September 27, 2008
Silver Dollar Shootout
7th of 9 in +30A
Geneseo, Illinois
The 2008 racing season in Illinois has been nothing short of a battle
between promoters and precipitation. When it rained, it poured.
WFO
Promotions
fell victim to record levels of wetness in September and
were forced to downsize the route for the Silver Dollar enduro near
Geneseo. With the Green River spilling over its banks during the
weeks leading up to the enduro, a good deal of trail was washed
away with the floods. Instead of canceling the race altogether, WFO
made due with 13.5 miles of trails on a closed course. The lack of
connector roads made it possible for just about anything with two
wheels and an engine to compete.

I had time, barely, for Day 1 of the two-day event. In five short days I
was to start a new job in the Rockford area and had to vacate my
home away from home before the end of the month. I had to move my
most necessary possessions (two motorcycles, a toothbrush and an
air mattress) from Chicago to Cherry Valley. But I didn't care.
Geneseo was a go.

Saturday morning brought perfect weather for racing and a
remarkably short sign-up line. For once I’d beaten the masses to the
race site northwest of Geneseo, and my punctuality was rewarded
with a random drawing for row assignments. I lucked out, though,
drawing row 22. Not too early; none too late. Joining me on this row
were the young DeFauw brothers, Kyle and Ryan, who also were
parked next to me in the staging area. Once Ryan, the elder DeFauw
competing in the Open A class, noticed my row number and the
Watchdog enduro computer mounted to my handlebar clamp, he
introduced himself and asked how experienced I was in enduro
racing. Somewhat, I replied. Competent? Entirely different story. The
DeFauw brothers were without computers, roll charts or any other
form of enduro timekeeping equipment, other than me.

With that, they let me lead into the woods when our time came to
depart. I’m a slow starter, regardless of race conditions, but the
course had its way with me early and often. The narrow trails had
what off-roaders refer to as
no flow. In layman’s terms, the course
lacked smooth corners where you could brake late, twist the throttle
and rail through an 8-inch loamy berm. Irregularly placed logs made
for constant clutch work, and the short, steep ravines often had to be
attacked from odd, off-camber angles. The DeFauw brothers adapted
more quickly and soon passed me after my umpteenth bobble. Kyle,
the younger DeFauw, screamed by on an Italian-made TM 125, while
Ryan moved past me on his Gas Gas 250. The DeFauw’s love them
some exotic, European bikes.

The trails did open up a bit later in the course, and finally I found
enough rhythm to catch back up with the DeFauw’s. Along the hills
next to the Green River was some of the best riding of the day. This
area had loamy dirt and plenty of flow. Down in the river bottoms, the
course opened up to 4th and 5th gear speeds, weaving back and
forth among large trees. We finished the loop with a series of trails
near the staging area, then arrived at the final checkpoint about a ½
mile from the end of the loop…except it wasn't really a checkpoint.
The check crew was apparently placed in the wrong spot. In fact,
most of the checkpoints would end up being thrown out due to wrong
placement. Most of this was a result of Stan Redell, one of WFO’s key
race organizers, breaking his collarbone the day of the enduro. With
Stan mostly out of commission, timekeeping madness ensued.

Compounding these challenges was the fact that mileage markers
were sporadic, to the point of nearly nonexistent. On the second loop,
I came across Tim Farrell, pausing after a reset that I never even
noticed. He was on Jeff Fredette’s minute and noted that had already
Jeff taken off, apparently a few minutes early. “He likes to gamble,”
said Tim, followed by “I think I’ll leave now.” What neither of us knew
was Jeff had noticed a small, obscure mileage marker stapled to a
tree where the reset was placed. All I saw was a flash of white and
didn't realize its significance. Jeff adjusted his mileage to match the
marker, which showed that we were actually not as far down the trail
as my computer indicated. Thus, I lost a couple more minutes than I
should have by pausing too long at the reset. But who new if the next
check would even count? The WFO gang was going to have a real
job in store for them, come time to tally the results.

Jeff Fredette reappeared on several occasions from his row a couple
minutes behind me. Each time I’d admire his smooth style on his
Kawasaki 450 four-stroke. He made quick work of fast guy Scott
Hoffman, but later in the race would crash hard, inexplicably miss a
check, and finish at the back of the pack. Jeff’s polar opposite was
overall winner Dan Janus, who rode like his life depended on his
finishing ahead of all other competitors. He passed me in one of the
tighter sections, then squirreled his bike’s rear end into a tree and
had to pick up his Gas Gas up while I waited. Those dang AA riders,
always holding me up.

