2008 Race Reports
Park Hills, Missouri
Morrison, Illinois
June 22, 2008
Park Hills, Missouri
4th of 9 in A Sportsman
My annual pilgrimage to the Missouri Hare Scrambles Championship (MHSC) took
me back to
St. Joe State Park for the second time in as many months, the earlier trip
being the
Leadbelt Enduro. The riding conditions were nearly identical, which is to
say even Jim “Rocket” Walker may have approved of the dry-but-not-dusty dirt and
sunny skies.
Big Bird and its Ultimate MX Hauler made the drive to the Sellers Estate
in Wentzville, by way of St. Louis to visit some old friends on Saturday. One of those
friends will be accompanying me at
RAGBRAI, the sure-to-be epic bicycle ride across
Iowa next month that has required a training regimen which now competes heavily
with my dirt biking time. In St. Louis we discussed the possibility of maintaining
speed averages somewhere in the vicinity of
Alejandro Valverde on the road from
Brest to Plumelec. Either I’m not taking this whole bicycling thing seriously, or I have
friends with some seriously skewed training routines. But that is a story for another
time.

On this day, Matt and I would try out the practice portion of the course in the morning
and find some choppy singletrack. One of the key differences between this year’s and
last year’s MHSC is the absence of 4-wheeled ATV’s in the series. Although the
MHSC series has always had a few bike-only races, most venues were combined
with ATV’s, and most race courses shared a considerable amount of mileage with
wide trails designed for fat-tired farm utility vehicles. For 2008, however, the two-
wheelers get mostly singletrack at each race.

Following the practice lap, I visited with Kurt “Pizzaman” Mirtsching, renowned owner
and operator of
Shakespeare’s Pizza in Columbia, Missouri. Kurt’s cranium was
covered with a baseball cap asserting ties to
Northwestern University (hence the
colorful rabid feline logo or whatever it is) and noted that one of his daughters was
attending this fine institute of higher learning. Just up the lakefront from me in the
leafy North Shore suburb of Evanston, Northwestern is a bona fide Big 10 university.
“More expensive than Harvard,” Kurt casually mentioned while panhandling inside the
pits.

On the starting line, Joe and Kim Rosier checked in with their son Kiefer, now back on
track to regaining the promising form he demonstrated prior to a horrific car accident
last year. Kiefer staked out a spot a couple bikes to my left in an open field of sand. To
our right was a 20-foot sand berm where spectators were perched with a high view of
the nearly 200 riders lined up in rows. When the starting board dropped, we would
hammer through sand whoops, blast through a series of high speed turns, and then
head straight into the woods.

After the first two rows of AA (Pro) and A Intermediate classes converted the flat area
into a 100-foot wide sand storm, the silence of a dead engine start had my full
attention. Another procedural change to the MHSC this year is a return to the
traditional dead engine start where riders sit on their seats, rather than straddle the
front fender as was done last year. This year my start was a whole lot better than last
year’s (dead last), as my KX250’s engine burst to life on the first kick and I held the
throttle wide open in 2nd gear. Brian Blauvelt quickly maneuvered to the lead position
in the sand, with Shannon Kenworthy close behind. I found the third spot as we
braked hard for a 4-foot wide opening into the woods.

Brian was out of sight almost immediately, but Shannon and I stayed close the entire
first lap. In the first three miles of singletrack, we were never more than a few feet
apart. When undisturbed by the wide tires of ATV’s, the St. Joe terrain is only
moderately rough. The singletrack bore little resemblance to the loose, rocky trails
frequented by 4-wheelers in the public area of the park. The initial singletrack loop
that made up the practice portion of the course took us back near the staging area,
where speeds increased. In this mile or two of wide open sand flats next to the public
area of the park, Shannon steadily pulled away. But when the trails narrowed inside
the woods, so did the gap between us. Along a nicely routed section of virgin
singletrack, Shannon overshot a turn and I took over 2nd place. For several miles we
carved through some of the same trails used in the previous month’s enduro, then
finished the course with about a mile of wide-open sand. Again, Shannon erased my
lead and found a way around me just before the scoring checkpoint.

On the next lap, Derek Kemp caught up from a mid-pack start and wasted no time
charging past me. I later passed Shannon Kenworthy again to take back 3rd place at
the end of the second lap. But by then I was beginning to pay for a minor oversight that
would slow me down near the end of the race.

About an hour into the race I noticed my hands feeling a bit tender. Fast, choppy
courses always tend to work up some blisters, but these were coming on too fast, too
soon. The reason? I’d forgotten to wear
PalmSavers. These neoprene glove inserts
are usually the difference between usable hands and raw meat. For a guy with City
Boy Hands, PalmSavers are an absolute necessity. Midway through the third lap, my
throttle hand stung like forty or so angry African killer bees were constructing a hive
inside my glove. My clutch hand begged to remain firmly glued to the handlebar. Any
attempt to actually use it to work the clutch lever was met with the kind of sting
normally reserved for close encounters with box jellyfish. I was fading fast.

Somehow I held on to 3rd place through the end of the third lap, but Shannon
Kenworthy was riding strong and catching up rapidly. Despite Joe Rosier’s pit board
sign suggesting I should
Haul Ass, the amount of ass I was able to haul did not
prevent Shannon from passing me near the end of the 4th lap. As I exited the last of
the woods before the wide open sand that took us to the end of the course, the sound
of an approaching two-stroke engine became steadily louder. When you’re being
chased, sometimes it’s hard to know who’s doing the chasing, but in my old age I
treat this in the same way as an opportunity to use a restroom at an interstate
highway gas station: I don’t take any chances. It could have been a fast B rider or
someone else in my class (I assumed the latter). Turned out it was fellow A
Sportsman Pete Sebelski. He did his best to put his Yamaha ahead of me, but I held
him off and finished in 4th place. I was never so glad to see “A Sportsman” on the
finishing board at the scoring trailer. My race was over.

