August 9, 2009
Glasford, Illinois
2nd of 4 in +30A
After a rough, challenging race at Glasford two weeks earlier, the
WFO Promotions race schedule put us right back at the same venue.
From the previous race here, the key differences today were the
temperature (much warmer), the soil (wetter) and the course direction
(reversed). In anticipation of low-90’s heat, I hauled the KX250 with
Big Bird and its Ultimate MX Hauler, rather than drive the Sonoma, so
that I might enjoy an air conditioned ride for the whole 3 hours in each
direction. The Sonoma, sadly unqualified for our nation’s Cash for
Clunkers program, has become more of a cool weather vehicle,
though still very functional as a bike hauler. But not today.

After race signup, I wished for two accessories: a pop-up awning for
shade and a comfy chair on which to relax. As I learned from
Bear
Grylls during his 2007 Sahara Desert survival trip, shade is essential
to avoid dehydration. Even though it’s hard to take seriously a guy
who eats monkey testicles to prove a point about survival, Mr. Grylls is
correct with this advice. I made due with the Blazer’s end gate and
tinted glass door raised as a makeshift awning. With 45 minutes to
race time, the outside temperature was now 89 degrees and rising;
humidity around 75%.

I fired up the KX250’s engine after changing into race gear and took a
few easy loops around the starting area. Thus far in the racing
season, we’d had no real heat or humidity in Central Illinois. In fact,
the month of July had been the coolest on record for many areas of
the state. As I’d learned from my years in St. Louis, the only way to
train for heat is to train
in heat, but it’s not easy to do that if the
temperature never exceeds 85 degrees. So while I chatted with Open
A rider Rick Kinkelaar on the starting line, the sun had already begun
sucking energy out of me. Fortunately, our idle time in a field of
harvested wheat was not long, and the row of AA riders ahead of us
soon exited in a cloud of dust. My row followed a minute later, first by
rounding the same ATV from last week, placed at a similar spot ahead
of us. This time we would make a left turn around the ATV, then dash
for a small opening in the woods a couple hundred yards further.

Rick and I were side-by-side as we rounded the ATV, then separated
as he gained half a bike length and pinned his KTM’s throttle. A blur
of dust and flying wheat stubble clouded my vision. The opening in
the woods came quickly, at which point I edged my front wheel into
the back tire of another racer, determined to hold my position. The
first part of the course was made up of slick, somewhat off-camber
trails following the general outline of where the trees bordered the
wheat field. Gone were some of the most offending obstacles from
the previous race, offset by the moist clay that makes up much of the
property. With so many sections using the sides of hills to change
elevation, the greasy hard-packed soil was a challenge to navigate,
up or down. None of the uphill climbs were particularly long – this is
Illinois, after all – but the only real option was to build all momentum
at the bottom of the climbs. Grabbing a handful of throttle during the
ascension would make the rear wheel slip out of whatever side hill rut
was keeping both wheels tracking toward the tops of hills. If that
happened, riders would be rewarded with a challenging push to get
the rear tire back on track, on a day when energy conservation would
be critical.

On the descents down these side hills, the same ruts had to be
followed or else the front wheel would skate towards the bottom of
whatever ravine we were following. The toughest of these hills, up or
down, was situated just after the nastiest of creek crossings near the
property’s gravel entrance road. Plenty of helpful spectators pointed
out the best lines through the muck and deep ruts. This was a small
stream that even the cows wouldn't walk across unless they had to.
After saturating our tires with slime, we were pointed directly up an off-
camber hillside. The elevation change was no more than 40 feet, but
with slippery tires on slippery clay and a relatively fast ascent, it took
all my concentration to keep the front wheel planted in a rut, all the
way to the top.

Previous +30A race winner Clint Pherigo caught and passed me
during the first lap, while I acclimated myself to the trails and the
heat. He disappeared from sight, then reappeared a lap later. I was
able to edge myself around him in a difficult section of rutted, off-
camber hillsides, where it appeared the high temperatures were
affecting Clint’s energy level. Later in that lap I grabbed a little too
much front brake and slid out, allowing Clint around me again. Once
more I would catch Clint and pass him, only to let him back around by
missing a turn inside a rerouted section. He disappeared for quite
some time while I tried to stay hydrated with sporadic gulps of water
from my Camelbak. Heat fatigue does not exactly sneak up on a
person. For me, it usually begins while I’m sitting on the starting line
in the hot sun. Kick-starting the engine, or any physical movement for
that matter, seems like an undue effort. When the race begins, I wish
only to sit on my seat, no matter how rough the terrain. Every forced
effort to stand on the foot pegs is met with disgruntled legs. I do it
anyway, out of pride, and maybe a little ego too, for in this type racing
and in this region, I know I am capable of winning my class on any
given race day. In the order of life’s priorities, capturing a first-place
trophy should probably rank somewhere above ridding the lawn of
Canadian Thistle and below that of, say, paying the mortgage on
time, but now it was my #1 goal. I
had to catch Clint Pherigo.

