August 10, 2008
Summer Bummer Enduro
13th of 13 in Vet A
The six weeks leading up to the annual Summer Bummer Enduro at Roselawn,
Indiana was filled with things that I should not have been doing. After my headfirst
dive into the peat bogs of Morrison, Illinois on Independence Day weekend, I was in
no shape for anything but lying flat on my back, preferably in the warm sand of North
Avenue Beach. Instead, I drove to Cadillac, Michigan four days later and attempted to
ride the surrounding dirt bike trails with Matt Sellers, where my pace was
approximately that of an Olympic racewalker. One week later, I participated in a 7-day,
470-mile bicycle ride across Iowa. I wasn't exactly taking it easy.
When the Summer Bummer approached, I was a bit unsure whether or not my sore
neck would be in any shape for riding four hours in sand whoops, so I tested it and
my Gas Gas at Fox Valley Offroad two days before the enduro. The Gas Gas was
itself recovering from the abuse I’d put it through at the April enduro at Roselawn,
where the engine seized approximately 1200 feet from the start. The test at Fox Valley
confirmed that both bike and body were ready to go.
Now that most enduro events allow various forms of pre-registry, a little advanced
planning can usually get a person a reserved starting position. This can be the
difference between clearing brush for the rest of the field, plowing through bike-
swallowing ruts left by hundreds of earlier riders, or flowing through a well-defined
trail that hasn't been overly violated by racers seeking eternal glory in the form of a
commemorative plaque. Advanced planning for me was the previously mentioned
ride at Fox Valley, followed by washing the mud off my Gas Gas. There would be no
pre-registry for me.
Instead, I was assigned the latest possible row available when I arrived: 5. At some
enduros, this is not an unreasonable position. The Leadbelt Enduro near Park Hills,
Missouri is an example, with its mature woodlands and generously spaced trees that
make course navigation nearly trouble-free. The Summer Bummer, on the other
hand, is no such race. Roselawn trails can be more like tunnels of prickly brush,
meaning the first 20 or 30 riders on the course often have a completely different
experience than everyone else. A handful of guys had actually chosen the very first
row, which proved they were either Roselawn first-timers or they enjoyed that scratchy
feeling you get after a shirtless sprint through a mature field of corn. Most of the trails
in the spring and summer events here are only used for the enduros, which means
by August of any given year the woods are fully engulfed in bushes, thickets, and the
kind of brush that generally requires some form of hand-cutting in order to be rideable
with a motorcycle.
At signup, I did not intend to register as John Greenview, but the signup crew decided
that would be my new alias. It was no Harvey Mushman, but I went along with it. My
wonderful Watchdog enduro computer once again made setting up the route sheet a
breeze, with its electronics and gadgetry, buttons and wires, numbers and symbols. I
would not be surprised if somewhere inside its techno-awesomeness, it conjugates
Ten minutes before my scheduled departure time, I warmed up the Gasser’s engine
and lined up near the starting area. Next to me on row 5 was enduro newbie Brian
Scheulin, riding a Honda motocross bike. He quizzed me about the odds of the Hill &
Gully Riders sending him home because of his lack of a headlight and taillight, but I
assured Brian that the club usually leaves it up to the rider to decide how illegal he
wants to be while riding down the connector roads linking up the various woods
sections. Even though the club’s intent is for all motorcycles to appear street legal,
there wasn't a single bike on the road capable of passing a DOT inspection. As
expected, Brian was sent down the road without incident.
After a couple miles of pavement, the route took us into the woods, where I blazed the
trail for Brian. He was riding the Senior B class without timekeeping equipment and
eager to learn the art of enduro mathematics, but with a 24-mph speed average, this
first section only required raw speed - something Brian was well accustomed to from
his hare scrambles experience. My Gas Gas, on the other hand, was positively
unaccustomed to a guy with a habit of dragging the rear brake. In tight woods, I like to
skid the rear wheel around tight turns to help out with steering, and my right boot was
resting comfortably on the rear brake pedal pretty much constantly. After 5 minutes of
this, the brake fluid was sufficiently boiled and the rear brake was useless. I had a
front brake, nothing more, but was respectably late by 3 minutes at the next
The Hill & Gully Riders had earlier indicated that there would be no need for
“expensive enduro equipment” since the format would be check-in/check-out. This
means, generally, that upon entering a section of woods (usually following a stretch
of country road), a checkpoint is placed just out of sight from the entry point. When the
trails in that section of woods near an end, another checkpoint is placed just before
the exit. At the start of each section of woods, the club posted a mileage marker and a
corresponding time. A rider without an odometer would enter the woods when the
posted time matched up with his watch. In theory, the club was correct in saying that
no computer (or odometer) was necessary, but it sure was nice to have the Watchdog.
Brian Scheulin followed me into the first two woods sections, both times dropping two
more points than me at the “check-out” checkpoints. At the third woods section, Brian
thought, why don’t I just leave two minutes earlier? He proposed this to me and I
cautioned that he might arrive a couple minutes early to the ”check-in” checkpoint. But
alas, Brian could not resist, pointing his Honda straight into the woods while I waited.
