2009 Race Reports
April 18, 2009
Leadbelt ISDE Qualifier
Park Hills, Missouri
6th of 13 in A Class
Advance registering for the International Six Days Enduro ("ISDE") qualifier at
Missouri’s
St. Joe State Park sounded like a great idea in February. That’s when I
mailed my pre-entry form for this year’s version of the Leadbelt Enduro, which also
doubled as a
Blackjack Enduro Circuit event and a qualifier race for those intending
to compete in the ISDE in Portugal. Two days of racing in the most diverse riding of
all the Midwest, well, that really was a great idea. Not so great an idea? Being in
lousy physical shape for racing 70+ miles of singletrack.

Two hare scrambles at Prophetstown, Illinois were all the preparation I felt was
needed to survive the Leadbelt. Jeff Henderson had offered periodic course updates
after spending many weeks with the
Missouri Mudders laying out the trails. The sand
track special test was sure to please, he said. The awesomeless sand rider I am, I
hoped it would be a short test.

An early start time had me rolling into the park around 7:00 a.m., where I located my
row partner Matt Sellers. The staging area was filled with motor homes and 3-axle
fifth-wheel RV’s with more living space than most of the houses in Dakota, Illinois.
The only other place for a U.S. rider to qualify for the ISDE is in
Idaho in May, so those
wishing to fill out the 28 open spots for Portugal usually plan to attend both events.
Since Park Hills was first on the qualifier schedule, just about all the Letter of Intent
riders (those trying to qualify, a/k/a “LOI”) were in Missouri for the weekend. License
plates from as far as California and Washington were scattered throughout the
parking area.

As with my previous
ISDE qualifier in Colorado in 2006, I had no intention of
qualifying, so I joined the majority of the other riders who treated the race as just
another enduro with a few extra odd rules thrown in. While the LOI riders strolled bike-
less through the staging area (their motorcycles were parked in the impound area
from the night before, per LOI qualifying rules), I prepared my KX250 for 72 miles of
trail. I found Matt parked next to Ray and Glen Osia, who were camped out in an RV
for the weekend. Preparing for the start of the race was a leisurely affair, as Matt and I
had been assigned row 53.

BJEC regular Todd York joined us on probably the latest row I've ever been placed in
an enduro. Word in the pits was the LOI riders were up front, followed by BJEC
members, then no-series riders like me and Matt. We sat a few minutes in the sand
flats of the non-public part of St. Joe State Park, waiting for our time to leave. At 8:53
we departed, straight into the singletrack. For the next 5 hours, that’s virtually all I
would see.

The course initially twisted through the east side of the park, where some of the best
motorcycle trails are located. The days leading up to the race had produced the best
riding conditions St. Joe can ever offer, but Saturday’s overcast skies and a sporadic
drizzle slickened the soil and forced extra lead time for the routine brake slides that
are necessary to slice through the Missouri trees.

The nature of the international scoring rules of an ISDE qualifier is supposed to be
relatively simple. You’re told the mileage location of the checkpoints and the time at
which you must arrive in order to avoid penalty points. When you’re checked in and
ready to go, you ride like hell for the duration of the timed section. The route sheet
indicated 4 timed tests, the first beginning 40 minutes into the race at mile marker
9.0, but a checkpoint appeared earlier than that. The electronic scoring results
suggested that this was simply a test of one’s ability to ride faster than the
approximately 13.3 mph required speed average. These first miles of singletrack
weren't terribly tight, and I was able to zero the check fairly easily. However, I
assumed this initial check was a timed section and cranked up the pace to hare
scramble speed.

The scorers had me, Matt and Todd York spaced about 15 seconds apart through the
electronic scoring apparatus, which used the same Missouri Hare Scrambles
Championship transponder that has been duct-taped to the underside of my helmet’
s visor for many years. Todd passed through the scorer’s tent just behind me and
begged by a few minutes later. He set a strong pace, gradually disappearing into the
lightly budding trees. He looked to be at home in the slippery trails, and I didn't mind
commenting to myself that the light rain was making this my kind of race.

