March 15, 2009
Prophetstown, Illinois
1st of 5 in +30A
On the day my 2008 racing season ended, so began the snow. For
two solid months the snow piled up in the Rockford, Illinois area and
my Blazer spent many miles locked in 4WD. When temperatures drop
below freezing and stay there the entire winter, the only two-wheeled
racing in this area takes place on frozen lakes and rivers. I hibernate
during these times, do some
routine maintenance on the motorcycles
and wish for the start of a new racing season.

Enter Bill Gusse to the rescue, with his regional MXC series. The
racing actually began the prior Sunday, and even though the KX250
was fully prepped and ready to ride, a gully-washing downpour that
morning convinced me to roll back into bed and sleep a little longer.
Rain, I can do. Rain and 40 degrees Fahrenheit, not so much. I’m old,
I don’t race for points, and I prefer 60 degrees and sunny. On this
day, I got it.

The sandy soil of the Prophetstown venue had sucked up all the rain
from the previous weekend and was in fine shape, other than a
couple shady spots in the woods where the dirt was slightly frozen.
Everyone gets a practice lap at MXC races, and for me, it was my first
ride since the March of Dimes race last November. It was also my first
ride since I reassembled the KX after its complete tear-down over the
winter. No parts fell off, so I made some minor adjustments and called
it good.

The Prophetstown race always starts next to a small motocross track
and reverses course around a tight 180-degree turn. I've had some
spectacular failures at this turn, but today I rounded the corner in 4th,
and at the next turn bullied my way around a KTM. The “old guy”
classes were all on the second row, with most of the “less” old people
in the +30A class leading the way around the course. Paul Mitzelfelt
and Jason Soseman set a fast pace through the singletrack, with
Paul eventually pulling away and leaving my sight. Another bar-
banging move put me ahead of Jason and in 2nd place somewhere
behind Paul.

About halfway through the course was a large log, which was easy
enough on the practice lap, but only because I’d taken an alternate
route around some downed trees on the other side of the log. On this
first lap, I missed the easier route and followed Paul into a mess of
logs and stumps and branches. Paul was there with me and got
himself moving while I let my KX fall over between two trees. When I
finally pushed the bike through this section, most of our row appeared
to be well on their way down the trail.

As it turned out, most of the +30A guys got hung up here. After
another lap or two, I caught up to Paul and took over the lead. I didn't
know this, but I did notice that every 12 or 13 minutes, a pair of
attractive young ladies would mark my score card and I’d spin
through the sand. Every gear in the transmission was used at the
Prophetstown course, thanks to a wide, sweeping section of loamy
dirt which led to the motocross track. The fearless could start out by
doubling a pair of jumps while tapped out in 4th gear. Second gear
and one at a time was good enough for me.

Near the end of the 1 hour, 45-minute race, I checked into the scoring
barrels just before time ran out. My blistering hands could have done
without another lap, but I played through the pain and finished in just
under 2 hours. In the following days, my body would punish me for
that trophy, but for one glorious day, I savored the new racing
season. Then came the ice packs, heating pads, Ibuprofen…..

April 5, 2009
Prophetstown, Illinois
2nd of 3 in +30A
The nomadic existence of yours truly took a turn toward Dakota,
Illinois in March 2009, resulting in the return to actual home
ownership, and by that I mean the kind that comes without neighbors
12 inches on the other side of a wall. On this day, I awoke to
sunshine, 34 degrees and a light coating of snow on the ground.
Winter tends to retreat reluctantly in these parts, and I would rather
have climbed back into bed and forgotten about racing. But with
Easter Sunday the following weekend (no races anywhere reasonably
close) and the two-day ISDE qualifier looming the weekend after that
(my entry form and $90 mailed long ago), I knew I’d suffer badly in
Missouri if I didn't get in some saddle time today.

So off I went, back to Prophetstown and its sandy trails along the
edge of the Rock River Valley. I packed all the cold weather gear I
could locate and drove across scenic rolling hills through towns like
Lena, Pearl City, Lanark and Morrison (editor’s note: if you want to
see the grandest old row of houses anywhere in small-town Illinois,
try U.S. 30 through Morrison). The chilly temps kept the nice lady who
takes my money at Bill Gusse’s MXC races planted inside her car, so
we traded cash from my window to hers, and she remembered that
my name is not Brian With the Red Truck, it’s John With the Green
Motorcycle.

