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
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
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
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
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
Park Hills, Missouri