Turns out his gamble paid off. The next checkpoint was placed well down the trail and
Brian zeroed it (I dropped a point). Clearly, Brian had this enduro thing figured out.
The fourth section of woods took us to the mid-race gas stop, but not before
challenging my wits and patience. Each Roselawn enduro has a special section
referred to as Miller’s, which is a large, sandy tract of woods with many whoops and
acres of scrub brush. It’s usually the longest continuous all-woods section outside of
the Sun Aura nudie club property around the staging area. Somewhere inside Miller’s,
I caught up to two guys on my row who were attempting to navigate arrows that
appeared to follow no established trail, or at least no trail that had been used for a
long time. The length of this section allowed us to pass just about everyone in the 4
rows ahead of us, and eventually we became the first riders passing through these
woods. Through a series of bobbles and hang-ups by the other two riders, I
eventually took over the lead. I wasn't overly excited to be clearing the trail for everyone
else, since the brush was so thick that I couldn't see more than about 10 feet in front
of me, but someone had to do it.
If the Hill & Gully Riders did any pre-riding of this section, it was hardly evident. Near
the end, we approached a log lying across the trail, raised about two feet off the
ground. The terrain was uneven and the brush was too thick to see what lie beneath,
so we had no choice but to team up and take turns lifting our bikes over the log.
Another 100 yards later, we found an uprooted tree blocking what may have been the
intended route (who could tell?), and my Gas Gas began spitting coolant as I walked
the bike around the obstacle. On the other side of the uprooted tree was another
series of fallen logs lying a couple feet off the trail. By now the three of us had reached
maximum frustration. We rode blindly through the brush toward lower ground, which
took us about 30 feet to the side of the marked trail and roughly adjacent to a
cornfield. Near the cornfield we saw bikes screaming by, heading towards arrows
that directed them back inside the woods.
Now here’s where it all got a bit confusing. We’d been following arrows that appeared
to be within 30 feet of another set of arrows. Both sets of arrows were identical. Did
the club decide to abandon the Moose Run style of trail we’d just encountered, in
favor of a more ridable route next to a cornfield? Did we somehow miss this detour?
Possibly, but we’ll never know for sure. What I do know for sure is that if everyone was
supposed to ride that ridiculous section of trail, half the C riders would have houred
out right there.
As it were, I dropped 19 points at the next checkpoint. To add to the confusion, it
appeared that I’d missed a check. A couple other guys riding through that same
mess of logs also noticed they had a blank space on their scorecards for Check #7. I
guessed we had strayed into a section that wasn't meant to be ridden, and there had
been a checkpoint within the rerouted trail. We compared notes at the gas stop, with
the general conclusion that we were now participating in a trail ride. Missed checks =
After a brief gas fuel-up at the site of the April enduro staging area, I headed down a
gravel road to the next section of woods. Brian Scheulin caught up to me on the road
and asked how much time we had. My Watchdog computer was flashing “15”, so I
told him we were running 15 seconds ahead of schedule (when numbers aren't
flashing, the Watchdog is telling me I’m behind schedule). He darted into the woods
to get a slight head start, while I scrubbed some speed on the singletrack. The
Watchdog still flashed “15”, so I slowed again. The display still didn't change, even
when I came to a complete stop – it should have been flashing lower numbers as I
got myself back on schedule. Then it occurred to me: I was 15 minutes early. When
running 10 or minutes early, the Watchdog flashes only two digits (no display of
seconds), which meant I’d sent Brian into the woods just a bit early. Okay, very early. I
sat alongside the trail for another 10 minutes before riders began arriving, all the
while contemplating how I’d explain to Brian why he’d dropped more points in that
section than most scientific calculators can add up.
But once again, Brian got lucky. The next checkpoint was quite a ways inside the
woods, and somehow he arrived one minute late. I dropped two points at that same
check and finished the section 11 minutes behind schedule. Another short section of
woods followed, and then we cruised down country roads back to the staging area.
The final section was routed in and around the Sun Aura property, which was also the
site of a closed-course enduro held the day before. I’d heard reports of muddy ditches
and bottlenecks at the Saturday race, as well as rumors of certain shirtless and pants-
less spectators inside the woods. The muddy ditches had been rerouted, but a large
group of Sun Aura club members came out for a second day of spectating. The
collection of saggy body parts was gathered near a fence adjacent to some sand
whoops, where I attempted a fast getaway and nearly t-boned a tree in the process.
These woods were some of the tightest of the day, and they seemed endless. At
about 9 miles into the 11-mile section, the Gas Gas began acting like it had had
enough for the day. It was overheating rapidly. I poured water from my Camelbak on
the radiators and the engine, in hopes that I could limp to the finish, but the engine
still struggled. Another inspection revealed a loose radiator hose at the cylinder head.
Gas Gas, in an attempt to reinvent the hose clamp, had used a clip style of clamp,
rather than a standard screw-type clamp. I couldn't re-clamp the hose, but by some
miracle I had an appropriately sized hose clamp in my fanny pack. Even more
fortunate, the staging area appeared just a few turns later. I jumped off the trail and
refilled the radiators, then headed back into the woods to finish the race.