A couple more slide-outs and tip-overs seemed to put that goal out of
reach, but in the second half of the last lap, Clint appeared again.
With less than 10 seconds between us, I could see glimpses of his
#445 Husqvarna slicing through the trees. But after 90 minutes of
racing, I just didn't have the conditioning to close the gap. And the
gap had only been narrowed that far because of several mistakes by
Clint on his final lap, not from any outstanding riding by me. As I
came to the last stretch of grass track near the starting area, Clint’s
dust was settling as he checked into the scoring barrels for the final
time. I arrived just as he was pulling away.

For the second race in a row, Clint took home the top spot in the
+30A class. I finished a close second with a much improved race from
two weeks earlier. Trey Verardo duplicated Clint’s results in the overall
standings, taking home the top honors for the day, as he did two
Sundays prior. As it was, hauling the KX250 with the fully air
conditioned Blazer was my best decision of the day. Its thermometer
read 92 degrees as I left the property and began my 3-hour drive
home. Later that evening, I would sleep well.

August 16, 2009
Roselawn, Indiana
6th of 10 in Vet A
Back in my Chicago days, Roselawn was always a can’t-miss enduro,
not just for its excellent trails, but also its close proximity to my home.
Home is now a couple hours further from the Nudist Capital of
Indiana, but the Summer Bummer Enduro is still a priority on my
racing schedule. This year, using my Chicago connections, I was able
to secure overnight lodging before the Sunday enduro at the home of
old friends, which made for a much shorter drive to Roselawn. On the
other hand, the Edison Park street festival and its
Eagles tribute band
on Saturday night helped put me an hour behind schedule on
Sunday morning. The late night out was only part of the problem - my
cell phone was the other.  I either slept right through Waylon
Jennings’ Dukes of Hazzard theme song, or the cell phone alarm
wasn't set correctly; either way, the 10:00 a.m. key time was far too
rapidly approaching.

Fortunately, the Gas Gas and all my gear were still accounted for
after a night out on the street with my Sonoma. Around 9:00 a.m. I
arrived at the familiar old grass airstrip that served as the staging area
and took the latest row available – 6. The five guys standing in line
behind me would fill out the rest of my row and also row 5.
Collectively we would be the first riders on the course, clearing out
the trails for everyone else.

I now had sixty minutes to prepare for the start of the enduro, which
really should be plenty of time. But it rarely is. The challenge lies in
the fact that I often show up after 95% of the entrants have already
registered to race. In an event like the Summer Bummer, a two-day
affair where the hardcore guys sign up for both days, the Saturday
riders had already reserved their rows for Sunday. Rare is the enduro
racer who prefers an early row in the thick brush that makes up the
many miles of trails in this part of Northwestern Indiana, so the first 10
rows or so are often made of up guys who (like me) got stuck riding
on those rows. But that was just fine, I made myself believe.
Temperatures and humidity were high today, and I’d heard reports of
thick dust. Maybe it would be better.

Maybe.

My race start was 10:06 CST, leaving approximately 55 minutes to
departure upon returning to my truck after signup. A construction-
related traffic slowdown on I-94 had put me in enough of a hurry to
forgo a gas stop along the way to the race site, so I backtracked to
the I-65 junction to fill up my gas jug with 93 octane. By the time I
transferred fuel to my smaller gas jug that would ride on a trailer to a
remote gas stop, walked 300 yards to the gas trailer and trotted back
to my truck, I realized I’d forgotten to bring my trusty Timex Ironman
digital watch. This is an important accessory, for it allows
synchronization with the official key time clock, which is needed for
programming my
Watchdog enduro computer. My Timex was still
attached to my KX250, parked in my garage 185 miles away. Jeff
Snedcor saved the day by tossing me his own digital watch, already
set to key time. I programmed my computer, taped my scorecard to
my fender, threw a PowerBar into my fanny pack and began suiting
up for the race.

Now that I’m on the downhill side of the Veteran class in terms of age,
dressing for races (and most other tasks, for that matter) takes longer
than it used to. Some of this comes from a little something I call
consequence recognition, an unfortunate side effect of old age that
causes guys like me to buy and wear just about every kind of
protective device currently for sale in the U.S. A personal contempt for
elbow guards is all that prevents every square inch of my every major
appendage from full protection on a race course. In my early years of
racing, my riding gear was simple, my bones healed quicker, and I
could be on the trail about 7 minutes after unloading the bike. Today,
not so much.