Steve Leivan took the overall win just ahead of Caleb Wohletz. Brian Blauvelt easily
took the A Sportsman win, followed by Derek Kemp and Shannon Kenworthy. My
hands looked like raw meat afterwards, but I had a great time racing and chatting with
old friends. I do miss the MHSC.

July 6, 2008
Morrison, Illinois
DNF
Every couple of years I scare just enough bejesus out of myself to make me think, for
more than a brief instant, that what I do on the weekends doesn't really make logical
sense. Sure, I sort of know this already, but a good hard crash sometimes makes me
actually ponder the consequences of racing motorcycles for couple milliseconds
longer than it takes to shake it off and get back on the bike. I had one of those kind of
crashes at the Morrison round of Bill Gusse’s
2008 MXC series.

The race was held at the Bike Barn, where past Moose Run’s have been staged.
Once again I brought
Big Bird and the Ultimate MX Hauler, as my faithful GMC
Sonoma’s air conditioner wasn't quite up to par on a relatively warm day. After
spending much of the spring in wet conditions, June and July brought on sunshine
and dusty dirt. As I walked over to the signup area, Mr. Gusse announced over his PA
system that if anyone hadn't already started a practice lap, they wouldn't get one. I
slept in, what can I say…no practice lap for me.

Those finishing up a run-through on the motocross track were kicking up storms of
peat clouds. The junior class race produced enough dust to stress my eyes as I
strolled down to the northernmost edge of the Bike Barn grounds. To get there, I
passed by the long rows of peat bogs where men become men by piloting loud,
overly tractioned vehicles through makeshift swamps. The motorcycle course would
take a few turns through the motocross track before heading off to a bridge over a
wide drainage ditch, just beyond the peat bogs. Mr. Gusse engineered this bridge by
turning several 30-foot steel I-beams on their sides and laying them across the ditch.
The challenge for each racer was to pick an I-beam, line up his wheels with the
horizontal channel between the “I’s” and hope like hell to stay on a straight line. The
youngsters on 85cc minibikes were doing just fine.

As the race start time approached, I lined up on the second row with A classes for old
guys. When the dust cleared from the first row’s start, Mr. Gusse set us loose.
Building on what I accomplished at the start of the St. Joe hare scramble two weeks
prior, I charged to the first turn in the third position. After the guy ahead of me overshot
a turn where we exited the track, I took over second place as we neared the I-beam
bridge. With relatively clean air, the bridge was fairly easy to navigate. Those crossing
in a cloud of dust would have seen it differently, if the bridge could be seen at all.

Following the bridge was a quarter-mile sprint next to a field of row crops, then a 90-
degree lefthander and another half mile sprint to the next 90-degree turn. We finally
entered the woods, where the guy in first place left me in his dust. Without a practice
lap, the course was all new to me. But in a sense, it wasn't completely new, as I’d
ridden these same trails in Moose Run races from 2005-07. They were wide and fast,
and continued that way for about 3 miles. Mixed in were the infamous peat whoops,
which even when dry were about the deepest, meanest whoops on the face of the
earth. The remainder of the course was about a mile of wide open, full throttle
stupidity that took us back to the motocross track. A few turns later, we were scored to
finish the lap.

Clean air was a clear advantage on that lap, and I maintained my position until a KTM
rider held open his throttle longer and braked a bit later at the entrance to the woods. I
followed this person for a mile or so, then found myself aimed at what appeared to be
a small peat-induced hole. Most of the higher ground (in relative terms…it was all
pretty flat) was “regular” dirt/clay which held a pretty good consistency and was fairly
firm. But in a few spots, peat had invaded and caused small random depressions
resembling miniature sinkholes. I hit one of these in 3rd gear, thinking my
suspension would soak up most of its 12-inch depth. That was a very incorrect
assumption.

My first thought as I sailed over the bars was that I should have been separated from
the KX250 by about 50 feet. Then I noticed that the bike was still almost attached to
me, although I was eye-to-eye with the front fender and my legs were about 4 feet
higher than my head. Half a second passed, then I separated from the bike like a
torpedo, headfirst into the dirt. It wasn't the worst crash I've ever suffered, but the angle
of my landing caused a new kind of pain.
WebMD, the best resource for a guy who
doesn't like to visit doctors because they only want to talk about things I’m not
supposed to do for awhile, would later diagnose it as whiplash. At first I was afraid of
something worse, but my critical parts all seemed to be functioning properly. I got
back on the bike with the intention of heading straight for my pickup truck, but more
bad luck was just around the corner. A couple turns after I remounted on the KX250, I
steered it straight into a 2-foot-deep rut that nearly swallowed my bike whole. All I
could do was sit for a while and observe the natural phenomenon I like to call
Shaking Peat. I noticed this last year at the Moose Run, where the vibration of
motorcycle engines actually transmits through the peat. You can feel it in your feet
when standing; or, you can sit down and feel it through your entire body. The ground
was literally shaking as bikes flew by.

Eventually, and painfully, I lifted my bike out of the rut and rode slowly back to the
staging area, wondering if I still stood 5’11” after compacting my spine with the
headfirst dive. Wise men would have visited a doctor shortly thereafter; I, on the other
hand, visited Michigan’s trail system 4 days later. Yeah, it still hurt quite a bit.  
Riding the rails