually set on Saturday
morning when I flip through American Motorcyclist magazine and pick
a Sunday race within reasonable driving distance. Looking ahead to
my summer schedule of training for
RAGBRAI, the annual mobile
party disguised as a 470-mile bicycle ride across Iowa, I foresaw a
distinct lack of racing during the month of July. Thus, my master plan
unfolded in May: race every Sunday in June, all five of them.  

This well-intended idea fell apart somewhere between the Great 15-
year Flood of 2008 and the distributor on my aging pickup truck. The
flood actually cancelled two races on consecutive Sundays (White
City, Illinois and Cayuga, Indiana), and even my White City backup
plan of driving up to Michigan for a hare scramble was foiled by a
truck on life support. I fixed it, thereby regaining access to my
motorcycles blocked in the rear corners of my storage unit, but not
soon enough to race.

As it were, I’d missed out on a couple opportunities to race in May and
hadn't been on the bike since the Leadbelt Enduro. Gerhardt “Wardy”
Ward’s hare scramble at
Fox Valley Offroad was a good chance to
get back my racing legs. Turns out, the Great Flood was still trying to
make itself into a gazillion-year flood just 15 years after our previous
bazillion-year flood. Wardy’s place was mostly unaffected, as the
terrain seems to shed water like Al Gore at Jazzercise. A brief
morning shower dampened the course for the morning racers and left
the big bikes with a relatively tacky trail.

All would have remained well and good, had the 12:30 race started at
its scheduled time. But with the morning rains causing some course
re-routes, along with an injured rider requiring ambulance service in
the a.m. session, my race began somewhere around 2:00. At the drop
of Wardy’s hat, the row of A classes for old guys (+30A and +40A)
launched into the first corner with me in about the 5th spot. A bobble
or two from riders ahead of me put me in third position as we worked
our way around the outer edge of trees next to the staging area.

Wardy mostly kept us out of the gullies and ravines that often cause
bottlenecks in Fox Valley’s wetness. In exchange, we had off-camber
trails to deal with as we skirted across the hills. I rode a clean first lap,
but then gave up about 5 spots with a slide out on some of the most
well-polished clay I've encountered in a long time. The slick
conditions kept me in a moderate 2nd gear in all but two open fields,
where I saw 4th gear for about 3 seconds on each lap. Everywhere
else, the rear wheel spun sideways with any amount of throttle north
of halfway.

A couple laps later I’d moved into 2nd place in the +30A class, just
behind a David Knight wannabe sporting his trademark General Lee
“01” jersey. Another slide-out took me back a few more spots, but I
made up some time in the 300-yard creek bed that always lays victim
to many riders. About that time, rain clouds rolled in and I could
barely see the trail in the low-lying, well-canopied trails. I lapped a
CRF230 with a headlight that actually lit up the trail. When the rains
finally came, the trail went from slick to ice-like. About 15 minutes
later, as I began my final lap, the rain ended, but the series of steep
climbs near the motocross track were about to cost me a win.

I’d worked my way to within a minute of eventual winner Clint Pherigo,
until we reached a particularly nasty climb that became treacherous
after the rain. A rider was stranded in the middle of the hill, so I tried
an outside line that took me into fresh mud. With much effort, full
throttle wheel spin and a smoke trail behind me, I pushed my KX250
around the guy. Then I eased the bike back into the established ATV-
wide trail, fell over and never could get the bike upright. I couldn't
even stand on my feet. All I did was slide backwards. Clint Pherigo
and Brad Powers both tried unsuccessfully to scale the hill, so we all
dragged our bikes back down the hill. It was remarkably easy – the
first time I've ever pulled a bike down a hillside with one hand.

Clint and Brad found quicker alternatives to scaling the hill and beat
me to the finish. I took the third spot and my muddy KX250 back to
my home away from home, and spent an hour peeling off several
layers of clay. In Illinois, we won’t have it any other way.
Park Hills, Missouri
Wedron, Illinois