May 31, 2009
Byron, Illinois
2nd of 5 in +30A
The Byron Motorsports Park, host of round #5 of the WFO hare
scramble series, needs little in the way of driving directions. In the
shadow of the
twin cooling towers of Exelon’s nuclear generating
station, the motocross track can easily be found simply by honing in
on the 495-foot stacks. With another 500 feet of condensation
typically visible from 30 miles or more, locating the track is as easy as
routing your way to the general proximity of Byron and setting your
sights on the largest object anywhere on the horizon.

The motocross track is well known in
AMA District 17, but for several
years the hare scrambles scene here was lost to the aftermath of
September 11, 2001. The ensuing paranoia closed off the land
surrounding the nuclear power plant until restrictions finally eased
and the
Forest City Riders were able to lay out a course in the woods
this year. Ron Whipple and the WFO crew put the Byron race on their
schedule, giving me the closest venue to my home since the
hare scrambles in my St. Louis days.

When I arrived at the track, it was obvious why Byron has been a
frequent area qualifying venue for the amateur national motocross
championships at the famed Loretta Lynn’s ranch in Tennessee.
Rolling, wooded terrain had been cleared just enough to carve out the
jumps and berms and whoops that are part of every motocross track,
but most everywhere else was shady grass and endless spots to
stake out for spectation. I parked
Big Bird, now my regular bike hauler
after the
Sonoma’s transmission finally died, under leafy trees within
eyesight of a particularly fast uphill section of the track. The C classes
were in the midst of their morning race, charging through a corner at
the bottom of a hill and opening the throttle to sprint toward a small
but widely spaced double jump. Halfway up the hill, most let off the
gas just enough to clear the first jump without interference from the
second. A handful of riders accomplished the double as it was
intended and quickly disappeared inside the woods. I followed on
foot, with some time to spare before my afternoon race with the A and
B classes. The trail was damp but not soggy. Perfect.

After changing the piston rings in the KX250’s engine, compression
was back to normal and I started well when the green flag was
waved. On a row of 20 or so riders, I was 6th or 7th at the first turn
and held that position as we weaved through a few corners on the
track and then slipped into the woods. Now that the WFO series is
running the C classes separately ahead of the A & B race, the trails
were well established on the first lap. A C-class rider parked next to
me had warned that some of the hills were treacherous, usually
carved with one established rut and only a few options on the way to
the top. He had struggled through the course during the morning
race and described to his companion the various bottlenecks along
the route. As I encountered all of this for the first time, I could see
how a C rider would have felt beaten after the race. The trails were
tight and twisty, allowing no more than 2nd gear anywhere except the
motocross track and a few select open areas.

The first half-mile of the course had us riding down a mostly dry, silty
creek bed and then darting up the bank into higher ground. This
particular spot was littered with tree roots and required all momentum
to be gathered down in the creek bed. Scaling the roots was as
simple as coasting over them after a quick handful of throttle on the
way up. Others had already discovered the consequences of holding
the throttle open as their rear tires met the roots. Several were
stranded on the side of the creek bank, spinning their rear wheels
futilely as the rest of us found other ways around.

Although I generally detest the presence of ATV’s inside woods, the
middle section of the Byron course could have used some fat tires to
smooth out the ruts. In some areas were multiple paths slicing in and
around trees, all with a 6-inch-deep trenches about the same width as
a rear motorcycle tire. Jumping from one rut to another was sketchier
than a Sarah Palin joke on Letterman, but sometimes necessary. On
this final Sunday of May, the woods of Northern Illinois were fully
engulfed in leafy green, so each corner was an adventure on the first

Near the end of the course was the motocross track, with a large
tabletop jump just ahead of the scoring barrels. To separate the
wimps from the men, a 30-inch log was placed in full view of the final
checkpoint. A narrow trail beside the log appeared to be an easier
alternative than lofting the front wheel high and hoping for the best,
so I took it without knowing I had been baited to a much longer way
around. Instead of rounding the log, the trail routed me through a
longer section boxed in by ribbon, then returned back to the log.
Anyone who scaled the log would gain 5-10 seconds on someone
taking the wimp route. Luckily for me, at the end of this initial lap the
riders on my row were spaced far enough apart enough that I didn't
lose any positions, but I swore off the wimp route. Next time, it would
be up and over.