In the first timed-to-the-second test at the 8-mile marker, I was struggling to see out
of my goggles. The rain, as my farmer-dad would say, wasn't enough to do any good,
but just enough to mess things up. Eventually Todd gave up on his goggles
altogether while I attempted to conserve my roll-offs. Todd finished 27 seconds
ahead of me in the first timed test, a 20-minute affair that took us to within shouting
distance of the staging area. I’d gained enough time on the course to enjoy about 10
minutes of rest and refueling.

The next section took us approximately 14 miles through the west side of the park, by
way of the outskirts of the public riding area and a long levee which always reminds
me of Jerry Hemann’s tragic accident there. A mile later was the second timed test,
where Todd led me through some of the tighter trails we’d see throughout the day.
He struggled through a few areas of jagged rocks which, despite a couple hundred
earlier riders clearing the way, were still hiding under a winter’s worth of leaf cover. I
passed Todd briefly, rode slightly beyond my abilities and bobbled enough to let him
back around. He finished the section 3 sections ahead of me, and together we
carded the two fastest times in the “regular” A class (Tom Farris, competing in the
Senior A class, was about 30 seconds faster than both of us).

Near the end of the 14-mile section was the infamous series of waterfalls, where I
impressed the cameras with my high-wheeling and Matt impressed the spectators
with his
low-wheeling (check out the aftermath here). At 43 miles was our second and
final gas stop. This also marked the end of the short course for the B and C classes.
I could have also ended my race here and felt very satisfied, but the A riders still had
30 miles of trail ahead of them. It was at this point where, as usual, I executed my
bonehead-of-the-day action that put me out of the running for a strong finish.

I checked into the wrong scoring tent.

There were two tents near the refueling area just outside the staging grounds. I filled
up my gas tank and pointed my KX250 towards the closest tent, not recognizing
obvious red flags like: a) the posted mileage markers at the tent did not match the
route sheet; b) Todd York was nowhere to be found; and c) no riders, in fact, were
anywhere near the tent. Despite this, I checked in with the scoring folks, repeated my
ride across the levee and found myself at the beginning of the timed test section I’d
just completed. Seeing no riders anywhere on the trail was finally enough evidence
for me to realize I’d screwed up. The nice folks at the checkpoint sent me back to the
staging area, where I found the correct scoring tent (approximately 100 feet from the
wrong one I’d checked into), alongside 15 or so riders waiting for their departure
times. I had just cost myself 11 minutes.

I nearly got myself back on time at the next checkpoint, dropping another minute’s
worth of points, which effectively cost me one additional minute because I was timed
at the end of that test section. By now, Todd York was long gone and I wouldn't see
him the rest of the day. The A-only trails were mostly a repeat of the first 30 miles,
which by this time had seen enough knobby tires and light rain that my 53rd row
position was becoming a detriment. The solid clay section of ATV trails, part of just
about every race here, were now offering zero traction. All the loose clay on top was
now resting peacefully along the sides of the trails. After breezing through here on the
first loop with fresh legs, now I was struggling. A sure sign of fatigue, the mile
markers could not come fast enough. The first 3 hours of racing would have been
just right for my physical conditioning. The next 2½ hours were killing me.

When exhaustion sets in, so does the tendency for errors. Trees suddenly became
magnetic. Throttle control went away like stock options to bank CEO’s. If I could've sat
my butt on the seat for the entire 30-mile loop, I gladly would have. But St. Joe does
not allow for such things. Even though the singletrack kept us out of the fastest,
rockiest parts of the park, standing through rough downhills was mandatory. The
wonderful trails which followed a tall fence separating us from the public area of the
park, so enjoyable in the first loop, had now lost their magic. I just couldn't ride fast
anywhere.