With my Watchdog computer reading 14 minutes before the start, I
returned to Jeff Snedcor’s pit area to give back his watch. His
countdown timer on his Watchdog computer showed 17 minutes to
his starting time. Interesting…he had 17 minutes until his departure
time and I had 14, yet he was 11 rows behind me. Uh-oh. My
computer was wrong – my departure was actually less than 5 minutes
away and I still needed to attach a trio of Band Aids to my fingers for
[generally futile] blister prevention. I’d forgotten to input my row
number into the computer, which calculated my start time based on
whatever row I’d ridden in the last enduro I competed. You would
think the Watchdog intuitive enough that changing your row number
would automatically adjust the countdown timer. But no…you must re-
enter key time. Once again, the digital watch strapped to my KX250
would have been very handy right then. A guy parked next to me
threw me his watch, which was set to his adjusted starting time, but I
needed
key time. In the panic to correct my error, I was wholly
incapable of the math required to convert his row number back to key
time, for that would have involved addition and subtraction. To further
complicate matters, the nice gentleman from Michigan had offered a
watch with hands instead of digits. Who brings non-digital watch to
an enduro, for Christ sake? Once again, Jeff bailed me out. I rode
over to his Yamaha and reset my Watchdog’s key time and all was
good. I had 3 minutes to spare.

My race began with a long road ride to the first trails, a
down-and-back
route on tight singletrack in a narrow half-mile strip of woods. At 1.32
miles, it was a good tune-up for what was to come. With 9 months
between races on the Gas Gas, I was reacquainting myself with the
big 300 and remembered how differently its engine delivers power
compared to my KX250. With absolutely no hit in the powerband, I
could ride a gear higher, like a 4-stroke. However, the clutch-dumping
burst of power that I expect out of my KX250 wasn't happening. As I
exited sandy corners, I had to roll on the throttle sooner, in order to
make the engine do what was needed in these narrow trails. The
jetting which has plagued this bike ever since I owned it was still in
need of some help, although the settings worked just fine in the RPM
range where I spent 90% of my time. Only when I cracked open the
throttle past the ¾’s mark did the engine fail to fully cooperate.

I arrived one minute late at a checkpoint near the end of those first
woods, then rode a couple more miles down paved country roads to
one of the longest sections of the day. Most of these long, continuous
sections of singletrack contained two checks, one near the beginning
and one near the end. Like last year, the Summer Bummer was
advertised as an enduro without the need for timekeeping devices.
And like last year, that was correct…sort of. Since most of the woods
sections were the check-in, check-out style and the Hill & Gully riders
club had marked the entrances with the mileage and the arrival time
at those sections, it was possible to keep track of time with only a
stopwatch. However, my Watchdog computer took all the guesswork
out of it. Two of the inexperienced guys on my row, despite being able
to key off my computer, consistently rolled the dice and entered each
section a minute or two early. In a couple instances, this probably
paid off. The first short section of trails had no checkpoint until the
end, so if I’d gone into the woods a minute sooner, I might have
zeroed the check. That wasn't a risk I was willing to take, however, so
I sat back and observed these guys ride into the second woods
section early and waited patiently for my Watchdog to tell me when it
was safe to enter.

The two long test sections in the middle portion of the course
included the infamous Miller’s Woods, which is a large property with
one of the longest continuous stretches of wooded trails in the
enduro. Another section was equally as long but with less continuous
woods. Its key feature was a section of sand whoops that seemed
endless. While Miller’s Woods wore me down with 10 miles of tight,
sandy trails, the whoop section pummeled me equally for about two
solid miles. These deep, sandy whoops are on either side of a
drainage ditch, with just enough trees and underbrush to conceal the
opposite side of the ditch. This means you spend a mile just trying to
hang on to the handlebars and avoid catapultation from the seat, then
arrive at what you think is the merciful end of the whoops, only to
cross the ditch and do it all over again on the other side.

Somewhere after the whoops ended and the arrows pointed me back
inside “real” woods, shifting gears suddenly became a problem. The
notchy-shifting transmission of the Gas Gas has always been
bothersome, but now I couldn't even locate the shifter with my boot. I
glanced down and found the shifter tip spring had broken. With the
tip now folded in, only the side edge of my boot would engage the
shifter. Dan Abney, a 250B rider on my row who had stayed close to
me all day, stopped by to offer help at the next reset. A hose clamp
from my fanny pack kept the shifter tip locked into place. I hoped it
would hold until the end of the race and swore I’d never again curse
the 300’s notchy shifting – now at least I could shift. We still had two
sections left, including the longest, toughest trails of the day back at
the staging area.

