November 30, 2008 White City, Illinois Toys for Tots Charity Team Hare Scramble Theoretically, winter begins sometime in December. Theoretically. This was true for the area in and around White City, Illinois, but not so much for the upper half of the state. We got ourselves a taste of winter on the final day of November and my aging GMC Sonoma pick’em up truck tackled slushy snow for the first time in many years. The Sonoma rarely is driven these days without a dirt bike in the back, spending cold months in hibernation with the motorcycles, but on this day its four wheel drive was engaged for a good part of the trip downstate. Snow turned into rain about 40 miles north of the Cahokia Creek Dirt Riders club grounds, its grassy staging area now a quagmire of brown muck. With four wheels spinning, I pulled alongside Matt Sellers and helped him fix his broken tailgate latch with safety wire so that his KTM could be unloaded without the assistance of a forklift. After several expletives aimed at General Motors, Matt would once again team with me for the annual Toys for Tots charity race.
“Yesterday would have been purrrfect,” said club member Jeff Smith. Every other club member I encountered would affirm Jeff’s statement, apologetically. Regret nothing, I said to myself. I love a good mud race, and with only an overnight of light rain, surely at some point we’d clear the slime and find semi-dry dirt underneath. What I failed to anticipate was how much of that mess would be stuck to my KX250 after my lead lap.
Matt takes unusual pleasure in watching me flounder my way through dead engine starts, so naturally he nominated me to ride the first lap. I did falter somewhat when the green flag dropped, thanks to the green fender between my legs. The Cahokia Creek guys decided to add some extra entertainment value to the start of the hare scramble by forcing us to straddle our front fenders and wait impatiently for go-time. Half the engines on my row were alive before my first try with the kickstarter. I left the transmission in neutral to ensure a one-kick start, which worked out ok except the extra half-second delay in putting power to the ground made me that much further behind. I may not have been the last one to dive down into the creek just ahead of the starting line, but only a few equally slow starters trailed behind me.
Through the splattering of mud pies against my weathered goggles, I focused my eyes and my handlebars in the general direction of the singletrack ahead. The course took us up and down the short, steep hills of the club grounds in mostly single file, thanks to the ban on ATV riding in this club’s property. Wide trails can still be found here, but the singletrack dominates. I’d been told the sand whoops along the east bank of Cahokia Creek had been flattened considerably by massive flooding in September, but our first pass through this area showed how quickly a bunch of crazed dirt bikers can reshape the sand back into some serious whoop-age. A side affect of the flood was a remodeling job on the lower 3 feet of the interior of the clubhouse, which itself had been a replacement for the previously fire-destroyed clubhouse in 2006. Those Cahokia Creek guys just can’t catch a break.
The trail made its typical counterclockwise path through the club grounds, joining up with a trail parallel to Illinois Highway 138 near the end of the course. There’s nothing more tantalizing than the possibility of sliding 30 feet down an off-camber trail into the ditch beside a state highway and demonstrating to the on-road populace one’s ineptitude on a dirt motorcycle. It’s quite easy, but I avoided the temptation and kept my wheels on the trail. My group of B-class racers was still packed tightly together at that point and stayed close all the way to the scoring barrel, where I yelled “201” in the direction of Jeff Smith. He looked confused, and he should have been: my racing number was 210.
I finished a complete loop a short while later and met up with Matt in the team hand- off area. While he took his turn on the course, I sloshed through the muddy parking lot, cleaned my goggles at my pickup truck, drank some Mountain Dew and coldly slid my KX250 back into the handoff area. Ten minutes later, Matt was back, almost as muddy as me. This alternating routine continued for the next 2½ hours. The trails gradually improved enough that I did begin seeing some evidence of loamy soil, thanks to an hour or two of a couple hundred collectively spinning tires.
Matt and I were on pace to each complete 6 laps, averaging roughly 17 minutes each time through the course, but the wise race officials decided the late stages of a 3 hour race that started at 12:45 p.m. might just have to be finished with headlights. As it was, an overcast sky didn’t do much for visibility inside the woods, even in the early afternoon. After my 4th lap, I heard rumors in the pit that the race would be called about 30 minutes early. Over at the scoring barrels, Jeff Smith confirmed this and I readied myself for what would be my 5th and final lap. That was ok by me, even though my wet toes had finally quit hurting and my KX250 had actually shed some of the mud picked up on the first lap. I’d found out just how much weight the bike gained after I fell over in the sand whoops on my third lap. Every last bit of my strength was expelled trying to get that thing upright again. I fell again about a quarter-mile later on an uphill with some nasty tree roots at the top. A helpful guy was standing by waiting to assist, but I kept the engine running, lifted the bike a couple feet to the side of the roots, swung a leg over the seat and dumped the clutch.
On this same lap I caught up to David Brewster on his KX250, setting a solid pace in the muddy singletrack where we both thrive. On a steep downhill, I kamikaze’d through a narrow path to the left of Brewster and beat him to the bottom of the ravine. He gave me a shout and I roosted my way ahead of him.
As dusk approached, I finished my last lap and headed back to the truck. With 30 pounds of mud on my bike and another 10 pounds attached to me, I risked an embarrassing end to my day by riding up my loading ramp and into the back of my pickup truck. With Matt supervising, I made it (barely). We both did our customarily quick exit from the club grounds and headed for the warm confines of home. Another year, another great charity race hosted by the Cahokia Creek Dirt Riders.