After the scoring barrels, the second lap took us through a part of the
motocross track that we hadn't already ridden, due to the layout of
the start. A few timing jumps and a large step-up took me to the uphill
double jump I’d seen most of the C riders singling in the morning.
After attempting it for the first time, I could understand why they had
seemed so tentative. A rutted turn at the base of the hill forced me to
scrub some speed and choose the appropriate line; from there, in
third gear I dumped the clutch and up-shifted into fourth just as the
first jump approached. As fast as the KX climbed the hill, my
momentum was barely enough to skate over the top of the second
jump. A sweeping left turn followed, but the arrows pointed me back
into the woods near the apex of the turn. It was a tough jump, and the
handful of C-riders who did it well now had my respect.

My second lap was fairly mistake-free, other than a low hanging tree
branch that met my helmet with what would have been enough force
to knock me off the seat if I hadn't seen it coming. My third lap
through here, I was so determined not to whack my head that I
leaned in too far and fell over. While the laps moved along about 14
minutes at a time, certain areas of the course deteriorated much more
quickly. The toughest spot was a small creek crossing with ruts
rapidly deepening on each side. Ryan Moss was on hand to direct
riders to the right side of a large rock at the opposite bank, which
seemed to be the last line any rider would want. But it worked, every
time. Course workers were also gracious enough to help clear a better
path up to higher ground than the original off-camber line.

More challenges lurked ahead, mainly in the form of some deep ruts
which were interrupted by tree roots. After the tough creek crossing,
my front wheel dropped down into a 14-inch rut, then smashed into a
2-inch root held firmly in place just a few inches below ground level.
Several of these types of ruts littered the course. Halfway through the
race, the obstacles were wearing me down.

Also being worn down was Jeff Snedcor on his YZ250, who I could
see ahead of me during the next-to-last lap. He had started a minute
ahead of me in the Open A class, and somehow I was now edging
closer to his rear tire, despite the fact that he has been much faster
than me for pretty much as long as I've known him. Leading up to this
was my own fatigue, which showed when I tried to scale the huge
“spectator” log near the scoring barrels. Up until about my 6th lap, I
was able to find enough momentum to propel the KX up and over.
But then I just couldn't make it happen. With a few laps to go, the
bike came to a stop on top of the log and I had to push it over. The
lap after that, I didn't even get the front wheel over the log. I decided
the wimp route was the place to be, so I finished the last couple of
laps taking the longer path around the log..

Meanwhile, back at that nasty creek crossing, Jeff Snedcor stalled in
the mud and I used Ryan’s line once again. From there, I made a
couple of halfhearted attempts at properly executing the large
tabletop jump on the motocross course, then realized I had to be at
work the next day. So I continued to land about 5 feet short and used
rebound to help hop down the other side (sort of two jumps for the
price of one). Once again the WFO method of establishing a race
cutoff time gave me one more lap than I expected. I usually go into
the scoring barrels with my eyes fixated on the number the race
workers write on my fender card, which in this case was the number
of minutes elapsed in the race each time I checked through the
barrels. The magic number should have been 105, as in one hour and
45 minutes, but somehow 105 came and went and I was given
another lap.

In the end, John Ryan took the +30A win, followed by me and Tim
Farrell. Overall winner Adam Bonneur lapped me effortlessly about
halfway into the race. His style in the tight woods was extraordinary.
Jeff Snedcor’s energy ran out due to limited riding this year – the only
reason I was anywhere close to him. The post-race amenities at Byron
were enjoyed by all, at a location notable not just for its view of
nuclear power generation. Between the main track, the kids moto
track and the surrounding woods, the Byron hare scramble had a little
something for everyone.

July 26, 2009
Glasford, Illinois
4th of 6 in +30A
I can’t say I planned to take off the entire month of June, and most of
July, from so much as strapping a leg over a motorcycle. But I should
have expected a condensed racing schedule this year. After all, any
one of my changes of geography over the last 11 years has come with
a little less racing the first season I settled into a new environment.
Other than a brief ride around my property on the Gas Gas, just a test
to see if the bike would still run well after sitting idle for the past 8
months, the bikes were parked. A couple of rain cancellations and a
much too late Saturday night out with the new neighbors were partly
responsible, but it also came down to – dare I say – a general lack of
interest in light of the constant work associated with a new home
purchase (word to the wise: new does not mean less work than used).