Closed course enduros have one thing in common: few chances to
rest. We were given some time between loops to gas up, but mostly
we rode the 13.5 mile loops much like a hare scramble. If the race
had actually been a hare scramble, I would have been riding 45-
minute laps. It was tiring. After the race, Jeff Snedcor and I both
agreed that we were glad we weren’t riding on Sunday. Certain parts
of the course began deteriorating in gullies and small creeks, with the
fourth and final lap taxing my ability to avoid mud holes. I steered
clear of the worst of the bottlenecks, finished the lap in a mostly
exhausted state, and left for home. Word from the Sunday riders,
doing the course in reverse of Saturday, was that the trails had much
more flow and despite how much we’d torn them up the first day of
the enduro, the course was awesome. Go figure.

November 2, 2008
Goshen, Indiana
7th of 12 in +30A
My final enduro of 2008 took me back to Goshen, Indiana, the site of
last year’s frantic, MacGyver-like rigging of a taillight to pass tech
inspection. When the
Riders Motorcycle Club says “working headlight
and taillight required” in their race flyer, they mean it. This year, I was
much better prepared. The Gas Gas takes most of the guesswork out
of passing a technical inspection, with its spark arrestor, electrical
output and Illinois license plate. It originally arrived in America with
turn signals, a high/low beam headlight and a brake light. These were
removed long before I bought the bike last year, but the functionality
of the headlight and taillight were still intact. No MacGyver-ing
required.

I’d broken up the trip to Indiana by overnighting at my weekend place
in Chicago, which sounds pretty cool until considering the mortgage
payment on it, in addition to apartment rent, which then begs the
question as to why I spent money on a motorcycle race nearly 4 hours
from Rockford. It also provokes a lively debate on the merits of having
to sign up for COBRA health insurance coverage (quite expensive) if I
were to injury myself, when my new employer’s insurance benefits
(free to me) were set to kick in 30 days later. All these issues were set
aside in favor of one simple fact: I hadn't raced in the entire month of
October. It was time to get back on the bike.

That I did, and the effects of my 5-week hiatus showed when Row 13
left the starting line. Four other guys shared our row, with three of
them jumping out ahead as we ran through a short stretch of corn
field. I cruised into the woods a short distance later, worked out some
arm pump, and enjoyed the Fall colors. This was precisely why I’d
probably never be competitive trying to race a full enduro series. Even
though the format was set up as a series of restarts, you still are
required to use your head. Once again, I blame my Watchdog
computer for making me lazy. I’d entered the resets and speed
changes into the computer the day before the race, enjoyed a good
night’s sleep and not given the route sheet a single thought from
there on. I assumed these initial miles would be an easy trail ride to
the first reset, where I could rest for a few minutes, clear out any
remaining arm pump and be ready for the first test section.

An incorrect assumption, as it turned out. In those first 4.5 miles, we
were on the clock and I was moving through the woods at comfortable
B-rider’s pace. To add more boneheaded-ness to an already stupid
beginning of my race, I missed an arrow and cut off about a ½ mile of
the course. Naturally, the checkpoint at the end of this first test
section was shortly after I rejoined the marked course. I arrived 3
minutes early. Oops.

The trails thus far were extremely slick, thanks to light rain during
much of the prior evening and early morning. Recent winds had
blown off just about every leaf willing to part ways with tree branches,
so my relatively early starting position made me a trail blazer to some
extent. The Gas Gas shines in those conditions, however, and I was
able to make it through the first section without physical foolishness
to match my mental errors.

The second test section was one of the longest, with about 12 miles
of decently flowing singletrack. In this section I established myself as
the “lead dog” on our row, which generally goes to the guy everyone
followed. Open A rider Aaron Wright spent most of the day close
enough behind me that he could pass if I made any mistakes, but I
could usually catch back up and he’d let me lead again. At one point I
caught my handlebar on a vine hanging from a large tree, and
somehow the vine pulled my body off the bike while my hands were
still attached to the bars. Aaron viewed this from behind and
suggested I hop back on my Gas Gas and “get’er going”. So I done
got’er.