The only casualty of the day came when one of those magnetic trees pulled me in
and I broke my fork slider. As the mile makers slowly added up to 72, I expected to
finish up with another run through the long sand track. Jeff Henderson’s description
of the track was spot-on. It was everything you’d expect of a national event – fast, well
marked, and full of deep sand. Evidence of much faster riders had been easy to spot,
through their use of wide lines through the turns, instead of the motocross-style
inside lines I was taking throughout. But the sand track never came, and I finished
the race with no desire to do it all over again the next day. Heavy rain was in the
weather forecast, and it wouldn't get any easier on Sunday.

Matt had finished the short course with wheel bearings in desperate need of
replacement. His sentiment was identical to mine, so we enjoyed a meal courtesy of
the Osia’s and packed up for the weekend. Jeff Henderson stopped by to collect our
thoughts on the race and convey what he’d heard from the father of a young guy who
came from California to race: “He doesn't understand how these guys can go so fast
through the trees!” A good experience for him, no doubt. The top guys of the two-day
event were the usual suspects of the national off-road racing scene: Russell Bobbitt
with the overall win, followed by Cole Kirkpatrick. Both will represent Team USA well
in Portugal. Todd York went on to win the “regular” A class, while I finished the day
mid-pack and ready for sleep.

Congrats to the Missouri Mudders on an excellent event – I hope the ISDE qualifier
returns to Missouri in the years to come.

May 17, 2009
Atkinson, Illinois
1st of 5 in +30A
Rare is the race in which nearly everything goes according to plan, when the laps
stream by with no fatigue, no mental errors, no odd moments where in an instant of
bad fortune, a good race becomes a lost cause. Maybe it was dumb luck, but I left the
Atkinson round of the
WFO hare scrambles series feeling like I’d just spent the
morning watering my lawn. No aches, pains, bruises, or broken motorcycle parts,
and feeling like I could do another 2 hours with no ill effects.

There were, however, a few challenges, the first being the miniscule effort needed to
engage the kickstarter. In my garage the day before, I could easily push the
kickstarter with my hand, through its entire stroke. The KX250 came home from the
ISDE qualifier last month low on coolant, thanks to long periods of abuse and mud
buildup around the radiator guards. Clearly, the engine had been stressed, and
clearly, I shouldn't have waited a month to prep the bike for Atkinson. The KX still ran
well, but on the starting line, waiting for the sound of gunfire to signal the go-ahead,
this lack of compression made it difficult to keep the weight of my boot from pushing
down the kickstarter and advancing the piston past top dead center. The rifle shot
came and went while I three-kicked the engine to life. The various A classes grouped
together on the 2nd row were well on their way by the time I was moving.

Within a few twists of the throttle, I caught up to a handful of trailing riders in a fast,
grassy section along a lake near the staging area. The Atkinson course was laid out
in a recreational area once used for strip mining coal, and its pair of leftover lakes
would be circled several times at high speeds during the next 2 hours. For now, I was
at the back of the back and trying to earn my way into better position. We turned into
the woods about a quarter-mile after the starting line, where a train of riders
searched for the perfect rut through widely spaced trees. Spring had sprung through
the I-80 corridor with generous rains, leaving any soil without access to sunlight dark
and damp. Around one tree was a deep rut that should have brought me to a stop,
but somehow the KX churned through it all.

With the C classes running earlier in the morning, we were blessed – and cursed -
with a broken-in trail. The parallel ridges of the Atkinson property, a clear sign of
“olden days” strip mining when the land didn't have to be returned to its original
shape, littered the course with pools of scum water. I’d scouted most of the ridged
section of the course earlier in the morning and found a few mud holes, some filled
with flowing water and others with the kind of brown liquid which most normal people
would not touch. We, on the other hand, plowed through it all. Despite my earlier tour
of the trails, I had not seen the worst of the mud holes until the two or three worst
offenders showed themselves on first lap. At that early point in the race they were
easily navigable, but each successive lap would require some creativity to clear the
low areas.  

