September 27, 2008
Silver Dollar Shootout
7th of 9 in +30A
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.
November 2, 2008
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
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.
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
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
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.