Glasford and the 5th round of the
WFO hare scrambles series
brought me back into the racing scene, and none too soon. The
KX250 had been 100% ready to race, or so I thought, for about 6
weeks. Then I made the mistake of peeking my head under the rear
fender, about 15 minutes before race time, where a backed-out
muffler bolt stood out like Barack Obama trying to throw out a first
pitch. Kankakee-area native Jeff Snedcor, parked next to me with his
YZ250, commented on my resemblance to our old pal Ryan Baker,
who often performed his mechanical work right up until the green flag

The KX250, now showing its age like Joan Rivers at a Friar’s Club
roast, was still a worthy choice for the tight trails around the farm
property which hosted the Glasford hare scramble. Earlier in the
morning I’d navigated the nearly 3-hour drive through about the same
number of 2-lane roads as your average
RAGBRAI, proving once
again that there is no good way to or from Dakota. The C classes
were lined up for their morning race when I arrived, each row aimed
en mass for an ATV parked near the corner of a recently harvested
field of wheat. The brave utility ATV marked the first turn, an 180-
degree change of direction which put the riders screaming past the
starting grid to a football-field-sized area behind the remaining rows of
riders. After steering through a series of tight chicanes marked by
ribbon, the riders entered the woods.

After most of the motorcycles disappeared into the trees, I walked the
woods for about an hour and found damp trails with reasonable
traction. A creek crossing behind the staging area, already rutted after
only one lap, was causing problems for the novice riders their next trip
around the course. By this time I had seen enough of the trail, so I
hiked back to my pickup truck to unload my bike.

Jeff Snedcor, like me riding a somewhat dated but reliable Japanese
motocross bike, was hard to miss when I pulled into the wheat field
parking area. His bike transport was reminiscent of perennial ISDE
rider Lars Valin circa 1999, with a passenger car pulling a fold-up
trailer, but Jeff makes the most out of his setup. A pair of patio-style
umbrellas were attached to the trailer for shade, and a small pump
submerged in a 5-gallon bucket of water provided a makeshift shower
for post-race cleanup. I was just a little jealous.

At the starting line for the A and B riders, the +30A & +40A riders
formed a long row behind the other A classes on the first row. My
eyes followed the path of these riders charging toward the utility ATV,
in hopes that I’d pick up some intel on the hot line. As with the C-
class race in the morning, the fast guys were quickly discovering that
the wheat stubble was deceptively slick. After the riders passed by
and the dust began to settle, from behind me came the words of a
rider still viewing the first row of riders entering the chicanes: “Uh-oh,
look at that.” I turned in time to view a cloud of dust and about 25
riders careening in multiple directions. The A riders had completely
destroyed the ribbon.

With that, the customary boom of the WFO shotgun brought our row
to life and my KX250 leaped forward with another 15 or so riders. I
rounded the ATV in about 6th or 7th place, then opened the throttle
for the sprint to the chicanes. When I arrived, all that was left were
two-foot fencing stakes and a few random arrows. The ribbon was
being churned into the wheat stubble and only the tracks from the
morning race were still visible. Few were able or willing to try to figure
out exactly where we should go. A wave of riders headed straight for
me, so I turned quickly and tried to jump into the pack. Another rider
copied my act of desperation and lost his balance. His Yamaha
leaned into me gradually, neither of us able to prevent the inevitable
conjoining of bikes and bodies. As I uprighted my KX250, the seat
flopped around the gas tank mount. A random part of the Yamaha
had pried the seat from a gas tank bolt which secures the forward
end. I could have attempted to ride with a floppy seat, but I had no
interest in being continually annoyed by it for the next 2 hours. I rode
not toward the woods, but straight to my pickup truck.

In the midst of this, #445 Clint Pherigo found his own little adventure.
While riders scattered through the remnants of the chicanes, another
rider hit Clint head-on. Uninjured, he remounted in next-to-last place
(the last place rider being…you guessed it). I arrived back at the
starting area about 5 minutes later, dodging a crowd of spectators
now leaving the site of the most interesting action they’d see all day.
In the wheat field, I found the entry to the woods and rode an odd first
lap with few riders anywhere in sight. Most first laps are filled with
tightly bunched riders and dirty air, but my initial lap was peaceful
and solitary. Any encounters with other riders were usually at one of
the many tough obstacles located by the WFO crew and included in
the marked course. Glasford is filled with short, steep ravines
dropping straight down, flattening out for all of 2 feet, and then rising
straight back up. When dry, they are rough and unforgiving; when
wet, they’re slippery and unforgiving. When they are slippery and wet
and have 18-inch (or larger) logs lying across the uphill side of the
ravine, they can be a genuine pain in the scrotum. I cleared all the
logs on the first lap, despite the technically challenging middle third
of the course. This terrain was some of the toughest I’d seen thus far
in 2009.