The hose clamp did hold up through a 4-mile woods section, the
prelude to 11 miles of continuous 1st and 2nd gear trails that would
end our race. By this time I had dropped 36 points, with most of that
coming from Miller’s Woods and the other long section with all the
sand whoops. By now, I had finally learned how to ride the Gas Gas
the way it was intended: exactly like a 4-stroke. Granted, the extent of
my woods riding on 4-strokes consists of approximately 7 minutes on
Matt Seller’s brief experiment with thumpers, a KTM 450EXC, at St.
Joe State Park in Missouri. The main difference between that bike and
my Gas Gas was that the 300’s motor still had enough zip to quickly
loft the 300’s front wheel over logs that appeared on the trail without
warning. On the 450, most of the time I could raise the front wheel
about two inches off the ground before smacking the tire against
those impending obstacles. But in both cases, riding a gear higher,
grunting the engine through sandy corners, and keeping it smooth
was the name of the game.

The 300’s power delivery would help immensely in the final section.
By some miracle I’d made no dumb mistakes to this point – no real
crashes, navigational errors or timekeeping issues – but that run of
good luck was about to end. Twice. When we were routed back to the
staging area, I ran over to my truck to drink some water, tighten the
hose clamp on my shifter, and rest for a few minutes in the 92 degree
heat. I had plenty of time to spare, so I added a Band Aid to a blister
on the middle finger of my left hand and tried to find a way to stay
cool. My Watchdog indicated about 2 minutes of free time when I
rolled up to the entrance to the final section. However, I had failed to
account for the fact that I’d ridden almost a half mile by heading back
to my truck. The Watchdog thought I was already a half mile down
the trail, but after adjusting my odometer I was actually about 45
seconds late. I rode like hell into the woods, knowing there’d be a
checkpoint soon after. After navigating my way around a downed rider
on a Suzuki dualsport (compete with turn signals), I arrived at the
checkpoint with about half a second to spare. Two minutes later, the
gear shifter grazed a log and the shifter tip folded in again. No
worries, though. Second gear would be just fine the rest of the way.

The final 11 miles were used for the closed-course enduro the day
before, leaving the trails well defined. Some of the classes in
Saturday’s race had made as many as 4 laps through this section, so
there were no real navigational surprises. Up to this point I’d seen not
a hint of wetness anywhere on the course, but now I was occasionally
passing through short stretches of moist, peat-like soil in some of the
low lying areas around the airstrip. The course made a gradual circle
around the perimeter of the staging area and crossed over dirt roads
where the Sun Aura nudist club members drive golf carts - to where
or for what purposes, I have no idea. When I first began racing here in
the mid-1990’s, most of the “nudie” land was a mosquito-infested
swamp. Some years the enduro started and ended with loops through
the mud, but eventually drainage was improved and the swamp
seems to have disappeared.

What remained were the same tight, twisty trails. This acreage could
probably have had twice the mileage if the club had desired. All it
would take is a machete and a lot of time, for these are woods where
most trails must be hand cut. Normally a course designer wouldn't
want the trails to converge too closely, to discourage the temptation of
cheating, but in these woods I could barely make out anything further
away than 25 feet in any direction. And even if another trail were
within sight, cutting across the thick underbrush would be time
consuming at best, and possibly painful. Many areas of this section
were merely thickets through which a trail had been carved.

About halfway through these last 11 miles, I began catching glimpses
of moderately clothed individuals, some driving golf cars and others
strolling through the woods. One portly gentleman stood beside the
trail wearing nothing but a fully inflated beach ball. When a
checkpoint appeared, so did a mass of naked people. I must say that
the wrinkly sagginess so common to these spectator groups in past
races was noticeably absent today. Some of the ladies actually
appeared to be under the age of 45, and gravity had not yet
overtaken their girly features. I was impressed.

With about 4 miles to go, I leaned too far into a tight turn and fell
over. It was a harmless fall, but the energy of remounting was enough
to make those final miles tiresome. I was hot, I was bonking, and I just
wanted to be done with the race. A few minutes earlier I had checked
my mileage on the Watchdog and was now curious again to see how
many miles remained. With the push of a button, the handlebar-
mounted control switched to the odometer display. I glanced down
and read 88 miles (1.5 to go), then – WHACK!! -- straight into a tree.
No harm done except for more wasted energy. I finished up a few
minutes later and showered myself with cold water back at the truck.
With a score of 54, I finished one point behind Tim Farrell and took
6th place in the Vet A class.

Peak temperature was around 93 degrees that day, and I was feeling
it after the race. I drank as much as I could before my body began its
objection to food and liquids, so common when I overheat. I had no
desire to wait around for the results to be posted, but the gas trailer
had not yet returned. I pulled out my comfy fold-up chair with leg
rests and cup holders, found a shady spot and took a nice little nap. I
awoke to a group of guys sorting out their gas jugs as the trailer
rolled by our area. I grabbed mine and drove straight back to Dakota.
Another excellent Naked City enduro, in the books.
Glasford, Illinois
Roselawn, Indiana