Just after the final checkpoint was a watery pit used for some sort of mud drag events.
We were to cross the pit twice and then give up our scorecards. The spectators who
lined the edge of the mud got an extra surprise when I dumped the clutch to cross the
pit a second time. With that, my race was over. The time I’d spent fixing my radiator
hose was more than enough to put me well back in the finishing order, so I packed
up and headed for home. The 2008 Summer Bummer had benefited from some of
the best trail conditions I've seen in many years, and despite my bike and navigation
issues, I left satisfied.
Turns out I didn't miss a check after all. The check crew at checkpoint #7 apparently
didn't get the score written on my card. But I still finished in last place.
August 24, 2008
1st of 2 in +30A
Every so often diversity trumps proximity. I took a look at the racing schedule for the
Sunday of August 24th and saw two reasonable racing alternatives. The first was a
short drive over to Fox Valley Offroad’s hare scramble, and the other possibility was
Bill Gusse’s hare scramble near Aledo, Illinois. Fox Valley was half the distance, but
in looking for something new, I pointed my tired old pickup truck westward. Two
hundred miles later, I pulled into the staging area for Round #12 of Mr. Gusse’s 16-
race MXC series.
With Fox Valley pulling away a few would-be MXC racers, the rider turnout was a bit
light, but race conditions were excellent. The course was split on either side of Pope
Creek, with two crossings taking riders back and forth. A small motocross course
was situated near the middle of each lap, just a short walk from the starting area. I
walked the course on the near side of the creek and saw only one potential bottleneck
in the form of a muddy gully. Most of the trails were designed for both bikes and ATV’
s, but despite their width being sufficient for, as Mr. Gusse observed over his PA
system, “cars with handlebars”, they twisted and turned enough that I’d rarely upshift
beyond 3rd gear. I could have spent that hour actually riding the course, since Mr.
Gusse allowed a practice lap in the morning, but instead I watched others navigate
the tight trails.
The A classes lined the front row of the starting area, where I picked a spot between
fast guy Adam Bonneur and Cody Wilson, who was finding his way back into hare
scrambles racing after a several-year absence. When the green flag waved, the
KX250’s engine fired quickly and I found myself in the middle of the pack at the first
turn. The initial half mile of the course was mostly grass, which didn't bode well for
Dave Stickel on a borrowed KTM. He slid to the ground around a slightly off-camber
corner and took Adam Bonneur with him. Both would remount quickly, and both would
pass me after we crossed the creek. Dave was polite enough in requesting that I get
out of his way, calling me by name and mentioning that he needed to get going, that I
moved over right then and there.
I took my time navigating the first lap, which helped put just about everyone on my row
ahead of me by the time I arrived at the motocross track, where I was even slower.
Linking up the various portions of woods were short stretches of open fields where
the throttle could be opened as wide as I dared. I was a little hesitant to go heavy on
the gas, since I was riding without a steering damper for the first time in more than 3
years. The last time I did that, I ended up with a concussion and about 15 minutes
permanently erased from my memory. The KX’s steering damper had been sheered
off the month before while trail riding in Michigan, courtesy of a tree and an awkward
(but minor) collision. Five miles down the trail, riding partner Matt Sellers noted that
my damper was no longer attached to my bar clamp. It was gone, forever, after 9
years of saving my ass about 1,000 times.
August in Illinois is the peak of the season for all sorts of tall weeds that shorten lines
of sight and make for surprises around just about every corner. I could have blamed
my initial slowness on that alone, or arm pump, or my readjustment to the KX250. Not
since the Michigan trail ride had I swung a leg over the green bike. I had, however,
spent a few hours on the Gas Gas at the Summer Bummer Enduro two weeks prior.
The difference in those bikes is almost like switching from a four cycle thumper to a
two-stroke. Near the end of the second lap, I was gradually adapting myself to the
explosiveness of the KX250, but the fastest of the B riders were catching me quickly.
First to pass was #382 Dustin Stambaugh in the Open B class. Next up was #217
Jake Swanson on a YZ125 in the Lite B class. Both would eventually win their
respective classes. As I got myself more comfortable with the KX250 and the course, I
gained back some ground on Jake Swanson and eventually re-passed him in the
second half of the race.
One of the highlights of the course was a wide uphill that had been cleared of all
vegetation. This hill was preceded by the motocross track, which allowed for a fast
approach. In fourth gear at the top, I sailed over the crest of the hill before retreating
back into the woods.
As the laps accumulated, I kept myself ahead of the only other competitor in the +30A
class, Darin Housenga, and brought home the first place trophy. Overall winner Adam
Bonneur shook off his early crash and rode to victory. Although Dave Stickel didn't win
the race following his courteous request to pass me on the first lap, he did claim a
personal victory of sorts. After the race I spotted him wandering the pits with two CDI’s
from his lifeless RMZ450 (hence the borrowed KTM on race day). He’d found a racer
with an RMZ450 just like his, successfully tested the CDI’s in that bike, and
proclaimed that when your local dealer blames a comatose bike on a bad CDI and
subsequently suggests that the new replacement CDI you just bought is also faulty,
then it may be time to find a new dealer. For Dave Stickel, it was good as a win.