I pulled into a parking spot beside a covered trailer owned by a
gentleman with a proclivity for the F-bomb. His report on the course
(unlike me, he showed up in time for a practice lap) and his
description of his Suzuki RMZ were laced with more F-words than a
Patti Blagojevich dinner conversation. I did learn from him that rain
showers in the morning had firmed up the sand into nearly perfect
condition for racing. And since the well-wooded staging area blocked
out most of the bitter wind, I could leave my cold weather jacket in the
truck and ride with two jerseys instead.

With less favorable weather than last month’s MXC event here, fewer
riders entered the adult classes and Mr. Gusse decided to run all of
us in the same race. We packed into the usual starting area near the
motocross track, where I found myself in the middle of about 15 guys
on the second row. When the green flagged dropped, my brain failed
to immediately realize it was go-time. This delayed reaction has been
an elemental part of my hare scramble existence for much of my
racing career, although the past couple years riding KX250’s had
seen considerable improvement. But true to old form, my slow reflex
put me in the middle of the pack as we drag raced about 100 yards to
the edge of the motocross track. We were to enter the track at a 180-
degree hairpin turn at the edge of a small jump, which created a tight
off-camber turn. Several riders positioned themselves in a single file
line for an inside approach to this turn, while I sped by in hopes of
finding a smoother outside line. For the most part, it worked. I moved
up about five spots as we headed for the first of two double jumps on
the motocross track.

After completing about half the motorcross course, we veered off into
a curvy section of ATV-wide trails, then sliced through some tight,
technical woods on the west edge of the property. The deep sand
that makes this venue ideal for wet weather racing was next, followed
by more singletrack. The lap ended near the motocross track.

Last month, the motocross portion of the course was run in reverse. In
that direction, the angle of the approach jumps seemed too low to
launch me high enough over the second jump without fear of
embarrassment in front of spectators. Despite the forgiving sand and
a degree of difficulty in reach of most 8-year-olds on 65cc mini-bikes, I
clenched the handlebars like a 90-year-old with a walker, and only
grazed the top of the second jump. Today, I was prepared for more of
the same. On the second lap, I rolled over the first set of doubles
while a rider on my row sailed by. At the second set of doubles, I grew
some testicles and flew over them the way God and Bill Gusse
intended. The landing was soft and supple and my satisfaction was
matched only by my desire to catch up to someone, anyone on my
row. Five or so guys were ahead of me when we left the motocross
track on the first lap, and I’d seen none of them since.

The sand was much deeper now than last month, and a trouble spot
was brewing on a small but steep hill. Two general routes could take
you to the top, each option requiring a sharp right turn at the crest,
which joined a narrow off-camber trail. A pair of riders were struggling
on the side of the hill on my second pass through here, and I’d have
a clear path up either route only a couple of times during the race.
Another difficult area was a 4th gear straight section that had been
bulldozed into the woods many years ago. Whether by nature or with
the help of a Caterpillar, the rolling terrain was filled with fast jumps,
which were much fun. The landings became problematic as rear
suspensions rebounded and tires grabbed for traction, leaving a
trough in the landing zone. During the first few laps it appeared a few
guys had, upon landing, planted their front wheels in the trough and
taken wild over-the-bars rides. I nearly joined them on the second lap
and wished for a little more compression damping in the front forks.

On the third lap, I finally decided to launch my KX250 over both sets
of double jumps and continued this for the rest of the race. It really is
easier that way. What isn't so easy is watching guys like overall
winner Adam Bonneur attack the sand and make it look so smooth.
Why can’t I, my self asked itself when Adam lapped me about halfway
through the race. He passed me in the technical singletrack on the
west side of the property, and I kept him in sight for a minute or so,
but once we came to the wider sand trails, he was gone.

Unlike the previous race here, my city boy hands resisted blisters, but
the sand whoops were wearing down the rest of my body. I did
nothing particularly dumb throughout the race and only fell over a
couple times. I wasn't able to catch +30A winner Brian Studniarz, but I
did win a bunny trophy for my 2nd place effort.
Prophetstown, Illinois