After dropping 13 points in this long section, we took a long break at a
15-mile reset that was clearly designed to get all riders back on time
for the next restart. The following 4-mile section took us to the remote
gas stop, where I topped off my tank. The B and C riders would hang
out here for a half-hour or so while the A riders completed a special 5-
mile loop. This loop was mostly contained inside an old strip mine full
of short, steep hills. Adding to the challenge of extremely tight, off-
camber trails was an oddly placed tire from an old quarry truck or
vehicle of that nature, which we all had to ride over. Narrowly spaced
trees gave us no other alternatives than to attack it from its right side,
as nobody seemed interested in losing sight of their front wheel by
charging up and over the center (as in,
Hello donut hole). The guy in
front of me hung up his rear wheel between the edge of the large tire
and a tree. Ditto for me.

By now the 30-mph average had added some serious points to my
score card. I’d dropped 26 points in the previous three sections and
what should have been another 12 points for arriving early to the first
checkpoint (somehow the finally scoring showed 5 points dropped
there). And I still wasn't finished doing dumb stuff. After the strip mine
section, I cruised past the mileage marker where the rest of the riders
were crowded around the starting point of the next test section. The
gas trailer was about 100 yards past this large group and I wanted to
top off the tank one last time. I knew we had a solid 2+ hours of riding
left to go, and I hadn't ever really tested the fuel capacity of the Gas
Gas. After taking my sweet time filling up the gas tank, I adjusted my
mileage at the marker near the restart. I was two minutes late,
screwed again, but at least the sun was now shining. With
temperatures in the 60’s, I was actually a bit warm.

The check workers spotted my row number sticker from a distance
and waved me towards them. The section was fairly short, but I still
managed to check out of it 7 minutes behind schedule. I should have
dropped only 5 points here, but that goes to show how arriving late to
a restart actually screws you double. You drop points for being late to
the start, which then causes you to drop that many more points at the
end of the test section.

With two restarts remaining, my thoughts were focused on finishing
the race without doing anything stupid enough to land myself in a
doctor’s office. I really didn't want to have to pull the trigger on
elective COBRA health insurance coverage. My previous employer
had covered me through the end of September and I started the new
job on October 1st, but I had a 2-month waiting period for health
insurance benefits to kick in. The goofy way this government-
mandated COBRA program works, I could wait 2 months before I had
to make a decision on whether to sign up. I’d still be covered
retroactively for October and November, even if I waited until the
December signup deadline. What this meant for my racing activities
was that if I got hurt in October or November, I would be forced to
sign up for COBRA and pay about $850 for two months of coverage. If
I didn't hurt myself on the bike (or need healthcare for any other
reason), I wouldn't have to enroll in the COBRA plan at all.

So basically, an injury requiring medical attention could possibly set
me back $850. Thus, I rode cautiously. Sort of. Near the end of the
next-to-last test section, time-wise the longest of the day, I decided to
get on the gas in a place I shouldn't have. I’d already spent about 40
minutes inside these 12 miles of tight, winding trails. I was a bit tired
and the Gas Gas was acting like its spark arrestor was clogged or the
power valve wasn't working. A small log kicked the back end sideways
and I found myself headed straight for a tree. With little time to brace
for the impact, I pointed the front wheel to the right side of the tree
and let the left hand guard take most of the impact. Also taking some
impact: 1) the left radiator shroud, ripped off cleanly; 2) my left hand,
scraped and bruised; and 3) my chin, now sporting a purple goose
egg. It was the kind of crash that makes your ears ring. I picked up
the bike, contemplated what to do with the radiator shroud (tossed it
next to the trail), regained my senses, and proceeded to the
checkpoint a half mile later.

For a brief instant I considered quitting, but my bruised left hand
seemed to still function. The only other discomfort was my left knee
against a shroud-less radiator. There’s another reason for shrouds,
unrelated to capturing air flow: radiators have many sharp metal
surfaces. After dropping 19 points in that long section, I apparently
rode a little too leisurely to the final restart. A 20-minute reset should
have put be back on time, but somehow I was a minute late arriving at
the final test section. This one was a long 8 miles, but I finished
without incident. After evaluating my injuries, I wouldn't need any
medical care and that $850 COBRA coverage would be money kept in
my wallet.

Despite my mental errors, the course was once again terrific and I had
loads of fun. Thanks very much to the Riders MC club for another
great race.
Geneseo, Illinois
Goshen, Indiana