After the ridged section of trails, we blasted through a long, wide-open flat area that
was as dusty as the woods were muddy. Never before have I seen so much mud and
dust all in the same race. The A class riders were still spaced tightly together and
kicking up generous clouds of earth.  Those riding with the least fear, or by way of
some line of sight I didn't know about, were passing me on both sides. Once we
jumped back inside the woods, visibility returned and so did the mud.

Near the end of the first lap was our circumnavigation of the second of the two lakes
on the property. The far side of this lake bordered terrain devoid of any form of
vegetation, which is another telltale sign of prior mining operations. The soil, if it
could be called that, was grey, hard, choppy, and dangerous with dust clouds ahead
of me. I followed another rider through here and eventually found myself back at the
starting area. The scoring barrels marked the end of the lap, about a half-mile
beyond the rough side of the lake.

With no idea where I stood in the +30A class, I simply focused on riding without
mistakes. I looked for alternate routes through the muddy sections. I avoided the
deepest ruts and chose smart lines through the high-speed choppy areas around
the two lakes. In many of the 16-minute laps, I found some luck in steering through
the toughest obstacles. On the second lap, I launched myself off a 5-foot ledge near
one of the lakes, amidst a cloud of dust offering no view of the landing, and
compressed the suspension so firmly that I thought my wrists had exploded.
Fortunately, they did not, but on the third lap I nearly threw away the race by trying out
a new, faster line through the choppy wasteland around the second lake. The way I
launched myself up and over a small ridge in 4th gear must have seemed cool to
anyone watching, but it scared the bejesus out of me.

The mud holes in the middle section of the course were now gathering crowds at the
halfway point of the race. There are generally two types of people involved in the
mayhem of forcing 250-lb, less-than-buoyant motorcycles through an 8 foot wide
gully of black muck: those piloting the motorcycles, and those yearning for
entertaining spectatorship. Eventually, even the most heartless observer will take pity
on helpless riders, say goodbye to clean clothes and begin tugging on handlebars.
When arriving at such a scene, my philosophy is a variation of how baseball’s
William “Wee Willie” Keeler described the secret to successful batting (“Keep your
eye clear, and hit’em where they ain't”). I try to keep both eyes clear and choose a line
where they ain't. In this case, “they” constitutes both people and already-used lines.
Avoiding both usually increases my odds of riding, not pushing, through a muddy
gully filled with water not suitable for many municipal treatment plants. If a line had
developed between two trees, I placed my front wheel as close to either tree as
possible, figuring most riders would have centered their motorcycles between the
trees and traveled through the midpoint. If more than one rider was standing in 16
inches of water and going nowhere, I went somewhere else. Hare scramble rules
allow alternate lines within 15-20 feet of the marked course, and I used every bit of
that distance.

I did make one mistake that cost me about 30 seconds, and that was following a
rider through a ravine and watching him stall at the top. I had scouted this area prior
to the race and knew of an alternate line that was just as easy as the one taken by the
stalled rider. But once my KX250 was at the bottom of the narrow 10-foot ravine, I
could do nothing but hope the hapless rider would coast backwards and join me for
another attempt. I was unable to make the KX turn towards the alternate line and
could only observe while others cruised through the ravine by using the line I should
have. This same stalled rider had already killed his engine while I followed him just
before the ravine. I should have suspected he might have some stalling issues, but
no, I had to follow his line. Finally, he restarted and climbed up the opposite side of
the ravine, and I was on my way again.

Somewhere in the midst of mud holes, Tim Farrell stuck himself in the muck just
long enough for me to pass and take over the lead in the +30A class. Where this
happened, I don’t know, nor did I have any inkling I was leading the race. When the
checkered flag appeared at the end of the 7th lap, I had no expectations of anything
remarkable. The results were posted quickly and I believe my exact inner monologue
was “Holy crap, I won!” when the class sheets were duct taped to the outside of an
enclosed trailer. I accepted a ridiculously oversized trophy from Ron Whipple and
cruised home with good thoughts about Atkinson.
Park Hills, Missouri
Atkinson, Illinois