What should have been about a 21-minute lap turned into 26
minutes, thanks to my seat repair. I knew I was more or less trail
riding now, but pride kicked me into a more aggressive pace. Then
one of those treacherous 18-inch logs appeared on the uphill side of
a ravine and in half a nanosecond, put me back into trail riding mode.
Only my front wheel cleared the log. I was straddling it in the middle
of the trail and holding up other riders waiting for me to move out of
the way. After coasting backwards to the bottom of the ravine for
another attempt, I failed to consider a few important characteristics of
my surroundings. There was no way I could lurch from a dead stop at
the deepest point in the ravine and hope to scale the log. Attempting
that, for sure, would have been foolish. Instead, as bikes screamed by
I pointed the KX250 towards an opening in the ravine where it joined
an even deeper ravine. This was not good, for now I was mostly
committed to use that opening to find a diagonal path to backtrack up
to the top of the ravine, where I could reconnect with the marked trail
and try again.

The outcome of all this was bad luck assisted by idiocy. I found
myself descending too far into the deeper ravine, unable to climb
because of wayward logs blocking the way to higher ground. I did
consider riding all the way to the bottom of the deeper ravine, since I
was pretty sure the trail did follow the bottom of this ravine for 100
yards or so. In fact, I was quite certain the marked trail was just a
short distance from where I was stranded. But you never know what
unpleasantries you’ll find when trailblazing like this. So I wasted a few
minutes clearing logs and found a path that, with the help of walking
with the bike, did eventually lead me back up to the trail.

From there, I was rewarded with another attempt at the ravine with the
log. Again, I failed. This time, however, I had at least been able to
heave most of the bike over the log. As I was pulling the rear wheel
up and over the log, Jeff Snedcor scaled the it easily while lapping
me about 45 minutes into the race. He was already that far ahead.

This excruciatingly slow second lap was followed by much more
competitive 3rd and 4th laps. Alternate lines were developing around
the most offensive obstacles. I still managed to lose more time when I
stalled the engine and the kick starter wouldn't pivot out so I could
restart the engine. I tugged and pulled on that thing for a full minute
before the pivot finally broke free from the dirt, mud and assorted
crud that had locked it in one position (note to self: grease the damn
kickstarter). It was at that point I finally realized the potential
awesomeness of electric-starting 2-strokes. The week before, after
consulting with local fast guy and Rockton, Illinois native Ryan Moss, I’
d planned to drive up to
Motosports Factory in Waukesha, Wisconsin
to check out a leftover KTM 250XC as a potential 2010 race bike. The
day after the Glasford hare scramble, I would in fact drive home from
Waukesha with an ’09 version of the
250XC and be amazed at the
electrical gadget mounted to the flywheel side of the engine case.
Electric start on 2-stroke motorcycle engines…who would have
thought? At Glasford, I wished for it, eagerly.

Later in the 4th lap I would yearn for electric starting one more time,
while stuck in a rut. Once again, the kick starter would provoke many
high-volume, unusually creative expletives.

Back to the ravines for one final example of their treachery. On the
first two laps, I encountered a ravine with one line leading up to the
topside. At the bottom of the ravine, I twisted the throttle to its stop,
intending to blast up the opposite side. My first pass through here I
felt I’d miss-shifted halfway up the hill and found a false neutral. But I
hadn't. The opposite side of this ravine was so clay-packed that the
engine revved high and yet the bike barely moved. On the second
lap, this line was even more defined and smooth as glass. My feet
and legs were the only reasons the bike scaled the ravine. By the
third lap, I’d memorized the location of this ravine and found an
alternate line. Had I not, the KX might still be there.

Two hours into the race, I found the checkered flag at the scoring
barrels. The results showed me in 4th place, although I suspect the
lower finishers may not have completed the race. Clint Pherigo
rebounded from the first-lap carnage to claim first place in +30A,
while Trey Verardo took the overall victory. I took the Sonoma and
pointed it northward, tired but happy to be back on the bike.
Byron, Illinois
Glasford, Illinois